My great uncle Francis Witt served in the 547th Bombardment Squadron during World War II. He was stationed at RAF Grafton Underwood in central England. He was shot down and survived a harrowing evasion and escape effort in March 1944
. Just two weeks prior, he posed for this crew photo. On February 21, the crew of the ‘Rum Pot II’ led by pilot Clarence Stearns stood in front of their girl for a mission to bomb the Lingen railroad yard and Werl airfield in Germany.
On this mission, Francis officially served as the tail gunner. Though odd for an officer to serve as a gunner (officers on B-17s were slotted as either pilot, copilot, navigator or bombardier), on this mission the Rum Pot II served as the Group A squadron leader. This meant that in addition to running the tail gun, Francis’s job was to ensure the other planes in the formation dropped their bombs appropriately. It was common to have a pilot or copilot fly in the tail gunners position on lead aircraft to provide the commander of the mission on the same aircraft a reliable, knowledgeable person that had formation flying and combat experience.
This mission was part of the ‘Big Week’ or Operation Argument, a sustained bombing campaign against German aircraft factories in an attempt to lure the Luftwaffe into the sky, destroy them and achieve air superiority. The ‘Rum Pot II’ was one of 336 B-17s launched against German various airfields and railroad yards for this mission. (See here for additional information on the Big Week and mission 228.)
|Click to enlarge
B-17G Rum Pot II, Stearns crew
Back L-R: George Marquardt (B), Clarence Stearns (P), Francis Witt (OBS/TG), Keith Garrison (N)
Front L-R: David Barkhurst (TT), Warren Martell (FG), Albert Fulwider (TT), John Robison (FG), Thomas Benson (RO), William Buck (CA/CP), Vernon McKittrick (N)
Aircraft: B-17G 547th BS 42-31433 SO*V Rum Pot II
“B-17G Rum Pot II, Stearns crew.” 384th Heavy Bombardment Group. Web. 4 Jan 2014. <http://gallery2.384thbombgroup.com/v/384thWWII/384th-Bomb-Group-Crew-Photos/Stearns_Crew/Stearns_crew_c.jpg.html>