Their target: A road intersection near Schonberg, Germany, at the close of the Battle of the Bulge. It was Hitler’s last and largest offensive on the western front during World War II, aimed at blunting the allied advance into the “Fatherland.”
1st Lt. Ed Sealy of Southwest Florida, was piloting “Silver Chief,” a B-24 “Liberator” bomber carrying 6,000 pounds of bombs. It was supposed to be an easy mission because the German million-man offensive had failed and their battered army was in retreat.
During that mission, on Jan. 10, 1945, the heavy bombers of the 458th Bomb Group, 753rd Squadron, 8th Air Force struck a road intersection to impede the German Army’s withdrawal. For the crew of “Silver Chief,” it was no milk run. Their 16th combat flight turned out to be their most memorable of the 35 missions Sealy and his crew flew during World War II.
“On the bomb run going into the target, we lost an engine and 10 minutes later we lost a second engine,” the 82-year-old former bomber pilot said. “Our outboard engines on both wings quit.
“Our instruments were hooked to one of the engines that failed. When we tried to switch our gauges over to a working engine, the switches failed. We were down to flying the plane needle, ball, airspeed and compass and that was it,” Sealy recalled.
For days, the weather had been bad enough to ground the U.S. Air Force during the height of the “Battle of the Bulge.” The 753rd Squadron had just taken to the air once more, even though the weather was still lousy.
With two engines out, Sealy’s B-24 could hardly maintain altitude and couldn’t climb. He was forced to make an emergency landing in France on the return flight to England.
“We flew over the field at Melville, France, where we had delivered gasoline earlier in the war before we began flying combat missions,” he said. “We were flying through a blizzard. Visibility was terrible and I was trying to figure out how I was going to let down for landing since I couldn’t climb.
“What I did was timed turns, something you learn in training. You fly a minute in all four directions while reducing altitude. Hopefully I’d end up at the end of the runway and land.
“It was 4 p.m. and there wasn’t much light left. The runway was covered with snow. Visibility was poor. I had to hold her steady as I came in hot,” he said. “We ran out of runway and I lost my nose wheel in a ditch. The plane wound up with all four props bent up and its back end sticking up in the air.
“I immediately shut the engines down and heard this hissing sound. None of us wanted to hang around and find out what the hissing sound was,” Sealy said with a smile more than six decades later.
“I climbed out the side window and the copilot and engineer went out through the bomb bay. The others guys dropped out of the plane from the tail,” he said.
On the way back to the base in a Jeep, Sealy passed by a second runway that the tower had instructed him to land on. He couldn’t reach the suggested runway because he lacked altitude.
“At the end of the other runway was a B-17 (bomber) mired in the mud. If I had used that runway and come in fast like I did, I would have run into that B-17 and that would have been the end of us,” he said.
Sealy and the crew of “Silver Chief” flew their 16th mission out of the Royal Air Force Base at Horsham-St. Faith near Norfolk, England, where they were based to bomb the retreating German Army at the conclusion of the Battle of the Bulge. They were told it would be a short, easy run.
It wasn’t the crew’s only close call.
“We flew a mission on Feb. 22, 1945, over Hildesheim, Germany, that I’ll never forget. Usually we flew at 20,000 feet or more, but this time we only flew at 10,000 feet,” Sealy said. “The Germans followed us all the way into the target with flak. It was tough.
“The bomber right next to us had its wing knocked off. It started spinning and went down. We watched it as long as we could, but didn’t see any chutes come out of the spinning plane,” he said.
Then there were the two missions to Berlin flown by Sealy and his crew. They were long and hazardous despite the hundreds of American planes that took to the air.
“Berlin was always trouble. You’d go in the briefing room at 4 a.m. They would pull the curtains back on the wall map and the target would be Berlin!
“‘Oh, not that again,’ the crews would moan.
His first combat flight over the German capital came on Feb. 26, 1945. It was uneventful. Sealy wasn’t as lucky on his second Berlin mission.
“We lost our landing gear and flaps on our second mission over Berlin,” he said. “We had to hand crank the gear down when we landed and you weren’t sure it was locked in place doing it by hand.”
They were lucky. Their bomber touched down on the runway at Horsham-St. Faith on their last combat mission to Germany without incident.
Sealy and his crew wrapped up their 35th and final mission on April 7, 1945, on a flight to Krummel, Germany, where they encountered German fighters. They were flying in a B-24 called “Stinky.” It was almost a month to the day before the Third Reich surrendered.
Sealy returned to the states on V-E Day (May 8, 1945). He was discharged from the U.S. Air Force on V-J Day (Aug. 14, 1945). He and his wife, Mary Jo, moved to this area and have lived in Riverwood, east of Englewood near El Jobean, since 1995.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, Nov. 27, 2006 and is republished with permission.
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