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John Yeates' WWII Story: Flying School

John Yeates' WWII Story: Flying School

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Published by Don Mann
Read about other Hampton Roads WWII veterans at dailypress.com/theirwords.
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Published by: Don Mann on May 25, 2010
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09/17/2013

My World War II Experiences

By John Edmond Yeates

My military career started 2 October 1941. I was inducted into the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet in Jacksonville, Florida. We were then taken by train to Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, for preflight training. I was assigned to one of the training squadrons and then attended classes in the fundamentals of military duties, academics, lots of exercise, guard duty, military drill, etc. Upon completion of about 12 weeks of training, we were allowed to go by bus to our next duty station, Mississippi Institute of Aeronautics Primary Flight School, Madison, Mississippi, a few miles north of Jackson, Mississippi.

We were assigned to barracks and subjected to more military discipline. We were assigned beds and lockers for clothes and military uniforms (aviation cadet). Each day we had to make our beds and they had to be so tight that when a quarter was dropped above the bed it would flip. The floors had to be cleaned and the area be ready for inspection at any time. This included your uniform. The brass belt buckles had to be polished and all the insignia. During the day we went to scheduled classes in aeronautics, math, meteorology, navigation, etc. We were also assigned to a flight instructor and took flying lessons when scheduled.

Since I had never had flight training before, I had to learn from scratch. We started with take-offs, straight and level, landings, acrobatics (including, stalls, spins, vertical reverses, etc.). After about 12 hours, I was given a check ride by an Army (officer) instructor to see if I could continue or be washed out.

After the check ride, my civilian instructor took me to an auxiliary field, got out of the plane, and told me to take it around the field and land (Solo). The aircraft I flew in primary was a Stearman (bi plane) with single prop and 225 hp engine. I flew about 60 hours in Primary.

An event happened in Primary of great importance. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Since we were allowed some weekend leave in Primary, I was in Jackson, Mississippi, spending the weekend with my uncle, Harrod Nichols. I had a date with my high school classmate, Virginia Hansel. We were out on the town when the announcement came over the radio about Pearl Harbor. All military personnel were instructed to return to base immediately, which I did. We were not allowed any further leave until some time after we were in Basic Flying School.

After completing Primary Flying School, on January 5, 1942, we were taken by bus to Basic Flying School, which was in Greenville, Mississippi. There we were flying BT-13A (VULTEE Vibrators). This aircraft was limited in spins to 2 Y2 turns. The tail could separate from the aircraft if more than 2 Y2 turns were done.

There was much more military discipline by upper classmen here. The shoes had to be spit polished and more attention to shining your brass. There was a good exercise program with more mass calisthenics and runs around the track. I had no trouble in my Basic flying classes. When we were getting close to going to Advanced Flying School, the Commandant called me into his office and asked me if I would like to go to

an airfield near my home town for advanced training. This would be Columbus Army Airfield, Columbus, Mississippi. The Commandant's name was Watkins and he had been born and raised in Aberdeen, Mississippi (my home town), and I knew his sister. Naturally, I said yes.

So in March 1942 I transferred to Columbus Army Flying School (CAFS) for Advanced Training.

We trained in AT-8's and AT-18's, which we called twin-engined cubs. We also had about 5 hours in Lockheed Hudsons. Since several of us trained at a time, we had very little actual time individually in Lockheed Hudsons. CAFS was a new facility so we wound up marching to class on muddy streets. We

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graduated as 2 Lieutenants with wings on May 20, 1942. I had invited my present wife, June, to my

graduation, but she was unable to come. We were allowed very little time at home in

Aberdeen on leave because this was wartime and the military services needed pilots.

My next duty station was in Camp Williams, Camp Douglas, Wisconsin, which had been a National Guard summer training facility. I had been assigned to the Air Transport Command, which was using Camp Douglas for pilot training. I took the train from Aberdeen, Mississippi, through Chicago with an overnight stop. I took the bus to Camp Douglas to sign in there about 1 June 1942. The Army was using Douglas DC- 3's that had been taken from the airlines. Camp Douglas had an airfield and barracks of a sort. The DC-3's had been procured from the airlines with all the seats, berths, etc., that they had been using for passenger service. The aircraft were being taken one at a time to Kansas City for modification for Army use.

We pilots were taken on board what aircraft were available in groups to be allowed a session at the controls, first as co-pilots and then as pilots. Our instructors were airline pilots called to active duty. We had one fatality during training; all on board were killed-s-a horrible sight for us young pilots and officers.

After one month of training, 20 hours, we were sent to an active unit. The organization's name was changed to Troop Carrier versus Transport. While we were at Camp Douglas, a volunteer recruiting of pilots was attempted one night. We were asked to volunteer to go to China and fly aircraft from India to China over the hump. I decided not to volunteer.

My next assignment was to a troop carrier unit in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina about

1 July 1942. Our primary mission was to become more proficient a pilot and to go on 2 weeks at a time to Ft. Benning, Georgia. There we dropped paratroopers every day to train them. We would load up a plane load, take off, go to the drop zone and let them jump on signal. Then back for another load and so forth. This happened every day when the wind was below a certain velocity and no rain. During this period the Army still had flying sergeants (enlisted pilots), and later they became flight officers.

I stayed at Ft. Bragg until about 1 October 1942. My next assignment was Stuttgart, Arkansas, a new field in the rice-growing region of Arkansas. As I recall, we had only one DC-3, and training was limited. There was a lot of down time. Since there were no barracks, we received special permission to live in town.

I stayed for a period in the local hotel in a very tiny room. I also bought a used 1941 Chevrolet in Little Rock, Arkansas, for $800, which we later called "Bessie."

Since we had very little chance to get flying time, to get our flight pay we had to use a PT-19 to put in our necessary time. I stayed at Stuttgart until about 1 November 1942.

My next assignment was South Plains Army Flying School (SP AFS), Lubbock,

Texas. However, they mistakenly sent me to Dalhart, Texas, which lasted about 3 weeks. The mission of SP AFS was to train glider pilots to fly CG4A troop- carrying gliders. The set up for this mission was as follows:

The mission was 4 quadrants at two altitude levels or 8 training areas. You were assigned a quadrant and altitude and each aircraft hooked onto a CG4A glider and towed it to the proper quadrant and altitude.

Then you circled around in your area for about 4 hours with the gilder pilot learning to fly. During one night my aircraft had an engine failure. I had to come in with the wheels retracted; one engine was keeping us flying and the other was windmilling. The wheels stuck out of the cowling enough to allow you to land. The tip of the props curled up and was damaged. The engines turned out to have survived, and the aircraft was OK with new propellers.

During this period I had to make several trips to glider factories (Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Wichita and Kansas) to pick up gliders and deliver them to various stations in the U.S. Also, during this period, on 16 January 1943, I was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. Shortly thereafter, 25 February 1943, I was assigned to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. I stayed in Ft. Bragg for only a short time, about 2 weeks. I was then assigned to Alliance, Nebraska, 10 March 1943, and the 434th Troop Carrier Group. This was a new unit, and we had only one aircraft. I was temporarily assigned to be the Engineering Officer for one of the squadrons (74th TC SQ).

During the flying activities at Alliance, the aircraft was now a C-47 A with 2 large cargo doors. On one flight someone had let the rear cargo door fly open and wrap around the horizontal tail. It was my job to take the aircraft to an aircraft depot in Salt Lake City, Utah. The aircraft was fitted with a new rear door and returned to Alliance, Nebraska. During my tour in Alliance, the weather was very cold. Even with a car heater in Bessie (our 1941 Chevrolet), the ice froze JA inch thick on the inside of the windshield.

After having acquired some built-up leave, I asked and received permission for a 2-week leave to go to Aberdeen, Mississippi. I drove through the country in the 1941 Chevrolet to Aberdeen (about 1,500 miles). I spent a nice leave in Aberdeen.

In my absence from the 434th, the Group had placed a 2nd Lieutenant in charge of the 74th TC Sq. A call came in for someone to be a part of a new group, the 440th, being formed. He selected me to go, and I received a telegram to report to Orlando, Florida,

AAFSAT (Army Air Force School of Applied Tactics) on short notice 1 June 1943. I had a terrible time getting there during the wartime. When I got to Orlando, I joined the newly forming 440th TC GP and was assigned to the 97th TC Sq. We trained in Orlando for about 2 weeks, mostly daily classes.

At the end of this period, the group moved to Dunnellon, Florida, which had been a tourist attraction in peacetime with glass bottomed boats to view the underwater sea life. Each afternoon for our exercise period we swam in the springs with the alligators.

After a period of 2 weeks here, we were assigned to a new station near Sedalia, Missouri

(Warrensburg, Missouri). I arrived at the Sedalia Army Air Field (SAAF) about 10 July 1943. I stayed at the SAAF for about 2 months.

During this time period I was sent to Camouflage School at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia.

I was scheduled to be married on July 30, 1943, and my leave was cancelled. So I arranged to drive to Cadiz, Kentucky, get my fiancee, June Vinson, to arrange to marry me early, take the train from Terre Haute, Indiana, to Washington, D.C., and go to school for 1 week. [During my schooling, I met Larry Wilson and told him about June's sister, Lu. He was stationed at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, near June's home and later went to see Lu and they were later married.] I returned to Cadiz by train and car, picked June up and we went to Warrensburg, Missouri, where she shared a house with a fellow pilot's wife

(Mrs. Eugene Graham).

As soon as we arrived back at SAAF, I was whisked off by air to San Antonio, Texas, to Oxygen School (squadron requirement) for a week. Then I returned; we were shortly transferred to Alliance Army Air Field (AAAF) in Nebraska. We were able to find a place for June to stay with me in Hemingford, Nebraska, about 25 miles from Alliance. During the period we were at Alliance, I trained new pilots. However, the first order of business was to pick up our aircraft at Pope Field, North Carolina which had been left by a former departing Group for overseas. We had to take a troop train from

Alliance to Pope Field, North Carolina, and I was in charge of one train car. During a stopover in Kansas City, we had several enlisted men go AWOL. I never knew what happened when the MP's picked them up.

On our return trip to Alliance with the aircraft, we stopped in Sedalia, Missouri AAF to refuel. The heater in the cockpit of the aircraft I was flying was broken, and I remember that my feet nearly froze. During our stay in Alliance, we practiced round robin navigation flights, formation and rendezvous missions, short field landings and trips to glider factories to ferry gliders to destinations in the USA.

In early December 1943 we were transferred to Pope Field for final training. I flew an aircraft to Pope, and June and friends came by our car via Cadiz, Kentucky. When she made it through the country to Fayetteville, North Carolina, she had to stay in a hotel until we finally found a room in the outskirts of Fayetteville, North Carolina, and a boarding house for our meals nearby.

During the period 24 December 1943 through 27 December 1943, I volunteered to fly a group of our personnel to New York City over Christmas as a last chance to be with their families before departing overseas. I was young and foolish, as well as thinking only of myself, when I left June alone over Christmas. The weather was bad and my instrument card had expired, so I couldn't leave until we had 3 miles of visibility.

I finally made it back on 27 December 1943, and we then began training in earnest-s-lots of formation flying and some double glider tow. We even went on a bivouac to Lumberton, North Carolina,

really roughing it (shaving in your tin helmet, sleeping in a tent, field mess). On 2 February 1944 we prepared for overseas deployment. We were loaded onto a troop train and departed for Baer Field, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

We stayed in Fort Wayne until 23 February 1944, when we loaded and took off the southern route to England. The aircraft we flew from Baer Field had been fitted with 8 extra 100 gallon tanks in the cabin. The first day, 23 February 1944, we flew from Fort Wayne to Morrison Field, Florida. On 26 February 1944, we pressed on to Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico. I picked up a case of Old Forester (Straight Bourbon Whisky) for $48 to take with us. On 27 February 1943, we flew to Atkinson British Guiana, and on 28 February 1943 flew on to Belem, Brazil. On 29 February 1943 we went on to Natal, Brazil. On our trip through the equator and South America, we flew around thunderstorms reaching to over 50,000 feet. While we were in Atkinson, British Guiana, I went to the British PX and bought a pair of Gaucho boots (South American cowboy type). When were at Natal, Brazil, we loaded up with gas to the max. The runway for take-off was extra long, and we used every bit of it. Since the aircraft were exceeding their design gross weight by a large factor, if we had had an engine failure, it was into the ocean. There was a powerful radio station on Ascension Island, so we tuned in to this on the radio compass and had no trouble steering to the island. We stayed on Ascension overnight and then went on to Roberts Field, Liberia, the next day. We

stayed at Roberts Field an extra day and had a chance to visit the Goodyear Rubber Plantation which was nearby. The jungle was not very thick in this area.

We then flew on to Dakar, Senegal. We stayed overnight there and then flew over the desert to Marrakech, French Morocco. We stayed an extra day there and were allowed to go into town. It was very odd there to see a man squatting and a stream of urine flow out from under his long robe. We next prepared for our longest flight to the United Kingdom. We were on the lookout as we flew over the ocean near France for German aircraft which were not too far away on the French coast.

We arrived in the United Kingdom and landed on an airfield in Lands End area, St. Mawgan, after a long 10 Y2 hour flight from Marrakech. We stayed there for 3 days until the weather cleared and we were able to go on to our English station, Bottesford, England, near Nottingham on 11 March 1944. We stayed at Bottesford for about 2 months doing cross country flying, formation training, glider tow in formation, and glider snatch or pickup of a glider from its ground location as we flew by using a large in-aircraft reel to snatch the glider off the ground.

We were then transferred to Exeter, England, near Lands End. We stayed at this location until about 1 October 1944. While at Exeter, we did glider tow and formation flying with and without gliders. We also did some night formation flying without gliders. During one of these at night, I got vertigo and was berated for lagging in the formation. There were blue formation lights on top of the wings, very hard on depth perception.

Our squadron 9ih and Group 440th participated in the D-Day exercise to France,

Operation Overlord (6 June 1944). I did not go on this mission since the operations officer (Warren Howe) went instead of me. I was assistant operations officer and liaison officer, so I had to see that all the paratroops went on the mission and upon return had to see if any didn't jump. If so, the MP's at my direction took them off to be arrested. On

June 24th, I flew on a re-supply mission to France (1 st Combat Mission). Upon landing, my plane, a C-47 A, blew a tire, and I was stuck until a new tire could be obtained form

England.

During the summer of 1944 our group was called on to send one-third of our aircraft to Italy to participate in the invasion of Southern France, Operation Dragoon. My squadron sent about 12 aircraft. I was directed to go on this mission. We left Exeter on 17 July 1944 and flew directly to Marrakech, French Morocco, going around and well off the coast of France, then on by Portugal and Spain (well off shore) and then on to Marrakech---11 hours, 35 minutes (using 8 speciallOO-gallon tanks in the fuselage). From Marrakech, we flew on over parts of Africa and on to Ombrone, Italy (70 miles north of Rome), which is on the west coast.

During my stay in Italy, I flew General Frederick to Naples and back. When we picked the General up near Rome, I was trying to crank the engines and they wouldn't start. To my horror, I found that I had neglected to switch on the ignition! Also, while there, we had a chance to go into Rome and see some of the sights. On July 15, I towed a CG4A glider to southern France with other squadron aircraft (also towing gliders). This was my second (2nd combat mission). This one was a milk run since over the drop zone not a shot was tired. Nine days later, 24 August 1944, we took off from Ombrone and stopped by the Rock of Gibraltar on our way home, 8 hours, 30 minutes. We stayed overnight on the Rock, were refueled and proceeded the next morning to Exeter around Spain, Portugal, and France, 8 hours. We stayed on at Exeter doing supply missions, glider tow, waiting for further missions.

On 15 September 1944, the 440th Group was temporarily transferred to Fulbeck, England, where preparations were being made for our next mission. This occurred on

18 September 1944. We were called on to tow gliders, loaded with paratroops, gasoline, ammunition etc., to Holland. On my 3rd combat mission, I was flying a C-47B. We took off in daylight and flew over the English Channel to the Rhemagan, Holland area. I dropped my glider and gave the aircraft full throttle by a flak tower and into the air, making a 1800 tum back toward England. I was lucky, only one bullet hole in my wmg. We landed, and the mission was over.

On 23 September 1944, I started on my 4th combat mission. The mission was the same, to Holland (Eindhoven, Nimwegen) area for re-supply. About 30 minutes after takeoff and over the English Channel, the glider cut loose from the aircraft. The weather was bad this day, and we were flying in and out of low clouds. I assumed that the glider pilot (having no instruments) cut loose to save himself. I continued on to Brussels and spent the night and later the next day returned to Fulbeck, the home airfield.

Later in the month (September 1944) I learned how to fly a HORSA glider (big as

a C-47) and a CG-4A. On the 28th day of September, we were unexpectedly told to fly to Reims, France, and get ready to be assigned there. It turned out that we had mistakenly been sent too close to the front lines.

We then were told to go to Le Mans, France, 8 October 1944, where we were assigned for a short period.

The air field was in very poor condition, not as good as pierced steel plank. My only memories of being there were living in pink several-storied apartments and drinking champagne from steel mess cups. I also remember taking a load of servicemen from Le Mans to Nice, France, for R & R and lamenting the fact that I couldn't stay with them.

About 11 November 1944 we were transferred to Orleans, France, which was our station for the balance of our European Theatre operations. During this period in October and November 1944 we did supply missions within the theatre both to England and all around France. In addition, I was assigned such duties as breaking in new engines, running them at low RPM and low speed to get all the parts properly

seated (just like we had to break in cars when new). In addition, we had time to take it easy (go to London for a short leave, to Paris for a 2-day leave and for walks around Orleans and along the Loire River.

During December 1944, just after Christmas Day, I was called on to make my 5th combat mission to Bastogne. The Germans had encircled the American Army near Bastogne. This was called the Battle of the Bulge. The American Army was in dire need of gasoline for tanks, ammunition and food. My Group, the 440th, was called on to help re-supply our troops. My squadron supplied 5 aircraft, and the rest of the group supplied 8 more aircraft on 26 December 1944.

Each aircraft towed a glider loaded with supplies. The glider I towed was loaded with gasoline. We took off from Orleans before dark and headed to Bastogne. The total trip was 4 hours, 2 up and 2 returning. We flew in formation with 2 aircraft and 2 gliders per flight.

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On the way up we were escorted by PATs until about 50 miles from Bastogne. Then you were on your own. We flew on toward Bastogne, arriving at the DZ (Drop Zone) at

400 feet altitude just about dark, the German gunners lobbed 50 caliber and 20 mm shells toward us; most were tracers so we could see them. We did a little jig to min their aim. It must have worked because I received only one or two bullet holes in the aircraft. We continued through the encirclement and to the DZ, cutting loose our gliders and dropping the tow ropes. Then it was full throttle and a 1800 tum toward Paris and back to Orleans.

We were debriefed by intelligence and then to a nice warm bed. (The Dr. also offers you a drink after a combat mission.)

We spent the next two and a half months (1 January 1945 through 10 March

1945) doing re-supply missions, training which included formation both day and night, glider tow, and one long-range celestial navigation flight to St. Mawgan, Bordeaux and back to Orleans. During this same period we loaded ajeep on board the aircraft and made a flight to the Champagne district around Reims, We were looking for champagne for a group party. We unloaded the jeep and toured the local areas around Reims. We only found 5 bottles of champagne. The Allied Beverage Control had put the lid on the availability of bubbly for troop uncontrolled use.

During the period 10 March 1945 through 20 March 1945 we further trained with

double glider tow formations and some re-supply.

Mission over the Rhine (V ARSITY)

On 24 March 1945 our group was called on to participate in Mission (Varsity).

This is covered in some detail on the internet (World War II Airborne Operation).

A total of 1700 tow planes and 1,350 gliders were involved from all over France and England. It took twoand-a-half hours for this armada to pass the glider and paratroop DZ. Eight hundred fighter aircraft provided cover for this operation. Two thousand fighter aircraft provided air cover for re-supply missions by 240 B- 24's (Liberator aircraft). I did not participate in this mission but performed my liaison duties for the squadron.

Starting about 3 April 1945 through 1 May 1945 we re-supplied Patton's tank with gasoline most every day, and on the return trips we brought French and British POW's to staging areas so that they could be repatriated. Starting 6 May 1945, we continually re-supplied gasoline to the front lines and brought back POW's on return, sometimes to Paris. These were American, British and Belgian POWs.

During the period from 21 April 1945 to 17 May 1945 the 440th Group moved to the Alsace-Lorraine area of France to be closer to the front. This allowed for re-supply to the airfields near the front and to bring back POW's to Paris and other staging areas (see my flight log). Victory in Europe (V-E) Day was celebrated on 8 May 1945 and after this we moved back to Orleans.

During the period 5 April 1945 to 19 May 1945 the front lines were near Nidda, Kassal, Hilderheim, Gottinger, Bod Frankhasen, Wurzburg, Nuremberg, Bayruth,

Weimar, Cham, Regensburg, Straubing, and Merseburg Germany and Pilzner Czechoslovakia. The front lines had continually moved, and we landed near unpaved strips near the above towns and cities. After 19 May 1945 our air activities tapered off and we did mostly local training. About 1 June 1945 we were given a 7-day R & R to Biarritz, France, near Spain and on the Atlantic Ocean.

We were flown down to Biarritz from Orleans and took along British 10-in-1 rations to swap at the hotel we stayed in for the food they could provide. We wound up having all kinds of food, including lobster. The hotel was on the beach so that we could stay on the beach every day. We were near Lourdes (the Catholic shrine) so some of the officers went to Lourdes and to the shrine by streetcar. After 7 days we returned to Orleans and continued to do some training including transition flying in the C-46, as the Army was planning to use more of them.

On 1 July 1945, I was assigned a mission to Gaton, Germany, near Berlin. I took a planeload of people to a meeting in Gaton. We were told that we could return to Orleans after we had delivered these

people to Gaton. In addition, we were told not to fly over Berlin on our return trip. However, you know us fly boys; we took off and flew down the Unter de Linders in Berlin on our return to Orleans.

On 5 July 1945, I fainted after exercise, and the flight surgeon happened to observe this and grounded

me from flying status effective that date.

This effectively ended my flying career. The group, without

me, flew back to the USA in the summer of 1945 to a fate of a 30-day leave and then on to the Pacific and Japan. I stayed at Orleans during the summer of 1945 and in September proceeded to start on my return to the USA. I had more than enough points to return to the USA.

I left Orleans in September and proceeded to Paris and then to a staging camp on the coast of France on the French side of the English Channel. We then went by boat to Southampton, England, for a short stay, then on to a camp near Wales, then by train to the ship we were to take to the USA (the SS Fannin). The trip across the Atlantic took 13 days on our Liberty Ship. We were unloaded in Boston and were taken to Camp Lucky Strike. From there we went by troop train through New York City to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where my parents and June were there to meet me.

I was allowed at this point to take a 30-day leave; June was working at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, so she had to return. I stayed in Aberdeen for 30 days and then reported to my new station in San Antonio, Texas. I had stayed in the Air Corps for medical reasons, but found that I could be discharged and go back to school. I got out of the Air Corps in November 1945, returned to Aberdeen to prepare myself to return to college. I was accepted by University of Alabama, and June and I returned to college, in March 1946 to work toward my degree in Aeronautical Engineering.

V IJHr.J £. YEATES

tr: C (J L. u s f} ltf FlJRCE RET.

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