Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sgt Duffy's Story - Westgate 1944

More information on the April 1944 Liberator crash has been kindly supplied by aviation historian Annette Tison who has been exchanging emails with Steve Duffy, the son of tail gunner Sgt Robert Duffy .

I've reproduced her letter below and attached the letter from Lt Gurwitt for our local history enthusiasts

Annette writes:

"The first attachment is a photo of Sgt Robert Duffy. Steve says that after his convalescence in England, he returned home for a three week furlough, then left “to report to a rest camp in Miami.” From a postcard written to him in 1945, it may be that he went to the U.S. Veterans’ Home at Bay Pines, St. Petersburg, FL, so that may be the location of the photo.Next, Steve says that his Dad was discharged in Nov. 1945, after spending the period from the crash to that time in rehab and “light duty.”

On discharge, he asked for a disability determination, and was denied. He made several efforts over the years on that subject, primarily because of recurring back problems, and the VA denied those requests up until his death. As part of that effort, he received a letter from Marvin L. Gurwit. (see below)

At the time of the letter, Mr. Gurwit was 1st Lt. Gurwit, Air Corps Reserve. Although his intent was to help Sgt Duffy qualify for a military disability determination, Gurwit also gives many previously unknown details about the events leading up to the crash and the crash itself.

Looking at a map of France and England, if the plane got damaged by flak over Dunkerque, then the landing field at Manston, with its extra-long, extra-wide runway, would have been a logical landing field for the pilots to aim for. They would have had to pass Manston to get to the Thames estuary, which Lt Weinheimer said Marshall wanted to head for.

"He said that just prior to the flack hitting the plane, an officer, probably the pilot, called him forward, although he either did not know or did not remember why he was given that order. He said that moving towards the front of the plane is what saved him. He said that after the plane was hit it "spun in," making it difficult to do anything during the descent. He said that it was a good thing he had gotten forward past the oxygen tanks mounted directly forward of his tail gunner position (that is, to his back when facing aft) on both sides of the interior of the fuselage because he thought the tanks exploded.

From his descriptions and looking at a replica, he was probably either on or just forward of the catwalk that runs from aft to forward above the bomb bay doors. He also said that whatever hatch or opening he squeezed through after the crash was too small, but in spite of that he got out of the plane anyway and may have stayed out of the water, or maybe only was in shallow water where he exited. He had marks on his lower back (old scars that looked something like “stretch marks”) that he said were the result of pulling himself out of whatever he used as an exit.

He was badly hurt by the crash (broken back and other injuries) which may be part of the reason that he did not have clear memories, just fragments, of the crash, exit and wait for help.
He definitely did not want to talk about what happened after the crash. His brother, who was a driver and mechanic for Gen. Patton’s chaplain, said Duffy had a very tough time dealing with being alive while so many of his buddies died. He may well have felt guilty about not being back with the other gunners."

I've attached is a photo of Sgt Duffy's A2 jacket. On the right is the emblem of the 392nd Bomb Group, a knight riding a bomb. I can't quite make out the emblem on the left; Steve's brother is going to take a closer look at it and let me know what it is. Dona, did your father have an A2 jacket like this one?

The fourth photo is dated 10 June 1944 and shows Sgt Duffy being presented an award by the 392nd BG commander, Col Irvine Rendle. It could be the Oak Leaf Cluster to his Air Medal (since the 27 April mission was his tenth) or perhaps his Purple Heart.The last item is a photo of Sgt Duffy in the foreground with other men in the background. The men are standing in front of a Nissen hut, so the photo might show other enlisted men of the Weinheimer crew, but I have no way of knowing for sure. "

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