Jun 17, 2014 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Seventy years after Allied forces created the largest armada ever assembled to accomplish the greatest seaborn invasion in history, 96-year-old Cazenovia veteran, Fred Taylor, can recall flying his B-17 bomber during the D-Day invasion of Normandy as if it were only yesterday.
“There were so many planes in the air it looked like Broadway,” Taylor said. “We bombed ahead of the troops. We flew at 12,000 feet — low altitude for heavy bombers. We could see the men down there. The English Channel looked like Broadway and Times Square with all the ships and transports, loaded with an enormous number of men and supplies. We put ashore 400,000 men. The Germans didn’t stand a chance.”
According to the National D-Day Memorial Foundation, the landing included more than 5,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes and more than 150,000 service men.
“After years of meticulous planning and seemingly endless training, for the Allied Forces, it all came down to this: The boat ramp goes down, then jump, swim, run and crawl to the cliffs. Many of the first young men (most not yet 20 years old) entered the surf carrying 80 pounds of equipment. They faced more than 200 yards of beach before reaching the first natural feature offering any protection. Blanketed by small-arms fire and bracketed by artillery, they found themselves in hell. When it was over, the Allied Forces had suffered nearly 10,000 casualties; more than 4,000 were dead,” according to the foundation’s website.
Taylor, at the time 26 years old, had been in the military for four years by the time he flew his bomber over Normandy in 1944. He was born in 1918. By 1939, in the middle of the Great Depression, he had dropped out of college at the University of Pennsylvania and started hitchhiking his way west. For two years, he “rode the rails” as a hobo, traveling from city to city looking for work.
“I had a bunch of penny postcards that were pre-stamped. I’d send them to my mother every once in a while to let her know I was still alive,” he said. “’Crazy Fred’ they called me.”
In the fall of 1940, he traveled to New York City and joined the Seventh Regiment of the National Guard. In February 1941, right after war was declared, his regiment was called into active federal service. In February 1942, he volunteered to join the Air Corps.
Taylor flew 31 total missions over Germany, northern Italy, France and Poland during his three years in the Air Corps — including two on D-Day.
“They got us up around 12:30 in the morning [on D-Day] for the briefing, then we had breakfast, then sacked out at our plane until takeoff,” he recalled. He said his crew had 10 men in the plane, and they were loaded with six 1,000-pound bombs in the weapons bay.
“We knew exactly what we were going to do,” he said.
Taylor’s plane — which was named “Patches” because it had more than 400 patched bullet holes in it from enemy fire — made one pass over Normandy that morning, aiming its payload at enemy installations and troops, he said. He said there was not much enemy opposition in the air. “You don’t get scared about anything because we just had such overwhelming power,” he said.
In the late afternoon of D-Day, after the Allied forces had secured the Cherbourg Peninsula (part of the Northwest coast of France), Taylor and his crew made a second bombing run at German positions in Cherbourg.
“That invasion was so well-organized and well-planned, Germany didn’t stand a chance,” Taylor said. “But they put up one hell of a fight.”
During his 31 bombing missions in the war, Taylor never lost a man or had his plane shot down, he said. But he did have one close call during the 1944 bombing of Berlin.
After dropping his payload, his two inboard engines were shot out, so he had only his two outboard engines left to carry him the three-to-four-hour flight back to England, during which he was escorted by fighter planes. His oxygen masks also failed.
“I still have a piece of flak that came through the dashboard and hit me in the chest,” he said. Flak were exploding shells shot at enemy aircraft from guns on the ground. “My co-pilot got hit in the helmet. He always wore two helmets and it went through one helmet.”
Taylor ended the war in 1945 as a first lieutenant. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, ribbons for serving in the European Theater of Operations, Presidential Group citations and other bars of honor.
Taylor was honorably discharged in 1945, after which he became a military recruitment officer in Syracuse. In 1952, he moved to Cazenovia where he became a turkey farmer.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.