Earl writes: My original B-17 crew and myself arrived in England in late October 1944, flying from the United States via Iceland. Upon arriving, we were assigned to the 303rd Bomb Group, 359th Bomb squadron, stationed at Molesworth, England. The 303rd Bomb Group was known as the "Hell's Angels" Group.
We flew our first combat mission on November 5, 1944, to Frankfort, Germany. For my first ten missions, I flew with my original crew as navigator for which I was trained. I was then transferred from my original crew to lead crew in the 303rd Bomb Group and was trained to become a GH Special Purpose Navigator. From this point, I flew nineteen more missions as a Lead Crew GH Navigator.
A GH Special Purpose Navigator was trained to use GH Special Radar Equipment that was used for navigation and pinpoint bombing of specified targets, when visual bombing was not possible due to weather conditions.
In the 1st Bombardment Division of the 8th Air Force, at this time, only the 41st Combat Wing, consisting of the 303rd, 379th and 384th Bomb Groups, had lead planes equipped with the GH equipment. Whenever, a GH type mission was scheduled, GH Navigators from these three groups were assigned to the lead crews of the other non-equipped groups of the let Bombardment Division. The 41st Combat Wing also supplied lead aircraft to these groups, which were equipped with the GH equipment.
The mission of January 10, 1945, was my twenty-first mission and, since GH Navigation and bombing, could be utilized on the target at Cologne, Germany, I was assigned to fly with the 381st Bomb Group stationed at Ridgewell, England. Their Tail Insignia was the Triangle L, the 303rd Bomb Group was Triangle C. The 303rd Bomb Group supplied the lead plane for the mission to Cologne, and myself as Lead GH Navigator.
The 8th Air Force dispatched 1,119 heavy bombers to ten primary targets in Germany on January 10, 1945. The 1st Bomb Division launched 458 B-17's, the 2nd Bomb Division 233 B-24's, and the 3rd Bomb Division 428 B-17's.
According to the 8th Air Force records, the 1st Bomb Division, of which we were part, suffered that day -- 16 planes missing-in-action or damaged beyond repair; 140 planes damaged but repairable; 5 crewmen killed in action; 52 missing in action; and 15 wounded in action.
On this mission, our target was the Cologne/Ostheim Airfield. We carried thirty-six l00 pound bombs at an assigned bombing altitude of 25,000 feet. The temperature at the bombing altitude was -50° Centigrade.
As the mission progressed, we crossed the enemy coast over Holland and proceeded to the initial point of the bomb run. During this time, we saw anti-aircraft fire at various points, but it was light and inaccurate. Also on this mission, our group was not intercepted by any enemy fighter planes.
|Front row (L-R): 2nd Lt. Adrian L. Lemon, PFF Navigator; 1st Lt. Robert J. Roush, Pilot; 2nd Lt. Fred L. Crouse, Co-Pilot; 2nd Lt. Stuart G. Newman, Dead Recogning Navigator. Back row (L-R): T/Sgt. Irvin Schlom, Radio Operator; S/Sgt. Richard E. Davis, Right Waist Gunner; S/Sgt William "Pete" C. Sprouse, Tail Gunner; 1st Lt. Earl J. Malerich, Jr., GeeH Navigator; Sgt. Michale Stohazu, Flight Engineer & Top Turret Operator. Missing: 1st Lt. Hugh W. Treadwell, Bombardier - taking picture S/Sgt. Arthur C. Hafner, Left Waist Gunner - traumatic right leg amputation below the knee during this mission.
As we started our bomb run to the target, the weather cleared enough that the GH Navigational and Bombing equipment was not needed and our bombing was done visually by the Bombardier. As we entered the target area, the anti aircraft fire became extremely heavy and very accurate. After we released our bombs and were turning off of the target, we were hit by one direct anti-aircraft burst and several near misses. It soon became apparent that we could not maintain our altitude or cruising speed since our engine's turbo superchargers were damaged, and we were forced to leave the group formation, slowly losing altitude and speed. We further found that part of our oxygen and electrical systems were inoperative, as well as 3/4 of our tail and rudder assembly were shot away.
As we slowly lost altitude, we headed back toward friendly territory. As we crossed the Belgium border, it was obvious that we would have to find a friendly airfield and attempt a crash landing.
As we approached Ghent, we spotted a small airfield that appeared to be a fighter base. Later, it turned out to be manned by elements of the Polish RAF.
Due to the damage to our tail section, it was almost impossible to control the aircraft in making any type of left turns and could not accurately control our rate of descent. Because of these conditions, we had to make three passes over the air field to try and get our rate of descent low enough and approximately lined up with the runway. On our final approach, we over-shot the runway and crash landed in a farm field a short distance from the edge of the air field. In so doing, we plowed up a frozen field of turnips. The people living around the airfield gladly gathered the harvested turnips.
After a quick medical check-up, we were driven to an Air Evacuation Center in Brussels and then flown back to our English bases ten days later.
Earl J. Malerich
Lt. Col. USAF Ret.