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World War II

Tuesday, May 17, 2005



by Mary Eleanor Woelkers
   Grade 10, Great Falls Central Catholic H

“…Mindful of the secret trust about to be placed in me by my Commander in Chief, the president of the United States by whose direction I have been chosen for bombardier’s training and mindful of the fact that I am to become guardian of one of the country’s most priceless military assets, the American bombsight…I do here, in the presence of Almighty God, swear by the Bombardier’s Code of Honor to keep inviolate the secrecy of any and all confidential information revealed to me, and further to uphold the honor and integrity of the Army Air Forces, if need be, with my life itself.”
This is the Bombardier’s Oath, which was taken by all the men who successfully completed bombardier training and had the necessary skills to perform their duty in combat.  It said exactly what was expected of them, the rules they were to hold above all others.  It was not taken lightly because all the men taking the oath, especially those who took it during the first years of the World War II, knew they were headed straight for combat.  These soldiers would be away from home, family, and the carefree life they knew before the war.  They would have to forfeit many things. 
The main mission for the Air Force in WWII was the bombing of significant targets in the enemy’s territory.  The bombardier’s responsibility, as stated in the Pilot’s Training Manuel for the B-17 is, “Accurate and effective bombing is the ultimate purpose of your entire airplane and crew.  Every other function is preparatory to hitting and destroying the target.”
Much of the bombing was carried out by B-17 heavy bombers, also known as “The Flying Fortress”.  These planes could go up to 2,000 miles on a full tank of gas at cruising speeds of 160 miles per hour.  They had a maximum weight capacity of 65,500 pounds, 8,000 of them in bombs alone.  They carried a crew of 10 men, including a navigator, pilot, copilot, 6 gunners, and a bombardier.  Since the bombardier’s job was so vital to the success of the air war in Europe, bombardiers had to be pre-qualified and then, if they chose to accept the job, had to go through an intensive training that was executed in two stages.  In the first stage, prospective bombardiers attended ground school, where they learned basic bombing theory, bombsights, automatic flight control equipment, bombing procedure, basic navigation, reconnaissance, and observation.  After this quick but comprehensive training, the aspiring bombardiers attended the second stage advanced training.  This training consisted of both simulated bombing using ground trainers and practice bombing runs at various altitudes.  These practice bomb hits were marked by smoke and they were photographed and maintained with the perspective bombardier’s record of practice bombing runs.  Upon successful completion of his training, the cadet received his wings and normally a commission as a Second Lieutenant.  He was then sent to join an aircrew, to train as a part of a team, before going into combat. 
James Fullerton completed bombardier training in April of 1943 and was assigned to a B-17.  He spent the rest of his summer training with his crew before they flew their B-17 to Bassingbourn, England.  They were assigned to the 323rd Squadron in the 91st Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force. 
The mission of the 8th Air Force was to destroy Germany’s ability to wage war, so their targets were often factories and supply routes.  After only a month in the war, his crew was assigned the longest mission into Germany that had been attempted to that date.  The mission was to destroy a German parts factory in the city of Anklam, located 75 miles North-east of Berlin.  A total of 21 planes began the 1,200 mile round trip toward Berlin.  However, four of the planes had to turn around before they even made it to the Baltic Sea.  As the group continued towards their destination, the Germans assumed that Berlin was the target and sent most of their fighter aircraft toward Berlin to intercept them.  The B-17s turned toward their actual target instead and completed their bombing mission, completely destroying the parts factory.  However, they had every German plane that could lift-off attacking them.  Mr. Fullerton’s crew fought for 3 hours straight as they attempted to return to base.  Only 20 miles shy of Denmark and its comparatively safe skies, his plane was hit by a rocket over the Baltic Sea.  When the rocket hit the plane, Mr. Fullerton was hit in the right shoulder, arm, and the side of his face. The plane caught fire and was spinning out of control.  His only choice was to bail out.  Mr. Fullerton and the navigator were the only two who escaped the plane before it crashed into the Baltic Sea.  They both landed in the water and were picked up by the German Navy.  Shortly thereafter, they were taken to Stalag Luft III, where they remained interned for most of the war. 
The skies were a dangerous place to be during World War II.  Bombing technology was very new and had not been greatly developed due to extreme time constraints.  Bombing had a vital mission in the war and there was always a need for more flight crews, and especially bombardiers, to continue to wear down Germany.  In fact, in 1942 the Air Force decided that the training period should be lengthened, but decided they could not do so at the time because of the extreme demand for bombardiers in the war.  Being part of a bombing or fighting crew was also very dangerous.  Mr. Fullerton informed me that when his crew joined the 8th Air Force, there was roughly a 50 percent chance that a new crew would survive 5 missions.  Most of the missions in the fall of 1943 had nearly 15 percent losses and, if a plane was hit, the chances of a whole crew having time to bail out were very slim.  However, all the members of the crew knew this before they even volunteered to become bombardiers.  These soldiers were fully aware that they would have rigorous training and many dangerous missions that would most certainly put their lives in danger.  They comprehended the fact that they might never see their family again.  However, they also knew their country was at war and Hitler was overrunning Europe.  They knew they owed their allegiance and service to their president.  So they decided to go for their country, their freedoms, their wives and their children.  However, they also went to defend other people’s wives, countries, freedoms and children.  They understood it was their duty to fight for all that they believed in, and the men fought knowing that their efforts and sacrifices would not be in vain.  Time with their families, and their very lives were freely sacrificed in an effort to put an end in the war.  I will never forget these brave men nor what they fought for; for peace in our world, for the freedoms of their country, for you and for me. 

Veteran's Data

Name of Veteran: James Alvin Fullerton
Date of Birth: 6/18/1922  Place of Birth: Mars, Pennsylvania
Date of Induction: 6/13/1942  Branch of Service: Army  Rank at Discharge: 
Location of Interview: 
Interviewed by: Mary Eleanor Woelkers

Posted by woelkers on 05/17 at 11:38 AM
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