THE STORY OF THE TOONERVILLE TROLLEY

Drawing of the Toonerville Trolley

The following item was received from the East Coast Grey Eagles, and is reproduced here with their permission. It is the story of the B-17, "Toonerville Trolley", from the 326th Bomb Squadron, 92nd Bomb Group, and of it's crew, as well as of the former Luftwaffe fighter pilot, Hans G. Berger, who earned the Iron Cross for knocking down that B-17 during World War II.

The Toonerville Trolley pilot, Richard P. Anthony has since passed away, but he penned this story in 2004, prior to his death..

"My recollections of the final moments of that plane (on the afternoon of April 24, 1944), are still clear today. For a pilot, the frontal attack is much more nerve-wracking than side or rear attacks. During this attack, I am certain that Hans Berger's gun sights are projected right onto my windshield. As he and his squadron rip through our formation of B-17s and down under, I look directly at the gun flashes on their wing edges, and I am sure they are seeing the flashes of our several forward looking 50-caliber machine guns."

"This is my story: "We have avoided damage from earlier attacks, but this time I hear and feel explosions seeming to be all around me. We are hit, and hit bad. In an instant we have lost all power on the right wing. There were hits right above my head someplace, and my engineer has dropped from his top turret position, badly wounded. Lt. Raney and I both reach for the controls as we see flames shoot out of the cowling around both engines on the right wing."

"Although we have already dropped our bombs on the target, I am very much aware that we have at least a thousand gallons of high-octane gasoline in those wing tanks. Two things become urgent to me. First, try and extinguish those flames, and get those two props feathered. A surprising amount of thinking can be done in only a few seconds when that is all one has for reaction.

"Quick thoughts go through my mind. Can we stay in the air? Are my men injured? Are we in danger of blowing up? Will the Germans hit us again as we leave the formation?

"Two late-arriving American fighters, P-47 Thunderbolts, pull alongside as we descend, and I wave them off. Three of my crew nearest to the flaming engines bail out. I pass the word to others to throw overboard anything not essential to staying in the air --- guns, ammo, radios, tools --- and I push the control column forward, pointing the nose steeply downward. My co-pilot is unable to feather the props on numbers 3 and 4 engines, but as we quickly gain speed in diving, the fires are going out. I tell Sgt. Blaylock to get the five others still aboard into 'crash' position in the radio room.

"It will be very risky to try and crash-land with power only on the left wing, and the selection of possible crash sites below is not good at all. But, as long as I can keep the Toonerville Trolley headed toward France, I have no intention of ordering a general 'bail out' when I am not certain that all still aboard could obey such an order.

" Lt. Raney and I scan the ground for any opening at all that will give us an approach and a run-out for a 'wheels up landing'. A collision with anything, or too steep an approach can easily rupture our tanks. I can see hills and scattered trees in the clearest area below. Both of us are applying brute force on the rudder pedals now and fighting to keep the nose up.

"With a tremendous jolt, we contact the earth just below the brow of the hill. The contact knocks off one propeller, hub and all, and drives the ball turret, barely vacated by the gunner, back through the fuselage tail area. The rebound carries us just over the hilltop and our slide down the far side is totally beyond our control. A large tree imbeds itself into the leading edge of the wing beside my window. This swings us slightly to the left and slows our descent toward a stretch of woodland that could spell disaster.

"Not until 52 years later did I learn that it was a cherry tree that saved us and that two of my surviving crewmembers, along with the victorious German fight pilot, would be invited to replace that tree for the unfortunate farmer. Although I was unable to attend, it was incredibly kind of his son to send me a bottle of the "kirch wasser" made from his surviving cherry trees. It was presented during memorial ceremonies there on his hillside on that lovely day in May of 1966, and brought back, to be handed to me at an 8th Air Force reunion in St. Louis.

"The emotions that I now feel as I learn of the museum's acceptance of the model Toonerville Trolley, are too intense to describe. The year we spent as prisoners of war, the thrills of returning to our homes and then my continued career in the U.S. Air Force flying during the Berlin Air Lift, then serving as an aid in the Pentagon, and the years since retirement, all run together in memories.

"I am most grateful to two of my crew, Ed McKenzie and the late John "Cran" Blaylock for their acceptance of Klaus Zimmer's invitation to return to Germany and to publicize the story of that great Flying Fortress, its bold crew, and of the valiant German Focke Wulf 190 fighter pilot, Hans Berger, who forced it to the ground without loss of life, on that fateful day over sixty years ago. Also thanks to historian and model maker Joseph Acquaviva whose skills and keen interest in the air war made this exhibition and the (2004) ceremony possible."


VIEW FROM THE "OTHER SIDE OF THE ATLANTIC"

This is an excerpt of the speech written by Hans G. Berger, former Luftwaffe Fighter Pilot, of Munich, Germany, and read at the November 2004 ceremony.

"April 24, 1944, just one of those days --- like many others in those days."

"Most sincere, friendly greeting to those gathered at the Wright museum in New Hampshire today, including members of the 8th Air Force, 92nd Bomb Group, and the Grey Eagles Air War combatants who have each granted me honorary membership in their organizations.

"As to my first encounter with the Toonerville Trolley on that 24th of April 1944, it was anything but a pleasure and no fun at all. As a matter of fact, nothing was really fun in those days, not for us, the fighter interceptor pilots of the Luftwaffe. We were called to defend our country, our industry, our cities, our mothers, wives, and children against the air raids, whether by Flying Fortresses, Liberators or other bombers. We were as determined to stop them as they were determined to penetrate our defenses.

"Nor was it very likely any fun for the men in these aircraft who were trying to help to defeat Nazi Germany by releasing their bombs onto their targets, not selected by themselves, but by some remote staffs in some probably idyllic places in good old England, far away from where the air contained lots of ugly iron particles aimed at us, as it had been aimed at the brave airmen over Britain earlier in the war.

"Consulting my Flight Book, I find that on April 24, I took off from a small airfield near Paderborn in northern Germany at 12:42 p.m., attacked a formation of B-17 and B-24 bombers without any measurable result, landing 1-1/2 hours later at Mannheim Airbase.

"Let me add here that in our first missions against U.S. bombers we attacked them from behind, but in so doing we were within reach of the many gunners for far too long and thus suffered severe losses. Our air fuhrer then decided to make us attack from the front, so we might be in their sights for only a few seconds. Of course, this also reduced our chances to get the enemy aircraft in our own gun sights. Opening fire at a distance of more than half a mile did not make much sense, but from that distance to the point where one had to dive away to avoid a crash, it was merely only a second, not really enough time to aim carefully.

"But, to go on, a quarter of an hour after landing in Mannheim the plane was refueled, and I took off again at 14:25 p.m. (together with others of my JG, probably, but I can't remember with whom), gained height, saw a small (or not so small?) formation of B-17s (we called them "Viermots") apparently on their way back to Britain and quickly attacked them. I was "lucky" enough to hit one of them so severely that it was forced out of its formation. It was smoking and headed steeply down somewhere between the Rhine River and Luxembourg. It did not seem important at the time for us to take special interest in finding out exactly where.

" My Flight Book records in very brief term "Abschuss" of a B-17 (which would have been the one we now refer to as the Toonerville Trolley). There had to have been witnesses to the Abschuss, otherwise it would not have been officially credited to me.

"So far, so good, and the war went on. Later I was wounded during the action and had to stay in hospital for a few weeks before being returned to fly other missions. There were many more, under much more miserable conditions, becoming more and more hopeless during the final months, until the war ended in May 1945.

"My Flight Book was put away in some forgotten drawer among other personal relics of that time, relics which no one really wanted to see. The heroes were on the other side. We were the losers, and we were fighting for the Nazis. When fighting ended, people had much more important things to think about, like getting their lives and their country put back together.

"It was not until 50 years later, one day late in 1995, between Christmas and New Years Eve, that a certain Klaus Zimmer called me on the telephone. He asked if I had been a Luftwaffe fighter pilot (Hans Berger is not an uncommon name in Germany, there are alone 15 in the city of Munich), whether or not I had shot down a Boeing B-17 on April 24, 1944. I did not remember, of course, but dug out my Flight Book --- yes, indeed, I had. He asked if I might be willing, in May of 1996, to meet my former enemies. I said I would be delighted, but, in fact, I was also a little frightened as to what kind of meeting it might turn out to be. After all, we had last seen each other through our gun sights.

"The rest of the story you know from Ed McKenzie's book, 'Boys at War, Men at Peace'. It was from the very first moment a harmonious meeting with Ed and Cran Blaylock; we immediately found we were on the same wavelength.

"Together we spent a splendid week on and around the Buberg, joined by numerous persons of standing and by the entire village of Bubach. We took part in a very moving program at the site of the crash-landing of the Toonerville Trolley, and we ceremoniously planted a new cherry tree in place of the one that Colonel Anthony had torn out of the ground during that masterpiece of an emergency landing he was able to make. His skill saved his own life and the lives of the five other crew members still in the plane (three had taken to their parachutes after my cannons set two of the engines afire).

"Since that 52nd anniversary reunion on the Buberg, we have become true friends, have kept in regular touch with one another until this very day, exchanging e-mails, letters and interesting literature, while sharing news about our families. I would make one personal visit that included a call on Dan McKenzie in Florida, after attending the funeral of one of my squadron mates, Karl Demuth, late of Tampa, Florida. Dan was well acquainted with Germany and had accompanied his brother Ed for our reunion there in 1996.

"It is with sincere regret that I am not in a position to join you at the Wright Museum of Wolfboro, New Hampshire, on the occasion of the dedication of a large model of the Toonerville Trolley, that ill-fated plane of 1944. We can now agree that, after all, it was not all that ill-fated, since all ten of its crewmembers survived the exchange of gunfire and all 11 of us did survive the war.

"I am sending cordial greeting to all of you at today's ceremony in New Hampshire, with special greeting to all who have contributed to preserving the Toonerville Trolley which, although merely one plane among thousands sent into combat "IN THOSE DAYS", a trivial detail in history, but now standing out as an example of the tremendous changes in attitudes and relationships we have experienced during the last half century.

"With all the best wishes from the other side of the Atlantic, (signed) Hans G. Berger, Munich, Germany; Formerly a 'boy at war', and now a 'friend at peace.' "
 

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