George Abert – Stories & Yarns

Notes from an interesting life

Archive for February 2021

A few war stories once told

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After WW2 my dad stayed on in Europe for a few weeks with the Army Air Forces to fly high ranking people around as there were diplomatic issues that needed attending to. He had been assigned to the 2nd Ferrying Group (2nd Flight of Squadron B), as an instrument check pilot and crew supervisor (at the time he had already been a licensed pilot for several years and was aged 41 while most of the other unit members were still in their 20s so I suspect somebody figured they needed adult supervision).

His unit was part of the Air Transport Command (later redesignated the Military Air Transportation Service or MATS, even later as the Military Airlift Command or MAC, and more recently as Mobility Command). The host unit was the 552nd Army Air Force Base Unit located at New Castle Army Air Base, Delaware.The group delivered aircraft all over the world and was the first to utilize women pilots, the WAFS and WASPs.

A photo of dad’s E-6B Flight Computer and  Lt. William E. Wiegers’ E-6B variant

He told me about one time when a couple of ship loads of P-39 Airacobras were delivered to Alexandria, Egypt. The logistics arrangements were not well coordinated as these ships arrived months after hostilities had ended. So, once the ships were tied up to the quay, the dock workers carefully unloaded the aircraft, parking them in neat rows until there was no more room.

What was to be done with these aircraft as there was no need for such things now that the war was over?

So the order was given to pile them up and destroy them right there on the quay.

The dock workers used a large mobile crane to arrange the aircraft into a huge pile. Then gasoline was poured over the aircraft and somebody lit a match and threw it in.

Fifty brand new Airacobras, some still with the protective brown paper attached to their canopies, were destroyed that night. What a bonfire! Presumably this was done on the orders of one of the guys my dad was flying around.

Photo a P-39 Airacobra

The Bell P-39 Airacobra was one of the principal American fighter aircraft in service when the United States entered World War II. The P-39 was used by the Soviet Air Force, and enabled individual Soviet pilots to collect the highest number of kills attributed to any U.S. fighter type flown by any air force in any conflict. Other major users of the type included the Free French, the Royal Air Force, the United States Army Air Forces, and the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force.

Designed by Bell Aircraft, it had an unusual layout, in that the engine was installed amidships in the center fuselage, behind the pilot, and driving the propeller via a long shaft. It was also the first fighter to be equipped with a tricycle landing gear. Although the amidships placement was innovative, the P-39 lacked a two-stage supercharger, which prevented it from performing the high-altitude. For this reason it was rejected for use over western Europe where operations often took place at 30,000 ft.

Curious as to when this happened, I just checked my dad’s log books.

Excerpt of my dad’s flight log

On Monday, October 29th, 1945, my dad piloted a C-54-E, tail number 9117 powered by four Pratt and Whitneys, from Athens, Greece to Cairo, Egypt. They took off at 15:00 and arrived at 18:35, a short flight. These days, by jet, it takes less than two hours.

In the wee hours of Tuesday, October 30th, 1945, my dad piloted a  C-54-D, tail number 2571 powered by four Pratt and Whitneys, from Cairo, Egypt to Tripoli, Libya (he erroneously wrote Morocco). They took off at 01:15 and arrived at 07:45. At around six hours that fight time is consistent with a flight from Cairo, Egypt to Tripoli, Libya.

Judging from the flight log, it appears that a flight of C-54s (typically four aircraft to a Flight or, in later years in the Army, four helicopters to a Platoon) was being ferried back to the US. They made stops in Casablanca, the Azores and Bermuda before finally landing in Wilmington, Delaware. Looking at the flight log, they basically just landed long enough along the way to fuel up and then continue flying. They took no crew rest and pretty much flew without breaks for two and a half days. They landed in Delaware around 3:15 PM on November 1st.

I wondered why they might have flown so far without stopping to take crew rest. Turns out their unit, the 2nd Ferrying Group was ordered to stand down on October 31st. I don’t know what the state of record communications was at the time. Maybe there was some kind of precursor to the Autodin system or maybe they just used Western Union teletypes. I don’t know. I gather they found out that the war was over for them. But when they took off from Cairo on October 30th, they were members of an active unit, and when they landed they were unassigned personnel.

As noted, the 2nd Ferrying Group’s mission was to ferry military aircraft to Europe, mostly B-26s and B-24s. By the time my dad was assigned they weren’t ferrying B-17s any more. Once hostilities ended, the mission was changed to “airline”, and the crews began flying C-47s and C-54s (civil aviation DC-3s & DC-4s).

There was a picture taken of some of the unit members next of an equestrian statue in what may have been Paris. My dad was in Paris twice, once in July of 1944 and again just prior to the flight to Cairo (21OCT45 – 27OCT45). Since they were attired for colder weather, I’d have to say the picture was taken in October. I checked as many equestrian statues as I could using Google Earth but could not place this one. Maybe somebody reading this might know?

Photo taken in Paris (?) of what I assume were crews of my dad’s unit in October, 1945

My dad’s crew spent one night in Athens (29OCT45). My dad said they were lodged in what now may be the Hotel Grande Bretagne on the north side of Syntagma Square. The stay was not lacking for excitement. At one point my dad awoke to the sound of gunfire and decided to go out on the balcony to see what the commotion was. As he looked down, a Jeep sped into the square and upon seeing my dad one of the passengers took potshots at my dad with an automatic weapon. He missed but the bullet holes were still visible from the square when our family visited in 1965. It turns out that soon after the war ended in Europe, the Greeks seized on the opportunity to have civil war. Communists vs. Capitalists? I think the outcome was a draw.

After landing in Wilmington, with the exception of a couple of flights in a BT-13B, dad never flew military aircraft again. I would guess that he and most of the guys in his unit were pretty much free to go home or just stick around on casual. Eventually he was discharged from the AAF on 23JAN45 on orders drawn up and executed at the AAF Separation Base, Truax Field, Madison, WI.

Written by GW Abert

February 5, 2021 at 10:11

Posted in Uncategorized