William Baker’s wife, Nellie, donated his collection of model airplanes to the Freedom Museum. With the models came a copy of his war diary. William was a B-24 bombardier and flew 47 missions as a member of the 98th Bomb Group. He was from Virginia (Norton) and went through the various training schools that were the Army training track for bombardiers before heading for Leece, Italy and the 15th Air Force for duty. Before his first successful mission, there were several false starts, like this one recorded Oct 16th 1944.
“Started out OK this morning-target St. Valetitin Tank Works at Stiyre Austria – Bombing Alt. 26,000 ft- 45 P-38 for escort about 80 flak guns around target (not to bad). It was to be a double too, almost to Yugoslavia. We had to turn back due to turbo failure and runaway prop in No 4. I had a hellofa time with nose turret. Took off about 06:00 landed 11:00 – 4 and a half hours flight time. Maybe better luck tomorrow – Johnny Ward and Pappy our waist guns and Hancock in upper. Salvoed eight 500# demo (500# demolition bombs) in Adriatic to lighten load. Willie really hugged the ground on takeoff and the wheels didn’t leave till about 20 ft of runway left.”
October 11, 1944 First successful mission
Target – Sauerwerke- Vienna. Double mission – Boy, the flak was really heavy – first I’d seen and kinda reved me up a bit – rode nose turret didn’t get bombs away – no enemy fighters 50 P-38s for escort. Only saw 2 ships go down – one over target and one ditched in Adriatic – took off 0800 got back 1630, 8 and a half hours dragged back behind formation. Sure don’t see how we came through all that flak without being hit. Sammy Wilson got the hydraulic system shot out of his ship. Our ship was Red G –“Salt Lake Kate” old ship with about 40 missions – consolidated hydraulic turret in nose, used a lot of chaff over target and also threw out a lot of propaganda papers over Yugoslavia. Hit two flak concentrations over target and one intense off target about 4 minutes. Got a couple holes in rudder and a few pretty heavy scratches on nose. Bombs run was 24 miles or about 6-7 minutes. Mission again tomorrow- max effort. Flying No 10 position tomorrow, flew no 5 today in six ship formation one ship turned back. Bomb Alt was 23,000 for our squadron, 2 down 45 to go.
After several more missions and a 5 day stint in the hospital, Bill recorded his mission on November 6th.
Hot one today – Target was Moosbierbraum Oil Refinery, which is about 12 to 14 miles north of Vienna. The flak was really terrific and we got two pretty good holes in our ship. (Red E Pug Nose Annie). I was flying bombardier and Buck navigation – Johnny Ward got back from hospital and rode the nose turret. Everything was pretty quiet even after we left I.P.. Then all hell broke loose- the flak was really accurate too. One pretty good sized hunk went in the nose about 2 feet behind me and tore out a good sized (fist) piece of airplane and also sections of a stringer – bounced off R. H accumulator for hydraulic system – made a hellofva bang when it hit (about 2 minutes before Bombs Away. Toggle switch froze up (it was about 35 below and had to salvo but wasn’t out OK (about 10 sec s after lead ship target was pretty well obscured by smoke screen, and don’t think our bombs hit too good, but we still gave the Krauts plenty of trouble. Two ships from 343 one from 344 bailed out of one and other went down in N. Italy think they made Ancona. Flight time was about 8 hours. Boy, it was really thick today and i really sweated that one out. 6 down 44 to go. Up for mission tomorrow- bono 9 hours.
Bill recorded the events of his mission on Nov 7th 1944.
Boy, what a son of a gun that was today – went to briefing about 5 this morning – looked like we had a milk run and our target was briefed for no flak but possible fighters. Our target was a RR bridge at Mezzacoron a – northern Italy in Brenner Pass – Flew in waist till about 40 minutes out of target and ten went to nose to bomb. Bombed from 1800 feet. Slotpole didn’t fly with us but had another navigator, all the rest of the boys along. Target was very poorly covered with smudge pots and bombs were square on bridge. Guess the Krauts will have to look for a new bridge site. Little flak over target but went on thru Brenner pass and caught hell all the way one good hit in bomb bay door and i got piece of flak. I took my flak suit off before it started poppin’ and was i ever rushed to get it back on, wouldn’t fasten it but I covered myself up good as possible. It wasn’t very close at first but gunners kept reporting it getting closer and they were darn sure right. Really had some big black puffs off our right wing, underneath and above. I don’t see how this can possibly go on – us not getting blasted. I mean. It was really scared up there today. 3 ships out of 7 came back from the green box – we were in lead box, so we didn’t get much of it, but 3 behind us really caught it. The 3 that came back from green box were shot all up and also the ships in the other boxes. Pug nose Annie was our ship again today (red E). Really giving her a rough time, but she keeps bringing us back. Time was 7 hours today – 7 down 43 to go-only a single today, but it was sure worth a double. P-51 for escort.
Not every mission was as scary.
April 9th – Flew today in Red M Big secret mission up to front lines. Flew with brand new pilot (only 4 sorties). Flew as nvav bombardier No 9. Really anb impressive mission and we dropped frags just across from front lines on enemy gun positions. Used 300 ft interval and flew spread formation with 20 ships forming attack interval. Willie led 2nd A V flew with Caldwell Crew. Pretty good mission 45 down 5 to go.
Bill got orders to go home May, 3 1945. His last words in his diary were, “Thank God I made it! The definition of courage is to continue to do your duty in spite of fear. In this sense, Bill was certainly courageous. You can read his hand written diary and see the remarkable stick and paper models that he made at the Freedom Museum.