Byron Lee Schatzley
Colonel USAF Ret. 558th BS, 387th BG
Mariaweiler, Düren, Germany December 6,1944
By Byron Lee Schatzley, Colonel USAF Ret. 558th BS, 387th BG
Recollections and Comments re the B-26 Martin Marauder (558th Squadron Newsletter July, 2012) article “Veteran’s Grave Maintenance Fund for Piscatquis County Unorganized Townships.” (Also see Lauren L. Cowallis, John B. Payne)
The first paragraph of the article about the shoot down of a bombardier on December 6, 1944 really caught my attention because I had flown a mission on the date with the loss of two aircraft, one a shoot down, a second crashed in Belgium with battle damage. My diary for entry Dec. 6: ""Duke" Winsor on our right wing got direct hit blew apart. Two chutes got out."
I begin my comments with a complete verbatim copy of my diary of the mission. That is the only documentation I have re the details. I kept a very short diary but recorded all the details of each of my 40 missions on my bombardier mission plans. Alas, somewhere in the many moves in my travels since then the file was lost. The following narrative is almost completely from my memory.
When I began this narrative only three members of the crew on the mission were still alive: Co. Pilot 2Lt. Bill Buckley; Radio Gunner, T/Sgt. Howard Weingrow and me; bombardier, 1st Lt. Schatzley. In late September I sent a first draft to Bill and Howard for edit and comment at their option. Howard called me mid-October to approve the draft and pass the bad news that Bill had recently made his “Final Flight” at 94.
Begin Diary Entries:
Mission No. 8 Mariaweiler (near Duren, Germany)
Wed Dec. 6: Supposed to have day off—briefed for P.M. mission. We lost right engine on bomb run. Duke Winsor on our right wing got direct hit blew apart. Two chutes got out. We went on across bomb line and salvoed bombs 5 mi over the line. Finally flew 90 min. & landed at A-78 at Florennes near Charleroi, Belgium-Tire blew on landing and wrecked plane. No one hurt. Stayed at A-78-very cold & muddy, didn’t sleep.
Thu Dec. 7: No one came for us. Out of cigarettes—bummed and hooked K rations for the butts. Slept in O.C. & stayed fairly warm.
Fri Dec. 8: A-78, 387th. At 1500 Yerger (crew chief) 993 and driver came up in ammo truck to take us back to A-71. Stopped at Avesnes and got high on cognac. Went with a Frenchman to his cafe and home then had champagne, red wine and delicious white wine. His wife fried eggs in butter for us. About midnight we were on our way.
Sat Dec. 9: Got in bed about 0430 and pulled out an 11:00 to be briefed. Flew mission in 631 -0325 hours. (Mission No. 9 to Dellfield).
End of Diary Entries re the mission.
This was my 8th mission flying as bombardier with pilot 1st Lt. Harry Parris in deputy flight lead aircraft in number 4 position in the flight of 6 aircraft. Our aircraft was #993; "Duke" Winsor was flying #259 on our right wing. Bob Brockett was flying our left wing. (Note: The article regarding the “Veteran’s Grave Maintenance Fund for Piscatquis County Unorganized Townships” stated “On November 6,1944, Smith’s Uncle Bob Brockett was flying next to Cowallis’ plane “November” is a typographical error (error corrected). Brockett was flying on #993’s left wing. There were no missions flown on November 6th.)
Reading on in the article, details began to fall in place; the “Status of Dec. 6th aircrew”: listed Winsor, Alexander, Jr. as pilot of the aircraft and the names of the other five crew members; 4 killed, 2 parachuted, the total of six crew members.
The article incorrectly lists Cowallis as a bombardier, probably because his position was in the nose of the aircraft, the position of a rated bombardier -a commissioned officer. In the B-26, bombardiers flew only in lead aircraft with the Norden bomb sight, or as navigator in the nose with the bombardier or as GEE operator in radio position behind the cockpit. Aircraft flying on the wing of the lead aircraft had a single caliber 50 machine gun in the nose usually manned by an NCO. The main task was to carefully watch the lead aircraft, open (and close) the bomb bay doors and “toggle” bombs when the lead aircraft salvoed, i.e. a “toggle”. All were trained aerial gunners, most were Staff Sergeants. In Europe they seldom fired the gun simply because the Germans did not make head-on attacks on B-26s.
To my best recollection: The tale begins just before takeoff at A-71 (Clastres, France). The target was at Mariaweiler, Germany (troop concentration at Duren) near the bomb line about 30 miles into Germany from Belgium and Holland. I do not remember in which flight the Parris-Schatzley crew was deputy flight leader flying Miss Tress, #41-34993. The real significance of this narrative is that the mission, if completed, would be the 100th without a mechanical abort for crew chief S/Sgt. Yerger: This was a notable and an award winning achievement.
The target was just a few miles beyond the bomb line, very little flak was predicted, and a PFF (pathfinder) lead was not scheduled. All crew members had checked their positions. Before the flight I had found the bomb sight and pre-set the necessary data for the target and checked the bomb load - - 8x500 lb. GP (general purpose) and pulled the safety pins, leaving arming wires intact. From engine start through taxi to engine run-up before takeoff, all checks were AOK. However, at full power check the right engine had a slight loss of RPM on one mag. Not wanting to abort, Pilot Harry Parris had co-pilot Bill Buckley check on fixed pitch. Bingo, RPM held, the power was back to normal and we took off. Navigator 2nd. Lt. Newell and went to the nose of the plane to our usual positions. GEE operator, Daniel stayed in the radio “room”.
On the outbound course, cloud cover at bombing level was becoming a problem, making it doubtful we could bomb visually without endangering our ground troops. Without a Pathfinder; the group circled until the mission was recalled near the “bomb line;” crossing it was an absolute requirement for mission credit. There was no alternate target clear enough to bomb visually. The group turned back in formation to return to base.
At that time our right engine began running rough again. There was no way we could stay in formation with the failing engine and risk a single engine landing in uncertain weather. It was imperative to get rid of the 4,000 pounds of bombs with minimal risk to ourselves and friendlies. The target was only minutes away; it was the safest place to salvo the bombs. Instead of turning back, Harry and I decided to precede toward the target area to salvo the bombs rather than chance an emergency situation in friendly territory. Although visual contact with the ground was limited, we knew our position. We left our flight and continued directly toward the target. Harry and I were on intercom; Co-pilot Bill Buckley was on the command channel. He called our two wing men to leave us. I was not aware that #259 had stayed with us. (In the B-26 persons in the nose can’t see the wing aircraft).
While on a direct course to the target area we received a few bursts of heavy flak so close we could smell it. T/Sgt. Howard Weingrow, our radio/gunner, in the waist, saw our right wing man’s aircraft explode in the bomb bay - - apparently a direct hit. Two chutes exited, the plane spun out of sight. The same bursts badly holed our right wing tip and shutdown the engine. Clouds had completely obscured the ground; to ensure that we did not salvo on front line friendlies we flew about 5 minutes east before solvoing and turning back on single engine. Bumpy clouds were killing lift; we began losing altitude with the left engine on full power and nearing its limits. Harry called us from the nose. Our GEE operator, F/O Daniel was completely confused by the jamming. Harry said unless we find an airfield when we get to 500 feet you guys bailout. We were back over Belgium when we broke into the clear at about 1000 feet. I recognized the huge coal or slag piles near Florennes that I had seen on the way in. I told Harry to turn left; on the other side of the largest pile Is an airfield. Are you sure? Yes. Sure enough there it was. We were on a nice landing glide, gear down, flaps set, at about 500 feet when here came a P-38 taking off into us. He zoomed, we dove and touched down so hard at 190 mph IAS we blew a main tire and bounced and skidded down the runway and ended on one wing in a wet bomb crater. Obviously we had hard landed downwind at well over 200 rpm round speed.
We were soon picked up and taken to an operations building for interrogation. The enlisted men were separated from the officers. We were somewhat aggressively interrogated by a Lt. Col. in class A uniform. At first there was a certain tension between us. The fighters had just moved into the airfield and being close to the front he was as touchy as we were by his aggressive grilling. It was a bit unsettling when one of his questions was “How is Colonel Keller?” OOPS! He explained that one of their pilots had flown B-26s with 387th and was on a second tour in P-38’s. The tension gradually waned and became friendly after we both were satisfied about our mutual identities. I mentioned that he looked familiar. He chuckled and said he should look familiar because he looked like the brother of Charles “Buddy Rogers” the movie star.
From our perspective, we had been briefed that the Germans had English speaking agents wearing captured uniforms infiltrating our lines in US equipment. From Colonel Rogers’ perspective we had come from the east and landed unannounced. It was not difficult to believe Germans had recovered an intact Tiger Stripe B-26 to insert agents behind the lines; similar thoughts that the airfield had been retaken by Germans occurred to us. Rogers already knew the answer to his question about Lt. Colonel Robert Keller, 558th Squadron CO. It was a test question to verify our identity. We did not know that our presence had not been reported because communications had not been established. Unable to verify our identities otherwise, he had checked with the ex B-26 pilot.
As eluded in my diary we had a very cold and hungry Thursday at A-78 before being rescued on Friday afternoon. A-78 was in bare bones mode, barely able to support themselves much less unexpected guests.
After our location was learned, S/Sgt. Yerger obtained a weapons carrier and driver to come for us. The airfields were about 100 miles apart. Over the war torn European roads it was a rough, slow road going and coming. We, the aircrew, were so happy to be on the way “home” we did not mind especially after the food and drink feast, we happily slept most of the way.
We had uncomfortably languished at A-78 for about 2 days. Our recovery there had not been timely reported because of the lack of communications. The leader of the flight we had left reported that we were last seen heading east toward the target. Absent other information we would have been reported missing in action but Lt. Paul Gardella, tent mate with Parris, Buckley and me, was so convinced we would return, he vigorously resisted the packing of our bags long enough for the report of our recovery at A-78 to arrive. Our beds had been assigned to newly arrived personnel but had not been occupied.
We returned to A-71 and as indicated in my diary, finally returned to our own sleeping bags about 04:30 Saturday the 9th. About 11:00 Harry dragged me from the sack for a mission briefing. Protest did no good, he had already made a report to group and squadron staff and scheduled us for the PM mission because it was our turn in rotation and he did not want the crew to have time for second thoughts. The mission was PFF above overcast. Did not bomb, life was back to normal.
We had made our report; negatives processed and printed showing #993 in the bomb crater with flak scars on the right wing. Despite that and the shoot down of a wingman we would not get credit for the mission. We protested. The group had turned back before crossing the bomb line because the weather had closed in and it was too risky for marginal visual bombing close to the front. The turn back position was based on a GEE fix by lest. Lt. Mike Moskowitz in the group lead aircraft but had not been verified by visual sighting. Therefore no mission credit was given for the group. We could not prove we had crossed the bomb line but we vociferously asked how the group could account for the shot down of #259 and battle damage to #993 that definitely was not from “friendly fire”. Finally a logical decision to credit the group with the mission by regarding the GEE fix as erroneous because there had been a lot of jamming. Our photo was returned marked Confidential.
There were no serious consequences. Two missions later we had OJT’d 10 deputy flight leads, check rode by Lt. Col. Keller, squadron CO, and certified as flight lead. Harry was promoted to Captain and flight leader.
A flew 32 missions with Harry Parris. We led 387th’s last mission 19 April 1945 to Gunzburg RR Siding, Germany. We aborted a PFF lead to bomb visually, all six flights in trail. My bombs were photo scored zero-zero.
The prime question, did Harry Parris make the right decision to take off with an airplane that did not truly pass the test? Technically, we should have aborted. Parris had over 1,100 hours almost all in B-26s, we trusted him. I had about 600 hours instructing in B-17s and Engineer/Gunner Boxell had flown at least 40 missions. The weather at take-off was not unfavorable, there was little or no flak anticipated. We agreed with the decision to “game” the situation and fly the mission. We wanted Yerger to get his well deserved award which, in effect, was an award for all ground crews. As with most non-flying personnel, ground crews were on permanent deployment overseas until the war was over with little reward other than the gratitude of those who flew “their” planes. Moreover, we did not want to be the “spoiler”.
Ground crews worked long hours before every flight and often longer after in the open, in all kinds of weather, on “their” planes. They saw us off and were there when we returned. Although aircrews had naming privileges the planes “belonged” to the ground crews who temporarily “loaned” them to aircrews in hopes we would return them and ourselves in one piece. It seemed a small risk worth taking to support Yerger. It was his 78tb with #993. He had previously crewed 69 missions in #43-31640 before it was lost in a mid-air with a Spitfire and 8 more after #993 in #44-67915 in a loss to flak: 155 total missions.
Yerger got his award, I do not recall the specific nature of the award. Under current rules it would have been a Commendation Medal.
We regretted the loss of Duke Winsor and his crew. To some degree it was our responsibly because we did not abort #993. Bill Buckley had called our two wingmen to leave us. We do not know why Duke did not.
The only criticism we heard was from 1st. Lt. George Fallon, Duke’s tent mate who blamed us for Duke’s death. Years later I ran into George while changing commercial flights. We had less than hour of pleasant re-acquaintance. He forthrightly said it took a long time to realize we had made the right decision.
I have told the story to the best of my recollection because it needed to be told. There are countless stories that unfortunately never will be told but should because they are import insightful on-the-spot history. They also help people to understand why those of us who are reluctant to talk about what we have done in the combat to those who have not. A tongue-in-cheek reason for veterans’ reunions is that we can talk with others who shared and understand our mistakes, our fears, our triumphs, grant each other bragging rights without question even though at times we might embroider the truth. We want to tell our stories, share our experiences but too often the audience is incapable of understanding, unbelieving, perhaps horrified, overly judgmental, as may be the case I just described. It is easier to talk about an event 70 years later than it is while memories are still painful.
We flew the mission because it was the right thing to do!
Mariaweiler, Germany December 6. 1944
Signed: Byron Lee Schatzley
Standing: Pilot 1st Lt. Harry Parris; Bombardier 1st Lt. Byron Lee Schatzley;
Radio Gunner T/Sgt Howard Weingrow
Kneeling: Tail Gunner T/Sgt. A. J. Brooks; Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Bill Buckley; Engineer Gunner T/Sgt Jim Boxell; Navigator 2nd Lt. R. F. Newell; (GEE Navigator R/O Daniel not on crew when photo taken).
Number 993 Miss Tress