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)
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:
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.
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.”
[Images courtesy of Green Harbor Publications.]