Excerpt from “Chapter 14 – Manduria”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Chapter 14 – Manduria”:

Soon after the Regensburg raid, the battered airmen of the 451st who had flown the mission were granted three day’s R&R on the Isle of Capri. The Williams crew, along with the others, was trucked over the muddy roads of southern Italy to Naples on the west coast. The picturesque city of Naples sits on a high bluff overlooking the cobalt blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Just offshore, the beautiful Isle of Capri is visible from the bluffs.

The airmen were billeted in a captured Italian Army barracks in Naples before boarding a ferry to the island. The Williams crew walked along the narrow streets perusing the shops and stopping for beers at a sidewalk café. Sgt. Atkinson watched with fascination as the cameo carvers applied their skills. He bought several of the cameos to bring home to his mother and Nettie as gifts. They were placed in a small manila envelope which he secured in his shirt pocket. After three enjoyable days of rest and sightseeing, the crews were trucked back to the base. Once there, they were met with news that there would be a delay before they would fly another mission.

Excerpt from “Chapter 13 – Regensburg”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Chapter 13 – Regensburg”:

By the first of February, 1944, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower realized that, in order for his planned invasion of fortress Europe slated for early summer to succeed, the USAAF would have to gain air superiority over the German Luftwaffe. He met with Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, commander of the USAAF, and it was determined that a maximum effort bombing campaign against Luftwaffe aircraft manufacturing should be launched immediately. The effort would be code named “Operation Argument” and would involve the combined efforts of the 8th Air Force flying from England with that of the 15th Air Force flying from Italy. Commencing on February 20th and concluding on February 25th, the action would come to be known by those who participated as “Big Week.”

Excerpt from “Chapter 12 – Gioia del Colle”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Chapter 12 – Gioia del Colle”:

The small town of Gioia Del Colle, meaning, “Joy of the Hill” sat atop the Murge plateau at an elevation of 1000 feet. The area surrounding the airfield was dotted with olive trees and little else. Small farms bordered the area raising mostly dairy cattle. There were also a fair number of vineyards in the area, and local wine producing and availability helped contribute to an overall feeling of well-being among the members of the 451st BG.

As it was in Telergma, the men were housed in a tent city. The four officers of each crew lived together in one tent, while the six enlisted crewmen lived together in another tent. The officer’s tents occupied a separate area conforming to the army code that required officers and enlisted personnel to be separated from each other. The tents were about twelve feet square supported by a tall center pole with smaller poles supporting the walls. A tent was pitched over a wooden floor, and the door to the tent was framed in wood. Standard issue army cots and blankets provided bedding. There was nothing to sit on except one’s cot. It was miserably uncomfortable to most of the men, but for Sgt. Atkinson, no less comfortable than the old Felton cabin.

Excerpt from “Chapter 11 – Telergma”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Chapter 11 – Telergma”:

The Jolly Roger and her crew departed Natal at midnight, December 21, 1943, and headed northeast over the dark Atlantic Ocean. The drone of the engines unwantedly penetrated all ears aboard, but, as always, lent a reassuring sound as well. Engine failure, even one engine, could be problematic given the 1,875 miles of open water between Natal and Dakar, French West Africa. There was little chance of survival if ditching in the ocean became necessary. Those aboard who were not directly involved with the operation of the plane began finding ways to get comfortable for the anticipated twelve hour flight.

Sgt. Atkinson set about cranking out his long range antenna and tuning the radio to the Parnamirim Field frequency. His briefing prior to departure instructed him to monitor Natal until the halfway point, and then switch over to the frequency for Mallard Field in Dakar located on the westernmost point of Africa. He was warned to anticipate a possible void in reception mid-Atlantic, depending on atmospheric conditions. He was also given the frequency for the base on Ascension Island located mid ocean but well south of their route, as a possible back up contact.

Excerpt from “Chapter 10 – Natal”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Chapter 10 – Natal”:

The Jolly Roger, with the Williams crew aboard, departed Lincoln AAF on December 7, 1943 as part of the last B-24s and crews of the 451st BG to leave Nebraska. The direct route distance to West Palm Beach equaled about 1185 statute miles and would just nip the northeast corner of Kansas, thence across Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and into Florida. At a cruising speed of about 165 mph, Lt. Johnson estimated a little better than seven hours en route.

Lt. Williams leveled off at 8,000 feet, and Lt. Fallon set the engines on cruise power. The weather was good along the route, and all indications suggested a routine, rather boring flight. About that time, Lt. Preston crawled up from the tunnel onto the flight deck and tapped Lt. Williams on the shoulder. Lt. Williams lifted his earphone off his ear and turned to look at Lt. Preston.

Excerpt from “Chapter 9 – Fairmont”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Chapter 9 – Fairmont”:

On August 17, 1942, flying from newly acquired airbases in England, the Eighth USAAF launched its first bombing mission over Europe. In the year that followed, the “Mighty Eighth” was pounded by the German Luftwaffe. Bomber losses were unacceptably high, due in part to the Allied fighter’s limited range which prevented them from escorting the bomber streams into enemy territory. Soon after crossing the English Channel into continental Europe, the fighters turned back, low on fuel, and the bombers were on their own the rest of the way. Experienced German pilots, who had cut their teeth on the earlier battle for France and the Battle of Britain, chewed up the slow-moving bombers who were unable to fully protect themselves despite the ten .50 caliber machine guns on board.

Another critical weakness facing bomber command in England was the lack of sufficient range of the Eighth Air Force’s B-17s and B-24s in reaching vital targets in the Balkan region of Eastern Europe. The Wehrmacht required a nearly unlimited supply of oil and gasoline to fuel its weapons of war, and much of that oil came from the Balkan countries. Thirty percent of Hitler’s petroleum demands alone came from a complex of oil refineries in and around the Romanian city of Ploesti. The USAAF desperately needed to open a second front in the air war against the Axis powers in Europe.

Excerpt from “Chapter 8 – Boise”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Chapter 8 – Boise”:

The ten men belonging to Crew #66 boarded the troop train in Salt Lake City bound for Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho. The train car was crowded with the men of the other crews assembled in Salt Lake City and assigned to B-24 training at Gowen Field as well. Men from the different crews mingled, introducing themselves to one another and relishing in the fact that they were all headed for combat crew training. The reality of going off to war was sinking in, though the men had no idea whether they were headed for the Pacific Theater or European Theater of Operations.

Until now, Sgt. Atkinson’s training had been a solo affair. Although in each instance he had been thrown in with a crowd of young men working toward a common goal, it was he alone who had to successfully complete the tasks at hand. All training from this point forward would involve a team effort, and Crew #66 would be taught to function as a unit.

Sgt. Atkinson selected a window seat next to Lt. Williams. Sgt. Atkinson was already developing a deep respect for his pilot, and he liked the way the lieutenant handled himself around the crew. Lt. Williams’ calm, confidant nature appealed to Sgt. Atkinson, and he felt at ease around him.

Excerpt from “Chapter 7 – Salt Lake City”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Chapter 7 – Salt Lake City”:

At the beginning of December, 1941, the inhabitants of Raleigh, North Carolina readied for the arrival of Christmas day. The home of James and Rosalie Williams was beautifully decorated for the season, and their son, Lewis, was on holiday from his studies at the local campus of North Carolina State University. At age 21, his hormones were running at full capacity, and he found his attentions in high demand with a number of the local young ladies. His capacity to entertain the opposite sex was enhanced by the availability of his dad’s 1938 Oldsmobile, and Lewis often brought a date to the movies. One of his favorite movies was “Captain Blood,” a pirate movie starring the swashbuckling Errol Flynn with Olivia de Havilland at his side. Lewis H. Williams’ prospects for the future seemed bright indeed.

With the arrival of Sunday, December 7, 1941, Lewis’ future, along with that of thousands of other young men around the country, would abruptly change. He immediately volunteered for service in the Army, and he was inducted in the latter part of December at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He was subsequently assigned to the Tank Corps and began training as a driver. He hated every minute of it.

Excerpt from “Chapter 6 – Las Vegas”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Chapter 6 – Las Vegas”:

In the early 1800’s, westward expansionists were in search of a suitable route from New Mexico and Colorado to southern California. As much of the region was desert, water along the route was of paramount importance. In 1829, a Mexican party hired by a wealthy New Mexico merchant, followed a tributary of the Colorado River and came upon a lush, green valley nourished by a labyrinth of artesian wells. They named the valley Las Vegas, Spanish for “The Fertile Valleys.” The area became an important oasis on the otherwise dry desert route, and a must-stop for travelers en route to California. The town of Las Vegas was born.

In 1930, construction of the Hoover Dam began and resulted in the production of hydroelectric power, thus providing Las Vegas with an abundance of electrical power. During the construction of the dam, the town’s population grew to approximately 25,000, comprised primarily of male workers. As a result, hotels, gaming establishments and entertainment venues opened, and, inevitably, prostitution flourished. The town leaders had little choice but to legalize the activities.

Excerpt from “Chapter 5 – Chicago”

The Jolly Roger: An Airman’s Tale of Survival in World War II by William C. Atkinson

Excerpt from “Chapter 5 – Chicago”:

As Pvt. Atkinson sat staring at the olive drab army bus that was waiting to depart Keesler, he felt glad to be leaving the base and the debacle surrounding his attempt to avoid radio school. He thought about Sgt. Bell and hoped he would not be dealt too much misery over his part in the scheme. Suddenly, a shout broke his concentration as a group of about thirty airmen boarded the bus. Pvt. Atkinson followed the group of men onboard. The group was headed to New Orleans where they would disperse to their various duty assignments.

The bus left Biloxi and headed west down the coast road past the Mississippi towns of Gulfport and Pass Christian before crossing the bridge over Bay St. Louis. Turning southwest on U.S. Highway 90, the bus and its occupants soon entered Louisiana. For the first time since leaving Scooba, Pvt. Atkinson felt a pang of nervous anxiety. Up until this moment, he had been wrapped up in the excitement of a new experience, and so far as his military service was concerned, he had not yet ventured from his native state. With the exception of his stint in the CCC out in Oregon and a summer spent working at Brookley Field in Mobile, Alabama, fabricating nuts and bolts for the military, he had never really left home before now. Pvt. James Atkinson was beginning to realize that he was headed for a potentially dangerous adventure the conclusion of which was uncertain, and he suddenly felt apprehensive and home sick.

As the bus crossed the bridge spanning the Rigolets, the so-called outlet from Lake Ponchartrain to the
Gulf of Mexico, Pvt. Atkinson gazed out of his window toward the railroad bridge to the east. Soon he would
be crossing that bridge on his way north to Chicago and he wondered when he might see his family again.