Thursday, August 8, 2013
Two Guys Talking B-24s
Part 2 of my conversation with Gene Crandall and Floyd Ogilvy
(Crandall was a propeller specialist and mechanical troubleshooter, and Ogilvy was a gunner in the 445th Bomb Group)
Gene Crandall: Did you ever see an airplane that was captured by the Germans and rebuilt?
Floyd Ogilvy: Yes, a B-24? I never had seen one but I heard they had them.
Gene Crandall: They used to, when they had crashes, they fixed them up and they’d get right up there in the same formation with our guys and radio down the altitude and the speed and all that, and then dive out of the formation and then you’d get the flak. Right?
Floyd Ogilvy: Well, yeah, I never saw one of those, but I knew ... What is your interest in this?
Aaron Elson: I’ve written a couple of books about my father’s tank battalion, and I was over in Europe, in Germany, doing some research, and I met Walter Hassenpflug.
Floyd Ogilvy: He was one of the people that got shot down?
Aaron Elson: No, he was a 12-year-old kid, German, and he captured Frank Bertram.
He told me the story, showed me the monument, and I was hooked. I went to a reunion of my father’s tank battalion after he passed away, and I’d hear these veterans telling stories, and I was just riveted. So I went back the next year with a tape recorder. Historically it’s good that I’m doing this, but to me, these are just great stories.
Gene Crandall: There’s a lot more interest now in the Second World War, 50 years later.
Floyd Ogilvy: I just came back from Pennsylvania, Penn State University, they had the National Collegiate Wrestling Tournament there, and I’m an ex-college wrestler so my wife and I go every year.
Aaron Elson: Reg Miner was a wrestler in high school.
Floyd Ogilvy: I don’t know that name. Is he 445th?
Aaron Elson: He was the pilot of Frank Bertram’s plane. I think Kassel was his 19th mission. When did you finish your missions?
Floyd Ogilvy: August 11 and that was September 27 as I recall.
Aaron Elson: So he would have come in shortly before you finished up. What missions did you go on besides Berlin?
Floyd Ogilvy: Munich. Strasbourg. Saarbrucken.
Aaron Elson: Oh, Saarbrucken. I don’t know if it was the same one, but his plane was badly damaged on a Saarbrucken raid and he landed in a field.
Floyd Ogilvy: In England?
Aaron Elson: Yes. But he didn’t make it back to Tibenham. He came in over a clump of trees and they were scraping the bottom of the plane. It was just a miracle, but that was a Saarbrucken raid.
Floyd Ogilvy: There was more than one Saarbrucken mission. But I did go there once.
Aaron Elson: You were not on the Gotha raid?
Floyd Ogilvy: No, that was before I got over there.
Aaron Elson: But you had heard about that?
Floyd Ogilvy: Yep, I sure did. I was scared to pieces. That was a tough one.
Aaron Elson: Did you ever go to Gotha?
Floyd Ogilvy: No. It happened before I got there, where they lost several planes from the 445th.
Aaron Elson: Do you recall the plane that, when they sent four planes up to Ireland and they brought one back and the plane blew up in midair with the four crews on it?
Floyd Ogilvy: My navigator got killed in that. John Hennessy.
Gene Crandall: What were they going to Ireland for, to pick up another airplane?
Floyd Ogilvy: Yes. They had 24 guys on it, and the plane blew up. And my navigator, after I finished my tour, my navigator stayed in.
Gene Crandall: You know, after this raid that you were talking about, the Kassel mission, the next day we had 31 brand new airplanes. Because they had them in a staging area. And I thought to myself, thank God for the civilians that are building this stuff. And I guess Ford built them so fast that they had to slow him down because he was making one an hour. After I got through college I went to law school and so forth, I went broke, so I went over to Kaiser, they had Willow Run then, and I was a division superintendent building C-119 cargo airplanes in the same place that all those B-24s were built. And as far as I know about B-24s, any airplane built by Ford we could take the tail section off of any Ford plane and put it right on there and they built them all with pictures and everything so that they always were a perfect fit. But the Consolidated airplanes are lousy, you know, they were almost hand made in a different way.
Aaron Elson: So both Ford and Consolidated made B-24?
Gene Crandall: Oh, a lot more than that made them. I don’t know how many plants made them. I think they made them, didn’t they make B-24s in Texas?
Floyd Ogilvy: In Oklahoma.
Gene Crandall: In Oklahoma? Consolidated, I don’t know if they built them in Wichita or not. They had an awful lot of components being built and shipping to the assembly place. But I know they slowed Ford down because he was making one an hour, and boy, I think the civilians did as much to win the war as we did. Because one time we had a bunch of construction guys screwing around with our runway and they spilled crushed rock all over the ground, were you there then?
Floyd Ogilvy: uh-huh.
Gene Crandall: We had to ground all our airplanes because they were running over these damn crushed rocks. And within 36 hours, airplanes were arriving with loads of tires. And the people in the United States were really getting it together. I guess we could thank Marshall for that. Marshall was the brain behind the whole damn war.
Aaron Elson: Did you encounter any signs of sabotage on any of the planes?
Gene Crandall: No, I never saw any signs of sabotage. I know that one day a little black car pulled up and snapped up about three Englishmen that were working on the runway. I don’t know what exactly they were, but it was the CID, and they had spies there, I know that. Because they knew when we were taking off and every other damn thing. But this little black car came up there and plainclothes guys got out and snapped a couple of these Limeys off of the runway and took them away. But I told you, two days after we got there Lord Haw Haw said "Welcome the 445th." They had spies, but I never saw any sabotage. We had enough wrecks due to our own stupidity. I was much more frightened by our own people than I was the Germans, because we had some gunnery officer that was trying to sight in the rear turret and he didn’t have the interruptor on, the fire interruptor, and he was spraying bullets all over the base. In fact, I went over to my washerwoman one day and asked her, she used to wash my clothes, and I went over there and she says, "Come along in here now," and I went in there, and she had holes in her parlor. And I said, "My god, where’s that from?"
She said it was from those machine guns.
The worst problem we had, because I used to go down there in the dark, in the morning, and the armament guys would be fiddling around with the turret, and every once in a while a blast with those incendiary bullets would go right out over the base, because the guys hit that foot pedal you guys had in there.
Floyd Ogilvy: They had them in the tail turret, a manual thing to fire the guns in case the hydraulic system or something was out. I can remember, in one of the bases where I was located, I’m not really sure where it was, but a guy got in the back in the turret while he was on the ground and stepped in the turret and hit that, and it sprayed bullets all over the place.
Gene Crandall: Yeah, and I was riding down the perimeter, dragging a propeller, or an engine, I forget which one I was dragging in a jeep, and that guy was still practicing over there and the damn bullets hit the trailer, or the dolly that was hauling the engine. I was with the guy, and we heard that pinging going on, I said, "For Christ sakes, stop!" And we jumped out of there, we looked, and there was a hole in that damn, well, those were armor piercing bullets. I walked by a turret one time, a tail turret, and I told the armament guy, the guy who took care of the machine guns, I said, "There’s a jammed cartridge in that gun. Now be careful." I walk by the gun, and this guy got in there, and it went off. And it just missed the back of my head. It hit the ground, ricocheted right through an engine, and out through the wing. And I couldn’t hear for a week. So my assistant, I said to him, and this guy had his fingers, you know, where the air cool slots are, in a .50-caliber, he had his fingers in there, and they nipped off the end of his fingers, and he came out of there screaming and we grabbed him and put him in a jeep and took him over to the hospital. But it was very, very dangerous. Those old bombers were very, very dangerous. I don’t know how many of them had gas leaks, and if a B-24 ever cracked up it rolled up. Very few of them stayed whole when they came to rest, did they? The 17 was a good, tough airplane to crack up in.
Floyd Ogilvy: We don’t talk about 17s. We’re 24 people.
Gene Crandall: Some 17 pilots used to come over to our base and they’d look at our engines, and our engines were real clean ...
Floyd Ogilvy: Because the 17s were Wright engines and ours were Pratt-Whitney and they ...
Gene Crandall: The Wright engine had a lousy seal where the front bearing is, you know, where the propeller shaft is. And they were always dirty, and the pilots would come over there and they’d say, "How do you keep that propeller clean?"
Floyd Ogilvy: You didn’t have to. Did you ever hear of a guy by the name of Tony Marks?
Aaron Elson: No.
Floyd Ogilvy: Well, he’s a guy that I have been in touch with, and the plane that we flew most of our missions on was called the Silver Streak, and I didn’t realize that it had been shot down before we left, and we flew our last four missions on a plane called Thumper. So I got hold of him and I told him, no, I said my plane was, I thought it got shot down on the Kassel raid. He wrote me back this letter and he said ...
Aaron Elson: (reading) "Dear Floyd, Nice to hear from you. Again I thank you for the confirmation of my info re the Silver Streak. Memory is a funny thing and you’re not the first vet by any means to tell me something which conflicted with the facts that I had. When you do this type of research, you just have to have open mind about things and not be too dogmatic. It’s odd, though, that Brsic’s book records no losses on July 25 whereas Freeman’s Mighty Eighth War Diary does, just one 445th. I’m familiar with the other plane you mention, Thumper ..."
Floyd Ogilvy: My plane got shot down on July 25, and then we flew on the Thumper and he talks about that there too.
Aaron Elson: (reading) "...In fact, I have a couple of photos of it, one with the nose turret knocked off after a midair collision during a mission to Mainz on 9 September '44. After you finished your tour, I should think. Thumper was finally lost on a mission to Hanau on 11 December '44." Oh, he’s in England, this ...
Floyd Ogilvy: Yeah, he’s an English person, and he was just really very interested in ...
Gene Crandall: You were in the Normandy invasion?
Floyd Ogilvy: Yes. I flew two missions on D-Day.
Aaron Elson: Did you?
Floyd Ogilvy: Yeah.
Gene Crandall: I think the group flew three missions that day. Because I know we put up everything we had, even War Weary airplanes, with a big WW on the tail. War Weary, you ever see them?
Floyd Ogilvy: No.
Gene Crandall: Well, when they get all worn out they put WW on the tail, they call it War Weary. And they sent everything they could get up. And one of these planes came back with the propeller not feathering, just turning, and I went over and grabbed hold of the blade, twisted it like that, and the damn thing went back and forth six inches. And somehow the hydraulic reservoir got shot out of there, and that airplane was in such bad shape that if anybody flew in that plane they were taking their life in their own hands. Well hell, they just junked them all, didn’t they? Like, when I was down to Ipswich where this one airplane came in that we picked up, I was telling him there was a runway five miles long, and one mile was blacktop and the rest of it was gravel, and they had pipes this big around all the way down each side of that runway when they dumped gasoline. And then start it on fire, and then that would dissipate the fog. There was a lot of night work going on, you know, from the RAF and all that. And the reason they did that was to dissipate the fog and then them guys knew where the runway was, see. And they had, it seemed to me hundreds of airplanes there, night fighters, all black, painted jet black. And they had all kinds of British airplanes there, and they were all piled up. It must have been billions of dollars worth of airplanes. Ipswich is right on the coast, so they’d come out of Germany and that’s what they hit. But they had an interesting system. When these guys would come back at night, they’d have one searchlight, did you ever do that? Okay, when they got to the coast, you see the RAF, or the British had this searchlight system, and they’d have one searchlight right up and you could see that thing from 10,000 feet. And then the guy would fly to that searchlight, and they’d turn it off, and they’d light another one down there about ten miles, and he’d fly to that one. And then when they were through, they could tell by the sound of the engine where it was, when he got down there far enough, why they’d let him land. Well, one morning I went down to the line and there were about twenty of those great big Halifax bombers sitting there that had gotten weathered in at their own base and they landed at our base, because they flew at night. And we used to listen to them at night going over, you could hear them at night, one right after the other.
Floyd Ogilvy: No formation, they just ...
Gene Crandall: These guys flew every day, all day long, in formation. At the end of the war there were thousand plane formations, and when they’re flying up there you could see, you remember when they were all aluminum, they stopped camouflaging them, because they’d go seven miles an hour faster if they were aluminum. So these parts would come tricking down like chaff, like you were talking about like Christmas tree chaff, and you could see it come down from 15, 20,000 feet. Very interesting time.
Aaron Elson: What was the mood on the base on Sept. 27, after the Kassel raid?
Gene Crandall: We took it as a terrible, terrible loss. I mean, when you lose 31 airplanes, you know, everybody said "Oh my God." Well, there was a time, you know, when they almost stopped the daytime bombings, the losses were so terrible. But in that raid you’re talking about, we heard that the German Goering’s Yellow Nose Squadron jumped the whole formation, and to get into Hermann Goering’s Yellow Nose Squadron, you had to have a hundred kills or something, although a kill for them was an engine, in other words if you shot down one bomber, that was four kills. But that’s what we heard. That was an awful sad day, Jesus, you lose 310 men, we thought we lost that many all in one crack. That’s why we didn’t get to be too friendly with guys like this [Ogilvy]. And at the end of the war, as we grew older and the crews grew younger, they were like little kids. It was a lot of, like, almost like cannon fodder.
Aaron Elson: You must have had buddies who were crew chiefs of planes, how did they take it when their plane ...
Gene Crandall: Oh, they’d get sick when they’d lose their plane, because it’s like part of them, a lot of crew chiefs went on missions with them.
Aaron Elson: Really?
Gene Crandall: Yeah, they did. I know half a dozen guys went on missions. I’ve been on missions. But they were milk runs. Never go along to Berlin. But hell, the crew chief got to be very close to the people, his crew. One crew bought a silver B-24 carved by a jeweler and gave it to the crew chief. And they always went to London and always brought him back a bottle of booze. The pilots were very nice to the ground crew, because their life was hanging on every thing.
Aaron Elson: I can’t get over, you know, reading the amount of damage to some of those planes...
Gene Crandall: Oh, gosh, you don’t know. They’d come back with a half a tail gone, and wings all shot to hell. In fact, one time one came back and he had a .20-millimeter right through the propeller blades, and we learned in engineering school if that ever happened it would really throw it off balance. I said to the pilot, "Did you know you had a bullet through the propeller?" He said, "Hell, no." He said, "I was so interested in getting back it didn’t bother me."
Well hell, I don’t know how many times they’d get shot on the deck, you know, down low, and the Germans would be after them and they’d call for 60 inches of manifold pressure on there and come back out of there and burn up their engines almost, and we’d have to change the engines. Hell, I’ve seen them come back and they actually sucked the duct business out of the intake manifold, and I’d say to them, "Jesus, you know you burned the engines out?" And they’d say, "We don’t give a damn ..."
Well, they were sitting ducks, that’s why they got down on the lower level, just to get back across that damn Channel. That Zuider Zee has still got thousands of airplanes, and they still dig ’em out of there once in a while, and that water’s so cold that they find the guys’ dog tags and all that. Which is right where the windmills and all that is.
Floyd Ogilvy: Was Dewey a POW?
Aaron Elson: No, Dewey made it back. And, let’s see, I think that was only his eighth mission, so he continued to fly. What led Hennessy to stay in?
Floyd Ogilvy: I don’t know, if it was promotion or what. Anyway, he stayed over there and I came back home, and I didn’t know until way after the war that he was killed. A handsome young guy. Nice kid.
Gene Crandall: He got killed?
Floyd Ogilvy: Yeah, he got killed in that thing that he was talking about, those 24 people, they were going to Ireland.
Aaron Elson: They were delivering three old B-24s ...
Gene Crandall: Then they picked up new airplanes, didn’t they?
Aaron Elson: No, the fourth plane went with them and brought the crews back, I guess there were six man crews on each. And over Liverpool it just exploded in midair. This fellow George Noorigian, he was a bombardier, but he believes, he said it was his theory, but nobody ever knew exactly what happened, but with 24 people on a plane he thought a lot of them would be smoking, crammed in like that, and he thought that there must have been a leak in the gas ...
Gene Crandall: Well, the way the wind blew through there I don’t know if that would have made any difference or not. Boy, if that wind blew through there it was cold. I’ve seen, the B-24 was notorious for leaking, and the wing was built like this, right in the bomb bay, and the leak would run right down to that V and drip down into the bomb bay. I’ve seen guys when the plane would spring a leak, they’d get so damn mad they’d get out there and kick the airplane. We had some crazy fellows. One guy used to come back from a mission, and he’d have the co-pilot fly, and he’d get down there about ten feet off of the English Channel and take his .45 and shoot it down into the water. Well, that pilot, you know, wartime pilots are a little crazy. Especially fighter pilots. One guy was from Clear Point, North Carolina, and he owned a tavern or what they call a roadhouse, and he knew this guy that was either the first or second ace in the British Isles. So the guy came over there and he said, and he’s flying a jug, you know, a Thunderbolt, a P-37, and he said, "Show us a little performance, will you?" And this young kid, he was nuts, he was maybe 25, he looked like he was 30. And he took that damn jug aloft and he made a pass at that field upside down, and you’d swear that that canopy was gonna drag the ground.
Aaron Elson: You had mentioned earlier governors. Did the engines have governors?
Gene Crandall: Sure as hell did. Hydraulic governors.
Aaron Elson: Was that to control the speed or to limit it?
Gene Crandall: To control the blade angle of the propeller. When you got up to 2,850 RPM if it ever got that high, the blade angle would take a bigger bite of the air so that the engine wouldn’t run right, and if it got up to 3,500 it would burn the engine up.
Aaron Elson: Let me ask you, one of the pilots on the Kassel Mission who made it to the emergency field at Manston said that he had an almost a panoramic view because he was in the lower left element, I think, but he could look out and see all that was going on, and he said one memory that would always stay with him, one of the weirdest things he’d ever seen, two B-24s, he said their propellers, all four propellers corkscrewed away from the plane and flew in formation until they tilted downward.
Gene Crandall: I’ve never heard of anything like that. I used to put propellers and engines on there, and it was my job to run em up to full 60 inches of manifold pressure, and the damn propellers were turning right by my head, and it was my job to run em up and check em out, and I never saw a propeller leave an airplane. But, if he said he saw it he saw it. But it must have been some kind of engineering fluke.
Floyd Ogilvy: That was on the Kassel raid?
Aaron Elson: On the Kassel raid. He felt that it was an inexperienced pilot in both planes that had given it full throttle, now I don’t quite understand ...
Gene Crandall: That wouldn’t make sense.
Floyd Ogilvy: It would if they feathered something and shouldn’t have.
Gene Crandall: If they feathered it, that still wouldn’t make them break loose.
Aaron Elson: Is it possible that it was at the same time as they were being hit by shells.
Gene Crandall: Well to do that, you’d probably have to take the whole nose section off the airplane, and that nose section is made out of magnesium so it’s lighter. But I never saw that happen. I saw one airplane once that had a rebuilt engine on it so that a nose section came off it, but I never saw ... We had the best airplanes they could build, the best they could give us. I never saw anything like that.
Floyd Ogilvy: Well, anything is possible.
Gene Crandall: Well, in wartime, you know, they, like Ford built one an hour. If there was a defect it’s possible. But I never saw anything like that. ... Where are you from?
Aaron Elson: New Jersey
Gene Crandall: What part of New Jersey?
Aaron Elson: Hackensack, northern New Jersey.
Gene Crandall: I was in Trenton for a while. Fort Dix there. Till we got redeployed. I liked Trenton. George Washington slept there.
Aaron Elson: Now you became a lawyer after the war?
Gene Crandall: No, I went to law school. Oh, hell, I can’t stand lawyers. I went broke in law school.
Aaron Elson: How did you do that?
Gene Crandall: Oh, I had a bunch of kids. Then I decided I didn’t like lawyers anyhow. So I went to work at Kaiser. And 18 months later they were in a big aircraft program and I went over there and ended up a division superintendent building airplanes.
Floyd Ogilvy: Guys, I’ve got to get home, it’s 9:30. It was nice talking with you.
Aaron Elson: Let me just get the name of this, "Fields of Little America, Martin W. Bowman."
Gene Crandall: Where did you get that?
Floyd Ogilvy: I bought it in England when I went over, after I retired. Saw it on the shelf and said, ooh, that looks interesting.
Gene Crandall: He’s the mayor of Battle Creek.
Floyd Ogilvy: Not anymore.
Aaron Elson: How long were you the mayor?
Floyd Ogilvy: Three years.