T/Sgt. Frederick Chester Bradley, Jr.
Engineer/Top Turret Gunner
Howard F. Traeder Crew, 398th BG, 601st SQ
By Lee Anne Bradley
My earliest memory of dad referring to his Army Air Force days dates back to when I was about five years old. He was showing me how to make my bed the proper way using army corners for a tight bed. You could bounce quarters off the darn thing. I also think it was a clever way to keep me from falling out of it at night those sheets and blankets never budged an inch.
We lived near the Jersey Shore. Blimps and planes of all sorts frequently flew up and down the coastline. Single engine bi-planes pulled trailing banners advertising events at Convention Hall in Asbury Park and daredevil skywriters demanded Dont Burn Use Coppertone. Occasionally a big four-engine plane would roar by and my dad would say, There goes a B-17, I flew in one just like that during the War. I was six and I was more interested in swimming than airplanes.
I would ask, Who is Howard Traeder and what did he trade? (For years I was convinced he was a fur trader.) My dad would tell the same story every year. Howard was his pilot during WWII, and a very good one at that. He saved our entire crew, my dad would say. Howard skillfully made a controlled crash landing, bringing down their badly damaged B-17 outside of Paderborn, Germany, and they all got out alive.
It was April 13, 1945 Friday the 13th, the day a B-17 crew, flying above them in formation, mistakenly salvoed their RDX bombs all at once rather than drop them in train individually. The highly sensitive bombs bumped together and blew up approximately 400 feet under the 601st Squadron. The accident took out six B-17s and my dads was one of them, serial number 43-38121 Q, Queenie. With two engines out and losing altitude, Traeder headed for Allied lines. Just as the situation was getting really desperate, he spotted a German fighter strip outside of the city of Paderborn. He committed to landing, but as he got closer he saw the Germans had piled debris and rubble from their bombed out city on both sides of this strip, making it too narrow to land a B-17. He had no choice. The crew braced themselves in the standard toboggan crash position in the waist, with tail gunner Bill Jones leaning against the bomb bay door and the rest of the crew sitting single file in front of him, facing the tail. Traeder came in wheels up and hoped enough of the wings would break off enabling their B-17 to pass through the walls of concrete debris. Unfortunately, only one wing broke off and ol Queenie canted 45 degrees down the strip then slid across the road at the end of the runway. Amazingly, everyone escaped with just minor injuries except for poor Bill. He fractured his vertebrae during the crash, probably from being positioned against the door. As they watched Queenie burn, two trucks raced towards them. The anxious crew, not knowing if they were behind Allied lines or not, braced themselves for the worst. Their fears were laid to rest as the trucks drew near. It was the Red Cross! The fighter strip had been taken over by the Allies only one week before. So it turned out that particular Friday the 13th wasnt completely unlucky! See an image of the crashed Queenie at Traeder's Crash at Paderborn.
That was the 24th and last mission for the Traeder crew. Within a week, they had all returned to Station 131 from various field hospitals all except Bill Jones of course. By the time they were deemed ready to fly missions again, the war in Europe had ended. They stayed on through May flying practice missions until they were sent home on June 2, 1945, fully expecting to be called to the Pacific once their leave was up Stateside. Fortunately, the war ended before that happened.
My dads first B-17 disaster happened before he and his crew-mates had ever seen combat! On December 15, 1944 the Traeder crew departed Lincoln, NE in a brand new B-17G serial number 43-39085 and headed for Grenier Field, Manchester, New Hampshire where they would be assigned their overseas destination.
On December 18 they headed to Goose Bay, Labrador where they waited a few days for the weather to break. They then took off on their next leg to Bluie West One in Greenland, an airbase situated at the end of a fjord near Narsarssuak. In order to land, planes had to fly fifty miles up the fjord which has mountains looming on both sides it was a tricky situation in the best of weather conditions. They landed without incident and spent Christmas and a few pleasant days afterward before taking off on their next leg to Iceland on Dec. 29th.
Cleared for takeoff, they rumbled down the runway toward the fjord. As engineer, it was my dads job to stand behind the pilot and co-pilot and call out airspeed on take-off. Suddenly, as he was doing so, the needle stopped registering. Thinking possibly it might be stuck; he reached over and tapped the indicator a few times attempting to jar the needle nothing. He yelled out NO AIRSPEED.
Howard had to make a quick decision. He could either take off not knowing his airspeed, not a good idea with mountains all around, or he could abort the takeoff. He decided to abort, but by that time their B-17 was rolling along at a pretty good clip. Slamming on the brakes, they ran off the runway across rough terrain onto the frozen fjord. As their B-17 burst into flames the crew made a mad dash out of the aircraft. The entire ship became engulfed in flames and black smoke. It was completely destroyed along with the crews personal possessions and winter gear. At first it was thought that the pitot tube cover had not been removed before take-off, this would have caused the airspeed gauge not to register. The Aircraft Accident Investigation Board stated in their accident report that the pitot tube cover had indeed been removed and this had been triple checked before take-off. It was determined that while taxiing for take-off position, either the pitot tube or the lines had become frozen by blowing snow causing the airspeed indicator malfunction. In addition to that problem, the men in the waist said they saw flames from the # 3 engine as they were barreling down the runway. Howard was not positive if the fire occurred before or after he cut power and slammed on the brakes. See an image of the burning aircraft at Traeder's Crash at Bluie West and also the story Bluie West One (BW-1) by Howard Traeder, Pilot.
So now without a plane, the crew hitchhiked by cargo plane to Iceland and Scotland, then by bus and train to Royston, Hertfordshire, England. They finally arrived at Station 131 by truck on January 23, 1945. As a humorous sidebar to this story my mom had given my dad her favorite photo of herself to keep with him while he was overseas. Naturally it was destroyed in this accident along with everything else he owned. She never forgave him for letting her photo burn up.
Howard tells another hair-raising story about my dad. By the time 1945 rolled around, most of the B-17s in the Eighth Army Air Force had seen better days. They had been through many missions by then and most had been patched and repaired multiple times. The bomb bay doors were notorious for not working. It was the engineers job to crank them open by hand when they got stuck. It was February 25, 1945, their 7th mission, as usual the bomb bay doors would not open so my dad began to crank away. In his urgency to get the doors open, his oxygen hose detached. It wasnt long before he became anoxic, lost consciousness and slumped over the sill of the door to the bomb bay. Co-Pilot Lt. Quentin McMurray, always keeping an eye out for the crew, saw what had happened and quickly connected the hose to my dads oxygen supply. Suddenly revived, my dad automatically lurched to resume cranking. Fortunately Mac grabbed him. The bomb bay doors were open and he would have jumped right through them at 20,000 feet!
My dad didnt tell any other stories about the war while I was growing up, and for that matter, after I grew up! But one day in the mid-eighties, Howard called and excitedly told him he became a member of the 398th BG Association and that my dad should join too. My dad did join and so began receiving the quarterly Flak News newsletter. My mom and dad lived in Largo, Florida at that time and I would often visit. There on the coffee table was the Flak News, thumbing through I became very interested in the articles and photos. I asked a lot of questions like, Did you know this guy? or Did you fly in that plane and What was the name of your plane? The answers were always the same, Naw, I didnt know him, there were a million guys there, We didnt name the planes then because we never flew in the same plane twice.
Now as 398th BG Historian I have learned many things about those Nuthampstead days during 1944 1945. The facts I find most amusing are those that contradict my dads answers to my questions. For one, the Traeder crew flew in two B-17s for most of their 24 missions. Queenie, serial number 43-38121 Q, was the plane they crashed in on their last mission on April 13, 1945. The other was serial number 43-38064 H. Two years ago I learned from Howard that my DAD unofficially named that one Umbriago (translated: The drunken one). So much for never flying in B-17s that were named.
My dad was eighty years old when he passed away in April 1999. He had just begun to open up about his experience with the 398th BG and I am very grateful for the little bits he shared with me. Towards the end, I believe he actually enjoyed reminiscing about those days at Nuthampstead. In fact, the 1999 April Flak News had just arrived in the mail and I brought it over to him in the hospital. I still remember how his eyes lit up when I gave it to him.
He and his memories of Station 131 were gone three days later.
Corporal Frederick C. Bradley - Fall 1944
Corporal Frederick C. Bradley - Fall 1944
Personal History Information
- Veteran: Frederick C. Bradley
- Engineer and TT Gunner, 601st Squadron
- Date of Personal History: May 2005
- Author: Lee Anne Bradley
- Submitted to 398th Web Pages by: Lee Anne Bradley