Before Germany could mount Operation Sea Lion, a cross-channel invasion of the British Isles, it needed to have complete air superiority over the invasion fleet. Because of the Luftwaffe‘s greater numbers and modern aircraft, German military leadership believed this could best be accomplished by defeating the Royal Air Force in air-to-air combat.
The Royal Air Force had been conserving their limited numbers of pilots and aircraft up to this point in the war. Germany’s plan was to send its bombers against targets that the R.A.F. would be forced to defend. The escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109s (also referred to as the Me 109) would then shoot down the Boulton Paul Defiants and Bristol Blenheims. But the Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires were up to the task. While the Hurricanes went after the Luftwaffe’s Dornier 17 and Heinkel He 111 bombers, the Spitfires engaged their Bf 109 fighter escorts.
Britain used a system of radar-directed ground control of its fighter squadrons. The result was that though both sides lost about the same number of aircraft, the Battle of Britain was a decisive victory for Great Britain. Germany was forced to give up on its plans for an invasion of England.
During a speech the House of Commons, 20 August 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to the pilots of Fighter Command when he said,
“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Ever since, the Royal Air Force has been known as “The Few.”
Royal Air Force aircraft:
Highly recommended:Duel of Eagles, by Group Captain Peter Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force. Cassell Publishers Limited, 1970 and Castle Books, 2003.
2 July 1943: 1st Lieutenant Charles Blakesly Hall, United States Army Air Corps, of the 99th Fighter Squadron (which was briefly attached to the 324th Fighter Group) was the first of the famous “Tuskegee Airmen” to shoot down an enemy airplane during World War II. At the time the 99th was based at El Haouaria Airfield on the coast of Tunisia and was patrolling the island of Sicily. The squadron’s primary mission was ground attack.
On 2 July, the 99th was escorting North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bombers near Castelventrano, in western Sicily. Enemy fighters intercepted the flight.
“It was my eighth mission and the first time I had seen the enemy close enough to shoot him. I saw two Focke-Wulfs following the bombers just after the bombs were dropped. I headed for the space between the fighters and bombers and managed to turn inside the Jerries. I fired a long burst and saw my tracers penetrate the second aircraft. He was turning to the left, but suddenly fell off and headed straight into the ground. I followed him down and saw him crash. He raised a big cloud of dust.”
Lieutenant Hall was officially credited with destroying a Focke-Wulf Fw 190,¹ the most effective Luftwaffe fighter of World War II. Not only was Lieutenant Hall’s victory the first for the squadron, but it was also the only enemy airplane to have been shot down by the 99th Fighter Squadron during 1943.
Charles Blakesly Hall was the second child of Franklin Hall, a 30-year-old kiln-burner from Mississippi, and Anna Blakesly Hall, 25 years old, and also from Mississippi. Charles was born 25 August 1920 at his parents home, 742 N. Columbia Street, Brazil, Indiana. He graduated from Brazil High School in 1938 and then attended Eastern Illinois University. He majored in Pre-Med, and was active in sports. Hall worked as a waiter while attending college.
After three years of college, on 12 November 1941, Hall enlisted as an Aviation Cadet, Air Corps, United States Army, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Lawrence, Indiana. Military records indicate that he stood 5 feet, 7 inches tall (170 centimeters) and weighed 150 pounds (68 kilograms).
Charles Hall was part of a group of African-American airmen that would be known as the Tuskegee Airmen. They were initially trained at the Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama, an all-black college which had been established in 1881 by Booker T. Washington. Initial flight training was conducted at Moton Field, a few miles away, and the cadets transitioned into operational aircraft at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Additional flight trained took place at Cochran Field, near Montgomery, Alabama.
On completion of training, Charles B. Hall was commissioned as a second lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, on 3 July 1942. (Serial number 0790457)
Lieutenant Charles B. Hall married Miss Maxine Jessie Parish, a stenographer, in Vigo County, Indiana, 14 December 1942.
The 99th Fighter Squadron was the first unit to be assigned overseas. It was sent to North Africa, 2 April 1943, as part the 33rd Fighter Group.
The 99th Fighter Squadron was the first unit to be assigned overseas. It was sent to North Africa, 2 April 1943, as part the 33rd Fighter Group.
Hall was the first African-American to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Before the war ended, he had flown 198 combat missions and had been promoted to the rank of major.
Major Hall transferred to the Air Force Reserve. He worked at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City, as a civil service employee from 1949 until retiring in 1967. He then worked at the Federal Aviation Administration.
Hall later married Miss Lola Delois Miles of Oklahoma City. They had two children and remained together until his death, 22 November 1971.
Major Charles Blakesly Hall, United States Air Force (Retired), was buried at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Charles Hall’s fighter was a Curtiss-Wright P-40L-15-CU Warhawk, 42-10895. The P-40L (Curtiss-Wright Model 87-B3) differed from the majority of P-40s in that it was powered by a Packard V-1650-1 Merlin engine instead of the Allison V-1710.
The P-40L was a lightened version of the P-40F, with fuel tanks removed from the wings, and armament reduced from six to four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with only 201 rounds of ammunition per gun. Identifying features of the P-40F and P-40L are the absence of a carburetor intake on the top of the engine cowling, a very deep radiator scoop below the propeller spinner, and a fuselage lengthened 2 feet, 2 inches (0.660 meters).
The P-40L was 33 feet, 3-23/32 inches (10.15286 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 3½ inches (11.36650 meters) and height of 10 feet, 7-25/32 inches (3.24564 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was approximately 6,870 pounds (3,116 kilograms) and the gross weight was 9,416 pounds (4,271 kilograms).
The V-1650-1 was the first version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin to be built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. It was developed from the Merlin XX and designated Merlin 28. The Packard V-1650-1 was a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine. It had a compression ratio of 6.0:1, and required 100-octane aviation gasoline. It was rated at 1,080 horsepower at 2,650 r.p.m., and 1,300 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. for takeoff. The Military Power rating was 1,240 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 11,500 feet (3,505 meters), and 1,120 horsepower at 18,500 feet (5,639 meters). The engine drove an 11-foot (3.353 meter) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 0.477:1 gear reduction. The V-1650-1 weighed 1,512 pounds (686 kilograms).
The P-40L had a maximum speed of 368 miles per hour (592 kilometers per hour).
Curtiss-Wright built 13,738 P-40-series aircraft. 3,866 of these were the P-40L variant.
¹ A study of U.S. Army Air Force claims of enemy aircraft destroyed (Andrew Arthy and Morten Jessen, 2013) indicates that no Focke Wulf Fw 190s were present at the time, however, Messerchmitt Bf 109s of Jagdgeschwader 77 were defending the target against B-25s and P-40s. Two were lost on that day. The authors suggest that opposing aircraft were often misidentified.
Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 423d Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bomber Group.
Place and date: Over Europe, 1 May 1943.
Entered service at: Caro, Michigan.
Born: 1911, Caro Michigan.
G.O. No.: 38, 12 July 1943.
Citation: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. The aircraft of which Sgt. Smith was a gunner was subjected to intense enemy antiaircraft fire and determined fighter airplane attacks while returning from a mission over enemy-occupied continental Europe on 1 May 1943. The airplane was hit several times by antiaircraft fire and cannon shells of the fighter airplanes, 2 of the crew were seriously wounded, the aircraft’s oxygen system shot out, and several vital control cables severed when intense fires were ignited simultaneously in the radio compartment and waist sections. The situation became so acute that 3 of the crew bailed out into the comparative safety of the sea. Sgt. Smith, then on his first combat mission, elected to fight the fire by himself, administered first aid to the wounded tail gunner, manned the waist guns, and fought the intense flames alternately. The escaping oxygen fanned the fire to such intense heat that the ammunition in the radio compartment began to explode, the radio, gun mount, and camera were melted, and the compartment completely gutted. Sgt. Smith threw the exploding ammunition overboard, fought the fire until all the firefighting aids were exhausted, manned the workable guns until the enemy fighters were driven away, further administered first aid to his wounded comrade, and then by wrapping himself in protecting cloth, completely extinguished the fire by hand. This soldier’s gallantry in action, undaunted bravery, and loyalty to his aircraft and fellow crewmembers, without regard for his own personal safety, is an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.”
Sergeant Smith was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress on his first combat mission. The bomber was so badly damaged that, on landing, the airplane’s structure failed from battle damage and it broke in half. There were over 3,500 bullet and shrapnel holes.
Maynard Harrison Smith was born at Caro, Michigan, 19 May 1911. He was the second child of Henry Harrison Smith, a lawyer, and Mary Christine Gohs Smith, a school teacher.
Smith worked as a clerk in a government insurance office. He married Miss Arlene E. McCreedy at Ferndale, Michigan, 31 July 1929. They had a daughter, Barbara Lou Smith. They divorced 22 October 1932. He later married his second wife, Helene Gene Gunsell, at Caro, Michigan, 30 March 1941.
Maynard Smith enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 31 August 1941. He was trained as an aerial gunner, and on completion, was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant. He was assigned as a ball turret gunner in a B-17 combat crew of the 423rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 306th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at RAF Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, England.
Following the 1 May mission, Staff Sergeant Smith flew only four more combat missions before a medical board diagnosed him with Operational Exhaustion. He was removed from flight status and reverted to his initial rank of private.
While stationed in England, Sergeant Smith met Miss Mary Rayner, a British subject and USO volunteer. They were married in 1944. They would have four children.
Sergeant Smith was released from active duty, 26 May 1945.
Following World War II, Smith worked for the Department of the Treasury. He later founded Police Officers Journal, a magazine oriented toward law enforcement officers.
Based on an examination of certain facts in his life, as well as anecdotes by persons who knew him, it is fair to say the Maynard Smith was a troubled individual. But the extreme courage he displayed on 1 May 1943 cannot be denied.
Maynard Smith died at St. Petersburg, Florida, 11 May 1984 at the age of 72 years. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Staff Sergeant Maynard Harrison Smith, United States Army Air Forces, was the first of only five Air Force enlisted airmen to be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II. He was also awarded the Air Medal, with one oak leaf cluster (two awards).
Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress 42-29649 was delivered to Denver, Colorado, 29 January, 1943. After crossing the North Atlantic Ocean, the new bomber was assigned to the 423rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 306th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Thurleigh, near Bedford, Bedfordshire, England, 24 March 1943. It was identified by the letters RD-V painted on its fuselage.
On 1 May 1943, 42-29649 was one of 18 B-17s of the 306th Bombardment Group assigned to attack German Kriegsmarine submarine pens at Saint-Nazaire, on the Atlantic coast of France. Another 60 B-17s from three other groups were also part of the mission. Only 12 bombers from the 306th arrived over the target, which was heavily obscured by clouds. Each bomber carried two 2,000-pound (907 kilogram) General Purpose bombs, which were dropped from 25,200 feet (7,681 meters) on a heading of 270°. After a 20-second bomb run, the group released its bombs at 11:26 a.m.
Flying away from the target area, the 306th flew over the city of Brest at low altitude. 42-29649 was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The group was then attacked by 15–20 Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters. Two bombers were shot down over the city and a third ditched near the coast. -649 caught fire and three crewmen bailed out over the water and were lost.
Of the 78 B-17s dispatched, 7 were lost. 73 crewmembers were listed as Missing in Action, 18 Wounded in Action and 2 Killed in Action.
On 1 May 1943, 42-29649 was flown by Captain Lewis P. Johnson, Jr., aircraft commander/pilot; 1st Lieutenant Robert McCallum, co-pilot; 1st Lieutenant Stanley N. Kisseberth, navigator; Staff Sergeant J.C. Melaun, nose gunner and bombardier; Technical Sergeant William W. Fahrenhold, flight engineer/top turret gunner; Staff Sergeant Maynard H. Smith, ball turret gunner; Technical Sergeant Henry R. Bean, radio operator; Staff Sergeant Robert V. Folliard, waist gunner; Staff Sergeant Joseph S. Bukacek, waist gunner; Sergeant Roy H. Gibson, tail gunner. Sergeants Bean, Folliard and Bukacek were killed in action.
29 December 1944: Flying Officer Richard Joseph Audet, Royal Canadian Air Force, was a section leader of No. 411 Squadron, an RCAF squadron under the control of the Second Tactical Air Force, Royal Air Force. The squadron was based at an advanced airfield in The Netherlands.
In the early afternoon, Audet’s Yellow Section engaged a flight of twelve Luftwaffe fighters, four Messerchmitt Bf 109s and eight Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, near Rheine, in northwestern Germany.
Flying a Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk.IX .5, RR201, Flying Officer Audet led his section into the attack. He later reported:
I was leading Yellow section of 411 Squadron in the Rheine/Osnabruck area when Control reported Huns at Rheine and the squadron turned in that direction. An Me 262 was sighted and just at that time I spotted 12 e/a on our starboard side at 2 o’clock. These turned out to be a mixture of approximately 4 Me 109’s and 8 FW 190’s.
1) I attacked an Me 109 which was the last a/c in the formation of about twelve all flying line astern. At approximately 200 yds and 30° to starboard at 10,000 feet I opened fire and saw strikes all over the fuselage and wing roots. The 109 burst into flames on the starboard side of the fuselage only, and trailed intense black smoke. I then broke off my attack.
2) After the first attack I went around in a defensive circle at about 8500 feet until I spotted an FW 190 which I immediately attacked from 250 yards down to 100 yards and from 30° to line astern. I saw strikes over cockpit and to the rear of the fuselage. It burst into flames from the engine back, and as I passed very close over top of it I saw the pilot slumped over in his cockpit, which was also in flames.
3) My third attack followed immediately on the 2nd. I followed what I believed was an Me 109 in a slight dive. He then climbed sharply and his coupe top flew off at about 3 to 4,000 feet. I then gave a very short burst from about 300 yards and line astern and his aircraft whipped downwards in a dive. The pilot attempted or did bale out. I saw a black object on the edge of the cockpit but his ‘chute ripped to shreds. I then took cine shots of his a/c going to the ground and bits of parachute floating around. I saw this aircraft hit and smash into many flaming pieces on the ground. I do not remember any strikes on this aircraft. The Browning button only may have been pressed.
4) I spotted a FW 190 being pursued at about 5,000′ by a Spitfire which was in turn pursued by an FW 190. I called this Yellow section pilot to break and attacked the 190 up his rear. The fight went downwards in a steep dive. When I was about 250 yards and line astern of this 190 I opened fire. There were many strikes on the length of the fuselage and it immediately burst into flames. I saw this FW 190 go straight into the ground and burn.
5) Several minutes later while attempting to form my section up again I spotted an FW 190 from 4000 feet. He was at about 2000 feet. I dived down on him and he turned in to me from the right. Then he flipped around in a left hand turn and attempted a head-on attack. I slowed down to wait for the 190 to flypast in range. At about 200 yds and 20° I gave a very short burst, but couldn’t see any strikes. This a/c flicked violently, and continued to do so until he crashed into the ground. The remainder of my section saw this encounter and Yellow 4 (F/O McCracken) saw it crash in flames.
—Post Mission Report of Flying Officer R. J. Audet, 29 December 1944
This air battle had been Flying Officer Audet’s first engagement with enemy aircraft. It was over within a matter of minutes. For his actions of 29 December 1944, Richard Audet was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Air Ministry, 16th February, 1945.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following awards in recognition of gallantry and devotion to duty in the execution of air operations:—
Distinguished Flying Cross.
Flying Officer Richard Joseph Audet (Can/J.20136), R.C.A.F., 411 (R.C.A.F.) Sqn.
This officer has proved himself to be a highly skilled and courageous fighter. In December, 1944, the squadron was involved in an engagement against 12 enemy fighters in the Rheine/Osnabrück area. In a most spirited action, Flying Officer Audet achieved outstanding success by destroying 5 enemy aircraft. This feat is a splendid tribute to his brilliant shooting, great gallantry and tenacity.
Richard Joseph Audet was born 13 March 1922 at Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. He was the sixth child of Paul Audet, a rancher, and Ediwisca Marcoux Audet. “Dickie” Audet rode a horse to school at the age of ten years, traveling about 18 miles (29 kilometers) every morning.
Audet studied at Garbutt Business College in Lethbridge, and worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper at RCAF Air Station High River.
Dick Audet enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force at Calgary, Alberta, 28 August 1941. He was trained as a fighter pilot and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer, 24 October 1942. His pilot’s wings were presented to him by The Right Honourable William Lyon MacKenzie King, tenth Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada.
Pilot Officer Audet was sent to England, crossing the North Atlantic aboard ship and arriving 6 December 1942. He was assigned to the No. 6 Elementary Flying School at RAF Little Rissington, Gloucestershire, and then No. 17 Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Calvely, Nantwich, Cheshire. He was promoted to Flying Officer 23 April 1943, and transferred to No. 53 Operational Training Unit at RAF Heston, west of London, where he transitioned to the Supermarine Spitfire fighter.
Flying Officer Richard J. Audet married Miss Iris Christina Gibbons of Pinner, a village in the London Borough of Harrow, at Northhampton, Northamptonshire, England, 9 July 1944.
Audet joined No. 411 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, 14 September 1944. He was promoted to the rank of Flight Lieutenant, 23 October 1944.
During January 1945, Flight Lieutenant Audet was credited with destroying another 6.5 enemy aircraft: 4.5 Focke-Wulf FW-190s (one shared) and two Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters (one on the ground), and a third Me 262, damaged.
On 3 March 1945, Flight Lieutenant Audet was strafing railway trains near Coesfeld, Coesfelder Landkreis, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, when his Spitfire LF Mk.IXE, MK950, was shot down. The Spitfire was seen to crash in flames and explode. Audet was listed as missing in action, and was presumed to have been killed. His remains were not recovered.
On 9 March 1945, Flight Lieutenant Richard Joseph Audet was posthumously awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross (a second award).
There is no grave for Dick Audet. His name appears with those of 20,287 others on the Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, England, and among the nearly 400 on the Lethbridge Cenotaph at Lethbridge, Alberta. Audet Lake, north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, and Rue Richard Joseph Audet in Saugenay, Quebec, were named in his honor.
The aircraft flown by Dick Audet on 29 December 1944, was a Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk.IX .5 (redesignated LF Mk.IXe in 1945), Royal Air Force serial number RR201. The identification letters on the fuselage were DB-G. It was built at built at the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory, at Warwickshire, West Midlands, in late summer or early fall 1944.
The Supermarine Spitfire was a single-place, single-engine low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction with retractable landing gear. The fighter had been designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell CBE. The prototype first flew 5 March 1936.
The Spitfire LF Mk.IXe was optimized for low-altitude operations. The Spitfire F Mk.Vb was 29 feet, 11 inches (9.119 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 10 inches (11.227 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 5 inches (3.480 meters). The exact dimensions of the LF Mk.IXe are not known but are presumably similar. Some Mk.IXe fighters had “clipped” wings, while others did not.
The LF Mk.IXe had an empty weight of 5,749 pounds (2,608 kilograms) and gross weight of 7,450 pounds (3,379 kilograms).
The Spitfire LF Mk.IXe was powered a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.959-cubic-inch-displacement (27.022 liters) Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 6.00:1. It was equipped with a two-speed, two-stage supercharger. The Merlin 66 was rated at 1,315 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. and 12 pounds per square inch boost (0.83 Bar), for Take Off; 1,705 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 5,750 feet (1,753 meters) and 1,580 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 16,000 feet (4,877 meters), with 18 pounds boost (1.24 Bar). These power ratings were obtained with 130-octane aviation gasoline. When 150-octane gasoline became available, the Merlin 66 was cleared to use 25 pounds of boost (1.72 Bar). The Merlin 66 had a propeller gear reduction ratio of 0.477:1 and drove a four-bladed Rotol Hydulignum (compressed laminated wood) propeller with a diameter of 10 feet, 9 inches (3.277 meters). The engine weighed 1,645 pounds (746 kilograms).
The Spitfire LF Mk.IXe had cruise speed of 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters); a maximum speed of 384 miles per hour (618 kilometers per hour) at 10,500 feet (3,200 meters), and 404 miles per hour (650 kilometers per hour) at 21,000 feet (6,401 meters). Diving speed was restricted to 450 miles per hour (724 kilometers per hour) below 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). The airplane’s service ceiling was 42,500 feet (12,954 meters).
The Spitfire LF Mk.IXe was armed with two 20-milimeter Hispano Mk.II autocannon, with 135 rounds of ammunition per gun, and two Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with 260 rounds per gun. The .50-caliber machine guns were mounted in the wings, just inboard of the 20 mm cannon.
The President of the United States takes pleasure in awarding the MEDAL of HONOR to
STAFF SERGEANT FORREST L. VOSLER,
AIR CORPS, UNITED STATES ARMY,
for service as set forth in the following
“For conspicuous gallantry in action against the enemy above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a radio operator-air gunner on a heavy bombardment aircraft in a mission over Bremen, Germany, on 20 December 1943. After bombing the target, the aircraft in which T/Sgt. Vosler was serving was severely damaged by antiaircraft fire, forced out of formation, and immediately subjected to repeated vicious attacks by enemy fighters. Early in the engagement a 20-mm. cannon shell exploded in the radio compartment, painfully wounding T/Sgt. Vosler in the legs and thighs. At about the same time a direct hit on the tail of the ship seriously wounded the tail gunner and rendered the tail guns inoperative. Realizing the great need for firepower in protecting the vulnerable tail of the ship, T/Sgt. Vosler, with grim determination, kept up a steady stream of deadly fire. Shortly thereafter another 20-mm. enemy shell exploded, wounding T/Sgt. Vosler in the chest and about the face. Pieces of metal lodged in both eyes, impairing his vision to such an extent that he could only distinguish blurred shapes. Displaying remarkable tenacity and courage, he kept firing his guns and declined to take first-aid treatment. The radio equipment had been rendered inoperative during the battle, and when the pilot announced that he would have to ditch, although unable to see and working entirely by touch, T/Sgt. Vosler finally got the set operating and sent out distress signals despite several lapses into unconsciousness. When the ship ditched, T/Sgt. Vosler managed to get out on the wing by himself and hold the wounded tail gunner from slipping off until the other crewmembers could help them into the dinghy. T/Sgt. Vosler’s actions on this occasion were an inspiration to all serving with him. The extraordinary courage, coolness, and skill he displayed in the face of great odds, when handicapped by injuries that would have incapacitated the average crew member, were outstanding.”
/s/ Franklin D. Roosevelt
Staff Sergeant Forrest Lee Vosler was the radio operator/top gunner aboard the Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress 42-29664, Jersey Bounce, Jr.,¹ one of 21 B-17s of the 303rd Bombardment Group, Heavy, sent on Mission No. 90, an attack against Bremen, Germany. The bomber was under the command of 2nd Lieutenant John F. Henderson. Captain Merle R. Hungerford, an instructor pilot, acted as co-pilot. The bombers encountered heavy antiaircraft fire over the target, and were attacked by as many as 125 enemy fighters. Bombing from an altitude of 26,200 feet (7,986 meters), the B-17s dropped 24 tons of incendiary bombs.
Jersey Bounce, Jr. was hit by anti-aircraft artillery just after its bomb load was released. The number 1 engine, outboard, left wing, and the number 4 engine, outboard, right wing, were damaged. When the B-17 slowed and dropped out of its formation, it became a target of opportunity for the Luftwaffe fighters.
The crew reported that as many as ten fighters attacked, one after another. Flight engineer and top turret gunner Staff Sergeant William H. Simpkins, Jr., was credited with destroying a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter, and right waist gunner Sergeant Ralph F. Burkart shot down a Messerschmitt Me 210 twin-engine heavy fighter. Sergeant Stanley E. Moody, the left waist gunner, destroyed a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and probably shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine fighter.
The heavily-damaged bomber flew at low altitude as it headed for the North Sea, and then toward England. Vosler sent repeated distress signals which allowed search and rescue aircraft to locate the B-17. Lieutenant Henderson ditched 42-29644 within sight of land. The crew were quickly rescued by a small coastal freighter, MV Empire Sportsman.² The bomber crew was then transferred to a British air-sea rescue boat.
Forrest Lee Vosler was born at Lyndonville, New York, 29 July 1923. He was the son of William I. Vosler, a farmer, and Lottie I. Furness Volser. He attended Livonia Central High School, Livonia, New York, graduating in 1941. He was employed as a drill press operator by General Motors at Rochester, New York.
Forrest Lee Vosler enlisted in the Air Corps, United States Army, at Rochester, 8 October 1942. He was 6 feet, 1 inch (1.854 meters) tall and weighed 147 pounds (66.7 kilograms). After completing basic training at Atlantic City, New Jersey, Private Vosler trained as a radio operator at Scott Field, Illinois, and as an aerial gunner at Harlingen, Texas. After completing training Private Vosler was promoted to Sergeant, 25 May 1943. In August 1943, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant. Deployed to the United Kingdom, Staff Sergeant Vosler was assigned to the 358th Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, of the 303rd Bombardment Group, Heavy, at RAF Molesworth (AAF-107), Cambridgeshire, England.
Technical Sergeant Vosler was the third of only four enlisted airmen two be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II. Vosler was hospitalized for the next 12 months. After recuperating from his wounds, Vosler was discharged from the Army Air Corps, 17 October 1944. In addition to the Medal of Honor, Forrest Vosler had been awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, Air Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one bronze service star, World War II Victory Medal and the Presidential Unit Citation.
Following the War, Forrest Volser was employed as an engineer at radio station WSYR, the oldest continuously operating radio station in the Syracuse, New York, area. He attended the College of Business Administration, Syracuse University, at Syracuse, New York. He was a member of the Sigma Chi (ΣΧ) fraternity.
Forrest Vosler married Miss Virginia Frances Slack, 28 October 1945, at the Grace Episcopal Church, Syracuse, New York. The ceremony was presided over by Rev. James R. Rockwell. They would have a daughter, Sondra Lee Vosler, and a son, Marcellus Vosler.
Vosler had lost one eye and found that blurred vision in his remaining eye made it impossible to keep up with his studies. He dropped out of college at the end of the 1945 fall semester.
“Woody” Vosler worked for the Veterans Administration for thirty years.
Forrest Lee Vosler died at Titusville, Florida, 17 February 1992 at the age of 68 years. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Forrest L. Vosler Noncommissioned Officer Academy and the Forrest L. Vosler Veterans Memorial Park at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, are named in his honor.
Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress 42-29664, Jersey Bounce, Jr. The bomber was on its 32nd combat mission. It had been flown by at least nine different pilots and with different combat crews.
42-29664 was delivered from the Boeing plant in Seattle, Washington, to Denver, Colorado, 30 January 1943. It arrived at Salina, Kansas, 12 February 1943, and was sent on to Morrison, New Jersey, 28 February 1943. It was then flown across the north Atlantic Ocean to England. The new B-17F was assigned to the 358th Bombardment Squadron, 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), at RAF Molesworth, Cambridgeshire, England, 21 March 1943. It carried group identification markings VK C painted on its fuselage.
The Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a flight crew of ten. It was 74 feet, 9 inches (22.784 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9.375 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1 inch (5.187 meters). Its empty weight was 34,000 pounds (15,422 kilograms), 40,437 pounds (18,342 kilograms) loaded, and the maximum takeoff weight was 56,500 pounds (25,628 kilograms).
The B-17F was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liters) Wright Cyclone C9GC (R-1820-97) nine-cylinder radial engines with turbochargers, producing 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff and 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level. War Emergency Power was 1,380 horsepower. The Cyclones turned three-bladed constant-speed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-97 engine is 47.80 inches (1.214 meters) long and 55.10 inches (1.399 meters) in diameter. It weighs 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).
These engines gave the B-17F a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed was 299 miles per hour (481 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet, though with War Emergency Power, the bomber could reach 325 miles per hour (523 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet for short periods. The service ceiling was 37,500 feet (11,430 meters).
With a normal fuel load of 2,520 gallons (9,540 liters) the B-17F had a maximum range of 2,880 miles (4,635 kilometers). Carrying a 6,000 pound (2,722 kilogram) bomb load, the range was 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers).
The B-17F Flying Fortress was armed with up to 13 air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the dorsal and ventral positions.
The maximum bomb load was 20,800 pounds over very short ranges. Normally, 4,000–6,000 pounds (1,815–2,722 kilograms) were carried. The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs. Two external bomb racks mounted under the wings between the fuselage and the inboard engines could carry one 4,000 pound (1,814.4 kilogram) bomb, each, though this option was rarely used.
The B-17 Flying Fortress first flew in 1935, and was was in production from 1937 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The manufacturer codes -BO, -DL and -VE follows the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 3,405 of the total were B-17Fs, with 2,000 built by Boeing, 605 by Douglas and 500 by Lockheed-Vega.
Only three B-17F Flying Fortresses remain in existence.
¹ “Jersey Bounce” was a popular song of 1942.
² M/V Empire Sportsman was built by Richards Ironworks Ltd., Lowestoft, Suffolk, 1943. 325 Gross Registered Tons.