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George Skrba

The following was taken from the diary of Guy Bayless, Navigator for this crew

Lead Navigator

Guy Bayless was a college graduate and married man who had already embarked on a successful career in banking when he volunteered for the Aviation Cadet programme in June 1942 at the age of 27.

After qualifying for training as Navigator, Pilot and Bombardier, Bayless chose to become a Navigator and in due course found himself on the same Navigation course as Jordan Glew at Hondo, Texas. He graduated in October 1943 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.

Bayless then proceeded to Boise, Idaho where he was assigned to a new crew. The crew consisted of the following;

Pilot - Leland L Sears; Co-pilot - George A Montz; Navigator - Guy O Bayless; Bombardier - Frank A Merriell; Engineer - George Skrba; Radio Operator - Dayton C Vorz; Assistant Engineeer - Robert R Jennings; Armor - Harry B Mohring; Gunner - Dale W Cook.

After 5 months in phase training they began their journey to Italy via the same Southern ferry route taken by Sally's crew. At this time they were in possession of their allocated aircraft, B-24G 42-78106, named "Cherry" by the Bombardier on account that "cherries are hard to get". The "G" model was very similar to the subsequent "H" model, but served exclusively with the 15th Air Force. All G models were produced by North American at Dallas, Texas.

On 13th April 1944 the crew arrived at their final destination, Giulia Field on the Foggia plain close to Cerignolia. This was home to the 459th Bomb Group whose 758th Bomb Squadron the crew were allocated to. There was to be no time for theatre training and induction because on the 16th the crew were detailed to fly their first mission. The Bombardiers diary records some of their early missions;

April 16th

"We were awakened at 0340 this morning, ate breakfast and briefed at five. Here, 26 hours after we reached our destination, we were to go into combat against the enemy. Our pilot was an experienced mission flyer, and Sears was co-pilot. George stayed at the base. We left the field at 0740 and joined the biggest formation of planes we have ever seen - almost unbelievable. We took out over the Adriatic at 0900. The weather was good until 1030 when lower clouds formed, and prevented our going to the target. We had escorts of first P-38 and then P-51 fighters. And it is a wonderful feeling to see them. We dropped the 500 pound bombs on the alternate target, and did a fair job of it, sinking barges in a river alongside the railroad marshalling yards, our prime objective. The yards were well hit. This was truly an awful sight to see, to one who hasn't witnessed such a thing before, to see the destruction of a town that looks like it could be any American city. We returned from there, letting down all the way. It was a six-hour flight and no fighters or flak was encountered. We bombed from 18 000 feet, wore flak suits and crash helmets. We landed at 1330, to eat Red Cross donuts and to be interrogated. In the afternoon after lunch, we slept. Tonight we had an intelligence lecture, then turned in. We fly tomorrow again."

April 17th

"We were arisen at 0600 for a 0700 briefing. We ate breakfast first. We were briefed on the mission, the target to be Sofia. Take off time was 0925. Sears, Bayless and the Bombardier were to fly with one crew, Pappy, Jennings and Volz on another. Neither in "Cherry". The ship the officers were in developed generator trouble before takeoff, and the crew was grounded. However, the other boys got off and half an hour before reaching the target, the rear turret blew an accumulator and leaked hydraulic fluid. So, with a P-38 as escort, they turned around and came back."

April 20th

"Up at 0530 for a 0630 briefing. Breakfast of powdered eggs, bacon and coffee. The mission was delayed an hour, so we didn't take off until 0945. We formed over the field, then left on course at 1101. We had a beautiful escort of P-38 and P-51 fighters. The target (the Trieste-Opicania rail centre) was cloud covered and the bombing was difficult. We encountered at least four Me 109's which the P-38s quickly disposed of. The flak was not very heavy and at only one point, before the target. We got a hole through the top turret, after the gunner had left the turret. It looked like a bullet hole, probably from a stray bullet. We landed in Italy again at 1430 and until diner time, rested. The donuts and coffee that the Red Cross gives after every mission certainly taste wonderful. The sky trails left by the P-51's today were beautiful. Tonight we started wearing leggings as protection against mosquitoes. We spent the night eating K-rations!"

April 21st

"Today we had our maiden flight. The entire crew flew together in "Cherry". George was supposed to be still grounded, but flew just to go with the crew. We briefed at 0615. The raid was to be on Bucharest. We took stations at 0805 and took off at 0900. There was some last minute work on the engines, but we caught up with the formation. There was a solid undercast all the way from Yugoslavia to Bucharest, the Me 109's came up and attacked the formations for two hours. Finally P-38's chased them off. We couldn't see the target, so we did a 180 degree and flew to Belgrade. There was a good deal of flak all the way, but at Belgrade we really got it strong. "Cherry" was hit several places, turret, #2 engine, left aileron, left wing and a hole through the right side through the radio compartment. Nobody got hurt. Harry got pretty cold back in the tail and Vorz got frostbite in his hands. Pappy scratched up his hands fixing a nose gun and the band aids didn't stick. We developed gas leaks and oil leaks and sweat out the gas especially. After flying 2700 RPM and 55 inches of mercury, the gas was running out. Finally over the Adriatic we broke away from the formation and came straight to the field. On the approach number 2 ran out of gas. Sears feathered the prop and when we landed number 3 went out. What a relief it was to be on the ground. Sears especially was a worn out boy, after 8 ½ hours of formation. The return flight wasn't much formation on the return. It surely was a rough mission. Tonight a few letters and a little music, and then the rack. Oh yes - we dropped our bombs on Belgrade."

April 25th

"Awakened at 0515 for a 0615 briefing. Briefings go like this: first the target or targets, then weather, then time check and finally the Chaplain. Target today was Turin. We took off at 0835, left the area at 0945. The turbos went bad at 1100 o'clock, 14 500 feet and we returned to the field, not being able to stay with the formation. The day was a bad one. A ship hit some high tension wires on take-off and another ran out of gas on landing. The bombing results could have been better. We slept this afternoon, spent a quiet day."

April 29th

"Sears awoke Bayless and Merriell at 0500. Powdered eggs, sausage and delicious oatmeal for breakfast. Briefed at 0600. Today's mission - Toulon in southern France. We took off at 0830, left the area at 0920. Most of the way was over water. We passed over Corsica and begun developing engine trouble. There were a couple of guns out too. The ship was out of another squadron and in poor shape. As we crossed the French shore, the flak came. Most of it was low and behind us. The chaff was doing its job well. There was a light smoke screen over Toulon Bay, but it did not obscure the target entirely. We were to hit a munitions plant. Our six 1000 pounders dropped out at 1210, and results looked pretty good. There were 600 planes to hit that area today. After the target, number two prop began throwing oil. After we left the coastline Sears dropped out of formation and feathered the prop. Number three acted up a little. We headed for Corsica, but by the time we got there the three engines were running well, so we hiked it back to Italy. We travelled over 500 miles on three engines. Over Italy we saw what the war had done to the countryside. Parts were bombed and shelled to hell. We landed in the rain at 1520, just after the other ships had landed. The coffee and donuts tasted especially good. We were all so tired that lights were blown out early. It was an exciting trip back on three engines. The boys did a good job of joking and singing all the way back. Now we have seen France, Germany, Yugoslavia and Romania, plus of course Italy."

May 2nd

"We briefed today at 0600 for a raid on Verona. At 0830 we took off and were halfway up the Adriatic when we were recalled to the base. The weather socked in."

May 3rd

"We got up at 0645 and ate breakfast of fresh eggs - a real treat. Briefing was at 0815, later than usual. We were given Ploesti as a target, but weather caused cancellation before takeoff time."

May 4th

"Sears pulled a nasty trick this morning and awoke us at 0345. Briefing was at 0445. The target was the same as yesterday - Ploesti. We took off at 0710, rendezvoused over the airfield and at 0800 got the recall signal because of the weather again."

May 5th

"We generally awake at 5 o'clock expecting Sears to pull us out of bed. This morning though he waited until 0650. Briefing was 0800, takeoff 1030. The target was the same as the last three days, Ploesti. Today, oil refineries. The weather was good for a change. No excitement on the way over, except fighter dogfights far above us. The escorts were busy. At the target we got a heck of a lot of flak - too much. Something happened to our ship - we flew Cherry - it must have been concussion from a flak burst. The ship banked crazily and threw us out of formation. Sears and Montz finally levelled her and we went in OK - salvoed the load. We hit the target squarely and a tower of black smoke rose to 15 000 feet. We saw this as faraway as 150 miles. We got back without incident. We saw four B-24's go down, three in flames, but there were many parachutes that came from the planes. We got a lot of mail tonight, which certainly is a happy ending to any day!"

The Lead Crew

At this point, Bayless had completed 7 missions and his navigational abilities (and comprehensive navigational logs) had been recognised by the squadron staff. He was selected to fly his next mission as member of a lead crew. The crew arrangements on a lead crew differed from a standard B-24 crew. The nose gunner was deleted and in his place a second Navigator was carried. One Navigator was stationed at the navigators table carrying out dead reckoning navigation, the other was stationed in the nose turret manning the guns and doing pilotage navigation, telling the pilot exactly when relevant points had been reached. The lead crew received some additional information at briefing, but no additional navigation aids. At this time, the 459th BG had no H2X equipped "Mickey Ships". Besides leading the formation on the route out and over the target, lead crews also had responsibility for dropping out of formation and escorting any struggling aircraft on the route back (in which instance the deputy lead crew would take over lead responsibility)

The next mission, on the following day, was to the rail road yards at Ploesti, Romania. Bayless returned to find that his original crew was missing. The flight engineer George Skrba later explained what had happened;

"They were flying "tail end Charlie" in the formation and as they approached the target they were attacked by Me 109 fighters. He was firing at two 109's as they dove under the left wing of his plane. As he swung the turret back ready to take aim on the next wave of fighters he noticed that #1 engine and part of the left wing simply folded up and broke away. They had been hit by flak but there was no explosion. He figured the shell must have passed right through the wing and caused enough damage for the wing to fold up and break away.

Skrba said that three others besides himself got out of the plane and ended up as POW's. They were Leland Sears- pilot, Gordon Landis- navigator and Frank Merriell- bombardier. The others were killed." The four survivors were later repatriated when the Russians overran Bucharest.

Finding himself without a crew, Bayless spent his time with fellow Lead Navigator Jack Graham. They shared the same tent and toured the local area together.

Bayless continued to fly in the lead crew and some of his letters home describe what happened on these missions;

May 24th

"Not a lot to write about so will tell you about some of the things that happen. Yesterday going into the target (Marino, Italy) the Bombardier couldn't open the bomb bay doors and the pilots handle wouldn't open them either. So I had to pull off my oxygen and got down to try but I couldn't open 'em either so the engineer came down - neither could he. Well we have off our head sets. The bombardier yells all clear but we didn't hear him so he dropped the bombs through the doors with us standing there. So after, we got down a few thousand feet and off oxygen. The engineer and I had to fix the doors (swinging) up and wire them together enough so that it was safe to land.

Then today over a target a way up in Austria (Munchendorf) we had the same ship and they still wouldn't open. I had to go down again but opened them this time but in so doing so my flak helmet went out the bomb bay doors. But I made 'em give me another when we got back."

June 23rd

"They speak of sunny Italy and the weather can be and is very beautiful at times, the nights are always cool and although the sun is pretty hot during the day, there is generally a breeze. Have had a little bad weather recently though and some missions cancelled. But they still have things for us to do in the A.T.C. (Adriatic Training Command). I'll soon be in 5th phase I hope. You know, 3 phases in the States, combat for 4th phase and then you graduate to 5th phase.

Had a little excitement yesterday. The kind of time when you'd be scared shitless if you had time to think about it. Started when we were going in on the bomb run, the interphone was out, the bomb-bay doors wouldn't open (we were flying deputy lead; the others were to drop on us). Finally I knew they should be open and weren't so went down and opened them. They wouldn't drop so we salvoed. Then all hell broke loose. I had to shut the doors and we were getting hits from all sides. No interphone, 1 engine badly shot up, hydraulic system knocked out and a helluva gas leak. We left the formation on a heading for an island but decided to try to make it back. Landing gear in-operative, no flaps, no brakes. Finally got them cranked down though and the boys in the waist had parachutes ready to open in order to stop us on the runway. But there was enough fluid to stop us.

Caught a fast ride to town in a jeep so will live on coffee and donuts until supper."

Bayless eventually went on to complete 36 missions giving him the prerequisite 50 mission credit to complete his combat tour. He was also promoted to 1st Lieutenant.

He journeyed home to the US by ship, leaving his friend Jack Graham to complete the remaining few missions of his combat tour. Tragically, Graham was to be killed on the 12th September when his parachute failed to open after bailing out at 700 feet (all four engines ceased to operate on the return flight from a mission due to a gas leak) Two other members of his crew met the same fate.

Once back in the US, Bayless was reassigned to other duties and remained on flight status until he was discharged in late 1945.

Lt Leland Sears- Pilot; Lt Gordan Landis- Navigator; Lt Frank Merriell- Bombardier; and Sgt George Skrba- Engineer were on 459th BG Mission # 33 to Campina (Ploesti),RO 5/6/44.

Sears, Landis, Merriell and Skrba were shot down by flak and became POWs-- the other members of this crew were all KIA--- MACR # 4668 in A/C 41- 29318 "Heaven Can Wait.

Rear row, L to R: - Leland L Sears, Guy O Bayless, George A Montz, Frank M Merriell

Front Row, L to R: - George Skrba, Dayton Votz, William Ward, Unknown, Unknown

Lt Leland Sears- Pilot; Lt Gordan Landis- Navigator; Lt Frank Merriell- Bombardier; and Sgt George Skrba- Engineer were on 459th BG Mission # 33 to Campina (Ploesti),RO 5/6/44.

Sears, Landis, Merriell and Skrba were shot down by flak and became POWs-- the other members of this crew were all KIA--- MACR # 4668 in A/C 41- 29318 "Heaven Can Wait.

MACR: 4668

George Skrba

T/Sgt George Skrba Jr was assigned to the 459th BG 758th Squadron.
Military Occupational Specialty (MOS): Engineer.

Lt Leland Sears- Pilot; Lt Gordan Landis- Navigator; Lt Frank Merriell- Bombardier; and

Rear row, L to R:

Lt Leland Sears- Pilot; Lt Gordan Landis- Navigator; Lt Frank Merriell- Bombardier; and

The following information on George Skrba is gathered and extracted from military records. We have many documents and copies of documents, including military award documents. It is from these documents that we have found this information on T/Sgt Skrba. These serviceman's records are nowhere near complete and we are always looking for more material. If you can help add to George Skrba's military record please contact us.

  Rank General Order Date Notes Award Ribbon & Device

George Skrda






Air Medal (AM)

Please contact us with any biographical data, pictures or other information regarding the service and life of George Skrba.

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