STAFF SERGEANT JOHN F. GRIMES had lost his parents at an early age. He had lived with his half sister, Mrs. Bertha Mitchell Luciano at 106 Chews Landing Road in Clementon NJ. He had completed two years of high school, prior to entering the working world. John F. Grimes enlisted in the Army at age 18, on August 8, 1940. Originally destined to serve with the Quartermaster Corps in the Panama Canal Zone, John F. Grimes qualified for flight duty, and was made part of a B-17 bomber crew assigned to the 401st Bomber Squadron, 91st Bomber Group, Heavy.
John F. Grimes was lost when the B-17F 42-5362 known as Short Snorter II crashed in the North Sea on mission to Wilhemshaven, MACR 15712. All ten crewmembers were lost.
Short Snorter II, 42-5362 arrived at Bassingbourn, England in early January 1943 and immediately was pressed into service. She had not been test flown by the 91st Bomb Group before being sent on a mission on the 13th of January.
Captain Oscar O'Neill's crew was assigned to Short Snorter II for this mission. Their regular plane, Invasion 2nd, was still being repaired from damage incurred on the mission to Lorient on December 30. Short Snorter II was not up to flying a combat mission. While still over England a series of technical failures occurred. The No. 1 engine started running rough as Captain O'Neill took her above 20,000 feet. There was a leak in the right oxygen system, which was almost empty by the time they formed up. The oil temperature was too high in the No. 4 engine. The ball turret was leaking oil and the guns would not fire when tested. The intercom was in poor working condition making it difficult for the crew to communicate. And, the left waist and tail guns were not adjusted correctly. Captain O'Neill had no choice but to abort the mission and return to base. Not a stellar start for No. 362. Most of the problems could have been avoided had she been test flown before being sent out on the mission.
On the 23rd of January, Short Snorter II again was put up. This time First Lieutenant Earl F. Riley's crew was aboard. As Short Snorter II moved above 15,000 feet oil temperature in No. 4 engine again became too high, 110 degrees C, 22 degrees above the upper limit. The No. 2 engine began vibrating and the Vicker's unit (that drove the ball turret) and oxygen system in the ball turret went out. Once more No. 362 aborted back to base.
On the 4th of February, Short Snorter II finally received her baptism of combat over Fortress Europe. For this mission, and those to come, she was assigned to First Lieutenant Beman E. Smith and his crew. Most of the men were from Captain John W. Eanes' crew. Lieutenant Smith had been copilot on Captain Eanes crew. Captain Eanes had flown as first pilot on the 6th and 30th of December and on the 27th of January. His crew, with Captain John W. Harris filling in as first pilot for Captain Eanes, flew in No. 449 on 20 December. After the 27 January mission, Captain Eanes requested relief from flying as command pilot and was stood down. He was appointed Operations Officer for the 401st Squadron. From time to time afterwards Captain Eanes flew as copilot of the 401st Lead aircraft. Captain Eanes eventually transferred out of the 91st Bomb Group to qualify as a fighter pilot, ending the war flying P-38s. When Captain Eanes left the crew, Lieutenant Beman moved over to the left seat as first pilot. This was the first mission Lieutenant Smith would fly as a command pilot. His copilot was First Lieutenant Robert W. Freihofer
The primary target for the 4th was the marshalling yards at Hamm. The secondary target was the marshalling yards at Osnabruck. The 101st PCBW, with the 306th Group leading was in front of the 102nd PBCW, led by the 303rd Group on this mission. Lieutenant Beman and Short Snorter II flew in the No. 2 position of the Second Element of the Low Squadron. Short Snorter II carried ten 500 pound bombs for her first delivery to Germany. Both the primary and secondary targets were clouded over so the Strike Force diverted to a target of opportunity, Emden. Here the bombers dropped through dense clouds and an effective smoke screen. Results of the bombing were not observed because of the visual obstruction.
This was a rough mission for the 91st Group. German fighters hit 91st formation when it was about 10 minutes from Emden. Between 15-20 fighters attacked the bombers on into the target. Fighters continued to pound the bombers on the way home until the aircraft were well out over the North Sea. Most of the attacks came from the rear. There also was heavy and very accurate flak over the target and at Vieland on the way out.
Two 323rd High Squadron bombers went down. Pennsylvania Polka, with First Lieutenant Alan L. Burrows' crew, which had started out as Lead of the Second Element, was lagging behind the formation on the return when jumped by enemy aircraft. Pennsylvania Polka went down in the North Sea, taking all ten crewmen with her to the bottom. Texas Bronco, which was on Lieutenant Burrow's right wing, was hit by flak over the target and later by Me 109s and Me 110s. The pilot, First Lieutenant Eugene B. Ellis, crash-landed on the beach of Terschelling Island, Holland, where the crew destroyed the aircraft. The bombardier, First Lieutenant Marvin H. Beiseker, Jr., was killed in the air and the radio operator, Staff Sergeant Michael T. La Medica, died of wounds later in the day. The rest of the crew became POWs.
Over half of the returning 91st planes were severely damaged and five crewmen wounded. No. 362 incurred no damage from either flak or German fighters.
On the 14th, Lieutenant Smith and crew were back in the air with No. 362. However, the mission was aborted before reaching the target owing to bad weather over the continent. Two days later Lieutenant Smith took Short Snorter II out, this time with Second Lieutenant John W. Wilson as his copilot. They started out as No. 2 in the Lead Element of the Lead Squadron. Soon after crossing over onto the continent, Short Snorter II began experiencing mechanical problems. There was ice on the nose windows. The oxygen lines in the ball turret went out. The left tail gun would not fire. The driving spring in the right waist gun was weak and the ammo would not feed. The top turret guns froze up and the radio gun failed. Lieutenant Smith aborted the mission and turned back to Bassingbourn, bringing his bomb load with him. Ground batteries fired a heavy flak barrage at Short Snorter II as she went over Barfleur. The bursts missed to the right and left of the tail.
Up to now Short Snorter II was experiencing a rather unproductive combat tour. Her first two mission attempts were aborted while still over England. Another abort occurred as she crossed onto the continent. One mission was recalled before the Strike Force reached the target. On the only mission she was able to complete, bombing results were of uncertain effectiveness. But Short Snorter II had been hit neither by German fighters nor flak.
This was all to change on the 26th of February. On this day the primary target was harbor facilities at Bremen, with the port of Wilhelmshaven the alternate target. The 91st was joined by 42 B-17s from the 303rd, 305th and 306th Groups and by 6 B-24s from the 44th and 93rd Groups of the 2nd BW. The 102nd PBCW led the 1BW Strike Force, with the 305th Group in front.
Lieutenant Smith's crew again was aboard Short Snorter II. For this mission, First Lieutenant Thomas A. Strecker was copilot. Technical Sergeant Benjamin F. Ward was filling in for Technical Sergeant Norman L. Thompson as flight engineer and top turret gunner. Sergeant Thompson had injured his hands in a ground accident and could not wear his flight gloves, so was grounded for the mission. This injury was to save his life. Short Snorter II flew as No. 2 of the Second Element of the High Squadron.
The mission started out routinely with the crewmen up at 0230 hours for a quick breakfast to get to briefing at 0315 hours. Crews were at stations at 0730 hours and all aircraft were in the air by 0815. The weather was clear and from all indications it would be a routine mission. Not so.
The Strike Force was ten minutes late coming together as some of the Groups had difficulty in moving into their proper places in the formation. On the way across the North Sea, the Lead Navigator of the 305th Group forgot to check wind velocity. As a result, the entire Strike Force drifted several miles south of the briefed route, taking it over the German anti-aircraft positions on the Frisian Islands. A number of aircraft received flak damage from these batteries. Short Snorter II was not among them, however. The Strike Force was also flying well above the briefed altitude as it crossed the North Sea. Waiting German fighters intercepted the formation just off Vlieland Island in the Frisians.
Short Snorter II was reported turning back just before reaching the Islands, under control and apparently undamaged. Most likely Lieutenant Smith was encountering more mechanical problems and was aborting back to base. Almost immediately after Short Snorter II left the formation, she was observed being pounced upon by five twin-engine Ju-88 enemy aircraft. There were no further observations. Short Snorter II, along with all ten of her crew went to the bottom of the North Sea.
Thus ended the brief and tragic life of Short Snorter II, along with Lieutenant Smith and his crew. Short Snorter II was credited with four missions, only one of which resulted in bombs being dropped on the target.
The names of John F. Grimes and the other nine crewmen aboard Short Snorter II are now inscribed upon the Wall of the Missing at the American Cemeteries at either Margraten, Netherlands; Madingley, England; or Cambridge, England. John F. Grimes was survived by his half-sister, Mrs. Bertha Mitchell Luciano, and his half-brother, Patrolman George Mitchell of the Clementon police department.
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