After completing 25 missions in the Eighth Air Force,
I was transferred to a base near Liverpool to await a ship for transport back to the
States. An officer processing my personnel records noted that I was a navigator, and,
against my protests, "volunteered" me to be assigned to a newly formed crew in the
27th Air Transport Group, 87th Squadron, stationed at Warton, near Preston, on the
Irish Sea, thus delaying my trip home by 4 1/2 months. The function of the squadron
was to perform long-range transport operations, carrying supplies primarily to Bari,
Italy. While in that organization, I participated in two long-lane flights, the first
a secret mission to the Middle East, and the other a round trip from England to
the United States.
The intended destination of the first mission was the Soviet Union, but for reasons to be explained later, we went only as far as Teheran, Iran. The purpose of the mission was to transport a number of senior officers to set up bases in Russia that were used later for the shuttle bombing missions, on which targets in Germany were bombed by airplanes flying from England to Russia, and again by the airplanes on their return flights to England. The crew was stationed at Bovingdon, a suburb of London, while we attended three weeks of briefings to learn some Russian customs, a few Russian words, and the proper way to behave while there.
With Lt. Roy Ellis-Brown as pilot of a converted B-24, and James Dwyer as co-pilot, we loaded our passengers in London and flew, on the evening of March 16, 1944, to St. Mawgan, in southwest England near Land's End. The following evening we left after midnight for Casablanca., flying at low level over the Bay of Biscay, to avoid attracting the German fighter planes that frequently patrolled that area. Our flight path took us out to sea far enough to avoid flying over Spain and Portugal, which were theoretically neutral in the war.
The airplane was refueled the morning we landed at Casablanca, and the next leg was to Maison Blanche Airport at Algiers, with checkpoints at Oujda and Oran. March 18 was spent in Algiers while a 25-hour inspection was made on the plane. The next morning, preparing for takeoff from Algiers, an incident occurred that chilled relations temporarily between me and Ellis-Brown, the pilot. He took off leaving one of his crewmen standing on the ground watching him go. That man was his navigator, me. I had informed him that I had to go to the Operations office to pick up maps and plot the course for Tripoli. The tower couldn't reach him by radio, and he never missed me until, about 75 miles away, he tried to reach me by interphone, at my lonesome position in the nose, for a heading for Tripoli. So he had to make a U-turn and go back to Algiers to pick up his navigator. Communication between him and me was very chilly all that day, until he admitted that evening that it had been his responsibility to verify that all crewmen were ready to go, and he apologized. We finally reached Castel Benito airport at Tripoli, with checkpoints on the way at Setif, the south shore of the Gulf de Gabez, Cheatandum, and the Gulf de Bon Crara.
After refueling and lunch at Tripoli, our final destination in North Africa was Cairo, Egypt. Much of the trip from Casablanca to Cairo was either along the Mediterranean coast or slightly off-shore, making navigation by pilotage (map-reading) fairly easy. But much of it was also over the Sahara Desert, requiring dead-reckoning (calculations based on compass, air speed readings, altimeter, wind speed and direction, etc.) and occasional bearings from radio stations along the Mediterranean coast. Another factor which helped simplify the navigation process was the existence of much bombing damage near towns with names made familiar by news coverage. For example, Benghazi was on our course.
The night of March 19 was spent at Payne Field, at Cairo, and I was able to talk by phone with my cousin, Col. Robert Schukraft, who was a signal officer on General Eisenhower's staff there. Departure from Cairo was early the next morning, with a good view of the Qatar Depression, the Sphinx, and the pyramids. The destination of the next leg of our flight was Habbaniyah, Iraq, on the banks of the Euphrates River and about 40 miles west of Baghdad. On the way there from Cairo, the airplane's course took us over the Suez Canal near Great Bitter Lake, touched the southeast shore of the Mediterranean, circled around Jerusalem and Bethlehem for the view, and crossed the middle of the Dead Sea and entered Jordan. Fortunately, the Trans-Jordan pipeline traversed one portion of the desert extending exactly in the same direction as our intended course, so it provided an excellent navigation aid. Unfortunately, however, there were few other landmarks other than Amman and Khabra Abu el Hussein; that portion depended primarily on dead-reckoning navigation, and arrival at Habbaniyah was at 09:30 March 19.
After a two-hour stop for refueling and lunch, we took off on the final leg of the flight to Teheran. The course took us over the Tigris River about 25 miles north of Baghdad, with an undercast of clouds, and extreme care had to be observed because of relatively high mountains, and the fact that some of the contour maps in previous mountain areas had proven to be inaccurate. From Hamadan onward, the land was flat all the way to Teheran.
At this point, we were faced with a major disappointment. Although our final destination was supposed to be Moscow, it turned out that while the Russians were theoretically our allies at that time, they would permit only six American airplanes a week into Russia. The quota for that week had been reached already, so for five days we remained at the American section of the Russian air base at Teheran. During that time we were able to see all of Teheran, including the place where Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin had held their conference a short time before. We also borrowed an Air Corps weapons carrier and drove up into the Caucasus Mountains almost to the Caspian Sea, to a place where there was a resort area frequented by the Shah of Iran. We attended a party put on by Russian personnel running the air base. We also became friends with the Russian soldiers who guarded our airplane.
About daybreak on March 24, we began our return trip to England. The course to Habbaniyah and Cairo, in clear weather, was almost identical to our trip eastward. The pipeline had been covered a few days before by a sand storm, but a nearby road paralleling it was visible. Because of inclement weather, and because the pilot and co-pilot wanted to run a 50-hour check on the airplane, we had to remain one day in Cairo. While they were busy, I took a bus to Cairo, with an agreement they would meet me there at Shepherds Hotel at noon. While wandering the streets of Cairo alone, I was mugged and robbed of four Egyptian pounds (about sixteen dollars) by two Arab bootblacks who had just shined my shoes. None of the nearby Egyptians would admit they could speak English, so I had no chance of getting my money back. After my friends met me at noon, we managed to see much of Cairo.
After Cairo, it was necessary to fly through and around clouds, because two weather fronts at that time extended almost all the way across North Africa. On the way to Tripoli, the pilot chose to reduce altitude to 1,000 feet and fly under the clouds. This made navigating by pilotage much easier, and provided an excellent view of the wreckage of the North African campaign. Again we spent overnights at Castel Benito airfield at Tripoli and at Maison Blanche airport at Algiers. From Tripoli to Algiers, we carried a number of passengers, including Air Vice Marshal Slesser of the British RAF.
At Algiers, we were ordered to fly to a small town on the Mediterranean coast called Bone, which was one of the points where the Allies invaded North Africa. We spent the night there because of bad weather, and the next morning loaded the airplane with 7,000 pounds of German land mines that had been dug up in the desert, to be carried back to England for study prior to the invasion of the continent. We also carried the detonators that set off the mines, though obviously not attached to the mines. Departure for Gibraltar was early the next morning, March 29, in a heavy cross-wind, and the course took us west along the Mediterranean coast to Oran, and then a change of course for Gibraltar. At certain designated points, we were required to circle, in order for Allied radar to identify the airplane. The course of the flight across the Mediterranean was directed toward a spot on the coast of Spain several miles east of Gibraltar, and followed the Spanish coast to Gibraltar. The reason for this was that the weather was still bad, and we didn't want to run the risk of going past the Straits of Gibraltar, because of overcast conditions, and becoming lost over the Atlantic Ocean.
Because the United Kingdom was under a cloud cover, departure from Gibraltar was delayed until the following night, so we had one day to see the sights of the "Rock". We saw the famous apes on the Rock, and were given a tour through the main tunnel, which is about a mile long from east to west. We also saw the German agents who were permitted by Spain to sit along the chain-link fence separating Spain and Gibraltar with their clipboards, documenting Allied traffic in and out of Gibraltar airport.
Departure on the final leg of the trip back to England was late in the evening of March 30. The course took us first to Tangier, on the North African side of the strait, and then in a northwesterly direction to the twelfth meridian, which was followed most of the way back to England. The reason again was to avoid flying over Spanish and Portuguese territory. The night was perfectly clear, which made it possible to practice celestial navigation, with star observations by means of an octant. I was pleased to find that I could still navigate accurately using that method.
Again we had to cross the Bay of Biscay, which, as I said before, was patrolled regularly by German fighter planes, but again we made it safely. At Land's End a heading was set toward the Scilly Isles, and finally we landed at St. Mawgan again. The next day, April 1, 1944, we flew back to Bovingdon, where the cargo was unloaded. Members of the crew returned to our home base at Warton, near Liverpool.
Total length of the trip was 11,075 statute miles, and the total flight time was
59 hours and 18 minutes.
Our crew was the pioneer crew in the 87th Air Transport Squadron. By the time we returned from the Middle East, nine more crews had been set up, with a primary function of hauling supplies to GIs fighting in the campaign near Bari, Italy. There were three other squadrons in the 87th. One of them would fly deliberately into storms over the Atlantic to gather data for weather forecasts. Another squadron ferried brand-new airplanes from our base at Preston to air bases where they were needed for combat. The fourth squadron was a photo squadron, using British Mosquitos to take pictures of damage in Germany after bombing missions there.
A new pilot and co-pilot were assigned to my crew after that first flight. Roy Ellis-Brown loved combat flying conditions, and elected to transfer to the photo squadron, flying several missions to Berlin, and returning once with a shot-up airplane. He was born in the States, but at the age of ten went to live with his grandparents in Scotland, and when Britain entered the war, he joined the Royal Air Force. After flying 54 missions with the RAF, he transferred to the US Air Corps. He had lived in England so long that he had a definite "Limey" accent, even though he was an American citizen, and was married to a British woman. Evidence that he had no grudge over the Algiers incident is the fact that he asked me to transfer with him to the photo group as his navigator, and later in the war he asked me to go with him as his navigator when he went to the Pacific to fly B-29s in that war. But both times I obviously told him "Thanks, but no thanks".
With ten crews in the squadron, the routine missions, as mentioned before, were to
Bari, Italy. To avoid having all of the crews at Bari or at home at one time, schedules
were set up varying the times of departure. It turned out that, before our
second flight, we had about two weeks of leave to go wherever we wanted to, as long
as we called the base once a day to make sure schedules had not changed. We had plenty
of time to spend in London and other parts of England. I made two flights to Belfast,
Northern Ireland, with pilots who had to fly there for various reasons. I ended up once
by mistake in North Wales, because a red-cap in the station at Birmingham apparently
mistook my question about a train to Preston (where I was stationed) and put me on
one to Prestatyn, North Wales. I had to catch a mail train back to Birmingham and then catch another train to Preston.
My new pilot was Capt. Tom Thomas. Around the end of April 1944, our crew reached the top of the flight schedule. We were fortunate to be assigned to a special flight to the United States, rather than to one of those routine flights to the war zone in Bari. Our converted B-17 was loaded with Valpacks (clothing bags) requiring repair, which we were to deliver to Newark, New Jersey. Our flight took us first to the Azores, where the airplane was refueled. From there, our next stop was supposed to be Stevenville, in western Newfoundland. However, approaching the east coast of Newfoundland, we were directed to land at Argentia, which is near St. Johns in eastern Newfoundland, because the entire island was covered with bad weather. Argentia is the town from where Roosevelt and Churchill set sail for one of their meetings at sea in that area. Staying at a Navy base there, we found that the Navy had better living quarters and better food than the Air Corps did.
After one night in Argentia, we flew along the south coast of Newfoundland to its southwest tip on our way to Newark. Our course took us across Prince Edward Island and Northern Nova Scotia to Bangor, Maine. From there, we flew parallel to the northeastern coast of the United States by way of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York City, to Newark Airport. We had scarcely time to unload the Valpacks, when a captain appeared on the scene and informed us we would have to take off almost immediately for Washington, D. C., to pick up about twenty high-priority passengers to transport to the United Kingdom. I tried to get the pilot to make up some excuse to stay over one day in Washington for whatever reason he could think of -- 50-hour check, sick crewman, or whatever. However, this captain was bucking for major at that point in time, and insisted on leaving after one night's sleep.
It turned out the "high-priority" passengers we were to carry back to England were rookie GI statisticians who were needed there to keep statistics on casualties when the anticipated invasion of the continent began. We couldn't help feeling strong sympathy for the passengers. Their location on the flight was in the cabin, where plywood floors had been installed in the normal location of the bomb-bay, and there were no seats. They had to sit on the floor on the two sides of the plane, facing each other with their backs against the sides. Only four of them an hour could be permitted to get up and stretch and move, to avoid upsetting the balance of the airplane.
After one night's sleep we took off for Gander, Newfoundland, on the banks of Gander Lake. We covered essentially the same course, in the reverse direction, as on our trip in. The major difference was that we flew over Presque Isle, Maine, instead of Bangor. We then proceeded over the Gaspe Peninsula and over a town called Corner Brook to Gander.
We stayed at Gander for one night and the pilot decided to take off in the afternoon of the next day. The weather was overcast, rainy, icy and foggy. I tried again to get the pilot to stay over an extra day to rest. But envisioning major's leaves blossoming on his shoulders, he insisted we had to get back to our home base as soon as possible. I pointed out to him that there was a pilot, a co-pilot, a third pilot and an automatic pilot on board, but only one navigator, me, and I was tired and couldn't guarantee I could stay awake. England was a small target at that distance, and if we missed England we would end up in occupied Europe. But he said he would run the risk.
So off we went into the soup and listened to chunks of ice from the propellers hit the sides of the airplane. It sounded like flak on a bombing mission. While we normally would have flown at about 12,000 feet, the pilot climbed to about 15,000 feet trying to get over the ice. He couldn't fly higher because the passengers were not equipped with oxygen masks. So he tried to fly under the icing, and finally he was about 3,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean before he could get away from it.
In an area where there is little strong radio transmission to take bearings on, accurate navigation is impossible when the airplane is circling, zig-zagging, climbing and descending as we were that night. So the point I had to start navigating from, after he found stable air, was anything but accurate. About four hours after departure from Gander, we came out from under the storm to a bright, starry night. So I was able to get a very accurate fix using celestial navigation, and happily I
found we were very near our planned course. A slight course correction to the left took us directly to our home base, Preston.
After returning from the Washington, D. C. flight, our crew waited for several weeks in readiness for another flight assignment, so there was enough leave time for several trips to London. Before any assignment came along, however, I received welcome news. Orders came on June 13, 1944, for me to return to the port of embarkation at Liverpool and await transit for return to the United States.
On June 30, I sailed from Liverpool on the Mauretania. The Mauretania was the sister ship of the infamous Lusitania, which was sunk by a German submarine during World War I, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,200 civilians. The trip across the Atlantic required seven days, with the ship taking evasive action all the way, because of the danger from German submarines. This consisted of repeated right and left turns of different angles and different periods of time. In general, the voyage was very pleasant, with a lot of time for rest and recreation. But apparently the officers in charge decided, in their wisdom, that 500 officers and GIs could not be permitted to have complete freedom. I was assigned to anti-submarine watch on what is called the "island", just off the bridge of the ship and extending out over the water. My watch period was from midnight to 2:00 AM on a drizzling, foggy night. All on board had been told that the ship could not stop to pick up anyone who fell overboard. After two hours with an iron grip on the railing of the bridge, it took several hours for color to return to my knuckles. The ridiculous part was that the ship was well equipped with sonic and radar equipment that could have detected any submarine; I couldn't have seen one if it had pulled up alongside.
Along with the 500 Americans on board, there were 3,000 German prisoners who had been captured in North Africa. The prisoners were kept behind chain-link fences, and a favorite activity for the Americans was to trade chocolate bars and chewing gum with the Germans for souvenirs. This was resented by the British officers and crewmen, many of whom had fought against Germans in North Africa. Generally, the weather was pleasant all the way across. Two days before landing, however, we entered what was supposed to be a fairly strong hurricane. But because of the size of the ship, the ride was fairly smooth, and I didn't see anyone become seasick. The ship landed at Ft. Hamilton, Long Island, on July 7, 1944, and we had a grand view of the Statue of Liberty.
My first assignment in the States was to take a 30-day leave at home in Orient, Illinois and then report to Santa Monica, California on August 13 for reassignment. On the way there by train, I stopped at Grand Island, Nebraska, to visit the parents of my closest friend in the service, Glenn Still, who had been killed in a mid-air collision in England while training to participate in the invasion of Europe. I also stopped to see his fiancee in Sacramento, California.
Life in Santa Monica was ideal. The Shangri La Hotel there was (and still is) right on the waterfront. There was a lot of time to spend on the beach and around town. Amid all the interviews for reassignment, there was time for several visits with Elinor, my future wife. And the food was great. I was ordered to Selman Field, Monroe, Louisiana, to attend an instructor school. But after about a week there, I volunteered for an opening in the radar navigation school at Boca Raton, Florida, learning to teach the operation of airborne navigation equipment on the ground. We first moved into the Boca Raton Hotel while our quarters, in the form of a "tent city", were being constructed at the edge of town. The hotel was the nicest I had ever stayed in up to that time, and I believe it is still one of the finer hotels in Florida. The tents were finally ready, but we had been in them scarcely a week when a hurricane was reported to be headed in our general direction. So we had to quickly rush back to the Boca Raton Hotel, where we stayed again for almost a week. The heart of the hurricane missed Boca by about 15 miles, but we caught much of the wind, hail, and rain. During the time the hurricane passed by, it was interesting to plot its course using the ground radar equipment. So, use of radar in tracking storms is not as new as meteorologists nowadays like to think. While in training there, I had the opportunity to make practice radar navigation flights over all of Florida, Cuba, Bermuda, the Bahamas and many of the other Caribbean Islands.
After a month training in Florida, I was transferred to the airbase at Victorville, California, which later became known as George Field. My assignment there was to teach airborne radar navigation to B-29 navigators who were headed for the Pacific war. Over that year in the California desert, I had several offers to join some of those crews, but again I told them "Thanks, but no thanks." Los Angeles, of course, was the chief weekend retreat, and I began to spend more and more time with Elinor there. I bought a 1940 Chevrolet, which was in beautiful condition, and drove it into town each weekend. I had only an "A" gasoline ration card, which allowed purchase of only two gallons of gas a week. But by carrying a number of fellow officers with me who had no car, and taking over their gasoline ration cards, I never had any problem with a shortage of gas.
I had the one experience of my life as a policeman while at Victorville. I was put on officer-of-the-guard duty for 24 hours, which usually meant sitting around the guard-house with the MPs. However, on one evening an MP rushed in, handed me a belt with a .45 automatic pistol, and told me he had to have an officer along to go into Victorville and pick up a first lieutenant who had been causing trouble there. When we got into town, the officer was in the Mojave river bottoms. When they brought him in, he said he had lost his ID card, gave a false ID number and false name and had a high blood alcohol count. He also failed to show up in the morning at the provost marshal's office, from the room I got for him at the bachelor officers' quarters. I also had to testify at his court martial. It turned out he got a light sentence, because he was apparently a nice guy with no prior discipline problem, and he had had no prior problems with alcohol.
Elinor and I were engaged on her birthday, June 3, 1945, to be married in the fall. The big day was set when I became eligible for separation from service. We were married on September 26, and drove the Chevy back to Ft. Sheridan, Illinois. My actual separation day was October 21. While we looked for permanent quarters so I could return to graduate school at Northwestern University, we lived for awhile at Fox River Grove, Illinois. We also lived with my sister and her husband, who were caretakers of an estate near Barrington, Illinois, belonging to James Kemper, the founder of Kemper Insurance Company. But with the housing shortage at the end of the war, we were unable to find suitable living quarters in that area. For that reason, and because we found out that Elinor was pregnant, we returned to Los Angeles, where I entered graduate school at the University of Southern California.