Warren Looker’s World War II Memories As Told To His Children Via E-Mail
IN THE BEGINNING
After graduating from Lima, Ohio High school in 1942, my friend Bob Simmons and I went to work as apprentice electricians at the Lima Tank Depot trying to wire General Sherman tanks. We worked the graveyard shift. Bob was caught sleeping in too many tanks, was severely reprimanded, got teed off and joined the Navy. Several months passed and Bob came home from boot camp telling me how patriotic he felt. This was a period when, while I was not sleeping on the job, I did seem I to get things wired incorrectly so that when you pushed something to raise or lower the cannon the engine started instead. Little things like that. So I decided to join the Navy to avoid the wrath of the Army. I was really quite motivated! ! I
I signed up in Lima, was sent by bus to Toledo where I suffered multiple indignities as various medical personnel examined me and put me through the usual indignities. They were not ecstatic about my physical condition, but they were desperate.
I survived boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Station. They had a bunch of sadistic instructors there who got you up at 3 AM to march in the rain.
They were really
kind of dumb-they couldn't understand that sailors don't march. Also you had to
sleep in hammocks. No one could master the art- we were awakened nightly by the
bodies tipping over onto the floor.
Warren Looker, left, circa 1942
Through some mystic design, selected trainees were sent to Millington, Tenn. to the Naval Air Technical Training Center, It was there that I learned how to not hit the target on the firing range, how not to become an electrical technician and how not to swim. This last item really pissed off the Marine instructors, who kept throwing me in until I had to be rescued and resuscitated many times,
After 16 weeks of this "advanced" training, wherein we were allowed off base twice a month to terrorize the general population in Memphis, we were shipped to Norfolk, Virginia supposedly to get an assignment on an Aircraft Carrier.
However, there were no carrier vacancies for non-swimmers and slow learners so I was placed in a "holding company." After weeks of picking up cigarette butts and cleaning latrines, I was transferred to Oceano, Virginia, without explanation of what my new duties would be.
Upon arrival at the Oceano training base, great news awaited me. In gratitude for my diligent efforts in transition from civilian to mighty warrior, the Navy had approved a promotion in rank. At Great lakes I had been an AS (Seaman Apprentice ); upon leaving marvelous Millington I had been awarded the distinction of becoming S 1/c (seaman first class). Now I was to be interviewed by the Training officer and the personnel officer to see where I would next be allowed to pursue my new career. Mechanical specialist? - No, had no aptitude. Radioman? - No, could not learn the Morse code. Officers Candidate School? Are you kidding? Well, they needed strong backs to carry ammunition and fifty caliber machine guns out to the planes and back for training activities. Eureka, became an instant S1/c (OS)-(ordnance striker).
Over the weeks, some "strikers'! went AWOL some were assigned to flight training crews, and finally I was the only striker left and personnel, with great trepidation, assigned me to a crew that was one of several undistinguished groups allowed to test fly some old Liberator bombers that the Army Air Force had rejected as unsuitable for their lofty purposes. A number of training flights later, we were called to a special "muster" (a group assembly where non-coms counted out those present and yelled unintelligible comments to the OD (read Officer of the Day). At this muster it was announced that due to unmentionable military crises in South American waters, it was necessary to ferry planes to a secret base where they would be used to detect and destroy our enemies. Lt Mclellan's crew (that's me) had drawn the first short straw. We were about to enter The Big War!!
In preparation for the big flight to South America, some personnel changes were made. Aircrews had been a skeleton unit until now. New arrivals
allowed for the addition of extra mechanics, radiomen and ordnance men. This was risk-taking time and the Navy granted some promotions. I was awarded the
AOM 3/c patch (aviation ordnance man third class). I was now a "petty officer", and petty was an apt designation. I also was given an assistant
named Koze. He later became a good friend who required a great deal of mentoring.
Our first ferry mission was to the US Naval Base at Belem, Brazil. It seems it was necessary for some cloak and dagger maneuvers so we flew from
Oceano to the Acension Island midway between Africa and Brazil. Someone had imported a palm tree which was the only tree on this desolate army base. We
refueled there, but were not allowed to move away from the runway area. The rumor was that some kind of electronic survellance was going on from there.
At Belem, near the mouth of some river, we found a PBY Squadron that was being converted to a Liberator unit. PBY's were 2 engine aircraft that
could land on the water, but had less than half the range of the Liberators.Again, we were restricted to the area. Alas, no hanky panky with the natives.
Returning to Oceano, we were assigned to another crew, with a Lt. Neffa s pilot, to ferry a plane to Natal, Brazil. Still no liberty to go off base.
What a cruel situation ! And it was a pain flying old relics back to the US. Back to Oceano, arriving amid rumors of a transfer to England. But
like all rumors, the facts proved to be somewhat different. It was ever thus.
QUONSET POINT, RHODE ISLAND-gloom & doom
Our ferry assignment complete with no lives or planes lost, the all-knowing Navy Air Corps strategists decided we were ready for the crucial
test. The squadron flew to Quonset Point Naval Air Station, arriving at night,by design, in a blinding snowstorm. This was an event that foreshadowed the
future. Quonset Point is on Narraganset Bay, an estuary that empties into the North Atlantic Ocean.
After settling into antiquated barracks, some adjustments were made in flight crew assignments. More training activity. Study blinker signals.
Lectures on enemy aircraft recognition. Weekly physical exams. Preflight aircraft, check machine guns, very pistols (for signaling), test turret
functions, etc. Work with hedron personnel (aka ground crew) on discrepancies found in ordnance gear. After a week of this, the starboard watch (half of the
unit) received weekend passes. A man named Collins and I go to Providence on liberty. We discover Jigger Higgins' saloon and a helpful waitress named Grace
who may have been Jigger's daughter.
Training activity now turned to 2 and 3 hour training flights. Firing waist guns at tow targets, dropping blank depth charges on surface tow
targets(aka surface sleds). During this period 80 million candlepower searchlights were installed on the starboard wing of the aircraft to allow for
low level runs at small surface targets at night.
I became friendly with an AOM 3/c named John Linehan from upstate New York. We worked on some study projects together and he joined Koze and I on several of our trips to Providence. One night we were scheduled for one of these low level projects (50 feet off the deck). Our pilot, Lt. Neff, was
sent to sick bay with a virus and John Linehan's crew was substituted for ours. They took off at night in a snowstorm for a practice exercise and were
never heard from again. Morale in the squadron dropped below the surface. There was a great deal of misgiving, indeed fear, about the continuation of
the night training missions. But they were essential, and they continued as scheduled, without further similar incidents.
Lt. Kelly, as personnel officer, was assigned to go to New York state, tell his family, and bring them back for a memorial service. John's wife of
six months was among those who came. There nine crew members in all who went down on the flight. Only three family groups could come to Quonset point.
Goodbye Rhode Island hello Darkest Africa
January of 1944 was filled with a variety of training missions and other incidents. There was the 5 day search for evidence of the missing plane,
a routine training flight where my assignment was to test all of the electrical bomb releases in the bomb bay- some stupid radioman threw a wrong
switch, the bomb bay doors opened and I almost feel into the sea. The radioman was transferred to a ground crew the next day. On off base liberty, some of
our crew members persuaded me to join them for dinner at the China Clipper in Providence and then on to the Pirate's Den for the drink of the day-Carstairs
and coke. The most memorable happening that night was when I discovered that my wallet was missing with all my cash, my Navy ID,etc. The Navy does not
look favorably on lost ID- lost ID sinks ships, or something like that.
By mid-February rumors ran rampant that the squadron of 12 planes and 18 crews was going to England. No official announcement but plane crew chief
H. Harry Brown (Horseshit Harry to those who knew him best) claimed insider information from a buddy at base personnel. Imagine our surprise when we
started attending lectures on tropical diseases! Finally D day arrived - not Normandy - departure day. With many misgivings by all hands, planes departed 3
a day until all 12 were enroute.
First stop Morrison Field near Brooklyn, New York. We only learned our destination after take-off each day. Overnight stay at Morrison, then on to
Puerto Rico for another overnight stay where we were allowed to go to a PX that served only milkshakes to transients. Next a six hour flight to some
forgotten South American spot called Zandery Field, country unknown. We were shuttled from plane to mess hall to an empty barracks- no one allowed outside
the barracks. This was fine with me-I didn't see anyplace to go anyway.
Arise at 0600, conveyed to mess hall for breakfast, conveyed to plane and off on another leg to somewhere. Next stop Belem, Brazil. Crews very unhappy- no
discernable action in Brazil at the moment. Not to worry, though, we are stillenroute to an unknown destination. Enlisted personnel cannot be trusted with
Takeoff early morning from Belem and after a short flight arrive at Natal. While refueling operations were taking place, an Army ground crew truck
careened into our plane and damaged the rear left stabilizer. A 3 day delay ensued. We were introduced to some exotic native brew during our brief stay.
Don't remember the name, but it was powerful stuff.
Off again( it seemed to us that this was a funny way to get to the war) this time arriving at our old friend from ferrying days, the Ascension
Island. We were relieved to learn the following morning that we were leaving for AFRICA. Incidentally, this barren island with its 110 degree heat had
unlimited supplies of ice cream. We couldn't believe it, as they say.
Enroute to Africa, there was much intercom speculation on what we might do there. One of best ideas came from a radioman who was certain that we
were going to bomb Rommel's tanks. Right, with Navy depth charges ??? We left Ascension at 0745 and arrived at Roberts Field in Liberia at 1430 hours. This
field was built by the Firestone Rubber people who had a large rubber plantation nearby.
Dad, second from left, back row
Murder and larceny
After each landing, a post flight check up is performed. At Roberts field a clogged oil sump (that is sump, not pump) dictated a day's delay. We
were housed in an empty army barracks where every bunk was covered with mosquito netting, the mess hall had interior netting; netting, netting
everywhere. This was a really unfriendly environment.
The airfield was just a path carved out of the jungle, not paved, but covered with metal mats to create a runway. The entire area was enclosed by a
high barbed wire fence. Base personnel consisted of a few air force mechanics, a small company of army engineers and an all-black construction battalion.(
Martin Luther King was not a force, yet.)
Now it seems that there were very progressive political and social arrangements with several native tribes in the vicinity. Males were recruited,
after passing a physical, to work Mr. Firestone's rubber trees and the processing plant. Liquid was extracted from the trees and processed into large
bales of raw rubber for shipment to the US by ship( Liberia is a coastal country) On the social amenities front, certain selected single female
tribesladies were in an entertainment pool for the benefit of the blackmilitary. We were told that it worked something like this: Military personnel
who wished to have a dalliance with one of these ladies would make an arrangement through the personal affairs section. Once confirmed, the soldier
was given a pass to visit the appropriate hut (huts bore numbers to avoid error). He also was given a numbered chit to present at sick call within 72
hours of such visit. Said soldier then proceeded to the PX to pick up the galvanized bucket that would be presented as payment for services rendered.
Certain human problems apparently derived from this clever arrangement. On the night of the day that we arrived, one black soldier who
had exhausted his pass privileges, scaled the compound fence and went to the village that supplied workers for the rubber plant. He was in process of
seduction when caught and given severe punishment. The second soldier was in a more traditional mode. He had his pass and bucket and went to his assigned
lady in the other village. The bucket was deposited outside the hut, as was the custom, he completed his assignation and departed. As he exited the
premises he picked up the bucket and started to leave. His was caught-theft is a major crime in that village- and severely punished. And that is how the
Military Police patrol that made their early morning inspection found the two miscreants, dead, emasculated and strapped to the compound fence as a warning
to others. The MP's told us that the US military would claim murder, and the tribal chief would claim violation of tribal law, and that probably the matter
would be dropped. After all, rubber was crucial to the war effort.
Torpedo bombs being released at unknown location
Trying write about these experiences means that one puts down the things that are remembered and many details are lost because of poor memory.
One item worthy of mention relates to Koze, whom I have mentioned earlier. For some reason he was just "Koze"- no first name given. Several weeks before we were to depart from Quonset Point on our odyssey, the squadron was given a 3-day pass, half one weekend, half the next weekend. It was too far to either
go to Lima, or to Mantua where my mother lived. I had decided to just spend the time in Providence when Koze approached me and asked if I would come home with him. After much discussion, I agreed. He was trying to compensate for all of time I had spent tutoring him on his job and explaining things he did not
understand about the Navy lingo. He was a nice person, totally out of his element, had joined the Navy because his older brothers were already in the
Army. He told me that he joined the Navy because he did not want all that walking the army required and the old Army Air Corps was out because he was
terrified of flying. God knows how he ended up with us.
So we went by bus to Emmaus, PA, to visit his family. They lived a very large house in an ethnic neighborhood (Polish). His father & mother, his
pregnant teen-age wife and various other family members lived there. We arrived late on a Friday evening. I was awakened from a sound sleep by my
friend who said breakfast was on the table. I was served scrambled eggs and Polish sausage accompanied by strong black coffee (ugh) and slightly burned
toast. I remember that I was the only male who shaved before breakfast.
Following breakfast Koze took me on a walk around the considerable property and showed me how to harvest walnuts by throwing a stick up into the
tree and knocking down the walnuts. After some little time of this pleasant activity, Koze looked at his watch and said "we're late for the Saturday
morning ritual". We took a car and drove into town and parked near a tavern.As we went inside, there was loud applause from a substantial group of men
sitting at several tables pushed together. I was introduced to a variety of strangers, and some family members. It was explained that the male members of
the family, and friends and neighbors, gathered here every Saturday morning for beer, pickles, pigs feet, polish sausages and big cans of potato chips.
The was considerable revelry and much singing of Polish songs. I was overwhelmed- this was a part of the world totally foreign to me.
Dad, left, with unknown person --maybe Koze?
An important item that is noteworthy of mention because of future implications, relates to a significant change of pilots while we were in Natal
awaiting departure to Ascension Island and on to Liberia. The Navy was short of pilots with the kind of flight experience that would qualify them to fly
these Army Air Force Liberator rejects. The pilot resource pool was for the most part pilots in South America who were flying the PBY amphibious patrol
planes. There were exceptions I am sure, but in our particular squadron that was our experience. At least 3 new pilots were picked up in Natal. One of them
was Lt. Barney Fleck. He became our pilot and Lt. Neff was reassigned to either Natal or Belem.
Lt. Fleck ultimately became a legend in our squadron for reasons that I will explain later. He was assigned to be our engineering officer. This
meant that our crew had many additional flying experiences, as you will learn.So after 4 days at Roberts Field in Liberia, which included a closely
supervised visit to the Firestone Rubber Plantation, we departed for Dakar foran overnight stay( we were allowed to visit a Sengalese night club of sorts and
view exotic dancers perform unusual acts. The following morning we flew all day to Port Lyautey in French Morocco. This was to be our permanent base for a
Arrival at Port Lyautey provided a number of traumas. There really wasn't much of an airfield there. The runway was too short and did not really
provide enough room to land safely. The runway was a series of perforated steel mats and the parking area was of similar design. There was no place to
house us. The first night we slept in our planes. The next day we assigned to tents which we had to erect ourselves by digging trenches, driving stakes into
the sand and generally having them fall down so we had to start all over again. Sailors are not trained to dig trenches and erect tents. One outcome of
my experience was that I incurred severe sunburn, had to take a series of cold showers for weeks, alternation showers with medication applied to my back. I
learned too late that one never takes off their shirt in North Africa.
Dad and PBY
We flew regular missions over the Mediterranean Sea, up the coast of Africa as far as Sicily. 80 million candlepower searchlights were now mounted
on our starboard wing to illuminate surface vessels, including possible submarines. It was understood that German submarine were tracking allied
shipping that sailed through the straits of Gibraltar. We were expected to locate them if they surfaced, and drop depth charge on them. We never saw any
while we operated out of Port Lyautey.
We had additional flying duties relating to Lt. Fleck being squadron engineering officer. Every time an engine was replaced or some structural
repairs were made, our crew had to test the aircraft by taking it up to check its performance. During this period we acquired a 30 day wonder Ensign whose
designation was Pilot-Navigator. In other words, a person who could provide relief at the controls and handle the navigational duties also. Our young gem
provides two interesting stories. The first came about when we had to go aloft and check our new officer out on the waist guns. A small plane would tow
an aerial target in the opposite direction from our flight path and the waist gunners could fire at them. Now the turret guns had automatic stops so the
turret gunners could not shoot off the tail or other parts of the aircraft. But the waist gunners had to exercise prudence as to the limits of their
firing range. Our PN fella was having no success hitting the target from the port side so he was switched to the starboard gun. His frustration level was
high and he finally managed to shoot off the lower nacelle of the outboard engine, causing the pilot to feather that engine and land using the other 3
The PN was now on probation, he did not get his gunners credential, and he was restricted to practice take-offs and landings as he tried to
qualify as a reserve co-pilot. At first this went reasonably well. On one suchflight, however, there was some confusion. On the control panel in front of
the pilots there were a series of switches that controlled the vital functions of the aircraft. Most of the switches were in groups of 4 and related to
engine performance. For example, after take-off it was necessary to activate switches to change certain functions. Cowl flaps are closed on take-off and
are open soon after becoming airborne. When cruising altitude is reached, the pitch of the propellers is modified. On this memorable flight Lt. Fleck gave
the command to open the cowl flaps. The PN, understandable nervous, hit the wrong selector and instead feathered the props which caused us to drop like a
rock. Lt. Fleck instantly made the correction as we dropped rapidly toward the athletic field. We gained altitude, turned a full circle and landed. We did
not laugh when we discovered that we had come so close to the ground that we picked off the volley ball net from the athletic field.
The next day our Pilot-Navigator was enroute to the USA for further training.
The next episode will deal with some of the unique recreational opportunities available in Morocco.
Today Morocco receives many visitors, particularly to the areas near the foothills of the fabled Atlas Mountains. The Sultan of Morocco has
entertained Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player at his private golf course and sponsors an annual golf tournament with lavish prizes for all who
are invited to compete. The political makeup of the region has changed considerably, and the geographical boundaries are quite different. In my time
there, the Atlas Mountains formed the barrier between Morocco and Algeria, both being under French administration.
Military personnel (army and navy) were taken on bus tours to Fez and Meknez, which were then the showplaces of the country with elaborate gardens,
fountains and villas. These trips were closely monitored by military police, for the protection of the sailors and soldiers, as well as the general
population. We did get to Casablanca on a day trip. We ran into a soldier whowas hawking brass timepieces. He told us that the sailors and merchant
marines were his best customers. (No, we did not find Rick's Place).
Perhaps the most remarkable trip we made as a group was to Agadir. Much was said at our base about the pleasures and delights to be found at the
Bull Pen of Agadir. The Bull Pen was a completely encircled enclosure that had small one room open air "apartments" all around the inside wall of the Pen. It
was run by the French government. The apartments housed ladies of various nationalities who would entertain male guests for a price. I was told that
there was a sliding scale and there was obviously racial discrimination. It cost more to visit the lighter complexioned hostesses. My view of the Bull Pen
was restricted to a look from a platform mounted around the outside rim of the wall. There was no charge for this scenic wonder, the theory being that all
visitors were potential customers. Whoever had the bead concession surely had a profitable enterprise. There were no doorways, just strings of beads which
afforded little privacy- by design, I'm sure. It was my impression that this place was Off-limits to our people.
The only alcoholic beverage available off-base was alleged to be either wine or champagne. To drink any of it was to become drastically ill,
and sometimes to be incapacitated for days. It was rumored that because the Arab population favored the Germans over the British, French and Americans,
the various local beverages were deliberately tainted before being sold to the unwary.
Next, our version of desert warfare.
Things that don't go bump in the nite
First, it is an appropriate time to describe some of the cast in our little enterprise. Our squadron leader was Commander McAlpine, a three stripe
regular navy Annapolis grad. Some of us thought that his demeanor indicated a certain displeasure with his command role in such a ragtag outfit. He served
as pilot for crew # 1. We were crew # 6 of 18, but there was no special significance to that designation.
Our pilot was the aforementioned Lt. Fleck. We had several different co-pilots at Port Lyautey but I do not remember their names. And we finally
had a pilot-navigator assigned who could actually fly the aircraft and did not shoot off our engines or otherwise wreck us. Aside from the pilot, the key man
was the flight captain ( actually a flight engineer). This was an enlisted rank. The position was always held by the ranking mechanic in the crew,
usually an AM 1/c or a Chief Petty Officer. Mechanics were ranked first, radiomen 2nd and lowly ordnance men last.
Our plane captain was Burton B. Stockton from the Missouri hill country. A good old boy with fractured English that derived from his home
environment. He refused to tell anyone what his middle initial stood for so we dubbed him Old Burton Blue Eyes. His 2nd mech. was Sam Overton, a Georgia boy who was exceptionally well liked because of his exaggerated southern drawl and humorous outlook. When he went to town he always returned with creatively fantastic tales of his exploits. Mostly, he was not believed. But he definitely was entertaining. The 3rd Mech was a special jewel named Albert
Hoffman. Little Albert, so named because he was only 5 feet, 1 inch tall, was the feisty Pennsylvania Dutch country lad just out of high school. The first
radioman was Max Randle, a full fledged practicing Mormon from Salt Lake City. He maintained an amused outlook on the profane and immoral characters in the unit. The 2nd radioman was a nonentity from North Dakota who constantly told everyone about his skill as a high school basketball player. I was an AOM 3/c by this time, having been promoted because the personnel office refused to believe that I could not tell what all those special knots were, and found the
terminology for shipboard duty incomprehensible. Someone suggested that no exams had yet been devised for enlisted sailors who flew in airplanes, so they
just promoted to fill out the TO. Koze was also promoted (no one could understand his answers which were largely in the Polish idiom). He was
transferred to another crew to replace a totally incompetent crew member.
So that was the cast. Aircraft were parked just off the runway on steel mats. Everyone except the plane captain took turns standing watch at night in their assigned plane. It was the custom for mechanics to sleep on the flight deck, radiomen in their work area and the ordnance man had the option of
sleeping on the deck aft of the bow turret, or between the waist hatches.
Now our Arab friends were the ultimate practitioners of the Art of thievery. I had an experience that was repeated from time to time in other
squadron aircraft. One night while I slept just outside my bow turret (sleeping was permissible at the time) an Arab or Arabs entered the
plane, stripped out all of the machine gun barrels, took all of the life jackets and parachutes plus the two Very pistols used for launching
pyrotechnic signals. Imagine my embarrassment when I was wakened the next morning by the jeep patrol. I escaped punishment only because there were
similar instances that same night. From that time on, 2 people stayed in the planes, standing four hour shifts while one slept. In addition, from time to
time jeeps and trucks were stolen. The Arabs crowning achievement was when they stole all the PX supplies including the tent they were stored in.
So this was our own version of warfare in the desert. No Rommel, no German Panzers, just clever thieving Arabs. If we had stayed there long enough
we would have had nothing left. But destiny was to produce another move.
The Rock of Gibraltar
The armed forces ran on rumor. Every veteran knows that. Our squadron was full of rumors that we would leave soon for England. Everyone was excited.
At last a place where we could understand the language ( we were in for a surprise). It was announced that 3 of our pilots were due for rotation.
Something to do with a combination of flying time and overseas duty. Lt. Fleck, our intrepid engineering officer who checked every detail of every
repair, however minor, was one of the lucky three.
The co-pilot decided that in addition to the party the officers were giving good old Barney, the entire flight crew was entitled to a farewell
celebration. It was a memorable event held by the seaside near Port Lyautey. The co-pilot had subversively managed "picnic supplies" to be delivered to the
site. There were large chunks of cheese in assorted sizes, loaves of bread, warm bottled coke and bottled beer in wooden boxes filled with sawdust. The
beer was RUPERTS from a brewery somewhere in New Jersey. There was a supreme irony to be unveiled about this Ruperts beer.
After handshakes all around and expressions of loyalty, faith and camaraderie, the plane captain delivered a stirring message of appreciation
for the privilege of being the crew assigned to the engineering officer, whose expertise had kept us from harm's way. After a suitable response by good old
Barney, the other two officers present started laughing and urged Barney to reveal the fraud that was a very well kept secret from the enlisted men.
Barney reluctantly revealed all. He was the only squadron officer with an engineering degree, but his degree was in chemical engineering. And, before
enlisting in he Navy he had been a brewmaster at the Ruperts Brewery in New Jersey. All hands were well into the warm beer at this point and the veterans
in the crew received this astonishing news with great hilarity, while the rest maintained a stunned silence. Thus ended the legend of Barney Fleck, who
probably went back to Ruperts after the war.
Lt. Fleck's replacement arrived on the same plane that was to evacuate our former pilot. His name was Lt. Olingy and he was a civilized Texan. After
2 weeks and several missions we were alerted that six of our planes would depart as soon as the proper coordination with the British was concluded. Our
destination was to be Gibraltar, not England.
A piece of the Rock
National Geographic and other publications have written much about the Gibraltar monkey population and they have appeared in film from time to time,
including one of the James Bond movies. I knew they were there, and several of us walked across the runways to look up and see the many small caves they live
in. Other than that, I have no stories about the renown monkeys. And my recollections of Gibraltar are quite dim for some reason.
A very memorable moment was our arrival in Gibraltar. This assignment was a very strange one. We had 12 planes. Six were at Gibraltar at any given
day, but it was not always the same six. Planes were always shuttling back and forth from Port Lyautey and Gibraltar. The mission was to patrol the
Mediterranean and a portion of the Bay of Biscay. We would have less than a day's notice of flight plans, and just hours notice of where and from which
Now for the memorable event-our first landing at Gibraltar where there were just 2 runways one for fighter planes and a slightly larger one for
others. The plan for our being there, we were told, had been coordinated between the US Navy and the British. However, as we passed over Gibraltar on
a practice run before making a final approach and landing, the pilot was communicating with the Limey control tower. All crew members were tuned in via
personal headsets. What I remember is a lot of mostly incomprehensive Limey accents on the practice run and then, using our call sign (Loghead How),
screaming at us "Negative, Negative, Loghead Ow, you cannot land here!!!" We did, of course, and were not allowed to leave the plane for more than an hour
while our officers conferred with Limey brass. We were finally billeted, and the crew transported to the enlisted mess where we enjoyed English cuisine at
its wartime finest- stewed tomatoes on burnt toast with tea and a biscuit.
We were not popular at Gibraltar. We were there for just short periods of time for several weeks. We were allowed a short one- day visit across the
border into a small coastal Spanish town. We sat in an outdoor cafe overlooking the Med and wondered how many German spies were seated there to
count the Allied shipping going through the Straits.
This was early June, 1944, and the rumors started up again that were were going to England. A few days later there was a full dress inspection by
an Admiral King who announced that within 24 hours the first planes would be taking off for England.
Following Admiral King's inspection, we made one flight to Oran and back and another to Sicily and return. These were patrols looking for German submarines. We were in Dunkeswell prior to the Normandy operation. Dunkeswell is still today a very small village. Our Santa Barbara News Press had a half
page article on a tour to the area. The bus stops at the home of the postmistress who serves tea to everyone aboard. Roger Staples was at Dunkeswell about a year after I left there.
It is difficult to sort out my impressions. The first thing that comes to mind is that I never saw the sun. It seemed to rain part of almost every day. It was a cloudy area. The Brits had taken over farmland and built runways there. During Normandy and later we would have 10 to 12 hour night flights and
sleep during the day. It is true that our crew was sleeping when the Normandy landings took place, and when we went out on the next flight we patrolled the Bay of Biscay at night and never saw anything related to the landings.
Since Dunkeswell was so small, having just one Pub, we were told to consider it off limits and when we had time off a truck would take us to Taunton, Weston Supermare or Bristol. Once I went off base alone and took an English bus to Sidmouth. It was there that I had my picture taken- the one Mom
has of me in my Navy Uniform. I recall going to an afternoon film (known as "the pictures") at the town's only movie house. I was somewhat taken aback when the projection room shut down in the middle of the movie while staff and customers had cookies, cakes and tea. Little old ladies fussed over me. I
think they had never seen a Yank sailor before. It was a bit overwhelming- I never went back there.
Buzz Bombs, the Zombie, and Joe Kennedy, Jr.
This is a segment that should have come earlier, because the events happened prior to June 6.
We went to London several times. On the first visit we stayed(4 of us) in a famous Hotel that was triangular in shape, situated on a corner known as 5 corners. At one time after the war I discovered I had a postcard picture of this hotel, but I fear it is lost now. In any case, a wing of this hotel was destroyed 10 days after our visit. A buzz bomb dropped on it. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, let me say that buzz bombs were airborne missiles that were fired from a site near the North Sea. They had a guidance system of sorts and were powered by some exotic fuels. The idea was to send them off from Germany to fly over England, drop on the populace and wreak severe havoc. And they worked for a time. At night they could be spotted flitting across the sky with a buzzing sound and a trailing flame. They would flameout at some point and drop straight down to explode upon impact. The Limeys used to say that as long as you could hear them it was OK; when the buzzing stopped you knew they were on their way down.
Relative to Buzz Bombs, it was on my second trip to London that I had a close encounter. Our 1st radioman was Max Randle, an exceptional crew member who garnered some praise and a commendation for his suggestions to improve our aircraft radio gear. He was a practicing Mormon, was always immaculately attired whether in flight gear, uniform or civilian clothes. He and I were bunked side by side in our crew's Quonset hut and became friends after a fashion. One day when we had a 2 day pass to London, he asked me to go with him. It was his first trip there. He wanted to see Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, and I had been to both. We took a train to the London area and transferred to the underground rail service, debarking at Picadilly Circus. We went up to street level and stopped to get our bearings. At that moment a buzz bomb dropped, exploding less than 2 blocks from where we were standing. Max grabbed my arm, said "Let's Go!!" and we went right back down to the underground and back to Dunkeswell never to return again.
Now about the Zombie. This was an aerial torpedo device developed by the British specifically to penetrate the German sub pens at Brest and Le Havre. Our bomb bays were modified so we could carry one. Half of the extra gas tanks were removed and the port bomb rack was redesigned to carry the Zombie. The mission was to fly over the English Channel at 50 feet off the deck to avoid German radar while launching the Zombie into the sub pen entrances. The device had a special metallic nose cone designed to shred the metal net protecting the entrances. We only flew 2 of these missions as I
Our squadron designation was PB-114. Our sister squadron was PB-113.Lt. Joe Kennedy was a pilot in PB-113. While flying a "Zombie" mission his plane blew up over the channel enroute to Brest. Two rumors were rampant. One was that the Zombie exploded enroute due to faulty installation. The other rumor had a JU-88 German night fighter shooting the plane down. Post WW11 accounts vary on these points. I have no idea what really happened. All the planes I saw were modified in the bomb rack section. I never heard that there was any problem restricting the pilots vision. I cannot visualize how or why that was a factor. You are correct- it still is a mystery. But it was not a high-level bomb drop they went out on.