A Hendricks Boy over Wartime Europe – B
Last week we met Hendricks’ Archie Buseth and learned how he enlisted at 21 years into the Army Air Corps on Nov. 10, 1941. Four weeks later Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and his nation was at war.
Archie trained as an aircraft mechanic, but the Air Corps pulled him for flight training. He completed Primary and Basic Flight Training and received his officer’s commission and pilot’s wings upon graduating from Advanced Flight Training at Napier Army Airfield near Dothan, Alabama. He also received leave to go home, his only home leave during four years of service.
The Air Corps needed transport pilots, so Archie’s graduating class was assigned to Bergstrom Army Airfield near Austin, Texas for training in flying C-47, two-engine transports.
Each C-47 had a crew of three: the pilot and co-pilot were officers and the crew chief was a non-commissioned officer. Archie recalled how the new pilots had to get used to the different performance characteristics of the large transports.
For instance, the C-47 had a tail wheel, so its nose angled upward when it was on the ground. This meant the pilots had to weave back and forth while taxiing, so they could see to their front.
“It was a comedy to see us taxiing down the runway,” Archie said, laughing, “You used your engines and rudder to taxi. You got used to it.”
Archie also described their pre-flight checks.
“You’d take a trip around the plane – check the elevators, rudders, and stuff. Then you get inside; sit down; check your instruments; and move your stick/wheel. To start the engine someone outside would say “Ready” so nobody was around and give you a signal to start.”
The pilots qualified on their new aircraft, learning how to handle them on the ground, in the air, and while flying in formation. They developed a grudging admiration for their big, slow transports.
“Well, I guess we thought they were clumsy,” Archie remembered with a laugh, “But it was kind of fun after you got used to it. “
The Air Corps assigned each new pilot to a transport unit. Archie’s orders were to the 92nd Troop Carrier Squadron of the 439th Troop Carrier Group. The 439th TCG moved to Alliance Army Airfield near Alliance, Nebraska in the summer of 1943 to train with paratroopers.
The C-47s could carry as many as 28 loaded paratroopers who, before jumping, would hook their parachutes to a static line overhead that would deploy their chutes as soon as they jumped from the plane.
Archie explained a typical paratrooper training mission.
“We practiced quite a bit in Nebraska. You really had to be alert to what you were doing. We’d fly in formations of 20-30 ships. If you happened to be in the back end of it, boy, you’re fighting off prop wash. We’d see the drop area in the zone. We’d push the signal light and our engineer stood by the door. Anyone who hesitates, they push him out. When we dropped (the paratroopers), we’d hit the ground – low level – just a few feet off the ground. That’s so the radar wouldn’t pick you up.”
Archie also described learning to tow and operate troop-carrying gliders.
“We were checked out in gliders before we left the states. You needed a little more power – a little more runway and then they’d come up pretty nice. You had a tow rope and they would hit their release when they wanted to go off. Then we’d have a drop zone for the big tow rope, so we’d release it in the back.”
Archie laughed, remembering the new experience of learning to fly gliders.
“We didn’t have power. You had to judge your air streams and your air conditions. It was kinda fun. All you could hear was the wind going by – no other noise.”
The men of the 439th TCG, left Nebraska in December 1943 to prepare for deployment to England.
Archie recounted the memorable flight overseas, departing in mid-February 1944 from Baer Field, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
“We had three planes. We had one navigator for three planes, so if the navigator got lost . . .” Archie laughed without ending the sentence. He added, “We flew long. I think it was 13 hours the last flight we were in the air.”
Archie continued, “We went down to South America from the US. From there we went to over to Africa. And from there we stopped at “The Rock,” Gibraltar, then up the coast of Spain and on to England.”
That leg from Spain to England involved some hair-raising flying.
“Going on our last leg we hit ice. We were getting ready to throw out everything to lighten the load when we came into a different temp zone and the boots started to take the ice off.”
He explained how the aircraft’s “boots” worked.
“They were big, hard rubber pads on the leading edge of the wing. They pumped out to break the ice off – crack it off. And then we got to England safely.”
Archie was 23 years old when he landed his C-47 transport in England.
Archie’s crew, the other aircrews, and a command advanced party arrived at the airfield at Royal Air Force Balderton on February 21, 1944. The non-flying members of the 439th TCG arrived in England by a Navy troop transport on March 10th. The ground and air crews began practicing troop carrying operations in England. They did not yet know it, but they were practicing for Operation Overlord, the code name for the allied invasion of Normandy.