Tag Archives: World War II

Memorial Day 2017: Shot Down with an A-20G Low-Level Bomber in a Hail of Flak During WWII

We Find Treasured Historical Records of Heroism in Celebration of U.S. Memorial Day.

October 16, 1944. Inside Douglas A-20G over Bologna, Italy.

Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak,

86th Bomb Squadron, 47th Bombardment Group, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Hurtling headlong into a vertical hail of razor-sharp shrapnel from the constant drum of enemy ack-ack, the Douglas A-20G light bomber crew wrestles the flight controls as their aircraft bucks wildly on turbulent eruptions of rising hot air at impossibly low altitude. Gunner and observer Staff Sergeant Ray Trzeciak tries to steady himself inside the plane so he can identify targets flashing below at over 200 MPH. Blinding fire-orbs leap at them from the ground, then disappear behind them. The plane bucks at irregular intervals from an occasional minor hit. Until one of the rising enemy shells hits an engine…

The Douglas A-20G was a widely used ground attack bomber. Staff Sergeant Trzeciak was a gunner and observer on board this aircraft in WWII. (U.S. Army via Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak)

73 Years later: May 26, 2017. Dearborn, Michigan in the United States.

Mark Trzeciak is a lifelong friend of mine. Educated, a family man with a Masters’ Degree in education. Two kids and a beautiful wife. He lives in my neighborhood. Teaches at a local school. Trzeciak is a practical and industrious man. He can fix anything, teach anything. A civic leader in the local Maltese community, he is a great American.

“Hey, I think I have a story for you for Memorial Day,” He tells me last week on a Facebook chat. “My Grandfather was on a bomber crew in WWII. Got an award for parachuting out.”

Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak in 1944. (Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak)

I meet Mark at his house. On the dining room table is a weathered leather satchel. It sat hidden in a corner in an attic behind the Christmas decorations. Dust fell on it when a new roof was put on the house. After Mark’s Grandfather, Raymond M. Trzeciak, died in 1999 the family finally opened the case and examined the contents.

The first thing you need is altitude. Enough height to bail out. Never turn into a dead engine, it’s fatal. The fire spread backward through the engine nacelle as they clawed upward for enough altitude to bail out. The airspeed unwound. Only one engine fighting to pull them up, up. They need to get to at least 2,500 feet. If the Douglas A-20G light attack aircraft stalled there was not enough room to recover. Trzeciak would spiral into the ground, a fiery gash in the dark earth marking his grave in fields outside Bologna.

An A-20G of Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak’s Unit with mission markings. (Personal collection: Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak)

Generalleutnant Richard Heidrich, commander of the German 1st Fallschirmjäger-Division is a battle hardened elite paratrooper of the Luftwaffe. He owns the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords for heroism and daring in service of the Third Reich. Heidrich’s men of this elite German airborne unit are the shock troops that have tried desperately to hold Bologna, Italy in the allied advance of 1944. So far, they have been successful. But men like Raymond M. Trzeciak are trying to change that.

The tempo of operations is insane. Trzeciak’s A-20G light attack aircraft flies dangerous low altitude bombing and reconnaissance missions nearly every day. The maintenance crews can barely keep up. On June 14, 1944 Trzeciak makes an ominous two-word entry into his mission diary, “2:15, two explosions, :50, engine trouble.”

Log book of Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak. (Personal collection: Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak)

But the missions continue. A low-level strafing mission on trucks. A nighttime bombing raid. A reconnaissance mission to locate German convoys (they find and bomb them).

But on October 16, 1944, as the tempo of allied airstrikes on the occupying German paratroopers of Generalleutnant Heidrich picks up steam, Trzeciak’s plane crashes.

“He never talked about it.” Mark Trzeciak tells me of his Grandfather. “Never said a word.” It is the same thing you hear about nearly every veteran of every war ever fought. Veterans tend to put the terror of war into a compartment separate from their civilian life of comfort and safety. They try to leave it behind, like Raymond M. Trzeciak did in a leather satchel in a dark corner of an attic. Still there, but hidden. Not forgotten, but never mentioned. It does not define them, but it is a current that runs deeply through them.

Earlier that year in 1944, Staff Sergeant Trzeciak received the Air Medal for surviving 10 sorties over enemy held territory. He went on to receive two Oak Leaf Clusters for his Air Medal. His terse notes reflect the casual attitude toward their daily relationship with low altitude aerial combat. Any one of these missions is filled with enough risk and sensation to fill a book, but on Trzeciak’s notepad they are summarized in terse one-line entries.

There is no record of the crash. Few records of the parachute escape. Staff Sergeant Ray Trzeciak is awarded a certificate as a member of the “Caterpillar Club”, a fraternity of air crew members whose life has been saved by a silk parachute. Trzeciak’s parachute was manufactured by the National Automotive Fibres Company, Ltd.

After his parachute escape from the crashed A-20G, Trzeciak’s crew receives another aircraft and is back in combat on November 12, 1944 hitting targets outside Milan, Italy. In only a few months Trzeciak’s efforts with the constant low-level bombing campaign will pay off when the Battle of Bologna begins on April 9, 1945. It is a critical part of the spring 1945 offensive across Italy that is tightening the noose on Hitler’s neck as the allies press into his occupied territory from the north following the D-Day landings the prior spring and from the east as the Russians break the neck of the Germans and begin to drive them back out of Russia from the brink of losing Stalingrad in a grinding, medieval battle of attrition that claimed millions of lives.

He returns home after the war. A leather satchel filled with papers and photos. He goes to work as an electrician with Local 58, an electrician’s labor union. He raises 6 children, one of them is my friend Mark Trzeciak’s father. His hearing is very poor, likely from his .50 caliber machine gun echoing in the small gun compartment of his aircraft. Two years before he died in 1999 he received two hearing aids. It was the first time since the war he could hear anything.

Mark Trzeciak, grandson of Staff Sergeant Raymond M. Trzeciak, holds a photo taken by his Grandfather of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Author)

Staff Sergeant Raymond Trzeciak’s story is one of many, many stories about America’s greatest generation. A generation that served humbly in countless death-defying roles and in long hours of laborious toil away from the battlefield in support of World War II. The story is a thread that wove the fabric of America, reinforced it. His story makes it strong today. It is the foundation upon which his grandson’s life is built.

Mark takes me into a bedroom to show me a drawing on the wall, but we must be quiet. His son Thomas, only 18 months old, is sleeping. The drawing shows a sailboat sitting in an Italian bay. It is a quiet image drawn from a photo kept by Mark’s grandfather. He took the photo in a rare peaceful moment during the war. Young Thomas sleeps under it. He was born on December 7, 2016, exactly 75 years after the Pearl Harbor attack that thrust the United States into World War II. Someday the story behind the drawing, from the photo, from the satchel that was hidden in the attic, will be passed on to young Thomas. Until that day, it is ours to tell.



72 Year Ago This Week: The First Ever Jet Airstrikes. A titanic failure for the Germans.

The First Ever Jet Airstrike Was a Disaster. Here’s The Bizarre Story.

When gunners spot them, they are stunned: their speed. No propellers.

From out of the northeast, rocketing down from medium altitude in a shallow dive intended to improve bombing accuracy the Germans are back again. It is one more day of airstrikes on the prize. This is the third set of airstrikes today.

But this one is different. The planes are flying much faster. And have no propellers.

The first jet airstrike in history has begun. German Arado Ar 234 medium bombers and Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter/attack jet aircraft are launching a last-ditch airstrike on this key target in a desperate attempt to halt the allied advance.

But it isn’t going well.

The Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany is the most heavily defended target from air attack ever. Since the allies seized the bridge in a lightning attack a few days ago around March 7th they have emplaced more anti-aircraft guns surrounding this key bridge than any other single target on earth. In the upcoming 10 days of the German Luftwaffe campaign against the Ludendorff Bridge approximately 367 combat aircraft will attack the target. The Germans throw everything at Ludendorff, fighters, bombers, frogmen, artillery and now the secret German super-weapons, the jet bombers and fighters. The Allies claim to shoot-down 30% of the German planes. None score an effective hit on the bridge.

Bridges are a notoriously difficult target to hit with fast jets. The Germans are learning this difficult lesson for the first time in history today. The U.S. Air Force relearns it years later between 1967 and 1972 during protracted (and largely ineffective) airstrikes on the Long Biên (“Paul Doumer”) Bridge. They finally develop a new secret weapon, a “guided bomb” directed to its target by a laser beam. The Americans destroyed the North Vietnamese bridge on the first try with laser-guided bombs in 1972.

A damaged bridge

The Germans have crude guided bombs now including the “Fritz” radio-guided dive-bomb, but neither the new Arado jet bombers nor the smaller Messerschmitt jets can carry the large Fritz guided “smart” bomb.

As the hours to seize the bridge from the Allies turn into days the Germans become increasingly desperate. Luftwaffe Chancellor Hermann Göring proposes a suicide attack with bomb-laden Me 262 jets. No volunteers come forward or a technical shortcoming of the aircraft’s aiming device- or both- prevents the desperate tactic.

Göring forms a secret, special unit named the “Gefechtsverband Kowalewski”. It is an elite cadre of handpicked, jet-qualified strike pilots from Kampfgeschwader 76, the 76th Bomber Wing formerly located in Norway. The first jet attack pilots in history.

On March 13 the Germans hurl 19 of the special Ar 234 medium bombers and 30 Messerschmitt Me 262 A-2a jet fighter-bombers from II Kampfgeschwader 51 against the target. They are led by special Luftwaffe jet pilot Hansgeorg Bätcher. Bätcher led a previous (unsuccessful) March 7th mission against the Ludendorff problem and lived to tell. He knew the target well. It takes a brave man to volunteer to return, but the German situation is increasingly desperate.

Arado AR234

It will be the first all-jet airstrike on a ground target in aviation history. Even with a full complement of heavy 1,000kg bombs weighing more than a ton the bombers can press home the attack run at over 660 km/h (410 mph), a nearly unheard of speed at the time. They are so fast the American anti-aircraft units will have trouble hitting them. Speed is their primary defense. For six days the III Gruppe/KG 76 pilots attempt to hit the bridge in nine separate strikes.

First jet airstrikes illustration (author unknown)

Seated in the bubble nose of their incredibly fast Arado jet bombers the pilots have an excellent view. The sky is entirely aglow with bursting anti-aircraft shells, the thickest they have ever seen. Diving into the fiery cauldron seems like certain death. Shrapnel from the thick flak peppers the Arados and Messerschmitts. Every one that survives is damaged by flak. And whether it is the concentration of the flak or the speed of the new jet bombers or the inaccuracy of the unguided “dumb” bombs, every single bomb misses the bridge.

The jet strike is a titanic failure for the Germans.

The German losses are devastating. Seven jet aircraft, including two shot down by Allied fighters, are destroyed in that raid alone. The Americans estimate that from Mar. 7th to the 17th they have shot down 109 German planes, and likely destroyed 36 more. Total losses for the Germans now total nearly one-third of their dedicated strike force.

The Germans have developed and fielded a revolutionary new weapon, the jet attack aircraft, but they have not developed the tactics and weapons necessary to capitalize on the new aircraft’s speed and power. The early German jets are also dangerous to fly and require an absurd amount of maintenance. Jet fuel is increasingly scarce as the war continues to go poorly for the Germans.

In a last desperate measure the Germans launch a huge ballistic missile strike on the Ludendorff Bridge using their super-weapon, the V-2 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), the first of its type. But its crude gyro-controlled guidance system is so poor some missiles land on civilian villages miles away. Only one missile lands close to the bridge, missing the main span and doing no damage to stanchions on land. The missile strikes are also a failure.

While the German’s last-ditch campaign with their new super weapons fails, it heralds the arrival of the jet age and predicts the new direction of air war. They simply didn’t have all the details worked out, and the last months of a desperate war are a poor place to perfect a revolutionary new technology. Thankfully.



Enjoy a guided walkaround tour of the iconic B-17 Flying Fortress bomber

Up close and personal with the Boeing B-17 “Aluminum Overcast” owned by the EAA.

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engine heavy bomber aircraft developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC).

Even though it also participated in the War in the Pacific, attacking Japanese airfields and shipping early in WWII, it was used primarily in Europe, against German industrial and military targets. Serving with the Eighth Air Force, in UK, and Fifteenth Air Force, in Italy, the aircraft was used a strategic, high-flying, long-range bomber capable to sustain heavy battle damage.

Throughout the conflict, little less than one half of the 1.5M tons of bombs dropped by US aircraft on Germany and occupied territories were dropped by B-17s.

Between 1935 and May 1945, 12,732 B-17s were produced. Of these aircraft, 4,735 were lost during combat missions. Less than 100 B-17 airframes have survived since then, less than 15 are airworthy, none of them is a combat veteran. Among the Flying Fortress bombers that can still take to the air, there’s EAA’s B-17G-VE, serial number 44-85740, nicknamed “Aluminum Overcast.”

As explained by the EAA website, “Aluminum Overcast” carries the colors of the 398th Bomb Group of World War II, which flew hundreds of missions over Nazi-held territory during the war: in particular, it commemorates B-17G #42-102516 which was shot down on its 34th combat mission over Le Manior, France, on Aug. 13, 1944.

Filmed by our reader and friend Erik Johnston, the following walkaround video provides the unique opportunity to see the pilot Ken Morris sharing his extensive knowledge of this iconic airplane.


Did you know that the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit was inspired by the WWII B-29 Superfortress bomber?

The cockpit of Star Wars iconic, futuristic  spacecraft is based on the style coined by the WWII B-29.

Did you know that the Star Wars saga most famous spacecraft featured a cockpit clearly inspired to a World War II heavy bomber?

Well, the iconic greenhouse-style window of the Millennium Falcon was designed with the style of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, a strategic bomber flying 30 years before Han Solo and Chewbacca first appeared driving the iconic spacecraft into the hyperspace, in mind.


As already explained here when we first published a quite unique walkaround video of the last flying Superfortress, the Boeing B-29 was a four-engine heavy bomber operational during WWII designed for high-altitude strategic bomber role that become particularly famous for carrying out the devastating atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

After the war, the advanced B-29s carried out several tasks including in-flight refueling, antisubmarine patrol, weather reconnaissance and rescue duty. The B-29 saw military service again in Korea between 1950 and 1953, battling new adversaries: jet fighters and electronic weapons. The last B-29 was retired from active service in September 1960.

The Superfortress featured pressurized cabin with the peculiar windows layout, tricycle dual wheeled landing gears, and a quite-advanced-for-the-time, remote, electronic fire-control system that controlled four machine gun turrets that complemented a manned, semi-automatic, rear gun turret.

Indeed, you most probably remember that gun turrets also equip George Lucas’s spacecraft and are used by both Han Solo and Luke Skywalker to fight Imperial TIE fighters as the Millennium Falcon escapes Death Star in Episode IV.

Anyway, the connections between WWII aircraft and Star Wars go well beyond the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit or manned gun turrets: it’s not a secret George Lucas draw inspiration from WWII newsreel and movies. Among them, 633 Squadron (1964) and The Dam Busters (1955) film about one of the Royal Air Force’s most famous raid in WWII against the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams, pivotal to Hitler’s industrial heartland in the Ruhr Valley, inspired the famous Death Star attack featured in “A New Hope.”

Image credit: Wiki (top), Lucas Films

This epic video shows RAF pilot recreating Battle of Britain moves in a vintage Spitfire

Ever wondered what it was like to fly in a Spitfire during the Battle of Britain? This  video will give you an idea.

The video below will bring you aboard a vintage Spitfire recreating classic Battle of Britain moves over the English Channel, in order to give an idea of how intense flying against Luftwaffe fighters in 1940 really was.

The display footage was filmed on Sep. 10, at the Guernsey Air Display in RAF BBMF (Battle of Britain Memorial Flight) Mk V Spitfire AB910. The legendary fighter was flown by Wg. Cdr. Justin Helliwell, flying along with another iconic aircraft, the Hurricane Mk II PZ865 piloted by Sqn. Ldr. Dunc Mason.

The Channel Island displays at Guernsey and Jersey were part of the commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and both air shows have been very special given the Island’s occupation during WWII.