1st Lt. Ira Wellins, 351st Heavy Bombardment Group, 510th Squadron (sometimes 511th), Polebrook, England. Flew 29 missions in Europe, 7 as navigator and 22 as "Mickey Operator" (radar, then top secret) in the lead (Pathfinder) plane of the squadron or entire group. Came home, got married to Frankie (who hailed from Louisville, KY - eerily predicted by the name of his B-17, "Kentucky Babe"), had two daughters and 3 grandchildren, served his RI community as a pharmacist and zoo docent in retirement, drove 10,000 miles to Alaska and back, camped all over the American West, and sailed a 36-foot craft from Florida to RI in a major storm. Passed away at age 89 after a full and rich life.
Aschaffenburg Marshalling Yards, German Rail Block Campaign, Jan 21 1945.
Squadron Lead, 510th Squadron, 351st Heavy Bombardment Group.
Burr - Bombardier; Wellins - Mickey Operator; Adams - Co-Pilot.
Cutler- Pilot; Tabb - Navigator
Written by 1st Lt. Ira Wellins:
"April 18, 1945.
Railroad Marshalling Yards, Traunstein, Germany.
Standing: 1st Lt. Swift-2nd Navigator; 1st Lt. Ira Wellins-Mickey Operator; 1st Lt. Leibrock-Tail Observer; Maj. Gorham-Air Commander.
Kneeling: 1st Lt. Austin-Bombardier; 1st Lt. Madsen-Navigator; Capt. Wilcox-Pilot.
Madsen's last raid.--and mine!"
Ira, the son of impoverished Jewish immigrants, joined to fly planes and to fight Hitler. But he washed out of pilot training for a single error (landing on a taxi strip) and got sent instead to train on the new top-secret technology: Radar. From October '44 - April '45, Ira flew 29 bombing missions-- 22 of them either as 510th Squadron Lead or "C" Group Lead -- calculating the IP and drop point for each mission.
"Mickeymen (who flew on specially-equipped planes called Pathfinders, or PFFs) quickly became a very scarce commodity in combat areas due to the staggering losses of lead crews." Ira beat the odds against survival in the lead plane and, for his service, was awarded the DFC and the Air Medal with 3 oak leaf clusters. Though proud of his contributions to stopping Hitler, he became increasingly remorseful as the years passed, thinking of the many innocent civilian lives that were lost because of the missions in which he had played a key role.
Units served with
The 351st Bomb Group flew strategic bombing missions from their base at Polebrook, Northamptonshire from April 1943 to June 1945. The Group's most famous member was Hollywood actor Clark Gable, who flew four/ five missions with them as an observer...
Military site : airfield
Polebrook was laid down for RAF Bomber Command use in 1940-1941. Built by George Wimpey and Co. Ltd, it had short runways which were lengthened for USAAF heavy bomber use. The RAF used the base for operational trials - including of B-17 Flying...