4:35 | Before his first mission with his real crew, B-17 co-pilot Ken Rohde was told he was flying in the lead plane with a different crew in the tail gunner position. He was there to be the eyes of the air commander for that flight. He was baffled by the flak suit and those black puffs of smoke, which he found out later were closely related.
Keywords : Ken Rohde pilot Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress tail gunner Meersburg Germany 50 cal machine gun flak suit flak
When he was drafted, there was no choice. He went to the infantry, but Ken Rohde applied for the Air Corps at some point. It didn't catch up to him until he was deployed to Fiji, but there he took the tests that got him into the Air Corps and he returned to the states for training.
He was just learning to fly, but Ken Rohde already knew one thing, he wanted to fly bombers or cargo planes. Forget that upside down stuff. He had to do it, anyway, in training, but he was lucky enough to be assigned to a bomber group flying B-17's. At the end of training, when everyone else had an assignment, he was in a group which the commander called his best pilots.
Looking back, Ken Rohde felt he was lucky for the slow Atlantic crossing in a large convoy. The longer you put off being in that air war in Europe, the better off you were. When he reported to 8th Air Force HQ, he saw a chilling sight that drove home the fact that he was now in a real shooting war.
How long were you exposed to the flak? It depended on the length of the bomb run. That's when you got it, according to Ken Rohde, B-17 co-pilot. When you got back, the first thing was what you might imagine, then it was interrogation and a shot of whiskey, if you could handle it.
It was a memorable mission. Ken Rohde was a pilot, but he was in the tail gunner's position as the air commander's observer in the lead plane. He was leading the entire 8th Air Force, about 1500 planes. Then, out of the blue, they went to a secondary target. The next day, the group CO flew the lead plane and Rohde was in the second plane as they tried again. That turned out to be lucky for him.
The B-17 was the most perfect plane in the air, according to pilot Ken Rohde. After the war, he ferried B-24's around the States and he found out how lucky he was to have flown the B-17 for his combat missions. The B-24 rudders would wear you out. He also flew in the tail gunner's position as an observer, so he learned how those 50 cal's would jam up in the cold.
Everybody knew it was his last mission, but no one said a thing. That was the procedure, don't jinx it. B-17 co-pilot Ken Rohde's last mission was routine until the flight headed back to England. There was a loud bang and the cockpit filled with smoke and he was worried until he heard the top gunner's irreverent voice. Then he knew he was going home.
Bill Livingstone had only been at his third prison camp about a week when the guards disappeared. Patton's tanks could be heard nearby and, soon, one crashed through the front gate. Liberation had come and it wasn't long before the men were enjoying coffee and donuts at Camp Lucky Strike.
John Souther was on reconnaissance patrol when he nosed his halftrack up over the edge of the gully in the Tunisian desert. A round from a German 88 immediately tore through the engine compartment, but left him unhurt. They paid mightily for that shot. With his radio, he began spotting artillery on their position, under fire the entire time. He was awarded the Silver Star for this action.
He bunked with regular B-17 crew members, but Bill Livingstone was a gunnery instructor who was there to keep skills sharp. He was also there to substitute for any crew member who was not able to fly. His very first mission turned out to be a memorable one. Part 1 of 5.
On his first raid in North Africa, reconnaissance platoon leader John Souther captured a hundred Germans with no losses to his own unit. His job in the 1st Armored Division was to be out in front with his eyes open, and he was doing just that when a huge amount of enemy was spotted. Rommel's big push had begun.
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
Bill Livingstone was lucky he had no problems with his feet on the forced march from one prison camp to another. As they marched further into Germany, a guard let slip the somber news that FDR had died. The men arrived at Stalag VII-A, the largest of all the POW camps. There, he had a memorable chat with a British prisoner who had been there since Dunkirk.
Near the end of the war, the food supply in Holland had been disrupted and there was widespread hunger. Henk Duinhoven was lucky to be in the countryside, where gardens had been harvested. When he heard the sound of Canadian tanks, he knew that liberation was finally at hand.
Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
Though he had been a POW, Bill Livingstone had such a late entry into the war that he didn't have enough points to be discharged. He worked in a personnel office until the time came. He pays tribute to his friends who didn't make it, along with the many others who made that sacrifice.
B-24 flight engineer Bill Toombs was over Germany when bad went to worse. One engine was shot out. Then an 88 round went right through the number four wing tank. It didn't blow up the plane, but they lost all the fuel for that engine, so now they had two engines out. They made a desperate run for Brussels, which had been liberated.
Bill Garrison was standing in a chow line when a man up the line suddenly dropped, shot dead by a sniper. That was only one hazard at the air fields in China; the others being Japanese air raids and infiltrators. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Christmas came to Stalag Luft IV in 1944 and the Germans allowed the prisoners to cut Christmas trees for the barracks, though there was little to be had in the way of decorations. Bill Livingstone recalls how the men in his room came up with an improbable holiday cake.
When he had to bail out, Jim Wicker was literally sucked from the cockpit when he released the canopy because of his high rate of speed. He was just a hundred miles inland a few days after D-Day and the Germans caught him almost immediately. As he sat in solitary confinement waiting for interrogation, he was comforted by his faith.
After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
They could hear the sound of Russian guns approaching from the east, so the Germans decided it was time to leave the POW camp in Poland. Bill Livingstone was one of the throng of prisoners packed into old boxcars and sent into the interior of Germany. One night, the train rolled to a halt in a large rail yard. He was surprised to see where they were.
Two engines were out, a third smoking, and they were were losing airspeed and altitude, but they were flying level and pointed home. Then time ran out for the B-17 and Don Scott had to slip down the hatch into the slipstream. Part 2 of 3.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
He crossed on the Queen Elizabeth with thousands of others, zig-zagging their way to Scotland. Bill Livingstone was a gunnery instructor who was sent off to an RAF base for more schooling. On that trip, he got to see the sights of London.
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
When the bombs were released, the B-17 sharply rose in the air, then banked right. Bill Livingstone heard a loud pop and that's when two engines were knocked out. They were losing speed and altitude fast and they didn't know where they were. The decision was made to dump the Norden bombsight and he watched it fall into the darkness below. Part 2 of 5.
It was the most miserable night of his life. After bailing out over Germany, Bill Livingstone was captured and being held in a stable with his crew mates. Following a very cold night, they were taken to an interrogation center. Part 4 of 5.
Bill Livingstone was taken into an office where a German officer greeted him warmly and promised him he would be housed in a very comfortable camp. All the captured airman had to do was help him fill out a form and answer a few questions. Right. Then it was off to Stalag Luft IV. His first mission was finally over. Part 5 of 5.
Stalag Luft IV was a huge POW camp full of captured airmen from America and England. Bill Livingstone remembers how there was nothing to do between roll calls. Fortunately, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross sent books, sports gear and food to the prisoners.
Allied POW's were being sent further and further into the interior of Germany. Bill Livingstone arrived at Stalag XIII and found an incredible array of nationalities. Again, the sound of approaching guns meant the prisoners would be moved, this time on foot. He and his buddies brought along an unusual item they hoped to trade for food.
He failed his first eye test because of color blindness, but at the next level a sympathetic officer allowed Bill Livingstone to enter the Air Corps. Eventually he did get disqualified from pilot training, but they decided he'd make a fine aircraft mechanic.
"Be kind to your web footed friends...." Bill Livingstone couldn't believe that the sergeant had never heard that song. He was in a two month wait for aircraft mechanic school to start. Gunnery school was next and they made an instructor out of him. He watched his friends leave to join crews and go overseas. Finally, he was going.
Right after he dumped the Norden bombsight into the night sky, Bill Livingstone saw the co-pilot blow the hatch and tumble forward into the air. The rest of the crew followed and were strung out in a line when they landed in a farmer's field. He approached them angrily and that's when they found out where they were. Then, the Wehrmacht showed up. Pat 3 of 5.