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TOPIC: LT Thomas (TA) Cook, Fighter Pilot USAAF


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LT Thomas (TA) Cook, Fighter Pilot USAAF


When Thomas was posted to England he arrived at Martlesham Heath, and was billeted at a grand old house with a moat around it just outside Ipswich at Playford. It was called Playford Hall, and had at one time been the home of another Thomas. It was Thomas Clarkson the campaigner for the abolition of slavery in England. The pictures below show Playford Hall and one of them shows a pet dog called Donald Duck sitting in a life raft on the moat. Another well known aviator with the 356th and who also was at the same  billet was Wild Bill Crump and he used to fly ( 5 combat missions ) with a live coyote named Jeep in the ****pit











and Donald himself



-- Edited by tarkey on Saturday 5th of February 2011 02:43:23 PM

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Hi Tarkey,
I think that your captioning is perfect. I don't have anything to add. I like the way your developing a story and perspective. I will have to start sending you recalled stories of my father's experiences to help. I'll do this via email as I suffer from mild dislexia and live by spell check.
Thank you, so much again! Tom

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Thank you Tom
Here it is.

While my father was in basic flight training in Texas they trained in PT-19s. With that aircraft; apparently, after you lowered the landing gear you needed to reach down and further lock the gear into the down position or it would collapse upon contact with the ground. On a training flight with his instructor in the plane; my father was on a final approach and at the very last minute he remembered to reach down lock the landing gear in the downward position. Just as the gear locked into position the wheels made contact with the ground. My father said that that potential disaster really shook him up. After the flight he asked his instructor why he didn’t remind him of the landing gear lock and his instructor told him that he was going to let my dad belly spin that plane down the runway. My father said that he heard later that that instructor was killed in some sort of aircraft accident. My father was glad he wasn’t with him at the time.

During my father’s advanced flight training in Windsor Locks Connecticut; they use to fly low over sailboats along the shore line to watch the boats lean over from the prop wash.

While in Martlesham Heath my father volunteered to take a P-51 up to record some manifold pressures as a favour to the ground crew. He got the plane up to altitude over the English Channel and wrote down all of the information that was required of him. Then he put the plane in a sharp dive for home. As he was rushing back toward England he received a radio call from someone at Home Chain Command and was sternly warned if he did that again without identifying himself, they would start shooting him. My father replied to Command that if they start shooting at him he would shoot back. The product of giving a ****y 22 year old a heavily armed, lethal weapon I suppose.

Another time he decided to take an older P-40 Warhawk that they had a Martlesham for a flight. He reached over to start the motor and “these huge balls of flames poured out of the exhaust pipes on both sides of the plane”. The tower told him to “hold off on starting the plane until further notice”. He said that he sat and waited and waited and then finally got the okay from the tower to start the motor. As he reached down to activate the starter he saw a huge fire nozzle just outside his ****pit pointed at the engine. While he was waiting to start the plane the tower had summoned the emergency fire crew and they had pulled in behind him on both sides of the plane with fire retardant booms pointed at the engine. It startled my father because with his headphone on he never heard the trucks approach behind him. He then started the engine without incident but the tower wasn’t taking any chances.

Great stuff Tom.

 



-- Edited by tarkey on Saturday 5th of February 2011 10:03:43 PM

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I received this from Tom today  Great stuff Tom

I had a little free time so I wanted to continue writing anecdotes about my father’s time in the service to you. I suppose that I should sketch his character for you a little before moving forward. He was what we would call today a non alpha sort of shy person and very modest about his accomplishments. To give you an example I once asked him how his father was able to retire and he told me that a fellow agreed to rent the property that my grandfather’s old tire shop was on. I later went to my father’s brother and asked the same question and got quite a more detailed explanation. During the great depression and World War II my grandfather ran a Firestone tire shop with one of his brothers in downtown Akron called Cook Brother’s Tires. One day during the war, with tire rationing in full swing a fellow with a fledgling trucking company came to my grandfather pleading for him to provide tires for his trucks. My grandfather believed in the trucking company owner and agreed to provide tires as best he could through the years of rationing. That fledgling company was called Roadway is now one of the largest freight haulers in North America. Now virtually every time I get on the highway here in I am reminded of my grandfather’s kindness and generosity toward that fledgling truck owner so many years ago.

The reason I bring up this story is because that filter of modesty is how my father explained everything to me. He had very strict unwritten and unspoken rules about how he would discuss his war years with my brothers and me. He never initiated a conversation about the war. If we asked about it; he was always honest but brief. It was easier to get humorous tales such as blowing sail boats over with prop wash along the Connecticut shore. It wasn’t until I was much older and just before is death that I started getting more detailed information. This was only because I was able to ask more mature and detailed questions about his service.

So what you’ll find in these stories that I convey to you is a mixture of almost whimsical tales and then also more detailed technical accounts. I think that it will become obvious as to which is which when you read them. You might wonder what a non alpha personality would be doing in a fighter squadron. It is my belief that my father knew he was going off to war anyway and he might as well sign up to do something fun like fly airplanes. His intelligence would have never been a problem. He was always in the top of his class. Learning came easy to him and he was good with numbers. He also had an extraordinarily calm optimistic demeanour which would also have been a plus in the ****pit.

That being said, I will send you stories as I can fit them into my schedule. I start working on a new project tomorrow. This is good because it means that I can afford to visit England sooner.

Once the squadrons took off from Martlesham they would gather over the English Channel to their designated gathering points before they surrounded the bomber box formations for their targets for that day. My father said that all of the aircraft in the sky at once looked like a swarm of gnats headed for Germany. He was always worried about the prospect of seeing a swarm of gnats coming to meet them from Germany but as late as he came into the war (summer of 44) that never happened. They would reach their designated altitude approximately 30,000 feet over the English Cannel and my father said that he could look up and see the contrails for the German V2 rockets arcing way up above them in the sky. This was particularly unnerving because as my father put it: I was sitting in the most advanced piece of war machinery that we allies had and here was something the Germans had that we could even touch”.

On one particular mission as they neared the target area my father saw a lone Bf 109 approaching the bomber formation from approximately 1:00 high. My father was trailing to the rear of the formation and also high. He immediately armed his gun and switched on his gun cameras in anticipation of this Messerschmitt strafing the top of the bomber formation and then heading straight for my father. The 109 did exactly what my father anticipated by raking the bomber formation and then heading straight for my dad. My father lined the German fighter in his sights and squeezed his gun trigger and nothing happened. My father said that he could see this poof poof from the nose cannon in the center of his propeller shooting at my dad and then they passed each other. They passed so close my father said that he could clearly see the German pilot’s face as they went by each other. A diagnosis later revealed the gun heaters on his plane weren’t working.

After the fighters escorted the bombers beyond the dangers of the target zone they were allowed to peal off and go down on the deck and strafe targets of opportunity. On one occasion he and his buddy Jack Pidwell were on the deck and came across a field that was surrounded on three sides by hedges and on one side by a railroad track with box cars on it. He an Jack turned around to rake the 109 sitting in the corner of this field and all of the sudden the row of box cars opened up to reveal German anti aircraft guns shooing at them. My father said that their tracers were following Jack and leading his plane. He went on to explain that when tracer fire is leading you; your odds of getting hit are extremely high. Fortunately they both made it out of there with out incident. My father use to carry a road map of mainland Europe in the ****pit and he would follow the highways back to the channel and home. He said that he saw most of Europe about 50 feet of the ground at a couple hundred miles an hour.

More Later, Tom

 



-- Edited by tarkey on Wednesday 9th of February 2011 01:13:47 PM

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some air to air shots taken by Tom's dad













and some more narrative regarding Thomas. I did ask if was a member of the Caterpillar. Tom said yes and he has the membership badge along wth the yoke of Akron Angel and his Purple Heart

Apparently pub and club life was important for blowing off a little steam for the squadrons. My father use to joke about these long tube like classes of ale that they served in England. He said that no matter how slowly you tilted the glass; this huge wave of ale would come down the tube and hit you in the face while trying to get a drink. I never quite understood what he was talking about as we don’t have those in the US until I visited an English village at Disney World. They have a pub there called the Rose and Crown and they serve ale in a souvenir “Yard of Ale” glass that looks just like what my father described. The other pub story that my father spoke about was a pub, I think, in or near Martlesham, that the squadron would visit frequently. There was a long bar with one long polished wooden bench for a communal bar stool. His squadron members had an obnoxious habit of sliding one seat over every so often throwing the guy on the end to the ground. He said that the Americans and British solders would dust themselves off and find another place to sit. However his mates made the mistake of doing that to an Australian solder once and a few of my father’s squadron mates ended up going through the front window of the pub as a result. My father had been to that pub before but wasn’t in attendance the night of that incident.

Even by today’s standards a P-51 is considered a hot rod and nothing that a novas pilot should pursue. In 1944 when the Merlin engine Mustangs were being rushed into service they were considered state of the art and in many ways a little ahead of the curve. Two particular areas of concern were landings and the Merlin engines themselves. The Mustang air frame had a lot of instability built into it to make it very maneuverable during combat situations. This instability made the plane tricky to land. “You had to fly the plane onto the ground and then pull the power off or risk loosing lift in one wing and not the other on final approach”. Then you had to be careful not to break too hard too fast because the landing gear could catch on fire. Another potential concern was the supercharged Merlin engine. A technical masterpiece of British design already proven in the Spitfires during the Battle of Britton. It provided the Mustang with the performance and altitude requirements necessary to escort bombers over Germany. However when turning up the compression boost on the supercharger you had to worry about the other portions of the engine such as the cylinder heads, pistons rings, rods and crankshafts from destruction of the high compression ratio particularly in a combat situation. Below are two potentially fatal incidents that happened to my father in November of 1944 that illustrate these issues.

1)The first incident was a landing accident at Martelsham Heath. They landed the fighters in staggered pairs. My father was slightly behind another P-51 on final approach when the plane leading his slightly crowded him on the runway. This prop wash from the lead aircraft caused my father’s plane to loose lift in one wing but not in the other at about 100 feet off the runway. My father recovered control by pulling a quick aileron roll to right the plane just before contact with the runway, however his orientation was such that he shirred off his landing gear and spun the plane (upright) down the runway totaling out a ground control radio jeep parked just to the side of the landing operation. Please note: that according to my father; this accident was not the other pilot’s fault, my father always claimed that he had the option to abort the landing and go around and he chose not to. A fact that was made very clear to him by his commanding officer after the accident.

2)While my father was waiting to be assigned another plane, his commanding officer lent him his Mustang for my father’s next mission. While escorting bombers over Germany during this next mission his aircraft developed engine trouble. My father said that it felt like the Merlin engine threw a rod. He could keep the motor running but every time he tried to throttle up enough to sustain level flight the plane would shake violently. He reduced power enough to put the aircraft into a long downward glide slope and immediately turned the plane around and pointed it toward the nearest friendly territory (recently liberated Belgium). He made several attempts to get a triangulated fix on his location from the Home Chain network in England for the hour or so he remained with the plane but they were unable to help him. The ground below him was blanketed by cloud cover from the ground to approximately 10,000 feet. He knew that he was in the vicinity of 8,000 foot high mountains along the Rhine River Valley and considered it too dangerous to stay with the aircraft once he hit the top of the cloud cover. Once he got to approximately 10,000 feet and at the top of the cloud cover he rolled his canopy back uncoupled his seat harness and inverted the plane to go straight out of the ****pit. His concern was that he didn’t think that he could miss the horizontal stabilized in a conventional bail out procedure. As it turns out it didn’t matter because he broke both bones in his right arm during his exit on either the radio antenna mast just behind the ****pit or on the vertical stabilizer as he left the plane. He said that it happened so fast he didn’t know what he hit. Luckily he parachuted into liberated Belgium. He never saw or heard anything about that aircraft after his bail out. A local catholic convent took him in, set his arm and made arrangement for him to rejoin his squadron in Martlesham.

I have friends with private pilot licenses and I fly with them occasionally. Even by today’s standards and equipment; once you leave the ground your focus becomes staying in one piece until you reach the ground again. It is difficult for me to imagine being 21, by myself in a tricky airplane to fly, breathing oxygen at 30,000 feet, trying to stay warm and worrying about other people on the ground and in the air trying to kill you. It took special kinds of nerves to pull that off. Thank goodness we had men like that.



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