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LT  William B. BLACKMAN

UNIT: 418th BOMB Sqdn POSITION: P
SERIAL #: O-414787 STATUS: POW
MACR: 11364 CR: 11364

Comments1: 31 DEC 44 HAMBURG (EAC) Crew was on 14th Mission

COMMENTS & NOTES

MEMO 1:

CREW
2nd Lt William B."Billy" Blackman         P       POW 31/12/44 HAMBURG
2nd Lt Robert E. Freshour    CP      KIA    31/12/44 HAMBURG 
2nd Lt Michael V. Repole      NAV   CPT    15/4/45 ROYAN
2nd Lt Wiilliam M. Sterrett BOM/NAV   POW  31/12/44 HAMBURG
Cpl Robert E. Fortney           ROG   KIA    31/12/44 HAMBURG
Cpl Joseph T. Pearl               TTE   KIA    31/12/44 HAMBURG
Cpl Byron W. Nelson             BTG   NOC
Cpl Basil Numack                   TG     KIA    31/12/44 HAMBURG
Sgt Thomas C. Pace            WG   POW   31/12/44 HAMBURG
Cpl Andrew M. Herbert, JR      TOG   POW   31/12/44 HAMBURG

418th Sqdn. Crew,as above,joined 100th Group on 5 OCT 1944 and were on their 14th mission..
A/C #43-38215 "Grumblin Gremlin" XR-P   MACR #11364, MICRO-FICHE #4182
On this final mission, S/Sgt Stanley P.Carson 
was aboard as a BTG AND WAS KIA ...S.O.C. lists him as an TTE. he was from the crew of 
J.V.DePlanque and was apparently replacing Byron W. Nelson. 
        See S.C.C. p.87 and Sqdn. Diary for Dec.1944.

ORIGINAL CREW AND POSTIONS THAT CAME OVERSEAS:

2nd Lt Billy B.Blackman         P  
2nd Lt Robert E.Freshour    CP     
2nd Lt Michael V.Repole    NAV  
2nd Lt Wiilliam M.Sterrett   BOM   
Cpl Robert E.Fortney         ROG  
Cpl Joseph T.Pearl            TTE   
Cpl Byron W.Nelson          BTG  
Cpl Basil Numack               WG    
Sgt Thomas C.Pace         WG   
Cpl Andrew M. Herbert, JR   TG

Lt William Sterrett states: "We kept all of our original crew except Byron Nelson, BTG and Lt Mike Repole, Nav.   Nelson
was dropped because we were allowed only a nine man crew. Lt Repole was dropped because he became sick
and went to the hospital for six weeks with yellow jaundice.  We were given a ball turret gunner who only had 6 missions
to fly.  I was checked out as a Navigator and Andy (Herbert) was checked out as toggoler. When we had flown six missons
we were given a new BTG Sgt Carson, who had the same number of missions as we did".  It appears that Cpl Numack made the 
transition to TG from WG.

 MISSION LIST OF LT BILLY BLACKMAN (mpf 2001)

1. 05/11/44 LUDWIGSHAVEN
2. 06/11/44 NEUMUNSTER
3. 10/11/44 MAINZ
4. 16/11/44 AACHEN (LANGERWEKE?)
5. 29/11/44 HAMM
6. 30/11/44 MERSEBURG
7. 02/12/44 KOBLENZ
8. 04/12/44 FRIEDBURG
9. 05/12/44 BERLIN
10. 18/12/44 MAINZ
11. 27/12/44 FULDA
12. 28/12/44 KOBLENZ
13. 29/12/44 FRANKFURT
14. 31/12/33 HAMBURG (SHOT DOWN)

 
EYEWITNESS:  "A/C 215 sustained a direct flak hit on the #2 engine which began to smoke 
  and finally stopped. E/A began to attack #125 as it began to lag.  One engine
  burst into flames and a moment later the aircraft exploded. one (1) chute was seen"

From Lt. Blackman:  "As soon as we were hit the whole right wing caught fire.  I immediately
   rang the bail out bell and the toggalier and bombardier (could be referring to the            Navigatot (Lt . William M. STerrett)....pw) went out the front escape hatch.  The plane
   then blew up, throwing Tom Pace (Thomas C. Pace), the waist gunner and 
   myself clear.  The pieces of the aircraft hit about forty (40) miles toward the 
   sea from Hamburg.

Billy Blackman and his crew were hit by flak and lost #2 engine.  A little later #3 lost oil an had to be feathered
Then #4 started losing power. unable to maintain formation, 2 FW 190's came in from the tail position firing 20MM
the cockpit was detonated and the wing burst into flames.  At about 6000 meters the aircraft exploded.  4 managed to escape
or were blown out, 5 were KIA.


TAPS:  WILLIAM M. STERRETT
Of an eight-month illness from cancer, which spread from his lungs to his liver. The navigator on Bill Blackman's 418th crew, he was a POW after being shot down over Hamburg in December 1944. (31 Dec 1944) He was the first town manager of Blackburg, Virginia, director of public utilities at Virginia Tech University in Blackburg, Virginia, presiding over the largest expansion in the university's history.  In 1985, he was named his community's "Citizen of the Year." On Stalag I he became a close friend of Bob Washington, who writes, "We can all rejoice in his release from a terrible disease and his final greatest victory."

December 31, 1944 Hamburg
A/C  43-38215   418th Sqdn.
   
By William M. Sterrett

The prisoners who were with me at Stalag Luft I would say that this is just another horror story, but since it is easy to forget I will try and write my story from the time I left the States until arriving back.

 On September 18, 1944 we left Lincoln, Nebraska in a new B-17G with a ten man crew of: 
 Billy B. Blackman  Pilot  POW
 Robert E.L. Freshour  Co-pilot KIA
 William M. Sterrett  Bombardier POW
 M.V. Repole   Navigator Replaced by W.M. Sterrett who was POW
 Joe E. Pearl   Engineer KIA in enemy A/C attack
 Tom Pace   Waist Gunner POW
 Robert E. Fortney  Radio Op. KIA (found without chute)
 Basil Numack   Waist Gunner KIA
 Andy Herbert   Tail Gunner POW (was flying as Togglier)
 Bryon Nelson   Ball gunner Dropped at crew reduction to nine
 
 
 Our first hop was an 8 hour one which took us to Granier Field at Manchester, New Hampshire. After being issured combat equipment, we started to England via the northern route. Out first stiop was Gosoe Bay, Labrador, where we were held up for two days due to weather. Whne we landed the pitot tube heater was left on and burned up. This was to cause us a scare later.

 We left Goose bay at 0200 headed for Iceland. We were flying at 11,000 feet to keep above the weather. Our Course took us over the tip of Greenland. Just as the lights of the Greenland Air Base came into view Bill Blackman, our pilot, noticed the airspeed dropping off. We immediately thought we were icing up and Bill informed the tower we would be landing. During the decent the airspeed returned to normal, deciding the pitot tube and not the wings were icing we continued to England. This was quite scary as the Greenland field was not suitable for heavy bombers. The runway was short and you had to go out the same way you entered since the field was surrounded on three sides by mountains. We landed in Iceland without further trouble and after a two day stopover proceeded on to Valley Wales. Upon landing in Wales most of our equipment and the airplane was taken away from us. This was seven days after we left Lincoln, Nebraska and we had accrued 28 hours of flying time.

 We stayed at Valley, Wales one night and were put on a train for Stone, England, where personnel were assigned to groups.  We were there about a week and our only duty was censoring mail. A shipping order finally came through but we did not know where we were going until we had arrived at our distinetion. We ended up in the 418th Squadron of the 100th Bomb Group at Thorpe Abbotts England. We were sent to ground school for about two weeks and also flew some practice 
missions. We kept all of our original crew except Byron Nelson, ball turrett gunner and Mike Repole, navigator. Nelson was dropped because we were allowed only a nine man crew. Repole was dropped beceuse he became sick snd went to the hospital for six weeks with yellow jaundice. We were given a ball turret gunner who only had six. missions to fly. I was checked out as navigator and Andy as toggoler. When we had flown six missions we were given a new ball turret gunner Paul Carson who had the same number of missions as we did.

 Our first mission was on November 5,1944 to Ludwigshaven, Germany.  This was quite an experience. We were gotten out of bed about O330 to eat breakfast. At about 0500 we went to briefing and were given all the information necesssry to carry out the mission, Our time of take off was between 0645 and 
0730.It was customary to send new crew on an easy mission for their first one but ours was not considered an easy one. We all had a funny feeling when we saw our first flak.

 1. Ludwigshaven, Germany November 5, l944
 2. Neumunster "   November 6, 1944
 3. Mainz   November 10, 1944.  
 4.Langerweke   November 16, 1944 (Aachen)
 5. Hamm   November 29, 1944
 6.Merseburg   November 30, 1944
 7. Koblenz   December 2, 1944
 8. Friedburg   December 4, 1344
 9. Berlin   December 5, 1944
 10. Mainz    December 18, 1944
 11. Fulda    December 27, 1944
 12. Koblenz    December 28, la44
 13. Frankfurt   December 29, 1944
 14. HAMBURG   December 31, 1944

The first five missions were average but our sixth WAS  the roughest one we flew. It was to Merseburg, 
where we were to hit an oil refinery. They had about 1000 flak guns there. we saw 6 B-17's  blown up 
and go it down in flames. The 8th Air Force lost 54 ships from flak alone. The navigaor on the crew whose 
wing we were flying off of was killed. How we were lucky enough to get through is hard to see. we had about 
59 holes in our ship when we landed, but none were serious. That we were lucky enough  to get by that time, 
 we thought we would be lucky enough to finish 35 missions. 

 December 31, 1944 is one day in my life which I will never forget. We were gotten out of bed at the usual time and went through the usual procedure of getting ready to go. When the map was uncovered in the briefing room we all gave a sigh, knowing Hamburg was a tough target. For what ever reason I believe the entire crew felt this would be our last mission. We would not be flying our regular plane due to an engine problem and were assigned one from another squadron.

 When we had finished all out checks we all gathered in the tent and waited by the fire until start engine time. It was the usual procedure to kid one another and shoot the bull but everyone was quiet on the morning. We never told the ground crew where we were going, it was against security regulations, but they had a good idea about the target by observing our actions. I am sure they knew we were "sweating this one out." They were a swell bunch and would do everything in their power to  help us get back.

 We took off at 0715 hours and assembled over England. We left the English coast at 0900 and went up over the North Sea. The weatherman had told us the weather conditions were not good, which soon became evident. The wind was supposed to be about 150 knots at altitude, but it was much stronger. Consequently we drifted about 30 miles south of course which put us almost over Holland. The lead navigator began to correct out heading which made us fly almost directly into the wind, reducing our ground speed to under 100 miles per hour. 

 We were supposed to come in above Helgoland Island but instead came in below and had to turn directly into the wind to reach the I.P. We were talking over the interphone and wondering what was going to happen next. Helogland, our secondary target, was heavily defended; still we wished we could drop our bombs there.

 We finally got to our I.P., turned on the rack switch, opened the Bomb Bay doors and started down the bomb run. At this point we usually turned off our heated flying suits because the nervous energy was enough to keep us warm. Out turn to the bomb run heading was to the right and we were on the outside causing us to lag a little, but we were able to get back in position.

 We could see the target from the I.P. and it took us 10 minutes to get over it. A group hit an airfield off our right. We could also see the groups in front of us getting shot at and we knew we would soon be in the middle of the action, No one was saying a word, we were just hoping and praying we would come through without trouble.

 Finally we got back into the flak which was really close. We could hear the shells as the burst, which is too close for comfort. On our Frankfurt mission told the boys that I could hear the pieces of shrapnel hitting the ship and they had all said I was getting "Flak Happy."  I knew they would agree with me this time.

 At 1133  the lead ship dropped his smoke bombs which was the signal for all of the wing ships to drop their bombs. Andy hit the toggle switch and out went our bombs. You always felt better as soon as the bombs were gone; the job was done. We started for our rally point, after flying about two minutes, Carson, the Ball Turret Gunner, called Bill and reported oil pouring out of the number three engine. This was confirmed by the oil pressure gauge and Bill feathered No# 3. After three stopped turning, Carson called with he news that number four was also leaking oil. Bill feathered it also, and with only two engines running we could not maintain altitude or stay with the formation speed wise. We could have still made it without the other complications to follow.

 Bill exhorted us to "Stick with it and we could still make it home." I gave him a heading for the North Sea. Bill tried unsuccessfully to call in fighter escort, they had been grounded by the weather over England. There had been "bandits" reported in the area and at that instant Joe yelled that they were coming in at six o'clock. I looked through the astro dome and saw two FW-190s coming up on our tail. We could see tracers as they passed us, 20mm shells were also flying around. Now we all realized our chances of getting through were slim.

 A 20mm shell exploded in the cockpit and knocked all the insulation between the pilots compartment and the nose into the nose. The ship was on fire and when it started to enter a spin I knew it was time to leave. When I got to the escape hatch Bob was lying on the catwalk on his back. Thinking he was hurt I started to help him, but he got up and told me to get out. I put my foot on the door and pushed it our and then jumped. Andy was following me and when he got to the door Bob was there and Andy followed him out. Clearing the ship I took off  helmet and pulled my rip cord, looking back I saw the ship explode.

 Bill said he reached behind his head to fire the berry pistol to call for help and 20mm exploded which knocked him out. We he came to he rang the bail out bell and managed to get his chute on. When he got down in the nose the ship blew up. He came to falling through space and pulled his rip cord. The next thing he knew he was on the ground and Krauts were standing around him. They told him another boy  had been found with his chute open but he was dead. This was undoubtedly Bob Freshour since he was reported killed and the rest of us POWs or missing in action.

  I don't know what happened to the rest of the boys, but I think Basil and Joe were killed by the fighters; Carson was unable to get out of the Ball and Fortney did not have his chute on. There is no way to be sure since we never saw each other after take-off -- unless we were in the same compartment.
I lost my gloves when I jumped and could not get may hand in my pockets dure to the chute hareness being too tight. They turned white and stiff but I thought that the loss of a hand was a small price to pay for life.
 I bailed out at 27000 feet and it took about fifteen minutes to reach the ground. I landed in the middle of field and had visions of gettng to some near by woods until I saw a bumch of Krauts with rifles coming from all directions. The Germans searched me and told me the war was over for me.  

The two men who got to me first had quite an argument over who should get credit for my capture. Finally one of them told me to gather up my chute and it on the back of his bike and push the bike down the road. I feared they were going to take me into town and lynch me; this was not the case as I was turned over to the local Bourgemaster.
 I stayed there until about 1800 hours when a German Major came to find my name rank and serial number. Since he did not understand English he asked me to write it down in his book. When I took the book I noticed Tom Pace's name and knew he was safe. In about another hour the guard who had captured me came and took me to a German Airfield. Tom Pace was also there. Inside they searched us for any concealed weapons and took all out personal belongings. Afterwards they took us through some woods to a barracks. As I went out the door I saw Andie's cigarette lighter and through he was probably alive. 
 When we arrived at the barracks they took us into the CO's room where Andy (Andrew Hubert) had been most of the afternoon. One of the Germans could speak a little English so Andy told him we would like some of the bread and potatoes he had been given earlier. The bread hard to digest but we managed to eat most of it, nearly choking in the process - - there would be a time when we would have been very glad to have gotten bread like this.
 At bed time a guard took us into a room which had three straw ticks on the floor. The guard locked us in and posted himself outside. We laid down and tried to sleep, but were too nervous and excited to sleep. Tom told us he had been blown out of the ship. The last thing he remembered he was lying on the floor in the waist and could not move. Then he came to, reached for his rip cord but the concussion had broken his shroud and the chute dangled above his head. He finally gathered his wits and pulled the rip cord.
 On Tuesday Jan 2 we left on a two and one half day trip to the Frankfurt Interrogation center. We were on about six different trains, riding in the same car as the Germans.
 We had a big scare at noon on the second day. Approaching Fulda, the target we attacked December 27th, when the sirens started to sound and the train stopped. All the people jumped off and into track ditches. Soon the bombs began to fall and it sounded like nothing I have ever heard. When the raid was over the train could not move due to damaged tracks. We had to walk all way through  the town to get to another train. Bombs had fallen all over the city killing lots of people and setting many fires. The civilians recognized us and wanted to lynch us, our guards would not allow it. We were very thankful for the character of our guards. Coming to the other train we found about 20 other American airmen who had been captured. Many were from our group--Not surprising when we found the 100th had lost 12 aircraft on December 31, 1944.

MEMO 2:

KIA / MIA / EVA / INT INFORMATION:

TARGET: Hamburg DATE: 1944-12-31  
AIRCRAFT: "Grumblin Gremlin"(43-38215) CAUSE: FLAK-EAC-Explosion  

BURIAL INFORMATION

PLOT: ROW:  
GRAVE: CEMETERY:  

PHOTOS:

 Original crew of Billy B. Blackman and "GRUMBLIN GREMLIN" From left; Robert E. Fortney, William Sterrett, Robert E. L. Freshour, Thomas C. Pace, Michael V. Repole, Byron Nelson, Andrew M. Herbert, Billy B. Blackman, Joseph T. Pearl and Basil Numack. Detailed Information (100th Photo Archives) 

 

SERVED IN:

Crew 1

Crew 2

ID: 385