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Date: February 14, 2012 08:08PM
They could hear it before they could see it!
Not all that unusual in those days as the personnel at
Station 131 gathered around the tower and scattered hardstands to await the
return of the B-17's
sent out earlier that morning.
First comes the far off rumble and drone of the
Cyclones. Then a spec on the East Anglia horizon Soon a small cluster indicating
the lead squadron.
Finally, the group.
Then the counting. 1-2-3-4-5 ... ..
But that would have been normal. Today was different! It
was too early for the group to return.
"They're 20 minutes early. Can't be the
They could hear it before they could see it! Something
was coming home. But what?
All eyes turned toward the northeast, aligning with the
main runway, each ground guy and stood-down airman straining to make out this
"wail of a
Banshee," as one called it.
Not like a single B-17 with its characteristic deep roar
of the engines blended with four thrashing propellers. This was a howl! Like a
powerful wind blowing into a huge whistle.
Then it came into view. It WAS a B-17!
Low and pointing her nose at the 6,000 foot runway, it
appeared for all the world to be crawling toward the earth, screaming in
No need for the red flares. All who saw this Fort knew
there was death aboard.
"Look at that nose!" they said as all eyes
stared in amazement as this single, shattered remnant of a once beautiful
airplane glided in for an unrealistic "hot" landing. She took all the
runway as the "Banshee" noise finally abated, and came to an
inglorious stop in the mud just beyond the concrete runway.
Men and machines raced to the now silent and lonely
aircraft. The ambulance and medical staff were there first The fire
truck....ground and air personnel... ..jeeps, truck, bikes.....
Out came one of the crew members from the waist door,
then another. Strangely qu iet. The scene was almost weird. Men stood by as if
in shock, not knowing whether to sing or cry.
Either would have been acceptable.
The medics quietly made their way to the nose by way of
the waist door as the remainder of the crew began exiting. And to answer the
"What happened?" was easy to see. The nose was
a scene of utter destruction. It was as though some giant aerial can opener had
peeled the nose like an
orange, relocating shreds of metal, Plexiglas, wires and
tubes on the cockpit windshield and even up to the top turret. The left cheek
gun hung limp, like a broken arm.
One man pointed to the crease in chin turret. No
mistaking that mark! A German 88 anti-aircraft shell had exploded in the lap of
This would be George Abbott of Mt Labanon , PA. He had
been a waist gunner before training to take over the bombardier's role.
Still in the cockpit, physically and emotionally
exhausted, were pilot Larry deLancey and co-pilot Phil Stahlman.
Navigator Ray LeDoux finally tapped deLancey on the
shoulder and suggested they get out. Engineer turret gunner Ben Ruckel already
had made his way to
the waist was exiting along with radio operator Wendell
Reed, ball turret gunner Al Albro, waist gunner Russell Lachman and tail gunner
Stahlman was flying his last scheduled mission as a
replacement for regular co-pilot, Grady Cumbie. The latter had been hospitalized
the day before with an ear problem. Lachman was also a &quo t;sub,"
filling in for Abbott in the waist.
DeLancey made it as far as the end of the runway, where
he sat down with knees drawn up, arms crossed and head down. The ordeal was
over, and now the
drama was beginning a mental re-play.
Then a strange scene took place.
Group CO Col. Frank P. Hunter had arrived after viewing
the landing from the tower and was about to approach deLancey He was physically
flight surgeon Dr. Robert Sweet.
"Colonel, that young man doesn't want to talk now.
When he is ready you can talk to him, but for now leave him alone."
Sweet handed pills out to each crew member and told them
to go to their huts and sleep.& nbsp;
No dramatics, no cameras, no interviews. The crew would
depart the next day for "flak leave" to shake off the stress And then
be expected back early in
November. (Just in time to resume "normal"
activities on a mission to Merseburg!)
Mission No. 98 from Nuthampstead had begun at 0400 that
morning of October 15, 1944. It would be Cologne (again), led by CA pilots
Robert Templeman of the 602nd, Frank Schofield of the 601st and Charles Khourie
of the 603rd.
Tragedy and death appeared quickly and early that day.
Templeman and pilot Bill Scott got the 602nd off at the scheduled 0630 hour, but
at approximately 0645 Khouri and pilot Bill Meyran and their entire crew crashed
on takeoff in the town of Anstey . All were killed. Schofield and Harold
Stallcup followed successfully with the 601st, with deLa ncey flying on their
left wing in the lead element.
The ride to the target was routine, until the flak
started becoming "unroutinely" accurate.
"We were going through heavy flak on the bomb
run," remembered deLancey.
"I felt the plane begin to lift as the bombs were
dropped, then all of a sudden we were rocked by a violent explosion. My first
thought - 'a bomb exploded in the bomb bay' - was immediately discarded as the
top of the nose section peeled back over the cockpit blocking the forward
"It seemed like the whole world exploded in front
of us," added Stahlman. "The instrument panel all but disintegrated
and layers of quilted batting exploded in a million pieces It was like a
momentary snowstorm in the cockpit."
It had been a direct hit in the nose. Killed instantly
was the togglier, Abbott. Navigator LeDoux, only three feet behind Abbott, was
knocked unconscious for a moment, but was miraculously was alive.
Although stunned and bleeding, LeDoux made his way to
the cockpit to find the two pilots struggling to maintain control of an airplane
that by all rights should have been in its death plunge. LeDoux said there was
nothing anyone could do for Abbott, while Ruckel opened the door to the bomb bay
and signaled to the four crewman in the radio room that all was OK - for the
The blast had torn away the top and much of the sides of
the nose. Depositing enough of the metal on the windshield to make it difficult
for either of the pilots to see.
"The instrument panel was torn loose and all the
flight instruments were inoperative with the exception of the m agnetic compass
mounted in the panel above the windshield. And its accuracy was questionable.
The radio and intercom were gone, the oxygen lines broken, and there was a
ruptured hydraulic line under my rudder pedals," said deLancey.
All this complicated by the sub-zero temperature at
27,000 feet blasting into the cockpit.
"It was apparent that the damage was severe enough
that we could not continue to fly in formation or at high altitude. My first
concern was to avoid the other aircraft in the formation, and to get clear of
the other planes in case we had to bail out. We eased out of formation, and at
the same time removed our oxygen masks as they were collapsing on our faces as
the tanks were empty."
At this point the formation continued on its prescribed
course for home - a long, slow turn southeast of Cologne and finally
< span class=yiv1857354881msid13066>DeLancey and
Stahlman turned left, descending rapidly and hoping, they were heading west.
(And also, not into the gun sights of German fighters.) Without maps and
navigation aids, they had difficulty getting a fix. By this time they were down
to 2,000 feet.
"We finally agreed that we were over Belgium and
were flying in a southwesterly direction," said the pilot.
"About this time a pair of P-51's showed up and
flew a loose formation on us across Belgium . I often wondered what they thought
as they looked at the
mess up front."
"We hit the coast right along the Belgium-Holland
border, a bit farther north than we had estimated. Ray said we were just south
of Walcheren Island ....."
Still in an area of ground fi ghting, the plane received
some small arms fire. This gesture was returned in kind by Albro, shooting from
one of the waist guns.
"We might have tried for one of the airfields in
France , but having no maps this also was questionable. Besides, the controls
and engines seemed to be OK, so I made the decision to try for home."
"Once over England , LeDoux soon picked up
landmarks and gave me course corrections taking us directly to Nuthampstead. It
was just a great bit of navigation. Ray just stood there on the flight deck and
gave us the headings from memory."
Nearing the field, Stahlman let the landing gear down.
That was an assurance. But a check of the hydraulic pump sent another spray of
oil to the cockpit floor. Probably no brakes!
Nevertheless, a flare from Ruckel's pistol had to
announce the "ready or not" landing. No "downwind leg" and
"final approach" this time. Straight in!
"The landing was strictly by guess and feel,"
said DeLancey. "Without instruments, I suspect I came in a little hot.
Also, I had to lean to the left to see straight ahead. The landing was
satisfactory, and I had sufficient braking to slow the plane down some. However,
as I neared the taxiway, I could feel the brakes getting 'soft'. I felt that
losing control and blocking the taxiway would cause more problems than leaving
the plane at the end of the runway."
That consideration was for the rest of the group. Soon
three squadrons of B-17's would be returning, and they didn't need a derelict
the way to their respective hardstands.
Stahlman, supremely thankful that his ca reer with the
398th had come to an end, soon returned home and in due course became a captain
Airlines. Retired in 1984, Stahlman said his final
Eastern flight "was a bit more routine" than the one 40 years
DeLancey and LeDoux received decorations on December 11,
1944 for their parts in the October 15 drama. DeLancey was awarded the Silver
Star for his
"miraculous feat of flying skill and ability"
on behalf of General Doolittle , CO of the Eighth Air Force. LeDoux for his
"extraordinary navigation skill", received the Distinguished Flying
Cross. The following deLancey 1944 article was transcribed from the 398th BG
Historical Microfilm. Note: due to wartime security, Nuthampstead is not
mentioned, and the route deLancey flew home is referred to in general terms.
TO: STARS AN D STRIPES FOR GENERAL RELEASE
AN EIGHTH AIR FORCE BOMBER STATION , ENGLAND - After
literally losing the nose of his B-17 Flying Fortress as the result of a direct
hit by flak over Cologne , Germany on October 15, 1944, 1st Lt. Lawrence M.
deLancey, 25, of Corvallis , Oregon returned to England and landed the crew
safely at his home base. Each man walked away from the plane except the
togglier, Staff Sergeant George E. Abbott, Mt. Lebanon , Pennsylvania , who was
instantly when the flak struck.
It was only the combined skill and teamwork of Lt.
deLancey and 2nd Lt. Raymond J. LeDoux, of Mt. Angel , Oregon , navigator, that
enabled the plane
and crew to return safely.
"Just after we dropped our bombs and started to
turn away from the target", Lt. deLancey expla ined, "a flak burst hit
directly in the nose and blew
practically the entire nose section to threads. Part of
the nose peeled back and obstructed my vision and that of my co-pilot, 1st Lt.
Phillip H. Stahlman of Shippenville , Pennsylvania . What little there was left
in front of me looked like a scrap heap. The wind was rushing through Our feet
were exposed to the open air at nearly 30,000 feet above the ground the
temperature was unbearable.
"There we were in a heavily defended flak area with
no nose, and practically no instruments. The instrument panel was bent toward me
as the result of the
impact. My altimeter and magnetic compass were about the
only instruments still operating and I couldn't depend on their accuracy too
well. Naturally I headed for home immediately. The hit which had killed S/Sgt.
Abbott also knocked Lt. LeDoux back in the catwalk (just be low where I was
oxygen system also was out so I descended to a safe
"Lt. LeDoux who had lost all his instruments and
maps in the nose did a superb piece of navigating to even find England
During the route home flak again was encountered but due
to evasive action Lt. deLancey was able to return to friendly territory. Lt.
the ship directly to his home field.
Although the plane was off balance without any nose
section, without any brakes (there was no hydraulic pressure left), and with
obstructed vision, Lt. deLancey made a beautiful landing to the complete
amazement of all personnel at this field who still are wondering how the feat