Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Visiting Barth

My sister Nitalynn and I are planning a trip to Northern Germany to see the place where our father was in prison camp in World War II. As you’ve read, his plane was shot down by German ME 109s over Yugoslavia on April 2, 1944. He parachuted out and the Germans captured him and took him to Barth, Germany. He stayed there until May 14, 1945, when he boarded a B-17 and was flown to France. The Germans had surrendered on May 7, and the Allies declared victory on May 8 (V-E Day) (coincidentally my sister Nitalynn's birthday).

We’ve been saving for years for this trip with tiny oil and gas checks, thanks to our parents. We are taking our husbands and wish that we could take the whole family.

It will be a trip of mixed emotions. The Germans were once our enemy; now they are our friends. They have a past which they have not forgotten, but are dealing with it in positive ways. You’ve read about the friendly encounters that Red McCrocklin had with the Germans. In the end, Hitler had ordered that all captured enemy air officers be killed. Thank goodness, the Luftwaffe colonel in charge of the camp refused to obey Hitler’s orders to move or kill the prisoners. To help him decide to disregard Hitler’s orders, Allied planes flew over and dropped leaflets on the camp and surrounding area. The leaflets had a photo of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin and said that the Germans at the camp and in the area would be held personally responsible for our safety. Now there’s a miracle.

“Red” McCrocklin's book, “Combat and Capture,” us filled in the blanks and connected us to two German women. We will visit the director of the Barth museum, Helga Radau. She herself was a young child living through horrendous experiences in World War II. We will also meet Grete Haslob Koch, whose father was a German guard in Stalag Luft 1. Her father was friendly to the Americans and once gave Red a German dictionary so he could learn German, which saved his life several times.

In addition to the former prison site, I am looking forward to seeing that church with the tall tower and visualizing the Allied prisoners walking under the arch of the ancient town wall toward the camp. We know that just about all there is at the former site is a large stone with a plaque, but it will still be an emotional time of imagination and remembering. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Learning to Survive

I spent some time watching "Hogan's Heros" TV series and the movies "The Great Escape" and "Stalag 17" to get a sense of what it was like to be in prison camp. Red said that "Hogan's Heros" wasn't very accurate, but my father said that some of it was true, especially about the Germans being so rigid with their rules and procedures. 

I'm repeating myself, but I am grateful to have Red McCrocklin’s book “Combat and Capture”  to fill in the blanks my father left about their time in World War II. Here are some of his observations about what it was like to be a Kriegie.

“First and foremost, you must be able to adjust to the radical change in your status. The day before your capture, you were free and honored by your country. Suddenly you are in the hands of the enemy who despises you and would as soon kill you as not. It is quite a shock . . . I realized that although I was unlucky enough to be shot down, it could have worse. I could have been killed, or badly wounded as many others were. I did not allow myself to ‘hate’ the enemy, because hatred consumes you and causes you to act irrational . . . To help me survive and to increase my chances of escaping (The Germans expected the men in the camp to try to escape.), I learned enough German to understand what they were saying and to communicate. I was thankful that I did, because being able to communicate saved my life on several occasions.

“. . . There were two roll calls daily, one in the morning and one each evening. The roll calls, though routine, could be quiet an adventure when we tried to mess them up to cover an escape attempt. The Germans would usually tolerate one, or two miscounts, but if we persisted in screwing up the count, they would bring up the machine guns, fix bayonets and say, ‘Now we will get an accurate count, will you please cooperate?’ We would get the message and cooperate.”

Here’s a poem about the roll call from my father’s war log:

Out for the Count (to the tune of “Give My Regards to Broadway”)

Oh, ven ever I go out for roll call
In zee morning or zee afternoon
I always hear a familiar phase
Straight from the lips of a goon
Spoken aloud in a whisper
And minicked by all Kriegies
Mein, zwei, drei, vier, fumf, sech, zeben,
Please slets zem stands zat ease!

 (Photo above is the "cooler" where prisoners were placed in solitary confinement. My father was there from May 31 to June 14, 1944.)

The Kriegies had many things to keep them busy. They played parlor games; athletic games would burn up needed calories. They had a library, a theater and a camp orchestra and old movies. Red said,“The greatest pastime of all was watching our planes come over. One time, it felt as though the entire 8th Air Force made a low level pass over Stalag Luft I. They were so low that we could see crew members waving at us. It was glorious. . . .it lifted our morale during those dark days of the winter of 1944-1945.

Life in Poetry

Here’s a poem on page 3 of my father’s war log that was written by someone in his barracks. It must express something of what it was like to be in Stalag Luft 1:

The house we spent in forced content
The long awaited “Big Event”
The written letter that ne’er appears
That the folks at home at last had heard
The sandy soil so easily blown
The barbed wire fence not so easily flown
The sports field and trodden path
The weekly showers and bucket bath
The baseball games and passing girls
The long-haired men with feminine curls
The huge mustache and shaven head
The soiled beard and straw filled beds
The shuttered windows and systematic search
The tunnel diggers with mud besmurched
The “Klim” can pans and make shift lamp
The fireless stove when days were damp
The Red Cross parcels and “Jerry” rations
The Red Cross clothes and self-made fashions
The turnips, cabbage and lowly spyds
Many time wet and covered with mud
The margarine, jam and cheese and fish
That made a rough untempting dish
The weighty bread we had to toast
The “D” ration chocolate we loved the most
The long sought toothbrush and awful paste
That rivaled the food in bitter taste
The modern plays and concerts too
The plaques, works of art and barley glue
The posten towers and bright spot lights
That search the camp through the night
The sirens wail and droning planes
The flying boats and whistling trains
And last but not least in the G.T.O
Our Kriegie friends, every Tom, Dick and Joe

An artist in his barracks did this sketch. And here’s another poem titled “Kriegieland”

Keiegie life is full of strife
With trouble ever brewing
Worried about that girl or wife
While cooking, washing, sewing
The bugle calls us twice a day
To roll call, what distraction
The sirens warn of air raids
Flak guns go into action

Living on Hopes and Prayers

My father and his crew that were captured by the Germans were eventually taken by train to Barth, Germany. Here they were marched through the town to Stalag Luft 1 prison camp. The term “Luft” refers to Luftwaffe or German air force, which managed all the prisons that held captured Allied air men. There were approximately 9,000 men, mostly American and British airmen, in Stalag Luft 1. These men were lucky, if you can say that because, although the Gestapo and the SS (the political wing of the Nazis) seemed to be involved on the periphery, it was the German air force that oversaw the camps. In 1935, Hitler had appointed Hermann Goring (Goering in German) commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, a position he held until the final days of the war. Fortunately, he had insisted that all captured airmen be treated under the rules of the Geneva Convention. The men were called Kriegsgefangenens or Kriegies for short, and they wore huge red “KGF” letters across the back of their uniform jackets.

Barth is situated on a lagoon of the Baltic Sea, facing the Fischland-Darss-Zingst peninsula. The presence of the prison camp is said to have shielded the town from Allied bombing during World War II. Today the population of Barth (approximately 8,700) is less than the total prison population of Stalag Luft was at the end of the war.

According to Red McCrocklin, the camp was run with an “Oberst” (full colonel) and he and his staff had full responsibility for the overall operation. “. . . There was another authority in the camp in which the prisoners were subject. This was the allied command with the senior allied prisoner of war in charge. Even though you were a prisoner of war in an enemy prison, you were still an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps and expected to act accordingly.” All air officers had been briefed on “The P.O.W. Code of Ethics.”

My father said very little about his time in the prison camp. Just a few comments here and there. The War Prisoners’ Aid of the Y.M.C.A. gave him, and probably all the other prisoners, a hand-bound wartime log where he kept drawings, notes, poems, lists of Red Cross package contents, and many other bits of information. My sister and I were always fascinated by this Army-brown, cloth-covered book when were growing up. I am guessing he wanted us to read “between” the lines to understand what it was like to be in Stalag Luft 1.  

My father got his first piece of mail from my mother on October 11, 1944 (Keep in mind he had been at Stalag Luft since April 1944). Actually, it was two letters, one dated July 8, 1944 (one day before his 28th birthday) and one dated July 12, 1944. These two letters, typed on special stationery, marked on the front with “Prisoner of War Post (Kriegsgefangenenpost) and “U.S. Censor,” have a special page in the book. In the July 12 letter, Nita writes, “Really, darling, everyone has been so lovely to me I couldn’t help being brave. If you can take it, I certainly can. I try not to worry because I know you wouldn’t want me to. Do you ears burn sometimes? That’s because all the time people are saying the nicest things about you, and I just nearly burst with pride.” She closes this letter with, “There’s a popular new song, ‘I’ll be seeing you,’ which I have adopted as my favorite.”

We continue with a few comments from Dick and Nita:

Nita: I could send him packages ever so often. I sent candy. They would only allow you so many packages.

Dick: She didn’t send any cigarettes, but she did send pipe tobacco.

Dick: We got along pretty good when we could get a Red Cross parcel a week. (The photograph above shows lists and drawings of the American, Canadian and British packages). The Germans usually would give us potatoes when they had them, or eggs or cooked barley about everyday then. It’s a red barley. One time they brought a whole truckload of cabbage in there and at first they kind of were doling it out. Guys weren’t eating it so you could go up there and get all you wanted. Each one (barracks) cooked for themselves. Over in that North Compound I think they had a general kitchen.

(Can you believe that my father kept this tiny piece of German bread for almost 70 years? He always had cans of Vienna sausages under the seat of his truck or van. After looking over, the list of contents of the parcels from the American, Canadian and British Red Cross, which contained among many things Spam or corned beef, I wonder if this habit didn't come from his prison camp experience where food and water were always a problem. The Kriegies were indeed dependent on the Red Cross as all the Germans supplied were black bread, margarine, potatoes, barley, erstatz (artifical) jam, ground horse meat when available, cabbage, swedes (turnips) and Polish and French cigarettes.)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Kindness Even in War

This is one of my favorite stories in Red’s book, “Combat and Capture.” It’s hard to believe. After being captured and transported to Germany, the train stopped in Vienna, Austria, where it missed the train to Germany because it was late. Red had two Luftwaffe (German air force) sergeants as guards that watched over him. Red said they “were happy and in good humor because they were going home on leave. Their sole duty was to deliver me to an interrogation center in Frankfurt.” The guards took him to “a large canteen for German soldiers on leave. It was a huge place with hundreds of German soldiers coming and going. Food and refreshments were served by girl hostesses in pretty red and white uniforms. It was a cheerful place that made the war seem far away. The guards got us a table and after being served, got up and left telling me that I could go anywhere in the room, but not to leave it, or I would be shot!

"After observing the situation, I noticed soldiers with towels, soap and razors lined up before lavatories across the room. It had been almost a week since I was captured, and I had not had a chance to wash, or shave so I was very dirty and ‘grubby.’ I thought a minute and decided to go get in line for a lavatory. I walked across the room, got in line and waited my turn. When I got to the lavatory I realized that I had neither soap, nor razor. Without hesitation I tapped the shoulder of the German in front of me who had just finished and motioned that I would like to borrow his soap, razor and towel. I will never forget the look on his face when he turned and saw who had tapped him. It was a mixture of surprise and disbelief. He hesitated, then handed me his shaving equipment and towel. I used it, thanked him and handed it back as if nothing unusual had happened. The other soldiers around acted as if nothing had happened. I went back to my table feeling clean and refreshed, but in awe that I had gotten away with it, because a POW is just not supposed to act as brazen as I did!” (I never got to ask my father if he was in that canteen with him.)

When Red got to the interrogation center in Frankfurt, he discover that the Luftwaffe had a complete file on him, including among many details like his parents’ names, where he went to college,where his air base was, and the serial number of the plane he was flying in the day they were shot down. The number had been taken from a photograph taken in Italy. All they got out of him was his name, rank and serial number. He found out later that the Germans kept files on all air officers they thought would be in positions of importance. I bet they had a file on Dick Terrell.

Joining the Germans

Dick and Nita describe what must have been a very gut-wrenching time in their lives after his B-24 was shot down.

Dick: They got ready to put us on a train. They had carried us from Karovac by truck up to a place called Zagreb (Yugoslavia). We spent the night there (I didn’t realize that my father had been there in the war when I spent the night in Zagreb on Wednesday, July 10, 1968. I wrote in my diary that I had 12 percent beer and lettuce for dinner. Keep in mind I didn’t realize much after just graduating from college.) And they put us put us on a train, and we went up through Vienna. We changed trains in Vienna. I stayed real close to that guard too. Them damn civilians could whip you. I think the 8th Air Force had bombed them sometime before that and they were a little bit teed off. They gave us some old black bread and I don’t know what else. (See photo of a piece of bread saved from WWII and the recipe in a future posting). I guess we went all the way through Austria and on up to Frankfort, Germany.

We went to Barth, from Frankfurt, and went through Berlin. That was kind of scary there. The eighth Air Force was bombing, but we didn’t have anything really close to us. I had met up with Red in Zagreb. I met up with all of the officers (including Phil Crum and Seymour Stutzel) in Zagreb. It was good to see them, yeh.

Nita: Particulary Stutzel because he was Jewish.

Dick: When we were in that prison camp, they moved Ol' Stutzel over to that North Compound. Of course at the time, we didn’t know what they were going to do, but he was a Jew. (See the note from Stutzel in future posting). Hell, he looked Jewish. I don’t know, but they could do just about anything they wanted to.

Nita: (When I heard he was missing in action), I had been to Aunt Ruth’s playing bridge and when I came home and got the telegram. It wasn’t April 2. It was at least two weeks from then. (The telegram was dated April 19, 1944 – note it says he is in North African Area.) It seemed like it was about six weeks when we learned he was alive. (She actually received a telegram dated May 18, 1944 stating that he was a German prisoner of war). I was able to write him. The Red Cross gave me his address. I wanted to let you know about Jim (the husband of Nita’s dear friend Ouita Smith Herring who had been in the double wedding with them and had been killed in action.)

Dick: I had inquired and they wouldn’t give me any information. *

You may have noticed in the previous posting, “April 2, 1944 from the Official Records,” that three of “The Miss Zeke” crew were able to evade the enemy. We’ve already heard about Herman Lipkin. Red McCrocklin in his book, “Combat and Capture,” tells Warren Stuckey’s story: "He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for saving the lives of two crew members and evading the enemy on the ground. After being wounded by flak (in the plane), Sgt. Stuckey un-jammed the ball turret, extracted Sgt. Eide from it, so he could bail out. He also placed tourniquets on the leg of Sgt. Lerum, the tail gunner, whose leg had been shot off above the knee, and pushed him from the aircraft. Sgt. Lerum later died on the ground from his wounds. Sgt. Stuckey was able to join a group of Yugoslav Partisans and successfully evade the German patrols eventually returning to the 456th Bomber Group base at Cerignola, Italy.

*It turns out that Jim (Second Lieutenant James W. Herring) was awarded the silver star for gallantry in action in France on June 7, 1944. According to the newspaper article, his citation said: The ammunition dump and motor pool of Herring’s battalion was bombed and staffed by enemy aircraft, which ignited a large quantity of flame thrower liquid. As the fire grew in size and intensity, mortar ammunition, which was nearby began to explode. Herring, disregarding his own safety, rushed to the fire and attempted to beat it out. Seeing that he was unable to accomplish this, he nevertheless remained at the fire, throwing ammunition away from the flames until the fire was localized. A large amount of badly need ammunition and valuable government vehicles were thereby saved from destruction. Herring’s battalion fought without rest from the Normandy beachhead to beyond Montebourg and on the road to Cherbough. The dead the boys of the “Ivy Division” left behind enemy dead as well as their own. Theirs was the unenviable mission of scrambling through the marshland flooded with Jerries before the enemy backed up from the coastal zone and they could reach the paratroupers who had landed behind the German lines. (I am guessing that my mother and Aunt Ouita (as we called her) were a great comfort each other after the death of her husband as my mother never knew if and when my father would be coming home.)

April 2, 1944 from the Official Records

This account of what happened on April 2, 1944 came from the 456th Bomb Group official records of the 15th Army Air Corps:

The Thirteenth Mission - April 2, 1944

We with begin here in another interview with Dick and Nita. He’s describing what it is like to be in the midst of a bombing mission.

Dick: First, there were explosions inside the shell and there were pieces of metal and that is flak. You are not kidding, we were up some 20,000 feet and things are busting all around. They (the bombs) are shot out of a canon on the ground. Not much flak would hit the airplane, but it was close enough that you could feel it and I’ll tell you, it ain’t fun. The highest mission I ever remember flying was about 23,000 (feet). The main gun on that (enemy airplane) is a German 88 millimeter gun. That’s pretty good size shells. They would get up in the air where planes were flying. An anti-aircraft gun. But also, they used them on the ground some too.

(It was cold at 20,000 feet) Ol’ Red carried a boiled egg one time and he got ready to eat it, he couldn’t eat it; it was frozen. We wore long underwear. A couple of mission we flew up to where we could see the Alps and then we turned. We went around the east end of them. We went up over Yugoslavia toward Austria. 

It (when The Miss Zeke was shot down) was the first time I ever jumped with one of them (parachute). (I always through it was interesting that the Army Air Corps trained him so intensively to fly the B-24, but never trained him to parachute out of a plane.) We had what you call a chest pack. Lot of pilots usually carried a back pack. And I’ve used a back pack, not to jump, but you sit on it, so it’s all on the back, but the rip cord is all in the same place. We had on a harness and it had clips on it and all you had to do was clip on it a couple of rings. I remember when Phil put my on, I said, “You’ve got it on upside down.” He said, “No, I don’t.” I said, “You’ve got it on upside down.” And then I had to jerk that thing with my left hand instead of my right hand.

Nita:  Red said that he had to almost make you put it on (when they realized the plane was not going to make it.)

Dick: They (Army Air Corps instructors) did tell us which hole to jump out of. I wasn’t in the air very long. I went out the bomb hole. I landed in a tree (near Zegrab, Yugoslavia). I took my knife and cut them straps (to get out of the tree).

Nita:  It was a “fun” tree.

Dick: It was about three or four feet off the ground which made an easy landing, but I was scared out of my whits. It was easier (landing) than it was to jump out. Heck, that jerked the heck out of you. Count, hell, I just jumped out and pulled. Really, everyone jumped out except one. That was Dennis King, top turret gunner, and he was dead. (The remaining crew did not land in the same place.) I didn’t see the enlisted men until I guess it was two days later, maybe three.

Other Accounts of April 2

A 2000 Email to Stalag Luft 1 Museum Director

My father wrote this to Helga Radau, director of the town museum in Barth, Germany (more on that later) of what happened on April 2. The target was a ball bearing plant in Steyr, Austria:

“Just before reaching the target we had trouble with No. 3 turbo and after dropping our bombs on the target, we lost No. 1 engine from flak on leaving the target. Not being able to keep up, we lost formation and began losing altitude. We were soon attack by six fighters. The tail turret was hit by a rocket and our electrical system out. Six other fighters soon joined in. Coming in from 6 o’clock and 3 abreast. With the left rudder shot off, the tail and top turrets out, and oxygen system on fire, the crew bailed out with the exception of the top turret gunner who was bad. I was captured in about two hours by Croatians who on 3 April turned myself, the navigator & co-pilot over to the Germans who sent us to Stalag Luft 1.”

Red McCrocklin Recounts Some of April 2

A Tyler, Texas Morning Telegraph article (April 25, 2009) describes Red McCrocklin’s account bailing out of the airplane (This is another one of Claude "Red" McCrocklin's drawings) :  “Then on his 13th mission, fighter planes picked McCrocklin’s bomber out of the pack. The bomber’s top turret gunner was cut down and the engines rendered ineffective by merciless strafing. Cut from formation, the B-24 was vulnerable. The intercom was destroyed. Standing in the clear plastic bubble nose of the bomber, McCrocklin looked back at the pilot (Dick) and signaled if they should bail out.

“At first he (the pilot) said no, but then a bullet went whizzing by his head (I can only image what words came out of my father's mouth then) and those of us who were still alive bailed out.” That’s when his perspective changed, said McCrocklin. “I’d never thought much about God, he said, but when you’re on a parachute, having bailed out of a burning plane and fighters are whizzing by trying to shoot you, there are no atheists in the skys.”

(As Red recounts in his book) After they had bailed out, six German ME-109s finished off  "The Miss Zeke." Red watched it crash and explode in a column of smoke. The ME-109s work done, one of them peeled off and headed directly toward him. As he fell through thousands of feet, the German plane continued to follow him. He thought the worst, that the plane would shoot him, so he just stared at him. The pilot flew really close, looked over at him, smiled and saluted. Later, Red would meet the pilot on the ground who told him that he was following him to radio his position so he could be picked up.

A Message from Facebook, of All Places

I received this message through Facebook in 2005 from Harry Rader, a man who had worked for my father in his hardware store.

“I worked for your dad at Oaklawn Supply . . . Dick and I talked at length about his experience (prison camp) in the then Army Air Force and my experience while in the Navy in Korea. He also enlisted me into the Air Force National Guard and let me keep my ranking. He was one of the key people in my life and I loved him dearly . . . Oh yes, the German soldier that found him in a ditch after he released himself from the tree was a very young kid (teenager) in the Home Guard . . . and after your dad put his hands over his head and pleaded to the youngster not to shoot him, he did not shoot. If it had been a (German) Storm Trooper*, your dad would have probably been shot . . . Your dad survived at a very strict Stalag prison camp for those many months. All this was told to me in the stockroom in the back of the store. He told me also the back pay the Army gave him after he was released was some of the money with which he bought the store. Dick Terrell was an exceptional person.”

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Flying from Italy

In the last interview with Nita and Dick, he described flying the "Nita-Lynn" to Europe. He and his crew were now based in Cerignola, Italy, which opened for combat flying in late 1943 and was part of the larger Allied Foggia Airfield Complex. The location at the “heel” of the boot (just below the little bump on the heel) of Italy made it strategically possible to reach most places in Europe.

My father never talked much about his time in Italy except that they were housed in tents. One day, he ran into someone from his hometown of Camden, Arkansas, a couple of tents over, which I’m sure was exciting for him to see someone from home. (Show here with crew members [back row] Charles Doerring,  and Chester Eide and [front row] Dick Terrell and Phil Crum.)

His bombardier, Red McCrocklin, noted some of their missions in his book, “Combat and Capture.”  (His inscription to me in my copy of the book said, “I hope that you, by reading this book of my WWII experiences, . . . will realized that Dick was only 4 feet from me in all our missions and only one barrack away from me in the POW camp. This is also his story.” Thank you, Red, for sharing these detailed memories!

My father’s crew’s missions included:

Monte Cassino Abbey, March 15, 1944 – The abbey “was on top of a snow covered mountain that was the most important fortress in the German line across Italy that was blocking the Allied advance up the Italian peninsula. All efforts by ground troops to take it were repulsed with heavy losses, so the 15th Air Force was called in to take it out.”

According to an April 10, 1944 "Life" article, the battle for Monte Cassino began January 16 and lasted two and half months and resulted in a failure. The effort drew criticism. My father's plane was part of a final attack, but the Germans continued to hold the hill. The destruction of the Abbey became an embarrassment to the United States. 

Vienna, Austria, March 17, 1944 – “None of the planes had pressurized cabins so all were open to the cold. The crew was protected by electric wired flying suits, but the plane’s equipment . . . often froze up. (On this mission with a frozen bombsight and bomb bay doors) I, as the bombardier, had to take off my parachute and flak jacket and go to back to the bomb bay, crank open the doors and release the bombs manually with a screw driver . . . The recorded temperature inside the plane that day was 42 degrees below zero.”

Klagenfurt, Austria, March 19, 1944 – (I) “shot down our first German fighter plane on this mission. It was an ME109 that was sent up to radio our air speed, altitude and direction so they could zero in on the B-24’s . . . He was so absorbed in his mission, he got too close . . . My feeling was not exultation of having shot down an enemy plane, but why was he so stupids to fly so close.”

Bologna, Italy, March 22, 1944 – I first saw the devastating effect of mass bombing on this mission. Our target was the railroad yards and station of Bologna . . . The place was jammed with people of all ages. I will never forget the look of terror on their faces . . . As the bombs hit, they and entire trains exploded causing great carnage.”

Alps, March 26, 1944 – “Enemy action was not the only hazard flying over wintertime Europe. On this mission into Central Europe, we ran into an intense cold front with zero visibility. The entire Air Force got lost and scattered all over Southern Europe . . . One time as the clouds opened up a flight of twelve German FW190 fighters were on our wing tip. We saw each other about the same time, but before either of us could react, we were back in the clouds. We finally let down below the clouds and saw the Adriatic Sea and flew south down the Italian Coast arriving at our base after dark and low on fuel.We were lucky to have made it back.”

Red goes on to say that in 1943 and for the first six months of 1944, “the German Luftwaffe (air force) had air superiority over target areas in Central Europe at the time, because our fighters did not have the range to escort bombers all the way to the target. Our losses consequently were heavy. The average number of missions in my group was two. This meant that on your second mission you were likely to be shot down. Some never even got to the target. We were told that our mission at the stage of the war was to knock out the German Air Force in the air and on the ground. The theory was, we can replace our losses, and they can not, so we slugged it out.”

What a miracle that my father's crew successfully completed 13 missions and returned to base from 12 missions. 

A Typical Day of Flying

In his book, “Combat and Capture,” Red McCrocklin describes a typical mission day:

“Preparations for the mission started at 04:00 a.m. with a quick breakfast and then off to pre-mission briefing . . . we were told what the target was. There was a large map of Europe . . . with a red string leading from our base to the target. We were told the distance to the target, what altitude to fly and what opposition to expect. After this general briefing for all crew members, the lead bombardiers had a special briefing . . . the bombadiers were given a photograph of the target area and how to find the specific target. We are also given the necessary information such as altitude of the target above sea level, wind direction and velocity, air and ground speed, etc. From this information we could calculate the data to put into the bombsight.* Basic data was computed on the ground, the rest of it had to be done in flight which was no easy task with someone shooting with you.

"After briefing, we taken to the flight line and our plane. Everything, the preparation on the ground, the battles in the air just to reach the target, were all designed to put the bombardier over the target so he could do his job. . . (On April 2, 1944) After I checked the plane’s equipment, I checked my own. My parachute was missing! . . . I thought a minute and decided that I had flown twelve combat missions and probably would not need it, then too, the plane had already taxied out to the runway. . . An overpowering feeling came over me to get that chute. The pilot (Dick) called on the plane’s radio for a jeep to take me to the parachute repack station. When I got there, my chute wasn’t ready so I started to leave without it, when the repack girl said, ‘Lieutenant, take this extra chute, you might need it.’” Did he ever?

(This photograph of Red McCrocklin and Dick Terrell was taken in 1942 during their training period.)

*The Norden bombsight was a tachometric bombsight used by the Army Air Corps (Now Air Force) in World War II as well as in Korea and Vietnam to aid the crew of a bomber aircraft in dropping bombs accurately. Key to the operation of the Norden were two features: a mechanical computer that calculated the bomb's trajectory based on current flight conditions, and a linkage to the bomber's autopilot that let it react quickly and accurately to changes in the wind or other effects.

The Consolidated B-24 Liberator

As you have read before, Dick was the pilot of a B-24 bomber. It’s hard to believe that at the age of 27 (in 1943), he commanded this airplane, led a crew of nine people, and held responsibilities of such magnitude. (Read in the first blog posting, “My Father in World War II,” the description of their flying formation after take off.) You will remember that his original airplane, the one he flew from the United States to Europe was named the "Nita-Lynn." Red McCrocklin said that when they arrived in Italy, a high-ranking officer commandeered the "Nita-Lynn" because it was in good shape. My father and his crew were assigned the "The Miss Zeke," which was not in great shape and was the plane they were were flying the day they were shot down. 

“The (B-24) airplane was 66 feet long, 18 feet high, and has a 110-food wingspan. Four Pratt & Whitney engines drove it; fully loaded, with more than 8,000 pounds of bombs, it weighed 80,000 pounds. The plane had a ceiling of 32,000 feet, a top speed of slightly more than 300 miles per hour, and a range of 2,850 miles. It defended its self with ten .50 caliber machine guns.” Americans built more B-24s than any other airplane ever. (description from the book “The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany” by Stephen E. Ambrose)

The B-24 played a key role in the Allied strategic bombing campaign of World War II. According to Laura Hillenbrand’s book, “Unbroken,” “Flat-faced, rectangular, and brooding, the B-24 had looks only a myopic mother could love. Crewmen gave it a host of nicknames, among them ‘the Flying Brick,’ ‘the Flying Boxcar,’ and ‘the Constipated Lumberer,’ a play on Consolidated Liberator.”  She goes on to say, “The cockpit was oppressively cramped, forcing pilot and copilot to live check by jowl for missions as long as sixteen hours. Craning over the mountainous control panel, the pilot had a panoramic view of his plane’s snout and not much else . . . A pilot once wrote that the first time he got into a B-24 cockpit, ‘it was like sitting on the front porch and flying the house.’ (I can imagine what my father said the first time he got in the cockpit) . . . Flying it was like wrestling a bear, leaving pilots weary and sore. . . (I saw what the inside of a B-24 looked like in the movie, "Unbroken." It seemed pretty scary with a large open space for the bombs.) (When under enemy fire) the Norden bombsight, not the pilot, flew the plane . . . The risks of combat created grim statistics. In World War II, 52,173 Army Air Corps men were killed in combat.”

Hillenbrand continues, “Taxiing was an adventure. The B-24’s wheels had no steering, so the pilot had to cajole the bomber along by feeding power to one side’s engines, then the other, and working back and forth on the left and right brakes, one of which was usually much more sensitve then the other. This made the taxiways a pageant of lurching planes, all of which sooner or later, ended up veering into places nowhere near where their pilots intended them to go, and from which they often had to be extricated with shovels.”

When my parents married, my father took the civilian pilot training course at the Hot Spring Airport. He had already agreed to join the Army Air Corps so he took the course to get advanced training, which lasted three or four months. He also worked for Arkansas Power & Light Company and did some surveying for a power line in Hot Springs. After that was over, he loaded groceries and drove a truck for my grandfather who had Stueart Grocery Co. warehouse. Of that experience, my father said, “I didn't anymore know how to drive truck than anyone.” And yet, he was able to fly the B-24 successfully on 12 missions and complete his bombing assignment on the 13th