TED’S TRAVELLING CIRCUS

By Carroll (Cal) Stewart

History’s most colorful and
efficient fighting machine


William W. Lawrence
Historian and Archivist
“An anecdotal account of Circus men, a half world from home, delivering high explosives against Nazi and Fascist targets. From aerial platforms, they flew at dizzying heights in the lethal skies of Western Europe, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. Carroll Stewart has dredged mind-boggling detail and human interest many years after the fact. In stirring prose, he deftly fits courageous deeds into historic context. Until now a void in USAF annals, the 93rd story begged telling. One read won’t cut it.”

Dale Griffing
Retired Sunday Editor, Lincoln Journal-Star
“Monumental ... the 93rd’s assignments, exploits and, yes, setbacks. The author dedicated retirement years researching and crafting this excitingly detailed and lovingly composed tribute. The narrative will tug at your deep emotions as well as build respect for and pride in those Eighth Air Force aerial warriors of yesteryear.”

Ramsay D. Potts
Major General USAF (ret.)
“Author Stewart has captured the spirit of a generation of exceptional young men of ‘gung ho’ courage and talent ... taking us from the earliest days in 1942 through one bitter campaign after another, evoking many vivid and poignant memories. One of the most detailed and interesting unit histories of World War II.”

The Rev. Marshall V. Minister
Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, Canon of Omaha
–a 93rd lead navigator 1944-45
“A labor of love. Surely a history matchless beyond anything about any other WWII group. The scope and elegance are monumental.”

Air Power History
Journal of the U.S. Air Force Historical Foundation
Ted’s Travelling Circus sets the highest standards of the genre.”

Four months after Pearl Harbor, the 93rd Bombardment Group was only a paper tiger, yet it would become the first B-24 Liberator unit into battle in the Mighty Eighth Air Force. Wartime censors forbid use of official unit designations, hence the expedient: Ted’s Travelling Circus. The 93rd’s four-engine heavies would become history’s most traveled, most colorful and, arguably, most efficient fighting machine. Hitler and his propagandists, Axis Sally and Lord Haw-Haw, in 1942 labeled young Colonel Edward “Ted” Timberlake, the 93rd’s commander, a “war criminal.”

Of 396 missions–the most by any World War II USAAF heavy bomber group–49 were flown from improvised North Africa bases including the unorthodox zero-level assault on the Ploesti oil refineries 1 August 1943. The Circus was diverted from England thrice for hurry-up, top priority North Africa assignments.

In late 1942, the 93rd-ers found themselves in multiple storybook roles. One squadron devoted two weeks to sweeping the Bay of Biscay for surfacing German submarines while Allied convoys were simultaneously landing troops in Oran and Algeria. Three squadrons, including the sub-chasers, proceeded to spend 60 days bombing Feldmarschall Rommel’s supply ports: Bizerte, Souse, Sfax, Tunis-La Goulette. Instead of sunshine and sand, the Lib men from East Anglia found only North Africa mud and sophisticated Afrika Korps and Luftwaffe defenses.

One squadron stayed behind in England for top-secret radar (“blind”) bombing experiments. Early in the first week of January 1943, 329th Squadron had elements over Germany (the first U.S. penetration of the Reich proper). Instrument bombing was being developed to “see” through cloud layers. Correspondents from major Allied media gathered for the block-busting revelation. Irony. Skies cleared. With a thud of disappointment, unspent bombs were jettisoned into the North Sea. Empty handed writers and photographers trudged back to London.

Major George S. Brown was squadron commander and when the 329th wasn’t experimenting his shoestring force took on conventional targets in the infant–but growing–Eighth Air Force. Meanwhile, in February 1943, the other 93rd-ers were winding up affairs “down South.”

(During 1974-78, Brown served three presidents–Nixon, Ford, Carter–as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). No chief before or since has served three masters.

From forlorn Libyan desert bases on its second foray into North Africa, the 93rd supported Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy and blasted Ploesti, the deepest penetration of enemy territory of the war until that time. Low-level Ploesti came to be known as one of the USAAF’s costliest missions and, unmistakably, the boldest and most dramatic large-scale undertaking.

The Circus returned to Libya for the 1 October 1943 attack on the massive Messerschmitt fighter factory, outside Vienna. It was the 93rd’s third short-term safari (England-North Africa-England) in 10 months.

On the Ploesti and Vienna forays no friendly fighter escorts were within a thousand miles.

From five miles up in erratic Northwest Europe weather, the Circus dumped thousands of tonsof high explosives and incendiaries on U-boat refitting and ship-building facilities, sea ports, canals, oil refineries, synthetic fuel plants, aerodromes, aircraft and components factories, motor truck and locomotive works, power sources, chemical and ammunition plants, rail and highway junctions, bridges, V-1 and V-2 bomb manufacturing and launching sites, bearing factories, and all manner of war-making installations. Agile Me-109’s and FW-190’s constantly blew holes in Britain-based American heavy bomber formations.

The bombing by B-24’s and B-17 Flying Fortresses was heralded as precision. Results weren’t always precise, but paralyzing the enemy war machine saved uncounted lives. The heavies didn’t win the war alone but hastened the final outcome by incessant pounding of enemy fighter birthing, assembly and operational nests, fuel sources and bearing factories. A key to defanging the GAF was the wholesale “kill” campaign executed by American P-51, P-38 and P-47 and Royal Air Force fighter pilots. The Allies gained air superiority by D-Day 1944. Not a single enemy aircraft appeared that day over the Normandy beaches. However, the German Air Force, which had introduced jets, was always dangerous with combination jet and conventional fighters exchanging withering hot lead with gunners aboard American bombers their friendly escorts.

The Americans could depend upon GAF fighters attacking the streams of “boxed” heavies with limited success, but the enemy gained high success slaying lumbering Libs and Forts that were crippled, usually homebound.

Theoretically, the Germans had 21 options in moving by rail Wehrmacht divisions from Bordeaux, near the Atlantic coast, to Normandy, but air power had interdicted all direct and circuitous routings, necessitating days instead of hours for panzer and troop reinforcement to establish defensive positions on the new front. Other Nazi divisions ordered from Nancy, east of Paris, to Normandy were also denied rail, thus requiring long hard-to-conceal overnight marches.

Wherever and whenever engaged in the air or on the ground, the enemy was always a dangerous and worthy opponent.

On several occasions, the versatile B-24’s were pressed into special delivery service, parachuting supplies to beleagured Allied ground forces in Holland and France.

Author Stewart makes no secret of the Liberator’s ability to carry more bombs farther and faster than the older and more illustrious B-17 Flying Fortress. More Libs were produced than the combined total of Fortresses, B-29 Super Fortresses and British heavyweight Stirlings. Consolidated Liberator was the first war-born Allied aircraft. More were produced than any other type–before or since.

In the course of the war, the 93rd flew the unfriendly skies of uncounted seas and some 30 countries, early on without friendly fighter escort. Losses were devastating. For a time the case for strategic high-level bombing by daylight hung in the balance, but no mission was aborted due to enemy action. Numerous rounds were thwarted by treacherous weather.

During 31 months of combat, the Circus repeatedly stormed Berlin, Bremen, Munich, Wilhelmshaven, Frankfurt am Main, plus most other hot spots.

Circus men, scarcely more than boys, earned two Medals of Honor, five Distinguished Service Crosses, two Presidential Unit Citations, a host of Silver Stars, uncounted Distinguished Flying Crosses, Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars, and 18 campaign ribbons.

The 93rd compiled the lowest ratio of personnel/aircraft losses among the 63 USAAF four-engine bomber outfits that worked those flak- and fighter-filled skies on that side of the world. As Hitler’s domain contracted, his radar-controlled fighter and flak defenses stiffened and became more deadly. By war’s end, those systems had dealt the Eighth an equal amount of grief.

No other Allied combat outfit assaulted the Axis wartime infrastructure from almost every compass angle. From Britain, the Circus pounded all of Western Europe including Poland and Norway.

In November 1943, on a forested and remote Norwegian lakeshore, German wizards were developing “heavy water” through electrolysis, using a large quantity of mountain-stream water to isolate uranium. Only one Circus plane (out of 10 dispatched) scored effectively during the 1,600-mile roundtrip over icy North Sea and Skagerrak waters. Stealthy underground Norwegian operatives, however, followed up with sabotage. Rocket scientists weren’t needed to figure henceforth the hideaway was in jeopardy. The huge laboratory was summarily dismantled, barged across the lake and railed to Germany.

The question lingers: What if Hitler had developed the atomic bomb first?

Dresden? The Circus had a minor role; no apologies. Dresden was a key transport hub on the Elbe river midway between Prague and Berlin. Rail, highway and water
facilities were excellent. A cultural center, Dresden, noted for its china, had important precision tool and optical works. Allied planners regretted that thousands of pitiful Eastern European refugees were killed transiting the once beautiful cultural city on Germany’s boundary with Czechoslovakia.

More than a half-century after the war, the 93rd’s untold story of valor, improvisation and incredible talent unfolds in this gripping saga–Ted’s Travelling Circus. The volume weighs nearly 5 pounds and carries over 500 pictures, maps, charts, etc. It is an anecdotal account derived primarily from combatant testimony chronologically woven into the context of the greatest conflict of all time.

The reader will find drama, pathos, myriad details, even humor, in the text, as well as enlightenment on the lives and heroics of extraordinary warriors.

Remit $99.95, (checks only) to:

Nebraska Printing Center (CIRCUS Project)
P.O. Box 5325, Lincoln, NE 68505-5325

(Nebraskans add 7% sales tax)
Allow at least 3 weeks for delivery



 

 




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