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Copyright © Pat Abbott, used by permission
S/Sgt. Wesley C. Abbott
360 Sqdn. 303 Bomb Group
XXXX in Switzerland (this word is obliterated)
Crew of B-17-G #905:
1st Paul H Long – Pilot 2209 S. 5th Place Mil. 7, Wis.
The snow was quite deep and everything was very slushy. We were assigned to a barracks and fed after about 4 hours of rest we were called out and told to make ready for the jump to Iceland. The takeoff time was set for 2am but we had some trouble with the pilot tube freezing up so we took off alone some 4 hours later, this was Easter Sunday. The weather turned bad and we ran into a cold front about 100 miles from the coast. The over cast was very heavy so we tried to go above but was at 15,000 feet it was just as bad so we flew blind for several hours. After much worrying we finally picked up the beam from Iceland and followed it in. We had app. 1 hours gas left. We were all very glad to see that piece of land loom up. All the credit in the world is due to our Nav. Lt. Ona Vell and our Pilot Lt. Paul H. Long.
Iceland is a very bleak place & there is nothing much to do. We spent our time sleeping of laying cards. We lived in Mission huts with oil stoves that were not much good to anybody. After three nights and two days we again took off for Ireland, where we landed at Nutts Corner. There our ship was taken away from us and a lot of equipment that we had believed to be ours. Again we were given a Mission hut to sleep in and restricted to post. The next morning we were loaded into trucks taken to the railroad station. We had our first taste of the limey trains that we were later to get tired of the trip to the seaport lasted three hours. By this time I was very hungry as I had missed breakfast at the docks they immediately loaded us on a larger boat & refused to let us get some cakes that were being sold. At the same time there was an enormous amount of British trucks and freight being loaded it took about three hours more before it was finished. The trip from Ireland to Scotland was supposed to take 4 hours but turned out to be very close to seven. On the way over we broke into some K rations and ate them. We were told that we would eat upon launching. However all of our baggage had to be unloaded first where upon we were lined up and marched about a mile and a half to a British rest camp. I was so tired and hungry by this time that I did not much give a damn for anything.
At this camp we were sent to a barracks of stone with a cement floor no chairs, or beds, no place or nothing to even sit on. In a few minutes they called us out for chow (at last) Our meal was 1 slice a very bad bread and some of the English sausage that I don't believe our dogs would eat. As hungry as I was I could not go that. We then went to the PX to see what they had to offer. There we ran into the English beer and incidentally the backwardness of the English country. After fighting my way through a bunch of tommies I finally got a glass of beer that was so warm it was sickening. I also managed to get some of the so called chips that are our French fried potatoes only half cooked and very greasy. After that I curled up in a chair and listened to the tummies sing and carry on as though it was all very nice.
At eleven O'clock we were called out to form again and walk that mile and ½ back to the railroad. We climbed aboard the train & proceeded to go to sleep for four hours as that was to be the length of the trip. So some twelve hours later we got to our destination. In the mean time I got deathly sick and was so cold I could not sleep. I was one sorry looking guy that next day when we got to a place called Stone Eng. We stayed there for 6 days and was quite glad to leave as we were treated like a gang of rookies instead of men going to fight a war. At Stone, we were told that we would go to Covington Eng. And there the radio man and Bomb would undergo special training while the rest of us went to the so called wash for a refresher in gunnery.
Again we rode the Eng. trains which by this time were very annoying and cold. The wash is on the East coast of Eng. and looks out on the North Sea. There we went to classes in guns and aiming. Had some firing at tow targets and jeep targets and some exams on the whole thing. In my mind it was just a joke & provided some soft spots for some GI's and officers to strut their stuff. Finally the day came when the foolishness was over and we were to be sent to our permanent outfits. There were seven other crews and ours that were sent to the 303 bomb group. Other wise known as the "Hell's Angels" whose home base was at a town called Molesworth about 30 miles from North Hampton & six miles from Bedford, Eng.
There are four sqdrns in the group the 358th 359th 360th 427th. My crew was sent to the 360th sqdn the others were spread through out the rest of the sqdrns Major Shayler was in command & he read the riot act to us the first day. It seems that we missed the train at N. Hampton and overstayed our travel time some six hours. We had t sign the 104 article of war and got four hours detail for seven days. Not bad for a beginning.
We went to school at the sqdn for a week to get procedure and policy and flew a few practice missions then we were ready to go to work in earnest. We were told that we would get a three day pass for London after our second mission so we were anxious for things to pop.
I am now sitting in the Holm Hotel in Switzerland with a very dismal outlook. It may be that things will look brighter later on but at the present time – not so good.
I had a record of all my missions but they are hung on the wall back in dear old England so I will have to just list what I can remember which will not be a true picture but at lest some reference point. Some of the missions stand out like a sore thumb and others are obscured by the passage of time. There are 29 actual missions and three accredited a total of 32 & of course the first is one to stand out in the placer of a new gunner going into action for the first time. For almost two years I had been hearing stories of combat and they all sounded very exciting. Now I suddenly find myself in the position of the first person and brother. I was a little upset. I really don't believe that I was scared in the true since of the word but I was scared of it unknown quantity. Briefing that morning I'll never forget. The CQ awoke the barracks at 2 am which was not unusual but this time was different as he also included Long's crew which meant me.
I had a good idea that we were going to be called so of course I had turned in quite early the night before but sleep would not come. When the CQ did come in he found one whole crew just laying there looking at the ceiling with all kinds of thoughts just running threw their heads. When my early premonitions had been confirmed I slowly climbed out of bed and proceeded to dress with a million thoughts going through my head. After picking my way through pitch blackness to our mission breakfast of fried eggs and potatoes I got on a truck to go to the briefing room.
As I entered the briefing room after getting my equipment ready I found a large room full of gunners looking very sleepy and all smoking one thing or another. The Pilots Bombardiers and Navigators all have their own briefings as the case or mission requires. The briefing officer then came in and with the help of one of the men put a large sketch of our route and target on a wall map. – Berlin – the thing seemed to jump at me. After the usual round of comments had quieted down from the operations officer proceeded to give us the necessary information such as the route, the amount of flak, how many & kind of fighters to expect, the altitudes of the flight, target time and time of return. The thought kept running through my mind if there is a return.
After the briefing we went and checked our guns then took them to our assigned ship and put them in their mounts with many banged up fingers and much cursing I must say. The period of station times and engine time went all too quickly and the first thing I knew I was rolling down the runway headed for Berlin on my first mission with my stomach in a ball and an icy feeling around my heart. As the ship left the ground I looked back on my home field and wondered as I did on every mission from then on. I will not say anything of the trip itself as from the looks of things now, I'll be able to answer any of the questions in person. At any rate it was not as bad as I expected but the old saying is, Ignorance is bliss, and let it go. The rest of them run in the run in the same pattern except possibly D. Day and I'll tell more of that later.
The missions I flew are listed below as near as I can remember them.
On this particular morning we were awakened by the CQ as usual at the ungodly hour of 2:30 am with briefing at 3:15 I had no knowledge of anything out of the ordinary & don't believe any of the other men did either. We went to briefing in the same old way that had got to be a habit with us now, veterans of 14 missions. It wasn't until we got to the briefing room that there was any thing out of the ordinary but if a fellow looked around he would have seen about three times as many guards as usual. The route was put on the map for a run to the Cherbourge Penn nothing unusual there as we had been hitting down that way for the last two or three days. Suddenly the operations officer called for quiet and started to speak. His first words were the ones that were the ones that were going all over the Military camps in England at about the same time – THIS IS IT MEN. The men seemed to lean forward in their chairs and for a moment everything was as quiet as a church then they started to talk at once like a bunch of women at a sewing bee. The room then settled down and for the rest of the briefing they were all ears. As we went to our ships that morning the air seemed to crackle with something that none of us could explain. We all knew that it was a big machine & we were just a small cog in the wheel. A lot of men that, at that very moment were doing as we were would be dead before the sun set but I truthfully believe that very few if any of them would have voluntarily stayed home that morning.
As our group rose from the airfield and took to the air I had a feeling I'll never forget, words cannot explain it so there is no need to try.
Our orders were to bomb the beach installations & to drop our bombs by 6:20 or bring them home as the invasion forces would hit at 6:25 & we were not to endanger them.
As we rose up through the clouds it became apparent that it would be a pathfinder mission as there was almost a 10/10 cloud cover. Down over southeastern England we flew and it all looked so peaceful what we could see of it, then out over the channel & we couldn't see anything. There was one spot of broken clouds & as we went over it we saw boats of all types, down on the water heading for the coast of France. There were sp many & so close together that it seemed as though the men could walk across from one to another. Then the clouds closed in and we saw nothing more of the ground until we let down to land at our home base some 5 hours later. We could not see the results of our bombing but our later reports were very good. The remainder of our day was spent in listening to the radio reports & later by reading the paper. One would have thought that we were a long way off from the invasion instead of playing a part in it ourselves.
This is all I'll put in of my little trips as I called them in my letters home except of course the last one that put me where I am now.
July 13, 1944
For the two previous days I had sweated out a trip to Munich Germany. The first one had not been to rough on us and with the exception of the long hours of oxygen and 9 ½ hours in the air we did not run into much trouble. The flak on the first two raids was intense but as we were flying in the high sqdn only a few bursts came close. We came back with about three holes in our wings the first time and about five from the second raid. When we went to briefing on the third morning we had no idea that they would send us back for the third time in three days. But they did. Not only that but over the same route and at the same altitude. Everything went along pretty well until we got to the I.P. We had a god fighter support and had only seen enemy fighters in the distance. At the I.P. I put my flak suit on and made a last minute check of how things stood. And we were on out way over.
The bomb run as I remember it seemed to be very erratic but then from the waist position things are not always what they seemed.
The gerry gunners opened up on us and at first their shots were all low and off to the right. But they started to track us and soon the stuff was bursting all around our sqdn and it seemed to me that our ship was right in the middle. I stood there watching for fighters and also keeping an eye on the flak bursts. My stomach was in a knot and I found myself with the feeling of holding my breath just waiting for the ever welcome call of Bombs Away. Suddenly there was a loud ripping and tearing noise and the ship gave a jump. I glanced quickly around and things looked alright and as I looked back out of the waist window I saw a bombs from the other ships going down but had heard no word from our Bombardier about our bombs so I pressed the interphone button to see if things were alright but got no response. I then looked up forward to the bomb bay and I saw the shadows of the door coming closed. Just at that moment all hell let loose on the left of the plane. The waist suddenly seemed to be full of holes and my left hand went numb while my right arm just hurt like hell. As I looked at my hand the blood started running down my arms from under my glove and dripping on the floor.
The first instinct I had was to call to our radio operator to come fix it up but when I saw him calmly throwing out chaff I decided to wait a few minutes until we were out of the flak area before I bothered him. I remember standing there feeling the throbbing of the aircraft as it flew along. Joe Flammia our ball turret gunner swung his turret and popped out of it like a little jumping jack looking at me with eyes as large as a half dollar as he motioned for me to look at the left wing. When I did I think my heart must have stopped for a fraction of a second.
We were not allowed off the hill except to go to the doctors. I was lucky in that respect as I made four trips to his office to have my wounds dressed and by that way I got to see a little of the town and people. We were not allowed to talk to any of the people a good many of whom spoke English but a couple of the guards turned out to be pretty good fellows and we stopped off and had a couple of beers once or twice. The Swiss cities and people are very clean and neat and are surprisingly modern in everything. After 21 days of very boring time with nothing to do except walk about the hill or sleep we were again put on a train and taken to the other side of Switzerland this time to the Italian border to the camp for internees at Adelboden. This is a summer resort town 4500 ft. in the mountains taken over by the British and the Americans. There are over 1000 American boys here and I don't know how many British. We live in hotels and pretty much have the run of the town except for our restrictions of course. We can go all over the mountains and I have complete freedom. There are bars and tea rooms that we can go to if we have the cash of which we don't get much but we find ways of getting about.
It seems to be the general run of opinion that we won't be here too long. The army in Italy is moving up pretty well and have just taken Florence. If they can open up the Swiss Italian border we will get out I hope. May be home for Xmas (I hope). From here on in I will try to keep an account of things as they happen. There are many things I would like to record but it is almost impossible.
We are allowed only two letters a month to send out and two cables. The letters have to go through the Swiss, American, German, and Spanish censors and sometimes take as long as four months to reach America. I would I would like to tell several people where I am & that I am still alive but according to the Swiss rules the letters and cables must go to the nearest of kin only, that's on your service record.
That is very unsatisfactory but not much I can do about it.
August 6, 1944
It has rained every afternoon so far, when it gets good I'm going to go swimming in the pool. Every day we take a walk over the mountains just for something to do. Mours and Olson & Flammia & myself went to local beer garden tonight for awhile and I have just come in. Saw some likely looking stock but can't speak the lingo. I might take up the German language just to pass the time.
The town itself is quite nice but very small. The Palace Hotel no less is our home. It is new and quite a nice place. I have a single room with hot and cold water also a semi private bath. The food is not so good so far but maybe it will improve. This would be a wonderful time if I was not broke, can't even buy a beer for two weeks. However it's not bad for guy who should be dead according to all the rules of war.
The boys have hopes that we will start to move in three of four weeks and if not to try it anyway. Guess we'll just wait and see what is up first. Still broke and down to the last pack of smokes so something better happen.
August 23 Things are looking good at any rate. The boys in France have made very good progress & the French Partisans have opened part of the Swiss border. I expect in the next week or so to see a lot of the boys going over the hill in spite of orders not to. We are getting fed up with this so called hospitality. Romania quit tonight and that will help a lot. The rats start leaving the ship, at last.
August 24 Well things have blown sky high today. Our troops have opened one end of the country & of course a lot of the boys went over the hill. So tonight the Swiss sent up 40 guards with machine guns and posted them in the Mt. passes with orders to shoot us if we were seen trying to go over the mountains. There are other good reports of some more of these countries quitting the war.
It is quite as good town we live in the Hotel Lowen. There are 17 of us here in all. Some of the fellows have been here for about three months.
It is snowing very hard but we have been told to put on some work clothes & go to working to afternoon. I guess it will be rough.
November 17, Friday
We were supposed to go home again today but they are going to keep us here indefinitely Oh well I'm getting used t it by now. We are all going to Bern for the week end that will be great.
November 25, Thanksgiving
Well it was quite a success everything went fine the meal was good and well cooked. We had speeches by all of the wheels and the Gen. gave us personal letters of citation for our work on the cemetery. Which by the way is almost done. There is one more stone wall to put up but as only a few can work on it the rest of us will go back to dear old Adelboden. The Cemetery looks a good bit different than at first. At the head is a large round stone monument with a flagpole in the middle the plaque in the middle is inscribed:
Enshrined forever in the
Around all of this are flagstone walks that go around the graves all marked with white crosses.
MacSpadden found out that I had carpenter experience so I did all of the form work and stairs & a good bit of the cement work. It was a lot better than doing the other work of shoveling dirt and pushing a wheel barrel. So ends another chapter in life in Switzerland.