I've passed a milestone with the loading lists. I have finished with the first 51 missions, and entered nearly 15,000 individual sorties. It is interesting to read the names as the missions go by. Someone doesn't appear on a list with their crew, then reappears a couple missions later, and sometimes not at all. WIA/KIA? Possibly, which is one reason why I'm doing this. Of the 400+ 486ers killed in action, we have documentation of fewer than 300.
In addtion to lost crews, replacements also "pop" into existance in some cases. In others, the pilots of replacement crews show up as copilots of veteran crews. Some second pilots get promoted to first pilot, and take over their crew, while the original first pilot gets a new assignment.
One of the more notable changes in crew composition came on D-Day. On this day the 486th stopped flying both navigators and bombardiers on most, but not all, crews. Lead crews still carried both, as well as carrying a "pin point" navigator (PPN). The "dead reckoning" navigator (DRN) was assisted by the PPN. As I understand the process, the PPN would use binoculars to pin point targets on the ground that would help precisely locate the aircraft. I do not know if there were other skills involved, or if it was merely a collaberative effort to make sure no one got lost. Some non-lead crews kept both their DRN and B; although, I have no rhyme nor reason for this.
The decision to drop one of the two has a couple reasons. First, there was no need to have all 50 planes carry bombsights when they could just drop on the lead's cue. This meant that the ground crews only needed to maintain half a dozen bombsights rather than several dozen. Second, the weight savings (9 men versus 10) allowed for deeper penetrations, into enemy territory. Thirdly, this was one fewer men put in harms way. I suspect that last one was a minor consideration, and my only be a postive consequence of the decision to drop either or.
On the flip side, while the pilots of the regular crews (8 to 9 men) had a lighter load to deal with, the lead planes often carry many more men than a normal crew. At least two extra men, to include the PPN and Air Commander. Toss in a couple extra bombs acting as smoke markers, it became challenge to fly those lead planes. I understand the B-24 was a beast to keep trimmed for level flight.
Some navigators or bombardiers alternated flights. This meant that each was in theater twice as long to get the required number to go home. Other navigators or bombardiers "disappeared" altogether, indicating they must have been transferred to other groups, and possibly other theaters.
The next shake up of crews came in July 1944. I was aware of an intersquad transfer of aircraft, but didn't realize that the crews were also transferred. During mid-June some 486th aircraft were modified to carry the Gee-H radio navigation equipment, and replacement aircraft already equipped were received. Their first missions were during the last week of June. The first documented mention of Gee-H ships was on June 27th. The first crews identified as manning those ships were first documented on the 30th. A few of those ships were even manned by crews from other squadrons, or were loaned out with 486th crews. The other groups benefitting from the new ships were the 487th, 92nd, and 493rd. When July arrived, the Gee-H ships were put in the 834th squadron. A goodly number of 834th B-24s were transferred to the other squadrons. The move was permanent, since the fuselage codes were changed. This fact is apparent from the flimsies that have been on the web for a goodly number of years. What I had not known until now was that most of the 834th crews were also transferred to the other squads. Charlie Macgill tells me they were given written orders for the assignment. By mid-July it seemed the 834th ceased to exist as a combat unit.
The 486th flew its last mission in B24s on July 21st. The last few missions saw only a handful of crews being sortied. The B17s and the first serious round of replacements began showing up during the latter part of the month.
The decision to move the B-24s out of the 486th was made earlier in the year by VIIIth Bomber Command. The B24 and B17 did not perform well together. The former flew faster, while the former flew higher. The first and third air divisions were designated as the B17 divisions, while the 2nd AD was given all the B24s. Instead of actually transferring the groups in the 3rd AD flying B24s to the 2nd AD, the planes went, and the groups stayed. This meant B24 crews had to cross train. I can only imagine the grumbling that went on in the 486th when this decision was handed down. It must have been louder when the Forts began showing up. Men loved their Libbies, and hated to see them go. Some crews hated it so much as to request to go with their airplanes. Thus, some crews disappear from the roster in mid-July. One of these crews was a LT Yocke, with home I spoke with a few years ago. He didn't want to fly the B17, and requested a transfer to the 2nd AD. Interestingly, he told me not every crew that transferred out had a choice. He implied that there was some politics involved, and seemed angry with those decisions.
One of the problems I am facing is the variation of name spelling. A name may show up one time spelled with two "L"'s, say, and another time with only one, and each spelling may be proper, but only one is correct. Confronted with this dilema, I will leave the spelling at is, and will wait for someone to point out the error. In a number of instances, I know the correct spelling and will change it.
Several 486ers changed their names following the war. I have decided that I will use the original spelling, but will also include the new spelling as a "footnote" of sorts.
The creation of these reports did not follow a standard format. The 832nd has the best record of identifying name, rank, and crew position. The 834th was pretty decent, with the 833rd being the worst. If not for my a priori knowledge of crew assignments I might be more hard pressed to present those crews with complete information. Rank is the toughest. In the early missions the 833rd gave only the last names of crewmen, and that was it. You may infer crew positions from the order in which the names were presented. That became a real problem after D-Day when the bombardier/navigator drop came. I didn't memorize who was who, and on occasion you may see an "U" for crew position assignments. As for rank, you won't seem many listed unless I have another source. The 832nd clerks were prone to give every officer the rank of LT, and every enlisted man the rank of SGT. I noted a few instances where SGTs became PVTs. A clerical gaffe, or a personnel infraction? But, it seemed that there was a round of promotions on August one. A lot of 834th 2LT's became 1LT's, and there were a number of newly minted SSGTs. I'm sure other squadrons promoted a number of their veteran fliers, but did not want to brag.
One amusing name popped up along the way. This fellow was of eastern european extraction. One of those names that was spelled with every consonant in the alphabet, and only one vowel. His first name was Walter. On one loading list his name showed up as Valter. I'm guessing that in some instances a clerk stood by with paper and pencil taking names as the crews streamed past. Walter may have had a heavy accent, and when he spoke his name to the clerk, the clerk put down what he heard, "Valter". I spelled the name Walter, after a chuckle.
The pace from here out promises to slow a bit, as the number of crews sortied increases. The August 1st mission saw 485 men take off from Sudbury. I am using Excel to create the loading lists, and the rudiments of a database. From there I create the HTML document for the web. Excel allows me to use some shortcuts for entering the crew information. However, it still takes time to go through the lists and verify information. I must admit that some of the mistakes you will see are mine, but not all.
If you look at the flimsy for the 50th mission:
and float your mouse pointer over the pilot's name, you will see a crew list appear in the upper left. This is the one and only time you will see this. I did it as a proof of concept. I quicly realized that there is a limit to my madness. You can still access the complete list through the link at the bottom of each of the flimsies.
I have a voice that is well suited for the shower, or the car, but not for the public. I have a fondness for folk music, particularly the songs that were common during time of war. If you are students of Civil War history, you may have heard of the song, Lorena:
"The years creep slowly by, Lorena
The snow is on the grass again
The sun's low down the sky, Lorena
The frost gleams where the flowers have been
But the heart throbs on as warmly now
As when the summer days were nigh
Oh, the sun can never dip so low
A-down affection's cloudless sky...."
John Hartford did a rendition for Ken Burns' Civil War documentary. The song if very sentimental, and it was a favorite of the Rebs and Yanks alike. Generals of both sides also tried to get the song banned. They feared that it would sap their men's will to fight, and may even lead to desertion as men pined for their sweethearts.
A similar song showed up in WWI. It was written by a German soldier as a poem before he shipped out to the Eastern Front. A composer found the poem and put it to music. It became a hit, not only in Germany, but in England as well. Like Lorena it was very sentimental, and officers of both sides tried to get it squashed for the same reasons as Lorena. What vexed British commanders even more was the propensity of their men to sing it in German! This was unacceptable, but the men continued to sing the song. So, British songrights got to work and created an English version. The song is "Lile Marleen". The song was sung during WWII by Marlene Dietrich, but her's was not the first recording. English translations differ from the original German version, so I sing it in German, too.
"Bei der Kaserne,
vor der grossen Tor.
und steht sie noch davor.
Da wollen wir uns wiederseh'n
bei der Laterne woll'n wir steh'n.
Wie einst, Lili Marleen.
Wie einst, Lili Marleen...."
"Next to the Barracks,
in front of the big gate.
There stands a streetlamp,
and there she still stands to wait.
We intend to meet there again,
by the street lamp we will stand.
As one, Lili Marleen.
By the way, Marlene Dietrich came to the US from Germany after the rise of the NAZI party. She did a lot of work with the USO and Red Cross to aid and comfort our men during the war. To learn more of her go to:
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