THE NAVIGATOR


By Ed Kellam


usfab-17
General Mark Clark's Executive B-17
I was stationed at Tulln Air Base in 1946-1947, right after the war.  My job assignment was as Navigation and Briefing Officer for the base.

I was also selected as Navigator for the B-17 that supported USFA and was used to transport Mark Clark throughout the theater. The pilot was Col. Moore and the co-pilots were Dusty Simcoe and Mike Pianitsa. The crew chief was MSgt. Smith.  When General Clark went somewhere we took him.

We had many interesting trips. Five times we flew him to Moscow for the Deputy Foreign Ministers meeting.  We also took him on his farewell flight to Italy. On occasion, General Clark's wife and daughter were on board.

Looking back at flying conditions - it was rugged. The general flew in the "Waist" of the B-17 where we had constructed a desk of sorts with a chair. There was no insulation and no meal service. I was a thousand times more comfortable up in the nose with my maps and instruments and the view was stupendous.

Moscow was an education for all of us. Our co-pilots both spoke Russian—that helped. On the streets of Moscow in 1947, the populace did not know what we were nor where we came from. As we walked down the street they would part and stare.


One time we were searching for the American embassy and stopped a Russian officer and asked directions. He turned away with his hands behind him and would not talk, I guess he was afraid of the hours of interrogation he would face should he talk with us.  However, a small boy overheard the question and without hesitation gave us directions. Children are the same the world over.


We attended the Russian Ballet, the Russian National Dances, and were wined and dined, but with Russian food and at Russian hours. Breakfast was terrible. Try as we would, we could not get the eggs cooked--always served raw. Then, in the evening dinner did not start until ten o'clock and went on for hours. The bread was the best and was served in heaps. Borsch was OK. One of our major problems was the availability of toilet tissue. They did not have any. We learned that we had to bring our own or----.

The "May Day" trip by Captain Tate and entourage has a little different view from the rescuers view. First off, taking dependents on military aircraft was a "no, no." It was done from time to time.  On this particular trip it was my understanding that the purpose of the trip was to take General____ and family to Naples to catch a boat back to the USA. The other females etc. were along for the ride and to shop--the best of all worlds in the army of occupation.

Late on the evening of the crash I was awakened by_____ and told that the
aircraft was missing and that we (the General’s crew) were to take off before dawn so as to be at the reported crash site by sun up. The crew was assembled, including the base doctor (with parachute--ready to jump). We had provisions wrapped in blankets ready to drop to the survivors, and off we went.


The coordinates of the reported crash were located East of the Roan valley about half way to Marseille. We were there at sun up and it was obviously the wrong place. You could see villages and roads easily from the slopes of the mountain, and the crash site was reportedly remote with only mountains in view. At any rate we spent the day searching every hillside in the general (no pun intended) area. As night approached Generals Snavely and Tate decided that we should go to Paris where excellent communication facilities were available. They would organize the search and get more airplanes in the air for tomorrow.


The next day we were up and at'em at daybreak--back to the mountains-– search, search, search, all day to no avail. Words were that the crashed crew called in morning and evening on the short wave radio and said that they had not seen any aircraft all day. We recovered at Marseille that evening. By now an EATS pilot took charge of the search and assigned aircraft to specific areas.


During the day, the radio folks had taken bearings on the Gooney birds radio
signal and the resulting triangle was in the North of Switzerland. We, having the brass on board, were given free roaming permission and as it turns out the weather was lousy. A front was passing through. To make matters, worse one of our engines was not developing the required power. (Big mag. drop).  Col. Moore assured us that three engines would hack it so off we took and made our way to the North side of the weather front. As the weather moved generally South East we flew back and fourth as the weather cleared. About noon we topped a ridge and "THERE THEY WERE. "


General Snavely got on the voice radio and, with the last bit of juice from the Gooney birds battery, sent the message "Waco-Waco-Waco" to his wife. (I never did find out what that meant.)


Immediately I determined the latitude and longitude of the crash site and passed it to the radio operator who flashed it to the world. We circled to the left and made a bomb run on the site. I held my hand visible in the astrodome, and signaled when to drop. The co pilot signaled the crew chief and off went the first package. One hundreds yards short! We all held our breath as a figure jumped from the Gooney bird and headed directly to the drop. The good Lord was with him for he crossed two snow bridges spanning giant crevasses in the glacier on his way. He retrieved the package and headed back. In the mean time we made another two runs and dropped much more closely to the target.

s-trescue
Generals Snavley and Tate
studying map of crash site
Found! Now lets rescue them. We made a beeline to Bern Switzerland and landed. The Attaché met us with transportation by train and automobile to Meiringen where the populace had learned of the crash site being close by. We met with town leaders and organized a search party for an overnight climb to the crash. Once we had given the exact location, using local maps they were off.


The next day the rescue effort reached the site and began bringing the survivors down. A short way down the glacier there was a suitable landing place for the "Storch" aircraft. This is a high lift, short take-off aircraft ideal for the rescue. The rest was a piece of cake, and soon they were safely down the mountain.

Once back in Vienna, we had a splendid Thanksgiving dinner with the survivors and the rescue crew.

 

The B-17 arrived back at Tulln after a flight carrying General Clark's wife and daughter. The General was not on this particular flight. The weather was lousy and snow was piled up along the taxi way and runway where snow removal equipment had shoved it out of the way.


As usual there were a bunch of people at Base Ops to meet the airplane and take care of ground transportation. There was a L-5 liaison group located in Vienna and the commander was there to meet the airplane and give a ride to those wanting transport to Vienna. General Clark had expressly forbidden his daughter from flying in the L-5 because the runway in Vienna was between a fence and the Danube River and was not even straight. The pilots had to land around the curve--pretty tricky and not the safest.


L-5
This Stinson L-5 is the same type aircraft
that hit the snow pile
Well, it was getting late and the snow was falling. The snow on the runway was pretty deep but the Taxi way had just been scraped. The General’s daughter and the commander of the L-5 outfit decided to take-off from the Taxiway—so there they went down to the end, and with a whirl of the engine, here they came speeding along the short taxi way. Well, at the end of the taxi way the snowplow had pushed back a huge mound of snow. Sure enough the L-5 hit the mound and immediately flipped upside down, right in front of everybody.  Fortunately there was no fire. We ran to the L-5 and recovered the occupants, shaken but none for the worst. The general's daughter went to Vienna by car and the L-5 commander was transferred the next day.


It was fun flying General Clark. One day he left his overcoat in the airplane. Since I was going in to Vienna that evening, I put it in my Jeep and headed out. Before I reached the gate I slipped the coat, with those great big Stars, over my shoulder. At the gate the sentry just about fainted, jumped to attention and saluted, and I just grinned from ear to ear.  I knew him. Wonder if he ever forgave me?

On Mark Clark’s farewell trip to Italy, we landed in the North of Italy at L______ and were treated to a scrumptious dinner on the Commanding General’s train--seven courses with a huge lobster for entree.

 

The next morning we flew to Cannes and the time difference was one hour. There was no one there to meet us. As usual I jumped out of the forward hatch when we parked the plane and looked back at the rear door. General Clark came out with his head down and his hand stuck out to shake, but no one was there. Pretty soon the vehicles with the greeting party came speeding down the highway--red faced.

 

 Last stop Paris, and we never saw the General again except on TV.

 

I went back to the USA then went to Pilot training. Flew Jet fighters for a while then Logistics and Aircraft Maintenance. I retired as a Lt Col in 1973 at Hickam AFB and now reside on the island of Maui. The fishing is great, the golf wonderful, and I am in constant touch with five wonderful sons and their families of thirteen grandchildren. My Email address: edkellam@comcast.net.



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