Saturday, March 17, 2012

Historical Fragments #3: Notes for "26 Missions."

Historical Fragments #3:
Notes for “26 Missions”


Wally Lee Parker
(member: Clayton/Deer Park Historical Society)

(all rights to this material retained by author)

… initial thoughts …

            Currently I’m trying to put together a story about one of Deer Park, Washington’s, WWII veterans, Staff Sergeant Robert Willis Grove — Enlisted Bombardier / Armorer / Left Waist Gunner — 407th Bombardment Squadron, 92nd Bomb Group (Heavy), 8th Army Air Force.  One piece of this story will involve the several well-known tail damage photographs reproduced here.  Among the other pieces comprising the completed story will be an outline of the Grove family’s long history within the Deer Park community and Willis Grove’s twenty-five other B-17 missions over wartime Europe.

Tail damage to B-17E #41-9020.
Army Signal Corps photo taken on October 5, 1942, at Bovingdon Airfield, England.
(Photo courtesy of Gordon Grove.)

            I suppose the Willis Grove story could be sketched without any detailed exposition — meaning without discussing anything requiring in-depth research.  And that would be easiest.  Willis passed away some time ago, so I can’t ask him to tell his own story and then just transpose that into script.  His absence from the project means I don’t have his words to direct me toward what I need to know in order to stitch this story together.  So as noted, I could just lay out the several remarkable wartime photos his son, Gordon, sent me as a photo essay without looking any deeper.   But I think there’s something unique about this soldier’s story that needs to be told — something unique that only further research can reveal.

From left to right: Lt. James C. Dempsey Jr. — pilot; Lt. James B. Foster — co-pilot; Staff Sergeant Robert W. Grove — bombardier; Corporal Sidney Hardaway — flight engineer/top turret gunner; PFC Stanly W. Brooks — assistant engineer/gunner; Corporal R. B. Sandlin — radio operator; Tech Sergeant John Paulick — assistant radio operator/gunner; Sergeant J. M. Kirk — rear gunner.  Not shown, Lt. W. D. Toole — navigator.  (Though officially rated as a enlisted bombardier — MOS # 509 — it’s likely Staff Sergeant Grove’s position on this flight was that of gunner since the 8th Air Force’s official policy was that only commissioned officers could fly as bombardiers.)
(Photo courtesy of Gordon Grove.)

            Willis Grove represents a generation of teenage and barely older boys who went off to war and by-in-large came home to live quiet lives, seldom saying much of anything about what they personally did or how they personally felt about the war.  It’s only been in the last quarter century, as their numbers have noticeably dwindled, that the soldiers of World War II have begun to show that literally none of them came away from combat without to some degree being torn.  When they do talk — in those moments when their eyes glisten and maybe a drop or two of tear rolls free — it seems most of the pain recalled isn’t for the harm done to them personally by either circumstance or the enemy.  Rather the tears are for those dimly recalled friends left behind almost seven decades ago — those dimly recalled faces destined to never age.
            From the summer of 1942 until the summer of 1943 Willis Grove was caught up as part of the largest air armada the world has ever seen.  He was taking part in an aerial campaign of scorched earth as first envisioned in the waning days of World War I by Winston Churchill, among others.  He was taking part in what, at that time, was very much an experiment that no one was sure would work.  He was very much part of an experiment in calculated attrition.
            The story that needs to be told here involves fear and the will to overcome it.  After all, the one thing these boys quickly developed was an appreciation for the amount of jeopardy doing their duty placed them in.  That’s very much a part of this story — the fact that these young kids, despite knowing the risk, went into the air again and again and again.
            The object now is to start gathering the parts for this story.  At some point the various parts will begin to find and settle into their own place.  And then, hopefully, we’ll discover that the story has written itself.  

… our windows began to frost up …

            These are the words of Lt. Eugene Wiley, pilot, regarding the mid-air collision of his B-17 with a B-17 flown by Lt. James Dempsey Jr. during the early part of the 8th Air Force’s October 5th, 1942, mission to Lille, France — what was to have been Willis Grove’s first combat mission.
            As we climbed out over the North Sea into the sun, our windows began to frost up, the silica gel from the old E’s needed replacing and it was not doing the job of removing the moisture in the windows.  The sun and frost made it extremely difficult to see.”
            Thought visibility was only one of the factors in the collision, from the first hand reports on the incident it’s apparent that visibility did contribute.  And that contribution has drawn up a set of research questions regarding the windscreens on the B-17s.
            The following is a background description of part of that visibility problem.  Since the paragraphs below are just an attempt to lay out the essential facts, the words used in the actual article are likely to be significantly altered during the many rewrites yet to come.

            The windows on the B-17 bomber were glazed with two types of material — laminated glass and clear plastic.  Discovered in the late 1870s, and first produced as large, visually clear sheets in the 1930’s, acrylic (aka polymethyl-methacrylate or PMMA) was the substance of choice for the complex curves of the B-17’s “greenhouse” nose.  As for the craft’s glass windscreens, those were composed of two sheets of glass bonded together by thin films of clear, tough, flexible plastic — the same type of lamination process used in today’s automobile windshields.  Though the lamination process did increase the windscreens’ resistance to impact, more importantly any glass shards produced by a broken window tended to adhere to the bonding plastic rather than spraying throughout the aircraft’s interior — and the laminated glass, even if essentially shattered, could still remain intact enough to deflect the onrushing airstream.
            The primary function of the various windscreens was exactly that — allowing visibility while shielding the crew from a pristine airstream that could, at altitude, reach temperatures of minus 50º Fahrenheit or more, and — by adding the effect of wind-chill to such frigid air — produced a heat eroding cold that could freeze bare flesh in seconds.
            During the combat phase of missions, the airstream was far from pristine.  Often filled with energetically propelled bullets and flack, it also contained a metallic grit of sorts; grit composted of spent munitions falling toward the ground with, on occasion, pieces torn from other aircraft mixed in.  While some of the B-17’s windscreens — such as the tail gunner’s aft-looking sighting window — were extra thick, none were expected to deflect a still potent bullet hitting straight on.  However, against smaller metal fragments dropping through the sky solely under the influence of gravity, laminated glass could provide the crew of an onrushing aircraft at least some protection.
            Certain B-17 windscreens were double-glazed as an anti-frost measure.  Reportedly the pilot and co-pilot’s forward facing windscreens, the cabin’s sliding side-windows, and the pie-shaped, flat laminated glass bombardier’s segment of the otherwise acrylic nose of the bomber were all double glazed  meaning two panes of laminated glass separated by a dead-air space.  The sighting windows for the turret, ball, and tail gunner were also anti-frost.
            The bombers did have a cabin heating system.  Glycol (in this case a 55/45% mixture of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol), pumped through a metal coil in the exhaust stack of the left wing’s inner engine  engine #2  was heated by the glowing combustion gases (reportedly the area of the exhaust stack in which the coil was situated could reach up to 1600ºF).  The glycol was fed through a duct-enclosed radiator mounted inside the left wing close to the fuselage.  Fresh air drawn from an extraction port in the #2 engine’s intercooler intake was routed through the ductwork.  When passing through the radiator the air was heated.  The heated air was then vented into the aircraft’s heating system.
            Ductwork inside the floor of the fuselage diverted a portion of the incoming heated air to vents opening under the pilot and co-pilot’s windscreens, and to the bombardier’s sighting windscreen.  As for effectiveness, one former B-17 crewman reported that those were the most effective of the aircrafts heating vents, stating that more than once he’d noted the cabin’s unheated side-window covered with “hoarfrost,” while the pilots and bombardier’s windows were clear.
            Then of course there were the windshield wipers one would assume only useful for clearing mist or rain from the windscreen while sitting or taxiing.
            But Lieutenant Wiley’s description of the visibility problem specifically included the phrase, “the silica gel from the old E’s needed replacing and it was not doing the job of removing the moisture in the windows.”
            When Lieutenant Wiley described the “moisture in the windows,” he’s referring to a specific problem mention on page 375 of 1942’s “Technical Order Number 01-20EF-2,”  also known by the more explanatory title, “B-17 Erection and Maintenance Instructions.”
            Under the heading “assembly and installation” of “windows,” one paragraph states, “The dehydrator unit is designed to assure complete absence of moisture in the air or gas trapped between the panels and the success of the defroster equipment depends upon the maintenance of a dry air condition.”
            What’s being referenced is the dead-air space trapped between the double-panes of the aircraft’s anti-frost windscreens.
            It’s likely that the glass panels of the double glazed windscreens were held separate by a rubber gasket, and then sealed into their frames with some type of calking.  The necessity of using a “dehydrator unit” as noted above suggests that air-tightness  in the sense of an absence of leakage was not an expectation for the windscreens.  Climbing would raise the pressure of the desiccated air trapped between the double panes relative to the lower pressure of the outside air.  It’s likely the extreme cold found at altitude would both shrink and reduce the flexibility of the calking materials  speeding the outward leakage of the trapped and now relatively pressurized air.   Once air had leaked out of the dead-air space, the increasing atmospheric pressure of descending flight would have pushed moist outside air back into the now reduced pressure within the dead-air space.
            The dehydration unit was a visually clear, cellulosic plastic (aka Tenite) cylinder about one inch thick and ten inches long.  The otherwise closed cylinder had a nipple fixed to one end so a length of rubber tubing could be attached.  The cylinder was attached to the aircraft near the window it was intended to service, and the free end of the rubber tubing was connected to a fitting on the intended window.  Once attached, the air in the dead-air space could circulate through the granular silica desiccant contained in the cylinder the cylinder being what was referred to in the maintenance material as the dehydration unit.
            As for how Wiley knew “the silica gel from the old E’s needed replacing”  other than the fact that “the windows began to frost up”  it was obvious from the color.
            Despite being called a gel, silicon dioxide is a granular solid.  It likely retains that name from the gel state it passes through during manufacture.  The granules are colorless  in this case meaning white.  To visually signal the presence of moisture, cobalt chloride is added to the gel.  As the maintenance manual explains, the “presence of moisture in the dehydrating compound is indicated by a change in color from normal dark blue or dry condition to a white or light pink.
            The manual goes on to say, “The silica gel crystals may be restored for re-use by baking at a temperature of 149ºC (300ºF) for 4 hours, or until all crystals regain their dark blue color.  Discard cartridges or replace with new silica gel crystals after 20 reactivations.”
            And finally the manual promises, “These precautions, when properly followed, will relieve any condition of fogged or frosted windows.”

… and yet to come …

            If all goes well, you’ll begin to see this story condense over the coming summer.  At some point you’ll have enough data to understand the story’s background, and I’ll have enough data to begin laying all these notes out as one linear script.  We’ll see.

As always, comments and corrections are welcomed. —

Monday, March 12, 2012

Historical Fragments #2: More Mr. Brook.

Historical Fragments #2:
More regarding Washington Brick & Lime’s Mr. Brook.


Wally Lee Parker
(Member: Clayton/Deer Park Historical Society)

            History is very much a mess.  When history is presented as one clean, seamless, unambiguous stream of high definition facts, images, and deductions, the writer of said history has either done an exceptionally detailed job of research, or the writer has swept all the messy, not quite fitting bits up into one tidy pile and nudged them neatly under the rug.  Look closely at the pattern lining the floor of most any beautifully concise historical set piece and you’re likely to see the lumps.  That’s just the way history works.
            On the other hand, it’s all those little unfitted bits that keep historians employed or, as in the case of us unpaid amateur volunteers, engaged.  Each of these ignored bits, once understood well enough to be fitted into the overall puzzle, has the potential of significantly revising things that most everyone had previously agreed upon. 
            As for coming to an agreement in the first place, a number of questions about our incoming data were left unresolved from the last “Fragments” — that particular article having been spent rummaging around the few known facts about the life of Washington Brick & Lime’s co-founder, Henry Brook.  Since that article was first posted, a few new questions have been added to the unresolved jumble.

Photo courtesy of Randy Holman
Descendant of Henry & Kezia Brook
            Regarding the names of Henry Brook’s daughters, some progress has been made.  A page from the Spokane Falls City Directory has surfaced listing Miss Annie M, Miss Helen, Miss Kate W. and Miss Lottie W. — all stated as living at 706 5th Ave.  The directory was printed sometime between 1890 and 1896.  The date of publication obviously needs to be pulled down tighter.
            My suspicion is that nicknames were often used when referring to these daughters – and nicknames for young debutants apparently tend to change as the girls’ age.  Such changes, along with typesetter’s errors, might help explain the several disparate first names found in the newspapers.  But there’s also the fact that simply living at the same residence doesn’t mean all the girls being referred to as “Miss Brook” in the city directory had to be siblings.  Some could be Henry’s nieces or even his unmarried sisters — if there were any such — though at this point I’m going to assume that’s not the case.  At this point we just don’t know for certain.  I’m casting some doubt because, as cautioned in the first “Fragments”, making assumptions to bridge these gaps in our knowledge has a way of coming back to haunt.
            What we do know is that Henry had five daughters, so at least one daughter is missing from the city directory’s list.  We also know one of his daughters drowned at a young or relatively young age.  But if we assumed the drowned daughter is the one missing from the city directory, we’d be wrong.
            An article — part of which is reproduced below — appeared in the July 19, 1899 issue of The Chronicle.
            It will be a sad party which will arrive here this evening on the Northern Pacific from Rathdrum bringing the bodies of Misses Charlotte W. Brook and Marion S. Porter, two popular young ladies of this city, who were drowned yesterday afternoon while boat riding on Spirit Lake.
            The two young ladies had been at Spirit Lake since the Fourth of July.  Yesterday afternoon they, in company with Miss Hattie McCallum and Messrs. Fred Chamberland and J. H. Moseley, all of this city, were out on the lake in a small row boat … 100 yards from the shore it capsized, throwing the occupants into the water
            “ … In a short time after the accident the bodies of the two young ladies were recovered by divers, and every effort was made to resuscitate them, but to no avail, life being extinct.
            Both of the young ladies were well known in this city, and had a wide circle of friends.  Miss Brook, who was familiarly known as Lottie by her friends, is a daughter of Henry Brook, president of the Washington Brick and Lime Company, and she has lived in this city for the past 18 years, having come here with her parents when she was but three years old.”
            So now we know that “Lottie” was actually “Charlotte W. Brook.”
            As for the other girls, looking in “The Illustrated History of Spokane County,” published in 1900, we find “Kate W. Brook” being married to W. S. McCrea — William Stone McCrea — in 1895.  We know from later articles that her first name was actually “Katharine.” 
            Two of the four directory names now seem accounted for.
            Another “Brook” son-in-law — Mark F. Mendenhall — was married to “Harriet Helen.”  That accounts for “Miss Helen.”
            Now we’re down to one in the Spokane Falls City Directory — Annie M. Brook.
            Backtracking for a moment, it appears we can also account for the one daughter unnamed in the city directory — the fifth daughter.  In “The Illustrated History of Spokane County” we find that son-in-law James E. Daniels’ wife was Mary E. — clearly stated as being the daughter of Henry and Kezia Brook.  The two, Mary and James, were married June 3, 1890 — and apparently (because of her absence from the city directory) the first of Henry’s daughters to marry.
            That leaves one daughter — listed in the directory as Annie M. — and one son-in-law, J. M. Moore.  And it seems reasonable to at least tentatively associate the two.
            So, this is the ‘tentative’ layout of Henry Brook’s family — not of necessity listed in order as far as the ages of the daughters are concerned:
            Henry Brook & wife Kezia Letch-Brook.
            Mary E. Brook & husband James E. Daniels.
            Katharine (Kate) W. Brook & husband, William Stone McCrea.
            Harriet Helen Brook & husband Mark F. Mendenhall.
            Annie M. Brook & husband Joseph. M. Moore?
            And finally, Miss Charlotte W. Brook.
            But when it comes to residents of the Clayton/Deer Park area, there’s likely to be a bit of confusion in all this — confusion regarding J. M. Moore and his (perhaps) wife Annie M. Brook.
             It seems J. M. Moore was a prominent name in pioneer Deer Park.  Page 571 of the Reverend Jonathan Edwards’ “An Illustrated History of Spokane County, State of Washington” — the 1900 edition — states that “J. M. Moore … born in Tazewell County, Virginia, in 1860 … came to Spokane County (in 1888), located at Deer Park and engaged in the lumber business.  He is now proprietor of the only hotel in Deer Park.”  Further on the article says, “He was married in 1886 to Alice Grimes, a native of Virginia …”
            Knowing something of the history of Joseph M. Moore when he resided in Spokane, it seems fairly apparent that we’re talking about two different men.
            And as one last puzzle regarding the family of Henry Brook, below is his biographical data as printed in “The History of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon & Washington, Volume II.” This tome was published in 1889.
            The record of this gentleman is not only a satisfactory commentary upon his own business capacity, but also upon the dimensions of the business of the city, and a scale of its enterprises, since his coming here in 1883.
            Mr. Brook was born in England in 1842, and came to America in 1870, locating at Minneapolis. He reached Spokane Falls in 1883, doing since that time a very successful business. In 1885 he was elected a member of the city council, and while in that office favored the measure to buy the waterworks and furnish the people water at cheap rates. He is no less enthusiastic than his neighbors in his confidence in that city. He is married and has a family of six children.”
            The last bit of data — assuming it’s not an error — says Henry has six children.  We have his five daughters listed above.  Assuming the article in the “History of the Pacific Northwest,” is not in error, where is this sixth child?
             Perhaps he’s at Spokane’s Fairmount Memorial Park.
            Going back to a 1954 Spokane Daily Chronicle article about one of Henry and Kezia’s daughters, Katharine McCrea, the newspaper reported that “Katharine Brook came west from Minnesota with her parents and brothers and sisters.”  Add that to an internet listing of graves found a Fairmount Memorial Park — graves that appear to be in close proximity to each other – and we may have just found that sixth child.
            The names of interest are Henry Brook, age 65; Kezia Brook, age 62; Lottie Brook, age 21; and Harry Brook, age 4.  The source for these names state that they were copied directly from the cemetery’s records.  To make certain this is a family grouping, it will be necessary to visit the park and look at the stones.  I’m adding that to my ‘to do’ list.
            The problem here is that we have no date for Harry Brook’s death.  Six children are mentioned in the 1889 “History of the Pacific Northwest” book.  Brothers” are mentioned as having arrived in Spokane Falls with the family in the 1954 article.  And Harry is listed as being 4 years old at the time of his death.  If Harry was the sixth child, and if he was with the arriving family in September of 1883, his death would need to have occurred no later than 1887 for all of these factors to mesh together.  Of course the biographical data in the 1889 book could have been several years or more old at the time of publication.  But still, it’s a puzzle.  That and the plural form of “brothers” used in the 1954 article.
            And lastly, there’s this bit of unique data scoured from the internet.  It appears as part of a family history file regarding one George Theodore Belden, born in Rome, Ohio, in 1840 — and apparently an acquaintance of our Henry Brook.  The history file was posted on one the larger genealogy sites.  The material itself is stated as having been extracted from handwritten materials, possibly journals, letters and the like.  Since copyright may be involve, and since my attempts to contact the players responsible for posting the material have so far proven fruitless, I’ll paraphrase as much as possible when using the material in question.
            During the winter of 1882-’83, Mr. Belden — at that time residing in Hutchinson, Minnesota — came into possession of two publications, an unnamed “west coast magazine” and “a chronicle” (the Spokane Falls Chronicle was published between 1881 and 1890, and is therefore likely the “chronicle” meant).  Those publications contained “write-ups” about “Spokane Falls” and the “Inland Empire.”  In March of 1883 Mr. Belden, “in company with the late Henry Brook and a few others,” struck out for the Washington Territory.  According to the family file, the journey began on a stagecoach pushing through “huge snow drifts.”  The record as presented on the website seems disjointed and incomplete — as is likely the source material.  It indicates the second night was spent “snow bound in Iowa.”  If the time scale is correct, and considering the distances involved, our assumption would be that somewhere between Hutchinson, Minnesota and the boundary into Iowa, the group boarded a railroad train, and that it was the train that was snowbound in Iowa.
            Regardless, the narrative goes on to say from Iowa the group followed “the southern route to San Francisco.”  Other sources indicate that a portion of the northern transcontinental railroad route through Montana’s Rocky Mountains to Spokane wasn’t completed until early 1883.  Those sources also noted that said transcontinental route wasn’t open for regular travel until September of that year — 1883.  The Belden material indicates the Belden/Brook party continued on from San Francisco to Portland — apparently arriving in Portland on “March 28.”
            As an indicator of the time on the road, the material says “the three weeks travelers rolled into Spokane,” — leaving the impression that it was likely at the very tail end of March when Belden and Brook stepped off the train in Spokane.
            As for what Brooks did in Spokane, this quote.  Mr. Belden bought half a block where the first gas works was afterwards located.  (-----), there Mr. Brook & himself built their first houses.”
            It seems evident that the families weren’t with the men on their early spring arrival in Spokane because the material goes on to indicate that “Mr. Belden” then returned “over the Rockies by four horse stage” to Minnesota, to retrieve “the two families” — assumedly those families being his and Henry Brook’s.
            As a final note relevant to Henry Brook, the above material states, “The families came in September on one of the first trains, meeting Gen. Grant and other notables who had attended the driving of the last spike.”
            The Saturday, September 8, 1883 issue of the Spokane Falls Review detailed the preparations that had been made for that day’s celebration of the completion of the transcontinental route through Spokane Falls.  The next Saturday’s Spokane Falls Review — the one published on September 15 —detailed everything that had gone wrong.  But it also mentioned that General Grant — and all indications make it clear that they meant General Ulysses S. Grant, former President of the United States — was with the prior Saturday’s visiting party of dignitaries.  The Spokane Falls Review finished its article — headlined “Somewhat Short / The Intentions Were Good, But the Execution Prevented” — by saying, “The spike was not driven until a late hour Saturday, and the trains were behind hand at every point on the route.  We wish it had been otherwise, but as it was not, do no not propose to kick and find fault,” — this last quote’s wording — apparent typos and all — is exactly as seen in the paper.
            The above would suggest that it was indeed September 8th when the “two families” arrived in Spokane.
            As noted, I would hope that someday we could provide details as to the circumstance of how the quoted Belden family file was collected — details as to the authors, and perhaps even photo-reproduction of the original handwritten pages from which the above notations were extracted.  That at least would be my hope.