Fighting Fear


Major John Bennet

Getting up each day to undertake notoriously dangerous missions took great courage from the men of the Eighth Airforce. Major John Bennett of the 100th Bomb Group wrote about the need to fight fear in the face of extreme circumstances. Bomber crews in particular could feel vulnerable as they had limited functionality in their aircrafts to fight back when approached by hostile forces in the air. The bomber crews relied greatly on the aptitude of accompanying fighter groups on missions. Bennett described it thus; ‘Imagine, for a minute, that you are required to carry two five-gallon cans of gasoline down a dark alley. These cans weigh over 30 pounds each so your hands are full and you can’t run very fast. As you pass a certain corner in this alley, you know that a number of thugs are waiting to club you as you pass. However, there is a policeman patrolling this beat (your fighter escort) and if he happens to be at the dangerous corners at the time you arrive, then everything will be ok, unless, of course, there are more thugs than the policeman can handle. Some of the thugs don’t attack with clubs, but stand back (out of sight) and throw firecrackers at your cans of gasoline’. It takes a tremendous amount of nerve to enter a warzone carrying explosives, and with limited ability to protect yourself. The bomber crews were distinguished often by their determination and quiet fortitude.

In order to alleviate some of the heightened emotions and pressure Bennett wouldn’t discourage his men from getting rather drunk at parties when there wasn’t a mission the next day. Bennett also ensured that he spoke to new crews arriving at the base and acknowledged that everyone was afraid. Bennett believed if a man could get through the moments just before take-off it was a good sign that he’d be able to cope with the mental rigours of the task in hand. Flight surgeons were adept at spotting men who showed signs of extreme anxiety and if a crew came through a particularly difficult mission they were invariably sent to a rest home known as a ‘flak house’. In fact, all crews were at some point sent to the flak house for some well needed recovery time.

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