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Fighter escort

Training to crash land

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Clifford Rackley was born near Tifton, Georgia. He was young during the depression and saw the problems the big farmers had with foreclosures on their farms and watched his friends move to other areas. His father had been a grocer and had financial difficulties; this affected his health for the rest of his life.It was difficult to find work. Day labor was down to about 80 cents per day. Cotton had been selling for 30 cents a pound and it got down to 5 cents a pound. People in the farming communities couldn't pay their bills.In 1936, 1937, 1938, and 1939 labor rates were quite low, like 10 cents an hour.Programs like WPA [Annotator's Note: Works Progress Administration. Renamed in 1939 Work Projects Administration] were put into effect to help families out.Many people blamed Hoover [Annotator's Note: Herbert Clark Hoover, 31st President of the United States] and there were jokes made calling it [Annotator's Note: the Great Depression] Hoover's Era.Rackley witnessed lots of tough times. His family had difficulty making ends meet.During his last year of high school he worked 40 hours a week as a service station attendant for 10 cents an hour.That was a change for him and he was pleased to do it; prior to that he didn't do anything to help support the family.He spent a few months at West Georgia College, a trade school. He wasn't satisfied with that and moved to Clearwater, Florida. He made a deal with a shop there that put him through a program to learn paint and body work. While driving down Garden Avenue in Clearwater he heard the announcement that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.Rackley wanted to learn how to fly. He saw an ad in the paper looking for people in Dallas, Texas. In Dallas he was told that Mobil Oil was hiring high school graduates to work in their research laboratory. He liked that and decided that he wanted to be a chemical engineer.After getting his draft notice he went to the Air Force recruiting station. He took and passed the exam for aircrew.Rackley wanted to go in earlier and tried to get into the navy but his parents wouldn't sign for him. As a parent he understands why they didn't. He was inducted into the Air Force in March 1943. He was sent to Santa Ana, California for preflight. From there he went to Ontario, California for primary training where he flew the Stearman biplanes. From there he went to Marana, Arizona for basic flying training.Rackley wanted multiple engine planes. He was sent to Marfa, Texas where he got his commission and was recommended for B-17 [Annotator’s Note: American B-17 bomber] training in Roswell, New Mexico. This was his real desire. He went through B-17 transition training in Roswell. Each of these were about a nine week training program.He went to Salt Lake City where he got a crew of three officers and six enlisted men. In Rapid City, South Dakota they went through replacement training. They were trained to move into an existing group that needed an additional plane and crew.


Rackley was sent to Kearney, Nebraska for reassignment where he was given the keys to a brand new B-17 [Annotator’s Note: American B-17 bomber]. He took it up for one flight. It was so new that the compasses didn't work properly and there were other things that needed to be done to the plane that could only be done in the air.Rackley got a directive to be prepared to take off at night.From Kearney, he flew to Massachusetts to an airport of debarkation. There he had to sign a bunch of papers. One of those papers declared his plane expendable. That was the first thing he saw that made it clear that he was heading for combat.Rackley got his orders to fly to Italy to the 15th Air Force headquarters. There he was assigned to the 483rd Bomb Group located near Foggia, Italy. The airport there had a small runway with a steel mat. When they got there they were given a tent and some stakes and assigned a space to set up with the other officers of the 817th Squadron. Rackley was assigned top the 817th Bomb Squadron and began flying. His first day was training in the 555 formation. It was the best formation for defense.On Rackley's first day he flew a training mission but the rest of the group flew a mission to Memmingen, Germany. The group put up their full complement and 14 planes were lost to fighters that day. The group was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation. Rackley wasn't on that mission and feels lucky about that. The group had lost more planes on that mission than the entire 50 missions they had flown since they got to Italy. The men in the group were mad.The 483rd Bomb Group had gone in with no fighter protection or with any other groups. They went in alone.Rackley was welcomed as a replacement and was immediately assigned to a squadron. His new flight leader took him right out to teach him how the group flew missions. He soon learned how things ran around there.It was commonly known that men were only to drink water out of lister bags that had been treated with chlorine pills. They had to take atabrine and everybody turned a little yellow. The atabrine was required where ever there were mosquitoes.The military went all out to be sure that they had viable flying crews.They were given a canvas cot to sleep on and a blanket and a mosquito net. You were expected to sleep under the mosquito net.


Each crew had a tent to themselves. In the 483rd Group [Annotator’s Note: Bombardment group] there were about 20 tents.It was the summer and it was hot so they slept with the sides of the tent up.The pilots were friendly but after a while pilots wouldn't get close to other people. After you lose a friend you don't get close.The food was not completely crude. Breakfast was typically dollar sized pancakes which was an insult to a Southern boy who was used to large pancakes and cane syrup. The primary meat was Spam. When they got home they never wanted to see Spam again.The aircrews knew that the better food was going to the men in the front lines and they were alright with that.The attitude of the people in the group was good. People were getting their job done.Rackley's first mission was with a seasoned pilot. It was to a town in Germany. It was his first exposure to flak, seeing the antiaircraft shells bursting. It was fascinating to watch until you realized what it was.They had been exposed to what they were supposed to do. They had a helmet and a flak jacket. Subconsciously they would hunker down. The plane was the big target. Damage to the plane is what would make or break their survival.When the plane was hit they could feel it. They had some damage on every flight they went on. When they got home there were always holes in the plane. The ground crew would go to work patching up the holes.There was a special procedure for landing in combat. If the plane has been hit and the amount of damage is not known they did what was called ‘coming in hot’. They would literally drop onto the runway. It was a very abrupt landing.


Ploesti, Romania was a well known target. The group had gone there several times and had some substantial losses there. The defenses were very heavy. The Germans had both a lot of antiaircraft fire and fighters there. It was a dreaded target.In the summer they would fly in at 26000 feet. They would drop chaff out to confuse the German radar.Rackley went to Ploesti on three missions. On his last mission there the Russians were just outside of the city. They were hitting targets to assist the Russians. They were scheduled to go in at 30000 feet but their leader went up to 31500 feet. When they all got to 31500 feet they saw that all of the antiaircraft fire was going off underneath them. They had more problems going home than over the target. They had to fly over the mountains and flew through several storm systems. The mission had lasted 9 hours and 10 minutes. Rackley ran out of gas when he landed and he had landed on one engine. The Russians did end up taking the place.On one of his early missions they were flying near some clouds. His bombardier announced fighters at 11:00 o’clock high. Rackley looked up and saw two Fw 190s [Annotator’s Note: German fighter planes] headed for them. It looked to him that one of them was flashing his lights but it wasn't lights; it was the fighter’s 20 millimeter cannon firing. The planes were closing at 500 miles per hour. They came by so fast that Rackley's ball turret gunner some shots off at the fighters but that was it. Some of t other planes in the group got shots off. Fighters don't miss. They fire tracers and just follow them onto the target. Rackley's stomach rolled into a knot. That was his first exposure to close combat.Rackley had a lot of missions that had different types of difficulty. On one they were flying near Ploesti and the weather in southern Italy was moderate so that's what they dressed for. Their target was in northern Germany. They got to the target. The town had a zone defense where each gun battery had a zone to fire into. They ran into the first cool weather. Their planes had not been winterized. His propellers started running away. The propeller controls were in the hub of the propeller and the oil in them was freezing so the propellers would not adjust.It was 40 below zero at the altitude they were flying. They were flying in light flight clothes.Rackley's hands froze to the throttles. One engine shut down and another started running away. He realized what the problem was and started exercising his fingers so he was able to pull the emergency button out. His legs were frozen; they were white like pork meat.It was an hour or an hour and a half before he got any feeling in them. He was afraid he would lose his legs.The English planes used sheep ship lined boots but in Foggia they would work up a sweat.The quartermaster found them some electric socks. Rackley flew in weather 55 degrees below zero over the targets in far northern Germany.


On trip after the winter weather started to move in, they were briefed to a 50 knot head wind. They were in formation. Rackley was having trouble keeping in formation. His plane was heavier than most of the others because it was a newer model.They flew an hour and a half past where they were supposed to hit their target. Knowing that he would encounter fuel problems, Rackley ordered his ball turret gunner to get out of the ball turret and for the crew to loosen the turret. When they got over the target Rackley planned to drop the ball turret. Not only did the ball turret protrude out of the bottom of the plane and cause resistance but it weighed 2000 pounds. When they came off of the target they would throw away half of the guns on board and anything else they could throw out.They left home with 2800 gallons of fuel and had only 400 gallons when they got over the target.The navigator announced that they had passed the point of no return. They had also passed the point of being able to get back across the Adriatic.Their only hope was to go to Switzerland but if they went to Switzerland they would be interned for the rest of the war. There was little difference between that and being in a German prison camp.Rackley set the engines at 60 percent. He knew it was a risk without gun support but dropped back from the formation. In 45 minutes he was back at the Alps. He knew he had a 130 knot head wind [Annotator's Note: he means tail wind] so they were doing better than they had expected. They had hope that they could make it to the Adriatic. When they got to the Adriatic they still had a little fuel. Rackley knew that the British had a small fighter strip in Italy and headed for it. When they got there they were down to three engines due to lack of fuel. When they got to the strip it was crowded with other planes.Being 21 years old and having to talk to the crew about having to bail out over Germany or going to Switzerland was strenuous. Getting down on the ground in Italy the guys were extremely happy. They were not looking forward to ditching [Annotator's Note: slang for crash landing in water] in the Adriatic and having to call air sea rescue.


Munich was defended with 105 millimeter guns which were different than the 88 millimeter guns they were used to. They gave off different color smoke when they exploded.They took a hit and lost an engine during the bomb run. They knew it was a bad hit so they pulled off of the target and headed for home. Munich was not as far as some of their targets. Getting back on three engines was not a problem. When they got back they had a blown out tire, lost 8 fuel cells, and there were 65 holes in the plane. The shell had gone off just under the engine and if it had been any closer it would have taken the left wing off. That was one of the closest calls they had. Rackley's bombardier took some hits but not bad.On one mission to Vienna, when they were climbing and when Rackley reached 17000 feet the plane suddenly felt as if the brakes had been put on. He slid behind the formation and put more power to the other engines. He lost manifold pressure in one engine so he asked the ball turret gunner [Annotator's Note: Rackley more than likely means his top turret gunner as that gunner was typically a flight engineer] if the supercharger had gone out. When he got a negative response he turned the controls over to his copilot and went to look at the engines. He saw a fire in one engine. They got the fire out and when they got back they discovered that an exhaust pipe had cracked and was blowing hot gasses right on the fuel injector rail. That burned out the whole fuel injection system.There was a standard procedure to remove the fuses; drop their bombs and drop them before returning to base because of the risk of trying to land with bombs in the bomb bay.On another mission to Vienna, Rackley lost Simon. Simon was a pilot who frequently flew on his wing. He was the first of Rackley's friends to be lost.At Vienna there were oil terminals they were hitting. Vienna is on the Danube River that was heavily trafficked. Later in life Rackley went on a cruise down the Danube River with his wife and was able to point out a number of things to her that he remembered as they went along.One thing he remembered was when they got to Budapest. He had been on a mission to Budapest and he was on the outside of the formation. It was difficult to keep up with the formation and the crew kept voicing their concerns.They dubbed the name of the plane Pokey Joe based on that mission and it kept the name all the way through.When he went down the Danube River they went under the Chain Bridge in Budapest. Rackley recalls using that same bridge as a reference point on missions to Budapest. They hit armament works when they went to Budapest on that mission.On a mission to Ploesti, Rackley saw an enemy plane shoot at him but didn't see tracers. He saw the flashes. Their own .50 caliber machine guns they had aboard used a 5 pack of bullets. One was a regular bullet, 1 was a day tracer, 1 was a night tracer, 1 was armor piercing, and 1 was an incendiary. They used this pattern of every 5 bullets.The fighters that hit them did not turn around. They weren't supported by other fighters. They were hiding behind clouds and took an opportunity to make one pass at them.


On the mission to Blechhammer one of Rackley's partner's lost an engine. He saw the cowling fly off of the engine. His [Annotator's Note: the pilot’s] name was Olsen and he turned around to head home but didn't make it back. The Germans would pick off stragglers. It was difficult to go back by yourself.In Oswiecim [Annotator's Note: Oswiecim, Poland. More commonly referred to by its German name - Auschwitz] there was a synthetic fuel plant where they made both fuel and rubber. At the briefing they were told that there were two camps in the area that they needed to avoid because one held slave laborers and the other probably held downed Air Force people. They learned after the war that one of those was a Jewish extermination camp [Annotator's Note: Actually there were several, the largest being Auschwitz and Birkenau].Oswiecim was a tough target because of the distance from Foggia. The longer the distance the more chances of problems.Rackley was hit on almost every mission. The worst was a mission to Munich.Rackley doesn't recall a fighter escort to Oswiecim. If it was late they probably had an escort but if it was early they didn't. When they got escorts they would be P-51s [Annotator’s Note: American fighter planes]. The P-38s [Annotator’s Note: American fighter planes] could handle it.It was very comforting to have a flight of P-51 flying over them. When they had P-51s flying over them he was never hit by enemy fighters.Rackley guesses that they started getting fighter escorts around September [Annotator's Note: September 1944]. They were based not too far from them. Rackley doesn't recall knowing who they [Annotator's Note: the pilots flying the P-51s] were but it didn't make any difference. They were happy to have them.The Blechhammer missions were more harrowing than Munich because of the distance and Rackley was exposed to very heavy fire. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross because of the damage to the plane at Munich.His outfit couldn't reach Berlin and still return to Foggia. He believes the group made a mission to Berlin then flew to Russia where they refueled then returned.There were several key targets in Vienna. One of those was referred to as Weiner-Neustadt which Rackley thinks was west Vienna. There were fuel facilities there. There was talk among the group that that was a difficult target. As far as the city itself, the cities were never the target. They only attacked targets that had strategic value.


Munich had a lot of hits because the railroad yards were in the middle of the city. There was a lot of damage from stray bombs and misses.When they went to places like the Munich rail yards they would drop 12 bombs, 2 of which had timed fuses set from 2 to 72 hours. They were time delay fuses that kept things popping.When going after big plants like the Hermann Goering Tank Works [Annotator's Note: located in Linz, Austria], they needed very large bombs to destroy the heavy equipment. They learned later that slave labor would be brought in to dig everything out.Salzburg was Rackley's last mission. It wasn't defended as heavily as the others. There was little flak and no fighters. He was happy to get Salzburg over with.His group went to Greece to hit submarine pens. It was unusual but equally as important as the others.Other missions that were different included a mission to carry cluster bombs. They were to clear out an area in front of Clark's [Annotator's Note: US Army General Mark W. Clark] army so he could break out into northern Italy. This turned out to be a ploy to make the Germans believe that Clark would break through there in order to keep the 3000000 German troops in Italy tied up.Rackley had no crew members severely damaged. His bombardier got a Purple Heart but wasn't injured badly.He had no crash landings. They had practiced for crash landings. The B-17 would crash better on the ground than the B-24 [Annotator’s Note: American B-17 ‘Flying Fortress’ and B-24 ‘Liberator’ bombers] because of the way it was built. There would generally be a loss of about 50 percent of your crew during a crash landing. The best place to crash land was in about three feet of water. The next best place would be in the open sea. The planes had big fuel tanks and if they had used up a lot of fuel the empty tanks would act like pontoons. A B-17 would take about 5 hours before it sank completely. This would give the crew enough time to get out, launch rafts, and call f air/sea rescue. It was a comfort knowing that air/sea rescue was out there to help them out.Rackley was a first lieutenant. He was not flight commander which is like an assistant squadron commander. He [Annotator's Note: the flight leader] alternated as lead and would fly lead position about a third of the time. Rackley had a girl that he wanted to marry so he wanted to get his tour completed and get back home. That was a decision that he did not regret.


On the Memmingen mission, which was the first day after he arrived, the ball turret gunner was killed on another plane. During the course of the battle the ball turret was hit badly and kept revolving around until it got to a point where the gunner's body hung out for a while. The copilot sat there and watched that for quite a while until the gunner's body fell out. The copilot was in another plane. After that he came down with "toggle switch fever." If he was told to do something he would hit any toggle switch except the right one. He was grounded. The flight surgeon looked after them.That was the first case Rackley knew of problems. Things like that happened to people and it affected their performance.There are two types of people. In training they were told that they may have to ditch in the sea and may be in the water for a while. They never lost a plane commander because he was too busy looking out for the others. The rest of the crews were idle and more often had more problems. This is true in other areas as well. Rackley's crew came out alright. His copilot had more problems than he did. He began a 3 pack of cigarettes per day habit. Some men drank heavily. Some men changed their habits in combat. Rackley believes he quit smoking. The war does have an impact on people. He and his wife were in Miami a week or two after they were married and a car back fired and he hit the ground. He does not know how long it took for him to get over the stress. Having a girl to marry helped him a lot.Rackley understands that "toggle switch fever" was not uncommon.The flight surgeon would walk around and look at the people to see if any were having problems. He talked to people. On one occasion the flight surgeon flew as Rackley's copilot. He thought that the flight surgeon did a great job of looking after the men.


Rackley did not have much of a relationship with his commanding officer [Annotator's Note: Rackley is referring to his group commander]. He had way more contact with his squadron commanders.He served under three different squadron commanders. His first was a West Point graduate who was 22 years old. He finished his missions and there was a celebration when he finished those 35 missions.The Air Force moved a lot of their military graduates into command positions. It was unlikely that a civilian pilot like Rackley would be made a squadron commander. He feels that that was the right way to do it.Rackley went 35 times. There were two ways to count. They could fly north over the 38th parallel, or one of the parallels, and get double sortie credit. They could complete their mission tour by flying 50 sorties or 35 times over target. Rackley flew 35 times over target.They were losing about 1.4 percent of their planes per mission. Soldiers’ attitudes change if they think they have less than a 50 percent chance of survival.The war changed Rackley's life enormously. The events of the war created a great number of opportunities. He would not have been able to go to college. His career in the Air Force was a major advantage for him. He grew confident and with that confidence he set his targets higher.The G.I. Bill permitted him to go to college to get his degree in engineering.The war turned the United States over completely. Soldiers moved around and married girls from long ways away. Every community suddenly had members move away. It mixed up the whole population. Rackley married a girl from 2500 miles away from where he was from. The world became smaller for them.That war moved the United States into becoming the world power even though that was not the intention. It was not necessarily a popular war but the people had a favorable opinion of the military and went out of their way to do thing for soldiers.The friendliness of people towards soldiers amazed Rackley.Economically it developed America’s manufacturing ability.America has honorable intentions in their world affairs.


The whole world was at war. Rackley had to read about what was happening after the war because it was such a broad one. He had little concept of what was going on in the Pacific except for early on when the troops were bogged down on Guadalcanal and it looked pretty dim.Rackley had business relations with a Dutchman whose mother was killed by an American bomb. The man had been an underground fighter and was pleased that he had hidden a truck under a haystack so he would have it after the war.While sitting in a restaurant in England in the late 1960s a lady came over to Rackley and thanked him for what they did during the war. These were friendly countries. He doesn't know how the others looked at us at the time. The Japanese had to hate us. Some of the Germans may have hated us. He has had some business relationships with Germans.The Italians had to hate us. We said we were liberating them. The center of Foggia was bombed out because that is where the rail yards were. The people in Foggia were not friendly to them. They weren't hostile but they were not friendly.The Italians had been exposed to propaganda for five years. Rackley's tail gunner was Italian and had a grandmother living in Italy. He got leave and went to visit her. She spit on him and wouldn't let him in the door. Many of the Italians didn't like them for what they did.Young people know very little about these things [Annotator's Note: war]. Most of the information they get is from the media that is filtered which has an agenda. Rackley sometimes feels this to be un-American.Museums are beneficial to guiding them as to what happened.Rackley knew a fellow who wrote a book on Ploesti. The man was a bombardier in a different group out of Italy. It was called Over Ploesti or the Guns of Ploesti. In the book he detailed the uniforms and the gear carried in the panes.The 483rd Bombardment Group provided some information to a museum near Macon, Georgia at a base there. They had a mock up of a B-17.

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