The briefing Paul Lynch attended the next day was better received than the one Addison experienced. No groans went up when the intelligence officer promised, “The area is not heavily fortified and the Luftwaffe has been quiet recently.”
Looking at the map with two of his fellow gunners sitting next to him, Paul could see that this would not be a deep penetration raid. The red-circled target was a railroad viaduct, or land bridge, near Osnabruck, Germany, about 40 miles east of the Netherlands and 90 miles south of Bremen. “The town where the viaduct is located is named Altenbeken,” the briefing officer said, pointing to it on the map.
Paul glanced at Owen Monkman and sensed Owen was thinking the same as him; he smiled, and Owen acknowledged the exchange with a return smile and nod. Without saying a word, both men had agreed that a short mission to a quiet sector was a good way to break the ice. Paul tried the same re-assuring smile on Charles Cumings, but Charles did not make eye contact.
Paul, Owen and Charles were the chosen gunner contingent from the Bishop Crew for this mission. Bishop Crew radio operator John Kendall would also fly it, but at this moment he was being briefed at a different location with the officers; Dave Bishop would fly as co-pilot and RJ Miller would navigate. Almost the full Bishop Crew, Paul thought; only three veteran airmen filling in as replacements. Soon all of the men that he trained with at Gulfport would operate together.
For Dave, RJ and John this would be their third combat mission; for the three Bishop gunners this would be their hair of the dog—a cure for the hangover of never having flown combat. “I had great anticipation,” Paul made clear, recollecting his emotional build-up for this event. This was what he and his friends had trained for. Paul was just 19 and this was the start of the adventure; his flight into the unknown. Paul had been pumped up since the day before when he saw the duty sheet posting.
“This should be a milk run,” the briefing officer said. Paul cringed when he heard this. Was it not briefed (or so Paul had been told) that the Luftwaffe was “inactive” before the tragedy of November 2? “I didn’t know whether I had confidence in the assessment of this intelligence officer or not,” Paul asserted. There was nothing to be done about it, however. It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving and Paul would fly regardless of the mission.
This mission day called for 1,137 bombers and 732 fighters from the Eighth Air Force to attack targets all over Germany with 118 B-17s specifically tasked to take out the viaduct. Each heavy bomber carried approximately 5,000 lbs. of ordnance, or two and a half tons. Paul did the calculation in his mind: the viaduct would have approximately 300 tons of high explosive bombs dropped on it today. It would be blown to smithereens.
“The pilot was a Lieutenant Flint,” Paul said. “Kendall, Cumings, Monkman and I were given our normal positions. Two veteran gunners filled out the rest of our crew. Dan Hiner took the nose gun and Sergeant Bart Zanotto the ball turret on the floor. Both were staff sergeants.”
Following the briefing the crew was trucked to their assigned bomber which awaited them on a concrete hardstand, serviced, fueled and armed. “We were shocked when we saw The Wild Hare on the flight line,” Paul shuddered at the recollection. “The old lady had patches on patches and lines of bombs painted on her nose.” Indeed, The Wild Hare had arrived overseas at the end of 1943 and had seen continuous hard use. Paul whined: “We figured this hanger queen was saved especially for the new kids on the block: us.”
Doing all of the pre-flight checks required of gunners, Paul and his cohorts had the opportunity to talk to the two veteran gunners. The men readily volunteered the specific personal information that the Bishop crewmen wanted to know. For Dan Hiner, who would also act as bombardier, this would be mission number 26. For Bart Zanotto it would be 35.
He’ll be home for the holidays, Paul thought of Zanotto.
Paul noted how far down the runway it took to get airborne with a full bomb load and also how the flight in the early daylight hours had been pleasant and even a secure-feeling experience. “The flight was beautiful high above the clouds in the early morning sun, and with the comforting sound of the four engines I took a nap,” Paul recollected. The Wild Hare climbed and climbed and after a bit it got colder.
As Paul slumbered, Addison Bartush rose. This would be a good day to visit London, he decided. He needed a winter uniform coat, something less than a greatcoat, and he knew just where to go in the city to purchase one. There would also be sightseeing to do and perhaps a spot of lunch? Yesterday had been awful, yes, but yesterday was over. Maybe he had seen the worst?
Before leaving the base, Addison purchased two London editions of the Stars and Stripes newspaper. Yes, his mission was prominently reported on the front page. On each paper he placed a tiny black ink dot over the word “Merseburg.” He mailed one copy to his parents and kept the other in his footlocker.
Paul awoke. It was 10,000 feet and time for the oxygen now. This raid was to be a quick in-and-out, bombing from a high 26,000 feet. Paul witnessed the better part of a 1,000 or so U.S. warplanes queuing up in the morning sky, forming up for their assigned strikes—his reaction was one of awe; he had never seen anything like this. With 118 of these monsters to protect him at Altenbeken, what could go wrong? This number meant that well over a thousand .50 caliber machine guns in his attacking force could be brought to bear on one or more targets. Moreover, the B-17 machine guns were not “fixed” rifle barrels—each could be swung to the right or left, raised or lowered—that is, each could be specifically aimed. Paul sensed that it was the Luftwaffe that needed to be careful.
Over the English Channel the bomber crews test-fired the .50s. It grew even colder and the gunners huddled in front of the waist ports to avoid a lashing wind, thankful for their electrically heated flight suits and boots and the oxygen hook-up. The Altenbeken bound B-17s droned on and on in the blinding sunshine in what seemed like a long time but in reality wasn’t that long. Presently the word was passed. Aboard The Wild Hare, Lt. Flint gave the order over the intercom: “Don flak jackets, assume stations.”
“Our squadron was almost at the end of the formation,” Paul noted. “I helped Owen into his jacket and watched him as he took his position in the tail. It wasn’t long before we were picking-up puffs of smoke.”
“I manned my waist gun and it was announced that we were approaching the IP for the bomb run.” Maybe another 15, minutes, Paul thought, maybe a little longer. When they did the bomb run, Paul knew the Norden bombsight on the lead bomber would be used. When Sgt. Hiner, who was in nose of the The Wild Hare, observed the lead bomber drop its bomb load all he would need to do was to throw a switch. Thereafter, The Wild Hare would turn and head for home, a lighter and faster airplane.
It all seemed so simple, so clean.
Everything was going as planned, Paul felt. The flak was there, but not too close or thick. The enemy was shooting at him, but missing! Soon they would be flying straight and level, Paul knew, no more zigzags. Paul stared out of the left waist window, alert for anything that he might spot. He was the only waist gunner for this mission; it was his job to man both sides of the plane. The intercom remained silent.
Paul could see glimpses of the ground. We will hit the target today, he believed. It was merely a matter of the lead bombardier spotting that railroad track and following it to the viaduct. This would happen.
What Paul could not see was the large flock of German fighters tens of thousands of feet below traveling in the opposite direction. These fighters knew where Paul’s bomber force was, and moreover, likely what it was going after. A perfect time for them to press an attack would be on the bomb run or the preparation for it, these Luftwaffe pilots knew.
The intercom aboard The Wild Hare remained silent; the bandits had not been spotted. Kendall at his station in the radio shack received no warning transmissions from other U.S. aircraft in the vicinity.
The German pilots could scarce believe their good fortune. They had passed under the bombers without encountering a single American interceptor, then quickly turned 180 degrees and climbed as fast as their engines would pull.
In the meantime, the formation of 118 B-17s droned onward toward the target area, oblivious to the approaching danger. Soon the order would be given to open bomb bay doors, Paul reckoned. Paul’s heart was in his throat. He had practiced this many times, both stateside and on training runs over parts of non-hostile Europe, but what he was about to participate in would be “for real” warfare. This was the stuff stories are made of Paul thought; his almost 14-month anticipation was about to be realized. The bombs he would see falling would destroy or kill anything or anyone in their path.
Instead of seeing bombs falling, however, Paul spotted something else.
“I noticed we had drifted out of formation,” Paul said, “away from the protection of the other gunners.”
Paul added: “This concerned me.”
“I called the pilot and told him if we didn’t catch-up we would be out of range of the guns in our formation. He told me he was pushing her as hard as he could. It was then that I looked out the other waist port and saw number three engine ablaze. I assumed we had been hit by flak.”
The Wild Hare had sustained serious damage and Paul had not heard or felt a thing, not even a faint shudder. The engine drone of the airplane had not changed. And as related, none of the men at the many gun stations had sounded an alarm. There was no reason for him or any crewmember to believe that this was anything other than flak damage.
“The pilot yelled: ‘Fw-190s ten o’clock!’” Paul recalled.
Paul immediately manned the left waist port gun but not before the attackers fired. “Cannon shells ripped into our plane making a hissing and popping sound,” Paul related. “I witnessed Kendall, our radio operator fly out of his chair, killed. I managed to squeeze out a few shots at this attacker and I believe Zanotto in the ball turret did the same.”
In that instant, Paul’s life had forever changed. What began as a very cold but beautiful and sunny day had turned into hell. Paul later elucidated: “I had no idea that the ten o’clock sighting was a second fighter attack,” he exclaimed, “and that we had already been attacked from the rear by German flyers.”
As it turned out, nobody in his B-17 wing had a clue that an aerial attack was in progress. It would be after the war that Paul learned that up to 75 Me-109s and Fw-190s had attacked. An analyst described it: “The enemy came in line abreast with guns blazing and knocked three 91st aircraft out of formation and finished them off almost before anyone knew what was happening. The escort had apparently been decoyed away and the enemy struck when they were elsewhere. The Wild Hare, flown by Lt. Robert J. Flint of the 324th Bomb Squadron, was hit before the IP was reached and had No. 3 engine set on fire in the first pass. The Fortress dropped out of formation and began a gentle dive and then exploded.”1
With no U.S. fighter cover there had been no advance radio warning that the attack was coming. The German pilots dove from a higher altitude behind the B-17 formation.2 The Wild Hare was flying the tail-end Charlie position. Gaining speed, the fighters got slightly underneath the bombers, came up, leveled and fired. U.S. fighter pilots referred to this technique as “the perfect bounce.” From the 6 o’clock position (directly behind) the Germans circled to attack again from 10 o’clock (left frontal quarter). The first aerial assault happened so fast that none of the rear gun stations had time to react, and for The Wild Hare and other B-17s, even to report sightings.
After the second attack Flint ordered the crew to prepare to abandon ship. Listening to the responses over the intercom, Paul’s blood curdled: “There was no acknowledgement from Owen in the tail,” he said. Looking towards Owen’s battle station, Paul hoped to see his friend crawling out of his turret, as he should have been after such an order had been issued. Paul saw no movement.
Flying “Tail-end Charlie” position. Paul noted, “We were in position #7 for the Altenbeken Mission. Lucky us.”—Formation drawing by Mark Allison from a base drawing provided courtesy of 303rdbg.com, the website honoring the 303rd Bomb Group (H)
“I opened my duffle bag and snapped on my chute,” Paul recounted. “Then I spotted another Fw-190 slowly sliding in for another shot from ten o’clock. I grabbed my gun and called the top and ball turret men. The ball responded but the top did not. I fired at this fighter until it disappeared under us. The ball followed him under and continued firing at him as he flew away. I don’t know that either of us got a piece of him. I checked the windows and saw three engines out. We were really shot-up. This was the end of the fight for us. Our pilot made the only decision, the correct one: abandon ship.”
“Zanotto pulled the door release and I gave the door a hard boot and it went flying into space.” Standing in the waist, Paul had no view of what was taking place in the forward section of the airship. He knew that those in the front, however—Flint, Bishop, Miller, Hiner and Cumings—had their own exit door, and moreover, there was absolutely nothing he could do to help them in any event. Zanotto had his chute on and was ready to go. Paul did as ordered—he jumped. The decision-making for Paul was not over, however.
“As for me,” Paul recounted, “I decided I was going to get more oxygen and as soon as possible. I didn’t want to be caught in the middle of an air battle floating to earth under a chute.” He added: “Also, this way there was less chance of detection by ground observers,” meaning less opportunity for the Germans to find him right away or worse, shoot at him as he floated down. This was to become Paul’s first and only practical application of the principles he had learned in Colorado. It was his first and only jump, and most of it was free-fall.
At a minimum Paul Lynch hurtled four miles through the atmosphere. The “gentle dive before exploding” of The Wild Hare gave precious time for some to get out and survive.
“We had been instructed to watch for tree limbs,” Paul explained, referring to his survival school training. “If one could see tree branches, then it was time to pull the rip-chord.”
The free-fall terminal velocity of a human body is between 100 and 200 mph depending on body position and weight.3 Using an average for the two speeds and doing the math, Paul’s free-fall lasted approximately two minutes with little air to breathe at the onset.
“I learned after the war that five men jumped and four survived,” Paul said. “Charles Cumings apparently was the first out, exiting in the front, and he was the one who did not survive the fall. After the war Dave Bishop told me that he had quite a time in the forward section trying to convince Cumings to bail out. He was terrified and almost completely unresponsive. Dave finally put a chute on him and forced him out of the plane.”
On January 17, 1945 the U.S. War Department reported Cumings KIA.4 He died November 26, 1944 and it took almost two months for the Germans to find and identify his body, using his dog tags no doubt, and notify the International Red Cross. Perhaps Cumings had been so traumatized that he simply failed to pull the rip-chord, but there was no way of knowing this. Perhaps his parachute malfunctioned? Or maybe . . . some Nazi in the air or on the ground? That happened in World War II.
Charles Cumings had volunteered for the USAAF, yet during training developed a fear of actual flying. Despite his trepidation, he flew because his country expected him to do so. For this determination he would be remembered as a special person. He was decent and hard working. His loss, as with the loss of the others on November 26, 1944, would be mourned. And as for his screw-up on that training mission detour to overfly Bishop’s folks in Spartanburg? “He was good-natured about it,” Addison reported. What a wonderful memory Cumings created for the Bishop Crew—the best they would ever have.
Navigator RJ Miller almost bought it on the way down. He had been wounded in the leg and Staff Sergeant Hiner spent valuable time that he did not have helping him put on his parachute and exit through the forward door. RJ chose to pull his rip-chord early and soon regretted it. He later told Paul that a German pilot tried to kill him as he floated down by spilling air out of his parachute. The pilot passed him as close as he could without getting entangled in the shrouds. RJ also told Paul that Sgt. Hiner was a hero for helping him; he could have put on his chute and jumped and lived, instead he stayed to help a wounded man and presumably died while putting on his own chute.
Flint and Bishop made it out of the B-17 and both lived. Hiner and Zanotto did not make it out in time, and Paul had no answer for why Zanotto did not jump. Paul would catch a brief glimpse of Bishop on the ground; he would learn about the others after the war. He did not witness The Wild Hare explode. With 5,000 lbs. of bombs and a considerable amount of fuel aboard, the fireball had to have been huge. Sgt. Zanotto, flying his 35th mission, had completed his tour this day but he would not return home for Christmas.
“My chute caught in one of the top branches of a tree,” Paul continued, “and I swung into a large lower branch hitting my shin. It hurt badly and at first I thought I had broken my leg. Fortunately, I was only ten or so feet above the ground. I made it down by jumping and landing on my good leg. It was with a great deal of pain, but I survived my parachute landing fall!”
“I saw Bishop on the ground a short distance away. A German spotter plane, an Me-109, flew over and I believe the pilot saw us. Bishop ducked into the woods as I stuffed my parachute under a log and also thought of evasion. My leg hurt terrifically, however, and running was not an option.”
Even if Paul had not been injured his chance for evasion would not have been high. For one thing he wore a USAAF flying suit and useless boots wired for electricity; for another, he was in Nazi Germany proper—there would be no partisan support. Paul did not have a sidearm.
Paul continued: “I spotted some wormy apples and pocketed them. I also fashioned a walking stick out of a tree limb. Otherwise, I just sat and waited, and in a great deal of discomfort.”
“Two German farmers armed with antiquated rifles had no difficulty locating me and taking me prisoner. I rose up lamely on my walking stick and they could see I was injured. The first word I understood was ‘Vorwartsgehen.’ I started hobbling using the stick and mercifully they let me proceed at my own slow speed.”
Addison returned to Bassingbourn that afternoon from London, carrying his prized purchase; he intended to start wearing it the next day. The U.S. Army officer short coat cost him 5 pounds, 15 schillings and 11 pence at the QM London Sales Store.
Entering his dormitory room, Addison glanced around and asked, “Where’s Dave and RJ?” His heart sank when he saw the expression on the faces of the men in the room.
“Haven’t you heard?” one asked.
When Addison learned of a tragedy that would haunt him for the rest of his life, he was dumbstruck. Six of his crewmates, six of the young men who had trained with him stateside, six of the airmen who only weeks earlier had flown with him on that long and adventurous trip over the Atlantic, six of his friends had gone down at a place he had never heard of. And two other B-17s from his bomb group were lost on the same mission.
Addison had been told that several parachutes had been spotted but there was no certainty as to a number—three, maybe four. Nothing else. All he knew for certain was that some of his crewmates had died and some had possibly survived. Nobody knew anything more.
Not being able to ascertain the status of any individual airman, the 91st Bomb Group listed all nine crewmembers from the The Wild Hare as “missing in action.” One of the circumstances that made the air war in World War II so uniquely horrible was its incredibly high number of “MIAs.” Tens of thousands of parents, loved ones and friends were forced to wait, worry, pray and hope. Airmen jumped in World War II without radios—no one but the enemy would know whether a parachutist made it safely to the ground. Still, there was good reason for hope. Substantially more American airmen survived this ordeal than were killed. At war’s end approximately 1,150 airmen from the 91st Bomb Group were taken prisoners of war compared to 600 killed.5
Concerned that the loss of B-17s might get reported in the United States, or that families of missing Bishop crewmembers might in a panic somehow contact his parents and put them in fear for himself, Addison had the presence of mind to telegraph home. “I sent them a cable the day that I found out my crew was lost,” he said. Addison wired his parents: “I’m OK.”
Addison would soon enough learn firsthand how families stateside networked for information in World War II. This prospect had already become a source of stress for him. As second-in-command, he pondered if he should write the parents of his missing crewmen. He had never met any of them, since the only parent to visit in Gulfport had been his father. What news could he tell them? He didn’t know anything.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, members of his squadron maintained a respectful silence in Addison’s presence. There was nothing anyone could do or say that would change what happened and no one, including Manny Klette himself, or even his boss, Col. Terry, could promise that what had happened would not happen again. Inside, Addison Bartush was beside himself. This, the loss of six his crewmates, had followed the day after his trauma in the sky at Merseburg. He could not bring himself to talk about his innermost reaction, that being the primal need for personal security; he reacted as a condemned man might—Addison clammed up.
Addison was not resentful of his commanders. “Manny Klette had been through it himself,” he asserted about his boss. “He had been hospitalized.” He also volunteered that Col. Terry took turns flying combat. Addison respected these two leaders, and wanted to be like them.
The night of the 26th and subsequent nights in the bunkroom were extremely difficult for Addison. “Dave and RJ’s personal things were gone a couple of days later,” Addison said. “They sent someone in to do it and I don’t know who.” Bishop had displayed family pictures on his footlocker that no occupant of the room dared to touch. Addison had tears in his eyes when he recounted, “Miller’s cot was nearby too.” The word he used to describe his sleep was “restless.”
Grief counseling from a medical standpoint was unheard of in 1944, and Addison did not seek, nor was he directed, to see the squadron flight surgeon. And having flown only one combat mission himself, he was certainly not a candidate for battle fatigue counseling—a recognized and treated psychological condition at the time. It never occurred to Addison to ask for sleeping pills or other medications that might alleviate the stress he experienced.
The day after the tragedy Addison met outside with crewmates Earl Sheen and Billy Robertson. He recalled that someone took a photograph of them standing together and that he always knew what date this photograph had been taken because in it he wore his new coat. “None of us looked happy,” Addison remarked. Addison later lost or misplaced this photograph, and the fact of this did not trouble him at all.
At this meeting it dawned on the three airmen that they were no longer a team. They would continue to remain in the same squadron and have the same obligation to complete 35 missions, but they would not necessarily fly together. Each would go into a pool of available names, to be drawn upon and used as needed to fill a vacancy caused for whatever reason. Addison was to be a substitute, or supply co-pilot, Sheen and Robertson extra gunners. To be equitable to all of its combat flyers, the 324th would endeavor to ensure that these alternate airmen flew combat neither more nor less than those permanently assigned to crews.
Recollecting this meeting Addison said: “We shared what little information we had and talked about what we might do.” The three somberly concluded that “not a thing” could be done, however.
Depressed, discouraged and for the first time in his life really frightened, Addison knew who he could turn to for support. Catholicism had been an integral part of his life. Indeed, he had gone to a parochial school and a church-sponsored university; the “four M’s” were all good Catholic girls; he wrote letters to and received letters from his priest in Detroit, and he received periodicals from his church even while overseas.
Addison sought out and found Father Ragan. “I probably saw him somewhere other than the chapel for he was always around everywhere,” Addison related. When he found the priest Addison did not mince words with him: “I just told him,” he said. Father Ragan knew what to do.
World War II was fought with such a magnitude and events happened so fast that there may have been, from a practical standpoint, little opportunity to properly commemorate casualties as they might be honored in the U.S. military today. By the end of the war, 40,061 USAAF airmen had died in all overseas theaters.6 For the 1,347 days that the U.S. fought the Axis, the average daily loss of U.S. airmen was 30 a day. It may have been that all each bomb group could realistically accomplish was to plan for the next day’s mission. Also it may have been that the command back then might have been skeptical about memorial services being tied to specific adverse events; such services might prove demoralizing to the surviving aircrews. In any event, Addison had no recollection of there being a ceremony of any kind held at Bassingbourn related to the loss of November 26, 1944. Father Ragan gave the spiritual guidance Addison sought out on a one-on-one basis.
Three days before the downing, Flight Officer Ray Peacock, the bombardier who did not make the Atlantic crossing with the Bishop Crew, wrote Addison a letter from Gulfport which Addison would have received several days after the event. His salutation read, “Dear Gang,” so obviously he intended Addison to share his letter with his crewmates, almost certainly the officers, Bishop and Miller. In his letter Peacock thanked everyone for “the swell letters” and also wrote this: “We have our minimum so we’ll soon be on our way. Tell RJ to stay out of the crap games.” He signed his letter in an unusual manner for a guy-to-guy communication: “Love, Ray.” None of the letters Addison wrote during World War II survive, but Addison believes he wrote Peacock back and told him what had happened. One can only imagine how Peacock reacted when he received that letter.
As an aside, USAAF records reveal that Peacock deployed overseas and was assigned to the 490th Bomb Group near Eye, Suffolk. This Bomb Group experienced 47 non-combat related accidents over a 14-month period7 and Peacock survived one of them. On April 22, 1945, while turning off the runway after a routine landing, the B-17’s left landing gear collapsed, resulting in considerable damage to the airplane. No one was injured and a faulty jackscrew was determined to be the cause. By this time Peacock and Addison no longer corresponded.
Addison remained on the combat rotation schedule for the 324th, and on November 30 he flew his second mission to Zeitz as a substitute copilot. “Headquarters of the famous optical company,” Addison observed, “but I recollect we were after a fuel factory there.” Addison’s recollection was accurate and this mission was no milk run. A total of 451 B-17s, mostly from the 1st Air Division (to which the 91st belonged) flew to hit targets in southeastern Germany. Eleven B-17s did not return. Addison and another 131 B-17s broke off from the larger pack to attack a synthetic oil plant in the city.8 While Addison’s memory of the target was correct, he did not remember something significant that happened on the mission: the fact that one of the B-17s lost—blown up that day with all but one airmen lost—was from the 324th.
Thinking back to the Zeitz raid, Addison admitted to being terrified about flying combat again, and offered this as his reason for doing so: “I knew that I had to get back into it, otherwise I’d become a complete wreck.”
In World War II, the USAAF did not compel airmen to fly combat. One could voluntarily ground oneself and not end up punished for cowardice under the Articles ofWar. The psychological price to be paid for grounding oneself however, could be devastating, and in the mind of a 22-year-old, even catastrophic. A pilot who refused to fly might end up working on the same base in a different capacity where he would come into contact with those who knew what he had done; he would also be denied continued mess privileges with those officers who flew combat. Flight surgeons would do everything within their power to insure that those having second thoughts about continuing to fly combat resolved their reservations in favor of a full mission roster (the author Joseph Heller addressed this issue using slashing and often angry humor in his brilliant literary novel Catch-22).
In the last month of 1944 and the days leading up to it, Addison Bartush lost something that had always served him well. The world to him could no longer be seriass; there would be no more Mr. Dowilly’s to laugh at, and it did not matter if a person was a Spoony or not, or even a Dawn Patroller. The person who Paul Lynch described as “more like one of the boys,” the second-in-command who “liked to joke” had lost his sense of humor — at least for a period. The real war was not at all as depicted by Hollywood, Addison explained. An adventure? “Hardly,” he said.
On December 3, Addison wrote a letter to his brother Jack who was in Boston at the time waiting for his Coast Guard ship the USCGC Tahoma to be assigned to another convoy. Only 165 feet long, the Tahoma had been built to serve as a Great Lakes icebreaker, but now had escort duty transiting coastal routes near the northeastern United States, Canadian Maritime Provinces and Greenland. In his letter, Addison apparently told Jack about what happened to his crewmembers and also likely the B-17 loss to his squadron at Zeitz. Addison and Jack evidently shared things about the war that, for reasons entirely understandable, were not shared with other members of the Bartush family. “I served as my own censor,” Addison observed, referring to the loosely enforced security procedures at Bassingbourn that enabled him to share militarily sensitive information with a brother.
Four days after Zeitz, Addison had another combat assignment. This time it was to a marshalling yard at Kassel where the bombing was done through winter cloud cover using pathfinder force (“PFF”) techniques involving H2X, a form of airborne radar used on a lead bomber. Addison explained: “That’s the one where a guy sat in front of a screen in the radio room with a hood around him so it would cover any external light and he could read what was below him, that is, pick out cities and rivers.” By attacking a marshalling yard, the Eighth Air Force took the battle directly to enemy combatants on the ground. One B-17 from the 91st was damaged by flak and made a forced landing on the Continent.9 By 1944 the era of “blind bombing” was well at hand.10 The British developed PFF for nighttime bombings; the pathfinders would go in first, find the target using radar and other means and mark it with flares. The main force would follow going directly for the flares, with little or no time lost by a lead bomber searching for an aiming point.
On December 11 and 12 Addison participated in back-to-back missions to Frankfurt and Merseburg, both done by PFF. In a maximum effort on the 11th, the Eighth Air Force put up a record 1,586 heavy bombers, escorted by 841 fighters. The 91st bombed a marshalling yard at Frankfurt and the next day, the Leuna Werke fuel plant at Merseburg. The Luftwaffe did not challenge either attack11 in the air, but “Flak Hell Leuna” lived up to its reputation. No planes belonging to the 91st went down. “It was exhausting,” Addison commented on the circumstance of flying combat two days in a row. “Really tiring.”
It was during this period that Addison stopped writing regularly and mailing newspapers to his family at home. In mid-December one of the four M’s wrote him a letter undoubtedly intended to cheer him up but it may have had the opposite effect of reminding him of what he might never see again. She wrote: “Remember how I always loved your house because your mother had flowers around all the time.”12
That Addison was having a tough time of it both mentally and physically there can be no doubt. A friend serving with the 15th Air Force in Foggia, Italy, John Antes, replied to one of Addison’s letters with this: “You said you were lonely being the only one on a crew. Care to comment?”13
And brother Jack’s reply dated December 13 did not offer Addison encouragement. After mentioning that a sister ship to Tahoma had recently been sunk near Greenland, Jack wrote:
You aren’t the only one that should be worried. You are right when you say things aren’t as easy as the general public thinks even in the North Atlantic. Since I’ve been up there, there has been three to five ships sunk and I’ve been saying my prayers like mad and also including you and Charlie in them. By the way, Charlie will be sent to Burma when he finishes his course as a radar technician—at least he and the other fellows he is with think so.
Jack signed his letter “God bless you,” and added a postscript: “Does what you said about your [crew] being shot down mean that the fellows whose pictures are with you are missing?”
Asked if he had feelings of guilt over not being with his crewmembers when they were shot down, Addison responded, “I don’t remember if I did or not,” then admitted, “but I could. We were friends,” he explained.
Asked if he had feelings of guilt over not writing the families of his downed crewmembers, Addison snapped: “I didn’t have the courage, is that what you would say? That I didn’t have the . . . guts?” Yes, Addison felt guilty about that too. Just about everything that could go wrong in Addison’s life short of himself being shot down had gone wrong.
The trail of letters and Addison’s own recollections strongly suggest Addison very likely suffered from what today is known as post-traumatic stress syndrome—an anxiety disorder caused by exposure to a terrifying event or events resulting in serious physical harm or the threat of harm.14By mid December Addison had stopped writing long and descriptive letters. His family received only three letters from him in the month of December. “They were short with no news and [stated] he was always tired and that war was hell,” his mother wrote to Paul’s mother at year-end.
Events in the ground war did not help Addison’s state of mind either. When he flew his first mission on November 25, the Western Front was, relatively speaking, quiet. Many assumed it would remain so until springtime, or that the Nazis in the interim might come to their senses and surrender since they were losing so badly. On December 16, 1944, however, the German army launched a surprise offensive in Belgium and Luxembourg that came to be known as The Battle of the Bulge, and this signaled an abrupt and stressful mission change for USAAF airmen. The initial German attack met with success, and for a period U.S. commanders did not know whether it could be stopped. The Battle of the Ardennes, as it was officially named by the U.S. Army, lasted until late January 1945, when all of the ground lost to the Nazis had been retaken. The Allied victory was secured at the cost of 80,000 U.S. Army casualties.15
Addison described the problem the 91st had in helping U.S. ground troops: “It was fog, fog, fog,” he said. On December 18 Addison flew a high altitude “screening force” mission to the Luxembourg area. “No bombs were dropped, only chaff,” Addison related, and it had been dropped to jam German radar. “We got it up to 31,000 feet or higher,” he reported, “and could barely control the airplane. There was a little chute on the airplane for the chaff. The crew would dump it out.” Addison also noted that the chaff floated down like strips of tinsel from a Christmas tree. Klette as group leader recorded “none, none, none” for claims, casualties and battle damage for this trip, which counted as a combat mission since it was over enemy-held territory.16
During this period Addison received a letter from his father’s chief salesman asking Addison to take over sales in the Midwest and East after the war so that he, the salesman, could focus on sales in the West and most particularly, California. “Sales are not doing so well in California,” this man wrote. As an inducement for Addison to consider this offer, the salesman reported December projections for Shedd-Bartush Foods, Inc., in the market area he proposed for Addison: “Chicago should do 100,000# [sell 100,000 lbs. of margarine] and New England 250,000#.”
What import this letter may have had on Addison’s morale at the time he did not indicate, but chances are his mind was on other matters. Addison noted, however, astutely, that this salesman hailed from California and his true intent was to return to his home state and with a job.
POW Paul Lynch, by this time in northern Poland, learned the news of the initial success of the Nazi army in the Battle of the Bulge. Paul now appreciated why the Luftwaffe came out to defend that railroad viaduct he was going after at Altenbeken—it would be useful to them in the upcoming battle.
During the critical period from December 19 through December 23 the Eighth Air Force continued to be unable to fly because of horrible weather. As one writer put it: “mist, fog, snow, frost, and drizzle.”17 Aircrews stood on the ready only to have planned ops scrubbed after anxious long hours of cigarette smoking, pacing and waiting. Addison was honest in his reaction to these cancellations: “Yeah, I was relieved,” he admitted, “but at the same time I felt sorry for the poor guys out there in the trenches, in the snow.”
Addison recalled that there were no special briefings on the situation on the ground at the front. “The only thing we knew was what we read in the Stars and Stripes and also heard on the radio. We listened to the B-band [BBC] and also our own, U.S. radio station.” He added that being Christmas time, the American network played, “Bing Crosby, that sort of thing.”
Christmas Eve 1944 was a low point for Addison. He did not fly that day but the 91st did, and it was another record-breaking mission for the Eighth Air Force: a total of2,046 heavy bombers protected by 853 fighters attacked airfields and communications centers throughout western Germany.18
“None of our planes returned to Bassingbourn that Christmas Eve,” Addison said. “A deep fog set in and the pilots had to find other bases. Our bomb group landed wherever it could at bases all over England, and this resulted in a huge mess. In some cases there was literally no place for our aircrews to sleep.”
Addison attended a midnight Catholic Mass at Bassingbourn. “There were just a handful of persons there because our planes had not returned,” he explained. Addison recounted that this had been an especially tense time because everyone was still upset over the whole bomb group having to divert; that all present were painfully aware that emergency landings brought on by bad weather were scary events. It turned out that all of the 91st bombers made it down safely on this special day, but this did not serve to lessen the shock over what had happened. While they sang Silent Night Addison and others wondered if the 91st would be required to take such a risk again. “Things were not going well,” Addison admitted, talking about his emotional state. “Everything seemed . . . well, tight.”
On Christmas Day Addison received a telegram from his father: “WHILE WE HAVE NOT HEARD FROM YOU SEVERAL WEEKS WE ARE CABLING OUR BEST ALL ARE WELL—STEPHEN BARTUSH.” This was followed five days later by a letter from his kid brother Charlie, who now went by the nickname Chuck. Chuck was stationed at Boca Raton at the time and expected to soon receive orders overseas. He joked about his upcoming promotion to corporal and being able to pull rank on Addison with his two stripes. Chuck wrote:
Add, just how does it feel being there [?] I know you don’t like to talk about it because you are busy going on many missions. And now with the Jerries putting on a little pressure I’ll bet it’s awfully nerve-racking. If you ever get a chance to write, let it all out, and don’t mind the language. It makes a fellow feel a lot better. I received a letter from mother and she said you were too nervous to think or write. So do what I say and just write and write about nothing.
Addison wrote a single word on the reverse side of Chuck’s letter: ‘Ashamed.” When confronted about this well over a half-century later, Addison balked: “That’s not my writing,” he first protested. Then the sheepish grin appeared. “Maybe I wrote that down to see how to spell it.” Finally, the confession popped out: Addison laughed and admitted he had been ashamed for not writing home.
Chuck’s letter was not the end of it for Addison from his family, however. The next day his 12-year-old sister, Mary Cay sent him this V-Mail:
December 31, 1944
This is not going to be a friendly letter. Yesterday Mom got a “special delivery letter” from Mrs. Lynch [who] said that her son was reported “missing” over Germany. She would like to get all the information she can. I told Mother that he was the boy that was taken off your plane in Gulfport. If this is true you don’t need to answer but if it isn’t true and you know some information that you can tell us let us know. Mother is writing her now and telling about being taken off.
Mary Cay had mistaken Paul Lynch for Raymond Peacock.
In early 1945 Addison’s spirits picked up somewhat. He had survived enough missions—five were required to wear the Air Medal, which signified he was a veteran combat flyer. There would be close calls ahead, he knew, but he resolved not to let the prospect consume him. Addison hadbecome a combat veteran.
Years later, with a friendly gleam in his eye, Addison offered insight on the subject of physical courage and did so without giving credit to himself: “I was young!” he exclaimed, as in too inexperienced to know any better. He agreed readily that 30-something-year-olds could not easily be made to do the line of work known in World War II as combat air.