MY MEMOIRS OF WORLD WAR II
by Ernie Yuhas, Bombardier, 705th
Ten men were assigned to the Tonapah Air Base in Nevada for overseas combat training. Jack Berry, the navigator, and I were housed together. Jack was from Cleveland, Ohio and I, Ernie Yuhas, the bombardier and nose gunner, was from Harrisburg, Illinois. Our first pilot, William Sodja, who was from Utah and a graduate from the University of Nevada, and Ted Lundell, our copilot was from Connecticut. He was a preacher, and had been a classmate of Billy Graham in their seminary. They were housed across the hall from us in another room.
Our gunners were Eddie Green, waist gunner, from Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts; Loren Van de Voorde, waist gunner, from Des Moines, Iowa; John Michal, tail gunner, from York, PA; Robert Waugh, radio operator, from Akron Ohio; Luther Cobb, ball turret gunner from St Louis, MO; and George Boyd, engineer, from Jamaica Plains, MA.
After we completed our training by flying a twenty-four plane formation of two squadrons of B 24s in a mock attack on the Naval Base at San Diego, we were assigned to Hamilton Air Base to be shipped overseas.
On July 16, 1944, we took off in a brand new B 24, and Sodja opened our secret orders, and we learned that we were going to England to be assigned to the 8th Air Force. We landed at Amarillo TX. We had solenoid trouble and could not start one engine so we stayed the night. We landed in Dyersburg TN then we flew on to Grenier Field, Manchester NH. The next morning we took off for Goose Bay, Labrador and spent the night there to avoid a storm heading for Greenland.
From Goose Bay we flew a great circle route across the southern tip of Greenland and landed at Meeks Field in Iceland. From there we flew to Valley, Wales. We left the plane there and were flown to Stone, England, and then flown to Warrington, England. From there we were flown to Northern Ireland.
Our crew received combat orientation for the 8th Air Force at the air base in Cluntoe, Northern Ireland. Upon completion of our schooling, we were flown to a centering point in Norwich. Our crew was transported by lorry to Flixton Air Base at Bungay England to the 446th Bomb Group and assigned to the 705th Squadron.
We flew our first mission on Friday, August 25, 1944 to Rostock on the Baltic Sea. Our target was the Rocket Plant. We were in the plane called "Little Hutch". The Group of 36 planes hit the target. The 705th lost the plane called "Happy Go Lucky" and all 10 men were killed in action. The 706th lost one plane. Later we learned that 4 men were KIA and 7 were POWs.
We were scheduled to fly our 13th mission, Friday, October 13. Our 446th Bomb Group was sending up 36 planes to Frankfurt, Germany to bomb 3 fighter air bases there. The rest of the 8th Air Force was going to Bremen. Our 446th would have a fighter escort of 400 P51's; so we knew that we were being used as bait to lure up the German fighters. At the same time our fighter escort would be holding back a distance to help lure up the enemy fighters looking for easy pickings. We were in for a rough one. In briefing there was a loud gasp from all of the flying personnel when we learned about the mission. Thank God, the mission was scrubbed.
Today was Sunday, and we were flying "Rubber Check". I don't know why we were assigned to a different ship, as "Miss Bea Havin" was our plane and she was going to the target, but another crew was flying her. Today only 27 planes were fit to fly the mission. Again we were bombing in formations of six planes. At the urging of the British, we did this, reducing our squadron's formations from 12 planes to 6 so that we could hit more targets. This was a risk to us because the German fighters were more apt to attack these spread-out formations, because this limited our fire power.
On the way to Cologne, when we got inside of enemy territory, two bursts of flak went off under us, and each time, we bounced up about 50 feet. The third burst went through our left wing, but lucky for us, it did not explode on contact, but after going about 50 feet above us. The 4th missed us completely. The force of the hit through our left wing almost flipped us over onto our back. Sodja was able to keep it from doing so; the two bursts below and the one above us put a lot of holes in our plane, but when I called for an oxygen check, fortunately no one was wounded. The hole through our left wing was larger than a big dinner plate.
Again our target was the Ford Plant at Cologne. Over the city of Cologne, we ran into very intense and accurate flak. ''Miss Bea Havin" blew up over the target and "Lady Luck" was hit severely and began limping back but could not keep up with the formation. Her pilot tried to land at the St Tirone Allied Landing Strip with only two engines, but a change of wind caused him to overshoot the field. He tried to pull up and go around, but he crashed. He was killed along with the radio operator and the tail gunner. Three of the crew were able to get out and away from the burning plane. Two of them pulled out two more men, and two non-flying enlisted men ran to the crash site and also pulled out two men. Some of the crew received burns. We thought our plane was well named (Rubber Check) after we got back safely and none of us were injured. What a mission! Boy, that 88 mm shell that did not go off in our left wing was a miracle to us.
SOME CLOSE CALLS
On December 30, 1944, our 25th mission, we were flying "Wolf Patrol" and our target was the railroad yard at Mechernich. The weather was very bad and we ran into high clouds and our formation fell apart. The lead ship reported that we had been called home. We were flying alone at the report and so we decided to go on to the target. After a time, while flying in thick clouds, our pilot, Bill Sodja, got vertigo. He couldn't tell if he were flying up or down as he was fooled and he stalled the plane and we went into a spin. We spun about 3 or 4 times and that is scary in a four engine bomber that is fully loaded. He was able to kick it out of the spin with the rudder, and dump the nose to make the plane dive. Then he pulled up and the plane recovered. That was some feeling, but we went on and found 5 other planes plus the 93rd Bomb Group assembling and we joined them. The spin happened to me again when I was flying a practice mission with a new crew.
On January 15, 1945, the Group was stood down. Later I was called to fill in for a sick bombardier on a practice mission along with our ball turret gunner, Luther Cobb, to replace some one on another new crew. Our plane was flying in the "Bucket" directly behind the lead ship. There were 6 planes forming two Vs of 3 each. To avoid prop wash, the three in back were supposed to fly below the front 3. When the pilot in our plane turned over the controls to his copilot, a young guy who had flown only 20 hours in a B 24, he let the nose go up, even though the pilot had just warned him about the prop wash. He stalled out our plane and we fell to our right and went into a spin. I was sitting in the nose turret, and I broke a braided steel cable as round as my little finer with my left hand opening the turret door. I rolled out backwards, caught my parachute chest pack as it was flying through the nose compartment, snapped it on and began crawling toward the nose wheel hatch to bail out. All of a sudden, I could feel the plane change to a dive. Then I could feel it in my stomach as he pulled us out of the dive and we were okay. Thank God, he was a good pilot. He later told me we were only 300 or 400 feet above the ground when he pulled up.
On October 3, 1944 we were flying "Miss Bea Havin". Our target was a big railroad bridge near an airfield at Lachen-Speyerdorf in southwest Germany. We were nearing the target when Boyd, our engineer said that our gas gauges showed that we were running low on gasoline, and we would not have enough to return to our base. We had no choice. Our pilot turned back and ordered us to start jettisoning whatever we could. I salvoed the bombs with the arming wires in the fuses in a wooded area. We were lucky that we saw no ME 109s looking for strays, and we were able to reach Woodbridge, the emergency field across from the English Channel. None of us griped about not getting in a mission.
Bill Sodja and I flew our 35th and last mission to Magdeburg on Wednesday, February 14, 1945 in our plane, "White Lit'nin". It was a good plane and had brought us home eleven times. Our target was the marshaling yards. The flak was rough over the Ruhr Valley which we had to cross on our way to Hanover and then to Magdeburg, where it was very intense. The ME 262 Jets were getting more numerous and getting bolder in flying past our P51s to make passes at the formations. They really zipped by in a blink of an eye. We hit the target with 31 planes. One plane from the 705th was hit over the Ruhr Valley and it lost an engine, and the pilot was able to land on the Continent at an air strip. When we got back, Sodja buzzed the field twice and I fired 4 red flares. Hip, Hip, Hooray!
The next day Thursday, February 15, 1945, the other 8 guys flew their last missions on various crews. This time the Group went after the Synthetic Oil Plants at Magdeburg. All returned safely, and Bill Sodja and I, Ol' Ern, were out at the field to sweat them out.
Six days later we were transferred from Flixton Field to Chorley to wait for the trip home on the Dutch liner, "The New Amsterdam". Our gunners were assigned to the Pom Pom guns on deck as we were unescorted. We had to change course every 30 seconds to evade the Uboats. We left England March 8 and arrived in New York harbor nine days later, St Patrick's day, March 17.
Several bombardiers and I ended up at Midland, Texas to train for bombing from B 29s in the Pacific Theater, but then the war ended in May and August.
Ted Lundell, our copilot, was flying B 24s to England right after he finished his tour of duty with the 705th Squadron. He was killed in Scotland on take off. William Sodja served in the Korean War. He may have been missing in action. We've never been able to find out. Jack Berry also served in the Korean War as a Bombardier and Navigator flying low-level missions at night in B 26s. He remained in the service and retired as a Lt Colonel and lives near Kelly Field, TX. Robert Waugh died soon after the war in the early 50s from lung cancer. Loren Van de Voorde died from cancer as did Eddie Green and Luther Cobb. George Boyd died of a heart attack. John Michal, our tail gunner, is retired from Caterpillar in York, PA. I, Ernie Yuhas, the bombardier, live in Harrisburg Il after retiring from teaching Business Education in high school for 32 years and coaching athletics for 30 years at West Frankfort IL.