Welcome to Dear Old England

His story.....
as told by his children.

When the crew landed in England, they had yet to be assigned to a Bomb Group. In the interim they were assigned to censoring mail. This lasted for a week or two and then they were called to Polebrook, in Northamptonshire, to join the 351st Bomb Group, Triangle J of the 8th Air Force.

The 351st was Clark Gable's outfit. Gable had already flown five combat missions from Polebrook as an Arial photographer.

When they arrived at their new base, they were assigned to the 511th Squadron. They were no new B-17s available, although, they would be assigned a brand new B-17G later. Their Squadron commander's name was Ball, and in his squadron every ship's name had to include the word "ball". Major Ball named his plane after his new born baby daughter, Linda Ball, which started this tradition.

Tringle J plane

It was two weeks before Art's crew was assigned to their first mission. Each day, in lieu of flying a mission, they would attend ground school for additional training in aircraft identification, tactics, and so on.

The officers' club was the main place to kill time. It was a bar, but was also equipped with ping pong, pool tables, and slot machines. On one occasion, Art and the other officers of the new crew took the subway, the "Tube" as locals called it, to London to take in the sights. Art always remembered seeing Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus.

Of course, the main events on base were the take-offs for the day's mission and the landings of the planes that had survived and were returning to base. And there were always empty bunks in the barracks and newly vacated seats at the dinner tables after every mission.

There were forty men assigned to a Quanson hut. Art remembered a roommate who was Catholic and always wore a crucifix. He considered it a lucky charm. By chance, he forgot it one day and, sure enough, he did not return from his mission. Art also remembered a fellow who would walk the barracks declaring, "I'm gonna turn in my wings in the morning." Then he'd say, "Those damn Germans are using real bullets! I think they're trying to kill me!"

When a man did not return, his personal items were up for grabs. Sometimes a friend would take anything that might be embarrassing should it fall into the hands of family members, but mostly items of interest would simply disappear. Art had a spare Colt 45 packed in cosmolene that he had planned to take home after the war. It, of course, disappeared when he was shot down. A moot point it would seem, since in the entire fifty odd years since the war, Art never owned a gun.

Two weeks after their arrival at Polebrook, on February 20, 1944, the call came for their first mission. There was a massive Allied air offensive underway that was known throughout the 8th Air Force as the "Big Week". The plane that Art's crew was to fly on this mission was the "Pistol Ball". It had seen its share of combat.

From the records of the 351st Bomb Group, we know the target was Leipzig. It doesn't really matter, however, because the "Pistol Ball" never got there. Two hours into the mission, the pilot aborted due to the #4 engine running rough and loosing oil pressure. The gunners had used 200 rounds of ammunition, and returned 21 M-47A1 bombs. During the 4-hour and 8-minute flight, 1,110 gallons of fuel had been consumed.

The next day, February 21st, they were assigned another combat veteran, the "Screw Ball". The target was Achmer. Somewhere over France, the ball turret gunner noticed a vapor trail coming from one of the engines. It looked to him like they were loosing fuel. The Pilot, Walter LeClerc, ordered the engineer to check it out. He did so, and agreed that it looked to him like they had lost enough fuel that they wouldn't be able to return from the target. So the "Screw Ball" dropped out of formation, aborted, and turned back to Polebrook with all engines running.

When they landed, the base commander and a sergeant drove up to the plane, and wanted to know what was wrong. Art's pilot explained that their fuel consumption had been excessive, and they thought they had a fuel leak. The colonel ordered the sergeant to measure the remaining fuel with a stick. The tanks were almost full. The colonel ordered Walter to circle the field while making periodic fuel checks to verify the fuel consumption. As it turned out, the "Screw Ball" was burning almost 25% more fuel than normal. Had they not aborted the mission, they would not have had the fuel to reach the target and return to the base. On this mission, they used 430 rounds of ammunition, and returned 30 M-30 100lb GP bombs.

The next day was the third mission. The target was Bernberg/Magdeberg. The crew was assigned a new B-17G. From the records of the 351st, we know it was 8 hours and 20 minutes long. They used 630 rounds of ammunition and dropped 38 M-1 140 lb. fragmentation bombs. The plane was too new to have a name and nose art. The crew thought they might name their new plane the "Bean Ball", however, this unnamed B-17 was to fly only one mission. The new plane was so shot up that, upon its return, it had to be scrapped.

The day after this mission was a day of rest for the crew of the "No Balls". Jim Ellis wrote his mother a letter describing the mission. From Pam Ellis Gregory, we have what follows which are excerpts from this letter that were printed in the Athens Weekly Review Thursday, March 16, 1944:

"I have actually been shot at now, and Mother, they are playing for keeps. We came in from a raid with over 50 holes in our ship. We were more or less flying a flour sifter, but she brought us home without a guy in the crew getting hit. Oh my, what near misses though!

I've seen the light. We had holes from wingtip to wingtip and from nose to tail. Every engine had a hole in it but (we) only lost power in one. Mother, we were lucky, I guess. You can see I'm excited yet. I didn't get scared until I got on the ground and looked at the ship. I feel that I can go through anything now. They can't knock us down even if they throw the kitchen sink at us (I hope). There is nothing like it. I can't describe it for I can't think of words that would fit. It doesn't all seem real. You see stuff going off all around you and then they are getting close.

Temperature of about 40 degrees below zero and you are sweating. You are getting it then and I'm not kidding. I thought I had seen a lot of beautiful sites, such as girls and things, but the most beautiful heavenly thing I ever hope to see is an American fighter plane circling overhead. They looked better than the bath on Saturday night.

Our crew was fine, except the bombardier's voice gets a note higher than mine and the tail-gunner was wanting someone to talk to him. The radio man keeps asking (in a weak voice) if everyone is alright. The bombardier got so excited as he was calling B-17's (in trouble), flack-bursts and enemy fighters. I don't have a gun - all I can do is sit up there and fly it.

That's all for now, but I could go on for hours, for as Red says, 'I've seen the light'. Red is a big guy in our barracks from Houston. He claims he's had it and I think he has as he is the only guy left out of his crew. I'm telling you all this but don't go sweating me out, for I'm not doing that myself. So don't let it get you all het up.

Don't let this get you down, for if you do, I won't give you a ring-side seat anymore. Tell all the folks hello for me and that I'm still kicking, and hard"."

The next day was February 24th. The "No Balls" flew to Schweinfurt.

This raid was to be a "maximum effort".

The plane they were assigned had originally been named the "Eight Ball". After its second mission, a propeller had sheared off of the #2 engine almost severing the nose of the aircraft in the process. With the nose reconstructed, the plane had been renamed the "No Balls at All" in honor of the incident. By February 24th, the "No Balls" had already flown 23 missions, and for Art, worst of all, it only had a single 50 cal. spring mounted machine gun in the nose instead of the twin 50 cal. machine guns in the chin turret.

No Balls and her crew

The "No Balls" and her ground crew