A Tribute to
James William Kerr
1922 - 2006
A Pilot's Story
father was a proud B-26 pilot and this is the story of
one of his missions
The Group started
engines at 1605 hours and began to taxi
out ten minutes later. First box leader Lieutenant Duane Petit was
1620 hours, the remaining thirty-four planes followed in rapid
plane carried sixteen 250 pound demolition bombs. Lieutenant Sentner in
131823 AN-X did not take off due to mechanical difficulty.
The two box
formation made landfall at
Tomasello pilot of ship 131812 RU-J flying in
number five position of the lead flight, saw Lieutenant Kay’s ship
DONNA" 131658 RU-A receive a flak hit. The right side engine began to
trail smoke! Lieutenant Kay continued on the bomb run as all planes
bay doors at 1750 hours while making a steep left turn off the target.
guns pounded away as eight Marauders were struck by shrapnel.
flight leader Lieutenant James Kerr’s ship
"LITJO" 131622 RU-D was also struck in the nose section, tail area
and wing. His bombardier Lieutenant Noll and tail gunner Staff Sergeant
Cubba were wounded, the latter critically in the stomach by flak.
Kerr called his deputy lead pilot Lieutenant Marquis in number four
take over the flight lead because he had two wounded men and was
heading for an
emergency landing field located at
flying as co-pilot with the second box leader
Captain George Howard made a decision not to continue the bomb run
the heavy cloud cover. The formation made a sharp left turn away from
target area, thus avoiding a major portion of the flak barrage!
flying "HELL’S BELLE II" 131789 YA-A, took a hit in his right engine
oil cooler, his was the only plane the flak reached in the second
Group took up a return leg just south of
Lieutenant Kerr had reached the P-51 and P-38 Base
of the 76th Tactical Photo Reconnaissance Group at Charleroi. It was a grass strip only 3600
feet long. He flew a left hand pattern and landed. Upon touch down he
grass was wet and slippery. Because of the poor light conditions he
see the far end of the runway, and his brakes would not stop the
Seeing there was danger of overrunning, he hit the landing gear
up wheels and the aircraft slid on its belly. The plane struck a
crashed into 9,000 gallons of gasoline stored in five gallon cans that
temporarily stacked up at the end of the runway. The aircraft and all
gasoline caught fire at once!
Lieutenant Kay’s "PRIVY DONNA" appeared over the field as the flames shot skyward. He prepared to make a single engine landing, realizing the shortness of the runway he pulled up and went around. On his second try he decided he could not land without overrunning, so he pulled up and went around again; his third approach was angled away from the fire on the field, he retracted his landing gear, pulled up flaps and came in on the belly. None of his crew were injured, and no major damage to the aircraft in the landing.
At this point
Lieutenant Kerr picks up the narration after
his crash landing into the fuel storage: "We collided with the
cans and caught fire, the co-pilot and I jumped out of the hatches
compartment. The fire was mainly on the left side of the airplane, so
around to the right side. The right wingtip was almost touching the
crew member (later determined to be Bucky Noll, the bombardier) was on
running down the wing. I saw someone grab and cover him to extinguish
flames, put him into an ambulance and leave the scene.
I saw someone standing under the front part of the right wing near the fuselage. It was getting dark—with the fire still mostly on the other side I could not tell who it was, but thought it might be Louie Cubba. I ran toward him yelling, come this way, or something like that. The noise of the fire was very loud—whoever it was ran back toward the rear of the airplane.
I ran to the back and someone was on the ground near the right waist window. It was Pat Patras, the radio operator, I helped him up and asked if Louie had gotten out. He said that he had, about that time machine gun shells began to explode. We ran to a jeep that was waiting there to help us. Then a bomb exploded, at first we took cover behind the jeep. After a second bomb went off we decided to get into the jeep and get away from the danger. As I talked to Pat, I realized that he was pretty shook up and did not really know what had happened for the moment. We must have all been in a state of shock! Pat had a dislocated shoulder, we took him to the base hospital where I found Bucky Noll—his face was so charred I had to ask if it was he. He was certainly in severe pain but was rational.
My left hand and left side of my face had been burned, probably when I jumped out of the airplane. They treated the burns, bandaged my hand quickly, and continued searching for my crew members. About a half hour later, with the much appreciated help of the man with the jeep, we found the co-pilot; he was okay. That accounted for all of the crew except Louie Cubba. Continuing to tour the field and asking questions, eventually concluding that Louie must have died in the fire!
Another B-26 which burned landed ahead of us, folding the nose gear while trying to avoid the gasoline cans. It skidded sideways until the tail knocked over some of higher piled gasoline cans, but there was no fire. After I hit the revetment and then the gasoline, we ended up a little to the right of the tail of that airplane.
The revetment turned out to be an old German bomb storage area. I don’t believe it was very high, but it was probably the collision that caused Patras’ dislocated shoulder and Smith’s broken ankle. We were taken off the base for the night to a Belgian home. Our sixteen 250 pound bombs, the other B-26’s eight 500 pound bombs, along with all the underground German bombs—we heard them exploding way into the night. The next morning there was nothing there but a big hole in the ground!
A note of irony:
We later discovered that about half the 90
mile distance from
More From Jim Kerr
There were three B-26 fields within about eight miles of Great Dunmow. We rarely went by the names of the planes. We called them by the last three digits of their serial number (on the tail) and the letter on the side. For example, the one I really liked to fly, and flew on a lot of missions, was identified in normal conversation as 658-A, and "six-five-eight A-Able" on the radio.
Since I was a replacement, I didn't have an my own ship (or even a regular crew) until pretty late in my tour, when I was assigned an airplane, strictly as a gesture and a favor to me. The name was "Texas Tarantula", and it had originally been the plane of Col. Lester J. Maitland, first C.O. of the group, and he had led the group's first combat mission in it about seven months before I got over there.
In 1922 (the year I was born) he had been the first person to fly over 200 miles per hour, and in 1927, the first to fly from the U.S. to Hawaii, and for that, he was the second person to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross...Lindbergh was the first. They painted my name under the pilot's window right along with his...and I was proud.
In addition to Texas Tarantula, here are some airplane names I was able to read from photographs in a book about the 386th Bomb. Group. These are for the whole group: (the planes he flew are highlighted)
Incendiary Mary, Yankee Guerrilla, Geronimo, Deacon, Crescendo, Hot Pistol, Sixovus, Our Baby, Blazing Heat, Crime Doctor, Touch O'Texas, Bomb Boogie, Rat Poison, Blue Blazer, Miss Mary, Thumbs Up, Lady Luck, Bar Fly, Bad Penny, Smokey, Cloud Hopper, Litljo, Pay-off, Honey Chile, Good Buddie, Lethal Lady, Son of Satan, Privy Donna, Man-O'-War, Hell's Angels, Butch, Loretta Young, Stardust, Perkatory, Mr. Five by Five.