The Crew of the B-17 Sky Goddess: http://www.mywarhistory.com/browse/browse.aspx?serviceHeroId=53
Shipping Ticket for Jacket:
From a Cremember:
Assigned: 8th Air Force, 385th Bomb Group
Highest Rank: 1st Lieutenant
Location of Service: Central Europe
Military Position: B-17 Navigator
Current City: Canal Winchester
Current State: Ohio
My War Stories
12/1942 Michael Pohorialla was just 17 when the attack on Pearl Harbor took place. One year later, in December 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as an Aviation Cadet. This program was designed to train a 100,000 pilots a year to support the upcoming European invasions and the island hopping campaigns of the Pacific Theatre. Early in 1943, he was off to basic training in Miami Beach, FL, experiencing a double-sided series of cultural shocks. Being 18 years old and thrust into military life was a drastic change of life style. Equally traumatic was this small town Northerner, confronted with the segregated South and its alien separate public facilities for the races. The Aviation Cadet program was patterned after the disciplinary life of a West Point Plebe – strict rules of conduct and behavior superimposed on a harsh physical training regime. These disciplines continued until flight school months later. Miami Beach hotels, requisitioned by the military. had been stripped bare of all amenities and were devoid of air conditioning and heat. The latter would have been as welcome during the typical February cold fronts that meandered into Florida. Long johns underwear was frequently pulled out of duffle bags. Basic training sequenced into Pre-Flight School at Maxwell Field in Montgomery, AL. Air Force personnel are often lampooned for their alleged marginal discipline and lack of military bearing, yet the Aviation Cadet program produced close order drill and parades the equal of any service.
6/1943 In late summer 1943, he was assigned to Primary Flight School operated by a civilian contract flight training school at Southern Field in Americus, GA. A bronze plaque memorialized Charles Lindbergh’s flight training at this location. Mike soloed after the requisite 8 hours dual instruction in a Stearman PT-17 biplane but flunked a critical 40-hour check ride. No second chances, given the urgency of turning out 100,000 pilots annually. There was a lot of irony in Mike’s situation. Being a Depression era boy whose widowed mother could not afford a car; he learned to fly an airplane years before he could drive a car.
7/1943 The Army assigned Mike to Navigator Flight School at Selman Field in Monroe, LA, but first there was a six week’s detour to cam aerial gunner’s wings at Ft. Myers. FL. This diversion proved to him quite pleasant since the program took one progressively from BB guns shooting at carnival targets. Then through skeet. both stationary and from the hack of a truck moving at 20 mph around a 3-5 mile oval track. Finally, he was introduced to caliber 30mm and 50mm weapons from the rear seat of an AT-6, advanced trainer, firing at target sleeves towed by another AT-6. Assignment to navigator flight school virtually assured his eventual placement aboard a bomber.
11/1943 Navigator school starting in late 1943 provided intensive ground and flight training in all the navigational arts available at that period – dead reckoning, celestial and radio navigation, the E6B computer and meteorology. No radar aids were available until combat in Europe in autumn 1944, except for LoRan for transatlantic crossings.
4/1944 Graduation in April 1944 brought navigator’s wings, new uniforms and 2nd Lt. bars. Then it was off to operational training. Mike’s B-17G Flying Fortress bomber crew was assembled at Sioux City, IA. The crew of 4 officers and 6 staff sergeants came from diverse backgrounds, but all were very young – most were 18-20 years old. The oldest at 22 was a Michigan graduate in accounting and manned the tail gunner position. Their origins were a cross section of the U.S. -New York. New Jersey. Pennsylvania. Kansas. Tennessee. Louisiana. Missouri and Michigan. Only the tail gunner had a college degree, although several had a year or two of university study. From April to June 1944, the crew learned the intricacies of close formation flying, long range (500- 600 miles) missions, gunnery training and bombing simulations all over the upper Midwest landscape. Orders to ship to Europe came about 3 weeks after D-Day. Because there was no shortage of aircraft in the European Theatre, the crew traveled from the Brooklyn Navy Yard to Liverpool in a convoy aboard a prewar Italian luxury liner, along with 11,000 other service men. The liner, S.S. Saturnia, had sailed into North Africa and surrendered by its captain to the Allies prior to Italy’s military collapse. Consequently, the ship’s masthead flew both the Stars and Stripes and the Italian tricolor.
5/1944 Finally England and immediate assignment to the 8th Air Force and the 385th Bomb Group (Heavy) located in a small East Anglican village, Elmswell, about 40 miles due east of Cambridge. The base was known as Great Ashfleld, leased from the RAE and housed air crews in Quonset huts, 8 per building or members of two crews‘s officers. A central pot bellied stove fired with soft coal (reverse lend lease) was ineffective against the harsh English climate until the crew’s Yankee ingenuity procured used engine oil, some copper tubing and the jerry-rigged a drip fuel system. That stove was often red hot! Great Ashfield was located at the Juncture of two major rail lines.. These lines were often the target of German V-I (Buzz Bombs) launched over the North Sea from occupied Holland. Bombs overshooting the rail facilities frequently landed on the base. (Buzz Bombs were not very accurate).
6/1944 England had been at war for 5 years when Mike and his crew arrived at Great Ashfield. Blackouts and blackout window shades were mandatory. To conserve fuel. England operated under British double summer time, or two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. In early autumn, darkness arrived only after 10-11 p.m. severe food rationing was the norm and was reflected even in our spartan menus. Foul British weather in fall and winter with low ceiling, rain, frost, and raw temperatures complicated both personal comfort and more critically combat flight operations. Yet, we could listen to Major Glenn Miller’s Air Force Band over the BBC every evening at 7:00 p.m. just like home.
6/1944 The East Anglia region, roughly 40 x 100 miles, was home to over 50 8th Air Force bases.. Many were so close to each other that individual traffic patterns almost, hut not quite, intersected. The 1,200 bombers and several hundred fighter aircraft could assemble and form coherent battle lines and formations under these conditions. was a tribute to the planning and skill of the airmen. Capt. Leslie Lennox, a former B-17 pilot wrote, “When considering today’s complex Air Traffic Control System, it is almost unbelievable that we were able to launch hundreds of airplanes in a small airspace, many times in darkness, loaded with bombs, with complete radio silence, no ground control, and do it day after day with young air crews.”
7/1944 Mike and his fellow crew members were gradually indoctrinated into combat flying by serving individually as a member of a seasoned crew. It was not until each crew member had flown several missions in this manner before the crew finally went into combat as a unit. The combat tour was now 35 missions, having been increased from 25, then 30, as crew losses were gradually lowered. Mike’s first baptism of fire was bombing the Daimler Benz home factory at a Stuttgart suburb (Sindelfingen) which was then a major producer of tanks and aircraft engines. The crew initially flew various B-17 aircraft but was soon assigned the “Sky Goddess” whose crew had completed their 35 mission tours. It was a great aircraft having been battle tested and sported the usual female form nose art.
7/1944 Unlike the RAE Bomber Command which flew only night raids and practiced widespread area bombardment, the 8th Air Force was committed to precision daytime bombing. A tightly packed formation of 32-36 bombers allowed the group to concentrate maximum defensive fire power against attacking Luftwaffe fighters. More important, this formation was designed to allow the group to salvo their bomb loads to strike within a 500 – 600 ft radius about the target. These tactics were attributed to General Curtis LaMay who at that time was deputy to General Jimmy Doolittle, Commanding General of the 8th Air Force.
9/1944 Critical targets in Germany were heavily defended by numerous 88mm and 120mm flak guns. The 88mm weapon was generally regarded as the finest artillery piece of WWII. Over the targets, the Germans placed a continuous barrage so as to fill a hypothetical cube of air space measuring 1,000 feet top to bottom at bombing altitude and covering the length and breadth of the target area. Bombers simply had to plow through the forest of flak bursts while on their straight line bombing runs. When the 385th Bomb Group visited Merseberg in late September 1944, they encountered about 500 flak guns. As Allied troops advanced through France and Germany, the German Army distributed surplus 88mm artillery pieces around critical targets and pointed the guns upward. Thus, by November 25, 1944, 8th Air Force intelligence estimated that 1,000 guns now ringed that chemical installation.
9/28/1944 Oil played a crucial role during WWII. The Germans had too little, but their chemical engineering genius compensated for this shortcoming. Then, 8th Air Force planners placed oil high on their target priorities. Thus, it was inevitable that oil would eventually cast its shadow over the fortunes of the crew of the Sky Goddess. In fact, two of their early missions on consecutive days on September 28-29, 1944 were to Merseherg (near Leipzig) and Ludwigshaven both synthetic oil plants operated by IG Farben. Again in November 4-5, 1944. consecutive days raids sent the crew to oil plants at Hamburg and Ludwigshaven again.
11/1944 The 1944 fall – winter period was the most intensive combat period for the 8th Air Force. The 1,000-1,200 bomber raids became the norm. The strategic mission of the 8th Air Force was to destroy the German industrial complex so as to starve the war machine of the Reich. Thus, the crew of the “Sky Goddess” from late August 1944 until February 1945 was preoccupied with destroying ordnance depots, tank and aircraft engine factories, Tiger tank manufacturing facilities, steel plants, ME-262 jet aircraft factories, major railroad marshaling yards and synthetic oil plants including its oil refineries. The latter were particularly critical to the Reich since Germany had no indigenous oil assets of any consequence. However, it did have coal, lots of it, and via a pressurized coal hydrogenation process it was able to produce streams of hydrocarbon the life blood of the German war machine. Therefore, the 385th Bomb Group repeatedly visited Ig Farben installations at Ludwigshaven, Hamburg and Merseberg.
11/4/1944 As Sky Goddess dropped its three tons of 500 lb. bombs from 27.500 ft. over Merseberg, flak disabled the No. 3 inboard starboard engine. There was a brief fire, but quickly snuffed out as the flight deck feathered the prop. The B- 17 can fly on two or three engines, but maintaining altitude becomes a problem. Specific fuel consumption goes through the roof Sky Goddess limped along on three engines while maintaining a position close with the group formation. The fuel gauges dropped at alarming rate. Mike finally announced that the plane’s position over the Ardennes was within Allied lines. He gave Wally a heading directly for Dover and the plane began a gradual descent, leaving the protection of the group formation. Eventually, over Southern Belgium. Pilot Wally summoned Mike to the flight deck, advising him to assemble the crew midship.
11/4/1944 The fuel gauges were on “empty” and the alarm bell – abandon ship – would sound. Mike’s task was to insure that all the crew cleared the aircraft. He gave the order to snap on their parachutes and soon the alarm bell rang. ‘OK. you guys, JUMP!” They were at the moment cruising at only 1,000 feet and everyone sensed that parachuting at that altitude was marginal. So they all just stood there. Mike hurried back to the flight deck. “Wally, these guys won’t jump. We’re too low. You’ll have to set this baby down.” Wally turned to Copilot Ed Heffner “What do you think, want to try to set her down?” ”Sure” said Ed. Mike hurried back to midship, herded everyone into crash landing positions, and crouched against the bulkhead, meanwhile staying on intercom with Wally. Soon Wally was saying, “We’re on the base leg”, then “OK, we’re on final approach”. The pilots had selected a freshly plowed field about 40 miles southwest of Brussels. The plane gently settled, wheels up, dirt flying everywhere, until one of the starboard props dug in breaking the plane while turning it counterclockwise to a complete stop. No fuel left, no fire! The crew hastily abandoned ship and Sky Goddess was left in Belgium. That was mission No.18 for the crew.
11/18/1944 Mission No. 19 wasn’t flown until two weeks later, but psychologically was the most difficult of the tour. The crew’ survived 35 missions except for the waist gunner Banes, who was lost while substituting with another crew. Mission No. 35 occurred February 1, 1945. God was surely the copilot aboard Sky Goddess. Fast forward 20 years to 1964 and Mike, now a marketing executive with Rohm and Haas Company in Philadelphia is visiting the corporate headquarters of Daimler Benz in Sindelfingen. After a successful business meeting, his hosts asked “Hey Pohorilla is this your first visit to Sindelfingen? “Nein Vor Zwanzig Jahren (no twenty years ago), but I did not stay very long.”
12/1944 This constant strategic bombing tatoo carried Mike and the crew to centers of German industrial might including Stuttgart. Koblenz, Kassel, Berlin, Hanover, Cologne, Muster, Mainz, Mannheim and Leipzig Merseherg. They didn’t miss very many German locations. However, the missions quickly shifted from strategic to tactical to support Allied ground forces struggling to contain the Wehrmacht during the Battle of the Bulge. The German Forces enjoyed a two week stretch of weather which grounded all air support. On Christmas 1944 the 8th Air Force bombers tendered their support bombing troop concentration, transportation hubs, Rhine bridges and tank depots. Ordnance changed from the usual 500 and 1,000 lb. bombs to 500 lb. incendiary bombs and 260 lb. fragmentation clusters.
1/1945 The 8th Air Force daylight missions were carried out in a very hostile environment. The B-17 and B-24 aircraft were not pressurized, thus the climate outside was the same as you endured inside the aircraft. Bombing altitude was generally 25,000 – 28,000 ft. with outside temperatures at -40 to -50 c. Therefore, combat operations had to be sustained with oxygen pressure at only about 25% of that experienced at sea level. Loss of life could occur in about 2 minutes should the airmen be deprived of oxygen. Life literally hung on three (3) cords – a throat microphone for communication, an oxygen mask connected to a pressure metering control, and a connection for a headed suit. Mike and his fellow crewmen survived the cold by the simple scheme of layering their clothing and an ingenious heated suit. Missions which lasted 6 to 9 hours, most of which were at high altitude began at 4:30 – 5:00 am. Dressing for the mission followed this typical sequence – regular underwear, long johns, silk socks, wool socks, standard winter uniform, heated suit (4 piece), nylon flight coveralls, insulated boots, Mae West, flight helmet, parachute harness, silk gloves & regular gloves, and flak jacket. In addition, each crewman was issued an escape packet zipped into his coveralls which contained British pounds, nylon maps of the Continent. photos in civilian clothes for potential I.D. cards, a compass and a small hack saw blade. Finally, officer crewmen carried a .45 cal. pistol. Breakfast before takeoff was memorable because mission crews were served fresh eggs, any style.
1/1945 The collective bond between the members of B- 17 crew was close and unlike any relationship experienced before or after WWII. Thus, the relationship between officers and enlisted men still existed, but within the crew it was somewhat softened. All ten men each had specific tasks and survival depended upon total discipline during combat. While at high altitude, it was one of Mike’s tasks to ask on the intercom, about every five minutes. “Navigator to crew – Crew check” which was quickly answered back to front in sequence. “Tail gunner O.K.”, “Waist Gunners O.K.”, “Radio operator O.K.”. “Flight engineer O.K.”. “Pilot and copilot O.K.” and finally “Bombardier O.K.”. During one particular moment during a mission, Mike was otherwise engaged and Bombardier Jim Shoemaker, seated but a few steps in front of the nose of the aircraft from Mike’s post, took to the intercom. “Bombardier to Crew. Crew Check” which prompted the usual sequence of responses from the tail gunner up to the flight deck. Then, SILENCE! Pilot Wally Mellors immediately barked to Bombardier Jim, “Hey, Mike didn’t answer. Everything O.K.?” Everything wasn’t O.K. Jim turned to see Mike sprawled on the floor unconscious, his oxygen mask off his face. He quickly replaced Mike’s mask and turned his oxygen pressure valve up to the 100% setting. Mike quickly gained consciousness, stood for a few minutes, and advised Wally that he was O.K. Mike’s oxygen mask had frozen due to the high humidity at -40c. Crew discipline and Jim’s quick action had saved Mike’s life. Collateral damage was minimal – Mike’s bladder had emptied as completely as a diapered two year old and his head was banged up a bit as he fell. (No Purple Heart). He promptly turned the rheostat on his heated suit control to “Maximum” to dry out and continued on with his routine tasks.
1946 Mike comes from a family with a strong military tradition. His Dad was with in the 4th Infantry Division in WWI and was gassed during the campaign in Northern France. This was a death blow’ to his lungs, already weakened from service in the Anthracite coal mines of Northeastern Pennsylvania. He died 10 years after the Armistice. Mike’s mother displayed a banner with three blue stars during WWII. His youngest brother served on an icebreaker in Greenland. The other sibling was a Chief Petty Officer aboard LST 230 which carried those members of the 101st Airborne Division who had not jumped into France at 2:00 am. D-Day onto Omaha Beach on the second wave. He survived to participate one month later on D-Day in Southern France.