m a r k e r i c k s o n p a i n t i n g s Lt. Ernest Anders Erickson Air Corps 1942 - 1945
Click to view Lt. Ernest Anders Erickson's complete thirty five mission list and twelve B-17 Flying Fortresses flown between March 27th thru August 26th, 1944 out of Horham Airfield, England.
in 1936 - Painted Wood, North Dakota
Ernest Anders Erickson & Cousin Robert ‘Bob’ Andrew Nelson in the Winter of 1936 with their Grandfather Anders (Nilsson) Nelson on his farm in Painted Woods, North Dakota
In the Winter of 1936 a stunning photograph was taken by my Grandfather Frank G. S. Erickson of his son, Ernest Anders, at fourteen years of age, dressed in his full Charles Lindbergh aviator threads - leather jacket, pants, shirt and very cool high laced boots. He was looking pretty snappy in the middle of the Depression in Painted Woods.
As time would move along, six years later, in the Spring of 1942, my father would join the Army Air Corps and end up piloting twelve B-17 Flying Fortress' with the 95th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force out of Horham Airfield in England. He would accomplish 35 missions over Nazi occupied Europe in 1944.
He returned to North Dakota in late 1944 for a family visit, before being assigned as a flight instructor in the Southwest for the remaining time of the war.
I imagine any eight year period of my life and then think of my father's transformation from this boy on the farm, dreaming of being a pilot. Then with a handful of years passing, risking everything flying a bomber over enemy landscapes fraught with flak guns and Luftwaffe fighters attempting with great zeal to shoot him down.
I realize nothing can compare to that I have experienced in my life. I am fine with that thought, as my Father's time after growing up in the Depression on the farmlands of North Dakota was a rare time of the 20th Century. Heroic dangerous times followed and have always been in awe of his many accomplishments and extremely proud of my dad's life. Those Flyboys were the Cowboys of my childhood fantasies. "Fly on, fly high, to the clear blue sky dad."
Within eighteen months he was assigned to the 8th Air Force's 95th Bomb Group as a Heavy Bomber Pilot. He commenced with his Flying Combat duty in the East Anglia area of England in the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex, specifically at the former RAF Airfield at Horham.
In the first photograph my dad is fourteen years old and standing on the very farm he was born in Painted Woods. It was the influences of growing up on the Great Northern Plains that set his sights on the sky. The newsreels in the movie houses my father attended of Charles Lindbergh's historic flight from New York City to Paris began the process and securing his dreams of becoming an Aviator.
Soon enough the arrival of the Barnstormer pilots in the 1930s, setting down with their prop airplanes on nearby flatlands caught my father's eye. And then that day he was able to take a ride in one of those Barnstormers airplanes, lighting the fuse of his dreams of flight. Only a few years later he was again in the cockpit of an airplane, this time soloing for the first time into vast horizon.
The photograph holds the quiet Winter vastness of North Dakota and where he grew up. The big skies and the horizons that go on forever. His dreams came true and set him on a life of being involved in the 'Air Business' as he called it.
The second photograph shows Lt. Erickson, a few days after D-Day, June 6th, 1944, following a mission, enjoying some moments of lightness with his Navigator, on the Airfield at Horham, England.
Following is an excerpt from a Biography, 'The Men From Painted Woods,' that I am writing about my Father Ernest Anders, my Grandfather Frank and his Brother, my Great Uncle Julius Ernest Erickson. Deep into Summer of 1944 and as his missions over Europe continued and mounted in numbers, my Father Lt. Ernest Anders Erickson continued his journal writing and most important for his family and friends back home in North Dakota, his letter writing also continued, as a common daily experience for him. It gave him great comfort to be in touch with home. His Mother Clara, surely appreciated it.
Unlike today with telephones and other modern day apparatuses, letter writing was the only way. My father's handwriting was immaculate when he was not in a hurry. Fine script oozed out of his pen on any type of stationery he could find, and it that, often difficult to apprehend enough with the amount of letters he wrote. Some Days he would write two a day to just his Folks and sister Dian. And when he had a fun story to tell, another separate letter just to his four year old sister, who he called Dinny.
On the evening of June 9th as 'Operation Neptune' and 'Operation Overlord' were still fresh in all the Aircrew minds, Ernest wrote a letter home that included these passages. In contrast to the rest of the letter, he gave his thoughts and hopes transcribed in poetic verse on the news that was spreading stateside daily of the Invasion on June Sixth.
For the Kings of Hearts & Coronets and jolly old England, the boys of June Sixth, live on in perpetual memory. In the early morning hours, on the far west side of the eastern shore of mainland Europe, the gallant men of that early daylight assault have already caught their hell. They wade onto the beaches of dense fields of ferocious German fire, hiding in the sand, behind beams of steel, sculptures of memory, men running, slipping and dropping like flies in the French waves on the shores of Normandy. Clusters of animated figures pushing inland, a slaughter of their times, but so many still standing, striving, hauling their gear, desperate for cover and pointing towards the eventual way to Germany.
By now things have calmed, trapped along the sea wall, making it up to the concrete bunkers, burning them out one at a time, twenty at a time, a brutal game being played for real. Home seems so far away as they struggle into the fire. Amazing feats of heroics and sad endings of small mistakes, tripping over reality, being at the wrong place in the instant of a blinking eye. For the ones that never left the beach, the sea wall and the rocky cliffs in the Majesty of their gifts and regrets, we remember their courage. To their awaiting families at home and to the men ever vigilant struggling forward, far below the missions passing over heaven's gate, we marvel. Gaze into the Heavenly Skies, kiss them goodbye and pass the Ammunition.
Previous to the Invasion and as time marched through June and deep into the Summer, Ernest tracked his mission count. His Twenty Second mission on June 2nd, was over Nantes, France flying the Flying Fortress 'Lili of the Lamplight'; his Twenty Third was over Hanover (Misburg), Germany on June 18th, flying the 'Lili of the Lamplight'; his Twenty Fourth mission on the June 20th, targeted Fallerslagben, Germany, was aboard the 'Lili of the Lamplight'; his Twenty Fifth mission on June 22nd was a No Ball target (V-One and V-Two rocket installations) was aboard the 'Lili of the Lamplight'; his Twenty Sixth mission on June 25th was another No Ball target near Salesman, France, flying the 'Lili of the Lamplight';
His Twenty Seventh mission was two weeks later on July 7th over Kolleda (Merseburg), Germany, aboard the 'Lili of the Lamplight'; Ernest's Twenty Eighth mission was over St. Lo, France on July 24th abroad the 'Lili of the Lamplight'; his Twenty Ninth mission on July 28th targeted Merseburg, Germany and aboard the 'Lili of the Lamplight.' Ernest's Thirtieth mission was on August 3rd, a day before his Twenty Second birthday and was over Troyes, France and flying 'The Doodle Bug.' Ernest had flown ten different Flying Fortresses so far into combat over a four month period, but the ship he and his crew loved over all, the 'Lili of the Lamplight' had finally become 'their' permanent ship.
Shuttle Missions England * France * Ukraine (Poltava Airfield) * Italy (Foggia Airfield) My father's longest assignment began on August Fifth, Ninety Forty Four, a day after his Twenty Second birthday, when the 'Lili of the Lamplight,' flying with his Squadron took off from Horham and participated in a series of four shuttle-bombing missions which spanned the width of the European continent. Ernest would complete four missions in a little over a week, bringing his total to Thirty Four, one shy of the magic Thirty Five. The August shuttle run was an element of 'Operation Frantic,' a massive enterprise the 8th Air Force command had planned.
In 1943 at the conference in Tehran, President Roosevelt put forward to Stalin the concept for the use of Russian bases by American bombers and fighters. Begrudgingly Stalin agreed to proceed with the plan. 'Operation Frantic’s main intention was to establish multiple bomber groups in Russia. The proposal emphasized bombardment operations and reconnaissance. This would enable Allied bombers to strike missions deep into occupied Nazi territory. Following the missions they would land at these Allied air bases, re-fuel and load up with armaments and attack new targets. Upon completion of the Eastern European bombing missions, the squadrons would return one last time to the Soviet base, refuel and rearm. On the way back to their home airfields in England or Italy, the squadrons would complete one last mission.
From June through August twenty-four targets were attacked, many decimated by the Squadron. Russian reluctance to more aggressive targeting operations began to prevent further effective use of the bases. In general, the American airmen were made to feel adequately welcome by the Soviet personnel stationed on the bases. July and August saw the peak use, and by October the bases began to be phased out. The American ships encountered severe difficulties in the Russian's lack of security at the bases. Often they seemed not to even care, or possibly held resentment against the bomber crews or for that matter the entire Eighth Air Force. They refused to introduce radar-guided artillery and night fighter patrols, and often the American bombers were fired upon by Soviet forces.
The operations were again reduced after a fatal German air attack, where the 8th lost dozens of unprotected Flying Fortresses left out in the open on one of the Russian bases. Even though crewmen of the Eighth warned the Russians of a possible mishap, all was ignored by the Russian commanders.
The final straw was the inability of the American Commanders to receive permission to use the bases for support of the Warsaw Uprising that began on August First. This action by the Russians soured relations and disappointed the Eighth Air Force Commanders, as they saw an unlimited possibility to send bombers over Axis areas previously beyond their reach. Unfriendly and suspicious from the start, the Russians made the use of the bases extremely limited, and the Americans remained in limited numbers until they were evacuated when the war in Europe was over. Ernest related that this experience, the incredible amount of flying, the countries he visited and the times with his crew, as a premier time of his Air Corps service. He recalled the Russian women with incredible fondness.
During that ten-day shuttle run, Ernest and the crew encountered multiple Luftwaffe ME-109 fighter attacks and occasional barrages of deadly flak fire. After flying three consecutive missions out of Poltava Airfield in the Ukraine over three days, August Sixth through the Eighth, the Squadron bombed aircraft factories and oil refineries near Rahmel and Trzebien in Poland, and Bazau in Romania. In-between and after each mission, the squadron landed at Poltava, where they refueled and rearmed. My father enjoyed his days in Russia, and found the ground crews friendly and talkative. He took photographs of the Russians in and around the base, especially some of the women that were doing the bulk of the work around the mess tents.
Ernest carried a unique identification card on the shuttle flights over the Ukraine, which was territory occupied by Russian troops. On one side, my father’s name, rank and serial number appears, and on the other side Russian translations for basic words and phrases. This card was provided to the airmen, in case they got into trouble, and needed to 'eat, drink or hide,' as it states on the card. He kept this ID for the rest of his life.
Foggia Airfield in Italy in August of 1944
Each crew member was armed, as a precaution, although everywhere they stopped, the Americans were greeted by friendly Italian villagers. The boys visited the towns of Benevento and Avellino, ending that day’s journey at the Mediterranean city of Salerno. Ernest photographed the allied ships which were moored in the harbor and scattered throughout the waterways. One spectacular photograph I look at often was of Mount Vesuvius with a hazy screen of fog hanging in the background, birds perched on wires and the Salerno harbor full of ships in the foreground.
The following day they headed up the coast of Italy to the city of Naples. On that sunny morning, as Ernest stood at the water's edge staring wistfully at the Isle of Capri in the distance, he knew someday he would return when he truly could relax, and take a boat out to the small island. Thirty years later, accompanied by my mother Bernice Lane, and me, his son, we fulfilled that vision.
On their last day on the Mediterranean they drove back through Caserta and Lucera and then on to Tortorella. In Foggia, a crew member captured what I have always thought were classic photos of my father standing in front of various abandoned Luftwaffe bombers. The photos were taken not long after the Allies had taken over the airfield.
Equipment and airplanes were strewn across the countryside of Italy, left by the retreating German Army. One can view these photographs and imagine the chaotic withdrawal of the once highly disciplined and invincible German military. The proof of their total collapse was in the offing; these images can only remind us of their war machines, now reduced to junk yard debris.
On August Twelfth, Ernest and crew left Italy and targeted the Francazal Airfield, completing their Thirty Fourth mission over Toulouse, France. It was then time to head home and his Squadron pointed their way to England.
At Horham, my father awaited his Thirty Fifth and final mission. In the meantime, the crews were given leave and Ernest and the Lili's Navigator, Lt. Paul Hintermeier took off for London. Ernest was to wait for over two weeks before his next mission would be scheduled. The day Ernest arrived back from leave, the 'Lili of the Lamplight' took off for a mission over Politz, Germany with another crew aboard. The cards laid out differently for Ernest to complete his final mission aboard the Lili.
On August 13th, an article was published in local newspapers throughout the States under the headline "Forts Hit France From Italy On Last Leg Back From Soviets” reported on what the 'Lili of the Lamplight' and the other ships of the Squadron had accomplished.
The official Air Force account reads: “Heavy bombers of the Eighth Air Force bombed German factories in Poland on their way to Russia. Two days later the Squadrons landed in Italy at a Fifteenth Air Force base after pounding two enemy Airdromes in the Ploesti area of Romania on the second leg of their triangle-shuttle flight. All aircraft landed in Russia without loss after attacking Nazi factories in Rahmel, ten miles northwest of the Polish port of Gdynia. Enemy aircraft were encountered, and flak was reported heavy at many points."
August 4th, 1944
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