Second World War: B-17 Radio Operator

This is part of the diary of a radio operator on a B-17 Flying Fortress during the Second World War

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My husband, Berle M. Robinson, was the radio operator for a B-17 crew stationed in England during the Second World War. They completed 29 combat missions. Excerpts from his letters to his parents created a daily diary. 

12-26-44: We are now somewhere in Iceland, but I can't say just where. We had turkey for Christmas dinner, and it was really good. I have some foreign coins, which I'm saving for souvenirs.

1-11-45: I just received my first three letters from United States. I was sure tickled to get them, as I look every day for a letter from home. Makes a guy feel 100 percent better, no fooling. Can't say where I am - but still on my way.

1-30-45: I'm all right, but have begun to wonder if I'm forgotten.

I haven't had any mail for more than a week.

2-3-45: Our tour of duty began today. Oxygen was out of operation for the pilot, navigator and engineer. We got flak holes in the bomb bay.

2-6-45: My buddy, Jack Smith, and I went to London to see what it was all about. St. Paul's Cathedral had been hit by a 1,000¬pound delayed-action bomb. A Robot Bomb hit the first night we were in town, but it wasn't near us. We ate at the Red Cross Center, as it's good food and as cheap as they can possibly make it. They welcome all the Servicemen and women.

2-20-45: We have flak holes near the tail door and the compass-antenna was severed.

2-23-45: Had a flak-free target today, but made an emergency landing at Woodbridge.

2-25-45: At Munich, Germany, today, the flak was intense. We have two flak holes, one close to my turret.

2-27-45: We got six large flak holes in the wings, and our gasoline line was hit over the target. Never knew how close we came near death: all that was needed was a spark from one of the super-chargers, and we would have had it! I really sweated and grew old those hours after bombs-away!

3-9-45: We got a very large hole in the tail section; scared hell out of the tail gunner!

3-11-45: We were the first plane of the 8th Air Force over the target today.

3-17-45: Meager flak, but we had to land in France due to insufficient fuel. Stayed overnight in the town of Merville - flew back to our base the next morning with some news correspondents aboard.

3-24-45: So, they had in the Iowa paper about the Berlin run? Yes, your youngest son was along that day, doing plenty of honest sweating, and thinking how much I'd rather be home. That was the largest raid ever made on Berlin, and some sight! Wish I could say more.

3-25-45: When a plane or crew goes down on a mission and can't communicate, they are considered "missing in action"; 72 hours later their folks are notified. If you ever get this message ¬disregard it, as most usually a guy gets to neutral land.

3-26-45: Will be looking for your package - the one with the peanuts, 'cause I'm sure hungry for some.

3-27-45: We were up at 0100 in order for our aircraft to drop the bombs in coordination with the BIG drive.

3-30-45: An aircraft exploded as we were forming. We lost the formation. Weather was very bad.

3-31-45: This mission got to me. The sky was black; the target of oil storage and processing was rough. We got 10 flak holes; one crew had over 100 holes. Two aircraft did not return, but they both landed on the Continent.

4-5-45: We went to 29,000 feet to clear the clouds - using so much power that we had to land near Leige, Belgium, at an emergency field to obtain more fuel.

4-11-45: Saw three B-17s hit by flak and explode. We counted several parachutes from one aircraft and four from another. Saw a fighter explode, too. Bandits were all over the area, and one jet plane made a pass at us.

4-12-45: We had a visual target with good results - no flak ¬

no fighters. Had a shower, shave and washed my head - so tonight I feel pretty fresh, with clean clothes. An English lady about half a mile away does my washing every week. It's expensive, but she does a good job, and I'm thankful for that. (It costs at least $2.)

4-19-45: Saw Carlsbad, Czechoslovakia, today. Today was one more mission to our credit. It won't be many days until I'm through over here. If they will allow me to, I'll send a message the day I get my 35 missions done. Excellent bombing results on the visual run today.

4-23-45: I may not get home as soon as I figured, as they are planning to send us to a flak home to rest our nerves.

5-6-45: Flew mercy mission to Holland - dropped food to the civilians near Amsterdam, who were starving at the rate of 1,000 deaths per day. Area is occupied by the Germans, but they agreed to the drop, so there was no shooting by either side. We made the drop between 150- and 100-feet altitude.

Thousands of people were cheering and waving flags as we made our run. We could see the German soldiers shaking their fists at us.

5-8-45: Suppose you've all heard that today was V-E Day, and the combat is finished. Lots of guys were out celebrating way late last night, and it was like the Fourth of July.

5-19-45: Today we flew to Austria to evacuate French prisoners of war. We saw lots of ruined cities that were the results of the 8th Air Force bombings.

Some of the POWs had been behind wire since 1940, and they sure had rough treatment. When we landed in France, lots of people were there to meet them; it was quite a sight! They all wanted to shake hands and salute us.

5-20-45: Right now we have a 14-day training program; we don't know what they have in store for us; we may go to the Pacific Theater of war.

Hope C. Robinson
Yale, Iowa

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.