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Mission to Munster

The Story of Robert Rosenthal

By Margaret DraperPublished 11 months ago 4 min read

The views and opinions expressed in this story are solely that of the author, unless stated otherwise.

It was a beautiful fall day at Thorpe Abbott RAF airbase. Ground and buildings got smaller as the gigantic B-17, Royal Flush, slowly climbed to its cruising altitude. Looking out of the cockpit, Robert, "Rosie" Rosenthal's thoughts turned once more to the early morning briefing. This mission was different than the last two, as the target was going to be civilians. He and the crew were tired. This was the third straight mission in as many days. Schweinfurt and Bremen had been extremely stressful. The number of casualties and fighter planes were both high. "Penny for your thoughts," aske Winifred "Pappy" Lewis, Rosie's Copilot. "Just thinking about today's mission," Rosie answered. "This is the first time we're going to bomb civilian targets." "That's ok," Pappy answered." "The Grouts have taken enough of our boys. They've got what's coming to them. Anyway, any sign of our fighter escort? We're already across the Channel, half way to the Baltic." "Nothing yet, but they're probably just delayed, Rosie replied."

Rosie kept his growing fears to himself. Looking out the cockpit, he could see several B-17s drop out of formation. He knew that neither the men or planes were ready for another mission so soon after the previous losses. He reminded himself that "he had to do what he could, for as long as he was able."1 As the Ruhr came into sight, so did a growing number of German Messerschmitt. "Guns ready", Called Rosie to the crew over the radio. "Yes sir," answered Clarence Hall, Top Turret Engineer. Sharp bursts from enemy machine gun fire raked the sky. Rosie saw "The El Pae sstofo" burst into flames. Looking around, there was still no sign of the backup fighter planes as enemy flak took its toll. During a brief lull, William DeBlasio, Tail Gunner, came up to the cockpit. "Everything ok up here?" he asked. "Brace yourself, it's going to get crazy really soon," Rosie said. Just as he spoke, the three men watched in horror as B-17s "Shackrat" and "Horny" were blown out of the sky. Everywhere there were sudden explosions as B-17s were hit by intensive enemy fire.

Blasts from Messerschmitt Bf-109s and Me-262s increased at an alarming rate as the B-17 s neared their target: the Munster Cathedral. Suddenly, there was a loud boom and fire flared from the right engine. "Continue on course, and prepare to drop," called Rosie. "Yes sir, replied Clarence Hall, Top Turret Engineer. "On your call." "Target insight; now!" Rosie called over the radio. Four thousand pounds of bombs dropped onto their civilian target far below their origin of 20,000 feet. "Turn this plane around and head for home," Rosie said. Enemy fire increased even more as The Royal Flush labored to make the return journey. One more engine was hit from flak. With two engines down, Rosie knew The Royal Flush could not catch up to the remainder of the Flying Fortress B-17s. They were alone in the skies, and a sitting target for German aircraft. "We're not going to catch up to anyone from the 13th Combat Bomb Wing," Rosie yelled over the radio. "Prepare to fight it out!" Several German fighters honed in quickly on the crippled bomber. "Pappy turn her around, hard left." Royal Flush was now facing the oncoming enemy aircraft. "Fire." Bursts from the Sperry power turret's 50-calibre turret raked the oncoming aircraft. Two planes burst into flames and dropped from the sky. Dropping altitude, Royal Flush labored to continue its perilous return trip. Once again, enemy fighters honed in on the lone bomber. This time, the famed marksmanship of the Luftwaffe hit home. "Oxygen system down, right wing hit hard," Clarence Hall, Top Turret Gunner reported. At the same time, Lorene Darling, Waist Gunner gave an update from his compartment. "We're in bad shape, here sir. Schaffer's been hit, hard, and I'm bleeding too."

Before Rosie could reply, DeBlasio called out from the Tail Gunner Compartment. "Enemy aircraft coming in hard and fast, sir." "Give 'em everything you got," Rosie answered. Rockets streamed towards the Royal Flush. By some stroke of fate, all missed their intended target. DeBlaiso opened fire and hit the biggest plane to his left. Then he raked his machine gun left to right. Two enemy planes crashed into each other and burst into a ball of flame. "Empty out your rounds and get up front right away," Rosie called.

With the two engines down, and the oxygen system out of commission, Rosie gave the order to get rid of extra supplies and equipment. The crew frantically worked to lighten the crippled plane. "Are we going to make it, sir?" Ronald Bailey, Navigator, asked. "Drop altitude to 10,000 feet," Rosie said. "We're going home, Bailey," Rosie answered. Slowly the Royal Flush made its way over Holland. The German fighter pilots finally turned and headed back. Low on fuel and ammunition, they gave up on the tempting target Royal Flush had made.

Finally, crossing the English Channel once again England came in sight. Fog and clouds obscured view of the ground. After circling several times, Thorpe Abbott was spotted and Royal Flush landed on home base. Ground crew immediately rushed Darling and Schaffer off for medical attention. The remaining crew staggered out of the cockpit exhausted and in shock. DeBlasio vomited uncontrollably as the full horrors of the day set in.

Rosie was called for an immediate briefing. "The next day, his superiors sat in stunned silence as they listened to Rosie's full report. The realization hit home that Royal Flush was the only plane out of thirteen to make it back from Munster. "Are they all this rough?"2 Rosie asked one of his superiors. We are forever grateful to Rosie Rosenthal, and all the other brave fighters who risked so much and gave their lives in service to their country.









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