1st World Library

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The Trip Back
World War II as Seen from the Belly of a B17

Kenneth Clarke


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The 303rd flew 364 combat missions over German-occupied territory with the Eighth Air Force, U.S. Army Air Corps, during World War II, more combat missions than any other heavy bombardment group in the Eighth Air Force.

Clarke says, "For forty years after service in the war, I tried to forget it: the stress and deaths, the noise and the cold, the early wake up calls, the saunters from the living quarters to the mess hall in the eternal mud, the pulverization of B-17s off one's wing when the German Flieger Abwehr Kanone (flak)
made direct and fatal strikes through the soft skin of the Boeing beauties-the death knell of a big-assed bird and ten human beings, the mid air crashes of planes of like kind trying to navigate and assemble through the English fog, smog and clouds-up and out until the battle was joined over the English
Channel, North Sea, or Zuider Zee, or over the reaches of Hitlerland from the Atlantic Ocean French coast to Poland or Czechoslovakia or Norway; Rouen or Toulouse; Saarbrucken, Stettin, Berlin or Munich, Munich, Munich, MUNICH-the last four in a row of thirty-two, each being ten hours of flight which meant at least 14 hour work days.

"Detaching one's oxygen mask in the confines of a ball turret at 24,000 feet to vomit in a bomb-fuse can was a hair-raising experience. Will I be off oxygen too long? The eternal penetrating odor of aircraft fuel and oil. The pungent odor of cordite from spent fifty caliber bullets. Yes, these were all events understandably forgettable and, yet, I really did not forget, but, rather simply moved them to the back reaches of my mind. I had gladly given Uncle Sam two and one half years of my life and needed to spend the next 40 years trying to catch up on the things I had missed in the interim. It was not that the service was all bad, but rather that it was too concentrated, too focused, and too frantic in those 67 days bridging D-Day Normandy, from May 11 through July 16, 1944.

"As best as I can infer, the extent of a tour was based upon the fatigue and consequent psychological limits which could be placed on a human being without devastating results. Even with an allotted number, some crewmen broke down mentally. Cramming 32 missions into 67 calendar days was more than enough for the crew of William Chester Davis."

Clarke goes on to provide detailed descriptions of each of these 32 missions, including maps and the significant comments from the actual mission reports. Anyone interested in history, especially the history of the Second World War, will want this book. Nowhere else will you read these unique descriptions of this war as experienced from the belly turret of a B17.


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