Monday, January 9, 2012

Waist Gunner

My wife, Debbie is also a collector but she has a good excuse; she uses old photos, postcards and other paper ephemera in her artwork.  She is a printmaker and produces etchings, drawings and monoprint collages that sometimes incorporate these items.  

Yesterday Debbie gave me an interesting piece of WWII "V-mail."  V-mail, short for Victory Mail, was used during the Second World War to save shipping space by transporting correspondence to and from soldiers stationed abroad on microfilm after they passed military censors.  Once they reached their destination the film images were blown up to 60% of their original size and mailed to the intended recipient in small manila envelopes.

This V-mail letter was from T/Sgt Scott Hilliard of the 706th Bomb Squadron, and dated December 23, 1943.   The letter is addressed to his mother, Mrs. P. S. Hilliard in Franklin, PA.  and was written from England.   The text of the letter discusses missing Christmas at home, the possibility of Spam for Christmas dinner in England, maybe visiting London, and looking forward to the completion of his required twenty-five missions.

Standing L-R: Julian Dixon; Clarence Lien; John Peterson; W. Ray Walker; Warren McMillan; Scott Hilliard.    Kneeling L-R: Pilot O. W. "Pappy" Henderson; Robert Tannahill; Vere McCarty; E. Dale Howard   

Some research on the Internet revealed several entries with information about Sgt. Hilliard, as well as the photo above.  The 706th Bomb Squadron was part of the 446th Bombardment Group, stationed at Flixton, England from the 16th of December, 1943 to April the 25th, 1945. So, Sgt. Hilliard's letter home was written shortly after he arrived at Flixton. He was a waist gunner on a B-24 Liberator, "Dinky Duck," piloted by O. W. "Pappy" Henderson.  There are a number of photographs online that Sgt. Hilliard took during missions from his position as waist gunner.

B24-H. 41-29125 JU-D  Tar Heel Baby, over Portsmouth, D-Day plus 6
Photo by Scott Hilliard, 446BG

June 15 Mission
Photo by Scott Hilliard, Waist Gunner

Below is a photo and a quote from an online article written in Swedish by Ingemar Melin about a June 20, 1944 bombing mission that included the 492nd Bomb Group and the 446th Bomb Group, including the 706th Squadron and Hilliard's plane.  The mission target was a German synthetic fuel plant in Politz, Poland.  The bombers were attacked by Messerschmitts  above Rugen Island, and suffered heavy casualties. 

Politz Mission,  June 6,  1944.  Plumes of smoke from 5 B-24s shot down off coast of Rugen.
Photo by Scott Hilliard, Waist Gunner "Dinky Duck" 706th Bomb Squadron

"During this raid Sgt. Hilliard took a photo from his waist gunner position, and is quoted as saying, 'The speed with which they had taken out an entire B-24 Squadron shocked me. I never saw any planes burn or slowly fall out of formation, they were simply missing from the sky. When after a brief moment I caught my breath, I saw a number of plumes from the burning wreckage in the water below. I saw a couple of German motor boats driving around the smoldering wreckage. I picked up my K-20 camera and took some pictures of the columns of smoke.'"

The above article also tells the compelling story of another B-24 on that raid, "Flak Happy," piloted by 1st Lt. Nicholas B. Kehoe II, of the 856th Bomb Squadron, 492nd Bomb Group. The bomber was badly hit and on fire when Kehoe instructed his crew to bail out, but he was not sure they got that warning as the plane was full of smoke.  When the smoke cleared, Kehoe found himself the only one left on board.  He put the plane on auto pilot and fought the flames.  He was eventually able to get the plane over the Swedish border and bail out.  He was picked up by locals and turned over to the Swedish Army.  Of the other 10 crew members, eight were killed and two were captured by the Germans.  For more on this story see: 

It is known that Sgt. Scott Hilliard's plane, B-24, Dinky Duck, serial no. 41-29142, survived the war, and that the 706th and the 707th Bombardment Squadrons completed 60 missions without a loss.  More information about the 446th Bombardment Group can be found at the Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum website:  and at the 446th Bomb Group website:

I assume that if B-24 Dinky Duck survived the war, so did Sgt. Scott Hilliard, but I did not find any recent online references for him.  I hope he got to eat many Christmas dinners at home.  If you have any more information about Sgt. Hilliard's life please let us know.   The V-mail to his mother is waiting for a family or museum home.

My friend Melody Kelly just emailed me details of a record for Scott Hilliard on that reveals that Sgt. Hilliard died in Oxnard, California in 2003, at age 82.  That's a lot of Christmas dinners.  Good for him.

"Hitler built a fortress around Europe, but he forgot to put a roof on it." — Franklin D. Roosevelt


  1. Howdy. My name is Alex Mena and I'm a filmmaker from Dallas, TX. I'm producing a WWII documentary film about my father's B-24 Liberator Bomber crew. They were the first crew to complete a 30 mission combat tour with the bloody and short-lived 492nd. I was hoping to get Mr. Hilliard's interview for my film, but I'm about 10 years too late. We'll use an actor to record his thoughts regarding this horrific mission. He was a witness to the horrific destruction by the Luftwaffe that day. Politz, June 20th, 1944 was a dark day for the 492nd BG. They lost 14 planes on this mission, 11 of them at the exact time that Sgt. Hilliard took this photo. Thank you for posting this V-card. If you go online to you might be able to turn the V-card over to their group historian. By the way, my film is called CREW 713. My dad was the Radio Operator on this crew and he also lived to have many Christmas dinners as well. Best, Alejandro Mena Shanty Films LLC Dallas, TX

  2. Dear KGW: I ran across your blog with regard to the waist gunner story, Scott Hilliard. The photo of the crew of the Dinky Duck shows my uncle Robert Tannahill who was a navigator on the Dinky Duck. I have his foot locker but no other photos other then those already posted. Thanks for posting the waist gunner story.The Dinky Duck survived its missions. Uncle Bob also had many Christmas dinners..

  3. I believe my uncle Wiljo Matalamaki was the engineer on Curtis crew 610, one of the b-24s in Scott Hilliard photo as the time and area match when they were shot down by Rugen Island, Was hoping someone had that picture that showed more coastline so I could pinpoint the area so possibly someone could find the wreckages, thank you, Randy


Your comments are welcome.