Reprise: Jim Mossbarger, Life in the 8th Air Force

Back in 2004, as part of the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, I had the opportunity to hear a group of WWII veterans talk about their war-time experiences. One of those men was Jim Mossbarger who served as a waist gunner on a B-24 bomber over Europe. As part of  honoring America’s veterans I decided t republish Jim’s story.

Following graduation from McClain High School, Jim Mossbarger entered the Army Air Corp and was trained as a waist gunner on a B-24 bomber. He left the US, headed for England, in early 1944, prior to D-Day. 

 ww2vets-2004
World War II Vets,l-r: Paul Howland, Hayward Riley, Jim Mossbarger, Floyd Shockey, Bill Collins. In the years since Jim, Floyd and Bill have passed on. Hayward is still alive and well but I’m not sure about Paul. Maybe some one can  update my info.

For reasons he didn’t divulge, the trip took almost 2 weeks and took his group into the Caribbean, Brazil, the Azores Islands, the Western Sahara desert of North Africa and finally to England; very much the long way around. 

As a member of the 8th Air Force, Jim, and his crewmates, flew 35 missions into occupied Europe. Most missions were against targets in Germany and France with side trips into Belgium, Holland, Norway and Denmark. 

By the time his unit arrived in the European Theatre, American bombers were receiving long-range fighter support from planes such as the P-38 and the P-51. This meant he and his buddies rarely had to face the threat of German fighters but did have to contend with enemy anti-aircraft flak wherever they flew. Jim offered that except for testing his guns, he never had occasion to fire his waist gun in combat. 

He also mentioned that Bill Collins, another of Greenfield’s WWII veterans, was serving with a fighter group in England that was involved in flying cover for the 8th Air Force. After D-Day, Collins’ group was detailed to providing air support for American ground forces trying to establish a foothold in France. 

Jim and Bill had an occasion before D-Day to meet in London and spend an evening in an English dance hall. They inferred that the ladies were friendly and all had a good time. Also, as they whiled away the evening and without their knowledge, the city was under a major bomb attack by the Nazi’s. 

Mossbarger related a story in which his B-24 was part of a much larger force flying a mission to Munich, Germany. The tail gunner of his plane, observing bombs falling out of their bomb bay doors, announced over the radio, “bombs away.” This was the signal for the other planes in the group to begin dropping their payloads. Turned out they had released their bombs 12 miles short of the intended target. An electrical malfunction had caused the first bombs to be dropped prematurely. 

Another episode “Mossy” told about was an experience where his plane had taken off from a small English airfield headed for a mission in France. At 11,000 feet and still over English soil, the tail gunner reported that he was witnessing hot metal flying past his gun position. The pilot immediately reported that one of the left engines was on fire and someone, probably the co-pilot, prematurely sounded the abandon plane alarm. Jim and the other waist gunner hiked up their courage and exited the plane via the escape hatch. 

Meanwhile, the pilot, maintaining his cool, sent the turret gunner to shut off the fuel to the burning engine, thus extinguishing the blaze. So, as the B-24 shakily turned about and returned to base, Mossy and his crewmate found themselves quietly floating downwards into a small English community named Florida. 

The town’s folks took them in and tended to their needs while they waited for the Air Corp to pick them up. Jim said that one of the ladies asked him if he needed something to settle his nerves. He replied that he was okay but could stand a cup of coffee. Not having coffee, the lady offered him a cup of hot tea served on a saucer. When he reached for the saucer the cup went flying in to the air spilling its contents. It was then that he realized just how, “shook up,” he was. 

He offered an accounting of the losses his group experienced and, though they were bad, they were not near as bad as those suffered by earlier fliers who ventured into Nazi held Europe before introduction of long-range fighter support and a weakened German air force.

As told by James Mossbarger 6/8/04

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