B-17 Flying Fortress, 8th Air Force
Warren Z. Felty
1917 - 2011
2nd, Lieutenant Warren Felty
WWII War Stories
As told to Dennis W. Felty
Warren Felty and several of his high school friends enlisted in the Pennsylvania National Guard in 1941. As the winds of war became more tumultuous their reserve unit was activated. Their active duty training was on motorcycles and one day Felty saw a flyer for aircrews in the Army Air Corp. Felty applied for aircrew training was accepted and entered Pilot training flying Stearman PT-17 and Curtis AT-9s aircraft. Upon graduation from primary flight school at Avon Park Felty was assigned to advanced training in B-17s at George Field Indianna. Felty was then assigned to the 8th Air Force 96th Bomb Group in Snetterton Heath England in September of 1943 where he would eventually fly 17 mission into Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania.
Felty was at Snetterton for about two weeks before being assigned to his first mission. At that time he had about 30 hours in a B-17. While waiting to be assigned to their first mission the crews would attend ground school for additional training in aircraft systems, identification and tactics.
The officers' club was the main place to spend time. It was equipped with a bar, ping pong, pool tables and slot machines. When on leave it was possible to travel to London and see the sights such as; Trafalgar square and Piccadilly Circus. The main event was the take-off and landings for the day's mission. Each evening there were always empty bunks and newly vacated seats at the dinner tables. When the weather was bad it was not unusual to go for extended time without a mission. Early on there were some mission briefings where the aircrews were told that it was expected that half of them would not return from the mission. This was at a time when Bomber command was still developing a strategy that would accomplish the bombardment objectives while sustaining acceptable aircraft and aircrew losses.
Some missions were designated "Maximum Effort" meaning that all available aircraft and crews would participate. In March of 1944 one "Maximum Effort" mission had over 2000 Allied bombers and 1000 fighters in the air. The first raid on Berlin occurred in March of 1944.
Mission briefing would occur several hours prior to launch. The aircrews would be given the target, navigation and route information, formation structure, altitude, fighter and flack intelligence, escape procedures, target identification information and alternate targets. When the aircrews returned they would go directly to debriefing giving their report on bombing effectiveness, fighters, flack, casualties and battle damage.
When launching for a mission, the bomber formations would take off one B-17 at a time. Each bomber would take the active, the pilot would set the throttles at full power, release brakes, accelerate and pull back on the wheel at about 150 knots. The bombers would have a full load of fuel and bombs and would barely be able to fly. When fully loaded the B-17G could achieve a climb rate of about 200 feet per minute and would just clear the trees at the end of the airfield. After take off the bombers would circle and form up into 36 ship formations. When all the aircraft were airborne and in formation the wing would head East climbing to a cruise altitude of about 28,000 feet.
As the bomber formations would approach the French coast they would be joined by fighter escorts; P-51 Mustangs, P-38 Lightnings and P-47 "Thunderbolts". Initially the fighters would accompany the bombers only part way since they were not able to carry sufficient fuel to reach Germany and return.
B-17Gs flew in wings of 36 aircraft, with each wing comprised of three flights of twelve B17s flying in close formation. Each B-17G mounted the firepower of thirteen Browning 0.50-inch machine guns. Consequently each wing of 36 bombers possessed massive firepower with 440 machine guns available to defend the formation against fighter attack. The new Model Gs had increased defensive capacity from additional guns mounted in the nose and chin of the plane to fight off frontal assaults.
This close formation presented a formidable defense against the German Messerschmitt BF-109s. The 109s were equipped with two 13mm machine guns, one hub-firing 20 mm cannon and two optional 20mm cannons in wing pods.
Missions to Germany were typically 6 to 8 hours. The B-17 was not pressurized so the temperature could be as cold as -46 degrees Centigrade at altitude and the crews would have to be on oxygen for the entire flight.
2nd, Lieutenant Warren Felty first row right
Around the 16th mission, P-51 and P-38 fighters were equipped with wing tanks and were able to accompany the bombers all the way to Berlin and back. This tactic would eventually lead to Allied air superiority in German air space. Despite the diminished roll of the Luftwaffe fighters, flack remained a major threat. To assure bombing accuracy the B-17s would fly straight and level from the initial point to bomb release. This leg could be as long as 12 minutes and would give the German gun crews on the ground ample time to lock in on Allied bomber altitude and direction. Luftwaffe fighters would stay out of the flack fields but would radio bomber altitude to the gun crews. Altimeters on the flack shells would be set to explode at the prescribed altitude. There were instances where flack shells would pass through a bomber and explode at a higher altitude. Flack could send shrapnel through the aircraft or if it exploded close to or in the bomber it could take off; a wing, the nose or the tail. The B-17 was a real fortress and many were able to return home with massive battle damage. While exiting the flack fields was always a relief, it only meant that the fighters were poised to resume their air attack.
The Luftwaffe pilots preferred to attack the fighter escorts from above and to the rear. Diving at the P-38s and P-51s on their way to the bomber stream below. This would give the Messerschmitts a significant advantage with the Allied fighters being situated between the B-17s and the Germans and with a little bit of luck machine gun and cannon fire directed at the Allied fighters might strike one of the bombers beyond them. The B-17 gunners would also have their fields of fire restricted unless they wanted to run the risk of hitting the defending fighters.
The newly formed Eighth Air Force, was under the command of Maj. Gen. Ira C. Eaker. Eaker believed erroneously that the Germans had created a rather narrow defensive fighter belt on the coastal area of Western Europe. He reasoned that once the bombers penetrated the fighter belt, there would be clear airspace the rest of the way to and from the targets. With American bomber strength continuously growing, Eaker believed his bombers flying in the 36 ship box would be able to get through without long-range fighter escort. This view was supported with bad intelligence that initially indicated an overstated six to one kill ratio by Allied gunners.
In reality, the Luftwaffe had established five tiered defensive zones, each 25 miles deep, providing fighter coverage for more than 100 miles inland. Allied bombers had to penetrate a sophisticated defense-in-depth, which provided constant lethal attacks against Allied bombers going to and from their targets.
It was typical to lose 1/3 of the bombers and crews on a single mission during this stage of the air war.
Flack over Germany USAAF Photo - Public Domain
Flack damaged B-17 that was able to return to base
USAAF Photo - Public Domain
Feltys' 17th mission targeted the oil refineries in Brux Czechoslovakia. Over Frieberg Germany his B-17 was attacked by fighters with 13mm machine guns and 20mm cannons and then hit by heavy flack. The engines and wings erupted in fire and and the order was given to the crew to bail out. As pilot, Felty was one of the last to go and bailed out through the open bomb bay doors. They were at 28,000 and standard procedure was to free fall to a lower altitude where there was adequate oxygen necessary for survival. Felty inadvertently deployed his chute right out of the B-17 and was hanging in his harness at a high altitude where he was at risk of dying from lack of oxygen. Felty watched the B-17 nose over and explode. He was able to see the chutes of his crew mates, who all survived the bail out.
Felty saw a Messerschmitt BF-109 coming directly at him and assumed the pilot was going to open up with his machine guns. Lieutenant Felty was stunned to realize that instead the Luftwaffe pilot passed very close to him causing his parachute to collapse in the prop wash allowing him to free fall to a lower altitude. The Luftwaffe pilot did a series of figure 8 maneuvers around Felty bringing him safely to the ground.
Felty was taken prisoner by German farmers and was held captive in the Bergermiester's house for two days. He was turned over to the German SS and held prisoner in Dulag Luft in Frankfort where he underwent intensive interrogation and solitary confinement. The SS Officer conducting the interrogation had lived in the United States and had a massive book with extensive information on Lieutenant Felty, his crew and the 8th Air Force. As part of the interrogation, execution was frequently threatened accompanied by gun fire in the courtyard.
Lieutenant Felty was sent to Stalag Luft III near Sagan Germany on the Polish border. He and other POWs were transported by box car in very difficult conditions.
USAF Academy Stalag Luft Archives 9a
The POWs of Stalag Luft III had been successful in building a secret crystal radio set and were able to receive broadcasts from the BBC. They knew the Allies were advancing East and at times could both see and hear near by bomber attacks.
Stalag Luft III was only for aircrew officers. Life in the prison camp was hard but treatment was usually consistent with the requirements of the Geneva Convention. Food and supplies were always in short supply.
Warren's wife, Martha had received a War Department telegram informing her that her husband was missing in action. Two months later she received notice from the American Red Cross that he was alive and had been taken a prisoner of war. They were able to communicate through the Red Cross and it was also possible to send packages. Frank Serio brought Lieutenant Felty's belonging back when he returned from combat upon completion of his tour.
USAF Academy Mc Dermott Library
Used with permission
Stalag Luft Archives 3a
In the winter of 1944 the Russians were advancing from the East. A decision was made to move the 10,000 prisoners of war from Stalag III in Sagan to Nuremberg in West. Adolph Hitler had ordered that all American and British officers in Stalag Luft III be evacuated. He was not willing to permit the Russians to liberate 10,000 Allied POWs who might rejoin the war effort. The prisoners in the South Compound would be the first to depart. The POWs were informed that anyone who tried to escape would be shot. 10a
The POWs were driven on foot by their German captors on a month long, 200 mile forced march to Nuremberg. The POWs did not have adequate food, shelter or clothing for the severe cold and consequently many died along the way - collapsing and freezing to death in the snow.
USAF Academy Mc Dermott Library
Used with permission
Stalag Luft Archives 3a
Nuremberg was a central collection point for POWs that at its peak housed over 100,000 POWs from all Allied countries. Felty and other POWs were subsequently moved to Stalag Luft VIIA near Mooseburg Germany located near the Swiss border.
Towards the end of the war there was extensive Allied bombing in the Moosburg area. The POWs could see the bombers overhead and hear the bombs. When short range fighters and bombers began to appear the men knew the end of the war was near. There was great concern that as the Third Reich collapsed the civilian populace might take revenge on the POWs. A civilian mob approached the camp, however the German Commandant took action to protect the prisoners.
For more information on prison camp life click here.
Felty and the other POWs at Mooseburg were liberated by General George Patton on April 29, 1945. General Patton came crashing through the prison camp gate in the lead tank wearing his famous pearl handled pistols. The German Officers surrendered and were lined up in front of the liberated POWs and the insignias and buttons of their uniforms were cut off.
General George Patton
Lieutenant Felty was flown to Camp Lucky Strike on the French coast where he boarded a Liberty ship and returned home.
Camp Lucky Strike was was located in the town of Saint-Sylvian, five kilometers from Saint-Valery-en Caux. Initially the camp was a German airfield with a landing strip 1800 meters long and 50 meters wide. This airfield was one of the defensive elements of the Atlantic Wall providing surveillance and coastal defenses and a perfect starting point for attacks on southwest England. V-1 rocket launching ramps were installed at the beginning of 1944 in the woods surrounding the airfield. It was heavily bombed by the British throughout the war. In September 1944 American Engineer Corps troops took control of the area, repairing the landing strips and constructing the camp.
Camp Lucky Strike
registration of war souvenirs
Camp Lucky Strike was one of the most important military installations
in Europe. It extended over 1800 acres and was a mandatory port of entry
for practically every American soldier. Approximately 1½ million
soldiers spent anywhere from a couple days up to 18 months there. It was
the principal camp used for repatriated soldiers and liberated POWs, but
also as a reception station for soldiers on leave. It was also a staging
area for the Pacific Theater and until August 10, 1945 for the invasion
of Japan. There were usually about 100,000 men in the camp each day.
During repatriation, there were about 6,000 daily departures by plane or
boat from Le Havre, the only port on the western coast that could
accommodate large ships.
BILL MILLER STORY
A unique connection seemed to exist between Warren Felty and Bill Miller, two men who otherwise would have been strangers to one another. The story of their bond began on a cold winter night in February of 1940. Felty was driving along icy roads near Rutherford between Harrisburg and Hummelstown Pennsylvania. His heart leapt when he saw the taillights of the fast moving Chrysler Zephyr in front of him swerve. Knowing that the driver of the car was losing control, Felty watched as the car skidded violently off the road crashing into a culvert and coming to rest in an embankment of snow.
Felty pulled his own car over and ran to the scene of the accident. There he found the driver, who had been thrown through the windshield, laying in the snow bank; bloody and unconscious. Having no way of getting help on the empty road, Felty pulled the injured man from the snow bank and carried him to his car and drove him to the Harrisburg hospital.
When he recovered consciousness four days later, William Miller, the accident victim, learned how Warren Felty had saved his life. The two men later met, but did not really become friends and did not keep in touch.
The U.S. was engaged in the epic battles of World War II and unknown to each other, both men had joined the Army Air Force and had become B-17 pilots. More remarkable, both Felty and Miller had both been shot down over Germany, had been captured and were serving as prisoners of war. On January 25th, in the bitter winter of 1944, as the Russians were advancing from the East, the two men were among 10,000 other prisoners of war who were being driven by their German captors on a month long 200 mile forced march from Sagan to Nuremberg. The POWs were starving, did not have adequate clothing for the severe cold and consequently many of the POWs died along the way - collapsing and freezing to death in the snow.
As Felty and the other prisoners drudged their way along the snowy road they stopped for bivwac. While walking around the bivwac area, Felty spotted a fellow prisoner collapsed in exhaustion. Felty turned him over and was stunned to realize that the man he was helping was Bill Miller, the same Bill Miller he had pulled from a snow bank five years earlier and 4000 miles away back home in Rutherford, Pennsylvania! When the march resumed, with what little strength remained, and with help from other POWs, he pulled the man up and half carried and half supported Miller for the remainder of the days march. Later that day they were able to rest in a brick factory sheltered from the harsh weather. With Felty's help and assistance from other POWs, Miller survived the march and both men reached their destination - a detention camp near Nuremberg.
Both Felty and Miller survived their two year ordeal as prisoners of war, and in subsequent years reunited on Veterans Day to reminisce about their very special connection.
After liberation, Felty returned home to the United States where he and his wife Martha continue to live in central Pennsylvania. Warren's son Dennis served as a pilot in the US Air Force for 13 years during Viet Nam and the Cold War. Warren and Martha's grandson Adam recently completed two tours of duty in Iraq serving with the 1st Marine Division. Adam is the fourth generation of his family to serve in the military. Adam's great grandfather, William E. Weirich, father of Martha, served in the US Army in France in WWI.
Warren Felty passed away December 3, 2011
9a. USAF Academy McDermott Library - Stalag Luft Archives http://www.usafa.af.mil/df/dflib/SL3/march/march.cfm?catname=Dean%20of%20Faculty
2005 Northstar Gallery
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