<< back >>
Tech Sergeant John W. Depue Diary
Monday, September 11, 1944. The following data from the diary of T/Sgt. John W. Depue who was the radioman on Lieutenant Roy Dismukes crew in the 553rd Bomb Squadron, 386th Bomb Group.
Mission number 275 on September 11, 1944 is one mission I will never forget. The day started out like any other day; rising on call, dressing, cleaning up, and then checking the bulletin board for the mission list. After breakfast at the chow hall, we went in for our mission briefing. We were told that, "This one is going to be a deep one, far into enemy territory!" we also were told we were to conserve as much fuel as possible since we would need it for the return trip home, back over France and across the English Channel. We were also shown on the map where to expect flak and or fighters, and then at a given signal we set our watches so that everyone would have the same time, set precisely to the second.
After our briefing we went to our lockers to get our flight gear, escape kits, parachutes, and "Mae Wests." We also took our ever present supply of chewing gum and "Milky Ways." Then the trucks came to take us out to our assigned aircraft. Once we arrived at our plane it was busy, busy, busy, getting things ready and in place for take off on our mission. The nose wheel hub had a bomb painted on it, and the crew members took bets on what its position would be when we landed again. This made for a little fun, it would lighten the atmosphere even though we knew we might be headed for trouble!
Then we climbed on board the aircraft; each crew member had his own specific duties. Pilot Roy Dismukes who was called, "Dis" and Co-pilot Norman Royer warmed up the engines and checked the instruments. Navigator Marvin Tabor checked the maps and flight plans, while Engineer gunner John Priestasz in his top turret, Tail gunner Stan Brown and Radio operator waist gunner - myself visually checked all the twin 50 cal. machine guns.
After everything was checked and in order we taxied out to take our positions for flight. Take off and ascent was smooth; each plane, six to a flight, flew into the thirty-six aircraft formation Flying out over the English Channel we fired to check our guns - the usual procedure while over water. Then it was over France and on to our German target. The mission seemed to going as usual. There was a little flak here and there, some light, some heavy but no losses were noted. Then we heard over the intercom, "Bombs away." Dis started the evasive action and a 180 degree turn off the target. I watched as the bombs hit the ground, the rings they made looked similar to the rings pebbles make when hitting water. The target was destroyed - we were homeward bound.
About half way across the channel Dis called the engineer up front in case he was needed to transfer fuel from one tank to the other. By this time we were getting pretty low on fuel so Dis was heading for our emergency field. Luckily for us the British maintained an airdrome called Manston Airbase which was located at the top and edge of the White Cliffs Of Dover. Then as we were heading for the Manston base the left engine slowed, coughed and died! Priestasz was at the same time pumping fuel from the right tank to the left tank, and the engine restarted on its own. That was a close call! While all this was going on we were in a 40 degree bank, 180 degree turn circling out over the channel at about 1,000 feet. We just made it onto the Manston runway when both engines quit. A truck had to come out to tow us back to the hangar. We then refueled, and while we refueled our navigator checked out weather conditions and wind direction in order to make a new flight plan for the trip home. It was getting late, but still light enough to make it back safely under normal conditions.
We took off and Tabor gave Dis the new heading. We all felt we had been through the worst by this time on the mission. The flying was left to Dis and Royer, that was their job, and they always got us back safely. So it seemed routine.
The time just seemed to slip away and before we knew it, it was getting dark. Dis then called me up front. He wanted me to try to call our tower at home base. But as I told him we could not break radio silence - nobody would answer anyway even if I could have raised them. Besides we never knew where Jerry was, he could have been on top of us and we would never know the difference. It was so dark you couldnt see your hand in front of you or anything else. It was black, no moon, no lights - just black and more black. I guess everyone was worried because it was very quite.
We must have flown ten miles in silence when suddenly we saw a bright light shinning. It stood straight up until we were right over it, then it moved cross country as though it was pointing somewhere. We decided to follow it, which we did gladly. Then it was gone and another took its place. There were three such spot lights and we followed each one. The last, and fourth light stood straight up and did not move. We put our heads together and figured this must be the base. So Dis started to circle the shimmering shaft of light, letting the aircraft down lower and lower in the darkness. Then we saw two rows of very dim yellow markers. Dis turned the aircraft on its final approach. As the tires screeched on touch down we all realized that heavenly sound that was telling how lucky we were. Our plane rolled to a stop on the hardstand in front of the control tower.
We were really glad to have made it down safely and pleased with ourselves as well. Dis and Royer decided to go up into the tower to thank those people for their help. When they got to the door there was chaos inside. Two British Officers were quite angry with us; they seemed badly shaken!
What had happened? The British we were told, had two Mosquitoes up checking on reports of Jerry being in the vicinity. The spot lights were for them. Those two fighters came in for their landings at about ten to fifteen seconds apart. We were in between those two planes - in all that darkness! Who knows what would have happened if we had known what was happening. After tempers cooled, they took us to get something to eat and then they put us up for the night.
In the morning things looked brighter, Lieutenant Tabor checked our flight plan and found we were forty miles from our home base. It seemed that Tabor had received the wrong information the day before. We also had been blown way off course. That is why we never arrived home like we should have. Once again we refueled and off we went into that wild blue yonder - only it was daylight. We could see, we knew where we were and we were on our way home. Then we saw the castle and our little town of Great Dunmow - we were home. It had taken two days to complete the mission, but we made it back. We knew we would fly again the next day.
Tech Sergeant John W. Depue
Note: The Group Historian, Chester Klier also flew on the mission to Metz, France withCaptain Bud Lambert, lead plane in the high flight, first box of eighteen. Lieutenant Roy Dismukes flew in number four position high flight, second box of eighteen.
September 11, 1944 - Great Dunmow, England.
First Lieutenant S. L. Ruslander, Jr. was struck by a rotating propeller of a B-26 aircraft. He died September 13, 1944 at Bangour Hospital. He was a member of the 553rd Bomb Squadron, 386th Bomb Group.
Chester P. Klier
November 18, 1944 Tech Sergeant John W. Depue found himself flying on a mission with Captain Robert T. Harris of the 553rd Bomb Squadron. Their plane along with two other ships from the 386th Bomb Group were shot down in Germany. The following shows the application for Depue when he applied for membership in The Caterpillar Club. That organization is dedicated to persons who had to bail out of an aircraft in order to save their life.
On November 18, 1944 we took off from France fifteen miles northwest of Paris to bomb an ammunition and fuel supply dump near St. Wendel, Germany. We never made it. We caught flak while flying over mountainous terrain ten minutes from the target. So being lead ship we took our flight out of the area and dropped our load on a railroad yard, but in our ship one bomb hung on the racks. The flak was behind us now and we felt secure. While trying to dispose of that bomb we heard two bursts of flak, then the engineer reported our being hit in the left engine. Lucky for us the shell never went off on contact, but it must have cut the fuel lines as we started to burn. We got bail out orders and jumped. I watched the ship and took score of who all made it. One was missing, but when we were all caught by the Germans and sent to another town we met up with Captain Harris, the one who was missing. So there we were all rounded up. Most of the crew members had sixty-five missions in, including myself which was a complete tour of duty. We were liberated April 25, 1945.
Tech Sergeant John W. Depue
Note: The complete story concerning the 386th Bomb Group mission flown on November 18, 1944 can be found listed on my bio page under the heading of combat mission number 294.
Chester P. Klier