While Bradley and the Jones crew had no way of knowing it, events that would soon involve them were even then unfolding in Britain. The U.S. Eighth Air Force, which had arrived in Britain just two years previously with a small cadre of advance party and which a year later was still hard-pressed to put up 100 planes over Germany (and those, without fighter escort) was now growing rapidly. From a half-dozen heavy bomber groups at the end of the first year in Britain, the Eighth was building up to an astonishing strength. Additional B-24 and B-17 heavy bomber groups had arrived from the U.S. One of the B-24 bomber groups to arrive was the 453rd Bombardment Group (H). This group would become operational February 5, 1944. Bradley would arrive in England and would be assigned as a bombardier in the 733rd Bombardment Squadron of this Group. Could it perhaps be said that the great air war was "on hold" pending Bradley's arrival?
January 11, 1944 was the fateful date for Bradley and the others. Headquarters, Army Air Base, Topeka, Kansas issued Movement Orders 370.5 #54 (94-47) to Heavy Bombardment Crew No. FP-830-AJ-43 (a new designation for the crew.) The Order read, in part, "You are asgd to Shipment FP-830-AJ as Crew No. FP-830-AJ-43 and to B-24 airplane number 42-100236, on aircraft project #92335R. . . . You are equipped per movement order . . . You are reld fr atchd unasgd, 2d Heavy Bomb Pro. Hq., this station and will proceed to Morrison Field, West Palm Beach, Florida or such other Air Transport Command Departure Station as may be directed, thence to the overseas destination of Shipment FP-830-J . . . This is a permanent change of station. No dependents to accompany you from this point to the departure station. You will not discuss this movement." This Order was classified SECRET.
Bradley says that he and the crew were sent to the ATC Departure Station, Homestead, Florida. On 14 January 1944 Hq Sta #8 CAR-ATC, Homestead Army Air Base issued Operations Orders No. 13 . . . "the following named O and EM (Officers and Enlisted Men) are asgd shipment . . . and will depart Homestead." At this time the crew consisted of:
2nd Lt Donald O. Jones, O-804345
Flt Ofcr William Croft, Jr.
2nd Lt Frederick E. Stein, O-752829
2nd Lt Herbert A. Bradley, Jr., O-752310
S/Sgt Murray P. Fried, ASN 12159615
S/Sgt Seymour Goldberg, ASN 12190287
Sgt Ernest J. Finocchio, Jr., ASN 11096285
Sgt. Hoy Seay, ASN 34357119
Sgt. Clarence E. Mace, ASN 33485353
Sgt. Ralph J. Westbrook, ASN 15324205
The Air Transport Command operated a Northern Air Route when weather
permitted. That route was from airfields in Maine, Newfoundland, Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland, but Bradley was to make the crossing overseas by the southern route. With some variations, this route was as shown on the map. See Fig. 3. Bradley told it this way,
We took off from Topeka, Kansas for Homestead AFB in Florida. We had a brand new B-24J aircraft and took off into a blinding snowstorm. Our pilot and plane commander, Lt. Don Jones, grew up in Anniston, Alabama, so with a rather minor deviation from our prescribed course, we made Anniston. And did we make it! Don buzzed the entire town and his parents' home. Don really let everyone know he was on his way overseas. Shortly thereafter we opened the waist windows and inhaled the much warmer air of Florida. I saw my first palm trees. It was like being in another world.
Our temporary base was Homestead, Florida. While there we took care of some unfinished business--checked out our insurance beneficiaries, drew up our wills, etc.
After spending all our money by going into Miami every night, we finally got our 'movement orders.' 'Well,' we said, 'This is IT! We are off to war!"
So we took off. After being airborne a short time, Jones opened a sealed envelope marked SECRET. This gave us our overseas destination and the route we were to fly. Yes, it was Britain--just what we wanted, and not Italy.
When we landed in Puerto Rico, Jones opened a secret box and handed each crew member a new .45 caliber handgun with leather shoulder holster. We field--stripped our weapons and cleaned them from the Cosmolene 'gook' in which they were packed. Now we were 'real authentic combat warriors!"
In Puerto Rico it was a beautiful sunny evening. We located the Officers Club. I recall walking down a hill to the ocean. The otherwise beautiful and inviting beach was dotted with signs which read, 'No Swimming--Barracuda.' Of course there were several small native boys splashing in the surf, anyway, and I was tempted to join them. I recall returning to the Club and listening to a match-stick thin black musician playing the '40s music on the piano. That was nice!
Our next hitch took us to Trinidad. One look at that airbase--we found it so depressing that we made haste to take on gas and continue on. We hoped for more fun further along.
Then on to Belem. We crossed British, Dutch and French Guiana. What a thrilling sight it was to fly across the mouth of the great Amazon River. I believe it took us about an hour, flying nearly 160 mph, to cross it. At Belem we all purchased a few souvenirs. I bought a pair of flying boots and a leather-covered stiletto. Some crews bought a monkey and took it on their plane--to their regret! It was a near catastrophe to have a monkey aboard an aircraft. It was nearly impossible to catch and it would dart about the plane, pulling every
switch in the cockpit. I doubt if many of those monkeys made it to Dakar! It was at Belem that I saw my first green bananas. They tasted like the yellow ones but the skins were bright 'Kelly green.' Quite a surprise to us.
The next and last stop on the South American continent was Natal--out on the tip of the nose of Brazil. At Natal we were briefed very thoroughly for the nearly 2,000 mile Atlantic crossing. Having come this far, both men and plane, the Air Force didn't want to lose us now! We were briefed on the weather systems and fronts we were likely to encounter. And on that, they weren't overstating the hazards. We were also warned that we could have our first meeting with the enemy. The Germans were fully aware that hundreds of aircraft were being ferried along this route and, with them, hundreds of airmen. The German Air Force (GAF) could not get at us from the air, but German submarines were stationed along the way to capture any crews so unfortunate as to have to ditch their planes. The Germans also tried to harass and endanger the planes by sending radio signals duplicating the Dakar radio range signal. This would give the American aircraft crew a false reading intended to lead them astray. As a counter-measure, the crews were instructed to check their radio range finder with the compass reading. When these did not check out, the pilot was to fly by dead--reckoning. We were warned that as we neared Dakar, West Africa, we could encounter dust storms known to reach a height of 13,000 feet!
To give our planes the necessary range to make the Atlantic crossing and later long--distance flights on our route to Europe, special portable gas tanks had been installed in the bomb bays, so fuel was not a problem. I was surprised to find that each plane made its way across the ocean alone--not in any formation.
So we departed Natal, Brazil, bound for Dakar, West Africa. Almost immediately we encountered constant thunderstorms. We were near the equator and we passed through several equatorial weather fronts, one after another. I'd never seen such a deluge of water in my entire life--seemed like we were more a submarine than an airplane, plowing through the water. And lightning--lots of it! A strange thing happened. I've since learned it is called 'St. Elmo's fire.' This electricity or lightning danced around our plane, across the wings and around the props. Odd!
Of that flight to Dakar, Jones said (1998), "It was an 8½-hour flight, perhaps longer, and we were on instruments all the way. The auto-pilot didn't work so I had to hand--fly that 'turkey.' Our navigator, 2nd. Lt. Fred Stein, worked his buns off. He brought us in to the Dakar landing just as planned. He was a great navigator. I guess the entire flight was a good 'trial run' for all of us."
So the Jones crew and their B-24 aircraft had now touched down on their third continent--one more to go! In Dakar, West Africa, still more new experiences awaited them. Of this, Bradley said,
We were assigned our sleeping tents (under olive trees)--sleep?--impossible--I thought I'd freeze to death. That first night I just shivered
and prayed for the dawn. It was short-sleeve weather in the daytime but nights were frigid on the desert. The next morning our first thought was to go out to our plane and get our winter flying suits that had been issued to us. These were leather jackets and pants lined with sheepskin and leather fleece-lined flying boots. We were surprised when, approaching our plane, we saw that it was being guarded by native soldiers, the Senegals. These guys were tall--looked seven feet tall. And black--they were as black as any piece of coal your grandmother ever put into her baseburner. They carried long rifles with bayonets, wore red fez hats, khaki shirts and blue pants. They were friendly enough, I guess, but I wouldn't want to run into one of them at night in an alley, especially an alley in West Africa. The Senegals are a very proud people. It was good to have them on our side. I remember that in the 1960s a black man came into my office in Oklahoma City. I knew immediately that he was a Senegal. He was! There are no blacker people on earth, I'm sure. We had a good talk.
The next leg of our travel odyssey was from Dakar, West Africa to Marrakesh, French Morocco--quite a long haul. Our route carried us out over the Sahara Desert--endless miles of sand. We made it okay and spent an enjoyable week there while waiting for the weather in Wales to clear. What can I say about Marrakesh? There was nothing in our past life to prepare us for this place--the people, their customs, the native hawkers descending upon us, selling all kinds of things. Daytime we spent drinking 'vino' at open-air restaurants in town and trading with the natives. I had left Homestead Air Base with about 30 cents, but along the way I found that cigarettes were a better medium of exchange. Cigarettes were 5 cents a pack in the Army PX so I went trading with these. Hey, I arrived later in Wales with about $30.00.
Nighttime was something else! We strapped on our loaded .45s before going out. It was reported that Germany had many spies in the area. I expect that was true, but I never met one.
With weather clearing in Wales, we prepared for the last leg of our flight. We were given a rather long and careful briefing. Our route to England would take us into a combat zone, particularly along the coast of Portugal. We were warned that German Air Force Junker 88s and Dornier 217 aircraft might greet us. They were known, also, to patrol the Brest peninsula. We were told, too, of radio stations set up in France to broadcast radio signals intended to lead us off-course and over German-held territory. Our gunners were told to load their guns and to be alert and watchful.
Like most legs of our flight, this would be another long one. Our spare gas tanks were a comfort. We would fly quite a dog-leg route: northwest from Marrakesh out over the Atlantic to the 11th meridian, then north past Portugal, Spain and France, then a turn northeast to our destination. Our navigator, Fred Stein, would have to be 'on the ball,' as he always was.
We were to land at Valley airbase in Wales. Along the last portion of this trip, Ireland would be off to our left. Our briefing officer reminded us that Ireland was a neutral country and that we would be interned by
the Irish if we landed there. We learned later, to our amusement, that large signs were placed at intervals along the Irish coast--signs with large arrows pointing to England!
Well, this was my first flight in the nose turret with loaded .50 calibers 'at the ready,' but our flight to Wales was uneventful. We landed safely on a beautiful sunny afternoon. Seemed unreal to think there was a war in progress not far from this place.
We would soon leave our plane behind; it would undergo many modifications to fit it for use by the Eighth Air Force. We would be moved on by train to our assigned unit at some airbase in England.
Yes, the Jones crew and the B-24J had made it--had flown more than 10,000 miles and had touched four continents, and yet were only some 2,800 miles 'as the crow flies' from the USA. This crew, it is true, had a relatively uneventful crossing via the southern route. Such was not always the case! James Hoseason, in his incomparable book, The 1000 Day Battle,1 wrote of disasters other crews and aircraft experienced: a plane 'landing long' on the short runway at Belem--the plane ground-looped and broke the left undercarriage. The propeller from No. 2 engine snapped off and entered the cockpit where it cut off the pilot's arm. Another aircraft that had taken off from Marrakesh lost an engine when about 75 miles out and when attempting to return to Marrakesh, flew too far south in the dark and crashed into the mountains. All 14 aboard perished. The Angel of Death seemed never far away!
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