Earl Depner was born in WW1 and was really interested in aviation. After Pearl Harbor, he thought it was his patrioic duty to join the army. He has a couple of interesting stories to tell. If you would like to see them look below.
FORTUNES OF WAR A REALLY BAD DAY By Earl Depner Quoting from Robert Burns, a well known Scottish poet: "The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley". Or, according to Murphy's Law, "If something can go wron§, it-will". On a bright Spring day in 1944, the plans of the 354th P-51 Fighter Group stationed at BOXTED Air Base in East Anglia in England went terribly wrong. The Group had been engaged for several months in escorting large forces of U.S. Eighth Air Force heavy bombers flying attacks against targets in Germany and Western Europe. On that particular day Eighth AF had decided to stand down for aircraft maintenance, influenced no doubt by a forecast of bad weather moving into the area later in the day. The 354th was assigned to Ninth Air Force, whose leaders had decided to employ our P-51 fighters to attack Luftwaffe (German Air Force) bases from which enemy fighters had been launched to attack our heavy bombers on missions against Berlin or other targets in northern Germany. So, on that daytour Group launched a total of 36 fighters which gathered in formation and headed out toward their targets. About half way across the English Channel we received a radio message from our home base: "The mission has been scrubbed, return to base". Accordingly the whole Group reversed course and headed home. From that point on things went down hill for the rest of the day. East Anglia, a statSprovince-whatever, occupied a large area to the northeast of London and was covered by numerous air bases only 4-5 miles apart. At times it was difficult to pick out your own air base-and so it was that day. The pilot leading our Group - (I'll just call him JACK to protect his reputation)-led us to what he thought was our home base and directed us to prepare to land. Then an unknown voice spoke on the radio:"Jack, you're landing at the wrong air base Amid some confusion we reformed the Group and proceeded to our own base and landed. By then it was almost noon, so the pilotsall proceeded to the Mess Hall and sat down to eat. cur lunch. At this point I'll interject my own version as to what happened: A Senior Officer at Ninth Air Force Headquarters was informed that the Group's mission had been called off. Irate, the officer said something like "I promised Eighth. Air Force that we would attack those Luftwaffe bases, and by golly we are going to do it. Get those fighters back in the air': (His LANGUAGE HAS BEEN PARAPHRASED to remain politically correct and not offend any readers).
Minutes later our Group Operations Officer dashed into the mess hall and announced:"e;The mission is back on again- return to your aircraft immediately"e;. We all dropped our knives and forks, hastened back to the flight line, grabbed our parachutes and re-launclied.our aircraft. The pre-planned route to the target area would lead us to the Danish Peninsula. ) . cross it and proceed east out over the waters of the Baltic Sea to a pre-determined point, thenturn right into German territory and proceed to our targets. All well and good, except that the Group leader, Jack's compass apparently was off about 15-20 degrees, leading us off to the left of our planned course. Someone in the flight apparently had his radio transmitter stuck in the on position, so the rest of us had to endure listening to his coughing, sing & quote; Mairzie Doats" and complain that we were off course. About the time we crossed the Danish Peninsula we encountered broken clouds below our flight altitude and could not clearly determine our location. Then additional clouds formed above us and visibility dropped considerably. Nevertheless we proceeded onward to our pre-planned turning point and turned south toward Germany. As the 36 aircraft were turning two P- 51s collided, the pilots bailed out and parachuted down while the aircraft crashed. It turned out that we were over Sweden, a neutral country, and were in violation of international law. The following diplomatic protest from Sweden went all the way to President Franklin Roosevelt! We flew on south bac k over the Baltic Sea, continuing until we came to some land. Thinking we were over Germany, Jack directed us to descend to a lower altitude and prepare to attack the target airfields. Then, through a break in the clouds we saw that we were back over water again, obviously not where we were supposed to be. At that point the Group Leader decided our best move was to return to our home base, and gave the order to do so. As we took up the course toward home the formation got split up into flights of twos or fours. I was leading & quote; & quote; flight in my squadron, the 356th, and headed home with my flight of four aircraft. As we flew on a westerly heading the weather turned much worse and we were forced to descend to just above the water and just below the clouds. Visibility dropped to less than a mile. Finding our way back to our home base at Boxted became very problematical. Fortunately radar station along the English coast picked us up and directed us to a special RAF (Royal Air Ford) Base equipped with a system designated FIDO. I don't recall just what that means; however, it consisted of pipes and nozzles to spray gasoline into the air around the perimeter of the Base, which was set afire provided lots of heat to clear the clouds from around and above the airfield so pilots could see to land on a long, wide runway. What a welcome sight!
Most of the Group's aircraft managed to land at the RAF Base. A few set down at other air bases in the vicinity. We all remained overnight as guests of the RAF, then returned home when the weather improved the next day. Unfortunately we had lost two more pilots and aircraft from another squadron, besides the two who had parachuted into Sweden. We never heard from the last two again, and surmised that they had probably gone down into the English Channel or the North Sea, unable to find their way back to England - and the Luftwaffe bases remained untouched. All in all, it was probably the worst "bad day" experienced by the 354th Group during the war!
By Earl Depner
Recently my retiree magazine featured a story about"Bed-CheckCharlie". The story brought back a vivid memory of an incidentthat happeled 60 years ago in Korea. One night in late 1951 a friendlyB-26 USAF bomber was mistaken for a "Bed-Check Charlie" and wasalmost shot down by U. S. anti-aircraft guns. This is how theincident happened.In late 1951 US/UN forces were battling the North Korean andChinese armies close to the demarcation line between North. andSouth Korea. USAF fighters and bombers dominated the air war inthe area. However, occasional night air raids were directed againstour friendly forces by enemy light, slow-moving, antique typebiplanes that flew around at low altitudes where our faster fighterplanes were at a serious disadvantage. We called these aircraft"Bed 7 Check Charlies". US/UN fighter aircraft limited the enemyground force movements during the day, so they moved mostly atnight. In order to counter their ability to move at night USAFemployed light B-26 bombers patrolling the roads in enemyterritory. One of our B-26 units was the 17th Bomb Group.At this time I was stationed in Seoul, So. Korea, working inthe Joint Operations Center (JOC) where we had Army and Navy peopleto coordinate the air war coducted by our side. On the night inquestion I was the senior Air Force officer on duty at the JOC.In order to protect the military headquarters located inSeoul the area over and around the city had been declared "no-flyzone" and the anti-aircraft gunners stationed there operated ina condition called "guns-free". This meant they could/shouldengage any aircraft flying over the city and its environs, especiallyat night. On this particular night a lone B-26 wandered off courseand flew into the no-fly zone. It was assumed to be a Bed-CheckCharlieand was immediately fired on by our anti-aircraft guns.Our radar-communications facility covering the area (call-sign"MELLOW") notified me in the JOC that they had identified the airCraft as a friendly B-26. What to do? I didn't want one of ourplanes to be destroyed and the crew possibly killed. AccordinglyI ordered the anti-aircraft gunners to cease fire, therebycountermanding the standing ''guns-free' order, The guns stoppedfiring and the B-26 returned safely to its base back in Japan.Later I met one of the anti-aircrafr gunners who said they hadgotten the range on their target and expected to destroy it thenext volleyto be fired at it!
Meanwhile, at the height of the activity I received a call from the Major General commanding the area, who had heard the gunfire, asking "what's going on?". I quickly briefed him on the occurence and assured him that we were not being attacked. Later I got to thinking, 9Tgee I had counter-manded the General's standing order to shoot down any aircraft - violating the no-fly zone." Was I going to face a court-martial?" Fortunately the General saw the light and took no action against this i:ayward Lt. Colonel in the JOC."All's well that ends well", as the saying goes, so I was just as happy to see the whole issue disappear.
Really only God can work miracles. However, I am convinced that He responds when they are requested by people he loves, one of whom is my mother. I was once the beneficiary of not only one but at least five or more miracles which I firmly believe resulted directly from my mother's prayers. No doubt my Guardian Angel was involved as well. October 29, 1944, I took off from an airfield in France in a brand-new P-51 fighter aircraft along with twenty-three others of the 354th Fighter Group enroute to bomb and strafe enemy airfields near Munich, Germany. Scarcely a month before I had returned to my squadron, the 356th, from a month's leave in Montana. The war in Europe had been going well for the Allied side and hopes were high that it would" soon be over. Unfortunately, it was not to be until much more heavy fighting and hardships had been endured. As our Group of fighters cruised along near Stuttgart, heavy anti-aircraft fire exploded around us. As our flights wove back and forth to evade the fire my wingman was separated from the rest of the squadron. Soon the anti-aircraft fire subsided and our flights started to - resume formation. Just then we received a chilling radio message from - our friendly radar controller: "Heads up, many bandits in your vicinity". Bandits, of course, were enemy fighters. As we looked to our rear we saw about a dozen or: more Messerschmitt BF-109s literally raining down out of the clouds directly above and behind us to attack our formation from the rear. My flight leader turned the flight sharply back toward the enemy aircraft, and we noted more of them coming down at us. As we continued our tight turn I saw a Messerschmitt on the tail of my wingman who was off to the side and receiving many 20MM cannon strikes on his aircraft. I never saw him again. My flight next came under fire. I saw tracers going by in front of my aircraft; then one hit just behind the propellor and burst open the engine coolant tank. The next round should have hit the top of my head; however, the enemy pilot apparently stopped firing a fraction of a second too soon and the next round never came. Miracle number one. Coolant from the tank blew back over my windshield and canopy, effectively eliminating all visibility to the front and side. Having lost sight of the rest of my flight and expecting the engine to quit any moment, I dove my P-51 for the ground away from the fight and toward home. No enemy aircraft followed me to finish off a "cold turkey". Miracle number two.
I headed toward our home airfield flying on the deck. I breathed a prayer that the engine would not quit and opened the radiator shutter wide to keep it as cool as possible. The engine continued to run until I crossed the Rhine river and headed into France. Miracle number three. Eventually the engine overheated and quit suddenly and completely. Since I was low to the ground a quick bail-out was essential. On the first attempt to bail out the wind blew me back into the cockpit. On the second attempt I got out, felt a bump which I took to be hitting the tail, so I pulled the ripcord of my parachute thinking I had cleared the falling aircraft. A terrific jolt followed which must have knocked me out as the next thing I recall was dangling in the parachute harness about three feet off the ground with the canopy caught in a tree. About a hundred feet away the wreckage of my P-51 burned furiously. Exploding ammunition made me think I was under fire from the enemy. Still somewhat dazed I wriggled out of the chute harness and fell to the ground. As I did so I could feel broken ribs grating together when I moved. The successful bail-out at minimum altitude was Miracle number four. Apparently I passed out again because the next thing I remember was a GI voice saying, "He's an American". I rolled over from my face-down position and saw a U.S. soldier with his M-1 rifle pointed at me and replied (I think), "Yes I'm an American." The sergeant in charge said, in effect, "Let's get out of here. The Germans will start shelling the area". The patrol loaded me onto a stretcher and into a half- track vehicle and bounced through the woods to a first aid station where the doctor told me how lucky I was that the Germans had been driven out of the woods only two days previously. I had landed in "no-man's land" and was picked up by friendly forces instead of the enemy. Miracle number five. Having received seven broken ribs, I spent a month in an Army field hospital. When I finally returned to the 356th Squadron I was informed that I had been promoted to Squadron Commander Because of other casualties and turnover in the squadron I had become one of the most senior offers present for duty. Thew new group policy was that Squadron Commanders had to restrict their combat flying to reduce the rate of replacements in the position. Perhaps that was another miracle? How does my mother enter into all this? Because I know she had been praying for my safe return. During this whole episode there were at least five situations which I probably would not have survived had not her prayers been answered. This realization took a few years to sink in. As I grew older and perhaps wiser the truth became apparent that my fate that day was in God's hands, and in his mercy He responded to my mother’s prayers.
"Time On Target" is a term used by U.S. Army artillerymen todescribe a usually devastating artillery barrage against anenemy target. The purpose is to have all the shells fired froma number of cannons hit the target simultaneously. The big gunsseveral miles to the rear of the front-line positions fire firstsince it takes their shells longer to reach the target. Next thesmaller caliber guns closer to the front fire their rounds, followedby relatively close-up mortars. Timing is such that all shells firedhit the target at once, causing havoc to the enemy position. Once Ihad what might be called a close encounter with a T.O.T. quiteunexpectedly.At the time, about mid-year of 1951, I was stationed with the U.S.Air Force/Army/Navy Joint Operations Center in Seoul, South Korea.The U.N. main forces were heavily engaged fighting the CommunistChinese Army north of Seoul. About 40 miles up the HAN Rivernortheast of Seoul, a couple of divisions of the North KoreanArmy were carrying on a guerrilla war opposed by the Republicof Korea (ROK) Army. There were some communications problemsin getting reliable reports from the ROK forces, and there wasconcern about the North Koreans breaking through the lines andattacking us from the rear. I "volunteered" to fly one of theArmy officers who worked in the JOC over the area to get us afirst-hand view of what was happening.We took off from a small airfield near Seoul, designated K-16,in a T-6 training aircraft, the same type I flew in advancedflying school in 1942. Shortly thereafter we arrived at thescene of the fighting. We observed fire, smoke, and foxholesof dug-in troops along a couple of mountain ridges on one sideof the river valley marked with large cerise colored panelsindicating friendly troops. Across the river was a smallisolated mountain whose 2–3-acre top was level and dotted withmoreFoxholes, but no panels. The Army Major in the rear seat calledon the interphone for a closer look to try to identify who wasoccupying the mountain top.I dived the aircraft down at near maximum speed and flew by themountain top just slightly higher and off to one side. We couldplainly see the foxholes and a few occupants, but I could nottell who they were. However, just as we were whizzing by thewhole mountain top suddenly exploded in fire and smoke -- aT.O.T. had just hit. Now a T-6 aircraft doesn't have thepower to go straight up, but the one we were in came pretty close.Apparently we must have flown just under (or through?) the rainof artillery shells that hit the mountain. Needless to say, wegot out of there fast!We finished our mission by flying about 20 miles north and scoutedout some roads looking for possible enemy reinforcements movingup. None were seen. That was the last combat mission I everflew -- in an unarmed trainer, no less. I realized that was onemore time someone upstairs was looking after me. My mom’s prayerswere still working.