Introduction

Mobile Crash Crew Rebuilds FortressesSoldiers, Technicians Fix Planes Where They Crash

Flying Fortress crash

Mobile Crash Crew Rebuilds FortressesSoldiers, Technicians Fix Planes Where They Crash

Wrecked ball turret
Cpl. Rodger Case, of Columbus, Ohio salvages parts from the Fort’s wrecked ball turret.
Flying Fortress crash
“Stella”- a damaged Flying Fortress – gets a going over by members of a Mobile Repair Unit of the Eighth Air Force at the spot where it was forced to land in England.

There are so many stories lost in these old papers from World War II. My grandparents were great at saving memorabilia. This is the first time I actually looked through their old newspapers and I’m excited to share them with you. I learned so much! You’ll enjoy this one about how those crashed bombers were able to get flying again in a few weeks. Amazing—and shows the dedication and hard work of those young soldiers.

Mobile Crash Crew Rebuilds Forts

Soldiers, Technicians Fix Planes Where They Crash

by Russell Jones, Stars and Stripes Staff Writer
Friday, April 30, 1943

Mobile Repair Unit, Eighth Air Force, England, April 29—A Flying Fortress comes back from a raid, battered, shot-up, barely able to make England. The pilot sets her down in the first convenient clearing, and, satisfied that he has accomplished his mission, goes back to his base. When he came down he found that the field was too short, and so he made a belly landing. The motors are smashed, the ball turret shoved almost through the roof and the tail turret is pushed in.

Two weeks later he is back in the air flying the same plane.

Few people know what occurred in those two weeks, but something has happened that saves the United States thousands of dollars that keeps the Air Force at the peak of efficiency.

Five minutes after that pilot brought his plane down he had reported to his base, and an inspector was on his way to determine the amount of damage. As soon as the inspector made his report, a Mobile Unit was contacted and was on its way to the plane.

11 Soldiers, Six Technicians

There are 17 men in his mobile unit; 11 soldiers and six technicians of the Lockheed Overseas Corp., experts in all types of plane repair.

George Krouskup, technician, of Kittitas, Wash., is in charge and working with him he has T/Sgt. Andrew Yanchek, of Springfield, Ohio; Sgt. Merrill Robbins, of Bingham, ME; S/Sgt. Robert Levien, Marion, Ohio; Sgt. Lawrence H. Heikkila of Castle Rock, Wash.; Cpl. Kenna Lewis, East Liverpool, Ohio; Cpl. Herbert Groening, of Cleveland, Ohio; Cpl. James Taylor, Cleveland, Ohio; Cpl. Rodger Case, Columbus, Ohio; Cpl. William Brown, Springfield, Ohio; Pfc Richard Manning,  Arlington, Mass; Pfc Phillip Flagg, Dayton, Ohio, and technicians Rovert Weddle of Salt Lake City, Utah; R.E. Jarrett of Santa Monica, Cal., and William Landis and George Dalton, both of Los Angeles.

This crew is only one of the first units in an organization that Col. Charles Steinmets, commander of the Advanced Air Service, hopes will be able to take care of any plane, no matter where it crashes. All crews will be similar in organization; a nucleus of skilled technicians working with the men of the Air Force.

As the service is expanded, the crews will be specialized to work only on specific types of planes; i.e., one crew will repair only Lightnings while another will work exclusively on Libs or Forts.

In two huge trailers, two jeeps, a truck and a reconnaissance car, they drive to the plane and set up shop. In one of those trailers they have  their own power plant, lathes, power saws—everything they need for an almost complete overhaul of any plane, In the other are bunks, rations, and a tiny kitchen. The truck carries their heavy equipment.

They have just come from another crash job, one of a series that has kept them away from their base for almost three months. They haven’t seen any of the other men in their unit since an officer came out to pay them and give them their rations. They have lived in their trailer or, if there were one handy, a hotel. Cpl. Lewis has cooked most of their meals.

Live Under the Wings

They drive the vehicles under the wings of the damaged plane, and in a few minutes are at work.

On this job, the props have been twisted and, rather than take a chance on a bent crankshaft, they pull out the motors and send for new ones. In the landing the ball turret struck the ground so hard that the tripod and pillar above it were shoved through the roof. The tail turret bounced several times and was smashed beyond repair.

New turrets are ordered and the Fort’s “skin” peeled from the punctured spots. One man crawls in the plane and “bucks” the rivet, while another uses a regulation air hammer to drive it home, “stitching” the new metal in securely. Other men maneuver the turrets in position for a hydraulic jack to boost them into their places.

While the new motors are taken from their crates and assembled, a local engineer outfit—in this case under the command of Col. Harry “Hitch-hike” Hule—starts to build a temporary runway. Capt. Richard Evans, of Chicago, and his 15 men level off the hard ground, tear down trees and, by the time the motors are in have 900 feet of level ground. 

The final touches are put to the plane and the motors have been tested when Maj. Allen G. Russell, former test pilot from North Hollywood, Cal., and M/Sgt. Burton Davis, of Mount Morris, Ill., arrive to take the big ship home.

Krouskup and his boys plant a final kiss on the fuselage of their ship—they feel that it will always be part theirs—and, as it takes off, turn and say, “That’s that. Where’s the next ?”

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