Original WWII 885th Bomb Squadron Special Group B-17 "Mission Belle" Named Navigator Grouping
Original Items: One-of-a-kind set. Lieutenant Harry W. Larson serial number O-700740 from Lansing, Illinois was a Navigator aboard the B-17 modified bomber MISSION BELLE and was a member of the 15th Air Force, 885th Bombardment Squadron which was assigned to the legendary 2641st Special Group.
The 2641st Special Group were engaged in special operations in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, December 1944-May 1945. The 885th Bomb Squadron operated primarily in Italy.
The squadrons of the Special Group operated specially modified B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators painted all black with very limited identification markings. The 885th operated both types of aircraft.
The aircrews were trained in low-altitude night operations in which the pilot, navigator, and bombardier worked together to guide the aircraft to the drop zone (DZ). This often necessitated traversing mountainous terrain followed by descent into deep valleys, in darkness, guided in the final approach by the eyes of the bombardier and the hands of the pilot. Final approach to the DZ was at an altitude of a few hundred feet at near stall speeds.
Several Distinguished Unit Citations and numerous commendations were awarded to the two squadrons and to the 2641st Special Group (Prov) as a result of their efforts. The 885th was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm for operations in support of the French Resistance and a Distinguished Unit Citation for operations on the night of 12/13 August 1944. On that date the 885th, while based at Blida Airport, Algeria, delivered a total of 18 agents and 67,000 pounds of war material to the Resistance in the south of France. The 2641st Special Group (Prov) received a Unit Citation for operations in Italy's Po Valley on the night of 17/18 February 1945 in which both the 885th and 859th squadrons participated.
Again, the Special Group was designated the 15th Special Group (Prov) at the time of this operation but by the time the Unit Citation was issued it had been designated the 2641st Special Group (Prov) and, according to Col. MacCloskey, the Unit Citation carried that designation.
At the peak of its operations in February 1945, the Special Group delivered thirty-four agents and over two million pounds of weapons and supplies while operating twenty-six out of twenty-eight days and flying approximately one-half million miles. Three hundred and fifty-four successful sorties (nearly 14 per day on average) were flown out of four hundred and eighty-six attempts. The vast majority of unsuccessful sorties were the result of "no reception" at the target drop zones. This feat was accomplished by forty-eight aircrews, thirty-four aircraft, and their ground support personnel.
These efforts were not without cost. During its brief five-month period of operation (January - May), the Special Group lost to flak, fighters and the hazards of special operations a total of seven aircraft with thirty-five crewman killed in action. These losses were on top of previous losses suffered by the two component squadrons in their prior assignments. In addition, as a result of these losses, several crewmen of the Special Group spent time in German prisoner of war camps during the last days of the war in Europe.
Lieutenant Harry W. Larson served for just over 3 years and was honorably discharged and records indicate he earned the following decorations: Distinguished Flaying Cross, Air Medal with Oak Leaf for actions that occurred on June 20th 1944, American Defense Medal, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal among others.
Included in this wonderful grouping are the following items:
- Stunning hand painted A-2 Leather Flight Jacket with B-17 on the reverse side and the name MISSION BELLE above. The jacket is a size 36R made by AERO Leather Company and features the original liner, functional original zipper and replacement waistband/cuffs that were done post war so Larson could continue to wear his jacket.
- Class A uniform jacket with Lieutenant bars, 15th Air Force patch, sterling silver Navigator wings, Presidential Unit Citation and name tag on internal pocket named to H W Larson and dated 10-24-43. Overall condition of the tunic is very good with some areas of wear and light moth.
- Fantastic "crush cap" that leaves no doubt this is the very the cap Larson used while in flight. Size 6 3/4. Worn and soft- just perfect!
- PILOTS NAVIGATION KIT (empty) of Harry Larson featuring a business card that reads: Harry W Larson, Lieutenant Air Corps, Army of the United States
- Scanned and printed images of Navigators of the 885th Bombardment Squadron and Larson with his crew in front of a B-17.
All in all, this is an exceptionally rare grouping, due to the missions he flew and the rarity of the squadron to which he was assigned. An incredible piece of U.S. WWII history.
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