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S/SGT  Robert L. SHEARER

UNIT: 418th BOMB Sqdn POSITION: WG

S/SGT Robert Shearer

SERIAL #: 33237603 STATUS: CPT
MACR:

Comments1: XFR 15TH AF, 97 BG, FOGGIA, ITALY

COMMENTS & NOTES

MEMO 1:

CREW

1ST LT JAMES F. "MOOSE" MUSSER                     P CPT  2 APRIL 44  STEYR, AUSTRIA   (CALIF)
2ND LT LEO McINTYRE                                         CP CPT  3 APRIL 44, BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (SEE LIST OF MISSIONS BELOW) 
2ND LT GORDON H "BIG PETE". PETERSON     NAV CPT  2 APRIL 44  STEYR, AUSTRIA TAPS/DATE UNK
2ND LT CHARLES W. PARLEE                            BOM CPT  2 APRIL 44  STEYR, AUSTRIA (CALIF)
T/SGT MARLIN JOSEPH                                     ROG CPT  2 APRIL 44  STEYR, AUSTRIA (PENN) TAPS/DATE UNK
T/SGT DON ATKINSON                                        TTE CPT  2 APRIL 44  STEYR, AUSTRIA (OHIO) (Awarded Soldiers Medal for saving crew members on Crash landing in Atlantic on way over to England, Picked up by British Destroyers- story below)
S/SGT WILLIAM N. CLOUGH                             BTG CPT   2 APRIL 44  STEYR, AUSTRIA (DEL)
S/SGT ROBERT L. SHEARER                            LWG CPT   2 APRIL 44  STEYR, AUSTRIA  (PENN)
S/SGT KERMIT Q. WARD                                  RWG CPT   2 APRIL 44  STEYR, AUSTRIA  (GA)
S/SGT GEORGE E. KLINE                                     TG CPT   2 APRIL 44  STEYR, AUSTRIA  (PENN) TAPS/DATE UNK

418th Sqdn..
In a letter to Paul West (Nov 1993), Don Atkinson states that the crew flew it's first mission on November 3, 1943. It would seem likely they joined the 100th in late October, 1943.   He further states they flew a plane named "Daylight Delivery".  The crew list and mission data that follows is courtesy of Mr. Don Atkinson .(November 1993…..pw).  Lt Gordon "Big Pete" Peterson lost his finger when it was caught whle getting out of the plane,  they tried to save the finger but eventually it was amputated. 

MISSION LOG SUPPLIED BY DON T. ATKINSON IN 1993

MISSION # 01 WEDESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 1943
 TARGET:  WILHELSHAVEN, GERMANY 5 1/2 HOURS _47 DEGREES
 MEDIUM FLAK  HEAVY OVERCAST--GOOD ESCORT WITH P-47s---MORE THAN A 1000 PLANES PARTICIPATED--BOMBED IMPORTANT NAVAL BASE AND SUBMARINE PENS--LOST 5 HEAVIES--ENCOUNTERED FIGHTER OPPOSITION.

MISSION # 02 SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 1943
 TARGET:  DUREN, GERMANY--6 1/2 HOURS--(-40 DEGREES)--SCATTERED FLAK--BROKEN CLOUDS--DUREN, GERMANY WAS A GREAT RAILWAY CENTER--BOMBED RAILYARD--GOOD ESCORT OF P47s, KEPT MOST OF ENEMY AIRCRAFT AWAY.

MISSION # 03 TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 1943
 TARGET:  RJUKIN, NORWAY--10 1/2 HOURS--(0 DEGRESS)--SCATTERED FLAK--BOMBED AT ALTITUDE OF 12000  FT.--BROKEN CLOUDS--NO ESCORT--SEEN ONE ME-109, DID NOT PRESS ATTACK--PICKED UP FLAK WHEN LEAVING THE COAST--BOMBED HARD (HEAVY) WATER WORKS FOR EXPLOSIVES, SUPPOSED TO BE ONE OF HITLER'S SECRET WEAPONS--MADE ONE DRY RUN ON TARGET BECAUSE WE ARRIVED ON THE TARGET BEFORE NOON, THE  NORWIEGIANS TOOK THEIR LUNCH PERIOD AT TWELVE NOON.  THE DRY RUN ALLOWED THEM TO CLEAR THE BUILDING BEFORE WE DROPPED OUR BOMBS.

MISSION # 04 FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 1943
 TARGET:  GELSENKIRCHEN, GERMANY--7 HOURS--(-45 DEGREES)--MEDIUM FLAK--HEAVY OVERCAST--GOOD ESCORT, FEW ENEMY FIGHTERS ATTACKED--BOMBED BLAST FURNACES AND RAILYARD.

MISSION # 05 SUNDAY, DECEMBER 5, 1943
 TARGET:  BORDEAUX, FRANCE--9 HOURS--(-30 DEGREES)--LITTLE FLAK--GOOD ESCORT--NO ENEMY FIGHTERS PRESSED AN ATTACK--RETURNED WITH BOMBS.

MISSION # 06 SATURDAY, DECEMBER 11, 1943
 TARGET:  EMDEN, GERMANY--6 HOURS--(-47 DEGREES)-- MEDIUM FLAK--SCATTERED CLOUDS--ESCORT ARRIVED LATE--MET FIGHTER OPPOSITION--NOSE ATTACKS--CLOUGH (S/SGT WILLIAM N. CLOUGH--BTG) BAGGED ONE ME-110--DESTROYED 138 FIGHTERS--BOMBED CONSTRUCTION YARDS BEING BUILT FOR SUBMARINES.

MISSION # 07 MONDAY, DECEMBER 13, 1943
 TARGET:  KIEL, GERMANY--7 1/2 HOURS--(-42 DEGREES)--HEAVY AND ACCURATE FLAK--HEAVY OVERCAST--GOOD FIGHTER SUPPORT--FLAK DAMAGE TO OUR BOMBAY DOORS--BOMBED NAVAL BASE WITH SEVERE DAMAGE--PICKED UP FLAK ON RETURN TRIP FROM A SMALL ISLAND.

MISSION # 08 WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 22, 1943
 TARGET:  MUNSTER, GERMANY--6 HOURS--(-50 DEGREES)--MEDIUM FLAK--HEAVY OVERCAST--GOOD ESCORT--BOMBED RAILWAY YARDS AND WORK SHOPS--BOMBERS CRISS CROSSED TARGET.

MISSION # 09 FRIDAY, DECEMBER 24, 1943
 TARGET:  "SECRET", FRANCE (NO-BALL)--4/1/2 HOURS--(0 DEGREES)--ALTITUDE 12000 FEET--GOOD ESCORT--ENCOUNTERED FLAK OVER ABBEVILLE--CLEAR TARGET--HAD A DRY RUN--BOMBED ROCKET LAUNCHING INSTALLATION--TARGET WIPED OUT.

MISSION # 10 FRIDAY, JANUARY 21, 1944
 TARGET:  "SECRET", FRANCE (NO-BALL)--3 1/2 HOURS-- (-31 DEGREES)--.3 TO .5 TENTHS OVERCAST-- MEDIUM FLAK--ENCOUNTERED ENGINE TROUBLE, ABORTED BOMB RUN, COULD NOT KEEP IN FORMATION--DROPPED BOMBS IN CHANNEL--RETURNED TO BASE.

MISSION # 11 MONDAY, JANUARY 24, 1944
 TARGET:  FRANKFURT, GERMANY--(RECALLED)--5 3/4 HOURS--(-31 DEGREES)--ACCURATE FLAK--PICKED UP FLAK AT OSTEND--LOST ONE AIRCRAFT TO FLAK GUNNERS--HEAVY OVERCAST--GOOD ESCORT--ARTILLERY SHELLS LOBED AT US 800 YARDS FROM OUT TAIL.

MISSION # 12 SATURDAY, JANUARY 29, 1944
 TARGET:  FRANKFURT, GERMANY--7 1/2 HOURS..(-30 DEGREES)--HEAVY FLAK--DROPPED CHAFF TO SCREW UP RADAR--HEAVY OVERCAST--GOOD ESCORT--DEMOLISHED PRACTICALLY ALL OF THE TOWN.

MISSION # 13 SUNDAY, JANUARY 30, 1944
 TARGET:  BRUNSWICK, GERMANY--6 HOURS--(-40 DEGREES)--MEDIUM FLAK--HEAVY OVERCAST--GOOD ESCORT-- CONTRAILS VERY HEAVY, HAZARDOUS FLYING CONDITIONS--BOMBED AT 28000 FEET--DEVELOPED BENDS IN SHOULDER--BOMBED AN AIRCRAFT ENGINE PLANT.

MISSION # 14 THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 1944
 TARGET:  WILHELMSHAVEN, GERMANY--(-44 DEGREES)--HEAVY OVERCAST--FLAK TRAILING FIRE AND CONTINUOUS POINTING--GOOD ESCORT--SOME ENEMY AIRCRAFT--BOMBED SUBMARINE PENS AND CITY--BOMBED AT 29000 FEET--BENDS IN LEFT SHOULDER--VERY HEAVY ENGINE CONTRAILS--VERY LONG TRIP;

 Mr Atkinson states 03 Feb 44 Wilhelshaven as  the last mission with the 8th AF and that on 4 Feb 1944 transferred to  the 15th AF at Foggia, Italy-- assigned to the 97 th Bomb Group...pw (Nov 1993)

There are many reasons a crew transfers to the 15th AF from the 8th.  In this case there are a few issues.  Seems there is a story of a run in between a Lt Col and Lt Musser. 
 The result of which was a transfer of the Crew to the 97th BG in Italy.  Reg Musser gives the following info: "The name my Dad mentions “with extreme prejudice” as the person who was responsible for transferring his crew to Foggia was only mentioned to me once...he said the guy was a LtCol who my Dad called “Quisling”, a think his actual name was “Kessling” or something like that, and there was NO love lost between them. I think they did manage to “bury the hatchet” at one of the reunions of the 100th years later, when my Dad arranged for “Luckye Bastarde” certificates to be given to all the surviving crew members.
Hope this helps... Jim “Reg” Musser

Mission list for everyone except Leo McIntyre: 

 1.  3/11/43  Wilhelmshaven
 2.  7/11/43  Duren
 3. 16/11/43 Rjuken (Heavy Water Plant)
 4. 19/11/43 Gelsenkirchen
 5. 26/11/43 Bremen
 6. 29/11/43 Bremen
 7.  5/12/43  Bordeaux
 8. 11/12/43 Emden
 9. 13/12/43 Kiel
10. 22/12/43 Munster
11. 24/12/43 No-Ball
12. 30/12/43 Ludwigshaven
13. 21/1/44  No-Ball
14. 24/1/44  Frankfurt-Recall
15. 29/1/44  Frankfurt
16. 30/1/44  Brunswick
17.   3/2/44  Wilhelmshaven
Transferred to 15th AF at Foggia, Italy, assigned to the 97th Bomb Group, 341st Bomb Squadron
18. 15/2/44   Monte Cassino, Italy
19.  17/2/44  Amio, Italy
20.  22/2/44  Regensburg, Ger.
21.  24/2/44  Steyr, Austria
22.    2/3/44  Anzio Beachhead, Italy
23.    3/3/44  Rome, Italy
24.  15/3/44  Monte Cassino
25.  18/3/44  Udine, Italy
26.  19/3/44  Klagenfurt, Austria
27.  22/3/44  Verona, Italy
28.  28/3/44  Verona, Italy
29.  29/3/44  Turin, Italy
30.  30/3/44  Sofia, Italy
31.    2/4/44  Steyr, Austria


List of Missions of Lt Leo R. McIntyre (mpf 10/2000)

 1.  3/11/43  Wilhelmshaven
 2.  7/11/43  Duren
 3. 16/11/43 Rjuken (Heavy Water Plant)
 4. 19/11/43 Gelsenkirchen
 5. 26/11/43 Bremen
 6. 29/11/43 Bremen
 7.  5/12/43  Bordeaux
 8. 11/12/43 Emden
 9. 13/12/43 Kiel
10. 22/12/43 Munster
11. 24/12/43 No-Ball
12. 30/12/43 Ludwigshaven
13. 21/1/44  No-Ball
14. 24/1/44  Frankfurt-Recall
15. 29/1/44  Frankfurt
16. 30/1/44  Brunswick
17.   3/2/44  Wilhelmshaven
Transferred to 15th AF at Foggia, Italy, assigned to the 97th Bomb Group
18. 23/2/44  Regensburg
19. 24/2/44  Steyr, Austria
20.   2/3/44  Anzio Beachhead
21.   3/3/44  Rome
22. 15/3/44  Monte Cassino
23. 18/3/44  Udine, Italy
24. 19/3/44  Klagenfurt, Austria
25. 22/3/44  Verona, Italy
26. 28/3/44  Verona, Italy
27. 29/3/44  Turin, Italy
28. 30/3/44  Sofia, Italy
29.   2/4/44  Steyr, Austria
30.   3/4/44  Budapest, Hungary

MEMO 2:

On May 2, 1943 the following Crew was sent Presque AAF/Presque Island Maine by way of North Atlantic route to Prestwick Scotland. 

B-17F 42-5840

2nd Lt James F. Musser  Pilot-             O-376844 (survived)
2nd Lt  David R. Wollen Co-Pilot          O-735484   (Survived ditching and reassigned)
2nd Lt Joseph F. Green Navigator         O-796525  Drowned during ditching and Body never recovered)
2nd Lt Charles W. Parlee Bombardier   O-734381 (survived) 
T/Sgt Donald T. Atkinson TTE               15087821 (survived)
T/Sgt Elmo A. Humphreys  ROG          36257831  Survived Ditching and reassigned
S/Sgt Robert L. Shearer   WG              33237603 Survivied 
S/Sgt Frederick R. Unangst  TG          33187337 (Drowned and Body never recovered)
S/Sgt William N. Clough  BTG              32360066 (Survived  
S/Sgt Kermit Q. Ward  WG                  34355615 (Survived) 


ROUGH RIDE OVER THE NORTH ATLANTIC: Fate of the Big Moose Crew
By Eric Charles Parlee, Son of Charles Wesley Parlee, 418th Squadron, Bombardier

PROLOGUE
After too many years of procrastination, I finally made the “bucket list” trek to see the air base in England where my father, Charles Wesley Parlee, served as a B-17 Bombardier. Renting a car out of London (not recommended), I drove northeast close to the Channel coast, and the following day found the base at Thorpe Abbotts, East Anglia, home of the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum. Sadly, this trip was without Dad or Mom to accompany me. Dad passed away suddenly in December of 2004 and Mom passed in June of 2016.  The day that I visited, in early May 2017, I had the good fortune to meet some members and officers of the 100th Bomb Group Foundation. They were touring the Museum along with members of the USAF 100th Air Refueling Wing which continues to proudly display the "Square D" as their unit’s insignia. Thanks to Ron and Carol Batley, the dedicated English volunteers who along with local friends and neighbors keep this wonderful museum alive, I have my piece of Thorpe Abbotts tarmac; it is now framed in a small case along with a picture of Dad and his crew.  

My next “bucket list” item was now clear: attend the 100th BG 75th reunion at Dulles in October 2017. Dad's correspondence with his crewmates over the years had the names of James R. Musser, Jr, son of Dad's pilot, and Kay Ball, daughter of TSgt. Donald Atkinson, the flight engineer and top turret gunner. With a little digging on the net, I contacted them for the first time.  We decided that all of us should attend the reunion, meet in person and share what we know of our fathers' wartime experiences. For me, as for Jim and Kay, it was like meeting lost family. We “boomers” are offspring of this small band of very “luckye bastardes”. Dad and his brethren would come to think of themselves as such, even though "formal" induction into the 100th Bomb Group "Luckye Bastardes Club" came much later in the 1980s, years after their service. Following is one of several stories about our fathers’ experiences, shared in memory of them and of their service in the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War.

THE WAR BEGINS
Entering the war after the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States faced a daunting task to rapidly assemble and deploy the full range of armed forces necessary to fight and win a global two-front war. Within a week of the attack, Dad and his two best pals, Dave Hayward and Bradley Stewart - the Three Musketeers as they called themselves - decided to enlist.   They wanted to start at the top by voluntarily signing up for a particular branch of service rather than be drafted and have little say in the matter.  Being bright young men in the first years of college in Pasadena, they thought that to serve as an Army Air Force fighter pilot was the golden ring.  The Three Musketeers were California boys, but across the country many volunteered to do their part. The men that Dad ultimately served with came from all corners of the US, from Oklahoma to Ohio and other parts north, east and south.  Dad’s Uncle, George Jenkins, gave them each a button from his World War I US Army Air Corps jacket for good luck. The four of them then piled into the Dodge in January ’42 for the arduous trip over the mountain range between the San Fernando and Central Valleys on the twisting two-lane road the locals called “The Grapevine”. Dave, who was only 19 at the time, would have to wait a few months for his enlistment, but he went along to say farewell and get an idea of what he’d soon be in for.
Qualifying as fit, and then training to be a pilot, was an intense and unforgiving regimen meant to weed out all short-comings.  There was no time for coddling or second chances.  “Wash-out” occurred for many physical reasons or other factors incompatible with the demands of solo flying. The upshot for the three friends was that Dad and Dave eventually graduated flight school, while Bradley entered the Coast Guard to serve with distinction in the Pacific. Dave became a pilot, flying B-25 Mitchells in China and Burma, and Dad trained and qualified as a B-17 Flying Fortress bombardier.  There were no easy tasks in this war, and all three young men earned exemplary service records.

By late summer ‘42, Charles Wesley “Westinghouse” Parlee, Bombardier, had met his “Band of Brothers”: James “Moose” Musser, Pilot; Dave Wollen, Co-pilot; Joe Greene, Navigator; Don "Mr. Unconscious" Atkinson, TTG Engineer; Elmo Humphries, Radio Operator; Robert Shearer, Asst. Engineer; Frederick Unangst, Gunner; William “Slugger” Clough, Asst. Radio Operator; and Kermit Ward, Gunner. Training a Heavy Bomber crew involved many hours of classes, study, and flight hours with practice runs, some of them over narrow roads and desert fields of New Mexico and Texas.  Flight training required rigor and concentration. Sometimes it was punctuated with a little fooling around, such as inadvertently buzzing a lonely car while flying nearly at pavement level over the humping ribbon of a dusty two-lane highway.  Imagine looking in your rearview mirror and seeing the full width of a massive four-engine bomber rising up from the dip in the road behind you! Or imagine it landing on the Main Street of a remote town, somewhere in a deserted outback, and its crew being treated to drinks on the house at its only bar. I like to think they'd have bought one for the guy they'd accidentally chased off the road, assuming he showed up mad as hell and wanting to know what "them fly-boys" thought they were up to. Each of Dad's crew had their own stories as to how they came together and earned their nicknames. My Dad's given name was "Charles", which he hated and preferred to be called “Wes”, his middle nickname for Wesley.  Ergo, he was christened "Westinghouse Charlie" by Jim Musser; this put a little class on the Charlie part he disliked, the kind of tweak only friends and brothers can get away with. I rather expect "Slugger" Clough was a handy guy to have around in a bar room brawl. Don Atkinson, "Mr. Unconscious" got his nick name after having his "bell rung" by a piece of flying shrapnel, but that's a story for later. All shared experiences that were at once unique and at the same time indicative of service in the Eight Air Force. Their training bonded them. That bond would soon grow in unexpected ways. 

TRANSPORT ON THE "NORTHERN FERRY"
After completing all phases of heavy bomber training by early spring ‘43, these men assembled on the East Coast with other crews, ready for deployment to the European war theater. Naming their plane "Big Moose" after pilot Jim Musser's nick name "Moose", they prepared to fly the northern route across the North Atlantic Ocean with full complement of trained crew and ordinance. In an extract dated 2 May, 1943, B-17F 42-5840, AKA Big Moose, along with at least five other factory-fresh B-17s and crews, received orders to fly from Army Air Base at Presque Isle, Maine “via the best available air route” and report to the Commanding General of the Eighth Air Force in Prestwick, Scotland. There they would be assigned to a bombardment group and join the massive effort to rid Europe of Hitler and his ilk. They were given as much as 30 days should the circumstances of the task so require. Their departure was delayed when, during pre-flight check, they could not transfer fuel from one wing to the other.  After some time, a cork was discovered in the fuel line, either a careless mistake in the B-17 assembly factory, or a small omen of worse things to come. 

The cork problem resolved, Big Moose was ready.  A weather plane gave clearance to depart, and their plane took off “a few minutes after midnight May 7, 1943…” according to Kermit Ward’s account. It's unclear if all planes took off at the same time flying together on same route, or if their departures were spread out and they flew individually.  Nor is it known if there was any radio contact.  Musser told his son years later that Big Moose had extra fuel tanks to allow it to fly direct from Presque Isle to Iceland, 2,600+ miles, instead of stopping at Gander and Greenland. While such a flight is routine today, in 1943 flying across the North Atlantic was often perilous - as the crew of Big Moose would soon learn.

About five hours into the flight, flying at an altitude that allowed them a close survey of the icy waters below, Big Moose and her crew encountered massive turbulence that tossed the fortress about as if “…they were only a piece of paper at the mercy of the storm…”.  Kermit Ward’s account describes the struggle against what they soon discovered was a magnetic storm. While trying to gain altitude to fly above the storm, the instruments were knocked out and their radio equipment lost the frequency that gave them a navigational homing signal from Reykjavik.  In the raging storm, celestial navigation was impossible. Fighting a 50mph headwind and burning fuel at an unsustainable rate, Musser decided to take the plane below the storm, only to find the storm as bad or worse as they were buffeted too close to the water for comfort. Next, Musser tried to climb up and through the storm to an altitude where they could cruise above it.  This effort burned even more fuel, and above 13,000 feet altitude everyone had to be on oxygen; they did not break above the storm until 22,000 feet, gaining a smoother ride for a time. This brief reprieve only lasted until their oxygen supply began to run out. The grim fact now was that they’d have to drop altitude and fly again into the storm.  “How much trouble can you have in one day?!” Kermit quotes Musser as saying. But their troubles had only just begun. Just as on the way up through the storm, the wings began to ice up on the way down.  To make matters worse, the de-icing system now malfunctioned. The extra weight and drag from the ice build-up was dropping Big Moose like a stone.  Just in the nick of time the system kicked back in, clearing the ice from the wings.  They were now flying near sea level, off course and lost, with their instruments knocked out. They had clocked about ten hours into their flight, unable to determine even the direction they were flying. Low visibility through grey skies streaked with snow and sleet gave the navigator no chance to find bearings. They were completely disoriented and alone. 

Ward and Atkinson transferred the remaining fuel from the bomb bay tanks to the wings, calculating they had enough fuel for just two hours of flight time.  Navigator Joe Greene’s best guess was that, even if they were flying in the right direction, poor visibility would run them into the high mountains of Iceland as certain a death as ditching in the icy cold ocean waters. Through the storm, all they could see was the infinite North Atlantic spotted with white caps and icebergs floating in the stark grey mass.
By this time, Musser, Wollen, Greene and Parlee as well as Atkinson and Ward, were well aware of their dire situation, and it was time to inform the rest of the crew.  I’ve heard B-17s described as, among other things, “…solid as boxcars”. Having flown in two of them myself, the strength and magnificence of the design is awe-inspiring. As a weapon of war operated by a skilled and highly trained crew, the B-17 was as “high-tech” as anything available to throw at an enemy. Aircrew had supreme confidence in their Fortress and, except for those piloting and trying to navigate through the monstrous turmoil, others were blissfully unaware of their predicament as they joked and played cards to pass the time, or took an occasional nap. Nevertheless, with Big Moose running out of fuel, no magnificence could keep it airborne.  The chaos of natural forces was going to have its final say. Kermit broke it to the rest of the crew, Unangst, Clough, Humphries and Shearer. Learning the gravity of their predicament, it put a cold hard knot in each of their stomachs.  This can't be happening, not to this “strong as a boxcar” plane that had weathered the storm so far, even if the ride was "A-ticket" roller coaster bumpy. In a desperate attempt to lighten the plane’s load, they tossed out everything they could to conserve fuel and extend flight time - their personal gear with additional clothing, waist guns, anything not needed to survive a ditching was dropped out the bomb bay. Once done, the remaining time was passed slowly with each man deep in his own thoughts.

As clock continued to run out, it appeared the storm was finally abating. Musser and Wollen were still exerting all their efforts to pilot the plane. With little else to do, the rest of the crew were contemplating the inevitable, certainly sooner than they'd thought about in their young lives. Kermit Ward stirred out of his thoughts, peering out the radio room window at the scene below. Something odd flashed in his mind: four of those "icebergs" had wakes trailing behind.  "Icebergs don't have wakes…!" Jumping back up and looking more closely, he recognized a small aircraft carrier escorted by three destroyers.  He raced into the cockpit to inform Musser. Too high to see any flags or insignia, friend or foe, here was a chance, however slim, to avoid the certain and very grim end that otherwise awaited.  Hallelujah! Musser circled Big Moose in closer to make sure, as best he could, that they were seen by the vessels below.  They weren't shot at. That was a good sign.  Even if unfriendly, they might not be ignored.
Just as Big Moose struggled to find its eastbound course, it so happened that the three British destroyers, HMS Faulknor, HMS Onslaught, and HMS Impulsive were escorting an aircraft carrier, HMS Archer, heading west to rendezvous with a convoy in Nova Scotia.  From the deck of HMS Faulknor, leader of the destroyer squadron, a lone plane was spotted from the command deck over the course of two hours. They did recognize it as a "Fortress", but with no signal or radio communications, all they could do was observe curiously as the plane circled, unaccompanied and seemingly lost. 

As the Fortress circled ever closer to the ships, Musser ordered Wollen to fire off some distress flares.  The flares were seen from the decks of the Faulknor, but not recognized as the proper distress colors of the day (two red, one green according to the ship’s log). It was soon obvious, however, that the B-17 was going down. The British sailors looked up and thought that the Fortress with a wing span nearly as long as its flight deck was surely not intending to land that monster on their dinky carrier!  They kept a keen eye on the plane, awaiting its next move. By this point, Big Moose had less than 15 minutes of fuel, and the final decision to ditch was made.  Preparation drills for ditching had been the subject of a number of training exercises, but it was certainly more a textbook exercise than anything real.  This was going to be very real – this was not practice, they were going to ditch. They were taught to assemble all crew behind the cockpit bulkhead, where the wings meet the fuselage, with the exception of the pilot and co-pilot who remain at the controls. With hope of rescue now provided, two crucial decisions were made: 1) fly the plane so as to ditch in the ships’ path of travel and not require any change of course for them; and 2) cut the engines at just the right time so that the heat of the turbo/super chargers on the engines would not cause them to explode upon impact with the icy water.  All hopes of the Big Moose crew now rested with these ships that just happened to be there on this day, at this time and place in the vast North Atlantic; the storm subsided just enough to provide visibility and hope of rescue.

1517 G.M.T 7 May 1943 latitude 63 deg 11 min N, longitude 26 deg 05 min W 
As reported by W.H. Selby, Commander, Commanding Officer HMS Onslaught:
"The plane made a flat landing about 1-1/2 miles from HMS Onslaught…and I immediately closed the position, stopping near the survivors at 1523. The wind was from the North East, 20-25 knots with a medium North Easterly swell, wave height 6-10 feet…" 
The “flat landing” of Big Moose, at a speed in excess of 100mph into a roiling mass of wind-driven waves, may as well have been into concrete. With the engines cut seconds before impact, Wollen panicked and pulled up on the stick. The plane started to rise again until Musser pushed Wollen off the controls and tried to level off. What probably happened next was that, as the plane rose and then leveled off, the underside of Big Moose hit the crest of a wave. She broke apart with the crew assembled inside, dropping into the drink like the "…yolk of cracked egg..." as my Dad described it.  

According to Kermit Ward,  
"It was a sickening crash. We could hear the metal tearing as the wings were ripped off the plane. The fuselage broke into four or five pieces. The mighty plane was torn up as if it were a raw egg dropped on pavement.  We had been well trained in ditching, but no one ever told us how to get out of anything like this." 
Big Moose, shorn of her wings and broken apart, sank within seconds of impact. The "textbook" drill imagined a plane hitting the water, remaining intact long enough to deploy a life raft on each wing, allowing the crew to walk onto the wings and reach the rafts. But Big Moose sank quickly, and Atkinson was able to deploy only one raft which flipped upside down. Frederick Unangst was badly injured and unconscious. Atkinson was clinging to the overturned raft along with Musser, Wollen, Humphries and Ward. Atkinson tried to keep a grip on both Unangst and Wollen who was conscious but injured and unable to swim; he lost Unangst after they were hit by a succession of waves. Dad, looking back years later, believed that Unangst had never surfaced and was dragged down with the plane. As the fuselage sank, Dad’s boot caught in the sinking wreckage and he desperately yanked his foot out of it before rising to the surface from about twenty feet under. Kermit Ward also had to struggle to the surface from the same depth and his legs were so badly banged up that he too could hardly move. Ward's account continues:

"I was knocked out in the crash. When I came to, I was under 20 feet of the coldest water on earth…(it) was like something out of a Disney cartoon to me.  Everything was so unreal.  One wave would pick me up high then drop me in sort of a valley.  The next wave would cover me with 25 to 30 feet of water. Debris from the crash was in the water all around me, and I could see no sign of the ships anywhere."

Musser and Wollen got out through the cockpit side windows just before the nose section went under.  The five who made it out of the wreckage to the surface and closest to the raft fought the waves to hang on while the others, including Clough, Shearer, and Dad holding on to Greene, grabbed on to a few oxygen tanks floating in the debris.  All the crew had the benefit of a life jacket, but Greene was badly banged up and lethargic from the frigid water. Discovering that Greene's Mae West was not inflated, Dad tried but failed to inflate the vest; it might have been ripped open by shredded metal debris.  Dad was now doing all he could to keep himself and his friend afloat, while he and the two others, Shearer and Clough, were desperately trying to get to the raft.
HMS Onslaught was on the scene within six and a half minutes. A scramble net was secured to the side of the destroyer as British sailors threw life preservers tethered to ropes towards the struggling airmen; it took every ounce of effort to swim towards the destroyer in the rough seas. Some sailors tied lines around their waists and under their arms, climbing over the side to reach the men and pull them on board.  Five of the crew, Musser, Wollen, Atkinson, Humpfries, and Ward were hauled aboard HMS Onslaught.  Ward remembers:

"Someone (from HMS Onslaught) tried to throw me a rope with a life ring on it, 	but I was so near gone by then that I could not hold on to it.  I saw two men 	(British sailors) jump overboard with ropes tied under their arms. They got me in their arms, and the men on the ship pulled the three of us to safety. Those two men risked their lives for me, a stranger, and I was grateful."

Meanwhile, Parlee, Greene, Clough and Shearer, unable to grasp lines thrown towards them, watched in despair as the stern of the destroyer left them. With their heads barely above water, dunked at the crest of each swell, their hope faded. Was anyone else on the way? Would the destroyer turn about? As Dad explained to me, 

"… it was like a three-minute eternity, I was making my peace.  I thought that this was going to be the end until I looked up behind me and saw this great wall of iron bearing down on us."  

It was HMS Faulknor which quickly pulled onto the scene, slowing to five knots. Clough and Shearer were hauled aboard with the help of more sailors risking their lives; Dad and Joe were still out of reach. Dad kept grabbing at and losing lines tossed their way while desperately struggling to keep hold of Joe, who was now nearly unconscious. Exhaustion and hypothermia set in. Hope faded as this second destroyer, too, moved on.  There was no dead stopping in sub-infested waters and the stern of this “second chance” was fast approaching. Yet another wave dunked Dad and Joe Greene. When Dad surfaced, he saw Joe floating beyond his reach, face down, just as the stern of the Faulknor was passing. One last line was thrown for Dad to grasp which he did, and with the last of his strength, he managed to get a foot through a loop in the line. He could not reach Joe to pull him back. Had Dad done so, he'd have lost his chance as well. Dad was the last man up, hauled in feet first at the very stern, his nearly frozen hands grasping the line.  "…Oy, lad, you can let go the rope now, we've got you…" The crew wrapped him up in blankets, wound ropes around him and tied him to a cot to recover from hypothermia.  From the stern of HMS Faulknor, Joe Greene's body was seen to sink beneath the waves and not recovered.  

As the report from Onslaught to Faulknor concludes:
"…Nine survivors were seen in the water of which five, including the pilot Lt. Musser, were picked up by HMS Onslaught.  Of the other four seen at first, one sank before the remainder were picked up by HMS Faulknor."
As Dad slowly recovered in the immediate aftermath, he tried in his mind to account for those of his crew that he knew had been rescued.  Greene was gone. Dad recalled being dragged down with the wreckage of Big Moose, and saw below him a floating object, much like a blanket, descending into the deep. His mind flashed "Unangst!" and he knew that Fred was lost as well.

ON THE ONSLAUGHT AND FAULKNOR, GUESTS OF THE ROYAL NAVY
The survivors of the Big Moose crash now found themselves guests of His Majesty's Royal Navy for the next week, heading westbound towards Argentia, Nova Scotia. As is customary with the British Navy, the airmen shared quarters with sailors of lateral rank.  Dad, being an officer, shared quarters with Lt. Alan Phipps RN, the Faulknor's communications and signals officer. They became fast friends, comrades in the same struggle. Dad was impressed by the courage, good cheer and commitment that Phipps displayed and found this encouraging given the traumatic experience he and his crewmates had just endured. At this point, they had not yet succeeded in even "getting there", into the war effort, whereas Phipps had been in the thick of it since September of 1939.

May 1943 was pivotal in the Allied effort to win the Battle of the Atlantic against the German U-Boats; the Big Moose survivors witnessed the stark reality of war at sea. A British convoy had been attacked by Nazi submarine “wolf packs” the night before, sinking a number of cargo ships. Dad, recovered well enough and on deck looking over the rails, saw extensive debris fields and a life boat floating past filled with British Merchant Marine sailors, all frozen to death. There was no point in retrieving corpses and risk a U-boat attack on the Faulknor. The boat with lifeless sailors floated on.

On Sunday 16 May, HMS Faulknor and HMS Onslaught reached Nova Scotia, and dropped off the Big Moose survivors. The friends departed, and Dad got a signed photo of the ship as a souvenir. Phipps also gave Dad a note with his contacts in Scotland and England, the principal one being White's Club, 37 St. James St., should he ever find himself in London. There was still much to be done in the war effort and none knew what the future had in store for them or when their paths might cross again. 
From Argentia, the survivors hitched a ride back to Presque Isle, Maine and reported to Brigadier General Giles, Commander of the North Atlantic Wing Headquarters. One thing was clear to them, they would stay together as a crew; General Giles agreed and supported their request.  They learned later that three other Fortresses sent out that same day went down with all 30 men lost.  These were not sustainable odds for transporting crew and planes to the European theater of war. Save those odds for combat, as that would be bad enough.  In any case, as Musser bluntly put it, "…it's no way to get a 30-day leave".

KIA / MIA / EVA / INT INFORMATION:

TARGET: DATE:  
AIRCRAFT: CAUSE:  

BURIAL INFORMATION

PLOT: ROW:  
GRAVE: CEMETERY:  

PHOTOS:

Lt James Musser Crew after being assigned to 97th Bomb Group in Foggia, Italy.  We believe in Budapest.  Note Russian  soldier .  Waist gunner in the crew shot, Harry Merle Lerch Jr , need better ID on this photo,    

Lt James Musser Crew in Foggia after transferring to 97th Bomb Group on Feb 4, 1944.  Photo courtesy of Jack O'Leary.  T/Sgt Don Atkinson is front row third from the Left and  Waist gunner in the crew shot, Harry Merle Lerch Jr is front row, second from the right with sun glasses on.  

 James F. Musser crew with Daylite Delivery. Detailed Information Photo courtesy of the Thorpe Abbotts Tower Museum Archives 

Original Lt Musser Crew April 1943.  Photo courtesy of Eric Parlee 

On May 2, 1943 the following Crew was sent Presque AAF/Presque Island Maine by way of North Atlantic route to Prestwick Scotland and ditched in the Atlantic. 

B-17F 42-5840

2nd Lt James F. Musser  Pilot-             O-376844 (survived)
2nd Lt  David R. Wollen Co-Pilot          O-735484   (Survived ditching and reassigned)
2nd Lt Joseph F. Green Navigator         O-796525  Drowned during ditching and Body never recovered)
2nd Lt Charles W. Parlee Bombardier   O-734381 (survived) 
T/Sgt Donald T. Atkinson TTE               15087821 (survived)
T/Sgt Elmo A. Humphreys  ROG          36257831  Survived Ditching and reassigned
S/Sgt Robert L. Shearer   WG              33237603 Survivied 
S/Sgt Frederick R. Unangst  TG          33187337 (Drowned and Body never recovered)
S/Sgt William N. Clough  BTG              32360066 (Survived  
S/Sgt Kermit Q. Ward  WG                  34355615 (Survived) 

 

SERVED IN:

Crew 1

ID: 4713