The Path of a Warrior by Jetty Cook:
July 20, 1944 was indeed another day! To the utmost surprise of Jetty and his fellow
sleepers, they were awakened at three in the morning with admonitions to "Get with it,
guys!" There was a sizable amount of grumbling over their postponed crew rest and trip to
London as they went about their routine preparations for the unexpected mission. They all
recognized and accepted the priorities of war but they sure didn't have to like them!
This time the blanket revealed that the target was Leipzig - again. According to the
briefing officer, the Germans had made great strides in repairing the destruction caused by
their massive raid of two weeks earlier and the powers-that-be had directed another
maximum effort to send the Nazis back to square one. They were advised to keep their eyes
open since the skies would be particularly full of aircraft that day. Other bomber streams
from both England and Italy were to hit targets across Germany from Saarbriicken and
Cologne in the west to Leipzig and Munich in the east. Light and medium bombers would
attack areas in France and Belgium. The briefing officer said that considering the fighter
escorts for the bombers, there would be well over 4,000 aircraft manned by more than 25,000
airmen crowding all available sky. (Latec the Associated Press headline for that day
simply stated, 'Skies Over Germany and Occupied Territories Blackened by Massive
When Jetty made his customary visual inspection of the aircraft that had been assigned
to them for the mission that day, he noted that it was named 'Berlin Special' Jetty knew
that this was one of the ten or so planes that had managed to take off just ahead of that
terrible collision on the runway twelve days before and he absentmindedly wondered if
this was a good omen as he continued his check of the bird. His unspoken question would be
answered several hours later.
The 92nd didn't have enough serviceable aircraft to form their own group so they filled
the "holes' in other groups which then went on to form a wing and finally, the armada of
the 1st Air Division. The Stein crew was unfortunate enough to draw the number two
position in the "tail end Charlie" element's of the formation.
The skies were exceptionally clear that day and they could see the many contrails of
their companion formations on the way to other targets as Jetty's division crossed the
North Sea and climbed to their bombing altitude of 28,000 feet.
On their way to Leipzig, they first skirted Bremen and then Hannover and the intensity
of the flak over those two cities indicated that this mission definitely would not be
another "piece of cake.' A minute or so before they reached the II' near Halle, their worst
fears were realized when they saw the huge black, puffy curtains surrounding Leipzig.
They seemed to be totally impenetrable and so thick that, as Jetty says, "You felt as though
you could get out and walk on them'
About that time, the group commander advised that reconnaissance by P-38 aircraft
indicated that their Leipzig target had been pretty well obliterated by the 3rd Air Division raid that had preceded them that morning and that their target now was totally obscured by smoke and weather so they would proceed to their secondary target, an aircraft engine factory located at Kothen, about 35 miles northwest of Leipzig. The weather was better there and the flak was supposed to be much lighter. They all breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed with another laugh at Lord Haw Haw, who it seemed had missed the boat again.
About ten minutes before reaching their IP for Kothen, Jetty noticed that another B-17
had joined their formation. This, by itself, was not unusual; it was normal to join another
group if an aircraft became separated from their own for any reason. This one, however, was
completely stripped of all guns and turrets and was flying in the near center of the
formation with markings that did not correlate to those of the units assigned to this
mission. Jetty advised Lt Stein of this intruder. The group commander shortly advised that
the aircraft was a captured and repaired B-17 flown by Germans to spy on their formation
and bombing altitudes. The destruction of this aircraft was highly desirable; however,
everyone was fully aware that this was virtually impossible because shooting at the
centrally located aircraft would undoubtedly result in the loss of more than one of their own
birds. The intruder suddenly dropped out of the formation just before they hit the flak
barrage at Kothen. Some of the ball turret gunners were able to fire a few bursts at it but it
escaped without any apparent damage. It also managed to exactly pinpoint the formation
and radio this deadly information to the anti-aircraft batteries on the ground.
Because of that single intruder the Germans now knew the exact height of the high,
middle and low elements of the formation as well as the distance from the lead to last
plane of each element. With this knowledge, they were able to set up a 'firing box'
barrage with the fuses of their 88 millimeter shells set to explode at the exact altitude for
each element of the formation. The previously projected 'random light flak' now became
"extremely accurate and heavy flak."
Almost as soon as the intruder left the conflation, one B-17 went down in flames and
several others were hit although they managed to stay with the formation. They
proceeded to the target at their predetermined altitude because the bombardiers did not
have sufficient time to reset their bomb sights to a new bombing altitude; however, the
accuracy of the flak had inadvertently caused a slight deviation in their routing and they
did not get to hear the anxiously awaited 'bombs away.'
A second approach was considered necessary if they were to avoid a return trip the next
day but, again, the bombardiers did not have the time to reset their bombsights for a new
bombing altitude. In spite of the high accuracy of the flak" on the second bomb run which is,
of course, the most dangerous part of any bombing raid, there were some damaged aircraft
but no losses during that run: it was most successful and the bombers immediately headed
west toward England.
As soon as he heard the "bombs away" call, Jetty checked the bomb bay to insure that all
of the bombs had fallen and that the bomb bay doors could safely be closed. (This normally
was the job of the bombardier but Jetty could do it more safely and within 30 or 35 seconds by
a quick step down from his turret and a look through the bomb bay door whereas the
bombardier would have to use a walkaround bottle to crawl through the flight deck and
back which would take four or five minutes. This timing was important for the open bomb
bay doors created a heavy drag on the aircraft. )
When he stepped back into his turret which was already pointed towards the 6 o'clock
position, he immediately noticed a flak burst about 500 yards behind them. A few seconds
56 Although the intruding bomber was the primary cause of their flak problems that day, Jetty learned in an OSS (Office
of Strategic Services (the predecessor of the CIA) debriefing later in London that the Germans had an anti-aircraft artillery school staffed by highly proficient warrant officers at Kothen. He feels that if that information had been known before this mission, perhaps the German students might not have received such an excellent OJT (on-the-job-training) on this particular day.
later there was another burst about 300 yards behind and then still another at 200 yards.
Jetty immediately called the pilot for evasive action but before Lt Stein could clear the
other aircraft, there was another burst about 50 yards behind them and just then all hell
There were two more bursts - only a second or two apart - about 35 feet above the bird. The
first exploded over and slightly to the left of the rudder and the second, almost directly
above the left wing. Golf ball sized pieces of hot, searing shrapnel tore through the thin
skin of the plane's fuselage and, if they didn't rip through whatever they touched, they
ricocheted until they passed through the plane or fell smoldering to the floor. (Mel Crouch
still has a piece of that shrapnel which struck just a few feet forward of his tail-gunner
position in the rear of the plane.) In spite of the roar of the engines, the confusion of noise
accompanying those explosions was incredible! It was as though 10,000 hailstones had hit
a tin roof all at the same time and the rupturing of the oxygen storage tanks only added to
the violence of that din.
It was a thousand years of terror squeezed into a few seconds of time! But the crew didn't
have the time to be terrorized. Worried? Yes, but not panic stricken for their adrenalin was
in free flow and they could only react to the needs of the moment.
(Earlier in Chapter 6, we spoke of the airman who does what must be done while under
fire and doesn't even know that he had done it without some other later form of evidence.
Now you will see another type of airman: one who is fired up by adrenaline and knows
precisely what must be done and does it without any sense of fear, only urgency. In short, he
is simply too busy to be afraid and, in addition, the whole situation becomes simply too
The plane had lurched violently to the left as a result of the tremendous concussion and
Stein and Kennedy used every ounce of their strength to regain control. And they managed
to recover it just in time to avoid a collision with another B-17 which surely would have
resulted in the same flaming destruction of both aircraft that they had seen over the
Zuider Zee on their first mission to Leipzig.
( Over the years since this incident, Jetty often has wondered if he could have possibly
spotted the tracking pattern of that flak and alerted the pilot in time for evasive action if
he had not spent those few seconds insuring that the bombs were indeed 'away." In all
probability, it would not have helped a bit but like all of the other "what ifs' and "if
onlysn in all wars, it is a haunting question that can never be answered!)
Jetty had been momentarily blinded by the brilliant, white flashes of the exploding flak
shells and had just regained his eyesight when a rocket barely missed the fuel tanks as it
passed through the right wing and exploded about three hundred feet overhead. He
remembers thinking, at the time, that the rocket must have been armed with a timed fuse
for if it had been an impact or proximity fuse, the "Berlin Special" and all of it's crew
surely would have been destroyed.
But there was no time for such thinking; he had to complete his battle damage survey and
report their condition to Lt Stein. However, Jetty already knew that his plane was
mortally wounded and that they would not be returning to Podington this day, if ever. So he
took a brief moment to say goodbye to those who were viewing the final agonies of the
"Berlin Special.' He turned his turret towards his fellow flight engineer, Ray Schlobohm,
who was just off their left wing in "Old Dutch Cleanser." (A plane that Jetty's crew had
used on several prior missions and, "Oh, how I wish I was with her now!") He slowly
raised and lowered his guns as a gesture of farewell from one air comrade to another and
Ray responded in the same way. (Many months later Jetty was truly saddened when he
learned that on August 25, 1944, the "Old Dutch Cleanser" took a direct hit in the
still-loaded bomb bay over the Netherlands with disastrous results. None of the crew,
including the flight engineer, Ray Schlobohm, survived. Ray had been one of Jetty's closest
friends since their days together at Amarillo.)
Suddenly, there was no flow of oxygen in their face masks so the entire crew switched to
the emergency oxygen walkaround bottles until the extent of the damage to the oxygen
system could be determined. At the same time, Lt Stein put the ship into a steep dive to get
below 20,000 feet -where the oxygen would be almost adequate for normal breathing and a
reduced but not immobile activity
'Erne has little meaning for those who are in circumstances such as these: it seems to
either stand still or to take an eternity for even slightest effort. In this case, it seemed to be
an eternity but it couldn't have been more than a very few minutes after that blinding flash
when Jetty started to do his damage survey. And, that was an exhausting struggle against
the tilted floor of that plunging dive and the unexpected load of that walkaround bottle!
But, the survey had to be done!
Miraculously, not one crewmember had received a single scratch although the floor was
liberally littered with pieces of shrapnel. The other news, however, was not so good. The
once sleek and threatening "Berlin Special" was now a battered lady with gaping holes -
some bigger than a man's fist - scattered throughout her fuselage, her wings and other
flying surfaces. That rocket had left a two foot hole in the right outboard wing and the
horizontal stabilizer looked more like sieves than aircraft control surfaces. (Jetty would
learn later that there also was a three foot hole in the vertical stabilizer.)
They had “lost” their oxygen and hydraulic systems and the radio antenna. The radio,
itself, was riddled! They were no longer able to communicate with the outside world but,
much to their amazement, they could still talk to each other on the intercom system.
Without oxygen, they couldn't stay at altitude for very long and without hydraulic
pressure, control of the plane would be difficult at best or at worst, impossible which, of
course, raised the possibility of abandoning the bird. (That was not a pleasant thought
under any circumstances but, considering the fact that they were over enemy territory that
they had just bombed, it was an absolutely terrifying idea!)
Worst of all, two of their four engines had been so badly damaged that they had to be
shut down. The number one engine had been successfully "feathered' but the number four
engine simply windmilledwhich only added more to the drag that already was
threatening to pull them down into the not-so-tender mercies of the enemy fighters.
Jetty's damage survey only confirmed his earlier assessment of the plane's condition and
he dreaded his report to Stein: all damage and no possibility of controlling it. It was, at
the very best, a bad, bad situation!
In spite of his breathing difficulties and the extreme angle of the plane, a very exhausted
Jetty Cook stumbled to the cockpit to give the pilots a full damage report. Lt Stein's
response was calm but just as disturbing as Jetty's report. He told Jetty that they needed
some more oxygen walkaround bottles if they were to stay awake and function properly
until they reached a safe oxygen operating altitude.
Lt Stein then said the much dreaded words over the intercom, "We are going down!'
Although he spoke quietly, the words, themselves, were like thunder in the ears of the
crew. The thought of bailing out was bad enough but, if they had to do it at all, they
wanted it to be anywhere except over this particular bit of enemy territory. Then Stein gave
them all a little ray of hope. He went on to say, in a very positive voice, that he and
Kennedy would keep them flying as long as they could and that they (the crew) could help
by "throwing out everything that isn't nailed down." He cautioned them to wait until they
got down to where they could breathe on their own and, 'I'll let you know when to start