John Rainey was nineteen years old and on a replacement crew (Shroyer’s) when he was assigned to the 489th Bomb Group. In 1998, despite his fear of flying, he returned to Halesworth for a 489th Reunion. He found his picture on the wall of the 489th Bomb Group Museum, among pictures, taken from the booklet he completed with the help of his crew entitled, “Our Tour in Europe – 1944. Shroyer’s Crew”. John said his book was not written for historians, but documented events for the children and grandchildren of those he served with to help them understand what they went through.
The preface of his book reads: “It is about a group of men brought together by the chances of war. We were chosen to serve together by the Army. We trained together, laughed and played together, and went forward into combat together. Somehow we not only became a team but a part of each other. We live in one another. As long as one of us remembers our time together, we all shall live.”
On his return from the UK John was interviewed by his local paper about his experiences during WWII.
The ten recruits that made up Shroyer’s crew, were brought together in the spring of 1944 at Westover Army Air Base in Chicopee Falls, Mass. John Rainey was the last to join the crew and just twenty-eight days later the crew began their journey overseas. John told the The Reporter, his crew were designated as a replacement crew which meant that instead of being assigned to one airplane, the entire group filled in for B-24 crews that were on leave or which had been sent home.
“Our Tour in Europe – 1944. Shroyer’s Crew”
The Shroyer’s Crew book shows that their first mission was on Thursday 29th June in the B-24 named ‘Ace of Spades’. John was able to draw information from a secret mission diary kept by their bombardier and the first entry showed: “All well until near enemy coast. #3prop was running away when manifold pressure was increased. Couldn’t keep up. Turned after passing Zuider Zee about 10 miles North of Zwolle, Holland and lost control twice. Met few flak bursts on way out – No fighters. Jettisoned Bombs live in the North Sea to give crew some idea what it looked like. Received sortie credit after coming back on 3 engines. Feathered #3.”
John Rainey says, “I was consumed by self-doubt on our first mission. Would I measure up? Did I have enough training? After all, this was only my tenth flight in a plane. It was my first experience with engine trouble. Although the threat of losing an engine would become fairly routine later, losing an engine was always worrisome.”
Bombardier John Strauss reports that he dropped the bombs because he saw a plane blow up on landing and vowed to himself that he would never bring any back. As the bombs dropped he saw a ship below but, “thank God” it was a near miss.
Navigator Neal Sorensen recalled: “When we encountered prop wash turbulence plus a runaway propeller, the violence threw me face down on the side blister. Looking straight down four miles at the Zuider Zee! It was a great relief when Ed and Tommy got everything calmed down.
Another crew (Lt Robert Coles crew), also on their first mission, lost an engine and crash landed near Ursem, Holland. First listed as MIA, it was later learned they were prisoners of the Germans. Most had succeeded in bailing out. Shroyer’s crew were sorry it had happened to the Coles crew on this first mission, but were also glad it had not happened to them. “Each of us got a shot of whiskey and we were debriefed. We were combat veterans. Now we could paint one bomb on the A-2 jacket, and another on the aircraft. We were definitely BTO’s, Big Time Operators, in the ETO, European Theater of Operations.”
The mission diary of John Strauss shows that the crew flew in a number of different B-24s from the Ace of Spades, The Sharon D, Agony Wagon, Lonesome Polecat, Malfunction Junction, Heavenly Body, Black Magic, Little Iodine, The Betty Jim to Ripper’s Clipper (The Ripper).
John Rainey said he didn’t get credit for Mission 22 with the 489th Bomb Group, “…..paperwork fouled up. I was forced to fly an additional mission for a total of 36. 14 were flown with the 445th Bomb Group.”
Mission 22 was the final mission for Shroyer’s crew, their tour had ended and John was transferred to the 445th at Tibbenham, Norfolk, along with crew members Frank Judt, John Bignoli and Jim Marshall. John Rainey was later to write:
“My Last and Very Last Mission”…….
“I gave a sigh of relief as the wheels touched the runway. I had flown thirty five missions. I had completed my tour of duty as a gunner on a B-24 Liberator Bomber and the touchdown signaled to me the beginning of my trip home. When we started our tour, twenty five missions were required but the United States Army Air Force decided to increase the number, a few missions at a time, until it reached thirty five. They needed to increase the number of aircraft over the target and this was the most practical way to accomplish the goal.
“I was still on Cloud 9 the following day when I went to see the corporal in charge of keeping track of missions flown and arranging for the return home. The world seemed to crash around me when he told me that I had flown 34 missions instead of the required 35. I looked at the record and discovered that when I transferred from the 489th Heavy Bomb Group to the 445th somehow one mission was not recorded. Since the 489th had returned to the States, there was no way to correct the record in a reasonable time. I elected to fly another mission.
“It would mean that I would have to fly another “last” mission. The last mission is normally the one that gives a flyer the most concern. There is an inherent fear that the last mission will be the fatal one. One would be so close to success, and then, failure. I had felt this fear on the mission just flown and it now loomed larger because I was to tempt fate for a second time.
“The Charge of Quarters awake me in the morning. I went to the ‘drying room’ where I put on flight gear necessary to sustain life at 40 degrees below centigrade. It’s cold up there and the planes are not pressurized. Then to the mess hall where I ate breakfast. Next I went to the briefing room where I learned the target was a Communications Center in Germany. Next I got a ride in a truck out to the parked aircraft to meet the crew for the first time. I was flying from the pool. It was a group that flew when replacements for regular crew members were needed on short notice.
“As I approached an assembled group near the wing, I could tell they were having a serious discussion. The tone and volume were elevated. The engineer had the position assignments. I was scheduled to fly as a left waist gunner. Another waist gunner was assigned to the right waist. A third gunner who normally flew at the waist position had been assigned to the nose turret. He didn’t want to do it and expressly stated that he would not fly that position. I wanted no unrest among crew members. Harmony would help my chances of returning safely. I told the engineer that I would fly the nose turret if he cleared it with the pilot. It was soon cleared and I took my place in the nose. My flight in the nose was not recorded. The official record shows that I flew in the waist.
“Flying forward of the engines with a clear view ahead was new to me. I had flown as a waist gunner and a tail gunner. Here in the nose it was different. I could see the shells bursting directly ahead of me. The killing fields in the sky were readily identifiable. We flew at the same altitude and at the same speed during the bomb run. We did not try to avoid the flak, we charged straight through it. We had excellent results with the bomb drop.
“Immediately after the bomb run, I saw specks moving on the horizon in front of us. They appeared to me to be Mosquito bombers that the British use for various purposes and it was not unusual to see them at a great distance from our bomber stream. Suddenly I knew they were enemy fighters because they turned in our direction. The closing speed was beyond anything I had experienced. They came straight at us. The cannon on their wings lit up. I knew they were firing at us. I didn’t have enough time to return fire. Then I noticed they had no propellers. They were Jets. We had been briefed about them but it still was an unbelievable sight. We lost two planes that day from flak, none from encountering the jets.
“It was the first time I had seen a jet airplane. No one today could understand the excitement I felt. When our plane landed on our runway, the jets were uppermost in my mind. Going home followed shortly thereafter.
“That is the story of how I came to have a last and very last mission. Since the war I’ve had my mission record corrected.