Memories of a Jug Driver

To Greenhorn, Bigweek's Devilhawk Historian, who somehow managed to take a random series of Bigweek Newsgroup posts and transform them for posterity.

And to Earl "Dutch" Miller, 345th FS and Hugh "Rowdy" Dow 347th FS;  Fighter Pilots

This page relates memories of USAF Colonel Earl Miller (ret). Earl served during WWII as an pilot in the US Army Air Corps, 345th Fighter Squadron of the 350th Fighter Group in North Africa and Italy.

A recipient of the Silver Star and Distingushed Flying Cross, Earl has blessed the AirWarrior community with his interest, giving us all a direct and engaging view of the experiences of a WWII combat pilot. Earl's candor helps preserve an unvarnished view of history and lends an even-handed perspective from his personal experience with the P-47 "Jug" and P-39.

 

Contents

From the logbook

Posted by Pasha to Combatsim.com


Sunday, February 14, 1999 - 03:33 pm:

Pasha writes:

These are some memories of the only real Thunderbolt Pilot I know.

Thanks to Tiff for the scans.


Wednesday, January 13, 1999

Iron Cross...

Been thinking about the Iron Cross. I am now convinced that at one time one of the squadrons (we were hardly ever based together) made a pilot who pranged one of their birds wear a German Iron Cross hung around his neck for a period of time (perhaps for a week - just guessing).

Earl


Tuesday, December 22, 1998

"Devilhawks" Squadron...

I have a book here about the Jug that is interesting. The title is, "P-47 Thunderbolt at War" by William N. Hess. Doubleday Book Club addition. It has a lot of good things about the P-47 - how it was developed and how it was used in the different theaters of war in WW II. Not much about the Mediterranean, but I learned things I didn't know before - about the 15th Air Force, P-40's being used etc. I guess each of us was concentrating on just what we were doing. I am sure we knew a lot less what others in the theater were doing than the Germans did.

Of note in this book:

Maj. Hugh "Rowdy" Dow On page 110 is a picture of Major Hugh D. "Rowdy" Dow and a P-47 with rocket tubes. Mr. Dow is the self-appointed historian of the 350 Fighter Group now and does a good job of it. He is always hounding us for more information and statistics.

On page 116 is the picture of the 4 P-47s of our squadron that you have seen and which our Dutch friends put on a website for me. Problem here is the caption states the aircraft are of the 27th Fighter Group. Really very little difference - our jobs were the same.

P-47s of 345th FS

Rover Joe...

The logo (actually a call-sign) I was thinking of and mistakenly said, "Jolly Rogers" (I guess because I had seen it used in this NG) was really "Rover Joe". Rover Joe missions were close air support for the ground troop at the front. It was first a controller in an armored car directing our bombing strikes. Later, controllers in L-5 aircraft were used.

345th PatchMost squadrons had nicknames of one sort or another. Ours was the "Devilhawks". One was the "Screaming Red Ass" and showed the rear of a bucking red donkey with mouth wide open in a braying position. I can't remember others offhand. Unfortunately, historians stick to the numbers and ignore the more picturesque nomenclatures.

Earl


Friday, November 27, 1998

Neutral Territory...

I can only recount my own experience. I don't remember if we were told that Switzerland was a refuge for us or not, but I know I had a feeling that if it was safe to land in Switzerland. At least, a lot safer than landing behind German lines in Italy.

On one mission, just south of the Swiss border, my P-47 was hit and caught on fire. I immediately headed for the Swiss border. The fire went out so I turned around and flew to my base at Pisa. It turned out that a hydraulic line had been severed and the fire was hydraulic fluid burning. I am sure that the Swiss policy was to remain strictly neutral in that regard and provide a safe haven for aircraft from both sides. Of course, I was sure they wouln't tolerate deliberate overflight and would demand that such aircraft land at one of their bases.

BTW, when I arrived at my home base, I was relieved to discover that the gear came down of its own weight and locked without hydraulics. I had no way of knowing that the tailwheel did not lock down. You can imagine what the pierced-plank runway did to the lower aft part of the kite. The worse of that was that it wasn't my own assigned aircaft - it was the Squadron Commander's!

Earl


Tuesday, November 17, 1998

Jug Turbulence...

Turbulance in a Jug? You got to be kidding. How much turbulance does a rock have in flight? (;--) Anyway, I was Art Schramm's Flight Commander and we flew missions together. I knew he was taking pictures of us, but never saw the pictures.

Earl


Friday, November 20, 1998

Mihiel "Mike" Gilormini...

BTW, the lead plane in the flight of 4 is piloted by my wartime buddy and roommate, Captain Mihiel (Mike) Gilormini, a Puerto Rican, later a Brigadier General and commander of the Puerto Rican Air National Guard.. He was the commander of "A" Flight while I was commander of "C" Flight. We sometimes flew together. In fact, our last combat mission was attacking the airfield at Milano. I led the attack. The flak was real heavy. The 88 shells were bursting all around and also hitting a high bank (we were flying real low) to my right. Mike said, "Dutch, you better bail out, you are on fire!" Followed immediately with, "Don't bail out, it's another guy". Unfortunately, my wingman crashed and was killed.

Mike and I flew our last flight in Italy together giving air cover for General George C. Marshall's visit to our group at Pisa. Mike and I returned to the States on the same ship.

earl


Friday, January 22, 1999

Buddys...

I mentioned that my WW II buddy and roommate was Mihiel (Mike) Gilormini. He later became Brigadier General and commander of the Puerto Rican National Guard. My photo, which he gave to me at a squadron reunion at Colorado Springs in 1978, doesn't show the squadron markings because of the angle (he said the picture is of "Starting P-47N for 1st official flight of P-47 after 5 years of work of reconstruction", and he signed it, "Mike".

I don't recall that we had the diamond-shaped checkerboard painting covering the cowling. One of the NG pilots dinged the prop and I don't think they were able to obtain another. Gen. Gilormini died a couple of years ago. He and I flew our last two missions in the same flight. We straffed the airpfield at Milano (I lost my wingman there) and we flew cover for General Marshall's visit to Pisa.

BTW, during my 186 combat missions, many of which I led, I only lost 3 pilots. We sure got shot up plenty though.

earl


Earl's Posts to bigweek.com News Group


Tuesday, February 23, 1999 11:58 AM

Tailwheels...

Not all WW II vintage fighters had tail wheels, i.e. P-39 and P-38. Of those I flew that did have tail wheel, one needed to rely on the tail wheel for directional control until reaching sufficient speed to attain good rudder control. One would lock the tailwheel and then it was controlable with the rudder. If one were to lift the tail too quickly, torque would be uncontrollable. Just the motion of lifting the tail at full throttle and RPM would increase torque.

It is also important to land in a 3-point attitude, or nearly so, especially in a crosswind, because one needs the tailwheel on the runway to control the direction at lower speeds (I observed many landing groundloops with P-40s at an airfield in Puerto Rico that had only one runway). The same held for the C-47 I flew.

As I recall, regarding the tailwheel fighters I flew - Hurricane, P-47, and P-51. The tail came up of its own accord when the speed became sufficient and the crate took off on its own - except the bomb-laden P-47. It helped to lift mightily on the stick <g> and then, when finally airborne and you stopped the wobbling, release your grip on the stick to let the blood flow back into your fingers(knuckles) <g>. The answer to how much runway the P-47 needed for takeoff was, "All of it!"

The story I heard from the guys who flew down from England was that when they would check out RAF Spit drivers in the P-400/P-39s they would tell them that the aircraft would takeoff by itself without pulling back on the stick (like the Spit would). Of course, the check-outee had no choice but to do just that when he ran out of runway.

earl


Tuesday, February 23, 1999 9:48 PM

Dick Bong's Death...

(Dick Bong was)killed on 6 Aug 45 during take-off in a P-80.

Yes, Bong believed the Fire Warning Light when it came on and tried to abort takeoff. I, and others I flew with, ignored the light because it came on so often during takeoff in the older P-80s. If he would have waited a minute, the light would have gone off, I'm sure.

earl


Wednesday, February 17, 1999 7:10 AM

Al's Close Call...

Below is an email (excerpted here) forwarded to me by Hugh "Rowdy" Dow to which Rowdy added some info about Al Alexander. Al is his nickname. His name is Shuford M. Alexander.

earl

----Original Message-----
From: Hugh Dow
...

Dutch

...

Al was with the 346 Sq. from April 44. Was shot down on 1 Oct 44 while on a flak suppression mission for B-25s. A real hair raiser from the get go. Tried to bail, got hung up on the armor plate behind the pilot seat, crawled back in, lost control in the process, snap-rolled below a 1000 feet (as reported by other flight members in the Missing Aircrew Report) while without harness or chute, except for the one strung out along the fuselage trying to pull him out; recovered, belly landed. Escaped for two months with partisans, captured at Massa, at the end on the German line, on the coast 25 miles north of Pisa while trying to return to Allied side. Interrogated by the Gestapo, sent north by train guarded by these goons. Escaped from a box car, made contact again with Partisans, returned again to cross the mountains near Massa in the middle of winter, on 14 Feb 45.

Cheers
Rowdy


Sunday, February 14, 1999 7:46 PM

Dive Bombers...

Weren't they (A-36a Invader)forerunners of the P-51? If I remember right, the "dive brakes" were really only flaps that had a lot of holes - that is maybe what made them "scream". I didn't know the A-36s were operational in North Africa though. I have to take that anecdote with a handful of salt. Why would 20 of them dive on one target at the same time? I wouldn't want to be dive-bombing a heavily defended target at only 390ias. In the Jug, I started the dive at 12,000 feet and sometimes used water-injection with full throttle. The faster, the more accurate, other things being equal. Of course, you have to release the bombs at a higher altitude.

I have only dive-bombed in the P-39, P-47, and the P-51. Of them, the Jug is far superior, in my judgement.

earl


Monday, February 08, 1999 11:37 AM

345th Fighter Squadron...

Rotor wrote:

...The 346th Fighter Squadron, 350th Fighter Group, transfers from Rerhaia, Algeria to Sardinia with P-39's.

Not my squadron, but the 345th FS, the Devil Hawks, (my squadron) moved from North Africa to Alghero, Sardinia about the same time - but not with me. I was in a hospital with malaria, which I contracted a dozen times while in that theater. I joined the squadron later and found out that all my "stuff" had been stolen by dock workers in Sardinia.

earl


Tuesday, February 09, 1999 3:32 PM

346th Fighter Squadron...

I forwarded Rotor's info about the 346th FS moving to Sardinia to Hugh "Rowdy" Dow, who was in that squadron at that time. Here is his response:

earl

PS: Rotor, where did you dig that info up? (www.lts.aetc.af.mil/ho_www/combat.html)
......

Dear Dutch,

Thanks for relaying the little tidbit about the 346th's move to Sardinia. My log book shows a convoy patrol of 1:40 hours on 24 Oct 43, followed by a :40 hr test flight on 30 Oct, (probably in preparation for the impending move) then a 1:35 hr cross country on 31 Oct from Taher (where 347 Sq. was located) to Elmas Sardinia (Cagliari). I seem to recall that we spent the night at Taher, but I could be wrong. In any event we would have refueled there before going on to Sardinia. I had turned over my log book's maintenance to the Squadron Ops Clerk by this time. Obviously, there is a flight missing for the Reghaia to Taher leg of the trip.

Wonder if your friend could tell us the source of the information he quotes from? I would like to locate that document when I go back to reviewing microfilms at the AF Library again.

Thanks for the info. Stay warm up there.

Cheers,

Rowdy


Friday, January 29, 1999 1:54 AM

P-39 Cannon

Dan Johnson wrote:

Gonna quote my favorite fighter pilot book of all time. "Nanette" by Edwards Park.

He flew P39s in the Pacific with the 35th FG. What follows is his comments on the P39 cannon:

"People called the P39 a flying battery. We also called her a flying coffin, but hell we called all the planes that."

We called it a Pee Dash Crash with an Allison time bomb.

Dan Johnson continues:

She had an in-line liquid cooled engine made by Allison that developed 1,150 horsepower. This big twelve cylinder engine was mounted behind the cockpit, so the drive shaft extended all the way into the nose and there was geared to the propeller shaft. This allowed a cannon to be fitted inside the propeller shaft. The muzzle stuck out from the spinner, and if you could point your machine at a target, you could presumably clobber it. The cannon was originally a 37-milimeter antitank gun which fired rather slowly-whump-whump-whump, like that-- and since you were sitting on it, in the little cockpit, your legs straddling it, the firing of it vibrated your prostate so that the whole essence of war became mildly sexual. I do not know if this was intentional.

Not quite right. The drive shaft was between the pilots legs and made a racket sometimes in sharp turns. The cannon, I think, was in front of the pilot and didn't give me that kind of sensation when firing it. I did resent the slow rate of fire - could only get two or three rounds off each pass on ground targets. I always fired in very short bursts at all ground targets. I classed the cannon as a ground attack weapon rather than an aerial combat weapon.

Dan Johnson continues:

Ok Earl, whats the story on this cannon infatuation? :)

+Tiff

I think there is a bit of exaggeration regarding any extra sensation on firing the cannon. What is impressive in my mind is firing the eight 50s from the P-47, especially when the bullets converge precisely on the target.

BTW, I never fired the 20-mm on the P-400. As to the P-39's two .50 cal., one on each side of the instrument panel, I didn't like them much as I said before. Not only did they drip oil on my trousers, but the cockpit smelled from the oil and smelled a heck a lot worse after firing the 50s. They didn't seem to fire very rapidly either and fired erratically. Maybe because the rounds had to be syncronized through the propellor.

earl


Wednesday, January 27, 1999 10:29 PM

P-39 Gun Control

As I recall, all P-39 guns operated from one control, but the guns could be fired separately. One switch "armed" the 30s, another the cannon, and one switch armed all. Each of the two 50s had to be charged manually before one could fire them. Once the 50s were charged, I believe they fired with the 30s when the trigger was pulled. I know the cannon could be fired by itself. There was only one gun trigger on the stick, and one bomb release button, as I recall.

I am trying to remember if there was a backup system for the 30s. There may have been a "D" handle attached to a cable coming up through the floor on each side of the pilot's seat to charge the 30s on that side, but I don't recall ever using them.

I never charged the 50s in anger. My beef with them was that they would drip oil, no matter how much packing (rags, etc) was stuffed under their breaches, and soil my trouser legs (I wore my uniform "pink" trousers when I flew the P-39).

On one mission over Italy during Operation Strangle we were attacking a railroad marshalling yard. When I fired the cannon, the barrel burst at the muzzle so that it looked like a Pilgrim's Blunderbuss. Fortunately, it didn't damage the prop enough to prevent me from returning to base.

The crews were accustomed to covering the bore of the cannon with duct tape to keep out moisture and dirt. It was assumed that the shell detonated when the nose of it hit the tape. An order went out to the line that henceforth all cannons would have an armor-piercing shell in the number one slot rather than an exploding shell.

earl


Friday, January 29, 1999 2:17 AM

Pinks...

+Mia/Cain asked:

question Earl... how come u wore your pinks in the 39? .... just guessin here and tryin to remember, but u were in North Africa in the 39s fore you went to jugs, right?..they were cooler then yer jumpsuits? or is there something more interesting.. just curious really.

Actually, that is all we wore all the time - pink trousers, pink or green shirt, and the A-2 flight jacket. We didn't have jumpsuits, flight suits or coveralls during the time we were flying the P-39 and P-38, although the enlisted mechanics wore coveralls. When we flew, we would usually remove our jacket (depending on temperature) and always don a Mae West. We were cautioned to remove our rank and service insignia if we had to bail or land in enemy territory.

earl


Saturday, February 06, 1999 12:08 PM

Goggles...

Cuber wrote:

Here is a current picture of Pasha . He's undercover seeking out the "TopBunz" within the shadows of AW .

This photo reminds me of when we got the new-fangled goggles, such as the ones this intrepid airman is wearing (See attachment).

The old goggles were individual eyepieces and when worn restricted ones vision. Therefore, we always wore them above on the helmet. They were for emergency use - in case a windshield or canopy shattered or blew off. (Or to impress the folks back home when being photographed for the local papers back home). (:-)

The new ones provided good visibility and so I wore them properly while flying missions, especially over enemy territory.

The new-type came with different lenses which could be inserted into the goggles frame. I think there was a clear, a grey, and an amber. The lenses, although interchangeable, were not changed easily or while flying. Therefore, I kept the clear lens installed, but carried the amber one with me. The amber lens seemed to cut through fog and haze (common in the Po Valley of Italy) better than the clear.

It was important to identify the target correctly before initiating the dive bombing attack. I would hold the amber lens over the clear lens while I was searching for the proper target. Once I identified the target, I didn't need the amber lens.

earl


Thursday, February 25, 1999 2:33 PM

Smoking in the Cockpit...

+mia/cain, in the second part of his account, described the pilot with a 40 millimeter in his P-47 cockpit. The quote below reminded me of the last time I smoked a cigarette in a P-47.

+mia/cain wrote:
"I've got a 40 mm shell through the bottom of the floor, and gas is sloshing into the cockpit."

350th JugsLeading a flight of 4 P-47s, I climbed up to 12,000 feet to be sure to clear the Apennines, leveled off and lit up a cigarette. Over the Po Valley, after I had put the cigarette out, a sudden spewing of gasoline from the left side of my seat sprayed the inside of the canopy and me. The spray subsided immediately and settled into the gasoline bubbling up in a foot-high column, flooding the bottom of the cockpit so that I had to raise my feet up to keep them from being soaked. My one thought was that I have had it once the gasoline hits the exhaust turbine in the rear underside of the kite. I had previously had hydraulic fluid from a ruptured line caused by enemy ground fire catch fire from the turbine which immediately went out, but that time I didn't have hydraulic fluid flooding the cockpit.

While I was trying to think what I should do, the gasoline column starting shrinking and finally gurgled to a stop and the gasoline in the cockpit drained away without catching fire. I reported the incident to the ground crew, but never inquired as to what caused it. That was my last cigarette while flying in an aircraft where I was pilot or in command.

earl


Friday, February 26, 1999 6:39 AM

Trim the Jug...

The P-47 had its rudder trim control toward the floor on the left side of the seat. As +Tiff reported, the Me109 had no trim adjustable in flight. Hugh Dow, who reconstructed one in Sardinia, said that it was tricky on takeoff because of this. In fact, while Dow was on leave to the States, Pee Wee Page pranged it on takeoff because of this.

In divebombing, it was important to have the needle and ball centered at the moment of bomb release or the bombs would impact left or right horizontally of the target. Unless the aircraft was retrimmed, it would be practically impossible to maintain the proper rudder pressure for this. As I began my dive, I would reach down and give the knob three twists counterclockwise. This would over trim the aircraft at that speed, but would be about right on at the bomb-release speed. One had to retrim after the pullout.

We had pilots with control cables severed by enemy fire who could maneuver the aircraft by the use of rudder and elevator trim and thus were able to return to the base. Once there, the aircraft was headed out to sea and the pilot bailed out over the field. Harvey C. Smith, my Deputy Flight Commander, had this happen to him while flying my designated aircraft. After I congratulated him on his safe return, I asked for the clock and jokingly chastised him for not removing it before bailing.

earl


Thursday, March 04, 1999 9:24 PM

Citations... +mia/cain posted the following information about the 350th Fighter Group which will provide some perspective on the official recognition of the efforts attributed to Earl's outfit using the then outmoded P-39

" Extract from General Orders No. 86, War Department, Washington, D.C. 8 November 1944"

"...citation of the following unit... is confirmed... in the name of the President of the United States as public evidence of deserved honor and distinction. The citation reads as follow:"

"The 350th Fighter Group is cited for outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations on 6 April 1944. ......Although assigned exclusively to air defense and reconnaissance because its battle-worn and outmoded aircraft were considered dangerously inferior to enemy fighters, this group, realizing that certain primary targets could be effectively covered only by its own airplanes, voluntarily assumed full responsibility for this coverage. Of their own volition and in addition to their designated duties, personnel within the Group converted P-39 Aircraft into fighter bombers......"

".......While flying 10 missions, comprising 75 sorties, on this day the group, in the face of intense antiaircraft fire, destroyed 1 highway bridge and 2 railroad bridges, 2 air warning installation, 1 barracks building and 2 trucks, and inflicted many casualties on enemy personnel and heavy damage on numerous other military buildings and vehicles. Just as one flight of six P-39 dive bombers was completing an attack on enemy communications in the Grosseto-Pisa area, they were intercepted by 10 or more ME-109's and FW-190's. Gallantly ignoring the odds against them, and despite damage to their own aircraft, the P-39 pilots unhesitatingly turned into the larger hostile formation and attacked with such skill and determination that five enemy fighters were shot down, two were damaged and the remainder driven from the battle area. Elsewhere on the same day, elements of the 350th FG maintained vigilant fighter protection throughout their assigned areas, vigorously turning back enemy attacks upon Allied installations along the eastern Coasts of Corsica and Sardinia......"

"The outstanding leadership, tireless devotion to duty and extraordinary heroism displayed by the officers and men of the 350th FG during combat operations on 6 April 1944 have set this Group above and apart from other units involved in comparable effort during the same period and have reflected great credit upon themselves and the military service of the United States."

footnote.... I found this in the book written contemperaneosuly with the Med. campaign about the 350th. There are pictures of the awards ceremony picturing Lt. General John E. Cannon awarding the Battle Honor Streamer to the 350th Group.. in the background you can see a Marauder. I will take a scan or two or three tommorrow.

..... 6 Aircobras, some with battle damage coming off a divebombing run, turning into and then knocking out 5 messies, and FWs, damaging two others and chasing at least 3 more off......


Friday, March 05, 1999 3:32 PM

Skip Bombing...

I am typing up the details of the April 2 & 6, 1944 operations. It will be quite lengthy, so am doing a little at a time on a notepad. When finished, will copy to a message and post it. (Or would you rather have it piecemeal as I write it?) The units involved were the 346th and 347th Fighter Squadrons based at Ghisonaccio, Corsica while my 345th FS was based at Alghero, Sardinia (sob). I did participate in some of so-called skip bomb missions (actually spike bombing with delayed bomb fuses), but each time out from Alghero had to return to Ghisonaccia to refuel and rearm after the first mission, then fly another mission and return to Sardinia. This was necessary because of the distances and our fuel capacity.

The citation +mia/cain refers to is called Presidential Unit Citation. At the time I understood that it was mainly in recognition of our activities during Operation Strangle. The citation seems to have selected a single event to dramatize and perhaps to impress those who had the authority to grant the recognition. But how would I know. I wasn't in the loop - just a fighter jock!

earl


Thursday, March 11, 1999 3:58 PM

St. Exypery...

The following was sent to me by Hugh D. Dow. I left off the quotes in case somebody wants to copy portions of it.

earl


Hugh D. Dow wrote:

St. Exypery, who flew the airline route from Paris to South America in the 30s--and who became famous as an author (The "Petit Prince", "Flight to Arras", etc.--took off from Borgo field at Bastia on 31 July 44 on a reconnaissance flight to France--and disappeared. He was a hero to the French and stories keep cropping up about potential discoveries of his a/c on the sea bed, over 50 years later. A friend in Corsica who was six to ten during the war sent this "letter" that was published in the US during the war. He lives in a village above Ghisonaccia, having retired from 'Air Chance' after many years as a crewman (not as a pilot, though he did fly civilian a/c for a while). Anyway, Dominique, who used to visit Ghisonaccia often during the war and learned to speak some English, and how to play baseball, from the GIs, sent this along. As one who flew missions out of Corsica I thought you might find it interesting. The French AF also flew P-39s and later P-47s from Corsica--something I was unaware of at the time. Dominique and one or two others are writing a book on the WW II air operations that took place on Corsica.

Cheers
Rowdy


Dominique wrote:

"Letter to an American", by Antoine de Saint Exupery

I left the United States in 1943 in order to rejoin my fellow flyers of "Flight to Arras". I traveled on board an American convoy. This convoy of thirty ships was carrying fifty thousand of your soldiers from the United States to North Africa. When, on waking, I went up on deck, I found myself surrounded by this city on the move. The thirty ships carved their way powerfully through the water. But I felt something else besides a sense of power. This convoy conveyed to me the joy of a crusade.

Friends in America, I would like to do you complete justice. Perhaps, someday, more or less serious disputes will arise between us. Every nation is selfish and every nation considers its selfishness sacred. Perhaps your feeling of power may, someday, lead you to seize advantages for yourselves that we consider unjust to us. Perhaps, sometime in the future, more or less violent disputes may occur between us. If it is true that wars are won by believers, it is also true that peace treaties are sometimes signed by businessmen. If therefore, at some future date, I were to inwardly reproach those American businessmen, I could never forget the high-minded war aims of your country. I shall always bear witness in the same way to your fundamental qualities. American mothers did not give their sons for the pursuit of material aims. Nor did these boys accept the idea of risking their lives for such material aims. I know - and will later tell my countrymen - that it was a spiritual crusade that led you into the war.

I have two specific proofs of this among others. Here is the first.

During this crossing in convoy, mingling as I did with your soldiers, I was inevitably a witness to the war propaganda they were fed. Any propaganda is by definition amoral, and in other to achieve its aim it makes use of any sentiment, whether noble, vulgar, or base. If the American soldiers had been sent to war merely in order to protect American interests, their propaganda would have insisted heavily on your oil wells, your rubber plantations, your threatened commercial markets. But such subjects were hardly mentioned. If war propaganda stressed other things, it was because your soldiers wanted to hear about other things. And what were they told to justify the sacrifice of their lives in their own eyes? They were told of the hostages hanged in Poland, the hostages shot in France. They were told of a new form of slavery that threatened to stifle part of humanity. Propaganda spoke to them not about themselves, but about others. They were made to feel solidarity with all humanity. The fifty thousand soldiers of this convoy were going to war, not for the citizens of the United States, but for man, for human respect, for man's freedom and greatness. The nobility of your countrymen dictated the same nobility where propaganda was concerned. If someday your peace-treaty technicians should, for material and political reasons, injure something of France, they would be betraying your true face. How could I forget the great cause for which the American people fought?

This faith in your country was strengthened in Tunis, where I flew war missions with one of your units in July 1943. One evening, a twenty-year-old American pilot invited me and my friends to dinner. He was tormented by a moral problem that seemed very important to him. But he was shy and couldn't make up his mind to confide his secret torment to us. We had to ply him with drink before he finally explained, blushing: "This morning I completed my twenty-fifth war mission. It was over Trieste. For an instant I was engaged with several Messerschmitt 109s. I'll do it again tomorrow and I may be shot down. You know why you are fighting. You have to save your country. But I have nothing to do with your problems in Europe. Our interests lie in the Pacific. And so if I accept the risk of being buried here, it is, I believe, in order to help you get back your country. Every man has a right to be free in his own country. But if and my compatriots help you to regain your country, will you help us in turn in the Pacific?"

We felt like hugging our young comrade! In the hour of danger, he needed reassurance for his faith in the solidarity of all humanity. I know that war is indivisible, and that a mission over Trieste indirectly serves American interests in the Pacific, but our comrade was unaware of these complications. And the next day he would accept the risks of war in order to restore our country to us. How could I forget such a testimony? How could I not be touched, even now, by the memory of this?

Friends in America, you see it seems that something new is emerging on our planet. It is true that technical progress in modern times has linked men together like a complex nervous system. The means of travel are numerous and communication is instantaneous - We are joined together materially like the cells of a single body, but this body has as yet no soul. This organism is not yet aware of its unity as a whole. The hand does not yet know that it is one with the eye . And yet it is this awareness of future unity which vaguely tormented this twenty-year-old pilot and which was already at work in him.

For the first time in the history of the world, your young men are dying in a war that - despite all its horrors - is for them an experience of love. Do not betray them. Let them dictate their peace when the time comes! Let that peace reassemble them! This war is honorable; may their spiritual faith make peace as honorable.

I am happy among my french and american comrades. After my first missions in the P-38s Lightnings, they discovered my age. 43 years! What a scandal! Your American rules are inhuman. At 43 years of age one does not fly a fast plane like the Lightnings. The long white beards might get entangled with the controls and cause accidents. I was therefore unemployed for a few months.

But how can one think about France unless one takes some of the risks? There they are suffering, fighting for survival-dying. How can one judge those - even the worst among them - who suffer bodily there, while one is oneself sitting comfortably in some propaganda office here? And how can one love the best among them? To love is to participate, to share. In the end, by virtue of a miraculous and generous decision by General Eaker. My white beard fell off and I was allowed back into my Lightning.

I rejoin Gavoille (French pilot), of "Flight to Arras", who is in charge of our Squadron in your reconnaissance Group. I also met up again with Hochedé, also of "Flight to Arras", whom I had earlier called a Saint of WAR and who was then killed in war, in a Lightning. I rejoin all those of whom I had said that under the jackboot of the invader they were not defeated, but were merely seed buried in a silent earth. After the long winter of the Armistice, the seed sprouted. My squadron once again blossomed in the daylight like a tree. I once again experience the joy of those high-altitude missions that are like deep-sea diving. One plunges into forbidden territory equipped with barbaric instruments, surrounded by a multitude of dials. Above one's own country, one breathes oxygen produced in America. New York Air in a French sky. Isn't that amazing? One flies in that light monster of a Lightning, in which one has the impression not of moving in space but of being present simultaneously everywhere on a whole continent. One brings back photographs that are analyzed by stereoscope like growing organism under a microscope. Those analyzing your photographic material do the work of a bacteriologist. They seek on the surface of the body (France) the traces of the virus that is destroying it. The enemy forts, depots, convoys show up under the lens like minuscule bacilli. One can die of them.

And the poignant meditation while flying over France, so near and yet so far away! One is separated from her by centuries. All tenderness, all memories, all reasons for living are spread out 35,000 feet below, illuminated by sunlight, and nevertheless more inaccessible than any Egyptian treasures locked away in the glass cases of a museum. Antoine de Saint Exupéry.

Stay well, Dominique


Thursday, March 18, 1999 6:09 PM

Classmates...

The following is from Clifford W. Nelson, a flying school classmate of mine who flew Spitfires in WW II.  The squadron he joined briefly was the347th FS.  The John F. Porter mentioned was also a classmate and lives on a ranch in Idaho.  The Gen Graves referred to was KIA in a 75mm armed B-25 off the coast of Italy in Jan 44, right after he became a B/G.

earl


Cliff Nelson writes:

I first joined the 350th FG in Morocco in Feb 43 flying 39's in Coastal Command - a bummer - flying circles around Mediterranean convoys.  A little later I heard somehow that a friend of mine, John Porter, was in the 31st FG in front line action.  I requested a transfer to the 31st which was approved by Gen Graves, Cmdr Second Air Defense, with the stipulation that I first spend three months as his courier pilot at Maison Blanche in Algiers.  As a result, I did not reach the 31st until the had moved to NE Sicily around 1 Sep 43.

Porter checked me out in the Spit V the next day and I flew my first mission over Salerno the day after that - as I recall. a couple days later we took off en masse to move to a new location at Salerno.  Being the new guy , naturally I got the oldest, war-weariest, Spit V in the outfit to make the move. Thirty minutes later that old Spit sank to its grave in the Tyrrhenian and I was paddling about in a one-man raft trying to enjoy the peace and quiet after the flurry of noise and Action of a failed engine and bail out at 600 ft.  A few hours later, An RAF Walrus plucked me out of the drink and took me to a base in Sicily.  I managed to catch a ride on an LST a a few days later and they dumped me on the beach at Salerno where I hooked up again with the Squadron.

Thus began my inauspicious career with the 31st FG.  

Cliff Nelson

+Tiff writes:

Actually Cliff, those are the stories worth hearing.  I think folks get caught up to easily in the idea that everyone was in those big dogfights and becoming aces all the time.  That tends to miss the point that for every "Ace" there were many many more guys like yourself doing your job and trying to get through the war, while maybe "chasing the chicks" on occasion.

I spent a long time researching a couple of RAF squadrons that flew Spits and got to know some of those guys fairly well, in fact I helped to organize their first reunion back in 1986.  No Aces, but some really funny and classy gentlemen, who had all kinds of stories about the goofy things they did in their off time.  They didn't talk about combat much, but that was fine with me as I got a much better understanding of what the day to day life was like.

Listening to Earl pass on some of his experiences is much the same.   So actually I'd like to hear more about what life was like for you with the 31st.  Sounds like your ending up in that War weary Spit and then finding yourself in the drink, was rather an auspicious start :)

Dan

In a followup message Earl continues...

For the record, Cliff forwarded to me his email to Dan. Here is my reply to Cliff. .....................................................................................................................

I sure enjoyed your anecdotes. I knew you took a swim in the Adriatic, but I guess I assumed that you had been shot down. I sent them to Hugh D. "Rowdy" Dow, who is the 350th Fighter Group historian and he was tickled pink to get them. At the time he was in the 346th Fighter Squadron, but later became Squadron Commander of the 347th FS (the one you were in briefly). He had a lot of questions that he would like answered about some of the guys. I will relate them to you in a separate message and you may wish to relay the answers to him directly.

earl


Thursday, March 19, 1999 9:09 AM

Cliff's Anzio Episode...

Here is what Clifford W. Nelson sent to +Tiff.  This story is very appealing to me because of the ingenuity displayed.  Cliff (his nickname was Dick then) and I were airplane mechanics in Puerto Rico together before we had pilot training.  That experience was helpful to him in this case.

I have an account of a B-25 running out of fuel and deadsticking into that Anzio strip some days later.  I will try to find it.  I'm not as well organized as +Tiff.

earl


From: Clifford Nelson
Sent:   Lunes 8 de Febrero de 1999 1:42 PM
To:   'spit12@mindspring.com'
Subject:   Anzio Episode

Daniel.

It seems that my most memorable experiences with the Spit are occasions of emergency and near disaster.  e.g., the following:

My squadron was on top cover one day - about D-3 - during the Anzio invasion.  We had a very small perimeter established which included a small grass Italian primary flight training field. At briefing we'd been told that it would be possible to use the field in case of emergency.

Toward the end of the mission we started taking some heavy 88 air bursts.  Shortly after that, my Spit IX engine started running rough and loosing power.  It quickly became apparent that I'd not be able to make it back to our home base.  I eased the sputtering plane down toward the grass field, dropped the gear and plopped her in.  I finished the roll-out at the north end near an old brick building where we were told an aircraft mechanic would be stashed.  I jumped down and dashed for the building amid the damnedest deafening barrage of big-gun noises my unconditioned Air Corps ears had ever heard.  I found the mechanic in a foxhole dug by the near wall, but he refused to come out during the heavy gun exchange.  He showed me a barrel of gas and a bucket a few yards away against the wall. I went back to the plane and noticed a shrapnel hole in the left side engine cowling and a smear of oil along the underside.   I fished a coin from my pocket and removed the side panel. I found the leak.  An oil line had been split open just above the left mag and drenched the magneto with oil.  I guessed that the oil had somehow grounded out the mag and the engine had loaded-up running on right mag which caused the power-loss. I found a piece of scrap wood on the ground and whittled a plug that after repeated alterations fit the slit exactly.  I pressed it into the slit and found an old piece of canvas on the ground which I tore into strips and tied around the peg.  I checked the oil reserve and estimated that I had a couple of quarts or so.  I dashed back and got a bucket of gasoline from the barrel and sloshed it over the magneto.  I then huddled against the building a few minutes to let it dry out.  I didn't have high hopes that the "farmer-fix" would work, but I had to try something to get out of that hell-hole, for the Navy kept shelling the Germans and they kept shelling the Navy.

I left the cowling on the ground and clambered into the cockpit. Not expecting the engine to run up to power, I didn't put on my safety-harness. I flicked on the switch and pressed the starter buttons. She coughed and spluttered for a while then burst into full power. I kicked her around and put on full emergency power and took off snatching her airborne just over a line of trees at the south end of the field. Some German gunner spotted me as I climbed out and commenced pot shooting at me with an 88. I turned out to sea and "ginked$quot; my way out of his range then turned south and flew back to home base. I was an hour and a half or so late, but happily back. My crew chief wagged his head in disbelief at the 'fix' I'd rigged up.

I kissed that Spit before walking away.

Cliff Nelson


Thursday, March 19, 1999 9:18 AM

The 347th FS...

Below is the reply I received from Hugh D. Dow after I sent him the information about Clifford Nelson being in the 347th Fighter Squadron.

Of the people mentioned below, I only knew Rupert P. "Rip" Collins.   Collins served with me in conducting a summer aviation course for high school teachers at the University of Puerto Rico in 1950.

earl


Dutch

You really made my day with the input on Nelson.  I had heard that he might have transferred to the 31 FG but nothing definite.  Finally, we will be able to complete the record on him as regards the 350th.  He must have joined the 347th Sq of the 350th Gp with:

John B. Byrn, (KIA-Aug 43--while circling some aircrew in a dingy off the coast of Algeria, waiting for an Air Rescue launch or Walrus; he misjudged his altitude and dug a wingtip into the sea.  As luck would have it, the aircrew turned out to be Luftwaffe)

Thomas W. Byrnes, (reportedly KIA with the 31st FG.  If Clif Nelson has anything he can add to "Twig" Byrnes story, I'd appreciate the info for the 350th Archive collection)

Rupert P. "RIP" Collins.  RIP rotated to the US in April 44.  Retired Colonel USAF, died about 2 years ago; Tucson Az

Edward F.  Gallup.  Ed returned to the US after completing his tour in May 44.  I believe that he had a twin brother? If Cliff knows anything about Ed Gallup, I'd appreciate the info.  No contact since the war.

Roy N. Judah.  Roy was wounded at Djidjelli, the village near Tahar, by falling AAA shrapnel while a bunch of pilots stood on the veranda of the small French beach resort Hotel on the edge of town, watching an air raid on the port area--one of the many locations where troops were gathering along the Algerian coast for the invasion of Sicily.  I think this was the raid where two P-39s scrambled from Tahar flew right by the Hotel (where most of the officers in the area gathered to drink anything available [Not Much] and swap stories at the end of the day) firing at a Jerry bomber before it escaped into low clouds; the raid occurred just before dark.  Judah was KIA in Jan 44 over Elba Island while strafing a port facility.  Pulled up off the target, entered a thin layer of clouds, then plunged into the sea.  Flight encountered flak, did not think cloud layer thick enough to be a problem for Judah.

If Clif has any other recollections of his brief tour with the 347th Sq.   would appreciate if he could pass them along.  He probably joined the 347th at Orleansville, Warnier field, Litterally, being a strip scraped out of a wheat field.  I was there in April with the 346th; we replaced the 347th when it went to Tunisia in April/May for the final show in that campaign.  I assume that he flew out of Oran while flying courier runs for Col. Graves, 2 Air Def Div., later 63rd Ftr Wg. Graves, was KIA in a 75mm armed B-25 off the coast of Italy in Jan 44, right after he became a B/G.

Cheers

'Rowdy'

PAGE 2