My obsession with World War II began here. My uncle James Brennan was an enigma when I was growing up. His portrait hung in the bedroom of my grandmother and his uniform lay in the cedar chest along with a folded flag and a purple heart. The history from that side of the family is buried not that far from where I live. I started a search and found information about the mission in which he was shot down, the plane he was crew on and lots of great photos from the 384th Bombardment Group and a little bit of history about a family member I always wanted to meet. It was on his first mission, he was killed.

The "White Angel". My uncle was part of the crew

Keep the Show on the Road - The 384th Bombardment Wing

The 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy) was "activated" (brought into existence by the assignment of personnel) on 1 December 1942 at Gowen Field, Idaho. Comprised of the 544th, 545th, 546th, and 547th Bombardment Squadrons, the 384th was assigned to Wendover Field, Utah, on 2 January 1943 to begin training in B-17s for combat in the European Theatre of Operations.

Assignments to Fly

The thirty-six aircraft of the 384th Bomb Group were assigned to USAAF Station 106 near the village of Grafton Underwood, Northamptonshire, England, and arrived there in the summer of 1943. The tail of each of the unit's B-17 aircraft was emblazoned with the "triangle-P" insignia, that letter chosen to honor the first 384th commander, Colonel Budd J. Peaslee. The unit's primary function was the strategic bombardment of airfields and industries in France, Germany, and surrounding Nazi-occupied areas. They flew their first combat mission as a group on 22 June 1943, bombing automobile parts warehouses in Antwerp. This first mission claimed two of the unit's B-17s and their aircrews.

Notice the written caption: Boys on the line 1/3 of them. I can't tell if any of them are my uncle.

By the time their sixth mission was completed the 384th had lost thirty-five of its original thirty-six aircraft. Replacement crews and aircraft constantly arrived to take the vacancies, but the losses kept mounting. On a mission to bomb the port at Hamburg the 384th first experienced the terrible reality of a "ghost squadron" -- all seven ships and crews of the 544th Squadron failed to return from the mission. The entire squadron was lost.

During their tenure in England the B-17s of the 384th Bombardment Group undertook bombing missions to the airdromes at Orleans, Bricy, and Nancy, the motor works at Cologne, an aircraft component factory in Halberstadt, the steel works at Magdeburg, oil storage facilities at Leipzig and Berlin, railroad marshalling yards at Duren and Mannheim, the ports of Hamburg and Emden, and ball bearing plants in Schweinfurt. They received a Distinguished Unit Citation for their raid on aircraft factories in central Germany on 11 January 1944 and took part in the heavy bombing campaign against the German aircraft industry during "Big Week" the following month. On 24 April 1944 the unit received its second Distinguished Unit Citation when, although crippled by heavy losses of aircraft and men due to almost overwhelming enemy opposition, the group led the attack on an aircraft factory and airfield at Oberpfaffenhofen.

In June 1944 the 384th supported the Normandy invasion with attacks along the French coast, then bombed airfields and communications lines beyond the Allied beachhead. The unit supported ground troops during the breakthrough at St. Lo in July 1944 and assisted the airborne assault on Holland in September of that year. During that winter it struck enemy communications lines and fortifications during the Battle of the Bulge. The following spring the 384th aided the Allied assault across the Rhine by cutting enemy supply lines.

The 384th Bombardment Group flew 9,348 combat sorties in 316 missions, dropping 22,416 tons of bombs on enemy targets. The unit lost 159 aircraft and 1,625 men in combat, while destroying 165 enemy airplanes (with 34 more "probables") and seriously damaging 116 others. Through it all, the members of the 384th lived up to their motto "Keep the Show on the Road." Today, surviving members of the unit proudly recall that they "always flew the missions as briefed."

An insignia patch

Following the surrender of the Axis powers the 384th Bombardment Group remained in Europe as part of the United States Air Forces in Europe, ferrying Allied troops into Germany, Greek soldiers back to their homeland, and American troops to Casablanca for their return to the United States. The unit was inactivated in France on 28 February 1946

A crash landed B-17 Flying Fortress. I was able to find out that this particular bomber was forced down over France on September 10, 1944--before or after an area bombing of Stuttgart, Germany. By the markings, I was able to determine that it belonged to the 384th Bomb Group (546th Bomb Squadron) stationed in Grafton Underwood, England. Note the battle damage on various parts of the airframe. The B-17 was famous for being able to sustain major damage and still bring its crew safely home (or in this case, to friendly territory.)

James J. Brennan
ID: 19102117
Entered the Service From: California
Rank: Sergeant
Service: U.S. Army Air Forces, 546th Bomber Squadron, 384th Bomber Group, Heavy
Died: Tuesday, September 12, 1944
Mission #196, 9/11/44, Target: Eisenach, Germany (Aircraft Depot), Pilot Lt. J Chadwick
Buried at: Ardennes American Cemetery
Location: Neupre (Neuville-en-Condroz), Belgium
Plot: B Row: 38 Grave: 51
Awards: Air Medal, Purple Heart

This bomber jacket was from another crew. The bomb patches all have names of towns on them.

Text & images from The 384th Bomb Group (H)
and Lost Images of World War II

If anyone has information, please contact me. I didn't look at this blog for awhile and missed all the folks who commented. I would love to get more information about my uncle.


f3red said...

I clearly need to provide a link to this blog on the 384thBombGroup.com website!


Unknown said...

I have the names of the men in the photo. It is the ground crew for the 546 BS

Bama Guy said...

The downed B-17 in the photograph is #42-102601. A gallery of seven photos of the crash scene are available for viewing on the 384th Bomb group website.
My uncle, SGT Raymond O. Wisdahl was the Ball Turret Gunner on that mission. The crew is pictured in photo #6 of the gallery. They all survived the crash landing behind enemy lines, evaded capture and were picked up by an advancing Army unit in the vicinity of the crash site. Hence, the group photo at the crash scene.

Bama Guy said...

The aircrew shown in the pohto of B-17 42-102601 are NOT the ground crew of the 546th.
The pictures shows nine individuals. seven of them who are grouped together appear to be crew members of the flight. The individual to the right of the top turret appears to be a child and not a member of the crew. The guy squatting on the left wing appears to be a GI in field uniform. He is possibly a member of the Tank Destroyer outfit thak picked up the aircrew and brought them back to the crash site the day after the crash.
The aircraft was lost returning from a mission flown on 9 September 1944. The picture was taken on 10 September 1944. The other six pictures were taken at a later date. Note the vegetation around the aircraft in the crew picture and the complete lack of vegetation in the other six pictures.

Bama Guy
Nephew of the Ball Turret Gunner

Bama Guy said...

The picture that you have posted of your Uncle's order to fly is not of the correct date. It is dated 8 May 1944. The correct document is dated 17 July 1944.
You Uncle, James J. Brennan was assigned to the 546th Squadron on Station 106 Special Order# 140, dated 17 July 1944. He was assigned as a Ball Turret Gunner on the LT Earnest E. Hanlon Crew, Crew# 23.

Unknown said...

I don't know if anyone will see this- but if so, I have a connection to that crew who went down in Germany on 12 September, 1944. Please contact me if possible -