Friday, April 4, 2008

466th Bomb Group

This photo shows crew #555 of the 8th Army Air Force, 466th Bomb Group, 785th Squadron. My Father, Navigator, 2nd LT. J. William Smith is in the upper right. The officer to his right is Co-Pilot Wesley Vawter. These two are the last survivors of the crew. The Pilot, Paul Bridgeman (standing left) lost his life a few years after the war in a fire on a boat. This crew flew 35 bombing missions over Germany. Their first and last missions were over Berlin. They flew over to England from the East U.S. coast going over. Dad was the "old man" of the crew at 28 years old. At the end of each mission they were individually debriefed about the mission. Prior to the debriefing the crew was each given a shot of brandy. As the "old man" Dad was sometimes given an extra shot by some of the younger crew members. The gunners were younger at 18 years old. Even though the gunners were not officers, Dad said they all treated each other as equals as they were all in the same "boat".
The crews flew different aircraft during their missions. They basically took available aircraft while some were being repaired. Their primary planes were; DIXIE! , DAMIFINO, TIMES A WASTIN. There was another plane they flew but that name faded over the years. This crew was very fortunate and they all survived all 35 bombing missions without serious injury. Dad told of an instance where a flak (anti-aircraft shell) burst hit close and a piece of shrapnel came through the plane and took the oxygen mask off the face of the crewman sitting next to him. Miraculously he was not injured when the mask was scythed off. On another mission a 1000 lb. bomb was stuck in the bomb rack. The plane flew with the bomb bay doors open for a while but at 20000 feet at over 200mph the cold (-50)/wind was unbearable. They dearmed the bomb and closed the bay doors. Eventually the bomb came loose, crashing through the bay doors and fell into a field in France. Dad watched the bomb fall and hit a farmers field, leaving a huge crater even though the dis-armed bomb didn't go off. Dad said he often thought of that farmer plowing around that big crater as he plowed his own fields after the war. Dad witnessed attacks late in the war of the German ME262 Jet Fighters. He said they were lucky that those planes weren't around in large numbers as they were so fast that the gunners only saw a blurr when they came through the bomber formation. One of his saddest memories is witnessing the aircraft next to him take a direct hit in the bomb bay from a flak round. His best Air Corps friends were aboard. He saw the plane just come apart and a couple parachutes open which were consumed by the flames of the burning high octane fuel. That must have been a nerve shattering sight. That was on October 12th, 1944. The plane was named "OFF LIMITS AGAIN". The mission target was Osnabrook Germany. Pilot Bridgeman was quite a pilot. When all targets were clouded over they were to return to the English Channel and ditch their bomb loads. Pilot Paul Bridgeman would not waste the bombs and on more than one occasion hauled them back to the Attlebridge airfield and landed with them so they could be re used.
This is our Uncle Claude Smith with my older brother Gary. Uncle Claude was an Artillery Sargent. At one point he had a leave to the London area and looked up his little brother,(Dad) Bill. Dad and his crew had been on training missions near Scotland and were learning to use new instruments which would allow them to land in foggy conditions. When fog closed in they were normally grounded. These new instruments were by no means perfected and their use was at a high risk. Well Uncle Claude wanted to go flying with the crew so they snuck him on board on a training mission. Upon returning to their airfield they encountered heavy fog and had to use the new navigation instruments for the first time under real conditions. Dad and the crew were petrified to land under these conditions. Of course they reverted to there training and took the plane in, luckily without a hitch. Dad never told his brother how close they were to crashing. Claude just rode along thinking this was just business as usual. Little did he know that they had cheated death. At one point the crew hauled gasoline into France for Patton's army. These flights were un nerving due to the fumes in the aircraft. They filled every type of container available with gas; cans ,aircraft drop tanks, anything that would hold fuel. Of course their landing weights were heavy. They witnessed many planes crash on take off and just be obliterated. These WW2 veterans are all hero's in my book. There were thousands of other heros which never came home and never got to grow up....... the cost of freedom that so many take for granted.
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3 comments:

Golub said...

My dad Corodon "Buzz" Norton flew 35 missions as a top turret gunner on the Damifino during WWII. Happy to tell you he's still alive and kicking!

BMW HACKER said...

golub....your Dad, Corodon Norton is pictured in the top photo and maybe in the "Damifino" photo. My Dad (92)would love to know his where abouts. He has lost contact with all of the crew members except Wesley Vawter. These guys flew all of their 35 missions together. Please contact me Smithdougbmw@aol.com

BMW HACKER said...

Golub, I just contacted my father and he would very much appreciate getting in contact with your Dad. They have not talked since the end of the war in 1945. They were close, survived a tough time together and are an elite group. The years are wearing thin for these fellows and I know it would mean a lot to my Dad to talk with Buzz again. Hopefully you will visit this site again......D. Smith

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