Monday, April 17, 2017

"Good things never last, luck always ends and time always runs out." *


Sometimes you get lucky.  Sometimes "Dad" drops the crawfish remoulade and Murphy enjoys Sunday dinner.  Other times, you drop the crawfish remoulade and you're left eating PB&J.  Life is like that.


I sat down on Easter Sunday to write a post saying something pithy about the Dark Ages, Resurrection and History but, grunt as hard as I could, nothing came out.


So we'll discuss a little more USAF Medal of Honor history.


I went to my trusty picture and found a name I didn't recognize.  In this case, I chose 2LT William E. Metzger.  There are a lot of Metzgers in Fritztown TX, so I thought there might be a connection there.


Not so lucky.


However, his award of the Medal of Honor was simultaneous with the award to another Recipient, 2LT Donald J. Gott.  That doesn't happen often, and when it does, one can usually deduce a couple of things, beyond the obvious "above and beyond the Call of Duty".  Those deductions are that the recipients probably didn't survive and they were probably in the same aircraft.


Both are true in this instance.


On my first run through of their stories, I first focused on the Citation as that is the "Official" history of the event.  Here is Lt Metzger's (I chose to write about him first)

"On a bombing run upon the marshaling yards at Saarbrucken, Germany, on 9 November 1944, a B17 aircraft on which 2d Lt. Metzger was serving as copilot was seriously damaged by antiaircraft fire. Three of the aircraft's engines were damaged beyond control and on fire; dangerous flames from the No. 4 engine were leaping back as far as the tail assembly. Flares in the cockpit were ignited and a fire roared therein which was further increased by free-flowing fluid from damaged hydraulic lines. The interphone system was rendered useless. In addition to these serious mechanical difficulties the engineer was wounded in the leg and the radio operator's arm was severed below the elbow. Suffering from intense pain, despite the application of a tourniquet, the radio operator fell unconscious. Faced with the imminent explosion of his aircraft and death to his entire crew, mere seconds before bombs away on the target, 2d Lt. Metzger and his pilot conferred. Something had to be done immediately to save the life of the wounded radio operator. The lack of a static line and the thought that his unconscious body striking the ground in unknown territory would not bring immediate medical attention forced a quick decision. 2d Lt. Metzger and his pilot decided to fly the flaming aircraft to friendly territory and then attempt to crash land. Bombs were released on the target and the crippled aircraft proceeded along to Allied-controlled territory. When that had been reached 2d Lt. Metzger personally informed all crewmembers to bail out upon the suggestion of the pilot. 2d Lt. Metzger chose to remain with the pilot for the crash landing in order to assist him in this emergency. With only 1 normally functioning engine and with the danger of explosion much greater, the aircraft banked into an open field, and when it was at an altitude of 100 feet it exploded, crashed, exploded again, and then disintegrated. All 3 crewmembers were instantly killed. 2d Lt. Metzger's loyalty to his crew, his determination to accomplish the task set forth to him, and his deed of knowingly performing what may have been his last service to his country was an example of valor at its highest."
To summarize, the event happened towards the end of the war and their B-17 is hit by AAA and badly damaged and probably won't make it back to the base.  Their Radio Operator has lost his hand to shrapnel and will not survive a bailout if not immediately recovered on landing, which is not likely.   


According to this site, the damaged B-17 was only able to maintain 120K in a continual descent.  This distance would take about 30 minutes, which is forever when you're on fire.
The Pilot (Lt Gott) and Co-Pilot (Lt Metzger) elect to fly over to Allied held territory and have the rest of the crew bailout and then attempt to crash land the plane in a field in an attempt to save the Radio Operator's life.
The "Lady Jeanette" B-17G (SN 42-97904) was the aircraft Lts Gott and Metzger were flying.  Here it is dropping its payload on an earlier mission.
Source

Given that this is the Easter Season, this quote comes to mind "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."


Unfortunately, as can be read in the citation, the first part of the plan goes well, however when they attempt to land the bomber, they fail and all aboard perish.


It was at this point that I thought I had the story pretty well sketched out and was ready to start writing.  I took a break, had lunch and was looking for supporting photographs to add color to the story.


I found a picture Lt Metzger in an expected place.

Lt William E. Metzger (9 Feb 22-9 Nov 44 aged 22)
Source
I found Lt Gott's picture in a new spot.
Lt Donald J. Gott (3 Jun 23- 9 Nov 44 aged 21)
Source
The American Air Museum in Britain's Site.  I think I'm going to be spending some time there.  From their mission statement.
The American Air Museum website records the stories of the men and women of the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) who served their country from the UK in the Second World War. It also records the memories of the British people who befriended them. Browse, edit and upload your own photographs and memories to help us build an online memorial to their lives."
Lt Gott, on the left, and officers from his crew.
Source

But as I was browsing through the information on that site, I came across two pieces of information that contradicted the information in their citation.  The first was that the bomber apparently did not explode, crash and then explode again.  The second was that instead of three people perishing in the crash, there was a fourth crewman killed also. 


I put that one down to a "fog of war" issue and an overworked Executive Officer putting together the nomination after that day's mission and prior to prepping for the following morning's mission.


However, since I now knew the Bomber's name and SN, I searched on that info and found this post which included this picture.  

Sketch of the Lady Jeannette's final flight by Carol Cole and signed by the surviving crewmembers.
Source
It's a lengthy post, but was very informative as the author apparently interviewed the surviving crewmembers as well as some of the US Army personnel and French Civilians that witnessed the crash.  Well worth about 10 minutes of your time (although I never did figure out how Patton's death was involved.)

Suffice it to say, that there was well heroism well "above and beyond" in their attempt to save the Radio Operator and apparently they made it to the ground before their luck ran out.  It appears that as they landed, a fuel tank ruptured and the fuel ignited.  Also unfortunately, the tail gunner's parachute opened inside the plane and became wrapped around the horizontal stabilizer and he was drug to his death on landing.

Lt Metzger was flying as co-pilot, on his second mission in theater.  He was gaining experience with Lt Gott prior to resuming command of his assigned crew and bomber.  That crew was flying the same mission with an experienced Pilot in command and witnessed the hits by AAA.  
.Memorial to the crew located near the crash site.
Source
Lt Gott's Citation:
"On a bombing run upon the marshaling yards at Saarbrucken a B-17 aircraft piloted by 1st. Lt. Gott was seriously damaged by antiaircraft fire. Three of the aircraft's engines were damaged beyond control and on fire; dangerous flames from the No. 4 engine were leaping back as far as the tail assembly. Flares in the cockpit were ignited and a fire raged therein, which was further increased by free-flowing fluid from damaged hydraulic lines. The interphone system was rendered useless. In addition to these serious mechanical difficulties the engineer was wounded in the leg and the radio operator's arm was severed below the elbow. Suffering from intense pain, despite the application of a tourniquet, the radio operator fell unconscious. Faced with the imminent explosion of his aircraft, and death to his entire crew, mere seconds before bombs away on the target, 1st. Lt. Gott and his copilot conferred. Something had to be done immediately to save the life of the wounded radio operator. The lack of a static line and the thought that his unconscious body striking the ground in unknown territory would not bring immediate medical attention forced a quick decision. 1st. Lt. Gott and his copilot decided to fly the flaming aircraft to friendly territory and then attempt to crash land. Bombs were released on the target and the crippled aircraft proceeded alone to Allied-controlled territory. When that had been reached, 1st. Lt. Gott had the copilot personally inform all crewmembers to bail out. The copilot chose to remain with 1st. Lt. Gott in order to assist in landing the bomber. With only one normally functioning engine, and with the danger of explosion much greater, the aircraft banked into an open field, and when it was at an altitude of 100 feet it exploded, crashed, exploded again and then disintegrated. All 3 crewmembers were instantly killed. 1st. Lt. Gott's loyalty to his crew, his determination to accomplish the task set forth to him, and his deed of knowingly performing what may have been his last service to his country was an example of valor at its highest. "
Rest in Peace, Warriors! 



*Author Unknown.
Source

18 comments:

  1. Incredible story, incredible bravery.

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    1. Yeah, the retelling in the other post really brought it all to life. The Citations were very dry in comparison.

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  2. Thank you for making known to me these fine men.

    Paul L. Quandt

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  3. The bravery boggles the mind.

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    1. Quite a lot of maturity for a 21 and 22 year old, No? I think we've still got a lot of that around, but apparently not on college campuses. Just sayin'

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    2. Men at the age of boys. We still have some, just not as many. Thanks, and regards, Alemaster

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    3. Wonder how much manhood they had prior to this mission? Lord knows they had a lot at the end.

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    4. Wonderfully stated! regards, Alemaster

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  4. Amazing people. It's good to know that they are among us.

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  5. Writing the citations can't be a pleasant task.
    They must be even more difficult when the writer knows the recipient.
    Separating one's emotions from the job makes for a dull read.

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    1. Writing citations for medals isn't easy even if it's not the Medal of Honor and the would be recipient is still alive. I think changing those two situations would make it even harder, as you said. Knowing the recipients? Very difficult and toning it down may be a defense mechanism. I don't know if that particular squadron had any other citations for the Medal submitted, but I'm pretty sure whoever wrote medal citations in general for any given bomber squadron in Europe in WWII, was a very busy man.

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  6. Amazing story.

    I thought I was a world-renowned expert on the B-17 but this is the first time I ever heard about wing racks and ordnance. Guess I need to go back to school.

    The picture of Gott and the officers with their aircraft is interesting. B-26's and a Martin Maryland (?) in the background. That B-17 looks like it's got a lot of miles on it.

    I remember reading an account of another crew trying to jettison the ball turret using their .45's to shoot through the cables.

    Gotta do some reading on Patton now to see in MacArthur had him killed...

    Great post Juvat.

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    1. I thought the wing rack thing was interesting also. Might be worth a session practising my Google-Fu.
      I would say that the picture was not taken in England given the hill in the background with limited vegetation, and a concrete ramp neither of which were prevalent in Southern England. I'm thinking Bomber Training in the States.
      I would bet that the wrench was knocked off by the hit(s) from AAA, and may have fallen overboard. The post did say the ball turret gunner had had his "bell rung".
      Good luck on the Patton/MacArthur thing. Let me know how it turns out!
      Thanks

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    2. Google-Fu comes through in a Peench! Forum Discussion Here, Picture here

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  7. There were B-17Gs with 4 bladed props?

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    1. Good catch, I hadn't noticed. Not to my knowledge (but then I didn't know about external racks either). I think that was "Artistic License". Google-Fu (quickie version) didn't return any useful hits.

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