Operation Bodenplatte Revisited

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1

Memoirs of someone who was there!

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RCAF 127 Wing

Memories of John Le May – 1942/1945

The content of this website is copied with permission from John Le May’s autobiography e-book & CD.

* Excerpts from John Le May’s autobiography “My First Twenty-Three Years On This Planet – 1923 ~ 1946”

* WING TIPS – Informal newsletter from the battlefields of Europe

Before I get to the purpose for creating this e-book and CD, I would like to give you a brief outline of my career as an Administrative Clerk/Accountant/Typist/Bugler at funerals etc. From the date of my joining the RCAF on my 18th birthday, on August 25th 1941, until my discharge and back to civvies on March 16, 1946. One week at Valcartier, then two months at the Manning Depot in Quebec City, in the bugle and drum band parading up and down the main drag to show how smart we looked in our brand new government issued uniforms. Then came November and that meant a posting to a Kittyhawk Fighter Squadron in Dartmouth on the East Coast, under the command of Squadron Leader Hartland De M. Molson, who had just returned from fighting in the Battle of Britain as a fighter pilot with the No. 1 Fighter Squadron.

Shortly after my arrival, I was paraded in front of the CO and was offered a promotion to become an air gunner, which I immediately declined. Then came an offer that I could not refuse, to work in the Orderly Room as a typist under the Chief himself. This lasted until August 1942 when I had to decide once again on a choice of posting. Pat Bay, about 3000 miles away from Ottawa or Overseas. I chose the latter which would probably give me a chance to travel all over the British Isles. So, England it was.

I crossed over in October 1942, and arrived at Gorrick in Scotland, parked right next to the Queen Mary, then traveled by train next day right through to Bournemouth. A couple of weeks there and I was eventually posted to the 401 Squadron at Kenley, Surrey. We moved a few times during the next 18 months until the 2nd TAF was formed and the 127 Wing was part of it. We spent a week or so at Salisbury Plains to waterproof the vehicles and wait for D-Day.

On the night of the 5th of June 1944, the sky was filled with a thousand bombers heading for France, and then we realized that the invasion of France was imminent. In fact, when the sun rose a few hours later, it was indeed confirmed by our Commanding Officer and the BBC that the invasion had started. D DAY had arrived. We finally moved out of that muddy hole about a week later and got aboard a large TLC which brought us to the other side of the channel and JUNO beach. There was no mistake about where we were, right in the middle of air attacks by the Luftwaffe which kept us pinned under our trucks loaded with jerry cans filled with gas)

So, we finally left the beach and traveled a few miles inland to our destination, a landing strip which was named B2 (Brazeville) or Crepon, just a couple of miles from Bayeux and a couple of miles from the front lines. This was to be our home for the next 5 or 6 weeks or until there was a breakthrough at the front, whichever came first. Who can forget the contrast between the daylight hours and the constant rumbling noise coming from the front, and the flares dropped by Jerry during the night over our airfield. Who could also forget the CO’s Great Dane roaming around the camp all night long and accompanying anyone who had to use the facilities, a two-seater with canvas around it. On a more serious side, one of the chores I will never forget was loading the casualties arriving from the front on DC3’s. This was a daily ritual for a couple of hours after supper. It was heartbreaking to say the least.

As soon as the Allies broke through and captured airfields, we moved. Paris, Brussels, then Holland to an airfield called Grave (Near Ravenstein} not far from the Nimegen Bridge. The name GRAVE was very appropriate, it almost became the resting place for more than a few civilians and also wounded some of our own members, thanks to the regular 4″oclock visit by Jerry’s secret weapon, a Jet Fighter called the Me 262. Surprise, Surprise…nothing could reach them, by the time the order was given to the RAF Regiment to fire their Bofors, the jet was already 50 miles away. This situation forced us to leave in a hurry and move back to Brussels where we spent the winter of 1944/1945, incidentally the coldest winter on record. How cold was it you ask, I guess you know the answer involving the brass monkey.

During my stay at Evere (a few miles out of Brussels) I had the privilege of working for W/C Johnny Johnson as a clerk in the Intelligence Section, typing the daily reports on the pilot’s previous day’s activities. I had the pleasure of having breakfast with the “Air Commodore” when he attended the Fighter Pilot’s Association annual reunion here in Ottawa some 25 years ago. He invited my wife and I to his room at the Chateau Laurier. Some members had received special invitations to take part and meet with former pilots and attend certain functions as a barbecue at Andy Mackenzie’s residence, that was quite a night to remember.

This CD is dedicated to all airmen , ground crews and air crews who served under the 2nd Tactical Air Force , particularly with the 127 Spitfire Wing. Regrettably, many have died while serving in Europe and many more are no longer with us in this year of 2010, 66 years after D DAY. The photos on the CD are mostly memories of my four and half years in the RCAF, (3 years and 2 months overseas) Many veterans of Normandy will no doubt remember the visit of Winston Churchill a couple of weeks after D Day and some members of the 127 Wing will also remember the unexpected visit of General Eisenhower and Field Marshall Montgomery at our airfield in Germany a couple of weeks before the end of hostilities. The General took time out before his meeting to sign autographs and also walked all the way to the other end of the airfield to meet with American POW’s just released from Stalag 11B and personally taking notes while talking to the GI’s. Some of them had been wounded in battle and had not received any treatment. Our own Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King also showed up in Normandy to visit the troops.

There were some good times to talk about The 2 weeks at Goering’s Strand Hotel (his personal cottage) on Steinhuder Meer, and who can forget Paris, Brussels, London, Bournemouth, Edinborough, New York City, etc. Other good spots that most servicemen in London will never forget….Covent Gardens , the Opera House turned Dance Hall for the benefit of the troops, the corner pubs , and more importantly the Sally Ann, (Salvation Army) where one could go in at any time and find a warm meal and a place to sleep while on leave. Another name comes to mind, Irving Berlin, that diminutive but giant composer of so many patriotic songs like the one we saw that night at the London Palladium “This is the Army Mr. Jones”. While on embarkation leave in 1942 a couple of airmen were invited to lunch at the Waldorf Astoria with Xavier Cugat (I have his autograph somewhere on the menu which was about 18 inches high by 12 inches wide. I only brought back the bottom half with his autograph.

Non-stop music during the working hours was heard on all the military bases with artists like Vera Lynn, George Formby, American Orchestras, Glenn Miller, Guy Lombardo, and many other well known singers of the era. It certainly was a morale booster. We cannot forget listening to Lord Ha Ha from somewhere on the other side of the channel with his nightly broadcasts reading the list of newly-captured aircrews. There were also many sad reminders of the devastation caused by the daily attacks by the German air force on London and other large cities. The courage demonstrated by the British people during those long war years was an inspiration to all of us.

However, the best moment had arrived, boarding the Queen Elizabeth 1 (along 15,000 others) for the return to Canada, via New York City, Lachine, then my arrival at the Union Station in Ottawa on the night of December the 9th, 1945 with my family waiting for me. The rest is history.

John (JB) Le May

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The Mexican 201st Fighter Squadron – Part Three

Editor’s Note –

This unsigned article was obtained by Clarence Simonsen in 1983. It is a reprint of the original from the archives of the Albert F. Simpson Historical Research Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, at Alabama. It was prepared by the Historical Section, Administration and Service Division, Headquarters, Second Air Force, 20 September 1945. It is reproduced [black text] for the historical and detailed progress of the forming and training of the Mexican 201st Fighter Squadron, including the training in the United States. Small sections from author [Simonsen] information appear in blue type. Hyperlinks, if any, will be in red.

If possible, I will add some pictures found on different Websites as I go along editing Clarence’s story. 

The Mexican 201st Fighter Squadron – [August 1944 to March 1945]

First Mission

The first mission on the morning of 7 June 1945, found 10/10 cloud cover over the target, so 7 P-47s jettisoned their bombs. In the afternoon, 7 more aircraft reported to SAP ‘Outlive” and were directed to bomb troop concentrations near Infanta. Thirteen 1,000 pound bombs were put directly on the target area with results reported as excellent. One bomb landed 300 yards southeast of the target area.

At this date Allied Forces occupied only a very small part of Luzon, including Dagupan, Manila, Bataan and Corregidor. Over sixty-thousands Japanese troops under command of General Yamishita of the 14th Imperial Army controlled and defended the northern section of Luzon.

The squadron flew right along with the 58th Group the rest of the month in ground support missions – often two flown per day – helping the 25th Division in its breakthrough from the Balete Pass and Marikana Watershed area into the Cagayan valley.

They carried two 1,000 pound bombs and strafed when called on. They attacked every type of target in various manners, i.e., by map coordinates, by dry-run vectoring by SAP’s, by bombing on White Phosphorus artillery or motor shells, by vectoring by L-5 spotters, etc. Their missions were abortive on four or five occasions due to weather, failure of SAP to have a target, failure of radio communication with L-5 aircraft, etc.

The 58th Fighter Group history for June 1945 states:

“From 7th thru the 25th June, the 201st flew 31 missions with the 58th fighter Group. The results of the various missions ran the scale from good to excellent, with results of some missions not reported by SAP. During this period some 461 x 1,000 pound bombs were dropped and 113,592 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition expended in a total of 232 sorties.”

During the rest of June, the Mexican Squadron continued to fly ground support missions, and in the period 1-10 July began flying long-range reconnaissance missions to Formosa. In regard to the total number of missions, the final report shows only about forty, while the Statistical summary report shows fifty. It appears the summary presumably includes some training missions in the period 1-7 June 1945.

Using the summary and figuring an average of as shown by mission reports of 2 hours and 15 minutes for ground support and five hours for the Formosa missions, the Mexican squadron had 794 combat hours of which approximately half or 367 hours over the target area. As a comparison of effectiveness, the following average was figured from the Fifth Fighter Command statistics for June 1945, for the same time the 58th Group which was flying the same type of missions with same aircraft.

 

One-third of the group’s figures were used as average for a complete squadron.

 

 

 

                                                                                                              58th F.Gp.                           201st Sqdn.

P-47’s assigned                                                                              27.4                                       17

Daily employed                                                                             10.2                                       9.8

Pilots available                                                                              40.8                                       32

Pilots employed                                                                            10.2                                       9.8

Total sorties                                                                                    307                                        293

Combat hours                                                                                 630.5                                    794

Incomplete sorties                                                                       32                                          40

Tons of bombs dropped                                                             197                                        181

Rounds .50 cal.                                                                               117,053                                104,000

The figures above are of necessity approximations and interpolations, but considering that the 201st was new to combat their record compares favorably with that of the veteran pilots of the 58th Group. The group’s work which included the missions run by the 201st in support of the 25th division was highly commended by the commanding General of that division. There was no separation of a Mexican mission from an American mission as far as the ground forces were concerned, and that is sufficient praise in itself.

The operational loss rate of the squadron was high. There were seven pilots killed – five of them in the final phase of the Formosa missions. But in view of the low rate in the U.S. phase of their training, which should not be considered particularly significant since this was their first experience in long overwater flights. In view of the fact the squadron represented picked men; perhaps a higher level might have been expected? Operating with peak strength of 32 pilots and 17 Thunderbolt P-47D aircraft, the squadron participated in combat during a six-week period in June and July 1945.

The P-47 monument at Santa Lucia Air Base with seven death masks in 1994

The P-47 monument at Santa Lucia Air Base, with seven death masks, 1994.

The squadron was divided into four flights [Esquadrillas] which were lettered “A” to “D”. A well published photo shows four pilots from “A” flight with the artwork of the Mexican Eagle in flight holding an arrow in its feet. The bottom reads Aguilas Aztecas [Aztec Eagles] and this is imposed over the National Mexican aircraft wing markings.

Escuadrilla A

 

Top left 1st Lt. Fernando Hernandez Vega #240391, top right the Escuadrilla “A” Commander Capt. Roberto Legorreta Sicilia # 259420, bottom left 1st. Lt. Graco Ramirez , bottom right Garrido #249329, 1st. Lt. Carlos Varela Landeni #261629.

 

Flight Escuadrilla “A”

“A” flight was commanded by Capt. Roberto Legorreta Sicilia #259420, pilots Tte. P.A. Fernando Hernandez Vega #240391, [one of the original pilots who took training at San Diego in Feb. 1944], Carlos Varela Landeni #261629, Graco Ramirez Garrido #249329, [one of the original pilots who took training at San Diego in Feb. 1944], Jose Luis Pratt Ramos #313429, Miguel Urlarte Aguilar #313661, and David Ceron Bedolia #313441.

 

 

 

Flight Escuadrilla “B”

“B” flight was commanded by Tte. P.A. Carlos Garduno Nunez #261829, [one of the original pilots who took training at San Diego in Feb. 1944] pilots – Julio Cal Y Mayor Sauz #271859, [one of the original pilots who took training at San Diego in Feb. 1944], Reynaldo Perez Gallardo #290271, Sub. Tte. P.A. Miguel Morsno Arregla #313610, Praxedis Lopez Ramos #313433, Fausto Vega Santander #313453, and Angel Sanchez Rebollo #313426.

 

Flight Escuadrilla “C”

“C” flight was commanded by Tte. P.A. Hector Espinosa Galvan #259485, pilots – Joaquin Ramirez Vilchis #259444, Carlos Rodriguez Corona #281312, Amador Samano Pina #259489, Sug. Tte. P.A. Paul Garcia Mercado #313607, Guillermo Garcia Ramos #313437, and Manuel Espinosa Gonzalez #192604.

Pilot Tte. P.A. Joaquin Ramirez Vilchis was a former commander of a cavalry Unit at Jalisco, and came from a very prominent Mexico City family.

 

Flight Escuadrilla “D”

“D” flight was commanded by Tte. P.A. Amadeo Castro Almanza # 259792, pilots – Jacobo Estrada Luna #280682, [one of the original pilots who trained at San Diego in Feb. 1944], Jose Luis Barbosa Cerda #277687, Sub. Tte. P.A. Mario Lorez Portillo #313434, Roberto Urias Aveleyra #331751, Jaime Zeniso rojas #313423, Justino Reyes Retana #305961.

 

 p47mex3

 

The Mexican pilots at Porac, Pampanga, a satellite field eight miles south of Clark Field.

This 1992 letter from American pilot John O’Keeffe describes Porac.

 1992 letter from American pilot John O’Keeffe

Mexican pilots were briefed each evening for the next day’s missions. Breakfast was at 7:15 am, take-off was at 8:00 am, and the average ground support mission lasted 2 hrs. 15 min. Lunch was at 11:45 am, with second mission take-off at 13:00 hrs. As stated in above letter, the main meal was served at 15:15 hrs, which became a very formal mess dinner. Much like Mexico, the hot afternoon was time for the pilots to relax, while the mechanics and armorers worked on the aircraft.

Simonsen sketch

 

This Simonsen sketch was completed in 1992, after my interview with Col. Carlos Garduno at his home. It was intended as research for a future painting? Drawing is not to scale, including numbers.

 The 201st Mexican Squadron began training operations in theatre on a variety of hand-me-down aircraft from other Fifth Air Force Units. Many of these fighters were old “razor-back” veterans [above] which retained the USAAF markings. On these aircraft the Mexicans slowly added individual nicknames and most important the white nose cowl “petal” marking was first adopted and identified as ‘Mexican.’ Some of these loaned aircraft carried black numbers known as in-unit numbers, which first appeared on a white horizontal stripe on each side of the cowling. This horizontal stripe soon developed into the white petal nose marking design, with the numbers appearing on each side in the central part of the petal. The loaned aircraft numbers were 1 to 17. The American serial number [which was on original camouflage paint] was masked over with tape and the vertical tail and upper fuselage  painted white, between the three color vertical rudder stripes and the black theatre stripe.

 [It is believed the white painted tail section only appeared on a few of the loaned camouflage P-47 aircraft]? A few also received the new wrap-around invasion “Threatre” stripes. This was a period of in-complete markings on the Mexican aircraft. [It is further believed that some early borrowed P-47 ‘razor-back’ aircraft carried the Mexican insignia in all four wing positions]?

When the 20 new P-47D-30-RA fighters arrived, the ground crew proudly set to marking them in standard scheme. The U.S. national insignia [star and bars] appeared on the fuselage, surrounded by the “Theatre Stripes” two 24 to 36 inch black wrap-around stripes that appeared on the rear fuselage and main wings.

In my 1992 interview with Col. Gardune he made it very clear the U.S. ‘Star and Bar’ did  appear one upper and one lower wing. It has been stated in some publications, the Mexican national insignia appeared in all four wing positions. [This has been confused over the years, due to the fact it is believed a few of the early P-47’s carried the four position wing insignia?]

On the Lend-Lease P-47D’s the white nose ‘petal’ Mexican design was applied, along with the standard Mexican national three-color vertical rudder stripes. The in-unit numbers ran from 1 to 25 and appeared in black on each side of the nose in the middle of the white petal area. Some aircraft carried the in-unit number in a white horizontal band that was painted across the top of the vertical fin.

Aviation History May 2003

Aviation History May 2003.

The cover page and inside cover story by Sig Unander Jr. contain an outstanding painting of the Mexican P-47D Thunderbolt in action by artist Jack Fellows.

 

 Wing marking of US.Star and Bar confirmed  in letter

Wing marking of U.S. Star and Bar confirmed  in letter.

 

Pancho Pistolas

In late February 1993, I received my issue of Air Classics magazine, Vol. 29, Number 3. It contained a fine history of the 201st Mexican fighter pilots against the Japanese in the Philippines, by Dennis A. Cavagnaro. The above uncredited photo appeared with the story, showing 2nd Sgt. Manuel Alcantara with a wrecked Japanese Zero wing at Clark Field, Luzon, Phillipines. The man was formerly with an American parachute division and received his honourable dishcharge to join the 201st squadron. The image of “Pancho Pistola” would become the squadron mascot, and this form of nose art sparked my interest. This image was mailed to Col. Carlos Garduno and Gilberto de la Rosa on 22 February 1993.

In a letter dated 3 May 1993, [see below] Professor Alfonso Cuellar Ponce de Leon, President of the Mexican Association of Veterans states- the above Japanese wing was painted by the official artist 2nd Sgt. Jose Sanchez Garcia.

 

 letter about Pancho Pistola

Ten years pass and the same photo image appears in the article by Sig Unander Jr.,”Aviation History” May 2003, page 24. This time the Mexican man is identified as 2nd Lt. Miguel Moreno Arreola, pilot and artist who painted the “Pancho Pistolas” on the Japanese fighter wing. Miquel Moreno Arreola flew with “B” squadron,  serial number 313610.

The question remains – which is the correct name for the artist who painted the “Pancho Pistola”?

 

On 14 May 1993, I obtained the full nominal roll of all the Officers and Enlisted personnel in the 201st Mexican Squadron, sent by Professor Alfonso Cuellar Ponce de Leon.

Listed in the section “Operations Intelligence” you will find a Cabo [Typist] Manuel Alcantar Torres #350717. Is this the ex-American paratrooper who appears in the photo with Japanese wing tip and mascot?

The list contains a total of 51 Officers and 236 personnel, for total – 287.  This list also contains ten surnames of the 287,  which all have a Mexican surname of “Garcia.”

2nd Sgt. Pedro Guerra Garcia # 350210 was first attached to “D” flight as an armorer, then posted to “B” Flight as armorer to the P-47D of Lt. Reynaldo Perez Gallardo. He painted the one and ‘only’ nose art of Pancho on the 201st squadron aircraft. [photo required]

2nd Sgt. Jose Sanchez Garcia #236863, was employeed in the equipment for personnel section on the Base and listed as the ‘official painter’ and squadron artist. Was he the man who painted the Japanese fighter wing found in the junk yard, which became the squadron gate sign and mascot?

 In addition to their combat record, the 201st Squadron personnel were a valuable social contact with the Spanish speaking Filipinos.

From 1 to 10 July 1945, the 201st flew five missions with 49 aircraft, with the loss of five pilots. All were lost on routine and operational flights, no aircraft were lost in combat and no ememy aircraft were destroyed.

On 9 August 1945, the 201st moved to Clark Field, and were about to rejoin the 58th Fighter Group on Okinawa for the invasion of Japan. The next day they flew their last mission of WW II, providing air cover for a U.S. convoy bound for Okinawa. On the evening of 26 August, Captain Gaziola interupted their movie to announce, two atom bombs had been dropped on Japan, and they had surrendered. These bomb strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had just saved many Mexican lives.

The 201st shipped out of Manila on 23 October 1945, arrived at San Pedro, California on 13 November, returning to Mexico City on 18th, to a full hero’s parade.

The 18 November 2015, marks the 70th Anniversity of their return to Mexico City.

For a number of reasons, the 201st Squadron Mexican combat P-47D aircraft remained in the Philippines with the American Forces. In November 1945, the United States Government re-issued 25 brand-new P-47D-35-RA aircraft to the Mexican 201st Squadron.

A new era was about to begin, which would include post-war Mexician nose art and markings.

The first request for a Disney insignia came from the U.S. Navy, [Officer-Cadet Burt Stanley] by letter in early 1939. The request was passed on by Walt Disney to head caricature artist Hank Porter, and completed for the U.S.S. Wasp, an aircraft carrier base in San Diego. A second Disney insignia was completed by Porter and delivered to the U.S. Navy in March 1940.

 with the Mosquito fleet

This Disney insignia [above] and story was published in the April 1941 issue of Popular Mechanics, and soon after Disney received over 200 requests for unit insignia. Disney assigned [and paid] a five-man artistic staff to create each of the requests. The team was headed by Hank Porter [hired by Disney in 1936] and story director Roy Williams. In the next four years this team would design and mail out over 1,200 insignia to all Allied countries, mostly Air Force units. These requested designs featured all the Disney movie cartoon characters, with Donald Duck appearing the most in over 400 insignia.

no 21 staging unit

 

In 1941, Donald was also a major participant in the Disney Latin American venture, which produced two feature films. “Saludos Amigos” and “The Three Caballeros” were the major films, with a short released from Saludos Amigos, titled Lake Titicaca. Donald was the American naïve tourist introduced to Latin American by Jose Carioca, a parrot from Brazil and Panchito a gun packing Mexican rooster. This marked a new era for Disney studios with the very first mix of cartoon and live action people. In one wild dance scene Donald, Jose, and Panchito all chase after Aurora Miranda against a surrealist background.

The Three Caballeros was designed as a sequel to the popular Saludos Amigos, where Donald was joined by caballeros Joe Carioca and Pistol Panchito. The film was released in June 1945, and became a major hit. I’m sure the 201st Mexican personnel enjoyed the films and the mascot became a natural, they were the real Pistol Panchitos.

Mexican 201st Squadron related research material:

Scale Aircraft Modeling: Vol. 14, #6, March 1992, Latin American Thunderbolts by Dan Hagedorn. [Very good post war nose art info.]

Air Enthusiast #49, 1993, Mexico and the Dauntless, no author listed. [Very detailed info. on Douglas A-24B Dauntless, in Mexican Air Force.]

Fall 1991, and summer 1992 issues of P-47 “Jug Letter”, Simonsen request for info. letters.

Air Classics Vol. 29, #3, March 1993.

Aviation History May 2003.

 

Written by Clarence Simonsen

 

Editor’s note

More pictures found on the Internet

Tail-end Charlie – another story by Clarence Simonsen

Hello Pierre,

Here is another story on a very special person, rear gunner Doug Penny. During his whole life he did so much for Canada and fellow Canadians, but his WWII history and nose art needs to be displayed.

This 1942 cartoon which appeared in an issue of aeroplane magazine tells the true story.

 

 

cartoon

While most rear gunners were proud of their RCAF slang, they also understood it was the most dangerous of all bomber crew stations, the most detached, and they were the least lucky to survive a night attack. Located in the rear, all alone, they will become the first into the air as the bomber tail lifts off the runway in Yorkshire, England.  Then for the next six to eight hours they search and search the night blackness for any movement or shape which might be a German night-fighter. The “Tail-end Charlie” frequently died in his isolated world, shot to death by a night-fighter he couldn’t even see. This lone man also made the decision that could save his entire crew when he screams out “Corkscrew left or right”, then fires his four Browning machine guns at the shape in the darkness. To fly night after night as a rear gunner, you needed a special kind of courage and sometimes just pure luck to escape a rendezvous with death.  F/L Douglas Richard Penny flew 37 operations as a rear gunner and he told me during one operation, he survived only because of his training and luck.

Doug Penny was born near the Qu’Appelle Valley of Abernethy, Saskatchewan, on 22 December 1923. He applied for the RCAF in the fall of 1941, but was not taken on strength until after his 18th birthday, officially dated 23 April 1942. This delay was caused when he contacted scarlet fever while in training at Brandon Manning Depot and spent two months in hospital. He stated “The rats in the hospital were as big as alley cats.” He was posted to No. 2 Wireless School at Calgary, Alberta, but washed out [29 March 1943] where he was informed his Morse Code was not good enough. He always felt his grades were OK, it was the simple fact they needed “tail-end Charlies”  due to the high gunner loss rate.

Doug was next posted to No. 3 Bombing and Gunnery School at MacDonald, Manitoba, and graduated course #50A as a F/Sgt. and attained his A/G Brevet on 14 May 1943. 

“After the usual embarkation leave [30 days] I ended up in the UK at Bournemouth, just in time to get strafed by a couple of German Me109s, while we were lying around the bowling green. I then went to Operational Training Unit at Stratford and crewed up with Wellingtons. During this training period I was slated to go on a fighter affiliation flight in an old Halifax Mk. II. I had just purchased a new bicycle and was late reporting, missing the instruction flight. During a corkscrew by the pilot, the old bomber broken apart and all the crew and new air gunners were killed. It was my first escape from death but not the last. We were posted to No. 420 [Snowy Owl] Squadron and heading for North Africa [late September 1943] when the campaign in Italy ended.”

 Tail-end Charlie - Copy (2)

“We were posted back to a Heavy Conversion Unit at Croft and Dishforth, then back to No. 420 Squadron at Tholthrope, where we flew three operations in Halifax aircraft. Out pilot [above center] was asked to go on a trip to Berlin as second “Dicky with another crew and was killed in action.” 

“Our crew headed back to Wombleton-in-the-mud looking for a pilot who would take us.  They would meet a Canadian pilot S/L Maurice William Pettit, DFC, who had completed a tour of 27 operations with No. 128 RAF Squadron, flying Stirling bombers. Penny – “He was a super Canadian pilot, also one of the great beer drinkers in the RCAF.” “I  finished my first tour with him at 432 Squadron, East Moor, Yorkshire, a few trips to Berlin, D-Day, and wrapped it up in early August 1944.”

On 18 March 1944, they began operations with No. 432 [Leaside] Squadron, and received a new Halifax Mk. III aircraft serial LW596, QO-D, call sign “D for Dog.” This inspired the new nose art painting, which had appeared in an issue of Saturday Evening Post magazine.

 

Tail-end Charlie - Copy (3)

This Doug Penny photo clearly shows the gas-operated Vickers”K” nose mounted gun in Halifax Mk. III, LW596 and the early nose art painting before name “Devastating Dog” has been applied, operation number three.

 Tail-end Charlie - Copy (4)

This was the photo Doug proudly called “Penny, spending a Penny.” The British term for urinating in a toilet was “spend a penny” as the use of a public toilet in England cost one penny. Before each operation Doug Penny would “spend a penny” while holding onto his tail guns, just for good luck. He always left his bed unmade, also for good luck, as he  would make it upon his return from the operation. 

In June 1944, No. 432 [Leaside] Squadron began to received new Handley-Page Halifax Mk. VII aircraft and the older Mk. III Halifax bombers were transferred to the No. 434 [Bluenose] Squadron. Halifax serial LW596 joined No. 434 Squadron coded as WL-Z and possibly flew with the same original nose art “The Devastating Dog.” 

The new Halifax B. Mk. VII, serial NP692, was assigned to the crew of S/L Maurice Pettit and tail-end Charlie, Doug Penny. 

 Tail-end Charlie 2 - Copy (2)

Flight/ Sgt. Doug Penny in his new office, which had a better rear turret heater.

 Tail-end Charlie 2 - Copy (3)

Halifax B. Mk. VII, serial NP692, “D for Dog”  received the same nose art and name as LW596.

 Tail-end Charlie 2 - Copy (4)

NP692, The Devastating Dog at her hardstand after thirteen operations. 

On 28/29 July 1944, Doug Penny was flying his 33 operation, and this attack on the German city of Hamburg involved almost the entire force of 234 aircraft from No. 6 [RCAF] Group. The bomber stream was allotted a four thousand height band between seventeen and twenty-one thousand feet over the target city. This would prove to be a night the Canadians would never forget as the night-fighter attacks were intense over the target, then the German fighters continued to attack the bombers on the homeward journey. The bombers of 6 Group would have twenty-two aircraft shot down, including Halifax LW596, [The Devastating dog] flown by F/O I. Alexander and crew in No. 434 Squadron, all killed in action.

 Doug Penny recalls -“It was a long stressful trip home in total darkness, then I felt the most welcome slow descent and I knew we were approaching the English coast and home.  As we approached four thousand feet, I began to relax, removed my oxygen mask and reached forward for my thermos to have a cup of hot coffee. Suddenly, in the blackness I saw a movement, dropped my thermos and fired my four machine guns. At the same time the darkness was alight with the return fire of a German night-fighter. The German fighter had followed the Halifax bomber across the English Channel and both Penny and the German pilot had opened fire on each other at the exact same instant. The German shells missed Doug Penny by six feet, but Doug scored a direct hit on the Ju-88 fighter, which dove straight into the sea, witnessed by several bomber crews. In the morning light, F/Sgt. Doug Penny looked at the damage on his Halifax wings and realized he had escaped death by pure luck, combined with his skill as a rear gunner.

 

 Tail-end Charlie 2 - Copy (5)

 

The Halifax tail wing damage caused by the German night-fighter [Ju-88]  on 29 July 1944. [Doug Penny]

 

 

 Tail-end Charlie 2 - Copy (6)

 Damage caused to Halifax NP692 main wing, almost reaching the fuel tanks. [Doug Penny]

 

For his actions in saving his crew, Doug was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and received the Distinguished Flying Medal. He returned to East Moor and instructed gunners in No. 432 and 415 Squadrons on combat and night vision tactics. During this time he also completed four more operations with Wing Commander J. K. MacDonald who was the C. O. of No. 432 Squadron, finishing his tour in early October 1944. He continued to train new gunners until the spring of 1945. 

 Tail-end Charlie 2 - Copy (7)

After completing 37 operations, F/L Douglas Penny arrived at Gransden Lodge, Bedfordshire, in April 1945, to begin his second tour flying with No. 405 [Vancouver] Squadron, under No. 8 [Pathfinder] Group of the RAF. The C.O. decided he had not been screened long enough and he was ordered to Canada and 60 days leave. During his leave, the war in Europe ended and he was sent to instruct at No. 7 Bombing and Gunnery School at Paulson, Manitoba. Doug – “That’s where I lounged until September 1945, when I was discharged from the RCAF.”” I left the service an older and wiser Air Gunner, then returned to finish my schooling in Regina, Saskatchewan.”“I was only 22 years of age.”

On 8 October 1949, Doug began a career in the oil and gas industry as a salesman for Imperial Oil Ltd, in Edmonton, Alberta. From 1952 to 1955 he served as Adjutant with No. 418 [Auxiliary] “City of Edmonton” Squadron, flying the North American Mitchell Mk. II and III aircraft. He was a member of many service organizations, including the Masonic Lodge, Associated Canadian Travellers, and a member of the Royal Canadian Legion for over sixty years. He served as National President of the Air Gunners Association, spending his personal time and money visiting members in the United States and Canada, acting as M.C or Speaker for many of the National Reunions. He always presented himself in a manner which made him most popular with all membership. Doug was big supporter of the first formed Lancaster Museum of Nanton, Alberta, now named the “Bomber Command Museum of Canada. 

After a lengthy battle with cancer, F/L Douglas [Doug] Richard Penny passed away at the Sarcee Hospital [Calgary, Alberta] on Friday, 9 February 2007. 

 Tail-end Charlie 2 - Copy

My first meeting with Doug Penny occurred in the summer of 1980, when he drove to my farm located six miles east of the village of Acme, Alberta. Doug introduced himself and during our chat he ask if I would paint his nose art for him. That began a friendship that last until 2004, when I ask him to autograph this third replica painting of his Halifax nose art. Today this hangs in the nose art section at the Bomber Command Museum at Nanton, Alberta, however it contains little information of the two RCAF Halifax aircraft that carried this nose art or the man who flew as the “Tail-end Charlie” in both.

In 2009, I attempted to create a section in Nanton Museum that would tell this history and honour the forgotten WWII men who painted nose art during the war. The Directors of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada took a vote and said – “NO”. 

This story was created to honour Doug Penny and record the history of the nose art painted on the two Halifax bombers he flew rear gunner in World War Two. 

 

 written by Clarence Simonsen

Painting titled U-129 – Redux

Editor’s note

To make  more sense  of Gloria’s comment yesterday.

While surfing the net, my husband ran across this article and paintings and then showed them to me.  It was a lovely surprise since Luis Noriega Medrano was my dad. I showed the U-129 painting to my mother, who is now 98 and lives in Mexico City, and she thought it was very powerful. Gracias!

 

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Painting titled  U-129

This painting shows replica Aztec God “Xiuhtecuhtli” with a Atlatl spear throwing device in his left hand. The two foot long Atlatl is estimated to be over 15,000 years old, and derived from the Aztec Nahuatl language. Atlatl darts could be thrown with power and precision from a range of 150 feet. Aztec paintings portrayed many gods with the Atlatl in throwing position. The weapon was widely used by Aztec warriors upon the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors and was feared by the Spanish, however it could not penetrate metal armour.

Unlike some Latin American countries, Mexico did not support the Axis powers before or during the second world war. Mexico had opposed the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and supported the Republican government during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. Mexico even allowed the establishment of a Spanish Republican government in exile in Mexico, which functioned until the death of Franco. After the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Mexico broke off all diplomatic relations with Germany, Japan, and Italy. General Manuel Avila Camacho’s government also seized nine Italian and three German ships in Mexican ports. These 12 ships now became part of the Mexican merchant navy, and in an ironic twist of war, a few would be attacked and sunk by German U-boats.

On 10 April 1942, the Mexican tanker Tamaulipas, was sunk by German U-boat 552, with three Mexican nationals killed. German U-564 attacked Mexican tanker Portero del Liano, sunk on 13 May, with loss of 14 Mexican crew. This had been one of the Italian vessels confiscated by Mexico. Seven days later a second confiscated Italian tanker, Faja de Oro, was sank by U-106, with loss of ten Mexican crew. Mexico demanded an explanation from Germany through the Mexican ambassador to Sweden, and after no response was received, Mexico officially declared war on the Axis powers on 28 May 1942.

On 1 June 1942, orders were issued to the 2nd Air Regiment in Mexico City, to sent a group of pilots to San Antonio, Texas, to transport six AT-6B Texan trainers back to Mexico City. All six arrived at Balbuena airfield at 15:35 hrs., 14 June 1942. The aircraft remained in US Army drab colours with the Mexican concentric triangle near each wing tip. The tail was painted in Mexican three colour bands -green forward, white, and red. The American serials 41-17428 to 17433, remained on some aircraft with the Mexican serial P-75 to P-80 in yellow colour on the tail. On 17 June 1942, Noriega Medrano, Sgt 1st class, Sargento Primero, received his aircraft serial P-80, and was assigned to Tuxpan, Veracruz, for U-boat patrol of the Gulf of Mexico. On the 5 July 1942, north of Tampico, Sgt. Medrano sighted a German U-boat cruising partly submerged near the Mexican shore. Catching the submarine in a crash dive he attacked.

The Submarine was U-129, a type IXC, commanded by Kapitanleutnant Hans Witt, who would become a U-boat ace. Witt was on his first war patrol which left Lorient, France, on 20 May 1942 and lasted 94 days. The front conning tower of U-129 carried the German words  Weftward-ho, Westward-Ho, while the sides of the tower carried the German crest and name of the city of Poertschach, Austria. With three Allied ships to his credit he would now strike 40 miles off the Mexican coast. On 27 June 1942, he struck twice, sinking the Mexican tanker Tuxpan, with a loss of four crew, then a few miles away sank the Choapas, with loss of three crew. On 5 July, Sgt. Noriego Medrano sighted the partly submerged U-129 cruising near the Mexican shore, 25 miles north of Tampico. His AT-6 was fitted with a N-3B optical bomb sight and carried two M-30,  100 lb bombs on its wing racks. He dropped his bombs and reported one landed 45 feet from the front, and the other struck three feet from the U-boat conning tower.

A large oil slick was observed and the Mexican press reported their first U-boat sunk. The American press responded with an editorial cartoon showing Uncle Sam’s face in the map of U.S., and the fist of Mexico striking the German U-boat. The caption read – “I can use that punch, Good Neighbor.”

Postwar German U-boat records reported U-129 made four emergency dives on 5 July 1942, after spotting aircraft. The U-boat received no reported damage and continued patrols until 18 August 1944, sinking 29 ships. Sgt. Noriega Medrano continued patrols until 24 July 1942, when he was posted back to Mexico City.  

History had repeated itself, like the Aztec Atlatl darts which could not penetrate the Spanish metal armour, the Mexican 100 lb. bombs were unable to damage the German U-129.

Clarence  Simonsen  

Not sure you are interested – Update

This comment  just in…

While surfing the net, my husband ran across this article and paintings and then showed them to me.  It was a lovely surprise since Luis Noriega Medrano was my dad. I showed the U-129 painting to my mother, who is now 98 and lives in Mexico City, and she thought it was very powerful. Gracias!

Not sure you are interested…

That’s what Clarence Simonsen wrote me when he sent me a 25-page story.

Hello Pierre,

Hope you had a enjoyable holiday.
 
This is the history of the Mexican Air Force in WWII, which has been setting in my basement. Last winter it was updated and three new paintings completed in Mexico.
 
Use if you wish.  I will send the info. for paintings only if you want. This will require some editing.
 
Clarence

 

I said I was interested.

Hi Pierre,

This is the info. for the two paintings showing the first Mexican attack on a German U-boat. The other is the insignia of the Mexican 201st Fighter Squadron. In all three paintings I have incorporated the image of original Aztec art in the world famous museum in Mexico City. I have been there three times and it you ever get the chance, it is a must see. Just amazing displays. 
 
This is no use setting in my basement, so it might help out someone.
 
 
Clarence

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insignia of the Mexican 201st Fighter Squadron
DSC08204_crop
first Mexican attack on a German U-boat
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Now what about that 25-page story?
I have to read it and enjoy it first.

The Mexican 201st Fighter Squadron – Part Two

Editor’s Note –

This unsigned article was obtained by Clarence Simonsen in 1983. It is a reprint of the original from the archives of the Albert F. Simpson Historical Research Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, at Alabama. It was prepared by the Historical Section, Administration and Service Division, Headquarters, Second Air Force, 20 September 1945. It is reproduced [black text] for the historical and detailed progress of the forming and training of the Mexican 201st Fighter Squadron, including the training in the United States. Small sections from author [Simonsen] information appear in blue type. Hyperlinks, if any, will be in red.

Whenever possible I will add some pictures found on different Websites as I go along editing Clarence’s story. 

The Mexican 201st Fighter Squadron – [August 1944 to March 1945]

American Aid for 201st Mexican Squadron

The full cost of housing and messing for the 201st enlisted men, costs incurred by reason of survey of individual equipment, and cost of necessary official transportation of Mexican personnel within continental limits of the United States were all covered by Lend-Lease. Normal costs of training were for the account of the U.S. Army Air Forces. The use of organizational equipment belonging to the Army Air Forces as might be necessary was also authorized.

The Mexican Government was to furnish pay and allowances, insurance, and Mexican uniforms for the enlisted personnel. All individual equipment needed in training, including training clothing, was to be issued on Memorandum Receipt. Mexican officers were to be housed, uniformed, and messed at their own expense.

Organization

The 201st Mexican Squadron was to be organized in the same manner as a P-47 Squadron in the United States Army Air Forces, with pertinent Tables of Organization for a guide. Standards of proficiency required the 201st squadron were to be identical with those demanded of the same type of unit in the United States.

Actual training command of the Squadron was exercised by a Mexican officer, qualified to command it in accordance with the same United States Army Air Forces standards that would be applied in the selection of the commander for a Fighter Squadron in the United States Army. Provision was also made for a senior officer [other that squadron commander] to accompany the Squadron, to assist the Squadron Commander and United States authorities in furthering the administration efficiency of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Forces and in fostering good relations with other United Nations troops. It was the responsibility of the Commanding Officer of all Mexican detachments to require that trainees comply with post regulations and pertinent instructions from higher headquarters. For purposes of internal administration in the Squadron, however, the personnel were not subject to the civil or military law of the United States, but only to the rules and regulations, and codes of Mexican military law. Cases involving offenses of a military nature committed by the Mexican Trainees could be handled only by their own commanders and courts-martial.

In July 1944, the members of 201st Mexican Fighter Squadron, [294] entered the United States at Laredo, Texas. After being processed at Randolph Field, Texas, the Squadron was divided into smaller groups for refresher and technical courses. All Pilots commenced a ten-week refresher course at Foster Field, Texas, while members of the ground crews were enrolled in mechanic, armorer, radio, and radar schools throughout the nation. 

In preparation for the arrival of the Mexican Fighter Squadron, a Section “I” commanded by Capt. Paul B. Miller, was organized in August 1944 at Pocatello Army Air field, Pocatello, Idaho. This new section consisted of American interpreters and instructors who were to assist in the training and administration of the Mexican Unit.

From sections throughout the Second Army Air Force the personnel of “I” section had been carefully selected, not only for their technical skill and knowledge, but also for their ability to speak Spanish.

Captain Paul B. Miller was 24 years of age, an American officer who had been raised in Peru and spoke fluent Spanish. He had served as the assistant air attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. The Capt. at once rigorously enforced a strong code of discipline, which he realized was necessary for the Squadron success and to save Mexican lives.

Ground Training Begins

On 6 August 1944, the ground echelon of the 201st Mexican fighter Squadron, consisting of nine officers and 160 enlisted men, arrived at Pocatello Army Air Field. The first few weeks are devoted chiefly to instruction in English and basic military subjects and on-the-job training in various military specialties, to prepare the trainees for the independent operation of such sections as Maintenance, Armament, Squadron Supply, Motor Pool, Photo Laboratory, Statistical, Parachute Maintenance, Medical Classification, Personnel, Communications, Technical Supply, Weather, Ordnance, Intelligence and Engineering.

In the Medical Section, Major Ricardo Blanco received training as Flight Surgeon, and Second Lieutenant Pablo Herrasti as Medical Administration Officer. Four enlisted men of the Squadron received on-the-job training at the Base Hospital. On 18 January 1944, Major Blanco went to the School of Aviation Medicine, at Randolph field for further training.

In spite of the inevitable difficulties of language, the over-all training program for the ground echelon seemed as early as 2 September to be proceeding in a highly satisfactory manner. Particular progress was noted in maintenance, in ground training, and in administration. Sixty-three men, comprising the key men in line-maintenance, arrived at Pocatello on 11 September from Farmingdale, New York. Their technical training at Farmingdale had been so intense as to leave no time for basic military training; hence, this training had to be given to them at Pocatello. Since the course at Farmingdale had been general in nature, it was necessary to give them on-the-line training in particular jobs they were to perform in their Squadron.

Their training program was not so exacting, however, as to prevent celebration of the Mexican Independence Day. On 15 and 16 September, both Mexican and United States Army personnel joined in the celebrations. A flag-raising ceremony, attended by the Mexican Consul in Salt Lake City, Senor Carlos Grimm, was held in the 201st Squadron area. On Friday, 15 September, a banquet was tendered the officers of the 201st and staff officers of the Base, and that night the enlisted men of the Mexican Squadron were hosts to the enlisted personnel of the United States Army at a dance in the reception hall. At 23:00 hours, the traditional “Grito de Guerra” [Mexican War Cry] was sounded. On Saturday night, the Mexican officers gave a dance at the officer’s Club for the United States officer personnel.

On 21 September, Major General Gustavo C. Salinas, the Commanding General of the Mexican Air Force, visited Pocatello Army Air Field. He was met by Brigadier General George P. Tourtellot, Commanding General of the 72nd Fighter Wing, and Colonel George Champion, United States Military Air Attaché at Mexico City.

On 23 September the party returned to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the two generals conferred with Major General Uzal G. Ent, Commanding General, Second Air Force. Both General Salinas and General Tourtellot expressed themselves as well pleased with the progress that was being made by the Squadron.

Early in October 1944, several Sections, to wit, armament and Ordnance, the Motor Pool, Operations, Motor Maintenance, the Medical department, the Medical Detachment, Communications, and the Photo Laboratory were operating independently, and almost all other sections were progressing satisfactory towards independent status.

 

Flying Training Begins

On 20 October 1944, thirty-four pilot trainees and Colonel R. Cardenas Rodriquez, Commanding Officer of the 201st Squadron, arrived from Foster Field, Texas.

In mid-February 1944, seven Mexican pilots arrived at the Naval Air Station on North Island, San Diego, assigned to fly the Douglas A-24B Dauntless in a dive bombing squadron. Eight U.S. Navy A-24Bs were all painted in Mexican Air Force markings, and they formed a separate squadron. The group was commanded by Capt. Carlos Cervantes Perez, with pilots – Lte Carlos Garduno Nunez, Lte Fernando Hernandez Vega, Lte Graco Ramirez Garrido, Sub Lte Julio Cal y Mayor Sauz, Sub Lte Crisoforo Salido, and Sub Lte Jacobo Estrada Luna. In mid-March 1944, the entire training program was taken over by Col. Antonio Cardenas Rodriguez, who also jointed in the training until June, when he returned to Mexico City.

 Col. Rodriquez and Capt. Radames Graxiola Andrade departed Mexico City on 24 July 1944, by train for Laredo, Texas, and then on to initial processing at Randolph Field, Texas. The two were next posted to Foster Field, Texas, for training in the AT-6 for fighter tactics and then transition to the Curtiss P-40 fighter.

That same day, [20 Oct. 44] the last of the communications unit arrived from Scott Field, Illinois. The Squadron then numbered fifty officers and 237 enlisted men, and was complete except for the Combat Intelligence Officer, Captain Jesus L. Blanco, who was in route to the Intelligence School, at Orlando, Florida, and six radar men, who were still undergoing training at Boca Raton, Florida.

Two days after the arrival of the pilots, flying training was under way. The training program for Mexican pilots, instituted at Pocatello and later carried on at Majors Field, was the standard one for all fighter pilots in the Second Air Force. Combat veterans from the United States Army, chosen for their ability to speak Spanish, instructed students in the rough-and-tumble style of air tactics required in war theatres. The Mexican pilots learned to dogfight, to attack and escort bombers, to dive-bomb and strafe, to navigate by instrument through the thickest weather, to fly night formations, to execute level and skip bombing, to lay smoke screens, and to navigate across long stretches of unfamiliar terrain or trackless water. The principle features of the course were those outlined in the 120 hour fighter training program, which included low altitude gunnery, and combat tactics at thirty-five thousand feet.

The new arrivals soon demonstrated their flying ability. In judgment and technique, in take-offs and landings, and in general performance they were proclaimed considerably above average by Capt. Paul B. Miller, C.O. of section “I”. At the end of the first week, all except one had been ‘checked out’ and were ready to begin Training Missions #6 and#7.

By 10 November, the majority of them were ready for missions #11 and #12, and Capt. Miller reported that their formation flying was excellent, despite the fact that the P-47 type formation used by the 72nd Fighter Wing was completely new to them upon arrival at Pocatello.

The difference in language was the greatest obstacle to the successful accomplishment of the training program. To bridge this gap, classes in English were instituted for the Mexican trainees and classes in Spanish for those American instructors who could not already speak Spanish. Within two weeks, English was being used in all air-to-ground radio transmissions by the Mexican pilots, except in emergencies involving pilots not yet sufficiently fluent in the English language. To provide for such emergencies, an English-speaking Mexican pilot was kept on duty at all times when Mexicans were flying, to act, if need be, as a translator for the regular tower duty Operations Officer. The keeping of maintenance and engineering records was facilitated by the use of mimeographed forms, reproduced in Spanish. One Mexican officer was always present in the maintenance hangar whenever Mexican mechanics were on duty.

Unfamiliar customs, also, required some adjustments. Mess hours and the diet of Americans were different from those to which the Mexicans were accustomed, and a number of them were upset at their first meals. The cooks, however, soon learned to adapt the menus to suit the tastes of the Mexican personnel. In general, all Mexicans adjusted themselves rapidly and intelligently to their new surroundings. Assisting to no small degree in this adjustment was the hospitality of the people of Pocatello; to cite but a single example, the Mexican trainees received, throughout their stay, numerous invitations to parties and dinners in the homes of the local townspeople.

 

The Transfer to Majors Field

Bad flying weather interfered so greatly with training at Pocatello, that it was decided to transfer the 201st, along with the bulk of the personnel and equipment of Pocatello’s 265th Army Air Forces Base Unit, to Majors Field, at Greensville, Texas. The Mexican unit, including pilots, ground officers, and enlisted personnel, departed from Pocatello by troop train on 27 November and arrived at Majors Field on 29 November, to receive a warm welcome from Post officials. Bad weather at Pocatello, in addition to the transfer to Majors Field, had resulted in the loss of much flying time. Furthermore, adverse flying weather had delayed the transfer of approx. one-third of the aircraft belonging to the 201st. During the first few days of December, inclement weather again plagued the Squadron. When the weather did break, however, the Thunderbolts of the 201st were the first off the ramps; and on 16 December Capt. Miller was able to report that the general proficiency of the Mexicans was excellent and that their formation flying ranged from excellent to superior. On 18 December, General Salinas paid another visit to the 201st, bringing with him Christmas gifts to the members of the Squadron from families in Mexico. In the course of his two day visit, he conferred at length with ground officers, pilots, and enlisted men of the Squadron, and was pleased with the progress of the training program. It is recorded that he was particularly appreciative of the hospitality shown the Mexican trainees by local civilians. 

 

On 29 December 1944, the Mexican Senate authorized the President Avila Camacho to send Mexican troops into combat theatre whenever he deemed it advisable. Immediately, the morale of the officers and enlisted personnel of the 201st Mexican Fighter Squadron took a sharp turn upward, for prior to this time the members of the Squadron had been uncertain as to their future and had even had occasion to believe they would not be sent overseas. At the end of the year, the individual training of all Mexican personnel was complete. Captain Miller reported that each man knew his job and could perform it efficiently.

On 14 January 1945, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur W. Kellond replaced Capt. Paul B. Miller as Commanding Officer, Section “I”. The new commander made it clear at once, however, that there would be no change in the policies established by his predecessor, unless they were directed by other authority.

As had been the case at Pocatello, Mexican military personnel adapted themselves readily to the local customs. Some of them maintained quarters in Greenville for their families. Parties and other social functions were given as frequently as the training program would permit. The language barrier between the Mexicans and the citizens of Greenville was largely overcome through the ability of many Mexicans to speak English and the employment of interpreters in a substantial number of Greenville stores for the convenience of Spanish-speaking customers.

In the magazine “Aviation History” May 2003, Sig Unander Jr. disputes this official version of the arrival in Greenville by the Mexican 201st Squadron.

“A sign over the town’s main street read ‘Greenville Welcome—The Blackest Land—The Whitest People.’ The Mexican pilots were amazed to be refused service in a restaurant, but a more serious concern was off-base housing. An international incident was narrowly avoided when base officers and civil leaders found accommodation and the word was circulated the Mexicans were allies and should be treated with courtesy.

The war years were a sad part of American discrimination history, and the Mexicans got a small taste of it. In 1944, over 378,000 German prisoners of war were housed in camps across 46 states. Many of these POW’s were treated better than the black man serving and giving his life for the United States of America. [Read] – “Coming to a Town near You” Ronald H. Bailey, World War II magazine, Sept. /Oct. 2012.

The relationship between base military personnel and the Mexican trainees was at all times cordial. Mexican non-commissioned officers were invited to become members of the Non-Commissioned Officers’ Club, and officer trainees were accorded the privileges of the Officers’ club. A Squadron and Section Christmas party, attended by both Mexican and American personnel, was held at the Adolphus Hotel, in Dallas, Texas, on 24 December 1945.

On 14 January 1945, Colonel Antonio Cardenas Rodriguez returned to Mexico City for a conference concerning the Mexican Squadron. In his absence, the command was divided between Captain Radames Gaxiola, who was left in charge of the pilots, and Capt. Jesus Carranza, in charge of the engineering personnel, and Capt. Jesus Blanco, in command of the remainder of the Squadron. As a matter of fact, Colonel Cardenas Rodriquez did not return to his assignment as commanding Officer of the Squadron, and the sole command ultimately devolved upon Capt. Gaxiola. On 2 February, however, he [Rodriguez] returned as Commanding Officer of the Mexican Expeditionary Forces, with which the Squadron moved overseas.

In late January, preparations were made for several weeks of gunnery training. This phase, which would complete the training program, began on 2 February and for it the Squadron moved to Brownsville, Army Air Field, at Brownsville, Texas. On-the-line maintenance at Brownsville was performed entirely by Mexican personnel; in fact, only five enlisted men of the Section “I” accompanied the armorers, mechanics, and other line specialist on the trip, and these acted merely in an advisory capacity.

While in Brownsville, every enlisted man was given a pass into Mexico for his day-off hours. Matamoros, a typical Mexican city, lay just across the border. By happy coincidence, a three-day celebration of “Charros [Cowboy] Day” was held while the 201st were in Brownsville.

It had been planned originally that gunnery training should be complete in time for the Squadron to take part in flag presentation ceremonies scheduled at Majors Field for 20 February 1945. Inclement weather again was a delaying factor, and the trainees had to return for the ceremonies before their gunnery training was completed.

Flag [Colours] Presentation Ceremonies

After twice being postponed because of inclement weather, flag presentation ceremonies honoring the 201st Mexican Fighter Squadron were actually held on 22 February 1945, at Majors Field. They were attended by wide publicity. Stories about the Squadron and pictures of each individual officer and enlisted man belonging to it were sent to the men’s hometown newspaper in Mexico. Full coverage of the training program was achieved through pictures and news releases sent to leading Mexico City newspapers, as well as several Texas newspapers. For the War Department and all major American newsreel companies, Jimmie Lederer, Universal news cameraman, was on hand to shoot sequences, plus Mexican newsreel men were also present. Lt. Col. Alberta E. Holland, Liaison Officer for Coordination of Inter-American Affairs, Motion Picture Branch, Washington, D.C., attended for the purpose of making a feature, for release in Mexico and other Latin American countries.  Broadcasts were carried to Mexican and other Latin American listeners by the National Broadcasting company and Radio Station XEW, Mexico City. The program of the day included a formal review, at which Lt. General Francisco L. Urquizo, Under Secretary of National Defense, Secretariat of Mexico, presented the Mexican battle flag colors to Colonel Antonio Cardenas Rodriguez, the Commander of the Mexican Expeditionary Forces. Lieutenant General Barton K. Yount, representing General Arnold, also presented the Squadron with a battle flag.

Following the presentation of the battle flags [colors], the Mexican airmen demonstrated the effectiveness of their training by putting their P-47 Thunderbolts through virtually every tactical maneuver they had been taught by their American instructors. Later, a formal luncheon at the Base Officers’ club honored the visiting dignitaries. 

In presenting the battle flag [colors] to the 201st squadron, General Urquizo made these remarks:

“Ceremonies at Majors Field today honoring you, the 201st Mexican Fighter Squadron, give me an opportunity to declare the sincere gratitude of my nation and its people to the United States Army Air Forces for the training it has given you. I come on a mission that fills me with great satisfaction to present my country’s colors to the 201st Fighter Squadron, of the Mexican Expeditionary Force. Bonds of friendship between our two nations are being more closely knitted than ever before since Mexican forces began training here.”

“Mexico recognizes and appreciates the excellent training that the 201st is receiving in the United States. Our nations and its peoples understand that training of Mexican soldiers with the United States Army Air Forces has promoted a firmer bond of friendship between our counties, which will inspection and a final POM inspection. All become even more steadfast when we defeat the Nazis and return peace to mankind.”

 

Completion of Training

Following the flag presentation ceremonies, gunnery training at Brownsville was resumed; but not until 14 March were the Mexicans able to return to Majors field with all their training completed. On the day of the Squadron’s return to Greensville, the Mexican Mess was closed and enlisted personnel of the 201st began eating at the General Mess on the Base. The Squadron became involved in much activity. Records in the Squadron orderly room were brought up to date. The Squadron itself was given both a pre-POM inspection and a final POM inspection. All necessary items of equipment, such as American olive drab clothing, khaki shirts and trousers, shoes, carbines, pistols, etc., were issued to Mexican personnel. At the Headquarters of the Mexican Expeditionary Forces, personnel of which had arrived on 2 February, with Colonel Cardenas Rodriquez in command, final preparations were made for sending the 201st overseas.

During the month of March 1945, the Squadron “I”, the former Section “I”, which had been designated, along with the other “Sections” in the Base Unit, on 19 February, was disbanded. As various sections of the 201st Squadron became proficient enough to work alone, it had been the practice to release American enlisted men from their instructional duties. The Mexican Transportation section had been the first to function independently; commendations had been received by its personnel shortly after the transfer from Pocatello for the splendid maintenance performed on mobile equipment. Other sections soon became independent, also, and by middle of March 1945, it was possible to release the bulk of the personnel of squadron “I” for other assignments. Ten members of “I” Section [five officers and five enlisted men, headed by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur W. Kellond] were placed on temporary duty with the 201st for a period of ninety days, and accompanied it to its overseas destination.

Fatal accidents during Training

The 201st Fighter squadron suffered two fatal accidents during its training period. On 23 January 1945, second Lieutenant Crisoforo Salida Grijalva was killed when his plane crashed on take-off at Majors Field. Their new P-47D aircraft were state-of-the-art in design and very dangerous for new fighter pilots in training. The first fatality occurred at Majors Field, on 23 January 1945, when 2nd Lieutenant Cristoforo Salido Grijalva attempted his take-off from a wet muddy taxiway, he had mistaken for the main runway. Before becoming airborne, he hit his brakes and the P-47D inverted, skidding down the taxiway, filling the cockpit with mud and water. The young officer drowned before he could be freed from his aircraft. 

On 10 March 1945, First Lt. Javier Martinez Valle, was killed while in training at Brownsville, Texas.

This officer was pursuing a target pulled behind another aircraft, while both were flying into the setting sun. The P-47 went out of control and crashed. It was believed pilot Valle lost sight in the glaring sun and his propeller struck the tow cable or counterweight causing him to lose control and crash.

The remains of both officers were sent back to Mexico with a military escort.

Departure

The Squadron ground personnel left Majors Field by train on 18 March 1945. A few days before that, the pilots had gone to Topeka, for final processing by the 21st Bombardment Wing. According to a United Press news story, released in Mexico City on 8 April, the 201st left United States Port of Embarkation for the Philippines. Col. Cardenas Rodriguez, Commanding Officer of the Mexican Expeditionary Force, carries credentials from President Avila Camacho to General Douglas MacArthur and President Sergio Osmena of the Philippine Islands.

The Mexican Expeditionary Force [FAEM] ”Fuerza Area Expedicionaria Mexicana” arrived at Camp Stoneman near San Francisco on 27 March 1945. They boarded the American Liberty ship “Fairisle” on 8 April 1945, at San Francisco Bay, joining 1,500 American troops headed for the Philippines. The convoy dropped anchor in Manila Bay on 30 April 1945, and was welcomed by air commander, General George Kenney, representing General MacArthur, on 1 May 45.

The Mexican Squadron was picked up by the Fifth Air Force in General Orders No. 67, 5 April 1945, attached to V Fighter Command, and assigned to 58th Fighter Group [P-47] for operations. They were assigned a camp area with the 58th Group at Porac near Clark Field. Shortly after their arrival beginning on 7 April, they were given a two-day series of lectures in the War Room of Fighter Command on the following subjects:

Over-all Picture of the War fronts, SWPA Forces, Weather in SWPA, Fighter Sector Orientation, Air-Sea Rescue, Escape and Evasion, Zones of Action, and Support air Parties. This was followed by a four-day rotating training period in which each pilot watched practical demonstrations at the 51st Fighter sector and received pre-combat ground training. From 12 May to 7 June the pre-combat air training was completed. Two pilots, 2nd Lt. Vega Fausto Santander and Jose Espinosa Fuentes, were killed in this phase on 1 and 5 June, respectively. On 7 June the squadron was ready to run its first combat mission.

On 17 May 45, the Mexican 201st began combat orientation with other American pilots in three other squadrons, 310th, 311th, and 69th. The combat training comprised four flights of eight pilots, under command of Capt. Radames Gaziola Andrade, a senior officer with over 4,000 flight hours. The Mexican squadron received old borrowed late model P-47Ds including a variety of “razor-back” veterans. On 1 June 1945, during a target run on the west coast of Luzon, the P-47D, of 2nd Lt. Fausto Vega Santander, suddenly rolled over and crashed into the sea. Four days later, pilot Lt. Jose Espinosa Fuentes was killed on take-off at Floridablanca, when his rubber trim-tab linkage reversed.

These old hand-me-down fighter aircraft may have cost the squadron two combat training fatalities.

 

Editor’s notes

Hyperlinks: 

http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/Mexico/MEAF-201/

http://www.military.com/HomePage/UnitPageFullText/1,13476,701286,00.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/201st_Fighter_Squadron_%28Mexico%29

http://forum.worldofwarplanes.com/index.php?/topic/7146-las-aguilas-aztecas-the-forgotten-mexicans-escuadron-201/

A Real Survivor – P/O Eli Ross

Another impressive research from Clarence Simonsen

During WWII the Canadian Jewish Congress published four comic style books recording the history of Jewish Heroes.

comic book

The Jewish WWII Decorations speak for themselves.

decorations won by Canadian Jews

One of the RCAF officers who never appeared in the comic style honor book was P/O Eli M. Rosenbaum, [Air Force Cross] from Winnipeg, Manitoba. He cheated death flying in a RCAF B-17 on three different occasions.

Eli Maximillian Rosenbaum

P/O Eli Maximillian Rosenbaum #J27043, 1943 [Rosenbaum collection]

This story begins in the fall of 1943, when a very serious Canadian political and military problem had developed, slow mail delivery to our Canadian troops in England and the new Mediterranean war zone. For the first three years of the Second World War, the Canadian Government had largely relied on the British and Americans to deliver our military mail to the battle front. With thousands of Canadians now serving in the air and ground forces in North Africa, the mail was not getting to the fighting man, and with Christmas quickly approaching the Government was feeling the heat, both from home and the war front. At once official pressure was applied and RCAF activity began on 17 October 1943, when Wing Commander R.B. Middleton was ordered to disband his present squadron and form a new squadron in his Hangar #66 at Rockcliffe, Ontario. The next day, official RCAF authorization was received for forming No. 168 [Heavy Transport] Squadron, under No. 9 [Transport] Command, Air Force Headquarters, Rockcliffe, Ontario. That same afternoon three Lodestars arrived from No. 164 Squadron, sub-detachment at Edmonton, Alberta. By the end of October, a total of eleven Lockheed Lodestars were on strength at 168 Squadron and training began on 9 November 43. The non-stop direct training flights were flown from Rockcliffe to Edmonton, Alberta, the approximate same distance as an Atlantic crossing from Rockcliffe to Scotland.  It soon became obvious to all squadron members the Lodestars were not suitable for long-range flights and due to extra fuel could carry very little mail cargo.

On 2 November 43, the new Commanding Officer W/C Middleton and two other officers left for the USAAF B-17 instructional school at Lockbourne Army Air Base, Columbus, Ohio. The Canadian Government had purchased six veteran aging B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, which had previously been used to train USAAF crews, and now arrangements were made for delivery to Rockcliffe plus the training of new RCAF aircrew at Lockbourne Army Air Base.

Eli Maximillian Rosenbaum was born in the Jewish section of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and joined the RCAF in 1942. He attended No. 2 Initial Training School at Regina, Saskatchewan, trained at No. 8 EFTS, Vancouver, B.C. and earned his wings at No. 7 SFTS Fort Macleod, Alberta. I made mail and phone contact with Eli in 1993, during which time he informed me he never used his full surname and always went by the name Eli Ross, even during WWII. Due to his nationality, he was instructed he would remain in Canada, posted to the newly formed No. 168 [HT] Squadron which was in the rushed temporary building stage. He first reported to Dorval for instructions on transatlantic operations and briefings from RAF instructors who came from No. 31 RAF Radio Direction Finding School at Clinton, Ontario.  This B.C.A.T.P. school was run by the RAF and became the only one of its kind in all North America, training American, British and Canadians.  It was taken over by the RCAF in July 1943 [in paper only] and became No. 5 Radio School, still manned by original RAF instructors, who instructed co-pilot Eli Ross.

On 26 November 43, Eli Ross was one of six RCAF Officers selected for training at the American B-17 Training Base at Lockbourne, Ohio. Two Canadian pilots, two co-pilots, and two wireless operators joined the Americans in the class room, when the USAAF instructor’s allowed the RCAF personnel to interrupt their normal training. While Eli was in training, the very first American B-17F arrived at Rockcliffe airfield 4 December 43, during a heavy snowfall, which proved the American pilot with poor runway conditions and limited visibility. Unfamiliar with Canadian winter conditions the USAAF pilot continued to fly overhead again and again, waiting for the snow conditions to clear. After the runway was plowed, he made his successful landing and turned the first USAAF B-17F [42-3160] over to W/C Middleton.

newspaper photo of unknown American

The newspaper photo of unknown American who delivered the first B-17F to Rockcliffe in the Canadian snow storm 

PL23191

[PL23191]

With the arrival of B-17F [Douglas] serial 42-3160 on 4 December 1943, the RCAF began their Fortress serial numbers with 9202. It is interesting to see the runway had been cleared of snow and in the background are the Lockheed Lodestars used for early training. The following day B-17F, serial 42-6101 [Vega] arrived and received RCAF serial #9203. On the 8 December B-17F [Douglas] serial 42-3360 arrived and took serial 9204.

With the arrival of the first three B-17s, a great amount of RCAF pressure was applied to get the first Christmas mail to England as soon as possible. Fortress #9202 was prepared for the flight, loaded with mail and prepared for take-off on 14 December 1943. During the run-up, one engine developed an engine gear failure which required the entire replacement. An overnight change of aircraft was hurried into effect and the next morning Fortress #9204 was ready for take-off.

The RCAF officer in command was W/C Middleton, the pilot was F/L B.G. Smith, co-pilot P/O Eli Rosenbaum, F/O F. B. Labrish navigator, F/O C.A. Dickson wireless operator, with passengers W/C Z.L. Leigh Air Force H.Q., Ottawa, F/O J. F. Irvine, technical officer and F/O S. Tingley, H.Q. staff Ottawa. In total 189 mail bags were placed on board and combined with the RCAF brass a total weight of 5,502 was recorded.

The crew of the first flight of the RCAF Overseas Airmail Service

 

The crew of the first flight of the RCAF Overseas Airmail Service [Mailcan] on 15 December 1943

Left to right P/O Eli Rosenbaum, [co-pilot Winnipeg]; F/L B. G. Smith, [pilot American- Nebraska]; F/O C. A. Dickson, [wireless Edmonton]; and F/O F.B. Labrish, [navigator Montreal]. The background B-17F is 42-6101 which became #9203 and arrived on 5 December 1943, the same date three RCAF crews had their official photo taken in front of the Fortress.

The pre-flight farewell ceremony

The pre-flight farewell ceremony held before the take-off of Fortress 9204, 15 December 1943. [Eli Ross collection]

The above photo came from Eli Ross [center under over-painted American white star and bars] who can be seen looking over the shoulder of civilian [Post Master General of Canada]. Three of the RCAF crew members [far left] are seen chatting with the young lady, possibly a secretary to a senior officer. The special guests included the Minister of National Defence for Air, the Deputy Minister of DND for Air, Deputy Post Master General and other senior RCAF officials. After the official ceremony the B-17F with passengers and crew departed to Dorval for the overnight stay, then on to Gander where they were delayed three days with gas leaks in self-sealing tanks.

Take-off from Rockcliffe on 15 December 1943

Take-off from Rockcliffe on 15 December 1943, Fortress 9204
heads to Dorval for the overnight stay. [PL23408]

On 20 December 1943, [just after midnight] the crew and passengers of B-17F #9204 departed Gander, Newfoundland for Prestwick, Scotland. At 20,000 feet they broke free of clouds and navigator Labrish took a star fix. At this point they discovered the fortress had a tail wind of 60 knots, and then they settled in for the long trans-Atlantic flight. As the Eastern sunrise climbed into the morning sky, pilot Smitty switched to the auxiliary fuel tanks and in turn each engine quit. Due to the [jet-stream] tail wind the aircraft made a landing at RCAF No. 422 Squadron, flying boat [Sutherland] base at St. Angelo in Northern Ireland, with twenty minutes of fuel in the main tanks. When the ground crew checked the fuel lines they found the Americans had clamped off the auxiliary tanks, which were not required for training flights. In the rush to get the Christmas mail to Scotland, the Fortress had not been properly checked, and this almost cost the lives of all the crew and senior RCAF Officers. No blame was directed at the ground crews as the senior officers realized they had in fact caused the problem. Official report – “It is not possible to lay on an important transport operation with second-hand aircraft in a hurry, without taking serious chances.”

Co-pilot Eli Ross fully understood that the 60 knots tail wind and pure luck had saved all of their lives, and lady luck would ride with him two more times and save his life again and again.

At Rockcliffe, two more B-17E aircraft had arrived and joined the growing fleet. On 15 December 43, USAAF serial 41-9142 arrived and took RCAF #9205, followed by B-17E, serial 41-2438 on 21 December, which took RCAF #9206.

               9202

mailbag

 

The No. 168 engineering officer S/L W. H. Lewis looks on as the squadron artist LAC Freemantle paints a Canadian Mail bag for each operation flown. Ground crew LAC Murray admires his art work. RCAF Fortress #9202 was the first to return to Rockcliffe on 10 January 1944, with 1,400,000 Christmas letters. The near tragedy of this first flight was not reported to the public, while the Canadian Government took the occasion to give it considerable publicity, which pleased the greater majority of Canadian families with sons and daughters at war overseas. 

 

By the middle of January 1944, the five B-17s of No. 168 Squadron were providing regular overseas airmail delivery from Rockcliffe to Preswick, Scotland. During the spring of 1944, LAC Freemantle created and painted a special nose art insignia for the B-17 aircraft and it first appeared on the nose of B-17F serial 42-3369, RCAF #9204, featuring an American Eagle in full flight carrying one Canadian mail bag in each claw.

 

Eli Ross photo showing the first RCAF B-17 nose art

Eli Ross photo showing the first RCAF B-17 nose art on #9204, spring 1944

nose art

The same nose art would later appear on Boeing built Fortress B-17E, serial 41-9142, RCAF 9205. Please note these two nose art insignia featured a full white tail on the American bald Eagle. This was painted in honor of P/O Eli Ross and donated to the Western Canada Aviation Museum in Winnipeg, March 2009. This nose art resulted from the following story.

On the night of 23 January 1944, the very first airmail flight took place from Prestwick, Scotland to Italy with a fuel stop at Gibraltar. The crew would fly together for the first time with new pilot F/O H. B. Hillcoat, co-pilot Eli Ross, F/O Freddie B. Labrish, navigator, F/O Cec A. Dickson, wireless, and Cpl. Al de Marco as crewmember. They departed Scotland in Fortress #9205 for Gibraltar, flying just below the freezing level of 5,000 feet. Some ninety miles south of Brest there was a sudden tremendous impact with another aircraft, which they later learned was a Vickers Wellington of RAF Coastal Command. The Fortress lost two engines, the nose was bent, the complete under side was damaged, and they only had one supercharger in operation. For the next two hours pilot Hillcoat and Eli Ross fought the damaged controls, with the shuddering aircraft flying near stalling speed. Near the coast of Cornwall they began to call for help and received a reply from RAF Station Predannack, where they landed. For their heroic actions and exceptional airmanship, Hillcoat, Rosenbaum, Labrish and Dickson were awarded the Air Force Cross, while de Marco received the Air Force Medal. For the second time lady luck had saved the lives of Eli Ross, Labrish and Dickson. [At this point in the war the RAF had advocated all aircraft on the Gibraltar to England flights be allotted different heights of flight, but nothing had been officially done]. Shortly after this RCAF Fortress and Wellington head-on collision the new rules came into effect, saving future air force lives.

 

Eli Ross images of damage to RCAF Fortress

Eli Ross images of damage to RCAF Fortress #9205

Due to the shortage of four engine aircraft Fortress #9205 was completely rebuilt, striped of camouflage paint and give an unglazed silver fabric nose cone.  The American Bald Eagle with solid white tail appeared as nose art on the new natural metal skin. The much delayed sixth and final Fortress B-17E, [Boeing] serial 41-2581, arrived on 1 February 1944 and became RCAF #9207. Her life was very shot when she crashed on take-off from Prestwick, Scotland, on 2 April 1944, all killed. This was caused by shifting of mail cargo during take-off, causing the aircraft to stall and spin in. The aircraft was not installed with proper strapping to prevent the movement of mail bags in flight and was carrying a heavier than normal load.

No. 168 Squadron took delivery of its first Dakota [DC-3] aircraft in late January 1944, and the first two flew overseas on 21 and 22 February 1944. These aircraft carried a new modified nose art insignia created by LAC Freemantle, and each featured a solid black tail on the American Eagle.

Simonsen replica painted Dakota nose art

This Simonsen replica painted Dakota nose art is in the private collection of Richard de Boer, Calgary, Alberta

On 17 September 1944, Fortress #9204 was landing at Rockcliffe when the undercarriage was accidently retracted, and damage was so severe it was written off. [Second B-17 lost]

Eli Ross photo collection

Eli Ross photo collection

New B-24 Liberator aircraft which had been converted to transports began to arrive in Mid-October and the first flight took place on the 19th of the month.

On 15 December 1944 [one year to the date of the first mail flight] Eli Ross was on leave when his normal aircrew of pilot F/L Horace Hillcoat AFC,AFM, navigator F/L Fred Labrish, AFC, and wireless F/O Cecil Dickson, AFC, depart Rabat Sale, Morocco, in Fortress 9203. Eli had been replaced by co-pilot F/L Alfred Ruttleledge, DFC, and bar.  Twenty minutes before they were due to land at the French Morocco base in Azores, they called in for landing instructions. The B-17 and crew were never seen again and only a few mail bags were found floating in the Ocean. A South African Ventura was dispatched to the area and this aircraft also went missing. It was believed a German U-boat shot down both aircraft. This would mark the third time Eli Ross had escaped death.

By mid-February 1945, the squadron had on strength nine Liberators, ten Dakotas, one Hudson and three B-17 Fortress aircraft. For the new B-24 Liberators LAC Freemantle created the same nose art insignia as painted on the B-17s however each one had a solid black tail.

RCAF 578

This is RCAF 578, “QN” USAAF 44-10581, 27 July 44 to 7 July 1947

RCAF QK

F/L John Harding, DFC, standing in front of RCAF “QK” #575 USAAF serial 44-10592, 27 July 1944 to 7 July 1947

John Harding was born in London, Ontario, in 1919, and joined the RCAF in 1941. He served in RAF Bomber Command as a navigator with the rank of Sgt. and after his first tour with No. 130 Squadron was promoted to Flight Lt. He flew 30 operations in Lancaster bombers with 130 RAF Squadron and completed another 20 operations in Lancasters with No. 550 Squadron RAF. He painted his Lancaster serial #4901 in 130 squadron with nose art of a Red Devil under the pilot cockpit area for his skipper Sid Burton, RAF.

After two tours with the RAF, F/L John Harding, DFC, arrived in Ottawa, posted to No. 168 Squadron for his third tour, flying in Liberators beginning early August 1944.  He was not alone as other members of the squadron wore decorations and also had completed one or two operations overseas. Another famous WWII pilot F/O Johnny Bourassa, DFC, had completed 43 operations with No. 635 Pathfinder squadron, which was unheard of at that time due to the low survival rate. He later became a well known bush pilot who became lost on 18 May 1951, returning from Bathurst Inlet in North West Territories, and force landed on a northern lake. He left a note in his aircraft and departed on foot at 14:30 hrs 23 May 1951, but has never been found.  His aircraft crash site was located on 15 September 1951, by an American B-17 Fortress flying to Edmonton, Alberta. I have a copy of his log book and for his third RCAF tour. He flew Dakota aircraft with No. 168 Squadron all over Europe, Biggin Hill, Brussels, Minden, Germany, Naples, Italy, Cairo, Egypt, Benghazi, Libya, Apeldoorn, Holland, Hengelo, Holland, and Bückeburg, Germany.

John Harding also related to me how No. 168 Mail Squadron had two pilots who came from rich families living in the Ottawa area, and they had used political power to have their sons posted to the much safer mail squadron. Some of the WWII veterans took a dislike to these pilots, including John Harding who refused to fly with one, which possibly saved his life. John was assigned to navigate the new Liberators, [first week in November 1944] while the pilot he did not respect was later killed, flying with his crew in the older B-17 Fortress aircraft.

The end of the war in Europe, 8 May 1945, did very little to change the daily operation of No. 168 Squadron, as the mail must still go through. The new Liberators had taken over the major work load, which included an increase in senior RCAF and civilian VIP passengers. Liberator 574 was extensively modified and became Canada’s first VIP official transport aircraft, flying the Prime Minister, Governor General and other cabinet ministers to meetings.

The RCAF Fortress would have one last moment of glory when #9205 and #9202 were rushed into a special delivery of penicillin from Canada to Warsaw, Poland in October 1945. Due to the increasing Cold War pressure the Russians had to first grant flying permission to the RCAF which they did. On 4 November 1945, Fortress #9202 hit a mountain near Muenster, Germany, and all five crew were killed.

B-17 9202

F/L John Harding, DFC, flew his last operation as navigator in Fortress #9202 on 14 October 1944, and took this image at Gibraltar. The B-17 had completed thirteen compete round-trips, and was half-way to her next little mail bag painting.

Eli Ross photo collection 2

Eli Ross collection

Loading the much needed miracle drug of penicillin into the fold-down nose cap of Fortress #9205, showing the solid white tail of the American Eagle “mail Squadron” insignia.

With the birth of another new year, 1946 would mark the end of No. 168 [H.T.] RCAF Squadron. On 3 March 46, the very last flight took place when Liberator #575 switched her engines off at Rockcliffe. When you look at the squadron records it shows the Liberators completed the most mail trips with an impressive three hundred and thirty-two, however the six B-17 Fortress aircraft were the trail blazers and completed two hundred and forty trips.

From 15 December 1943 to 21 April 1946, No. 168 [H.T.] Squadron delivered 9,125,000 pieces of Canadian service air mail, lost five aircraft and eighteen personnel killed in action. From the very beginning the six old American B-17 Fortress aircraft carried the work load, after they had already served a hard and useful American life, thus they required constant maintenance just to keep them flying. In the end, four B-17s would crash and their casualty list reached fifteen RCAF killed in action.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

  1. B-17F RCAF #9203, lost at sea 5 December 1943. [Five killed]
  2. B-17E RCAF #9207, crashed Scotland, 2 April 1944. [Five killed]
  3. B-17F RCAF #9204, damaged beyond repair, Rockcliffe, 17 September 1944.
  4. B-17F RCAF #9202, hit mountain Muenster, Germany, 4 November 1945. [Five killed]

                                                                                                                              

The two remaining B-17E surviving aircraft were #9205 and # 9206, which were sold by War Assets to a pilot in Argentina, where they both arrived on 12 April 1948. After a brief period of flying cargo, both were parked on the field at Moron, Argentina, where they were dismantled and hauled away for scrap in 1964.

Born in the family farm house, located six miles east of the small village of Acme, Alberta, on 24 March 1944, I grew up with the love of aviation and comic books. At age three, I saw a pattern for making a child’s uniform based on the RCAF uniform of WWII, and I wanted it. From the magazine pattern my mother made the uniform which I proudly wore on our train trip to Vancouver, B.C. in the summer of 1947. On my very first train trip, I met my very first girlfriend named Patsy Gibson, and had no idea that girls and uniforms would form a major part of my future aviation research.

Oh, the power of a pilot uniform.

children

The photo back reads – “Twenty minute train stop at Revelstoke, B.C.,  1 June 1947, girlfriend Patsy Isabel Gibson.

 

 

Growing up on our mixed farm of cattle, horses, pigs, chickens, turkeys, was constant day to day work, which gave me very little time for my love of drawing and painting airplanes, most of all the American B-17 Flying Fortress. Due to the fact all comics were American, I became an artistic expert on the Fortress, and dreamed of what it would be like to fly in such a famous aircraft.  I grew up in a world with no electricity, no in-door plumbing and my entertainment became newspapers, comics, and radio programs. Unlike today’s computer generated fantasy world of super monster heroes, I had to use my imagination, which involved hours of flying in the B-17.  In 1962, I jointed the Canadian Army Military [Provost] Corps and learned firsthand the impact of cartoons and art in the Armed Forces. This led directly to my future research and painting of WWII Aviation nose art, which began with the B-24 and B-17 aircraft of the 8th Air Force in England. In 1980, I joined the Aero Space Museum of Calgary, while I was busy editing my own column of the nose art used by the American who flew in England during WWII. I was learning what it was like to be a pilot in a B-17 during WWII, from the very veteran aircrews and making contact with the men who painted the Fortress nose art. This became the best part of my B-17 nose art research as I fully understood, I would never be able to fly in a real Fortress.

By 1990, I was completely consumed by nose art, working on an American nose art book with Jeffery Ethell, plus interviewing and recording as much as I could on the RCAF WWII nose art and artist. I learned the full history of the Calgary Lancaster FM136, a proud bomber that had marked the entrance to the Calgary Airport until 13 October 1977, when the new airport opened further north. The Lancaster was now exposed to vandals and pigeons, which left years of droppings inside the bomber. On 10 March 1992, a special committee was formed to move the Lancaster to a safer location. On 23 April 1992, the WWII Lancaster was removed from her pedestal where she had been placed on 11 April 1961. The original pedestal contained 140,000 pounds of cement and 8,000 pounds of steel which was secured inside the bomber fuselage attached to the main spar. Almost half of the bomb bay door was cut and removed for the cement base to fit inside the aircraft. This large section of bomb bay boor needed to be replaced for the new restoration.

In 1993, I spend two days with No. 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron at CFB Namao, Edmonton. I was researching the full history of Lancaster Mk. X, serial KB994, which Neil Menzies had donated to the squadron in July 1984. This bomber was donated for restoration but the new C.O. Lt. Col. Lee was an Army pilot and he strictly forbade  any work to be completed towards the restoration. Frustrated the Air Force members returned the bomber to Menzies, who sold KB994 to Charles Church in England, which he planned to mate with KB976.

Lancasters

The two Lancaster aircraft owned by Charles Church in England, date unknown, after 1988.

For some reason the two bomb bays doors from KB994 were never shipped to Charles Church in England and they remained near a storage fence in Edmonton. I photographed the doors on my visit in summer of 1993 and then informed 408 Helicopter Squadron that the Aero Space Museum of Calgary required two bomb bay doors.

 bomb bay doors

In 1994, the original KB994 bomb bay doors were donated to the Aero Space Museum of Calgary, and restored into the Calgary Lancaster FM136. I obtained the scrap sections that remained for future nose art replica paintings. Then in the spring of 1996, I learned that the owner [Gordon Laing] of Sunwest Aviation in Calgary airport was bringing the B-17G “Sentimental Journey” to Calgary for a five day visit. It is not possible to describe my feelings at that moment.

The General Manager of the Aero Space Museum of Calgary was Mr. Everett Bunnell, an ex-WWII Flying Instructor, Mosquito postwar pilot, CF-100 jet pilot and British Bristol Air pilot. He was not an overly friendly person and ran ‘his’ museum like the wartime Air Force, he was top brass and did not speak to the “Erks.” I had been a museum volunteer for the past 16 years and wanted to welcome the Confederate Air Force and their B-17 and German He-111 to the City of Calgary.  This was a no brainer for the WWII connection and the warm hospitality shown by the people of Calgary, so I approached Mr. Bunnell in his office for the one and only time. I wanted to know what the Aero Space Museum had planned to do and I wished to be involved, if possible. The reply from Mr. Bunnell was very upsetting, shocking, and totally unexpected. He informed me ” I don’t want a thing to do with the Yanks or their damn B-17 aircraft, period.”

I next approached Richard de Boer who was the third in charge at the time and we both expressed outrage over the remarks of Manager Bunnell, but he was boss and nothing could be done to change him. During my life, I found I do some of my best work when people tell me “no” or “you can’t do that, you’re not good enough.” I informed Richard I would paint a WWII nose art replica and present it to the CAF from myself, Richard de Boer, and the Aero Space Museum  of Calgary. 

I had just made contact with Eli Ross [1993] and learned the full history of the six B-17’s that flew with the RCAF during WWII, and that triggered my nose art idea. I would paint the American Bald Eagle insignia that flew on the two RCAF B-17’s that hauled mail to England. From the bomb bay section of skin I saved from Lancaster KB994, I stripped the original paint, hand polished to a bright shine, and then painted the replica insignia of the RCAF WWII, B-17E, #9205 mail squadron.

9205

The 1996 presentation to the Confederate Air Force, Arizona Wing, painted on original WWII Lancaster skin from bomb bay of KB994.

The two WWII aircraft of the Confederate Air Force, Arizona, Wing, arrived at Calgary International Airport on 28 July 1996 and the pilots were presented with white hats from the City of Calgary. I then approached the pilot of the B-17G, Sentimental Journey and presented him with the replica nose art of the WWII RCAF Mail Squadron. He was most pleased and ask me to tell him more about the use of the American B-17 by the RCAF during WWII, as he had no idea Canada flew any Fortress aircraft. After a brief history conversation, the pilot invited me to arrive at the airport the next morning at 5 am, and I would be taken for a ride in their B-17G.  I didn’t sleep much that night as the excitement was running very high, plus it was such an impossible dream, now coming true.

The next morning I was taken onto the wing of the B-17, shown how they checked the oil on each engine and then I did my own pull through on one engine. You had to turn the props on each engine, five or six times to get the oil to coat the cylinders. [That may not be the correct terms but it is close]

 

 Clarence

This photo taken by the B-17G  pilot is out of focus, however it captures the moment.

I was next instructed I could go anyplace in the bomber once we had reached our altitude of 6,000 ft, just be careful and hang on. We would be doing a pilot check ride and it would last for the next two hours. I was then introduced to the new pilot, who had in fact flown B-17s with the 15th Air Force during WWII, just amazing. Then came the start and warming of the four engines, while we sat between the two hangars at Sunwest Aviation.

view

In 1996, regulations did not allow the landing or take-off of any aircraft until 7 am, and then the Calgary Tower gave the visiting B-17 priority for first take-off. We proudly taxied past all the airliners waiting in line for take-off clearance.

view 2

view 3

This is what you see from the nose blister of a WWII B-17G during take-off from the Calgary International Airport, 29 July 1996.

 view 4

Coming in to land with a few bugs on the nose. [Just think the pilot and co-pilot are sitting eight feet behind you]

Even after the passage of almost twenty years, it is still hard to imagine what occurred in the next two hours of flying over southern Alberta. Twice the pilot shut down two engines, first the two inner, then restarted each, and then the two outer, then restated. Next came shutting down two engines on each wing, and for the first time I could imagine what it had been like for Eli Ross and crew to fly back to England on one and one/half engines. We then did three touch and go landings at the Calgary Airport, but the best was still to come. In the last hour we flew over my home town of Acme, Alberta, the very farm land I worked, hunted, and played on including the old farm house where I was born on 24 March 1944. This still ranks as the most touching aviation event I have experienced in my 70 years of life. All because of my one nose art painting.

To the Arizona Wing of the Confederate Air Force, now named the Commemorative Air Force, “Thank You.”