Posted in B-17, History, Research, WWII

B-17 Nine-o-Nine

As promised in my last post, here are more photos of the B-17 Nine-o-Nine that we flew on a couple of weeks ago. These were taken on the ground as we walked around and examined the plane before our flight. I’ve seen so many pictures of B-17’s, but a picture does not compare to seeing the airplane in person.

On Feb. 23, 2018, we drove out to Cecil Field to see the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom 2018 tour. The main attraction for me was the B-17 G Nine-o-Nine. I’ve been fascinated with the B-17 from the time I began researching for what turned out to be my first published novel, Kitty’s War. In my novel, the hero is a navigator on a B-17 stationed in a fictitious air field in England as part of the U.S. Eighth Air Force.  

The B-17 G is a later version of the famous bomber which had the “chin” turret added in the front just below the navigator’s perch in the nose of the airplane. Since the German fighters often attacked the bombers from the front, flying straight into the formation, the designers added a gun position on the nose to fire at oncoming fighters.

 

The Plexiglas surrounding the bombardier giving him maximum visibility. He used the closely guarded Norden bomb-sight to zero in on the target and drop the load of bombs. When under attack from fighters, the bombardier fired the 50 caliber machine guns in the “chin” turret.

While the plane was still on the ground, I climbed inside to look around. This is the entrance the pilot, co-pilot, bombardier and navigator would have used to enter the plane. In movies and newsreels I’ve seen them jump up, grab hold of the top of the opening and pull themselves up into the bomber. The ladder makes it much easier.

Once inside, I moved forward into the nose. Straight ahead you see the bombardier’s seat. Note the ammo belts for the guns and the big wooden box for extra ammunition.  To the right of the bombardier’s seat are the controls for the “chin” turret guns. The navigator’s desk is behind the bombardier on the left. The navigator was also responsible for manning a machine gun.

The navigator would have carried maps marked up with the day’s mission. These would have been given to him in the briefing prior to taking off. Although the flight path for the primary target and the secondary target were already worked out, if something went wrong, the navigator would have to use the maps and his training to get the crew back to their base, or at least back to England.

Climbing back down I continued my walk around the airplane.

Behind the wing, the ball turret is visible beneath the fuselage. In this swiveling device, the ball turret gunner could swirl around and shoot in almost all directions. Shorter airmen manned the ball turret due to the cramped space in this position.

The tail gunner guarded the rear of the airplane. My husband is pointing to the gun sights in the small window. The sights would have been used to aid the tail gunner in aiming his guns. The Flying Fortress, as the Boeing B-17 was called, had thirteen 50 caliber machine guns which covered every direction to defend itself from enemy fighters.

The bomb bay doors were open as the B-17 sat on the ground. So I stooped down and looked up to get this shot of the “fake” bombs. Cool view!

Inside at the waist gunners’ positions you can see the seats added for those of us who would fly. The seats consisted of a small cushion to sit on and a larger one to lean back against. Looking through the plane from here, at the rear entrance, you can see the top of the ball turret, then through the radio room and into the bomb bay. The large yellow bottle-like container in the center of the photo is an oxygen bottle. This airplane was not pressurized. When the altitude reached about 5,000 feet the crew had to put on oxygen masks so they could breathe. The oxygen masks were attached by long tubes to numerous oxygen bottles throughout the plane. This aircraft was also not heated. The crew wore bulky, padded, electrically heated suits and gloves to stay warm and prevent frostbite at high altitudes.

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The contraption pictured here is the “put-put.”  If you have read my novel, Kitty’s War, you will remember my reference to it during a mission when the plane is damaged. It is the back-up electrical generator used to provide vital power to systems if the main power supply from the engines was lost.

Here is a close up of one of the four, powerful, 1200 hp engines.

Finally, a parting shot of this beautiful bird. We had a great day both touring and flying in this fantastic B-17. Thanks to the Collings Foundation for restoring these historic aircraft and for keeping them in flying condition so that the public can see them and experience flying in a World War II vintage airplane.

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Posted in B-17, Research, WWII

Flight in a B-17

View of the St. Johns River from the Bombardier seat

What an incredible flight! My husband and I recently flew in “Nine-O-Nine,” a WWII vintage B-17 G owned and operated by the Collings Foundation. The B-17 along with a B-24 and a P-51 are touring the country as part of Collings 2018 “Wings of Freedom” tour.

Since I took so many pictures that I want to share, I will split them up into more than one post. I’ll start with the in-flight shots on “Nine-O-Nine.” The on-the-ground pictures will be in a later post.

Let’s start with me waiting to take off.  Notice that we are sitting on the floor in the waist gunner positions. No luxuries here.

Once in the air we were allowed to move around in the plane so that’s what I did. Here is the waist gun position looking out over the wing. 

Next comes a view of downtown Jacksonville way in the distance. We flew out of Cecil Field so we were a few miles west of downtown. It’s in the mist but if you enlarge the picture you can see the skyline.

After getting my flight legs in the moving plane, I managed to find hand holds and made my way around the ball turret.  Looking down I could see daylight around the unoccupied gunner position. Not wanting to drop my cellphone when the plane made unexpected movements,  I decided to put it away and only use the camera hanging around my neck on what was proving to be an unsteady journey through the plane.

I moved from the waist gunner area forward into the radio compartment. There were eight passengers on board for our flight. This lady sat in the radio operators position. 

Beyond the radio compartment is the bomb bay. Notice the narrow walkway, just wide enough for my foot, and the small ropes to hold to steady yourself. The v-shape of the bomb supports made for a tight fit as I squeezed through grabbing for something solid to hold onto. Imagine having to do this at 20,000 feet with the bomb bay doors open. Not for the faint of heart.

Beyond the bomb bay is the flight engineer’s position right behind the pilots. Here the top was open. Very windy for the passenger looking out. Out to the side the flight engineer could view the engines from his spot behind the pilots.

We were told not to talk to the pilots during the flight and, believe me, we all wanted them to focus on flying this large, four-engine airplane. They did a fabulous job. Notice that the co-pilot is a woman. Reminds me that the WASP pilots flew B-17’s around the U.S. during the war.

Now down into the small passageway leading to the nose. I had to drop down to the wooden surface, and then get down on my hands and knees and crawl into the nose where the navigator and bombardier sit.

Straight ahead is the bombardier’s position surrounded by Plexiglas.  Notice the gun sight in the center and the machine gun that he operated.

On the left side of the nose is the navigator’s desk. This would have been where the hero in my novel, “Kitty’s War,” sat. Again, there is a machine gun, not in the picture, that he fired when needed.

Back in the waist gunner positions my husband and two other passengers look out the windows. 

Another view out the windows at the river below as we head back to the airfield. 

And, finally, me standing in front of the gun at the waist gunner position with my wild “bomber” hair style. What a fun, once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

 

Posted in 276th AFA, WWII

Battery B 276th Armored Field Artillery

We’ve all seen these group pictures taken when the men finished training or when they returned from overseas. Often we only glance at them. But for those of us whose WWII veteran served in the unit in question, we pull out our magnifying glasses or zoom in to see if we recognize the face of that one special young man. Was he your grandfather, great-uncle, great-grandfather, father, uncle or a close family friend? What did he look like back then? How old (or young) was he?

I recently received this group picture of the men in Battery B of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion from a family member of one of the men. My Father-in-law was in Battery A, but I still enjoy looking at all these young faces. Zoom in and look at some of their expressions. They’re priceless.

The photo was taken at Camp Phillips, Kansas, after their training had been completed. From here they would go to Fort Riley, Kansas, for testing and then on to Tennessee where they participated in the Tennessee Maneuvers. The 276th was pulled out of the Tennessee Maneuvers and sent to Camp Campbell, Kentucky, where they were converted from a regular field artillery battalion to an Armored Field Artillery Battalion. In other words, their tow-behind guns were exchanged for track-mounted 105 mm howitzers. After a few months of training on the new equipment, the battalion traveled to Camp Shanks, New York, where they sailed for England.

The below link is to a hand-written document showing the names of most of the men in the photo.

WWII Docs 2

My list of 276th AFA family members is growing. If you are trying to find more information about your 276th AFA veteran or if you have something to share, please contact me.

And don’t forget, my novel, Kitty’s War, is still available in both print and ebook formats at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes , Kobo, and The Wild Rose Press.

Posted in 276th AFA, 30th Infantry Division, Family, WWII

Christmas 1943 – Where were they?

Many of us associate December and WWII with the famous Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. I was wondering what was going on the year before, in December 1943. We had been at war for two years at that point. Where were the people and units I’ve written about with Christmas 1943 approaching?

On December 19, 1943, my father-in-law, Dewey Paul Whitaker, and the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion boarded a special train at Fort Riley, Kansas, for the Tennessee Maneuver area in Middle Tennessee east of Nashville. They had been at Fort Riley for battalion tests after training in Camp Phillips, Kansas. They arrived at Gallatin, Tennessee and from there they moved to a bivouac area in a meadow near Hickman, Tennessee, where, in the pouring rain and mud, they celebrated Christmas 1943.

My Dad, Vernon R. Knight, arrived at Moore General Hospital near Asheville, North Carolina, on Christmas Eve. This was his first hospital post after completing training in rehabilitation therapy at Camp Grant, Illinois. From a letter to my mother dated December 24, 1943, (his birthday), he wrote of the loneliness and disappointment he felt at being away from home for Christmas.

My Uncle D. T. ( Boots) Knight was in Camp Roberts, California, where the 947th Field Artillery Battalion had been stationed since December, 1941. The battalion had originally been part of the National Guard activated in late 1940. After two years in California they spent Christmas 1943  preparing to ship out. On December 28, 1943, the 947th Field Artillery Battalion moved to Camp Stoneman to prepare for departure, and then, on January 9, 1944, the battalion sailed from San Francisco on the USAT Seaflasher, destination New Guinea.

My Dad’s cousin, Herman Connell, was working in Bowling Green, Kentucky, after dropping out of high school. No doubt he traveled by train down the line to his hometown of Paris, Tennessee, and spent Christmas 1943 with his family. He would turn eighteen the following spring and join the Army. In March, 1945, he was killed in Germany.

At Camp Atterbury, Indiana, Frank Towers had reported to the 30th Infantry Division. He and his bride, Mary, celebrated Christmas in Indiana as the division prepared for shipment overseas. Through final training at Camp Atterbury, the division coalesced into a fighting unit before moving to Camp Myles Standish near Boston in February, 1944. After a short stay in Boston, the division sailed for England.

Christmas 1943 was the second, and in some cases the third, Christmas away from home for many of our military after the United States entered the war in December 1941. Those I’ve written about here were finishing training and would soon depart for battlefields overseas. Some would be home for Christmas 1945, but some would not.

We should all remember those serving in the military all around the world this Christmas. Like their counterparts in World War II, they are lonely and missing their families back home during this holiday season. Pray for their safe return so they can spend future Christmas’s at home with their families.

 

Posted in 276th AFA, 30th Infantry Division, History, WWII

ETO in Early October 1944

What was going on in the European Theater of Operations during the first part of October, 1944? Sometimes it’s interesting to look at what was happening in different places at the same time. In early October the European front stretched from the Netherlands/Belgian/German border in the north to the French/German border near Metz further south.

On October 2 the 30th Infantry Division launched a full-scale attack on the Siegfried Line east of Maastricht, The Netherlands. The Germans had retreated from France, Belgium and the southern part of the Netherlands to make a stand at the long string of reinforced pillboxes and tank traps along their western border. Edward Arn, in his book “Arn’s War,” describes the grisly death of his commander, Captain Melvin Riesch, that day during the attack on Rimburg Castle which caused Arn’s elevation to commander of Fox Company, 119th Infantry Regiment. Fox Company, along with the rest of the 30th Infantry division would go on to attack the German City of Aachen from the north flanked by the 29th Division and the 2nd Armored Division. The 1st and 9th Infantry Divisions attacked Aachen from the south. The city surrendered on October 16 , 1944 and was the first major German city to fall to the Allies.

On October 3rd, Lieutenant Charles McDonald crossed the German border and joined his new command, Company I of the 23rd Infantry Division in the Schnee-Eifel forest east of St. Vith, Belgium. McDonald wrote of his baptism by fire during the next few weeks in his classic memoir “Company Commander.” His account of the desperate fighting along that portion of the Siegfried line and his shockingly rapid introduction to life in combat as a Company Commander provides such a vivid picture that you feel you are there with him.

From September 10 through October 15, 1944, the 276th Armored Field Artillery, which included my father-in-law, was supporting the 2nd “Free” French Armored Division. They took positions near the Foret du Parroy, east of Nancy, France, on September 23 and remained in that position until October 15 providing supporting fire for the French Division as well as the nearby 79th Infantry Division. The 4th Armored Division was also in this area near Nancy. All were part of General George Patton’s command.

Back behind the lines, PFC Mollie Weinstein, had settled into her quarters in a hotel in newly-liberated Paris. The WAC provided clerical support for the Army and in her free time explored the famous city. Her memoir, “Mollie’s War,” includes letters she wrote home describing her experiences including meeting GI’s who’d landed on D-Day at a USO provided entertainment event and the plight of civilians in liberated Paris. Although news reports predicted the war would be over by Christmas, Mollie joked that she wouldn’t be home until 1946. The WAC’s instincts were right. It was November, 1945, before Mollie was shipped back to the states.

In early October,1944, the news from Europe sounded good to the folks back home. Paris and most of France had been liberated. The Siegfried Line had been breached and the city of Aachen taken. Although the port of Antwerp had fallen to the Allies in September, fortifications along the estuary leading to the sea blocked the port until November. Supplies were still being unloaded on the Normandy beaches and trucked across France by the Red Ball Express. Shortages slowed the Allies advance as the Germans fought to defend their borders. The war in Europe would go on for another seven months.

 

Posted in Old Movies, WWII

The Best Years of Our Lives – The Movie

One of my favorite movies is “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Released in 1946, it’s not about the fighting during World War II. Instead the movie tells the story of three servicemen returning to their hometown after the war. The three main characters are very different yet their journey home together forms a bond between them.

Captain Fred Derry, played by Dana Andrews, was a poor kid who worked as a soda jerk before the war. In the Army Air Corp he rose to the rank of Captain and served as a bombardier on a B-17. While in uniform, he married a pretty blonde (Virginia Mayo) who went to work in a night club after he left and had a high old time while he was away. She still wants to party with her handsome, uniformed soldier while Fred wants to settle down and find a job. Unfortunately he’s not qualified for most civilian positions and can’t compete in a market flooded with returning GI’s.

Sergeant Al Stephenson, played by Fredric March, was an up-and-coming banker until Uncle Sam put him in the Army. When her returns he barely knows his wife (Myrna Loy), his grown-up daughter (Teresa Wright) and his teenage son. The children have grown up while he was gone. He reluctantly returns to the bank with a new attitude about what is important.

The third serviceman is the young sailor Homer Parrish, played by real injured veteran Harold Russell. Homer, who had been a high school football player, lost his hands in a naval battle. He has learned to use the hooks the Navy gave him and dislikes being treated like an invalid. The pretty girl-next-door waited for him and still wants to marry him but Homer doesn’t want to burden her with his disability. Hoagy Carmichael, as Homer’s Uncle Butch, adds color to the story by playing piano in his bar where the three men meet up.

The movie trailer for “The Best Days of Our Lives” bills it as full of romance. There’s Homer and his girlfriend who resolve their differences and get married. The middle-aged couple, Al and Milly, become reacquainted and fall in love all over again. And the main romance between Fred and Al’s daughter, Peggy. Attracted to Fred, she sees that his wife doesn’t really care about him, so she decides to break up the marriage. Fred finally sees his wife for the gold digger she is. He cares for Peggy but without a job he has nothing to offer her. But don’t worry, there is a happy ending for Fred and Peggy, too. You’ll have to watch the movie for the tear-jerker ending.

One of the most visually impressive scenes in the movie shows acres and acres of airplanes, both bombers and fighters, waiting to be demolished and recycled. The sweeping scene is like viewing a vast military cemetery and remembering the former glory of those buried there. All my research on the 8th Air Force makes this an emotional scene for me.

Posted in Historical Sites, History, My Novels, Research, WWII

Elveden Hall as Setting for novel Kitty’s War

The setting in a novel can provide a unique location for events to unfold. Some authors use real places and real historic landmarks in their books. I recently read “At the Water’s Edge” by Sara Gruen and she used Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness as her setting. Other authors create completely fictional locations to suit their needs. And some create fictitious locations based on actual places. This is what I did in my novel, Kitty’s War.

While doing research for Kitty’s War, I needed a fictional location for the 8th Air Force Second Combat Bombardment Wing Headquarters where the main characters got together. I knew that during WWII the English took over large country houses and estates for use by the military and some of these were assigned to the growing American forces. These estates were ideal for the Air Force because they provided enough space for construction of air fields and temporary buildings for housing and other needs. The large homes were perfect for headquarters.

My image of an English country house was something like Highclere Castle used for the setting of Downton Abbey. I couldn’t use that one so I went in search of houses that were actually used by the military. That’s how I found Elveden Hall. It had a fascinating history including that it had been owned by Maharaja Duleep Singh, ruler of the Sikh Empire, during his exile in England. While living there he completely redesigned the interiors of the house to resemble the Moghal palaces in India.

During WWII Elveden Hall served as headquarters for the 3rd Bomb Division, also known as the 3rd Air Division. That made it perfect for my purpose. I made changes so that it is more a fictional location that a real one, such as adding a hospital and air field which were not actually on the grounds and changing the name to Ellingham Castle . For more information about the US Air Force in England during WWII, including a picture of a Women’s Army Corps corporal working at Elveden Hall, follow this link.

I have not been the only one who thought Elveden Hall would make an interesting setting. Several movies have been shot there including “Eyes Wide Shut” where director Stanley Kubrick used the interiors to create a unique atmosphere. This YouTube video of one scene shot there will give you an idea of the interior of this unique house.

Kitty’s War is available online.