Arrival in the E.T.O. (European Theater of Operations)
After having flown the South Atlantic route from ZOI (Zone of the Interior, (USA)), we landed March 7, 1944 in Wales. Within 48 hours we were transferred to Qulanto in Northern Ireland, South of Belfast. This was a pre-combat orientation, theatre indoctrination and combat assignment training base. Our stay was six weeks of duration before going on to England. All officers were warned to guard their .45 pistol with their lives as we would be court martialed if we let one of the IRA members steal it. I attended navigation class and was trained to use the Gee Box which was a short range Loran but very very accurate in locating ones position anywhere in the British Isles. This navigational aid used computations based on the time lag in signals received from two widely spaced transmitting stations to give an exact position. Later when I became a lead navigator and squadron navigator, our plane "Lili Marlene" was especially equipped for my navigation with the Gee Box.
One day we were told we could expect an inspection by none other than General James Doolittle himself. The same General who lead the famous B-25 raid over Tokyo in June, 1942. We were told to be at our training area and to act as if we did not expect an inspection. I was at my Gee Box training desk, about every 10 minutes at first then 5 minutes, then two and finally a minute, someone would stick his head in the door to announce where the General was and when to expect him. Of course we all looked like hard working trainees when General Doolittle did arrive. He stepped in the door, our instructor bellowed out, "Attention." The General walked slowly around the room, asking a question or two concerning our training. Finally he reached my position, he stopped with his face not 12 inches from mine, looked me right in the eyes but the General never said a word. Need I say we got very little training in that day.
The base was in the south side of a large lake, Belfast was on the north side. The Irish people liked to sail on the lake. One of our boyish tricks was to fly our B-24 bomber low over the water and buzz the sail boats. We thought it was great sport to blow the boats over with our prop wash. I suspect the Irish boaters thought otherwise. Anyway, they looked mad.
Most of the orientation lectures draw a blank in my memory, they were generally on what to expect when we joined our Combat Group or how to keep good relations with our English hosts. One lecture was on the evils of VD. This was a Flight Surgeon giving the talk who said flat out, avoid all sex. He paused, then said, "Now after you've done it, here is how to use your prophylactics."
But the lecture that stands out was the one concerning the number of combat missions required to complete one's tour of combat duty. Some fool stood up and asked what were the odds. The lecturer responded thusly, "On an average, mission after mission flying against the Nazi fortress of Europe, the 8th Air Force lost four out of every hundred planes, i.e. 4%. Of course some would be 'milk runs' with no loss but others would be a disaster due to very aggressive enemy action. Still on an average we could expect a four percent attrition rate. This being the case, he reasoned, a crew that flies 25 missions has a 100% chance of being shot down on their last mission." A great quiet fell over the room. For many including myself, this was the first time it has dawned on us that we were not playing for marbles. Someone could get hurt. Up to now, we were just big boys playing with expensive toys, not a care in the world nor a thought of danger. This was a sobering thought, how can anyone expect to survive such odds? Our speaker quickly added that in reality many would go on to complete their tour due to the laws of probability. I estimated later that one third would. Our crew kept a record of the 18 crews that trained together and came overseas together. Sure enough, six of us completed the tour which was raised to 30 missions by then.
We lived in Nissen huts which held about 16 officers each. The front door was inset so a bunk would just fit between the door inset and the rounded walls. I slept in one of these bunks. There was a pot belly stove in the center of the building. On our way over the South Atlantic, our bombardier, John Warga, bought a 5 gallon wooden barrel of whiskey while we were at Fortalaga, Brazil. Warga and our belly gunner, C. J. Alexander (who we all called Swoose after the popular song of the day, "Alexander the Swoose") were the whiskey drinkers in our crew but even they could not drink the Brazilian rot gut as it was too strong. The only thing it was fit for was to start the coal fire in the stove, it must have been 500% proof as it was as effective as gasoline.
I went to bed early one evening as we had a navigational training flight out over the North Atlantic in the morning at day break. I needed rest as did Charles Peritti, our pilot, for the long, difficult and dangerous flight. I had just gotten to sleep when bombardier Warga and some of his drinking buddies came into the hut after a night out on the town. Needless to say, they were loaded and noisy. Those of us trying to sleep asked them to leave so we could rest. Instead Warga broke out his keg of Brazilian whiskey and they all started drinking it. Before long, the lot of them had literally gone wild. I got out of bed and tried to reason with them. After getting back in bed I yelled a them to shut up and let us get some rest. This was a big mistake on my part as all reason had left them. One of the guys picked up the keg of whiskey and held it over my head. I pulled the covers over my face and he said if I opened my mouth once more he would pour the whiskey on me and set it afire. I believed him as the whole lot were crazy. Not another word did they hear from me, I was really scared.
Finally, Warga and his buddies left to go to the adjacent hut. They were making a terrible noise by this time. The men in the next hut were not as kind to this wild bunch as we had been. A fight broke out and Warga, who was as strong as an ox, picked up a steel cot and threw it the hole length of the Nissen hut. They forced every one out but Warga who kept pressing against the door as they pushed him out. Some how his head became wedged between the door and the frame with several men pushing against the door. One of the guys picked up a baseball bat and began to beat him senseless.
The MP's came and arrested the rowdy lot. Warga was unconscious so they took him to the hospital. We did fly the mission the next day. The date was April 6th in a B-24 H, but I had never been so tired. When we got back, we went to the hospital to visit Warga. He was a mess. We could not recognize him as his head was all bandaged and face swollen and distorted out of shape, especially his eyes. He spent several days in the hospital and was informed he would be court-martialed. Every time we visited him, I would ask if he wanted another drink of Brazilian whiskey. Just the mention of the stuff would make him shudder. Not only had he been hurt physically but he had gotten deathly ill from the consumption of that devilish brew.
Warga was never court-martialed however. We received orders to proceed to England for combat duty. Being we were leaving soon and the base commander felt Warga had suffered enough for his indiscretion, all charges were dismissed. We took the keg of Brazilian whiskey with us however to England and continued to light fires with it. It sat on a shelf in full view of Warga but never again did he think of touching a drop. Needless to say, we never did let him forget the event as long as the whiskey lasted.
While in Northern Ireland, the crew did go to Belfast twice. We rode the train and also a double decker bus. On one trip I left my Kodak box camera on the bus seat when we got off. When I realized what I had done, I was upset but fortunately I ran to the next stop and retrieved my camera. I was the only member of the crew with any way to record our experiences in photo form and I took many, many pictures later at our combat base that nothing else could have duplicated.
In Belfast, we had our first experience at a British dance hall. The dance floor was very large with several hundreds of couples dancing. Where as Americans dance in a small area of the floor, maybe getting around the whole floor once to a dance number, the British move fast, almost run, with the whole floor of couples moving like a wheel. Also they did not like to talk much or carry out a conversation like American couples do. However they will all burst out in song if a catchy tune gets their attention. This was our first experience of a mixed group singing a song that to us seemed a little off color for mixed company. The title was, "Roll Me Over in The Clover." I went thusly:
Now this is number one and the fun has just begun
Roll me over, lay me down and do it again.
Roll me over, in the clover,
Roll me over, lay me down and do it again.
The second verse started out, "Now this is number two, what ever shall I do" etc. Same with number three and four and five ad infinitum with some of the verses being very risqué.