Damn Lucky: One Man’s Courage During the Bloodiest Military Campaign in Aviation History
Authored by Kevin Maurer, Narrated by Holter Graham, interview with John Luckadoo
Audiobook, 8 hours and 20 minutes
Published by Macmillan Audio, April 2022
John “Lucky” Luckadoo, like so many Americans, joined the military after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He trained as a pilot, and after completing flight school was assigned to the 100th Bomb Group as a co-pilot of a B-17 Flying Fortress. The Group deployed to England in June 1943, when the Eighth Air Force’s bombing campaign against Germany was just gaining strength. A combat rotation was considered to be twenty-five missions, after completing those the crew would be rotated home. Unfortunately, Allied fighters did not have the range to escort the bombers all the way to many targets and the Luftwaffe was still a formidable force. Statistically, the odds were against the bomber crews surviving to reach the magic twenty-fifth mission.
Aside from the fighters and the flak, flying itself is a dangerous endeavor. In formations there is always the risk of collision, and weather is always a factor. One under-appreciated aspect is the environment at 25,000 feet is inherently hostile. Without the proper protection hypothermia or hypoxia can be deadly, and the crews had to function in that environment for up to twelve hours at a time. On one occasion Luckaloo’s B-17 suffered relatively minor damage to the nose section over a target. Unfortunately, damage to the metal skin of the aircraft directed a stream of freezing air directly under the instrument panel. He had no choice but to leave his feet on the rudder peddles while the airstream progressively froze his legs throughout the return flight. He returned frostbitten, but Doctors were able to save his legs.
This book follows Luckaloo’s career in the USAAF, both with the 100th BG and after his rotation back Stateside as an instructor pilot. As the war ended he was working up with a B-29 group for deployment to the Pacific. This is a well-written first hand account of the bomber offensive during the decisive period of the air war. Recommended.
The 321st Bombardment Group consisted of four Squadrons – the 445th, 446th, 447th, and 448th. They deployed to North Africa as part of the 12th Air Force and began combat operations in March, 1943. They fought throughout the Italian Campaign and in support of the invasion of Southern France, receiving two Distinguished Unit Citations.
Most of the photographs here were taken during the Summer of 1944 when the Group was operating from Corsica. The photographer focused on the nose art and mission scoreboards. Many of the paintings are the work of an exceptionally talented artist so be advised that some might consider a few of the renderings to be a bit risqué.
Modelers note that these B-25Js were delivered in overall natural metal finish and several aircraft had the uppersurfaces camouflaged in the field. The color appears very dark, much darker than the standard Olive Drab used on most USAAF aircraft. I am curious to hear opinions on this color.
B-25 Color Photographs Part IX here: https://inchhighguy.wordpress.com/2022/11/30/north-american-b-25-mitchell-color-photographs-part-ix-early-mitchells/
The 17th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron first saw combat operating from Guadalcanal in February, 1943. They were initially equipped with the F-5 Lightning, a photo reconnaissance version of the P-38. In May 1945 they transferred to Puerto Princesa Airfield, Palawan, Philippines and by that time had been re-equipped with the B-25 Mitchell, where these photos were taken.
Most of these aircraft are B-25Js with the 8-gun strafer noses, indicating the Squadron was then taking a more active role than just taking photographs. Several of these Mitchells have had the “cheek” guns on the fuselage sides removed, reportedly they proved difficult to adjust and were problematic for armorers. A few aircraft have the “glass” noses indicating a Bombardier, it was not uncommon for squadrons to operate a mix of sub-types.
The airfield and parking areas were covered in “Marston Mat” or Pierced Steel Planking (PSP). These were interlocking steel planks which could be assembled over any flat, packed surface, allowing the rapid constructions of airfields.
Many of these photographs show the Mitchells being serviced or maintained, excellent inspiration for modelers looking to construct dioramas.
Several of these photographs are attributed to the Fred Hill Collection, I assume they were all taken at approximately the same time by one photographer.
Edwin “Bill” Fisher was a native of Portland, Oregon and served in the Oregon National Guard before the war. He re-enlisted in April 1942 and completed flight training in may 1943. Flying the P-47 Thunderbolt with the 377th FS, 362nd FG, his first victories were a trio of V-1 “Buzz Bombs” destroyed in a single mission on 29JUN44. He was credited with seven victories over German aircraft to become the 377th Fighter Squadron’s only ace. He survived the war, but died while flying an AT-6 Texan in March 1947.
“Shirley Jane III” piloted by Capt. Edwin Fisher, 377th FS 362nd FG, August 1944.
Ray Wetmore was a native of Kerman, California. He flew with the 370th Fighter Squadron, 359th Fighter Group, scoring 4.25 victories with the P-47 Thunderbolt before the Group transitioned to the Mustang. His best day was on 14FEB45 when he downed a trio of Focke-Wulf Fw 190s. His last victory was an Me 163 Komet over Wittenberg on 15MAR45. He was credited with 21.25 aerial victories plus 2 more on the ground. He survived the war, but died while flying an F-86 Sabre in February 1951. He reported that his aircraft was malfunctioning, but he stayed with it to avoid hitting civilian buildings on the ground.
“Daddy’s Girl” piloted by Major Ray Wetmore, 370 FS, 359 FG, East Wretham, Norfolk. Tamiya kit, Fündeckals decals.
Pretty Pat was named after her pilot’s wife, and was assigned to the 499th Bomb Squadron of the 345th Bomb Group. 43-3698 was converted to a strafer and began operations in November 1944. On 27MAY1945 she was hit by flak over Formosa, her pilot made it out over the ocean and ditched successfully. Her crew were in the water less than a half an hour before they were rescued by a waiting Catalina, all survived. Hasegawa kit, markings from DK Decals sheet 72041.
“Dirty Dora” was perhaps the most famous of the 345th Bomb Group’s Mitchells, thanks in part to a series of color photographs of her taken in February, 1944. Serial number 41-12971 was initially assigned to the 38th Bomb Group in September 1942. She was modified into a strafer at Townville in July 1943, and was then assigned to the 499th Bomb Squadron in August, where she received her prominent nose art. She served with the 499th for a year, after which she was declared War Weary after almost two years of combat operations. Her final tally was 175 bombing missions, 4 aerial victories, and 3 ships sunk. Airfix kit, markings from DK Decals sheet 72041.
“Clana Louise” was named after the wife of her crew chief, who had her name painted on the port engine cowling. 43-4345 was assigned to the 498th Bomb Squadron “Falcons” of the 345th Bomb Group, whose aircraft each sported a yellow and green falcon head on the nose. This was one of the first cannon-armed B-25H Mitchells in the Pacific Theater, and was part of the type’s service evaluation trial. Hasegawa kit, markings from DK Decals sheet 72041.
WHENEVER ANY FORM OF GOVERNMENT BECOMES DESTRUCTIVE OF THESE ENDS (LIFE,LIBERTY,AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS) IT IS THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO ALTER OR ABOLISH IT, AND TO INSTITUTE A NEW GOVERNMENT― Thomas Jefferson