George & Lizzie

Painting by Tom Anderson, Febuary, 2003

NAVIGATOR KILLED, PILOT AND 3 CREWMEN WOUNDED

B-24 COMES HOME ON 1 1/2 ENGINES AND RIDDLED WITH 327 HOLES

This detailed account was written by Allan Matthews

Greensboro, NC, 445 BG pilot, though wounded in one eye, on his return from this December 22, 1943 mission.

“A railroad town in Northwest Germany seemed to be the target today and our ship was assigned to the low element of the lead formation. After climbing up through a three thousand foot overcast, we joined our formation and began to join other formations. Upon forming, we began a gradual climb to 22,000 feet. Reaching the assigned altitude, we leveled out and immediately lost number 2 engine due to a runaway prop.  We increased the manifold pressure to 50 inches and the R.P.M. to 2400 on the other three engines. We were still unable to stay in formation due to the bomb load, so the pilot kept jockeying the supercharger back and forth when we began to lag, by so doing we managed to stay in formation on the bomb run.

Upon dropping the bombs, the formation began to pick up speed and although we had maximum power settings, we were left. Two more 24’s out of our formation were also left straggling due to a feathered prop each. We began to dive for the overcast but upon nosing down, we saw 10 or 15 ME 109’s attacking one of our straggling ships; not desiring to dive through the mass of fighters, we held our altitude. A few seconds later the bomber burst into flames and spun into the overcast. The fighters then swarmed over on the other straggling bomber and upon making 8 or 10 passes succeeded in knocking it down.

As we saw the bomber spin into the overcast, our gunners warned us of an attack from the rear. We proceeded to dive, climb, swerve and everything possible to throw the fighters off. The gunners reported 8 ME 210s coming in at 5 and 7 o’clock. On their first pass, number one engine began to run away. It evidently was hit as it ran up to 5300 R.P.M. until it melted. On the same pass, a 20 mm exploded in number 3 gas tank leaving a 4 inch hole, but no fire. The oil gauge immediately dropped to zero. We tried to feather it, but all the oil was gone. We cut off the mag switches, gas supply, and mixture control and let it windmill.

The second pass by the fighters was more successful than the first. Two or three shells exploded in the bomb bay throwing parts of the bomb racks into the radio compartment breaking the gas gauges and damaging the radio. The hydraulic system was also knocked out leaving the tail turret inoperative. The gunner was unable to rotate the turret as the cable was broken, however, he continued firing.

Another 20 mm went into the nose compartment exploding in the stomach of the navigator, killing him instantly. The explosion also set the plane on fire filling the cockpit with smoke. The navigator fell against the bombardier tearing loose all connections including the oxygen system. The bombardier went for the fire extinguisher, but by the time he found it through a cloud of smoke the fire was out. Although injured in both legs himself he began to administer first aid to the navigator, but it was no use as he was already cold. The bombardier did all this at 20,000 feet without oxygen or gloves.

Two or three more shells exploded in the waist, slightly injuring both waists gunners, but they also continued firing.  A JU 88 fired a rocket that went through both rudders leaving two holes about the size of a basketball in them.  Meanwhile the engineer in the top turret scored a direct hit and the fighter burst into flames and spun down.  The right waist gunner got off a few good bursts into another fighter leaving him smoking.  After that pass the fighters left us to cope with the remaining two engines and the 300 miles back home.

After we knew that we were over the sea we began throwing out everything that would come loose including the steel helmets, flak suits, radios, ammunition and guns.

Since every pound counted, we also threw the navigator’s body out.

The number one engine had just about burned out by this time and its slow windmill caused an additional drag.  Unable to feather number 1 and 3 engines forced us to increase the power settings on number 2 and 4 to 60 inches and 2500 R.P.M. and drop about 8 degrees of flap to maintain 140 MPH and a descent of 25O feet per minute.

With all radio equipment inoperative including the emergency signal units and the gyros tumbled, we continued our trip across the sea descending through a 2000 foot overcast flying the air speed and needle and ball.

A minute or so before the navigator was hit he gave us a heading of 250 degrees, so we kept that heading as near as possible.

We continued across the sea at an air speed of 145 and descending at about 200 feet per minute until we reached 3000 feet.  We managed to hold that attitude until number 4 engine cut out and the ship swerved and started side slipping down despite full opposite rudder.  After the loss of about a thousand feet the engine cut back in and righted us. About a minute later it cut out again, this time we lost only 600 feet before it cut back in.  Noticing the instruments, we saw the fuel pressure was low so we turned on number 4

booster pump and the engine ran with a little less power settings than number 2 engine.

We were now at 1500 feet and still losing so we all prepared for ditching.  It was then that we decided to take a chance on running number 3 engine despite no oil and a hole in the gas tank.  We started it and began gaining altitude until it was red hot then we cut it off.  With 5000 feet between us and the water now, we continued on, but still losing altitude.  We noticed then that the sea was getting smooth so we assumed that land wasn’t far.

Fifteen minutes later we spotted the white cliffs of Dover, a truly beautiful sight.  Crossing the coast at about 1800 feet we began to look for a fairly

level field in which to set her down.  Spotting a long runway, we decided to land on the wheels so we kicked down the lever.  The right wheel came down and locked, the other two refused to come down so we kicked the lever to get the wheel back up.  It wouldn’t come up as all the pressure in the lines was gone then.  Seeing that we had only one wheel we slipped it out over the grass and made a very smooth one wheel one wing tip landing. The plane finally came to a stop and all men jumped out safely.  The plane didn’t burn as there wasn’t enough gas left.  Another few miles and this episode couldn’t have been written.  Thank God, it was written.

The crew included  2nd Lt. Glenn Jorgensen, Pilot;  2nd Lt. Charles A. Matthews, Co-Pilot; 2nd Lt. Roy D. Stahl, Bombardier; 2nd Lt. Arthur Barks, Navigator; S. Sgt. Robert Bertochi, Nose Gun; T. Sgt. Ardem S (Robert) Lamirand, Radio Operator ; T. Sgt. Charles Jones, Eng.;  S. Sgt.William Schaffer, L.W. Gun; S. Sgt.Lee Dodson, R.W. Gun; and S. Sgt. Frank Socco, Tail Gun.”

FORTY YEARS LATER

Allan Matthews found out why the German fighters broke off their attack.,

While reading “Wings God Gave My Soul” by North Carolina Chapter 8 AFHS Associate Member Joe Noah, the biography of Greensboro P-51 Ace of Aces Major George Preddy, Allan believes he found his answer;

On December 22, 1943, Preddy flying at 24,000 feet near Osnabruck, Germany spotted a crippled B-24 being attacked by six German ME 210s.  Though out numbered, Preddy attacked the German fighters and they fled.  He subsequently shot down another ME 210, which he found firing at the B-24.

This was exactly the sequence of events, which Allan in his B-24 experienced. Now he knows why all but the navigator on his crew survived that day.  Now he knows that P-51 pilot was North Carolina’s George Preddy.

Arthur E. Barks Second Lieutenant, Army Air Forces United States Army.

For Extraordinary Heroism in action against an enemy of the United States, while serving as Navigator of a B-24 airplane on a bombardment mission over Germany, December 22, 1943. After reaching the target a cannon shell exploded in the nose compartment and severely wounding Lieutenant Barks, In spite of the painful nature of his wounds Lieutenant Barks remained at his post plotting the course and obtained bearings for the route back to the base. The airplane had sustained serious damage during the enemy attacks and was forced out of formation; where upon enemy fighters redoubled their efforts to destroy it.

During these particularly vicious attacks, Lieutenant Barks was mortally wounded. From the nature and extent of his wounds, Lieutenant Barks must have realized death was eminent, but with complete disregard for this fact and for the pain he continued at this work and plotted an accurate course for the pilot to fly back to England. The courage, devotion to duty, and skill under extreme stress displayed by Lieutenant Barks upon this occasion reflect highest credit upon himself and the armed forces of the United States.

From the book GEORGE PREDDY Top Mustang Ace

Two days later a force of 574 bombers was dispatched to hit the marshal­ling yards of Osnabruck and Munster. The primary target for the day was Osnabruck. The 487th Squadron was to provide withdrawal support for the bombers on their return from the primary target. George took off shortly after 1300 hours and headed for the planned rendezvous point east of the Zuider Zee between Linden and Zwolle. Clouds were 9/10 topping out at about 18,000 ft. Visibility was excellent above the clouds. His encounter report follows:

I was leading Crown Prince Blue Flight. As we made rendezvous with the bombers. Yellow Flight [led by John C. Meyer] bounced a Me 109 and my flight gave them top cover. Shortly after that, I noticed three Me 109s coming in to the rear of the B-17s. I bounced two of them and they immediately went into a dive straight down and I went into compressibility following them. I pulled out at 8,000 feet and sighted one of the enemy aircraft just above a cloud layer. I gave him a short burst and he went into the clouds. No damage was noted.

My wingman, Lt. Grow, and I began climbing back up with everything to the firewall. When we reached 15,000 feet, I noticed another Me 109 above us positioning for an attack. He made an attack on the two of us and we turned into him. We battled him for almost 15 minutes getting short deflection shots but we were unable to gain an advantage. He finally broke off the engagement and disappeared in the clouds below us.

We resumed climbing and picked up Lt. Bennett, our Blue 3. We sighted the bomber formation about 25 miles west of and above us. We continued climbing towards the bombers and leveled off at 26,000 feet on the down-sun side still quite a few miles out. I saw a B-24 straggling to the left and below the formation. He was being attacked by six Me 210s, but they saw me coming and immediately dispersed. I began closing on one of them and fired from out of range with 80 degrees deflection. I saw no damage before he ducked into the clouds.

I pulled back up and attacked another Me 210 which was attacking the B-24.1 started firing at 60 degrees deflection from 400 yards. I came on down in stern continuing to fire and closing to 200 yards. I noticed many strikes on the center section, fuselage and engines. The enemy aircraft began to disintegrate with large pieces flying off and he went down into the clouds in flames. I broke back up and Lt. Grow called that a Me 109 was on my tail. I threw the stick in left corner and saw the enemy aircraft behind me and out of range. I continued down skidding and slipping. Grow then called that an enemy aircraft was on his tail but I was unable to locate him. I told Grow to hit the deck, then I went into a cloud and set course for home on instruments. I stayed in the clouds for about 15 minutes and broke out over the Dutch coast at 3,000 feet.

I could not contact Lt. Grow and did not see him again.

Apparently, the 109 on Lieutenant Grow’s tail got him before he could duck into the protective cover of clouds. He never returned.

With two Thunderbolts trying to scare off six twin-engine Me 210s protected by another ten Me 109s, it is truly a miracle that either one got back. As it happened, both George and the crippled B-24 made it home.

For this remarkable display of courage George was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross by his commanding officer, Maj. John Meyer. He was awarded the Silver Star, his country’s third highest award for heroism. His claim for one Me 210 destroyed was recognized on the basis of his gun camera film, and so noted in his award.. And proof of the credit was given in the form of General Order Number 59 dated February 16,1944, and issued by the Eighth Air Force. That order awarded Preddy the Silver Star and contained the following:

George E. Preddy, Jr., 0-430846, Captain, Army Air Forces, United States Army. For gallantry in action, while escorting bombers withdrawing from a mission over Germany, 22 December 1943. While proceeding towards his home base, accompanied by two other fighter aircraft, Captain Preddy observed a lone crippled bomber being attacked by a large number of enemy fighters. Though out-numbered six to one, he unhesitatingly led his flight in an attack on the enemy and pressed it home with such viciousness that the enemy planes were scattered and forced to cease their attacks on the enemy bomber. Captain Preddy personally destroyed one of the enemy aircraft. When the enemy fight­ers switched their attack to his flight, he skillfully maneuvered them away from the bomber, thus allowing it to escape and then eluded them by taking cloud cover. The gallantry, aggressiveness and skill displayed by Captain Preddy reflect highest credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States.

During the late 1980s, when Allan Matthews read the first edition of this book, he identified that straggling B-24 saved by Preddy’s flight. It was his! He had been the copilot. Coincidentally, he was living in Preddy’s hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina, at the time he read the book. As it turned out, this particular incident had been well-documented in the 445th Bomb Group’s history. Matthews’ story is told in detail in the article “Thunderbolt Liberates Liberator” published in the January 1988 Air Classics magazine. Briefly, here’s what happened on that B-24 on December 22, 1943.

On the way to Osnabruck, Lizzie—Matthews’ plane for this mission— lost power in its number two engine just as they reached their assigned altitude of 22,000 ft. Its supercharger malfunctioned. They feathered the prop on number two and increased manifold pressure and rpm on the remaining three engines. But they were still unable to maintain formation. The pilot, Lt. Glenn Jorgenson, restarted number two and attempted to regain power by jockey­ing the supercharger controls back and forth. This procedure helped, and it enabled Lizzie to make the bomb run in formation.

As the 445th withdrew from the target area,  Lizzie and two other B-24s fell farther and farther behind the formation. Knowing they were prime targets for enemy fighters, all three B-24s started diving for cloud cover. As Matthews descended he and his crew spotted about fifteen Me-109s attacking one of the other stragglers. In just seconds the enemy sent that B-24 down in flames and went after a second straggler. This one took about ten passes by the enemy fighter before they sent it crashing to earth.

The rear gunner on Lizzie immediately warned that the fighters were coming in from the rear. Jorgenson and Matthews started taking evasive action—diving, climbing, turning, slipping—any maneuver to thwart the enemy’s aim. The gunners then reported eight Me 210s coming in at between five and seven o’clock. On their first pass they hit number one engine with 20 mm cannon shells, causing it to overspeed, and they hit number three fuel tank leaving a four-inch hole, but no fire. Incredible!

Now the enemy fighters were making their second pass. Two or three shells exploded in the bomb bay throwing parts of the bomb racks into the radio compartment, breaking fuel gauges and damaging radios. The hydrau­lic system was also knocked out leaving the tail turret inoperative. Another shell hit the nose compartment and exploded. Shrapnel from the explosion hit Lt. Arthur E. Barks, the navigator, and killed him instantly. That explosion also set the B-24 on fire; the cockpit filled with smoke. Fragments from the explosion also hit Lt. Roy Stahl, the bombardier, in his legs and ripped off his connections to the oxygen system and the radio. Nonetheless, Stahl went for the fire extinguisher. He did this at 22,000 ft. without oxygen, without gloves, and with damaged legs.

The gunners continued to fire at the enemy fighters. One fired a rocket through both rudders leaving a hole the size of a basketball in each. The engineer operating the top turret, Sgt. Charles Jones, scored a direct hit on one of the fighters; it burst into flames and went down through the overcast. The right waist gunner got off a few good bursts hitting another fighter, leaving him smoking. After that pass the enemy fighters suddenly and for no apparent reason ceased the attack on Lizzie. The reason, as Lieutenant Matthews learned later, was that a flight of three P-47s had intervened and chased the enemy away from the crippled bomber. But, Lizzie still had 300 miles between it and home base and only two engines with which to make it— numbers two and four.

As they approached the North Sea, they started throwing everything overboard that would come loose—steel helmets, flak suits, radios, ammuni­tion, guns, and finally the body of the dead navigator. With all radio equip­ment either abandoned or inoperative and the gyros tumbled, they flew on by the seat of their pants descending through overcast. Over the North Sea at 1,500 ft., they prepared to ditch. It looked as if they just would not be able to make it to England. But they well knew that ditching in December in the North Sea would be most hazardous, so they tried to restart number three, which had no oil and a hole in its fuel tank. It started and they gained a bit of altitude before the engine got red hot. They shut it down to avoid another fire.

By the time they spotted the coast of England, they were back down to 1,800 ft. and still losing altitude. Crossing the coast Matthews spotted a long runway ahead, which turned out to be Mansion. They quickly prepared for a landing, putting their gear down and going through the checklist. Only the right main gear went down and locked. The other two refused to go down, and the right main refused to come back up. So they slipped Lizzie out over the grass rather than land on the hard surface. The plane came to a violent stop with the left wing tip acting as a landing gear and brake. During all this, the pilot had been nursing his fuel supply, which was now essentially exhausted. So no fire on landing, and the remaining crewmen jumped out of the plane safely. Lieutenant Matthews said, “Although I went on to fly a total of thirty-six combat missions, thirty as pilot-in-command and the last six as squadron leader, I’ll never forget that first mission. I had always wondered why the enemy fighters left us so suddenly, for surely we were easy prey. Forty years later, I unexpectedly found the answer. My daughter was on the Board of Directors of the Greensboro Historical Museum, and she had formed a group of junior historians at the museum. The group decided to call themselves the Major George E. Preddy Chapter. In connection with her research for the chapter, my daughter read Preddy’s biography and thought I might enjoy reading it. So as I read about Preddy’s mission on 22 December 1943, chills went up my spine. I had discovered without a doubt that it was George Preddy who drove the enemy away.”