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The Mighty Eighth in WWII

The Mighty Eighth in WWII: A Memoir

J. Kemp McLaughlin
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Mighty Eighth in WWII
    Book Description:

    On an early morning in the fall of 1942, Kemp McLaughlin's group set out for a raid on a French target. Immediately after dropping its bombs, McLaughlin's plane was hit. A huge fire burned a four-foot hole in his wing, his waist gunner bailed out, his radio operator was wounded, the plane lost all oxygen, and his pilot put on a parachute and sat on the escape hatch, waiting for the plane to explode. And this was only McLaughlin's first sortie. McLaughlin went on to pilot the mission command plane on the second raid against Schweinfurt, the largest air raid in history, which resulted in the destruction of 70 percent of German ball bearing production capability. McLaughlin also participated in the bombing of heavy water installations in Norway. The Mighty Eighth in WWII also includes the stories of downed pilots in France and Holland who traveled under the cover of night through the countryside, evading the Nazis who had seen their planes go down. As a group leader, McLaughlin was responsible for the planning and execution of air raids, forced to follow the directives of senior (and sometimes less informed) officers. His position as one of the managers of the massive sky trains allows him to provide unique insight into the work of maintenance and armament crews, preflight briefings, and off-duty activities of the airmen. No other memoir of World War II reveals so much about both the actual bombing runs against Nazi Germany and the management of personnel and material that made those airborne armadas possible.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4573-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Baptism
    (pp. 1-7)

    It began on a cool October morning in 1942 at Bovingdon Aerodrome, Hertfordshire, England. It seemed strangely quiet as the realization began to descend on me that I was about to embark on my first combat mission of World War II.

    Before we left the States for England in August 1942, Col. James Sutton, our group commander, had briefed us at length on his version of how the air campaign against Germany would be conducted. He told us our B-17Fs were invincible, that with their firepower and ability to fly at higher altitudes the German air force would be no...

  5. 2 In the Beginning
    (pp. 8-17)

    Halfway through college I felt as if I were spinning my wheels. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, and I felt as if I was wasting my father’s money in college. The Army Air Corps Testing Team arrived on the West Virginia University campus in April 1938, and I decided to give it a try. About two dozen of us took the tests, and six of us passed it. My upper classmate Joe Cummingham from Clarksburg, West Virginia, was one of them. He went directly into training in 1939, served in North Africa, and finished his...

  6. 3 Off We Go
    (pp. 18-26)

    On the morning of April 30, I found the headquarters of the 92nd Bomb Group on the second floor of Hanger No.2, MacDill Army Air Field, and reported to the commanding officer, Col. James S. Sutton. He greeted me cordially and assigned me to the 407th Bomb Squad (Heavy) and introduced me to its commander, Capt. William M. Reid. Captain Reid was also very cordial and, as I was the newest second lieutenant aboard, he assigned me as airdrome officer for the following day When I reported for duty, I learned that Captain Reid had been demoted to the rank...

  7. 4 Torch
    (pp. 27-41)

    In mid-October, Lt. Tom Hullings and I were called to base operations and told to take a B-17 namedFlaming Jennyto the American air depot at Burtonwood, England, near Liverpool, await its reconfiguration, and return it to Bovingdon Airdrome. Liverpool was a boring place to be, everyone was working, there was little entertainment, and, of course, the beer was warm. About the first of November our airplane was ready, and we immediately headed back to Bovingdon. They had added a bomb bay fuel tank to give it greater range, two lounge chairs on the left side of the bomb...

  8. 5 Err’n in Erin
    (pp. 42-51)

    Upon our return from Casablanca we were again alerted for another trip, this time to England. We were to be going back to our home base. I bought a bushel of oranges and two cases of wine for my mates back at Bovingdon. Our passengers were Lt. Gen. Jacob Devers, at that time commander of American Forces in the European Theater of Operations, and his staff, consisting of Brig. Gen. Gladeon M. Barnes, Col. William T. Sexton, Maj. Gen. Edward McBrooks, and Maj. Earl Hormell, his aviation advisor.

    We departed Algiers in the early afternoon for Gibraltar, arriving about 5...

  9. 6 1943
    (pp. 52-66)

    On January 4, 1943, the 92nd Bomb Group was ordered to move to Alconbury Airdrome, just north of Huntington. It left behind members of the 325th Squadron plus several additional personnel to continue training replacement crews from the States. Its organization, the 1/11th Combat Crew Replacement Center, was commanded by Maj. John R Dwyer.

    By early May the group had received orders to resume combat status, and at the same time Col. Jim Sutton, its commander, was transferred to a North Ireland modification depot. His transfer was rumored to be due to insubordination toward his superior officers, particularly Brig. Gen....

  10. 7 Pete’s Story
    (pp. 67-78)

    Pete Edris, of Jersey City, New Jersey, had bunked next to me in flying school, and we had become good friends. He was transferred to the 306th Bomb Group at the end of 1942 while I was in North Africa. He was shot down in March 1943 and evaded capture for some time. As such, he was reported as having been killed in action.

    His father had been an insurance agent in New Jersey and had purchased a sizable life insurance policy on young Pete’s life, when Pete was at an early age. Life Insurance contracts prior to World War...

  11. 8 Schweinfurt and Stuttgart
    (pp. 79-89)

    In late July 1943, Maj. Bob Eaton arrived at our station with a group of new aircrews fresh from the States. We welcomed them, for our ranks had been thinned from combat losses, and we greatly needed them.

    Major Eaton had been with the 19th Bomb Group, a B-17 group in the South Pacific, when the war began and had flown raids with them in the months following Pearl Harbor. Along with Capt. Colin Kelly and others, he had been awarded a chest full of medals, as they were the only Heavy Bomb Group there in the early days and...

  12. 9 Assembling “The Mighty Eighth”
    (pp. 90-96)

    Lt. Col. Leslie Lennox was a pilot in the 95th Bomb Group and best describes our procedures in getting our bombers together for a raid:

    “Of all the stories that have been written and movies that have been shown about the 8th Air Force, very little attention has been given to what was involved in assembling twelve hundred B-17s and B-24s each day, getting them in formation to carry out a strike against Germany. Certainly showing bombers under attack by fighters, or encountering heavy flak, was a reality, and is interesting to watch. Also, stories about some of the rougher...

  13. 10 Schweinfurt Again
    (pp. 97-111)

    We had attacked the ball bearing works in Schweinfurt on August 17 but had failed to hit our targets with enough bombs to do any real damage, and the cost in planes lost was terrible. As the leader of my squadron, I’d luckily had a pretty easy flight that mission while the rest of the bomber force was losing sixty bombers to the enemy, plus all those that crash-landed in England.

    We all knew that we’d be going back to this target, and each of us hoped he’d not be selected for that raid. No such luck. After the second...

  14. 11 A New Base and My Longest Day
    (pp. 112-119)

    In early September we were alerted to move from our base at Alconbury. Our 325th Squadron had grown rapidly in numbers of radar-equipped Pathfinder airplanes and aircrews. They were now ready to become a group of their own, and we were to move on to our new base at Podington, about thirty miles west of Alconbury.

    On September 15, 1943, our 92nd Bomb Group moved from Alconbury to Podington, leaving the Pathfinder group to become the 482nd Bomb Group. Col. Bascombe R. Lawrence, who had commanded our 92nd Group in May (while Colonel Reid was temporarily commander of 91st Group),...

  15. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  16. 12 Group Operations
    (pp. 120-123)

    Group Operations was the heart of the entire bomb group organization. Every unit on the base operated in support of our planes and schedules. Our Group Operations facility consisted of offices for the group navigators, group bombardiers, a large planning room, and of course a briefing room large enough to accommodate twenty-five crews of ten men each. In addition we were supported by Group Intelligence, Weather, Communications, Engineering, and Ordinance.

    Typically we’d receive an alert notice in the late afternoon. Next, if we were lucky, we’d receive instruction on the type and quantity of bombs to put on the airplanes...

  17. 13 Escape and Evasion
    (pp. 124-149)

    When Col. William M. Reid was transferred from the 91st Group back to the 92nd Group, Lt. Col. Dave Alford was sent to the 91st Group as its group operations officer. Here is his story of his escape and evasion after being shot down:

    “The mission at the time was to bomb railroad yards at Frankfurt, Germany. I was the operations officer of the 91st Bomb Group, at Bassingbourne, part of the 1st Wing of the 1st Division, 8th Air Force. Since the 91st Bomb Group was scheduled to lead the wing on this particular mission, I was scheduled to...

  18. 14 1944
    (pp. 150-157)

    The new year began with a bang. President Roosevelt announced the appointment of Dwight Eisenhower as commander of all Allied Forces (replacing General Devers) for the invasion of the Continent. Ike in turn had Hap Arnold move Tooey Spaatz and Jimmy Doolittle to England to command the new U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe and 8th Air Force, respectively. They had headed his air arm in the North African campaign, and he wasn’t about to change horses in midstream. Arnold sent Gen. Ira Eaker to Italy to command the Mediterranean Army Air Forces, which would include Nathan Twining’s 15th Air...

  19. 15 Headquarters
    (pp. 158-171)

    Prior to being transferred to Group Operations, I’d always been a squadron flying officer and socialized entirely with my squadron mates. After I was transferred to Group Headquarters, I continued to join my old squadron friends at the officers’ mess for lunch and dinner. Colonel Reid one day very pointedly explained to me that I was now a part of the Group Headquarters Squadron and was expected to sit at the Headquarters table at mealtimes. I didn’t relish having to eat or even associate with the Headquarters officers, for most were not flying officers and nearly all of them were...

  20. 16 D-Day and the Fall Campaign
    (pp. 172-180)

    During D-Day, and for several weeks thereafter, we concentrated on support of the Allied invasion armies. Each time they ran into any truly organized resistance, we’d rain fragmentation and high-explosive bombs down on the enemy. Most of the time, our armies would then immediately march right through them.

    On one occasion, on September 17, 1944, the 82nd and the 101st Airborne Divisions were going to drop on Holland near Eindhoven and Nijmegen (Operation “Market Garden”). We preceded them at fifteen thousand feet, trying to eliminate any German defenses in the drop areas with fragmentation bombs set to explode at about...

  21. 17 Aerial Operations
    (pp. 181-186)

    Many spectacular incidents occurred during combat missions. Some were tragic, a few amusing, and all action-packed. Most tragic were those airplanes that took direct hits from flak shells and blew apart in midair. As mentioned earlier, bomber crew members did not wear their parachutes during actual combat, except when alerted to prepare to abandon ship. Instead they wore their chute harnesses and stowed the actual parachute bundles nearby. When the airplane would get a direct hit and blow apart in mid-air, the crewmen would not have the chance to grab the chute. The concussion would blow the parachute apart and,...

  22. 18 My War’s End
    (pp. 187-193)

    January 1945 was a tough time for everyone at my 92nd Bomb Group. The weather was almost unbearable. Our group had been in England for nearly thirty months, and all of us old-timers were war weary.

    As group operations officer, I would often accompany my assistant for airplane maintenance, Maj. Jim Boutty, around our airbase to check on the ground crew’s progress in getting airplanes ready to fly for the following day. We were flying missions nearly two out of every three days now, and many planes were shot full of holes and had other damage that took time to...

  23. 19 A Look Back
    (pp. 194-196)

    Hindsight, always being twenty-twenty, makes it easy to look back and find our flaws and mistakes. But when one looks at the circumstances under which we went to war, criticism is probably not the order of the day.

    As late as 1938 the entire Army Air Corps had fewer than fifty thousand total officers. Only a few had flown the B-18, the biggest bomber of the Air Corps at that time. It was little more than a bomber conversion of another new airplane, the DC-3. Only a few pilots had flown the early versions of the B-17 and the B-24,...

  24. Afterword
    (pp. 197-197)

    Three months after arriving home, the adjutant general of the State of West Virginia asked me to accept the position of commander of the state’s first Air National Guard Squadron. It seemed like the right thing to do, and I accepted the challenge of building a new reserve fighter squadron. Forty-eight months later I found myself leading this squadron back on active duty in the Air Force in the Korean War.

    Following service in the Korean War, I received promotion to full colonel and, in 1962, was appointed assistant adjutant general, with a promotion to brigadier general. I continued my...

  25. Appendix Statistics of the Fame’s Favored Few, from the Official History of the 92nd Bombardment Group
    (pp. 198-200)
  26. Index
    (pp. 201-209)