Crew # 555

Crew # 555
Crew # 555 - planes flown: DAMIFINO , DIXIE, LET ER RIP, TIMES A WASTIN

1st. LT. J. William Smith

1st. LT. J. William Smith

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The raw reality of the B-24 Bomber

The B-24 was built like a 1930s Mack truck, except that it had an aluminum skin that could be cut with a knife. It could carry a heavy load far and fast but it had no refinements. Steering the four-engine airplane was difficult and exhausting, as there was no power except the pilot's muscles. It had no windshield wipers, so the pilot had to stick his head out the side window to see during a rain. Breathing was possible only by wearing an oxygen mask -- cold and clammy, smelling of rubber and sweat -- above 10,000 feet in altitude. There was no heat, despite temperatures that at 20,000 feet and higher got as low as 40 or even 50 degrees below zero. The wind blew through the airplane like fury, especially from the waist gunners' windows and whenever the bomb bay doors were open. The oxygen mask often froze to the wearer's face. If the men at the waist touched their machine guns with bare hands, the skin froze to the metal.
There were no bathrooms. To urinate there were two small relief tubes, one forward and one aft, which were almost impossible to use without spilling because of the heavy layers of clothing the men wore. Plus which the tubes were often clogged with frozen urine. Defecating could be done only in a receptacle lined with a wax paper bag. A man had to be desperate to use it because of the difficulty of removing enough clothing and exposing bare skin to the arctic cold. The bags were dropped out of the waist windows or through the open bomb bay doors. There were no kitchen facilities, no way to warm up food or coffee, but anyway there was no food unless a crew member had packed in a C ration or a sandwich. With no pressurization, pockets of gas in a man's intestinal tract could swell like balloons and cause him to double over in pain.
There was no aisle to walk down, only the eight-inch-wide catwalk running beside the bombs and over the bomb bay doors used to move forward and aft. It had to be done with care, as the aluminum doors, which rolled up into the fuselage instead of opening outward on a hinge, had only a 100-pound capacity, so if a man slipped he would break through. The seats were not padded, could not be reclined, and were cramped into so small a space that a man had almost no chance to stretch and none whatsoever to relax. Absolutely nothing was done to make it comfortable for the pilot, the co-pilot, or the other eight men in the crew, even though most flights lasted for eight hours, sometimes ten or more, seldom less than six. The plane existed and was flown for one purpose only, to carry 500 or 1,000 pound bombs and drop them accurately over enemy targets.
It was called a Liberator. That was a perhaps unusual name for a plane designed to drop high explosives on the enemy well behind the front lines, but it was nevertheless the perfect name. Consolidated Aircraft Corporation first made it, with the initial flight in 1939. When a few went over to England in 1940, the British Air Ministry wanted to know what it was called. Reuben Fleet of Consolidated answered, "Liberator." He added, "We chose the name Liberator because this airplane can carry destruction to the heart of the Hun, and thus help you and us to liberate those millions temporarily finding themselves under Hitler's yoke."
Consolidated, along with the Ford Motor Company, Douglas Aircraft Company, and North American Aviation -- together called the Liberator Production Pool -- made more than 18,300 Liberators, about 5,000 more than the total number of B-17s. The Liberator was not operational before World War II and was not operational after the war (nearly every B-24 was cut up into pieces of scrap in 1945 and 1946, or left to rot on Pacific islands). The number of people involved in making it, in servicing it, and in flying the B-24 outnumbered those involved with any other airplane, in any country, in any time. There were more B-24s than any other American airplane ever built.
It would be an exaggeration to say that the B-24 won the war for the Allies. But don't ask how they could have won the war without it.

Consolidated B-24 Heavy Bomber

Cut away diagram of B-24 fuselage

While a workhorse of the Allied bombing effort, the B-24 was not hugely popular with American air crews who preferred the more rugged B-17. Among the issues with the B-24 was its inability to sustain heavy damage and remain aloft. The wings in particular proved vulnerable to enemy fire and if hit in critical areas could give way completely. It was not uncommon to see a B-24 falling from the sky with its wings folded upwards like a butterfly. Also, the aircraft proved highly susceptible to fires as many of the fuel tanks were mounted in the upper parts of the fuselage. In addition, crews nicknamed the B-24 the "Flying Coffin" as it possessed only one exit which was located near the tail of the aircraft. This made it difficult to impossible for the flight crew to escape a crippled B-24.

I had the opportunity to tour through this particular B-24 a few years ago in Carlsbad CA. I think the Collings Foundation operates this aircraft and a B-17 which was also present that day. The B-24 interior is a lot smaller than it looks from the outside. Figure 10 crewmen and a load of bombs and things are pretty cramped. The Navigator / Bombardier position are very cramped into one small space. Dad flew most missions without a bombardier and he performed that task along with navigating. They would normally follow a lead aircraft and would drop their bomb loads when the lead plane dropped theirs'.

I've read that there is only one flying B-24 left but this one is definitely a different one from the Collings aircraft. These photos were pulled from various sites on the Web.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

World War 2 Celestial Navigation

Dad's Flight Log from May 22, 1945. The Navigators' Log has many hand written reference notations in it. There are references to locations in Germany, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and England. These must have been for a quick reference to different flight areas. Also are listed some common words such as "Gigantic" and "Novelty". These must have been call names for missions. The "Air - Sea Rescue" Radio Channel was 665.

I don't know much about Celestial Navigation but Dad said he was constantly busy on missions. As soon as one heading was given, he began all over again to plot their location and give heading corrections to the pilot. Wind and Air Speed were the main variables. Dad said some of the high altitude cross winds were ferocious and more than once the Pilot would question him on his heading directions. The Pilot flew the plane, but the Navigator actually gave him all directions on where to go. Such a complicated, mathematical technique is now ancient history with GPS Systems in use today. No such thing as portable calculators back then.

These are some of the Navigation Aids Dad used during his Missions. Each clear disc has a different quadrant of the night skies. All based from sextant shots to Polaris, the North Star. I've read some sections of the Manuals shown below and it is a VERY complicated process to say the least. The Chronometer and Sextant were used in conjunction with these tools. The Navigator position on the B-24 had three plexiglass bubbles from which the Navigator could get his unobstucted sextant shots at the night skies. In his pre war civilian life Dad was an accountant so his knowledge of math and numbers were put to use.

These are some of the Navigation Instruction Manuals from Dads' service years. They are in as new condition and were marked as "restricted" information. I've tried to absorb some of the information but it quickly goes over my head......

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Last Flight Home

Last year we helped my folks prepare to move from their Arizona home to a new place in Montana. In the course of sorting through boxes I came across some what of a time capsule which was closed in May of 1945. In a box full of Dads' service papers was his Navigators Log Book. The Log Book contained his final Navigation / Flight Plan from his final flight.
(Click on image to enlarge) This is the Flight Plan logging their flight from Goose Bay Labrador to Bradley Field. The ATC (Air Transport command) aircraft was a B-24M Serial # 44-50884. The plane was piloted by Melvin Westbrook from crew #553. Their final flight was on May 22nd. 1945. Tracing this aircrafts serial # I found that the plane ended its' life at Kingman AZ, landing there on December 20th, 1945. I imagine the plane was scrapped there. I've found that some of the final model B-24M's only flights were from the factory to the scrap yards as there was no need for the aircraft towards the end of the war.

This is an in-flight photograph taken by Lt. J.W. Smith from the flight deck on the B-24M en route from Goose Bay to the United States on May 22nd. 1945.

This is the flight line at Goose Bay Labrador before take off on the final flight to the U.S.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

466th Bomb Group & ATC Clandestine Missions into Sweden, April 1945

466th Bomb Group Crew #555 missions List. I find different information listing them in both the 784th and 785th squadrons. I remember seeing my Dads' uniform as a child and he wore the 785th shoulder patch.

This is the list of my Dads' (36) Combat missions, (he flew one additional mission as a Navigator was needed. His first and 2nd. to last missions were to Berlin) provided by the co-pilot, Wesley Vawter.After completing these combat missions he volunteered with the ATC (Air Transport Command) and flew a number of clandestine missions into Sweden. Described here....

(This is taken from a site concerning Col. Balchens' military service)
"Whereas Bernt Balchen, between November 1944 and April 1945, commanded a clandestine air transport operation that, again in defiance of severe enemy opposition, transported from England to Sweden 200 tons of arctic equipment and operational supplies that were used to make clandestine overland transport from Sweden to Norway possible;" From Nov. 44 through April 45.

Dad flew in the later part of the transport with a partial crew (#553) piloted by Melvin Westbrook, co-piloted by Bill Pond. Not sure of the names of the other two crewman, but think they are from Westbrooks crew. (pictured below)Bill pond is on the right...Westbrook is on his right. Photo taken by my Father in Stockholm in April 1945. They flew as civilians.
I don't think any of the crews involved in this operation received any sort of recognition. My Dad knew very little of the details about the operation. He did not even know who Col. Bernt Balchen was, until I researched the details of the operation recently. I don't think any of these guys ever sought or wanted any type of recognition anyway. They were just doing their jobs, happy to get home alive and get on with their lives.

This is my Dad, taken at the same time in Stockholm. They were laid over due to weather. Had to avoid German radar equipped night fighters more than once. They had no guns or gunners so had to fly at wave top level. Came in to Sweden from the North Sea. Dad Navigated , they flew only at night and were always solo flights. He said those missions were a bit hairy due to German night fighters, bad weather, wind and the crews total reliance on his celestial navigation skills.

This is the "Mel Westbrook' crew (Crew #553) during combat tours. Westbrook is on upper left, Bill Pond isThird from left, standing.

Photo of the main Stockholm train station. They used it to get around while "sightseeing" there. The War was still going but Sweden was a neutral country. That is why they flew as civilians in the unmarked, unarmed B-24's. Dad said they were painted all black for less visibility at night.
This car must have caught my Dads' attention while in Stockholm. It appears to have a coal / alternate fuel burning apparatus mounted in the front due to the shortage of gasoline......

This is a photo of a black painted B-24. Possibly like the converted planes they flew into Sweden. Dad said their planes had no military markings on them though.During the advance of the forces in Europe the B-24 crews had to haul gasoline into France, the "Gas Truckin" missions. The crews did not get credit for these flights as they were not combat missions. There were as dangerous (if not more dangerous) than the combat missions. "Jamaica" was shot down during one of those missions. Dad said he saw more than one of the planes crash on take off due to the over loading of the fuel containers they carried, The crews had no chance to get out on take off and always burned up with the plane. Pretty scary stuff. D.S.

Another 466th Mystery

Got an email from another son of a 466Th Bomb Group member. His Dad flew in a few of the same planes my Dad flew on. They were stationed in England at the same time and same place. He has some photos to share and I'll do the same. Talked with Dad today but the fellow airman's name didn't ring a bell. It has been a lot of years ago....The crewman's name was Alexander Boris. I did some research tonight but didn't find out too much. One of the planes he flew on was lost with all on board KIA in Sept. 1944 on the gas hauling missions. Dad flew a number of these gas trucking missions also. I found the MACR (Missing Air Crew Report) one of the planes that airman Boris had flown on. The MACR's describe the circumstances surrounding the loss of the plane and the men lost or captured. Unfortunately he never shared much of his service history with his son so there are mysteries to unravel.

466th BG. Crew #555 Members Reunited....

Crew #555 taken in Late 1944, Attlebridge England. Planes flown, Damifino, Dixie!, Times-a-Wastin. Crew members as follows: Standing Left to Right: Pilot-Paul Bridgman, Radio Operator-Elijah J. Porter, Waist/Top Gunner-Corodon Norton, Nose Gunner-Wm. E. Gilbert, Co-Pilot- Wesley R. Vawter, Navigator- John Wm. Smith, Seated Left to Right: Tail Gunner-R.E. Weckerly, Bombadier-Tom Hallet, Engineer-Allen D. Miller, Ball Turret Gunner- James R. Attenholt.My Father, J. Wm. Smith, has kept in touch with Co-Pilot Wes Vawter since the war. They lost track of all the other crewmen over the years. I imagine after surviving the war most of the veterans were happy to forget the things they witnessed , ready to put it behind them and go about their lives. My father never talked about his War experiences as long as I can remember while growing up. Upon gaining computer literacy (to a point) a few years ago I discovered some 8th Air Force Web sites which spurred me to begin asking Dad, then in his late 80's , questions about those experiences so many years ago. He opened up and told me many stories of those months in England. I was fascinated and was able to post a few photos and some of his experiences on a Web site. I later started my own Web Blog and had a couple of posts about the 466th Bomb Group. Finding these photos posted here, I was able to get Wesley Vawter to name all the guys in the photo. Dad had forgotten a few of the names but Wes had them written down.
Low and behold the son of one of Dads' Crew Mates saw my site and contacted me to let me know that another Crewman, Corodon (Buzz) Norton was alive and well and living in Florida at age 82. I excitedly contacted Dad (now 92) and gave him the news. I then called Mr. Norton and visited with him for 15 minutes or so. He was happy to find that Dad and Wes Vawter were still alive and kicking. Dad and Buzz will be talking soon. I am so happy that this series of events has occurred. Comrades from so many years ago will be reunited, at least over the phone. I hope that this event will not open old wounds. These men relied upon each other to get through those times and were closer than family, in a way. I am sincerely grateful that Mr. Nortons son, Greg, contacted me and helped connect the old pals after all these years. Thanks again Greg.
Navigator LT. J. W. Smith
Crew #555 Members with "Damifino"
#555 Crew Member....A small guy....maybe the Ball Turret Gunner?

466th. Bomb Group

This photo shows crew #555 of the 8th Army Air Force, 466th Bomb Group, 785th Squadron. My Father, Navigator, 2nd LT. J. William Smith is in the upper right. The officer to his right is Co-Pilot Wesley Vawter. These two are the last survivors of the crew. The Pilot, Paul Bridgeman (standing left) lost his life a few years after the war in a fire on a boat. This crew flew 35 bombing missions over Germany. Their first and last missions were over Berlin. They flew over to England from the East U.S. coast going over. Dad was the "old man" of the crew at 28 years old. At the end of each mission they were individually debriefed about the mission. Prior to the debriefing the crew was each given a shot of brandy. As the "old man" Dad was sometimes given an extra shot by some of the younger crew members. The gunners were younger at 18 years old. Even though the gunners were not officers, Dad said they all treated each other as equals as they were all in the same "boat".

The crews flew different aircraft during their missions. They basically took available aircraft while some were being repaired. Their primary planes were; DIXIE! , DAMIFINO, TIMES A WASTIN. There was another plane they flew but that name faded over the years. This crew was very fortunate and they all survived all 35 bombing missions without serious injury. Dad told of an instance where a flak (anti-aircraft shell) burst hit close and a piece of shrapnel came through the plane and took the oxygen mask off the face of one of the waiste gunners. Miraculously he was not injured when the mask was scythed off. They landed with dozens of holes in the plane and no one on board received so much as a scratch. On another mission a 1000 lb. bomb was stuck in the bomb rack. The plane flew with the bomb bay doors open for a while but at 20000 feet at over 200mph the cold (-50)/wind was unbearable. They dearmed the bomb and closed the bay doors. Eventually the bomb came loose, crashing through the bay doors and fell into a field in France. Dad watched the bomb fall and hit a farmers field, leaving a huge crater even though the dis-armed bomb didn't go off. Dad said he often thought of that farmer plowing around that big crater as he plowed his own fields after the war. Dad witnessed attacks late in the war of the German ME262 Jet Fighters. He said they were lucky that those planes weren't around in large numbers as they were so fast that the gunners only saw a blurr when they came through the bomber formation. One of his saddest memories is witnessing the aircraft next to him take a direct hit in the bomb bay from a flak round. His best Air Corps friends were aboard. He saw the plane just come apart and a couple parachutes open which were consumed by the flames of the burning high octane fuel. That must have been a sickening sight. That was on October 12th, 1944. The plane was named "OFF LIMITS AGAIN". The mission target was Osnabrook Germany. Pilot Bridgeman was quite a pilot. When all targets were clouded over they were to return to the English Channel and ditch their bomb loads. Pilot Paul Bridgeman would not waste the bombs and on more than one occasion hauled them back to the Attlebridge airfield and landed with them so they could be re used.

Uncle Claude with our Grand Parents, in Ballentine in the early 40's (?) . Uncle Claude was a well known and respected cattle man with the Billings Public Auction Yards in the later years.

This is our Uncle Claude Smith with my older brother Gary. Uncle Claude was an Artillery Sargent ( I believe?) . At one point he had a leave to the London area and looked up his little brother,(Dad) Bill. Dad and his crew had been on training missions near Scotland and were learning to use new instruments which would allow them to land in foggy conditions. When fog closed in they were normally grounded. These new instruments were by no means perfected and their use was at a high risk. Well Uncle Claude wanted to go flying with the crew so they snuck him on board on a training mission. Upon returning to their airfield they encountered heavy fog and had to use the new navigation instruments for the first time under real conditions. Dad and the crew were petrified to land under these conditions. Of course they reverted to there training and took the plane in, luckily without a hitch. Dad never told his brother how close they were to crashing. Claude just rode along thinking this was just business as usual. Little did he know that they had cheated death. At one point the crew hauled gasoline into France for Patton's army. These flights were un nerving due to the fumes in the aircraft. They filled every type of container available with gas; cans ,aircraft drop tanks, anything that would hold fuel. Of course their landing weights were heavy. They witnessed many planes crash on take off and just be obliterated. These WW2 veterans are all hero's in my book. There were thousands of other heros which never came home and never got to grow up....... the cost of freedom that so many take for granted.

Golub said...
My dad Corodon "Buzz" Norton flew 35 missions as a top turret gunner on the Damifino during WWII. Happy to tell you he's still alive and kicking!
September 10, 2008 7:56 AM
BMW HACKER said...
golub....your Dad, Corodon Norton is pictured in the top photo and maybe in the "Damifino" photo. My Dad (92)would love to know his where abouts. He has lost contact with all of the crew members except Wesley Vawter. These guys flew all of their 35 missions together. Please contact me
September 10, 2008 2:00 PM
BMW HACKER said...
Golub, I just contacted my father and he would very much appreciate getting in contact with your Dad. They have not talked since the end of the war in 1945. They were close, survived a tough time together and are an elite group. The years are wearing thin for these fellows and I know it would mean a lot to my Dad to talk with Buzz again. Hopefully you will visit this site again......D. Smith
September 10, 2008 2:21 PM
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When Men were Men...466th BG Navigator

My Dad, always the adventurer, didn't shy away from a sidehack ride. Just had a hip replacement a few months ago but at 92 years old, he still was game for a cruise.He had a few trail 90's and rode a 4 wheeler when he lived in the Montana Mountains,
Dad enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1942 and was trained as a navigator.He flew out of Attlebridge England with the 8th Air Force, 466th Bomb Group, 785th Squadron. He participated in 35 bombing missions over Nazi Germany with Crew #555, flying B-24J Liberators.
They also hauled gasoline in theirbombers into France to fuel Pattons Army during their advance into Germany.They flew into hair raising anti aircraft fire, flak and tangled with Nazi fighters .Their plane took many hits during many missions and they managed to make it home each time. Sometimes with more than one engine shot out. Had to land on a smallsteel mat English fighter aircraft field on one occassion. Damn near ended upin the "channel"Dad volunteered with the Air Transport Command in March 1945. They flew night missions inblack painted ,unarmed, unmarked B-24's into Stockholm Sweden. They flew as"civilians" on these clandestine solo night missions, hauling arctic gear into Nuetral Sweden.This gear for the 10th Mtn. Division was ferried overland into Norway insupport of war efforts there. Dad remembers being pursued by radar equiped Luftwaffe night fighters and flying at wave top level to evade the pursuers over the North Sea.
This photo was of Dad as a "civilian " in Stockholm in April 1945.They were laid over due to weather conditions.
Happy times as Dad made it home and got back to the business of being a realcivilian. His war experiences became dormant for many years and only in thepast few years have the numerous experiences been told. An avid fisherman, I figure this photo was taken at one of his favorite Montana trout streams.