This is the story of Jack W. Stead, Army serial #365 545 38, stationed with the 8th Air Force, 447th Bomb Group, 709th Squadron at Rattlesden, England.
When I was first assigned to the Air Corps, I had no intention of ever climbing into any kind of aircraft. It was not because I had any preconceived notion on the subject, but rather that I was very busy learning how to become a soldier. While in basic training in Clearwater, Florida, I made friends with a fellow and decided to apply to the same school as he so we could remain together through training. The school was Armament where we would learn to care for the guns used on the planes as well as all types of bombs.
The one thing the Army does not do is that which you think it will do. My friend shipped out ahead of me, and there I was, committed and left behind. In about two weeks I received orders to proceed to Buckley Field near Denver, Colorado. While attending the school there, I saw a notice on the bulletin board asking for volunteers for flying crewmembers. The idea sounded great to me so I signed up, was tested, passed the requirements and was slated for air training after finishing the armament school.
Gunnery school followed and then I was assigned to a crew for further training in a B-17 heavy bomber. There were 10 men on the plane and I was assigned to a waist gun position, meaning I operated from the middle of the plane, firing out a side window. We completed our training in the States, were formed into a squadron, and a group, and sent off to England to do our part in the conflict to rid the world of Hitler and Tojo. I did not have a worry in the world, after all I was young and nothing could happen to me. I merely wanted to get the mess over with and get back to my wife and daughter.
When we arrived in England, we set up our base and flew our first mission on Christmas Eve of 1943. As was the custom, we were given an experienced pilot and navigator for the first two missions, which meant that our co-pilot and navigator were two missions short and we wanted to finish together. At that time when a crew finished 25 missions, they were allowed to go back to the States together. We never realized that our chances of finishing were slim and almost none. Our two men volunteered for two missions to make up their shortage but, as luck would have it, they were both lost on the second volunteer flight. Now we were in a position where if we were to fly together, they would assign two men to us, otherwise we ourselves would be used as replacements and would fly with crews we did not know or train with. This is the status that I operated under, sometimes flying with my own crew, other times being used as a substitute crew member to fill out another crew that was having a problem with manpower or sometimes I flew with a new replacement crew. Under this formula I finished 12 missions, almost half way through, maybe the Good Lord was with me after all.
We had been flying long and dangerous missions for many weeks and our losses were heavy. We were going deep into Germany, even to Berlin, to give Hitler some of his own medicine. He always claimed that his capital would never be a target but we proved him wrong on this statement. These deep raids were hard on the equipment as well as the men. We were at the very limit of our range for fuel and we lost a lot of planes due to a shortage of fuel. Many were forced to ditch (this means to land in the water) by going into the Channel between England and France. Many planes were lost but a lot of crew survived and was picked up by Air, Sea Rescue who patrolled the area whenever the planes were out on missions. Our first few missions were flown without any air support from our own fighter planes because we had nothing that could do the job. Our first support came when they had some P-38 fighters fly with us but their range was very short so the Germans just waited until they left us, and then had their field day. Between the flak and the fighters, we were under constant attack. Soon we had fighter support from P-51's and P-47's that were the latest in United States attack planes. They had extra fuel tanks carried on the wing tips that could be jettisoned if they came under attack. These planes made the missions much more endurable because we had some help against the enemy fighters. There was nothing we could do about the flak from the ground except try and fly in an area that was more lightly defended. The target areas were fiercely defended and we had to fly through them and drop our bombs.