Mission #5 - May 21, 1943
Determined to minimize the U-Boat threat in the North Atlantic, the 96th attacked Emden for the second time in 5 days. But this time the Luftwaffe attacked the 4th Bomb Wing with 75-100 interceptors. The enemy began his assault over the North Sea as the Wing approached the continent and pursued the formations to the target and then resumed attacks until the Fortresses were well out over the sea on their return. There were no aborts and all 22 planes bombed well. But the Luftwaffe claimed its second victim in the crew of Captain Gilbert Stephenson. It was a telling loss for Captain Stephenson had led the Group on most of its 5 missions. His AC 42-29734 of the 337th had been flying in the #2 slot in the Lead Squadron when it was attacked. Witnesses saw it catch fire and although a consensus of opinion at the debriefing reported nine chutes, the plane exploded at 4,000 feet and, just as it was about to hit the water, a wing came off. Actually everyone perished. Stephenson's bombardier, Lt. Bob Grover, washed ashore at Spiekeroog Island. It was discovered by a Sgt. Schmidt while he and his men had been charged with recovery and salvage of Allied planes. Lt. Grover was buried that same day in the local cemetery on Wangerooge Island.
Later that night Sergeant Leo Laky would record his impressions of this 4th mission for the crew of Kipling's Error. But before reviewing Laky's comments, a few words about his famous 96th aircraft. The literary buff in Lt. Ruben Neie's crew was radio gunner Dick Haseltine. Noting that the crews' home states were evenly divided by the Mississippi River, Haseltine took issue with the opening line to one of Rudyard Kipling's poems.
"East is east and west is west," Kipling contended, "and never the twain shall meet."
Not true, Sgt. Haseltine protested. And he had the crew to prove it. According to their ground crew chief, Howard Breson, Haseltine then proceeded to supply the nose art. The foundation for the drawing was a large white star for the pilot, Lt. Neie, who came from Texas. Within the star, Haseltine fitted all sorts of images. There was a keystone representing Pennsylvania, a pine tree for Maine, corn for Iowa and a beaver for Oregon. Whether a buffalo or a plow, a flower, a bird -- no matter -- every image symbolized a crewman's home state thus testifying to Kipling's Error.
Now back to Sgt. Laky's diary entry:
"Plenty of flak, plenty of fighters. FW's really thick. Some all black, some yellow-tipped wings, tail and nose. We had a hard time coming home. White claimed 2 hits (Clarence White, top turret) and tail gunner Kotlarz claimed one. Saw one of ours go down over target -- 3 chutes. Saw plane burn over North Sea. 9 hit silk. Our right wing hit by 20mm. Missed gas tank. We flew home expecting to burst into flames. Land 1515. Captain Jack Ford comes in with all engines cut off to crash land Ole Puss. 4 go to hospital. Our plane, we're told, is out of commission."
From his left waist window, Sergeant Laky observed some terrifying panoramas of the air war. It is remarkable that he took time every night to record these impressions. Unfortunately we can only reprint a few of them.
But the diary reference to Old Puss warrants better coverage. Laky only saw Captain Ford bring the plane in on an emergency landing. What Laky and other witnesses did not know at the time was the full story as printed in the Stars & Stripes a few days later.
Captain Ford had flown two planes on one mission! His first ship had developed supercharger problems. Ford peeled off and returned to base. But, according to the story, Ford and his crew weren't through yet.
Ford argued that he could get another ship into the air and catch the formation. And so he took his second Fort into the air and streaked out to catch up with the unescorted Germany-bound bombers.
Heavy cloud formations had forced the raiders to change their course, and Captain Ford and his men did not find them until they neared the target -- a furious battle ensued.
"As we started on our bombing run," said co-pilot Joseph Turner, "we saw the fighters coming at us from all directions -- during the bombing run flak tore a hole in the left wing big enough for a man to crawl through."
Ford's bomber was hit repeatedly. Cannon shells plowed through the fuselage and tore a three foot section off the end of the left wing and shot off the tail landing wheel. Flak peppered the ship smashing the plexiglass in the cockpit. Crewmen rendered first aid to Sgts. F.C. Kaczor who was struck in the back, William E. Anderson, radio operator, who suffered 17 flak wounds in his right leg, and Chester Privitt, ball turret gunner, who was wounded in the left foot.
"They gave us a tough time," related 2/Lt. Clarence Keisler, the navigator, "but they paid plenty. We got at least four."
Keisler said 2/Lt. William "Polecat" Miller, the bombardier, Sgt. M.C. Jamison, Anderson, and Privitt each got one German plane.
As the wounded crewmen were being bandaged, Sgt. William E. Kelly went from one gun to the other to fire at the attackers. In the top turret, Sgt. George A. Haslip kept his guns firing.
Just before they reached home, the last two engines on Ole Puss stopped dead. Captain Ford brought the Fort in on a dead stick with all four props feathered.
On May 22, Major Tom Kenny's crew of Fertile Myrtle I was refused a pass to London. That's how they found out that they were now recognized as Lead Crew.
On May 26th, A/C 42-29938, Tarfu crashed.
And on May 27th, along with many other crews, Fertile Myrtle I left Grafton Underwood at 1105 and arrived at a new base of operations at Great Sailing, Andrews Field.