Golden Gate Wing Guest Speaker Archive

Presentation Date: January 25, 2007

LT COL Robert C. Cozens USAAF & USAF Reserve (Ret.)

Speaker Photo

* Enlisted in US Army Air Corps January 2, 1942 as an Aviation Cadet for Pilot Training
* Earned Pilot Wings & 2nd LT Commission July 1942; original member of 95th BG(H), B-17s, arriving in England April 1943
* Based in Horham, England; flew 25 combat missions; rapidly promoted to Squadron Commander
* Promoted to LT COL in 21 months after earning pilot wings; selected for Pentagon in April 1944 by General John Gerhart, reporting to General Craig, Head of Bombardment Section, USAAF
* Among his 25 combat missions, Kiel, Regensburg, La Pallice, Schweinfurt and Munster stand out
* Named his B-17 Flying Fortresses "Patsy Ann", for his wife
* Among his military Awards & Decorations: Air Medal + 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Presidential Unit Citation, Commendation for Leadership and Devotion to Duty from Curtis E. LeMay * Enlisted in US Army Air Corps January 2, 1942 as an Aviation Cadet for Pilot Training
* Earned Pilot Wings & 2nd LT Commission July 1942; original member of 95th BG(H), B-17s, arriving in England April 1943
* Based in Horham, England; flew 25 combat missions; rapidly promoted to Squadron Commander
* Promoted to LT COL in 21 months after earning pilot wings; selected for Pentagon in April 1944 by General John Gerhart, reporting to General Craig, Head of Bombardment Section, USAAF
* Among his 25 combat missions, Kiel, Regensburg, La Pallice, Schweinfurt and Munster stand out
* Named his B-17 Flying Fortresses "Patsy Ann", for his wife
* Among his military Awards & Decorations: Air Medal + 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Presidential Unit Citation, Commendation for Leadership and Devotion to Duty from Curtis E. LeMay
* After active military duty, served as Partner, B.G. Cozens & Sons, Excavating & Grading, '46-'60
* Elected member of San Diego Board of Supervisors, 1960-1969
* Director of California Department of Motor Vehicles for 5 years under Governor Ronald Reagan
* Retired from an active career involving military service, construction business, elected & appointed governmental positions and corporate administration
* Currently, President of R & H Management, Inc., a consulting and management firm

Combat Pilot & Leader, Corporate & Private Business Leader, Elected & Appointed Public Official, Patriot & Superb Representative of The Greatest Generation: Bob Cozens

Early Days with the Mighty Eighth

Bob Cozens remembers living the good life in October 1941. He was enrolled at San Diego State College and playing football there. He had a brand new, gorgeous girlfriend named Patricia Ann (Patsy Ann) Hamrick.
The only dark cloud he was carrying was a draft card, a ticket he knew would eventually be punched to propel him into the US Army as a foot soldier.
In recognition of that, Bob contacted the Army Air Corps cadet recruitment office, where his cousin was working.
“I was still playing football and enjoying it. The last game I played was against a team coached by a gentleman named Amos Alonzo Stagg. Some of you of that era may remember what a great individual he was and what he contributed to the game of football.”
As Cozens recalls, San Diego State beat College of Pacific that day, 6-0.
Only a little more than a month later, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Cozens was immediately in touch with his cousin, asking where in the process his application was. With no definitive answer, Cozens applied again, and this time got swift word to report for duty January 2, 1942 at Fort Rosecrans, California.
From there he was off to Minter Field, Bakersfield, where he got a tardy draft notice to report for infantry duty. By the end of the month, Cozens had been transferred to King City for Primary flight school in Stearman biplanes. He recalls soloing without incident and, on another flight, getting a Stearman into spins, from which the plane repeatedly righted itself.
Two months later saw Cozens flying the BT-13 in Basic flight training at Moffett Field. One day, his instructor asked him one day to put the trainer into a spin to the right.
“I pulled it up into a stall, kicked the right rudder and she was really tight. He said to pull it out, and I did, into a stall, and that bugger whipped into the tightest spin to the left, and I was in a state of shock.
“And I don’t know, honestly, I don’t know… If I didn’t have an instructor with me that I day I might not be here speaking to you. Wow, that was a really tough one!”
The risks of training were made painfully clear on Cozens’ first night solo landing. A classmate made a fairly perfect landing, except he dropped onto the runway from 50 to 75 feet above it.
“There were three of us up there, waiting until they cleared the wreckage off of the runway, waiting to see if any of us were capable of doing any better.”
Cozens recalls yet another challenge of training at Moffett was the presence of lighter-than-air craft (Navy anti-submarine blimps). Pilots of fixed wing aircraft had to steer clear of the airfield until the blimps were tied up after landing, a process that could be quite time-consuming. Cozens also jokingly commented about the Navy taking over the housekeeping chores at Moffett.
“We got up for breakfast and there were Navy beans on the plate. I was glad I was in the Army Air Corps.”
Chico was Cozens’ next stop, simply to ferry BT-13s on the way to Advanced Flight Training at Stockton Army Air Base. That’s where Cozens met, by alphabetical assignment, Harry Conley, Dick Cordell and himself. The three men lived together, daily flying AT-6 trainers up and down the San Joaquin Valley.
On July 26, 1942, the three men became 2nd Lieutenants and received their pilot’s wings. The closeness of their relationship was measured by the fact that Conley and Cordell joined Bob and Patsy Ann on their honeymoon.
“The fact that Harry had the car dictated part of this.”
Soon, though, the group would become smaller by a couple.
“The four of us headed off to Salt Lake City, and in typical Army sequence, we went to Salt Lake City so they could assign us to Spokane, Washington. Why we couldn’t go directly from Stockton to Spokane, I don’t know. We did lose Dick Cordell along the way. He got assigned somewhere else.”
At Spokane’s Geiger Field, Cozens says the pilots were restricted to base 24 hours a day for six days a week. Meanwhile, the wives stayed together in local hotels. On the weekly day off, the pilot who was off duty and his wife had use of the hotel bedroom.

Training’s next phase put Cozens and Conley in B-24s. But after about a month, those bombers were replaced by B-17s. Remarkably, there had been no transition from the single-engine AT-6 to the four-engine B-24s, and then B-17s.
Next came the formation of the 95th Bomb Group, with Bob and Harry appointed flight leaders in the 334 Bomb Squadron. Before the pilots and their wives could really settle down in Spokane though, came a move to Ephrata, Washington. It was a move which had Cozens stumped.
“We were assigned to the desert of the state of Washington. What were there were an airstrip and some tarpaper shacks. I don't know why we moved there from Spokane, and then back.”
Cozens still has delight in telling the story of Harry Conley’s pratfall when leaving for the desert airfield from Geiger Field.
“We were going through the gate to the flight line with our B-4 bags with us. We were saluting the sentry as we went through and the walkway was a little icy. Just as Harry started to salute, his feet went out from under him.  He slipped on his butt, holding his bag, and on his back he went through, saluting the sentry.”

In September of 1942, Bob suffered the loss of his older brother, who was caught by a thunderstorm and went down on an advanced training flight out of Roswell, New Mexico.
“I tried my darnedest to get from Spokane to San Diego in time for the services for my brother. We drove to Seattle and I got on a United flight, heading hopefully to southern California. It made a stop in Portland and I got bumped because I didn’t have the highest priority or whatever it took at that time to do this.
“I walked across the field, found an Army flight that was heading to Sacramento.  From Sacramento I took a bus to San Francisco, and got on a United flight that took me to Burbank. Somehow I got from Burbank to the train station, and was getting off the train in Oceanside, north of San Diego when the services were being held in San Diego. So I missed the services of my older brother.”

By December the Bomb Group had moved by train to Rapid City, South Dakota. Patsy Ann took the car, over icy roads, back to the motel in Spokane. She sold the car before she and the dog took the train to San Diego, since the 95th’s commander had suggested it best not to bring wives along to the remote base at Rapid City.
Training that winter in Rapid City, at the edge of the Black Hills, proved a challenge.  The 334th Squadron was sent to Pueblo, Colorado where there were better weather conditions. Yet when on its first day there, a crew was lost to a snowstorm, the 334th returned to Rapid City.
A two-week furlough in February of 1943 brought a trip to California, but for Cozens and Conley, coming back to home base was a nightmare. When Conley said he’d secured two seats on an Airlift Transport Command flight, Cozens got a $200 refund on civilian flight tickets. A blizzard delayed the ATC flight by two days, and the two aviators were bumped from a flight that had gotten them to Sacramento. From that point on, Cozens’ and Conley’s way east was both a fight against weather delays, and a creativity lesson in finding ways to Rapid City.
“We used everything but ox-cart, I think. By the time we got to Rapid City, the air echelon had already moved to Kearney, Nebraska. The ground troops were still there.”
Cozens says the CO reluctantly sent an aircraft to bring the two fliers back to Kearney, and then severely reprimanded and fined the two men $200.
Even though the B-17s of the 95th Bomb Group had never flown all together in formation, they were sent off to the war zone. Cozens says the first stop was Gulfport, Mississippi, where the first B-17 nicknamed “Patsy Ann” had problems and was left behind for another B-17 which Cozens named “Patsy Ann II.” That B-17 flew the 14-day southern route to England, via West Palm Beach, Waller Field (Trinidad), Brazil, Senegal and Morocco.
Cozens remembers it was April 17, 1943 when he landed in England. That same day in San Diego, Patsy Ann gave birth to their first child.
The 95th’s first overseas airbase was shared with the 92nd BG at Alconbury. The 95th’s first combat mission was on May 13th. Cozens says that due to mechanical problems, he ended-up having to abort the next five missions.
While at Alconbury, an accident by another B-17’s ground crew showed all members of the 95th the unforgiving risks of handling a bomber’s payload.
“They were loading bombs for a mission, and the thing that couldn’t happen, did happen. The whole bomb load exploded in the process - ten 500-pound bombs exploded, killing nineteen of our men and wounding twenty. It destroyed the aircraft they were loading and aircraft parked nearby. I don’t know that they ever figured out how this happened, because the bombs had the pins in and weren’t armed. It was rather devastating.”
The 95th then flew a few missions from Framlingham, including the infamous June 13th trip to bomb submarine yards at Kiel, Germany.
Mission planners had combined targets at Kiel and Bremen, in hopes of dividing enemy fighter forces. The 95th led the groups, followed by the 94th BG and a composite group.
Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest III was the 95th’s new commanding officer. He decided the B-17s alter their formation from the traditional bomber box of three aircraft, with trailing boxes above the leader, instead flying a formation with trailing aircraft flying lower than the lead bomber. Forrest rode as an observer in the lead B-17. 
The 76 aircraft on the Kiel mission encountered as many as 200 enemy fighters, and the Luftwaffe downed 20 of that formation’s B-17s. Of the other 152 aircraft sent to bomb Bremen a half hour behind the first group, only four bombers were lost. It was clear the scheduling scheme had worked, but success came at heavy expense to the crews in the first group targeting Kiel.
“On the bomb run,” Cozens recalls, “the 95th was under heavy frontal attack from German fighters, generally coming in threes from above. In the box formation we used before, my three aircraft could clear their guns on the attacking aircraft.”
“In Forrest’s formation, my three aircraft were tucked under the lead aircraft so effectively, we cut our firepower by 50-percent. The lead aircraft got hit pretty bad, but was able to drop its bombs. Another frontal attack and that aircraft slowed down. I moved into the lead position, but I will have to say that the whole group was in disarray, so to speak, at that time.”
The B-17 carrying Forrest was seen going down with a flaming engine. Forrest was the first US general to become a combat casualty in Europe.
“By the time we got some semblance of togetherness, we missed the turn after crossing the target area, and the wing behind the 95th got ahead on the way home. Cozens says the group flew too close to the coast on its return home and was in a weak defensive formation, which the Luftwaffe exploited in a second attack.
The B-17s had hit the target at about 26,000 feet, where the air temperature was about 50-60 degrees below zero. Cozens says that after the bomb run he was in the nose of “Patsy Ann II”, trying to get warm, when the enemy fighters returned.
“What caused the Plexiglas above the pilot’s compartment to shatter, I don’t know, but that didn’t help the climate in the cockpit.”
Cozens climbed back onto the frigid flight deck to re-take control as the Luftwaffe struck again.
Eleven of the 95th’s 26 aircraft didn’t get back. Among the missing B-17s that evening was Harry Conley’s, which Conley nursed back on a single engine to crash land on the English coast. Remarkably, even though Conley’s bomber suffered a broken back and was riddled with bullet holes, neither Conley nor any of his crew was injured beyond a few scratches.
The 95th BG relocated to a new base at Horham after the Kiel mission. On August 17, 1943 the target was Regensburg, with Cozens leading the Group.
“We got to the target and bombs were placed on the target, extremely well. We turned and headed south over the Alps, across the Mediterranean and landed in North Africa, so we didn’t have to fight our way back home. 
That eleven-hour mission provided an extra challenge when Cozens, preparing to land at the North African airbase, realized his B-17 had no brakes.
“I went though my pre-landing check and let the other aircraft land first. The landing strip across the desert was pretty lengthy. We had a bit of a quartering wind from one or two o’clock.
“We got on the ground and kept jazzing the number three and number four engines to keep it straight until the tail got on the ground.  And when on the ground and the tail wheel was locked, we had a pretty straight run.”
Cozens says he decided to ground loop the bomber rather than let it run out across the desert. He unlocked the tail wheel and jazzed the number one and two engines to turn around. They did a 180-degree turn and when the dust cleared, they were looking back down the runway. Only after that did Cozens notice railroad tracks further off the end of the runway, which might have torn off the B-17’s landing gear, had it fully rolled-out to a stop.
The stay in Africa also proved memorable for the food the crew ate - - real eggs instead of powdered eggs, and watermelon.
Cozens' crew had to refuel their B-17 by hand pumping from 55-gallon drums. Yet after a few drums, they discovered the fuel was contaminated with water, which meant emptying the B-17 and starting all over.
On the return trip to England, the 95th bombed a small target in southern France, which counted as one of the 25 missions required to complete a tour.

Soon thereafter, Cozens become commander of the 335th Squadron, leaving behind “Patsy Ann III” and the crew he’d been with since training in the States. One of the most embarrassing times Cozens faced while with the 95th group, came base after he and Harry Conley flew a B-17 to London for business. All of England was under blackout regulations and was pitch black on their return night flight, and although they both knew there were many B-17 bases dotting the countryside, the two men didn’t know exactly where the 95th was.
Cozens says, “We had to give the distress call, ‘Two squadron commanders lost, who can’t find their base.’”

On October 10th, 1943 the 95th Bomb Group’s mission was Munster.  The B-17 “Patsy Ann III” was lost, although Cozens and his former crewmembers were not aboard, having been split up earlier. However, as many as four of those airmen were shot down in other bombers on that raid and were taken prisoner.
Four days later, the first Schweinfurt mission, offered the heaviest flak Cozens believes any of those in the 95th every saw. Sixty B-17s from all units fell to the German guns that day, and those losses were repeated on the second mission to that city.
On December 22, 1943 Bob Cozens flew his 25th mission to Munster and got a Christmas gift in his promotion to the rank of Major.
When Cozens got back to California, he reunited with Patsy Ann and his now 13-month old son. Cozens went to work in Washington, D.C., at a Pentagon position responsible for reducing the hours B-17s spent in modification centers after their manufacture. A couple more assignments carried him to four years of service in the Army Air Forces, at which time he was decommissioned.