They called themselves the “Carpetbaggers,” the 801st Bomb Squadron, 492nd Bomb Group, 8th Air Force flying out of North Hampton England for the Office of Strategic Services. Their mission: to drop saboteurs and their equipment at night behind enemy lines during World War II.
Second Lt. Jim Paton of Englewood, Fla. was the copilot of an all-black B-24 Liberator four-engine bomber that made 10 night air drops over Norway and Denmark during the closing months of the Second World War.
Born and raised in Indianapolis, Ind., the local man joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 when the Army began accepting high school graduates for pilot training. He entered the “Cadet Corps” and graduated as a 2nd lieutenant and multi-engine pilot who shipped out aboard the Queen Mary and sailed to England in style to joint the 8th Air Force.
Paton was assigned to the 801st Bomb Squadron at Harrington Army Air Field at North Hampton, about 100 miles north of London. His squadron was a secret unit that specialized in clandestine operations.
“We only flew at night in our B-24s,” he said. “We would fly out one at a time at 15-minute intervals.
“Our job was to get clandestine people to a jump point on a map in Norway and Denmark. The underground had three lights lined up at the point where they were supposed to bail out. Two white lights and a red light, and the red light told us the wind direction,” Paton explained. “Usually they would bail out at about 2,000 feet. They’d jump on the far side of the red light and float back into the landing zone.”
Most of the time he and his crew were delivering saboteurs and their equipment to the jump zone. In addition to one or two Allied spies, they also dropped large metal cylinders of equipment — 2 1/2 feet in diameter and 6 feet in length.
His most memorable operation over enemy territory came while flying a Danish spy into Denmark one night in 1945.
“We were making a run to northern Denmark to drop off a saboteur. We were flying over the North Sea when our upper-turret gunner spotted red and green running lights up ahead of us, coming our way,” Paton said. “We’d never seen anything like this before, but he thought it was probably an enemy fighter plane.
“Our top turret gunner trained his twin .50-caliber machine guns on the lights but didn’t fire. He waited to see what happened,” he said. “The lights kept coming right toward us. Just as the oncoming lights reached us, we heard this roar as the plane rolled over us. Then all of a sudden our rear gunner started firing away at another enemy fighter on our tail that had opened up on us with his machine guns.
“The only thing we could do was get down on the deck as quick as we could. We did a spiral down toward the sea to escape the fighter planes. We ended up about 200 feet above the waves, but we shook them.
“Our plane had been shot up by the fighters, but we continued on with our mission and dropped the saboteur and his equipment in Denmark. We never heard what happened to him,” he said.
For 10 hazardous night flights flying a lone Liberator over German-held territory, the commendation that accompanies Paton’s Air Medal reads: “2nd Lt. Lt. James A. Paton, a citation for meritorious achievement while participating in a number of aerial flights against the enemy under hazardous and adverse flying conditions in the European Theater of Operation. The courage, coolness and skill displayed by these officers and enlisted men on these occasions reflect great credit upon themselves and the Armed Forces of the United States, 492nd Bomb Group (H) by Command of Brig. Gen. Turner.”
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, March 23, 2005 and is republished with permission.
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James Lewis Paton formerly of Indianapolis, passed away in Englewood, Florida on Saturday, May 27, 2006. He was born April 9, 1923. Jim grew up in the Westside of Indianapolis.
He worked at International Harvester before entering the Air Force during World War II. He served in the 8th Air Force 801-1492 Bombardment Squadron as a Captain. He retired from the Navy Avionics in 1989 and moved to Englewood, FL in 1990. His trade was Tool & Die Design. He was an avid sportsman who enjoyed hunting and fishing. He is survived by his wife, Cecelia of Englewood, FL; daughter, Teri Matlock of Knightstown, IN; brother, Harold Paton of Indianapolis; nieces, nephews and cousins. Services were arranged by Lemon Bay Funeral Home in Venice, FL.
Published in the The Indianapolis Star on June 1, 2006.