“My name is Bill Getz and I’m going to tell you a story about my experiences as a
pilot. I was born in Fort Wayne Indiana in 1924. I was raised there but I went to
High School at Morgan Park Military Academy in Chicago. I remember a special
day when I was a senior. I was 17 years old and I was waiting tables at the dining hall, which I did along with other tasks to help pay for my tuition. As I was
waiting tables, the commandant of cadets came into the dining hall and approached the superintendent, who was sitting with his wife eating. I saw the commandant whisper something to Colonel Abells, the superintendent. Then Colonel Abells stood up and said to the Cadet Corps, “I have just been informed that Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands is currently under attack by the Japanese Air Force.” Now this of course was December 7th, 1941 around noon Chicago time. At that point, we were all confused. The next morning the entire cadet corps went into the assembly hall and we listened to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the radio give his speech where he said in essence that as of yesterday we were in a state of war, and then he made his famous statement ‘It is a day that will live in infamy.’
When he finished, the national anthem was played over the radio, and with out any command, the entire cadet corps stood to attention and saluted.
“All of us knew in our minds that our lives had been changed forever.
“Like you, Evan, I was very interested in aviation when I was very young, about
your age. I became even more serious when I was 12-13. I started bicycling out to the local airport, Smith Field, and started working for the people there doing odd jobs - washing airplanes, selling tickets for airplane rides. This was around
1935-1937. So I would do this work and in payment the plane owners would give
me a ride in their planes. They’d often let me handle the stick or the wheel and so I learned a little bit about flying then. My ambition when I was around 12 years old was that I wanted to be an Army Air Corps Pilot. I achieved that when I was 18 years old. I always joke that life has been downhill ever since, but that’s not really true!
“After Pearl Harbor the senior class fully realized they were about to graduate and would be going to war. In peace time, when you go to a military academy like Morgan Park, you had college level ROTC, not high school level. So when you
graduated and reached 21 years of age you were given a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve. But now this was war time and the commission age was lowered to 18. So immediately after graduation, which was in June, half of my class was on their way to Camp McClellan, Alabama, as Second Lieutenants. I did not want to serve in the Infantry, so when I turned 18 in March - still a senior in High school, I went to downtown Chicago, and with written permission from my parents and after several days of tests, was sworn in as an aviation cadet on May 2, 1942.
“They didn’t ship me anywhere immediately for the simple reason that when the
war began the nation did not have the military infrastructure, equipment or
instructors needed, and they had to build everything from scratch and get qualified instructors from the private sector.”
“Eventually, a few months after I was sworn in, I was given orders to report to the cadet reception center in Nashville, Tennessee. By then I had already soloed in a Piper J-3 - about a year before - and had built up a few hours. Off I went to the Cadet Classification Center at Nashville, Tennessee where they performed a series of tests and learned to do KP (Kitchen Police). My Morgan Park experience as a waiter and kitchen help served me well. KP was meant to teach discipline but I had already learned that in the military academy. The tests were to determine whether you were qualified to be a pilot, navigator or bombardier. Of course I wanted to be a pilot, but there was no guarantee. I took the tests and fortunately qualified to do all three - of course I chose pilot. From there pilot candidates went to preflight school, and this is essentially what would be called today, basic training, but pretty fancy basic training in comparison. I was sent to Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama. It was not only preflight training, they also had an single-engine advanced flying school, but we weren’t there for that. We were at Maxwell for about 6 weeks and did a lot of marching and a lot of singing while we marched, ground school, and giving all the farm boys a better taste of discipline. After my military school training, all this training at Maxwell was easy for me. From pre-flight we went to Primary Flying School, and this is where we started to learn to fly the Army way.
“I went to Decatur, Alabama for primary flying. Like many of the primary flying
schools, this was civilian operated. The Air Force did not have enough instructors
in the military so they had contractors run the schools. It was a little grass field
and there were about 100 students going through training. We had Stearman
PT-17’s and I really loved that plane – open cockpit of course and you really feel
you’re into flying. When I was a boy I used to read all the ‘Flying Aces Magazine’ stories from WWI, and the PT-17 looks like the aircraft of the 1920’s.
My instructor’s name was Bill Liddy and the school was run by a company called
Southern Aviation. Bill knew that I had already soloed. So on my very first flight
in the PT-17, he said, “Take it off.” It didn’t bother me a bit. I wasn’t a bit
frightened to do it. I advanced the throttle and went rattling down the grass, and just like in a Piper J-3, put the stick forward to bring the tail up and you could feel when the plane was ready to fly. I then started pulling back the stick and the Stearman jumped right into the air. Landing was a little different. I more-or-less landed the plane, but the instructor was on the controls the whole time. I didn’t blame him!
When we completed primary, we went to Basic Flying School, the next phase. I
was sent to Greenwood, Mississippi, another sleepy southern town that had an
airbase. It was all military and no civilian instructors. We flew the BT-13 that
everyone called the Vultee Vibrator because it shook a lot. It was quite a step up
from the PT-17 because it had a canopy we called a ‘greenhouse canopy;’ it had
flaps, and it had a two speed propeller, and of course was a monoplane. We got
checked out and started flying cross country and very basic instrument training.
When we completed Basic, we went to tein-engine Advanced Flying School at
Blytheville, Arkansas, another sleepy southern town. After the war it became a
Strategic Air Command base. It was a base for training pilots to fly either four
engine bombers or two engine attack bombers. They asked you what you wanted
to do and I told them I wanted to go to twin-engine attack. Not everybody got
what they wanted but I was fortunate. I flew the twin engine Beechcraft AT-10 and the Curtiss-Wright AT-9, which was a really hot aircraft and a lot trickier to fly than the AT-10. Now we’re dealing with not only flaps and two engines, but we had retractable landing gear, a much more advanced airplane than before - and little total flying time. This is also where you learn instrument flying. We had four squadrons of cadets, two squadrons training to be four engine bomber pilots and two training to be twin engine attack aircraft pilots. I was in the twin engine attack aircraft training squadron. I also got checked out in the single-engine, advanced trainer, the North American AT-6. The reason we got checked out in the AT-6 is because it could carry four .30 caliber machine guns, and we were to be given gunnery training in that aircraft. We flew to Eglin Field Florida in AT-10s, and flew the gun-equipped AT-6s at Eglin. We shot at targets out in the Gulf of
Mexico. It was a farce as far as learning about gunnery, but it did give me the
opportunity to check-out in the AT-6. Most of the flying in Advanced was in the
“I graduated with Class 43-G (the alphabetical designation represented the month, thus graduation was in July), commissioned a Second Lieutenant, and got my silver wings pinned on by my dad. Although two squadron were supposed to be twin-engine attack and two squadrons of cadets to go to four-engine bombers, when the orders came out, every cadet except one was sent to four-engine bomber flight training. The one cadet that didn’t go was sent to Salt Lake City as a co-pilot for a four-engine bomber crew. I didn’t mind as I like big airplanes. I was sent to Smyrna near Nashville, Tennessee, to learn how to fly the B-24. After checking out in B-24’s and completing that school, I was sent, along with many others to the Salt Lake City fairgrounds. They had converted the fairgrounds to a crew assembly center and turned the old cow barns into barracks. They brought in the pilots, bombardiers, all of the enlisted crew, like gunners, radio men and all others and paired them into crews. That’s where I picked up all of my B-24 crew members except the navigator.
“We were in Salt Lake only a few days, over Thanksgiving of 1943. From there
we went by train to Tucson, Arizona, for first stage crew training. On the train, all the crew guys met each other for the first time. In Tucson for first phase training is where we were assigned our navigator. We then went to phase two training at Pueblo, Colorado - combat training. While there, the 491st bomb group was activated, and we flew training missions for a few weeks. One day towards the end of our training, brand new B-24’s began landing at the base from the factory. We’d been doing most of our training in B-24D’s and there are significant differences between those and the J and H models with which the new group was equipped. We trained together as a group. This was unusual because up until this time most crews were going overseas as replacements - individual crews. We trained as a group and we went overseas as a group.
“From Pueblo, Colorado we were ready for combat, The group was given overseas
orders, and although we did not know our final destination, the group departed
Pueblo for our first stop at the Army Airfield at Herrington, Kansas. We didn’t fly
in formation as a group but flew individually. We were briefed at Herrington by
pilots who’d been in combat who told us about escape and evasion and other
pointers. After two days, the group was ordered to Morrison Army Air Field, West
Palm Beach, Florida and that was to be our overseas jumping-off point.”
Off to war
“So now we knew we weren’t going to the Pacific! We were going somewhere in
the other direction. We didn’t know whether we go into Europe or the Far East. At Morrison they gave all the pilots sealed orders. The told us to take off and proceed to Trinidad; that we were not to open the orders until an hour off the coast. Very dramatic. I was a good officer and waited for an hour after leaving before opening the orders. After reading them, I said over the intercom, “We are going to Station 158 United Kingdom.” That made everybody happy because we didn’t want to go to India. So now we knew our destination. From Trinidad we flew to Belem, Brazil, stayed overnight and the following day flew to Fortaleza, Brazil, on the round horn (or is it shoulder?) of South America. We stayed overnight.
“The following morning we took off across the South Atlantic Ocean for Africa
and Morocco. A bunch of teenagers and a few over-twenty guys, with minimum
flight time, flying across the ocean in a four-engine bomber. It never occurred to
us this was unusual.
“Our destination was Dakar, French Morocco. After an overnight in Dakar, our
next stop was Marrakesh, French Morocco. Between those two points were the
Atlas Mountains. We were told we could fly at 5000 to 6000ft (not certain of the
altitude, but something like that), although the Atlas Mountains rose to over 13,000 feet. The lower altitude could be flown because there was a pass you that a plane could traverse the mountains at the lower levels. It was supposed to be easy to find as there was a low-power, low-frequency homer beacon near the entrance to the pass.
Our navigator, who was up in the front of the plane started smoking cigars, which he’d never done before. He was sticking his head up in the little navigation dome in front of the pilot compartment, and looking at me and puffing with his cigar, filling the dome with smoke. Well, he got airsick and there went our navigation up in smoke, and down below there was nothing – I mean nothing - to guide us but dessert ! Soon we could see the Atlas Mountains in the distance, but we were not picking up the homing beacon. We approached the mountains looking desperately for the pass, and then I thought we found it. ‘Hey, that looks like the pass.’ So we started up the pass and all of a sudden right up in front of us was an absolute sheer wall! So we pushed all throttles forward and just barely scraped over that wall. In the distance I could see Marrakesh, our destination, and we landed with a big sigh of relief.
“Marrakesh was another over-nighter and we were then airborne heading for
Merry Ole’ England. This was tricky because we had to leave Morocco, go out
over the ocean, offshore by at least twenty miles, and proceed up the coast of
Portugal, France and then in England at Land’s End. The Germans had been aware of this heavily trafficked course and were sending patrol planes out to try to intercept Allied aircraft. We were warned of the patrols and the need to stay alert, and we were also warned that up near Calais, in the Northwest part of France, right across from England, the Germans had built an airfield just like the English field at Lands End, and with a homing beacon at the same frequency as the one in England. What happened is they would fool Allied planes into believing they were homing on the one in England and lure them to the German airfield thinking they were in England. They’d look down and see planes with American markings on them and after they landed and taxied they would suddenly be surrounded by troops! That’s how the Germans captured a number of aircraft.
“We got to England with out any incidents and were assigned a British navigator.
In England at that time, there seemed to be an airfield every five miles, and we
called England the largest aircraft carrier in the world. All those airfields looked
alike because they were built to a standard pattern. For us to navigate from Lands End to our base without help, we would probably have been lost trying to identify which was our air base. We didn’t have wonderful radar, radio beacons and those types of navigational aids common today. So the British navigator brought us to our base.” God save the king and poor Liberator crews.
More info on the 491st http://www.491st.org/
Combat and flying over Europe
‘This was April, 1944, and we started our first operational mission on June 3rd. Of
course D-day was in a few days and we flew two missions on D-day. We were not doing strategic bombing on our early missions. We were doing tactical bombing in support of the invasion. We bombed roads, railroad stations, places where there might been lots of German troops, etc. to support the invasion. So a lot of our missions were of that tactical nature. After D-day we did start to fly more strategic missions - factories, supply depots, etc. I finished my 31 missions in record time. My bomber tour was the second fastest in the 8th Air Force. The crew that completed the tour faster was the Griffin Crew, squadron mates of ours. But this shows you how intense the combat was at that time. We were flying almost every day. I finished my 31 missions in 62 days and Griffin did it in 48 days. We often flew two missions a day and it was very intense. We were all absolutely worn out.
“At the end of the 31 missions (what an odd number and I have no idea as to why) crew members could go home. I did not want to go home. My brother was a
medical doctor with Patton’s 3rd Army, and he was still in the thick of battle. The
war was going hot and heavy and I didn’t want to go on home while my brother
was still in the middle of it. He was in a medical aide station, the closest medical
unit to the front lines. They picked soldiers off the firing line, patched them up and sent them to the rear. Brother got a Purple Heart. But at the same time, I did not want to fly another bomber tour! Flying a bomber on a mission from the IP (initial point) into the target, well, the only way I can describe it is sheer terror. Sheer terror. I could not stay without a job, so I started looking around at what perhaps I could get into, particularly a fighter. I heard about a new organization being formed of ex-lead crew bomber pilots who would be flying fighter aircraft as scouts for the bomb commanders. Scouts in the sense of the old western stories
about the cavalry and their Indian scouts out ahead of the cavalry, and then bring word back to the troop commander about what was going on ahead of them. That is why the Second Air Division Scouting Force insignia was an Indian head, an Indian scout.
I turned to Lt. Colonel Jack Merrill, our deputy commander of our group, for
advice. Although I was not a lead crew pilot - I was an element leader - I applied
for the Scouting Force with my fingers crossed. While waiting for a response, I
needed a job. Colonel Merrill had a friend and West Point classmate at Headquarters of the United States Strategic Tactical Air Forces Europe (USSTAFE) located in Bushy Park, London. Lt. General Carl “Tooey” Spaatz, an
Air Force legend, was commander. USSTAFE consisted of the 8th, 9th, and 15th Air Forces. Merrill called his friend, a Lieutenant Colonel at the headquarters, and told him the story. His friend in London said ‘Hey, he doesn’t need to go back into
combat, he has done his part. Tell him to come down here and I’ll give him a job.’
“I got orders transferring me to USSTAFE headquarters. I lived in a private home
and rented a bedroom sharing the bathroom with the family. Bushey Park is a
park, a big park. In the middle were temporary buildings occupied by the
headquarters, and that is where my office was located. I was only there maybe a
month or so. But to this day, I don’t know what my job was supposed to be when I got there, but I remember what I actually did.
“I was in Operations Directorate, and my Lieutenant Colonel boss - whose name I
have forgotten - was the assistant director of operations. Although I did not know what I was supposed to do in the office, almost immediately after I arrived, I was pegged to fly some senior officers over to France. The first was a colonel I was told to ferry to the advanced headquarters that Spaatz had established in France - this was in late August and into September, right after D-day and before the liberation of Paris. The headquarters was in the resort town of Granville on the Atlantic coast. I said, ‘Yes, sir, I’d love to do that’ (not that I had any choice). I asked what kind of airplane and they said C-45. I had not flown a C-45, but that never stopped anybody in those days. I figured that it was pretty much like an AT-10, a tail dragger with two engines and two wheels. So I didn’t even question it. I went out to the airfield early and the crew chief gave me a cockpit check and explained how things worked – which was helpful! So the general came and got into the back and a colonel who came with him got into the co-pilots seat and we took off. My first take off in a C-45.
“Off over the Channel, and now I’m navigating with no navigation aides. We’re
over a combat area in France and heading to Granville, and I’m flying a small,
unarmed passenger plane. Some excitement. Navigation was easy when you’ve
got a town on the coast; all you have to do is find the coast and then find the right town. I’d been told the airport was directly east of town. So I got to Granville, no problem, and I turned heading east for the airstrip and I couldn’t believe it. There on top of a big hill was this dirt strip, it looked more like a road than an airstrip, with a little trailer and a couple of antennas on it that was the airfield’s tower. My first landing in a C-45 is going to be on that strip? I decided to impress the general with my aviation skills by making a smooth, three-point landing like I used to do in the AT-10. The final approach was no problem, flaps down, aiming for the end of the runway. I hit the ground in a perfect “three-pointer”, and up we go and then I come back down again and up we go bouncing all the way down the runway with my white-knuckled passengers are holding on and scared to death. I was very pleased that I got the plane down. That was the last time I ever attempted a three point landing in a C-45. Fifty years later I was back flying C-45’s again and I never tried a three-pointer again. So that’s the kind of flying I did while I was in London.
“One interesting trip I took was with Brigadier General Curtis, a former
Philadelphia banker and General Spaatz’s chief of staff and a non-rated officer -
not a pilot or other flyer. He wanted to be flown to Paris to stake out a new
headquarters for USSTAFE. Now Paris had supposedly been liberated and if you
know the history, Paris went through a couple of liberations and one of them was
“There were still German troops in Paris and a side story to this narrative is about a colonel I met in USSTAFE headquarters who was the Director of Intelligence (I
believe that was the title). Before WWII he had an apartment in Paris, but when
the war started he had to get out since he was working in intelligence even prior to WW-II. He closed and locked his apartment and departed France. Now that Paris was liberated, he had to get back to reestablish intelligence operations on the continent. The colonel flew to Paris with a couple of his staff and after arrival he wonders if his apartment is still there. So they drove to his apartment - he still had a key - opens the door and discovers that nothing had changed - nobody had been in the apartment all through the war. Amazing. There were sill bottles of wine in the apartment that he had left there before the war - well aged!
“The colonel and his staff were celebrating the liberation when suddenly when
suddenly they became aware of marching boots coming down the street. The
colonel looks out the window, and there is a platoon of German soldiers marching
down this narrow street, searching door to door! Consider the situation. Here is
General Spaatz’s director of intelligence who’s got all this top-secret intelligence
information, and it looks as if he is going to be a prisoner-of-war! The colonel and
his entourage had .45 automatics which were totally inadequate for the situation.
Then they hear the German jackboots coming up the stairs, and soon after were
knocking on the door to the colonel’s apartment. He opens the door. Suddenly a
German second lieutenant (unter leutnant) is facing a full colonel of the United
States Air Force right in front of him – and he was absolutely stunned. The
colonel, who spoke German, told him ‘Son, the war is over. Paris has been taken
by the Allies. May I suggest that unless you wish to spend the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp, that you take your men and get the hell out of here as fast as you can! The Lieutenant was totally confused and he said “Yes sir, thank you sir,” saluted, turned around and marched the Germans off!
“I took General Curtis over to Paris a day after the real liberation. The purpose as I mentioned was to find a headquarters for General Spaatz. General Curtis had a
specific building in mind. I drove into the city from the airfield with him in a jeep.
The streets of Paris were lined with Frenchmen cheering and many of those
cheering were beautiful young girls. Here I am, 20 years old and all these girls
want to come up and kiss me, and the old Brigadier had this stern face looking straight ahead and wouldn’t stop the Jeep so that we could cement American-
French relations! The building we drove to had been a monastery pre-war, but the Germans had taken it over as a headquarters. When we entered, it looked like the Germans had got out of their chairs and left the minute before. There were papers stashed on the desks, typewriters, file cabinets, personal items, etc. It looked like the Germans just stood up and marched out - didn’t take anything. General Curtis inspected the building and then drove straight back to the airport and then flew back to London.”
more on the scouts here
Bill before a mission
“After about a month in London headquarters, the orders assigning me to the
Second Air Division Scouting Force arrived. The orders assigned me on temporary
duty to the 355th Fighter Group at Steeple Morden, England. The three Scouting
Forces - one for each of the three bomb divisions - were assigned to a fighter bases for logistic support. The Scouts were dependent on them to feed us, give us airplane, quarters, etc. The markings on my P-51 indicated it was a 355th Fighter Group aircraft, and that was to confuse the enemy. It wasn’t until ten years ago that I discovered my planes letter designation, “WR- Z,” had originally belonged to Harold Brown, one of the top American Aces, but he had been shot down in the mid-1944, and his aircraft designator assigned to another P-51 - mine. The only difference between the 355th aircraft markings and the Scouting Force’s is that we had a bar above the first two alphabetical indicators - “WR” in my case.
“The Scouting Force’s purpose was to essentially be the eyes of the bomb
commander. A colonel by the name of Bud Peaslee was leading a bombing
mission one day in early 1944 and all he could see in front of him was clouds. The
winter of 1944-1945 was the worst winter in a hundred years in Europe. The
weather was as much a problem, if not more so than the Luftwaffe. Bud Peaslee
thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I had some eyes out ahead of me where I
could see out ahead of those clouds or I could see what the situation was going to be in front of me, and then over the target?”
“We did have reconnaissance aircraft but they would just look at the general area and they were not specific to the route and altitude and targets the bombers were doing. Peaslee recommended this idea of having scouts for the bomb commanders and using former lead-crew bomber pilots since they understood the problems facing the leaders of the bombers. Whereas fighter pilots, who were originally considered for scouts, did not understand the problems the bombers had flying in and out of weather. Also, most fighter pilots were not good instrument pilots. Peaslee got approval and he formed an an experimental scouting force, and when that proved doable, Scouting Forces were formed for each bomb division.
“Before reporting to Steeple Morden airfield, I was sent to Goxhill airfield in
Northern England which was a P-51 training base. They had AT-6 trainers like I
flew in Advanced Flying School. In this case, however, the student pilot sat in the back seat. Usually a student sat in the front seat but they put us in the back seat because in an AT-6 the wing is out in front of you like in a P-51, thus it gives you the same perspective, particularly when landing. We flew about ten hours in the AT-6 before they took us to a P-51B, the model with the “greenhouse” canopy. I flew about 10 hours in a P-51B, and then I was considered ready for combat. The only time I ever fired the guns on a P-51, before I fired them for real, was when I was still at Goxhill. We were sent out to an estuary of the North Sea and shot up logs in the water! That was our gunnery training in the P-51! As bad as the gunnery training in Advanced Flying School; in other words, no training of value!
“Upon completion of P-51 transition school, I received orders to Steeple Morden.
After arrival, I was assigned an almost brand new P-51D with the bubble canopy as my personal aircraft. What was more important was that we had some of the first K-14 computing gunsights in the European Theater. The K-14 could essentially make a fighter pilot out of anybody. They were so good.
“The K-14 had an oblong piece of glass mounted in front of the pilot, and the
throttle had a bicycle handle grip that operated the gun sight. When the gun sight was on, a white, light-like circle appeared in the glass plate, which made the circle appear to be projected out front of the aircraft. When the pilot rotated the bicycle-like throttle handle, the circle projected on the gunsight glass would expand or get smaller. The objective was to get the wingspan of the enemy aircraft inside that circle. If his wingspan was inside that circle and you fired your guns, you got him. Even in a steep turn it was effective him as the gun sight would compute your lead and other factors. I only had to use it once. See the attached drawing.
“In my scouting force, there were nine ex-bomber pilots, and we had 12 ex-fighter pilots assigned to us to fly our wings to protect us. We were bomber pilots assigned to fly fighter aircraft - not “experienced” fighter pilots. Our mission was not as fighter pilots. Our mission was to go out ahead of the bombers by 30 minutes, on their route, at their altitude, and report the weather and enemy and target conditions. When the bombers got to the IP, the initial point - where they turn on to their bomb run - it was our job to help the bomber stream to tighten-up their formation for the critical bomb run where tight formations were essential to accurate bombing. We would be above the bombers at that point and we would help them turn short from the IP to gain better position if necessary, generally trying to help the bomb groups get into good shape for the run to the target. We would follow the bombers into the target, watch the bombing and results. After the bomb drop, the bombers would proceed to a rally point where they would try to get their formations back together again. Over the target all hell breaks loose from gflak, bombers going down, it was utter chaos. The Scout’s task was to help the bombers get back together into a tight formation as protection against any enemy fighters. We would help them at the rally point, always in contact with the bomb commanders. Once the bombers were together and heading home, usually on a different route from that used to the target, the Scouts would go out ahead again to report to the bomb commander what his route looked like all the way back to England.
That was a routine mission. Most of our missions were not routine.
Something was always happening. But that was the purpose of the Scouting Force - give the bomb commanders an extra edge in accomplishing his mission.
Second Air Division Scouting Force
First Air Division Scouting Force P-51s on their way to
a position thirty-minutes flying time ahead of their
B-17 “Big Brother” B-17s
Bill bags an ME-262
“Towards the end of the war, around January of 1945, the Luftwaffe seldom came into the air, but when they did, they came up in gaggles of 100-150 ME-109’s and FW-190’s. The reason was they had a shortage of pilots and the Allies dominated the air space. The Luftwaffe were sending out pilots with no more than 112 hours of flying time. They were cannon fodder. These were kids who really didn’t have enough flying time to survive. So they’d come up in these big formations with the leader and the deputy being the experienced pilots. Nevertheless, the “kids” may have been inexperienced, but they still could and were deadly against the bombers. Also, the targets for heavy bombers were becoming scarce by 1945. The Allies had already bombed just about everything.
It was very unusual to have all 8th Air Force bombers going to the same area.
Normally, during 1944, the different bomb wings and groups would be sent to
multiple targets that may have been located all over France, Germany, Holland,
Belgium, the Scandinavian countries - except Sweden. Towards the end of the war, however, there were occasions where the entire 8th Air Force was sent to the same area with just a few targets relatively close to each other. One of those special days was the mission to the area around Munich, a long way from England. That’s why the P-51 was such a great improvement in the air war because it carried 110 gallon wing tank on each wing and that’s what gave it the range to escort bombers all the way to distant targets.
“It was a beautiful clear day, and that was a blessing for that time of year. We went out ahead of the bombers, and there were an estimated 1200 four-engine bombers in a continual string that must have been at least 50 miles long. I’d never seen anything like it before - or since. We scouted the targets around Munich and everything was clear and we told the bomb commander he could bomb visual. Sometimes it was necessary for the bombers to visually see the target before releasing their bombs. A radar drop was sometimes not acceptable because it wouldn’t be accurate enough and there were times that collateral damage was unacceptable, or the target was of such an urgent nature the top commanders wished to confirm target destruction. The Scouts, being 30-minutes ahead of the bombers could recommend to the bomb commander to bomb visual, bomb radar, or go on to his secondary target - whatever, as the youth of today would say!
“After Colonel Brooks, our Scout leader gave his target condition report to the
bomb commander, I took my flight of four P-51s off to the left of the bomber
stream as they proceeded on their bomb run. Our task was to observe the bomb
groups of the Second Air Division, B-24s, as they converged onto the target. There were eight of us in the scouting force and I was the deputy with Brooks as the lead. I had four P-51’s in my flight and the leader had four P-51’s in his, but we had separated and he was flying out around the target area, and as I said, was flying to the left of the column. We were flying at about the same altitude as the bombers. In addition to about 1200 bombers, there were about 800 to 900 American fighters in the air, so the Luftwaffe wasn’t going to fuss around with that – so we thought.
So I’m flying along, the bombers are on their way to the target and I’m tooling
along keeping an eye on the bombers and the general area. One of my fighter
pilots got on the radio and said, ‘Bootleg Deputy take a look over your left
shoulder and to the rear. I look over my left shoulder and could see two airplanes off to our left coming up rather fast. At that distance I couldn’t recognize them.
We were at cruise speed, about 220 mph. The two unidentified planes were
coming up fast and I assumed they were American fighters. As they got closer
their configuration looked a little strange. Finally we could see they were
German, and we recognized them as ME-262’s. They were still a ways out and
one of them peeled off and I sent two of my fighters after him, which was kind of
silly as they’d never catch him, but the other one kept approaching and I didn’t
know exactly what to do since I did not have the thinking process of a fighter pilot. The 262 was off my left wing about fifty yards and then slows down. He was not close enough to see the smile on his face but I could see that big black cross on the side of his plane. He just flew along with us and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Now what the hell am I supposed to do?’ Decision time. I told my wingman to get ready to turn into the 262. I said to drop tanks on my command. We had already emptied them; however, we always liked to bring the empty tanks home as they were in short supply. In this case we had to drop them because they ruin the aerodynamics in combat. So I told my wingman to drop your tanks and we turned into the 262 That’s exactly what he was waiting for us to do. He turns into us and puts on power, and he just went right under us, hell-bent for the head of the bombers. He was moving right along - fast!
Artist depiction of Bill chasing an Me-262
German jet. Note Billʼs wing tanks being
dropped. Not a totally accurate portrayal,
but gives the idea.
“The Me-262 is streaking for the head of the bombers. He is going too fast to
make a hit on the bombers except by pure luck, and he didn’t attempt to make
another pass. What he did was loop up around in a broad turn to his left. I don’t
know if he forgot about us, if he didn’t care about us, but in the mean time I had
come around and was climbing (staggering) after him - quite a distance away - and I have the throttle almost full. He made a big wide sweep and I don’t know if he was trying to get down to the ground as fast as he could because he’s out of fuel or what his circumstances - action was happening rapidly - but what I did was do a wing over and found myself on his tail. He is heading down fast. I believe to this day that he was very low on fuel and was concentrated on getting down on the ground as fast as possible. I get his wings inside the circle of my K-14 gunsight and although we’re going down at an incredible speed - I got up to 450 mph and I almost got into compressibility and I could feel the controls starting to give me trouble - I start firing my guns. When you fire machine guns, we were taught to take shot bursts. I could see my tracers start on the left wing tip of the 262 and walk across to the other wing tip. I saw the left engine start smoking and then the 262 went into a cloud. I don’t believe he ever pulled out because I believe that when the bullets came across from wing tip to wing tip, across the cockpit, they killed him.
“I don’t know how they knew but when I got back from that mission and went into
operations, there was a teletype waiting for me from my bomb group, the 491st,
saying, “Congratulations on your kill today - 491st Bomb Group.”
“One time when I was over the middle of Germany with the Scouts - I was deputy leader again, and the commander of our scouting force, Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Brooks was the lead. There were four of us in P-51’s. Johnny and I each had a fighter pilot wingman. My engine started acting up, periodically running rough. I couldn’t see any indication on the instruments as to what might be wrong, but being deep into Germany, I didn’t particularly want to bail out should the unknown problem get worse. I told Colonel Brooks about the trouble and he told me I’d better head to the nearest Allied airfield - not take risks. I called on the frequency of an emergency radio homing station that had been set up in Europe, a frequency that any Allied aircraft could call and receive a steering to the closest airbase. They directed me towards the closest airfield in Allied hands, which was unknown to me at the time. As I fly along over Germany, I see in the distance a B-17 all by itself. I get up closer and note he has three engines feathered! He was losing altitude slowly and doing a beautiful job of keeping as much altitude as he could with only one operating engine. He was the same heading that I had been given.
We were at about 15,000 feet and I carefully wagged my wings as I approached the front of his plane, off to his right. I switched to the bomber’s radio frequency. I kept way out from him though, not within gun range because gunners on the bombers were trigger happy and they were scared. If they saw a fighter out there they’d start shooting at you until you can identify yourself. So I called the B-17 and said, ‘Can I be of any assistance to you. I see you’ve got a little trouble.’ He says, ‘We’re OK but we’re heading towards an airfield that we’ve been directed to.’ And I said, ‘You’re going the same direction I am, maybe we’re going to the same place.’ He said, ‘I sure would appreciate if you stayed with me.’ Of course he didn’t know I was also having problems. He was all by himself and any German fighters that came upon him would wipe him out in a blink, but on the other hand, any German fighter would not know that I had trouble. The German would only see a P-51 protecting a B-17. I said, ‘Sure, I’ll stick with you.’ So I got above him and did S’s because I couldn’t slow down to his speed. We finally arrived at the airfield and the B-17 pilot made a beautiful landing. Nobody in his crew was hurt either. Then I landed. It was a base just a few miles out of Liege, Belgium. The German forces were just 10 miles out of Liege and heading towards Liege and this is during the Battle of the Bulge.
“The base I’d landed at had a P-47 group that had just within the past few days
been taken over from the Luftwaffe. There were two mechanics from the 8th Air
Force for troubled aircraft from the 8th Air Force, like the B-17, but the mechanics were B-17 mechanics. They had never worked on a P-51. They said they would see what they could do, but held out little hope of success. There was no place for me to stay on the base because all the guys had their own tents having just taken over the base from the Germans, who left nothing intact. The American ground forces in the area had set up quarters in Liege where they had “requisitioned a small hotel. The air base people provided a Jeep and I went into Liege. I was back and forth for a couple of days, walked around town during the Battle of the Bulge and bought souvenirs. The mechanics couldn’t find anything - they were obviously out of their element - so I was getting pretty disgusted.
Finally after a couple of day, I decided that I was going home! I told the two mechanics to put my plane back together. My battery was dead, could not use the radios. I went into the P-47’s base operations and filled out a flight clearance for England. The base duty officer would not sign it because my aircraft had not been released by maintenance. I walked out of there and got to thinking, ‘I’m a Captain, am I going to let this 9th Air Force idiot tell me what I can do and can’t do?’ I said ‘To hell with them!
I went back to my airplane and said, ‘Put the plug in from the battery cart. I’m
going home.’ In the mean time somebody had taken all my maps and, as I said, I
had no radio because the battery was dead. I started up the engine and it was
running rough. I checked the magnetos and one was not operating. I only had one mag. I said to heck with it and began to taxi out to the active runway. At the same time the P-47’s were also taxiing out for a mission. On missions, both bombers and fighters always had a spare aircraft in case one in the regular formation had a mechanical problem. There was a spare P-47 all by himself at the back of the pack. I taxi behind him and when he moves onto the runway, I moved up on his right wing. He looks over at me. He waves with a smile and off we go together.
“Now my problem was to find my way home. When Allied aircraft departed the
continent, they were supposed to leave over a particular a particular coastal town, Ostend, Belgium. This was supposed to help Allied radar people to recognize “friend or foe.” I had the problem of navigating to that small town which was at least an hour flying time away, and getting there by dead reckoning from Liege Belgium without any maps. I am 20 years old so I can do anything! I start heading towards the coast (the easy part) on a heading that I hoped would take me to Ostend, a pure guess. I flew on the deck to dodge any engagement with the enemy.
Eventually I see the coast in the distance, and I can see several towns - they are numerous along the Belgium, Dutch, French coasts - but at that point, I could not tell one from another. I finally settle on one town that seems to have the physical characteristics of Ostend that I could remember. I’m on the deck, flying over rooftops and church steeples at about 350 mph. About the time I am over the middle of town, and suddenly, an unknown number of 20mm guns open-up on me. I was going so fast and low that none of them hit me, thank heavens, because I had surprised them. So who were they? Friend or foe? What happened, due to my “superior” dead reckoning navigation, I managed to fly over the only town on that coast that had been held by the Germans throughout the entire war! Dunkirk. The town I was shooting for was just down the coast a little ways. Great navigation, Bill!
“Now I have my next problem. I’m over the English channel and I stay on the
wave tops because I have no radio contact and the radar’s going to pick me up and they’re going to think I’m the enemy. I’ve got to stay below the radar. I cross the English coast on top of the waves, reach landfall and now I have to find my base. I was pretty proud that I’d gotten this far and the engine hadn’t quit. I start heading to where I think my base is but I got lost - totally lost and now I was low on fuel. Then I saw two P-51’s flying and I saw they had the insignia on the side for the 355th Fighter Group from Steeple Morden, my home base. Pure luck again. I mosey up along side of them and hand gestured to show my radio was out, and then indicated down. They got the message and took me to an airfield. I looked down and knew it wasn’t our airfield at Steeple Morden. I waved my head “no” and I pointed to them and then pointed down and they got the message and they took me home with them.
“My boss, Colonel Brooks was really unhappy with me that I’d been gone for
several days. I told him what had happened, he didn’t really believe me but then
they had to change the engine of my plane and that convinced him.
“I completed my missions in April 1945. By the time I finished my missions, I
was a captain and had done 31 missions in a bomber and 175 combat hours in the P-51 and was not old enough to vote or to legally buy a drink. I was still 20 years old.
I came home just a short time before the European war ended. There was a point system where each person was awarded points for length of time overseas,
time in combat, decorations received, number of girlfriends (just kidding) etc. I
enough points that when I returned to the Zone of the Interior as we called the
USA, I was able to request and get my assignment of choice, which was flying the North Atlantic scheduled military airline in C-54’s, another exciting flying job, but no one shooting at you.
I spent the next 17½ years in the Air Force, retiring in 1962.
I want to give special thanks to my friend Bill Getz. He helped me out a lot with editing this interview and it looks better than my dad and I could ever make it. Bill has a lot more stories and I can't wait to hear them!
all photo's courtesy of Bill Getz except for the last two
Evan Isenstein-Brand 2/01/09