Posted in History, WWII

Can We Compare Coronavirus Pandemic to World War II?

Are we in a war with the Coronavirus? Some say we are and, although it’s not the same, I can see a few commonalities with World War II.

A lot of people may not know that at the beginning of WWII there were severe shortages of weapons. Draftees and Federalized National Guard troops had to train with wooden sticks as rifles and trucks as tanks. It took months for American industry to convert over to war production.

We were not prepared for war then and we were not prepared to combat this virus.

Today, we have shortages of personal protective equipment for our healthcare workers. We don’t have enough ventilators for critically ill patients. We don’t have enough tests. Some industries have converted from their normal production over to production of medical equipment and protective gear for the front line medical workers, like General Motors making ventilators, Carhartt and Hanes making gowns and masks. Many distillers have switched from making alcoholic beverages to antibacterial hand sanitizer. Others companies, like 3M and Kimberly Clark, are working around the clock to produce masks, but there will still be shortages until industry can catch up to the demand.

The people who have jumped in and are sewing cloth masks remind me of the people who rolled bandages and conducted scrap drives during World War II. People gathered up anything that could be reused for war materials, from paper to cooking oils to rubber to metal, because they wanted to help in some way, just like the seamstresses are today.

During World War II to ensure that enough raw materials went to industry for manufacturing war materials, strict rationing went into effect. Things like meat, butter, sugar, clothing, shoes, rubber, and much more were rationed. Production of consumer goods ground to a halt as industry shifted to making airplanes, guns, tanks and ships. Today some goods are becoming hard to get. These goods are not going to war production, rather we are either not manufacturing them because plants are shut down to keep from spreading the virus or we are not importing them due to the Coronavirus related shut downs overseas.

Hoarding and price gouging were also problems during World War II. Back then it wasn’t toilet paper. It was food. A thriving black market developed between people obtained goods illegally and those who had money and were willing to pay any price. If you were caught selling goods on the black market, you went to jail. In recent months, people trying to price gouge to make a profit selling hoarded items have found themselves in legal trouble as well.

During WWII people were separated from their loved ones but in a different way than what is happening now. Men and women serving in the military were sent far from home first for training and then into combat. Other Americans moved to places where they could work in defense manufacturing, leaving home and loved ones behind. People waited patiently for the mail to arrive bringing news from a far away loved one.

Finally, death is another similarity. Soldiers died far from home. If they were lucky, a friend was with them. Today Coronavirus victims die alone without family and friends at their side. Almost every household in America lost someone during World War II. The way this pandemic is going everyone in America probably knows someone with the virus. And before it is over, many of us will know someone who died from it. That is the saddest comparison of all.

Just like during World War II, we are all in this crisis together. Our weapons are social distancing and hand-washing. Meanwhile we wait for better, more effective weapons to treat and prevent this terrible disease that has invaded our country.

Posted in B-17, History, WWII

Ye Olde Pub B-17

The B-17 Ye Olde Pub was in Jacksonville last weekend. We didn’t get to ride this time but we went over to Craig Field to have a look. Our six-year-old grandson went with us and he had a ball.

The plane is owned by the Liberty Foundation. Along with the B-17, they also brought a P-51 fighter. We didn’t get to see the P-51 up close because it taxied away and took off on a far runway. The P-51 had its tail painted red to honor the Tuskegee Airmen or “Red Tails.” You can see the P-51 in the background of my picture in front of the B-17.

My grandson and I toured inside the old bird while my husband waited outside. We climbed into the nose through a tight passageway. Once inside the nose you can stand up and look out through the Plexiglas surrounding the bombardier’s seat. The navigator also sat in the nose at a make-shift desk where he plotted the course.  The hero in my novel, Kitty’s War, was the navigator on a B-17 similar to this one.

Back through the narrow passageway, on your knees or, like me, scooting on your behind, we climbed up into the area behind the pilots. In the picture you can see the numerous gauges and controls the pilots had to monitor. No wonder it took two to fly the bomber. The flight engineer stood behind the pilots and fired the top turret guns.

From there we walked across the narrow bridge through the bomb bay. My grandson loved this part. It was like walking the balance beam on his playground. I was busy taking pictures and pointing out the fake bombs. For the walk-through the bomb bay doors were open and we could see the pavement below. I’m not sure my grandson fully understood how the bombing worked.

In the rear of the B-17 we saw the radio room, the top of the ball turret and the positions of the two waist gunners. In this model the gunners were staggered so they wouldn’t bump into each other while firing at attacking fighters. The 50 caliber machine guns were mounted in place with the belts loaded with bullets. Very realistic.

Outside we walked around, inspecting the tail gun from the rear of the plane. We saw the ball turret hanging down from the belly of the plane. With it open we could see how small the space was for the gunner to sit. Definitely had to be a smaller airman.

The stop in Jacksonville was the first on the Liberty Foundation’s 2020 tour. Visit their website at https://www.libertyfoundation.org/schedule  to see the schedule. If they are in your area you should definitely go see the vintage airplanes. If you can afford it, I highly recommend taking a ride. It is an unforgettable experience.

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 Research, WWII

English War Brides during WWII

Growing up I remember this tiny English woman who lived in our town. She had hair so blonde that it was almost white and her daughter had that same blonde hair. As a child I didn’t think too much about it. Later I learned that the lady was an English war bride. She had married an American soldier while he was stationed in England. I wish I had talked to her about it. Unfortunately I didn’t become interested in these English women who followed their hearts and left their homes across the ocean until later in life.

In 1946 English war brides began arriving in the U.S. They scattered across the country, some to big cities and others to small towns like my hometown. In the outlying areas the war brides were truly alone, except for their husbands. They had no family of their own nearby and, despite a common language, there were many cultural differences. In areas where there were larger numbers, brides formed groups or clubs which gave them a sense of comradeship and shared experiences.

The English girls who married American servicemen far outnumbered all the other nationalities of war brides. This is not surprising given the fact that American servicemen arrived in England in early 1942 and remained in the country until after the Japanese surrender in 1945. Three years was plenty of time for romance to develop between lonely soldiers, sailors and airmen and the local female population. An added incentive was the lack of competition from Englishmen who had been conscripted into the Royal services and sent to the far reaches of the British Empire.

I have a number of books, both compilations of stories and individual memoirs, about war brides. I recently purchased one that delves into the media coverage of the war bride phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic. “From the Battlefront to the Bridal Suite” by Barbara G. Friedman is proving to be quite interesting and I’ve only read the beginning.

Other books about WWII War Brides in my collection include “War Brides and Memories of World War II” by Elizabeth Hawthorne, “War Brides of World War II” by Elfrieda Berthiaume Shukert and Barbara Smith Scibetta, “Promise You’ll Take Care of my Daughter” by Ben Wicks, “Memoir of a French War Bride” by Jeannine Ricou-Allunis, “Entangling Alliances” by Susan Zeiger and “Bittersweet Decision” by Helene R. Lee.

At one time I thought I might write a series of novels about World War II War Brides. The subject fascinated me and still does. These women fell in love with men from another country that they barely knew. They left their own families and the only homes they had ever know to move to a foreign country across the ocean. At that time the only communications would have been by letter, with the occasional, very expensive and very inconvenient long distance telephone call which few of these women could afford. A trip back home meant either traveling by ocean liner or by airplane, both of which were very expensive at the time. So many of the war brides never saw their families and friends again. They started a new life with only one person they knew, their soldier-turned-civilian husband. Most of the marriages lasted. Some didn’t.

You cannot deny that these young women made a leap of faith and a statement about the strength of love when they made the decision to marry an American serviceman.

 

 

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 276th AFA, Research, WWII

Two Books About The M7

I am always on the lookout for information related to the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion in which my father-in-law served during WWII. Recently I purchased two books about the M7 “Priest,” the mobile 105 mm Howitzer artillery piece utilized by the 276th AFA as well as by numerous other similar U.S. and British units. The British first called it “Priest” because the rounded machine gun mount resembled a pulpit.

“Images of War M7 Priest” contains over 200 photos of the M7, most in black & white and some in color. Descriptions accompany each picture and, in the combat photos, identify the unit in which the M7 served. On page 96 there is a photo of  soldiers of Battery C of the 276th AFA replacing the track on their M7. Although my father-in-law served in Battery A, it is exciting to see Battery C of the 276th represented in this book.

The book also provides various types of information about the M7. Discussions include its original concept at the beginning of WWII to the companies who designed and manufactured it.  Data on the different models and the number of each produced by which company is included as well as details on what was changed on each model. Technical data on the M7, on the Howitzer and on the organization of a typical battery is included in the appendix.

Photos show the M7 in different settings. There are training photos and pictures from North Africa where the British were the first to use it. The gun proved so effective it was used in Italy, in the invasion of France and the push across Europe to Germany. It was also used in the Philippines. Later the M7 saw service in Korea.

 

I also purchased a second book by David Doyle, “M7 Priest Walk Around.” This book provides detailed photos and explanations of many aspects of three different models of the M7. There are pictures of things like the tail lights, sprockets, idler brackets and ammo storage. Closeups of the driver’s position, various views of the Howitzer from the gunner’s viewpoint, the panoramic telescope for sighting the targets and numerous views from inside the fighting compartment fuel the imagination as to what it would have been like to the men who manned this mobile artillery piece.

For you technical nuts there’s lots to see and read about in this compact volume. Most of the pictures are of M7’s in museums rather than in combat, but some photos were taken before and during WWII.

These books were written by David Doyle and are available on his website David Doyle Books as well as other online outlets. David Doyle’s website features books on all kinds of military equipment, from armor to airplanes to vehicles to ships. He also has books about British and German military equipment.  I am getting nothing for recommending David Doyle’s books, just pointing them out anyone who may be interested.

 

Posted in Family, Old Movies, WWII

Communications With Loved Ones During WWII

In today’s age of technology we have a variety of ways to instantly communicate with our loved ones, even those who are serving overseas in the military. We have cell phones that allow us to communicate by phone call, by text, by social media apps like Instant Messenger, Snap Chat or Instagram. We can even communicate face to face using programs like Skype.

Not so during World War II. In the 1940’s the most used form of communication was the letter. Yes. Actual hand-written, paper letters. Many a romance blossomed through letters written over the long months and years of separation.

The telephone did exist, but long-distance telephone calls were expensive. You couldn’t dial the number and have your loved one answer, not if you were calling someone out of town. You had to get a long-distance operator and have her place your call. Yes, I said “her” because all the telephone operators were women. This wasn’t a wartime thing. Women were always used for telephone operators.

It would have been rare and extremely expensive to place an overseas telephone call during the war, although these were possible due to the undersea cables. But they were very limited. Roosevelt may have called Churchill in England but the average person could not call up their son stationed over there.

Another mode of communication used in the 1940’s was the telegram. Western Union operated telegraph offices in practically every town in America. If someone wanted to send an urgent message to a loved one far away, say a son stationed at a military base in another state, then they would go to the Western Union office and send a telegram. Western Union employed delivery boys or girls or older men to deliver telegrams from the telegraph office to the addressee’s home or office. Mickey Rooney earned an Academy Award Nomination for his role as a telegraph delivery boy in The Human Comedy. It is a little known film well worth watching.

Although telegrams could deliver joyful news, like the birth of a baby or a loved-one’s pending arrival, telegrams often conveyed bad news, like a death, so many people dreaded receiving one. The U. S. Government used telegrams to notify families when a soldier was killed, wounded or missing in action.

Telegrams and telephone calls weren’t instantaneous but, for the time, they were quick forms of communication. On the other hand, letters could take anywhere from days to weeks to reach their destination. Mail sent to soldiers or sailors overseas might take two weeks each way. And they might not arrive in the order they were sent. Pretty hard to carry on a conversation at that rate. And if the mail bag was blown up or sunk the letter never got to its intended recipient.

The military devised a method to both speed up the mail and to cut down on the bulky shipments. They called it V-mail or Victory Mail. The person at either end would write their letter on a special, V-mail form. After mailing the V-mail form would be photographed and put on microfilm. The microfilm would be transported overseas, to Europe or Australia or wherever, and at the other end the microfilm would be printed. This printed “V-mail letter” would then be delivered to the addressee.

So be glad you live in this modern age of instant communication. Or maybe not. Back during World War II when you wrote a letter you had to think about what you were going to say, weigh the words your loved on would read far away on some battlefield or home worrying about you. The letters were often saved and cherished for years, especially love letters from someone special far away.

My mother saved a box of letters my father wrote to her during World War II. Reading them not only told me about the events of the time but also gave me insight into who my parents were as young people, their thoughts and feelings. It’s the kind of thing this current generation won’t have thanks to our various technological modes of communication.