Charles "Chuck" Richardson
Charles "Chuck" Richardson, "Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer"
Charles Richardson visited the NarroWay Theatre in June 2017. But in the 1940's, he was serving in the European theatre as a gunner aboard a B-17. Emily Wilson wrote his story down for us, including his recount of what he dubs his "worst mission ever," a mission to Munich, Germany in 1944. With more than 600 holes in the plane, engines out and 500 miles from England, Richardson and crew literally found themselves "coming in on a wing and a prayer."
Crew of the "Good O Yank," a B-17 Bomber from WWII. Richardson is third from the left on the back row.
Richardson in his 90's.
Charles "Chuck" Richardson was born June 7, 1923 in Charlotte, NC. He grew up in the Wilmore / Derita sections of Charlotte in a family of six, having one sister and two brothers, along with his parents, Frank and Mary. Chuck married his sweetheart of many years, Eleta Pitman, just prior to his active service date in January 1943.
Richardson was inducted into the United States Army on the 18th of January 1943. He was sent to Camp Croft, South Carolina and entered into active duty at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina on January 28, 1943. He was shipped from Ft. Jackson to Miami, Florida in February 1943 then to Radio School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota later that same month.
Charles completed Aerial Gunnery School in Wendover, Utah in July 1943. While awaiting lost orders for several months at Salt Lake City AFB, he was subsequently sent to the US Army Air Force Heavy Bomber Training Command at Dalhart AFB in Dalhart, Texas. There, he would be trained on the B-17 bomber.
Assigned to the 8th Air Force, 390th Bomb Group, he awaited deployment in Kearney, Nebraska for the European Theatre of Operation. He was sent to Framlingham, England, Station 153, via Goose Bay, Labrador, Newfoundland, Iceland and Scotland, serving as Radioman / Gunner / Mechanic and as a Medic on a B-17 Bomber from April 1944 until September 1944.
While serving in the European Theatre, Chuck flew 35 missions. Some of the missions included Strasbourg, Troyes, Paris-Acheres, Boulogne, Abbeville, Caen Coast-Normandy, Nantes, Dinard-Pleurtuit, Corme-Ecluse, Beziers, Conches, St. Lo, Neuvy, and Brest in France and Osnabruck, Hanover, Fallersleben, Ruhland, Munich, Sweinfurt, Lutzkendorf, Merseberg, Harbourg, Zeitz, Politz, Bremen, Stuttgart, Mainz, Dusseldorf and Sindelfingen in Germany. Missions to other countries included Mons, Belgium; Drohobycz, Poland; and Venlo, Netherlands, participating in Operation Chowhound and the return of rescued POWs.
The paragraphs that follow are Mr. Richardson's recounting of his worst mission, one to Munich Germany in 1944:
By far, the worst mission was the mission to Munich, Germany on July 13, 1944. The mission was a MAXIMUM EFFORT, as evidenced by the fact that “every plane that could fly, would fly." As we approached Germany, just south of Strasbourg, France, the flak (anti-aircraft gunfire) came louder and louder, closer and closer. This area, known as the “Kammhuber Line," was a defense system of fighter airfields, radar tower installations, flak, searchlight batteries, and ground observers- stretching 650 miles from Switzerland to the south of Germany, to Denmark to the north. Nearing our target, our IP or beginning of our bomb run, was the northern end of a large lake named Lake Starnberg, just southwest of Munich. The entire sky was black with flak and I could hear the bomb bay doors groaning and a clunk, signaling their opening. Sitting at my radio table, I heard it coming...Whump, whump, whump, wham!!
The plane felt as though it stopped abruptly and tilted over on the left side. Holes appeared everywhere; damage reports were given…the number three engine had a hole the size of a bathtub; there was fire in the engine well and flames were extending beyond the rudder; number four engine was smoking.
Fuel was transferred from the right wing fuel cell, but the fire was not going out. The plane tipped forward into a deep dive and everything not nailed down began to float around. Shutting down the systems did not put out the fire and our pilot said to buckle up, as we were going to dive to try and blow it out. The cowl on Number 3 engine, which was vibrating, had broken off and was gone. At 15,000 feet, the pilot and co-pilot began trying to pull us out of the dive. Expecting our pilot at any moment to say, “Bail out," I looked out and could tell it was already too late, as we leveled out at 500 feet.
Our pilot, talking to all stations on the intercom said, “We have two engines out on the same side, our bombardier is critically wounded in the chest, out of formation, and flying alone, over 500 miles from England, and with a large undetermined loss of fuel. We are in sad condition.” He broke radio silence, asking for permission from the group command pilot to land in Switzerland. “Do not land in Switzerland, bring that plane home, repeat, do not land in Switzerland!”
The pilot issued instructions to the crew: “We need to lighten our plane as much as possible, so start ripping everything you can get loose and toss it out. We are fighting to keep this bird in the air.” Out went the parachutes, flak suits, oxygen bottles, extra ammo, our heavy clothing and electric suits, and the ball turret. Popping the rear hatch door, we watched as our stuff hit the ground. Can you imagine what the French people thought when they saw all that stuff come falling down as we passed over the French countryside?
I must have said “The Lord’s Prayer” a million times, and felt a calming peace overtake me with the fact that we were not going to make it.
The clouds still provided cover to keep the German fighters off, and flying at tree-top level would keep us off the German radar screens. The ground seemed to be going by so fast and our air speed was around ninety to one hundred miles per hour. Flying around Metz, we flew near Les gorges du Verdon. Now about 75 miles from Germany and looking ahead, we could see the trees of the Argonne Forest. We crossed the Meuse River near Charleville and even the small boats shot at us and, again, the splinters flew on the catwalk. They could not miss us, and could have done real damage with a sling shot.
Flying south of Lille, with our course set to exit France just south of Dunkerque and Calais, we neared the coast of England. The command was given to head us to the nearest airfield, which was Manston. The only trouble was, we had to get over the Cliffs of Dover. Tapping out a Mayday just in case we had to ditch...dit dit dit da da da dit dit dit, three times, I screwed down my Morse code sending key and reported that it was done.
A red light told us the landing gear was not down. I opened the bomb bay door and the top turret gunner already had the manual hand crank to crank down the wheels. He turned and cranked; I cranked a while, and then the ball turret gunner. The top turret gunner took another turn just as we crossed the beach and I felt the plane lurch upward as we cleared the Cliff by inches. We heard the landing gear snap into lock position and the red light went out. As I looked out my radio window, I noticed our number one engine was smoking. Our navigator brought us in sur le nez, (on the nose), which was the official slogan for the 390th Bomb Group.
The Boeing representative that examined the plane the next day remarked that “there was no way that plane could fly." I counted at least 600 holes. As it turned out, it did live to fly again as a refurbished bomber.
After returning stateside, Chuck served as an instructor at USAF Radio School in Boca Raton, Florida until his discharge at Ft. Bragg, NC in September 1945. Upon discharge, he returned to his job at Southern Bearing and Parts Company. He was employed in the automotive parts industry until his retirement in 1991.
Charles and his wife, Eleta, were happily married for almost 70 years before she passed away in 2012. Together they have two children, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Mr. Richardson has served as elder in the Presbyterian Church since 1946 and sung in the church choir since that time. He speaks in educational and community venues on his experiences in the ETO during World War II. He has been a member of astronomy clubs, investment clubs, Fraternal Order of Masons and is a current member of 8th AF Historical Society, Metrolina Wing in Charlotte, NC and a participant in 390th Museum Bomb Group functions in Tucson, Arizona. He has previously been an instructor on Automotive Parts Distribution at CPCC in Charlotte, NC.
Charles Richardson has penned 7 books, one of which relates his experiences during World War II. He hopes to have this book published by the end of 2017. The list includes this personal war history as well as a book of poems, one of “sayings,” one of his “growing up years,” and three novels of fiction.
Below is a poem from Mr. Richardson's soon-to-be-published book, penned during his travels to and from England in 1944.
SCOTLAND, HOW FAIR
SCOTLAND, HOW FAIR,
SPRING WAS IN THE AIR.
HOW COULD THERE BE WAR HERE,
IN A LAND, SO BRIGHT AND CLEAR.
BUT THE MILITARY WERE EVERYWHERE,
ON THE LAND, SEA, AND IN THE AIR.
A MILLION JEEPS A-JAUNTING,
A ZILLION SHEEP A-YAWNING.
THERE WERE SOUNDS OF BOMBS AND SIREN,
AND PEACEFUL MEADOWS SO SERENE.
A SCOTTISH LASS WITH BRIGHT RED HAIR,
IN THIS LAND CALLED SCOTLAND, OH SO FAIR.
AH SCOTLAND HOW FAIR THEE STILL.
AH SCOTLAND, HOW FAIR THEE STILL
‘ERE I PASSED THIS WAY AFORE
‘TIS WONDER TO SEE FROM CLYDE
TO HEATHERED RILL
AS BEING AT PARADISE DOOR.
YEA YOUR BONNIE LASSES WEEP
FOR THEIR BRAVE LADS LOST
ON LAND, SKY AND SEAS DEEP
THE TERRIBLE TEMPESTS TOSSED
YOUR PEOPLE BEAR THEIR BURDENS
AND CRY, “CARRY ON”
FOR YOURS WILL BE THE VICTORY
‘ERE THE FEW COME HOME
AH, SCOTLAND, HOW FAIR THEE STILL.
Awards / Honors
- The Distinguished Flying Cross
- The Air Medal with Four Oak Leaf Clusters
- Two Presidential Unit Citations
- Russian Medal of Victory in the Great Patriotic War
- Good Conduct Medal with Four Bronze Stars
- Certificate in recognition of contribution and service in liberating France and participation in the Invasion of Normandy, signed by the French Secretary of Defense, John-Pierre Messeret.
- Approved as recipient of the rank of “Chevalier” for the French Legion of Honor Medal, presentation date of the medal is yet to be determined.