The Donald E. King Diary

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DONALD EDWARD KING FLIGHT DIARY, 53rd TROOP CARRIER SQUADRON

Text in italic is for the purpose of editorial clarification.

MISSIONS OF THE 53RD TROOP CARRIER SQUADRON:
July 9, 1943. 18:00 hours. We have been briefed on our 1st mission. The invasion of Europe has begun [Operation Husky]. We are the 1st squadron to put American troops onto European soil - our target is Sicily. We stand around operations waiting to be taken to our planes. We are listening to the phonograph and talking. The truck comes and we leave for our planes.
19:00 hours. We are at our stations - 1st Lt. John L. Wood as pilot and myself as co-pilot, S/Sgt. Clifford V. Meadows as engineer, and PFC Walter E. Schryver as radio operator. We are to fly the left wing of the leading flight or our group. We start out motors and taxi to the south end of the runway for takeoff. We take off and circle the field to get into formation and pick up the other groups that are to join us. When we have our formation we head out on a course of 50 degrees until we reach the coast and turn to 126 degrees. All goes well and there are hundreds of planes in our formation.
20:00 hours. We reach our first checkpoint - an island off the coast of Tunis. We turn to a heading of 93 degrees and head for Malta. We have all our lights on now.
21:00 hours. We turn out our lights and no one can smoke. We do not see Malta but know we have passed it in the dark. I am doing most of the flying because it is dark and I am on the right side and can see better. We turn to 10 degrees.
22:00 hours. We fly until we come to Sicily. All goes well and it is quiet. We see many surface vessels waiting 10 miles off shore for a signal to land troops. We follow the coast of Sicily until we come to Gela and turn inland to our DZ. As we turn inland we meet a hail of machine gun fire and some anti-aircraft. It is over in minutes and we drop our troops on the DZ. We see Gela in flames and completely destroyed. Earlier in the evening a flight of P-40's went over at high altitude and drew the Italian search lights and another flight of B-17's came over before us to pick up radar and distract their fire. All is dark except for the flares the Italians and Germans are shooting up in their vain attempt to locate us.
23:00 hours. We lose altitude again and head directly home - 225 degrees - none of our aircraft are lost, but other squadrons have lost a few. Everything goes well all the way home and everyone lands safely by 01:30 hours. We have most of the camp out to meet us and the cooks have some coffee and donuts for us. Not much excitement for an invasion.

July 11, 1943 - (my 24th birthday). 19:00 hours. We are briefed and ready to take our stations. We have the same crew with the exception of Sgt. [Hubert W.] Crockett as engineer and 2nd Lt. [James W.] Elmore as navigator. Among the paratroopers are a major, a captain, and a 1st Lieutenant. They are a rough looking bunch of boys. We are taking 1st Lieutenant Walter A. Blair along for the ride knowing there won't be much tonight. We are to fly the right wing this time and be the deputy squadron leader.
20:00 hours. We are in take-off position all talking and having a big time. We take off and circle the field getting into formation and picking up the other groups we are to take - we are the last squadron in our group tonight. We start on the same course as before - our target is nearly the same spot. We are on our own tonight because they are to have things well under control - no P-40's or B-17's. 21:00 hours. We take up a heading of 88 degrees until we reach an island half way to Malta. Our altitude is 100 feet - those following us are lower. It is a beautiful night and visibility is good.
22:00 hours. We are nearly to Malta and have changed course to 96 degrees. All is going well and we are laughing and joking.
23:00 hours. We can see Malta clearly tonight and circle it to the south and east and turn 7 degrees and to Sicily. Twenty minutes from Malta I am to give the paratroopers their warning to stand up and hook up. We still have our formation lights on although we don't need them. We also have our amber recognition light on. John says, "This is just like practicing back in the U.S." He no more than gets the words out than a surface vessel which is directly below us cuts loose with a hail of machine gun fire. We know it is an allied ship and we have our recognition lights so we really swear at them. We are not hit bad. Ehnot and Froom [Flight Officer John Ehnot and 2nd Lt. Arnold R. Froom] on the left wing must be hit bad but they stay in formation. Machine gun fire and anti-aircraft fire is thick on the island of Sicily now. We are still at 100 feet but start to gain altitude because of the hills on the island. We reach the island and find out 1 of the paratroopers is hit but insists upon jumping just the same. We fly inland 2 minutes and turn to 320 degrees. As we turn, Ehnot and Froom do a beautiful chandell to the left and never pull out. We see them burning on the ground and John said, "Ehnot just crashed", and I said, "He did?" It didn't bother us in the least because we were busy dodging machine gun fire. We had to leave formation and make a 360 degree turn to the left to get over a hill. We were really on our own now and all hell has broken loose. We get to our DZ. The major says, "Friend or enemy, we'll kill those bastards!", and they jump from 600 feet above the ground. After they jump we push the nose down and throttles and pitch ahead to 50 inches and 2750 r.p.m.'s. Whoever said a C-47 won't do 220 m.p.h. with racks on is crazy - we did it. We are pretty badly shot up by now are beginning to wonder. We don't see another aircraft.
00:01 hours. The coast is a solid wall of machine gun fire and anti-aircraft fire. We wonder how long it can last. Lt. Elmore is hit and knocked down - he has the radio operator take off his parachute while he fumbles for sulfanilamide. He is just scratched but scared. Crockett comes running up and says our tail has been badly shot up. He and Lt. Blair go to look at it. Blair says our tailwheel is shot nearly off, but none of the cables are hit. A slug comes from behind and rips into my parachute, setting it afire and spills it all over the cockpit. Blair grabs the fire extinguisher but decides to use his canteen of water because the chemicals in the extinguisher are injurious to the skin. He puts it out o.k. John is flying now and we are just skimming the hills at 200 m.p.h. We fly up every ravine we can, hunting for a way out of this wall of fire. We finally find a space between 2 concentrations of fire where we will be out of range of them. We duck up a ravine and head for the coast.
01:00 hours. We pull up over a hill at the end of the ravine and are met by a hail of machine gun fire from 15 to 20 ships lying just off the coast. As we reach the coast out altimeter reads 100 feet below sea level. We are still doing 200 m.p.h. barely out of the water and weaving and dodging to miss ships and fire. John is yelling, "If they get me grab it quick". We are hit some more and John turns off the battery switches to prevent fire. We think if we get through this we will be the only ones to return. We have our recognition lights on and are shooting flares to tell them we are friendly aircraft but they continue to shoot. It looks to me that John just dipped our left wing into the water so I caution him. We are finally out of this fire and try to find our position. We think we are far enough at sea by this time to be safe. We no sooner relax than hell breaks loose again. We shoot more flares but it doesn't do any good. We are finally out of it and I notice our aircraft is running rough and I know John noticed it too but neither of us mention it because there is no use to worry the rest of the crew. We pick our heading of 225 degrees and head for home - come what may we are ready now. We are surprised to see another aircraft pull into formation with us because we thought we would be the only ones lucky enough to get through that hail of lead. We don't know for sure where we are and our radio is shot out so we hold 225 degrees and hope and pray we make it. We know we will hit Africa somewhere but don't know where so we have 1 flare in case someone challenges us. We are at 1,000 feet and it is cloudy. We have a drink of water and a cigarette and every time John moves his cigarette I jump because it looks like a tracer. Every cloud reflected on the water looks like a ship and we both jump. I am doing most of the flying now because John had his share tonight.
02:00 hours. We see the coast of Africa and by luck we hit it in the right spot. We see Sousse below and a convoy of ships in the harbor. We turn on all our lights and shoot a flare. They don't shoot at us - thank God. We turn to 240 degrees and fly until we recognize our position. The British beacon by our field is flashing GZ so we know we are home but which is our field? We head directly at the beacon and cross a field on the way. We see the big red "M" at the end and recognize our own field. We decide to make an emergency landing because we think both of our tires are shot up. We have no more flares to shoot so we change our minds and decide to make a normal landing. I put the landing gear down and wait for the pressure to rise - it barely moves and we look at each other and all of a sudden it jumps up and we know our landing gear is down. We stick our heads out of the windows and by the use of flashlights see that our wheels are alright, but can't tell if there is air in them or not. We turn on our approach and put down flaps and John lands - a beautiful landing. We taxi to the end of the runway with our tail in the air because we don't know if we have a tail wheel or not. We finally have to sit it down and we all hang on - it is there and it holds! We taxi to the parking place and shut off the motors. We sit there a minute realizing we are the luckiest men in the world. We finally get out to look at the damage. It is just like a sieve and has 4 holes big enough to stick your head in. Lt. Elmore finds out it was a piece of the radio that hit him. We find that our squadron lost only 1 aircraft - Ehnot and Froom in aircraft 918. Several are shot up as bad and some didn't get hit at all. The old ground really feels good. We now have 2 white parachutes to paint on our aircraft. It is hard to tell when our aircraft will be ready to go again. I wish I could go back right away. We have the Navy to thank for a most enjoyable evening - I hope I can do as much for them sometime.

September 13, 1943 - Salerno. 14:40 hours. News comes that General [Mark] Clark's 5th Army needs reinforcements and we are to get them there as soon as possible. Lt. [Dayton E.] Shermer sets up the schedule and sets takeoff for 19:00 hours. We are to go to Comiso from our station here in Licata and pick up the 504th Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division.
18:00 hours. We have eaten and have our maps, escape kits, etc. We are at our stations at 18:30. In our aircraft is Lt. Wood, myself, Lt. [John J.] Carrig, Sgt. [Eugene L.] Slagowski, and Sgt. [Richard] Miranda. We are to lead the 2nd flight and fly the right element in a V of V's.
19:00 hours. We take off and head directly for Comiso on the S.E. tip of Sicily. By 19:30 we see the field and go into a right echelon for the landing. By 19:45 we are on the ground and parked in a line to load our troops. The whole mission is mixed up and no one knows where we are to go or when. We sit around for a while and finally the Colonel says we will go to the briefing.
22:00 hours. Our briefing was out in the field with a map of Italy pasted on a plane and the lights of a Jeep help a little. We are to go to a small town south of Naples where the 5th Army is in trouble. The Colonel says the DZ will be marked with a row of white lights in the form of a "T". He says there will also be radar. In case something is wrong and the DZ isn't lit there is a road and river junction that can be easily seen from the air and we will use that. He says the Navy is off the coast a few miles and don't know we are coming so to be on the lookout for them. He also says he doesn't think we will run into any enemy fighters. We know where the DZ is and how to get there, but that's about all, so the briefing is over and we don't know what we are getting into.
23:00 hours. Takeoff is set for 23:15 so we taxi into position and wait our turn. We have a captain and about 17 men on our aircraft besides our crew. We takeoff and head out on a heading of 40 degrees toward Catania. It is a beautiful night with a bright moon and it makes formation flying easy. We hardly need our lights so we turn off all but our formation lights and recognition light. At 23:34 we are at Catania and turn to 27 degrees and hold it until we come to the tip of Sicily which is midnight. We can see Mt. Etna towering high above us and a few smaller mountains below us. 00:00 hours. We turn to 37 degrees and fly until we see the coast of Italy at 00:12. All is going well and everyone is in formation but we are coming to some clouds so we climb to 1,500 feet. We turn to 5 degrees and follow the coast for 27 minutes and still no enemy action but we see several lights in the mountains along the coast. We passed over a couple of boats but I guess they saw our recognition lights this time and give us not a bit of trouble. We are getting a little nervous now because we are over enemy territory and we know what can happen. At 00:39 we turn to 324 degrees and fly along the coast until 00:55. All is still well and it is cloudier but we can still see alright. We turn to 308 degrees and fly until 01:12 and hit the coast. We turn to 20 degrees and fly inland for 4 minutes. Just as we crossed the coastline we give them the red light which means we are 4 minutes from the DZ. We get to the DZ and it isn't lit up at all, but all of a sudden a bunch of flares go up in the shape of a "T" so we give the green light and out they go at 01:17. We dropped them from 800 feet at 90 m.p.h. so we push the nose down to gain speed. Everyone is still in formation and still no enemy action. We head on for 1 minute before turning to give the ones behind us a chance to stay with us. Seeing those chutes go out at night is really beautiful. We head for the coast and climb to 8,000 feet because there is another group coming in under us. We fly the same course back and no more excitement than coming over. We are back in Licata and on the ground by 03:30. We head for intelligence to tell them how it went and what we saw and then to the mess hall for coffee and donuts. This was a quiet mission again but it could have been disastrous. We have another tomorrow night, but will have to miss it because our aircraft is out with an oil leak. First one we have missed. Guess I'll give up writing accounts of our missions until something really big comes off. These are getting to be just routine flights. I guess "Jerry" is just about through here.

Temporary promotion to 1st Lieutenant by command of General Eisenhower [01 MAY 1944].

THIS WAS LAST DIARY ENTRY FOR 267 DAYS UNTIL JUNE 5, 1944.

June 5, 1944. It has been nearly a year since I have written in this book. We have done a lot since then and have come a long way. We moved to England to take part in the invasion of the mainland from the west. We had our briefing on Sunday, June 3rd, and are just waiting for orders to start. This is going to be the real thing. We are to fly a 72-aircraft formation on this one and be the next-to-last group over the DZ. There will be well over 1,000 transports along with 18 paratroops apiece and that many paratroopers can handle the whole German army! We are to take off at 23:58 and drop at 02:32 and return. We just sit around around and wait until the rank decides the rest of the plans. They must be expecting gas because they make us wear impregnated clothing which makes us look more like infantry than Air Corps. It is 20:00 and we are getting into our clothes, leggings, G.I. shoes, and long underwear. Everyone is laughing and having a big time.
21:00 hours. We are at the final briefing and it is just routine - weather, opposition, communications, operating procedure, etc.
22:00 hours. Briefing is over and we check our flimsies, maps, escape kits, and the major gives us a little pep talk.
22:30 hours. We are at the aircraft and my crew is ready - myself as pilot, Lt. James Timmins as co-pilot, T/Sgt. Robert Decker as engineer, and S/Sgt. Paul Stone as radio operator. I am still flying the same aircraft I flew across - 832. I talk to the jump master who is a 2nd lieutenant and we get things coordinated for action in case of an emergency and just talk about things in general.
23:00 hours. We are sitting in the aircraft checking equipment and making last minute arrangements. We start the engines at 23:21 and taxi out at 23:48. Everything is going swell and we are all on the runway for a formation takeoff. I am flying the right wing of the 2nd element which is a good place. We are scheduled to take off at 23:58, so we have a little time to kill. We just sit and wait. The time comes and we're off!
00:00 hours. We are in formation and climbing. We are back over the field at 00:09 and head out on course 184 degrees. We pass each check point on time. The weather is clear and a big moon is shining so it is light as day. We continue on course until we reach a flashing beacon and turn to 237 degrees and continue on until we hit the Bristol Channel. From there we turn to 105 degrees until we hit the Isle of Wight. Here we turn off our navigation lights and our formation lights. We turn to 237 degrees and fly for 27 minutes. There are several boats along the way for check points and other formations are returning. We are over the English Channel now and anything can happen. Beautiful night and things are going swell. We are at 200 feet above the water and I think that is too high.
02:00 hours. We are at the Channel Islands where we are to turn into the Cherbourg Peninsula. There is some fire from both islands but we are out of range of both - I hope. We give the 20-minute warning to the jump master and has his men stand up and check equipment. Still not much fire. We reach the coast and think to ourselves that here is where we catch it. Nothing happens. So this is "Festung Europa". The fighters and bombers have really cleaned the place out. We cross the coast and give the red light - 4 minutes out of the DZ and still no fire. They throw up a little just out of the DZ but not enough to hurt although it takes only one. We cross the coast again but no fire. There are fires burning on the ground but no evidence of activity. We head for the island off the coast and run smack into the Navy. They must have been told to hold their fire this time because they don't fire or even challenge us. We are making pretty good time now and still in formation. They took a few pot shots at us from the coast but no harm is done.
03:00 hours. Right on course and headed for home. We have our lights back on now which makes it easier. Looks like a little clouds and rain so we move in close. It rains but you can see through it if you are close enough and we are. We come out of it alright and still in formation. We are at 3,000 feet and the moon is really bright here. All we have is to follow the light line home. Just a regular flight from here on in. We land at 05:15 and still in formation. We check the aircraft and find 1 hole in it in the tail. I think the boys done a fine job tonight. Another mission this afternoon so will continue from there.

NO ENTRIES FOR 104 DAYS.

September 16, 1944. 09:30 hours. We are at the briefing at group headquarters and from the map it shows our course will take us 100 miles into Holland and all over enemy territory. Could be very rough. We are to have plenty of fighters and fighter bombers and they are to lead us in and shoot up anything that moves. We are to be the 27th serial of 36 aircraft to a serial, so it must be quite an operation. I think by the time we get there, there will be little or no ground fire. We are to take off at 11:50 and drop at 14:06.
11:00 hours. We are at the aircraft because stations are at 11:00. I have two British 1st Lieutenants and 18 men. For bundles I have just 1 motorcycle. In my crew today is myself as pilot, 2nd Lt. James Timmins as co-pilot, T/Sgt Robert Decker as crew chief, and S/Sgt Paul Stone as radio operator. I have no navigator because I am flying the right wing of left flight in the 2nd half of the squadron. The British are loading up and have plenty of equipment. They seem like a swell bunch of men.
11:30 hours. We are starting our engines and taxiing to take-off position for a 11:50 take-off.
12:00 hours. We are in the air and assembled into formation. We come back over the field at 12:06 and head out on course. We are to go to our wing departure point at March and from there to Attleborough on the English coast. At the boat I let Timmins fly and get my flak suit and helmet on and the rest of the crew does the same. I take over while Timmins gets his on. I have lost all track of time and course but Timmins knows where we are. We see the Dutch coast and fighters right down on the deck hunting for anything that moves. As we cross the coast we see that the Germans have flooded the entire area. As we continue on still in perfect formation and still expecting anything, we see boats burning which means the fighters have knocked out the flak barges. Our altitude is just under 1,300 feet. We see 2 Horsa gliders down but no one around them. Gliders will never be successful or their upkeep. Here it is - someone cuts loose on the ground with something and I can see the black bursts as flak explodes above us. We are so low that I can hear the guns go off. They are right under us but don't hit us. They hit the outfit ahead of us but no one goes down. Now the fighter go down to silence it and that is that. We are so low I can hear the guns go off. They are right under us but don't hit us. They hit the outfit ahead of us but no one goes down. Now the fighters go down to silence it and that is the end of that one. Those fighters are alright. We continue on and here is the red light meaning we are four minutes out of the DZ now. We begin to lose altitude so we can drop at 680 feet. We start our slow down to drop at 110 m.p.h. or less. I see the DZ now. It is covered with gliders and parachutes. It has a blue smoke signal on it so we know we are right. As we come over the DZ I drop our motorcycle and give the paratroops the green light and they jump. We are at 700 feet and doing 110 m.p.h. and still slowing down. We get down to 90 m.p.h. before they all get out. When they are all gone we pour the coal to it and make a wide sweep to the left and head home on the same course as we came in on. Not a shot fired over the DZ and we gave them a perfect drop. We still have 100 miles to go over enemy territory so we go out a little faster than we came in. I'm always glad to get out in a hurry. We came back to the place where they shot us and it is on fire so we know there is no danger there anymore. We continue on and see the coast ahead of us and as we cross it we take off our flak suits and helmets and open a box of "K" rations and breathe easier. We see several gliders down in the water but the men have been picked up by the Air-Sea Rescue boats. We see three gliders in the water with men on the wings so we leave the formation and go down to see if they are all right. We make a pass at 200 feet above them and look it over again. We drop them a raft and start out to catch the rest of the formation. We cross the English coast again in the right place trying to catch our formation. We know we will be home in a couple of hours. We catch the formation just as they peel off to land. We come in and land and realize we were pretty lucky. Tomorrow we are supposed to tow gliders in.

September 17, 1944. 10:00 hours. Another briefing and this time we are to go into Holland to spot a southeast of Nijmegen which is nearly on the German border. We are to tow 1 loaded glider. Our route is the same as yesterday up to the IP and from there is it approximately 100 degrees for 40 minutes. Shouldn't be too rough. We are to have fighter cover again.
11:00 hours. We are at our stations and checking our glider. F/O Nickerson is flying the glider and it has a Jeep and 5 men in it. We check our course and get ready to take-off by 11:30. I have the same crew today except my crew chief who let his assistant go today. His name is S/Sgt Piecush.
11:30 hours. We start out take off and climb straight ahead for 12 minutes and head back to the field. As we come back over the field we are all in formation. We are flying in flights of 4 aircraft in echelon to the right. We are in Lt. Ted Simon's flight. We climb to 1,500 feet and head out for March - our wing departure point. The weather isn't too good but we can make it alright. From March we go to Attleborough, our command departure point on the coast of southern England.
13:00 hours. We crossed the coast of England at 12:56 still in formation and everything alright. We head for the boat in the channel which assures us we are still on course. We make landfall at the same place as we did yesterday. From here we head for our IP which isn't far from Eindhoven. Things are still going alright. I don't see any fighters yet though. Here it comes - big black puffs and breaking right in the middle of our formation. You can really hear it smell it as is goes through our plane. I guess this is where things get rough. We are out of it again but still no fighters. No one is hit bad and we are still in formation. That only lasted about 10 minutes. I don't see how they can keep missing though - we are only at 1,500 feet and going 200 m.p.h. with gliders so we don't dodge. Here is the IP and we turn into the DZ. Things are quiet again. We have about 40 miles to go yet though. I see the DZ ahead with red smoke from signal pots on it. I give the glider his green signal which means we will be there in 1 minute and he can cut loose when he gets ready. Here it comes again - small arms, .50 cal., and anything else "Jerry" has. There goes our glider - hope he makes it. We are turning out of the DZ and I see 1 aircraft go down and 4 parachutes come out. It is Lt. [Ralph L.] McClintock from Fresno, California. His landing is right where the fire is coming from. They sure have our range - more holes in my aircraft, but she is still flying. We pour on the power and head home. Our formation is still intact except for Mac. We get out alright and are on our way home over the same route. The fire has stopped again - thank God.
15:00 hours. We are back at the IP at 3,000 feet and headed home. A little fire off to our left but we are out of range. We cross the coast again at 15:30 and rest easier. We get back to our field at 17:30. We find out we lost 3 planes - Mac, Lt. Donald Cox who crash landed, and Lt. Harold Williams who brought it back to junk it. We got quite a few holes ourselves but not bad. Our left tire will have to be changed though. They say we are to take off for Aldermaston in southern England for a resupply in the morning. I'm plenty tired now. If we have another one tomorrow, I'll sign off now and get ready to go.

September 18, 1944. We came down here last night to get our load. This is to be a resupply mission. We are at our briefing which isn't much. They know very little about the situation or weather. All they know is where the DZ is and the route we are to fly. We are to fly from here (Aldermaston) to Hatfield (north of London), to a point on the coast east of London which is called "Attu", but the name of the town is "Southend", from there to Margate, to the boat in the channel, to Ostend in Belgium, to Ghent in Belgium, to Turnhout in Holland, to Eindhoven in Holland and the drop sport southwest of Nijmegen.

END OF DIARY ENTRIES. Starting November 25, 1944, Lt. King is transferred to Ellington Field in Houston, Texas to train new flight candidates in multi-engine aircraft.