Ernie Pyle with the Collins crew, May 1944, Earls Colne Airfield, England.
Earls Colne Airfield Nissen Huts in what appears to be Site No. 13, Buildings 501 (foreground) and 500 on the right. In the chapter of his book "Brave Men"entitled "The Flying Wedge ", Ernie Pyle, the famous war correspondent that brought the war home to anxious families and friends, describes a Nissen hut with wooden signs outside of its door. Each of the signs, he wrote, represented one of the occupants of the Officers' Quarters. Pyle noted that because dogs were such a big part of the airmen of the 456th Bomb Squadron's lives, they included a sign for each of the dogs and pups that inhabited the huts with them. The photograph from the Collection of Lt. Col. Walt Foster, appears to be possibly of the Nissen hut and signs that Pyle described. Before including the story of his time with the 456th in his book, Pyle had written a newspaper column describing his two weeks with the 456th Bomb Squadron in Earls Colne, Essex in May 1944. Pyle spent one week living with the officers of one Nissen jut shared by Capt. William "Chief" Collins, Lt. Jack "Red Dog" Arnold, Lt. Frank Burgmeier and two or three other officers. Pyle describes two holes in the ceiling of the Nissen hut and how they got there. One of the officers, likely Chief Collins, was fired up and decided to discharge his service revolver through the ceiling. Then, he bet one of the other officer's he couldn't shoot a bull through the same hole, which turned out to be a good bet.
Mentioning Chief Collins to any member of the 456th BS elicited an immediate smile and chuckles. "He was a character!" according to, it seems, everyone. Hands down, Chief Collins is one of the most endearing members of the 456th. He combined a sense of fun and adventure with exceptional skills. Chief Collins seems to have taken everything in stride without taking himself too seriously.
Chief Collins, according to the famous war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, was from Connecticut and had been a fighter pilot before he joined the original contingent from Myrtle Beach, SC that comprised the 456th BS. The Collins crew included Lt. Jack "Red Dog" Arnold, the bombardier who met Ernie Pyle at a public house in London with Lt. Lindsey Greene, also a bombaridier. Red Dog reportedly never met a stranger or lost his smile; after a pub crawl, Red Dog invited Pyle to return to Earls Colne to spend some time with the 456th. The famous photograph of Pyle with an aircrew somewhere in England is of Pyle with the Collins crew in Earls Colne in May 1944. Chief Collins and Red Dog, along with the 456th BS, are described in detail in Pyle's book, Brave Men, in the chapter entitled The Flying Wedge.
In his book entitled, Strikes, Ross Halran, also with the 456th, published a letter of remeberance penned by Col. John Bull Stirling. The letter includes a classic story about one mission flown by Chief and Red Dog.
Lt. Burgmeier indicated in post-war comments that the combat crew would occassionally have to give Chief oxygen in flight if he was suffering from the night before. No one seemed to mind.
Red Dog and Chief appeared to have flown together, notwithstanding a few minor bumps along the orad, throughout their long tour of duty in the Eurpoean Theater. They reportedly enjoyed scaring other aircrews by creeping up behind them and suddenly appearing out of their blind spot. In a time of war, flying combat missions day after day, Chief Collins found a way to provide welcome comic relief.
The Collins crew often flew in the flight lead position. The Collins/Arnold aircraft was named "Tootsie", after Capt. Collins' girlfriend back in the States, which somehow seems perfect.
The 456th was made up of a remarkable group of young pioneers who had to be a little bit crazy to fly the B-26 Marauder in combat. They flew with dedication to duty and an esprit de corps nurtured by Col. Wilson R Wood. Col. Wood demanded their absolute support and gave them his in return. Chief Collins exemplfies their unorthodox, irreverent approach and their unique, funny sense of humor. He is missed.
Military | Lieutenant Colonel | Bombardier B-26 Marauder | 323rd Bomb Group
Jack T. Arnold, born December 7, 1921 in Dupo, Illinois. Graduated from East High in East St. Louis, Illinois, received a first alternate appointment to West Point and enlisted in the U.S. Army Infantry. Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he...
Military | Colonel | B-26 Marauder Pilot | 323rd Bomb Group
Maj. Stirling served as a B-26 Marauder pilot with the 456th Bomb Squadron, 323rd Bomb Group, and 9th Air Force during the Second World War. He was part of the original Myrtle Beach, South Carolina group that first comprised the 456th Bomb Squadron....
Units served with
The 323rd Bombardment Group operated with B-26 Marauders, American medium bombers. They were the first Eighth Air Force Group to fly a medium level bombing mission with this aircraft on 16 July 1943. After flying a total of 33 missions with the Eighth,...
Selected Bibliography of Publications:
Military site : airfield
Earls Colne was built in 1941 as an airfield for No.3 Group, RAF Bomber Command, although never used as such. Assigned to the US Eighth Air Force (as Station 358) in 1942, its 36 hardstands were increased to 50, bringing the airfield up to Air Ministry...
Military site : non-airfield
Marks Hall's estate was requisitioned in 1941 for the construction of Earls Colne airfield (USAAF Station 358).