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In November or December, 1943, Sonny was assigned to Crew 864 for combat on a B-17 as a radio operator/gunner. All that hard work and training at school had paid off. After a short period of air training time, the crew was transferred to the AAF Base at Lincoln, Nebraska - the final staging area before going overseas. In a new B-17, on March 11, 1944, Crew 5303 started the long journey flying to Boston, Mass., then to Goosebay, Labrador, on to Iceland, arriving at their final destination, Prestwick, Scotland, on March 18, 1944. The bomber was left there and the crew took a slow train to near the new British air base, Rattlesden Station No. 126 in Suffolk County, England - between Stowmarket and Lavenham, northwest of London. At Lincoln, Crew 864 changed to Crew 5303.

 

A typical B-17G Bomber,
called the "Flying Fortress"

On April 5, Crew 5303 was assigned to the Eighth Air Force, 4th Wing, 447th Bomb Group, Squadron 710, and included:

Pilot
Moran, Bert
2nd Lt.
Chicago, IL
Co-pilot
† Baird, James T.
2nd Lt.
Inverness, MS
Navigator
* Kesterke, Duane A.
2nd Lt.
?, Michigan
Bombardier
* Oulahla, Charles A.
2nd Lt.
Chicago, IL

Top Turret Gunner / Flight Engineer

Tagliaferri, Nicholas A.
T/Sgt.
Cleveland, OH
Radio Operator /
Gunner
Mitchell, William P., Jr.
T/Sgt.
Bristol, TN
Tail Gunner
Beckmann, Leroy J.
S/Sgt.
Chicago, IL
Ball Turret Gunner
Bebb, Charles E.
S/Sgt.
Kansas City, MO
Right Waist Gunner
O'Brien, Connolly R.
S/Sgt.
Sumner, TX
Left Waist Gunner
Wachter, Eugene E.
S/Sgt.
Norfolk, VA

* - Explanation at proper place.

† - Information on co-pilot kindly provided
by David Warren, www.447bg.com.

The 447th Bomb Group came into being the middle of May, 1943, at the Ephrate Army Air Force Base, Washington, with an initial cadre of three dozen personnel. In November, the Group started moving to England. On Christmas eve, Friday, December 24, the date Sonny had wired me to meet him at the bus station in Oklahoma City, the Group flew its first combat mission across the English Channel bombing German rocket sites. On Wednesday, April 19, 1944, Sonny's crew flew its first combat mission, the Group's 49th, against targets in Lippstadt-Werl, Germany. During the next 39 days, 13 more missions would be flown by Crew 5303 involving a total of 119 hours and 35 minutes for the 14 total missions.

Mission 15 came up for Monday, May 29. The men were awakened at 4:00 am. There had been a narrow strip of light on the northern horizon all night, so they were awakened to daylight. After finishing their morning ablutions, I don't remember what we called it in the Army, maybe showering down, etc., they went to the mess hall for their mission-fresh-egg breakfast, after which they were briefed at 5:30 am. They were advised by the Intelligence Officer the target was a Meserschmidt ME-109 aircraft factory in Liepzig, Germany.

Bomb Group 447 was assigned to lead the 4th Wing of the 3rd Division. Crew 5303 of the 710 Squadron was placed in the high Group high Squadron, number three plane position. On that particular day, the Group had 26 aircraft airborne and dispatched. Of that number, 22 reached and successfully attacked the assigned target. One had mechanical problems, one failed account enemy action and two did not reach target reason unknown.

PART 3