Early Life

Becoming a Pilot

Flying out of England

Early Bombing Missions

D-Day Bombing MIssions

B-24 Liberator Performance

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Jack C. Sanders was born in 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When he had to leave his hometown because of his work or service, he longed to return. He grew up with six brothers. Two of his brothers served during the war. One was in the Navy and the other was a tower operator in Georgia. All three boys who served survived the war. Sanders had a rather sparse education. When he returned home from the war, he had a child and wife to support. While in the Air Force, he was married and his family moved with him on many of his assignments. Sanders was 20 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked [Annotator’s Note: on 7 December 1941]. He remembered his experiences that day. He, his wife and an older brother were on a picnic in a park. Upon returning home, a neighbor was observed making frantic motions. When questioned by the returning group, the neighbor revealed the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The incident was a shock to Sanders, but it did not mean as much to him at the time as it would later. Sanders had little knowledge of the situation until he listened to details on the radio. There was no TV at the time. Right away, there was a concern about an attack on the West Coast. At his age, Sanders was subject to be called up for military service. He had a just started at TU, Tulsa University, at the time. He was there on a scholarship from Tulsa Central High School. Military recruiters descended upon the university almost overnight in search of enlistees. Sanders knew he wanted to serve. He desired to be in the air force. As a 20 year old inexperienced young man, the air force sounded romantic to him.

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When Jack Sanders decided to enlist, he knew nothing about air operations let alone how hard it was to get into the air force. What he did know was that he wanted to fly planes and become a pilot. He handled flight training well. Unlike many others, he never had motion sickness while in his initial training in Oklahoma City. He went to Boise, Idaho for advanced flight training. He trained on B-24s [Annotator’s Note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber] early on after initial flight training in a large two engine aircraft. When Sanders first walked up to a B-24, he asked someone if the plane could actually fly. It looked like it would be like flying a barn. It seemed a real challenge to get it off the ground and fly, but it did indeed fly. Sanders was sent to Casper, Wyoming where his crew was formed up. They stayed together throughout the war. They built a great sense of camaraderie which was important. The group members came from one end of the country to the other. The youngest man was from California. He was the radio operator. Sanders did not have confidence in him at first because of his youth. The flight engineer was the oldest man in the group. He had worked for a tractor firm before his service. The copilot was a small man who was younger than Sanders. His name was Marvin Smith. The two pilots hit it off pretty well. Although some competition formed between the two pilots, they respected each other. The crew flew a brand new bomber overseas from West Palm Beach, Florida via the southerly route just before Christmas. It was a hazardous trip but the navigator felt good about it. That was reassuring to Sanders. It was an interesting flight, particularly with the bad weather. Accurate navigation was a necessity. Sanders came to have faith in his navigator on the trip. The plane flew the Caribbean through the Atlantic to an airbase that had been hollowed out of an olive grove. Ultimately, they flew to England where they were based. They crew flew by themselves without being accompanied by other aircraft. It was a hazardous flight considering the bad weather. While over Scotland, the plane was low on fuel. The bomber was landed and refueled before proceeding on to the base in southern England. The base was known as Old Buckenham. It was a well equipped base. Sanders arrived there around 15 December 1943.

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Jack Sanders had the opportunity to take leave in London and some of the other towns of England while he was stationed nearby. He admired the British people in the little towns he visited. He rode by bus or train to access small towns on the southern end of the island. He hired a taxi to ride around the town. Prior to reaching England, he came upon Churchill and Roosevelt who had met for a conference. This was in the small town where the olive grove had been cleared. He was advised by some of the local populace to avoid having the taxi venture too close to the area. The days before Sanders’ first missions over Europe were pretty busy with training and instruction. The air lanes were very busy with aircraft flying overhead. It was essential to know what they were doing while aloft. The crew attended various ground schools including those related to how to get along with the local population. They were advised of what to say and not to say to the British. They were taught to respect the local populace, particularly the women and children. Sanders got along well with the English civilians. Other airmen may have felt differently, but Sanders admired them for their guts and determination. All the British males remaining on the island were either old men or young boys. Dealing with the Americans was not always the easiest thing to do for the British.

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Jack Sanders flew his first missions over Europe prior to 6 June [Annotator’s Note: 6 June 1944]. He flew his first mission with another crew as a training mission during which he had no particular duties. It was a long mission to the southern part of Germany. It was a reasonable flight with a limited amount of enemy flak. When they finished the mission, they returned and felt like it was a good flight. He told his crewmates that it was not too bad and explained to them what they could expect. It was not bad because of the limited flak. Flak, or antiaircraft fire, was the most terrifying experience. It would get their attention when they smelled the smoke and heard the exploding enemy shells and shrapnel hitting the plane. Missions might last eight or nine hours. They were limited by the amount of fuel carried by the plane. German supply and marshaling yards were primary targets. One mission over a marshaling yard in southwestern Germany was his worst flight. It almost resulted in Sanders being killed. The yards were heavily protected. This particular one was a significant target as the Allies prepared for the invasion. The higher ranking officers at the briefing told the bomber crews not to return without destroying the yard. The bombers usually carried 500 pound bombs but some 1000 pound bombs were also carried. The B-24 [Annotator's Note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber] could carry a larger load than the B-17 [Annotator’s Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber]. While stationed in England before the invasion, there was much talk about the pending landings. The talk always seemed to be the subject of the day. A higher level of excitement was in the briefing room several days before the start of the invasion. The discussions always stressed what needed to be done by the bomber crews. The focus was not on what the commanders would LIKE to be done, but rather what MUST be done in preparation for the big event.

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Jack Sanders took off unusually early on the day of the Normandy invasion [Annotator’s Note: 6 June 1944]. It was about three in the morning when Sanders piloted his bomber [Annotator’s Note: a Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber] over a different route than he usually took to the continent. He flew over the white cliffs of Dover across the Channel toward France. Belgium was a hot spot. Gaining altitude was important to avoid enemy antiaircraft fire. Huge moveable barges loaded with ammunition were their targets. The intelligence people would indicate the new locations for the barges. The bombers would seek them out based on the latest information. Unfortunately, the enemy often moved the barges making them hard to target. The American bombers were limited to the evasive action they could perform. The fuel and bomb loads demanded that they drop their ordnance in a direction that would pay dividends. To do otherwise would be referred to as an aborted mission. An emergency might warrant an aborted mission, but there had to be a good excuse. Sanders only aborted one time in his 51 missions. Sanders flew two missions on D-Day. The first mission was a short one just across the English Channel. It was against a French town that had been heavily armed. After the bombs were dropped, the bomber returned to base. Doctors were waiting on the returning bomber crews to see how they held up under the combat. A drink of liquor was provided to bolster the nerves. A call was made for another flight that day. The men had to confirm that they were able and willing to make the flight. Sanders felt he was physically and mentally ready and capable to fly even more than the next mission requested of them. He knew the significance of what was happening. The briefings with the associated maps were excellent that day. The crewmen knew what was happening. The call for crews resulted in Sanders and his crew saying they were ready. Seven or eight crews would fly the short and easy mission to take out a bridge on the Rhine River. It was meant to disrupt an enemy reinforcement attempt against the landings. After the landings, the intelligence people revealed to the bomber crews how successful they had been. After taking the beaches, the missions continued. The flight crews recognized that their skills were increasing. It gave the men confidence. Sanders did not like to associate with anyone who fatalistically viewed the future. He preferred to be around those with a positive and optimistic attitude.

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Jack Sanders felt that despite its bad reputation, the B-24 [Annotator’s Note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber] was a workhorse. It was very dependable. Certain aspects were noted for its durability and dependability. The B-24 was not built to float so if a crew had to make a water landing, they were in trouble. The B-17 [Annotator’s Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber] was designed with a wide wing to land well and float longer on water than the B-24. The narrow B-24 wing plowed up water on landing and it could flop over. In flying over Germany, the enemy flak was more prevalent and thicker than the threat by enemy aircraft. Enemy fighters were more scattered where flak appeared to be more solid. The air was filled with smoke and round balls from the exploding flak. The explosions would be directly in the path of the oncoming bombers. The flak could be tasted as a plane flew through it. Jet encounters were limited. The end of the war came just in time to avoid more impact of enemy jet fighters. The Focke-Wulf [Annotator’s Note: the Focke-Wulf Fw-190 fighter aircraft] was an effective enemy fighter. Although Sanders’ bomber never did catch fire, he had one mission in the southern part of Germany that was a critical mission. It was against a supply base that had to be destroyed. All was going as planned when the flak commenced. The Germans had to protect their supplies. Nearing the coastline, the antiaircraft fire intensified but they had to continue on to the target. Fuel was becoming critical. It was nearing the time to return home. Although defenseless, the bombers pressed onward. The number three engine was damaged and Sanders had to drop out of the formation and start homeward. The other bombers were gradually moving away from Sanders’ wounded bomber so he made the decision to head homeward. They made a run to the English Channel but were in bad shape. Another engine was lost so the plane had only two engines when crossing the Channel. The plane lost altitude but made it across the Channel. Enemy aircraft dropped away and the situation improved. After crossing into England, the crewmen knew they had a chance to successfully reach base. They landed not knowing that the mission was one of the last they were to fly.

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