WORLD WAR II VETERANS CONCORDIA PARISH, LOUISIANA
ARMY AIR FORCE
Albert A. Forrester
95th Bomb Group, Eighth Air Force, First Lieutenant, Navigator , B-17
Combat Experience ———– 35 Missions over Europe 4/29/44 to 8/30/44
Awards: Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf Clusters.
Distinguished Flying Cross
Russian Commemorative Medal
Born in 1919, I grew up on a small family farm in Texas during the depression. With help from my family, I was able to attend college for two years. I was in Engineering and was included in the Army ROTC military program.
In 1939, I was doing engineering work in the rural electrification program. Hitler had begun his conquest of Europe. The newspapers and radio told us about the various campaigns. But we, like most Americans, felt that this would never be a problem for us. After all, these happenings were all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. Even the prospect of being drafted for a year of military training, did not sound like much of a problem.
I had continued my engineering work, and was working in Franklinton, Louisiana, when, in October 1941, I was drafted. A few weeks later,
On the morning of December 7, Pearl Harbor Day, I was on KP (Kitchen Police) at Camp Grant, Illinois. Like many others, I woke up to the fact that we were at War. War would never again be something we did not have to worry about because it was across the ocean.
After a series of training schools, I received my commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Signal Corps, in July 1942. I was en route to the Port of Embarkation in San Francisco, with several days allowed for travel time. Using a few days of that travel time, I married Kathleen Welch of Franklinton. This marriage lasted 58 years, until her death in the year 2000.
August 1942 found me on duty at a Signal Depot Company at Honolulu, Hawaii. There were several men there, who had been there during the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7. Of course their stories were all different, but one thing was in common. After the attack, the American forces were dis-organized and in panic. Anyone that had a gun thought anyone that moved was a Japanese soldier. Some even felt that Americans killed more Americans than the Japanese did. The obvious answer was that if Japan had followed the attack with an invasion, that they could have taken the Hawaiian Islands quite easily. If this had happened, the California coast would have been our western line of defense.
I was not content with fighting the war in an office or warehouse, so I volunteered for Air Crew training, in grade. I was accepted and came back to the mainland in March, 1943. After a series of training schools, I received my wings as a Navigator January 15,1944. Shortly thereafter I went to Dyersburg, Tennessee to join my crew and get some brief training on how to fight a war in a B-17.
Our crew was composed of nine men; Pilot, Co-pilot, Navigator, Bombardier, Flight Engineer, Radio Operator, Waist Gunner, Ball Turret Gunner and Tail Gunner. All guns were 50 caliber machine guns. The Bombardier also had guns, twin guns in a chin turret, in the very nose of the aircraft. Immediately behind the Bombardier, the Navigator had two guns, one in either side of the nose section. The Flight Engineer who was just above and immediately behind the Pilots, had two guns in an upper turret, capable of 360 degree rotation any where above the aircraft. The Radio Operator had a roof mounted gun, giving him a limited target area above the aircraft. Some crews had two Waist Gunners whose target areas were to the sides of the aircraft, In flying formation, normally one of our planes was on one side, hence the need for only one Waist Gunner. The Tail Gunner could protect our rear, and the Ball Turret Gunner gave us 360 degree protection from everything beneath us. It is easy to see why the B-17 was called the Flying Fortress.
Flying out of England, the Eighth Air Force, of which, the 95th Bomb Group was a part, was primarily a strategic bombing unit. The purpose of strategic bombing was to destroy the enemy’s ability to wage a successful war. Our primary targets were oil refineries, aircraft and parts factories, railroad yards, bridges, airfields and the City of Berlin.
On the D-Day invasion date, June 6, 1944 and some times afterward, we were assigned Tactical targets. These were specific targets, the destruction of which, would be supportive of the invasion forces.
Our bomb loads were varied. Some were demolition, some general purpose and some incendiary. Our maximum bomb load was 6000 pounds. Bombs varied in size from 100 pound to 2000 pound monsters. I do not mean that we would mix sizes on the same mission. For example, our loading would be 6 /1000 pounders or 12 /500 pounders.
We were very fortunate to have done our combat flying when we did. The P-47 and P-51 fighters had made the German Luftwaffe an almost non-existent force. Thankfully. none of our crew ever got a good shot at a German fighter plane. Our greatest fear and danger was from the anti aircraft guns (The Flak).
Another thing in our favor and favorable to all the Allied forces, was Hitler’s decision to invade Russia. His decision to do so, greatly reduced his European strength. We are proud of all that our people did to help win this war, but we should be extremely grateful for the mistakes our enemies made.
The 95th Bomb Group, on March 4 1944, had been the first to conduct daytime bombing of Berlin. They accrued heavy losses on that mission. Our first combat mission was to Berlin , April 29, 1944. This was the eighth trip to Berlin for the 95th Group. Enough happened that mission for several missions. When we were on the target run, severe flak (anti-aircraft fire) damaged our oxygen system and caused the loss of one engine. About an hour later our oxygen was gone and we had to drop out of formation and go down to 16000 feet elevation, so we could survive without oxygen. We had lost one engine, so the pilots had feathered the corresponding engine on the other side. Fuel economy is better with two engines than with three. We were flying alone over Germany about 8000 feet below other aircraft on this mission. We gave special thanks for the P-47 and P-51 Fighters, who had weakened the German Air Force. The P-51 had the range to permit them to go all the way with us, even our deepest penetrations.
While we were over the English channel, we lost another engine. Immediately, the pilots tried to start the feathered engine, at first, unsuccessfully. We made it over the cliffs of Dover with one engine. (They say a B-17 won’t fly with one engine.) They were finally able to start the engine, so we made it back to the base with two engines operating. We were so late, that we had already been listed as missing. In our Group, 25 planes completed the mission. Two were lost and we almost made it three. We did not have to be very smart to decide that our chances of completing 25 missions and going home were not very good. I suppose we all adopted an attitude of, “What is to be, will be.” I know that we did not pray as much or as frequently as we should.
Three of our next five missions were to Berlin but none quite as dramatic as the first. “The Stars and Stripes”, the Armed Forces newspaper, wrote these Berlin missions up as 1000 and 2000 plane raids.
Combat missions became routine. On days we flew, we were wakened about 2:00 AM, breakfast (combat crews got real eggs), briefing, board the plane, climb to altitude (this required about 2 hours), fly the mission, return to the base, de-briefing, and find out who did not make it back. We subconsciously avoided becoming too close to members of other crews. It was bad enough when the bunk next to you became vacant, without realizing you had lost a close friend.
On D-Day our target was a choke point in the town of Falise, France. On our way over, we had a tremendous view of our invasion forces. There were so many vessels it looked like you could walk from England to France without stepping in the water. I know that the men who were on the beaches will say that I know nothing about D-Day. They are right. I am thankful that my view was from five miles above. On the other hand, every mission we flew was a D-Day for us. There was a solid undercast at the target, so we took our bombs home with us. When our target was in an occupied country, we did not drop our bombs unless the target was visible. I believe we brought bomb loads back seven times. Landing with a full bomb load makes everyone a little nervous.
One mission was quite different from the others. July 14, French Bastile Day, we dropped supplies by parachute to the French Underground at a location in the mountains, near the Spanish border. It was good to feel that we could be a part of their vital operation.
I was glad to be able to take part in one of the shuttle runs to Russia. The shuttle run was a three piece affair. First a target too far to the east to permit a return to England. This meant landing in Russia. Then a target in southeast Europe, with a stop in Italy. Finally another target on the way back to England. These missions had a dual purpose. There were vital targets in Poland and Czechoslovakia that we could not reach in any other way. And, in International Relationships, it showed that the USA and Russia were working together to win the war. In 2002 I received the Russian Commemorative Medal for my “contribution to the efforts of Russia and the Allies in their struggle of unprecedented magnitude against Nazi Germany.”
In our series of shuttle missions our eastbound target was an aircraft factory in northern Poland, landing at Poltava, Russia, a bombed out town north of Stalingrad. The following day we added another feature to the above description. Our target was an oil refinery in Poland with a return to Poltava. Although flak was moderate, our plane was badly damaged. We made a safe landing, but had to leave our plane there.
A plane, which had been damaged and left behind from a previous shuttle run had been repaired by the Russians. We flew this plane to complete our shuttle run. Our remaining targets were airfields in Romania and southern France, with a stop between missions at Foggia, Italy. We had completed 31 combat missions.
When we began our tour in April, a tour requirement was 25 missions. As more airmen survived, it was raised to 30, then to 35. In our next two missions our group lost 8 planes. Our final mission, number 35, August 30, 1944, has a special story. The target was an aircraft factory in Bremen Germany, where the German FW-190 planes were built. We had very little flak and no fighter opposition. This is the same target as an Air Force mission May 17, 1943, where many planes were lost. This was the final mission, number 25, for the crew of the Memphis Belle.
Their story was made into a highly publicized movie. The changes in this 15 month period shows the tremendous change in Air Power over Europe.
Shortly after this 35th mission, we returned to the USA, where my last military assignment was as a navigational instructor at Selman Field, Monroe, Louisiana. I remained there until my release from active duty in May, 1945.
Since 1948, my home has been in Ferriday, Concordia Parish, Louisiana.
OUR B-17 CREW: Kenneth Otto, Flight Engineer; Donald Jones, Waist Gunner; James Weaver, Radio Operator; Joe Bonner, Ball Turret Gunner; Eugene Petrino, Tail Gunner; Bill Kinney, Pilot; Harry Schwartzenberg, Co-Pilot; Albert Forrester, Navigator; Frank Dietz, Bombardier.