Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Remembers Charles W. Anderson and the 15th Air Force - Oct. 8th, 2003
Posted on 10/07/2003 11:59:56 PM PDT by SAMWolf
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The FReeper Foxhole is dedicated to Veterans of our Nation's military forces and to others who are affected in their relationships with Veterans.
Where the Freeper Foxhole introduces a different veteran each Wednesday. The "ordinary" Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine who participated in the events in our Country's history. We hope to present events as seen through their eyes. To give you a glimpse into the life of those who sacrificed for all of us - Our Veterans.
by Leslie VanderMeulen
Leslie VanderMeulen is a student at Grand Valley State University. For a semester project, she chose to research her grandfather's military career.
Charles Anderson served as a tail gunner in the 15th Army Air Force, 463rd Bomb Group, 772nd Bomb Squadron during World War II. On February 13, 1945 his plane was shot down, and he spent the rest of the war as a POW in several camps.
A young Charles planned to enlist in the Army on a Monday in 1942. It is fortunate that he wanted to join, because he received enlistment papers before he went down to sign up. He departed for St. Louis, Missouri, only twenty-one and recently married. For six months he went through basic training in St. Louis, then (in February 1943) he went to Las Vegas, Nevada for gunnery training. In May of that year he joined his flight crew and departed for Sioux City, Iowa where they underwent combat training. After graduating from combat training, his flight crew picked up their plane in Nebraska and proceeded to their final destination: Foggia, Italy, which remained their home for the duration of the war.
In Foggia, and anywhere troops are stationed during wartime, the soldiers lived in humble quarters, to say the least. All soldiers of every rank slept in tents on the ground at camp. However, my grandfathers crew used their ingenuity and made their stay as comfortable as possible. One night they took the rations of whiskey, which they received periodically, into town where they sold it and bought basic building supplies. When they returned to camp they built a small house, and when everyone woke up in the morning, they saw this little building in the middle of camp. Simply built of brick with a roof on top, it was a humble house. Nevertheless, my grandfather and his crew had the best sleeping quarters of any of the soldiers.
Camp in Foggia, Italy.
Though the crews tried to make the best out of life in the camp, wartime certainly did not consist of fun and games. My grandfathers flight crew performed many missions during their time in Foggia. The crew was part of the15th Army Air Corps, specifically in the 463rd Bomb Group, 772nd Bomb Squadron, where my grandfather did his job as a tail gunner on their B-17. A tail gunners job is to shoot from the rear of the plane. Their final mission took place on February 13, 1945. This mission included bombing Vienna, Austria, and proved to be quite unsuccessful. The plane received a shot in the fourth engine, causing the third engine to catch on fire. This sent the plane crashing down in flames, and the entire crew bailed out at 15,000 feet. The report sent to my grandmother regarding the crash stated plane sighted going down in flames no parachutes sighted.
My grandfather experienced a stroke of luck that day which saved his life. After he bailed out of the plane he landed in a tree, while his crewmembers landed on the ground. When Viennese civilians found six of the crew members, my grandfather watched them lynch his friends right there. The civilians took this action because German soldiers had convinced them that the Air Corps planned to bomb their villages and homes, thus they were very angry at these soldiers. German soldiers did find my grandfathers extra pair of shoes that had fallen off his belt when they went to look for survivors. However, seeing no footprints in the snow, they concluded that this man must be dead. Lucky for my grandfather, they did not look up to see him sitting there in a bare tree.
Tail Gunner position on a B-17
In a report taken after the war, my grandfather stated that he evaded capture for three days, but a farmer turned him in, and he was then taken to Weiner Neustadt Airfield, Austria. Held there from February 16 to March 5, he then encountered interrogation for two days (March 8-10). After the interrogation, he was transported to three more camps. From March 12 through 16 he stayed at Dulagluft, March 18 through April 4 held at Nuremberg, and from April 4 to 29 at Moosburg.
My grandfather never spoke to his children about the treatment at the camps. All that he did say is that they were given very little to eat, so that they would be too weak to fight back. Most imprisoned soldiers involuntarily participated in prison detail, which consisted of any hard labor that could be found to keep the prisoners occupied. Most of this work done outside the camps, thus the Army Air Corps could not participate. Airmen could not perform prison detail because of the angry civilians, who attempted to harm them. If the men in the Air Corps attempted to work outside the prison, civilians tried to throw stones and such at them.
Civilians also abused soldiers during their marches between camps by throwing stones and rocks at them. The walked to and from camps or railcars must have been terrifying. Not only targeted by civilians, my grandfather and fellow soldiers incurred bombing by their own men in a few instances. While on a 100-mile march to Munich, they feared for their lives as their own planes dropped bombs on them. The soldiers faced more bombing by American planes when held locked in boxcars for three days in the Nuremberg Rail Yards. In this situation, the men stood cramped in the small cars with no room to sit, no food, water, or sanitation. The soldiers probably faced more danger between camps, whether walking or on trains, than actually in the camps.
The treatment that my grandfather and his fellow prisoners received was certainly inhumane. The situation did improve in a few instances, however, and that is how they knew the end of the war neared. Food rations increased, and the prisoners began to receive better treatment from the guards. The prisons also removed some guards from their posts who previously mistreated prisoners. This occurred because when the war ended and U.S. troops came in, they asked the soldiers who had mistreated them. These guards got taken out and immediately shot.
Charles W. Anderson
Luckily for my grandfather, his plane was shot down towards the end of the war, therefore was only held as a prisoner of war for a short time. After the war ended, he headed for Camp Lucky Strike in France, where he would be sent to London, and then home. However, he caught the mumps in France, hence he was detained in the hospital for three weeks. By the time he was on the way home, my grandmother finally received word that he had been accounted for. On July 11, 1945 he returned home for good.
Honorably discharged from the Army on September 25, 1945, my grandfather received several medals including a Prisoner of War Medal, an American Campaign Medal, a World War II Victory Medal, and a Purple Heart. Hearing all of this, I wonder how he felt about his experience in the war and how it ended. Since he rarely talked to his kids about it, all I can guess from is the ways in which his personality changed after he returned. Instead of easy-going and gentle, he became a man with an unpredictable temper, not much respect for authority, and a bitterness about him. Obviously this change stemmed from his time during the war, perhaps as a result of seeing and enduring too much in not very many years.
A major aspect of combat in World War II included air warfare, which established lasting change in the way the world conducts war. Many American men in the Army Air Force courageously flew all over the world during the Second World War. Armed with their B-17s, my grandfather and many other men flew bravely across Europe, contributing to the eventual defeat of the Axis powers.
The B-17, one of the primary Army planes used in WWII, had its birth shortly before the war. Boeing, in 1935, had just finished up a prototype of the B-17, an advanced bomber. A Seattle newspaper covered the story and the editor, Richard L. Williams, chose the caption 15-ton Flying Fortress for the picture. The name stuck, which is why B-17 is interchangeable with Flying Fortress. The plane, originally designed for long-range ocean patrol to protect the U.S. coastline, caught the Armys eye. Though expensive, the Air Force bought the Fortress in 1939, with the B-17B model.
In November 1943, four Bomb Groups in North Africa and the 12th Air Force combined under direction of General James Doolittle to create the 15th Army Air Force. The 15th AAF moved to Foggia, Italy where they targeted Southern Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Balkans, which could not be reached by the 8th Air Force located in England. Stationed in the Mediterranean theater as they called it, the 15th AAF did not perform long-range bombing but strategic bombings, such as destroying supply lines. The 15th Air Force began operations on November 2, 1943, attacking Messerschmitt factory at Weiner Neustadt (where my grandfather was first held as POW). The most important feat of the 15th AAF was destroying oil fields at Ploesti during July and August of 1944. Chiefly in Europe, in the hostile skies over Adolf Hitlers Third Reich the Flying Fortress would become legendary. The 15th did major damage to Germany and the Axis powers, contributing to the Allied cause.
The position provided powerful protection for the aircraft and enemy fighters were never quick to attack a group of B-17's from behind. The position also provided an excellent vantage point for viewing of the formation behind the aircraft
My grandfather was one of those men. Stationed in Foggia, he flew as a tail gunner in the 15th Army Air Force, specifically in the 772nd Squadron. He fought in the 463rd Bomb Group including the 772nd, 773rd, 774th and 775th Squadrons who, during World War II helped liberate Europe and defeat the worldwide threat of fascism. The victory of the Allied powers in World War II is due to many men and women who fought courageously to overcome the Axis powers. Having done extensive research and learning about men like my grandfather I realize how much the Air Force contributed in World War II. I truly feel that all WWII Veterans . . .but most importantly the men of the 463rd Bomb Group, 15th Air Force, the greatest Flyers of their time boldly brought the Allied cause to victory.
The 15th Air Force patch consists of a blue disc and a white star charged with a red disc in the center and with golden orange stylized wings below a golden orange Arabic numeral "I5", all within a golden orange amulet. (Approved 19 Feb 1944.)
Constituted as the Fifteenth Air Force on 30 Oct 1943, and activated in the Mediterranean theater on 1 Nov 1943, the 15th began operations on 2 Nov 1943 and engaged primarily in strategic bombardment of targets in Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, and the Balkans until the end of the war.
The 15th was deactivated in Italy on 15 Sep 1945, and activated again in the US on 31 Mar 1946. Assigned to Strategic Air Command.
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Today's classic warship, USS Kearsarge (BB-5)
Kearsarge class battleship
speed. 16 k.
armament. 4 13"'; 4 8", 14 6", 20 6-pdr., 8 1-pdr., 4 .30 cal.
The USS Kearsarge, named by act of Congress to commemorate the famed steam sloop-of-war, was launched 24 March 1898 by the Newport News Shipbuilding Co., Newport News, Va.; sponsored by Mrs. Herbert Winslow, daughter-in-law of the former USS Kearsarge's commander, Captain John A. Winslow, during her famous battle with CSS Alabama; and commissioned 20 February 1900, Captain William M. Folger in command.
Kearsarge became flagship of the North Atlantic Station, cruising down the Atlantic seaboard and in the Caribbean. From 3 June 1903 to 26 July 1903 she served briefly as flagship of the European Squadron while on a cruise that took her first to Kiel, Germany. She was visited by the German Emperor 26 June 1903 and by the Prince of Wales 13 July. She returned to Bar Harbor, Maine, 26 July 1903 and resumed duties as flagship of the North Atlantic Fleet. She sailed from New York 1 December 1903 for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where, on 10 December, the United States took formal possession of the Guantanamo Naval Reservation. Following maneuvers in the Caribbean, she led the North Atlantic Battleship Squadron to Lisbon where she entertained the King of Portugal, 11 June 1904. She next steamed to Phaleron Bay, Greece, where she celebrated the Fourth of July with the King, Prince Andrew, Princess Alice of Greece. The squadron paid goodwill calls at Corfu, Trieste, and Fiume before returning to Newport, R.I., 29 August 1904.
Kearsarge remained flagship of the North Atlantic Fleet until relieved 31 March by battleship Maine, but continued operations with the fleet. During target practice off Cape Cruz, Cuba, 13 April 1906, an accidental ignition of a powder charge of a 13-inch gun killed two officers and eight men. Four men were seriously injured.
Attached to the 2d Squadron, 4th Division, she sailed 16 December 1907 with the "Great White Fleet" of battleships, sent around the world by President Theodore Roosevelt. She sailed from Hampton Roads around the coasts of South America to the Western seaboard, thence to Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Japan. From there, Kearsarge proceeded to Ceylon, transited the Suez Canal, and visited ports of the Mediterranean, before returning to the eastern seaboard of the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt reviewed the Fleet as it passed into the Hampton Roads 22 February 1909, having completed a world cruise of overwhelming success, showing the flag and spreading good will. This dramatic gesture impressed the world with the power of the U.S. Navy.
Kearsarge decommissioned in the Philadelphia Navy Yard 4 September 1909 for modernization. She recommissioned 23 June 1915 for operations along the Atlantic coast until 17 September when she departed Philadelphia to land a detachment of marines at Vera Cruz, Mexico. She remained off Vera Cruz from 28 September 1915 to 5 January 1916, then carried the marines to New Orleans before joining the Atlantic Reserve Fleet 4 February 1916 at Philadelphia. She trained Massachusetts and Maine State Naval Militia until America entered World War I, then trained thousands of armed guard crews as well as naval engineers in waters along the East Coast ranging from Boston to Pensacola. On the evening of 18 August 1918, Kearsarge rescued 26 survivors of Norwegian Bark Nordhav which had been sunk by German Submarine U-117. The survivors were landed in Boston.
Kearsarge continued as engineering training ship until 29 May 1919 when she embarked Naval Academy Midshipmen for training in the west Indies. The midshipmen were debarked at Annapolis 29 August and Kearsarge proceeded to the Philadelphi a Navy Yard, where she decommissioned 10 May 1920 for conversion to a crane ship and a new career. She was designated AB-1 5 August 1920.
In place of military trappings, Kearsarge received an immense revolving crane with a rated lifting capacity of 250 tons, as well as hull "blisters," which gave her more stability. The 10,000-ton craneship rendered invaluable service for the next 20 years. One of many accomplishments was the raising of sunken submarine SQUALUS off the New Hampshire coast. On 6 November 1941 she designated Crane Ship No. 1, giving up her illustrious name which was assigned to a mighty aircraft carrier. But she continued her yeoman service and made many contributions to the American victories of World War II. She handled guns, turrets, armor and other heavy lifts for new battleships such as Indiana and Alabama; cruisers Savannah and Chicago; and guns on the veteran battleship Pennsylvania.
In 1945 the crane ship was towed to the San Francisco Naval Shipyard where she assisted in the construction of carriers Hornet, Boxer, and Saratoga. She departed the west Coast in 1948 to finish her career in the Boston Naval Shipyard. Joe McDonald, master rigger, described her as "a big gray hulk of a thing" which was "pulled around by two or three tugs" on the job; "But the old girl has brought millions of dollars worth of business to Boston. Without her we would never have been able to do many of the big jobs, that cost billions of dollars." As one example, he recalled that the former battleship lifted a gantry crane intact at the South Boston Naval Drydocks and transported it to Charleston where she placed it on crane tracks to be driven away. As Crane Ship No. 1, her name was struck from the Navy List 22 June 1955. She was sold for scrapping 9 August 1955.