398th Bomb Group


By Howard Traeder
601 Pilot

It was truly a milk run. No fighters, no flak. And it was a beautiful spring day, bright and sunny with a few cumulus clouds.

But that all changed shortly after “bombs away”, when I suddenly found myself and my airplane out in front of everyone due to an unexplained, sudden accelerating force. I immediately “chopped” the throttles, poked the nose down, dropped flaps, and lowered the gear to regain control at a lower altitude where I could spot the rest of the formation.

The intercom then became very busy with reports of damaged aircraft, including one going down with the wing torn off and another crew bailing out. Then I discovered I had problems of my own, what with two dead engines. No. 2 feathered properly, but No. 4 windmilled out of control.

The crew reported the ship was full of holes and the bomb bay doors were sprung inward. The tail turret was jammed and useless.

It was obvious the formation was decimated (by flak, we thought) so we headed west toward friendly territory. We were momentarily alarmed as four, single-engined fighters closed in, but much relieved when they were identified as P-51’s. They left us, without making radio contact or responding to our contact attempts. They apparently concluded we needed no help from them.

Just as our descending aircraft and the wooded terrain beneath us were converging too rapidly for comfort, we sighted an airfield. We could not identify it, but at this point any airfield looked just great.

But we soon discovered that our B-17 was not meant to be landed on this particular runway, which turned out to be a captured German fighter strip near Paderborn. With a huge pile of rock and rubble looming on either side of the runway extension, I called for “gear up” in order to belly in as we ripped into the rubble piles. Only the left wing gave way completely as “Q-Queenie” came to rest after turning 45 degrees right, skidding across a road and tearing out a telephone line.

That’s when the miracle happened! As we counted noses after evacuating our now burning plane, two GI ambulances pulled alongside to transport us to the airfield hospital which had been established on that field just the previous week!

The crew sustained minor cuts and bruises, with the exception of Bill Jones, our tail gunner. Bill suffered a fractured vertebrae sheltering the rest of the crew during the crash landing. All but Jones returned to duty by April 17.

The smoldering hulk of “Q-Queenie” lay where we left her, an inglorious end for a proud old bird. But perhaps not untimely, for she was stiff, old, and war-weary. Very difficult to fly. I remember her as being very heavy on the controls and totally unresponsive to trim tab adjustments. My co-pilot, Quent McMurray, and I would spell each other every 15 minutes due to fatigue.

I learned no further details of this incredible mission until some 40 years later when one day I answered the phone to have the caller greet me –

“I’m Paul Brown. I was the radio operator on the crew that blew you guys out of the sky on April 13, 1945.”

Printed in Flak News Volume 3, Number 1, Page(s) 6, January 1988

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