As part of my ongoing research I use the internet search engines in an attempt to locate yet more information about R.A.F. Cranage and its personnel. On a recent search I came across a document about the No.14 Liaison Sqn. put together by Mr Tony Harratt back in 2001. I have come across other work by Mr Harratt in the past and even though he and my good friend Hugh Budgen were once in contact, I have as yet not been able to get hold of him myself. If anyone knows any information about Mr Harratt and can put me in contact either with himself, or with a member of his family, I would be extremely pleased to speak with him/them.

That said, I’d like to state clearly that the information on this page has not been researched or compiled by myself and that I do not claim to hold any copyright over the text or the photographs. I have thought carefully about using this information and I hope that the author and or his family, realise that in putting the work here on my web site, I am doing so not for personal or monetary gain, but to make it available to the those interested in the history of R.A.F. Cranage.

 

Acknowledgements - by Tony Harratt

In preparing any historical document, especially when one is a novice in such research as necessary for accuracy of fact, help has to be sought from a variety of sources. Many people have assisted me in my research into RAF Cranage and the squadrons and units that served there. It is only right that I acknowledge that help.

David J Smith was instrumental in getting me started through a variety of his published works. His kindness in allowing me access to his own research and to use photographs from his collection was above and beyond anything I had anticipated. Thank you.

Once I had exhausted his work I discovered a fellow researcher in Martin Smith (no relation!) of Lichfield; his initial help pointed in directions I would never have thought. Not only that, he allowed me access to his extensive library and made copious notes for me.

Richard Beeson from Washington State, USA, served at Cranage in the 1950’s with the US Air Force. He has provided much in the way of information during Cranage’s later days and carried out extensive searches on my behalf both during that period and earlier. He has particularly applied himself to research into 14 Liaison Squadron obtaining official records and histories

Mike Lewis, editor of ‘Swift’ now known as ‘Rapide’, the magazine for the north-west England vintage aviation enthusiast, has also been instrumental in obtaining data and encouraging my work by publishing a joint article about Cranage by David Smith, Hugh Budgen and myself. His advice on the early draft of this work is very much appreciated.

S/Sgt. Norbert Szabla has been an inspiration, too. He has provided me with many photographs and names of those who served, a few stories and a general interest in my work. Although he did not serve until the Squadron reached Europe, James Padesky was also most helpful. A huge number of other ex-servicemen in the UK have added to the Cranage story by providing reminiscences and photographs.

Ray Miller, another aviation friend from California also undertook proofreading duties. Thank you.

Lastly and by no means least, my son Niki who had to put up with my incessant hogging of our computer and tapping at the keyboard late at night (when inspiration usually occurs!) and for their encouragement, suggestions and all round support.

Any errors and omissions are mine

 

Dedication

This article is dedicated to all the officers and men of 14 Liaison Squadron, United States Army Air Force, particularly those who gave their lives in the service of their country either in combat or otherwise, in time of peace or time of war. All will be remembered.

 

As D-Day approached and the build up of allied resources gathered pace, RAF Cranage played host to its first overseas squadron. In May 1944, No. 14 Liaison Squadron, United States Army Air Force arrived and almost immediately commenced operations in and around the north west of England.

Early Days

The squadron was formed on March 2, 1944 at Fort Devens, Massachusetts with 34 enlisted men being transferred from 152nd Observation Squadron on March 10th. The first commanding officer was Captain Augustus Becker who arrived on March 14.  The squadron was initially equipped with 19 Piper Cub L-4s. A number of moves followed; firstly to Hillsgrove, Rhode Island, followed by, among others, Quonset Point Naval Air Station, Hyannis, Mass., Missouri, Tullahoma, Tennessee and Fort Jackson in South Carolina.

Early January 1943 saw a change of command to Captain Joseph McNeil whose tenure was short lived with Captain Richard Izzard taking over in March preceding a move to Fort Knox, Kentucky. More moves and changes of command followed throughout the year during which the squadron was heavily involved in the Tennessee manoeuvres. In October 14 enlisted pilots were sent to the Overseas Replace Training Centre at Goldsboro, North Carolina.

In December 1943 a number of pilots visited the Stinson factory at Wayne, Michigan, to observe construction of the L-5 aircraft that they were soon to fly. The following month saw specialist training stepped up as basic training was completed.

We’re Going to Europe

Movement orders arrived for the squadron, whose pilots had trained at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and Fort Knox, Kentucky, on February 1st 1944 followed by initial movement to Camp Campbell, Kentucky prior to travelling by rail to Statesboro, Georgia. Here, training continued apace until March 21 when movement to Camp Shanks in New York preceded the voyage to England. Travelling along the Hudson River on March 30 brought the squadron to New York City where embarkation onto troopship NY 411 took place. The ship sailed the following day. The troopship NY411 was in fact the Cunard Company’s luxury liner, the Mauretania, now but a shadow of its former grace and opulence.

The Atlantic crossing appears to have been smooth and uneventful and Liverpool was reached on Easter Sunday, April 9. Here the squadron disembarked and left Liverpool by train for Knutsford, in Cheshire after having observed the Easter Day services and fuelled up with coffee and doughnuts courtesy of the Red Cross. A short road journey followed to Alderley Edge where the squadron was billeted with an MP Company. Daily travel to Cranage was by either jeep or 6x6 truck. Life seems to have been pretty relaxed at this point in the squadron’s deployment. Manchester was visited on numerous occasions by off duty aviators and ground crew, being only a few miles north of Alderley by road or rail from the billet.

Equipment had been slow to arrive but by the time the squadron had been reassigned to the Ninth Air Force on April 15th, sufficient aircraft had been found to commence courier missions and by mid-May, the squadron had been found billets in Knutsford just six miles north of Cranage. The aircraft complement was now up to strength and operations could begin in earnest.

14 Liaison Squadron – its Formation and Staff

Whilst at RAF Cranage, No.14 Liaison Squadron, United States Army Air Force, was attached to the Ninth Air Force. The commanding officer was Captain (later Major) Randall W. Bennett. The Operations officer was 1st Lt. Adam Blasiole who later commanded the squadron following Capt. Bennett’s return to the USA.

 

The commanding officer of No.14 Liaison Sqn.

Major Randall W. Bennett (left) and  1st Lt. Adam Blasiole (Squadron Operations Officer)

 

 

 

In addition to the Headquarters staff, the squadron comprised of four flights, ‘A’ through ‘’D’, an Intelligence Section, a Quartermaster section and a Medical Section commanded by Captain Karl H. Behm. Capt. Behm had been with the squadron since its posting to Godman Field, Fort Knox, Kentucky but moved shortly after the move to Knutsford taking over command of 223rd Medical Dispensary (Aviation). Add in engineering and ground staff and it can be seen that this was no small operation. Ground crew included Lt. Spears and S/Sgt Quimby along with mechanics Cpl. Bonner, Sgt. Don ‘Pappy’ Wolter and S/Sgt. Sadowski (crew chief, ‘D’ Flight).

Flight Commanders, all Lieutenants, were as follows: ‘A’, Perry; ‘B’ Flight, John Reiter; ‘C’, Ancel Taflinger; and ‘D’, Nugent. Each flight also had a Flight Leader. They were ‘A’, M/Sgt. Butt; ‘C’, M/Sgt. Maheux; and ‘D’ M/Sgt. Zsarnay. Flights ‘A’ through ‘C’ had a total of nine pilots while ‘D’ Flight had eight, making a total of 35 pilots.

The following photographs were taken at Nehou, France in July 1944 but all personnel are believed to have served at Cranage.

‘A’ Flight (top row left to right):T/Sgt Harrison, M/Sgt Butt, S/Sgt Duncan, T/Sgt Coulter,(front row left to right):S/Sgt Gordon, T/Sgt Bankston, Lt Perry, T/Sgt Nagel, T/Sgt GoodwinPhotograph courtesy Norbert Szabla‘B’ Flight (top row left to right):T/Sgt Hall, S/Sgt Bergbauer, S/Sgt Roberts, Lt Ancel Reiter, T/Sgt Talbot, S/Sgt Hatch, T/Sgt Zanutto(centre row):(extreme left) S/Sgt Thompson, (extreme right) M/Sgt HillerThe remaining men are aircraft mechanicsPhotograph courtesy Norbert Szabla‘C’ Flight (top row left to right):S/Sgt Weeks, M/SgtMaheux, Lt Ancil Taflinger, T/Sgt Pass, S/Sgt Roberts(centre row left to right):T/Sgt Long, S/Sgt Rein, T/Sgt Noland, T/Sgt Charles LieperstockThe front rom consists of aircraft mechanicsPhotograph courtesy Norbert Szabla‘D’ Flight (top row left to right):T/Sgt Facinoli, S/Sgt Montagne, T/Sgt Lane, M/Sgt Zsarnay, T/Sgt Robert Lackner, S/Sgt Paterson, S/Sgt Norbert Szabla(front row left to right):Cpl Bonner, Sgt Wolter (both aircraft mechanics) Lt Nugent, S/Sgt Sadowski (crew chief) Pvt Merryman, (aircraft mechanic)The dog with Lt. Nugent is either Tarfu or Snafu, the flight had two dogs)Photograph courtesy Norbert SzablaFor those who aren’t aware, Tarfu and Snafu are widely known military terms for:Totally And Royally F***** Up or Things Are Really F***** Upand Situation Normal: All F***** UpR.A.F. Cranage in 1944; the Officers and men of No.14 Liaison Squadron pose with one of the Stinson L-5’sPhotograph courtesy Norbert Szabla<>

The Stinson L-5 Sentinel

The Stinson L-5 evolved from the Model 105 Voyager airframe, six of which were purchased in 1941 by the USAAC under the designation YO-54. The L-5, to be designated O-62, made use of the same wing but it was necessary to redesign the fuselage for military requirements. An initial 1,731 O-62s were ordered and it wasn’t until 275 had been delivered that the aircraft was redesignated the L-5. There were a number of design modifications; the L-5A had a redesigned rear fuselage for casualty evacuation. This ‘ambulance fuselage’, as it became known, was incorporated into all subsequent variants including the L-5C, capable of being fitted with a K-20 camera.

Dimensions: Span, 34ft 0ins. Length, 24ft 1ins. Height, 7ft 11ins. Wing area, 155 sq ft.

Weights: Empty, 1,550 lbs. Gross, 2,200lbs.

Power Unit: Lycoming 0-435-1. 185 hp at 2,550 rpm.

Accommodation: Pilot and observer/passenger in tandem.

Performance: Max speed, 130 mph. Cruise, 115 mph. Range, 420 miles. Stalling speed, 43 mph. Service ceiling, 15,800 ft. Initial climb, 875 ft/min.

USAAF Serials:

O-62/L-5 42-14798/15072  42-98036/99573

The O-62 aircraft were later designated L-5-VW. Of the second batch, 306 were delivered to the United States Marine Corps and 152 to the US Navy. A few of the USMC aircraft later passed into US Navy service.

From 1943 the basic colour scheme of the L-5 was Olive Drab on all upper and side surfaces. This included the wing struts and landing gear. Previously Liaison aircraft had been painted in Dark Olive Drab but this paint had a tendency to fade. However, because of stockpiles, the introduction of the newer shade was a gradual process and it was still possible to find DOD adorning airframes as late as 1945. Standard insignia were carried on the aircraft with the border colour being Insignia Blue, in reality this was almost black! Tail numbers were applied during construction.

Early L-5s had their propellers painted black with yellow tips but a delamination problem saw the introduction of a standard civilian Sensenich prop of wooden construction, clear-varnished and fitted with brass leading edges and pale green fabric-covered outer portions of each blade.

The cockpit of the L-5 was finished in Interior Green.

Delivering the L-Birds

Many of the L-5s to see service in Europe were built at the Stinson Division Plant of the Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Corporation situated at Wayne in Michigan. Aircraft destined for the European theatre were crated at the plant before removal by railroad or truck to Port Intransit Depots in New York, Boston, Newport News and so on. From here the aircraft were despatched by sea either as hold cargo or occasionally as a deck load. The initial port of destination was Liverpool for delivery to the Eighth AF bases in Lancashire. Burtonwood and Warton in Lancashire, appear to have been responsible for the newly arrived L-5s. Each Depot was set a target of eight aircraft per day for uncrating, assembling, inspecting and test flying. This figure was often exceeded and it was not uncommon to see twenty aircraft a day built and flown.

The exact number of L-5s to appear in Europe is not known but it is certainly well in excess of 500. The aircraft were first noted in the UK at Warton in late December 1943 when a total of six were known to be on the base records. Between July 1 1943 and May 8 1945, a total of 158 L-1, 4 and 5 aircraft were assembled, modified or repaired at RAF Burtonwood.

The 14th’s Aircraft

The squadron was equipped with a total of 26 L-5s plus a pair of Cessna UC-78 Bobcats, which arrived on May 23. Bearing the code 6C on the side, the L-5s were a common sight in the skies over Cheshire once training had been completed in British flying regulations and procedures.

The Bobcats, known as either the ‘Useless 78’ or ‘Rhapsody in Glue’, were quickly pressed into service by the officer pilots. Major Bennett was airborne in one of them on May 26 when General George S. Patton visited the squadron at Cranage. Gen. Patton took a flight in a UC-78 a few days later.

One of the 14th’s L-5’s was somewhat unique in that it bore nose art, an unusual adornment for liaison aircraft. This aircraft had been sponsored by Maire School of Detroit, Michigan bearing an inscription of commemoration on the starboard engine cowling and the name ‘The Old Gray Maire’. On the port cowling was a gray horse towing a two-wheeled trap bearing the legend ‘Maire’ and containing five characters, presumably from either the school or the squadron.

A second aircraft was that of S/Sgt. Norbert Szabla. This aircraft was named ‘Moja Kochana’ meaning ‘My Sweetheart’. This particular aircraft was lost when it was commandeered by T/Sgt. Coulter to convey an officer on a courier run. On the return leg the weather closed in and the pair were forced to bale out. They landed safely in a chicken farm.

 

S/Sgt Norbert Szabla’s Stinson L-5 ‘Moja Kochana’ - ‘My Sweetheart’

Photograph courtesy Norbert Szabla

 

 

 

It is possible that serials 42-99525 and 42-99000 were allocated to 14 Liaison Squadron. It is known that both these aircraft landed at A. V. Roe’s aircraft factory at Woodford on May 4 and June 18 1944 respectively on flights from Cranage. Another aircraft known to have served was 42-99605.

The Build Up Continues

As May progressed the squadron’s training increased. Courier flights and liaison duties with the 5 Armoured Brigade were frequent operations. The visit of Gen. Patton on May 26 coincided with an ‘air show’ put on by the Royal Air Force designed to offer ground troops aircraft recognition training. In addition to several allied aircraft types captured Focke-Wulf FW-190, Messerschmitt ME-110 and Junkers JU-88 were on display.

There was plenty of flying activity for the squadron’s pilot’s during May with flights detached to the 5th Armoured Division stationed near Marlborough, Wiltshire employed on liaison duties. In addition to this deployment, S/Sgt Szabla recalls flying to Burtonwood, Middle Wallop, Templeton, Chivenor, Chalgrove and Aberporth racking up some 55 flying hours.

The squadron was fortunate to eventually hold its anniversary party on 1st June when the King George Hotel in Knutsford was requisitioned for celebrations. Around 50 WAAF’s and an equivalent number of young lady civilians attended with music provided by an orchestra from the US 3rd Army. A joyous time was had by all.

Into Europe, Into Action

The D-Day landings of June 6 1944 reminded squadron members to the fact that a war had to be won. The expectations of a move nearer the front line were realised on June 18 when Lt. Spears and S/Sgt Quimby led an advance party to RAF Ibsley in Hampshire. The rest of the squadron followed on June 29th but the stay in Hampshire was short-lived. On July 4 the squadrons convoy commenced its short but slow journey by road to Southampton. Independence Day celebrations were somewhat muted by a few flares set off into the night sky.

Due to a shortage of aircraft, five pilots made the crossing by sea in LST 209 to France on July 6 landing at Utah Beach. Once ashore the advance party commenced the construction of the first of many temporary homes for the squadron at Nehou. This airfield was code named ‘Cueball’. The squadron eventually used twenty airfields across mainland Europe through France, Luxembourg and Germany.

Things moved quickly and on July 11 the Stinson’s and Bobcat’s arrived to commence operations almost immediately. Its association with Gen. Patton also continued with Maj. Bennett still commanding officer of the squadron and now Patton’s regular pilot. He was certainly airborne with the squadron on August 6 and again on August 25.

On this latter date Patton, who probably made more use of liaison aircraft for transport than any other senior US Army officer, had a lucky escape. Maj. Bennett was not available and a sergeant pilot allocated chauffeur duties. This pilot lost his way and it wasn’t until the Stinson flew low over a German field hospital that the pair discovered they were some fifteen miles beyond the front line! A hasty retreat was beaten. It is not known if the unfortunate pilot was from 14 LS or his fate on landing.

A somewhat apprehensive General George S. Patton awaits take off in one of No.14 Liaison Squdron’s Stinsons, August 8 1944

Photograph courtesy of the imperial War museum

 

Operations in Europe

Nehou remained home for the remainder of July but the squadron became nomadic during August having nine different homes as the push east across France gathered momentum. Le Repos, Beauchamp, Poilly, St. Germain, La Bozoge, Dampierre, Courcy, St. Maurice-aux-Riches-Hommes and, finally, Marson on August 30. At Marson, James Padesky joined the squadron on transfer from 323 Bomb Group where he had been flying B-26 bombers.

Not all these homes were suitable for the L-5. Upon landing initial at Beauchamp, several aircraft sustained damage to their shock struts highlighting a weakness in the landing gear. At Poilly limitations were found in the aircraft’s ability to take off and land on unprepared airstrips. Poilly was situated on a steep gradient and necessitated take-offs down the slope and landings up it regardless of wind direction. At least two aircraft were damaged here.

While operating from Poilly, Capt. Bennett and T/Sgt. Robert Lackner were shot down while on a mission for 3 Army when anti-aircraft fire over Brest set fire to the aircraft. S/Sgt. Lackner baled out and made a safe landing despite suffering burns and German small arms fire during his descent. Capt. Bennett was unable to release his door and made a forced landing. Lackner was picked up by a French farmer, had his wounds treated and was returned to the squadron via the French 2 Armoured division. Capt. Bennett managed to escape the burning L-5 after which he hid until nightfall when he found greater safety in an old chicken farm. He made contact with allied troops the following day and hitched back to his command.

During this first full month 2,084 missions were recorded, an average of 67 per day. The four flights recorded 1,814 flying hours on a variety of missions including administration, courier, mail, ferry, engineering, photo, search and weather check. They worked with various ground Corps during this period.

September continued in much the same vein but with less changes of address. On September 4 came a move to Gussainville followed on 14 by a move to Nancy. It was here that S/Sgt. Lackner was again shot down on September 22. He was wounded in his foot by enemy ground fire and was captured. His passenger, Private George Burkholder was killed. S/Sgt. Szabla was hit by enemy ground fire near Epernay, France. Bullets hit the engine but he was able to fly some three miles towards American forces and land safely.

October saw a move to Sandweiler in Luxembourg. It was here that some squadron members had a lucky escape. S/Sgt. Szabla recalls, “A Big Bertha shell landed across the street from our billet. We were in front of the building when all the windows were blown out. We were thrown against the wall, but no injuries.”

Despite this near miss, the squadron continued its valiant efforts despite the poor weather of October and November 1944. A flight attached to XX Corps, 95 Division distinguished itself when the ground forces were in urgent need of medical and other supplies during the battle for Metz. Six delivery flights were made in two days despite heavy enemy ground fire.

Christmas Eve 1944 saw yet another casualty when T/Sgt. Charles Lieperstock and Major Randolph Jordan of 10 Armoured Division failed to return from a mission to the Sandweiler base. Lieperstock’s L-5 was shot down by German flak near Ettelbruck. Although he managed to bale out, the fate of Maj. Jordan is not known. T/Sgt. Lieperstock was captured by a German tank crew and held as a prisoner of war until April 1945 when he was released by the Third Army and returned to his squadron for a joyous reunion.

The following day, Lt. Ancel Taflinger volunteered to fly one of the few Stinson L-1s to be found in Europe. His mission was to fly a medical officer into the Bastogne pocket. Escorted by four P-47 Thunderbolt’s until it was safely on the ground, Lt. Taflinger had to return to Sandweiler alone. He survived heavy flak and small arms fire before landing in darkness. Gen. Patton awarded Lt. Taflinger the Silver Star for his gallant actions.

More casualties occurred during January 1945 as high winds; snow and heavy rain made flying hazardous. Lt. John Reiter and his passenger, a P-47 pilot, were killed when their L-5 crashed returning the fighter pilot to his unit. S/Sgt. Szabla’s L-5 landing gear folded up when he landed on a snow-covered field at Arlon in Belgium on January 13 1945 [shown right]. The poor weather continued into February but there was a significant improvement in March allowing over 1,500 flying hours to be achieved. However, there was another casualty when T/Sgt. Austin Coulter crashed taking off from the 87 Division’s airstrip on March 26. Photograph courtesy Norbert Szabla

War’s End

As the German forces retreated into their homeland pursued by allied troops on all fronts, operations for the squadron were scaled down. After Erlangan there were moves to Regensberg by the River Danube, Holkirchen and Bamberg before the squadron was finally stood down. By this time the squadron’s aircraft contingent numbered 32 Stinson L-5’s and two UC-78 Bobcat’s. Numerous awards and honours had been attained; S/Sgt. Szabla recalls, “I flew over 100 sorties and received decorations – five Battle Stars for all the campaigns, and three Air Medals. It was a time of history and I was glad to participate in it.”

Although never lauded in the same manner as fighter pilot’s or bomber crews, the men of the Liaison Squadron’s who served the cause of freedom in the dark years of World War II deserve thanks and credit for their sacrifice and bravery. Their heroics in flimsy, unarmed, slow aeroplanes into situations where the odds were stacked against them deserves no less recognition than this. Such recognition still exists at the squadron’s point of disembarkation, Liverpool. Here a stone plaque has been laid bearing the inscription ‘HERE IN THE DARK DAYS OF WAR AND IN THE DAWN OF VICTORY AMERICAN TROOPS AND CARGOES MOVED THROUGH THIS PORT FURTHERED BY BRITISH AND AMERICANS WORKING TOGETHER THIS STONE RECORDS THEIR UNITY IN ACCOMPLISHING THEIR MISSION’. There can be no finer memorial.

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