Art Unruh First and Last Missions
Text taken from Art's Diary Entries and published in His Book Shadow Casters Published Jan 2000 Shadow Casters Reunited is in the works and should be out soon.
January 31st, 1944
We flew our B-17 to our new base at Lucera Italy north of Foggia and was assigned to the 32nd Bomb Squadron of the 301st Bomb Group. This was the heart of wheat country and all the time I was there I only saw one thrashing machine for wheat. The whole harvest was done by hand, mostly by women using hand scythes, shovels and horses. The men passed their time by sitting on the street corners downtown, drinking wine.
Most of the store’s windows in Foggia were broken and looted. Sewer and water systems were almost nil.
February 1st to the 13th, 1944
I worked details of all kinds. We set up our tent on an Italian farm. We had made an overnight raid on the farmer’s big, beautiful haystack, stuffing the hay into our mattress covers for a more comfortable sleep. The next morning the farmer came to complain about his vanished haystack. We sent him on his way with no compensation.
At this time I received my first letter from my wife since I had left the states. Mail for us was not up to par yet but the longer we waited the better the mail became. I spilled hot water and scalded my foot. This injury made it a little tough to walk for a while.
I checked the bulletin board every day to see if my name was on the Battle Order for my first Mission . I was getting anxious to get started. The waiting was very tough.
The weather is cold at night, but not bad in daylight. We were fortunate to have a nice, dry bed. The poor fellows on the ground up on the front lines sure didn’t. The food was fair. A lot of things like eggs, milk and potatoes were powdered, but we had three meals a day, along with salt tablets and the ever present Malaria pills, bad coffee and bad water.
In regard to heating our tents, we had on our field an 80,000 gasoline storage tank which should have 100 octane gasoline for the planes. Somehow the octane was not up to par, so we were told we could use this gas for heating. We were getting gas from this big tank outlet pipe of about three inches in diameter, trying to fill a five gallon Jerry gas can. A lot of waste but it sure helped to keep us warm.
February 14th, 1944
My first combat mission. The moment of truth had finally arrived. I was scared but eager to get airborne, not knowing what to expect, hoping for the best for all of our crew. We had a good breakfast. Always on mission days we received a good breakfast. Then a cold ride on a truck out to the aircraft. Waiting for us, and loaded with bombs were the beautiful B17’s.
Then the quite was shattered with the roar of the four engine planes starting their engines. I have my heated suit on, Mae West jacket, throat mike, oxygen mask at hand. My parachute, chest type, hanging on a hook near by. We taxi forward onto the runway waiting for our turn to take off. Brakes on, engines and superchargers at full power. Then, brakes’ release and we start rolling. This is the real thing! Practice time was over. It takes the full runway, with a full load of 1000 pound bombs, 2800 gallons of gas, crew and ammunition.
Finally, we are airborne and begin the formation pattern with the other aircraft. The formation separated just enough to for all gunners to test fire our machine guns. We will go on oxygen at 10,000 feet. As we enter enemy skies, we watch for German airplanes. Our primary target is Verona , Italy which was clouded over forcing us to go on to the secondary target of Brescia, Italy.
We hit the railroad yards here we ran into fairly heavy flak and ran into 28 enemy ME109’ fighters . I got away a few shots at them, then our P47 escort took over for us. My journal entry for this flight reads, “I was scared as hell.” But it was a good mission.
We had a number of flak holes in our aircraft. One hole in the wing was big enough to stick an arm in. It was very cold at 50 degrees below zero.
On the way home I saw Mount Vesuvius and the Isle of Capri. I was happy to get home and through this first mission safely.
From 1944 one of the major causes of B17 casualties was anti- aircraft fire from the ground. The German word for this was (Fleigerabwehrkannon.) This was shortened to the word, “flak” which was picked up by the allies and a new word entered the language.
July 26th, 1944
These will be my last missions. Number 49 and 50. I prayed for it to get all of us through this one safe and sound. But it was five hours and 30 minutes of Hell and Destruction. As it turned out, this mission is to the Airdrome in Weiner Neudorf , Austria.
……..It was almost the last time I would fly again. Anywhere ........
United States Army Award Narrative
For Gallantry In Action and Heroism In Aerial Flight
In The Mediterranean Theater Of Operations.
For gallantry in action on July 26 1944, while on a highly strategic bombing mission against the important enemy aircraft engine factory at Weiner Neudorf, Austria. About thirty (30) miles from the IP, 24,000 ft. altitude, and at 11:04 hours, this heroic crew was attacked by between fifty (50) and Seventy (70) enemy fighters of the Me-109 and the FW 190 types. The fighters were sighted and called out by the enlisted crew members, massing for attack at six o’clock and about two-thousand yard out. The initial attack consisted of three (3) waves of eighteen (18) fighters abreast, firing rockets at about one-thousand yards range, then continuing their attack with 20mm cannon and machine gun fire at extremely close range. The attack was so intense and violent that almost simultaneously the B-17 aircraft flying in the 22,23 and 31 positions were destroyed. The fighters rallied and continued to attack with added vigor and in the next six or seven minutes of intensified aerial combat eight (8) additional B-17 aircraft were shot down. Two of these were flying 12 and 13 positions, leaving only two (2) aircraft in the diamond squadron; the two remaining aircraft flying 21 and 11 positions. So pressing was the enemy attack that enemy fighters were observed firing at this crew’s aircraft from ranges as close as fifty (50) feet. Their aircraft received in these attacks approximately six hundred (600) direct hits from enemy 20mm cannon and machine gun fire. This concentrated enemy fire destroyed one-half of the rudder, the left elevator and elevator trim tab, jamming these controls in position. Many hits were sustained in the fuselage and wings, severly damaging both wing spars, puncturing both inboard propellers and destroying and setting fire to all radio equipment and the oxygen system from the radio room to the tail. The tail guns were destroyed and the tail gunner received very serious injury. During this action eight (8) enemy fighters were destroyed by the gunners, two of which were destroyed by the tail gunner before his injury. The situation was so critical it was impossible for the gunners to maintain an account on probables and damaged enemy aircraft, recognizing only those seen to explode from their fire. In addition to successfully warding off the persistant attacks from fighters, the gunners also managed to extinguish the three different fires that had started during this engagement. After the first attack, the pilot and co-pilot found that their ship could only be controled by the combined efforts of the two of them. The formation entered heavy clouds and their ship could no longer keep in contact with what was left of the group. Shortly after this the ship emerged from the clouds and salvoed its bombs on the town of Murzsteg , Austria . Shortly after, their ship was again attacked by enemy fighters. Between fifteen (15) and twenty (20) enemy aircraft participated in this assualt which bore the same furiosity as the first attacks. Though alone and against such tremendous odds, this valiant crew fought off attack after attack, destroying two (2) more enemy fighters in the conflict. Disregarding the fact that his turret was hit by 20mm cannon, on fire and without any oxygen, The ball-turret operator continued to suppress fighter attacks. Finally, from lack of oxygen, he passed out while firing at a FW-190 that was making a vicious pass on his ship. The left waist gunner pulled him from the turret, extinguishing the fire and reviving the strickened gunner with oxygen from the one remaining walk-around bottle. After being revived, the ball-turret gunner insisted on returning to his position where he remained until his aircraft was in safe territory. With five (5) of the ship’s guns inoperative, a running battle insued until the pilot manuvered the crippled aircraft into some clouds and lost the remaining enemy fighters. Even though many different headings were used, the air speed ranged from 150 to 240. The master compass was shot out and the ground could not be seen because of the weather. The excellent pilotage of the navigator and bombardier kept the aircraft out of flak and fighter areas on the rest of the return trip until the crippled ship was safely home. The return trip was accomplished in about two (2) hours. Five (5) of the enlisted crew-members were without oxygen the whole time at least for a period of fourty-five (45) minutes above 20,000 feet altitude. Through the most ardous eforts of the pilot and co-pilot the badly damaged ship was landed at home base without further injury to plane or crew. For two (2) of the crew members, this was their fiftieth mission six others being in their late forties; one having 33 and another having 20.
THE CREW MEMBERS FOR THIS MISSION WERE AS FOLLOWS:
John W. Kelly, First Lieutenant, 32nd Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group. Residence at time of appointment: Bothel , Washington State.
John H. Kletke, JR Second Lieutenant, 32nd Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group. Residence at time of appointment, Covington , Kentucky.
Richard J. Larkin, Second Lieutenant, 32nd Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group. Residence at time of appointment, Manchester , New Hampshire .
Robert S. McArthur, Second Lieutenant 32nd Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group. Residence at time of appointment, Vidalia , Georgia .
Elliot L. Bryan, Technical Sergeant, 32nd Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group. Residence at time of enlistment, Kalamazoo , Michigan .
Clarence L. Murphy, Technical Sergeant, 32nd Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group.. Residence at time of enlistment Masillon , Ohio .
Albert F. Bernard, Staff Sergeant, 32nd Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group. Residence at time of enlistment, Alpena , Michigan .
K. J. McClure, Staff Sergeant, 32nd Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group. Residence at time of enlistment, Independence , Kansas .
Eugene McKiney, Staff Sergeant, 32nd Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group. Residence at time of enlistment, Cleveland , Ohio .
Arthur B. Unruh, Staff Sergeant, 32nd Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group. Residence at time of enlistment, Hutchinson , Kansas .
UNDER THE PREVISIONS OF AR 600-50 AS AMENDED AND PURSUANT TO AUTHORITY CONTAINED IN CIRCULAR NO. 89, HEADQUARTERS, NATO USA 10 OF JULY 1944, THE SILVER STAR IS AWARDED TO THE ABOVE NAMED PERSONNEL, AIR CORPS, UNITED STATES ARMY, RESIDENCE AS INDICATED WITH THE ABOVE CITATION, THIS AWARD WAS ON GENERAL ORDERS, NUMBER 2816, DATED 24 AUGUST, 1944.
(I would receive this award State-side at a later date with a letter from the President, Franklin D. Roosevelt.)
July 26th, 1944 (Continued)
On the ground back at Home Base, I stood on good, old terra firma. Hardly believing what had just happened to us, I kissed the ground and kissed that bullet riddled old B17 airplane that brought us home.
The crew stood there knowing that there were only two planes that had made it back. I know we all are saying a little prayer for ourselves and for the crews that had not returned.
As I walk around the battered airplane, my knees begin to tremble and the fear that I didn’t have time for in the air takes hold of my mind and body. Gradually, the shock receded to a bearable level. I was alive! I had made it. This was my last mission. I don’t have to check the Battle Order anymore.
For this mission, our entire crew was awarded the Silver Star medal for Gallantry in Action. I would also receive a written award for valor in action from the MAAF 15th Air Force. It is signed by General Ira Eaker, Lieutenant General US Army Commanding. These awards will be given to me stateside, along with my five Air Medals. One (1) for shooting down an ME 410 German fighter bomber.
As I stand here, so many things go through my mind. I recall sorrow, excitement, thrills, joy, loneliness. All the good, the bad that has happened to me and my pals. All the sights I have seen, all the places I’ve been. I have wondered so many times why others go down, and I don’t. I feel very humble and thankful. Now my thoughts and efforts focus on getting home to the U.S.A..
Note: In regard to my 50th mission, this fact occurred to myself and the crew that near the end of the war conventional German fighters were having a hard time getting at the Bombers because of the Fighter escorts. So the German High Command adopted a new tactic that the Japanese used, called ramming. The very young and the very dedicated pilots were trained to fly such planes as the Messerschmitt 109 directly at and on into the Bomber formations, firing all the way in, hoping they could survive the defensive firepower of the Bomber guns. Then they could ram the Bombers.
On my last mission there were German planes as close as fifty feet from our Bombers trying to ram us with their fighters. This is why we were able to knock so many of them out of the sky. Some of these pilots looked like mere 16 or 17 year old kids.
Some of the B17’s shot down over Germany were taken in, repaired and rebuilt by the Germans. They were used to teach German pilots to shadow the American B17 formations, and to radio the German fighter pilots the altitude and course of the Americans. They were even used to shoot down straggling B17’s that had been hit and in trouble keeping up with the formation.
Much excitement and reminiscing as an Old Airman flies again
On The 2nd of July 2003 almost 60 years after my last combat mission I finally took a ride in the Commemorative Air Force's Sentimental Journey out of Flagstaf, Arizona at the Arlington Washington Air Show for my 51st and Final Mission. I thank Her Crew and Supporters for a memorable day for myself, my Wife and my friends. God Bless America and all of those men that didn't come home to grow up.