The Left Echelon

On March 1, 1945, Addison’s mother wrote him a letter, stating, “Just 15 days and you will be twenty-three years old!” She also reported on one of the four ‘M’s:

While in Saks shoe department, [I] spoke to a girl who lives in the same home as Marion Maxwell in Ann Arbor—her name is Barbara Strong. She likes Marion very much. I told her Marion went with you and she said I wonder if he is the boy she gets letters from? What say you?

In 1948 Marion Maxwell would become Addison’s wife.

The fact that Addison may have been from an affluent family did not buy him favor in the United States Army Air Forces. On March 6, 1945, he was issued a European Theatre of Operations Male Officers’ Uniform, Clothing & Accessory Card. This slip of paper authorized Addison a “yearly allowance” to purchase one pair of “Gloves, wool,” one pair of “Leggings,” one “Scarf,” etc., and as he purchased these items, an Army clerk noted on the reverse side of the card by strike-out what items he acquired. This card is a testament to how controlled resources were in World War II. Lose an item of clothing and one would be out of luck for a year.

As the months progressed the letters that Addison received from home became increasingly positive in anticipation of the war ending in Europe. In early March, Addison’s mother wrote of the radio broadcaster Drew Pearson reporting on the air: “Any day now should bring good news.” She would later write: “Dad tried hard to have me select a white orchid ($20). I said [to Dad] when you boys get home I’ll splurge then!” Indeed, the news from the European theatre of operations was encouraging. On March 7, 1945, a detachment of the American 9 th Armored Division captured intact a bridge over the Rhine River opposite the little town of Remagen.1 The last major natural defensive barrier of the Third Reich in the west had been breached.

Addison continued to pound on the Nazis, flying five more missions in March to places named Chemnitz, Ulm, Vlotho, Oranienburg and Spandau. By the end of the month he had, including a tally for recalls, 27 combat missions to his credit. With each passing day it was becoming more probable that Addison would survive the European war by reason of either completing his “tour” of 35 missions or by the surrender of Nazi Germany. Still, to paraphrase a latter-day pundit: it would not be over ’til it was over.

Of the 65 heavy bomb groups in the Eighth Air Force, the 91st had the most POWs. The status of former Bishop crewmembers was no longer unknown to Addison except for tail gunner Owen Monkman, who remained missing in action. Dave Bishop and RJ Miller were reported to be POWs at Stalag Luft I and Addison knew just where that camp was, since Barth, Germany was on the not-to-be-bombed list. With respect to Paul Lynch, Addison had learned of the reports of Stalag Luft IV closing and the march to the west. Maybe Paul was tucked away in another camp by now, Addison hoped, riding it out like Dave and RJ.

Addison had learned nothing through the official chain-of-command that caused him to be concerned for Dave and the others. The press furor over the Dresden bombing had settled down and, as Addison recounted, none of the adverse publicity about that mission caused him or others at Bassingbourn to believe that this raid might result in negative consequences for POWs. “The question did not come up,” Addison said.

The tragedy of November 26 had receded in Addison’s mind by then. He now accepted that Kendall and Cumings were killed as official confirmations on this had been made; he hoped that some good news might yet arrive about Owen, a person he regarded as a close friend, but in his mind he knew this was not likely to happen.

Addison believed strongly that the most positive thing he could do for his POW and MIA friends was to do his best to help win the war as quickly as possible. But prayers for intercession also helped, Addison knew, and he made them faithfully. Father Ragan continued to give him spiritual support.

In early April, Addison was promoted to first lieutenant and his mother wrote him a congratulatory note. She made reference to his letter to her dated April 6. “This is the first time any of your letters had been opened,” she wrote. She told her son that his letter bore the rubber stamp of Army Examiner #1082, a censor.

Addison flew four missions in April, including a mission to Rochefort, France, where he served as first pilot. This was a tactical mission “against a pocket of German troops located on the mouth of the Gironde River.”2 The Nazi holdouts there denied the use of the port of Bordeaux to the Allies. Photos taken after the strike revealed that the target as a whole had been hit “on the head.”3 Addison’s squadron, however, was unable to spot its assigned target—that being four high-caliber casemate guns. Smoke from an earlier strike covered the area.4

Addison’s friendship with Lt. Goldberg, the first pilot from Detroit, continued to grow, but a special situation came up with this officer. Addison came to believe that Goldberg was being discriminated against by certain squadron first pilots because he was Jewish. “They gave him holy hell,” Addison averred.

Asked to explain, he did: “They would often put him in the most difficult flying position,” he said. “The left echelon.”

“Some positions in formation flying are not easy,” Addison continued. “There is a lead plane and one on the left and one on the right,” he said. “The one on the left is in the worst position.” Addison explained that a pilot in the left position constantly had to look across his co-pilot in order to see out the window to where the other airplanes might be. It was “hard to stay in” on the left, he indicated, and added that this meant increased “danger of collisions.”

Convinced that there was no reason for Goldberg to constantly draw the left echelon assignment other than prejudice, Addison went to bat for him. At a pilots’ meeting, one not attended by Goldberg, his friend again got volunteered to fly this more hazardous position. Addison objected strongly: “I told some people to get off his back,” pointing out to them that what they were doing was “not right.”

“He [Goldberg] is a good pilot. He does what he is told to do.”

Asked if Goldberg had ever been insulted behind his back or even to his face, that is, called derogatory names, or denied association with Christian pilots, Addison responded “No.” Addison remained adamant, however, that prejudice was what it was.

The Greatest Generation had strong physical courage, a deep love of country, a willingness to sacrifice and the ability to recognize and confront evil, but it was not without its flaws. This generation harbored significant racial prejudice. In 1942, Alistair Cooke, later to become famous forMasterpiece Theatre on PBS, traveled across wartime America by automobile on assignment to report on what he observed. On a number of occasions in both the North and South he related episodes of blatant anti-Semitism.5 The author Joseph Heller, himself Jewish and a veteran World War II USAAF combat airman, addressed this issue in Catch-22, where the command leadership wanted to “lynch” a young airman because they perceived him to be Jewish.6

Addison’s plucky defense of Goldberg, a full pilot, may have served him well within his squadron. It is an adage that an associate in a law firm must stand up to the partners in order to himself become a partner. Addison stood up and asserted leadership in a ticklish situation. Around this time Addison was selected to become a first pilot. That Addison defended Goldberg was telling not only about Addison, but also likely how he had been raised.

When Addison flew to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, on April 25, 1945, he knew it would be his last mission. Pilsen proved to be a memorable way for him to finish out the war indeed!

The mission had aspects to it far different from other combat missions Addison participated in. The day before Addison and his fellow airmen were ordered to fly to Pilsen, Supreme Headquarters Allied European Force (SHAEF) made known to the enemy when and where the air strike would take place.7 The targets were the never-before-bombed Skoda Armament Plant and a nearby airfield where Nazi fighters had been spotted, including a few jets. In announcing the targets publicly beforehand, SHAEF hoped to avoid massive civilian casualties such as had occurred at Dresden. Tens of thousands of civilians worked at the Skoda factory.

The 91st Bomb Group was detailed to attack the airport. In the bomber stream, which consisted exclusively of 1st Air Division units (seven bomb groups), the 91st would be the last in, flying the exposed tail-end Charlie position.

This airstrike had another aspect to it that made it stand out from many others—there was a very significant operational screw-up.

Finally—extraordinarily—on his 91st and final mission, the famed Lt. Col. Manny Klette would experience the unthinkable: most of his first pilots would fail to obey his direct order!

Addison was asked whether he ever knew that the day before the mission was to take place, a flight of P-51 Mustangs dropped leaflets over the target area warning those below that the attack was coming the following day.8 Addison answered: “No, I did not.”

In 2001, historian Lowell Getz wrote an account of this mission. Getz pointed out that the 24-hour advance notice to the enemy had no parallel in World War II and it arguably endangered those who flew the Pilsen mission by allowing the Nazis a full day to position their mobile flak guns. The leaflets announced that Allied bombers would attack the Skoda Armament Plant, and that people should stay away from it. According to Getz, the BBC also broadcast the same message the night before.9

Addison did not recall knowing Getz, nor had he read his book, but he perked up upon hearing the claim of an advance 24-hour warning. Of the Pilsen raid, he noted: “The flak was really thick.”

One of the documents Addison brought home was a newsletter published by Headquarters 1st Air Division on May 5, 1945. An article appearing in the newsletter had this to say about the Pilsen mission:

In an unprecedented move, the Eighth Air Force revealed the objective of the heavy bombers more than an hour before the Fortress formations were due to arrive at the target area. The BBC overseas broadcast warned Czechs working in the Skoda plant to stop work and seek shelter.10

Asked if he remembered hearing the BBC broadcast the warning while he was on the way to Pilsen, as purportedly did a number of upset B-17 radio operators, Addison replied, “No, but I remember talk about the factory being bombed to keep it out of the hands of the Russians.”

Addison’s recollection about the Russians was in sync with the history. There existed yet another reason that made the Pilsen mission unique: its purpose had little to do with fighting the Nazis. At this late juncture in the war there was no way that the Germans could deploy the heavy weapons being turned out at Skoda. They lacked usable rail and highway conduits and the fuel necessary to make the shipments. Also, when Skoda was bombed, on April 25, the war in Europe was almost over. Hitler would be dead only five days later and hostilities ended a little more than a week after that.

The Pilsen mission was not part of Operation Thunderclap. It was not designed to interrupt communications or inhibit troop movements to the front. But like Thunderclap it had much to do with the Soviet Union. Not only would this raid deny the Soviets the Skoda weapons and the use of the plant, it would show them firsthand just how much destruction a relatively small U.S. heavy bomber raiding force could inflict. SHAEF of course could never admit any of this publicly.

As stated, the Eighth Air Force launched strategic operation #958, “the final heavy bomber mission against an industrial target”11 on April 25, 1945. Of the 307 B-17s sent into Czechoslovakia, Addison’s plane and 77 others were assigned to hit the airfield and the rest were sent to destroy the arms factory.

Addison described the only thing good about the Pilsen mission from his perspective: “I remember the long flight in. It was 90% over friendly territory and that was nice,” he recalled.

Upon reaching “IP” or the “Initial Point” for the bombing run, Addison observed, “We had the best seat in the house to view the action ahead,” referring to the fact that his squadron was in the absolute tail-end Charlie position. “We were ordered to attack visually,” Addison continued, pointing out that radar bombing might have killed Czechoslovakian civilians living near the airport. “And we were in the lowest position.”

Per information submitted by the 324th after the attack, the bombing altitude for the mission was only 21,100 feet.12 The fact that other squadrons from the 91st flew ahead of and above the 324th that day could have spelled trouble for Addison and his squadron mates in the melee that happened. There exists a famous photograph of a B-17 with its left stabilizer missing because of a “friendly” bomb dropped from above. Additionally, about the tail-end Charlie position, a commentator wrote:

To be at the end was to be without the protection of other planes. To be at the end was to be the last one over the target when the enemy gunners manning the antiaircraft artillery on the ground were sure of their range. To be at the end was to be the last home, if you got home at all.13

When Addison approached the target area he knew immediately that something had gone very wrong. “I remember the clouds,” Addison said, and then added: “They weren’t supposed to be there.” Like all mission plans that called for visual-only bombing, fast flying fighters were supposed to canvas the target area as the bomber force was midair and radio in the signal for “all clear” or “poor visibility” weather. If clouds obscured a target, then the bomber force would divert to a secondary target.

What had gone wrong?

“It was wild,” Addison remembered. “Planes were everywhere circling to find their assigned targets through the cloud cover.” He continued: “It was a three-ring circus, and the rings were the planes circling. They looked for holes in the cloud cover so they could drop visually and not kill civilians.”

Addison did not see bombers shot down that day due to the heavy flak but he was aware that it happened. One of members of Addison’s squadron, however, Flight Officer Schafts reported “Observed 4 B-17s going down.”14

With Klette in the lead, the 324th entered last into the fray. “It was mass confusion,” Addison said. “There were planes everywhere. I never saw anything like it. Flak was going off all over the place and there was danger of collisions. Suddenly I saw bombs falling, we all saw it, and just assumed it was bombs away. We toggled our bombs, lots of bombers did, and expected to go home.”

Addison continued: “The next thing we see is Klette not turning. He ordered the squadron to tighten up behind him for a second go-around. With no more bombs to drop, the first pilots balked. When they got the chance they turned for England and kept going.”

Asked if he was aware that Klette was angry on the return flight, Addison smiled and simply replied, “Oh, yes.” Apparently some of Klette’s radio traffic had not been friendly, but Addison did not recollect the details of what his commanding officer said. In any event, it was a long, tense flight back—over four hours worth—and all Addison knew was that he was overjoyed for two specific reasons.

Landing at Bassingbourn, Addison learned that the fighter planes that reported the weather had been lost when they signaled, “Clear skies” for Pilsen. This snafu explained part of what had happened. The other part did not involve human error as much as bad luck. One of the squadron’s “up front” B-17s (not Klette’s) dropped its bombs early as the result of being hit by flak. The bombardier on that ship intently watched and waited for Klette, who had his doors open to release his bomb load. When the flak hit, the jolt caused this man to yank his toggle switch. Seeing bombs falling, other bombers of the 324th released their bomb loads. “I can’t say how many planes in our squadron dropped their bombs,” Addison said, “but I think it was most all of them.”

Flying in the lead Klette could not see any of this of course. Klette closed his bomb bay doors, ordered another pass and expected his squadron to follow him. When Klette saw his subordinates heading for home in defiance of his direct order, he became dumfounded and furious.

“We did not make that second bomb run,” Addison confirmed.

“Some people caught hell,” Addison continued. “I was at the de-briefing and he raised holy hell there.” Asked if Klette used pejoratives, Addison was unsure after all the years. “It was his wrath that I remember most,” he said. “Klette was a scary guy when he was mad and he was really worked up that day. I remember him calling several plane commanders ‘yellow’ to their face. I also remember hearing the word ‘court-martial.’ “ Addison smirked: “Klette didn’t care if they had dropped their bombs or not. He had been disobeyed.”

Addison explained it was “the senior pilots and the echelon leaders,” who experienced Klette’s fury, and that he, Addison, had been really glad when this happened to have been a second pilot. The other thing he was overjoyed about was surviving the war.

Addison agreed completely with the plane commanders who disobeyed Klette’s order and turned back. “Why risk getting killed on a second run without bombs when the war is already won?” he reasoned, adding: “We needed to get the hell out of there. If I’m not mistaken, I also think there was a false armistice about this timeframe.”

One can have no difficulty visualizing what this session and other sessions must have been like; that is Klette screaming, “Pull wings in, lieutenant!” and “Ride the beam!” whenever a head might turn or an eye might wander in search of sympathy and support. It is a universal USAAF axiom that an angry commanding officer is, well, a serious and not seriass proposition. And Klette, being a lieutenant colonel, had the rank to make those before him quake.

Addison recollected that the brouhaha blew over in a couple of days when the realization sank in that the best way to celebrate a victory in war is with joy and not punishment of those who had served so nobly and so often in the past. Addison did not know whether the chain-of-command got involved in the cooling of Klette’s temper, but he agreed that court-martials would not be, after all, a storybook ending for the “first group of the first wing of the first division” and also the squadron made famous by Memphis Belle.

Reliving this event so many years later, Addison had a good chuckle. He believed Klette was not one to carry a grudge; that the man was simply an out-and-out, driven by-the-book military perfectionist. Also Klette was smart enough not to make the second bomb run without his squadron, Addison pointed out.

Addison viewed this as one of the scariest missions he had ever participated in. There were casualties. Six of the 307 attacking B-17s were lost owing to flak. The advance notice to the enemy had arguably been deadly for USAAF airmen. Equally telling about how dangerous this last mission of the war was—out of the 307 B-17s that flew it, 180 came back damaged.15

The accidental bomb drop apparently turned out to be productive. A strike photo in the 1st Air Division Newsletter showed the airport hit. The Havelaar history of this mission reported, “The bombers . . . struck with very good results.”16

As an aside, Rhapsody in Red, the only B-17 that Addison returned from England with a photograph of—the airplane that had that tastefully drawn yet suggestive nose art—the bomber that Earl Sheen saved a life aboard— ended the war with panache. Lowell Getz noted humorously in his well-written chapter about this mission that the shot-up airplane managed to land at Bassingbourn without brakes, lost control, went across the grass and finally stopped with a section of a tent dangling off her radio antenna.17

Asked what Addison did following the Pilsen raid, he quipped: “Apart from enjoying the Officers Club you mean?” Earlier he mentioned how much he had grown to like English beer, but not the way the English did. “We chilled ours,” he said.

Addison would fly one more time over Germany but never again over Nazi-controlled territory. “I was co-pilot on a trolley run,” he recollected. “We took our ground crew for a ride over some of the targets that we had hit. We flew low, maybe 5,000 feet, maybe lower, I can’t remember. Addison paused then added. “Not only did we see the extensive battle damage but we flew over POW camps full of German soldiers who were our prisoners. The camps were large and we could see them standing there looking up at us.” That mischievous smile, that look of childish joy, then came over his face. “We dive bombed them!”

He explained himself: “We . . . teased them a bit by opening our bomb bay doors and coming in on them at an angle.” His smile grew wide at the memory, which would cause any reasonable person to think, after a period of reflection: what the hell, the Germans started it!

A few days after Addison completed his final mission he received a letter from his mother. “We are proud of you,” she wrote. The war was not quite over yet and she had no way of knowing that her son was no longer in jeopardy, but her letter did hint that the world might be getting back to normal. She wrote of “Lattie” and a friend using “our seats” at the Tiger baseball game the day before and that how the men sitting behind them broke a bottle of liquor, badly soiling Lattie’s “large shawl with fringe.” Addison had to have had a hearty laugh when he received this tidbit of civilian news from home. Oh, for the joy of little travails and at Briggs Stadium, no less!

Earlier in April, Addison’s father had mailed him a commemorative booklet published by the Rotary Club of Detroit, entitled “A Tribute.” The tribute read: “To the hosts of our sons and daughters on embattled fronts of land and sea and in the skies, we of Rotary would bring a tribute of pride and affection . . .” The ninth, tenth and eleventh names on the list of 145 sons and daughters were the three Bartush boys, Addison, Jack and Chuck.

That Addison and his brothers would be coming home to a hero’s welcome there was no doubt. On May 7, the day before V-E Day, a Mr. Chic Sayles from The Procter & Gamble Distributing Co., Cincinnati, wrote Addison the following: “Addison, I wish there was a way of conveying to you splendid chaps our feeling regarding the marvelous work you are doing. I’m afraid our appreciation even then would fall short of what it actually should be ...”

On that same day his mother wrote about the excitement building in Detroit: “The radio has been on all a.m. awaiting the ‘good news.’” She briefly considered going downtown to witness the raucous celebration but changed her mind. “Dad thought I should probably stay at home,” she wrote.

On May 11, 1945, the European war having been won only three days earlier, Addison’s mother wrote the same letter as millions of other mothers: “No doubt you may go to the Pacific?” she asked. “I hope I am wrong.”

Asked about this, that is, whether he had been concerned over the prospect of more war, Addison laughed. “No,” he replied. “I was too busy partying at the Officer’s Club.”

The hope expressed in Addison’s graduation booklet from twin-engine school a little over a year earlier had come into fruition: “. . . none of us will have a feeling of satisfaction until our enemies have been blasted into submission.” Addison and his buddies had earned the right to feel satisfied and to celebrate. The submission they achieved, unlike the armistice that ended World War I, was complete.

And as for that young lady’s prediction, one of the four M’s, that Addison would make first pilot? Addison proved her correct: his official USAAF service record reflects him separated from active duty as a pilot. Under the category “Military Occupation,” the typed words read, “As a pilot was in command of ship and crew.”

That Addison and his squadron mates had to have been ecstatic at having survived the European war, there can be little doubt, but in the exuberance of the celebration, Addison had fallen back into a bad habit. On May 14th his mother scolded him: “Dear Addison: Don’t tell me you are in the Pacific? We haven’t heard from you since April 30th.”

One thing for sure, there was going to be recognition. And there was.

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