The Adventures of a Frantic V Crew Chief

Polatava, Russia, Aug 1944, 

(Top L-R) Bill Hood, a Russian, Egan's Russian accomplice, Dick Eagan, Don Lumley, and two Russians. Ground L-R) Russian, Sgt JL Pizani, a Russian, Unknown, SSgt Amos Langdon, and a Russian

Those who were part of FRANTIC V, and those who have read past issues of the 357th News letter, will recall that FRANTIC was the code name for the various shuttle missions to Russia, from both England and Italy, in August, 1944. There had been four previous shuttle missions, none very productive. For number five the 357th was tasked to provide escort on the final leg into Russia. For all of those on the mission - the pilots and some 30 plus ground crews, it was a memorable event. With the advantage of 50 years hindsight, the ground crew participation appears to have been a total fiasco. Although there are no documents in the writer's files that spell out their intended duties, it seems obvious that the P-51 technicians were meant to service and repair the fighters in Russia and Italy. If they had performed that duty, the disastrous episode of servicing many of the Mustangs with the wrong fuel, might have been avoided. In fact, the 357th ground crews never saw the P-51s in either country, and spent their time with the bombers where they probably accomplished very little useful work.  

The B-17s, from the 95th and 390th Bomb Groups were scheduled to land and be based while in Russia, at Poltava, while the P-51s occupied an airfield at Piryatin, about 100 miles away. Surely the base selection had been done at 8th AF Headquarters, and were well known to the mission planners. Why they bothered to send the 357th technicians at all remains a mystery.

All of those who participated have stories to tell and some of them have done so in earlier publications. We intend here to relate the adventures of 364th crew chief, SSgt Richard Eagan. He, like many others of the 357th, was assigned the totally unfamiliar duty as a waist gunner in one of the B-17s. The mission itself was long and relatively uneventful, but probably the experience of a lifetime for the neophyte gunners on their first mission.

According to Eagan's diary, his B-17 landed at Poltava at 1730 hours, on the 6th of August, after a ten hour mission.

 Part of the B-17 force, with a small P-51 escort, flew a bombing mission the next day - the only one from the Russian base. The extremely short stay on Russian soil may have been due to the memory of the many B-17s lost to German bombs on the previous shuttle. It was a case of "getting the hell out of here" .

On the morning of the 8th, the two bomb groups, along with most of the 357th departed Russian bases, bound for Italy. It was at this point that Dick Eagan's war took a divergent path from the rest - while taxiing into take off position, his B-17 dropped a wheel into a hastily filled bomb crater and became mired up to its hub. By the time the aircraft was extricated from the mud, the rest of the B-17 force was well on it's way to Italy and Eagan's aircraft was not allowed to proceed alone.  

Sometime during this idle waiting time, Eagan engaged in a bit of espionage type burglary with a Russian accomplice. On the second day at Poltava, a Russian photographer had taken at least two photos of a mixed group of 357th ground crews and Russian airmen. At about this same time Eagan had several conversations with a Soviet officer who spoke some English.  

Eagan recalls the episode: 

Sometime after the pictures were taken I asked him about getting a copy of the photos for myself. He said he would try but would I do him a favor in return. He asked if I would go to one of the medics on the base and see if it was possible to obtain some penicillin. He had a venereal disease and there was no way he could get what he needed in the Russian armed forces. It so happened that the GI medic was from a city not to far from Peabody, Mass, and he and I had gotten friendly. I approached him about getting some penicillin and his answer was "sorry, no". At least I had tried. I went back to the Russian, told him I tried, but would still like a copy of the photos. He believed me, and set up a meeting with me that evening. He and I went into Poltava late in the night and while I stood guard, he broke into the photo-lab and stole two copies for me. As I look back, we were both crazy, we could both have been shot on the spot and no one would ever know what happened. The two photos that could have caused an international incident, are seen with this article. Three days later, on the 11th of August, the B-17 with Eagan (and his purloined photos) departed Poltava with a Russian navigator, bound for Teheran, Persia (now Iran). On the day they left for Teheran, most of the 357th and the bombers returned to their bases in England. Eagan kept a brief diary of events for the next two weeks and we will quote from this to follow his activities.

11 August: Left Russia 7 AM, arrived Teheran Persia 1500 hours. Put up in ATC (Air Transport Command) section of Camp Aaminabel, American camp just outside Teheran. Went into Teheran and saw some of the sights.

12 August: Troubles with aircraft, decided to wait until the next day before take off. Had all the ice cream in the world to eat and I saw an old movie at the open air theatre.  

13 August: Left Teheran 0630 Sunday, arrived Payne Field, Cairo, Egypt 1400. Put up at ATC camp. Went t into Cairo at night and saw a bit of the city. Had ODs on and were the only soldiers in town with ODs. 

14 August: Drew some Tans from quartermaster, will be normal again now. Went into Cairo for the day but there wasn't much about Cairo that I cared about. 

15 August: Another whole day and all of it spent here on the field. I didn't feel like going into Cairo, so instead hung around the service club. Think I'll  go to the movies tonight. 

16 August: We took off this morning around 0800, but had to turn back on account of a bad engine. They are pulling an engine change and it should he ready some time tomorrow afternoon, which means that we probably will take off  Friday. I haven't any money so I'd just as soon get back to England as soon as possible. Looks like the movies again tonight. 

17 August: Hung around all day, our plane being  worked on and it doesn't look as though we would be out of here for a couple of days yet. Saw a ping pong match between the RAF and Payne Field last night - pretty good, but the RAF won.

18August: Another day lust hanging around. Saw as soft ball game between the WACs of Camp Huckstap and the boys of Payne Field. Afterwards saw a very good movie, THE CANTERBURY GHOST.

19 August: Still here but it looks as if the plane would be ready tomorrow. It will be test flown this afternoon and I think I will go along for the ride. I want to get a good look at the Sphinx and the Pyramids.

28 August: Cairo to Tunis.

30 August: Tunis to Marrakish.

1 Sept: Marrakish to Horsham. 

Total flying time, 54 hours, 8,499 miles.

End of Eagan diary.

The long gap from 19 August to the 28th is explained by the fact that they departed Cairo several times during that period, but turned back each time with engine problems. In addition, by now he was eager to get home and simply let his diary entries taper off.

Sgt Eagan was not the only one who came home late from Frantic V. Captain Maurice Baker, 362nd pilot, crashed on takeoff from Italy, and he also returned much later in a B-17 via Casablanca and Algiers. It is believed that several other pilots returned late due to mechanical problems in Russia and Italy. 

Soon after return of the mission, Group  Headquarters published a citation awarding the Air Medal to 3 officers and 32 enlisted men on the shuttle. The 35 men on the list did, in fact, receive the Air medal, but Eagan was not on the list. Eagan should have received the medal. 

Written by Merle Olmsted, 357th FG Historian, courtesy of the 357th FG Association Newsletter.