Friday, April 11, 2008

FIghter Pilots and Bomber Crews From Schuylkill County Part 3

B-24's Bombing Ploesti
Minersville Flier Shot Down and Killed on the Famous Ploesti Raid, August 1, 1943.

On August 18, 1943 the Pottsville Journal reported Minersville, “Flier Lost”, was on a Fort.
On August 18, Mrs. Wargo received this telegram:
“ I regret to inform you that reports received state that your son, Staff Sergeant Stephen Wargo, is missing in action since August 1. in the Middle Eastern area. If further details or other information of his status are received you will be notified. Adjutant General.”
The story is about S/Sgt. Steven Wargo, from Minersville. Sgt. Wargo was not lost while flying a B-17 Flying Fortress, he was a member of a B-24 unit in the 98th Bombardment Group, “The Desert Rats”. Wargo was lost on the famous Ploesti raid of Sunday August 1, 1943.
On the morning of August 1st, Wargo who was a waist gunner on B-24, 42-40322 called “The Cornhusker”, piloted by Lt. Ned McCarty left their base in Africa and along with four other groups they flew to Rumania to bomb the oilfields at Ploesti. The bombing mission was done at extremely low level and flying lower than the smokestacks of the refineries these brave men flew through the explosions of their own bombs, sometimes setting on fire there own aircraft. At the time Ploesti had the heaviest anti aircraft concentrations in Europe. The actual bombing took less than thirty minutes. Five men would earn the Medal of Honor, and many died. On the morning of the attack the 98th Bomb Group started with 47 aircraft, crewed by 461 officers and enlisted men. Along the way seven aircraft aborted for various mechanical reasons. 39 aircraft actually bombed the target. Of these 15 were lost to flak and fighters in the general area of Ploesti, and three were lost to fighters during the return home. 142 men were killed in action, many wounded. 35 men who bailed out were made prisoners.
Sgt. Wargo story is taken from the book “The Desert Rats”, Michael Hill.
“Bleyer’s group of about 18 B-24’s crossed the Danube for the second time and started to climb so they could clear the mountains. As they started the climb the intercoms rang with the dreaded call, “Fighters at 3 o’clock.” These made several passes at the formation but were shortly beaten off. This attack did some damage to the already wounded bombers. Dwight Patch recalled, “I did see Ned McCarty get hit in both left engines. They streamed white smoke out past the tail, but he kept them going as we climbed over the mountains and flew towards the Adriatic. He was at least 2,000 feet below us, threading his way between the hills.
Once again the fighters attacked the group as the crossed the coast and headed into the Ionian Sea. This time the fighters didn’t break off at the first tracer coming from the bombers. The fighters singled out Ned McCarty’s ship below the rest of the formation. The Cornhusker didn’t have much of a chance as the Messerschmidt attacked. Bill Bergan remembered, “Saw one crew member jump and his chute opened ok. Pete saw two guy’s jump. Ones chute came open just as he hit the water and the other guy’s chute never opened. He just came out of the plane and a second later made a splash.” McCarty tried to ditch his stricken Liberator, when they hit the water; the wings folded back and made an avenue of fire on the water.”
Sgt. Wargo entered the service in 1942, and was never home on furlough before being shot down. He received training as a gunner and radio operator. He was a graduate of Minersville High School, class of 1938 and was a noted singer. He was a member of the High School Glee Club. His ambition was to become an opera singer. He had a high school average.

Authors Note: Along with Wargo two other Schuylkill Countians flew in this mission. T/Sgt. Nicholas Badida, from St. Clair who flew as a gunner in the 376th Bomb Group. And also, S/Sgt Michael Balazovich a waist gunner who flew with the 44th Bomb Group o the Alexander Crew.

T/Sgt. Henry A. Carter Earns the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Pottsville Journal June 28, 1944.

One of the pioneer airmen who blasted open the way to the invasion of Europe, T/Sgt. Henry A. Carter from Zerbe a 24 year old top turret gunner/ flight engineer on the 8th AF B-17 Flying Fortress, .“Idiots Delight” has been awarded the DFC. For “Extraordinary achievement.” He also hold the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters. A graduate of Riley Township High School.
He enlisted in the AAF on May 20, 1942. He received his engineering training at Chanute Filed and Goldsboro, N.C. and was awarded his wings in December 1942.
Recently Carter went through his toughest combat experience during one of the Eighth AF pre invasion offensive against industrial targets in Frankfurt, Germany. “Right after we completed our bomb run we had a direct hit on our tail that took our left elevator off.” He said. “Then our Tokio tanks froze and we couldn’t get any gas from them. We came down to a lower altitude immediately and made for home. As we crossed the enemy coast we just about ran out of gas and prepared to ditch. The pilot nursed the ship along until we finally made it to an auxiliary landing strip right on the cliffs of Dover. We had no gas in the inboard engines and only two gallons in each outboard engine. Luckily no one was hurt.”

County Youth Missing on Flying Fort.
Pottsville Journal December 2, 1943.

Technical Sergeant, Peter Comac 23, Frackville has been “Missing in Actiojn” since a\August 17, 1943. His parents were notified.
He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in August 1941 and was a bombardier aboard a flying Fortress attached to the 8th A.F. he had been overseas for three months. And is assumed he is missing on a raid.
Sgt. Comac recently was awarded the Air Medal for “Exceptional meritorious service while participating in bomber combat missions over enemy occupied Europe. He had participated in five raids when the award was given.
He graduated from Frackville High School, class of 1939.

Authors Note:
Sgt. Comac flew with the 91st Bomb Group, 323rd Bomber Squadron.
The raid in which Sgt. Comac was lost on was flown on August 17, 1943. It was one of the longest missions flown by the group. The 91st lead the raid and lost three aircraft. Against Schweinfurt, Germany ball bearing plant. The 91st lost a total of 11 B-17.
Sgt. Comac was on board B-17 42-5225 called “Stormy Weather”.

From the Chronology of AF WW 2:
STRATEGIC OPERATIONS (Eighth Air Force): VIII Bomber Command Mission 84:
On the first anniversary of US heavy bomber operations from the UK, a
two-pronged attack into Germany is launched, marking the deepest
Penetration of German territory to date. The critical targets are the
Messerschmitt complex at Regensburg, and the anti-friction-bearing factories at
1. 230 B-17's are dispatched to Schweinfurt; 188 hit the target at 1459-
1511 hours; they claim 148-18-63 Luftwaffe aircraft; 36 B-17's are lost, 3
are damaged beyond repair and 118 damaged; casualties are 3 KIA, 12 WIA and
352 MIA; there are 80 high explosive hits on the 2 main bearing plants.

B-26 Marauder

Frackville Flier Sees Two Members Of His Crew Killed On B-26 Marauder.
Pottsville Journal June 24, 1944

While flying in the Pacific for 18 months as an aerial engineer and tail gunner on a B-26 , Lawrence S. Steslow saw two members of his seven man crew killed and three seriously injured. He escaped injury. His first narrow escape came early in 1942 when his plane was taking off from a field in the Dutch East Indies. A Jap bomber made a direct hit, killing the Australian co-pilot and injuring the pilot. As soon as he and the other members of the crew left the plane, it exploded. His 35th mission came close to being his last. He was on a scouting mission over Lae Harbor looking for re-enforcements, and when they failed to show up, the pilot decided to drop their bombs on a Jap installation before heading homeward. Without changing its course the plane went up to 7,000 feet. “The Jap coast artillery must have had a bearing on us for some time.” Steslow explained, “because as soon as we got in range, they opened up on us. I noticed a burst behind us and was about to tell the pilot to take it up when a shell exploded in the bomb bay. Our plane was almost cut in half. We couldn’t move from the back to the front because the middle had been shot out.” The pilot managed to get the plane to an allied field at Buna about 100 miles away where they made a crash landing on grass along the edge of the jungle. Steslow explained. After this action, he was taken to Australia and then back to the United States, where he now is qualifying for Cadet Training. To become a pilot. He had 35 missions against the Japs.

Authors Note:
S/Sgt. Steslow was a member of the 22nd Bomb Group, 2nd Bomb Squadron. A web site exist on the history of this group at.

Another excellent site that references Sgt. Steslow is :

S/Sgt. Steslow is buried at …..

From Deep In The Coal Mines To High Over The Flak Strewn Skies of Viterbo, Italy
Pottsville Journal June 12, 1944

T/Sgt. Michael Nemeth, Heckscherville a turret gunner on a B-26 medium bomber that participated in wrecking an important railroad bridge over the Marta River during the recent bloody battle for Cassino. The Nazis were moving vast quantities of supplies over this bridge to the front lines, “ said the sergeant at the AAF Redistribution station at Atlantic City where he is awaiting a new Air Force assignment.’ That they considered it important was demonstrated by the vast number of ack-ack guns they had defending it. As my group of 36 Marauders came roaring into the target run the Germans had thrown up a covering fire of flak over the small bridge that seemed to be thicker than a Persian rug. Not only was the flak heavy but it was accurate. They shot down quite a few of our ships, two of my own group going down in flames. We had ninety holes scattered throughout our Marauder, and the oil line was shot away and the radio operator was shot up. Flak was the only thing we had to worry about that day, there were no fighters in the air, but despite that I considered it my roughest flight of any of my 61 combat missions and 51 sorties. I guess luck always was with my crew for we made all missions safely without losing a man and only one injured was the radio operator on the Viterbo job. He quickly recovered.” Sgt. Nemeth wears the Air Medal with one cluster and the ETO Ribbon with three stars for Tunisia, Sicilian and Italian campaigns. He entered the service in April 1942, and was sent overseas in November 1942.

Pottsville Flier Receives the Distinguished Flying Cross
Pottsville Journal May 11, 1944

The DFC has been awarded to SSgt. Robert D. Thomas for “Extraordinary achievements, courage , coolness and skill” as a tail gunner on the 8AF Flying Fortress “Esky” during numerous AAF bombing attacks on military and industrial targets in Germany and Nazi occupied Europe. He is based in England.
Sgt. Thomas has been decorated with the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters in addition to the DFC, he has participated in many aerial battles with enemy fighters. However he does not claim destruction of any because “you have to see the enemy plane hit the ground, explode in mid air, or break into pieces before you can rightfully put in a claim for it as destroyed. And I’ve always been too busy to watch the one I thought I might have seriously damaged..
The flier tells of one experience with a Nazi Me-109 pilot, attacking the AAF bomber from the tail, drove straight into the group formation peeling off at the last minute as collision seemed eminent. ”That fellow was either a fanatic or dead.” States Sgt. Thomas. “He came straight at me, a perfect shot and kept on coming though I was almost burning up my guns on the point blank target.”
As usual, he was kept busy watching for other aircraft and did not see what happened to the plane he riddled with projectiles. Arrival of friendly fighter support ended the battle, and the fortress continued to their target near Bordeaux.
Flak has not left “Esky” untouched. “We, came back from bombing industrial targets as Warnemunde, “Said Sgt. Thomas, “but it’s a wonder we did get back. Wings, fuselage stabilizers, engine cowling all were ripped and torn, and , to make matters worse two engines were knocked out completely by heavy Ack-Ack fire on the return trip. Our bombardier was hit in the arm, but the wound wasn’t serious. None of the other crew members were touched.”
The AAF gunner entered the armed forces in April 1942 and received his fliers wings at Las Vegas in August 1942.

P-39 Airacobra Type Of Fighter Flown By Lt. Rattigan
Lieutenant John G. Rattigan Fighter Pilot Missing…Was Seen In Life Raft In Pacific.
Pottsville Journal, January 10, 1944

Lieutenant John G. Rattigan, son of Postmaster and Mrs. James H. Rattigan, Pottsville was reported missing in action in the Central Pacific Area since December 18, 1943.
The letter received by the Rattigan family read as follows:
“Information has been received indicating that Lieut. Rattigan was the pilot of a P-39 Airacobra fighter aircraft which departed from the Gilbert Islands, December 18th on an escort mission to the Marshall Islands. Full details are not available but reports indicate that while returning from the mission your son’s plane was forced down due to the exhaustion of its fuel supply and that he was seen to bail out and after landing in the water and, inflate and board his raft. Later your son was observed swimming in the water toward several large rafts containing the survivors of another of our planes. The report states that this occurred at about 12 noon, approximately 60 miles from Makin Island, one of the Gilbert Group.

Pottsville Journal, March 15, 1944

The last slender thread of hope that their son, Second Lieutenant John G. Rattigan, 22 might still be alive snapped for Postmaster and Mrs James Rattigan. A war Department telegram delivered by Western Union Manger William S. Brobst last evening stated he was killed in action December 18, He had been previously reported as missing in action since December 18, the telegram read as follows:
“The Secretary of War desires that I tender his deep sympathy to you in the loss of your son, 2nd Lieut. John G. Rattigan, who was previously reported missing in action, report now received states that he was killed in action on December 18, in Central Pacific.”
Postmaster Rattigan said,” I had never given up hope that he was alive. I thought the next news would be good.”
Lt. Rattigan enlisted in the Army Air Corps Reserves in February, 1942 and was called to active duty on June 3rd 1942. He was commissioned a second Lieutenant, and received the wings of a pilot in March 1943. He was sent to the South Pacific in May, 1943. He participated in scores of aerial engagements against the Japanese. His brother Lt. James J. Rattigan is also a fighter pilot.

Authors Note:
December 18, 1944
(Seventh Air Force): 14 B-24's bomb Mille Atoll in the Caroline Islands. The 46th and 72d Fighter Squadrons, 15th Fighter Group, transfer from Canton Island in the Phoenix Islands and Wheeler Field, Territory of Hawaii respectively to Makin Island in the Gilbert Islands with P-39's. The 531st Fighter-Bomber Squadron, Seventh Air Force, transfers from Canton Island in the Phoenix Islands to Makin Island in the Gilbert Islands with A-24's.


Pottsville Youth on Crew of B-24 Liberator that Sinks a U-Boat
Pottsville Journal, March 7, 1944

For a dangerous but successful mission aboard the Heavy Bomber “Sub Conscious” off the coast of France, Sgt. Ellsworth G. Hipple of Pottsville. Now stationed at Boca Raton Field, Fla. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Flying anti submarine patrol and attached to the Eighth AF Coastal Command in England, Sgt. Hipple participated in many exciting missions but none as exciting as the final fight of the “Sub Conscious”. A B-24 Liberator.
“Sub sighted was the cry as the lane maneuvered into position for a quick kill. But the submarine surfaced and attacked the ship and before the submarine was sent to the bottom, it had shot out the no. 2 engine and set number one engine on fire. With the engine aflame and the assistant engineer shot in both legs, “Sub Conscious headed back to England on five hour flight with the crew throwing out everything possible along the route to keep her in the air.
An oddity in the flight was the fact that the assistant engineer had been shot while working at the left waist gun, the position usually filled by Sgt. Hipple. The right waist gunner was busy with his guns when the 20 MM shell from the submarine exploded, the shrapnel passing between his legs and hitting the engineer on the other side of the aircraft.
Flying single missions kept the air crew always on the alert, for many times they were attacked by enemy formations. On one missions, Hipple’s plane played hide and seek in the clouds with 11 enemy fighters for two hours.
Hipple has 400 combat hours to his credit and 35 missions. He earned an Air Medal, American Theatre ribbon with two stars; European Theatre Ribbon with ne star and combat crew wings.
Only good luck charm carried by the air crew on Hipple’s plane was a “Mammy Doll” owned by the navigator. The doll was said to have 1,000 hours to her credit.
Hipple enlisted in the Air corps in March 1942. After completion of 35 missions he returned to the U.S.A.

Authors Note:
The U-Boat that Sgt. Hipples Crew sank was the U-951
From the U-Boat net:
Sunk 7 July, 1943 north-west of Kap St.Vincent, in position 37.40N, 15.30W by depth charges from a US Liberator aircraft (1st A/S USAAF/K). 46 dead (all hands lost).

The USAAF's medium and long range bombers, including the twin engine Douglas B-18 Bolos and North American B-25 Mitchells and the four engine Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses and Consolidated Vultee B-24 Liberators, were potentially capable of an anti submarine role. These carried bombs rather than depth charges and lacked radar or other special submarine detection equipment. Also, like the U.S. Navy, the USAAF had many demands for the few aircraft on hand. The shortage of aircraft equipped for anti submarine war continued into mid 1943, with fighters and light bombers often used as anti submarine aircraft.
Although Hipple’s aircraft sank the U-boat with a depth charge.

B-26's on Bombing Run.

Flier Tells Of Tough Salerno Battle.
Pottsville Journal, March 1, 1944

“Salerno was the toughest”, says T/Sgt Peter T. Miller, 35, of Minersville. After completing 40 combat missions as a radio operator waist gunner of a B-26 Marauder.
The oldest B-26 group in the western Mediterranean with whom Miller flies flew three missions a day during the critical period of the Salerno Bridgehead. “We saw everything,” Miller says. “Fighters and flak all the time. We had on 35 minute battle with the ME -109’s. The plane just above us in the formation was hit and began to burn. It just missed us when it fell, so close I could almost hear the fire.”
Miller has won the Air Medal with seven oak leaf clusters for his part in raids against Pantelleria, Lamedusa, Sicily, Italy and France. He has flown over Naples, Rome, Gerbini and Marseiles. In a letter raid on German installations in Italy, the Marauder in which Miller was flying developed engine trouble and was forced down in a crash landing in Corsica. The plane was completely demolished but none of the crew injured.
Flak came close to Miller just once. On his 40th mission, a burst hit the fuselage near the tail, and a piece of flak struck Miller in the foot, ripping his flying boot.
Prior to entering the AAF Miller was employed as an oiler by Campbell soup Co. Chicago. He attended Air Corps Radio and aerial gunnery school.