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Touching History: Dixie's Delight
Part One
by Cindy Goodman

Oldham Crew Page                  Dixie's Delight: Part Two

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 The Mission The Mighty Eighth had heavy casualties in the 22 months of air war: 43,373 young airmen lost their lives, 18,000 were wounded, and 26,000 young fliers became Prisoners of War. This is the story of one crew.

“I thoroughly enjoyed being associated with my crew,” wrote Tom Ramsey. “We had some great times together in El Paso and other stops before and during our flight overseas. We were all very much individuals coming from different areas of the United States. Dick Chapple and Ross Purdy were from Michigan. Wally Oldham and Howard Leach were from California. Carl Dunn was from West Virginia, Bill Charlton from Pennsylvania, Pat Tooley from Louisiana, Ralph Kalberloh from Missouri, and I was from Indiana. As a bomber crew, we were an informal lot and generally dismissed the military matter of rank.”

It was 3:30 AM, February 3, 1945, when an orderly entered the barracks, turning on the overhead light and blowing his whistle. It was his thankless duty to awaken the crews scheduled to fly that day. The sleepy men could hear the distant sound of the big engines as the ground crews began pre-flighting the aircraft.

“We hurriedly dressed,” said Howard Leach, “and made our way in the dim light to the mess hall for the 0400 breakfast. Flight crews were given fresh eggs in place of the usually powdered eggs.” This was not a common practice at all bases. More than one veteran from other groups has said they rarely saw fresh eggs.

After breakfast Leach headed to the briefing building with Pilot Waldo Oldham, Co-Pilot Carl Dunn, and Navigator Ross Purdy to gather with the officers of 38 crews to fly that day. It would be a most dramatic day in their lives as the officers of Dixie’s Delight nervously awaited the appearance of the Briefing Officers.

Bombardier Leach, remembers it this way: “A curtain was draped over one corner of the room, concealing the target for the day’s mission. There was little talk. The veteran crews who had attended other such briefings were obviously nervous. For some it was to be their last mission, and then they would return to the states. All they needed was a “milk run” to bring them safely home. They remembered the December 31 Hamburg raid and missing 109 comrades. Our crew was too green to grasp the tension in that room.

“Someone yelled, ‘Attention,’ bringing us to our feet as Col. Jeffrey (Commanding Officer, Thomas S.) entered the room followed by other officers involved in the briefing, including Majors Crosby (Group Navigator, Harry H.) and Ventriss (Group Bombardier, Don). Without any hesitancy he announced, ‘Gentlemen, the target is Berlin.’ The curtain was drawn back, revealing the mission route. There was a voice in the back that said, ‘Oh my god!’”

Operations Officer, Lt. Col. John Wallace then proceeded to spell out the details. The mission was to bomb the railhead in the center of Berlin near the Tempelhof Airdrome. 

The mission was a maximum effort...1003 heavy bombers with 10,000 men aboard, plus fighter squadrons for support. The 100th was selected to lead the 13th Combat Wing and 3rd Air Division. Major Robert Rosenthal led the 100th. The briefing officers stated that flak would be minimal over the target.

After breakfast the enlisted men had assembled at their aircraft to wait for the officers. The ground crews were already loading 50-calibur ammo, bombs, and readying the planes for takeoff. After briefing the officers of Dixie’s Delight made their way to the ready room, where they were issued their flying clothes and parachutes.

“We were trucked out to our aircraft,” said Leach, “where we joined the enlisted men. Wally, Carl and Pat prepared the ship for takeoff while the rest of us assembled in the radio room. We proceeded to taxi onto the perimeter track, with takeoff starting at 0715. As our group formed over our field, we joined the other elements of the 13th Combat Wing, over the channel and were in a tight formation at 0955 when we approached the Continental coast at 14,000 feet climbing to 27,000 feet.”

For six foot tall Tail Gunner Ralph J. Kalberloh, the only way to reach his position was to crawl on his hands and knees from the waist of the aircraft to the tail, where his twin 50 caliber machine guns were mounted. There was also an intercom outlet with head phones, an oxygen mask with hose attached to the oxygen system on the wall of the plane, and just enough room to squat on his knees and sit on a bicycle seat and maneuver the guns. “I could wear my parachute harness, but my chest-pack parachute could not be worn and lay beside me. It was a lonely spot from which to observe where we had been and to wonder what lay ahead of us.”

As they formed up over the channel, Waist Gunner Ramsey radioed the cockpit and asked permission to test fire the guns. It was at this time that Chapple (Cpl. Richard G. Chapple) discovered that the ball turret ammo hatch had fallen off, causing belts of 50-caliber ammo to spill out and dangle in space.”

“I told him to salvo the ammo,” said Leach, “and remain in the ball to track any attacking aircraft.”

Nearer the target, when they encountered heavy flak, Ramsey called for Charlton (Radio Operator William Charlton) to man the right waist position, which he had been assigned to do. Ramsey had observed some unidentified aircraft in the distance, but so far they had not approached the group. It was then that Ramsey noticed Charlton lying on the floor of the radio room just forward of the waist area. “I thought at first that he had been hit, so I called in the information.”

“We were told at the briefing that there would be an 11 minute bomb run,” said Howard Leach. “Purdy and I were in the nose and could clearly see the lead ships, other ships of the 100th and the flak once we turned onto the bomb run. I heard Ramsey on the intercom reporting to Wally that Charlton had been hit. I quickly clambered out of the nose to the flight deck and crawled back through the catwalk past the bomb bay to give what aid I could.”

Leach crawled past the 10 armed 500 pound bombs ominously awaiting release. When he reached the radio room, he found Ramsey and Kalberloh there with the fallen man. Radio Operator Charlton’s oxygen mask was off and his goggles had been severed by flak. One lens was hanging on each side of his helmet. He was not wounded, as had been feared, but had passed out from lack of oxygen. His mask was reattached, and he quickly revived. Leach headed back to his position in the nose.

Flying through the intense flak, Pilot Oldham was encountering great difficulty in controlling the aircraft due to the prop wash created as the ships moved together into tight formation. There were a lot of pilot and crew exchanges over the interphones, and Dixie’s Delight, along with many other aircraft, was suffering major damage.

From his position in the tail, Ralph Kalberloh watched the puffs of black smoke as the 88 and 105 antiaircraft guns fired volleys of four shells at a time. “I would see the first puff and then count 2-3-4, and several times it looked like the third or fourth shell might explode between my legs. It was 11 minutes of terror for me.”

Flak hit the ball turret. “It did not penetrate Chapple’s back chute, but he felt it,” said Kalberloh. Alarmed, the gunner exited the ball turret. Moments later it was wiped out by a flak burst. As they approached the target and flak intensified, Howard Leach put on his flak suit and crouched behind his chair in the nose. “Purdy, who up to this time had ignored his flak suit, hit the panic button, and I had to assist him in getting it on.” It was then that an explosion rocked them. “I was horrified by a direct hit on Cotner’s (Lt. Orville H. Cotner flying A/C 44-6500) ship above and to the left of us. It burst into a ball of flame with our passing right through the flaming debris.”

From his position in the tail, Kalberloh could see the ball turret of the doomed ship floating towards the ground. After what seemed an eternity, a parachute appeared and he hoped that there was at least one survivor. Sadly, BTG Sgt. John C. Moss perished along with the rest of his crew. “When the explosion occurred,” said Ramsey, “I instinctively dropped down behind the armor plate that covered the area below the waist position. After we flew through the debris, I stood up and discovered that my ammo rack, positioned at eye level and to the right, had taken a direct flak hit. I would surely have been killed had I been standing at my station.”

From the nose of the aircraft, Leach could see another ship spiraling down out of control. “It was Beck on his fifth mission (2nd Lt. Richard A. Beck piloting A/C 42-102958).” Leach focused on the lead ships awaiting the flare that would prompt him to release his bombs unaware that the lead ship, commanded by Major Rosenthal, was on fire and was to leave the formation upon dropping its bombs. “The flare and bombs of the lead ship appeared and I promptly hit the toggle switch releasing our bombs.”

Pilot Waldo J. Oldham wrote: “My number three engine started trailing smoke and vibrating so badly it almost broke loose from the mounting. I shut it down and feathered the prop. Over the radio, we were informed that we were losing fuel or oil out of a hole in the right wing. I called Pat Tooley, the engineer, to come down from the upper turret and turn on the fuel transfer pump to try to save as much fuel as we could.”

TTE Pat Tooley vacated his turret and made his way to where the transfer pump was positioned. That completed, he returned to his turret only to find half of it had been torn away. Amazingly, each man – Chapple, Ramsey and Tooley - had vacated his position at just the right time to avoid injury. “I am sure some super being was looking out for us,” said Tom Ramsey. “With all that was going on, we still managed to drop our bombs.”

Pilot Waldo Oldham put it this way: “It seemed miraculous that each man moved at just the right time to avoid being hit. Although we had a lot of bad luck, we were extremely fortunate to be shot up that bad and still no one was injured.  “Our formation was pretty well scattered with the lead ship down, Cotner and Beck gone, and the deputy lead hadn’t moved into position yet. Also, with only three engines we were struggling to keep up. I believe that before the Group reformed on the deputy lead, we had gone several minutes past our RP turn and gotten into more flak areas, sustaining even more damage. Our number two engine quit, and I couldn’t get the prop to feather, so it was windmilling, causing a lot of drag. We dropped back and tried to tag onto other Group formations, but we couldn’t maintain speed or altitude. As we lost altitude, we followed the heading of the Bomber stream above, but weren’t too sure of our distance from the coast. There was a cloud deck below at about 12,000 feet, so the ground below wasn’t visible, but we reckoned we were near the coast, not far from Hamburg. We considered turning north and trying to make it across the Denmark line, but at that time there was a minor explosion in the number four engine nacelle, and flames appeared out the cowling.”

“We were trailing behind,” continues Leach, “unable to keep up with the other ships grouping to return to England. I looked below and could see the Russian tanks and troops besieging Berlin. Purdy was at a loss for a heading and Wally was struggling with the engines. I suggested we head for the Russian lines, but could not get any response from the navigator. Unable to rejoin the formation, we were alone and losing altitude. The right inboard engine caught fire and was put out.”

“It was somewhat ironic” wrote Waldo Oldham, “that when we were over Berlin we only had one engine out, so we thought we could possibly get back on three. We had been briefed to turn east if in trouble and try to get behind the Russian lines. That’s what Rosie and Ernst did, though their crew jumped sooner. However, our troubles were spread over the next 100 plus miles and approximately the next hour, so my decision to keep going may have been wrong. The crew had been alerted for possible bail-out earlier, and now it was imminent. Not knowing for sure that we were still over land, I made a “U” turn and headed inland. We didn’t want to jump in the water, yet with the engine flaming, I was afraid to wait any longer to get the crew out.”

“When Wally called me on the intercom to tell me we were going to have to bail out,” said Ralph Kalberloh, “he added, ‘you can jump out back there or come to the waist where the others are jumping.’ My escape hatch was a very small rectangular opening in the tail floor. To bail out, I had to first jettison the door and then from a kneeling position do a somersault headfirst through the opening. As a boy, I could not even climb a tree because I was afraid of heights, so you can imagine how frightened I was of bailing out, especially alone. I imagined myself freezing in the hatch opening and with no one to push me out, I would go down with the plane. I asked Wally to give me time to get to the waist, which he did. I was in such a hurry that I grabbed my chute while crawling toward the waist. I am sure that I looked like a giant anteater as I came crawling out of the tail dragging a long piece of oxygen hose attached to my oxygen mask. I had failed to uncouple it!”

In the nose of the aircraft, Howard Leach heard Oldham inform the crew that they would have to bail out. “I proceeded to the nose hatch, kicking it out and prepared to jump. I realized that I did not have my shoes, so I returned to the nose to retrieve them, fastening them to my chute. “Seated dangling my feet in space, I became aware that Carl (Co-Pilot Carl D. Dunn) was coming down. Once his feet appeared, I rolled out at 23,000 feet. Clear of the ship, I was falling in space unable to see the ground, insensitive to falling, and reluctant to pull the ripcord. There was no fear, and I found myself curiously assuming various positions – one completely stretched out, another locked into a ball. I became conscious of falling when I busted through the clouds and could see the ground rapidly approaching.”

Back in the waist of the aircraft the gunners were donning their parachutes. “It was my responsibility to jettison the waist door, which I promptly did,” said Tom Ramsey. “All of us except Wally, Carl, and Howard were in the waist when we bailed out.”

Ralph Kalberloh continues: “The waist door had been jettisoned, and Tom Ramsey was first in line to jump. I began talking to him while someone handed me a couple of boxes of K-rations, which I stuffed in the knee pockets of my flight pants. When the bell rang to jump, I was shaking hands with Ramsey. He turned and jumped and I crowded in line. I believe I was still shaking his hand when I followed him out of the door. “The jump was not what I expected. There wasn’t any sensation of falling – it was more like a feather floating in the wind. My chute opened with a jolt, but I managed to hold onto my G.I. shoes, which were tied together by the shoe strings. Leach insisted we tie our shoes to the parachute harness to avoid having them jerked from our hands when the chute opened. However, I lost the K-rations, compass and escape map because I had failed to close the pockets of my flight suit. Two American fighter planes circled us as we floated down. “As I floated down, every bad thing I had ever done in my life appeared in my thoughts and I wondered. Would I be machine gunned by German fighters, killed by an angry mob or land in a lake and drown from the collapsing chute? As I got closer to the ground, my mind immediately turned to survival.”

“While the first to leave the plane, I was probably the last to land because I had immediately pulled the ripcord,” said Tom Ramsey. “I remember spinning like a ball upon leaving the plane and the chute opening without a severe jerk. I never saw the plane, nor do I recall seeing any other chutes.” I

 

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