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Flying B-17s in World War II

Short Flights

 

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Lt. Eldred Clipperton, USAAC – B-17 Pilot.

Doug Clipperton, Mojave Chamber of Commerce President, has shared some exciting war stories about his father, Eldred N. Clipperton, U. S. Army Air Corps B-17 pilot. Recently, Doug's brother came across a hand-written list of 31 missions flown by their father, from February to March 1945.

The missions were on an almost daily basis over targets in Germany. Lt. Clipperton served in the 100th Bomb Group, of the mighty Eighth Air Force, based at Thorpe Abbotts Air Base in England.

Remarkably, Doug's father flew twenty-six combat missions, including the very last combat mission over Berlin and survived. He went on to fly four Operation Chowhound, or Operation Manna, missions over Holland delivering food and supplies to the starving Dutch and then flew his B-17 "Little Dinah – I'll Be Around" home to Kingman, AZ where she was, unfortunately, scrapped by the U.S. government.

The "Hundredth Bombardment Group" was officially activated on November 14, 1942. The 100th Bomb Group trained at Walla Walla, Washington, Wendover Field, Utah, Sioux City, Iowa, and Kearney, Nebraska.

This group was called the Bloody Hundredth, the hard-luck outfit of World War II. Lt. Eldred Clipperton flew combat missions from Feb. 22, 1945 to April 20, 1945. During this time, the group concentrated on marshalling yards, bridges, factories, docks, oil refineries and ground support (including the airborne assault across the Rhine in March 1945).

On March 21, 1945, Clipperton's notes recorded that the 100th was hit with seven jets (Messerschmitt ME-262s) and three B-17s were lost. Again on a mission over Burg, they were hit with jets on April 10, 1945 – fifteen this time. When I researched this mission, I came across an article written by a German pilot that described the battle.

Over Osnabrück, the bomber formation split up into four streams and climbed to 24,000 feet and the ominous contrails of the approaching bomber formations at Burg created the order to scramble the German jets. The flak damage was heavy and the ME-262s shot down two bombers, according to Clipperton's notes. The 100th dropped 400 tons of fragmentation bombs on the airfield and all runways were turned into rubble in a matter of minutes.

By March 1945 the Luftwaffe was a limited but effective force and used both ME 262 jet fighters and ramming techniques (April 7, 1945 Buchen mission) to try and thwart the 100th Bomb Group and the 8th Air Force's continual bombing.

On April 20, 1945, the 100th Bomb Group flew the last combat mission to Oranienburg (Berlin) with no losses. Clipperton and the 100th flew four more missions after the Berlin mission, delivering food to war-torn Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Alkmaar.

While the sight of big four engine bombers with their bomb bay doors open had previously spread fear and destruction across Fortress Europe, starting May 1, 1945 it meant only manna from heaven was coming to the Dutch people. Facing starvation and in need of immediate assistance while the final details of the surrender of the German forces could be worked out, the Mighty Eighth came to the rescue of the Dutch. The B-17G Flying Fortresses of the 100th Bomb Group dropped tons of food and supplies to the needy of Holland and, in doing so, helped save the lives of many. As the children waved and hoped for candy and gum, the mothers and fathers hoped the parcels floating down carried the food they needed to feed their hungry families. Flying a preset course arranged between the Allies and Germans occupying the territory, the Forts came in low and vulnerable (some as low as 200 feet). Even on mercy missions the prospect of mechanical failure at such a low level or overzealous German gunners could not stop losses from happening. Thankfully, the 100th BG did not experience any of these losses, but their sister group, the 95th did. 

Between May 1 and May 8, 1945, 2,268 military units flown by the USAAF, dropped food to 3.5 million starving Dutch civilians in German-occupied Holland. It took raw courage to fly on Operation Chowhound, as American aircrews never knew when the German AAA might open fire on them or if Luftwaffe fighters might jump them. Flying at 400 feet, barely above the tree tops, with guns pointed directly at them, they would have no chance to bail out if their B-17s were hit–and yet, over eight days, 120,000 German troops kept their word, and never fired on the American bombers. As they flew, grateful Dutch civilians spelled out "Thanks Boys" in the tulip fields below. Many Americans who flew in Operation Chowhound would claim it was the best thing they did in the war. Be sure to read more at: http://www.thehistoryreader.com/military-history/operation-chowhound-historically-important-d-day/.

The winter of 1944 and 1945 was called the Hunger Winter by the Dutch. 25,000 Dutch civilians died from starvation in Nazi-occupied Holland.

Harry Crosby wrote of the Missions and Memories of a WWII Bomb Group on the official website of the 100th Bomb Group (Heavy) Foundation – see his writings here: (100thbg.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=69:missions-and-memories-of-a-wwii-bomb-group&catid=19:varian-history&Itemid=14). Crosby wrote the book entitled "A Wing and a Prayer" about the 100th Bomb Group.

He said, "The 100th Bomb Group became renowned for spectacular heavy losses at intervals during combat operations involving intensive fighter – bomber battles, heavily defended targets, and extremely cold and foul weather."

"Its first combat mission was flown 25 June 1943, and it's last on 20 April 1945. Total missions of the 100th were 306 including 6 food drop missions to the Netherlands in May, 1945."

"Total credited sorties were 8,630 and total bomb tonnage: 19,257 tons, plus 435 tons of food dropped on food mission. The average life of a B-17 in combat with the 8th Air Force was 11 missions. In its period of combat 1943-45, the 100th lost 177 aircraft missing in action plus 52 missing in other operations for a total of 229. Our gunners claimed 261 enemy aircraft knocked down, 101 probably destroyed and 139 possibly destroyed. This included a number of ME-262 jet fighters in the later periods of the war."

Photo Provided

"Little Dinah – I'll be Around" nose art on Clipperton's B-17.

"The 100th's most costly combat missions were; Regensburg, 17 Aug. '43 (10), Bremen, 8 Oct. '43 (7), Munster, 10 Oct. '43 (12 out of 13 put-up), Berlin, 4 Mar. '44 (15), Berlin, 24 May '44 (9), Ruhland, 11 Sep. '44 (11), and Hamburg, 31 Dec. '44 (12).-. the 100th was third in total losses, but the first two Groups (91st and 96th) had longer combat tours."

"The 100th in WWII was a great adventure for all of us and one in which we're proud to have served, yet humbled and sad in remembering our many friends who didn't come back – Heroes, all."

Remember all of our military men and women who gave their all this Memorial Day, May 28! (Note: May 30 is the real Memorial Day) Fly 'Old Glory' and attend a ceremony at your local cemetery.

See you on our next flight!

 
 

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