Biography of Clarence E. Gurnee

T/Sgt, Gunner B25 "Little Joe", 448th Bomb Squadron, 321st Bomb Group, 12th Air Force, U.S.A.A.F.

See Article "Stand Aside Boss" written by: Col. R. Knapp, 321st Group Commander and later 57th Bomb Wing Commander. This article appears in the Fall, 1990 issue Vol. XXIV, No. 3

The following is my dad's (Clarence E. "Shine" Gurnee, Tech Sgt., 321st, 448th, B25J "Little Joe") writing about his own experiences:

   This article covers "skip bombing missions" on enemy shipping.

   The 321st group trained for months to develop the art of low level skip bombing. We trained at Eglin Field (Navy Base) with torpedoes, but they were too big for our bomb bay and meant we would have to fly with the bomb bay doors open. This was not practical, since the open doors would greatly reduce our air speed.

   The decision was made before going overseas to go with six 500 pound demolition bombs with a one second delay. It was the pilot's responsibility to drop the bombs as close to the hull of the vessel at "the point" of climbing over the hull. He "salvoed" (all at once) the bomb load.

   This method of attacking shipping - if you could make the bomb run - was highly successful. You had to fly on "the deck" (as low to the water as possible). The props actually sprayed water on my turret dome. This was necessary to aid in the bomb run and to minimize enemy fighters from diving on us. They would not follow us in on the "bomb run" for fear of being hit by their own flak.

   I made two skip bombing missions - both low level. It seems Colonel Knapp "picked on" the 448th squadron to fly the low element.

   Most of the German convoys coming from Italy had (flak barges) Seibel ferries lashed to the hulls of the vessels. These flak barges had the guns so mounted as to get minus deflection. This allowed them to shoot into the water (and track your flight) hoping you would hit the "water spouts" going at an air speed of 275 mph. All the vessels had both 20mm and 88mm deck guns. So now you and twelve /B-25's at 8,000 feet (with 25 P-38 fighter escort) approach the convoy.

   The date is 03-29-1943, and Rommel badly needs supplies and reinforcements. Our briefing tells us where the convoy is headed and about 60 - ME 109's are flying cover for the convoy.

   This was the fifth mission for us and the first sea sweep. We left our base at Ain Melia, Algeria, at 10:00 hours and not much conversation took place once we were airborne.

   It seemed only a short time from take-off when the convoy was sighted. The high level group was over the convoy and drawing considerable flak and attention from the ME-109's. As we neared the first ship (a huge troopship), I heard our pilot, Lt. Sinclair, say to Lt. Ole Veum (lead ship), "Let's both take this one". Lt. Stewart (in a third plane) peeled off from us to attack a smaller ship.

   Then, all hell broke loose - fighters being shot down and falling around us. Tracers and huge water spouts were "popping up" as we started our bomb run. As Lt. Stewart's plane (named "Trouble") started his bomb run, the plane hit a water spout and literally disintegrated before our eyes.

   We continued the bomb run. Both Veum's plane and ours pulled up over the hull and dropped our bomb loads. As the bombs were released, we actually lifted up in the air several feet. As we flew over the deck (between the masts), I could see the flak barges, men on the deck, tanks, trucks, gunners, etc. "Eye to eye", as Colonel Knapp claims he would like to see the enemy.

   Almost immediately after passing over the ship (from my turret) you could see a big blast at the mid-section of the ship. Debris was flying all over the sky as the ship was sinking. It was then heard Lt. Sinclair ask about damage to "Little (Lil') Joe". You couldn't believe a plane could take such damage and still fly.

   We had taken an 88mm shell at close range (it didn't explode) that passed just outside the engine nacelle on the Co-pilot's side and left a big hole in the wing and tore away the right rudder. On the pilot's side, an 88mm shell passed through the wing between the engine and fuselage. Both Lt. Sinclair and Lt. Cassels (co-pilot) got blisters on their hands trying to keep Little Joe from going into the sea. We thought about "ditching" her, but the pilots nursed the plane home, over 200 miles.

   When we landed, the ground crews were ecstatic. Ole Veum saw our plight and thought we were mince-meat for the ME-109's fighters, but they never followed up. Those ground crew guys really sweated it out waiting for our return. Later, the guys dug out several small flak shell fragments elsewhere in the plane's fuselage, with the words "Krupp works" on the pieces.

   We lost two planes in our low level of six. None were lost in the high level. A co-pilot (Lt. Welton) from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on Stewart's crew, was killed. It was his first mission. The troop ship had 5,000 Germans and their equipment on it, according to our intelligence reports. Overall, three ships were sunk on this raid. The high level sunk a merchant vessel and the other three low level planes sunk a cruiser, but we lost a plane in this encounter. The convoy was completely destroyed in follow-up attacks by the Mitchells, two days later.

   One week later, we were scheduled for another low element sea sweep. Needless to say, everyone "sweated out" being the low level flight when sea sweeps were scheduled. We didn't sleep at all the night before the mission. Little Joe was grounded for a month for repairs and we were sick about flying a different plane. But, we made the mission. This convoy was not heavily armed and our P-38 escort cleaned up on the ME-109's. In fact, the P-38's strafed the Seibel ferries and deck guns. That's air superiority for you.

   Little Joe got patched up and had over 80 missions on it before I left on 01-19-1944. Other crews used our plane until replacements came over.

----- Clarence Gurnee

Curator's Note: Sgt. Gurnee passed away in 2007, this story is submitted by next of kin who may be contacted at the email below.

Email: Marshtron AT

Replace the  " AT " with @ without spaces


448th Bomb Squadron, 321st Bomb Group, 12th Air Force, Unit History Site including personal histories of Lt. Martin Biener, Lt. Theodore Kirk, Sgt. Irving Schaffer, photographs and a complete original air crew listing including Clarence Gurnee and his crew.



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