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Norman     Chown

 

Personal Legacy
NORMAN H. CHOWN
World War II
Memories and Biography

(Taken from letters to Will Lundy)

Dear Will:

My crew must have been different form every other combat crew in the 44th H BG.

Most of the people who tell me about their crews indicate they were the best in the 8th AF. They seem to tell me that they never made a mistake and operated in a very professional way.

On the other hand, before each mission, my pilot would determine the wind direction and speed. Then he would say, "If we get shot down over the target, bail out and pull the ripcord as soon as possible so you will land a long way from the target."

This statement failed to give us a great deal of confidence that we would be returning to England. One morning, a briefing officer accused us (all the 44th) of dribbling bombs all over Europe. He wouldn't even limit it to Germany.

My crew blew it on three different occasions. By that, I mean we dropped our bombs, but not on the target assigned or any place we could advise the de-briefing officer. There was a different reason for each time we erred.

The first time, the nose gunner toggled the bomb release before we got to the I.P. He had been sleeping and when someone on the intercom mentioned seeing a smoke bomb, it awoke him and he, without thinking, hit the toggle switch. Of course, the smoke bomb was dropped by a group other than ours, and because the bomb bay doors were not open, the bombs went through them.

We stayed in formation, and while we were on the bomb run, I spent my time trying to catch the flopping doors from the catwalk with a wire to stabilize them shut.

The second time, we had problems with the aircraft and were unable to fly the mission in that plane. When we so advised the tower, they assigned us to another plane. So off we went and took off in a plane belonging to a different squadron.

Again, before we reached the I.P., the bombs went through the close bomb bay doors. This time the bombs were released by a radio receiver on our plane by a signal sent from a transmitter on the lead plane in that other squadron.

Whoever told us to change planes was not aware that we had been briefed to bomb one target and the plane's receiver was set to the squadron bombing a different target, long before we got to ours.

Again, I spent the bomb run on the catwalk with the flopping doors, cussing anyone and everyone!

The third time was the real thrill. We were loaded with a bunch of 100 pounders. They all had the yellow stripe around the nose that indicated they really did not need to be armed. A good hit would set them off. Rumor had it that a G.I. had kicked one off the back of a truck and blew up an entire bomb dump!

As I remember it, the 100s were held by cables. Five or more to a bundle, three bundles high and two deep on each side of the bomb bay. So I think there were 30-100 pounders on each side.

Because it was also my job to see that the bombs were armed before they were dropped, I had removed all the cotter keys from the arming device, which contained a small propeller. I understood that when the propeller made 100 revolutions, the bomb was armed and live.

We came to the I.P. and I opened the bomb bay doors and the wind came in and the little propellers started turning.

At the target, the top two bundle of bombs let go, but the bottom bundle did not. As a result, the ten higher bombs were loose and were resting on top of the lowest bundle and the side of the catwalk on every single stack, not one bomb was dropped, or left the plane.

Our tail gunner, who had been to armorer school, felt the safest thing to do was to remove the arming device by unscrewing it and carefully lifting the top bomb off while hoping it did not dislodge the others. We would then carry the bomb to the waist and throw it out the waist window.

We closed the bomb bay doors to stop the wind form turning the arming propellers, but we had no way of knowing how many turns had taken place. One by one the bombs were disarmed and tossed out the waist.

None of the bombs dislodged and the tail gunner's plan worked. Later, when I asked if any of the bombs had exploded when they hit, we discovered that no one had bothered to watch or even look. We were so intense on removing the danger from the plane.

We were so lucky on the way home that the gunners were able to leave their guns and take the time to carefully disarm each of the 60 bombs and toss them out the waist. It would have been easier to toss them out the bomb bay, but the wind might have dislodged one, so we felt it better to keep the doors closed.

The 60 bombs we threw out the waist window had to be the ultimate bomb dribble of all time.

Sincerely, Norm.



Dear Will:

One of the strangest and most unexpected things that happened to me in England was not involved in combat, but rather one evening while on pass.

It was the evening after I bought a new bicycle. When I was a kid, growing up in Oakland, California, I had bicycles all the way from scooter bikes to tall 28" jobs. I lived in the hills and my bike riding, for the most part, was up and down hills.

But none of these bikes I grew up with could compare with the beautiful bike I bought in England. It was jet black in color. It had beautiful, thin tires and fenders. It was lightweight and seemed to have wings - it went so fast!

With a class A pass in my hand, I decided to scout the area and get familiar with the surrounding countryside. When I left the base it was still light, thanks to the double daylight savings time.

Leisurely, I rode through the countryside. The ride was easy and it seemed hardly necessary to pump, so I did a lot of coasting. Eventually, I came to a pub and decided to investigate. It also crossed my mind that the trip back to the base would be a lot tougher because it seemed that I had been coasting down hill all the way since I left the base.

There were three or four friendly couples in the pub and I was the only American. While I was trying to decide what to have, someone asked me if I had ever tried Stout. I hadn't, so that was my drink for the evening.

The glasses of stout were big and black and if I remember right, thick tasting! Over 40 years later, I don't recall if I had more than one or how long I stayed. I do remember it was dark when I left the pub to return to the base. I was also worried about the work of climbing those hills back to the base because it was all down hill to the pub.

To my surprise, the road back started down hill. I started pumping in earnest because I would need speed to help climb those hills. I was now dreading the ride back. "Why had I gone so far? Now I had a difficult ride back!" But to my surprise, the road kept on downhill. The bike and I just flew down the road. Then it hit me. I was on the wrong road and probably going the wrong way away from the base. But no. there was the gate to the base.

The next day I told my pal, Bill McCart, about how I had ridden downhill to the pub. How I had a few glasses of stout and how I rode downhill all the way back to the base.

Bill was older and wiser. He explained how the English bikes are the same as American bikes and how this could not be a miracle because the Lord was not into bike miracles.

He said the answer was in five words. Don't count the stout out!

I never tried it again, but some day - some day - just to be sure I'm going back and try it!




NORMAN R. CHOWN
World War II
Memories and Biography

(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)

587 Summerfield Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95405

Hey Will:

My memories of England extend to a lot of different areas in addition to the combat missions and the good friendships made and all the other wonderful things that happen in a strange country.

As usual, I started off on the wrong foot with my attitude, but only because an officer gave me a wrong steer. I always believed everything an officer would tell me.

At Hamilton Air Force Base, across the Bay from San Francisco, we were getting a series of features. The last one was from a Chaplain. He was very outspoken. The only thing I remember him saying was, "I know where you are going and if they put a roof on it, it would be the biggest whore house in the world."

Because I was young, inexperienced and all I could think of was "Goodie, goodie, goodie, we're going to a whore house."

Such an introduction did little to endear American to the mothers of English girls. But a chaplain wouldn't fib, would he? In any event, I found such an introduction to be erroneous, and my year in England was a lot of fun and also interesting.

My first encounter with the English ladies was with a Red Cross gramma-type. She was handing out doughnuts and coffee. She told me how proud she was of her coffee. "Just like in the states," she said. "It is the best in all of England." Well, I was happy until I tried it. After my first gulp, I never trusted a gramma again, and I never had a cup of coffee off the base again.

However, in compensation, I will say the English brew the best tea in the world and I have never had a cup of tea as good since I left. The whole coffee experience was my fault. I learned about English cooking on the boat going to England. As I remember after one meal, it was candy bars for the next seven days.

Then there was the lovely young lady in London that took me to a restaurant for a "good" steak dinner. We had steak, but I'm not sure what kind of an animal it came from. The plate is served and it looks just fine. But the first bite tells you something is wrong! The taste is different - odd - strange - and you don't dare swallow it. The lady, of course, is smiling and eating as fast as it will go down. I don't want to think about that anymore!

Sincerely, Norm





NORMAN R. CHOWN
World War II
Memories and Biography

(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)

587 Summerfield Rd.
Santa Rosa, CA 95405
707-539-6757

Dear Will:

There are missions I can recall with some accuracy and there are a lot more that are a complete blank. My memory plays tricks on me often but to the best of my recollection, the following is fairly close to what really happened on a mission to Cologne.

Briefing, of course, was very early in the morning. I was half asleep and half awake. The part of me that was awake hoped for a milk run. Both parts came very much awake when the briefing officer said, "This will be known as our 5th trip to Cologne, the other four didn't do the job." He also bragged, "We are really lucky because our group is leading the wing division and the entire air Force today."

They really knew how to make you proud, patriotic, and scared to death.

I don't recall anyone leaving before the chaplain said a prayer.

I was a radio operator in the 4th plane. Our nose was right under the lead plane's tail.

We also had an extra man aboard. He was some kind of radar operator. It seems he would send down signals to the Germans to mess up their radar and they wouldn't know our altitude and would miss with the flak guns.

Also, this was necessary because as a lead squadron, there was no one ahead of us throwing out chaff. That would come later with those that followed.

On the way to the target, we went by way of Zieder Zee where there was a 3-gun emplacement. It seems to me we always went over this spot, and we always activated those guns.

Later in life, I wondered if there was an agreement we had with the Germans that they would send inexperienced artillery to Zieder Zee to practice and our pilots could practice avoiding the flak.

Only once did I see them bit anyone. The only reason the plane was hit in my opinion was he never moved, but flew the same heading at the same altitude until the gunner below tracked him, caught up with him, and hit him.

We had no opposition to the target and when we came to, the I.P. I opened the bomb bay doors and adjusted an extra flak jacket on the floor where I squatted. The extra flak jacket was there for psychological reasons to protect the family jewels.

From the I.P. on, the flak started. First the windshield was knocked out. No one was hurt but it created quite a breeze through the plane. Then the clatter of spent flak against the skin of the plane let me know the radar man wasn't doing too good a job.

I had removed the cotter keys from the arming mechanism on the bombs and the little propellers were spinning fairly good with all the wind going through the plane.

So the bombs were close to being fully armed and ready to explode if hit.

My job was to open the doors, give the old "bombs away," call and then close the doors when all the bombs were clear.

I glanced at the bombs and all I could see was black smoke.

Remember the guy that said, "There are no atheists in fox holes." He could have added, "there are also no atheists at 18,000 feet in B-24s, only Cologne too!!"

Time went so slow I was wondering if the distance between the IP and the target was over 100 miles.

Then every now and then little holes appeared in the fuselage, as the flak went through.

I was never a very religious fellow, but as the black smoke kept filling up the bomb bay, I began to understand what real fear was and I started to pray the only pray my grandmother taught me.

"Now I lay me down to sleep..." then I went blank. I started over. "Now I lay me down to sleep," again I went blank. Over and over I started but got no further.

Later, thinking about it, I guess the man upstairs couldn't believe his ears. "Here was a so-called Christian who wanted help but could not remember one prayer."

The fact he didn't take me right then and there proves he is a forgiving and gentle God. He must have decided that I really needed help and that was not the time to take me. He probably thought I was too dumb to go to hell and he wasn't looking forward to seeing me upstairs.

Finally, the bombs were dropped. I closed the doors and went back to the radio. We landed safely and not one person was hit.

Later, I was told the plane had 180 small holes in it.

When I got out of my clothes, three pieces of metal fell to the floor.

I was still in some sort of shock and sat on the floor.

I smoked an entire pack of cigarettes, sitting there and wondering if I could ever fly again.

I did not eat for two weeks and lost so much weight I earned the nickname of "Frankie" (after Sinatra).

That was my third mission and I flew 20 more plus three aborts, thanks to the man upstairs with a sense of humor to be able to laugh at me and give me another chance by delaying my fourth mission for a month which gave me time to conquer my fear and be able to continue flying.

Thanks for listening,

Norm




Norman R. Chown
World War II
Memories and Biography

(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)

April 2, 1945

Tirstrip A/F - Denmark
The Worst Non-Mission I ever Flew

After all these years, there is very little I remember about most of the missions I flew. There is, of course, one exception...a mission that seems like it was yesterday, and I recall almost everything that happened.

It started out with the briefing officer stressing that the target had to be visual. The target was in German-occupied Denmark. "You are not to bomb through clouds or fog or smoke. You must be able to see that target. Under no circumstances do we want to harm or hurt any of the Danish people. The people of Denmark are our friends and we must take great care to protect them."

If you cannot drop the bombs at the target, there is a designated area in the North Sea. We do not want you to attempt a landing with the bombs on board.

The missions seemed simple. Sure would call it a milk run. To me, the worse part was the coming and going. It was over the North Sea and I always felt uneasy fling over water in a B-24. The plane was not known as a great plane for ditching.

There was also the rumor that the North Sea was so cold that a downed flyer could not last longer than 20 minutes on the warmest day of summer.

As a radio operator, I had a special job on this mission. I was to monitor the SOS frequency No. 500, and do anything I could to assist a plane in trouble.

At the proper time, we took off, formed, and headed for the target. Once we were over the North Sea, I switched to the 500 frequency to listen for SOS. I had expected top hear Morse code, and it surprised me when I heard a voice that had to be German calling, "Actung Luffwaffe," over and over.

I thought, "Oh, hell, they know we're coming and we are gang to have fighters for the whole mission." I repeated my fears to the crew and told them to keep a look out for enemy fighters. In my youth, I called them bandits!

We flew at least three hours to get to the target in Denmark and every 15 minutes or so the German voice called for, "Actung Luffwaffe." Each time, I imagined we were going to go down in that cold, cold, cold North Sea. I begged those gunners to keep their eyes open.

I activated the bombs by removing the cotter keys, long before the target. I wanted to make sure we could get out of there as fast as possible, if necessary. When we got to the target, it was not visible. Just 100% cloud coverage. I hoped we would get out of there as soon as possible, but no...the leader was hoping the clouds might go away, so we flew around for a while waiting for the target to get visible. I figured this would be my last mission. If Luffwaffe didn't get me, one would run out of gas and the cold North Sea would do the job.

Eventually, we headed back to the base and we arrived at the place to drop our bombs. I was exhausted from fear. Fear of non-existent enemy planes, and fear of the North Sea. I did not replace the cotter keys in the bombs and when they hit they must have given a real thrill to a lot of fish.

At the de-briefing, I told the officer about the Luffwaffe calls and the fears I had. He then put the knife in and turned it good. Sorry, gentlemen, he said, because there was no enemy action, flak or planes, this cannot be counted as a combat mission and you get no credit. Some days were like that.

So I spent six hours experiencing fears of non-existent enemy action which, of course, brings to mind FDR's warning about Fear, which did not occur to me at any time during those six hours.

Norman R. Chown




NORM CHOWN
World War II
Memories and Biography

(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)

Dear Will:

I wanted to write and thank you for the books and all the trouble and problems you have had.

When I first went to G.B. I was in the 389th HBG in Halesworth. I flew three missions with the crew I trained with, and when the 389th in October of 1944 went back to the USA to train in B29s, my flight engineer, Charles Moffett, and I, a radio operator, were sent to the 44th HBG and assigned to the 506th Squadron.

Our crew was made up of members who all had been in trouble one time or anther. Oh, nothing requiring a courts marshal, but we didn't warm their hearts. Charles and I had three missions and Lou Confer, the pilot, had about 16. The rest of the crew had a different number also.

The nose gunner was originally a flight engineer on his original crew, but when this pilot offered to beat up anyone on the crew, he took the dare and beat the hell out of his pilot. That was his story. A waist gunner had been a ball gunner, but one day when landing, he couldn't get out of the ball, so he fired his guns to let the pilot know.

The tail gunner had a drinking problem, mainly because when he broke his ankle and missed a mission, his crew did not return. His second crew did not return, when, because of the flue, he missed a mission.

The navigator was a staff sergeant. He had flunked out of navigator school because he did not understand cyclestial. When he came over as a gunner, they made him our navigator because No one used the "stars" to navigate.

The pilot, Lou Confer, was a regular Army MP. When he got his wings he was made a flight officer, not a 2nd Lt.

I remember the copilot as being very afraid to fly. Also I do believe he, at one time, got in a heated argument with a major!

When pilot Lou Confer finished his missions, we got Milt Parrish. He was from Florida and had quite a drawl. He visited a friend and flew in a B17. He said, "Hell, all they did was put three more engines on a piper cub."

I noticed the only member of my crew that was listed in the history was Milt Parish and Grady I. Casen, a gunner. Lou, Charles, and I were committed. Oh, well, there goes my glory, after 20 missions with the 506th. I'm happy to be in one piece with all my marbles.

Maybe some day I'll tell you what I did to get on that crazy crew.

All the best,

Norman Chown.

P.S. On page 70 of the 67th history, there is an account of the bomb bay doors not opening. Hell, we went through that many times!

It happened when someone would take a leak in the bomb bay. The pee would freeze the door shut.

It was always my job to catch the doors and wire them shut.

Norm Chown
 
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