Chapter 2 – The War

Oliver had barely finished high school when the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and he had just turned 20 when the Japanese bombed the U.S. Pacific Fleet on December 7, 1941. As Tom Brokaw wrote in The Greatest Generation, “When Pearl Harbor made it irrefutably clear that America was not a fortress, this generation was summoned to the parade ground and told to train for war” 1

As a man who was young, single, and fit, Oliver was a perfect candidate to serve his country in the military. As soon as he heard the news on the radio, he knew without a doubt he would be drafted, and accepted that fact unflinchingly. The expected notice came in 1942.

Oliver Cameron. Photos from the Cameron Family Collection.

He reported to Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, Washington for his physical exam. Since he’d had some previous radio experience and was interested in the field, he was sent to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for training to become a radio operator on a B-24 (heavy bomber).

 The Sioux Falls school was brand new, built in 1942, and relatively small, with only 40 training aircraft at the field. On the B-24 the radioman also doubled as a gunner, so Oliver was sent to gunnery school at Davis-Monthan Army Air Field near Tucson, Arizona when he finished his radio training.

Oliver described some of his gunnery training:

We had some simulated training thing there that you sat in just like you was sitting in an airplane. There was a screen and planes would be coming at you. You had guns there to shoot those planes down. They had some small training planes that had a gun in them. We would ride in the back of that, shooting. A bigger plane would fly dragging a target that we would practice shooting at. From there I was a flight radio instructor for a little while, then they found crews for us.

The sturdy B-24 bomber had a range of 2,000 miles, flew 300 miles per hour, and carried 9,000 pounds of bombs. Its ten crewmembers wore electrically-heated gloves, suits and boots, which did not always function correctly. For these young men, all in their late teens and early twenties like Oliver, crewing a B-24 bomber was a high-stress assignment. Not only were their working conditions inside the B-24 cramped and uncomfortable, but the life expectancy of the crews and planes was short—about 35 bombing missions.

15th Air Force B-24s over the Ploesti oil fields, Romania. US Air Force photo.2
Oliver and his buddies. Photo from the Cameron Family Collection.

In mid-1943, as Oliver was completing his training to crew a B-24, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was still allied with Adolph Hitler in prosecuting total war against the United States and the other Allies. That same summer President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and U.S. General George Marshall, meeting in Casablanca, decided to invade Italy. By mid-August Mussolini had fallen, generals Patton and Montgomery had taken Sicily, and the Italians had surrendered. The Allies were ready to move on to the mainland.

However, although the Italians had officially surrendered, the Germans still had control of most of the country. The conflict to claim it was long, difficult, and bloody as the Allied soldiers fought their way up toward Rome from the southern tip of Italy. This Allied toehold in southern Italy provided a base from which to bomb the Balkans and parts of Europe formerly out of reach. The Allies hurriedly put together the B-24 bomb crews needed to take advantage of this opportunity. The 449th Heavy Bombardment Group was formed in November of 1943 in southern Italy, and Oliver, newly qualified as a radioman and gunner, was assigned to a crew.

Oliver, who had spent his entire life in the State of Washington, had recently seen some of South Dakota and Arizona courtesy of the military. Now his horizons would broaden considerably, beginning with a trip to Florida. 

Oliver and his crew began the journey to Italy from Florida in a B-24 that had auxiliary fuel tanks in the bomb bay and on the wings, but even so, having enough fuel to reach their next stop was sometimes a near thing. A strong headwind on their way to Brazil made fuel tight, but they landed safely. They were stuck in Brazil for a week by bad weather over the Atlantic. It was Christmas the week they were grounded in Brazil. Some of the men “appropriated” a turkey and they celebrated the holiday. 

“They were pretty good at that snitching business,” Oliver said in later years.

When more B-24’s arrived, and the weather cleared, they flew on to Africa. The trip was not uneventful. Once, Oliver was sitting at his radio operator’s position when the plane hit a vacuum pocket and suddenly dropped 1,000 feet straight down. He could see lightning skittering over the outside of the plane, and the noise forced him to remove his radio headset. 

There was only a dirt runway in Dakar, Senegal, but the group managed to land safely, although Oliver witnessed planes sliding off the runway and having to be towed back on.

From Senegal, they flew on across the Sahara Desert where Oliver—born and raised in the wet Pacific Northwest— saw nothing but sand and sand dunes as far as he could see. They landed at Algiers, in northern Africa, and waited for the whole group to assemble, and then flew on across the Mediterranean Sea to southern Italy and the town of Grottaglie.

During the first part of World War II, Grottaglie, Italy, and the nearby airport remained under the control of the Italians. Later in the War, the German Luftwaffe took it over; as a result, the British Royal Air Force bombed it heavily. After the Allies invaded southern Italy in 1943, they rehabilitated the bombed-out airfield and used it as a base for heavy bombers. The 449th with their B-24 Liberators was one of the groups that made use of the airfield beginning in January of 1944.

Airfield at Grottaglie, Italy.
Image from the website of the 449th Bomb Group Association3

Oliver was among those first to land and set up camp on the bombed-out airfield outside Grottaglie, which lies in the heel of the Italian “boot”:

The air strip was patched up, but the hangar was bombed up, lots of tin hanging on it. We got there ahead of our supply ship – no tents, short on grub. We were sleeping in the hangar. Some of the fellows got a bushel of tangerines. Everybody ate too many of them, except me. I knew what would happen. All night long you would hear the tin rattling, somebody going out to relieve himself. Finally we had tents. We set up the tent for each crew. It was chilly weather, not really comfortable. Chappy and Swede, the engineer and assistant flight engineer, made a stove to burn flight fuel. Other guys copied, but didn’t really know what they were doing. Some of them burned down their tents.

Oliver and his fellow airmen made trips into town for food, drink, and recreation. There he befriended a shoemaker, his wife, their daughter (whose husband was in the Italian army), and her small child. 

Each squadron in the 449th consisted of six planes. Oliver had originally been assigned to the 717th squadron, but he and some other men were transferred to the 719th, which had suffered heavy losses. There he remained until he finished his time.

Oliver’s plane was called Dragon Lady #2. The original Dragon Lady was salvaged as scrap after hitting a brick wall while landing. (Fortunately, nobody on the crew had been injured.) 

From the 449th Bomb Group.

In 475 days of combat the 449th lost 103 bombers, 383 airmen were killed, 363 were taken prisoner, and 159 were shot down behind enemy lines and evaded capture.4

On April 4, 1944 the 719th was ordered on a bombing mission to Bucharest, Romania. The squadron consisted of Dragon Lady, Consolidated Mess, Dixie Bell, Paper Doll, Born to Lose, and one unnamed plane. It was a whole wing mission, so other groups were to rendezvous with them. The mission was called off when it was discovered that vital information about the mission had been leaked, but somehow Oliver’s group, with his six-plane squadron bringing up the rear, was not notified and went on alone. They were met by German fighters with belly tanks. When the Germans spotted the Allied planes, they dropped their belly tanks and attacked. Oliver, acting as gunner, started firing as soon as they were within range. His pilot could see the tracers were falling short and called Oliver on the radio to tell him to raise his sights. Oliver complied, and downed the enemy plane. When it was over, their plane had quite a few holes, Oliver had used up all of his ammunition, and he had held the trigger down too long and burned out one of his barrels. Of their squadron, only Dragon Lady returned from the mission. The other five were shot down, their crews killed in action or taken prisoner. 

Olson’s Crew, 719th Squadron. Standing (L to R): Chapman (Flight Engineer), Cellilli (Tail gunner), Lauve (Gunner); Seebeck (Gunner); . Kneeling (L to R): Greenhalgh (Copilot); Olson (Pilot); Siewert (Navigator); Deren (Bombardier); Cameron (Radioman).Photo from the 449th Bomb Group.5

Dragon Lady flew a couple more bombing missions once new crews and aircraft had replaced those lost over Bucharest.  

Then, on April 12, 1944, the 449th, part of the Heavy Bombardment Group’s 47th Wing, was ordered on a mission over Austria.

They were to attack an aircraft factory at Winer Neustadt. They were successful in dropping the bombs, but then came the counterattack. The Allies used a variety of techniques during their bomb run to confuse the enemy fighter planes and the heavy artillery on the ground. One of these tactics was the use of “window” or “chaff,” shredded foil that interfered with the enemy radar. This worked a few times, Oliver recalled, but eventually someone down there “smartened up.”

Unfortunately, the enemy got wise to their “chaff” while Dragon Lady’s bomb bay doors were open, since they had just dropped their bombs on the target. They took a burst of flak just under the open bomb bay doors. This damaged the hydraulic system so the doors would not close, nor could they lower the flaps or landing gear. Dragon Lady fell out of formation.

They flew out of the flak area, but two ME-109 planes attacked them, one of which was shot down by one of Dragon Lady’s waist gunners. However, the enemy gun range was longer than that of their 50 caliber machine guns, and the remaining enemy fighter took out Dragon Lady’s other engine. At 16,000 feet their pilot, Jack, banked the plane steeply and aimed for some hills while trailing smoke from two engines.

They flew into some clouds.

In his book, Of Men and Wings, D. William Shepherd describes what the other squadron members witnessed:

Three 449th B-24s fell victim to the aggressive enemy fighter attacks. Ship #10 [Dragon Lady], manned by Olson’s crew flying in position ‘A-1-5’, “started losing altitude”—probably due to flak damage—as the formation made the rally. The enemy fighters immediately pounced upon the stricken aircraft which had the #4 engine feathered and one wing covered with oil. Ship #10 was “last seen making for clouds just beyond target, time 1207 hours.” 6

The sight of Dragon Lady flying into the clouds and trailing smoke was the last the crews in the flight group would hear or know of Oliver’s crew for several weeks.

Once in the cloud cover, the pilot pulled the plane up so abruptly the crew was pushed back hard in their seats. It was a rough, but cautionary maneuver. He didn’t know how high those hills hidden by the clouds were.

Their goal was to get across the river on the north side of Croatia and crash land in Yugoslavia. If they could escape capture by the Germans, there were partisan groups in Yugoslavia who might help them.

Yugoslavia. Image:

Dragon Lady and crew did make it to Yugoslavian territory, but just barely. Oliver described details of the crash landing:

We had one inboard engine wind-milling, which sets up a lot of drag. With the bomb bay door open creating more drag, we were going down. We clipped the trees on the north side of the river, crossed the river and set it down in a pasture. That open bomb bay plowed up a lot of sod and rolled it up into the bomb bay. That probably saved us. We hit a little something or other and the plane nosed up.

At the moment of impact, Oliver was busily destroying codes and other sensitive material. A large black box came down on him, knocking him out. Deren (the bombardier) and another crewman had taken his place at the radioman’s table, and were trapped as it got crushed in the crash.

Oliver had fallen over onto one of the men at the table as he lost consciousness. When he came to, Deren was struggling to get him off his lap. Oliver used his unauthorized pocket knife to free Deren’s foot from the splintered remains of the table, but the navigator remained trapped. Meanwhile, the pilot and copilot had simply unbuckled their seatbelts and climbed out through a nearby crack that had opened up as the plane rolled up onto the nose turret. 

I went to check on another man. He was an older man who kept fighting me and hollering that both of his legs were broke, but the way he was kicking, I knew they weren’t broken. I felt under the table to see how tight he was caught, and it wasn’t real tight. The co-pilot came around and I turned it over to him. He went around to all the first aid kits to find morphine that was supposed to be in each one, but they had all been emptied. He still gave him a shot from one of the empty vials and the navigator, named Bush, calmed right down.

Oliver had been on the verge of knocking Bush out to get him out of the plane and save both their lives. The shock of the crash had affected his mind, and he continued to insist he was in great pain.

The pilots and crew rushed to get their injured comrades out of the plane, assess their injuries, and administer what first aid they could. They worked as quickly as possible because one of the engines was on fire and the remaining fuel in the wing tanks could have exploded at any moment. 

The greatest fear of downed airmen was that they would fall into the hands of the Germans, who would either take them as prisoners of war or execute them on the spot. Instead, three local men appeared. After speaking with the crewmen, they went to a nearby house and returned with two jacks to help free the second man at the radio table.

At that time, two groups of resistance fighters were rescuing downed American fliers—at grave risk to themselves. The Germans had instituted a policy of  killing 100 Yugoslavs for every German soldier killed, and had been known to wipe out entire villages for hiding Allied airmen, or even on suspicion of doing so. 

The anti-communist, anti-fascist Serbian Chetniks hid and aided several hundred fliers, but the pro-Communist Partisans, mostly Croats, rescued the majority of them. They moved the men by way of an “underground railway” to various pick-up points in Yugoslavia, to be transported back to their bases in Italy. 

Either way, the experiences of fliers rescued in Yugoslavia were much the same:  They were welcomed and aided by strong, sturdy rural village people who hid them in their own homes, haylofts and forests, and fed them from their own meager food supplies. It was fortunate that Dragon Lady had made it across the border and that the crew had fallen into friendly hands. Had they crash-landed in Austria, there would have been little hope that they would have evaded capture.

That night, at the farmhouse where the crew had taken refuge, someone with medical experience examined them. Oliver, with a head injury and with one leg bruised from hip to knee, was in the worst shape.

In the morning, two Yugoslavian political leaders appeared, along with nearly thirty Partisans. The ten crewmen joined the group and began a long journey deep into enemy-held Yugoslavia, all the while avoiding encounters with the Germans. Moving from hiding place to hiding place, the Partisans ferried the crew 380 miles south toward safety at a British mission in the central part of the country.

“Before we got there we had a few interesting experiences,” Oliver recalled. At about one o’clock the next morning, after a few hours of sleep, the crewmen began walking with the group of Partisans down a little valley toward the railroad and a major river.

Oliver, following instructions, squatted in the brush near a German pill box (a hexagonal concrete guard post with small openings through which to shoot). These structures were arranged facing each other, but not close enough to hit each other when guards were shooting. A trip wire was strung through the brush that would alert the men in the pill box to unauthorized intruders, such as Oliver’s group. 

A Partisan touched Oliver’s shoulder, and they crept to the trip wire. Partisans on either side of the wire carefully lifted Oliver’s feet one at a time, setting them over the wire.

There were about fifty in the group, including downed airmen and the thirty Partisans. Negotiating trip wires on each side of a railway line, then being shuttled across the wide river in a little boat ten men at a time, took hours, and they were eager to get out of the exposed valley and into the comparative safety of the forest before it got light.

They reached the forest, exhausted, and made themselves as comfortable as possible, finding what shelter they could from the winter wind. Oliver rested fitfully, sleeping a little, moving around a bit, and then taking another nap. His strongest wish was for a handkerchief to keep his neck warm in the bitter wind. After his return to safety he was never again without one. At full daylight they resumed their journey, heading deeper into the mountains.

On the second day they took the navigator, Bush, to an underground hospital because he was still in shock and unable to keep up. Meanwhile, another downed flyer joined the group. The new man had been a tail gunner on a B-17. He told Oliver that the plane had come down “windmilling like a maple leaf,” and had landed softly enough that he simply walked away from it. A few days later, Oliver’s remaining crew plus the new man separated from the larger group, guided by an English-speaking Partisan who had spent time logging in Oregon.

Oliver’s skill and hardiness as a “country boy” served him well as they trekked across rugged terrain. Along the way he witnessed the suffering of the local populace, and also the enduring hostility between the Croatian Partisans and the Serbian Chetniks: 

We were headed up into those mountains. There was a river coming down from those mountains…the river was in a pretty deep chasm there. There was another trail following along up the river, but there was another group of Yugoslavs. They had always been fighting each other….The other group was on the other side of the river.

These fellows were really hard up. There weren’t enough shoes, coats, guns to go around. These fellows would run up to the front lines barefoot. There was snow on the ground. There was a partner up there about the same size, and they would take his shoes and gun and then he would run back, leaving blood in the snow.

The trail where they had encountered the Chetniks went down a steep hill and then across a cable bridge. At this point Oliver’s crew caught up to a pack train. One of the horses, in poor condition and carrying a forty-pound load, could not go down the trail onto the bridge—its legs would not hold. They unloaded the horse, and Oliver picked up one of the sacks, carrying it to the bridge, and then going back for the other sack. While he was doing that, the others coaxed the horse onto the bridge. 

When Oliver returned with the second sack, they were trying to get the horse across the swaying cable bridge, but it would only go a few steps. They urged the horse forward, but the handler was unable to hold him when, part-way across, the animal reared up, and fell over the cable onto rocks forty feet below. The handler had to shoot the horse.

One night they stayed in a barn, and on another they crowded into a house with several other men. Oliver noted the industry and strength of the local people, as well as certain cultural differences.

One evening, before dark, the group came to a two-story farmhouse with a huge masonry chimney. Their hosts were two middle-aged women and an older man. Oliver, stepping inside, spotted the nearly empty wood box and began cutting firewood, but when the old man started for the barn, Oliver followed him.

A horse stood in a stall with an empty manger. The old man motioned for Oliver to give the horse some hay, but the horse was so close to the side of the stall he couldn’t reach the manger. Seeing this, the old man smacked the horse on the rump and it shifted enough that Oliver could feed it. Oliver noted that the man had asthma and apparently appreciated not having to load the hay. 

The next morning, up before everyone else, Oliver heard a noise in the kitchen. It was one of the women fixing breakfast, but the old man was getting ready to wash his face. Oliver watched, amused, as he took a mouthful of water from a dipper, squirted water into his hands, then wiped it on his face, around his head and ears, did it a second time and was done, a real spit bath.

Oliver had resumed his firewood task when he saw one of the other women going into the barn. Preparing to haul manure, she hitched the horse—the one Oliver had fed the night before—to a little low sled called a stonebolt. Oliver grabbed a fork and helped her load manure, but was once again impressed with Yugoslavian strength, as he was barely able to keep up. When that chore was finished, Oliver went in and ate breakfast with the crew.

Another incident where Oliver’s farm-boy stamina proved useful occurred as his group was following a trail that came out of a patch of timber into a meadow. They spotted a man walking in the timber on the far side. Apparently the guide needed to connect with him and receive instructions before they could continue. The guide called to the other man, who was about fifty yards away, but he didn’t hear. Oliver sprinted across the meadow, running wide so as not to startle the man, and got his attention for their guide.

The fliers wore flight boots which included inserts that had electric wires for heat. These boots were designed for sitting for hours in cold airplanes at high altitude, not for hiking across rugged mountain terrain. Oliver was the only member of the crew who had brought his ordinary GI shoes on the flight. 

With the best of intentions, the Partisans checked the men’s feet and brought them shoes made of half-tanned leather. Unfortunately, most of them were too small. Deren, in particular, had big feet, so Oliver gave him his shoes and put on a pair of the rough, ill-fitting shoes provided by the Partisans. He modified them to be wearable, but that still meant blisters.

The group continued on for twenty-eight days. By the time they reached the British mission, they were half-starved. Their hosts along the way had heroically and generously shared their own meagre rations, but the men sometimes resorted to eating grass to stretch the food. This poor diet affected Oliver’s digestion for the rest of his life. The men at the mission were also short on supplies, except for hot tea. 

After a few days, the crewmen were taken to an airfield after dark. They waited for a plane, but the one that came was not allowed to land. Apparently it was not safe.

The next night they did board a cargo plane, possibly a C-47, for a flight to Bari, Italy. Bari was the headquarters of the British Secret Intelligence Service and the American Office of Strategic Services. Both groups were orchestrating espionage and information gathering from that corner of Europe.

“Going Home” Photo of downed US Airmen being flown from Yugoslavia to Bari, Italy on a C-47.

“Going Home” Photo of downed US Airmen being flown from Yugoslavia to Bari, Italy on a C-47.

Before they took off, the men were asked to leave their outer clothes. They flew out stripped to their shorts and wrapped in blankets. Clothing was also in short supply and those remaining behind needed it. 

In Bari, back in uniform, they attended a ceremony in which medals were handed out. Oliver was not much impressed:

Deren, when they gave the medals out, said I was the only one who deserved the Distinguished Flying Cross. They said it was just because I had let Deren have my shoes. They didn’t know I had stayed in a burning airplane to get a couple of other fellows loose.

We didn’t take those medals very seriously. When you are saving your own hide, you don’t need a medal for that!


1Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation (Random House, NY, 1998), xi

2National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Public Domain

3449th Bomb Group Association:

4The Planes of the 449th Bomb Group In World War II (449th Bomb Group Association, 2001). Excerpt via personal communication, 11/2012. 

5 Grottaglie and Home, A History of the 449th Bomb Group (Book III) (449th Bomb Group Association, 1989), 115

6 D. William Shepherd, personal communication , November, 2012, from his book, Of Men and Wings, The First 100 Missions of the 449th Bomb Group, 2nd Edition. (Norfield Publishing, Panama City, FL, 1996)


Richard Osborne, World War II Sites in the United States: A Tour Guide and Directory (Indianapolis, IN, Reibel-Roque, 2002), 188

Stephen Ambrose, Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy beaches to the bulge to the Surrender of Germany (New York, NY, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1997), 294-295

Mark Arnold-Forester, The World at War (London, UK, Pimlico, 2001), 126


April 12: Wiener Neustadt, Austria

The deep-penetration, strategic-bombing offensive continued unabated on April 12 as the 449th mounted the maximum effort that had been anticipated for the past several days—the attack on the aircraft factory at Wiener Neustadt. By the end of the day, three of the crews that were at the 0530 morning briefing would be listed on the Group records as MIAs. 

The principle target of the day for the 47th Wing was the “WIENER-NEUSTADT AIRCRAFT ASSEMBLY PLANT WERK ONE.” The 5th Wing and the 304th Wing would strike similar aircraft-plant targets at Fishamend and Bad Voslau. While these three wings were concentrating on the aircraft production facilities in Austria, the 49th and 55th Wings would strike the enemy airdrome at Zagreb, Yugoslavia. 

For its part in the day’s operations, the 47th Wing would send all four groups to Wiener-Neustadt in two waves. The lead wave of the 376th and 98th Groups was loaded with 500-pound, GP bombs. The second wave of the 450th and 449th was loaded with 100-pound, clustered, fragmentation bombs. 

The Luftwaffe was estimated to be capable of sending as many as 300 fighters to oppose the attack on Wiener Neustadt. To help deal with this enemy fighter force, escort on the route to the target would be provided by one group of Lightnings. At the IP (Initial Point), [i.e. The starting point for a bombing run.] the 449th formation would be met by a group of Thunderbolts which would provide cover over the target and along the route back. 

Photographic reconnaissance conducted on February 28 and March 8 showed that some eighty-three heavy guns were located around the target area. The lead aircraft in each attack unit loaded three cartons of “window”, a radar countermeasure also known as “chaff”, that was to be dispensed from the IP to the target in an effort to confuse any radar-directed anti-aircraft batteries. [“Window” often consisted of shredded tinfoil.]

Swan’s crew, in ship #55, led the 449th combat formation into the air at 0747 hours. By 0830, the Group had thirty-six B-24s airborne and headed for rendezvous with the other three groups. Shortly after making the rendezvous, ship #42 turned back because of “a very sick gunner.” The formation headed northward across the Adriatic. A malfunctioning supercharger forced ship #27 to drop out of the formation and make an early return before reaching the Yugoslavian coast. 

From the coast of Yugoslavia, the planned route would have taken the 449th just west of Mostar. For some unexplained reason the 449th formation drifted well to the right of the briefed course. This variation in course almost resulted in disaster for Brown’s crew aboard ship #33 when the formation came within range of the flak defenses of Mostar. The “moderate to intense, accurate, and heavy” flak ruptured one of the gas cells in the left wing of ship #33, and severed the gas lines between the booster pumps. It took a good ten minutes for Lt. Brown and his crew to realize they had no choice but to drop out of formation and head back to Grottaglie.

The P-38 escorts joined the formation at 1105 hours to take the bombers to the IP. As the formation approached the IP, the P-38s handed the escort job over to the arriving P-47s. Flak bursts began to appear in the sky ahead. As bomb-bay doors opened, the waist gunners in the lead aircraft of each unit began to dispense window, the radar countermeasure. With “moderate to intense” flak bursting around them, the thirty-three aircraft flew over the target, and dropped 52.05 tons of 100-pound, GP bombs at1207 hours from 22,000 to 24,600 feet.

The landing ground and the airdrome were observed to be well covered by bomb bursts. Dense smoke covered the whole target area with “columns of it rising to 10,000 feet.” Flames and at least one large secondary explosion were observed as the hangars just to the right of the aiming point were squarely hit by the bomb pattern. Coming off the target, the formation rallied to the left. While one group of enemy fighters decoyed the escorts away from the bombers, another group succeeded in closing with the 449th formation. Three 449th B-24s fell victim to the aggressive enemy fighter attacks. Ship #10 [the Dragon Lady], manned by Olson’s crew flying in position ‘A-1-5’, “started losing altitude”—probably due to flak damage—as the formation made the rally. The enemy fighters immediately pounced upon the stricken aircraft which had the #4 engine feathered and one wing covered with oil. Ship #10 was “last seen making for clouds just beyond target, time 1207 hours.”

D. William Shepherd, personal communication , November, 2012, from his book, Of Men and Wings, The First 100 Missions of the 449th Bomb Group, 2nd Edition. (Norfield Publishing, Panama City, FL, 1996)     

Narrative Report No. 43 Date: 12 April 1944. 449th Bomb Group Mission Report.

The average estimate of enemy fighter planes seen was 25 to 30 ME-109s and FW-190s, the number of the latter varying from 2 to 6 planes. Most of our aircraft reported attacks by 6 to 10 fighters. Six of our aircraft, however, reported attacks by 15 to as many as 30 fighters.

All but one of the ships reporting the larger number of attackers stated the attacks were en mass towards the nose, one reporting two waves of 12 to 15 each. Several reported that decoys drew off the P-38 escorts and then mass attacks abreast were made out of the sun from 12 to 2 o’clock. Those reporting the smaller number of planes likewise reported many of the attacks towards the nose from 10 to 1 o’clock with the attackers coming in abreast. Most of the other of these smaller attacks were at the tail from 6 o’clock level. Practically all of the attacks were very aggressive and were pressed right thru the formation. The formation was under attack for about 15 to 30 minutes from the time our aircraft started their rally.

Chapter 2 – The War
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