The Sixth Mission

By Jim Haas, Bombardier, 603rd Squadron

We flew our 6th mission on the sixth day of July 1944.  We were scheduled to fly two missions that day, as they were to be short missions.  The first target was to bomb a "No-Ball" Buzz-Bomb site at Saint Omer, just inside France.  The second mission was supposed to be to Villaroche near Paris, to bomb railroad yards.  However, that wasn't to be for our crew.

We were assigned to a new shiny silver B-17 which had just arrived in England and did not have the usual 398th identifications painted on it.  The name of the plane was "the Prowler" with a picture of a black tomcat.  However, we had selected the name "Hissanmoan" which was to be painted on the nose of the plane after we returned from the first mission of the day. The crew chief was very proud of this new plane and reminded us to bring this plane home safely.  It was a beautiful day and we took off at zero-four-fifty-seven. Our bombing altitude was to be seventeen thousand feet.  We were near the Initial Point which was Etapes and climbing when we ran into some flak.  We received a hit on our #2 and #3 engines.  Everybody yelled "we're hit and on fire".  The engineer jumped down from his position and helped the pilot feather the #3 engine and pulled that engine's fire extinguisher handle.  We all felt a great relief when the smoking stopped on #3 and #4 engine looked okay.   Then they turned their attention to the #2 engine.  It was in bad shape and the propeller continued to windmill.  From their positions they could see that the engine cowling had been ripped away to reveal exploded cylinders which were dripping oil and fuel.  They cut off all fuel and oil to that engine.  #1 engine was also having difficulties and its cockpit instruments indicated trouble.  We turned to go back to our base. 

Everybody checked out okay except the ball turret gunner because for awhile he was unable to get out of his turret. A part of the shell that hit the #2 engine along with other debris had hit that turret.  But he was okay - just shaken a bit from the experience.  After a thorough inspection of the plane, it seemed we were in pretty good shape, except for the left wing area and the bomb bay doors.  The engineer told us that shrapnel had cut the shackles holding two of our five hundred pound bombs, dropping them through the closed bomb bay doors. One bomb bay door was ripped completely from the aircraft.  Before crossing the French coast we salvoed the other bombs on what we hoped was the U-boat pens at Calais.

The plane continued to drift to the left and kept losing altitude.  The #2 propeller was turning at a high rate of speed and creating an enormous amount of drag.  The pilot and the engineer tried several maneuvers to get rid of that runaway prop.  In the back of the plane the crew was throwing everything they could out of the plane. We were losing altitude quite fast. The navigator called the pilot and said that we were heading toward the south of London.  London was protected by a ring of barrage balloons.  Our radio had also been knocked out when we got hit.  As we approached the English coast, two Seafires of the RAF's coastal command came to look us over and we identified ourselves.  They waved goodbye and left us.  When we passed Hastings, off to our left, the altimeter read under 3,500 feet and there were no fields in sight.  Finally with only one engine working, we were down to 1,900 feet and the pilot gave the order to bail out. 

Six of us bailed out, while the pilot, copilot and engineer remained with the plane. The co-pilot counted six chutes, so he knew we were safe.  Only 900 feet remained when the co-pilot spotted a field about two miles ahead.  The field looked very small and there was a tall wire fence at the end, but it was too late to turn back. When the ball turret made contact with the ground the engineer cut all switches.  They kept the plane on line for a while, but the left wing made contact with the ground and brought the plane around in a wide arc.  Finally the plane came to a stop. They had used up a thousand feet of a sixteen hundred foot length field.

Fortunately everyone was safely on the ground.  The only casualty was the tail gunner who had broken his ankle when he hit the ground.  I just missed a large tree but my chute became entangled on the lower branches.  I looked up and there was a farmer with his pitch fork sitting on a fence post.  I asked him to come over and help me get untangled, but he wasn't sure if I was a Nazi or not.  Finally I convinced him I was an American, so he came over and helped me get out of my chute.   He told me to go up to his house on the side of a hill where his wife had already made some tea.  He located the other five and brought them all to his home. There was a small recon outfit nearby that flew small planes over to the coast and back. They called our squadron headquarters at Nuthampstead and eventually some 398th personnel came down and trucked us back to our base.  I went on and flew my 35 missions.

My crew was: Harry Sleaman, pilot; Leonard Waring, co-pilot; John Allare, navigator; James Haas, bombardier; Elwood Davis, engineer; Lorjo Gennaro, radio operator; Vern Kling, ball turret; Leon Weber and Harley Roark, waist gunners and Robert Adkins, tail gunner.

See also:

  1. Sleaman's Crash at Kent photo
  2. James R. Haas, 398th Bombardier - 603rd Squadron Video Interview (1 h 1m 54s)