Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Interned Aircraft in WWII Sweden

Guest post by Pat DiGeorge
Pat has studied the World War II internment of American airmen in Sweden in great depth. Her mother, working for the OSS, and her father, a B-17 bombardier internee, met and married in Sweden. Without her research, I would not have been able to write my second novel, No Neutral Ground, releasing next May. This is her Liberty Lady blog from September 17, 2015.

By the time World War II was over, more than three hundred aircraft from various countries had force-landed or crashed in neutral Sweden.  According to international law,  Sweden was required to intern the foreign aircraft until the war was over. Sweden would take care of the planes at the expense of the home country.

B-17 with Swedish fighters over Malmö

For the storage and repair of American interned aircraft, the Swedish government and the Swedish Royal Air Force authorized the use of four airfields, two for storage of bombers, one for the storage of fighters, and one for major repair work after which the aircraft were moved to one of the storage fields.
The two fields utilized for bomber storage were at Västerås and Såtenäs. The field used for fighter storage was actually the military airport of Stockholm and was located on the outskirts of the city of Barkarby. The Bulltofta airfield in Malmö was designated as the primary field for repairs and salvage of the interned planes.
The amazing photograph above was provided to me by Andreas Samuelsson, a member of our Facebook group, American Internees in WWII Sweden. Andreas works at the museum at the former Swedish Air Force base F 10 at Ängelholm. He found this old photo in a flea market! The Swedish fighter pilots were leading the B-17 to safety.
When the airmen arrived in Sweden and were initially interviewed by the American authorities, they were asked to describe their talents, skills, and previous assignments. Those who were qualified to do so were sent to one of the airfields to help with the repair and maintenance of the planes.
On the 20th and 21st of June, no less than twenty-five bombers landed at Bulltofta after large bombing raids over Germany. The activity was intense with landings coming in from all directions. In fact, in the space of just over an hour, sixteen B-24s landed or crashed on the grassy field. Locals who lived in the area north of Malmö were asked not to go outside due to the risk of being injured by falling pieces of damaged aircraft. The personnel on the ground just couldn’t keep up, and there was chaos. In spite of this, most crews, though not all, managed to land safely.

Aerial view taken of the American section of the Västerås base by a photo plane of the Swedish Air Force

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What Happened to the Factories?

In the early days of World War II, real fear existed that the Japanese would bomb the West Coast. Several war industries were located there, and they needed to be hidden. Enter Hollywood.
Canvases were stretched over the rooftops of aircraft factories and painted with streets and lawns. Movie set designers created fake houses out of canvas and plywood. Trees were made of wire with glued-on chicken feathers painted in shades of green and brown. Air ducts were disguised as fire hydrants. Steep, sloped roofs became hills.

During World War II the Army Corps of Engineers needed to hide the Lockheed Burbank Aircraft Plant to protect it from a possible Japanese air attack.

The goal was to look like a peaceful suburb from the air. Employees took scheduled walks in the fake town, hanging out laundry and moving rubber cars.

Employees stroll through a fake neighborhood.

Long runways beside the aircraft plants would seem to be a giveaway, but when a visiting general was flown over a disguised factory, he couldn’t find it. Japanese aircrews surely wouldn’t.
Dummy runways were created by burning grass to look like tarmac. Far from the real planes and hangars covered to look like farmland, dummy aircraft of wood and metal dotted the bogus fields.

Underneath the camouflage, business as usual.

Thirty-four airfields and factories were hidden. Enemy submarines would have been a likelier threat than airplanes. Ships were sunk within sight of West Coast ports. A Japanese submarine shelled an oil field near Santa Barbara in February of 1942, doing little damage.
In June of 1942, the US Navy sank four enemy aircraft carriers in the Battle of Midway. The chance of Japan bombing the West Coast greatly diminished. The Hollywood-designed sets never had a chance to prove their worth.
The factories remained under cover for the rest of the war.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Captain Gable

What does the army do with a 41-year-old movie star who wants to serve his country during World War II?
Clark Gable’s wife, Carole Lombard, sold war bonds for the Treasury Department. On the night of January 15, 1942, she phoned Gable from Indianapolis after a record-breaking sales drive. “You’d better get yourself into this man’s army,” were her last words to him. The next day, she died in a plane crash.
General “Hap” Arnold of the US Army Air Forces proposed Gable make a recruiting film for gunners for the heavy bombers, the B-17 Flying Fortresses and the B-24 Liberators, if he completed Officer Candidate School. First, however, he would have to pass the rigorous physical training and academic exams.
Gable was old enough to be most of the recruits’ father. He suffered from hemorrhoids and minor skin disorders, wore dentures, and was a high school dropout. He had to shave off his moustache (which he allowed to press to film) and get a buzz cut (which displayed his ears, which were taped to the back of his head for movie filming because they stuck out prominently).
He took his training in steaming hot Miami in August. He passed by using his acting skills. Though not a good student, he memorized mimeographed pages covering the salient points of lectures, as he would a script, and copied it verbatim on exams. Though fatigued by the physical training, he acted fresh and raring to go.
To create a film for gunners, he needed to be familiar with their tasks. He attended specialized gunnery school and earned an aerial gunner’s silver wings. He joined the 351st Heavy Bombardment Group and brought along his own creative group for his film project. The Group went to England in April, 1943.
Whether at bases in the U.S. or in England, Gable was mobbed by women. Civilian women working on base slipped him scraps of paper with their phone numbers. Even men in the army had ulterior motives. A sergeant from Eisenhower’s administrative staff asked Gable to sign a stack of forms, saying they required a captain’s signature. He then cut off the signatures and sold them to British girls.

Gable wanted his service to be no different than anyone else’s. He flew several combat missions as a gunner. One time a German shell tore the heel of one of his flight boots. He often took over the guns of wounded gunners. He taught gunnery.
The brass didn’t appreciate the unnecessary chances he took. If shot down, the Germans would have had a huge propaganda coup. Hitler offered a reward to any pilot who managed to shoot his plane down. Lord Haw Haw, the Nazi radio propagandist, responded to newsreels touting “Watch out, Mr. Hitler, [then] Lieutenant Clark Gable is headed your way!” by proclaiming, “Welcome to England. … We’ll be seeing you soon in Germany, Clark. You will be welcome here, too.”
Hollywood director Frank Capra, working on a war film project of his own in England, asked a general how Gable was doing. The general said, “He’s scaring the [] out of us. The fool insists on going on bombing missions and he wants to be a gunner, yet. No officer mans a gun; the guy’s crazy. You know what it would do to us if he gets himself shot? I’m pulling every string there is to get him out of here. He gives me the willies. He’s trying to get himself killed, that’s how he’s doing.”

Gable and his Hollywood crew were recalled to the States in October, 1943. He was shocked when Hap Arnold told him his film was now obsolete. A recruitment film was no longer needed. Gable could use the footage however he wanted. He created several short documentaries rarely seen.
In June of 1944, he requested discharge from the army, citing his age. His application was signed by another movie actor-turned-army-captain, Ronald Reagan.
Stars in  WWII