Golden Gate Wing Guest Speaker Archive

Presentation Date: June 23, 2005

LT COL Jesse Jay Craddock USAAF/USAF (RET)

Speaker Photo

* Started Flight School, USAAF, June 1942; Received Pilot Wings at Mather Field, CA, Class 43-A
* Assigned As Instructor Pilot: AT-6s, B-25s; Held In Training Command For 18 months!
* Had Over 1,000 Flight Hours In B-25s When Finally Reached Combat 12-44
* 447th BS, 321st BG, MTO, Based On Corsica
* Completed 47 Combat Missions, Primarily Against Brenner Pass Targets
* Heavy Flak: In January 1944 All 16 B-25s In Squadron Replaced Due To Flak
* Flew His Own B-25 and Crew Back To USA In July 1945 * Born & Raised In Illinois * Completed CPTP In July 1940 While Attending Purdue University (Engrg)
* Started Flight School, USAAF, June 1942; Received Pilot Wings at Mather Field, CA, Class 43-A
* Assigned As Instructor Pilot: AT-6s, B-25s; Held In Training Command For 18 months!
* Had Over 1,000 Flight Hours In B-25s When Finally Reached Combat 12-44
* 447th BS, 321st BG, MTO, Based On Corsica
* Completed 47 Combat Missions, Primarily Against Brenner Pass Targets
* Heavy Flak: In January 1944 All 16 B-25s In Squadron Replaced Due To Flak
* Flew His Own B-25 and Crew Back To USA In July 1945
* Left USAAF In 1945; Entered Insurance Business; Owned Business 35 Years
* Continued Flying In Air National Guard Until 1965, Flying B-25s, P-51s, ...
* Remains Active-- Currently President of Military Officers Association Of American, Silicon Valley Chapter Bombs Over Northern Italy

Bombs Over The Brenner Pass

Jesse "Jay" Craddock, B-25 Pilot


Jesse "Jay" Craddock was in the Army Air Force’s Training Command when he got his call for combat duty. But that call only came after Jay had spent a year and a half training other pilots to fly and fight.

A member of Class 43-A, Craddock’s first instructing experience came at Yuma, Arizona. He remembers well the older ‘service pilots’ who were commissioned for various types of non-combat flying.

Mornings, Craddock went up with his students. Afternoons, he frequently went for a solo hop in an AT-6. One afternoon at the Ops shack a Major suggested Craddock should check out target tow pilot Capt. Richard Grace on doing spins. Grace was about 45 years old, but his name didn’t at first ring a bell with the young Second Lieutenant.

Craddock took him up, kicked off a two turn spin to the left followed by a two-turn spin to the right and then gave Grace command of the airplane. From the back seat of the AT-6, Craddock recalls the ride he received in return - -

"This guy put the plane down to terminal velocity, I think. Then he pulled it straight up in the air and did a triple snap roll on the way up, kicked it off to the left, did two turns, kicked it off to the right, did two turns... I didn’t know where the hell I was!"

Jay wondered who this pilot could be... and only found out when they were back on the ground.

"This was Dick Grace. Dick did all the stunt flying for Howard Hughes’ (movie) ’Wings’. This guy had more time upside down than I had total time! I got to know Dick and we used to take him over to the Officer’s Club and after about four beers, I’d get some real good stories out of him.

"He used to dive these airplanes into houses for the movies. You’d see an airplane dive into a house, that was Dick Grace. He used to tell me he’d build a doorway with 10-by-10s, just wide enough for the fuselage. And then he’d cut the engine mount with a hacksaw so that when he dived into this house, he’d put the fuselage between the door posts, the wings would shear off, but the fuselage would stick in between the door posts. And the engine, because the motor mount was cut, would go forward and wouldn’t come back in his lap.

"It was quite an engineering job that he did. And, even so, he broke every damn bone in his body, one time or another.

Grace, while an amazing pilot, was a little lax when it came to his flying discipline, says Craddock, adding, "You could never teach him to fly a pattern.

"At Yuma we had a half mile square asphalt ramp. We didn’t have any runways. Dick would call and say, ‘This is Captain Grace. I want to land.’ And everybody would get out of the way. He’d just come in and land. He didn’t care where he was coming from."

Craddock instructed pilots for eighteen months, logging more than 1000 hours flying B-25 Mitchell medium bombers.

One day , he had been putting B-25 pilots through their paces at Mather Field near Sacramento when a Captain stuck his head out the 2nd floor window of the Operations building and yelled "Hey Craddock, want to go to combat?!"

"I’d been trying to get to combat for more than a year, and I thought he was fooling. I said, ‘Oh sure.’ "

When Craddock got back to his locker to stow his parachute, a sergeant was there to tell him to report to a Lt. Colonel seeking pilots for overseas duty.

Jay, a week away from his wedding day, was hesitant only about the timing of the request for a volunteer Lieutenant. But Ed Phillips, who’d flown 55 missions in North Africa and Sicily and was also instructing at Mather, volunteered to fill the Captain slot.

The two officers left Mather by train to Greensboro, NC where they stayed for about 45 days cooling their heels, before boarding a Liberty ship at Newport News, Virginia and then joining a 70 ship convoy headed to the South Atlantic. The Germans had been running submarine packs in those waters...

"Right off the Azores", says Craddock, "our ship broke down. We were sitting there, dead in the water for about eight hours, while the rest of the convoy steamed on. I told my buddy, ‘’I don’t know what you’re going to do, but I’m going to sit myself down under the biggest life raft up on the deck until this thing starts to move."

Craddock says just about everybody else aboard was up on the deck sitting next to rafts and boats. Meanwhile, two whales surfaced about 400 yards off the side of the ship, sending the Navy gun crews to station. The whale’s spouting saved the huge, dark creature from attack by the crew of a five inch battery.

The Liberty ship managed to get underway in time to catch up with the convoy steaming through the Mediterranean Sea. After a stop in Sicily, Craddock says he and Philips were unloaded at Bari, on the east coast of Italy, instead of disembarking in Naples. Unfortunately, that meant living in an unheated tent in the cold dampness of November.

"We didn’t have anything to do, and went into town every day... to the USO, to eat all their doughnuts and go to the movies. There was an opera in town. We were having a pretty good time, Phil and I. Then we ran out of money.

Craddock remembers the Paymaster asking them why the two B-25 pilots were there, and responding, "Because this is where they sent us. We’d like to get paid."

By radio, the Paymaster found out B-25 units were stationed on Corsica, off Italy’s western coast. The next day a pair of C-47 rides got Craddock and Phillips to Naples and then to Corsica.

"Corsica is a good sized island, all mountains except for right near the seashore. They let us out on a little airstrip about ten miles south of Bastia, the capital of Corsica.

"They let us off about four o’clock in the afternoon, only cutting one engine and throwing our baggage out the door, saying ‘We’re outta’ here. We’ve got to get back to Naples before dark, because there’s still a war on and they shoot at anything after dark.’ "

Craddock says the two pilots might just as well have been in the middle of the Sahara desert, because there were no people, no buildings, not even any pierced steel planking for the runway. Just a dirt airstrip. As Jay walked across the field, he noticed telephone wires which led to a field telephone.

"I cranked it up and said, ‘This is Lt. Craddock.’"

The voice on the other end asked if the two men were armed, because there were still some Germans up in the hills and there might be snipers.

Craddock and Phillips waited a couple of hours before a truck came down to pick them up. Phillips was delivered to the 310th Bomb Group and Jay to the 447th Bomb Squadron, 321st Bomb Group.

Craddock says he never saw Phillips again. Less than two months later, in January, 1945, Jay had time off and came looking for his buddy. Phillips had been on a mission the day before, was shot down and killed. Since then, Jay has been trying to find Phillips family, but hasn’t been successful.

Combat formation flying was the first order of business for Craddock. The 321st generally flew a nine ship box with three bombers in each section. The section had a lead ship and one bomber on each wing.

Northern Italy’s Brenner Pass, a 150 mile long pathway through the 11,000 feet peaks of the Italian Alps, had become the Germans’ main supply route, by road and rail line from Austria. Cutting bridges over rivers and gorges cut German supply lines, and that was a full time job for Allied bombers. The Germans recognized the stakes of the game as well, and within that 150 mile corridor they placed from 650 to 700 antiaircraft guns.

The first four combat missions, with Craddock as co-pilot, were completely uneventful - - the group dropped its bombs on target with no fighters and no flak.

On most of the 321st BG missions, only the lead B-25s of the first and third elements had bombsights, and the rest of the bombers in the box would follow these leaders. The leader of the box dropped its payload short of the target, and when those following dropped their bombs, the explosives would be ‘walked across the target’.

Jay says the Germans, knowing this pattern, aimed to hit the first bomber to take out the lead bombsight.

While the first four bombing missions were uneventful, the fifth was not.

Craddock’s fifth mission was to Ora, where the Brenner Pass is wider, giving German gunners better opportunity to target bombers. Jay says the bombers generally ‘skimmed’ the 11,000 foot Alps at a flight altitude of 12,000 feet elevation. The bomb run then lasted only a couple of minutes, giving the Germans little time to see the attacking bombers, adjust gunsights while tracking them, and deliver highly accurate flak.

On the Ora mission, though, the 321st had a five minute bomb run while crossing the wider swath of valley.

"The first burst of flak that went off took out our windshield, and it blew off one of the rudders from the B-25 right in front of us and killed the tail gunner. As the glass was flying all over the place, a piece of flak hit the armor plate behind my head and fell on the floor.

"It was about three quarters of an inch square and a quarter of an inch thick and was red hot. I was ready to go home. I said, ‘This ain’t no place for me.’"

Combat over Italy was a no-frills operation.

"Luckily we were 21, 22 years old. We were flying at 12,000 feet on missions averaging three-and-a-half, four hours. There was no oxygen in the airplanes, no heat in the airplanes."

The reason for both was the flak.

The B-25’s heating system routed exhaust through the fuselage in an enclosed system. But Jay says worries about flak punching holes in the heating system and possibly allowing gas fumes to leak into the crew compartment brought the potential for explosion.

Similarly, oxygen systems in those days ran at more than 1700 pounds per square inch. A burst of flak rupturing the air cylinders was like a bomb going off inside a B-25.

"So we had a three and a half hour mission with no oxygen and no heat in the middle of the winter. It’s a good thing we were 21 years old. It was bad enough as it was.

With only seven months left in the war against Germany, Craddock says he was fortunate to have flown his missions without ever worrying he’d run into the Luftwaffe.

"I never saw a German fighter. We had the Tuskegee Airmen and P-47s. We were on a field with the British where they had Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mosquitos... We had so many fighters around, these guys were just looking for something to do. The Germans weren’t about to come out."

As a result, Jay says he doesn’t ever remember his gunners firing any of the Mitchell bomber’s .50 caliber machine guns.

According to Craddock, 25 percent of the bombs dropped by the 321st BG carried delayed action fuses set for anywhere from one to 24 hours. They would bury themselves in the mud around the base of a bridge, delaying the enemy from repairing the damage from the other bombs.

Rovereto was a priority target, as it was the last stop in the Brenner Pass, and had a large rail marshaling yard, protected by a concentration of antiaircraft guns.

These heavy defenses required special counter-measures. Craddock says an element of three B-25s carrying white phosphorus bombs would break away from the main pack of bombers to fly a descending path toward the antiaircraft guns, about thirty seconds before the main formation arrived. Antiaircraft crews would take cover to avoid the burning phosphorus in the bombs.

Jay says he volunteered for three of these missions, mainly because they were a marked change from the typical bombing mission’s straight and level bombing run.

The 321st was one of three bomb groups to receive a Presidential Citation for an attack on Toulon Harbor in southern France. The Allies, planning to invade France’s Mediterranean coast, set a mission to soften the area for invasion. Among the targets in the harbor that might seriously jeopardize such a landing were a French battleship, a destroyer, and a submarine.

Thanks to the bombing mission over Toulon, Craddock says those concerns never materialized.

"We sunk the submarine. The battleship was completely put out of business, a supply ship was sunk and the destroyer got out before we could get there. We lost two or three airplanes, and quite a few had holes. There was very heavy flak."

With such a variety of missions, Craddock has many unique stories to tell. Among his recollections was the cutting of a road near Lavas, accomplished by bombing the adjacent hill instead of a nearby bridge, an act he says is one of the smartest things the USAAF ever did.

"I think we had 36 airplanes and put four 1,000 pound bombs in each airplane. We blew the hell out of this hill and the whole hill slid down across the road. That one mission blocked the road for two weeks."

Another unique experience was the time his B-25 was hit over a target.

"I didn’t particularly feel anything hit the airplane. When I landed the airplane, parked it and opened the bomb bay doors, the sergeant came back to me and said, ‘Lieutenant, I want to show you something.’

"I said okay. The bomb bay doors were open... and we looked in and there was a hole about three-and-a-half to four inches around, a perfectly round hole.

"I said to this guy,’Well that’s no problem. The inspection plate probably came off up there.’

"He said,’Sir, there isn’t any inspection plate up there.’ "

Craddock then examined the bomb bay doors, but found no hole in them, leading him to this theory:

"I like to think what happened is that, with no hole in the bottom of the bomb bay but a hole in the top of the bomb bay, something went through there and made that hole while those doors were open. The only time the doors were open was in the bomb run with these four 1000 pounders in the bomb bay."

As best as Jay could surmise, a German antiaircraft shell must have rifled through the open bomb bay boors, past the closely hanging high explosive bombs, and after punching a clean hole in the top of the bomb bay, exited the bomber’s roof - - all without exploding.

The first day of January, 1945 was particularly memorable for Jay Craddock. He says that day had been preceded by nearly three weeks of heavy fog on Corsica.

"It was fogged in. Nothing was getting off the ground. Even the birds were walking around. The only thing you could do was go to the officer’s club and start drinking. You weren’t sure who was who after awhile, because the officer’s club opened at eight o’clock and didn’t close until there was no one there.

Craddock says that was the weather pattern until New Year’s Eve, when the group had a party. Jay left the party at ten o’clock that night because he grew tired of all the activity at the bar.

Morning came early though, at 6:30 a.m. .

"Some sergeant woke me up, saying, ‘Lieutenant, get up. You’ve got a mission today.’

"I said, ‘You’re kidding me.’

Outside, the sky was blue, without a cloud to be seen. A call had come from headquarters for a "maximum mission" that day.

"We had sixteen airplanes, sixteen crews. We got nine crews together that could fly. And I got to fly.

"They picked out a target in the Po Valley, an ammunition dump that a recce had taken a picture of. The Germans thought it was camouflaged, just a big tent over it, so they didn’t have an antiaircraft gun anywhere near it.

The 321st BG nine bombers approached the target without a single burst of antiaircraft, and they dropped their bombs. Jay says that on most missions, after dropping the payload, the bombers would head straight for home. This time, though, they loitered.

"We went around in circles and watched it go up. It was beautiful, just like the Fourth of July, and nobody was shooting at us. I went on home and got a mission that day. It’s in my log book. I’ll never forget that day, January 1st, 1945 because I was 24 years old the next day. That was my birthday present."

Jay Craddock got to know the Brenner Pass pretty well, as most of his 47 combat missions were against targets in that area.

In July of 1945 Jay and his crew flew their B-25 back from Corsica to the United States, and although he left the USAAF in 1945, Craddock remained in the Air Force National Guard until November, 1965, retiring as a Lt. Colonel.