With the Possum and the Eagle: The Memoir of a Navigator's War over Germany and Japan

With the Possum and the Eagle: The Memoir of a Navigator's War over Germany and Japan

With the Possum and the Eagle: The Memoir of a Navigator's War over Germany and Japan

With the Possum and the Eagle: The Memoir of a Navigator's War over Germany and Japan

Excerpt

“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed everywhere the ceremony of
innocence is drowned.”

—William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

“War is just one living and dying mass of confusion and delusion
and stupidity and brilliance and ineptitude and hysteria and hero
ism anyway.”

—Gen. Curtis E. LeMay

I was a navigator on B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-29 Superfortresses for Generals Haywood Hansell and Curtis LeMay in the air war against Germany and Japan from 1942 to 1945. The title of this book is derived from the nicknames of those two general officers. Hansell was called “Possum” by friend and foe alike. LeMay, one of the best known but least understood of the World War II Army Air Forces commanders, was called “Eagle” because of his straightforward attacks on the enemy, military targets, and issues without any evasive action. Hansell never deviated from his opposition to indiscriminate area bombing of civilian urban areas. LeMay atempted to follow U.S. policy and limit heavy bombing to precise military targets in daylight. He abandoned the policy in March 1945 when it appeared to have failed over Japan.

In 1942, LeMay, then a young colonel, was the commander of our 305th Bomb Group, one of four bomb groups serving under Hansell, then our wing commander, in England.

When Hansell and LeMay arrived in England that year, they both believed that strategic bombers could win the war without the necessity of a land invasion and without fighter support to German targets. They were incorrect on both counts. We were confronted by massive attacks from German fighters. More often than not, visual sighting of the targets was impossible because of dense cloud cover. When our crews could not see the target, they attempted “blind” or “overcast bombing” with the aid of the primitive radar then available.

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