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Kirk Varner's B-24 Mission Diary

By Ellsworth Chou and Joni Varner (Chou)

THE COMBAT RECORDS OF CREW #146

8th AAF – 2nd DIVISION – 20TH COMBAT WING

446TH BOMB GROUP – 704TH SQUADRON

AAF STATION #125 BUNGAY, ENGLAND APO 558

In memory of S/Sgt. Joe R. Markus ASN36636142 who lost his life on his first combat mission.

 In the month of December, 1943, we were assembled as a crew for the first time at Salt Lake City, Utah:

x

2nd Lt. George W. Leroy, Jr. 0 690120 "Buzz or Skipper"

Pilot

x

2nd Lt. Norman R. Freeman 0 817655 "Norm"

Co-Pilot

x

2nd Lt. Milton J. Sardonia 0 701649 "Milt"

Bombardier

 

2nd Lt. Warren H. Smith 0 711497 "Smitty"

Navigator

x

S/Sgt. James K. Varner 34605789 "Kirk"

Engineer, Top Turret

x

S/Sgt. Howard L. Phillips 15324208 "POP"

Radio Operator

x

S/Sgt. Edward J. Cooper 39131716 "Ed"

Armorer, Ball Turret

 

Sgt. Joseph R. Markus 35147594 "Joe"

Waist-Gunner

x

Sgt. Larry C. Jorgensen 39409433 "Larry"

Waist-Gunner

 

Sgt. O. T. Sivley "Tommy"

Tail-Gunner

Joe Markus was lost on his first mission. In June of 1944, we were sent to the 93rd Bomb Group for lead crew training; also radar bombing training. We refused this and, at this point, Lt. Smith was taken from us and made a lead crew navigator. Sgt. O. T. Sivley was grounded on about the 7th or 8th mission because of ear problems. After flying 10 missions, all crew members were promoted up one rank: officers to 1st Lt., Kirk and Pop to T/Sgt., and the rest to S/Sgt. Sgt. Sivley was replaced by Sgt. C. A. Johnson. Sgt. Frosty McLaughlin replaced Sgt. Joe Markus. Lt. Sardonia was made bombigator to replace Lt. Smith. Lt. A. J. Jaborski replaced Lt. Smith for a while until Lt. Sardonia took over. Only 7 of the original crew completed the 31 missions together. The ones marked with an X are the ones who did finish.

After being assembled as a crew at Salt Lake, we were transported by train to Colorado Springs, Colorado, Peterson Air Force Base, for combat training, formation flying, air to ground gunnery, practice bombing, night flying, and emergency procedures. We spent a total of 3 months there training. All the rest of training was on the job combat, and we learned by hard knocks.

After training at Peterson, we once more left by train for Topeka, Kansas. At this point, we were assigned a new B-24J, which had only 4 flying hours on it. By the way, a new airplane smells much like a new car. From this point, we flew to Lincoln, Nebraska for staging. We got our overseas equipment, physicals, shots, and sidearms: .45 cal. auto pistols in shoulder holsters. From this point on, the aircraft was ours.

As engineer, I had to crewchief the plane, that is, perform all checks and inspections, fueling and pre-flights. Larry Jorgensen became my assistant. We also had to put a 24 hour guard on the plane; this we all did.

About the first week of April, we left for overseas. We flew our ship from Lincoln, Nebraska to West Palm Beach, Florida. It was quite a change - flying from snow in Nebraska to shirtsleeves in Florida. At West Palm Beach, we awaited orders and also had our ship painted with a good-looking gal and our names. We could never think of a name and kept telling the artist to "call us later", so we named the plane "Call Me Later." We later flew what was called the Southern Route overseas. The Northern Route flew close to the polar cap, i.e., Iceland, Greenland. However, the time we flew overseas was the storm season in the Northern Route so we took the Southern Route. Leaving West Palm Beach, we flew to Trinidad and stayed overnight. (Rum and Coke is no big deal!) This flight took us over the tip of Cuba. Next morning, we left for Belem, Brazil. After each flight, I had to stay with the ship to refuel it and check engine oil and make the ship secure for the night. Had to make a 25 hr. inspection at this point. That was another job of the flight engineer – to keep the ship’s log. This was an accurate recording of the men who flew the plane; also a record of their flying time, the exact hours running time on the engines and air frame of the plane plus any repairs that had been made or problems with it.

Leaving Belem, we flew over the Amazon River and the deep jungles of Brazil to Natal, Brazil. In our bomb bay was a cargo carrier. We carried spare parts and tools for our plane and all of our baggage. Also on the plane were cases of K-Rations. The idea was that if we had to bail out on our journey, we would have food if we could find the plane. Before we arrived in England, we opened most of them and got out the cigarettes and cans of cheese and bacon, also deviled ham; the instant coffee came in handy later. Natal was a nice stop over. Most of us bought gaucho boots for $5.00 a pair. I still have mine. The beach at Natal is beautiful; mountains, then dark green jungles, a very white sand beach, then the ocean, a dark blue, all sparkling. Along the beach, the locals had set up shops made from palm thatch. They sold all kinds of merchandise from fine Belgian linen to French Cognac. Ed Cooper bought several bottles of Cognac. We next departed for Dakar, Africa, across the Atlantic Ocean. By the way, we all joined the Polywog Club when we crossed the equator between Belem and Natal; also, back across it when we flew from Natal to Dakar. When we were two hours out from Belem, we opened our sealed orders and found we were to proceed to England and the 8th AAF. We stayed overnight at Dakar. Next morning, we took off for Marrakech, Morocco. On pre-flight that morning, I smelled gasoline real strong, but I checked the whole ship for leaks and could not locate any. On takeoff, the #2 engine started torching, that is, it was on fire. A long streak of blue flames was streaking back about twenty feet. This is caused by the fuel mix being too rich and gas, not being burned in the engine, was burning in the turbo supercharger. The problem was corrected by adjusting the fuel mixture control, however, it was very scary since I had smelled gas so strongly that morning.

From Dakar, we flew over part of the Sahara Desert, miles and miles of nothing. We stayed a few days at Marrakech, waiting for the weather to clear so we could fly to England. We could not fly over Spain or Portugal because they were neutral countries so we had to fly out over the Atlantic again to go around them. From Marrakech, we flew overnight to England and arrived at St. Morgans on May 6, 1944 about 8:30 in the morning. (Note: We had a homing beam to guide us to England [this was supposed to be a top secret band] but the Germans found out the frequency of the beam and set their own in France. This lured some new crews into France and they were captured along with their aircraft. A new crew who had no knowledge of the coast of England would not know the difference.) From St. Morgans, we flew to Warrington. At this point, our plane, "Call Me Later," was taken away from us for combat modification. We were taken by train to Stone, England. This was a replacement depot. We left Stone on the 12th of may and arrived at Flixton Manor close to Bungay the same day. This is where the 446th Bomb Group was located.

Arriving at the 446th Bomb Group, we were assigned to the 704th Squadron. The 446th had four squadrons, the 704th, 705th, 706th, and the 707th. We were assigned quarters and almost immediately started flying practice missions with a lot of formation flying. As was the practice, our pilot, Buzz Leroy, flew a combat mission as co-pilot with an experienced crew. Joe Markus also flew this day with a crew that had a sick member. Joe and the whole crew were lost to antiaircraft fire over France. This shook us up badly.

Mission Diary

 This record comes from the personal diary of T/Sgt. J. Kirk Varner and official records of the 446th Bomb Group. Some of the notes and comments are made in retrospect:

 Our Mission #1 – #75 on the official records of the 446th Bomb Group.

May 24, 1944 – Bomb Load: (5) 1,0001b. General Purpose Bombs,  (2) 455lb. Incendiary Clusters

Time of Flight: 6:10

Today we went after an airfield at Orly, France about five miles south of Paris. We were to bomb two machine shops at one end of the airfield. Our bomb hits were very good. We knocked them out but good. The Jerry was throwing up pretty much flak. No fighters.

Note: We replaced a crew that crashed on take off (never got off the ground.) We also had a hard time getting off the ground with full bomb load.

The aircraft we were flying was one of the oldest "H" models in the 704th Squadron. When a new crew is assigned to a squadron, it seems they fly all the junk piles for about their first ten missions. If you make the first ten, then you get a better aircraft. This morning, we taxied out for take off. Ran up the engines for mag check and waited for T.O. signal. We taxied onto the runway, gave it full throttle and down the runway gathering speed. (I always stood between the pilot and co pilot on take off so I could check the engine instruments – also check the clock.)

Note: In England, there was an overcast at 1,500 to 2,000 ft. about all of the time so when we took off, we flew straight ahead for three minutes, then started spiraling up to get to our formation assembly point.

Back to our take off: Norm Freeman, co pilot, would call the air speed off to Buzz, our pilot, so he could keep us straight on the runway. We hit 90 MPH and no sign of liftoff. The yellow stripe was coming up fast. Skipper pulled back on the controls but our plane just bounced along. We all got busy in a hurry going to maximum military power and barely cleared the trees at the end of the runway. It was a close call for our first mission.

Mission #2 – #76 Official Record

May 25, 1944 – Bomb Load: (12) 500lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 7:10

Today we went after a railroad marshalling yard at Mulhouse, France. It is real close to the Italian border. It was a very long mission or it seems that way. We had fighter protection of P-51’s and P-38’s. We saw no Jerry fighters and very little flak. Bomb hits were very good. The Germans won’t be using it for awhile.

Remember the Mars bars issued prior to briefing? We usually could tell how long a mission would be by the number of bars we were issued. 1 bar – short, 2 bars – medium, 3 bars – maximum range. As I remember, they were like a Forever Yours, white vanilla nougat, caramel and semi-sweet chocolate.

Mission #3 – #78 Official Record

May 27, 1944 – Bomb Load: (12) 500lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 7:30

Today we went after the railroad marshalling yards at Konz Karthaus near Trier, Germany. It was our first raid into Germany so we were sweating it out. However, the Germans did not protect these railyards too well. We made two bomb runs on the target and still missed! However, the 2nd section really plastered it good. We saw no flak whatsoever over the target, but this doesn’t mean we didn’t get any on the mission.

Mission #4 – #79 Official Record

May 28, 1944 – Bomb Load: (10) 500lb. RDX Bombs

Time of Flight: 8:30

Today we went after the synthetic oil plant at Merseburg, Germany. Boy, do oil plants burn pretty! We really wrecked that place good. The group in front got hit by fighters and got some bad damage, however, they were gone when we arrived. We did run into heavy flak but got no damage to our ship. These RDX bombs are next to nitro in power. They have 63 1/3% more power than TNT. The mission results were good.

Mission #5 – #80 Official Record

May 29, 1944 – Bomb Load: (12) 500lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 8:10

We went after the Focke-Wulf engine assembly plant at Totow, Germany. This was a long mission but an easy one. No flak – no fighters. We really knocked that plant for a loop. I still don’t understand why they did not have better protection – maybe they thought it was out of our range. I guess they’ll sit up and take notice now. This mission was too long to suit me.

Mission #6 – #82 Official Record

May 31, 1944 – Bomb Load: (3) 2,000lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 4:20

We took off and when we got to the coast of France, the weather closed in. This mission required precision bombing and we could not depend on radar, so we returned to England with our bomb load. I was sweating out landing with these 2,000 pounders, but we have an excellent pilot – he set the plane down smooth as silk. Our target was a rail bridge at Longwy, France. We did get credit for the mission.

Note: When we flew a mission, it was the job of Ed Cooper, our armorer, to pull the pins out of the fuses on the bombs. This he would do after we made our formation and started on the mission. These were cotter pins and Ed was required to keep them in his pocket ’til the mission was complete. The reason was that in case we had to return to base with our bomb load, he could replace them and make the bombs safe again.

Mission #7 – #84 Official Record

June 3, 1944 – Bomb Load: (6) 1,000lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 4:30

Today we went after some gun emplacements on the Pas De Clais (Berck Sur Mer.) We really bombed them good. We were getting much flak until bomb hits – after that, no more flak. A short mission.

Mission #8 – #85 Official Record

June 4, 1944 – Bomb Load: (10) 500lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 4:00

Today we went after anti-invasion gun emplacements on the coast of France. We saw no flak today. Our bomb hits on the target were good. Der Fuhrer won’t have any use from those guns after this, another short mission.

Mission #9 – #86 Official Record

June 5, 1944 – Bomb Load: (12) 500lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 4:00

Today we went after gun emplacements on the coast of France. We’re expecting something big to happen soon – the way we’ve been bombing the coast of France. Bomb hits on the target were good.

Mission #10 – #88 Official Record

June 6, 1944 – Bomb Load: (24) 250lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 5:20

Today is "D-Day". We bombed road bridges at Caen, France. Bomb hits were good. When we crossed the Channel, I never saw so many boats in my life. It made me very proud of myself to be there and doing my part in the invasion of Europe.

Note: I later found out that the 704th Squadron led the 446th B.G. that morning and the 446th led the whole 8th AAF. We were the very first Americans over the invasion coast that day.

Mission #11 – #91 Official Record

June 7, 1944 – Bomb Load: (12) 500lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 7:00

We went after the railyards at Alencon, France. The idea was to keep the Germans from bringing up replacements and equipment into France. We did a very good job of it. Bomb hits were good. No flak – no fighters.

Note: At this point in our combat career, our group decided that we should be a lead crew. (A lead crew was a select crew that would lead the whole group; also, the group commander would fly with the lead crews.) We were transferred to the 93rd Bomb Group for special training, mostly in radar bombing. Lead crews only fly about one mission in seven, so they are a long time getting their missions completed so they can rotate back state side. We didn’t like this, and Skipper raised such a stink they sent us back to the 446th. We did lose Lt. Warren Smith, our navigator. They made him a lead crew navigator.

Mission #12 – #103 Official Record

June 18, 1944 – Bomb Load: (4) 2,000lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 4:30

We went after gun emplacements north of Calais, France (Watten). We did a nice job of it too. We ran into some flak but no fighters.

Mission #13 – #104 Official Record

June 19, 1944 – Bomb Load: (52) 100lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 4:30

The buzz bombs (V-1’s) are hitting London pretty bad so we are assigned to do something about it. The target was launching sites for the V-1’s at Haute Cote Bachimont, Belgium. Over the target and bombs away - problem was, half of the bombs got stuck in the bomb bay. Bombs have a fuse that has a small propeller on it. With the pins pulled, the prop was allowed to rotate. This, in turn, allowed the roller bearings to fall out, arming the bomb. These bombs were stuck where the slip stream hit them, so they were armed. We were flying at 23,000 ft. The bomb bay of a B 24 has a catwalk front to rear, about eight or nine inches wide. With the bomb doors open, that catwalk was all there was between us and the ground. We – Ed Cooper, Larry Jorgensen, and I – had a time untangling the bombs – Very Carefully – and dropping them out one at a time. We unloaded bombs all the way back to England.

Note: Some of these bombs were jamming the control cables, giving Skipper a hard time flying the ship.

Mission #14 – #105 Official Record

June 20, 1944 – Bomb Load: (40) 100lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 9:20

Today we bombed an oil plant at Politz, Germany – it was close to the Polish border. We flew out over the North Sea and over Denmark, then made a turn right to approach the target. When we crossed Denmark, we, all the bomb groups, about 400 bombers, were attacked by about 200 German fighters. There were ME-210’s, ME-410’s and ME-109’s. We even had a JU-88 fly a pursuit curve at us. I shot about half my ammunition at him and he broke off. I believe the tail turret was firing at him also. We had fighter protection most of the way, however, fighters at that time flew dual missions. That is: one group would escort bombers about halfway to the target, then go to low level strafing missions on the way back to their home base. At this time, another group of fighters would take the job of escorting the bombers. They would escort us to the target and out to the Channel. Then they would go back to France to strafe targets at random before returning to home base. The fighters that were to escort us to the target were about two minutes late arriving and that’s all the Germans needed. They jumped us and made one pass. I saw four B-24’s explode in the air and go down burning. More were seen going down out of control. I saw one hit the water. Our group lost two aircraft at this time. Some were damaged badly and flew to Sweden where they were interned. Later at briefing, our group commander said, "I don’t mind you going to Sweden when you can’t make it back to base, but I don’t like for you to fly over there in formation." When we got to the target, the Jerry was throwing up so much flak that the group in front of us disappeared in the smoke. The term, "it was so thick you could walk on it," applies to this. We could hear the explosions of the AA shells. The saying, "if you can’t hear them, they won’t hurt you," applied here also. We got several flak holes. I guess the Good Lord was with us this day. The oil plant was hit hard. From a great distance, we could still see the smoke rising. (I would guess about 15,000 ft. high.) We were so close to running out of fuel that when we landed and checked the fuel tanks, #3 tank was dry.

Mission #15 – #107 Official Record

June 21, 1944 – Bomb Load: (52) 100lb. Incendiary Bombs

Time of Flight: 8:30

We went after a large engine assembly at Berlin. We had good fighter protection and so no German fighters. (Because we did not see any fighters doesn’t mean there were not any up that day. It just means they didn’t hit our part of this air raid.) Flak was the most concentrated on this target and Munich of any targets. This was the first of the 1,000 plane raids. We got good bomb hits and came out of it with minimal damage.

Mission #16 – #109 Official Record

June 22, 1944 – Bomb Load: (12) 500lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 6:00

We hit BUC Airfield at Versailles, France. After the rough missions we’d seen the past few days, we thought this would not be too bad, but "woe is me." Over the target, the Jerry threw the kitchen sink at us and not only the sink but the stove also. Flak was close and we got some hits. We got a head-on attack by six ME-109’s. We shot at them but it seems we were not their target. They came under us, not over 500 ft. away, and proceeded to attack the formation behind us. Bomb results were very good.

Mission #17 – #112 official Record

June 25, 1944 – Bomb Load: (40) 100lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 4:35

Once again, we bombed the buzzbomb (V-1) launching complexes. These were at Boulogne Calais Tingry, France, very close to the Belgium border. Flak was light so we made two runs on the target. Bomb results were very good on the second run.

Mission #18 – #114 Official Record

June 29, 1944 – Bomb Load: (10) 500lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 6:45

Today we went after an airfield at Bernburg, Germany. I believe it was the best piece of bombing we’ve done. We had two workshops at one end of the field to bomb. I believe all our bombs hit in the target or very close by. Flak was very heavy. We got many holes in our plane. One was about three feet from me.

That’s too close for me.

Mission #19 – #115 Official Record

July 2, 1944 – Bomb Load: (24) 250lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 4:30

We went after a power plant which supplies power to the buzzbomb installations. This was at Crepy, France, a little to the south of Pas De Calais. This was a G.H. (radar) mission where we drop bombs on a target we never see. on a mission like this, we usually feel a little safe from flak because the Germans cannot see us because of the cloud coverage. They had radar, of course, but we used chaff (which was nothing more than icicles of lead or aluminum that were packed in bundles; we threw these overboard and, when they dispersed, it filled the German radarscope with "snow.") However, this day we were getting hit and many near misses and from ground locations where flak was not supposed to be. We later found out that mobile flak batteries had been brought in. (These were mounted on trucks and could be moved on a day to day basis.) Next thing – why was the chaff not working? We later found that a German B-24 (one captured or rebuilt) had taken a position in our formation. He was flying about a quarter mile behind us – we thought he was one of ours or one of another group that was having trouble keeping up with the formation. He sat back and radioed to the ground batteries our direction, air speed, and altitude. That’s all you need to sight flak guns. Our fighter escorts realized something was wrong. When we approached the coast of France on the way home, this plane turned back to France. The fighters headed him off and turned him toward England again. Once more he turned back to France. When the fighters approached him again, he opened fire on them. They, in turn, shot him down. Don’t know bomb results on this mission.

Mission #20 – #117 Official Record

July 6, 1944 – Bomb Load: (3) 2,000lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 5:15

On this mission, I flew with another crew. Their flight engineer was ill. I had been alerted for the mission but was later told that I would not have to fly that day. A good movie was showing that day, so I went. About halfway through the show, some M.P.’s came and asked if Sgt. Varner was in the audience – of course, I was. They took me by Jeep to the equipment room and got my heated flying suit, parachute, etc. They then took me out to the hard stand where the plane was waiting with engines running. I don’t remember the crew on the plane. The pilot told me to let their assistant flight engineer fly the top turret so I flew the ball turret. (This was the only time I flew any other position than top turret.) We bombed Sully Sur Loire railroad bridge about 15 miles east of Tours, France. It was a good mission with a little flak shot at us. I believe the bridgespan was destroyed. It was the only time I got to see the bombs hit, the reason being, I was always in the top turret. You could see the deep red flash of the bombs exploding, the shock ring go out from the center of the explosion, also, black smoke and debris flying up. It made you wonder how it looked, felt, and sounded on the ground.

Mission #21 – #118 Official Record

July 8, 1944 – Bomb Load: (3) 2,000lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 5:00

We went after the Ham Sur Somme railroad bridge at Ham, France. We’ve been hitting these bridges regularly now. I guess we’re trying to cut Hitler’s supply lines and relieve pressure on our own lines. Bomb results were very good.

Mission #22 – #119 official Record

July 11, 1944 – Bomb Load: (24) 250lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 8:57

Today we bombed Munich, Germany. (This is where Hitler started his Third Reich.) We were out to destroy the city in general. We were told that, if we were shot down and questioned to say we were after two black buildings in the center of town. This was to help break down the morale of the German population. But, like England when they were bombed underground, it only stiffened their resolution. This was a very concentrated raid, in that aircraft from the 15th AAF in Italy were also over the target. We understood that the Germans had over 1,200 antiaircraft guns around the target so flak was heavy. So many planes were in the air that day that, when we were on our bomb run, a group of B-17’s flew over us (about 500 or 600 feet higher) on their bomb run. Their bomb doors were open. Being in the top turret, I could look straight up into them. Talk about a sweat – they could have released at any moment. I’ve seen what a 500lb. bomb hitting in the wing of a B-24 can do. It doesn’t have to explode – it can break a wing off. We saw this happen to a flight officer and a new crew; they undershot the formation at bomb release. I believe this day’s bombing will make Hitler sit up and take notice.

Mission #23 – #121 Official Record

July 13, 1944 – Bomb Load: (12) 500lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 6:05

Once again we are trying to destroy the railroad system to interrupt the flow of supplies from Germany. Today we bombed the railroad marshalling yards at Saarbrucken, Germany. Flak was very heavy this day.

Mission #24 – #122 Official Record

July 16, 1944 – Bomb Load: (12) 500lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 6:15

Today we returned to Saarbrucken, Germany. Once again we bombed the railroad marshalling yard. Aerial photos must have shown that we did not do a good job on the 13th so we had to go back. Flak was not quite as heavy as it was before. Maybe we hit some of the guns. Even at that, flak was quite heavy.

Mission #25 – #123 Official Record

July 17, 1944 – Bomb Load: (4) 2,000lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 6:15

Today we bombed the Rilly La Montagne railroad tunnel close to Rheims, France, actually a little to the west of it. This was a big tunnel, being about four miles long. Our group (the 446th) was to bomb the north end of the tunnel; to close it, another group was to bomb the south end. We understand the tunnel was closed very tight.  

Mission #26 – #125 official Record

July 19, 1944 – Bomb Load: (12) 250lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 7:10

Again we’re after the railroad system. Today we bombed the marshalling yards at Strausbourg, France. We did a good job of bombing and got a lot of flak shot at us. The Luftwaffe was up in force today, but our fighter planes (P-51’s and P-47’s) shot down four of them. We really like those fighter pilots.

Mission #27 – #128 Official Record

July 24, 1944 – Bomb Load: (40) 100lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 6:10

Today we bombed a hill south of St. Lo, France where the Germans have a heavy concentration of artillery. They’ve been shelling St. Lo so our troops cannot enter the town (it is a key pivot point that must be taken so we can sweep southern France.) We were to bomb a three mile area. The 8th and 9th AAF put 1,500 planes in the air this day. Flak was heavy today and bomb results were good. (We thought)

Mission #28 – #129 Official Record

July 25, 1944 – Bomb Load: (40) 100lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 5:30

Today we bombed the St. Lo area (the same place as yesterday.) We found out that some of the bombs dropped yesterday killed some of our own troops, including one general. What happened was – our own artillery was to shoot smoke shells as markers for us to bomb in front of. The wind drifted the smoke back over our own lines. (At that point in the war, air to ground communication was practically nonexistent.) Many of our boys were killed before the mistake was discovered. We went in at a much lower altitude than we normally bomb from. Things are very hard to locate from the air unless you are familiar with the ground. Some good lessons were learned from this and later air to ground support was tuned to a fine art. (Note: Ernie Pyle reported on this mission in "Stars and Stripes". He told of two B-24’s being shot down. We saw them.) Just two more missions to go.

(A 1982 Army Combat Studies Institute article including comments about this "friendly-fire" incident can be read here. -Ed)

Mission #29 – #131 Official Record

July 29, 1944 – Bomb Load: (24) 250lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 6:30

Today the oil refinery at Bremen, Germany was our target. I don’t know what the bomb results were because right after "Bombs Away", we were hit by antiaircraft fire. The shell exploded right under the plane (must have been an "88.") We were hit in #2 engine, also #3 engine received hits. I was in the top turret when this happened. Smoke started streaming from #2 engine. The intercom system was knocked out. I was calling for Skipper to feather #2 and turn on the fire extinguisher. He could not hear me. I needed to help them (pilot and co-pilot) shut down #2 so I came down out of the turret. (We chopped the throttle and mixture control, cut off the ignition, hit the prop feathering control, then cut off the fuel tank to that engine, and also turned off the generator.) We were trailing a stream of white smoke about 1/4 mile long. We knew by the color of the smoke that it was oil on a hot manifold. If it had been black smoke, that would indicate a gasoline fire and time to get out of the plane FAST. We started losing altitude fast. We had lost #2 engine and #3 was giving about 2/3 power. (Note: A training B-24D in the states will fly on two engines (it’s not easy, but you can fly). A combat-ready B-24J, with extra armor plate, flak suits, ammunition, nose turret, all the extras that make it combat ready, will barely fly on three engines.) We descended from 27,000 ft. over the target to 5,000 ft. when we started across the English Channel. The reason we did not lose more was that we started throwing all the extra equipment overboard to lighten the plane over the target. A damaged bomber that could not keep up with the formation became easy prey for German fighter pilots. A B-24J, with all guns working, could pretty well stand a couple of fighters off, but with severe damage, some control loss, and some gunners injured or non operating, it became a different story. These hot-shot German fighter pilots, with 200-plus victories, made these large scores starting in Spain against a ragtag nonmilitary air force, then to Poland and its WWI air force, then to Russia with much the same situation (like shooting fish in a barrel). They also helped their score with damaged aircraft over Germany.

We started calling "May Day" (international distress call for aircraft) and soon got a flight of P-51’s to escort us back home. They were a beautiful sight to us at that time. They took positions over, under, in front, behind and each side. These guys stayed with us ’til we reached England. We radioed ahead to the base, telling them we were in trouble and coming straight in. We didn’t have power or altitude to make a regular approach. We did land safely, taxied to the hard stand, and parked. After engine shutdown, we were amazed that the plane would fly after all that damage. We did not know how bad it was ’til we got out and could see the outside. The #2 engine had a large hole in the oil tank and also the oil cooler was holed (this oil was running down on the turbosupercharger, which is red hot.) This made the long trail of white smoke. It was a lot of smoke because the oil tank held 32 gal. of oil. The left flap had a large hole; two large holes in the left elevator; a big hole in the top of the right wing; large holes in and around #3 engine, plus numerous small holes about the plane. Like being hit with a scattergun. None of our guys were hit. We also had a G-2 (Intelligence) officer flying with us this day. I bet he will think long and hard before he flies again.

Today we were not flying our regular plane. We were flying in Ronnie. This was one of the most famous of the B-24’s in the 8th AAF. Ronnie had flown 109 missions without an abortion (that is, turn back because of mechanical failure.) Ronnie started badly by aborting her first four missions. She then flew 109 without one. We thought they would have junked her when we brought her back shot all up. However, she was repaired and flew at least ten more missions that I know of.

B24 bomber named "Ronnie"

B24-H  FL-P 41-29144

As I’ve stated before, when we got to the 704th, we flew a wide assortment of B-24’s for the first ten missions. I don’t recall the names of any of them. On or about Mission #10, we started to fly "Oklahoma Gal." I don’t remember just when, but we switched to "Shoo Shoo Baby" and flew her to completion of our missions with the one exception when we flew "Ronnie" on our 29th mission. The reason for this was we had a 3-day pass or rest period; if you will note, the three days between Missions #28 and #29, July 25th to July 29th. Our plane was used as a standby while we were gone. Each squadron had 15 aircraft in it. About the most any squadron would have flown on a mission were ten, maybe twelve. Some would be down for repair of combat damage; some for overhaul or inspections. Each squadron had a standby (all gassed and bombs loaded) to replace any aircraft that had some last minute problems. All the crew would do was change planes and be ready to go. Our plane, "Shoo Shoo Baby," had been flown by another crew while we were on pass. We don’t know what happened but the crew burned up two of the engines. I have never figured out how they did this, unless it was ignorance of power settings or deliberate. Anyhow, that’s why we were flying Ronnie that day. Ronnie was the standby plane.

 

Mission #30 – #133 Official Record

August 1, 1944 – Bomb Load: (20) 250lb. G.P. Bombs, (2) 455lb. Incendiary Clusters

Time of Flight: 7:30

Today we were to bomb some oil tanks at Paris, France. Cloud coverage was so heavy, we had to go to an alternate target which was Orleans Bricy Airfield outside of Paris. Flak was heavy – we got holed some. Some of our aircraft really got shot up badly. When we returned to base, we buzzed the field and fired flares to celebrate what we thought was our last mission. It wasn’t, however

Note: When we arrived in the 8th AAF, an aircrew flew 25 missions, which was considered a tour of duty. On or about our 19th or 20th mission, it was decided that aircrews should fly 30 missions per tour. We found on our 30th that we would have to fly 31 missions. Anyone who has been in combat knows how superstitious we are. (Just sure that one extra is the one that will get you.)

Mission #31 (aborted) – #137 Official Record

August 2, 1944 – Bomb Load: (12) 500lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 4:30

Today we were going to bomb a buzzbomb V-1s assembly plant at Fallersleben, Germany. We blew a hole in #3 turbocharger and could not keep manifold pressure up. With this loss of power, we could not keep up with the formation and going to Germany as a straggler on our last mission was not ideal – so we aborted. We were about 100 miles out over the North Sea when this happened. Ed Cooper, once again, had to replace the pins in the bombs and we landed with them. We got no credit for a mission.

Mission #31 – #141 Official Record

August 10, 1944 – Bomb Load: (8) 1,000lb. G.P. Bombs

Time of Flight: 7:30

We bombed Joigny Laroche Railroad Bridge at Joigny, France. Bomb hits were good. We saw little flak and it was not close. No fighters. An ideal mission to complete our tour of duty.

Crew summary

Combat Crew #146 was overseas about six months. We flew 31 combat missions with 198 combat hours. We dropped 180,400 pounds of bombs (over 90 tons), plus 1,820 pounds of incendiary bombs. One crew member was killed in action – we had no wounded.

There are many more things to write about: like the cheese sandwiches on brown bread we used to get when we got back from the mission, also, the shot of government whiskey we got to calm our nerves before debriefing.

We left the 446th about August 19, 1944 by special orders, No. 231. We went by train to Stone, England. After a period there, we traveled by train to Glasgow, Scotland for transportation back to the good ole U.S. of A. At Glasgow, we boarded the H.M.S. Aquatania, the third largest ship afloat and the fastest. We left there a couple of days later, when the ship was loaded. We had 5,000 German P.O.W.’s aboard, also 900 wounded (stretcher cases), and 1,000 walking wounded. This left about 1,000 able bodied men on board. We had to man the 20mm antiaircraft guns. I later found out that Skipper was put in charge of a 6-inch stern chaser gun. We arrived in New York harbor, past the Statue of Liberty. On docking, we were given doughnuts and fresh milk. The first in many a day (the food we ate in England would make a book by itself.)

After docking, we were put aboard a ferryboat and taken to Camp Shanks, New Jersey. There, we had T-bone steaks, French fries, tossed green salad, and ice cream – all the things we had been doing without. After that, we were sent home on a 30-day delay en route.

This was the last time we, the crew, saw each other or heard from each other until Skipper called me last winter, 1987. That is the reason I’m writing this and copying from my diary because of the interest shown by Skipper. We’ve been in contact with six crew members, including myself: Skipper – Norm – Sardonia – Ed – Pop – Kirk.

Following are some of the things I know about the guys:

Skipper stayed with the AAF for 21 years and became a squadron leader with the rank of colonel. He retired from the AAF and became involved with the Nebraska Park Service for about twenty years and retired from that. He now lives in North Platte, Nebraska.

Norm flew with the AAF until the end of the war, flying aircraft for bombardier trainees. He later went to Arizona for B 25 training. He later returned home to Annapolis, Maryland and went to work for the telephone company. He has now retired and is still living in Annapolis.

Pop trained radio operators for navigation and radio operation around Norfolk, Virginia until war’s end. He then went back to work at the auto engine plant where he had worked before the war. He has now retired from there and is living in St. Petersburg, Florida.

To contact the family of Kirk Varner, send email to jonivarner@aol.com .

   
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