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Paul D Anderson Jr

Military

Trained as radio op/gunner but retained as radio tech. Assigned to 7th Sqd. 34th BG H in Blyth CA, then sent to England spring of '44 with group.

Most of the stories here will be about combat air crews, but I thought it would be appropriate to include one from an 8th Air Force ground crewman. There was a saying that it took 100 men on the ground to keep 10 in the air. When you consider all of the personnel required to maintain the aircraft, plan the missions, provide security and feed everyone; that’s probably not far off.

Although these men didn’t face the uncertainty that came with every mission like air crews, they too had their share of risks. Some died loading bombs, in vehicle accidents and operational mishaps. These “ground-pounders” as the flight crews called them, didn’t rotate home after a set number of missions or time, were also there for the duration of the war. They were also subject to occasional enemy attacks by planes as well as V-1 and V-2 missiles.

Paul learned to fly before the war in a government program called Civilian Pilot Training. Of course, these free flying lessons came with the proviso that you were hence enlisted in the US Army Standby Reserve. When the war broke out these young pilots were among the first to be called to active duty. Paul’s dream of becoming a fighter pilot ended abruptly when they found that he had slightly less than perfect vision in one eye. They did however offer him the opportunity to become an assault glider pilot as these pilots could wear glasses.

For nearly a year, Paul worked his way through “Deadstick”, Basic and Advanced Glider Schools. His class was just days from graduation when they were informed that they would be “redirected at the discretion of the US Army”. After taking a battery of skills test, virtually the whole class ended up in Fort Scott, IL for Radio Operator/Gunnery school. [During this period the 8th Air Force was taking horrific losses, so the Army was essentially raiding lower priority training schools for more air crews.] During the course of this school they learned both the technology of electronics, radio communications and the skills of aerial gunnery. Those who scored exceptionally high in radio technology were retained at the end of the class for additional training as radio mechanics. Paul was one of these, thus ending his vision of being a combat air crewman.

When Paul was initially assigned to the 34th Heavy Bomb Group, they were a crew training unit in Blyth, CA. After a few months, they were tapped to join the 8th Air Force’s new 3rd Air Division. Traveling across the Atlantic by ship, Paul’s group ended up at a base near the small English town of Mendlesham. There they quickly learned that their worst enemy was the English weather. While the air crews lived in tin huts, the ground crewman often lived in tents. Paul and his friends built wooden sides for their tent from the crates that bombs were shipped in. They then “appropriated” a door from somewhere. (A group of British sentries later complained that the door from their guard shack had mysteriously disappeared.)

The men who maintained the aircraft often worked around the clock before a mission, grabbing an hour’s sleep on a cot set up on the flight line. Except for major repairs, the work was normally done outside on the ramp through the rain, freezing cold and snow. They took great pride in keeping the planes in their charge in top condition. They also knew that a failure to do so could result in the loss of the aircraft and its crew.

When an engine was replaced on a bomber, it had to be broken-in at low speed according to a maintenance protocol. These local fights, called “slow-timing” a new engine, were not popular with flight crews. They were boring and contributed nothing towards the crewman’s mission tally. So it was that a maintenance officer was waiting outside the dining hall door one evening to commandeer a minimum crew (pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and radioman) to slow-time an engine on a bomber for the next day’s mission. Another crew had started the process, but had returned to base with a complaint about the gyro and then promptly disappeared. The gyro was replaced and the operations officer nabbed a couple of pilots outside the officer’s mess. He then picked up the first flight engineer and radioman who left the enlisted men’s dining hall. Although Paul wasn’t on a flight crew he was deemed “close enough” for slow-timing an engine. Actually, he didn’t mind the opportunity to fly a few hours.

Once aloft, they flew a triangular course around three low-power radio beacons. The radioman used the radio direction finder to direct the pilot from one beacon to the next. Once on course, there wasn’t much to do. The pilots would put the plane on autopilot and wait for the radioman to call out the next turn. The autopilot depended on the air-driven gyro to stabilize the plane; without it the autopilot had no idea which way was up. This particular aircraft had been returned earlier due to a problem with the gyro, however, as it turned out, the gyro wasn’t the problem.

Perhaps a metal shaving or piece of dirt had become lodged in the tube that fed air to the gyro. In any case, when the air flow was temporally obstructed, the gyro tumbled sending the B-17 into a snap roll then a flat spin. Paul said that he remembered hearing the pilot ring the bail-out bell, but the G forces were so strong that he couldn’t even lift his hands from the radioman’s desk. He had no idea how many times the plane spun but the two pilots managed to stop the rotation with the 17’s huge rudder and pull it out of the dive as they scraped the treetops.

The pilot ordered Paul to send out a QDM (radio fix from ground stations) and give him a vector back to base. Upon landing, the maintenance officer and the plane’s crew chief were shaking their head as the plane’s four engines ground to stop. A look at the ship revealed that the huge G forces had bent spars, crumpled bulkheads and stretched the sheet metal skin beyond repair. The plane was towed to the salvage line and scrapped.

Paul flew four missions over enemy territory during operation Chowhound, and several more after VE day repatriating POWs and displaced civilians from Austria to Paris. He had a few other close scrapes, one with an exploding IFF box (Identification Friend/Foe), a dive into a flooded trench during an enemy fighter attack on the base, and nearly ditching in the North Atlantic off the coast of Greenland on his way home. Paul did make it home, and went on to work 32 years for Boeing Aircraft, the company that made the Flying Fortress which held together just long enough to get him back to base that night.

Service

Units served with

  • 34th Bomb Group

    34th Bomb Group

    Group
    After forming part of the American defence force, first on America's east coast and then on its west, the Group was assigned to the Eighth Air Force in April 1944 and entered combat in May 1944. The Group helped with the preparation for the Normandy...

  • 7th Bomb Squadron

Associated Place

  • Mendlesham

    Military site : airfield
    Built in 1942-1943, Mendlesham's first flying unit was the RAF's No. 310 Squadron - a Czechoslovakian unit. The airfield then became home to the USAAF 34th Bomb Group. This unit flew missions from Mendlesham in B-24s and B-17s.

  • The Bull Inn

    Other location

Events

Event Location Date

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
03 August 2018 11:20:11 general ira snapsorter Changes to media associations
Sources

Associated Media items.

Date Contributor Update
04 January 2017 17:01:49 Lucy May Changes to highest rank, role, biography, place associations and media associations
Sources

Brought in information from duplicate record. Source:
lda01@yahoo.com: 'Many conversations with Paul, he was my dad.'

Date Contributor Update
22 March 2016 15:46:39 lda01@yahoo.com Changes to biography
Sources

LDA 3/22/16

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:21:09 AAM AAM ingest
Sources

1996 34th BG Roster / Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia

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