JOHN IN ENGLANDI served overseas with the U.S. Army Air Corps from May, 1943, until September, 1945. I was a meteorologist--trained in the Air Corps Aviation Cadet program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then assigned to forecast weather for air corps operations. After leaving MIT, I spent five months as base weather officer at Brookley Field, Mobile, Alabama. Then I was transferred overseas.
My overseas duty was in England. The first five months were at Eighth Air Force heavy bomber bases--about six weeks at a B-17 "flying fortress" base, the rest of the time at the bases of two B-24 "liberator" groups. For the next year and one-half I was stationed at the headquarters of the B-24 division of the Eighth Air Force at Ketteringham Hall, in rural East Anglia a few miles from the city of Norwich.
Following the surrender of Germany in May, 1945, I joined the staff of a new bomber wing scheduled to return to America temporarily. We would pick up a fleet of B-29 bombers and go on to a base in Okinawa for bombing and support of the invasion of Japan. I was the staff weather officer for the wing. Plans changed with the Japanese surrender in August, and in September I returned to America to join Jane (and Dianne, who was now nearly two and one-half years old), be discharged from the army, and begin our civilian life.
I experienced the war in Europe from the margin; yet I was never far from the nerve centers. I certainly have no first-hand accounts of high-level strategy, intrigue, danger, romance, or misery that are the stuff of the central stories of the War. Instead, my work was specialized, technical. I did not make big, strategic decisions; yet my forecasts went into briefing material for the generals, and I sometimes discussed my weather maps with them. I was never in combat; yet I shared personally with bomber crews the nerve-wracking preparation for missions and the exhilaration and tragedy of return.
I transcribed the following recollections in 1998 and 1999. I wish they were more precise; but they come from piecemeal notes, affirmed here and there by cryptic orders from my military record, and embellished by vivid memories.
From America to the Theater of War
Orders in mid-May, 1943, relieved me of duty at Mobile, assigned me to the 18th Weather Squadron in the European Theater, and detailed me to the 93rd Bomb Group at Thurleigh, England. Jane and I bade goodbye to our neighbors, packed all of our worldly belongings in a couple of suitcases and a large cardboard carton, and left the house at 26 Japonica Avenue. I was issued railway tickets from Mobile via St. Louis, Chicago, and Boston to Presque Isle, in the Aroostook Valley potato country of far northeastern Maine. Orders authorized travel by Air Transport Command from there to the UK. Jane's route left mine at Chicago and went to Bismarck. We headed north on the Mobile and Ohio's short streamliner, the "Gulf Coast Rebel", transferred at the cavernous St. Louis Union Station to the Alton's streamliner, the "Anne Rutlege" for Chicago, then carried our bags to the local for Crown Point.
A couple of days in Crown Point saying hello and goodbye to all the family. Then an emotional farewell to Jane and all. Dad accompanied me to Chicago, where I boarded the NYC's "New England States" for Boston. I thought I could see moisture in his eyes when I waved to him from the Pullman window as the train began to roll. My feelings were eerie. An almost indescribable, hollow feeling leaving Jane and our baby-to-be, probably for years, possibly forever. Though I'm sure the latter feelings were not as empty and un-nerving as if I'd been in a combat unit. Yet there was also the exciting anticipation of mapping and forecasting real weather in Europe, seeing Europe, crossing the Atlantic. A stream of mixed thoughts as I watched night fall over the south shore of Lake Erie.
From dawn to mid-day the next day, I watched the backsides of worn-out mill towns and Boston neighborhoods as the train snaked through the Berkshires and finally pulled into South Station. Shifted my baggage to North Station and took the subway to Kendall Square to look around the MIT campus. I'd left there only 6 months before, but it seemed like years. Sights were familiar, but the new class of meteorology cadets was much larger than ours, much more "GI"--everyone in barracks, all meals at the mess, clad in enlisted men's khaki rather than the officer-like cadet uniforms we had worn. Fortunate to catch Professor Hurd Willett in his office and tell him how much I felt I had benefitted from his classes. His "Descriptive Meteorology" so well complemented the daily all-afternoon synoptic labs and briefing sessions. Those were the aspects of the program in which I had done best and had enjoyed most; I didn't care much for the theoretical parts. (Willett later would become immersed in the reconstruction of Late-Ice-Age northern hemisphere weather patterns, and one of his papers was an important inspiration in my doctoral dissertation.)
That night I climbed into the Preque Isle sleeper on the Boston and Maine "Gull", to find that everyone in the car seemed to be an air force officer about my age headed for Presque Isle. We were all sort of nervous. But I was the only one headed directly for Europe. All the others were combat airmen joining training groups at the base there--to be sure, preparatory to going to European combat.
The early spring landscape was still bleak and chilly in the Aroostook country when we arrived the next day. I lugged my B-4 and duffle bag to the barracks and began to be "processed" for the journey overseas. And there began a vignette of army bureaucracy, trivial in retrospect but harrowing at the time.
I wasted no time getting to the finance office to fill out forms to collect my mileage for the trip from Mobile. It should have amounted to about $100, which was a lot of money--equal to three months’ grocery bills! The finance officer was a young and inexperienced lieutenant, like most of us. He looked at my orders and my ticket stubs and shook his head. He could not see how he could get me paid for this trip; I had not used the most direct, land-grant railroad route required by Army regulations. We discussed the reasons why I had come the way I had.
He was sympathetic and told me to come back the next day before I took off. At the appointed time I appeared. He looked haggard yet relieved. He said he'd spent much of the night going through the regulations and had figured out how to get me reimbursed. He gave me a pile of forms to sign. I felt relieved, too. Yet, by my calculation, the amount he was getting for me was $12.44 less than it should have been. Even that was a lot of money--two days' pay as a 2nd Lieutenant; enough to buy groceries for Jane and me for 10 days! Still, it could have been far worse; I was thankful, and forgot the episode.
Just two years later, in the mail at the base post office in England, was a check from the U.S. Treasury Department for $12.44, with no explanation. Somewhere, someone had come across the mistake and simply did his (or her, by that time) job.
The other vivid memory is not trivial. It’s the trans-Atlantic journey. About 3:00 pm I climbed into the cargo bay of a DC-4. Largest transport plane the army had at that time, certainly equal to any in the world--military or commercial. It had 4 piston engines (I think jets did not appear in the Allied forces until more than a year later, and then only on fighters). It was about the size of one of today's modest corporate jets but far more austere. A long row of hard bucket seats ran along each wall of the dimly-lit cargo space. A pile of parachutes to lay out for a bed.
Only one other passenger shared the space--a middle-aged State Department courier carrying only his knapsack and a classified reel of film. (Of course, he could not say what it was, and it was not my business even to ask.) Also, a single, huge rubber tire for some kind of specialized vehicle was anchored upright amidship. Pilot, co-pilot, and navigator--all young lieutenants like me. There we were, and away we went.
Gradually the night fell across the empty forest and barren, ice-scoured Canadian shield below. I had read about this land in Geology 1; what a thrill to see it! We stopped at the sprawling base at Gander, Newfoundland, for dinner at the cavernous, austere officers' mess. Then back to the plane and off into the darkness. A few minutes later the lights of St. John passed below, and now only stars and the dark Atlantic. After a couple of hours we left the range of shore-based radio navigation aids, and the navigator had to go to work in his turret sighting stars and plotting our location. As he answered questions about the North Atlantic weather and his avation cadet training and his home town, I felt heavily indebted to him, the pilots, and the folks back home who had designed that plane and put it together. As morning passed, the gray-green of the Gulf Stream-North Atlantic Drift emerged below. Because I knew it was, I suppose, it looked warmer and richer than yesterday afternoon's deep green-black of the Labrador current.
We landed at Prestwick, Scotland, in early afternoon. I settled in a chilly and dank but otherwise comfortable room in the old manor house; read the rationed 8-page London Daily Mail, "For King and Empire". Then I walked the beach and beheld the low dunes and dwarfed trees all leaning away from the sea in deference to a lifetime of southwesterly gales--exciting yet just as it should be, I thought. Explored the pleasing though slightly neglected manor grounds through the long twilight. Next morning took the base liberty truck into central Glasgow, walked the crowded streets and explored the austere stores, then off to London on the threadbare wartime version of the famous "Royal Scot" passenger train. All day through lush green hills and surprisingly dirty, dingy mining, factory, and railroad towns.
Arrived after dark at Euston Station in blacked out London. Found my room in the grand but chilly Strand Palace hotel. The dinner was shockingly sparse, though very properly served, by a formally-dressed waiter, on fine silver service. But there was hot bathwater and clean sheets. While in the tub and climbing into bed, I heard the wail of the air-raid sirens and heard and felt the thunder of the anti-aircraft batteries. For the first time, I felt I was in the war zone. Next morning I took my first ride with a London cabbie--enjoying his cockney speech, his friendliness, and his carriage-style cab with primitive little motor and ancient hand-squeezed air-bulb horn, which he honked constantly. I carried my bags aboard the train for East Anglia at Liverpool Street station--a very dirty place, bomb damage evident especially in the yards and shed.
As the train rolled through the East Anglian countryside, I was eager with anticipation of the base at Thurleigh. I had left the U.S. only a little more than 2 days ago. The trans-Atlantic trip took 15 hours. All of the guys I subsequently worked with had come by ocean convoy--21 days from New York or Norfolk. I was very lucky. Never felt far from home and Jane.
(Jane and I returned to the Strand Palace in 1968--bright, lively, good meal, good company of prosperous British at neighboring tables. We returned to Prestwick in 1979 to catch the Northwest non-stop to Minneapolis; unrecognizable after 36 years of metamorphosis to a suburb of cleaned-up, modernized Glasgow. We returned to Euston I September, 2000, to see the astonishing cleanup, modernization, and traffic.)
Memories of the Bomber Bases
First Assignment: Thurleigh
A truck from the base met the train from Liverpool Street and took me and my baggage to the base at Thurleigh. It was.Saturday, May 22, 1943. This was my first assignment--a B-17 Flying Fortress base, 306th Bomb Group. Night was chill and rainy; I had little idea of what the place was like, save that everyone was very friendly, uniforms were rather varied and sometimes sloppy, and food was good.
I had a look about the next day. This is what is called a dispersed airdrome--the establishment is scattered all over the countryside so as to make it less conspicuous. It is one of the many bases from which the Forts [B-17 Boeing Aircraft "Flying Fortress"] are bombing Germany. I feel nearer the war now for the first time.
I began to get acquaqinted with the weather station, the weather officer and enlisted observers, the maps, and the patterns of fronts, highs, and lows over the British Isles.. May 28 I had my first experience with a briefing for a mission. Tense, sharp men--rough looking gunners, young kids; the officers, some keen, fine looking men, some smoking nervously, yet also seem very much composed; all very intent on every word. Amazing detail of routes, targets, weather, timing. Group commander is Col. Curtis LeMay [who would later be commanding general of the Eighth Air Force].
Several days later a mission to Kiel was messed up because of pre-warm-frontal cloud. Average cloud cover in this theater is 7-8/10--which really means 70%-80% of the time overcast. One of many weather limitations and hazards. [Some of the things I've seen in subsequent months and years: B-24 (Consolidated Aircraft "Liberator") groups abandon a mission because of cirrus cloud and condensation trails obscuring visibility and frustrating assembly; gunners, in unheated turrets, frozen in temperatures of -50 degrees C. at 25000 feet in November; bombardier covered with snow and ice that blew into his nose turret position in cumulonimbus cloud tops
*This section was transcribed from diary-like notes from 1943-45 which I found while cleaning my files at home at Cedarcliff in 1988. Sections were addded from recollections stimulated by the notes at the time of transcription in December,1996.
Tover the North Sea; winds so strong--commonly 90-110 mph at operational altitudes of 22-23,000 feet in intense cyclonic circulation--that fighters could not operate because of high fuel consumption, with consequent inability to provide escort for bombers on mission.]
Last week in June Capt. Check came back from his 25th mission (the last required to complete his combat obligation). It was a "milk run" over an airdrome in France. Sighs of relief from his friends when his Fort appears over the field but nerevousness when the ship fires a red flare. Downwind landing scares everyone. Engineer landed ship. German anti-aircraft fire (flak) had hit the cabin. Check killed; co-pilot seriously wounded.
July 4th. Orders in hand to move to a B-24 Liberator base--93rd Bomb Group--at Hardwick, Topcroft, near Bungay. Stayed at Thurleigh for lunch--the holiday was occasion for first ice cream since arrival in the European Theater. Got to London in mid-afternoon. Spent late afternoon walking in unusually warm, clear, sunshine in the Marylebone district and Baker Street, looking for Sherlock Holmes and Dr.Watson's quarters. Stayed the night at Red Cross Officers Club. Knew it was about time for Jane to deliver our first child, but didn't know it was happening that day.
In Club dining room encountered Lt. Haynes, whom I had come to know at the 306th Bomb Group in Thurleigh. He told story of losing two engines over Wilemshaven on his 24th mission, lost altitude, and returned across Holland "on the deck". He once ordered his crew to bail out but rescinded the order when his tail gunner reminded him that it was his (tail gunner's) 25th mission. They pulled themselves together, shot down an Me-109 (Messerschmitt fighter), shot up several flak (German anti-aircraft) boats in the Zuider Zee, and returned to base. There were others on same mission who ditched in the North Sea and returned several days later, after being picked up by Air-Sea Rescue. There are hundreds of experiences like this--luck, compasssion, heroism. Much still to be written. On to Hardwick, Topcroft, near Bungay, next morning.
Second Assignment: Hardwick
The atmosphere at Hardwick was much different than Thurleigh. Mainly a difference in personalities. The army was such as massive, sluggish, witless bureaucracy. On the other hand, so many of the problems were unique and immediate. As a result, individual personalities and work ways were generally more important than rank and regulations.
The station weather officer was 1st Lieutenant Edwin Anderson, a high-school math teacher from Dana Point, California, near Laguna Beach. A graduate of Redlands University a few years ahead of Richard Nixon, he had completed the meteorology cadet course at UCLA in March 1942. Andy was a quite straight-laced, conscientious, warm and considerate fellow. The station also had an older, master sergeant named Harry Fagerburg. A salesman in civilian life, a soft-spoken gentleman, and a first-rate analyst and forecaster, but given to inexplicable lapses in which he would disappear AWOL for several days, then reappear with evidently no knowledge of what he had done or where he had been. Andy was supportive in every possible way in the face of considerable pressure from other offices on the base to be "tough" with Harry.
I was given much more responsibility than Captain Avise had given me at Thurleigh, and I learned a lot about both operational forecasting and practical weather station operation. With more responsibility, I would have frequent phone conversations with the forecasters at division headquarters and quickly decided to go up there at first opportunity, meet the staff, see their station. Andy encouraged me. Captain Anthony (Tony) Shtogren, the division staff weather officer was cordial and obviously very competent.
The most able meteorologist on the headquarters staff was Lt. Olaf (Ole) Njus. In civilian life he had been a high school math teacher, a graduate of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota--a school previously unknown to me. He spoke economically and precicsely with an odd brogue (later, as a geographer soaking up Minnesota's character, I realized it was a Red River Valley Norwegian accent). I recall him as tall, big Viking-like frame, with a thick, loose shock of hair and hands as big as dinner plates. He had humor, the distinctive Fargo-style urbanity, decency. Ole went on to become a staff weather officer for Supreme Headquarters Allied Forces (SHAEF); I think he followed a military career, retired as Brigadier or Lieutenant General, and as of 1995 lived in New London, Minnesota.
My career from now until nearly the end of the war paralleled Andy Anderson's. He moved from Hardwick to the 2nd Division headquarters about the time I moved to a new group base near Wendling. His promotions were about the same time as mine, one rank higher. We worked together for about a year and one-half at Division headquarters. Andy was deeply religious--never touched tobacco or alcohol, never used any profanity, and prayed quite a bit. Notwithstanding, he was also apparently a superb crap shooter. He used to go to the officer's clubs at the combat bases every payday and get into the crap games. They were very high stakes; The combat officers believed strongly in a beneficent Lady Luck. Andy had a good understanding of probability; and he quietly won quite a few thousands of dollars during the course of the war--a lot of money then. He sent it all home to his wife.
A summer three-day pass allowed time for another visit to Cambridge and an extension to a service base west of Bedford to visit Carroll Roberts, former fellow-student at both DePauw and Illinois, and Alex Lapsis, who was a fellow student at MIT and weather officer at the same base with Roberts. One-day passes allowed bicycle exploration in Hardwick's neighboring area--the lovely Waveny river valley, Beccles, and once to the North Sea coast at Lowestoft. Barbed wire bordered the coast, but an opening allowed a chance to dip my foot into the Lake Superior-like surf.
In the first week at Hardwick I got word from Jane that we were parents of Dianne, and snapshots began to come in almost every letter. I was also at last promoted to 1st Lieutenant. Orders were cut August 19, 1943. Silver bars and about $20 a month more to send to Jane and Dianne. It was a great thrill.
Third Assignment: Wendling
On September 4th I joined 392nd Bomb Group as station weather officer at their base near Wendling, not far from Kings Lynn, northwest of Norwich. The 392nd had just arrived from the U.S.--fourth B-24 group to go into action in Europe. The place was terribly raw, unfinished and unready except for the runways and "hard-stands" for parking the bombers, mixture of construction equipment and military equipment milling around in a sea of cold mud. I was the Station Weather Officer and also acting Group Weather Officer (i.e., staff to the group comander). The group went on to acheive an outstanding bombing record by March 1944.
First time I'd had responsibility for setting up and running a station. A few vivid memories:
Pre-dawn briefings, dead-serious business as the group navigator and intelligence went over the route and target material with the flying officers and crews, and I laid out the weather forecast. For the sake of order, the group weather men like me were not allowed to deviate from the division/bomber command forecasts for the mission route and target. However, we were allowed to present our own forecasts for our local base weather at takeoff and return.
On a few occasions my synoptic analysis, and resulting forecast, were not consistent with those at higher headquarters. On those few occasions there was tension-relieving laughter when I'd go through the headquarters’ route and target forecast and explain it, and then present a local forecast which said that obviously I didn’t think they could possibly take off for the mission. There were always good reasons why the forecasters disagreed, and it actually gave the crews more confidence to get some insight into the complexity of the situation. A couple of times our commander called the division commander and asked him what was wrong: "My weather man knew damn well this mission was going to have to be scrubbed."
The debriefing when a mission returned was another memorable event. The guys were always exhausted; sometimes effusive, sometimes somber, depending on the success of the mission. Sometimes they knew they had demolished the target; other times they knew they had missed, or were even uncertain that they had bombed the right location; sometimes they were just purely uncertain of any results, pending the post-mission reconnaissance photos. They were always interested in the weather and anxious to talk about it, tell me what had been right and what had been wrong; and we'd interpret it together. It was a priceless teaching experience.
This was the first time since commissioning that I had been responsible for a detachment of enlisted men. I recall many of them vividly. But the clearest memories are of Private Pollock. He was a very bright, very direct, very driven Brooklyn kid for whom the normal tasks of an enlisted weather observer just weren't enough to keep him busy. Within clear limits, I gave him a pretty free hand to go out and procure scarce supplies for the station--things like graph paper, purple pencils (believe it or not) for identifying occluded fronts on the weather maps, adequate teletype paper, barometer paper, and so on. Pollock was a genius. He would be able to get a jeep and go to other bases; he bamboozled supply sergeants; he'd come back with cartons of paper and purple pencils, spare instruments and parts.
Shtogren (now Major) had warned me that he was putting Pollock in my detachment out of desperation and because I was lowest base weather officer in the pecking order; the others found him disruptive and simply begged to get rid of him. I found him extremely productive and not troublesome if you kept him busy. To be sure, that was not easy. The other enlisted men viewed him with awe and amusement. Shtogren was astonished and incredulous when, instead of asking to have him transfered, I recommended him for promotion to corporal.
Then there was Major Stonesifer, an old (age 50?) curmudgeon from Texas, WWI reserve veteran who had volunteered for WWII duty. He was the base station complement commander (i.e. cooks, janitors, guards, etc.). He fumed because the enlisted men in my weather station were on detached service from 18th Weather Squadron headquarters at European Theater Command, hence completely free of his authority. He fumed at me me because I made it clear to him that my men were exempt from KP and all other duties in which he wanted them to grovel; and reminded him that the colonel knew that. He even exploded at me one time because he found my bed unmade in mid-morning. With a smile, I told him I had been up since 4:00 a.m. preparing the forecast and briefing the mission, had just gotten a bite of breakfast, and was now going to get a little sleep as soon he got out of my quarters. What made it worse for him: I was a mere 2nd lieutenant.
One morning about 2:00 a.m. I had finished the forecast and crawled into my cold bed to get a couple of hours' sleep before briefing time. I awoke from a sound sleep with a start. Dirt and bits of plaster were falling on me from the ceiling (my quarters were on the ground floor in one corner of the concrete-block control tower, right next to the runway). Then I noticed the room was brightened by a flickering red glow through the window. An instant later there was a tremendous explosion out on the airfield, the red glow brightened, and more concrete crumbs fell on my bed.
German raid? Explosions in a bomb bay? I dressed and went across the hall into the weather station to find out what was going on. It turned out that a gasoline-powered compressor had exploded on one of the "hard-stands"--the aircraft parking places dispersed all around the perimeter of the field--while the ground crews were fuelling the planes and loading the bombs and ammunition. It had ignited a hose from a fuel tank truck. There were, of course, a couple of dozen B-24 bombers parked on those dispersed hardstands, being fueled and armed for the morning's mission. The service crew had pulled the hose away from the ship, but the flames ran to the 2700-gallon tank truck and blew it up.
Before the fire was brought under control, two more tankers went up. That's what the explosions were. Miraculously, no planes were damaged. Nor were any bombs or machine gun ammunition ignited. The briefing and mission went off on schedule; but all of us missed part of the night's sleep.
Second Division Headquarters
During the duty at Wendling, Colonel Rendle, commanding officer of the 392nd, seemed to be pleased with my service as base weather officer for the group. He often stopped in the weather station to look at maps and talk about the situation. He gave me a "superior" rating, and Tony Shtogren, the staff weather officer at 2nd Bomb Division headquarters, told me later that Col. Rendle had told him I was the best weather man he had ever had [up to that time, at least!]. In any case, I became visible at division headquarters and in December was pretty excited and gratified when I received orders to report there for duty.
I was transfered from Wendling to 2nd Division Headquarters for temporary duty on December 18 and permanently transferred December 27, 1943. Ole Njus was moving up, and the staff was enlarging. Our division headquarters were at Horsham St. Faith, an RAF base named for its adjoining hamlet, on the outskirts of Norwich, the major city of East Anglia. Shortly after my arrival, we moved to Ketteringham Hall, a rural manor house and outbuildings commandeered for the air force, between Norwich and nearby Wymondham (pronounded "Windom").
The Work Place
The Division weather station was a vast change from my small base weather office at Wendling. There was a mind-boggling amount of data available, and twenty to thirty observers worked around the clock plotting maps. Twice-daily northern hemisphere charts extended from the eastern US across the Atlantic and Europe to central Siberia, and from virtually the North Pole to the northern Sahara. Wonderful overview of the synoptic climatology of a big chunk of the northern hemisphere. The European charts (0600, 1200, 1800, and midnight) covered the area from the central Atlantic to the Urals and from NE Greenland and Spitzbergen to the Azores and Tunisia. Upper air charts and graphs over the British Isles completed the array.
The data came partly from the British Isles, the United States, Canada, the USSR, and "neutral" Sweden and Spain. The British data was transmitted on closed lines to which only the British had access. The North American and Soviet data were transmitted by radio in secret code and had to be decoded in England then forwarded over classified lines to the Division weather centrals, including ours. The Swedish and Spanish reports were broadcast uncoded to any one, friend or foe, who wanted them.
We also had a few observations from the vast area of the Atlantic. There were a couple of weather ships in the central Atlantic between Iceland and the Azores; and we had weather observation flights from southwest England to the Azores and from Wick, in northern Scotland, across the Norwegian Sea. The Germans also flew a weather reconnaissance flight in about the same path, from Bergen almost to the northern tip of Scotland. Rumor had it that the British and Nazi weather planes over the Norwegian Sea would often see each other passing. But each was unarmed and respectful of the other's work. Meanwhile, most of the reports came from many hundreds of stations in the Nazi-conrolled lands of western and central Europe.
The German meteorological service had a dense network of observing stations in all of the occupied areas. They transmitted the obs on the network by radio to outlying areas in Norway and the East. Hence the reports could be intercepted by the British, but they had to be decoded. The British decoders were highly sophisticated--apparently the world elite. I did not realize at the time that they included some of the world’s leading mathematians and physicists, developing and using some of the world’s first computers. So our maps, which were highly classified, had complete coverage from not only the Allied lands and the USSR, but from all Nazi-occupied areas and German lands, as well. For example, we had hourly observations from Tempelhoff Aerodrome in Berlin! Obs four times a day from German air bases in Egypt to the North Cape, the western Ukaraine to Brittany and Denmark!
Occasionally, though not periodically, the Germans would change their code. Then large, critically important areas of our maps would be blank. We had to carry the synoptic continuity on the blank areas by extrapolation from previous maps, and interpolation from the data for the UK, Spain, and Sweden. The latter two countries were neutral and transmited their data openly to anyone who wanted it.
The blank maps never plagued us for more than a couple of days. Then the British would break the new Nazi code. We'd make the necessary corrections in our map analyses and continuity and be back to normal very quickly.
Besides these reports from all across the northern hemisphere, the teletype was continuously printing out half-hourly reports from several hundred stations in the British Isles; so we could keep virtually continuous track of changes in local conditions for take-off, assembly, and landing.
The flood-tide of data required not only a large crew of observers and plotters but also a cadre of half-a-dozen or more analysts and forecasters. The detachment was large enough to require an administrative officer, Mark Eaton, to take care of the details for the division staff weather officer, Tony Shtogren. The weather station occupied several rooms on the ground floor of the Ketteringham manor house. The offices of the division commanding general and his staff were upstairs.
The division headquarters were the nerve center for about a dozen group bases, like those at Hardwick and Wendling, with perhaps ten thousand men and three hundred liberator bombers. More than a thousand people were stationed at the headquarters. Except for the general and his immediate staff, everyone lived in quonset huts spread over the manor grounds and interspersed with larger "temporary" buildings housing the officers club, mess halls, other offices, chapel, baths, and storage. The whole complex was tied together by a grid of paths and lanes that became a sea of mud in the prevailing rainy weather.
The Work Schedule
The move to division headquarters meant I probably would--and almost immediately did--join the operational forecasting team for the Eighth Air Force. There were sixteen of us in all--four at each of the three bomb division headquarters and four at the Bomber Command headquarters. We worked shifts in a four-day rotation, pretty much as follows:
First day 0800-1700, mainly responsible for analyzing and maintaining continuity on the twice-daily northern hemisphere charts.
Second day 0800-2200, responsible for analyzing and maintaining continuity on the European charts and monitoring and forecasting base weather.
Third day roughly a 19-hour shift: 0900 through mission takeoff the next morning, usually about dawn; responsible for reviewing and often re-analyzing the 1800 European chart and analyzing the 0000 chart, and preparing the forecast for the next day's mission. A gruelling but truly exciting time--combining art and science to analyze the array of data and create the synoptic map of fronts and highs and lows; figure out the underlying forces and resulting patterns of cloud, wind, visibility, temperature; merge your own analysys and forecast with that of your three colleagues at the other headquarters on the "scrambler" phone conferences; brief the operations and intelligence officers and the general frequently as the evening and night wore on; finally walk out into the morning weather to the mess hall for breakfast, hopefully to the background drone of the groups of Libs assembling overhead in weather that we had forecast; finally back to the chilly, dank barracks to collapse into the cold bed to catch up on sleep.
Fourth day free to attend to laundry, catch up on the news, write a long letter to Jane, bicycle to Norwich or through the neighboring countryside--and stop in the weather station to see how the mission went and begin to think about the continuing play of the northern hemisphere weather as you would confront it the next morning.
The setting and the work schedule provided plenty of tension and excitement. Among the team of mission forecasters, I was one of only a few who had no evidence of an ulcer by the time the war ended--although I suspect that the duodenal ulcer that threatened to be lethal 25 years later may well have originated then. Here are a few of the events that stand out in notes and memories.
February 1, 1944. A Lib from one of the bases iced up during assembly, spiraled from 14,000 to 500 feet before pilot got it stabilized, recovered some altitude, and made an emergency landing. Meanwhile to lighten his ship he dropped a ton of bombs in the countryside near the base. Assembly was a massive, complicated exercise. Hundreds of planes took off at the same time from a dozen or so neighboring bases in eastern England, climbed to about ten thousand feet, and followed a routine to get into formation to fly eastward across the North Sea and on to the target area. The discipline of the flight and especially the bombing run depended on getting every group and plane in the right order in the assembly. Weather conditions during assembly and over the target were probably the most critically important on the mission.
Early March (Mar 18), 1944. I worked on the forecast for two exciting, deep penetrations of the continent--the first great, successful daylight raid on Berlin (1,000 B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers). The target area was in a "col" between two high pressure cells; the main high was centered over France. The Berlin weather was clear, but a vast extent of solid undercast lay just east of the target. We bet that it would remain to the east and not move over Berlin, and we "won". On March 27 I worked on the forecast for a mission to the Bayonne area, in far southern France; first experience forecasting for a place that far south. These raids were part of the huge softening leading up to the June invasion. They were growing into a crescendo and raising doubts in throughout the German wehrmacht and civilian population despite the flood of propaganda.
April 4, 1944. Remarkable weather conditions over the base area and North Sea A northwesterly flow over East Anglia and all of the British Isles veered to northerly during the day. A low center had moved rapidly from the Faroes to the west coast of Norway on April 3. The frontal system spinning around the low was occluding, with the point of occlusion located over Denmark by April 4. A new low center developed at the point of occlusion and deepened very much and very rapidly in the southern Baltic. The resulting deepening low center aloft was centered over the North Sea.
On the west side of that low, an extremely strong northerly flow with numerous secondary cold fronts poured down over eastern England with widespread showers and deep, severe instability. Northerly winds at Downham Market (the radiosonde balloon observation station for eastern England) reached 194 knots at 27,000 feet. The extreme temperature and pressure gradient causing those winds was accentuated by very rapid warming to the west as a high ridge from the Atlantic, with a stream of unusually warm air on the back side of it, pressed very rapidly eastward over the British Isles. The ridge moved into western Ireland from 25 degrees west longitude, well out over the Atlantic, between 0700 to 1800 hrs. A strong warm front, followed by moist tropical air, was following the ridge as it sped eastward. Tropical air over-running ahead of the warm front was preceded for more than 100 miles by a thick sheet of middle and high clouds. The temperature at 18,000 feet at Downham Market warmed 14 degrees centigrade in six
hours, from noon until 1800 hrs., and the northerly winds at that level rose to well over 100 mph.
During the day of April 4 the northerly winds had been so strong and the turbulence so great that it would have been impossible to fly a mission. And by evening the clouds and rain moving in from the Atlantic were obviously going to foreclose any possible mission on the 5th.
Keeping ourselves, let alone the generals and the operations people, abreast of what was happening was a challenge. Such spectacular changes over 12 to 24 hours were not daily events, but they happened often enough to make our work truly exciting. In this case, it was getting close to the coming invasion of Normandy. The gigantic massing of troops and equipment was in full swing in the south of England; and everyone was getting a little tense.
June 6, 1944. The invasion of Normandy began yesterday. I made the forecasts for today's third and fourth waves of Liberator bombers over the targets in Normandy. All of our bombing now is tactical--against German concentrations of troops, tanks, and guns in the invasion area and immediate supply centers. The pace is terrific. The U.S. 8th and 9th Air Forces and the Royal Air Force dropped 10,000 tons of bombs yesterday--the first day of the attack--on 27,000 sorties.
June 7th. Third day of the invasion; the weather was poor. An occluded front trailed southeastward from a low centered far to the north, between Iceland and Norway. The point of occlusion on the 7th was northwest of Ireland. The cold front trailed southwest from there toward the Azores, with a wave a couple of hundred miles southwest of Cornwall. The warm front extended from the point of occlusion southward along the west coast of Ireland. The whole thing was moving eastward and would cross the British Isles during the next couple of days. Meanwhile, another occluded front was spinning slowly around the western side of a weakening low pressure center between Denmark and Norway. It passed through southern England, giving our base area a multi-layered overcast to 23,000 feet. Our crews assembled and bombed despite this, in open bands we figured would hold between the cloud decks. The medium and high cloud did not yet extend to the target area, but there was broken stratocumulus low cloud at night and broken cumulus and stratocumulus during the day.
June 8th. Another old occlusion in that persistent Danish low passed the base area, again giving multi-layered low, middle, and high cloud. Again our crews managed to assemble and bomb through the breaks over Normandy. This time we missed the forecast for the base area; we had not anticipated so much cloud for assembly. By late the 8th the occlusion from the Atlantic had reached southern England, with rain and layers of overcast from 500 to 23,000 feet. The point of occlusion was now southwest of the English Channel, and a new wave was forming there. Southern England was affected by cloud which was over-running from the new wave moving into the Channel. During the night of the 8th and 9th the warm front of the wave reached all of our base area, and the cold front was in the Midlands. The warm front cleared East Anglia during the day, but we had very thick cumulus and stratocumulus clouds in the warm sector that followed, and the cold front soon moved in. The result was much cloud throughout June 9th.
Much will be written--and indeed has been--about the stress of these days. The weather was detested, but the "weather men" were not. We had generally good descriptions and forecasts of a bad situation. Everyone was simply dead serious about the job to be done.
June 23, 1944. The first shuttle raid between USAF bases in liberated Europe and the liberated Ukraine flew on June 21st. Bud Long was on the operational shift and worked on the forecast. Three Bomber Command B-17s made the trip. Targets were near Berlin. The planes landed at a base near Kiev (actually near Poltava). All of this was in the papers. I was on the day shift and had to worry about the analysis and continuity.
Of course, there's a lot of new interest now in the synoptic analysis over the USSR, and a lot more need for it to be accurate. That task has always intrigued me. That's partly because the Russian data are so erratic and require a lot more "creative" interpretation--including knowledge of the terrain--to make sense, and partly because of the exotic places. It's always been fun to speculate on local reactions to the weather that day in Stalingrad, Archangel, Moscow, or Astrakhan.
I talked later with crew members who were on those shuttle missions. They described the base at Poltava--hordes of poorly-dressed women and old men and kids working with broken rakes and shovels to grade the runway, create makeshift shelter, incredible squalor from both the general privation of the war and the destruction as the Germans retreated.
June 23. The same day as the first shuttle raid a "polar depresssion", as the Royal Meteorological Office called them, developed in a straight, vigorous northerly flow between a deep low over northern Russia and a strong high south of Iceland. There was a very tight pressure gradient across Sweden, with isobars converging toward the south. On the 0100 hrs map we saw spectacular pressure drops in the northerly flow. At 0400 hrs there was evidence of a cyclonic vortex developing. By 0700 hrs a small, extremely tight low center had appeared, with much convergence in the lower levels over Denmark and a thunderstorm (rather rare) reported from Malmo, Sweden. There was no front in the low. But we watched the show very closely for a while, until we were sure it would not go on and affect the route of the mission via the Berlin area to Poltava, Ukraine .
There were finally three of these, in rather quick succession. They seemed to be the result of eddying around the southwest side of the Scandinavian highlands, in this very strong northerly flow. In winter the same thing occurred occasionally; and then the instability was reinforced by the thermal effect of relatively warm water over the Norwegian Sea. These effects of terrain were very important. These major effects of terrain were often overlooked by the forecasters. In retrospect, it seemed to me they were more likely to get attention from the fellows who had come into meteorology from map-oriented earth science fields like geology and petroleum engineering than from the larger number who had come in from the mathematical and physics-chemistry side.
September 1, 1944. A week of events really impressed us with the suddenness and the power of the shift from summer to winter circulation.
After a brief period of fair weather, an intense storm moved from the Atlantic eastward across the U.K., pulling the first cold air of the season south to 48 degrees north, 10 degrees west. A cyclonic flow to that region directly from Greenland. A cold front trailed back to a small shallow wave around 48N and 25 W. I first picked it up on the northern hemisphere chart August 31 NE of Bermuda.
September 2. The small Atlantic wave came NE to about 50N-10W, off southwestern Ireland and Lands End. Pressure fell precipitously--13 mb in 6 hours in SW Ireland, and west winds reached 100-130 knots at 25,000 feet over Downham Market. Rain spread to all of SE England by dawn of September 3, heavy until noon, followed by showers. The northwesterly flow that followed was strengthened as a high built up SE of Greenland. The flow became more northerly and drove cold air all the way into northern Spain. Now a new low and wave appeared on that cold front, WNW of the Azores.
September 6-7. The above small wave had deepened profoundly and, on the night of September 7, moved quickly NE across France and past the coast of East Anglia at noon. Rain began at dawn in the base area, became heavy by noon, and lasted until 1600 hrs. This center eventually moved across all of Scandinavia, deepened to 987 mb over Norway, then moved north to North Cape, then to the White Sea, and on to the Arctic archipelago of the USSR.
September 8-10. The cold air now spread across all of Spain and 300 miles south of the Azores over the Atlantic by 1800 hrs September 8. That night the cold front crossed Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. A typical low developed over the Adriatic. When cold air finally pushed past the eastern end of the Alps in Austria and Italy, on the morning of September 9, it swirled down into the Adriatic and through the great mid-Danube/Vardar valleys of Yugoslavia. Now the Adriatic low filled and moved swiftly northeastward, deepening as it crossed the Danube valley; and a high of modified polar air formed over the Balkans. There were powerful northerly winds through the Alpine passes as the cold air piled up against the mountains. By September 10th the wave had moved to northern Russia, and the cold front trailed southward to the Black Sea.
What a show! It was fun to brief the general and operations.
The entire sequence was a fine case of the polar front extending all across western Europe and the Atlantic, and drifing southeastward across North Africa. A succession of waves developed on the front and moved northeastward, with each succesive cold front driving the polar air deeper into the continent. And so came the first foretaste of the winter circulation.
Mid-January 1945. After a quiet prelude, the most memorable of all the weather series I experienced. January 15 a large high centered SW of Ireland dominated the eastern Atlantic. Systems were moving on a track east of Newfoundland to the Denmark Sea to the Faroes to the North Sea to the Baltic. All were shallow. The circulation around the high was carrying warm air as far north as the Iceland region--highly abnmormal for this time of year. The weather for our operations was benign indeed, and all of us were somewhat relaxed.
Cold air began to drop southward from the Arctic Sea ice cap on the 16th. When the cold air boundary reached about 60 degrees North on the 17th, terrific deepening set in on a small wave passing a few hundred miles south of Iceland. The central pressure fell from around 1015 mb to under 1000 mb in six hours. The center moved ESE 50 mph to the Wash, where it began to slow down. Its
central pressure had dropped from 1000 mb to 959 mb in 27 hours. The associated cold front moved 70 mph across the north-central Atlantic, slowed to 55-60 mph across the British Isles. The warm front passed our base area about 1000 hrs January 18.
There was so much deepening and convergence in the warm sector that we had solid cloud from 13,000 to 21,000 feet, lowering and thickening to 500 to 23,000 feet before the cold front arrived.
When the cold front passed our base area at 1600 hrs, the barographs rose as much as 2 millibars in 5 minutes; we could actually watch the arm move. Wind gusted to 60 mph. There was a sharp temperature decrease, though no wind shift or enduring pressure change because the low was deepening and a polar trough forming behind it at such a furious rate.
When the polar trough passed the 2nd Division base area at 0100 hrs January 19, the straight wind reached at least 85 to 100 mph. One hundred was the highest recorded at Shipdam airfield; and the anemometer blew down at that point, so we could not know how much stronger the gale had been. The wind and driving rain damaged small planes and buildings on the bases, even though we had forecast what happened and warnings had been heeded.
This storm shattered all warm flow in the mid-latitudes of the eastern North Atlantic and western Europe. The warm air gradually began to recover. Mild westerlies developed first on a Bermuda-Azores-Spain-Mediterranean track. The track gradually became Bermuda-Azores-Biscay-central Germany; then Bermuda-Biscay-England-Baltic, as warm air gathered strength and pushed the westerlies northward again. The track then became Bermuda-Scotland-Norway, then Bermuda-Northern Scotland or Faroes-North Cape. The process lasted through most of February. The whole course of weather types for weeks was determined by that one tremendous storm January 18. It brought wintry conditions and northerly weather types to Britain for a couple of weeks.
The night the storm appeared over the Atlantic was memorable. Following is my recollection, still vivid and hopefully not too distorted, more than 52 years later. I was on the operational shift. The continuity from the day-shift maps indicated persistence of the big, warm high over the Atlantic which had been controlling our weather for several days. The picture over the whole ocean area, however, depended on interpolation between land observations on Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, and the Azores, plus two lonely weather ships stationed several hundred miles south of Iceland in mid-ocean. On the 2100 GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) map January 17, the weather ships showed very large drops in pressure, overcast, and greatly accelerated south winds. I was suspicious.
If you believed their reports and drew isobars to be consistent, you inferred a rapidly deepening low, with a wide open wave fed by huge supplies of both tropical maritime air from the south and polar air from the Pole. If you then applied Sverre Pettersen's rules for estimating wind speeds and movement of fronts and waves from isobaric gradients (simple MIT synoptic lab procedure), you got a spectacularly deepening system approaching Ireland at spectacular speed and threatening catastrophic storm weather over the British Isles.
I stuck my neck out on the midnight conference, where we normally compared notes preparatory to writing the operational forecast for pre-dawn briefings the next morning. As I recall, the other members of the team, at 1st and 3rd Divisions and Bomber Command, were flabergasted and incredulous of my forecast. They had discounted the two lone weather ship obs out on the Atlantic and followed the continuity of the previous day's maps and forecasts. I explained my analysis and stuck with it but was out-voted
At midnight a cirrus overcast had appeared at Valentia--our bellweather station on the southwest Ireland coast, and the barometer had fallen very sharply. The forecaster on duty at Bomber Command called to discuss my analysis again. At 0300 hrs January 18 it had begun to rain at Valentia, the barometer had plunged catastrophically, and the wind had backed around to the southeast and risen to about force 8. A special conference was called; the others adopted my analysis, and we changed the forecast. Meanwhile, I had warned our general about the likely severe base conditions next day and unliklihood of a mission regardless of what operations was hearing from Bomber Command up to that time.
Later in the spring we spent several frustrating days during the Battle ot the Bulge. The Allied command needed bomber groups for tactical support of the struggling troops trapped by the German pincers advance. But a high pressure area over the whole East Anglian base area left us in a deep, dense fog for several days. Often we could see the color of the sky above, but the near-zero ground visibility made operations impossible. Primitive landing aids at the fields compared with what would come in the future. Only thing we could do was keep up the maps, forecast the continuing dismal outlook, and get on our bicycles and ride around the countryside. When the weather did break, intense activity followed, and Patton's counterattack soon portended the conclusion.
Some Psychology in the Forecasts
The mid-January 1945 case illustrates in some ways the importance of the psychological aspects of operational forecasting. Events did not always play out as favorably for me or for others or for the weather service as they did in that case. As I recall, a rough study by the guys at 8th Air Force Headquarters, in the liesure after V-E Day, showed that over-all we were reasonably accurate--more right than wrong--in about 80% of the mission forecasts. Interestingly, most of our mistakes came when we hedged. Conditions were most likely to be either little or no cloud or solid cloud. A call for broken cloud was usually a hedge and likely to be wrong. Mother nature was usually decisive--once she made up her mind!
There was the strain of knowing that your forecast would be read and criticized by the dozens of other weather officers who brief on it. There's the idea that crews would rather be pleasantly surprised than disappointed. There is little problem if the weather is much better than expected; but all kinds of trouble if it's much worse than expected--especially if an accident results. It creates a tendency toward over-pessimism or caution, and that can in fact be costly.
There's an obvious problem in wording forecasts so they can't possibly be misunderstood. I believe strongly in that. Wording so crews will understand. Giving a picture that will look natural to the group weather officers and crews who will be at the cutting edge. But there was always a problem in deciding when to use "will be" and the mushier "we expect to have".
At the Margins of Combat
One spring evening in 1945 there was a lot of commotion at the bomb group base nearest our headquarters. A small contingent of Libs were returning to the base at dusk after a brief tactical run over the continent, and a couple of German fighters inserted themselves into the formation of B-24s as it was circling to land in the dim light. There was exchange of machine gun fire at very low level; but I don't recall that any plane was destroyed. After a few minutes the German fighters apparently ran low on fuel and left for home. The crowd of soldiers and civilians, who had gathered from the neighborhood to watch the show, dispersed. The war was virtually over, and this was no more than a desparate public relations act. Yet it was the closest thing I'd seen to combat at one of our bases in the entire war.
In the period of alarm accompanying the Battle of the Bulge, everyone at headquarters had been issued a pistol. We were armed in the event of a surprise German paratroop landing. But, rightly, we weren't trusted to carry the weapons either in our duty offices or the officers club. So every time I went to the club I had to hang the pistol on a hook in the coat room. When I went to breakfast after the all-night operational shift I was tired and my head was still full of mission forecast concerns, and I'm a little absent-minded to begin with. Result: on three different occasions I left my pistol in the coat room, and it was, of course, "liberated" by some GI working in the mess hall, who knew where he could sell a pistol. Gradually I accumulated obligations to pay the U.S. War Department for lost pistols.
I had become a friend of Major Wilcox, an older man who was the division ordnance officer. That turned out to be fortunate. I was able to have each pistol issued retroactively somehow to an unfortunate airman who had been lost in combat. That brief period was the only time in my entire military career that I carried a weapon, and it certainly was not the most honorable part of the record.
On short one-day passes I explored the countryside in a very limited way by bus. The rural and inter-city bus network in Britain is very dense, and the service frequent. From Thurleigh I could easily take the bus into Bedford, the nearest sizeable market and light industrial center. To a newcomer from the American Midwest, the destinations of two of the bus routes radiating from the town center were amusing: "Whipsnade" (the royal zoo), and "Biggleswade". But I would eventually get used to all those funny RAF base names like "Marston on the Moor", "Barton in the Clay", and "Great Snoring" and "Little Snoring", "Full Sutton", and so on.
July 1, 1944. One of many long bicycle rides through rural East Anglia--this one from Thurleigh to Swainthorpe, among villages along the river Tas ("Taze"). That’s a small stream no more than 15 to 18 feet wide, often narrower, which joins the River Yare in the city of Norwich. Villagers have taken full advantage of its gradient and steady flow to drive small water-powered mills. Few or no windmills in operation, though many abandoned throughout the Fens and the thinly glaciated Norfolk upland. Children playing cricket on the green at Millbarton. A slow game--much slower than baseball.
Communities are smaller and much closer together than in the U.S. Rural life apparently has the same sort of amusements and gatherings, but people are much more restricted to their own small section or locality than we are at home. Farm machinery is in good evidence in Norfolk, especially tractors. Farms are much more intensively worked, yields comparatively large due to the steady rainfall distribution. Acres of poppies grow as a weed in the fields; countless other wild flowers--a very colorful countryside.
Many little country churches, majority poorly maintained, all built of flint or limestone. Flint is most common, apparently obtained from concentrations in sinkholes. The upland topography here, as in the Thurleigh area, is moderately karst. So the natives were able to find and establish "flint quarries". There are also large amounts of residual flint nodules in the topsoil, exposed by plowing. Erosion is no problem in this county--gentle rains and abundance of vegetation.
First Visit to Cambridge
On a two-day pass to take the train from Bedford to Cambridge. I found the offices of two members of the geology faculty--fortyish men who were in Kings College, unlikely combination of names, Darke and Black. They were very friendly and kind. For a novice like me it was fascinating to learn a little of the British university structure and protocols. They found a room for me in a very comfortable house. Then I was their dinner guest at the Kings College "high table"--extraordinary hospitality for a walk-on with only one semester of graduate work in geology (though my brief experiences with a seismograph party and USGS topographic branch did help a little). They found a room for me where, after dinner, I had the impressive experience of reading in the lounge, before a genuinely warm fire in the cheery grate, while William Pitt the Elder, who had lived in that very building, stared down at me from his oil painting on the wall. Spent the next morning at famous Heffer's Bookstore (I thought it was a remarkable bookstore but only learned years later that it's world famous). Took the afternoon train back to Bedford, truly renewed.
To and Through London
Colleague Al Loeber, a junior weather officer at Second Division, and I went to London occasonally. We especially enjoyed the musical comedy theater and lingering over a long teatime with Romaldo and his violin, in the very staid atmosphere of the Aldwych Tea Room, off the Strand. And Selfridge’s department store was a delightful place even in its war-time austerity.
But the black-out provided some of the most vivid memories of war-time London. The combination of smoke from literally millions of coal stoves and furnaces and exhaust from the old fleet of buses and cars, coupled with moist maritime air and light wind, could occasionally produce incredibly dense smog. With no street lights or visible building lights in the blacked-out city, it was nearly impossible to see where you were going. And of course there were nearly seventeen hours of darkness on a mid-winter day; and an overcast obscured the sun most of the time, anyway.
It was eerie to see a few points of flashlight in nothing but yellow-gray mist and yet hear all the sounds of vehicles and thousands of shuffling feet right around you. I recall one especially bad period in December 1944, when the papers reported clippies (female conductresses) walking with electric torches (flashlights) in front of the buses to find the edge of the street and show the driver where it was. And one poor fellow who got off a commuter train from Victoria station, at the familiar station where he always ot off, got into the bushes beside the platform, became hopelessly lost, and had to be rescued.
The D-Day Forecasting Team
The short passes to London took on a different flavor early in 1944. At that time Charlie Bates appeared in London. Charlie was a geology graduate of DePauw 1939, seismologist for Carter Oil 1939-42, UCLA meteorology 1943. He was exceptionally able, and after completion of the meteorology class, he was assigned for further graduate work in oceanography at Texas A & M. Now he was one of two American members of the sea-and-swell forecasting team for the upcoming Normandy invasion, based at the British Admiralty Oceanographic office.
The other American at the Admiralty office was John Crowell, temporarily absent from his graduate studies in geology at UCLA. Crowell later distinguished himself in geology and emerged as a new member of the National Academy of Sciences at about the same time as I did. (In February of 1997, while Jane and I were sojourning in San Diego, Paul Boyer suggested that we both go to a meeting and dinner the National Academy of Sciences was putting on at its western center on the UC campus at Irvine. Looking at the list of sign-ups, I noted John Crowell's name. Found him at the meeting and joined him and his wife for dinner. We had an absolutely delightful time catching up on each other's last 52 years of life and work.)
There were two Royal Navy officers on the sea-and swell forecasting team, too. I think they were concerned mainly with the wind forecast. One was Larry Hogben (pronounced "HO-ben").
Larry was a New Zealander who had come to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in mathematics and had been marooned in Britain when the war erupted. The other was Ken [F. Kenneth] Hare, a young Ph.D. in Geography from the University of London who had an extensive background in meteorology and climatology. Hare migratedd to North America after the war, and I would subsequently know him as a geography professor at British Columbia, founder of the geography department at McGill, and a president of the Association of American Geographers a couple of terms ahead of my tenure.
Larry Hogben and his wife, Elaine, lived with their two small children in a comfortable two-storey brick house in Hampstead Gardens Suburb, on the edge of London. We became good friends, and I visited them a few times at their home. The house was cold in winter, of course, and our meals were austere. When I came I always brought along something from our rations--especially Spam and canned fruit--to enhance the dinner. The first of their two children was a two-year-old girl; they used to let me practice for my return home by letting me bathe her. I think Elaine liked to be relieved of the job. Larry was especially interesting for his knowledge of meterological work from the British viewpoint, and his New Zealand background; she for her English school background and considerable travel in France.
E. A. Willson’s Arrival
Edwin Willson, Jane's Dad, came to London in mid-August of 1944. The allied invasion of the continent was rolling. The United Nations had been organized, and its Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA) had been formed to assist in the rebuilding of post-War western Europe. Edwin had resigned his position as head of the North Dakota welfare board and taken an assignment with UNRRA. His job was to organize a program to rehabilitate cattle herds on the farms of western Europe's devastated areas. As soon as he arrived, he rented a room in the West End, settled into his office, and began to formulate the program and make exploratory trips into rural Great Britain and Ireland. He was finding and evaluating sources of breeding livestock which could be distributed to farmers through agricultural agencies in the devastated areas.
At the first opportunity, I joined Edwin in London on a short leave. I stayed at the flat building where he roomed and took breakfast. I vaguely recall the Victorian surroundings but more clearly recall the austere breakfast of bony little smoked herring, bread, and tea the landlady served us. I spent the morning and afternoon in his office visiting with colleagues to whom he had introduced me, and we had lunch together at the Dorchester. The people and work in the office were quite interesting, and the experience was a real mind-stretcher. The staff were a mixture of Americans, British, and a few from the governments in exile which had been based in London following the Nazi occupations in 1940-41.
The Americans had agricultural or economics backgrounds. Two of his colleagues I encountered again later. Richard Gaumnitz had returned to his professorship of accounting at the University of Minnesota when I arrived in 1949 and actually encouraged what was probably my first foray into the world of geography applied to business. Another fellow, named Sprain, had taken leave from his job as a county agricultural agent in Texas. He was a man in his late-middle thirties who was taking advantage of the chance to have a useful, exotic experience and save some money. A couple of months later he suddenly showed up as a private plotting data at our 2nd Division weather office. Incredulous, I asked him what had happened. With understandable bitterness, he told me that a man on his local draft board didn't like him and had finally succeeded in getting him classified 1-A. The orders caught up with him in London. He was drafted, pulled out of the UNRRA office, and here he was.
I saw Edwin on a few other occasions through the spring and summer. Introduced him to the Hogbens
After the war ended, and Jane's mother, Gertrude, joined Ed in London, the Willsons became good friends of the Hogbens. I know that Larry joined International Chemical Industries--the colossal British equivalent of Dupont--after the war and became an executive. The Willsons and I all lost track of them, but Bates kept in touch. In 1997 I learned from Bates that they have retired in France; and Larry was honored by the British government, with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally presenting his award, during the D-Day 50th anniversary.
Visits to London in the months before VE-Day were always punctuated by the German V-1 "buzz bombs" and V-2 rockets. I can recall on numerous occasions hearing a buzz bomb lumbering toward an area where I happened to be, looking up from the street to see the thing passing overhead at quite low level, listening as it motored into the distance, and waiting to see if it got beyond earshot before it fell and exploded.
I recall one morning when the building shook and the mirror fell off the wall in front of me as I was shaving in my room at a London Red Cross club. An instant later I heard the explosion of a
V-2. (The rockets arrived at such high velocity, of course, that you always felt the seismic shock before you heard the explosion.) That afternoon I went out to Hogbens' in Hampstead Gardens. There in the green between the underground station and their block was an enormous muddy crater. Buildings were roped off, and windows were shattered all around the green. People said the rocket had fallen that morning about breakfast time; I suppose it was the one that I had heard and felt.
Londoners were truly stoic in that period. The strikes were few enough and localized enough that everyone knew that the chances were small that one of "the bloody things 'az moi nime awn it". But the destruction was great where they hit.
By contrast, after VE-Day, the lights were up, joy ruled in the street crowds, there was more food--some of it downright luxurious, like the fresh grapes from the liberated Channel Isles.
For a few days in November, 1943, Bob Norris--an MIT classmate--and I travelled on leave to Torquay and Cornwall. Bob was stationed at a B-17 base; I had joined him in London. From childhood I had been intrigued by the self-contained, picturesque fishing villages of the Channel coast as they appeared in National Geographic pictures. Torquay was a classic; I had once modeled it in my sandbox!
We visited with an RAF (Royal Air Force) navigator-observer from base at Benson on the Paddington (London)-Torquay train. He flew in RAF Mosquitos--the famed wood-frame, unarmed, extremely fast, maneuverable, high-altitude British plane, same model that carried Churchill on missions to Moscow--on photo reconnaissance work at 35-40,000 feet. He had a remarkable general knowledge of metropolitan London and geography of the continent. "Safest job in the war! Like to go in soon after a raid, because things are pretty messy and 'Jerry' doesn't like to sound the alarms again so soon after a big raid." He told of a trip up to Britain from North Africa with an American photo reconnaissance unit in a B-17--a "happy-go-lucky crew" under Colonel (Elliott) Roosevelt. He ('the British fellow') flew the plane while the crew ate sandwiches. He expressed high regard for the U.S. men and equipment.
November 4. Bob and I departed Torquay in pre-dawn murk and fog (typical!). We failed to get off the train from Torquay to change for the Penzance train at the junction station of Newton Abbott. We were aware the train had stopped, and we could hear commotion, but we could see nothing of the station or signs. The fog was so thick we literally could not see people walking on the platform just outside of our compartment. While we were trying to figure out where we were, the train pulled out. We were relieved; we thought, "Yes, we were right not to get off--that wasn't yet our stop." But the train quickly stopped again, and the engine chuffed away leaving our carriages on a siding in the countryside, empty except for us. We realized that not only was that station back there Newton Abbott, but that was as far as this train was going. We climbed down to the track and eventually thumbed a ride with the "driver" of a little switch engine that emerged from the fog.
As a result of taking a later local train we got to spend some time at Plymouth. The ruins from German aerial bombing were appalling, and so complete. We talked with a woman who had been through the raids and helped evacuate elderly and children up to the moors at night. We also mused over the modest bronze plaque where "a small group of religious dissidents [our Pilgrims], after several days of farewell events and much well-wishing by neighbors, sailed to North America" in 1620. The plaque was much exceeded in size by an adjacent one commemorating the laying of the first iron water pipes in Britain here at Plymouth in the 18th century. Thus we learned that, contrary to what some of us Americans might think, the voyage of the Pilgrims was not the most important thing that ever happened in Plymouth.
November 4 and 5 we stayed at an inn at Penzance, in southwestern Cornwall. The weather was chilly and foggy when we arrived in the afternoon and took a bus to Land's End, through villages where Roman tin mines had operated two millenia earlier, and out to the southwesternmost tip of Britain. Fog rolled in from the Atlantic as we followed footpaths through the coastal moors. Before we reached the bluffs, our route was blocked by miles of barbed wire entanglements paralleling the coastal bluffs. (Don't forget, the nearby Channel Isles and Brittany coast were Nazi-occupied.)
The weather turned mild and partly sunny the next day, and we walked miles through the rolling countryside to the legendary fishing port of St. Ives--many pleasant conversations along the way--including one with a descendant of a Cornish miner who said he had an American cousin in "Hyo-eye-yo". Midday meal in a delightful St. Ives tearoom and unforgetable, close observation of hideous, freshly-caught stingrays piled on the quay.
Bicycling in the Cotswolds
September 20-23, 1944. Charles Bates and I bicycled from Oxford to Burford, Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Camden, Broadway, Stratford-on-Avon, then we put our bicycles in the baggage car and climbed into the carriage of the train to Warwick. We cycled to Warwick Castle and Leamington Spa, then train back to Oxford. The Cotswold villages were picturesque, quiet, beautiful, pretty much untouched by the war. It was a truly memorable break from the stress and strain of military operations and the urban civilian scene. Stratford was thrilling for the Shakespearean lore, but very much commercialized--American servicemen had compensated for the pre-war civilian tourists. A modern Great Western Ry station and modern industrial plants in evidence at Leamington. We didn't get to the spa area; the part of the community we saw looked like many U.S. light industrial towns and noticeably lacked German air destruction.
First Journey to Scotland
During November, 1944, Lt. Adolph (Al) Loeber and I took a one-week pass and travelled to Scotland. British friends told us we were crazy to go at that time of year, but we argued that we simply wanted to see the place in the kind of weather it has most of the time. We took the local from Norwich to Ely, where we caught the threadbare wartime version of the famous "Flying Scotsman" train to Edinburgh and spent the first day seeing the castle and sights of the city.
Early on the second morning we were crossing the famous Firth of Forth bridge and heading north through Perth. Spent mid-day winding slowly over the rugged Grampians and back down to sea level at Inverness. The treeless sheep country, rocky crests, and villages of thick-walled stone cottages on locally snowy ground were unlike anything I'd seen so far in the U.K. The morning was still and cold in Edinburgh; we were in the middle of a high-pressure ridge. By the time we went over the Grampians the ridge had moved off to the east, strong southwest wind had set in on the western side of the high, and a high cirrus cloud overcast from the next front moving in from the Atlantic hid the low early-winter sun. Laundry was standing straight out in the wind on clotheslines outside the lonely stone cottages.
We took a bus out of Inverness southwestward along the River Ness and the north shore of Loch Ness, near the lower end of the loch. We were following the spectacular down-faulted Caledonian trench which runs NE to SW from Inverness on the North Sea side of Scotland to Fort William on the Atlantic side. Darkness soon fell (about 3:30 in the afternoon), and we decided to get off the bus when it stopped at a small inn. The dining room and lounge were cozy--seemed all the moreso whenever someone opened the door to go in or out. For the southwest wind had now become a gale with massive cloud and driving rain, as the front coming from the Atlantic moved closer. Our upstairs room was cold, but the inkeeper provided us with big cork-sealed crocks filled with hot water, to put under our quilts. He called the warm crocks "Dutch mistresses"--interesting cultural symbolism.
Next morning the front had passed, mild air was now flowing in from the central Atlantic, the gale had subsided, but a 30-mile-an-hour southwest wind raced low clouds across the sky. The view from the inn was striking. Across the road a narrow footpath wound eastward across rolling moorland down to the shore of the loch. A mile or so down the path, on a rocky point in the lake, stood the ruins of a small red stone castle from medieval times. Beyond that the dark gray, white-capped waters of the loch, against a distant background of the green hills, a couple of miles away on the other side of the great down-faulted trench. It was a gentle landscape, yet wild at the same time. The moor showed the close-clipped, stony surface of a thousand-year-old sheep range; the loch was beautiful, yet stormy in the powerful southwesterly wind; but there was not a sign of a single soul in the whole scene that spread out below us.
Not a soul except whoever inhabited one tiny, lonely cottage about half way across the moor to the ruined castle. Walking the path we soon reached the cottage--vine-covered, on a tiny plot surrounded by a picket fence covered with thorn shrub. A wizened elderly little lady came out to the front gate beside the path and whispered, "Would ya like ta see the foot o' the monster?" We figured this might be as close as we'd ever get to the fabled Loch Ness Monster, so we let her lead us inside. She had an object that looked like an old black leather glove, that had been soaked for a year or two in water before some hawk claws were glued to it. She said a team from the Royal Society had come up to look at it and said indeed it looked like the real thing; but she was probably the best person to be custodian of it.
Back at the inn we caught the next bus southwest along the loch and the Caledonian canal, arriving after noon in the fishing port of Fort William, at the head of a deeply indented fjord on the west coast. The deep low that had produced our spectacular weather sequence had now moved north of Scotland, and the wind had veered around to the northwest. Cold air was now pouring south from Iceland and the polar ice cap. Six-mile-high cumulus clouds tumbled over the mountains to the northwest, crossed the fjord, and piled up against 4500-foot Ben Nevis behind the town, to the southeast. An icy gale swirled between the nearly-windowless stone cottages and shops along the winding cobbled streets. Driving rain showers, sleet, hail, snow showers, thunder, and short-lived "bright intervals" made awesome weather. A few citizens went about their business leaning into the blustering gale in black rubber "sou-westers". No use waiting for this to abate; so we walked the whole town. Whatever weather comes next will be different but no better, maybe worse. Amidst this, we found a cozy rooming house. When night fell about 3:30 in the afternoon, we holed up, read newspapers, and talked to the landlady about this country and her view of the world.
Next morning we had a breakfast of eggs, jam, honey and even butter (that's how far we were from the war) on good home-baked bread. Then to the railway station in the 9:00 am pre-dawn darkness for the train to Glasgow and on back to Norwich.
To Northern France after Liberation
April 20, 1945. Flew to France in the morning. Landed for fuel at Villacoublay, a southwest suburb of Paris. Severe damage to the airstrip and hangars from U.S. bombing before the Normandy invasion. Capt. Homer Bell, from our 2nd Division headquartes, who flew us, had been a B-24 pilot in the Villacoublay raid. (Villacoublay was the intended destination of band-leader Major Glenn Miller’s ill-fated flight from England in December, 1944.)
Our route took us over the Channel towns of Dungeness, Calais, Boulogne, and over Abbeville. Buzz bomb scars numerous around Dungeness, along the bomb alley to London. Calais and Boulogne very badly smashed. All hills were trenched and had been heavily shelled, where British and Canadians had fought northward along the Channel coast from Le Havre to Pas de Calais. Airfields all badly bombed and further damaged by German demolition in retreat.
After Villacoublay we circled Paris several times at about two thousand feet--a beautiful city from the air. Then up the Oise river valley to Chantilly-Criel area. Landed near Criel, spent the day with Capt. Carl Behm, a medical corps doctor from Long Island, N.Y., who had charge of a U.S. hospital near there. He drove us in his Jeep through much of Criel and adjoining countryside, including two of numerous Rothschild chateaux. Railroads on very limited schedules, with much rolling stock destroyed, bridges knocked out, little coal.
Met numerous French people; all were very friendly and open. It helped that Capt. Behm had made himself fluent in French, with a Long Island accent that the local people seemed to love. Not much food in the shops. People clad in rags, very poor. Many women, few men. Hitler's plan? There had been widespread sterilization of French men reported in slave labor camps in Germany, high venereal rate in German army and infection of many French girls. Illegitemacy was advocated. Let all Eurpean women bear the children of German males and breed a German army that would easily conquer the world? Sort of the back side of the Jewish policy. Seems incredible; yet there it was. We may not understand for years to come his madness and how close the plan came to working, let alone how he came to power.
Over the Low Countries and Rhineland after V-E Day
May 5, 1945. The war in Europe ends. It's almost anticlimactic. But our tense operational forecasting schedule suddenly ends. To be sure there is still the unknown future for us in the Pacific. Nevertheless, I gained 10 pounds in one week (150 to 160), and remained at the new level! That was evidently a measure of the effects of the nervous energy demanded by the war-time tasks.
May 7, 1945. Bill Wambold (Division operations officer and former combat pilot who had long ago completed his missions) and another pilot flew several of us nearly all day in a B-24 at 1000 to 2000 feet from East Anglia to Brussels-Stavelot-Bad Kreuznach-Ludwigshafen-Mannheim-Aschaffenburg-Frankfurt-Wiesbaden-Koblenz-Bonn-Cologne-Duren-Aachen-Brussels and return to East Anglia. Just two days after the German surrender. Impressions--
Outstanding feature was condition of transportation facilities. In Belgium canal boats were fairly numerous. All rail lines we saw appeared to be in use, though the approach to the Brussels central station from the north appeared to be entirely abandoned and torn up--probably done during later stages of the German occupation. Rolling stock appeared limited, as in France--especially locomotives. No traffic on highways except Allied military convoys. In Germany obviously no effort has been made to restore any railroad lines except those needed to supply the Allied armies.
A few trains seen--loaded with Allied tanks and military supplies, and a few trains moving coal westward from the Ruhr mines toward Belgium and France. Only a few of these mines appear to be in operation. Remainder of the rail lines--the very great majority of mileage seen--completely paralyzed. Many bridges down; large, empty, rusting marshalling yards; other yards filled with long lines of freight cars but no locomotives. to move them, and no bridges--except ruined overpasses blocking the tracks. Rural roads completely empty except for a few pedestrians--over the entire route.
Autobahns fairly busy with Allied trucks and Jeeps tearing madly to and from the east. In Brussels trams very numerous. In German cities, no question of any kind of service save a few isolated bicycles. Incidentally, the autobahns are impressive. Four lanes, no sharp curves or steep grades, lanes divided; grade separations at all rail and important road intersections; by-pass all cities. One near Mannheim was incomplete; the Germans had obviously been working on it until relatively recently.
Second major impression: farm fields generally under cultivation, though few people seen working in the fields. It's probable that much of the plowing had been done last fall, but spring planting has been paralyzed.
Third impression: the cities--largely demolished in Germany; not bad in much of Belgium (more like France). Ludwigshafen and Mannheim appeared to have about half their houses damaged or destroyed; central sections completely destroyed; vast I. G. Farbenindustrie plant at Ludwigshafen levelled. Aschaffenburg was apparently a modern city, very badly damaged. Frankfurt badly damaged, with large areas demolished. Cologne: no building escaped damage; over 90 percent are roofless and completely gutted. Large sectors in central part of the city completely levelled. Cathedral stands miraculously; given the RAF night "carpet" bombing technology, it could not have been missed deliberately.
All rail yards somewhat torn up, with no locomotives, and only small numbers of rail cars--broken, sometimes overturned, twisted, rusting, scattered throughout the yards and sidings. Cathedral least damaged building I saw, even though large areas adjacent to it are levelled. Streets filled with rubble, sometimes blocked by collapsed buildings. A few people walking in the streets, More people in the streets in rural villages. This is in line with the fact that that many non-combatants took sanctuary in the villages; and the cities were essentially battlegrounds and industrial garrisons. Rural villages generally almost intact except where they were in line with our spearhead tank advances, the latter places being almost thoroughly demolished.
Most factories were wrecked.
Large Prisoner-of-War compounds scattered over the countryside. Fences around them but little else in the way of structures; men sitting in clusters or milling around. There has been no time as yet to build shelters, with prisoners pouring in by the thousands.
A lot of rural electrification and dense network of high-voltage transmission lines.
General impression: Germany was highly developed; Hitler was crazy; Germany today is a wreck. It obviously can and will be rebuilt. But how long will it take and in what sort of relationship to the rest of the world?
Back to Scotland and the Trossachs
In early June Al Loeber (now captain) and I decided to take a week's leave and re-visit Scotland--in spring rather than the dead of winter. Again we took the Flying Scotsman to Ediburgh. Spent a couple of days again visiting the castle and musuems, basking in the street-light and lively crowds in Princess Street, taking in a Clifton Webb movie. Some contrast from our visit in November of 1944! Not only have the lights gone up since VE-Day, but there is some sunny weather, we have about 18 hours of daylight, the fields and parks are green, with flowers everywhere.
Then north into the edge of the Highlands via Stirling and a stubby local train to Callendar, and on by local bus to the hotel at the Trossachs--a resort district about 30 miles north of Glasgow. The three-story frame hotel was delightful, clean, well-kept, large dining room with windows all around. Music in the lounge after dinner. Filled with a variety of interesting people from England and Scotland.
A small lake lies below the hotel entrance. But there are many other lakes nearby. The largest is Loch Katrine, with Ellen's Isle--famed in Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake--only a short walk. Rowboat and picnic on the loch. A three-mile climb through heath and moor led to the top of Ben Venue, with Ben Lomond looming to the west, then misty layers of ranges and fjords toward the far away Ross of Mull and Sound of Rhum. A five mile walk along a hilly, winding road got us to the village of Aberfoyle and its Baillie Nicol Jarvie pub, where Robert Burns wrote some of his most notable poetry. A Sunday morning hike to a tiny, rural Presbyterian chapel. We joined the handful of bucolic neighbors for worship and listened to a most remarkable, long sermon vividly warning us all of the imminent danger of hell-fire and damnation, with about five minutes devoted to condemnation of "promiscouous dancing" and lesser sins being committed by Scottish girls in the name of hospitality for visiting American soldiers. The latter might well have been a footnote especially for the two very conspicuous guests in US uniform.
The area was idyllic. I wished so much that Jane were with me; made a pledge to come back with her some time. (We did return in September of 1979. Flew Bergen-Stavanger-Aberdeen-Edinburgh locals en route from Moscow to Minneapolis. Drove up from Edinburgh. Found the hotel seriously run down, though they gave us their best room. The place had become the victim of jet-age competition and Glasgow exurbanization. The newest owner was a working family from Glasgow. We were the only guests until a busload of mostly dour, elderly, proletarian Germans arrived for late dinner and the night. The owner had hired a musician--fiddle and accordion--to play Scottish folk dance music in the evening. But Jane and I were the only dancers. The Germans sat stiffly along the walls of the room and left after about half an hour. We found that a remarkable amount of the area's moor land had been forested by the UK's equivalent of the US Forest Service--even the signs matched USFS color and format. It's still very lovely country.)
While at the Trossachs in 1945 I got acquainted with a young British army officer who had come up to recuperate after his return from the Mediterranean theater. He left the day before I did and invited me to stop in Edinburgh the next day and visit his family's home there. He and his sister and widowed mother welcomed me warmly in their spacious Victorian house in an elite part of the city. They used what must have been a month's petrol ration for a long excursion around the city in their car, then gave me high tea. They had some tins of crab they had been saving since 1939 for the right occasion after the end of the war. This was the time to open one. Later that evening at the Red Cross club, not only did I skip dinner, but I had the most severe, painful stomach upset of my life; literally thought I was going to die. But obviously Mother Nature thought the time had not yet come!
In Marseilles for the First Bastille Day after Liberation
After the German surrender, I was assigned to a newly-formed bomb wing as staff weather officer. We spent July and August1945 at a former B-17 base at Alconbury, in the Midlands, awaiting the move back to the States and on to Okinawa for support of the invasion of Japan.
A junior officer about my age, Lieutenant Olson, and I found that a B-17 flew every day from Alconbury to an airfield on the French Mediterranean coast near Arles, a short distance west of Marseilles. Through Jimmy Stewart I arranged for Olson and me to fly to Arles on that plane. It turned out we were on the flight down on July 13 and return on July 15; so by chance we'd be in Marseilles on the first Bastille Day after liberation--July 14, 1945.
We went out to the plane at dawn on the morning of the 13th and were surprised to learn that we would make the trip sitting on top of a pile of used lumber that filled the entire bomb bay. It was awful lumber--dirty, lots of rot, nails still in it. The pilot said they were flying a planeload of it every day to Arles. The army was building a very large new airfield there for purposes of ferrying the entire American fleet of DC-3 and DC-4 transport planes in Europe back to the States for redeployment to the Pacific. The pilot said the buildings for the base were all pre-fabs shipped from the States; they included structures for virtually every purpose, except that there were no latrines. The base commander needed lumber at once to build latrines. He had been stationed in the bomber base area of East Anglia and the Midlands for a couple of years; he knew he could procure used lumber back there. And he did. People would tear down all sorts of obsolete barns and urban buildings for the cash. A perfectly plausible story. In any case, I figured that if the lumber had zero value at Alconbury, allowing for the cost of transport, it was worth $40 a board foot at Arles!
By noon we had bummed a ride on a supply truck in the hot sun to the ocean front on the Mediterranean. There were a half dozen local people on the several miles of beach. There was a lot of barbed wire entanglement from the German occupation. But it had been cut and pushed aside at many places to allow access to the strand. Olson and I basked in the sun and swam in the 75-degree surf throughout the afternoon. It was an ecstatic luxury after more than two years of the cool summers and raw winters and almost perpetual cloud and drizzle and wind of Britain.
At the end of the afternoon we again got a ride on a 2 1/2-ton supply truck into Marseilles. The truck was carrying a half-dozen sweaty German prisoners under guard of a couple of American soldiers in the open box. We were objects of great interest to the German enlisted men, probably in part because our demeanor was so different from their Wehrmacht officers. I was able to muster enough German to learn a little about the kid who was sitting next to me. Our conversation began when he astonished me by bending over and, with the sleeve of his fatigue jacket, wiping the dust off my shoes. He was fourteen years old, had been mustered in only a few weeks earlier in the last desperate days of Hitler's war effort. He was thankful to be alive and at peace. He thought the Americans must be the true master race, and the German leaders must have been stupid and also dishonest and unfair with their people. How else could he explain what had happened to him and his community since he was 9 years old?
In Marseilles we found a place to sleep in a partly finished four-story masonry building which had been started as a French marine barracks then occupied by Nazi forces. It was extremely dusty and austere shelter, but there were water taps and latrines on the grounds. Next day we spent all of Bastille day roaming the streets of central Marseilles. The waterfront area had sustained considerable damage, but most of the city was intact, only quite squalid and threadbare, with too few trams, ancient autos, quite a few bicycles and a considerable number of horse-drawn carts. People were rather poorly dressed but rejoicing in their freedom and the re-birth of their country. We ate a lot of bread, a little fruit, and a couple of expensive, microscopic ice cream cones at curbside stands on the boulevards and soaked up the strange and stimulating sights.
Next morning we got back to Arles, found our B-17 and its crew, and headed back north. The plane was empty now--flying back for another load of used lumber, so we could sit on bucket seats behind the crew. While we were flying up the Rhone valley at about 8,000 feet, I noticed a little stream of gasoline running from the cap down the wing and spraying into the exhaust of one of the engines. I pointed to it as I tapped one of the crew on the shoulder. Conversation follwed between the sergeant and the officers in the cockpit. The ground crew at Arles had not tightly replaced that cap when they finished filling the left wing tank. We soon circled and made an emergency landing on a military strip near Lyon. The runway was pitted with bomb craters from demolition when the Luftwaffe abandoned the field, and repairs had been minimal. It was a very rough landing.
Our crew tightened the cap and then noticed that a sharp broken pavement edge of one of the bomb craters had torn a big piece out of one of the tires. The pilot decided to try to fly home anyway, despite the risk of a blowout on either takeoff or landing. Either one could have caused a crash. He took off and landed very skillfully, with minimal pressure on the bad tire; although we had the excitement of having the disaster crews and equipment standing by at Alconbury when we landed. I doubt if we had had especially bad luck; rather, I expect that incidents like this happened so often that if you flew much at all, you'd experience one.
The Closing Months
The tone of the news began to change once the Allies began to move inland in Normandy, and expecially with the invasion of the Rhineland. Two examples from my notes.
July 9, 1944. London papers tell of our great military gains on the Russian, Italian, and French fronts. Also the chaos over by whom and how liberated France is to be run, and the emerging human difficulties previously unsuspected at the abstract level from which most of us have been viewing wartime life on the continent. Whom and how to punish French as collaborationists--degrees of collaboration, personal friendships. Inability to carry out Algiers Committee policy on suspending ex-collaborationist newspapers. Problems of authority of refugee governments. Risk of tyranny by the "resistance elements" after the Nazis retreat. We also read of the precarious development of the International Monetary Conference. Cautious suggestions in the British press that perhaps all the post-war ideals for British society won't be achieved. Etc., etc. It will be interesting to observe just what impression this war leaves ultimately on the political pattern of society. It will take a long time to play out.
March 3, 1945. Listened to Radio Madrid's English language broadcast at a Red Cross club in London this evening. Nightly discussion of foreign affairs, from General Franco's point of view. The commentator told the English how they should wash their hands of the Soviet opressors and make sure that peace-loving countries, "which have managed to stay out of the this war", are not victimized by a "dictatorship of the three big powers". He noted that the help of nations which have been at peace is needed for post-war reconstruction. All the reasons Franco could think of for kind treatment of Spain, which meant "Franco". Of course, Franco sees the handwriting on the wall now: Mussolini has folded; Hitler will soon; Franco has to position himself, if he can, in the new European power alignment that will follow.
With the approaching end of the war, our team at 2nd division weather central began to break up, with personnel shuffling looking ahead to the shift of forces from Europe to the Pacific. The foursome of Bud Long, Mark Eaton, Al Loeber, and I moved off in different directions from the quonset hut we had shared for well over a year.
Bud Long and I were promoted to the rank of major in late winter of 1945. In spring Bud was re-assigned to Bomber Command headquarters at High Wycombe, just west of London. That was the beginning of his move into a career in regular army, in weather research and administration. He eventually retired in the 1970s as a Major General. I also did a couple of weeks temporary duty at High Wycombe right after V-E day. I didn't like the place, simply because the weather station was under ground--a carry-over from the earlier need for security from German air attacks. But the result: you couldn't look out the window--no way to check the numerical weather data on the teletype against the way it actually looked. I have never liked to do any kind of earth science description without field work. I had avoided war-time suggestions that I move to the headquarters at High Wycombe for that reason.
That short stay in High Wycombe, however, did give me a chance to go swimming in the Thames (far more polluted then than it is now); and to stand in a crowd in the central square and see and hear Winston Churchill deliver a campaign speech for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Though wearing his standard dark suit and bowler, he was short, pudgy, rosy-faced, not as I had expected him to be; and he talked not about the war and the world, but about milk for babies and holding down rents for scarce housing. But the experience did not change my heroic image of him. Meanwhile, the campaign clearly foreshadowed the Labor-Government era to come in Britain.
When our foursome broke up in May, I moved into very comfortable quarters with division ordnance officer, Major Paul Wilcox. Among the tasks he had after V-E Day was the decommissioning of base libraries. He showed me a quonset hut filled to the roof with piles of books which he was trying to figure out what to do with. One big part of the collection was high school and college texts. I began to spend my growing amount of spare time browsing through this stuff, pulling out books in the earth sciences that looked interesting.
I came across a copy of Elements of Geography, by V. C. Finch and G. T. Trewartha, professors of geography at the University of Wisconsin. I read the book carefully because it seemed to me to be a combination of geology, meteorology, and cartography, implicitly applied to the understanding of human use of the earth. It struck me as something that might give me an opportunity to combine an interest in college teaching, developed at DePauw, with my experience in both meteorology and geology and an unarticulated lifetime interest in human settlement patterns. Unlikely that anything would come of it, but the thought stuck in the back of my mind. I had no idea at that time where it would lead.
Turning Toward the Orient?
On June 10, our third wedding anniversary, orders came transferring me to the 2nd Bombardment Wing. That was a new Wing of the Air Corps, created to go back to the States, pick up B-29s, and head for Okinawa to enter the forthcoming campaign against the Japanese homeland. I was the Wing Staff Weather Officer. The job would eventually carry a heavy responsibility, and the specified rank was Lieutenant Colonel.
The 2nd Wing was based at the old RAF and B-17 field at Alconbury, in the Midlands, pending the move to the U.S. and the Orient. Perhaps half a dozen of us senior staff officers had very comfortable quarters in individual rooms in the same one-story cinder block hut. My house-mates included Jimmy Stewart, the movie actor, as operations officer; a very bright, enthusiastic young colonel, like Stewart, a flying officer, as wing commander; a decent, solid fellow about my age from the Wisconsin Fox Valley, graduate of St. Norbert's; another quiet thoughful engineering officer about my age who was a West Virginian and graduate of the university at Morgantown; a former high school music teacher from Killdeer, North Dakota; and a former regular army sergeant who had received a field commission and was now a major. The latter two spent most of their time romancing English women while talking wistfully about their wives back home. It was a disparate group. On one hand, James Stewart was very decent, unassuming, good-humored, and thoughtful. At the other extreme, the one-time sergeant was one of the two most profane, crude, officers I encountered in the army.
I don't mean to generalize about one-time sergeants; Harry Fagerberg, at Hardwick, and Sgt. Broussard, who educated me during my first assignment as base weather officer in Brookley Field, Alabama, were as fine genetlemen as one could wish to know. Moreover, all of my impressions were one-sided. The whole bunch of us at Alconbury had no assigned or necessary work to do; we were just killing time. So we had no occasion to work together, each to see what the others were good at, or to learn to depend on one another.
So time dragged somewhat heavily at Alconbury. I did a little canoeing in the fens around Godmanchester, on the River Ouse ("ooz") with a friend who had been at one of the B-17 division headquarters, bicycled around the vicinity, made one last trip to Cambridge as a soldier, and spent a lot of time in the weather station. The base weather officer was a friendly lieutenant, about my age, whom the war took temporarily from his job as a high-school bandmaster in Des Moines. He had a wife and baby child at home to whom he was truly devoted.
One corner of his station was piled high with six-hourly weather maps from the time the station opened in 1943. They were the unclassified base station maps, so they had only the British Isles and neutral country data. But the neutral country data meant that they included reports from Spain. Hence they gave me a chance to spend time analyzing the movement of fronts and resulting winter weather changes over the very copmplex terrain of the Iberian peninsula--and to do it liesurely, not under the pressure of mission and briefing deadlines. I had longed to do that. The influence of Iberia, the Pyrenees, and Alps was always challenging. So I spent a lot of days enjoying that retrospective excursion in Lt. Victor Gunn's weather station. We'd take coke and lunch breaks to compare notes about our wives and families.
In August several of us were in our quarters after lunch when the news of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima came over Armed Forces radio. There was enormous excitement. Our enthusiastic young deputy commander came into the room and said he believed this was the beginning of a new era in man's power over nature and in the exploration of the universe. He moved to the idea that we'd soon be exploring the moon, and he was going to try to get himself on the first expedition. (He did not, so far as I know; he might have changed his mind later.) Meanwhile, though, we were still in limbo; so I went back to analyze a few more old weather maps over Spain. When the news of Nagasaki and the Japanese surrender came in a couple of days, the celebration broke out. We went to the officers' club for dinner, and Jimmy Stewart bought martinis for all. We all had too many; although Stewart and I and two others did not continue the celebration but returned right after dinner to retire for the evening and count our blessings.
Redirected Toward Demobilization
The next couple of weeks seemed like an eternity. At last the orders came to return to the U.S. on the Queen Elizabeth sailing from Southampton August 25. We went by convoy to Bedford and boarded a troop train for the port. We were travelling in railroad cars borrowed from the fish trains--the fast specials that carried unrefrigerated fish from the ports to London each day. The floors had been hosed, and a few benches and chairs provided for the officers (GIs were in different cars and could stand, sit, or recline on the floor.) The smell was overpowering and permeated clothes and baggage. But no one cared.
When the train pulled onto the dock alongside the QE that afternoon, I was amazed by the size of the ship. It was more than a thousand feet long, height of an eight-story building; oil-burning engines generated 92,000 horse power. It had been loading for a couple of days; and by the time we sailed in the evening, 15,000 men had boarded. Eight of us from the 2nd Bomb wing shared a stateroom. Comparative luxury: above the water line, with porthole, four double-deck bunks, and a private bath. The GIs were in the bowels of the ship, with crowded bunks and hammocks. The officers ate in shifts in what had been the grand dining room. The room was crowded with many extra tables, but it was still grand, and the GI food was good.
We had two rough and stormy days in mid-Atlantic but otherwise moderately rolling sea and partly cloudy weather. During the storm the ship listed and pitched pretty heavily. Most of the guys became seasick and stayed in their bunks. Mathews, the West Virginia engineer, and I seemed to be least affected. We spent a good deal of time on the deck being awed by the mountainous waves
--they must have been 50 feet high--and the power and stability with which the ship plowed through.
On the morning of August 31 we sailed slowly past the Statue of Liberty and the Battery, past the lower Manhattan skyline and into the Cunard slip on the Hudson at mid-town. Indescribable feelings. Buses took us to Penn Station, thence by train to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, for processing. As the train emerged from the Hudson tunnel and raced through Hoboken, it was a shock to see that the slums looked as bad as the slums of London. The next morning I was walking from the officers' barracks to the headquarters when I was astonished to see Jane's brother, Frank Willson, coming toward me. Frank was an enlisted man, recently drafted and assigned to the Signal Corps, and stationed at nearby Fort Monmouth, N.J. Somehow he had learned I was coming home on this sailing of the QE and came over to look for me. It was a wonderful reunion.
That day we got word that I would be sent to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, for release. That was the base serving men from the Upper Midwest, and my "home" address was currently Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. Jane and Dianne had been living there all summer, in a small rental cottage on the shore of Lake Sally at Shoreham, waiting for me. They had left Bismarck when Gertrude had sold the Willson home and furniture to join Edwin in London. I also received orders to travel by troop train leaving the Camp that night, September 1. I don't remember doing so, but I must have gotten word to Jane at Detroit Lakes and my Mother and Dad in Crown Point.
Our troop train to Camp McCoy was a long string of ancient coaches and modified box cars to carry GIs, baggage, and food counters, plus some ancient Pullman cars for the officers. We left Kilmer in the middle of the night, crossed the Susqehanna at Harrisburg at dawn, crawled slowly down the Great Valley--mostly obscured by fog--to Hagerstown. In mid-afternoon we stopped at Cumberland, where USO volunteer women fed us sandwiches and lemonade and waved flags. Once again, I was somewhat shocked by the dilapidated shape of the city and the widespread squalor. It was dark when we rolled through Pittsburgh; I could only see the red glow of the mills and lights along the Monongahela and wonder what kind of shape that city was in. My mind did flash back to the countenance of William Pitt the Elder staring down at me in the lounge at Cambridge and wondered what his family would be saying if they could be with me at this moment.
We got into Chicago the next morning. The feeling of exhilaration and relief and extreme comfort of destruction-free and relatively prosperous America was overwhelming. Yet, again, riding through the Calumet industrial region and the city, you became acutely aware of how far the nation had fallen behind on its maintenance and housekeeping as a result of fifteen years of depression and war.
We rolled on through the Wisconsin hills and reached McCoy by late afternoon. There I received orders granting me 45 days Rest and Recuperation leave.
I must have taken the train to Crown Point, via Chicago, as soon as possible, spent a day greeting Mom, Dad, and relatives, borrowed the family Studebaker, and headed for Detroit Lakes.
I drove to St. Paul on September 5, via U.S. 12 through Whitewater in order to see first-hand the textbook glacial landforms I had discussed with students as a Teaching Assistant in freshman geology at Illinois. Stopped at St. Paul for the night at the Lowry Hotel. I stayed there because in my radio-logging days, about age 12, I often heard George Olson's orchestra broadcasting from there on WCCO and wanted to see the place. There was still live music in the Terrace Cafe for dinner. But, like so much I was seeing in the country at that time, the hotel looked a bit in need of maintenance and redecorating.
Next day I stopped in downtown St. Cloud to buy swimming trunks. I was impressed with the cleanliness, order, and completeness of shopping and services and the humane behavior of the people in the store and on the street--my introduction to the quality of Minnesota communities. Followed the slightly longer U.S. 52 route from St. Cloud via Fergus Falls to Detroit Lakes, rather than U.S. 10, so I could see the classic glacial moraine topography in the Vergas and Pelican Rapids areas--topographic sheets we also used in the Geology 1 labs when I was a graduate teaching assistant at Illinois, and at DePauw when I was a freshman geology student.
Later in the afternoon of September 6, I found the Shoreham corner store and Jane and Dianne's (now ours) cottage on Lake Sally. Lovely Jane came out to the white gate when I drove into the yard. Much emotion still wells up in my heart when I think of that moment, even though it was more than half a century ago. Our Wartime Overseas chapter was ended, two years and four months after it began. We had known each other for 49 months and were separated for a total of 35 of those months. But the bond had always grown stronger. This reunion was proof of our belief in each other and in marriage and family. Dianne was in her crib. She was 26 months old, and now she and I met for the first time. But Jane had done such a superb teaching job that there was already a strong bond with her, too. Her cheerful conversation frequently referred to "Mommyandaddy" as one word. It was almost as though I had never been away.
MEANWHILE, JANE IN BISMARCK
When Jane and John parted in Crown Point, she took our worldly belongings to her parents’ home in Bismarck. There she settled down for the unknown months or years John would be absent. She unpacked our total physical belongings--the contents of two suitcases and one large carboard box we had shipped separately from Mobile. The Willson home was the one they had begUn to build in the summer of 1941 and had just occupied when John visited the family in February of 1942.
The house was a handsome, compact rambler of contemporary design--actually copied from a prize winning plan in Better Homes magazine. The site was on the edge of residential development on the northwest side of Bismarck, not far southwest of the capitol. It was near the top of a ridge where the high, rolling Missouri coteau country gives way to the Missouri river breaks, and rough land falls away to the floodplain a mile to the southwest and five hundred feet below. The kitchen, dining room, living room, two bedrooms, a bath, and a one-car garage were on the ground floor.
At that time, the ridgetops were treeless as they had been at the time of white settlement; and the kitchen, dining room, living room, and some of the bedroom windows commanded a spectacular Great Plains panorama across the valley walls of the Missouri, up the valleys and ridges of the slope country to Heart Butte, a hundred miles to the west. Even if a person knew nothing of the Plains, he would come away inspired after a few minutes in the Willson living room and dining room.
That was the setting in which Jane expected to await John’s return. She arranged to pay Gert and Ed fifty dollars a month. In return, she had one of the main-floor bedrooms, use of the house and all of its amenities, and access to the family Oldsmobile. She’d be caring for our child there, too; for she was more than seven months pregnant.
Less than two months after Jane returned to Bismarck, Dianne was born on July 4, 1943, at St. Alexius hospital. Jane says her reaction the first time she saw Dianne was, "What a homely baby!" But that changed in a hurry. Sisters Paul and Mary Margaret took good care of mother and child until Jane was released to go home after two weeks. Quite a contrast with today’s hasty discharges! From that time on a great deal of activity revolved around the new baby.
Dianne’s environment was probably somewhat unusual. She was the object of a very large amount of attention from not only Jane but also from her grandparents, Aunt Evey and Doctor Nickerson, and Evey and Gertrude’s large community of friends their age. Jane reported that everyone seemed to have a lot of genuine love and affection for Dianne. People liked to hold her and talk to her. On the other hand, she was not spoiled. All of the adults held her to simple, clear, consistent standards of behavior. She never got the idea of playing off disagreeing or disagreeable adults against one another, or of whining or yelling merely to have her way. She smiled a lot and seemed to mean it. At the same time, she picked up a lot of vocabulary and mannerisms from her elderly company. For example, when someone asked, "How are you, Dianne?", she would reply, "Much better!".
Edwin’s job as executive secretary of the state welfare board was still demanding, but he had built an efficient, smooth-running organization and he had more time for home, garden, and socializing. Gertrude was project-oriented, social, always busy. Jane fell into the routines of housekeeping, gardening, and sporadic projects of canning, sewing, and whatever else had to be done. She played golf occasionally with Edwin and bridge with the family circle. She became part of a network of war-brides and young mothers, like her, making half-lives in the absence of their husbands. She studied Spanish in an evening class for about a year.
Gasoline rationing and the general inconvenience of war-time travel discouraged going very far very often from Bismarck. Jane’s only long trip took her and Dianne to Crown Point, Indiana, in June, 1944, to give the Borchert side of the family a chance to know the new grandchild. It was a tough trip, but John’s dad and his aunts and cousins were truly appreciative. John’s mother had already travelled to Bismarck in October, 1943, to see Dianne.
A jolt came in the late spring of 1944, when Edwin resigned his position as secretary of the state welfare board effective July 1st. Jane says that the board asked for his resignation. The drought had ended, and crops were good. The war had driven up the prices of wheat and livestock. Thousands of surplus farmers had left the land in the bad years of the 1930s. So there were fewer marginal farmers and many with more land and more money for equipment. In short, pretty good times had returned to farming. So the need for efficiency and integrity in the welfare system had been relaxed. It was possible to make the job political again. There was an opportunity for spoils and no longer a need for someone like Edwin. Furthermore, this was a quite proletarian board which did not fully appreciate someone with Ed’s academic background and style.
In any case, he resigned and rather quickly found an opportunity with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency in Europe. With the accelerating advance of allied occupation, that agency faced an urgent need to get organized and begin replenishing the empty barns and seed bins of western Europe. Ed was needed to organize the purchase of breeding cattle where they were available in the United Kingdom and Ireland and set up a system to get them to the needy farmers on the continent.
He had to report to Washington, D.C. on July 3, 1944, and he had to go to work in London on August 15. He left Bismarck on July 1. On short notice, Gertrude had to take over management of the house, Jane and Gert had to take over the garden. No one knew at that time how much longer the war in Europe would last. But Ed and Gert knew that when it ended she would almost certainly be able to join him. And they knew that they would not return to Bismarck. So she also had to get the house ready for evacuation and sale. She and Jane had their work cut out for them.
Within a year, in May, 1945, Gertrude sold the house on Mandan Street and, effective June 1, she and Jane rented a cabin on Lake Sallie, in the Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, resort area. Our "home" address changed from Bismarck to Shoreham, Minnesota. In July Gertrude moved on to Washington to join Edwin. He had returned temporarily, and they would leave together for England in September. Meanwhile, Jane and Dianne remained at Lake Sallie to wait for me. The war had ended in Europe in May. We knew that I’d be returning to somewhere in the States for at least a short time before going on to the Japanese theater. Then, in August, the war ended in Japan, and now we knew I’d almost certainly be coming home for discharge and return to civilian life.
I finally got to New York on the Queen Elizabeth in early September and arrived at the cottage at Shoreham from Crown Point, with my parents’ Studebaker, on September 7, 1945. It was an unforgettable reunion.
We were probably fortunate to have the home front arrangement we had while John was overseas. Dianne had an atmosphere of stability, serenity, family, and loyalty. Jane and I avoided the tensions and disruptions that came so often with childless, rootless, separated husband and wife, working and living in disparate, remote communities, with separate circles of friends and colleagues. Furthermore, we saved money by avoiding the high cost of renting housing, keeping an automobile, and moving frequently in the high-priced war-time economy.--about $4,000. That was a lot at that time--enough to buy a car and make the down payment on a house, when we returned to civilian life.