World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Keith Anderson, 398th Bomb Group Pilot
600th Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Interviewer: Marilyn Gibb-Rice
Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
Livonia, MI, September 2006
The 398th has been interviewing its members as part of the Timeless Voices of Aviation project. More information about the project and a current list of video interviews can be found at 398th Timeless Voices Interviews. In addition to the video interviews, some of the interviews have been transcribed to text.
Keith Anderson, 398th Bomb Group Pilot
600th Squadron, Eighth Air Force
MGR: Interviewer, Marilyn Gibb-Rice
KA: 398th Pilot, Keith Anderson
MGR: I’m Marilyn Gibb-Rice and we are at the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association Reunion, in Livonia, Michigan and this is September 2006. Would you give us your name, please?
KA: My name is Keith Anderson. I was with the 600th Squadron of the 398th Bomb Group. To begin with the beginning, I was born on March 6th, 1924 in Seattle, Washington. We lived in Seattle, my family did, until I was in about the 5th grade and then we moved to Bellingham, Washington, which is a town about 60 miles away. I was in the 5th grade when I started there. My dad had been in the furniture business early on and he had gotten a job as a superintendent of a furniture factory up there.
My dad had served in the Army in World War I. He had been overseas as a truck driver and also, his older brother had been in the Army at that time. I’m not sure if he went overseas or what he did. My mother’s older brother had also been in the service, in the Army. So, I was pretty well indoctrinated into thinking about the Army. Also, in a small town, Bellingham was a relatively small town, about 30,000 population, and a very active American Legion post there. My dad was active in that. So, we had a lot of friends that were in the Legion and they had all served, most of them, overseas. Some of them had seen combat there. I can remember, also, one of my early memories from Bellingham, is that we had a couple of Army officers that rented a Lake Shore unit for their vacation near us and this was probably in 1935, something like that, and they were already talking about the threat that Japan eventually would propose. They were very concerned about the Japanese military. And, of course, shortly after that, Japan did invade Manchuria and China. So, I had those things to develop my thinking.
Also, I had a 7th grade teacher that was a Communist. And, she was promoting Stalin and Russian Communism. We all thought that was ridiculous, her arguments. I got a very early feeling of anti-Communism.
We moved back to Seattle in 1937, I believe it was. It was going to be my sophomore year in high school and that was kind of tough on me because I had spent five years in Bellingham. I thought that I would go to Bellingham High School with all my buddies and here I was thrown in with a high school with 1,500 kids. I had known some of them because I had gone to my early grade school in Seattle. So, I knew a few people.
One of my early memories there was, in our sophomore year, we had studied World History and that was the time when Hitler had taken over the Ruhr Valley, I think about a year before then and then he moved over to the Sudetenland during the fall of my sophomore year. So, we had studied that at school. I got strong opinions on the mistake that Chamberlain made in appeasing Hitler at the Munich Conference and so forth. And, of course, later on, subsequently, the Germans had invaded Poland in my junior year. From then on, I was convinced, that to spite of all isolationists feeling at the time, that we were going to war.
In my senior year, I graduated in 1941, and I was a commencement speaker and my speech was really armed my – the key to preparedness – I had felt then that our focus should be getting ready for that war.
Sure enough, I started college down in Reed College down in Portland. And, on December 7th – I remember the day very well – we got the news that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. Most of us, but not all of us, resisted that early impulse to go join the Marines. But from then on, school became less relevant and I think we were all thinking where we would want to go in the service. As I said through my early exposure to my dad’s experience and so forth, that I looked towards the Army, even though Seattle was, of course, Navy town primarily, in the Puget Sound area. And, like a lot of kids, I built model airplanes and I read G-8 and His Battle Aces and so forth. But I didn’t have any yearning to fly, I never had any aspirations to fly, I never had any dreams that I wanted to fly; I just never thought about it. But, it just seemed liked the Air Corp would be a good place to serve. Apparently for the glamour of it, and knowing that you would have fairly decent living conditions, and that pilots were well-respected and so forth.
But, I had no idea of what I wanted to fly or anything like that. I think it was the 55th Fighter Group that actually later on ended up at Nuthampstead that was based at Paine Field, just north of Seattle. So, I did see the P-38’s flying high up in the air and I’d look up at them and think, “Well, that would be a pretty good airplane to fly.”
So, at any rate, a friend of mine and I went down to the Port Lennarby Air Base one day of October of 1942 and took the physical and acceptance test and passed them both. So, we enlisted as aviation cadets and they said, “Okay, thank you and go back to school and you’ll hear from us.”
Now, at first – I forget exactly when 18 year olds were subject to the draft. I think during that summer so I had actually had to register for the draft as I recall. But, I wasn’t afraid of getting drafted; I did want to join the Air Corp.
So, the weeks rolled by, and the months, and I never heard anything and pretty soon, in about December of ’42 and January of ’43, some of the fellows that had enlisted in the various things were getting called up and I asked, “What’s going to happen to me?”
Now at that time, we enlisted as Aviation Cadets and we thought that we would be going to Santa Ana, California for pre-flight. That’s all we knew about it. All of a sudden, one day in the middle of February, I get orders saying, ‘Private Keith W. Anderson has orders to go to Buckley Field, Denver, Colorado.’
So, we climbed on a train in Portland, a bunch of us, and chugged our way to Denver. Then, we found out what had happened to us. The Air Force, and then I think it was a separate Air Force, had determined that too many guys were washing out during their training.
Now, early on, the Air Force required a college education to go into pilot training and then they reduced it to two years of college education. By the time I had enlisted, you didn’t need any college education, although I had already had a year.
So, they had determined that they had to slow down this attrition rate and all expensive putting guys through training and then having to wash them out that they sent us to Basic Training for one month and then five months of College Training Detachment. This was the beginning of the program, so they had to get everything phased in so at least I was in that first group. We only had one week of Basic Training and we were getting uniforms, learn how to march back and forth. Then, we were sent out to Springfield, Missouri. Well, I didn’t like that too well because that was quite a ways from the Pacific Coast. Now, I had been away at college for a year and a half by then so I was used to living away from home. That didn’t bother me a bit. But, the Midwest was not as appealing to me as the – and it was getting farther from Santa Ana, which I always thought of…..
At any rate, so, when we got there, they gave us a test right away and divided us into five groups. One group flew the first month; one would get the second, would graduate second, third, fourth, fifth. They’d phase it in that way so the subsequent groups went for in the full five months. Of course, I just got out of college and studied --- I was a good math student, physics, chemistry, all of that. So, I passed the test to get in that first group.
It was kind of interesting because they started us out with basic math; I mean, adding and subtracting. But, within the month, they had progressed from that into elementary calculus. So, they had moved us along fast.
At any rate, from there I got orders to go to San Antonio, Texas, and that just seemed horrible to me; a long ways from Santa Ana, California, and we were still privates. We went into Santa Ana into the Classification Eenter, and we had to take the same tests I had taken earlier in Portland, the physical and evaluation test, I’d guess you call it. Plus, they had added what they called, I think, psychomotor tests where you ran little gimmicks and that was supposed to evaluate your ability to manipulate things and so forth.
And, on the basis of those tests, they selected who was going to go where. Well, the bank got promoted when I went in as enlisted, I had to actually get my parents’ permission; I had to sign it on a slip. I had their signature because even though we were technically subject to the draft, to enlist, you still had to get your parents’ permission. I had right on my application ‘Aviation Cadet’ and at that time, pilot training, navigator, bombardier, or meteorology. So, I kind of told a white lie to my mom and I said I’d go for the meteorology, of course, had no intent to do that.
So, anyway, we get the classification cert, take all these tests and we sit around. Pretty soon, rosters came posted up in the squadron door that the guys who were going into pilot training had been selected for pilot training and navigator training and so forth. The first couple of days, my name wasn’t on the list so I started getting a little bit worried.
Then I got a special order to come in all by myself, into the orderly room, or whomever I had to talk to. They had developed quite a grading system where they could evaluated what they figured was your percentage of success, or your odds of success, at each course. I think the cutoff point was 75 points to even get into anything. Well, they said, “Okay, you’ve -- we’ve looked over your scores and you’ve scored about 95% to become a navigator [because I had a lot of math], and 92% to be a bombardier, and 87% to be a pilot.” I still qualified to be a pilot, but they gave me my choice, actually. So, I opted for the pilot.
Then, a couple weeks later, I was assigned a Class 44-B as an aviation cadet; I finally made the grade other than being a private and went across the street to the San Antonio pre-flight. I had been there a month for the first phase. Of course, in those days, I think we had about eleven classes of pilots graduated each year. So, you have each phase of training lasted about five weeks and you would start then as phase pre-flight as an underclassman and subject to hazing and all that kind of stuff. Then, you became an upperclassman and then you went on to primary flying, then basic, and then advanced, always starting out as underclassman and graduating to upperclassman in that phase.
When it came time for our upperclassman, which was Class 44-A, they were somehow short a guy, maybe someone had flunked out, I don’t know what. Of course, I got really high grades in the pre-flight, which is all ground school, basically, again, because of the college training. So, they invited me to join Class 44-A and that’s when I actually went into flight training as. Started out at Jan?, I believe. Coleman Field in – well, it was Coleman, they were civilians flying schools in primaries, probably the other fellows have told you. We had civilian instructors and so forth. But mine was at Coleman, Texas and went through primary training there. Not so long after that, 10 hours or what was kind of normal.
Now, that was my first experience up until then, going through pre-flight and all that had been kind of a breeze for it, because it was strictly school work. Flying was a different matter and all of us felt the pressure. We had a higher wash out rate in the primaries, probably the other fellows had told you, and so I really felt the pressure passing muster. Flying was not a fun thing, as far as I was concerned. It was usually an ordeal and I had to work at it. Most of the fellows would washout from things like they couldn’t get over airsickness or maybe they couldn’t learn how to do the right precision turns and that sort of thing.
At any rate, it was a high wash out rate, and that’s where you got used to seeing empty beds. You’d go out in the day and do your classwork and go out and fly and then you’d come back at dinnertime and the guy next to you wasn’t there anymore. A bed was empty because he was gone and anybody that washed out, they whipped them right out of there.
The big ordeal through the primary was that every twenty hours you’d have a check ride with an Army pilot and, boy, that was like finals; you had to sweat that out.
At any rate, I got through primary and then sent to Perrin Field in near Denison, Texas for Basic. Now, primary was seat-of-the-pants flying, no instruments, no night flying; it was just precision turns, precision climbs, landings, and aerobatics. In Basic, we got into more powerful aircraft, 450 horse engine, and what looked more like a military airplane; it had fixed gear. I was in the BT-13 Vultee Vibrator. There I got introduced to instruments training, under the hood and in the link trainer, night flying and formation flying, and did a lot of aerobatics.
Now, again, the pressure was on there. The wash out rate wasn’t as high but it was still 25 to 35 percent. Then again, for me, it was not an enjoyable thing. I enjoyed the formation flying; I really did enjoy that. I semi-enjoyed the aerobatics but there you were all were all your rolls coordinated and your loops and did it all just right.
In Basic, you had your choice between twin engine and single engine. It wasn’t just guaranteed that you would get your choice. But twin engine, if you opted for that, it was almost a sure thing. Like I said earlier, the P-38 – I had never heard of a P-51 by then or P-47 – but the P-38 I knew about; it was a twin-engine aircraft. I knew about the B-25 that bombed Tokyo and I knew that they had used them in the Pacific, about eight machine guns firing forward and sometimes the .75 mm cannon straight at ships, so that sounded like a pretty good deal. So, I opted for the Twin Engine Advanced. I went to Lubbock, Texas and there we, of course, flew twin engine aircraft, did a lot more night flying, a lot more instrument flying, a lot more formation flying, which I still enjoyed, but flying a twin engine Cessna Bamboo Bomber was not any great fun so, again, it was an ordeal to fly. So, I can say that all through my training, I did not enjoy flying. I really didn’t enjoy flying ever until later on during combat. I got into an A-26 and learned how to fly that, and from then on, it was great fun.
Okay, we graduated January 7, 1944, Class of 44-A, and got our wings and commission and all that. And, again, you had some choice, not guaranteed to what you were going to do. As I recall, you can choose to be an instructor and a couple of my best friends opted to be an instructor and from then on, they were no longer my best friends because I figured they were just copping out. I used to say the Air Force was the best place for a draft dodger because you could join it and go through, get your pilot training, become an instructor or a ferry pilot, and stay right in this country and never have to shoot at anybody, or get shot, at any rate.
We did have a choice of a B-26. I didn’t figure I was a great pilot, so it had a bad reputation as the ‘Widow Maker’ and so forth because, basically, it was a hot airplane and guys coming right out of twin engine advanced, a lot of them, weren’t capable of handling it, really. Actually, it had a great combat record and a great survivability in combat. So, I didn’t want to volunteer to be a bomber pilot; I didn’t want to fly the B-17s. I didn’t want to fly the B-24s. I was just hoping for the best.
But, when my final assignment had come, it was to go the replacement network in Salt Lake City, and we did, of course, get a 21 day leave after that. So, I reported to Salt Lake City around February 1st. And there was where crews were formed. They had pilots in there, navigators, bombardiers, gunners, and formed the crews and sent them out to operational training.
Well, all of a sudden, and I learned this during the war, well, like in all of life, the things that happen to you depend on circumstances, pivotal points in history that send you one way or another. Sometimes you have no control over that; it’s where your name is on a roster. Sometimes, it’s your ability that wore off and it’s that fickle finger of fate. Well, all of a sudden, here we were at Salt Lake City in the middle of winter, colder than the dickens, out in miserable conditions, and they didn’t have much force for us to go out and fire .50 caliber machine guns from the turret to blow a bunch of snow around. But, I had been there about two weeks, when all of a sudden another fellow, his name was Creech, and I was Anderson, we got orders. All those hundreds of guys, hundreds of pilots, to report to Rapid City, South Dakota, site of 398th Bomb Group.
So, we headed off on the train, just the two of us. We got the train tickets, or the Army gave it to us. We went up to Denver, had a couple of good nights and celebrating. Then, we took a train on up to Rapids City, again in the middle of winter, of course. Again, the fickle finger of fate; my name started with an ‘A’ and his name started with a ‘C’. The 600 Squadron needed a co-pilot and one of the other squadrons, I don’t remember which – I went to the 600 and he went to the other squadron. The vacancy of the 600 Squadron was the co-pilot for Gene Douglas (Capt. Gene L. Douglas), who was the number one crew in the 600th. So, the crew I joined -- now there are a whole bunch of crews that just come in, as crews to be created for operational training. But, the group at that time had been formed for about a time and the crew that I had been assigned to have been with them the whole time, as an instructor crew. So, they all – Gene (Capt. Gene L. Douglas), himself was 28 or 29 years old, that’s really old for an Army Air Force pilot in those days, he had flown before the war; I think he had been a bush pilot up in Canada. He was the top pilot in the squadron and our navigator (Harry Nelson, Jr.) and bombardier (Gilbert Goldman) were both experienced guys that had been training crews for that, this past year. So, here, the fellow that had been their co-pilot had been checked out as a first pilot and had gotten his own crew so they needed a co-pilot to come and fill in for him.
I arrived there probably about the end of February of that year. The group, I think they already knew they had been declared operational and the last bunch of crews that had been sent in for the training were going to be the crews that they took overseas. We started our deployment overseas in about the middle of March. We get brand-new airplanes, brand-new, silver B-17Gs and I, of course like everybody else that was assigned an airplane thought that was the airplane you were going to fly in combat, because there was still this fiction that crews had their own airplanes. I remember our bombardier (Gilbert Goldman) was a commercial artist, and he’s the guy that actually designed our logo, our 600th logo, for our patch. Of course, I was just standing there, didn’t have much to add to anything in those days, being the new guy in the crew. But they decided somehow to name the airplane Anytime Annie; I think that was after some guy’s girlfriend, or something. Gil (Gilbert Goldman) painted this insignia on it, a beautiful, Vargas-type gal. And then we started to trek overseas, went to Lincoln, Nebraska, of course, we were gathering supplies and all that, about the middle of March [probably meant mid-April 1944]. Ended up going and landing at Rapid City, arriving at Nuthampstead, in England, on the 22nd of April that year [Believe it was Rapid City to Lincoln for gather supplies, then off to England].
MGR: In ’44?
KA: In ’44? Right. Promptly, they took our airplanes from us, flew them off to a sub-depot for modification because they came with the icer boots on and a lot of other things that they learned as they went along that should be changed before they actually went in to combat.
We went through a couple weeks of training, flying practice missions out over the Wash [a section of the English coast, north of Nuthampstead], just around the countryside, learning the area, in group formation and so forth. I actually got in a little stick time as a co-pilot and of course I had got some flying time on our way overseas. I had actually never landed a B-17, even practice, when we got there. In fact, I hadn’t landed one until I had flown ten missions, even in practice when landing. I remember we had a lot of lectures during that month or so before we really became operational. I will never forget one of them was a Royal Artillery guy that would tell us about anti-aircraft fire, and he said, “Well, you know, it’s the fighter that you have to worry about. Anti-aircraft is just a nuisance value; don’t be too worried about it.” He tried to tell us that a fusing on a 88HL wasn’t accurate within 400 feet and often – I had remembered that so clearly – and often on later missions, as I saw that flak right off at our altitude, I wish I could have him sitting in the seat next to me and let him know how accurate his fusing really was.
At any rate, so we came for our first mission, which was at no ball target [to Sottevast, France on 6 May 1944]. Nobody knew what they were then. That was a buzz bomb site; the Germans were building on the Calais Coast. Fortunately, our first mission was one of those, because it was a totally disorganized mission. I don’t know if you had heard about it.
The Duty Officer, as the Teletype came in to tell him when – I think it’s given him the takeoff time. From that takeoff time, he was supposed to calculate the engine start time, and taxi time, and time to wake up the crews, and time to wake up the mess hall. Well, he forgot to wake up the mess hall. So, we all come stumbling out in the dark and get up to the mess hall and it’s as dark as can be. Knowing GIs, they are not about to go off to war without breakfast. So, everybody just milled around there until somebody got the cooks out to scramble a breakfast together for us. That just set everything back; it was kind of pandemonium from then on.
But, then I learned what it was like to be on the lead crew because – I think they dispatched about ten aircraft on that mission. Ten or maybe it was eighteen. I think it was eighteen. Colonel Hunter [Col. Frank P. Hunter, Jr. – Group C.O.] was the commander of the formation; Douglas (Gene L. Douglas) was the pilot of the plane that he was fighting in. So, of course, he sits in the co-pilot seat and that puts the [normal] co-pilot in the tail gun as an observer. The purpose of that was to first find a place for the co-pilot to be and the duty was to advise the commander, whoever it was, Colonel Hunter [Col. Frank P. Hunter, Jr. – Group C.O.], or whomever later on, where the planes were in formation, who is out of formation, who was in formation, who might have been hit, you could see any props feathered and battle damage, and, you know, just be the eyes in the back of the head. That was the idea.
That first mission, we couldn’t drop our bombs in the first place because of the cloud cover. We never could drop bombs in France unless we could see the target. We wanted to avoid civilian casualties. So, we just came on home and there was not much to it.
Our second mission was to Berlin [7 May 1944 to Berlin]. Our second or third. I was on that one again as a tail gunner, which I came to hate, being back there for a lot of reasons. But that was Berlin and I‘ll never forget when they opened up that screen, we were very naïve and very ?? and everybody clapped and cheered. We were quite the big bee and, of course, everybody heard about the big week, and all that sort of thing, and finally bombing Berlin, and you figured you were getting at the heart of Germany. I don’t think that we cheered about going to Berlin after that.
At any rate, getting back to flying – okay, I flew 29 missions; eight of them as a tail gun observer. It seemed that most of those missions that I flew as a tail gun observer were really memorable, for one reason or another. I didn’t like it because I figured here I had gone through pilot training, and I am supposed to be flying the airplane, not riding in it. You are alone back there on oxygen. You know, we were flying in a very hostile environment, cold, and no oxygen. You can only survive without oxygen for about five minutes and then you were gone. Of course, we had oxygen checks every fifteen minutes, but a fellow could be gone before you got around to it.
Back to the tail, you are lonely. But, the one consolation to it was later on, when I saw airplanes blow up, a lot of times the tail came off intact and the tail gunner had a pretty good chance of getting out.
But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me because I always went to lead crew briefing. Later on, as I started flying with Douglas (Gene L. Douglas) as a co-pilot, I went to lead crew briefings. So, I learned lead crew procedures and I knew Colonel Hunter [Col. Frank P. Hunter, Jr. – Group C.O.] and all the commanders that flew with us and became part of the inner circle of at least our squadron through that experience.
I think we flew three missions with Colonel Hunter [Col. Frank P. Hunter, Jr. – Group C.O.] as the command pilot. Flew another one with Bruce Daley, our squadron commander, flew another one with Captain Miller (Jean Baptiste Miller). That was the one [19 May 1944 to Berlin] where I was actually in the tail and watched our first airplane get lost. It was over Berlin, again. We didn’t have much anti-aircraft fire but, all of a sudden, I noticed one of the planes in the high element there, the bombs didn’t go and they still had their bomb bays open. So, I let command pilot know about it and I kept looking at that airplane and all of a sudden, the bombs started falling down and hit an airplane below it. That was O’Neil’s aircraft and George Graham that set to read in here was on that aircraft. So, I talked to him about that night; there were two of them that survived it.
One of our interesting experiences, we lead the whole 8th Air Force one day, we had a brigadier general flying as the command pilot. That was General Gross [Brigadier General William Milton Gross]. I think he had been a survivor of the Regensburg Raid or the Schweinfurt, one of the ones that about three of the planes out of the group came back. But, he was cool as a cucumber; you would think he was going on a Sunday picnic. First thing he did was give away his flack suit to anyone who wanted extra pieces of it. We bombed Leipzig, Germany, that day [7 July 1944] and we were the first airplanes in, made the first drop and then instead of peeling off and heading home, he started peeling off and making circles to watch the other groups go by and see how they were doing and kind of command the whole deal. But, he had excellent fighter protection. Of course, the fighters knew who he was and we were the lead group, and we had them swarming around us and stayed out of the flack so it was unnerving in that you were still making circles over the middle of Germany, but actually not too dangerous.
Another memorable mission, which we didn’t get credit for as a mission, but again, we were leading the group, Major Simeral, who was our exec officer, was the command pilot that day. We had an engine blowout, or a cylinder, or piston right through the top of the engine and pretty soon nuts and bolts came out of it and pretty soon fire, and the flames got bigger and bigger. Doug (Gene L. Douglas – pilot) could put the flames out. I was a tail gunner then, on that mission, went up there and the engine was spouting all that stuff. So, he decided he better bail out. By the time he rang the alarm bell, or the bailout bell, the navigators had already gone, jumped out the nose. I went back to the waist, we had three gunners with us, the ball turret, the radio operator, and the tail gunner, whose place I was taken, and he was in the waist. So, we bailed out over 17,000 or 18,000 feet over England. The interesting thing about that is it happened on July 4th, 1944. I’ll never forget it. We landed in a suburban area. The three other gunners and I – I had an Argus camera and we could talk to each other on the way down – and I was taking pictures of them. I thought, “Oh man, boy, this is going to be a priceless souvenir.” Unfortunately, the shutter had evidently frozen up and none of the pictures came out.
At any rate, we had landed in a suburban area and I had knocked on a door, it was about six in the morning and the lady who answered the door said there was an RAF pilot that lived down the street, why don’t you go see him. So, I did that. I rounded up the guys and went down there. A fellow answered the door and said, “Well, I am having breakfast, I will be finished up in a minute and I will drive you to our base.” So, it turned out he was a test pilot at Farnborough, which was the English equivalent of the Wright Field. We got there and I radioed the base where we were to come and to come get us. But, they couldn’t send a plane down to get us for several hours so I just wandered around the place.
All of a sudden, I look out at the taxi way and here are these airplanes taxiing by with no propellers and a lot of heat waves coming out of the rear end. Well, it turns out; it was the first British jets being tested. I never heard of jet airplane before and when I got back to the base, finally, and told the fellas, none of the rest of them had heard of a jet airplane before. Brand new to us, the whole concept.
About a month later, we were brought into a briefing and were told that the Germans had operational and jet and rocket plane, both operational, and to expect to see them now and again and sure enough – I never did – they were subsequently shot down by a couple of our guys.
But, we didn’t get credit – we were on a bridge on Tours, France [4 July 1944], two 2,000 pound bombs. The rest of them went to a target that was obscured, they had to come home. Never got shot at, nothing. Here we had to bail out but never got in enemy territory. We never got credit for that mission but everybody else did. So, that was a little side issue.
At any rate, so that brought us up to the last mission I flew as a tail gunner was with Colonel Hunter [Col. Frank P. Hunter, Jr. – Group C.O.]. That was to an airfield just south of Paris on August 1st of 1944 [called Villaroche], and we were shot up pretty bad at that time. Lost a couple of engines, and again, I was in the tail, I had a sheet of flame, thirty feet behind the boat, or thirty feet behind the airplane, sheet of flames coming off the engine and I had seen a lot of airplanes start with a wing fire and then blown to smithereens. So, I was kind of happy I was in the tail not too far from the tail hatch. But, fortunately, it was just the oil tank had been hit and just the oil came out over the supercharger and started the flames. As soon as the oil was gone, the fire was out. Doug (Gene L. Douglas, pilot) dove the airplane about 10,000 feet to get the fire out. I had thought we had lost control; of course, we dove about a 45 degree dive.
Finally, we came out at about 10,000 feet and limped our way home, there were control cables hanging in the waist. Doug (Gene L. Douglas, pilot) didn’t dare take the airplane out of autopilot. See, as the lead crew, you already bombed on an autopilot, always coordinated with the bomb sight. Then the deal was, that after your bomb were gone, that would change the center of gravity of the airplane and everything, and you would take it and put it back on manual control and you’d trim the autopilot and get back on autopilot. The lead plane had to make gentle maneuvers or you would just scatter the group all over the place. He was afraid to take it off autopilot with all those control cables gone for you would lose control.
So, he had to fly that airplane all the way back to England, on a trim with two engines. I can remember, we were down to about 10,000 feet and the navigators got kind of lost in the process, and we ended up – of course, this was after the invasion, so there were German tanks – and we ended up near Kahn? and just got about 10,000 feet and flak bursts going on around us. Fortunately, it was just tanks probably, not anti-aircraft gunners. They didn’t blow us out of the sky and it was – I can still remember those explosions and by then we had thrown our flak suits overboard; we had tried to lighten the ship. We finally go over the channel and dropped our ball turret and threw everything overboard we could possible do to lighten the load. Doug (Gene L. Douglas – pilot) did a great crash landing right in the English coast; we survived that okay.
I remember -- and again Hart (Karl A. Hart - gunner) was with us; I don’t know if I had mentioned that to begin with. He and Doug (Gene L. Douglas – pilot) had gone into the operations office. This is an English fighter strip port that we landed in. We were out in the middle of the grass and they were in the operation. Some English sergeant come in – we had landed wheels up – and in our enthusiasm for lightening the ship; we had thrown everything overboard that we could think of, including the landing gear handle. So, he couldn’t crank down the landing gear and the airplane reeked of gas, so he was afraid it would just blow up if we even touched the gear switch because that was an electric operated gear. We landed wheels up with two engines. I think on the second go-around, I think we actually had to make a go-around.
So, we ended up in the middle of this English field and the guy came up to me and said, “Well, we want to take your airplane off the field as we have a fighter sweep that is ready to take off and you’re in the way.” So I said, “Well, I am not climbing in.” He wanted us to lower the gear. They had a couple of sling braces under two of the engines and they had lifted the airplane up and he wanted to drop the gear. So, I said, “I won’t do that because that is electric operated gear and that plane is reeking of gas. I’ll climb up in the wing with you and show you where the switches are”, which I did and then I said, “Let me get as far away from the airplane as I can and you are welcome to do whatever you want.” So, I got out of there, and he lowered the gear, and nothing happened. They towed it off the field and that worked out fine.
After that experience – we were about halfway through our tour then – so, they decided to send us off on Flak Leave. The navigator (Harry Nelson, Jr.) and I were fairly good friends; he was a couple years older than I. I was 20 then and he probably about 23 or something like that, Douglas (Gene L. Douglas – pilot), like I said, he was around 28 years old. I was the youngest guy on the crew. Harry (Harry Nelson, Jr.) was from Wisconsin and both of us did a lot of hunting so we decided instead of taking the proverbial flak leave and going to one of these nice places, we’ll just head off to Scotland and try to do some hunting out there. We actually did that; that’s another story entirely, though.
We came back from that flak leave and then I started – okay, by then I had flown probably 4 or 5 missions really as a first pilot. I’d get first pilot time even though I really wasn’t checked out as a first pilot because Douglas (Gene L. Douglas – pilot) would be the command pilot. He would get command pilot time and I was the first pilot. But, I had never been checked out as a first pilot; I had never made a solo landing, I had never done anything like that.
So, they had me fly with – by then we had gotten quite a few replacement crews in and they adopted a procedure that a replacement crew would fly the first two missions with an experienced co-pilot. So, I flew 4 or 5 missions thereafter as a check pilot for new crews on their first mission. Even though I was not checked out as a first pilot, I‘d split the time with that pilot. He’d get half the hours as a first pilot and half as a co-pilot and vice versa.
I was building up first pilot time even though I had never been checked out yet. I get back a little further, the Assistant Operations Officer of our squadron was Greek fellow named Gregory, [Venezualuz Gregory Pappas] and he had graduated from the University of Alabama and had gotten commissioned in the Calvary. And somehow he ended up in the Air Force. As it had happened to a lot of fellows who went through flight training as a student officer and then got assigned to the 398th Bomb Group and promptly when he was taking some shots, he passed out from shock, so they grounded him. He was actually grounded for a whole year and I got to know him. We had started to buddy together. But he had never been checked out as a first pilot either. In a way, I was in limbo being a co-pilot in a lead crew flying as tail gunner in most my missions and he had never been checked out as a first pilot either. He had finally gotten back on flight status. I don’t know why I was talking about him.
Well, at any rate, I got this job with flying with the new crews and I had flew with about four or five of them. I didn’t really enjoy it, you didn’t feel comfortable with new crews that you didn’t know and didn’t know how they were trained and all that. I hated their enthusiasm and they were just eager to get in the air and get at the Germans and I wasn’t afraid to fly but I was not eager to get up there and get shot at. So, I flew okay with those.
In October , Gene Douglas, my pilot, and by then he was a Captain and I was still a 2nd Lieutenant with hardly any real first pilot time or any really co-pilot time. Most my time up to then had been as a tail gunner although they gave me co-pilot time when I was in the tail. But that didn’t really give me any real flying experience.
So, at any rate, Douglas (Gene L. Douglas – pilot) was booted up to Operations Officer. Bruce Daley (Edwin Bruce Daily – squadron C.O.), who had been our squadron commander, was moved up in group operations officer and Bill Markley (William C. Markley), who had been our Operations Officer became squadron commander and Douglas (Gene L. Douglas) had moved up to our Operations Officer. So, I inherited the crew before I had really been checked out as a first pilot. The crew, you know they liked me, had been with me all this time but here they had been with a top pilot in the squadron. He had more hours than anybody. We had gone out on 48 hour pass in London and he [Gene L. Douglas] would stay back at the base and he’d be reading tech manuals. Everybody there on the crew there felt that he knew their job better than they did; he knew their systems, he was a really tremendous pilot. So, of course, that’s why he had been promoted.
So, here the fellows had been flying with this top pilot in the squadron, and they end up with a twenty year old co-pilot that had never even landed by himself. So, they were all understandably a little bit – they went to Bill Markley (William C. Markley), who was the squadron commander and kind of expressed their concern. He said, “You have one choice. Either you can stay as a crew with Keith being your pilot or you can split up and go with other crews.” I was the lesser of two evils, so they chose that route.
By that time, I had flown a few missions as a check pilot with these new crews. And Pappas and I together had finally soloed, on our solo flight, which meant the first time you went up without another first pilot as your instructor. That was soloing; two co-pilots soloing together. We took turns shooting landings and one of us, I think it was him, ran off the end of the runway and had to be towed off.
So, at any rate, I did fly a couple of missions with a crew. One of them as a Deputy Leader, really. Douglas (Gene L. Douglas), by that time was Operations Officer, so he was Commanding Officer of the group on certain missions. And, I become the deputy lead, flying on his wing with the rest of our crew. I flew one or two missions that way.
Are we going too long?
MGR: No, no, you are fine?
KA: Am I boring you?
MGR: No, no.
KA: How’s our time?
MGR: You’ve got ten more minutes.
KA: Okay, ten more minutes; I’ll bring it up.
MGR: No, okay, you are fine.
KA: Then, I flew a couple missions with the crew. We flew by three squadrons in a group. And, the lead squadron had either the group commander or one of the squadron commanders or group operations officer; the command of the group. The high and low squadron each had a flight commander in charge of that squadron. He was the C.A.; we called it, command of aircraft of that squadron.
So, lo and behold, like I said, all the lead crew briefings, I knew the procedures and all of that. Douglas (Gene L. Douglas – pilot) had trained me in those things. So, I all of a sudden, I was CA; I was made a flight commander shortly after I got checked out as a first pilot, really. Then, Douglas (Gene L. Douglas - pilot) was leading the group one day [26 November 1944 – Misburg, Germany], and I was on pass in London at the time. I came back to the base and he and Harry (Harry Nelson, Jr. – navigator) were gone; their bunks were empty and they had been shot down. Fortunately, they were POWs and survived the war okay.
So, Douglas (Gene L. Douglas) would never let Pappas and I fly together after we had run off the end of the runway. Promptly, we scheduled ourselves to fly the next mission together [30 November 1944 – Merseburg, Germany]. We were going to be leading the high squadron.
Pappas was the assistant operations officer and would help the operations officer in crew training assignments, who would fly in the formations and all of that. So, we promptly scheduled ourselves to lead the squadron on this particular day [30 November 1944 – Merseburg, Germany, Pappas and Keith Anderson let the High Squadron that day]. You never knew where you were going before you did that.
So, lo and behold, we go to the briefing and they said, “You are going to Merseburg (German),” which was a dreaded word by then. I had already been there once or twice. They said, “There has been bad weather over Europe for several days so the Germans haven’t been able to get up at us.”
Just digress a minute, I remember going to a briefing in August where three German pilots had been captured, they were interviewing them. Two of them were sergeant pilots who had only had a total of 75 hours or less when they were shot down and they never had any instrument training. So, you knew that on a day when there were clouds over you, you’d probably never get any fighters; they couldn’t get up. But this day, they said, “There has been several days of bad weather,” and they said, “It’s going to be clear; you will not expect German fighters, you will get them. Three or four hundred of them.”
So, Pappas and I, I guess to relieve the tension, we went back to our barracks and got our shaving kits. We decided we want to have it with us if we had to bail out. At any rate, we went on that mission, flying together.
That was probably the worst mission that I was ever on. We had two guys shot out of our formation at the IP (Initial Point when you start a bomb run to a target), before we started our bomb run. I think all the crew, except two, were killed. [Weum of the 600th went down MIA before the target with six KIA; T.M. Johnson and Armor from the High Squadron landed away] That bomb run seemed like eternal. Fortunately, I was flying as the pilot that time and we were on auto-pilot so I got to look at the instrument panel, making sure of our altitude and air speed didn’t look outside too much.
Probably the only time that I was really afraid. We had to fly straight and level on the lead plane for about 40 seconds after ‘bombs away’ so the cameras can get pictures; it took about that long for the bombs to drop. So, the minute that time had passed, I pealed out of there; I went in a much too steep turn because I was really scared, just a moment. We started scattering airplanes all over the sky because the lead had to make gentle maneuvers. Every maneuver you made was exaggerated from your wingman to your element leaders on down. Fortunately, I recovered my composure in time to make a couple of violent turns to get out of it. I didn’t scatter anybody too bad. And, you didn’t want to scatter a formation over Merseburg. Fortunately, we didn’t run into any fighters that day.
So, we’re running out of time.
MGR: You’ve got five minutes
KA: Five minutes? Okay. So, after that I flew about four more missions and then made flight commander and then flew four missions in December as squadron command pilot and none of them were too eventful. Then, in January, my friend, Pappas, had finished up his tour and left so I became Assistant Squadron Ooperations Officer for the 600th. Bill Markley (William C. Markley) had finished his tour about then so Jim Bestervelt (Harold J. Bestervelt), which was one of our West Pointer crews took over as the squadron operations officer.
Now, there is another unique thing that you may not have heard before about the 600th. When we went over there, each squadron had three West Pointer crews where the pilots were West Point graduates. Almost immediately, they become flight commanders and were leading and progressing on to become operations officer and squadron commanders, and so forth.
So, Jim (Harold J. Bestervelt) and I were both towards the end of our missions. I think I had only three to go. My tour by that time was 29. We started out, when we first went over was 30 was the standard missions; then they raised it to 35 after we had been there a month or so because losses were not nearly as bad as they had earlier. So, I had to do 34, so if you flew more than 10 missions on the lead plane, you got credit for 5, because we took heavier losses, on average, than the rest. Naturally, the Germans were gunning for the lead on all of them. So, I took over that job.
At that point, I think we were the only ones of the original pilots that went over there. Jim [Harold J. Bestervelt] and I and Bruce Daily [Edwin Bruce Daily – squadron C.O.]; Bill [William Markley] had gone about then so we were about the only ones left. We wanted to go with the group to the Pacific so we deliberately slowed down our missions. I didn’t fly any during January, at all. I got promoted to captain the day Colonel Hunter [Col. Frank P. Hunter, Jr. – Group C.O.] was shot down. That was probably the last orders that he ever made where some of us got promoted to captain.
Then, we got the infamous Colonel Ensign [Lt. Col. Louis P. Ensign], who you probably heard about. He probably came in from staff to become our commanding officer. Promptly told us what a lousy group we were; flew sloppy formations, had poor bombing results, he was going to shape us up. He was a lieutenant colonel bucking for colonel and everybody immediately took an intense dislike to him. He had guys going up night flying after they had come home from a mission. He was very much of a – having come from what he believed in statistics. Practice hours, practice missions, nighttime, and all that sort of thing – statistics meant more to him than winning the war, we felt. The next mission that I flew was, I think, his first mission with our group. Again, [it] was Berlin, February 3rd, of 1945. He was ragging the rest of the planes all the way. I was commanding high squadron that day, we were flying that. He was ragging the guys in his squadron, low squadron, about their sloppy formation flying and that’s the one that ended up in a mid-air collision of two of our airplanes, Powell’s and somebody else’s [McCormick’s]. It killed about 10 or 11 guys from, his ragging them.
So, we didn’t like him at all. So, those of us that were still there instead of wanting to stay until the group went to Japan, we wanted to get the heck out of there. So, we started scheduling ourselves for missions fast.
The next one I flew was the 15th of February [1945 to Dresden] and that was the day after [14 February 1945] we flew to Dresden and that was the day after he had lead the group supposedly to Dresden and ended up bombing Prague, Czechoslovakia, 100 miles away, again telling the navigators, bombardiers, radio operators, that they didn’t know where they were, he did. And that’s what happened.
And then my last mission [23 February 1945 to Eger, Czechoslovakia] was with Jim Bestervelt [Harold J. Bestervelt], who was as I said our West Pointer and our Squadron Operations Officer. I was the pilot on the lead plane of the group and he was the command pilot and on that day. It was notable for a couple of things. First of all, I said to him, “Jim, we’ve flown 18 missions for Uncle Sam, this one we’ll fly for ourselves and come home.” It was a Duck Soup mission.
Interview ends at this point.
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- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
- Lt. Keith Anderson was the Co-pilot on Gene L. Douglas' 600th Squadron crew and later the Pilot of his own 600th Squadron crew. He was also a 600th Assistant Operations Officer and later Captain Keith Anderson.
- The above transcription was provided by Jan Silverstein, one of our 398th volunteers in November 2010.
- The transcription was obtained from a video file.
- Punctuation, grammar and minor word changes may have been made to improve readability.
- Additional information may be shown in brackets [ ].