Taylor County

Sgt. Gerald Barnes

 

 
 

 

Sgt. Gerald Barnes of Gravity
31 Bombing Trips Over Enemy Territory
Gunner In American B-24 Liberator

Having spent over 300 hours at the controls of a machine gun in an American B-24 Liberator bomber on 31 missions over enemy territory in the African war theatre, is the unusual experience of Sgt. Gerald Barnes of Gravity, now home on furlough. On top of that he has never been wounded, although members of his crew have been hit. His closest call was when he found five bullet holes in the plane jus above his head after returning from a bombing trip. The holes indicated he was missed only by inches.

Sgt. Barnes is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Barnes and the family moved to Gravity from Chariton about 9 years ago. Gerald, aged 20, is a nephew of William Masters of Corning, and a brother of Mrs. Ward Campbell, also of Corning. Mr. Campbell is employed at the Masters Blacksmith Shop in Corning. Last fall Sgt. Barnes was officially reported missing in action and then on Christmas Day his parents were informed he was alive and well. Sgt. Barnes says that the error was made through a similarity of names and that a man whose last name was also Barnes, was missing in action.

Home By Clipper

Sgt. Barnes arrived home early last month, coming by Clipper plane to North America, and home on a transport. He has visited relatives here several times and it was the fortune of the Free Press editor to have a long visit with this typical American soldier one afternoon recently. Like all men of the armed forces who have gone through harrowing experiences, Sgt. Barnes does not talk freely about his experiences and the information has to be literally “pumped” out of him. He is retiring and modest about the part he has played in the air battle. There are many things about the 19 months spent at the front lines which are military secrets as yet, and the sergeant told us a few things which are “off the record” for obvious reasons. But he tells an interesting story.

Barnes got into the war early. He enlisted in the army air crops in November, 1941, and first attended an army radio school at Scott Field. He was then sent to gunnery school at Camp Tyndell, Florida. He was assigned to duty with the heavy bombardment group of the Ninth Air Force. This group went across July 17, 1942, flying their own bombers from South America. They were first sent to Palestine and through all the operations teamed up with the British Air Force. According to regulations 150 hours of actual bombing or fighting in the air is the limit but in the early stages of the fighting, bomber crew replacements were scarce and his crew completed over 300 hours of combat before being relieved. Ten men make up the crew of a B-24.

Sgt. Barnes was with the American flyers who worked with the British Air Forces to give support to the British eighth Army as it pushed Rommel and his supposedly crack German Afrika Korps across the desert. Barnes said their chief mission in this big push was to cut off supply lines. He does not go too much into detail about this part of his front line experiences but included several hard “dog fights.” While Sgt. Barnes has great respect for the ability of the German and Italian airmen, and the quality of their equipment, the American and English flyers are superior at maneuvering, seem to have better flying instinct and thus have an advantage in anticipating what the enemy ships will do next.

Sgt. Barnes told us that of the 31 “missions” in which his group took part, two stand out as more significant than others. Barnes had the honor of being inducted with the first group of Americans which did any bombing over Italy. The target was Naples and 16 English and American bombers took part in the raid. Each bomber carried three 2,000 pound bombs – [illegible] blockbusters. The raid was took the enemy by complete surprise. Not a fighter plane came up to meet [Page 4] them but the anti-air craft fire was extraordinarily heavy. Not a single ship was lost, all 16 participating in the mission returned home safely. Sgt. Barnes added about the damage done by the 16 bombers was terrific. Bombed in the targets were several warehouses, an oil refinery, a railroad complex and a power plant. He stated that all bombings were planned at targets that would cripple the enemy’s transportation system, supply lines and power facilities.

Sgt. Barnes cited as his second most thrilling “mission” was when three American bombers, without the support of the English or without protection from fighter planes, destroyed three units of an eight-ship German supply convoy just off the coast of Crete. The intelligence division had the convoy spotted and six American bombers were ordered to co-operate with the British air force in a mission to bomb the supply convoy. For some unknown reason the three American bombers reached the target alone and the target was so tempting they decided to put on a little show of their own. The convoy included an oil tanker and four supply ships or merchant ships being convoyed by three German destroyers. The three bombers concentrated on the oil tanker and two of the supply ships and sank all three in the face of terrific anti-aircraft fire from the German destroyers. The convoy did not have any air support. The Americans reached the target just around sundown. While not officially informed, Sgt. Barnes said that his outfit understood that the British bombers completed a “mission” and cleaned up the other five ships in the convoy.

Sgt. Barnes was also with the first American flyers to land on Malta. Other “missions” which went to make up his total of 31 over enemy territory include raids over Tripoli, Crete, Tunis, [illegible] and other strategic points in the African theatre. Giving air protection to British Commando raids was also a part of the work assigned to the American group. Sgt. Barnes stated that on one commando raid the planes hovered over the target for two hours to divert the fire and attention away from the ground raid.

Inspires Others

All in all, Sgt. Barnes has lived ten very exciting months since he took off over the Atlantic from South America on July 17, 1942. Surely his 300 hours of combat duty and facing death on every one of his 31 trips over enemy territory should be an inspiration for the home folks to [illegible] our efforts to support these boys who are doing our fighting. The greater the support we give, the sooner they will be able to finish the job and get back to normal living – those who are fortunate to survive the battle.

In his experiences at the front, Sgt. Barnes has collected quite an array of war relics, including a German Swastika flag, several pieces of shrapnel, a number of shell casings, etc. His most prized relics are two German Afrika Korps insignia, taken from helmets. Barnes had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, with all members of his crew, because of so many hours in combat duty.

Sgt. Barnes expects to leave today for Salt Lake City, Utah, where he will be assigned for further duty. He does not expect to be returned to a foreign front but will probably remain in the country as an instructor. With the experience of 31 raids, Sgt. Barnes certainly should be able to impact some very important instruction based on first hand experience.

Source: Adams County Free Press, Corning, Iowa, Thursday, May 27, 1943, Pages 1 & 4 (photo included)