05 February 2016
As I've been doing research on B-17 bomber Navigator Lieut. Edward Zimmerly, my maternal grandmother's cousin, I have become more appreciative of what he and others of "the Greatest Generation" sacrificed for his country. Lieut. Zimmerly made the ultimate sacrifice. On April 11, 1944, he was killed on board the Flying Fortress nicknamed the "Chief Cooke and his Bottle Washers". However, before that fateful flight, exactly three months earlier, Zimmerly survived a harrowing bombing mission over Germany, navigating a B-17 nicknamed "The Hit Parade". According to an email I received, this plane was so damaged in the raid that Lieut. Zimmerly and his fellow crew members were reassigned to other bombers. It was his first mission with the "Chief Cooke..." in which he was killed by enemy fire. His body jettisoned by his crewmates before the bomber crashed and the crew were captured. His body was later recovered.
The January 11th mission's story is brilliantly told in an AP report published in the Milwaukee Journal. I have transcribed the article for easier reading. You can find the digital image of the actual article at this link. Please note how Edward is described navigating his plane to safety.
Milwaukee Journal, January 14, 1944. Page 2.
Americans Went Through to Targets in Spite of Desperate Opposition
by Gladwin Hill
London, England - (AP) - It was a grim aerial game of musical chairs, with one bomber moving up, step by step, taking the place of others shot down.
It was a shell fragment slicing an astonished gunner's ammunition belt and a boy jabbing himself with a morphine needle to numb an aching shoulder.
It was the hell of a plane plunging wildly, with no certainty it was ever going to come out of it.
The whole story of one of the war's great battles in American air bombarment of a central Germany Tuesday probably never will be told because it is a thousand things to thousands of men.
More than 700 bombers spread over many miles of sky, and each one's experience was different. Some got through unscathed and their crews couldn't believe that 60 of their bombers went down. Other fliers were amazed that they ever got home.
Aiming Close to Berlin
It started like other missions. Turning out in the blackness of an early winter morning. The briefing room. Red lines on a map. Main objectives: Three of the Nazis' prime fighter plants - a major stroke in the campaign to knock out the German air force and clinch air supremacy for invasion - plants hardly a hundred miles from Berlin.
"I kind of expected all hell to break loose." said Forterss Pilot Bernard Davey of Atlanta, Ga. "As we headed into enemy territory I kept thinking of the crew. With a good crew you always have a better chance of coming back."
The American bombers flew over one large, dead, black city. There was little traffic on German highways, but lots of trains were chuffing along.
The Nazis quickly ascertained that raiders with a 500 plane fighter escort were coming either for the capital or those prize industrial targets hidden deep in Germany. The Germans threw up everything they had - an array of single engined and twin engined fighters and even the Stukas originally made to frighten Frenchmen into their trenches - not to do aerial battle. There was their desperate, eleventh hour gadgets - tow bombs, rocket planes.
Nazis Attack Over Holland
"The enemy fighters started their attack over Holland at the Zunider Zee - in spite of our escort they came at us in bunches," said Brig. Gen. Robert Travis of Savannah, Ga., leader of one formation.
"Our first attack was from four Focke Wulfs, the next from 30, then from 12. They they just kept on coming. They attacked straight through our formation and from all angles without even rolling over."
The attack gathered intensity as the bombers fanned out toward Brunswick, Halberstandt and Oschersleben. As the factories came into bombardier's sights, mechanisms clicked and with a clank in the bomb bays thousands of squat projectiles nosed down through five miles in thin air.
"It was a perfect day for bombing and we could see plenty of damage," said Lieut. John Raedeke of Waterville, Minn.
The German fighters hadn't saved their spawning places.
But to the rivet gun hammering of thousands of American machine guns the Nazi rocket planes welled around like football lines or a naval flotilla and let fly with broadsides. Swifter enemy fighters zoomed in to the follow up.
Planes Drop "Like Flies"
The sky was smudged thicker and thircker with black explosions. Jagged fragments of German steel zinged through layers of American duralumin, clanked against American armor plate - and slashed into American flesh.
"I saw our right wing man go down in the smoke," said Waist Gunner Sergt. Everett E. Hudson of West Point, Miss., "and when I looked out the other waist window our left wing man was gone, too. It seemed as if planes were dropping like flies - ours as well as theirs."
"We were at the back of the formation when we started," Raedeke said. "But every time a Fort would go down we would move up. By the time we got hit we were in the lead squadron."
"Those fighters were coming in frantically mad - and personally I was scared." Bombardier Lieut. Walter Gibson of Lyndon, Ill., confessed.
The ninth German nailed by Raedeke's "Hit Parade" crew plunged out of control and hit a near-by Fortress, which burst into flame and crashed down across Hit Parad's tail, shearing off most of the stabilizers.
Pulls Plane Out of Spin
"After a complete loop we went into a spin." Raedeke said. "I told the boys to bail out. Before they could, I got the plane out of the spin. Five fighters were on our tail, so I kept diving. Four of them dropped off and we went into a cloud. When we came out the other fighter was gone."
On a hundred other ships, shells were smashing interphone lines over which men were frantically signaling. Fragments were cutting oxygen lines, sending men groping for emergency bottles. Forty below zero gales froze gunners' faces and hands.
Bleeding men were lifted into the protection of radio rooms. Their uniforms were cut away and sulfanilamide poweder was poured into their wounds. Thick, muscular hands fumbled with tiny morphine needles.
The Germans kept after them most of the way back to the coast - two hours or more.
Dusk was gathering and the weather was thickening. In the nose of the Hit Parade, Navigator Lieut. Edward Zimmerly of Socorro, N.M., lay flat on his face, peering through the glass for his home field.
Many set down at the first base they saw to get as or aid the wounded. Lieut. Jack Watson of Indianapolis came back all by himself in a plane so battered and burning he had made the rest of the crew bail out as soon as they were over England.
Sixty of the bombers and five of fighters didn't come back - less than half the casualties claimed in the hysterical communique from Hitler's headquarters - and only a third of the German casualties were admitted in the communique.
Most of the American fliers came back - battered but undaunted - to find new replacement planes and crews waiting on the runways for the next time and to hear from the lips of high officials at home they'd done a worthwhile job.
The Germans had lost one of the war's big battles.
Ancestry of Lieut. Edward Zimmerly