Friday, April 6, 2012

Historical Fragments #4: Notes for "26 Missions."

Historical Fragments #4:
Notes for "26 Missions"
An Enlisted Bombardier


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

(all rights to this material retained by author)

            Robert Willis Grove entered the service on October 8, 1941.  From late August, 1942, until the summer of 1943, he was with VIII Bomber Command (later known as the 8th Army Air Force) in England.  From November 24, 1943, until August 3, 1945, he was in training as an Air Cadet.  On August 4, 1945, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. United States Army Air Forces.
            The official documentation on hand tells us nothing of Willis Grove’s activities within the Army Air Forces between his date of enlistment and the date of his first advancement in rank in the summer of 1942.  An accounting between those dates should list his place of basic training and the various aircrew specialty schools he attended immediately after basic.  There is some possibly that his service records as either an enlisted man or his later records as a commissioned officer, if any such records have survived the system, would have those items listed.  However, it is my understanding that said records, if existent, can only be released at the request of the immediate family.
            What we do have is document ‘W. D., A. G. O. Form No. 58,” which certifies that “Private Robert W. Grove, 19060476, 92nd Bombardment Group (H), AAF,” has been advanced to the rank of “Corporal, 407th Bombardment Squadron (H), AAF.”  The certificate finishes by stating, “Given under my hand at Sarasota Army Airport, Sarasota, Florida this first day of July in the year of our Lord on thousand nine hundred and forty-two.  James S. Sutton, Lieutenant Colonel, AAF, commanding.”
            The 92nd Bombardment Squadron (H) was brought into existence on January 28, 1942, and activated on the 1st of March, 1942.  The (H) within the Squadron’s name stood for “Heavy” — referencing one of the army’s two types of four engine bombers in service at that time, in this case the B-17 (the other being the B-24).
            In his book “The Mighty Eighth in WWII,” Brigadier General J. Kemp McLaughlin, United States Air Force (Retired), recalls his arrival on the last day of April, 1942, at the 92nd Bombardment Group’s headquarters at MacDill Army Airfield on the west coast of Florida — the airfield itself being situated at the southern tip of a peninsula within Tampa Bay.  Arriving as a newly minted 2nd Lieutenant, Kemp was assigned to the 92nd’s 407th Bombardment Squadron.  In May the 407th Squadron was repositioned a little further down the coast at Sarasota Army Airfield.
            Kemp writes that in the middle of June the 407th was ordered to redeploy men and equipment north to Westover Air Base in Massachusetts.  On several of the ferrying flights Kemp was copiloting for Lieutenant Eugene Wiley of Denver, Colorado — the same Eugene Wiley whose propellers would later chew the tail off Lieutenant “Jimmy” Dempsey’s B-17 during the initial stage of the 407th’s first actual combat mission.  And on each of the two above noted ferrying flights, according to the then 2nd Lieutenant Kemp, on approaching New York City, Lieutenant Wiley buzz the Empire State Building with his B-17 — a stunt officially frowned upon.
            Despite Wiley’s delight at hot-rodding his four engine bomber, the reports regarding Lieutenant Wiley and Dempsey’s above noted mid-air collision over the water between England and France make it clear that the accident resulted from a compounded series of circumstances neither Wiley nor Dempsey initiated.
            As for Willis Grove’s listed position of bombardier on Dempsey’s aircraft during that mid-air incident, our assumption is that Grove was first attached to the 407th Bombardment Squadron sometime between March 1st and July 1st, 1942 — most likely closer to the former.  The question none of this answers is when Willis Grove would have received his Military Occupational Specialty classification of enlisted bombardier.  Did he receive the schooling necessary to be classified as such prior to assignment with the 407th or after assignment with the 407th?
            Within the available literature there is quite a bit of ongoing confusion between the terms “enlisted bombardier” and ‘togglier” — confusion that results in the insistence by some that these terms are interchangeable.  The term togglier came into common use later in World War II and designated a member of the aircrew assigned the task of flipping the switch used to drop the bombs.  Although somewhat more complicated than suggested, reports from airmen who had that job indicate it only took one or two days of special training to become a togglier.  Essentially the togglier’s job during the bomb run was to sit in the nose of the aircraft and watch the lead bomber.  When the bomb bay doors on the lead aircraft were opened, the togglier opened the doors on his aircraft.  When the lead bombardier dropped his bombs, all the other bombardiers or toggliers in the group dropped theirs.  Before and after the actual bomb run, the togglier would resume his usual position on the aircraft — which appears to have normally been that of gunner.
            Various visual systems seem to have been used to designate the lead bomber other than position since that designation could, due to circumstance, change during the course of an attack.  Also systems such as the firing of specifically colored flares or painting the lead bomber’s bombs a bright color have been mentioned as visual aids for the other bombers within the group.  These are operational details that appear to have evolved over the course of the war — since wars tend to be learn-as-you-go experiences.  This means that different sources from different units during different time-periods can be quite inconsistent as to their descriptions of a typical bomb run.
            What does seem to be consistent is that having a group of 18 to 36 bombers flying in tight formation while each aircraft’s bombardier independently sighted and maneuver toward the target was infeasible.  Since only the lead aircraft actually used a bombsight to pinpoint the target, any shortcoming as to the number of qualified bombardiers within the formation could be made up for by designated toggliers.  Since said toggliers could be enlisted members of the aircrew, confusion has developed between the assigned position of togglier and the MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) of Enlisted Bombardier.
            It’s well documented that prior to the beginning of World War II enlisted army airmen were trained in the art of aerial bombardment.  Sources seem to suggest that between December of 1941 and the spring of 1942 a decision was made to discontinue the training of enlisted bombardiers.  After that rather ambiguous time frame it appears all new army bombardiers were expected to be commissioned officers.
            It also appears that the use of previously trained enlisted bombardiers continued throughout the war, primarily in small tactical operations in which individual aircraft were expected to select and bomb targets of opportunity within the designated area of operation.  As for enlisted bombardiers assigned to the massive VIII Bomber Command, a directive in place as of the summer of 1942 specifically forbid they fly as bombardiers.  No documentation has yet been found for the rationale beneath this policy.
            Regarding the training required to become an enlisted bombardier, War Department Technical Manual TM 12-427, “Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel 12 July 1944,” describes the duties of MOS 509 — Bombardier — as, “Releases bombs on enemy targets from a bombardment airplane.”  So far it sounds exactly like a togglier.  But then the MOS goes on to say, “Adjust bombsight for such specific conditions as ground speed, elevation, and drift.  Identifies target and sights it through optical system of bombsight when pilot begins the run, releasing bombs when target is seen in correct relation to appropriate markings on bombsight.  Corrects bombsight adjustments when course is altered.  Reports effect of bomb hits to airplane commander.  Inspects and makes flight adjustments to bombsight and bomb release mechanisms.  Fires aerial machine guns.  Reads maps to identify and locate ground targets.”  And finally, “Must be physically qualified for high altitude flight.”
            This not only describes the same set of duties required of a commissioned bombardier, it also describes a set of skills not likely to be learned in a one or two day togglier’s class.
            To clarify it even further, the index of War Department Technical Manual TM 12-427 has two listings for “Bombardier.”  Under “B” we find “Bombardier SSN 509 page 67.”  Under “E” we find “Enlisted Bombardier SSN 509 page 67.”  It should be noted that both index references send the reader to the same MOS on the same page.  It should also be clarified that the initials “SSN”, when used in Technical Manual TM 12-427, stand for “Specification Serial Number.”
            All the above would suggest that the term “enlisted bombardier” was commonly used within the service when a specially trained and recognized bombardier wasn’t a commissioned officer.  That and the fact the Technical Manual TM 12-427 is specifically titled “Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel.”
            There’s no “specification serial number” for togglier in this army manual — no SSN for the term togglier or any of the several other arguable spellings of that term.  The general consensus among those that have looked into this is that the term togglier wasn’t recognized as an occupational specialty by the Army Air Forces.  All this would imply that any suggestion that enlisted bombardiers and toggliers were the same thing is incorrect and somewhat disrespectful since it discounts the two to three months of very intense training enlisted bombardiers underwent to earn their bombardier wings — a special insignia common to both enlisted and commissioned bombardiers; a special insignia that unit assigned toggliers would not have been permitted to wear.
            As for Robert Willis Grove’s entitlement to wear those wings, we have his son’s few recollections of the stories his father told, and two bits of physical evidence.
            First, this image of five names clipped from a two page set of orders dated 7 March, 1945 — orders transferring all the within listed airmen to a school for pilot training near Glendale, Arizona.  Reading across the list, first comes the trainee’s current rank, then, in parenthesis, the new student’s current specialty as signified by his MOS/SSN number, and lastly his name and military serial number.  Reading down the list of MOS numbers for the five airmen shown, we see; “612,” Airplane Armorer-Gunner; “757,” Radio Operator-Mechanic-Gunner, AAF; “509,” Bombardier; “750,” Airplane Maintenance Technician; “114,” Machinist.  This would suggest that the Army Air Forces considered Staff Sergeant Grove’s military specialty to be enlisted bombardier as of March 7, 1945 — as we contend he had been considered since at least the time of his first uncompleted combat mission in October of 1942.

Original document courtesy of Gordon Grove.

            Next is an undated photograph showing a platoon of aviation cadets at Luke Field, Arizona (most certainly from 1945).  Robert Grove is in the front row, fourth from left.  Of the 27 Air Cadets shown in this photo, Grove is the only one wearing campaign ribbons and wings.  An enlarged clip of Cadet Grove suggests to anyone familiar with Army Air Forces aircrew wings that Cadet Grove’s wings are those of a bombardier.  The wearing of these items for this photo appears to be within military protocol as it has been explained to me.

Photo courtesy of Gordon Grove.

Willis Grove's wings and ribbons.
Clipped from above photo.