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Harold  E.  Etheridge

 

Personal Legacy
HAROLD ETHERIDGE
44th Bomb Group, 66th Squadron
(24 June, 1922 - 6 November, 1998)
Memories and Biography

He graduated from Woodleaf High School in 1939. After attending North Carolina State College in Raleigh, N.C., he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941. Before leaving for active duty, he earned his Private Pilot license at Rowan County airport while enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training Corps (CPTC).

After a brief stay at Fort Jackson, Columbia, S.C., he received his Primary Flight Training at Lafayette, Louisiana, in July 1942. From there he went to Greenville, Mississippi, for his B Basic Flight Training in October 1942. In January 1943, he went to Blytheville, Arkansas, for his Advanced Flight Training and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant and received his Pilot's Wings there in March 1943. From Arkansas he traveled to Boise, Idaho, for advanced pilot training in the B-2 -- Liberator bomber.

In October, 1943, he was shipped to England aboard the Queen Mary and was assigned to the 44th Bomb Group, based at Shipdham, England as a B-24 bomber pilot. On February 24, 1944, while on a bombing mission over Gotha, Germany, his plane was shot down after sustaining heavy damage from flak and enemy fighters. After making sure that all of his crew had bailed out, he then bailed out. By this time his plane was at a low altitude and his parachute did not open completely. This resulted in a broken leg when he hit the ground.

He was captured by the Germans and taken to Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany, where he remained for fourteen months until he was liberated by Russian troops in April, 1945. Traveling with U.S. troops, he made his way westward, arriving in Paris, France, in May, 1945. It was here in Paris that he was reunited with his brother, Guy Etheridge, when, by chance, they happened to meet at a railroad crossing.

He returned home to Woodleaf, N.C. in July, 1945, and remained in the Air Force for eighteen more years. He was stationed in Alabama, Texas, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Japan and Iceland. He had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel when he retired from the Air Force in 1963. He moved to Albany, Georgia, in 1966 and remained there until his death in November, 1998. He is buried in the National Cemetery in Salisbury, N.C.

Submitted by Harold's son, Chris Etheridge.

Mr Chris Etheridge
340 Gheen Road
Salisbury, NC 28147-9735
(704) 636-8996



HAROLD ETHERIDGE
Memories and Biography
World War II

FEBRUARY, 1944
The second aircraft lost on the 22nd was that piloted by Lt. George E. Fish, Almost nothing is recorded or known concerning this plane and crew. As S/Sgt. Kipnes stated above, this plane was the other wingman that disappeared in the heavy clouds and was not seen again. But unlike the plane above Lt. Evans, there were no survivors. In fact, all ten men on board this plane are listed on the Wall of Missing - not one crewman was ever found. It seems reasonable to assume that this airplane went down in the North Sea, either ditched or was shot down.

24 FEBRUARY TARGET: GOTHA, GERMANY
This was a very successful mission with excellent bombing results as the 44th BG led the 14th combat Bomb Wing. T/Sgt. Kipnes made this evaluation: "Enemy fighters were with us all the way into and out of the target. We fought off at least 40 fighters. Attacking planes were ME 109s and FW 190, but our formation was tight and few could break through. "However, the 44th BG did have two losses - one each by the 66th and 68th Squadrons.

The MACR states in part, "At 1331 hours, A/C #148 was seen to be hit by enemy aircraft. It began to straggle and became a victim of concentrated attacks by the enemy. No. 4 engine was smoking and aircraft lagged farther behind, losing altitude. #4 and #2 engines burst into flames at 1334 hours and seven chutes opened. It crashed at 1354." The MACR also included a statement made by the engineer, Sgt. Ambler, "All but one of us bailed out. About five minutes past the target, we got orders to bail out. Paul Nablo went out first, then Lewis, followed by me. Our plane hit the ground about 50 yards from us. The Germans said one man remained in the crashed plane - in the nose section..."

Pilot Lt. Etheridge stated that, "While on the bomb run, at an altitude of about 20,000 feet, a few minutes before bombs away, the aircraft received considerable damage from anti-aircraft fire. The two right engines were knocked out, the right horizontal stabilizer was badly damaged, and there was other undetermined damage in the bomb bay which prevented releasing the bombs by either normal or emergency systems when we passed over the target.

"Consequently, the remainder of the formation quickly pulled away from us as soon as they dropped their bombs. Almost immediately, we came under attack by about a dozen German aircraft. The crippled condition of our aircraft soon made it apparent that when enemy fighters began an attack, our best defense was to fire our longer range .50 caliber machine guns from as stable flight as I could maintain, until the enemy fighters were close enough to effectively fire their shorter range .303 caliber guns. At that moment we would take abrupt evasive action. This evasive action consisted of diving, banking, skidding, and slipping our aircraft in as violent and erratic manner as possible.

"These maneuvers were repeated for as long as we were under attack - two or three times with such violence that one or more bombs broke loose and clattered out of the bomb bay. I thought the aircraft was breaking up on these occasions. With two engines inoperative, we were losing altitude rapidly while performing these maneuvers, and after passing over a low range of hills, we approached a higher range ahead which we could not clear. At this point I ordered the crew to bail out. We were still under fighter attack, and as the tail gunner, Sgt. Roland, was crawling forward to the waist to be in position to bail out, he was thrown completely out of the plane through the open camara hatch when I made an abrupt diving, twisting turn.

"Normally, all of the crew members are belted down except the two waist gunners, who must stand beside an open window on either side of the plane and hold the butt of a .50 cal. gun, which is mounted on a post in the window. These two men are not belted in as they must stand and move around in order to fire the guns. Therefore, they were being thrown around like popcorn in a popper during my evasive maneuvers.

"After bailing out, I landed on the side of a mountain and soon saw Sgt. Stubbs, my waist gunner, lying behind a log about a hundred yards above me. I climbed up to where he was and asked if he was injured. He said he hadn't been wounded but that he was afraid his neck or back was either cracked or broken because it hurt so badly. I asked if it was due to landing hard in the chute (I had fractured my right leg on landing because my chute had not fully opened and assumed the same thing might have happened to him.) But he said it had happened when he had struck the top of the aircraft with his head a couple of times while being thrown about.

"We were captured a few minutes later by armed citizens from a village nearby. They were quite abusive and made life miserable for Sgt. Stubbs because he could not raise his arms in surrender."

S/Sgt. Erskine H. Stubbs, this waist gunner, added, "The 24th of February, 1944 at times seems like only yesterday; at other times it is like a lifetime ago. There's no way to forget it - only some parts of it."

"To the best of my knowledge, #3 engine propeller was running away and wouldn't feather. No. 4 engine was on fire and the right tail section was almost gone. We were under very heavy fighter attacks. My position was right waist so I don't know about the #1 and #2 engines. The fighters literally ate us up. I am sure our aircraft accounted for either four or five German fighters, so all was not lost in vain.

"Our navigator, Buechsenstein, was KIA but I never could get the details. The Germans had different stories. We don't know if his parachute didn't open, if he was strafed in his parachute, or was in the crash itself. The rest of the crew parachuted and were POWs for the remainder of the war. To my knowledge, the pilot and I were the only ones who were injured." Location of crash - Dippach, near Fulda, Germany.

T/Sgt. Paul Nablo confirmed statements made above. "I recall we had flak hits on two engines, one out and one running away that could not be feathered. Then fighters shot away the right vertical stabilizer, making it impossible for our pilot to keep the plane flying, so told us to get out. I was not wounded but received facial cuts from being thrown around on the flight deck - I was the radio operator."

Conrad Rudolph, a German war historian from Homberg, West Germany, sent me this information, "I have found an eyewitness to this crash in the Dippach-Simmershausen area. A woman, who at that time was a sixteen-year-old girl, was at a camp for B.D.M. (girls from the Hitleriugend) in the RhonHills. The plane crashed near her camp. She saw some parachutes coming down and ran to that crash area. Some German policemen and men from the 'Landwacht' captured the airmen, and were rounding them up."

"However, one of the American airmen was very badly injured. A policeman said that perhaps when the airman jumped from the airplane, he was struck by a propeller or was thrown against the plane, (tail section, etc.) as he had one arm and one leg torn or sheared (almost) completely loose from his body, and was unconscious. One policeman suggested that they shoot him to end his suffering, but the Burgermeister from the village said "No." But this policeman still wanted to kill him as he said these 'Terror-flyers' had bombed his home in Kassel and killed his family.

While these two men disputed the airman's fate, another crewman came up, carrying his parachute. His presence apparently threatened the policeman, as he then left the wounded man. But in a few minutes this wounded airman died of his terrible injuries."

The name of this witness is Mrs. Ludwig.
 
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