Doug Robinson: A WWII vet looks back, at last

Published: Sunday, Nov. 10 2013 6:40 p.m. MST

Based in England, he flew bombing missions over western Germany, Holland, France and Belgium. His targets were transportation systems and factories for airplanes, ball bearings, tanks and munitions. The odds were stacked against the American pilots. They were fully exposed to anti-aircraft fire and German fighter planes, and if they didn’t get you coming in on the target, they could get you flying out, after the planes regrouped.

“Do that 35 times and the law of averages catches up with you,” says Snarr, who recalls one group losing 36 of 39 planes. “After the first mission and several after that, I got down on the ground and kissed Mother England.”

Close calls became almost routine. On one occasion, Snarr lost an engine and turned home. Before he reached England, three of the plane’s four engines were out. Because the problems had begun at a high altitude of 35,000 feet, Snarr had time to make a slow glide back to the base.

On another mission, a 75-millimeter shell knocked out the No. 3 engine. With the loss of power and speed, Snarr couldn’t keep up with the formation and fell behind. German fighters swept in for the kill, like wolves culling a sick sheep from the herd.

“They kept taking turns making passes at us,” says Snarr. “We called for a P-51 (fighter), and he scared them all away and escorted us home.”

Once on the ground, the crew counted 98 holes in their plane.

Says Snarr, “If you drew a life-size picture of the plane, including the nine crew members, then blindfolded someone, gave them a 50-caliber machine gun, pointed them in the general direction of the plane and told them to try to miss the crew, they couldn’t do it.”

The close calls kept coming. One day, the B-24s turned toward the target in a tight formation, but somehow one of the bombers wound up directly over Snarr’s plane. Flying wingtip to wingtip with other planes in the group, there was no escape.

“We were looking up at the plane above us and the bomb bay doors opened,” says Snarr. “We were helpless to do anything about it. They dumped the bombs over the target. The plane to the right of us took a direct hit and turned into a ball of flames. They were in our barracks. More bombs missed the nose of our plane by 20 feet.”

On another mission, Snarr’s plane was carrying three 2,000-pound bombs, but when they tried to drop them on the target only two of them would release — the third was frozen in place. The bombardier closed the bomb-bay doors and the plane was turned toward home, but as it descended the warmer temperatures at lower altitudes melted the bomb free and it went through the doors and landed harmlessly in a field.

The bombing sorties were scheduled around weather predictions, but those predictions weren’t always on target. During one mission, in which Snarr's plane was one of 2,000 in the air, they found themselves in a raging blizzard on their return flight to England. “We were told to disband and find a place — any place — to land,” says Snarr. “Can you imagine? Two thousand planes trying to land in fields and roads and whatever they could find in a snowstorm? Several planes crashed. One plane flew right underneath us. We were in the hands of God. We were actually able to land at the base.”

Like other Allied pilots, Snarr was unable to fly because of winter storms when the Germans began their famous Battle of the Bulge assault in a last-ditch effort to turn the war. When the weather cleared, Snarr was among those pilots who provided desperately needed support for ground forces pinned down by the Germans and freezing conditions.

“After we got in the air, we destroyed railroads and supplies,” says Snarr.

Finally, Snarr and his crew came to their 35th and final mission. It was considered a “milk run” — they would barely cross over the front lines and didn’t expect to draw any flak. “But we were flying a clunker that day and couldn’t keep up with the formation,” says Snarr. “Some milk run. We had to abandon the mission, so it didn’t count; we had to do it again.”

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