November 20, 2013

Screw You, Colonel - A M*A*S*H* moment in Dalhart, Texas, 1943

B-17s in winter conditions in England in 1945

I was amazed to find a description on the internet of a story my Dad used to tell me from the war, about an asshole of a base commander who tried to order his B-17 trainees into the air in heavy icing conditions, Capt. Burt Bollenbach of course being the weather officer, trained in a highly compressed intense graduate program in the Univ. of Chicago's second meteorlogy class in 1941-42, only to find himself assigned to Texas.

This account completely confirms the story I remember. My Dad was angry 4 decades later about it, knowing more than anyone how much danger the crews were being uselessly put in; Dad pleaded the science, but the Colonel simply would not listen to him- nonetheless, the Colonel's bullheadedness caused something of a blue flu mutiny, with a hilarious punchline, described below by CB "Red' Harper of the B-17 Buffalo Gal.

"We flew as much as weather would allow since it was winter and we had a lot of snow. One morning after the alarm clock had assassinated my sleep at 03:00 hours, I shaved and dressed at the tourist court we called home and was ready to pick up the other two pilots I shared cars with for the 60 mile trip to the base. I tried to open the door but it wouldn’t budge. I attempted to look out the window and only saw snow. We were buried all the way up to the roof with blowing snow drifts. We were thankful for steam heat. I went back to bed and it was two days before thawing out enough to get outside. We finally managed to slip and slide down the icy highway and get back to Dalhart. When we arrived, we were told briefing would be in half an hour. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. There was at least six inches of ice on the runways. All the crews had to pass by the flight surgeon’s desk before each flight. If there were any physical problems that was the time to tell the Doc about it. I started coughing and gagging when I got to his desk. He grinned and marked the crew unfit for flying today. Each pilot had done the same so all crews were grounded for the day.  

"When word got to the commander he threw a wall-eyed fit. He announced on the PA system that all pilots and their crews would assemble in the briefing room on the double. He proceeded to rant and rave before the 300 grounded birdmen assembled in front of him using endearing terms like “yellow-bellied” and a lot of carrying on like that. Finally he announced that he was going to put a B-17 in the air and we were all going to stand out by the runway and watch and freeze our asses off until he got back. 

The colonel ordered his executive officer to fly copilot and he finally got to the runway for take off. The taxi strip was so slick he couldn’t run the engines up. He turned onto the runway and moved about 50 feet before loosing control of the beast. He did a 360 degree ground loop - winding up in a snow bank. They sent a 6 X 6 truck after him and he had to crawl out the pilot’s window to get out. As the truck came by with our over zealous CO in it, all 300 of us came to attention and saluted him.  
"That episode was the main course of conversation on the base for days after."

Bonus: Army AF Manual about how to crash your B-17 In Alaska and live. Complete with handy eskimo phrases.


Blogger Laird of Madrona said...

Wow, that's a great story.

November 21, 2013 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger The Other Front said...


November 22, 2013 at 2:34 AM  
Blogger First Sea Lord said...

Post-script: reading farther, almost 60 men died just in training at that base in Dalhart, Texas.

November 22, 2013 at 10:49 AM  
Blogger The Other Front said...

That manual is full of good advice. Interesting to know that white men prefer certain kinds of meat...

November 23, 2013 at 4:18 PM  

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