Captain Marvel Domke
I enlisted as an Army Air Corps Cadet for Pilot Training because I realized I could not avoid military service. I did not want to “Walk” in the Army, and I could not swim. I was sworn in September 17, 1942 at 10:00 a.m.: the same day my Draft Board notice said I would be inducted by draft.
I graduated January 7, 1944 a 2nd Lt. Pilot, AC-AUS. Learned to fly the B-24 Liberator at Tarrant AF Base (Carswell) and trained my crew at Biggs Field, ElPaso, Texas. I was issued a new B-24 at Lincoln, Nebraska and we flew it to England, over the Greenland Ice Cap and Iceland, arriving August 12, 1944. We flew our first Combat Mission Sept. 13, 1944. Never finding, or able to contact our Squadron or Group after take-off; we “tacked-on” another Group that was also assigned the ULM warehouse and storage target. Our Group was recalled because of bad weather, but we completed the mission and brought back good strike photos and some flack damage as proof. Had we been 30 minutes later returning to base, they would have listed us as “missing in action” on our first mission.
After ten missions we were selected to be a “Lead Crew” to lead a Squadron of 12 planes or the Group of 36 planes. My crew worked and trained hard, perfecting our skills, as a result we led the entire Eighth Air Force in Bomb Strike records during the Month of December 1944 ... during the “Battle of the Bulge”.
My Squadron and or Group always flew in very tight formation which discouraged fighter attack and improved the bomb strike pattern; and, I employed evasive action techniques to evade the Anti-Aircraft guns (Flack) so well that we never lost a man or aircraft of those I led on the remaining 20 combat missions. This “no loss” record was very much envied and respected after about 8 or 10 missions by most flying personnel on base, resulting in many of the Squadron and Group Administrative Flight Officers vying for opportunities to schedule missions as part of our crew. Col. Crawford, a new Base Commander, chose to fly his first four Combat missions as my Copilot, and served very subjectively.
This is not to say that we had no problems, difficulties or harrowing experiences. When the situations got rough, or when it was smooth and beautiful, I often closeted myself in my oxygen mask and the roar of the engines. Without a thumb on the radio button, I was totally alone to Pray, Thank, Praise and Sing ... My favorite battle song was “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” in German or English. It brought much comfort.
Twice while using the Squadron in front of us on the Bomb-run as a decoy, the German Anti-Aircraft Gunners scored direct hits on the lead plane of that squadron, causing blood splatter and debris damage to our squadron planes. Losing an engine was a fairly common occurrence; but on one mission, in heavy weather conditions, we burned out 16 engines on 12 airplanes, climbing higher, faster, through the “soup” than all others squadrons in the vicinity to insure against mid-air collisions in clouds so thick we could not see our own wing tips. Many planes were lost that day, but none from our 706th Squadron; only the 16 engines. On another mission a shell ripped through all four amplifiers for the turbo super chargers. We limped home below 10,000 ft ... Alone. Most of our flying over Germany was between 17,000 and 28,500 ft. altitude.
Our last mission, No. 30, on Wednesday, March 30, 1945. The target was Submarine pens at Wilhemshaven, Germany. This was a massive effort with perhaps as many as 1500 Bombers hitting a number of strategic targets in and around the heavily fortified city of Wilhemshaven. The bomber stream was an hour long over the target area ahead us, and we could see the cloud of flack bursts that long before we got there. We had lost and feathered Engine No. 2 over the North Sea. Then right at “Bombs Away”, a shell burst just ahead and right of our nose. Many pieces of shrapnel hit our plane. One cut the 2 inch oil line to Engine No. 3, another cut the throttle cable to Engine No. 4. In a few minutes only No. 1 was turning. Porter, Flight Engineer, made emergency adjustments to get maximum power out of the engine and we pulled it just below every “red line” on the instruments. We were alone and losing altitude fast. Needless to say we lightened our load, throwing everything we could out the windows and hatches, helmets, flack vests, ammunition, in-operable 50 caliber guns, ammo racks, etc., keeping only 50 rounds for-each operable gun. Then it was prayer time. We contacted our fighter protection by radio, which we never saw because they stayed high in the sun, but gave us much and constant encouragement and assurance. We flew just north of the barrier islands north of Germany and the Netherlands. At the north tip of Holland it was decision point, about equidistant to Allied occupied territory to the South in Europe, or to the English coast and home to the west, across the frigid waters of the North Sea. Where, if we ditched, our life expectancy was 10 minutes unless we could get out of the water and be picked up very quickly.
Jim O'Conner, Chief Navigator, had calculated that if our engine held constant power, we could cross the English Coast at 1000 ft. altitude and meet the ground at about Home Base at Bungay, England, or get to friendly territory in Europe to crash-land or bail-out if we didn't find a landing strip immediately. I consulted each crew member's concern and opinion; then announced that we would all have a minute of prayer and go home. And, that we would all attend the Lenten Worship Service together at the Protestant Chapel that evening. We did. The Engine held. We approached the field on the landing runway heading at 1000 ft. altitude. But as I eased the throttle back for the approach, she shuddered and froze up. So I made the third "dead stick" landing of my flying career. Again, no men or planes lost. Only Engines.
Our tour Bombing record bases on all available strike photos of the 20 missions we led was: 76.4% of all bombs hit inside the 2000 ft. diameter circle of the Pinpointed center of target.
I was awarded the following medals: