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James L. Bowman & Crew 914 of the 492nd Bomb Group During World War 2.
A story of some men who served.
Looking Back on the 70th Anniversary of D-Day and Some Men Who Served. A Tribute To Them.
This story is written as a result of a conversation I had with a friend of 37 years. We were talking like we do often and I mentioned to him that I was watching a movie about the United States Marines in World War 2. The movie was entitled "The Pacific" and was directed by Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Gary Goetzman. It dealt mainly with the assault and defeat of the Japanese on the island of Peleliu. As you recall Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and others directed another well known movie entitled "Band of Brothers" which followed the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment during World War 2.
The conversation turned to my friends father. My friend Kevin did not know a lot about his father during the war, just some bits and pieces. I told him I would see what I could find. I did some research based on those couple of pieces of information and found some information and photos that my friend and his sisters were not aware. This is a story of a small period of time that I thought would be a good human interest story for readers and maybe for some of the families of the men Captain James L. Bowman served with prior to D-Day and after. I personally found the research for the story and the non-related facts of the history of the 8th Air Force fascinating.
This story begins with the Bowman crew going through Combat Crew Training School with the 330th CCTS in Biggs, Texas. They graduated March 3, 1944. The training crew number was 1635. The Bowman crew was part of the final batch of 32 crews transferred to the 492nd Bomb Group (Heavy) in Alamogordo, New Mexico on March 3, 1944. They were eventually assigned to the 859th Bomb Squadron as Crew 914.
The original roster of CCTS Crew 1635 was, Lt. James L. Bowman, Pilot, Lt. Quentin R. Bowerman, Co-Pilot, Lt. William P. Kriegel, Jr., Navigator, First Officer Vernon J. Rood, Bombardier, Sgt. James R. Green, Engineer, Sgt. Howard V. Garrett, Radioman, Sgt. William M. Ryan, Gunner, Sgt. Everett E. Newton, Gunner, Sgt. Rosario A. Bessette, Gunner, and Sgt. August V. (or J) Bonkowski, Gunner.
Crew 914 flew the aircraft know as the B-24 Liberator. The B-24 Liberator was one of the bomber planes utilized during the war. There was also the well known B-17 Flying Fortress as well as others. The Liberator had four Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp fourteen cylinder air cooled radial engines with General Electric turbo superchargers rated at 1200 horse power for take off and power for maintaining and climbing up to 31,800 feet.
The Liberator carried a typical normal offense 5,000 lb. bomb load and up to 2,814 gallons of fuel. Extra fuel tanks could be fitted in the bomb bay if required. It could carry a 12,800 bomb load short range. The Liberator had a 110 feet wingspan and carried a crew of ten. This included the pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, nose gunner, navigator, radio operator, ball turret gunner, tail gunner, and two waist gunners. The aircraft could be configured for other payloads. The maximum take off load was approximately 71,000 pounds. The B-24 Liberator had ten Browning 0.50 inch machine guns located in the nose, upper ventral, tail turrents, and in the waist positions. The approximate range of the bomber was 1700 miles round trip. The B-24 bomber had many versions as they played with various variables to make the bomber more effective in performance, bomb load, fire power, defensive abilities, and crew demands.
In April 1944 1st Lt. James L. Bowman signed out for a B-24J Liberator known as Aircraft Number 44-40139. It was made by Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego, California. The aircraft had a natural metal finish and a tail code identified as U+.
This same month Bowman and the 914 Crew were ordered along with others crews of the 492nd Bomb Group to North Pickenham, England. They were assigned to the 8th Bomber Command in England of the European Theater of Operations (ETO). The group was assigned 73 aircraft before leaving the United States. North Pickenham was one of many bases for the air war in England and was also known as Station 143. They were ordered to fly the southern route to their assignment. This meant the flight proceeded to Morrison Field in Florida, to Trinidad, Brazil, Dakar, Marrakesh, French Morocco, and then to the United Kingdom.
According to the research found the flight to England included their ground crew chief Sgt. Melvin Blocher with logs indicating Sgt. Newton, a gunner on the aircraft traveled to England on the Queen Elizabeth. Another crew member Sgt. Rosario Bessette is not on either crews list of the aircraft or the Queen Elizabeth. According to research 124 men sailed on the Queen Elizabeth. It is unclear if he traveled to England. It is unclear from the research if there were any personnel changes from the original crew members. The unit over time was assigned 45 replacement Liberator aircraft.
After arriving in England the Bowman crew and the 492nd Bombardment group had some training missions with their first "playing for keeps" mission on May 11, 1944. The group of 30 aircraft were assigned to bomb Mulhouse, France with the target being the marshalling yards. However, due to cloud cover over the primary target, the attack was diverted to the Auxerre marshaling yards and to Belfort. All of the aircraft returned to England but two aircraft crash landed before reaching their home station. Bowman's crew returned safely.
During the month of May 1944 the B-24 Liberator crew of 1st. Lt. James Bowman flew various missions to Germany, France, and Belgium. They bombed oil refineries, airfields, V-1 Rocket Sites, ship yards, tactical targets, and marshaling yards based on records reviewed. A marshaling yard is a railway yard in which trains are assembled, goods loaded, or rail cars stored or maintenance is performed.
The 492nd Bomb Group on a May 19th,1944 mission flew to Brunswick and incurred 43 killed in action, 3 wounded in action, 34 taken as prisoner of war, and lost 8 B-24 Liberator bombers.
On May 30th, 1944 the Bowman crew was on a night training exercise practicing night formations over the channel when Bowman's leader signaled him to peel off and land. The information was that Bowman radioed the tower and requested that the runway lights be turned on. At that very moment the lights of a nearby base (Station 138) were turned on which Bowman attempted to land on. This base was a fighter plane base with shorter runway's. The Bowman plane ran off the end of the runway by 125 yards according to official reports. There were no injuries but the plane was destroyed damaging number 1 and 2 engines and damaging the left wing, left flap, nose wheel, fuselage bottom, and the catwalk in the bomb bay.
The following day Crew 914 were assigned another aircraft and flew a mission to Brussels, Belgium to again bomb the marshaling yards there. They flew an aircraft know as "Umbriago." This aircraft (#44-40068) was a difficult aircraft to fly due to its slow response to controls at altitude. Some of the pilots who flew this aircraft aborted their missions because they thought it was malfunctioning. The engineers could not solve the mystery of the plane. The Bowman crew completed the May 31, 1944 mission without incident. The "Umbriago" was lost on February 17, 1945. The Liberator was reportedly named after a song by Jimmy Durante.
A review of the missions for the crew indicate that they flew various aircraft after their original aircraft which they flew from Alamogordo, New Mexico was destroyed. The history of the 492nd Bomb Group indicate many of the aircraft had no nose art and many were not painted or camouflaged. They had a natural metallic finish from the factory. When the Group arrived in England they were the first 8th Bomber Group to arrive with no camouflage paint.
It should be noted here that at the end of their first month of operations, the 492nd Bomb Group dropped 1,694,400 pounds of bombs on their primary targets. This does not include the other Bomb Groups conducting operations.
At this time the Allies were preparing for the D-Day invasion. The records show that the Bowman crew was assigned a mission (Mission 16) to Avord in France on June 4th to bomb the airfield located there. The purpose of the mission was to insure the German Luftwaffe could not use the field against the Normandy assault forces. This was two days before D-Day. It was a continuing operational raid known as Operation Cover, the Calais deception. The group dispatched 37 aircraft on this mission but only 31 were able to proceed to the target. One of the planes (Crew 607) crashed after takeoff killing the 10 crewman plus 2 firefighters on the ground who responded to the emergency call. On this mission the planes were hit with flak going and coming from the target. The group dropped 87 tons of bombs on the airfield target. The mission was commanded and led by Major Mahoney flying with the Johnson 903 crew.
The report reviewed indicated the following day (June 5) gave the group off due to bad weather. The conditions in the English Channel were strong enough to create a small betting pool on just what day would be D-Day. Few thought they would be flying the next day June 6, 1944.
On the day of the invasion, June 6, 1944 the Bowman crew was given the mission and target of the D-Day invasion coast at Caen in France. They flew a Liberator with the serial number 44-40290 (photo unavailable). There was speculation that a second mission the same day was completed by the crew but that is not confirmed by records clearly. The reason being is explained below. The objective of the D-Day missions and the 8th Air Force was to close off some choke points that would allow the Germans to reinforce their Normandy defenses, hit coastal targets along the invasion beaches, and to hit the communications center at Caen.
In summary, the 492nd Bomb Group were assigned to three missions on D-Day with another attempt at the second mission for a total of four missions. They were known as Missions 17, 18, and 19. The missions were to Pointe-et-Raz, Caen, and Vire in France.
The first mission which appears to include the Bowman crew was to hit the coastal targets along the invasion beaches at Pointe-et-Raz and Caen. The mission included 882 B-17 Flying Fortress's and 543 B-24 Liberators. This included 41 aircraft from the 492nd. On this first mission only 1,077 planes were able to attack their targets due to overcast skies. The mission departed North Pickenham at 0620.
The second mission of the day was to strike transportation choke points in towns around the assault area. Total cloud cover prevented the mission's 343 heavy bombers from locating their targets and only 37 Liberators were able to find their secondary target at Argentan. The mission cost the 8th Air Force two Liberators with no casualties. The mission was aborted because of cloud cover and because there was too many civilians in the area.
The other mission which Bowman appears participated in to Caen was led by Major Turnball. This was the third mission of the day. The town of Caen was targeted in two missions of the day. This mission called for only 12 of the 492nd's heavy bombers. It appears that the Bowman crew was a part of the mission to destroy the communication center at Caen. The mission was heavily escorted by fighters for protection. There was no enemy resistance. The Liberators were successful in laying their bombs on target through the overcast skies without loss according to Paul Arnett, 492nd Bomb Group historian.
The 492nd Bomb Groups fourth mission of the day was a second attempt at the objective of the second mission. While 790 heavy bombers were sent in (includes all groups) only 450 were able to find their targets.
A review of the reports and information obtained it is almost certain that 1st Lt. James Bowman and the 914 crew flew two missions on D-Day during Operation Overlord.
A mission is credited to a crew and or aircraft when it enters enemy territory or airspace. It has been reported that over 2700 aircraft were in the skies over the D-Day invasion area on June 6, 1944.
After D-Day the Bowman crew continued to fly missions until the 492nd Bomb Group was disbanded on August 7th 1944 approximately by the order of Major General James Doolittle. The 492nd Bomb Group was disbanded due to high losses. They were dubbed the "Hard Luck Group" by General Doolittle and his staff. The bomb group suffered the highest casualties per 1000 combatants than any other group or any other service combatants. The 492nd rate was at 442 per thousand combatants or members. The next highest casualty rate was the 467th Bomb Group at 91 casualties per 1000 combatants.
The 492nd Bomb Group flew daylight missions. There nickname was the "Happy Warriors" given them by the 492nd Association years later. The Group flew 67 combat missions in 89 days. Some observers believe the casualty rate was because many aircraft had no painted aluminum and flew as a silver aircraft which made them more visible and a target by German fighters. The typical olive drab paint was not on many group aircraft. The record shows that the courage, competency, and morale was as high or higher than any other group in theater. This theory appears supported by monthly reports reviewed as loss statistics and command supported it.
James L. Bowman and his crew are credited with at least 24 missions with the 492nd Bomb Group, 2nd Air Division, 14th Bomb Wing, 859th Bomb Squadron, 8th Army Air Force (AAF). A review of available records suggest more. This included two mission on July 24 and 25, 1944 over St. Lo France where eventually General Erwin Rommel's Seventh Army was surrounded and defeated. Allied air power over this area inflicted an appalling slaughter which lead to the victory of the Battle of Normandy.
On August 10, 1944 James L. Bowman was promoted to Captain. The other crew members were also promoted one grade on May 15th 1944. Captain Bowman and the crew members were transferred to the 467th Bomb Group, 788th Bomb Squadron at Rackheath, England on August 10, 1944. There is no record or no information was found as to the missions of the Bowman Crew when they were reassigned to the 467th Bomb Group. The search for more information continues.
The Second 492nd Bomb Group of World War 2
In my research to locate information on Captain Bowman I learned there was a second 492nd Bomb Group. This second group was started August 13, 1944. They were formally known as the 801st Provisional Group. While the first group flew day missions out of North Pickenham the new group or second group flew night missions out of Harrington. They were known as the "Carpetbaggers." They had previous base of operations at Watton and Alconbury.
I learned later that at the end of the summer in 1944 the 8th Air Force was ordered to disband one of its B-24 groups for the purpose of handling over its identity to the OSS arm in the European Theater of Operations. This group had been conducting covert missions for several months and was in need of a working cover. Due to the high casualties of the original first 492nd Bomb Group the 492nd was chosen for this cover. The new groups commander Colonel Snavely was quoted as saying "We drew the black bean." The OSS or the Office of Strategic Services was formed during World War 2 to gather intelligence on the enemy. It was the predecessor to today's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The 492nd flew 67 combat missions over Germany and Nazi Occupied countries in 89 days. They lost a total of 55 Liberators and 520 men. Of the 520 casualties, 234 were killed in action (KIA), 26 were wounded in action (WIA), 131 were taken prisoner (POW), and 129 were interned in either Sweden or Switzerland who were neutral countries.
In closing, this is a story of one of millions who served and sacrificed during World War 2. This story alone does not tell the whole story of Captain Bowman and the other crewman of 914. There are thousands of stories and facts lost to time. It is my understanding that 18,000 B-24 Liberators were manufactured alone. The records of these planes and their crews are likely lost to time. I sincerely hope that this article helps educate the reader to some of the history of the war and a little corner of it for each of us. I enjoyed the research and writing of this hub.
After returning to civilian life James L. Bowman became an attorney and practiced law in the City of Pittsburgh. He married his wife Ruth in 1942. They had three children. James L. Bowman is now deceased. His wife Ruth eventually moved to Arizona to be near her daughters. He is currently survived by his three children.
I hope this hub or article helps the families of the 914 Crew learn more of their parents or grandparents service during World War 2. I personally thank James Bowman and the 914 Crew, including those members of the crew who may have replaced, as well as all others who served for their service.
As mentioned above Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg have created two mini series on two aspects of the war. They are now creating a third about the 8th Air Force which is scheduled for release in 2015. I can't wait to see it. Thanks for reading.
The plane (44-40068) flew by Captain Bowman on Mission 8, May 31, 1944 , known as Umbriago, the day after their training crash, crashed with another crew February 17, 1945. It flew 56 missions.
The plane flew by Captain Bowman on D-Day was eventually lost on July 21, 1944 by the Walker crew. Nine of the crew were interned in Switzerland.
The plane (42-50737) flew by Captain Bowman on Mission 23, July 25, 1944 returned to the U.S. On June 6, 1945. It flew 73 missions.
The plane (44-40155) flew by Captain Bowman and known as "Feudin Wagon" returned to the U.S. in June, 1945. It flew 83 missions.
The plane (42-50611) flew by Captain Bowman and known as "Bold Venture II" returned to the U.S. in June, 1945. It flew 36 missions.
The Hub Authors Father, Aloysius A. Bachner, was drafted at the age of 44 approximately, He was assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 334 Infantry at Camp Howze at Gainesville, Texas. A story is planned on Camp Howze and the 334 Infantry which later became a detention center for German prisioners of war. The Camp was a training base for 40,000 personnel.