Original U.S. WWII 752nd Bomb Squadron Bailed Out Co-Pilot Named A-2 Flight Jacket
Original Item: One-of-a-kind.Never have we offered an item with this much personal story. Joseph M. Sirotnak enlisted on December 3rd, 1942. He was a B-24 Liberator Co-pilot in the 8th Air Force, 458th Bombardment Group, 752d Bombardment Squadron during WWII. He flew on the Consolidated B-24H Liberator "7V-T" - Serial # 41-28963 USAAF 458 BG, 752 BS, Horsham St. Faith, Stn 123. He and most of his crew were forced to bail out 4000 feet above the Swedish coastline on January 17th, 1945 where they stayed until the end of the war. Joe's personal account of that day can be found below.
The crew consisted of the following men:
- Roger Hicks, Pilot
- Joe Sirotnak, Co Pilot
- William Haslauer, Navigator
- Bob Betz, Ball Turret Gunner
- John Berdar, Radio Operator, Top Turret Gunner
- Bob Schauseil, Tail Gunner
- Bob Birmingham, Nose Gunner
- Milton Bennet, Waist Gunner
- Eddie Quarford, Mechanic
- Robert Brittain, Bombardier
The Hicks' crew was assigned to the 458th in late November 1944. Their first mission to Hanau, Germany was on December 11th. They flew on Christmas Eve 1944, when the Eighth Air Force put over 2,000 heavy bombers and their fighter escorts in the air, striking airfields and communications centers in western Germany. The 458th lost one B-24 on this date, 1Lt Charles Giesen's crew from the 752nd Squadron. Hicks and crew flew one more mission in December and three in January before their last on January 17th.
Here is Joe's Personal account of January 17th 1944 below, which is described in more detail at this website Hicks Crew - Assigned 752nd Squadron
Is This Sweden?
On January 17, 1945, the 458th Bomb Group participated in an attack on one of NSDAP Germany’s last remaining oil refinery facilities at Harburg just south of Hamburg. Our Liberator was in formation position with the 752nd squadron flying in the lower slot.
We made it over the IP and then headed down the chute on our bomb run. The bomb bay doors were opened and we prepared to pull the trigger upon the release of the lead ship. The drop came and we let go bombs away. Immediately, just ahead of us, and at the same level, there was a black burst. Then another, so close that we flew through the smoke. But then the ship shuddered, and we knew that we had been hit. Roger Hicks had the stick while I tried to raise someone on the intercom. There was no answer. The intercom was dead. After a few moments, the engineer, Eddie Quarford, arrived on the flight deck. He advised that we have taken a direct hit in the bomb bay. The shell entered the still-open bomb bay doors on the right side severing the electrical, communication and hydraulic lines. It then went on through the fuel tank leaving a gaping hole through which poured a stream of 100 octane gasoline. Eddie reported that the waist areas were completely saturated with fuel. He pointed to the legs of his flying suit which were soaked in gasoline almost to his knees. Our radio operator, John Berdar came into the cockpit and we told him and Eddie to go back into the waist to warn all hands of the tremendous fire hazard.
In the meantime, we noticed a severe loss of power in the No. 4 engine. It was putting out about half of the normal inches. While we were tinkering with this problem, the oil pressure on the No. 3 engine began dropping, and we were forced to feather. Eddie returned and advised that he could see flak damage on the No. 4 engine and that the supercharger assembly appeared to have been knocked off. This explained the loss of power.
We were now rapidly falling behind our element so we got on the radio. Lincoln Green Leader, this is Q for Queen. We have a direct hit in the bomb bay. We have No. 3 engine feathered, and we are drawing about half power from No. 4. We are falling behind the formation. Request fighter cover until we can study our situation.
Roger, Q for Queen, we are calling in a couple of Mustangs to baby sit. In a short time, a flight of three P-51’s appeared, and kept us in sight off to our left. We had lost some altitude, and it was just about sure that we would lose more. We sent Eddie into the back of the ship again to have the crew start jettisoning equipment to see if we could maintain altitude. Since, obviously, we could not fire the guns anyway, they were the first things to go over the side. They were followed by anything that could be dismantled or torn loose. We continued to lose altitude and the distance between us and the group lengthened to the point where we could hardly see them anymore.
Q for Queen, this is Lincoln Green Leader. Your escort will have to leave because of fuel considerations. What is your situation?
Roger, Lincoln Green Leader, we are continuing to lose altitude slowly. We estimate that we have lost half our fuel. The cross feed system is working, and we are able to keep three engines turning.
We decided it was time for a meeting with our navigator, Bill Haslauer. He reminded us that we were briefed for extremely heavy headwinds for the return trip possibly up to 100 mph at the higher altitudes. He did some calculations and estimated that we had about 45 minutes of fuel left. Certainly, it would not be possible to make it back to England. We were aware that a dunk in the North Sea in January would be fatal. We decided to make a try for Sweden.
Unfortunately, Bill’s maps did not go beyond the northern part of Germany. Roger Hicks thought the heading ought to be about 15°. I voted for a heading of 35°. Bill suggested a compromise so we turned to a heading of 25°.
Lincoln Green Leader, this is Q for Queen. We do not have sufficient fuel to make it back to base. We are going to head north and hope for the best.
Roger, Q for Queen. We read you. Good luck!
We turned into a 25° heading while we struggled to keep our loss of altitude to a minimum. We told Eddie to continue his efforts to lighten the ship. This meant throwing over any radio equipment that could be detached, dropping the ball turret, getting rid of flak suits, and anything else that did not have an immediate essential use. We were now able to slow our descent to about 200 feet per minute. However, this required all the extra power we could give the No. 1 and No. 2 engines since No. 3 was feathered and No. 4 was only giving us half our money’s worth. This was making the port engines run hot.
Now, we spotted two Luftwaffe aircraft, but they were below us. For some reason, they did not climb to meet us. As we passed over various built-up areas, bursts of flak appeared around us. We were passing over the north German coastline, and we could see the sea below us. The situation looked grim. We had no way of estimating how far we would have to go before reaching a landfall. The ship was saturated with gasoline. There were hundreds of flak holes in the wings and body of the aircraft which added to the drag. We continued to lose altitude. We were out of sight of land over an unfamiliar body of water.
We ran a check on everybody. The ball turret gunner, Bob Betz, and the tail gunner, Bob Birmingham had stayed in their positions after we were hit. There was some difficulty getting them out of the turrets since we had lost our hydraulic and electrical systems. Eddie Quarford did a superb job saving what fuel was not immediately lost. By using the cross feed system he was able to let us keep three engines turning with the gasoline remaining in one tank.
Bill Haslauer was the first to spot the landmass ahead. Then, we all saw it. But what was it? Denmark? Sweden? What did it matter? The gauges already hovered on the empty mark, so we decided to go in and try for a landing along the beach areas. We crossed the coastline. We were now at about 8000 feet, and we began the descent as we looked for a place to put down. At 4000 feet the engines quit. One by one, they died as the last of the fuel was sucked into their cylinders. Roger immediately ordered us to bail out. I was to go back into the waist to give the command since we had no intercom operating. As I buckled my chute, I struggled through the bomb bay to reach the opening of the waist. When I was sure that all of the crew members there had understood my signals and were moving to the floor hatch, I returned to the bomb bay catwalk to make my jump. Eddie, John Berdar, and Bill had gone, and Roger was approaching from the cockpit. I dove out headfirst.
The brief lecture we had several months before was now vividly in my mind. After you leave the aircraft, look up to make sure you are clear of the tail. I looked up as I tumbled through the air. I was clear of the tail. Hold your legs tightly together, then pull the ripcord. I held my legs tightly together. I pulled the ripcord. Now, look down to see how high you are, and look for a landing area. I looked down to see how high I was. I hit the ground!
Darkness. I had struck the ground so hard it knocked me out. Upon regaining consciousness I was aware of a tugging and realized that it was the billowing chute dragging me across a farmer’s plowed field. I was able to grab the lines and spill the chute. Then I took stock of my situation. My flying boots were gone. They had evidently come off when the chute popped. I was covered with mud and dirt from being dragged, and I had blood on my face. I was groggy so I sat for a few minutes. I could see a dirt road not far away, so I forced myself to my feet. Both ankles hurt, but I was able to limp the short distance to the side of the road. I could now see two figures on bicycles about half a mile away coming in my direction. They had uniforms, and they were armed with rifles slung over their backs. Although I could not recognize the uniforms, I did not think they were German. I had a .45 in a shoulder holster, but I decided not to draw it. I waited. The two soldiers approached and dismounted from their bikes. I was happy to see that they did not unsling their weapons. I pointed to the ground and asked if this was Sweden. They looked at me blankly for a few moments, and then one of them finally nodded his head while speaking in a language which was completely incomprehensible to me. But yet I understood. I was in Sweden!
In about 10 minutes, a small truck arrived and I was taken to a nearby farmhouse where a farmer’s wife gave me a hot drink and helped me to clean up. She also put a bandage over the cut on my nose. Shortly, we were back in the truck and drove for about 20 minutes until we arrived in front of the Grand Hotel in Falkenburg. There I found almost all of the crew. Roger Hicks was to turn up later. He had hidden in the forest for some time before giving himself up.
Bob Brittan, our RCM Operator, had landed on a roof and had injured his leg. The others said they had landed hard but they seemed okay. When Roger Hicks finally arrived, he was suffering from a sprained back, but he was able to walk. Bob Betz and Milt Bennett, the waist gunners, were in the best condition. No bruises, sprains, or broken bones. They didn’t bail out!
This is what happened. When it was their turn to go through the floor hatch, they decided that the ship was too low for them to jump safely. They assumed Roger and I intended to bring it in for a landing somehow. They chose to stay with us. With no one at the controls, the aircraft was now in a steep glide which enabled it to pick up substantial air speed. It leveled out at some proximity to the ground and made a beautiful belly landing in an open field. It slid along the ground strewing debris along its path, but remaining pretty much in one piece. Bob and Milt jumped out of the waist window as soon as the ship stopped moving. They ran to the front and saw that the cockpit was severely damaged. They clambered up to see if they could help us get out. They looked inside. The cockpit was empty!
We were in Sweden until after VE Day. After that we were involved in ferrying flyable Libs back to England. Perhaps in Germany there is still living a retired ex-munitions worker who in his haste assembled one 105 mm anti-aircraft shell with a defective contact fuse. Prosit, Mein Herr!
This story was written by Joe Sirotnak in 1980 and published in the 2nd Air Division Association Journal. Joseph M. Sirotnak, 91, of Cedar Grove, N.J., passed away on Sept. 21, 2015 he was a recipient of a purple heart.
Further research has revealed a scan of an INDIVIDUAL CASUALTY QUESTIONNAIRE for Sgt BERDAR the radio operator and the account of him baling out of the struggling aircraft after Sirotnak walked back and gave the order. The report is signed by J.M. SIROTNAK. Furthermore there is a very nice tribute page to his crew at the website, Forced Landing Collection
Aside from the astounding story Joe's A-2 jacket features some wonderful features including:
- Painted art of the 8th Air Force insignia.
- 44 bombs; meaning 44 successful bombing runs!
- Embroidered Pilot Wings.
- Embroidered 752nd Bombardment Squadron (sewn on backwards!).
- Embroidered 8th Air Force insignia on shoulder.
- Ink name in neck that reads JM SIROTNAK T-3974.
- Functional TALON zipper.
- Original cuffs and waistband.
Offered in excellent condition, complete with copies of photos, copies of documents and an incredible story, A-2 jackets with this much verifiable history are extremely rare.
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