30th Bomb Group

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Story of 'The Chambermaid'
Story of
'The Chambermaid'
Her Last Mission

'The Chambermaid'

Jim Ridge has been kind enough to share with me a large number of photographs which have served as the basis and inspiration for this website. Many of these photos have come from the collection of his uncle, Mel Harms. Mr. Harms served as a bomardier with the 38th BS, 30th BG, 7th AF and flew 35 missions in the PTO, five of which were aboard 'The Chambermaid'.
One of those five missions, that of September 11th, 1944, would be the ship's last.

Below I have included a narrative given me by Jim...

The Chambermaid was assigned to the VIIth USAAF, 30 BG, 38 BS. They were stationed on Saipan. This was the Chambermaid's 36th mission - 30 by the Chamber's crew and five by the Core crew. The Core crew members were:

Lt. Bill Core (Pilot)
Lt. Glen Beatty (Co-Pilot)
Lt. Mel Harms (Bombardier) (my uncle)
Lt. Clarence Wasser (Navigator)
Sgt. Ted Richards (Radio Operator & Top Turret Gunner)
Sgt. Milton Howard (Nose Turret Gunner)
S/Sgt George Shahhein (Ball Turret Gunner)
S/Sgt Michael Verscak (Flight Engineer & Right Waist Gunner)
S/Sgt Robert Martin (Left Waist Gunner)
Cpl. Robert Hariff (Tail Turret Gunner)

Click the image to the right for a captioned photo legend of the crew members.

Lt. Doscher, the intelligence officer, was also on the mission as an observer.

A side note: Core was from Knoxville Iowa - about 50 miles from my uncle's home town, Sumner, Iowa. Core contracted pneumonia right after they completed training. The crew was going to be broken up. But the CO was also from Iowa. My uncle persuaded him to hold the crew back until Core recovered. They were able to keep all by three of the original crew until Core was able to fly again. Those Hawkeyes stick together......GO HAWKS!

Anyway, back to the Chambermaid. She was a B-24J-80-CO, serial number 42-100227. Core was quoted as saying she had already picked up a couple of purple hearts for the boys by the time they were assigned to her. My uncle also talked about how war weary she was.

Their last mission was to Iwo Jima. To quote my uncle: “A damned dangerous place”. Their troubles started about 30 seconds after bombs away. The nose gunner called saying his turret wasn't working. A few seconds later the ball turret gunner called saying something was leaking into his turret and he couldn't see. My uncle found they had taken a flak hit in the nose that had shot out the hydraulic lines. Hydraulic fluid was running throughout the airplane.

They were jumped by fighters about this time. They were being attacked from two groups when they were hit again. A 20 mm shell exploded behind the cockpit wounding Beatty, the co-pilot, and Wasser and Doscher who were standing behind the pilot and co-pilot. Another 20 mm shell hit the top turret blowing it into the slipstream where it hit the right stabilizer. Amazingly Richards was alive although badly wounded. My uncle dragged/carried the wounded through the bomb bay to the waist where he gave first aid. I assume you have been in the bomb bay of a B-24. (Yes, Jim, I have!) The catwalk is only 8-10 inches wide. Plus it was covered with hydraulic fluid. I can barely squeeze through the bomb bay. I have no idea how you carry a wounded crew member through there? My uncle has talked about being afraid of slipping or dropping someone. He didn’t think the bomb bay doors would hold them.

Core called the flight leader to report their condition. The flight leader, LT. Valentine and three other B-24s dropped back and boxed in the Chambermaid.

Core got a chance to take stock of the situation after the fighters finally left. It was worse than he thought. He had almost no instruments. He had no navigator or co-pilot. He only had control of one engine. The other three were running at full throttle. #4 was also throwing oil. Martin, the waist gunner, had washed out of flight school after 150 hours of stick time. Core had allowed him to fly the right seat occasionally during the crew training as a hedge that his skills might come in handy. So, Martin took over the right seat. Core was able to gain control of the three run away engines by using the supercharger and feathering controls. But, now they were losing altitude. They threw everything they could overboard. They even tried to jettison the ball turret. But, the special wrench became so slippery from the hydraulic fluid that they dropped it overboard.

They were airworthy, but just barely. #4 was still throwing oil and caught fire for a couple of minutes every hour on the hour. They had no idea how the engine kept running.

They finally spotted Saipan after five hours. Now they had to land! They tried to patch the holes in the lines. But the hydraulic pressure was too much for the patches. Core knew they wouldn’t have any brakes. Valentine came up with the idea of attaching parachutes to the waist and tail gun mounts. They could only crank down the starboard landing gear. The cable to crank the port gear down was shot away. They kicked the nose gear down.

So now they were faced with landing on two wheels with no brakes. Hariff, the tail gunner, volunteered to pull the tail chutes. The rest of the crew arranged themselves around the wounded men in the waist ready to pull the waist chutes.

The Chambermaid stayed level until the chutes opened and her air speed bled off. Her left wing dug in and she veered off the runway. She finally stopped when she hit a revetment. The fuselage broke open at the waist. The nose collapsed almost crushing Core and Martin. Core and Martin crawled out one of the cockpit windows. The able bodied crew walked out through the break in the fuselage. My uncle started counting noses as the ambulances and fire trucks arrived. He kept coming up short one. He finally realized it was Hariff, the tail gunner. My uncle ran to the back of the plane and thought he saw a body hanging from the tail turret. It was just the parachutes. My uncle finally found Hariff dazedly walking among the onlookers. He had jumped out before the Chambermaid had come to a stop.

All eleven crewmen survived the last mission of the Chambermaid. All were awarded the Purple Heart. The crew also received an official commendation for their courage and resourcefulness from the commanding general of the 7th USAAF.

My uncle got two weeks R&R in Hawaii and was reassigned. He completed 35 missions.

Another side note: My uncle has talked more about his service in the past 3-4 months than he has in the last 60 years. One thing he related was how dangerous it was flying in the Pacific. The islands were so small and the anti-aircraft fire was so concentrated. They couldn’t fly around some of the flak like they did in the ETO. There was no doubt what the target was.

Here's how the 'ole lady ended up...

All photos courtesy of Jim Ridge and Mel Harms via Jim Ridge, unless noted...