Biography of George G. Roberts

Radio Operator, 367th Bomb Sqd., 306th Bomb Group, USAAF

   I entered the service in Johnstown, PA on August of 1942 at the age of 21. After passing the examinations in Altoona, I was given two weeks to attend to my personal affairs and on August 26 rode a troop train to New Cumberland, PA induction center. I stayed there only three days, was given the usual immunizations and tests to determine my next assignment. On August 29 I boarded a train for St. Petersburg, Florida where I completed six weeks of basic training. From there I was sent to Scott Field, Illinois and enrolled in a 16 week Radio/ Operator Mechanic School. While at Scott I decided that since I was in the Air Force, I should try for a flying position and volunteered for aerial gunnery school. I was accepted, and after completing radio school shipped to Laredo AFB Texas to attend that school.

   I graduated from aerial gunnery school on April 17, 1943, was issued the standard A-2 leather jacket, wrist watch and 45 caliber pistol and then shipped to a replacement center at Salt Lake City, Utah. I remained there just five days undergoing additional dental work and then shipped out alone to Blythe Air Force Base, California to be a part of a B17 bomber crew and start Phase one of crew flying training. When I arrived at Blythe, I met other members of the crew. All the officers except the pilot were new second lieutenants just out of school with no experience in bombers. The pilot had flown in Panama as a Sergeant and was given the rank of Flight Officer which was a transition from enlisted to officer status. I was the last enlisted man to arrive, and was told that the rest of the crew had nearly finished phase one and we would be shipping out shortly for another base. I was assigned as the assistant radio operator and my gun position would be the ball turret. Five days later our crew shipped out and I had yet to fly in a B17. After a three day train ride we arrived at Dalhart AFB, Texas for Phase two training. This involved short flights getting used to the B17, attending ground school, practice bombing, and operating radio equipment.

   Normally, after 30 days of phase two flying training, crews ship out to a new base for phase three which features cross country flying. Due to a scheduling problem, we were advised that we would stay at Dalhart for phase three training and do our cross country flying from there. We made several long flights including Salina, Kansas and Gulfport Field, Mississippi. On one of these flights the pilot came to the radio room and wanted to know why I was always on the radio. The other radio operator said that he did not care for radio operating and that I always wanted to operate the equipment so he just let me do it. The pilot then told me that he was assigning me as first radio operator and the other airman would be the ball turret gunner. I appreciated that new assignment as it meant I could get an extra stripe.

   We completed our phase three training and after a seven day leave reported to the 9th Processing Group at Grand Island, Nebraska for further reassignment. On August 14th we departed by train to Hampton Roads, VA port of embarkation and suspected we would sail to the European theater for combat duty. We departed the US on August 20 traveling on the USS Argentina. We stopped in St. Johns, Newfoundland to join a convoy and after 17 miserable days in the North Atlantic arrived at Liverpool, England. From Liverpool we went to a replacement depot at Stone and then final assignment at Thurleigh, England, home of the 306th Bombardment Group and 367th Clay Pigeon Squadron.

   We were disappointed to learn that for the first five missions our crew would be mixed with other airmen who had combat experience. After two weeks of flying in the UK learning new radio signals, call signs, navigation procedures etc. we were advised that we could be alerted for a mission at any time. The first call came on October 8, when we were briefed on a mission to Bremen, Germany. This was a rough trip and our squadron lost two of out of six bombers and our copilot who was flying with another crew was in one of those shot down. The 8th AF lost 30 bombers.

   The next day, October 9 we flew to Gydina, Poland. This mission was over 11 hours and the longest one flown thus far. While we were lucky to escape the worst of the fighters, other groups were not and the 8th AF lost 28 bombers.

   The following day, October 10th we flew to the Ruhr, and 17 planes of our group suffered flak damage. Fighters attacked other groups and the 8th AF lost 30 bombers.

   The weather then turned bad and we stood down until October 14th when we flew to Schweinfurt, Germany to attack the ball bearing plants. This was an extremely tough mission and German fighters had a field day. Our plane was the only one from the 367th to reach the target and get back. Our group lost 10 bombers and the five that returned all had dead and/or wounded aboard. Out of a force of 241 attacking planes, The 8th AF had 60 bombers shot down and an additional 5 crashed landed in the UK. In my first four missions, the 8th AF lost a total of 148 bombers. About this time I figured we could never completed a 25 mission tour.

   Following the Schweinfurt mission, there were insufficient crews and planes to conduct missions and we stood down until October 20th on a mission to Duren, Germany. We were hit in one engine and since the pilot could not feather the propeller, it began to vibrate and shake the plane. We reduced air speed to the minimum and descended to 1000 feet. We were given a choice to bail out or try to ride the plane down. We all chose to stay with the plane. After 15 minutes the engine fell off and the vibration ceased. We returned to base alone with no further problems. All of our original officers were killed while flying with other crews. Our right waist gunner and myself were the only ones to stay together and complete the tour of combat.

   Due to the heavy losses in our squadron, I began to fly in the lead aircraft, and accordingly did not fly every consecutive mission. By January of 1944 I flew only when our squadron led the group. My last 24 missions were flown in the lead plane of the 306th Bomb Group. On two of these missions I was the Division lead operator, six as Wing lead operator and 14 as Group lead operator. While many of my remaining 26 missions were rough, the number of German fighter planes we encountered began to decline. The big concern in 1944 was anti-aircraft fire.

   In January of 1944 when I had completed 11 missions, I was informed that a combat tour was increased from 25 to 30 missions. When I reached 28 missions. The length of the tour was increased to 35. In view of the time I had been on combat, the group stated I would need to complete 31 missions. At the beginning we were assigned to one particular plane which we named "Cavalier". It was heavily damaged on the first mission and was not available for use until a week later for our fourth mission. This time the damage was so great that we never used the plane again. We flew many different planes thereafter until March of 1944 when we received a new G model named "Princess". After one mission we renamed it "Princess Elizabeth" in honor of the daughter of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England. While the Royal family was encouraged by the name, the Lord Mayors of London and Bedford thought it would be a bad omen should the plane be shot down. Accordingly we changed the name to "Rose of York", and a white rose, symbol of the house of York was painted on the front of the airplane. The King, Queen and Princess Elizabeth and General Jimmie Doolittle came to our base on July 6, 1944 to christen the aircraft. My final 16 missions were flown as the radio operator on this plane.

   I completed my combat tour a few days later, and was returned to the states. After three weeks of rest and recuperation I was designated for assignment to Scott AFB, IL and Kingman, AZ for refresher courses in radio and aerial gunnery. Following this training I would then be assigned to a B29 group for a tour of the Pacific. When I completed the radio course the Air Force policy on second combat tours was changed and I remained at Scott AFB as and instructor. I taught there until September 30th of 1945 when I was discharged from active duty. I remained in the Air Force Reserve for six additional years until I was medically discharged in 1951.

----- George G. Roberts

        robby49 AT  cableone DOT net


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