Segment 1

Segment 2

Segment 3

Segment 4

Segment 5

Segment 6

Segment 7

Segment 8

Which was worse, flak or fighters?

Annotation

[Annotators Note: The interview begins with John Gibbons and the interviewer discussing what got the interviewer interested in World War 2.] John Gibbons and the interviewer talk about Bud Anderson [Annotators Note: USAAF then USAF Colonel Clarence Anderson, also known as Bud] who flew the Old Crow [Annotators Note: Colonel Clarence Anderson flew the P-51 Mustang named Old Crow]. John Gibbons grew up in Saint Marys, Kansas. When Pearl Harbor came along Gibbons knew he would be drafted. He did not want to be in the infantry or in the Marines so he tried to join the navy. He was a high school graduate. At the time the military had dropped the requirement that an aviation cadet have a minimum of two years of college. He went to Fairfax Field and tried to join the navy. He passed the mental tests but failed the physical because of his blood pressure. The doctor told him to come back another time which he did and failed the test a second time. The navy doctor offered to call the flight surgeon at Fort Riley so Gibbons went there and took a blood pressure test there. He passed it and went into the Army Air Corps. Before he went into the service Gibbons was working for Firestone and was in training to be a store manager. His secretary was dating an aviation cadet and that interested Gibbons. Gibbons had no trouble in primary flight training. He soloed in eight hours. When he got to basic he had a lot of trouble and almost washed out. After basic he went on to advanced training and then to B-17 training. Gibbons did not have a choice as to whether he would be flying bombers or fighters but he wanted to fly bombers. He did not think he was qualified to be a fighter pilot. Gibbons was trained to fly four engine aircraft. Gibbons was initially supposed to fly transport planes but was assigned to fly bombers instead. He went to Moses Lake where he picked up his crew. Many of the B-17 copilots had wanted to be fighter pilots.

Annotation

John Gibbons met his future wife in Kansas before deploying overseas. Gibbons acted as the copilot for the flight overseas. He flew right seat for a major. During the flight they made stops in Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland before finally arriving in Prestwick, England. In Prestwick Gibbons got his assignment to the 100th Bomb Group. Gibbons had heard of the 100th Bomb Group before he shipped out. He had read an article written by the man who wrote 12 O' Clock High [Annotators Note: Beirne Lay, Jr.] about a guy named Bucky Cleven [Annotators Note: USAAF Major Gale Cleven, also known as Bucky, was the commanding officer of the 350th Bombardment Squadron, 100th Bombardment Group]. Gibbons was impressed with what he read about Cleven who it was said was full of piss and vinegar. Gibbons did not think that he was full of piss and vinegar. He was only 22 years old and weighed about 135 pounds and did not know how well he was going to take it. Cleven was shot down before Gibbons was assigned to the 100th Bomb Group so he did not know him then, but they did become friends later on. As new guys they were told stories about how things had been. They were told that they only had a 50 percent chance of surviving. That did not weigh on Gibbons. He was over there to win a war. He did not think he was going to live through it but he did not think about it. The members of the group were a family and Thorpe Abbots was their home. When Gibbons got to Thorpe Abbots he was assigned a plane. Gibbons did not fly his first mission with his crew. He flew as a copilot on another plane. That was how it was done at the time. His first mission was to Regensburg. On that mission they were attacked by fighters and he saw flak for the first time. He was nervous and scared. This was the second Regensburg mission and the group did not suffer near the losses they had on the first mission. At least Gibbons does not recall seeing any of their planes going down. Seeing fighters coming at him for the first time created a feeling that he cannot explain. His first missions were not necessarily easy but they were nothing compared to later missions. Gibbons only flew one mission as a copilot then flew the remainder of them with his own crew. Gibbons flew all of the Berlin missions. The mission on 3 March [Annotators Note: 3 March 1944] was his first mission but it was scrubbed. The mission the following day was scrubbed as well, however six of them from the 100th Bomb Group had been assigned to fly the low element for the 95th Bomb Group. The leader of the 95th Bomb Group did not get the word that the mission had been scrubbed and led them to Berlin. The flight over the North Sea to Berlin was miserable. Gibbons does not know how the formation even made it to Berlin. The group was attacked by some fighters and received some flak. Something that surprised him was when they came down through the clouds he saw a P-58 [Annotators Note: unsure if he means a P-51 or a P-38] that was there ready to protect them and he was confident that it would. Their first two missions to Berlin were scrubbed. On the third mission they were murdered. That was the bad one.

Annotation

John Gibbons does not believe that there was much gloom and doom when they were told during the briefing that the target for the day was Berlin. They were told in advance that they would experience fighter attacks and would encounter intense flak. They were supposed to have fighter escort for parts of the mission but at the time there were no aircraft available that were capable of escorting them all the way to the target and back. Missions started with the airmen being woken up by a knock on the door of their Quonset hut. They did not know they would be going on a mission until that time. After being woken up they would go to breakfast then went to the mission briefing which lasted between 30 minutes and an hour. Then they were taken by truck out to their airplane. During this time the other crew members were preparing the plane for the mission. A flare from the tower told them to get into their planes then another told them to line up. Then they waited for the signal from the tower to take off. Each aircraft had its own specific place in the line and in formation. Gibbons was more concerned about landing than he was with taking off with a full bomb load. On 6 March [Annotators Note: 6 March 1944] it took about an hour for the group to form up after taking off. There were about 1,000 bombers going to the target that day so it took a while to get into formation. The weather that day was clear all the way to the target. It was a good day for flying and a good day to get hit. The group was hit over Abbeville. Gibbons was flying on the wing of the plane he flew his first mission aboard. That plane was shot down so Gibbons had to move over in the formation. The fighter attacks were vicious. They tore through them. Gibbons does not know how many enemy fighters there were but they shot down a lot of bombers. The bomber formation was torn apart. Gibbons job was flying the airplane. He had a crew aboard that he had to protect. He was a devoted pilot and saw himself as a pilot more than an aircraft commander. Gibbons was able to see the enemy fighters out there but his concentration was on flying the plane. The enemy planes attacked them head on. It was awful. Seeing something coming at them moving several hundred miles an hour produced a feeling that he cannot describe. Gibbons never felt helpless. He was confident in the plane and confident that his gunners could shoot down the enemy planes. Some of the enemy planes came by very close. The bombers were flying 15 feet or so apart. The enemy planes would fly between the bombers. They would attack from the front, sides, and back. Gibbons thinks the German fighter pilots were fantastic early in the war. Later on they were whittled down. Later in the war Gibbons had his windshield shot out in a direct frontal attack. The pilot Gibbons flew his first mission with was shot down in the first or second pass. Gibbons could see other planes going down as well. They had been told at the mission briefing that they should count the parachutes. The crewmen on Gibbons' plane counted the parachutes. He was busy flying the plane. On this mission the group lost 15 or 16 aircraft. Gibbons did not have any battle damage at all. He was lucky.

Annotation

When John Gibbons arrived over Berlin that day [Annotators Note: 6 March 1944] the flak was incredibly intense. Gibbons cannot describe the intensity of the flak and feels that no other description could accurately describe it. As far as Gibbons knows, none of the 100th Bombardment Group planes went down during that attack as a result of the flak. He believes that all the planes they lost were a result of enemy fighters. Gibbons had no idea how many aircraft had been lost until they returned to base and went to the briefing. Bob Shoens of the 351st Bombardment Squadron had the only crew from that squadron to survive the mission. This Berlin mission was the second Gibbons had flown and he was very green. After returning to base they went to briefing then went to the officer’s club and ate. He thinks that the veterans knew what had happened but he did not. At the post mission debriefing they were asked how many fighters the aircrews had seen. Two days after the 6 March mission they were sent back to Berlin again. It was shocking to the aircrews. Colonel John Bennett led the 100th Bombardment Group on that mission. During the mission the flak was as bad as ever but they did not lose any aircraft that day. Gibbons was more afraid of enemy fighters than flak. His crew feared flak more than fighters. He was afraid of the fighters because he could see them coming at him firing their 20 millimeter guns. Gibbons was so focused on being a pilot that he was able to ignore the flak but when he saw fighters at him it disrupted his concentration.

Annotation

They [Annotators Note: John Gibbons and the rest of the 100th Bombardment Group] were ordered by Doolittle [Annotators Note: USAAF then USAF General James H. Doolittle] and Spaatz [Annotators Note: USAAF then USAF General Carl A.“ ”Spaatz, also known as Tooey] to stand down for a week after they had been shot up so badly during the Berlin mission [Annotators Note: on 6 March 1944]. They did not have enough airplanes or crews to keep flying. Even though they were on stand down they did some training flights. On 19 March their mission was to a V1 site. It was supposed to be an easy mission. They were not supposed to see any fighters but may see a little flak. The mission was to take about four hours. The flak was very heavy. They started their bomb run out over the Channel and before they even got to the target they got hit. Gibbons knew that they had been hit but had no idea how badly damaged the planes was. He did manage to get his plane over the target and dropped his bombs on it. He then turned for the Channel and descended to 10,000. At some point he was informed by his crew that there were two bombs that had hung up in the rack. Gibbons told his bombardier and his top turret man to go get the two bombs out of the plane. They did so. Gibbons also had his crew throw everything that they did not need out of the plane. Then he turned the controls over to his copilot and went to survey the damage. When Gibbons saw the extent of the damage he did not think that he was going to be able to get the plane back. Gibbons returned to the cockpit and took the controls back and continued the flight to England. When he got back over England he located a fighter strip that he knew was long enough to land on. He ordered his crew to bail out but they refused and remained aboard as he brought the plane in for a landing. When Gibbons had gone back to check out the damage he saw that the radio operator [Annotators Note: US Army Air Forces Technical Sergeant Edward Walker, Jr.] was not where he had been and there was about a six foot by 12 foot hole in the airplane. Gibbons was not sure if the plane was going to hold together when he tried to land it. That is why Gibbons had told the crew to bail out. Gibbons had to stay with the plane anyway. He had given his parachute to his top turret gunner. Gibbons still thinks his crew should have bailed out when he told them to. The waist gunner told Gibbons that the radioman had fallen out when the plane was hit. After being hit Gibbons had a hard time controlling the plane. He lost control of the right side of the plane. Gibbons had read about airline pilots landing planes using very little power. He had been trained to land using a lot of power. That day he decided to land using very little power and managed to get his damaged plane down. Gibbons brought the plane in on two wheels. The landing was very smooth. On a previous occasion Gibbons had landed an airplane on one wheel during a training mission. He only lost two propellers and a wingtip. Knowing about this previous landing gave Gibbons' crew confidence that he would be able to land the plane safely that day too.

Annotation

John Gibbons is a big believer in the Boeing B-17. He saw a lot of planes that were damaged. Gibbons flew a plane named Miss Irish three times. The plane was scrapped after the 19 March [Annotators Note: 19 March 1944] mission to France. The crew chief had named the plane. Gibbons never knew who Miss Irish was. In his first five missions Gibbons flew to Berlin three times, Regensburg one time, and to the V1 site in France where Miss Irish was shot to pieces. There were times when Gibbons thought that he would not make it back but he did not think about death much. He formed bonds with his fellow officers. Especially those he lived with. They supported each other. Gibbons did have some sleepless nights. After the 19 March mission the flight surgeon at the fighter base brought him and the crew a bottle of scotch. Gibbons told the doctor that they did not need it. The doctor told him to take it because they would need it. The doctor was right. Gibbons still does not know how he got Miss Irish down in one piece. He did not go look at the damage to the plane after he landed. He had only gone to look at it while they were still in the air. The Berlin missions scared the hell out of Gibbons but he does not recall much of an after effect of those missions. Losing his radio operator [Annotators Note: US Army Air Forces Technical Sergeant Edward Walker, Jr.] on the 19 March mission had a lasting effect on him. A hot pilot picked up Gibbons and his crew and flew them back to Thorpe Abbotts. Gibbons flew 30 missions during his first tour. After completing that tour Colonel Price called Gibbons and seven other officers into his office and told them that he needed experienced officers. Colonel Price offered Gibbons and the others 30 days home leave if they volunteered for a second combat tour. Gibbons volunteered. He was the only one of the eight to return. The other seven claimed to have combat fatigue once they got back to the United States. Gibbons was a first lieutenant at the time and assumed that he would be promoted to captain when he volunteered for his second tour but when those seven other officers failed to return the promotions were frozen. Gibbons was eventually promoted but not until a few months later.

Annotation

To John Gibbons none of the missions he flew were as bad as the 19 March mission [Annotators Note: the 19 March 1944 mission to a V1 site in France during which his plane was heavily damaged and his radioman was killed]. Gibbons flew six missions to Berlin during his first tour and two during his second. His 49th and last mission was to Berlin. On one of those missions the windshield of his B-17 was blown out. That was most likely on the mission on 19 May [Annotators Note: 19 May 1944]. The mission to Leipzig was bad. They had flown to northern Berlin to knock out the facility where Hitler was making an atomic bomb. That was a long mission. Leipzig was a very long mission. The worst place Gibbons flew that compared to Berlin was when they flew missions to the oil targets in Merseburg. The flak and fighters were always bad and it was an extremely long mission. On a mission to Merseburg his crew was shot down while he was home on leave. The first five missions he flew had been with a different pilot. Then they had to fly another five missions without him. On one of those missions they were shot down. The copilot [Annotators Note: US Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant Robert Dykeman] and top turret gunner [Annotators Note: US Army Air Forces Staff Sergeant Ira L. Arnold] were hanged by the citizens of Merseburg. The rest of the crew ended up in a prisoner of war camp. Gibbons did not learn of the fate of his crew until after the war. Gibbons recognized that he was trying to kill people when he bombed target cities. They were trying to kill him. He felt strongly about killing people who were just like him. Gibbons feels that his religious beliefs may have had something to do with that. Gibbons flew 49 missions. Only two other members of the 100th Bombardment Group flew more than that. Gibbons purged his mind of many of the details of his missions. He remembers his first five missions very vividly but only remembers bits and pieces of his other 44. Overall he feels that he was very fortunate. On one mission they were attacked from the front just before they started their bomb run. A 20 millimeter shell exploded outside of his plane and blew out his windshield. He made it to the target and dropped his bombs. Then he immediately dropped down to the deck where he was picked up by a P-51 who escorted him back.

Annotation

John Gibbons has no regrets from his service during the war. He had a very successful career during which he held very important government jobs. He also met two presidents. He has had a beautiful life. Gibbons had two sons. Neither of them decided to follow him into the US Air Force. After the war they moved all over the country and were tired of the lifestyle. Gibbons feels that future generations should know why it was important for his generation to fight in World War 2. As far as knowing what they did he does not feel that that is important. His copilot was Jewish and was hanged after his aircraft was shot down. Gibbons later met a German fighter pilot who he spent some time speaking with whom he thought may have attacked the 100th Bomb Group but other than that he had no association with them.

Annotation

When John Gibbons arrived over Berlin that day [Annotators Note: 6 March 1944] the flak was incredibly intense. Gibbons cannot describe the intensity of the flak and feels that no other description could accurately describe it. As far as Gibbons knows, none of the 100th Bombardment Group planes went down during that attack as a result of the flak. He believes that all the planes they lost were a result of enemy fighters. Gibbons had no idea how many aircraft had been lost until they returned to base and went to the briefing. Bob Shoens of the 351st Bombardment Squadron had the only crew from that squadron to survive the mission. This Berlin mission was the second Gibbons had flown and he was very green. After returning to base they went to briefing then went to the officer’s club and ate. He thinks that the veterans knew what had happened but he did not. At the post mission debriefing they were asked how many fighters the aircrews had seen. Two days after the 6 March mission they were sent back to Berlin again. It was shocking to the aircrews. Colonel John Bennett led the 100th Bombardment Group on that mission. During the mission the flak was as bad as ever but they did not lose any aircraft that day. Gibbons was more afraid of enemy fighters than flak. His crew feared flak more than fighters. He was afraid of the fighters because he could see them coming at him firing their 20 millimeter guns. Gibbons was so focused on being a pilot that he was able to ignore the flak but when he saw fighters at him it disrupted his concentration.
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 

All oral histories featured on this site are available to license. The videos will be delivered via mail as Hi Definition video on DVD/DVDs or via file transfer. You will be purchasing the oral history in its entirety but will be free to use only specific clips. Please contact the Museum at digitalcollections@nationalww2museum.org if you are interested in licensing this content. Please allow up to two weeks for file delivery or delivery of the DVD to your postal address. See more information at http://ww2online.org/faqs.