The following excerpts from the memoirs of Alexander Standish were edited and submitted to the Veteran's History Project by a relative, Jon C. Thurnberg. The brief accounts titled "Atlantic Flight" and "Impressions of an Air Raid Over London" were submitted by Mr. Thurnburg as part of the Letters of Alexander Standish, but are displayed here with the memoir. Any "Editor's Notes" within the text are notes made by Mr. Thurnberg. Mr. Thurnberg also appended the following preface to the document.
"At the age of 80, Alex wrote his Memoirs, strictly for the use of his family. Later, he added a chapter to include my mother. He states: "This story of mine should never be printed for it is intended solely for those who come after me in the family and, perhaps, a very few close and long-term friends." I hope I have not violated Alex's desires by including a few pages from these Memoirs that directly relate to his war experiences and to the beginning of his involvement with J. P. Whitney right after the war. J.C.T."
The War Years
The firm made steady progress between 1934 and 1941, expanded the size of its staff, improved its quality and moved again to much larger offices at 50 Congress Street but war clouds were gathering in an alarming manner. Elizabeth and I listened on the radio to the rantings of Hitler and watched his increasingly aggressive moves with growing concern. When actual warfare broke out in 1939 it seemed to me a near certainty that the United States would be involved and I knew also that I had to play whatever part came my way. Even if I escaped the draft (it proved to be all able bodied men between the age of 18 and 45). I could not live with myself if I shirked my duty as my children were approaching maturity, the firm was on a sound footing, I had no debts and my income was adequate.
In the summer of 1940, I attended a businessmen's training camp at Fort Devens which was organized by the Army to give military training to mature business executives who would be of value when hostilities came. About 250 Boston businessmen responded and the camp proved to be hard, physical work. It was really the basic training later given to all men who served in the Army. We were subject to much derision from the "America Firsters" who accused us of playing soldiers but it proved to be of value later on as nearly every man there became a commissioned officer.
Early in 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor, a vice-president of the First National Bank of Boston invited me to lunch. His purpose was quickly evident. The Army Air Force badly needed intelligence officers to serve with air squadrons. They wanted mature individuals with analytical ability as the young pilots returning from missions, were often excited and their reports inaccurate or exaggerated. These reports needed to be critically analyzed and evaluated in light of all other pertinent intelligence information by men trained in analytical work. [Ed. Note: To elaborate, Alex told me that they were looking for individuals able to analyze situations and make quick decisions based upon minimal information. This was exactly the qualities Alex possessed and using in making investment decision.] The bank officer was very persuasive and, in light of my experience, the sound basis of my firm, the family situation and my draft status he felt I had a substantial obligation to respond. He had been given the job of finding suitable men in the Boston area. I gave it very careful thought for several weeks and had many discussions with my partners in the firm who were much opposed as they feared we would lose many clients if I left for Army service. Ultimately, however, they agreed and arranged for me to become Chairman of the Board at half pay for the duration of the war. This removed the last obstacle to serving. In June 1942 I was commissioned a captain in the Army Air Force, which was the predecessor of the present independent U.S. Air Force, and ordered to report to intelligence school at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
At Harrisburg, I found that I was a member of a class of about 250 similarly selected and newly commissioned officers which included John Hay (Jock) Whitney who was later to play an important role in my life. It was an intensive, six-week course of study in map reading, aerial photo analysis, trigonometry and intelligence procedures. I was dismayed to find that I had more difficulty in learning at the age of 42 than when I was a student in college. I practically panicked; I visualized being sent home as too stupid to be an officer or, at best, being assigned to some dreary desk job for the entire war. The result of my worries was that I studied harder than I ever had in college and, to my surprise, at the end of the course I stood second in the class. I was rewarded by being ordered to "the only unit in actual contact with the enemy" which was the joint Army-Navy Anti-Submarine Command at 90 Church Street, New York.
At that stage the Germans were creating havoc not only with our European convoys but with our coastal shipping as well. Hardly a day passed without a sinking with great loss of life. The Navy had moved almost all of its ships to the Pacific to face the Japanese after our fleet had been crippled at Pearl Harbor. It was said that the Navy did not have a single ship in the Atlantic that was as fast as a German submarine. The small Army Air Force was called upon to protect shipping but due to inter-service rivalries the Army pilots had never been allowed to fly beyond the coast line, had no training whatever in fighting submarines and its planes were heavy, slow and cumbersome. The Germans had a field day and even mined Ambrose Channel at the entrance to New York Harbor.
On reporting to the Anti-Submarine Command, I was immediately met by a Captain, William Henry Jackson, who had been in the preceding class at Harrisburg and who had informed himself about my record at the intelligence school. Jackson was one of the most brilliant men I had ever met and was destined to become my close associate for the entire war and later my partner at J. H. Whitney and Company. Jackson was, however, a schemer and manipulator and most of his moves were designed to further his own interest. Years later our relationship ended on a bitter note but I am getting ahead of my story. Jackson immediately explained that I had landed a very unhappy assignment; that the Command was very inefficient and inter-service rivalries were so great that at times one had to doubt whether the Army contingent regarded the German submarines or the U.S. Navy as the primary enemy. He said that he doubted that either of us wanted to spend the war in New York City under these conditions and that he was using his contacts in high places to have us re-assigned.
It was a discouraging welcome and I soon found that he had not exaggerated the situation in any way. It was under the command of an exceedingly pompous Navy admiral who had no ships. The Army Air Corps did not have proper planes for submarine warfare nor did the men have adequate training or experience. After a few months there, I was put in charge of a monthly situation report which was published with a "Secret" classification that detailed the location of the submarine packs and discussed other pertinent developments. This required monthly trips to Washington to confer with Naval Intelligence as a Presidential order directed that all submarine intelligence be shared. It was interesting work but I knew it was futile. We thought that we sunk a few but after the war the Germans said that they did not lose a single submarine off the Atlantic coast.
I applied for a transfer but my immediate superior, a former National Guard major, refused and the Army rule at that time was that no one could be transferred without the assent of the unit's commanding officer. Suddenly, I was summoned to Washington by the Assistant Secretary of War, Robert Patterson, who in civilian life had been a partner of Brown, Harriman and Company. He said he was ordering me to North Africa on an inspection tour. I was to report to him personally on the operations of the air squadron operating from Algiers and covering the Bay of Biscayne. He added with a twinkle in his eye that I would then be under the jurisdiction of the Commander of the European Theatre of Operations and he thought it likely that the Commander of E.T.O. would re-assign me to some place in Europe. I recognized the fine hand of Bill Jackson who had previously succeeded in being transferred to the Embassy in London as Assistant Military Attache. My orders were to leave immediately and secretly. In a matter of twenty-four hours I found myself on my way to Prestwick, Scotland, and then on another plane to North Africa. Not surprisingly, the Commander of the European Theatre thought he needed my services and ordered me to render my report to the Assistant Secretary of War and then to London. My boss at the Submarine Command was furious but there was nothing he could do about it.
There may have been a legitimate reason for these orders as the 12th Army Group, composed of the 1st and 3rd armies, was being formed and the G-2, Brigadier General Edwin L. Sibert, was building an intelligence section to which both Jackson and I were transferred. We stayed in London nearly a year until the 12th Army Group landed on the beaches about two weeks after "D Day" in June. It was a very interesting period. Jackson and I had a "flat" nearly opposite Claridge's and subverted Ambassador Winant's valet at the Embassy which was just around the corner to sneak to our flat daily and take care of our uniforms. He said that Ambassador Winant was so sloppy that he could not make him look like anything no matter how carefully he pressed his clothes! With the winter came the German "Scalded Cat" raids on London which were intense but brief raids. Actually, the tonnage of bombs dropped on London that winter was more than during the Battle of Britain and I greatly admired the brave manner in which London's civilian population withstood them. The casualties were heavy but to help maintain morale one never saw a hearse or a funeral procession as the dead were all buried quietly at night. Great fires raged from incendiary bombs but there was no panic and no crowds as the people stayed away from the fires and let the firemen and the civil defense people handle them. The work was hard and we put in long hours that winter gathering information on the German coastal defenses. My particular job was to handle all of the intelligence that the British could gather on the "Buzz Bomb" or V-l and the first rocket which was known as the V-2. It was amazing to me how much Information the British obtained through agents on the Continent and our own aerial photography. Before the first Buzz Bomb landed on London in May we knew exactly how they worked and their speed. We had diagrams of how they were made. As rapidly as we located launching sites, the U.S. Air Force would bomb them with the daily statement that it had bombed "military installations in France". Had it not done so the London casualties from the V-l would have been vastly greater. General Eisenhower arrived in London to take command on January 1st and immediately sent for me to be briefed on the V-l and V-2 threat. He was concerned that it might be so severe that it would interfere with his D Day invasion plans. I think I was able to reassure him although, unfortunately, we had little information on the V-2. Actually the first V-2s hit London after the invasion had been accomplished.
General Sibert proved to be a very fine person and officer. I became very fond of him and later on the Continent we often took long walks together when the situation was quiet. Once, when we had been living in pup tents in the field, we found a swimming hole and went swimming together after he had said "Standish, you stink" and I had replied "General, Sir, so do you!" He demanded hard and conscientious work but there was an easy relationship with all the men on his staff. I eventually found out that he also had prepared for West Point at the New York Military Academy and had graduated three years before I did.
It is not my purpose here to write a history of the war or to detail war experiences but I will describe briefly my individual role. In toto. It was a tremendous experience; -- moments of boredom and moments of fun combined with moments of excitement, horror over the destruction and the thousands of casualties both military and civilian. There were also moments of fear and exultation over our successes. Only occasionally was I in personal danger and seldom under enemy fire but I was careful as an associate intelligence officer was killed when surrounded by German troops. I was ordered not to permit myself to be captured even if it meant self-destruction as I had far too much highly classified information and the Germans, using drugs or torture, could make any man talk.
Shortly after the landing in France, the 12th Army Group Headquarters (Code Name: "Eagle") grew to such enormous size that it had to be located far behind the front lines and General Bradley felt that he was not adequately in touch with the strategic and tactical situation. The solution was to have an advanced HQ known as Eagle Tac - an abbreviation of tactical - that was close to the front. The location was changed frequently as the troops advanced towards, and ultimately into Germany. I was ordered to go forward with Eagle Tac.
"Ultra" intelligence, carrying the highest security in Europe, even higher than "Top Secret", was a remarkable British development which through the use of forerunners of the computer had broken most of the German radio codes. We often knew of the movement of German divisions before their commanders received their orders. The messages were picked up by powerful receivers in England, decoded and translated, put into a British code and re-broadcast to a British unit attached to Eagle Tac which again decoded them and delivered them to me.
Hundreds of messages flowed in daily ranging from the routine and trivial having to do with the shipment of supplies and the transfer of individual men, (often however very significant as indicating enemy plans) to vital orders for troop movements and intentions as well as capabilities. It was my duty and that of my staff, consisting of five or six non-commissioned officers, to winnow the wheat from the chaff, maintain a complete "Situation Map" and brief General Bradley daily utilizing the ordinary intelligence provided by the armies' G-2s observation and prisoner of war interrogations as well as the Ultra intelligence. I was always worried that I might misinterpret the significance of some message and fall to report it to the General. The duty of Intelligence officers, according to the ook, was solely to report "enemy capabilities" but the capabilities were of comparatively little value to the commanders who wanted enemy intentions which were much more difficult to determine. This led occasionally to absurdities; I remember that one army G-2, going strictly by the book, reported enemy capabilities as (1) To attack, (2) to retreat and (3) to surrender, which, of course, was of absolutely no value to the commander.
Security was extremely tight and, following the principle that officers were given only such information as concerned them and their operations directly, few men even with the rank of general knew of this ability to read the German codes. Every scrap of paper had to be destroyed and if it was necessary to show General Bradley some dispatch of great significance he had to come personally to our trailer, at any hour of the day or night, to see it. No one was allowed to carry an actual dispatch a few dozen yards to Bradley's quarters for fear that some enemy agent would attack them and obtain the dispatch. This would tell the Germans that we were able to read their codes. Winston Churchill, in personally briefing us on Ultra, said that he would sacrifice three divisions rather than have this information revealed and if any man did reveal it, intentionally or unintentionally, he would be summarily court marshaled and shot.
The need for this security at times prevented us from taking action. I remember one incident in which we learned from Ultra that all the top German commanders were meeting in a certain chateau for a conference. Obviously we wanted to bomb it as the loss of all the top commanders would weaken the enemy greatly but to do so would tell the Germans that we were able to read their codes as there was no other way that we could know of the meeting. A reconnaissance plane was sent to circle the chateau obviously and photograph it in order that the Germans would think we had spotted the conference through the concentration of cars surrounding it. The Germans saw the plane as intended and the commanders departed before we could bomb it.
The role of handling Ultra put me in a fascinating position as it meant a close and continuous relationship with General Bradley who, in my opinion, was the great strategist in the war in Europe. I knew the colorful and ambitious figure of General Patton well and I occasionally met with General Hodges, commander of the 1st Army, and General Eisenhower. These men all had widely varying characteristics and capabilities which made the study of them extremely interesting. Eisenhower was the smooth executive with the ability to umpire disputes between our forces and the British and French. This produced a reasonably efficient joint effort which was a task at which General Pershing failed miserably in World War 1. Omar Bradley was the strategist and carefully planned every move so as to produce the fewest possible number of casualties in our troops. He was loved by the men from the lowest Gl to the highest staff officer. He always wore Gl clothing and insisted that his staff did also as he said nothing made the fighting men more angry than the sight of a spic and span staff officer. Since he also considered us highly valuable, he did not want us to be outstanding targets for German snipers. George Patton, commander of the 3rd Army, was the dashing, colorful General forever making dramatic moves which were sometimes unsound tactically. He was extremely ambitious and his personal diary, published long after the war reveals a character substantially less than admirable. He was, however, a great leader of men. Hodges, commander of the 1st Army and a quiet professional who eschewed publicity, was probably the best Army field commander in Europe as the 1st Army had the toughest fighting and yet had far lower casualties than Patton's dramatic 3rd Army.
I was promoted to the rank of major in the Anti-submarine Command and to Lieutenant Colonel in London. One day in the summer as I was returning from noon mess I met Generals Bradley and Sibert and the latter said "Alex, these are the sterling silver eagles which I wore when I was a colonel. I am going to give them to you and pin them on your shoulders in place of the silver maple leafs". It was a very nice way of telling me that I had been promoted to a full colonel.
Gradually my role was expanded and prior to "Dark December" and the Battle of the Bulge I became Chief of Combat Intelligence replacing Bill Jackson in that position. I was thus responsible for all combat intelligence rather than just the narrow but important field of Ultra.
A few words about the Battle of the Bulge are necessary since if there was an intelligence failure I, as Chief of Combat Intelligence at 12th Army Group, should bear a heavy share of responsibility but I doubt that in fact there was such a failure. The situation was that the 3rd Army was attacking in the South and the 1st, 6th and British Armies were heading towards the Ruhr in the north.
It was a giant pincers movement and the center, the hilly, Ardennes country, was only lightly held by battle-weary divisions. We knew perfectly well that the enemy was capable of attacking through the Ardennes but we did not think that could be his intention as it seemed suicidal to make such an attack with very strong forces on each flank. It was, as Bradley stated, a "calculated risk". But they did attack on December 16th, overwhelmed the 4th Division which had previously suffered heavy casualties and broke through to the West. We were hampered also as the Germans, suspecting we had broken their radio codes, had maintained complete radio silence for two weeks although this silence alerted us to the probability that something was about to occur.
That night Bradley came to my office alone and silently studied the Situation Map for about fifteen minutes and then said to me "I did not think this fellow would do this but we will win the war right here!" We know now that every capable German general had advised Hitler against it but he had insisted. A year or more after the war I met General Bradley at a reception and he introduced me to someone as having been his Chief of Combat Intelligence and when I said that I did not know that he admitted having any Intelligence at that time he said "What have you been doing? Reading some of the books on the Bulge? I have not read them myself as I know more about that battle than any writer but I understand they say that we were surprised. Have we ever denied that?" This, it seems, is a pretty good commentary on the whole affair.
Bradley immediately ordered Patton to turn his entire army 90 degrees and attack the salient from the South while the British Field Marshall Montgomery who was in charge of the northern flank was to attack from the north to cut off the enemy in the salient. Patton executed one of the most brilliant maneuvers in military history by turning an entire army around and moving it a hundred miles in a few days but Montgomery delayed. Had he moved expeditiously and vigorously attacked, the war would have literally been won right there. Bradley was furious at the delays. It was not the first time that Montgomery's delays to "tidy up the battle field" had caused missed opportunities. As it was, many of the German troops escaped the trap but their losses in men and equipment were so great that the outcome was never again in doubt although the war went on another six months and cost many American lives.
One night during that winter, Bradley was in my office in a relaxed mood as the situation was quiet. I had received a cable that Stewart had been born. (Actually Elizabeth had to use a form message which said "son born today" and I was subject to some ribbing as I had been overseas two years!) I said to Bradley that one trouble was that he had too darned many grandfathers on his staff. "Who is a grandfather?" asked Bradley. "Well, I am for one" I replied. "Hell, I suppose that means you want to go home." he said. "No, General, but I would not mind starting home on the day that fighting stops," and he said that I would do just that.
Bradley remembered that half laughing conversation and I got my orders back to the States on VE Day. I reached home almost to a day three years after I had left home for the intelligence school at Harrisburg. Intelligence officers did not receive a discharge but were ordered to "inactive service", subject to recall to active service at any time. This fact caused me some discomfort later. In addition to the normal service decorations, I was granted the Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit by the United States, the Order of the British Empire by the British, the French Legion of Honor and the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm. However I have never valued them very highly as I know that such honors are granted according to the positions of responsibility that an officer held rather than his actual accomplishments.
The Whitney Years [Post-War Period]
Now, it is necessary to do a "flashback" to Bill Jackson's and my flat in London in the winter of 1943-44. John Hay Whitney, universally known as "Jock", was the public relations officer of the 8th Air Force which was stationed in England, and, with the Royal Air Force, carried on the brunt of the air war in Europe. He often spent an evening in our London flat discussing all sorts of subjects. He was a delightful and very interesting man who had inherited an enormous fortune from his father which he had increased by far-sighted and progressive policies. He knew little of theoretical economics but he was brilliant and had instinctively excellent judgment and great courage.
One night he said that he was a product of the capitalistic system and with all its faults he believed it to be the best system ever devised to bring economic progress. He felt that a man of his wealth should not be content merely to place money in tax exempt municipal bonds that did little for real economic progress and he wondered what he could do after the war that would be really constructive for the capitalistic system. It was a semi-serious conversation, philosophic in nature, and I doubt that any of us took it very seriously at the time. I pointed out, however, that the weakest link in the capitalistic system was the inability of small business, or the inventor who had devised a good new product, to obtain the necessary capital to produce and promote it. Banks would not consider loans to unproven enterprises and the investment bankers would not attempt to merchandise small and unknown issues of stock in new companies. I suggested that after the war he set aside a portion of his fortune, say, $10,000,000, gather a group of very able men, and finance the small business or individual inventor, with what would be known as "Venture Capital". In many cases, perhaps a majority of them, the venture capital would be lost but I believed that with proper selection and management a few would be so profitable that they would offset the more numerous losses. At the same time, the gains would be capital gains taxed at a maximum of 25% whereas his ordinary income was subject to an income tax of over 90%. At the same time he would be doing a very constructive thing for the capitalistic system.
Several weeks later he said that he had been thinking about the suggestion and was seriously interested in it. He asked if Bill and I would join him as partners if he decided to go ahead with it after the war. I said that I had an obligation to return to my little firm in Boston which had changed its name to Standish, Ayer and McKay, that I disliked living in New York and that after the turmoil of the war I thought I would like the quiet of the less dramatic life in Boston and the investment counsel profession. Bill Jackson, however, expressed interest even though he was a partner in the prestigious law firm of Carter, Ledyard and Milburn with a high income. I heard no more of the matter for the duration of the war and, indeed, it looked at one time as if the venture would never be born as Jock was captured by the Germans in Italy but escaped by jumping from a moving train as he was being taken to a prisoner of war camp in Germany.
mmediately after the war, Jock and Bill Jackson organized J. H. Whitney and Co. along the lines originally suggested and Bill repeatedly came to Boston to urge me to become a partner. It was the hardest decision of my life as It entailed leaving the firm that I had started, leaving good friends in the firm who had stood by me loyally during my military service. It also required living in New York which the family and I disliked exceedingly and, most important, we had to sell the Lake Avenue house that had been our home for nearly fifteen years. This disrupted all the friendships and social contacts of the entire family. On the other hand, I knew that it would throw me into the highest financial circles. The salary was two or three times what the firm could pay me. I would be guaranteed against any ultimate loss and, because a partner took over his share of the assets at cost (and one of the first investments had proved very fortunate), I would have a profit on paper the moment I signed the partnership papers. That was far more than I could expect to accumulate in many years in the investment counsel business. I went to New York and examined the business in detail and talked with all the existing partners. With one exception, who did not remain a partner long, I liked them all immensely. The result was that either late 1946 or early 1947 I was offered a senior partnership (10%). I accepted it with the result that we moved to a very nice duplex cooperative apartment at 20 East End Avenue in New York in June of 1947.
ATLANTIC FLIGHT: August 26 - 27, 1943
A curt note sent me by the Transport Officer"Be at hanger #4 at 1200 Thursday, August 26th". So here it wasWednesday afternoon and in a few hours I would be heading off on a trip and an adventure that might lead to anything or take an indefinite amount of time.
Frantic hurry, packing, notes to the family that had to be written but in which I can say nothing as my orders are secret and at ten the next morning I slip quietly out of the hotel into a waiting staff car that takes me to La Guardia Field. A polite and quiet "Good luck, Sir, happy landings" from the enlisted man and I feel that I am really on my way.
The usual papers to sign, the weighing of luggage my bag weighs the allowable maximum of 55 pounds while my pockets are stuffed and a knapsack plus a gas mask over my shoulder must add another 15 pounds but these are not counted against me. Suddenly I am told that I am responsible for two large pouches or secret correspondence and I am the only army officer on the plane. Why the only army officer? I am told that my air priority is so urgent that they are putting me on the first plane to leave and it is a cargo, not a passenger plane. The crew are civilian employees of the Air Transport Command. My heart sinks a bit as I know what it means nothing but aluminum bucket seats in which you sit along the sides, back to the window, little if any heat and we are going to cold places and no food en route. The outlook for the next 24 hours seems to darken a bit.
Twelve o'clock and I am told to get aboard up the ladder and in. Yes, it is just as grim as I expected. About half the fuselage aft of the crew's quarters is loaded with machinery, the bucket seats are hard and uncompromising, the heat is terrific. The temperature outside must be 90 degrees and the plane has been sitting in the sun. The heavy woolen uniform that I am wearing seems unbearable. The door slams, the motors cough and catch and the heavy plane lumbers down to the end of the runway to rev the motors before the take off.
As the motors are turned up, one by one, the #1 motor backfires and smokes and generally acts badly. It looks as if it would shake itself loose on every backfire. The pilot tries the other motors which sound smooth but #1 continues to act very badly. My fellow passenger, a mechanic, confesses that although he has worked on airplane engines for ten years he has never been off the ground and that he is scared. "Jesus, listen to the motor, I don't like it." I try to convince him that the pilot will not take off unless he is satisfied that the engine is all right. He is not convinced, and neither am I entirely. Suddenly, the plane moves and we adjust our safety belts but we don't pick up speed and so I realize that the pilot is taxi-ing back to the hanger. He is not satisfied and he is not taking off.
The pilot appears and says, "Sorry Major, I won't take this plane off with that motor acting that way. Probably will be an hour or two delay". So we clamber down again after I arrange for an armed guard to board the plane and watch the pouches.
At 1:30 the mechanic reports the engine is in shape but, on reving it acts in the same manner and we come back again. At 3:00 we go out for the third try and this time all sounds well. Then down the long runway gathering speed and more speed then the jolting ceases and we are air-borne and on our way. The next stop Goose Bay, Labrador.
Up, up, higher and higher. Moving up Long Island Sound at a cruising speed of 200 miles per hour. Then we turn inland, to the north, and I loose track of my position except that we are streaking across Connecticut and soon will be over Massachusetts. In a little more than an hour I see the ocean again and realize that we have probably crossed Massachusetts and then I get a glimpse through the clouds of a city I recognize Portland, Maine, and we have been in the air only about an hour and a half! The clouds close in again and than open up for a minute about five minutes later. What a sight! for there below me are the spires of the Bowdoin campus that I know so well. I take it as a good omen and it seems as if the old college itself was saluting and wishing me well.
Now the clouds close in completely and I see the phenomenon familiar to all air travelers but which always fascinates me as the plane flies along over a sea of white clouds the shadow of the plane on the clouds surrounded by a perfect circular rainbow. It is beautiful and thrilling.
Five-fifteen and it is very cold. Why did I complain of the heat in New York? You can see your breath in this plane and it is quite uncomfortable. Soon, however, the heat is turned on and the plane becomes exceedingly hot again. Off come the over-coats, gloves and blouses.
Six o'clock and the weather has cleared again. Below are the vast forests of northern Maine or Quebec and there is no sign of human habitation as far as the eye can see nor any place to land if we had to do so. At seven o'clock we cross the Gulf of St. Lawrence and at seven-thirty start across a wild and barren lake country. I decide to invade the crew's quarters and find myself welcome. I join them in a cup of coffee that tastes delicious.
Daylight now begins to fade and there is nothing below except wilderness but soon lights appear and at nine-fifteen the pilot skillfully puts the plane down at Goose Bay more than 1000 miles from New York.
We step out after providing a guard for the pouches into a new and marvelous world. It is cold, perhaps 45 degrees with a definite snap in the air and the stars are unbelievably brilliant. The airport crews are bundled up in mackinaws and you see one of the construction marvels of the war. Hewn out of the wildest wilderness, only 20 miles from a Grenfell Mission, is a huge and modern airport. Comfortable huts and dining rooms, heated by forced warm air, at which we are served a good hot supper of fried eggs, bacon and coffee; huge hangers, machine shops, barracks, recreation hall. All the material and labor flown in for construction or brought by boat when ice conditions permitted. Indeed a very different world from the one I left at La Guardia six hours before!
At quarter of eleven we are off again. I am alone this time as my fellow passenger was put off as the plane was too heavy for the long ocean flight to Iceland. The captain brings me three sleeping bags that are piled one on top of another on the floor to soften it a bit so that I can sleep in the top one. He also brings me a "Mae West" life preserver and explains that army regulations require me (but not the crew) to wear it. I get him to show me how it is worn and then carefully take it off and hang it in a hook while he looks on in silent amusement. I want to sleep because I am tired and I don't believe a Mae West will help. He also cautions me against lighting any lights after we clear the coast submarines have a nasty way of taking pot shots with AA guns at transport planes.
Now I am alone we clear the coast and start out over the cold and lonely North Atlantic that I can see dimly glinting below us. I do feel quite alone and my thoughts wander back to Newton. I am glad that those there don't know where I am at the moment for they would worry far more than I intend to do. I have faith in those four big engines pounding along outside and in the men who, in the forward compartments, will not sleep tonight.
In a very few minutes I am asleep and wake to find it broad daylight with the plane flying above a solid bank of white clouds. I start to get up but look at my watch three-fifteen! I can't believe it but it seems to be running. Then I realize that I am far to the north in mid-summer. So back to sleep, finally getting up and having a cup of rather poor coffee with the captain at five-thirty. He tells me we have been bucking heavy head winds and are a little behind schedule. The clouds now break up and below is a beautiful, smooth but very lonely ocean. It is difficult to judge altitude and hence one has no idea of the size of the waves below.
At six-forty-five, mountains loom ahead and you know it must be Iceland. You also give thanks for the skill of the navigator through the night which allowed the pilot to hit this little island in the middle of the North Atlantic. In ten minutes you are on the ground again a barren, God forsaken ground of red clay and rocks, practically without trees of any sort, and a staff car is whisking you off to the "hotel".
The "hotel" proves to be the army "Hotel de Gink" made by joining together several spherical steel huts and dropping them down into this northern waste. But as you walk in you gasp in amazement. No summer tea-room on Cape Cod could be more attractively furnished nor any gayer. You revel in a good wash and go in for breakfast. Breakfast? Soup, fricassee of chicken, potatoes, vegetables and apple pie. What time is it anyway? Why, it is even-thirty, Icelandic time, not seven-thirty as your watch says! Your stomach still insists, however, it is time for breakfast rather than dinner.
"Any mail on that plane, sir?" Over and over again you are asked it. By the driver of the car, the waiter, the hotel clerk, officers in the dining room. "No, no mail," and their faces fall. They have had no mail for two weeks and they have been away from home a year or more. "Any mail, sir?" rings in your ears and the disappointed looks stay in your memory.
At two PM, British time, nine AM Eastern War Time, you are off again flying over a blue ocean and broken clouds. Scotland lies some 800 miles to the south-east. Three hours later you note one little change all of the crew are on the alert scanning the skies and the pilot likes to fly near clouds whenever possible. You are well within the range of the DO-215 and other long range enemy air craft. An unarmed transport is easy pickings if sighted and caught.
At quarter of six you begin to pass little barren islands and see the first ships. One has a balloon tethered over it which reminds you again you are now really in the war zone. Fifteen minutes later you sight the main land and in five more minutes you step out of the plane at Prestwick, Scotland. Just twenty-two hours after leaving New York.
Here I find it is difficult to get reservations to London on the night train but they will take me down on another plane in the morning, so I decide to stay over night. A pleasant dinner and an enjoyable evening in the bar a new cross-roads of the world. Some heading for war with mixed emotions, some heading for home after a year of fighting with the RAF. Strange company gathers at this air cross road.
The first leg of the trip is over and I am eligible to join the "Short Snorters Club" which restricts its membership to those who have flown an ocean.
IMPRESSIONS OF AN AIR RAID OVER LONDON (my first) October 7TH, 1943
Eight-fifteen and another officer and I sit down in the study of our Davies Street flat for an evening of discussion and somewhat leisurely work on a Theater problem.
Woo-up, there goes another of those damned alerts. Oh well, nothing ever happens in them any more, let's continue the discussion.
Wait a minute! Those ack-ack guns are firing more heavily than usual tonight. They are still far away and muffled but boop, boop-boop-boop, boop, boop-boop-boop. By God, they are really going tonight. Let's take a look!
Lights are put out, the blackout curtains drawn aside, windows are opened and two U.S. Army officers lean out. They ought to know better particularly the one that used to lecture the ARP students on keeping away from windows in an air raid.
There are few search lights, they are useless tonight as there is a thin overcast and behind it is a brilliant moon. Unless those planes come down through that overcast the lights will be of little value.
Boo-oomp, boo-oomp, boo-oop. Those guns are nearer and firing faster. Over head one hears the faint unsynchronized drones of German bombers. B-o-o-o-o-o-o. boom, bang-bang-bang. There go the guns in Hyde Park, three blocks away. Flash, flash, through the sky. There is the ack-ack bursting. It is pretty, looks like many of the less elaborate Fourth of July displays.
The guns die away. In the distance again are the muffled boop, boop of guns but generally all is quiet. A warden's cigarette glows briefly as he stands in a doorway across the street.
What is that? It sounds like hail, the metallic clicks of falling metal on pavements and the tinny sound of hitting parked cars. Why it must be flack falling but where the hell does it come from? There has been no nearby gun firing for minutes. It soon stops and all is quiet. Some pedestrians go by. The raid seems over, and some cars with lights dimmed out lights are moving.
Whee-crump, whee-crump, the sky flares an angry red, the building trembles. By God, those are bombs! Where the hell did they come from? Some bastard let them loose from a hell of a ways up! Christ, he has probably killed some people. And the dirty Son-of-a-bitch didn't even come down where you could get a shot at him. Bang-bang-bang all the nearby guns set up a clamor. They can't see him either, but the gunners are mad also. The dirty bastard.
That seems about all. The guns die down. Some heavy vehicles move down the street in a hurry. Trucks? Ambulances? one can't tell in the black out.
Lets go out and walk around. The All Clear hasn't sounded but never mind. Plenty of people are out and besides, the sky has cleared and the search lights are on so it will be interesting. We can duck anywhere if it gets tough again.
Out side it seems a normal London night. Taxis are moving freely, the traffic lights and street lights work as usual. Quite a number of people are going about their business. What is the sense of enforcing household blackout so strictly if you let cars run with all that light? Really it isn't much, but it is far more than will leak around the crack of a curtain. We don't know, but it is the way it is done.
The wardens and fire-watchers look efficient in their tin hats but no one else seems to pay any attention and certainly they show no concern. The search lights probe here and there. Look, there are three that have licked up a plane in the cone. See them pin that boy down! There goes a red Vary flare and the search lights are out. He must be a friendly fighter.
But high above us is a huge steady drone, the lights are getting fewer. Louder and louder the drone for minute after minute ten minutes, fifteen minutes. Brother, if those are Nazis we are in for real trouble. But of course they are not. They are our chaps you know. Yes, we know that. So do the search light boys and the gunners. For five nights now they have gone out and for every bomb dropped on England to night there will be a hundred on the continent.
Well, I guess I'll go home. Good night Alex, good night Bill. Back in my study. Guess I'll work a little. Bang, bang, bang. There they go again. Have to take another look. Lights out [and] back to the window again. Boy, they've a plane pinned down there this time. Bang, bang, bang. Look at those flashes around him! Will he go down? No, but he is sure getting the hell out of here and in a hurry. Here's another and they are after him too. He has the same idea let's leave.
Behind the building there are flashes. It must be another. Yes, there he is. Bang-bang-bang. He's not dawdling either. Gosh they look white in the glare of the lights. Here's another, and another. No one seems to be hit.
Now it is quieter, the guns are distant. It seems all over. What sense is such a raid? Maybe they hit some other place harder. More probably they are testing London defenses. The moon will get brighter for several nights. Perhaps this will be an interesting week, my last in London for a while. Hell, let's get at that work.
And later who-o-o-o-o-o-o at 10:55 All Clear. Tomorrow the radio will say; "A few raiders crossed the coast and London had an alert for one hour and forty minutes. A few bombs were dropped but casualties and damage were slight. Two enemy craft were shot down."
The above impressions, written within an hour of the raid, are as they occurred. The forecast of the radio report was incorrect. The truth as revealed the following day: 75 bombers crossed the channel during the raid. Eighty tons of bombs were dropped. Sixteen enemy fighters were over London and there was a considerable number of casualties. It was the heaviest raid on London in two years; it was the heaviest barrage London has ever put up.
All of which is extraordinary in view of my impressions at the time.