A SHADE OVER ONE YEAR
It was in May of the year 1944 when Flight Officer David S. Larson and his crew of nine other men were given the job of flying a brand new B-24 Liberator bomber to an air base located in England. The shiny bomber [S/N 42-51192] took off on the first leg headed for Goose Bay, Labrador where the plane was refueled. After refueling they took off to land later that evening at an air base in Reykiovik, Iceland. The crew slept that night as the plane was refueled to await daybreak the following morning. The next day they took off headed for a refueling stop at an air base in Ireland. They then left on the last leg of their journey, headed for an Eighth Air Force base located just outside of Bungay, England.
The air base where they landed was Station 125, called Flixton, the home of the 446th Bomb Group, affectionately named BUNGAY BUCKAROOS. The bomb group consisted of four squadrons, the 704th, the 705th, the 706th and the 707th. F/O Larsons crew and airplane were assigned to Squadron 705 and shortly were sent up on practice missions to get familiar with forming into large formations and general orientation of combat flying. It was on that memorial day 6 June, 1944 when F/O Larson took off with his crew on their first mission. This mission involving the entire Eighth Air Force gave air support for the Allied Forces landing on the coast of France. The missions were short that day, as missions go, and the bombers had to drop their bombs through the clouds that covered the coastline.
On approximately the 20th mission of F/O Larsons crew they ran into heavy flak headed for the target, and the tail gunner Sgt. Hutchinson was hit in the left leg by shrapnel from a burst of flak. The wound was so serious that his leg could not be saved and had to be amputated soon after they landed at Flixton. The rest of the crew asked their wounded tail gunner if it would be OK if they called their airplane LITTLE HUTCH in his honor. He gave them the OK and it wasnt long before the name LITTLE HUTCH appeared on the left side of the nose. Flight Officer Larson was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and finished a total of 31 missions before the middle of August, and most of them were flown in LITTLE HUTCH. [Note: many thanks to Lt. David S Larson for the information above.]
Along came some fresh crews from the States to fill up the gap as crews finished their respective tour of duty. The next crew assigned to LITTLE HUTCH was led by the pilot Lt. Harold Prestus along with his copilot F/O Darrell McDonnell. Their first mission on LITTLE HUTCH was on 14 August 1944. This crew flew 35 missions, most of them in LITTLE HUTCH, but when it was down for repairs they flew in planes such as Happy Go Lucky, White Lightening, Shady Lady and Battle Dragon. They managed to get their tour completed without sustaining any injury to the crew members although they did sustain several holes in the plane due to flak. When they left it after their last mission on New Years Day, 1 January 1945 it had numerous patches on the exterior of the plane as well as a few inside. [Note: many thanks to Sgt Elliot A Smith who was on Lt. Prestuss crew.]
In the meantime another replacement crew had arrived. This crew headed up by Captain John B Mattson had left Boston on 9 December 1944. This crew as well as hundreds of other service men were to embark on the USS Mt. Vernon to journey to England. Nine days later, after a zig-zag course across the Atlantic ocean, they disembarked at Liverpool and several crews traveled across England to arrive at Flixton in time to celebrate Christmas. Capt. Mattsons copilot was a 21-year-old 2nd Lieutenant by the name of Don M Crawford. That is where I [the author of this article] enters the picture. ---- [ to the reader: Back up three years] ----
I had left the family farm in Iowa on 23 October 1941 to go to the big city of San Diego. I got a job at Consolidated Aircraft Co., working as a riveter on the nose section of the B-24 Liberator Bomber. The next big change in my life was 7 December 1941 when the Japanese conducted a surprise bombing attack on Pearl Harbor. I worked at the job only five months to return to Iowa where I registered for the draft and ultimately enlisted in the Army Air Force. For the next year and half I spent training in the Army Air Force cadet program, eventually ending up at the OTU training facilities located in southern California.
Capt. Mattson and I were joined by the rest of the crew at March Field, Riverside California for our training as a crew on the B-24 Liberator. The complete crew [B-2] consisted of Capt. John B Mattson, pilot----F/O Don M Crawford, copilot----2nd Lt. Thomas F Mannino, navigator----2nd Lt. Cletus E. Jones, bombardier----T/Sgt Eugene L King, flight engineer----T/Sgt Benjamin B Abbott, radio operator----S/Sgt Mortimer J Adler, waist gunner----S/Sgt Don J Chiddo, waist gunner----S/Sgt Bradley H Hankins, belly turret & nose gunner----S/Sgt Edgar L N Gehman, tail gunner. After our OTU training, we were immediately sent to Camp Miles Standish, Boston POE to go overseas. It was at this station that I was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant before leaving the States.
We were ultimately the third crew to be assigned to LITTLE HUTCH in January 1945. Some time during the month of January LITTLE HUTCH was reassigned to Squadron 706 to replace the Liberator S/N 42-51272 RT T Tare that had been shot out of the skies on 30 November 1944 on a mission to Neunkirchen, Germany. LITTLE HUTCH identification was changed to 706th by changing the HN on the side of the fuselage to RT and the S on the vertical stabilizers to a T. Our crew was split up to fly a few missions with senior crews during January but all were aborted and returned to Flixton. On 31 January 1945 we finally flew as our complete crew in RT V Victor on a mission to Brunswick, Germany. That mission was also aborted prior to reaching the IP. When we returned to England, Flixton was socked in and we were forced to land at an RAF field near Leeming to stay overnight and return to Flixton the following day. It was on 3 February that we flew LITTLE HUTCH on our first complete mission to Magdeburg, Germany. It was on this mission that Cap and I found that LITTLE HUTCH had two attributes that were undesirable. One was that the heaters for the pilots compartment did not work and the second one was that when we dropped our bomb load the plane nosed up and the trim tabs were frozen. This forced Cap and I both to put constant pressure on the controls to keep the plane level as the trim tabs did not thaw until we reached approximately a 14,000 foot altitude.
We flew our eighth mission [number five in T Tare] on 25 February and our primary target was Aschaffenburg. We were in formation at 23,000 feet altitude and crossing enemy lines when our squadron flew into a cloud formation. We were flying off the left wing of the plane in the bucket position when the planes wing suddenly disappeared from our sight. Cap took things in hand by grabbing the wheel and veered of to the left to get away from the formation. When we got out of the cloud formation, our group was nowhere in sight, in fact we could not see any planes in front of us. We held our heading and before long we saw a group flying at about 11 oclock to our heading. We headed for the group and realized it was a squadron of B-17s, and by their markings we knew they were from the 92nd Bomb Group. We gradually moved into formation with them hoping their gunners wouldnt shoot at us. The B-17 Flying Fortress flew slower than our plane so we lowered our flaps a bit in order to stay in formation with them. We did not know what their target was but whatever it was got an extra load of bombs as we stayed with them until we saw the coast of England below us and we went home to Flixton.
On our ninth mission, 26 February to Berlin that we lost our number two engine while we were flying near Hanover, Germany. We feathered the prop but were unable to maintain altitude and stay with our squadron. We salvod the bombs while turning 180 degrees and headed for the coast, hoping to pass south of Amsterdam. We called for fighter escort and in no time we had a P-51 on our right wing. The name on the fighter was SCAT II. He stayed with us until he saw the flak coming up as we passed over the coastline at about a 10,000 foot altitude. We gradually lost altitude as we crossed the channel for a straight in approach to land at Flixton. Our next mission two days later was in another plane while the engine was being changed on LITTLE HUTCH. Lt. Jones, the bombardier was transferred out of our crew soon after the Berlin mission to train as a navigator on another crew.
The tenth mission we were back in LITTLE HUTCH for our fifth trip to Magdeburg where we picked up three more holes in the plane due to the flak. On 17 March the group had a party and the group was not supposed to fly the next day, but at 0130 hours we were awakened to go on a trip to Berlin. I had slept one hour and felt terrible when I skipped breakfast and barely kept awake during briefing. As soon as I got into my seat and buckled in, I grabbed my flak helmet and suffered from the dry heaves for the next eight hours while Cap flew us to Berlin and back. It was three days before I felt normal. While on our 20th mission, we celebrated my 22nd birthday by dropping our bombs on Wilhelmshaven.
On 18 April 1945 we flew LITTLE HUTCH on our last combat mission. The target was the marshaling yards in Passau, Germany which was LITTLE HUTCHs ninety-ninth mission of combat flights and our twenty-sixth mission, eighteen of them in LITTLE HUTCH. Altogether on the missions we flew the plane, we were unlucky enough to get a minimum 19 flak holes, but lucky enough that none were in our crewmen. We received a crew commendation for almost a perfect bomb strike for that mission. On 8 May VE day was declared and it was not long until rumors started floating through the group that we were all heading for home in the near future. While waiting to go home we had one more chance for a visit to London on a three-day pass. Plans were being made at the Eighth Air Force headquarter to start sending the group home and on 6 May I was promoted to 1st Lieutenant.
On 13 June 1945 we received our orders to fly T Tare home. The orders erroneously had shown that we were to fly S/N 42-50192 instead of S/N 42-51192. [Note: Subsequent research show there never was a B-24 built with S/N 42-50192 assigned to it.] We took off with 18 other B-24's on 17 June at 0650, headed for Valley Airfield in Wales where we laid over for the night and to refuel the plane.[1:45 minutes flight time] We took off the next morning at 0945 headed for Lagens Field on the Azores islands. It was 1905 that evening when we landed on the only runway and taxied to the pad for refueling and for M/Sgt Jack S Gill our ground crew chief to check out the plane for the next days flight. Sgt. Gill was one of the ten passengers on the trip designated as HOME RUN on their way home. Bad weather kept us from taking off for the third leg of our journey and it was a couple of days before we were cleared to take off.
Finally we took off at 0925 on 22 June for another day of flying over the waters of the Atlantic ocean. We did have a little more scenery on the flight as the icy waters contained many icebergs and even though we were in the air, they felt cool to us. Nine hours and twenty minutes after takeoff we landed at Gander in Newfoundland at 1845 hours. We again were held up for two days while a hurricane coming up the east coast of the United States was supposedly dwindling. Finally on 26 June we were given the option of laying over another day or taking off for the United States. We took off at 0625 for the final leg of our journey home and the weather was worse than we were led to believe. We spent the last two hours of the 7:35 minute flight trying to find a hole in the clouds. Our radio compass and the tower at Bradley Field kept telling us that we now and then were flying directly over the field but we couldnt find a hole through the clouds that were hovering over the field with a 200-foot ceiling. We finally found a hole large enough to slip through and line up to the runway for our final approach and landing. We had just then completed the 100th mission of LITTLE HUTCH, even though Cap had changed the name to BEAUTIFUL BILLIE in honor of his future wife before we took off at Flixton for the trip home.
Authors note: This article was written to be noted in History that there were numerous bombers flown over the cities of the Axis powers that seldom, if ever, were mentioned in the many books depicting the air battles of the ETO. These aircraft, such as LITTLE HUTCH, carried many crews to their targets and back, to later land at their base. Day after day these many bombers flew hundreds of hours during the air attacks on the Axis powers in order to bring the enemy to their knees. After more than half a century since the war, my conclusion after talking to other pilots that flew LITTLE HUTCH is that, except for Sgt. Hutchinsons injury, no other member of any crew flying a mission in this plane suffered any serious injury. Not bad for an airplane that is never mentioned in the annals of history.....
Sincerely Don M Crawford