From the Woolner Family
© Leslie Woolner Bardsley
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Frank Woolner
Journalist, Headquarters, 3rd Armored Division

Published in Stars & Stripes - Feb. 21, 1945


"I feel better now," the infantryman said, as he hitched up his pack and prepared to move out -- "the Stukas are here!"

Along the frozen, muddy road which leads through this battered town to Cologne and the Rhine, motorized infantry and Sherman tanks of the crack Third Armd. Div. were moving up to attack. Above them, hovering under a high cloud ceiling, were the "Spearhead's Stukas," the aircraft nearest to the hearts of Third Armd. doughs. They were L4 Piper Cubs.

Forgotten Men

The men who fly artillery liaison are forgotten men. When ground forces are attacking, these light-plane jockeys fly continuously, reconnoitering, directing counter-battery on German positions, searching out targets of opportunity. There is little glory. Liaison pilots are workmen. They don't go home after completing a certain number of missions. They fly right out of one campaign and into another. Except for the unstinted praise of ground forces who know what Cub observers can do, the reward of the liaison flier is small.

Does the Impossible

Occasionally a light plane flier is called upon to do the impossible -- and does it. Lt. Francis F. Pfeifer, of Wichita, Kan., was recently awarded the DFC for recovering a damaged plane in enemy territory.

At LaCapelle, France, Pfeifer landed his plane in a hail of small arms and machine-gun fire to attempt ferrying out the damaged machine. While his co-pilot waited anxiously, Pfeifer reached the grounded aircraft, started it and, with enemy soldiers less than 200 yards away, took off.

Armored force Stuka pilots work under division control. The men wear the armored patch. Many of them are former tankers, reclassified because their 20-cards noted flight training.

Spurn Flak Suits

L4 Cubs, and L5 Stinsons flown by these pilots, carry no defensive armament. Flak suits are available for the two man crew, but are seldom worn because extra weight cuts down efficiency. Each mobile artillery battalion in the present American armored division uses at least two of the aircraft.

Unusual situations are often the rule. In France, Lt. Harold A. Stone, of Lebanon, Tenn., was flying a night mission after spotting a battery of guns during the usual dusk patrol, and was faced with the problem of landing. No provision had been made for night operations and he knew that it would be suicide to attempt a touchdown at the assigned airstrip. But he recalled a flat stretch of pasture near a lake. He found the water and came in to a perfect landing. An enemy dusk raider dropped a stick of bombs into the lake immediately afterward.

Flak Not Troublesome

Enemy flak is not especially troublesome to a Stuka flyer. Occasionally an 88mm dual purpose gun will snap a half-dozen shells at one of the little planes, and then quit for fear the fire will be observed. Cub pilots are probably more respectful of our own heavy artillery shells than they are of flak. Captain Francis P. Farrel, former air officer of the 3rd Armored Division, was killed in action when his Cub was destroyed by our own shell fire, while patrolling over in Germany.

Lt. Thomas E. Turner, red headed veteran from Spartanburg, S.C., narrowly escaped a like fate. Turner, flying a Stuka at Gavray, France, suddenly felt the control stick jerk in his hand. A 105mm artillery shell had passed completely through stabilizer and rudder without detonating.

If you have ever been on the receiving end of enemy artillery fire, you will immediately understand why ground forces love the Cubs.

Lt. Chester McClure, of Cedarville, Kansas, who observes for Lt. Harold B. Stone, sometimes takes a break from his aerial spotting and goes to the front in a tank, but this is unusual. McClure, however, maintains that there is less nervous tension in a tank attack than in the sky patrol.

German soldiers know that the cost of poor camouflage discipline is always detection by the Cubs and a subsequent rain of American explosives. There is nothing Jerry can do about it: when he counter-attacks our line, the flying observer brings down a barrage of flying steel; when he attempts to knock Fortresses and Liberators out of formation, ever-present Cubs put the finger on one flak position after another -- and "the finger" means an immediate counter-battery. Sometimes the enemy is driven to a boiling rage and then he sends over a flight of precious fighters to neutralize the irritation. A Luftwaffe pilot, who bailed out of a smashed Me-100 over Hastenrath, Germany, admitted that his mission had been to strafe the landing strips of liaison aircraft. That day, 17 enemy fighters were shot down by American AA artillery in this sector, while attempting to carry out like sorties.

Grandstand Seats

An average reconnaissance or fire direction mission runs to one hour 25 minutes. During that time the Cub pilot and observer have grandstand seats for the biggest, deadliest show on earth. They see the entire fighting line in one sweeping view. However, you can't see the defending German troops. The enemy's ground looks completely deserted. From the air you can't even hear the exchange of explosives; you can only see the plumes of smoke which indicate a hit, the sharp, irregular blossoms of shell fire.

Flying from advanced strips to complement the observation of ground OPs, and to reconnoiter terrain which is beyond the vision of any other medium, liaison pilots and spotters have to be experts. Recognizing the valuable work done by these close-support aviators, the War Department at present authorizes the commissioning of each pilot and observer. In the case of Lt. Thomas K. Turner, the new policy provides a humorous note.

This is the Army

Turner was a T/5 when he was first assigned to fly an L4 Cub in Africa. He later flew missions in Sicily over two amphibious landings, and only received his Staff Sergeant's stripes after flying for the 29th Inf. Div. on D-Day in France.

Turner, with his artillery battalion, was attached to the Third Armd. Div. when it landed on the continent, and accomplished the big steel striking force on its long drive from Normandy, through France and Belgium to the Siegfried line. He was commissioned in Germany -- and then advised, by his personnel officer, that a new order, recently received, might make it necessary for him to return to the United States for proper training as an artillery liaison pilot! It seemed that the hasty Air Forces brush-up school, which Turner attended in Algeria, was not recognized by the War Department.

Although he has nearly 300 combat missions logged, Turner says he is willing, if they twist his arm a little, to return to the States and learn to fly.

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