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42-40769

B-24 Liberator

The crew of the B-24D Liberator bomber, named, 'IRON ASS', with the nose art of a caricature of a kicking mule and its nickname: 'Iron Ass', a wartime expression denoting a hard-nosed commanding officer, left America and flew from The USA to England, early in 1943 where it was assigned to the 8th Air Force and 93rd Bomb Group, based at Hardwick, Britain, about 56 miles north of London.

'IRON ASS' flew nine missions, some from Benghazi, North Africa, and, later, some from England, including a harrowing sortie over Austria in which several bombers in their group were shot down, one exploding a hundred yards ahead of them in a huge ball of flame and debris.

Then, early in the morning of Dec 1, 1943, the 93rd’s combat crews rose in the drizzly predawn darkness for a mission briefing. The target: Solingen, a transportation hub in the Ruhr Valley, Germany’s industrial heartland, heavily defended by flak guns and fighters. The group had gone there the day before but had to abort due to cloud cover over the target. Now it was on again.

After breakfast, a visit to the chaplain, and briefings by intelligence and weather officers, the crews manned their bombers and began the dangerous takeoff procedure. One by one the big ships rumbled down the runway in the lightening gloom, slowly lifted off and vanished into the clouds.

On emerging above the cloud deck in brilliant sunshine, the group’s 17 B-24s assembled in combat formation behind their leader. Then they joined the other groups in the strike force of 293 heavy bombers and set a course for Germany, climbing slowly to their assigned altitude. As the long bomber stream passed over Holland, escorting American fighter planes weaved white condensation trails in the deep blue thousands of feet above the formation, a reassuring sight. But soon they reached the limit of their range and turned back. The bombers were immediately attacked by German fighter planes. The bombers’ defensive guns opened fire and a running battle ensued. Iron Ass remained unscathed but as the formation neared the target at Solingen, the propeller on the number three engine suddenly became uncontrollable and was quickly shut down. The heavily loaded plane, unable to maintain formation, began to fall behind.

Now alone deep in Germany at 23,000 feet, the crew was in mortal danger. As they fell away from the formation, another crippled B-24 pulled in close for mutual protection. Their Copliot, 1st Lt. Clinton Gruber, could see a lovely pinup girl painted on its fuselage and read her name: 'Nana'. “I vividly remember the plane’s name…” he wrote later, “…how could I forget?” Enemy fighters pounced on 'Nana', sending her down in flames as the crew of 'Iron Ass' watched. Ten men incinerated. Now it was their turn. The fighters made head-on passes and rear attacks. The ship shook from the impact of 20 mm. explosive shells and vibration from her own guns as the crew fought for their lives. Tail gunner, Staff Sgt. Harry Byerman, kept firing his twin 50 caliber machine guns until he was killed in an attack that damaged the tail. The waist gunner was wounded in one leg.

In the cockpit, Lt. Gruber and Pilot, Horace "Ketch' Ketchum, struggled to control the ship. A shell exploded in the left wing, peeling the aluminum skin off the top. Another knocked out the left inboard engine. Ketch’s window imploded, scattering metal and plexiglas fragments in the cockpit. Now down to 18,000 feet, it was time to get out. With a swiftness born of instinct, Gruber grabbed his chest pack chute, ripped his oxygen and intercom connections from their sockets and squeezed down into the bomb bay, the only exit. The doors were closed. He was trapped.

Fumbling in the subzero darkness he somehow found and pulled the emergency lever. The big doors slowly rolled open, revealing solid white cloud far below. Looking up into the cockpit he saw Ketch grab his chute. Then he pushed off into empty sky.

The 160-mph slipstream slammed him hard. He pulled the D-ring and the chute opened, knocking the wind out of him. Suddenly, all was quiet. Gone were the roaring engines, screaming on the intercom and blasting guns. He hung suspended in space over a cloud deck three miles down.

The crippled bomber, propellers on two of its four engines still turning, began the long, slow fall into Germany, harried by the pursuing fighters. Then it disappeared.

As Gruber came out beneath the clouds, a snowy landscape rushed up to meet him. He hit with tremendous impact, fracturing an ankle. Though hobbled, he managed to escape capture until climbing a ridge he emerged into an open field, face-to-face with a civilian who aimed a shotgun at him. The “hands-up!” order in German needed no translation.

Gruber’s flight mates were also captured and the group was sent to Stalag 1, a bleak compound of barracks surrounded by barbed-wire fences and towers. Finally, in the last days of the war, they were “liberated” by Russian troops who kept them prisoner until a U.S. Army medical team arrived with news that they would be airlifted out in U.S. aircraft.

Service

Aircraft

  • 42-40769 'Iron Ass'

    B-24 Liberator
    The crew of the B-24D Liberator bomber, named, 'IRON ASS', with the nose art of a caricature of a kicking mule and its nickname: 'Iron Ass', a wartime expression denoting a hard-nosed commanding officer, left America and flew from The USA to England,...

Units

  • 8th Air Force

    8th Air Force


    Eighth Air Force Bomber Command became the Eighth Air Force on February 1944, it oversaw bombardment of strategic targets in Europe until 1945. ...

  • 93rd Bomb Group

    93rd Bomb Group

    Group
    93rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) was activated 1-March-1942 at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. On 15-May-1942 the Group moved to Ft. Myers, Florida to continue advanced flight training and also to fly anti-submarine patrols over the Gulf of Mexico; they...

  • 329th Bomb Squadron

People

  • Harry Byerman

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Tail Gunner | 93rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 1 December 1943 in B-24 #42-40769 'Iron Ass', Killed in Action (KIA). AM w/ Oak Leaf Cluster/ PH

  • Guy Cheney

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Left Waist Gunner | 93rd Bomb Group
    Took part in Operation Tidal Wave, the raid on Ploesti on 1 August 1943, flying B-24 Liberator 41-23809. Shot down 1 December 1943 in B-24 42-40769 'Iron Ass. ' Prisoner of War (POW).

  • Nelson Crawford

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Radio Operator | 93rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 1 December 1943 in B-24 #4240769 'Iron Ass. ' Prisoner of War (POW). POW

  • Floyd Dawson

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Right Waist Gunner, Waist Gunner | 93rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 1 December 1943 in B-24 #4240769 'Iron Ass. ' Prisoner of War (POW). POW

  • Clinton Gruber

    Military | Second Lieutenant | Co-Pilot | 93rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 1 December 1943 in B-24 #4240769 'Iron Ass. ' Prisoner of War (POW ...

  • Charles Keating

    Military | Second Lieutenant | Navigator | 93rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 1 December 1943 in B-24 42-40769 'Iron Ass. ' Prisoner of War (POW). POW

  • Horace Ketchum

    Military | Lieutenant | Pilot | 93rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 1 December 1943 in B-24 #4240769 'Iron Ass. ' Prisoner of War (POW). POW

  • Gail Leediker

    Military | Second Lieutenant | Bombardier | 93rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 1 December 1943 in B-24 #42-40769 'Iron Ass', Prisoner of War (POW). POW

  • Leon Sellers

    Military | Technical Sergeant | Ball Turret Gunner | 93rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 1 December 1943 in B-24 #4240769 'Iron Ass. ' Prisoner of War (POW). POW

  • John Sykes

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Top Turret Gunner | 93rd Bomb Group
    Shot down 1 December 1943 in B-24 #42-40769 'Iron Ass', Prisoner of War (POW). POW

Missions

  • VIII Bomber Command 145

    1 December 1943
    This mission was directed at the industrial areas of Leverkusen and Solingen, Germany. The mission is composed of two elements. The first element is a combined force of 221 B-17s from 1st Bomb Division that included: 91BG (27); 92BG (18); 303BG (17);...

Events

Event Location Date
Failed to Return (FTR) Belgium 1 December 1943

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
19 April 2021 18:06:27 Kickapoo Changes to description
Sources

https://www.pacificu.edu/magazine/clinton-gruber-47-missing-action-over-...

Date Contributor Update
19 April 2021 18:02:17 Kickapoo Changes to nicknames and description
Sources

Best Web - B-24 - 'IRON ASS' - # 42-40769

Date Contributor Update
19 April 2021 17:47:41 Kickapoo Changes to description
Sources

https://www.pacificu.edu/magazine/clinton-gruber-47-missing-action-over-...

Date Contributor Update
19 April 2021 17:28:24 Kickapoo Changes to unit associations
Sources

https://www.pacificu.edu/magazine/clinton-gruber-47-missing-action-over-...

Date Contributor Update
19 April 2021 17:27:15 Kickapoo Changes to aircraft associations and mission associations
Sources

https://www.pacificu.edu/magazine/clinton-gruber-47-missing-action-over-...

Date Contributor Update
04 April 2018 20:21:41 elliott4650 Changes to nicknames
Sources

My father in law, Floyd Dawson, was waist gunner. He was shot down Dec. 1, 1943 and spent over a year in Stalag VII. His plane was called the Iron Ass.

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:40:52 AAM AAM ingest
Sources

MACR 2185 / Paul Andrews, Project Bits and Pieces, 8th Air Force Roll of Honor database

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