Posted in B-17, WWII

In Memory of the Nine-0-Nine

My husband and I flew on the Nine-0-Nine on Feb 23, 2018, at Cecil Field near Jacksonville, Florida. The flight was amazing. I was thrilled to be on board the B-17 and to share a tiny bit of the experience the men had who flew in it during World War II. As a writer of historical romance set during World War II, I’ve done a lot of research on the B-17. My first published novel, Kitty’s War, features a hero who is a navigator with a B-17 crew flying bombing missions over Europe. Since both the B-17 and the B-24 flew from England to Europe during that time, I researched both, finally selecting the B-17 for my novel. So getting to see a B-17 in person was incredible, but getting to fly in one was a spectacular event in my life.

I’m writing this post to honor the crew and passengers of the Nine-0-Nine who were on board when it crashed in Connecticut on October 2, 2019. Both pilots and five of the ten passengers died that day. Seven others had severe injuries and are still recovering. The crash was such a tragedy, especially for the families and friends of those who were killed and injured. It was also a tragedy for the Collings Foundation and for all of us history buffs who yearn to have the first hand experiences these flights offer.

I am posting here some of the pictures I took the day we flew in the Nine-0-Nine. Some I have posted before and some I have not.

The pictures above show where we entered the plane for our flight, the seats in the waist gun area and the exit door from the inside.

These are pictures of the crew while in flight. We weren’t supposed to bother the pilots. Note that the co-pilot on our flight was a woman. The nice guy standing was the “flight attendant.” He got us all situated and told us what we could and could not do.

During the flight we were allowed to unbuckle our seat belts and walk around in the plane.

I walked around the ball turret and through the radio room.

 

Then I walked through the bomb bay, alongside the fake bombs, on a very narrow metal bridge with only ropes as hand holds. When the B-17 is in flight there is more motion in the plane than on a modern commercial jet. The motion made it more difficult to walk around. These two pictures show the view as I started through the bomb bay and one that didn’t get quite focused due to the motion of the plane.

 

I stood in the Flight Engineer’s position behind the pilots before dropping down to the “tunnel” leading to the nose. I had to crawl so I was glad to have the polished wood for my knees.

The bombardier and the navigator sat in the nose. They had quite a view.

 

 

 

I started back to my seat in the waist. Here is a view through the bomb bay toward the waist.

 

Back in the waist area we looked out the windows.  As you can see we weren’t very high.  Nothing like the flights at 20,000 feet requiring oxygen.

After a smooth landing we were back on the ground safe and sound.

It was an incredible flight. Every time I talked about the flight I said I would do it again in a minute. And I would, still, after the crash. It was so sad to lose the Nine-0-Nine, but all the other historic military planes should keep flying and keep taking people like me for the ride of their lives.

 

Posted in B-17, Friends, WWII

Tom Brewer – Hometown Hero

For Memorial Day, I am honoring the memory and the service of Maury Thomas Brewer or Tom Brewer as he was known in my hometown. When I was growing up, Tom lived next door to us and he taught Agriculture at the local high school. I didn’t realize until I was grown that he had been in the Army Air Corps during WWII, had been shot down and held in a Prisoner of War camp in Germany.

Originally from Big Sandy, Tennessee, Tom joined the Army Air Corps on March 3, 1943. After months of training at various places across the U.S., Tom was assigned to the 325th Squadron of the 92nd Bombardment Group, Eighth Air Force, at Podington airfield, near Rushdin in Bedforshire, England.

I couldn’t find a record of how many missions Tom flew. Rob Hutchings of the 92nd Bomb Group Fame’s Favored Few Facebook page sent me a document compiled for another airman, Tech Sergeant Walter E. Papunen. On four of the missions recounted in this document, Sgt. Maury T. Brewer was a waist gunner.

On Aug. 1, 1944. Brewer and Papunen flew with Pilot 2nd Lt. William F. Schramm to Orleans and Chateaudun, France. On Aug. 5, 1944, the mission was to bomb the airdrome at Hanover, Germany. On Aug. 6, they bombed an ME-109 plant in Brandenburg, Germany.

B-17 #42-107090 at hard stand at Podington Airfield

The mission on August 9, 1944, was to bomb the marshaling yards at Karlsruhe, Germany, near Munich, with 2nd Lt. William E. Schramm piloting B-17 #42-107090. They were hit by flak and the plane crashed at Echterdingen, Germany. All nine crew members survived the crash and were captured.

I cannot imagine what it was like for Tom’s mother, Mrs. Thelma Penick, when she received the telegram from the War Department telling her that her son was missing in action. It would be months before she was notified that he was a Prisoner of War.

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Brewer spent nine to ten months as a Prisoner of War (from Aug. 9, 1944, until his camp was liberated in April or May, 1945). The National Archives Records of Prisoners of War report for Maury T Brewer lists the camp he was held in as “Unknown.” A newspaper article reported that he was home on leave after being released from a Prisoner of War camp near Bitterfield, Germany. That information did not help since I could not find a POW camp listed in that area.

In my research about the German POW camps for my novel, Kitty’s War, I learned of conditions that ranged from poor to deplorable. Red Cross packages, when distributed to the men, supplemented the meager German-provided food. Medical care was provided primarily by other prisoners. The wooden barracks were poorly heated and the thin blankets gave little warmth during the bitter cold winter of 1944-45. Beatings and torture were not uncommon. The camps run by the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, were better than those run by the German Army or Navy, yet they were all miserable places. As the war grew closer to its end, conditions in the camps deteriorated since the Germans barely had enough supplies for their own military. When several of the camps were threatened to be taken by the Russians, prisoners were marched to other camps through terrible weather with next to no rations. Many died. This is sometimes called the “other death march” since few know about it.

Liberation by American, British or Russian armies brought joy to the Allied prisoners. After much needed medical treatment, the American ex-prisoners were transported back to the United States. Here is the newspaper article reporting Tom’s leave home to visit his family. He was discharged on November 15, 1945.


After the war, Tom returned to Big Sandy where he married Beatrice Price on December 2, 1945.

Tom passed away August 22, 2009, at age 86. He is buried in Middle Tennessee Veterans Cemetery. Here is a link to his obituary. Thanks to Tom and all the others who have served our country.

Also, thanks to the members of the 92nd Bomb Group (H) Fame’s Favored Few Facebook page for their help in compiling this information, especially Robert McHugh, John Davidson and Rob Hutchins.

Posted in B-17, History, WWII

B-24 Witchcraft and P-51 Mustang

Last February when we went for a ride on the B-17 Nine-O-Nine, we also got an up-close view of the B-24 Witchcraft. The Collings Foundation had three WWII vintage airplanes on display that day and all flew passengers. The third plane was a P-51 Mustang or, more specifically, a TF-51D Mustang which is a two-seated training fighter. Since it was in the air most of the afternoon, we didn’t get as close to the fighter.

While researching for my novel, Kitty’s War, I read up on America’s two heavy bombers trying to decide which one to use in my story. The B-17 won out but I was impressed by the B-24’s capabilities.

The B-24 Liberator was a heavy bomber designed by Consolidated Aircraft. It’s design was more modern than Boeing’s B-17. The B-24 had a faster speed, heavier load capacity and the ability to fly at higher altitudes. Many crews preferred the B-24 over the B-17, but the B-17 had a reputation for making it back to its home base despite heavy damage. The B-24 had a tendency to break up when heavily damaged, especially when it hit the water. That’s because of the structure and location of the bomb bay. 

I climbed inside the Witchcraft to get a feel for the aircraft. Pictures from inside show the ammunition boxes and the oxygen bottles. Looking from the waist gunner positions behind the wings forward through the bomb bay you can see all the way to the bombardier’s seat.  The walkway through the bomb bay was wider and less obstructed than on the B-17. I didn’t get into the nose of the B-24 where the Bombardier sat.

 

The B-24 was the plane that Jimmy Stewart flew during his time overseas in WWII. If you saw the movie “Unbroken,” Louis Zamperini was shot down over the Pacific in a B-24.

While inspecting the aircraft before we went on our flight in the B-17, we met a WWII veteran. James Connelly was there to take one last flight in a B-24, the same plane he flew in during WWII. During the war Connelly flew twelve missions before his B-24 was shot down over Germany. He then spent nine months in a German POW camp. Mr. Connelly was fascinating and I hope to talk to him again.

I got some pictures of the P-51 fighter as it sat on the runway ready to take off with a lucky passenger.

Posted in B-17, History, Research, WWII

B-17 Nine-o-Nine

This is a re-post of a post published in March 2018 after our flight on the Nine-O-Nine. I want to honor this beautiful airplane and all those who were killed or injured this morning when the Nine-O-Nine crashed in Connecticut. This is a sad, sad day.

 

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.

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 History, WWII

Contrails in the Sky

When I  see contrails crisscrossing the sky, I wonder what the skies over Europe looked like during World War II. So many military aircraft were flying back then, heavy bombers, medium bombers and fighters. Without today’s on-board radar, clear skies provided ideal flying weather for the bombers and a clear, blue sky is a perfect backdrop for snowy-white contrails.b17-dropping-bombs-fb-cover

The U.S. Eighth Air Force flew daytime missions over Europe beginning in 1942. While the British flew at night, the Americans tackled the more dangerous daylight hours. Even during the Luftwaffe’s infamous blitz in 1940, the Germans dropped their bombs at night. They knew their bombers were much more vulnerable in the daytime. But the Americans believed that their heavily armed B-17 “Flying Fortress” and the comparably armed Consolidated B-24 could withstand German fighter attacks without the protection of their own fighters. It would be late in 1943 before long-range fighters would accompany the bombers all the way to the target and back. The Americans also believed that by flying in the daytime their bombardiers could be more accurate. The top-secret Norden bomb sight enabled the bombardier to hit the selected target with less damage to nearby non-military structures. At least that was what they believed at the time. Later they found that although the U.S. bombings had less collateral damage than the British “carpet” bombing, their accuracy left much to be desired. Also, the American losses due to anti-aircraft fire or “flack” were horrendous.

20161129_172923But let’s get back to those contrails that marked the path of bombers across the sky. Contrails are a phenomenon of atmospheric conditions. When the heat from airplane engines interacts with the moist atmosphere at high altitudes and when the temperature and humidity are within certain ranges, a contrail (essentially a cloud) is formed. Engine emissions facilitate the cloud or contrail formation by providing tiny particles for the moisture to gather around.   Depending on conditions at altitude the clouds or contrails may quickly disappear, may hang in the sky as long thin lines or may spread out into what eventually appear to be natural bands of billowy clouds. Today’s contrails are produced by jet engines, but during World War II airplanes were powered by internal combustion engines. These engines produced enough heat to create the contrail phenomena.

20161129_172606When squadrons of bombers stacked into box-like formations sped across the sky, their contrails must have been a sight to see. Instead of one solitary streak across the sky, groups of pencil-thin clouds would have marked the squadron’s progress. When the humidity and temperature were right, these bombers could not hide from the enemy.  Germans on the ground could easily track their direction and note when the group changed course. It was no wonder that the anti-aircraft fire was so deadly accurate.20161129_172750

Conversely, the streaks across the sky must have comforted those in occupied countries as the American bombers flew over France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Luxembourg.  In the dark years of 1942 and 1943, when the Germans dominated Europe and the Allied forces were far away in North Africa and Sicily, these contrails provided hope to the people of Europe. Their message written across the sky said that Europe had not been forgotten.

Learn more about the Eighth Air Force and their war over Europe by visiting the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum just outside Savannah, Georgia. It is a fascinating place to visit.

And read about the men in those bombers in my novel, Kitty’s War, which will be released on Friday, December 16, 2016, published by The Wild Rose Press and available at Amazon and other online stores.

 

Posted in Historical Sites, History, Research, WWII

The Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum

We recently traveled to Savannah, Georgia, and decided to stop in at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum. It is right off I-95 at Pooler, Ga. I’d seen their website but wasn’t sure what to expect. Wow! Were we impressed!

The museum is housed in a beautiful facility that includes the extensive exhibits, research facilities, gift shop and a small cafe. The fees are extremely reasonable, especially since you could spend an entire day and not see all the exhibits. For anyone interested in World War II or in the history of the U. S. Air Force, this is the place to visit.8th AF Museum Rotunda

With the research that I have done on the WWII era for my novels, I probably knew more about the 8th Air Force than most visitors. Both my husband and I have always had an avid interest in the Second World War, the politics, the fighting, the men and women who fought, and those who stayed behind on the home front. We went from exhibit to exhibit looking at the artifacts and reading the explanations starting in the rotunda where busts of important 8th AF individuals  include Jimmy Stewart, the actor/movie star who piloted a B-24 on missions over Europe, and Jimmy Doolittle, who gained fame by leading the raid on Tokyo before taking command of the 8th.

The exhibits are set up so that the visitor is led through the war starting with the events that led up to the U.S. involvement. The origin of the 8th Bomber Command in January, 1942, just a month after the United States had declared war on Japan and Germany, at Hunter Field in Savannah, Ga., explains the museum’s location. In February, 1942, the 8th relocated to England where the English assigned them to air fields in southeastern England. Later, in February, 1944, the 8th was redesignated the 8th Air Force, still part of the Army Air Corp. The war would be over before the Air Force would separate from the Army as a separate entity.

In 1942 the 8th began flying missions over German occupied Europe. During the next three years the 8th would suffer more than 47,000 casualties, over 26,000 deaths and its men would be awarded numerous medals including seventeen Medals of Honor.

One of the most impressive exhibits is the B-17 bomber currently being restored named the City of Savannah. The plane takes up an enormous exhibition space. Although it is not open for visitors to climb aboard, just walking under its huge wings gave me goose-bumps. You can see the engines up close, read and watch videos of each crew members responsibilities, step inside a booth to experience the waist gunner’s position, and look in the ball turret to wonder how a grown man could fit in the small space. A B-24’s tail with its 50 caliber machine gun shows the cramped, awkward space occupied by the tail gunner.B17 Tail with Fighter

I enjoyed sitting in the tent watching and hearing the crew briefings before they embarked on a bombing mission. The equipment, uniforms, various insignia and personal memorabilia of many of the squadrons, both bombers and fighters, were displayed in a series of glass cases. Another fascinating section was the replica of a German prison camp where 8th AF crews that had been shot down were held. Stories of evasion and escape as well as artifacts and pictures of those interred help the visitor understand the experiences of the prisoners.

I don’t want to give the impression that the 8th AF Museum only deals with World War II. Other exhibits tell of Korea, the Strategic Air Command and the conversion to jets. Additional exhibits honor the Tuskegee Airmen, the women of the WASP (Women’s Airforce Service Pilots), an art gallery and even the girl scouts.

Outside we found even more. A B-47 Stratojet sits beyond the grounds of the Memorial Garden. A replica of a British chapel provides a place for quiet reflection similar to that available to the men of the Mighty 8th while in England. Out front an F-4C Phantom Jet and a MIG 17-A stand guard.

B47 StratojetBy the end of our allotted time my husband and I both agreed that we had to come back. We felt we had only skimmed the surface of the vast amount of information available. When we return we will be armed with the names of at least two WWII 8th AF veterans who lived in our home town. We will also plan to stay overnight in one of the nearby motels so that we can spend as much time as possible in the museum.

For anyone interested in World War II, the history of the Air Force or of aviation, this is a must-see museum.