Thank you for featuring my uncle, Capt. John B. White, Jr., on the 93rd homepage. The photograph was taken at Hardwick UK in March 1943. John B served as navigator on B-24 Exterminator (41-23717) with Pilot Hugh Roper. With this photograph, I’d like to share some highlights of John B’s service.
Three weeks after he was commissioned at Kelly Field Texas, he volunteered for a yet-to-be-disclosed mission – that of an anti-submarine patrol 500 miles west of Tampa in the Gulf of Mexico. After the flight, Hugh Roper requested to the High Command that John B. serve as navigator on his crew. Two months later their crew made a trans-Atlantic flight via Gander Newfoundland landing at Alconbury, UK on September 9, 1942 as part of the 329th Squadron.
By October the crew was flying missions out of southern England when the weather cooperated. On one mission their sights focused on a merchant ship carrying supplies to Germany in the Bay of Biscay. But they also encountered six German fighters. The battle resulted in Exterminator’s first ‘kill’ of a JU 88 and one ‘probable’ trailing smoke. Shortly thereafter they returned to Hardwick.
By the end of the year, John B was sent to Oxford for what he described as learning more tricks about navigation. As one of a handful of ships, Exterminator participated in Moling missions having been equipped with a GEE box (radio navigation system used by the RAF). As I understand it, these ships would intentionally allow German radar to pick them up and disrupt their tracking so that the remainder of the group could proceed with the real mission.
As 1943 rolled in, Exterminator’s crew bombed U-boat pens at Wilhelmshaven, construction yards near Breman, a German warship berthed at Dunkirk harbor, enemy installations at Brest and rail yards at Rouen France.
In March the crew transferred to the 330th at Hardwick. From there they returned to a very heavily defended Wilhelmshaven, Bordeaux encountering Jerries, and La Pallice to target submarine pens. During the Spring many missions were aborted due to weather, but by the end of May their count exceeded 20. Exterminator suffered battle wounds from many of their trips.
By summer the crew worked closely with Col. Timberlake on an upcoming secret mission flying low-level practice runs over English pastures. Awaiting the schedules of two extra passengers, the crew moved to North Africa on their own on July 9th. The extra travellers were Lord Arthur Viscount Forbes, former Air Attaché at the British Embassy in Bucharest who had knowledge of the Romanian oil refineries, and Gerald Geerlings, the upcoming mission's architect. Exterminator also carried the briefing film, a 3-D table model, and detailed charts for the soon-to-be disclosed secret mission to Ploesti. For the security of the mission, the ship was packed with thermite bombs should the ship (with its valuable assets) come under enemy hands.
As they landed in Tunis, Exterminator would need a change in the motor and was grounded for a time. To avoid delay, Col. Timberlake in the Teggie Ann picked up the officers, including John B, together with the secret materials and flew them to Benghazi.
With Exterminator still grounded, Hugh Roper was selected to lead the group on the initial raid over Rome on July 19, 1943. From their original crew, the three men would once again fly together in Walt Stewart’s Utah Man. Walt would co-pilot giving the controls over to Hugh and John B as lead navigator.
On July 30 John B was awarded the DFC. Two days later, he flew the infamous low-level mission to Ploesti on August 1, 1943. Having received and withstood hellacious defenses hurled by the Axis, the crew reached the target and salvoed their bomb load. As they made the turn to return to base, John B. surely called out the heading home. But over Bulgaria, in the clouds, the ship met her fate in a mid-air collision. Sadly he and others onboard wouldn't survive. I'm honored to remember this man and his crew.