USAAF at War offers 69 minutes of rare audio material recorded before, during and after combat operations by men of the United States Army Air Force in the European Theatre. As well as fighter pilots and bomber crews of the 8th and 9th Air Forces, the 22 tracks also include pilots of transport, ground attack and troop carrier aircraft. All the interview recordings are first-hand eyewitness accounts given by the crews themselves. Available on CD and digital download, the CD booklet contains archive images and detailed liner notes by James Hayward.
Notable missions include the daring low-level B-24 raid on the Ploesti oilfields in Romania in August 1943, operations over Normandy in June 1944, a B-17 shuttle raid to Russia in 1944, the Ardennes campaign, the Rhine crossing, and daylight raids on Bremen, Lorient and Berlin. Famous aircraft types involved include Mustang and Thunderbolt fighters (the 'Little Friends'), and Liberator, Marauder and Flying Fortress bombers. The CD also includes intercom recordings made on board the famous B-17 Memphis Belle during a raid on Wilhelmshaven in May 1943. Of particular interest are accounts of the actions which lead to the award of the Medal of Honor to Forrest L. Vosler and Edward S. Michael, and a revealing account of early type B-17s in RAF service in 1941. In addition the CD begins with an evocative medley recording by Captain Glenn Miller and the Army Air Forces Training Command Orchestra from 1944.
GLENN MILLER I SUSTAIN THE WINGS
LORIENT U-BOAT PEN RAID January 1943
MEMPHIS BELLE May 1943
PLOESTI OILFIELD RAID August 1943
JERSEY BOUNCE JR: MEDAL OF HONOR February 1944
LITTLE FRIENDS: P-51 MUSTANG ESCORT June 1944
BERTIE LEE: MEDAL OF HONOR May 1944
MELDUNG ANS REICH: LUFTANGRIFF
D-DAY: LEAFLET RAID June 1944
D-DAY: C-47 TROOP CARRIER June 1944
CHERBOURG: P-47 AIR SUPPORT June 1944
B-17 SHUTTLE RAID TO RUSSIA July 1944
NORMANDY: B-26 MARAUDER July 1944
SUPPLY MISSION TO WARSAW September 1944
ARDENNES: P-47 THUNDERBOLT December 1944
362ND FIGHTER GROUP PILOTS December 1944
DAMAGED B-26 MARAUDER January 1945
B-17 FLYING FORTRESS: BALING-OUT January 1945
BERLIN RAID: B-17 FLYING FORTRESS February 1945
BERLIN RAID: MUSTANG ESCORT February 1945
B-24 LIBERATOR: RHINE SUPPLY DROP March 1945
B-17 FLYING FORTRESS IN RAF SERVICE September 1941
Liner notes by James Hayward
The United States Army Air Force (USAAF) may have been ill-equipped to take on Germany when war was declared on 11 December 1941, yet the first American aircraft arrived in Britain the following July. Operating chiefly from airfields in East Anglia, the 8th Air Force flew its first combat mission in August 1942, when a dozen B-17 Flying Fortress bombers raided railway yards at Rouen in France without loss. In October of the following year the Mighty Eighth was joined by the 9th Air Force, a tactical formation which became a major provider of ground support to Allied troops in north-west Europe during 1944-45.
The 8th Air Force pursued a precision daylight bombing offensive against enemy war industries, military facilities and power sources. The B-17 in particular was tailored to operate at sub-stratospheric altitudes of 20-30,000 feet, above anti-aircraft fire and effective fighter interception, although most missions encountered fierce Luftwaffe opposition. The versatile B-24 Liberator could fly further than the B-17, but was less stable at high altitude and could absorb less damage. USAAF heavy bombers flew in compact defensive formations, and could not dodge flak or fighters. In contrast, RAF Bomber Command preferred night operations at lower altitudes, using aircraft with larger bomb loads, but inferior defensive armament.
B-26 Marauder medium bombers were commonly operated by units of the 9th Air Force, while the iconic fighters types described on this CD (the P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang) were operated by both the 8th and 9th. Bomber crews soon came to refer to their escort fighters as 'Little Friends', and the P-51 became the first Allied fighter type capable of flying all the way to Berlin and back.
During WW2 the 8th Air Force delivered 726,923 tons of bombs, but lost 44, 472 aircrew killed and 8,857 aircraft destroyed, of which 5,857 were heavy bombers. The 9th Air Force also suffered considerable combat losses, none of which is to forget the contribution of all other USAAF units operating in the European Theatre, including the 12th and 15th Air Forces, based in Southern Europe. This audiobook CD is respectfully dedicated to their courage and memory.
1. CAPTAIN GLENN MILLER
An evocative medley of I Sustain the Wings (Theme), Moonlight Serenade and American Patrol, recorded in 1944 with the Army Air Forces Training Command Orchestra, recorded for Uncle Sam Presents in 1944. In June 1944 the Miller band were renamed the American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Captain Glenn Miller disappeared on a cross-Channel flight to France in December 1944.
2. LORIENT U-BOAT PEN RAID
Connected reports before and after an 8AF raid on the German submarine base at Lorient (France) on 23 January 1943, recorded at Bassingbourn (near Cambridge) with commentary by Stewart Macpherson. In addition to extracts from the pre-mission briefing by Lt Gilman, the recordings include actuality of B-17s of the 91st Bomb Group taking off for the raid, and a candid account of the mission by Captain William J. Crumm, pilot of Jack the Ripper, a celebrated B-17 of the 324th Bomb Squadron. Crumm describes this fiercely contested raid as "rough as hell."
3. MEMPHIS BELLE: INTERCOM ACTUALITY
Collage of crew intercom ('interphone') recordings made on board the celebrated B-17F Memphis Belle during a raid on Wilhelmshaven on 15 May 1943. Much of the dialogue concerns attacking enemy fighters and the fate of other B-17s, and may be dramatized rather than as-live. Also operating with 324th Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group (8AF) from Bassingbourn, Memphis Belle was one of the first aircraft to complete a combat tour of 25 missions, and was the subject of the eulogistic William Wyler documentary Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (1944), and the motion picture Memphis Belle in 1990. Both aircraft and crew (under Captain Robert Morgan) afterwards returned to the United States to take part in war bond tours.
4. PLOESTI OILFIELD RAID
An account by Captain Walter Stewart (pilot) and First Lieutenant Eberhardt (bombardier), crew members of B-24 Liberator Utah Man of the 330th Bomb Squadron, 93rd Bomb Group. Recorded 4 April 1944. On 1 August 1943 the USAAF mounted Operation Tidal Wave, a daring low-level strike on the German-held oilfields at Ploesti, Romania. The raid involved 178 unescorted B-24s from five bombardment groups, flying a round trip of 2,400 miles. The attack swiftly became chaotic. Flying at tree-top height, Utah Man survived heavy flak damage, before limping 1,200 miles back across Yugoslavia and the Mediterranean to an airfield at Benghazi, Libya. The round trip took a grueling 13 hours at a maximum air speed of 130 miles an hour. Utah Man landed safely despite battle damage, several hung-up bombs and a leaking fuel tank. Of the 1,700 airmen and 178 bombers involved in this first Ploesti raid, 310 were killed and 54 aircraft lost. Airmen involved in the Ploesti raids earned the most decorations of any single wartime operation. Utah Man was later renamed Joisey Bounce, but was lost over Bremen on 13 November 1943, along with most of Walt Stewart's Ploesti crew.
5. JERSEY BOUNCE JR: MEDAL OF HONOR
On 20 December 1943 the 8th AF set out to bomb the German port of Bremen, including B-17F Jersey Bounce Jr of 303rd Bomb Group ('Hell's Angels'), 358th Bomb Squadron, based at Molesworth. Coming off target the Fortress sustained heavy flak damage and was forced out of formation, then subjected to repeated attacks by German fighters. Despite serious wounds to his legs, chest and face, 19 year old radio operator and air gunner S/Sgt Forrest L. Vosler maintained a steady stream of defensive fire, and repaired the damaged radio by touch alone. Vosler transmitted distress signals in between periods of delirium, and saved the wounded tail gunner from drowning after Jersey Bounce Jr ditched in the North Sea off Cromer, Norfolk. Vosler was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest American award for gallantry above and beyond the call of duty, and presented with his medal by President F.D.R. Roosevelt. This recording was made by Sergeant Stanley M. Moody, a waist gunner. Born in Livonia (NY), Vosler (1924-1992) was one of only six enlisted airmen to receive the Medal of Honor during WW2, and later served on the board of the Air Force Association. His medal is displayed at the Mighty Eighth Heritage Museum, Pooler, Georgia.
6. LITTLE FRIENDS: P-51 MUSTANG ESCORT
Captain James B. Cheney, a P-51 Mustang pilot with the 361 Fighter Group, describes the work of 'Little Friends' - the affectionate name given by USAAF bomber crews to P-47 and P-51 escort fighters. Interview recorded by Bill Shadel on 24 June 1944. The 361st were part of the Eighth Air Force and operated from Bottisham (Cambridgeshire) at the time of this recording, having converted from P-47 Thunderbolts to P-51 Mustangs in May 1944. Fitted with the Rolls Royce Merlin engine, the Mustang proved to be one of the finest fighters types of the war.
7. BERTIE LEE: MEDAL OF HONOR
An account by bombardier Lt John L. Lieber of an epic trip to Stettin on 11 April 1944 by B-17 Bertie Lee of the 364th Bomb Squadron, 305th Bomb Group, based at Chelveston (Northamptonshire). The B-17 sustained critical battle damage from flak and fighters over Germany, leaving pilot Lt Edward S. Michael severely injured. With the B-17 ablaze with a full bomb load, and losing height, seven of the crew bailed out. However Michael and his co-pilot Franklin Westberg managed to nurse the crippled Bertie Lee back across Holland and the North Sea to crash land at Grimsby. Lt Michael was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor, the second awarded in 1944 to a pilot of the 305th - a unique achievement. The 305th BG also earned two Distinguished Unit Citations, while the 364th BS suffered one of the highest loss rates of any 8AF squadron in the ETO. Lieber recorded this account on 9 May 1944. Michaels felt guilty about ordering his crew to abandon an aircraft that (against all odds) returned home, and refused to shave until it was confirmed that all seven who had baled out were safe.
8. MELDUNG ANS REICH: LUFTANGRIFF
Two brief bulletins broadcast by German radio. The first (recorded 16 May 1944) informs listeners that enemy aircraft sighted over Schleswig-Holstein are now flying westwards. The second (recorded 21 April 1944) confirms no enemy air activity over Germany.
9. D-DAY: B-17 LEAFLET RAID
Description by Major Earle J. Aber, a B-17 pilot with the 858th Bomb Squadron, based at Cheddington (Suffolk). Here Aber describes a mission over the Normandy landing beaches early on 6 June 1944, during which propaganda leaflets were dropped. Recorded 12 June 1944. The 858th was later re-designated 406th Night Leaflet Squadron, under the command of Aber, who achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. On the night of 4 March 1945 Aber was returning from a 'milk run' news leaflet drop over Holland (his 51st mission) when his personal B-17 Tondalayo was hit by British anti-aircraft fire above Clacton, Essex. Aber and his co-pilot M.J. Harper remained with the aircraft long enough to enable nine crew members to bail out, but both pilots were killed when the aircraft crashed into the sea off Harwich. A native of Wisconsin, Aber has graves both at Maddingley (Cambridge) and Arlington National Cemetery.
10. D-DAY: C-47 TROOP CARRIER
Conversations with Lieutenants Harvey Derring and Thomas R. Westrope, and Tech Sergeants James E. Smith and John A. Delistovik, a C-47 Skytrain crew shot down over Normandy on 6 June 1944 and who then managed to evade capture until the liberation of Cherbourg at the end of the month. Recorded by Colin Wills on 14 June 1944. During the early hours of 6 June IX Troop Carrier Command (with 900 aircraft and 100 gliders) helped drop the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, in order to secure the routes on which American ground forces would advance inland from Utah Beach. Most paratroopers were delivered from Skytrains, a military transport derived from the Douglas DC-3 airliner and named the Dakota in British service.
11. CHERBOURG: P-47 AIR SUPPORT
Account by Lieutenant Colonel J.K. Dowling, a Thunderbolt pilot, describing a large-scale low level operation in support of American ground troops advancing on the port of Cherbourg in Normandy. Recorded 22 June 1944. The large, robust, radial-engined P-47 earned the affectionate nickname 'Jug', and armed with no less than eight wing-mounted .50 calibre machine guns proved particularly adept in the air support/ground attack role.
12. B-17 SHUTTLE RAID TO RUSSIA
Captain Joseph L. Zeller, a B-17 command pilot with 100th Bomb Group, 351st Bomb Squadron, relates his experience of the second shuttle raid to Russia and Italy in June 1944. The 'Bloody Hundredth' operated from Thorpe Abbots in Norfolk. The initial target on 21 June was a synthetic oil refinery at Ruhland, the force then flying on Russia, landing at bases in the Ukraine. The first of these shuttle raids, codenamed Frantic, was undertaken earlier in June by B-17s of the 15th Air Force, operating from Italy. The principle object of utilizing bases in Russia was to complicate the defence of German targets, although only seven such operations were undertaken in 1944/45. The raids had little military effect, and failed to bring the Allies closer together, or convince Moscow of the wisdom of strategic bombing. This recording was made on 9 July 1944. Zeller went on to command 418th Bomb Squadron.
13. NORMANDY: MARAUDER PILOT
Account by Lt John A. Nydegger of Boise, Idaho, following his 74th combat sortie, a large scale air support mission near Caen (Normandy) on 16 July 1944. Nydegger was a B-26 Marauder pilot with the 555th Bomb Squadron, 386th Bomb Group, based at Great Dunmow (Essex) and nicknamed The Crusaders. On 16 July some 375 B-26 and A-20 bombers of the Ninth AF attacked strong points and bridges around St Lo and Rennes. Recorded on the following day, 17 July 1944. The 386th attained the most outstanding record of all B-26 units in the ETO in terms of number of successful sorties flown, tonnage of bombs delivered and enemy aircraft destroyed while maintaining the highest bombing accuracy score. The Group also received a Distinguished Unit Citation.
14. SUPPLY MISSION TO WARSAW
An account of a 4000 mile, five day shuttle mission in September 1944 by Lt George Prokopec (navigator) and Captain Jim Miller (pilot), probably of the 95th Bomb Group (8AF). On 18 September, 107 B-17s (with P-51 escort) departed from bases in England, dropping 100 tons of weapons and medical supplies for resistance forces in Warsaw, then flew on to Soviet bases assigned to Operation Frantic (see above). Having re-armed and refuelled, the following morning the force bombed railway yards at Szolnok near Budapest (Hungary), and despite sustaining heavy flak damage Miller's B-17 managed to struggle on to land at Foggia, Italy. Most of the force returned to England on 22 September; this recording was made on 25 September. The Warsaw supply drop proved to be the final mission of Operation Frantic. The heroic uprising lasted for 63 days between August and October 1944, but the Soviet army stopped short of the city, and (save for the one USAAF mission) declined to assist with Allied attempts at air supply, leading to allegations that Stalin wanted the uprising to fail. It was also alleged that the USAAF dropped the supply canisters from too high an altitude, with the result that only 20% of the drop reached the Polish insurgents.
15. ARDENNES OFFENSIVE: THUNDERBOLT PILOT
An account by Captain George W. Osborne, a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt pilot with 53rd Squadron, 36th Fighter Group (9AF), recorded 30 December 1944. Born at Charleroi, Pennsylvania on 26 June 1963, George Osborne arrived in the ETO in July 1944. He flew 56 combat missions over France, Belgium and Germany, chiefly armed reconnaissance patrols and close-support for infantry and armour, and in 1945 spent several weeks as an Air/Ground Cooperation Officer. The 36th Fighter Group received two Distinguished Unit Citations between September 1944 and April 1945.
16. NINTH AIR FORCE P-47 FIGHTER PILOTS
Light-hearted, banter-filled conversation with four Thunderbolt pilots: Major Barry Chandler, Captain Carroll A. Peterson, Major W. Herway and Captain Wilfred B. Crutchfield, recorded in December 1944. All four flew P-47s with the 362nd Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force, one of the premier fighter-bomber units in the ETO. The conversation was recorded in the mess at their Rouvres (France) base by Denis Johnson on 24 December 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge. Kentucky native Wilfred Crutchfield earned a reputation as a top rail line cutter in WW2, and also flew in Korea and Vietnam, but was killed in April 1968 when the T-33 Shooting Star jet trainer he was piloting crashed into Mount Rainier, Washington. The wreckage remained undiscovered until 2004, having traveled 4,000 feet with a glacier down the side of the volcano. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in December 2005.
17. DAMAGED B-26 MARAUDER
An account by Lieutenant Edwin H. Armstrong, co-pilot of a B-26 Marauder of the 391st Bomb Group (9AF), then based at Roye Ami in central France. Over Sarrlautern on 2 December 1944 the aircraft received two direct flak hits from 88 mm guns, causing catastrophic damage and wounding pilot Lieutenant Ed Dunn. Despite almost losing its tail (with two men trapped inside), and carrying an unexploded bomb, the B-26 managed to return to base and land safely. Recorded 22 January 1945. Dunn later flew A-26 Invader aircraft. The 391st suffered heavy losses in WW2, and was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation in December 1944.
18. B-17 FLYING FORTRESS: BALING-OUT
Staff Sergeants Labonte and Carvello describe an extraordinary parachute descent over Germany after their B-17 was hit during a raid on the German airfield at Giessen (near Koblenz) in January 1945, during the Ardennes campaign. In order to avoid the B-17 crew landing behind enemy lines and being taken prisoner, one of the P-51 escort fighters repeatedly flew in close during the descent, so that the prop-wash blew the bomber crew back over their own lines, to land safely. Recorded 24 January 1945.
19. BERLIN RAID: B-17 FLYING FORTRESS
An account of the major daylight raid on Berlin on 3 February 1945 by Captain Gregory Good, a B-17 pilot. Recorded on the same date, 3 February 1945. Almost 1,000 8AF B-17s attacked the Berlin rail network in the belief that the German Sixth Panzer Army was moving through the city en route to the Eastern Front. The raid killed between 2,500 and 3,000 people and 'dehoused' another 120,000. Eisenhower and Spaatz considered the raid desirable in order to assist the Soviet offensive on the Oder, and promote Allied unity. During the raid Kreuzberg (the newspaper district), Mitte (the central area) and other areas such as Friedrichshain were severely damaged. Several government and Nazi Party buildings were also hit, including the Reich Chancellery, Gestapo headquarters and People's Court.
20. BERLIN RAID: P-51 MUSTANG ESCORT
An account by Major Merle B. Nichols of the 20th Fighter Group, tasked with escorting the 8AF bombers to Berlin on 3 February 1945. Nichols, of Bellevue, Washington, became Commanding Officer of the 77th Fighter Squadron on 18 December 1944, and five days later was promoted to the rank of Major. During two tours Nichols flew a total of 482 hours and 35 minutes in combat, and was credited with downing three enemy aircraft. He was awarded the Air Medal with 11 clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross with two clusters. Nichols died on 12 June 2002 aged 84, and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
21. B-24 LIBERATOR: RHINE SUPPLY DROP
Accounts by Colonel Allen W. Reed, Sergeant Johnson and Captain Creever following the spectacular low-level supply drop on 24 March 1945 to troops of the British 6th Airborne Division near the German town of Wesel. Recorded the following day, 25 March 1945. All three men served with the 491st Bomb Group ('The Ringmasters'), an 8AF B-24 Liberator unit based at North Pickenham (Norfolk). Colonel Reed was the Group Commander, and would not normally have flown on operations. No less than 240 B-24s were tasked with re-supplying the 17,000 airborne troops landed during Operation Varsity, and encountered concentrated anti-aircraft fire. The 491st lost three aircraft on this mission, and most of the B-24s involved suffered battle damage.
22. B-17 FLYING FORTRESS: RAF SERVICE
Talk by Flying Officer Mulligan of 90 Squadron (Royal Air Force), recorded 26 September 1941. The first (and last) RAF B-17 unit was formed in May 1941 and operated from West Raynham (Norfolk), equipped with 20 B-17C aircraft supplied under the Lease Lend program. Intended for high altitude operations in daylight, this premature combat deployment was not a success, chiefly due to maintenance and pressurisation problems. Coupled with inadequate defensive armament, this lead to the unit suffering high losses (nine aircraft) during 23 missions, chiefly against targets in France and Norway. It was withdrawn from operations in September. The Short Stirling, the first British four-engined heavy bomber, had already entered operational service in February 1941, followed by the Handley Page Halifax a month later, and the first Avro Lancasters at the end of the year. Instead the RAF sent its remaining B-17Cs to the Middle East, while later deliveries were used for electronic jamming and maritime reconnaissance only.
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