New York Times Reporter Killed In Bombing Raid

Denton Scott inside a B-17.

On 26 February 1943, a group of six American war correspondents including Robert Post of the New York Times and a very young Walter Cronkite, were divided among six different bombers of the US 8th Air Force and flew a mission against the U-Boat shipyards in Wilhelmshaven.

The six men had received a week of training in aspects of high altitude flight operations including how to fire the .50 caliber machine guns on the bombers. If one of the gunners was killed or wounded then the correspondents would have been expected to take over that position.

The reporters, who called themselves “the Legion of the Doomed,” were referred to by the 8th Air Force as the “Writing 69th,” a play on the title of famous 1940 war movie about the Fighting 69th in World War One.

The reporters were well aware of the horrendous casualties the 8th was taking. While taking another reporter to an 8th Air Force base, Walter Cronkite told him, “don’t make friends with the kids…It’s too much when they are lost, and most of them, you know, will be.” So they knew the danger they were putting themselves in. Another rookie newsman who flew the mission and later became famous was Andy Rooney. When he learned in the briefing that morning that the raid was going to be over Germany, “he felt he had made a colossal mistake, but there was no turning back.” (Quotes from Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany by Donald Miller)

The Writing 69th. This is the most often published shot of the Writing 69th, though it only includes six of the eight. The two military men, Andy Rooney and Denton Scott, were left out. From left to right it’s Gladwin Hill, William Wade, Robert Post, Walter Cronkite, Homer Bigart, and Paul Manning.

Robert Post knew all of this as well. To the intense emotional distress of his friends, he confessed to them the night previous to the mission that he knew he wasn’t coming back. He would be killed on the mission. And he was.

Lt. Wayne Gotke was the navigator of the bomber Post was aboard. Gotke and Sgt. Mifflin, a waist gunner, were the only two men to survive the crash. After the war, Gotke wrote to Robert Post’s father and said that after they crossed into Germany:

Our ship was under constant fighter attack…We had fought off the planes with very minor damage until we were almost to Oldenburg, then all hell broke loose…fighters hit us from all sides. Sgt. Vogt, the engineer and top turret operator, shot the first fighter down and I shot the next down however not until he had sent 20 mms into the nose and cockpit. [Those would be 20 millimeter canon shells fired by the German fighters.] Sgt. Mifflin shot down the third from his waist gun position. At this point my left gun jammed and I know at least two planes made direct hits on nose and flight deck. [Direct hits on the nose and flight deck would probably have killed the pilots, the bombadier, and the nose gunner.] Engines #3 and #4 had been hit and were on fire. I believe fire spread to the wing tank and caused the ship to explode.

I was working on my guns when all at once it seemed someone pushed me from behind and all went black. I woke up falling through space and pulled my rip cord and no results so I reached back and tore the back of my chute out. My last look at the altimeter showed 26,000 feet and the Germans claim they saw my chute open at 5,000 feet…We all felt that your son was doing something beyond his call of duty to fly with us and held the highest respect for him. We knew him as a very swell person and I regret his loss greatly. I can understand how you feel as boys on a mission are like brothers. I’m sorry I can’t give you more information. I hope this information will help.

(Source: Green Harbor Publications)

On 1 March 1943, the New York Times reported, “Robert Post of the Times was one of six American reporters who rode in the bombers that attacked Wilhelmshaven last Friday. He was in one of the bombers that did not come home.”

The London Bureau of the New York Times. The photo was taken in London the late 1930s or early 1940s and Robert Post is third from the right.

[Images courtesy of Green Harbor Publications.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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