ON THEIR WAY TO MAJOR TANNERS' TENT - (submitted by Jim Pink, 316th Sqn)
As 1st Lieutenant Peter Windley was walking to Major Tanner’s tent he was brought out of his thoughts . . .
“Lieutenant, Lieutenant,” called out 1st Lieutenant John Caldwell, first pilot of the CUTTING EDGE. “Wait up,” he continued.
“Hi, John,” Pete Stopped to let him catch up. Pete had only been flying mission for eight days but the new guys saw him as a veteran.
“Please, call me Pete, that’s what the boys call me here,” Windley continued.
“Thanks Sir, uh, Pete,” was Caldwell's response.
Pete asked, "How was your first mission, John?”
“Not too bad, hairier than I expected,” said Caldwell.
“Hay, Pete why are we being called to the Old Man’s tent tonight if we don't have to fly tomorrow?” Caldwell asked.
“Don’t know,” said Windley, “might be something up for the next mission, or we’re going to get chewed out for our performance on the last mission.”
“I know we haven’t done too well on any of our missions lately,” Windley finished.
“We did OK for our first run,” interjected Caldwell, “Forty percent I think they said.”
“Here we are,” said Windley, “Guess we are about to find out.”
“Come in gentlemen, come in,” Major Tanner said as he returned the two rookies’ salutes . . .
CONVERSATIONS AT THE O-CLUB AFTER THE GYOR MISSION
While the crews relax and unwind from today’s mission, it is 2000 hours the radio is on and a sultry, sexy woman’s voice can be heard loud and clear.
“Radio Berlin Calling. This is Home Sweet Home with your favorite gal, Midge at the mike. Hi, Fellows, before I go into some personal messages, I have a special message for all the young bomber boys of the Fifteenth Air Force stationed in Southern Italy. You made another valiant try over Hungary today but I must tell you that your brave but foolhardy efforts were very, very unsuccessful as our mighty Luftwaffe were ready and you lost a lot of good men today, fourteen full bomber crews. Don’t worry though, your friends will be well taken care of as prisoners of war . . . well, as least the ones who were captured. I can’t say the same thing happened for those who were unfortunately killed . . . such a pity too, as they were all so young. And for those who were lucky to make it back, don’t worry, we’ll get you next time as we’ll have a little surprise waiting for you. And the Luftwaffe will be especially waiting for the White Tail Liberators from Southern Italy.”
Midge, better known to the Allies as Axis Sally, continues to taunt and tease her listeners, “I know you're all thinking about your wives and girlfriends back home. But I just wonder if she isn’t running around with the 4-Fs way back home. While you’re thinking about that, it’s time for some music. Here’s one I’ve heard that’s very popular with the 91st boys in Bassingbourn, England." Axis Sally had selected the popular and lively American dance song, Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree But Anyone But Me, to remind the men what they had left behind back home.
Listening to the broadcast, a small group of six men were drinking at a table. One of the men at the table was a new replacement pilot recently assigned to the 316th, Pete McClean, asked, “Midge at the Mike? Never heard of her.”
Before anyone could answer McClean’s question, another replacement, 2nd Lieutenant Geoff Riddman, interrupted with his own questions. “The White Tail Liberators? I’m glad I’m not with that group. Who are those guys anyway?”
Lieutenant Ken Roberts was the leader of the group. He was showing the 3 new men on the finer social night life that the base had to offer. Just a little more than a rookie himself, he had just been with the group for only two weeks and had flown three missions. But three mission was enough for Roberts to be considered the 'veteran' of the little group. Showing his worldly knowledge that he had just recently learned during his short time with the 88th, he replied, “Midge is better known to the GI’s as 'Axis Sally'. And the 450th is a group stationed in Manduria, southeast of us near Cerignola.”
“But why did Axis Sally single them out? What they do, bomb an orphanage or something?” asked the third member of the group of new men. A young and tall man from Tennessee, 2nd Lieutenant Nelson Ashurst had yet to be assigned to a crew.
“We don’t know for sure,” Roberts replied, “but it’s been rumored one of their aircraft lowered its wheels to surrender and then shot down some of their fighters when they pull along side to escort it to their airfield.”
“Or it could be that the 450th has most easily identified group marking in the entire Fifteenth, with their all-white tail rudders,” noted the 2-mission veteran Jesse Fletcher, the co-pilot for Straight Flush. “Hell, if I were a Kraut pilot, I couldn’t help but notice those big white tails as I flew pass them.”
Nearby at the next table and listening in on the conversation was First Lieutenant Henry Johnson, who was one of the group’s original members. He decided to join in on the conversation. “Yeah, I think it’s just to scare those poor Four-Fifty bastards in order to lower their moral thinking that the Krauts have it in for them.” A little drunk, Johnson was breaking an unwritten superstition by talking to the new replacements, getting friendly with them, but he didn’t care tonight. 'Hank' had just flown his 49th mission of the war as the co-pilot of his plane, Satin Doll, and would be soon going home after one more mission. It wouldn’t matter to him in a few days if the replacements he got to know tonight may be gone before the week was out. “Well, I’ve heard that 'Axis Bitch' enough times since I’ve been here to know she’ll switch to some other unlucky group later on.”
Sitting at Johnson’s table sat a shorter and lean man with a receding hairline. “Hey, Hank, remember when she even mentioned the Double-Eights in one of her broadcast last month that day we lost five over Klagenfurt?” commented 2nd Lieutenant Ken Davenport, the navigator for one of the few original B-17Fs the group had left when the group arrived last December, the 'Caballeo'.
“Yeah, after that broadcast, all the other 17 groups thought we were the best fighter escorts there was since they’d be exempt from attacks as long as we were nearby,” joked Hank.
“Why do you guys listen to her anyway?” wondered Geoff Riddman. He, like Ashurst, was also just assigned to the squadron at the same time.
“Mainly for the laughs,” replied Davenport. “We all know it’s nothing but crap anyway.”
“And for the music,” Roberts added. “It’s hard to believe, but the Krauts sometimes will play better music than our own A.F.N.”
Looking around the smoked-filled club, Lieutenant McClean noticed something was strange and wondered out loud, “Hey, where are all the first pilots tonight? I’d thought Caldwell my skipper would be here to celebrate our first mission today. And our squadron CO is missing too.”
“Since the group is standing down tomorrow for the weather, all the first pilots have been ordered to attend a senior officer staff meeting in Major Tanner’s tent,” Fletcher informed the group.
McClean as taken aback by Fletcher’s reply. “What?!? The Skipper is making them attend a meeting after a mission?”
An equally astounded Riddman spoke up, “I didn’t realize the Major was such a hard-ass.”
“What are they going to talk about anyway?” a perplexed Ashurst asked. “The benefits of flying in tight formations? Our squadron call signs?”
“Who knows? All I know is that my pilot, McPherson, was very silent when I asked him once. Something about having 'a need to know basis',” Davenport said. “He was very secretive about this.”
Raising his glass in a toast, Fletcher announced, “Well, just be thankful we're not first pilots yet and we can enjoy our drinks tonight. Cheers, Gentlemen.”
TOWER RECEPTIONS: MISSION 52 - (submitted by Ken Rice, 399th Sqn)
Nearing Sterparone Field On Returning from Ploesti, Rumania:
“BUCKEYE ONE TO BASE! BUCKEYE ONE TO BASE! THE PILOTS ARE ALL SHOT UP! BARNES IS DEAD! LIEUTENANTS ORWING AND STEIN ARE GOING TO TRY TO BRING US IN. REQUEST LANDING INSTRUCTIONS! LIEUTENANT STEIN HAS ORDERED THE REST OF US TO JUMP OVER THE END OF THE BASE. REQUEST LANDING INSTRUCTIONS!”
Coming Home to Sterparone Field:
The Carolina Lady II came straight in off the end of the main runway. She had been circling the field waiting for the others to land. About 4 miles off and 1500 ft altitude 4 chutes appeared one after another and drifted down. The LADY came wobbling in, too high and too fast. Stein and Orwing used up about half the runway before they banged her into the ground. The port wing, already weakened at he roots by several hits, broke off and the LADY slid in fiery pieces down the runway. She broke in half at the radio room. Stein and Orwing both crawled out of the cockpit wreckage, but in the radio room, Sergeants Lipton, Captain Choate and Lieutenant Fletcher all died.