Much has been written about combat missions by the 398th BG in World War II, and rightly so, but the perils of flight didnt begin there or end there.
Our flight to England began as it did for many other crews who ferried a new B-17 G over the ocean. Enroute things were different.
We took off from Hunter Field, Georgia on January 31, 1945. Our ordered route would take us to Dow Field, Maine via Philadelphia, Allentown, Newburg, and Hartford. Alternate airports were listed as Fort Dix, Syracuse Army Air Base and Greneir Field, New Hampshire. An inoperative air speed indicator and bad weather forced an emergency landing at Grenier.
After the weather cleared, we proceeded to Goose Bay, Labrador, our jumping off point. Bluie West 1, Greenland was our next stop. This was a one-runway airport on a 5-degree grade located next to a lake and surrounded on three sides by mountains rising to 13,000 feet.
Our ordered time of take off from Goose Bay was late. When we approached the Greenland Coast, deteriorating weather forced us down to an altitude of 1,000 feet. We were unable to make a visual approach to the airport. I reversed course out of the waterway to open water and climbed above the cloud cover. Tracking the radio compass we passed back and forth over the tower. After several passes and divine intervention, a small opening in the clouds came exactly as we flew over the lake. Without hesitation, I rolled over and dove straight down that 13,000 feet, pulled out at 1,000 feet made a 360 and landed. That was the only time I didnt call the tower for landing instructions.
The storm grounded us for two days. At 11:00 p.m. we were ordered out. A full moon gave us sufficient light to clear the mountains. Once on course we again entered the storm and flew the entire last leg to Blackpool on instruments.
Our last mission was also the last mission of the war in Europe: Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. After several mercy trips to evacuate POWs and a couple days to celebrate, the 398th was ordered back to the States.
To help with the movement of planes and personnel I was given the job of Weights and Balances Officer. I examined each plane for total weight and distribution of that weight.
Unfortunately, we got the only plane left. It was retired from combat and used for fighter plane air to air gunnery practice.
Heading home our first stop was Valley, Wales. On landing we noticed a gasoline leak coming from the wing tank. Repair of the gas tank delayed our departure. Our second stop was Reykavik, Iceland. Here we were grounded for excessive oil consumption, and advised we could not safely make the long trip to Goose Bay, Labrador. After two days on the ground and no prospect for getting passenger space on another plane, we decided to take our chances. We made it to Goose Bay, but blew out a tire on landing.
Replacement of the tire, wheel and repair to an engine, delayed us once more, and again we were advised not to attempt the final leg to Bradley Field, Winsor Locke, Conn. Half of the crew and eleven passengers we had with us thought we might have exhausted our luck. I told them we were going, and they came along.
At Bradley Field we were greeted with a great reception. Advice from the ground personnel came; the plane would be scrapped!