Neil C. Davis
Squadron Navigator and Training Officer
497th Bomb Squadron, 344th Bomb Group
August 9, 1993
Enclosed Is some memories of my time with the 497th Squadron. 344th Bomb Group. I joined the Squadron. when it was forming and spent almost all the time with it while it was in combat. I was Squadron. Navigator and Training Officer later in my tour.
I am hopeful that some of what I am sending will be of use to you in your effort,
Neil C. Davis
344TH BOMB GROUP (IV) 497TH BOMB SQUADRON.
NEIL C. DAVIS
December 7th 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked I heard the news after church in my small town in Ohio.
I volunteered for the Air Force and after several months of schooling was commissioned with a navigator rating on June 3, 1943. We had all heard the stories of "A PLANE A DAY IN TAMPA BAY" for some time. Lo and behold six of us out of approximately 300 were ordered to MacDill Field in Tampa. Our buddies on hearing the news came to us with long faces to sympathize about our assignments. To my knowledge all six of us made it through combat.
I checked into MacDill in late June 1943. My first flight was with Jay Smith who later, with his navigator Grant Thiheau became a members of the 344th.
During the time I was there the disastrous B-26 mission over Holland took place, it will be recalled none of the planes returned. As a result the B-26 program was curtailed.
While at MacDill apparently there was a leaning toward having only a combination Navigator-Bombardier in the lead plane. As a result, after a few hours of ground school and the dropping of 20 practice bombs, orders were cut making me a Bombardier. That was very easy compared to going to formal Bombardier school.
To my knowledge, I was involved in the only bombing of Tampa during WWII. We were involved in making a movie to support the war effort. Since the B-26 had the appearance of the Japanese Betty our planes were decorated with the Rising Sun. We wore snap on type parachutes which were rather bulky to get around in, so as a result we put them aside to be snapped on in case of emergency. The most convenient place to put them was in the bomb bay. When we went in to bomb the target, with fighters attacking us, the bomb bay doors were opened to drop bombs. So cm this day Tampa was bombed with our parachutes its one and only time. Fortunately no one was injured on the ground and there were no adverse consequences.
The crashing of planes at MacDill was not the problem we had anticipated due to the changes including longer wings initiated by the Truman committee. We slowly became more comfortable with the plane and I recall only one crash in the short time I was at MacDill.
In August I was transferred to Drane Field at Lakeland and assigned to the 497th squadron. of the 344th Bomb Group. At that time the Group was just forming and the squadron. was quite small. I recall people like Bob Mayer, Del Bentley, Dan Brawner, Bill Lundin, Bob Wilson, Torn Murphy Joseffy, and Fitzgerald, I was the neophyte in the squadron. We started flying practice right away. Soon many others joined the Squadron. to bring it up to full strength.
Soon it was decided to have a group practice mission with a skeleton formation as noted on the mission flimsy attached. Bentley of our 497th was assigned the lead with myself as lead bombardier. This was because our Squadron. Navigator had no bombing experience, and as noted earlier, I had very little. With our formation of 12 planes we were to fly a radius of action out over the gulf and back at a specific time to the Venice bombing range. The mission was reasonably successful. The time over target was within a couple of minutes and the bombs were with in the target area. We flew a second mission arid on that one 1 missed the target a lot. That was the end of missions with a combination Navigator-Bombardier arid 1 was relieved. Training time was to short for that to be a workable solution.
At this time a well trained and experienced Bombardier, Bill McLaughlin, joined our Squadron. Now we were gaining experience, Mac, as Squadron Bombardier, who graduated before WWII and Bill Lundin back from a combat tour in the S. Pacific as Squadron Navigator.
Another Navigator joined our group as Group Navigator, Harry McCool, who had been on the Tokyo raid.
While OTU was intense, flying was a bit limited because of fuel limitations. Training was grueling and I recall one period of 30 days without a day off. Bentley was a tremendous leader who expected the most out of his men and got their respect at the same time. That, respect is one that has lasted a life time for all of us. Bentley was a Warrior's Warrior.
Between Christmas and New Years, our training complete, we were ordered to Hunter Field in Savannah, Ga. to pick up our new planes. After calibrating the instruments on the planes and test flying them we were on our way via the southern route because it was Winter.
THE FLIGHT TO ENGLAND
DATE - DESTINATION
1-13-44 Morrison Field, W. Palm beach, FL
1-20-44 Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico
1-21-44 Atkinson, British Guiana
1-22-44 Belem, Brazil
1-23-44 Natal, Brazil
1-25-44 Acension Island, Mid-Atlantic
1-26-44 Roberts Field, Liberia, Africa
1-27-44 Dakar, Senegal
1-29-44 Marrakech, Morocco. We were required to lay over In Marrakech for several days to wait for favorable winds so we could fly to St. Maugan England, outside the range of German fighters. While in Marrakech our co-pilot had an emergency operation so that duty fell to me the balance of the trip.
2-17-44 St. Maugan, England
2-19-44 We started for Stansted but had to land because of weather, so we completed our flight on 2-20-44.
The Germans knew we had arrived. Lord Haw Haw, on the radio, welcomed the 344th to Stansted and told us to check the clock in the Officers Club because it was 5 minutes slow.
At our base, in England, at Stansted our training started with full dress rehearsals. Soon we felt ready for Combat.
On my second and third missions the pilot aborted because of apparent power failure. I requested a crew change and was fortunate to be assigned to the crew of Dan Brawner along with Bill "Mac" MacLaughlin. I may have shot myself in the foot and extended my tour of duty for we only flew lead missions and of course not every day. What I thought would be six months in combat turned out to be 17 months. When we arrived a tour of duty was 35 missions. It kept going up until at one time it was unlimited. Finally it settled down to 65 with 1 1\4 credit for lead missions. In May of 1945 with 50 lead and 53 total missions I finally reached the magic number and started home.
I was fortunate to be with these experienced men. Brawner was the Squadron Operations Officer and a very fine pilot. Mac was an absolute genius with his bombsight. Seldom did he miss a target and then only marginally. As a result after about 40 missions he was promoted to another Group as Group Bombardier. Clayton Carpenter then took his place on our crew.
About this time Del Bentley our Squadron Commander was promoted to Asst. Group Commander of the 322nd Group and Dan Brawner became Squadron Commander of the 497th.
I. One of the first missions, by our crew, was to France. We were leading the second box of 18, with Group Commander, Col. Vance as Command Pilot. After joining up we encountered bad weather and were forced to employ a break up procedure. Each plane in the formation had a specific assignment during this procedure. One of the planes did not follow his assignment and as a result only missed us by inches. We rejoined on top of the weather arid since the lead box was not in sight we continued on to France. We later found out that all missions to the Continent that day had been recalled and so we were in enemy territory without fighter escort, because we had lost our radio contact. After trying to spot our primary and secondary targets and not being able to we finally returned to base. Because of our extreme vulnerability we dubbed this "THE SUICIDE MISSION".
II. We did not fly on D-Day but were on stand by at our planes for a mission on June 7th. In early afternoon a Brigadier General from Wing Hdqs. came riding up in a Jeep and gave us the briefing at the plane. All he gave us was the time over target to bomb a German Panzer Division unloading in a marshalling yards near Caen, behind the beachhead. We did all the planning in the air to arrive at the target on the assigned time. When we arrived in the target area there was a complete cloud cover beneath us. We then decided to go back to the coast, which was clear, and descend to go in under the weather. To take a 36 ship bomber formation down 10,000 feet or so in a very short time and keep the formation together is a difficult task. As a result when we arrived at the target we were not properly formed up. Of course at low level we had to use a D-8 Bomb Sight in place of the Norden. The second time around we had the same problem. The third time around was perfect an we hit the target dead on. Fortunately we lost no planes, however we did have damage, my good friend Joe Scott lost an engine. He arrived late back at Stansted much to our relief. With much skill he feathered the other engine on landing and coasted clear into his hardstand.
III. On December 23rd 1944 we participated in the most tragic day of B-26 missions. At this time Clayton Carpenter was the Bombardier on our crew. Our target was a railroad bridge leading to and helping to supply the "Battle of the Bulge". Specific targets were assigned to other groups. It must be remembered that weather had kept our planes on the ground in the early days of this battle. The German ME-109 and FW-190 fighters were out in force on this day.
The 391st Group lost 16 planes, the 397th lost 10 planes and the 387th lost 8 planes. Through all of this we were fortunate to not see a single German plane.
This was a pathfinder mission, however as we approached the target Carpenter and I advised Brawner that we could see the target clearly and could bomb visually which was a much more accurate method. He accepted our advice, however if the pathfinder hit and we missed we would have a lot of egg on our face. We hit the target dead on, and amazingly there was a train going over it at the time. The bombing pictures showed the locomotive exploding as it fell off the bridge.
IV. On December 25th 1944, I was just sitting down in the snow to eat a Christmas Dinner, turkey etc. when suddenly I was told "we can't find the navigator for today's mission and you're elected". This was a mission supporting "The Battle of the Bulge". The briefing was given to me and off I went with the promise that turkey would be waiting when I got back. On this mission we had a bad weather join up. Once up in the weather our plane went into a Deadman's Spiral, fortunately we broke out into the clear with enough altitude to recover before we hit the ground. At one point we were going down at 5,000 ft. per minute at almost 500 mph. Since we were the lead plane we had to go back up through the weather and join the formation in our proper place. Amazingly we started getting flack from those versatile German "88's" 100 miles before intelligence reported we would. After bombing the target we returned to base so I could have my turkey. Did they save it for me "No Way". That was my Christmas 1944.
One of the big problems for me to conquer was fear. I was fortunate because as lead Navigator I stayed very busy and that helped a lot. We knew that we had to fly many missions and the probabilities were that I would not survive. Once I accepted that the fear went away. When I flew that final mission, the apprehension did recur, especially after a good "friend" said "Davie wouldn't it be a shame to get shot down on your last mission". I remember a pilot named Sheehan who was flying his 65th mission with Capt. Chapman when their plane was shot down in flames with no survivors. He took the place that day of Lt. Bratten, who was the regular co-pilot on that crew. Bratten was flying his first mission as 1st pilot on the wing of his old crew that day. It was very difficult for him to see his Buddies shot down with no survivors. We helped him and ourselves with a few drinks that evening.
I am enclosing a picture of our original crew made up of Brawner, MacLaughlin and Davis. When we flew other crew members were added as needed. We flew together for approximately 40 missions until Mac was promoted. It was then that Carpenter joined us.
On our crew the Bombardier and Navigator both were located in the Plexiglas nose. This gave us excellent, visibility and assured maximum coordination between the two of us. It was too crowded to wear Flak Suits, so we laid them on the floor trusting that, that would help. This was the best possible configuration to do the job.
We were very fortunate in that we hit most of our targets and only lost two planes behind us. I felt very fortunate to be on that crew.
While we flew many missions, I have only described a few significant ones. We as a crew worked diligently to strike our targets with a minimum loss of personnel. While the lead plane was the aiming point for the German gun crews on the ground we made it through without a wounded crew member or critical damage to the plane. We did however get many, many flak holes. "Little Butch" did her job and we were grateful.
NEIL C. DAVIS