THE CRASH OF
DAISY MAE SCRAGGS
Editor's note: The Daisey Mae Scraggs went down in the English Channel on June 8, 1944. 5 crewmen were killed in the crash, but 5 were rescued by French fisherman and hidden for 30 days on the Isle of Chausey. Eventually, a German patrol found them and sent them off to POW camps. This story was written by the pilot.
This is to relate what happened on June 8th as best I remember. As I look back, there is no way that seven big fat bombers, out of the entire inventory of the Eighth & Ninth Air Force, should have been trying to fight the war all by their lonely. My tale of woe started with the aircraft Daisy Mae Scraggs, as she had a couple of weak engines. In fact I had put her on a red cross when the mission was scrubbed, and I was dumb enough to go right back and erase it when the mission was recalled. In nineteen missions I had never even thought about aborting one, and this wasn’t the time to start. In fact it looked as if it might be a milk run, and the crew had had very few of those.
The next problem was my crew. My crew had been devastated by the powers that were. I had lost all the officers on the crew. I was happy for them, because they were all good men and had moved up to first pilot or placed on lead crews. That day I was flying with a pilot I had never seen before, a bombardier I had just met while climbing aboard the aircraft, and a navigator I introduced myself to as I pulled him off a rock just off the Isle of Chausey in the Atlantic Ocean. You could say there was not an abundance of crew coordination in the middle of a crisis. The rest of the crew was worn out, a condition generally referred to as being "Flak Happy". The crew had flown 19 missions, plus the D day preparation in only a short period of time. There had been no R & R, in fact most of us had never gotten off the Base. The above is not meant to complain, only stating the facts as they were. At this particular time the Air Force's war efforts were very urgent , and the 446th was a little short on crews, so a lot of things slipped through the cracks. Understandably so.
On to the mission of June 8th. Due to engine problems, I had trouble keeping up with the formation. I was to have lead the low left element. I guess both of my wingmen aborted, at least they didn't show up. Being the seventh ship in the formation the only place for us was low in the slot--Coffin corner I believe it is called. At least we seemed to be the primary target. The weather from the get go had been real miserable that morning. I have no idea how many of our group got off the ground, but I do know only seven bombers formed up for the mission, and we promptly headed off to do our thing. The mission went well until we turned off the bomb run on Granville, France, which was the secondary target , due to the primary being obscured by clouds.
Our engineer and top turret gunner, Sgt Leedy, called in fighters at 10 o'clock, and opened fire on them. At the same time we were being hit on the left side by 20 mm shells. Leedy reported blowing the lead 109 all to hell. Unfortunately on the initial pass we were set on fire underneath the flight deck. Almost immediately we were being attacked from the rear, and poor old Daisy Mae was catching a lot of 20 MM but we were also returning a lot of 50 cal. their way. My tail gunner reported kills. I asked my co-pilot to get up and try to put the fire out, but the next time I looked around there was no one on the flight deck, and the fire was a furnace in the bomb bay. Knowing the plane would soon explode, I rang the bail out button and gave the order on the intercom to get out quick.
After dodging tracer bullets for a little while, I tried to put the plane on autopilot, and I lowered the landing gear, hoping for a little relief. I then discovered my pants were on fire, and that is when I decided it was about time for me to get out. Just before I jerked loose from the pilot's seat, I started a left turn away from the formation. When I stood up on the flight deck I realized I didn't have any way to get out, and that is all I remember until I came to falling through the air. Thinking it might be a smart thing to use a parachute, I pulled my ripcord. The chute opened among many falling pieces of B 24. On the way down a couple of 109s circled me, and I guess they were just being friendly because they soon left. After falling through a layer of clouds I looked down and could see I was going to hit the water close to some small islands. Thank the Lord, because that is a big Ocean.
After hitting the water, and getting rid of my parachute. I started swimming toward one of the larger islands. The longer I swam the farther away from the island I was getting. I looked behind me and I could see rocks beginning to jut up out of the ocean, and soon figured out the tide was going out, and I was certainly getting farther away from any dry land. I started swimming toward the largest of these small rocks, and just barely managed to grab on to it as I was about to be swept farther out into the ocean. I managed to hold on and eventually pull myself up on that old ugly, wonderful rock. Lying on that rock, soaking wet, with a 20 to 30 knot wind blowing, I know I was the coldest I had ever been, and the coldest I have been to this day. From my position on my rock I could see the main island, which from the buildings thereon I knew was inhabited. After looking at it for some time I finally saw a white speck appear. I purposely looked away, and after waiting awhile I looked back and sure enough the speck became a sail. Again I said "Thank you Lord" because it looked like I might survive the day. After about twenty minutes the boat got close enough so I stood up and waved my maewest, which the people in the boat saw and headed in my direction. The skipper of the small boat was an old man, who had a crew of two boys with him, and with their help I was able to climb aboard. Was I ever happy to get off that sometime water and sometime rock position. I had looked around while on the rock and located a few of the crew.
When I got aboard, and discovered that I could not verbally communicate with my rescuers, I pointed in the direction of the crewmen I had seen. First we picked up the co-pilot Lt. Raymond Morris, who had been in the water for somewhat over an hour by then. He was unconscious and a good shade of purple. While we were on our way to pick up another man we could see standing on a rock, we wrapped Morris in a old sail cloth and I massaged his face and upper body and he began to come around. By this time we had arrived at the big rock with an individual standing on it smoking a cigarette. I had never seen the guy before, but after a hearty handshake, he told me he was Bill Lauten, the navigator of the ill fated Daisy Mae. The very first thing I did was bum a cigarette, and ask him to explain how you can go swimming in the ocean and come up with dry cigarettes. His explanation was that while parachuting down he had done all he could do to direct himself to hit this large rock he was standing on (of course if he had succeeded and landed on the rock it would probably have killed him). Subsequently , instead of hitting the rock, he landed right beside it, bobbed up and climbed up onto the rock. There he stood relatively dry and calming his nerves by smoking. We then gathered up another off a rock farther out, one Sgt. Rupard the radio man, who was in good shape also. By this time, several more boats had joined the search, and after directing them as best I could, our boat started back to the large island. Not only was our little boat full of people, Lt. Morris and I were in need of a little medical assistance. I had somehow been cut on the forehead, and my eyes and forehead had been burned pretty badly.
Upon arriving at the Island, a group of people met us and were saying, "Comrade," and directing us to a house, which we later learned was the Catholic priest’s home. There, laying in bed with a face looking like it had gone through a meat grinder, and about a six inch flap of his scalp hanging down, was our tail gunner Sgt. Frank DiLeva. His first request, not being able to communicate with the Frenchmen, was for a drink of water. We managed this after a while, and then he explained his early arrival on the island. He remembered running out of ammo, getting out of the turret and snapping on his chest pack, but didn’t remember bailing out. His next memory was falling and not being able to find the D ring and discovering his chute was gone. Remembering a training film he had seen on parachuting he looked up and discovered that his chute had pulled loose from the harness, and was floating above him. He pulled it down to where he could jerk the D ring, the chute opened and he immediately hit the water. Very fortunately, an old fisherman in a very small fishing boat was within 50 yards of him. The old man rowed over, helped him out of his chute, and dragged him aboard. After a very short trip to the island dock, with instructions from the Priest, they took him to the Priest’s home, and put him in bed. It was very obvious, after looking Frank over, that we needed to get his scalp back on his head. After lots of gesturing to the Priest, he understood I needed some method of making the attachment. He left and returned a short time thereafter with a box of surgical staples that the Germans had supplied him with, and a pair of wire pliers. Without the comfort of anesthetic, and a lot of moaning and wailing, I finally got his scalp stapled back on. I couldn’t do anything about the broken nose, which due to fighting had been broken several times before, or the many other cuts on his face. Final word, he did survive and has been told by several doctors what a good job someone had done of re-attaching his scalp.
After the operation, we adjourned outside to a patio off the bedroom. At the same time a group of islanders were returning from the site where the tail section of the aircraft had landed (the very highest point on the island). They approached and again said "comrade" and pointed to the smoldering tail section on the hill. We hastily climbed the hill and discovered a body in the wreckage. Due to being so badly burned we couldn’t recognize who it was. We dug the dog tags off his chest bones, and to my sorrow, discovered it was T/Sgt. Lewis B. Leedy. He not only was an excellent engineer, a lethal gunner, the leader of the enlisted crew, but he was also one heck of a nice guy. Leedy was 25 years old, the old man of the crew, and had more time in the service than the rest of us. He had fought the Japanese with a 45 cal automatic when they bombed Hickham field at Pearl Harbor. He had returned to the States for Cadet training, washed out, and returned to his precious profession of engineering. After a lot of gestures by the islanders, we were made to understand they would take care of the body. We very slowly and sorrowfully walked back down the hill to the parish house.
After cleaning my head wound, and bathing my head in salve (German origin) the priest directed us to a house were we were to stay-- today it would be called a Bed and Breakfast. An elderly lady, Madam Leperchois, was the hostess and owner. Here we remained for the duration of our island stay, exactly one month. That evening after dinner, we sat on the glassed-in front porch and contemplated our losses -- one deceased, T/Sgt. Lewis B. Leedy, and four unaccounted for. Knowing the circumstances, we presumed them to be dead by drowning. It seemed to us there was no way they could have survived in that cold water for longer than two or three hours. The missing were; Lt. Walter R Allamann, bombardier, S/Sgt. George E Griffith, ball turret gunner, S/Sgt. William R. Nace, Window gunner, & S/Sgt. William A Sawyer, window gunner. All were good men, well trained, knew their job, and did their duty to the bitter end. The graves of the four missing airman were located in France after the war. We buried Leedy’s body on the island, with Catholic services (as was his faith), and as befitting a fallen airman, an engraved propeller blade for a headstone. The five survivors remained on the Isle of Chausey until the night of July 9, at which time we were apprehended by five gunboat loads of German Marines.
Editor's note: On September 28th, 1999 a memorial was dedicated on the Isle of Chausey to the crew of Daisey Mae Scraggs.
On ne choisit pas de devenir Chausiais, c'est Chausey qui sélectionne ceux qui resteront un jour, une semaine, ou un siècle.