Today, many young men just out of high school have started their first year of college, but in January of 1945, at 19, Roy Andriesse was manning the controls of a B-17 that dropped bombs over Nazi Germany.
Born in Brooklyn, New York on March 14, 1925, Andriesse was the son of a sausage maker. His family moved from Brooklyn to Berkeley, Calif. when he was six.
By Karl Anderson
For the Citizen
As most boys were doing during World War II to serve their country, he enlisted in November of 1942 at the age of 17, and was called up for training on April 21, 1943.
His training began with four weeks of boot camp in Wichita Falls, Texas, as part of the Army Air Corps, but that was just the tip of the iceberg for all it took to make a pilot in those days.
“After boot camp, I was assigned to 44F pilot training, but I had to wait for an opening at the school,” he said. “So I was sent to Emporia, Kansas, where I began taking classes at Kansas State Teachers College. Five months later, I went to pre-flight training in San Antonio, Texas for two months.”
From there, Andriesse went to Sherman, Tex. for two months of pilot training, flying dual with an instructor, and then to Coleman, Tex. where he learned to fly solo. After that, he was transferred to yet another base in Texas for advanced flight training, flying BT-13s – bomber trainers – where he received his wings and a commission as a 2nd Lt.
“I was really proud to have those wings pinned my chest,” he said. “Then I was transferred to Midland, Tex. to fly bombardier cadets. But I really got tired of that after six weeks. I wanted to see some action, so I requested a transfer and told them I wanted to go overseas.”
The young pilot got his wish.
Within a month, his transfer to Lincoln, Neb. came through, where he and eight other men were assembled as crew 7954 of the 8th Air Force. The group consisted of: Paul Balze, pilot; Andriesse, co-pilot; Harry Dickensen, Jr., navigator and nose turret gunner; Sig “Sparks” Urban, radioman; Tony Milano, waist gunner; Fran Grabowski, engineer and top turret gunner; William Erickson, tail gunner; Woody Woodburn, waist gunner; and Alan King, ball turret gunner.
After 30 days, the crew was transferred to Dyersburg, Tennessee for flight training with the Boeing B-17, called the ‘flying fortress.” Two months later, the nine men took a train to Boston and crossed the Atlantic to England on a liberty ship, where they were assigned to Deopham Green on Dec. 20, 1944.
As was traditional at the time, the pilot of each B-17 was allowed to name the plane. Balze named their B-17 the ‘Vampire Vertigo’. The number on her tail was 43-338702.
“Balze gave it that name because he frequently suffered from vertigo,” Andriesse said.
Vertigo is a momentary sense of dizziness and disorientation caused by a sudden pressure imbalance in the inner ear.
Their first combat mission came on January 28, 1945. The target was Hohenbudberg, Germany.
“I was nervous and pretty scared, as I recall,” Andriesse said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew what could ultimately happen.”
The fact that the Vampire Vertigo carried no guns or bombs on the mission may have been a contributing factor.
“It was a ‘maximum effort mission’ through the Roer Valley,” he said. “The objective was to scare the Germans out of that area. It was just for effect. We were not the only plane that had no guns or bombs. In all, there were about 300 planes on this mission, all B-17s. And we didn’t lose a single one. There was absolutely no activity from the Germans at all. The purpose of this mission was to help break up the Battle of the Bulge over Belgium.”
But for Andriesse, that was the first and last mission without consequence, for all others that followed were fraught with flak – a mass of exploding shrapnel in the sky from German anti-aircraft guns.
“They always told us ‘If you can see the flak, don’t worry. It’s the flak you don’t see that you have to worry about.’”
Landing after one mission, Andriesse discovered a piece of flak lodged under his seat that had come through the bottom of their plane. He still has it today.
His second mission was bombing Berlin, and he recalled one bomber in their group being shot down.
“We always watched for chutes to open as a plane was going down,” he said. “We saw all of the men get out of that one and all their chutes open. I remember the pilot’s name was Payne. I ran into him sometime after the war but I can’t remember exactly where it was.”
And there were the enemy ME-109s (Messerschmidts) that posed a constant threat to B-17s during their daylight bombing raids over Germany.
“You never knew when they would show up or exactly what direction they would come from” he said. “But our gunners were always watching for them.”
Andriesse doesn’t remember which specific mission was his first encounter with the enemy fighters, but said there were three of four of them altogether when his gunners were really busy.
“I do know that the gunners loved to shoot, and they would open up on the ME-109s long before they were even within range,” he said. “I don’t know if our guys ever hit any of them, and I don’t recall us taking any hits from the German fighters, but flak was a different story.”
My tail gunner, Erickson, took a piece of flak in the leg on one mission,” he recalled. “But it wasn’t bad enough to keep him off the crew. It didn’t cause him to miss a single mission.”
But Andriesse said there was problem with Balze, the pilot. And it was a problem that plagued him and the rest of the crew.
“Paul was eventually grounded for a couple of months because he was too cautious. He would abort missions if so much as a single instrument changed. It was normal for an instrument to be changing on a regular basis. That’s what they do. But when it happened, Paul would abort the mission and drop out of formation and head back to England. He did this on five missions, which caused him to be grounded and sent back for re-training and treatment.”
During Balze’s absence, the men flew with a different pilot.
“He (Balze) came back, but we had lost our confidence in him by then,” Andriesse said. “It was embarrassing to turn back to base when everyone else was going on to the mission.”
Andriesse said that even though he was the co-pilot, he ended up flying the plane himself on many occasions.
He said there was nothing he recalled that was difficult about flying the B-17, and that the ride itself was relatively smooth except during turbulence – or dealing with flak.
“The rough part was over the target when you were taking flak,” he stressed. “That’s when you froze on the controls and prayed it didn’t hit you – and I always hoped the pilot didn’t tell me to take over, but many times I had to.”
The vapor trails, left by the bombers on their way to the target, were something else that caused a problem on occasion.
“The trails we left in the sky going east toward the target were still there when we came back. We couldn’t see the ground so we had to fly blind on instruments. So when this happened, there were fifty or sixty B-17s in a formation – all flying blind in the clouds together.”
Another incident Andriesse recalled happened during takeoff.
“It was during takeoff that the cowling around one of the engines blew off. The ground crew had forgotten to tighten the bolts down. It created so much drag that we couldn’t get back to England after the mission. We had to land in France.”
He said the average mission lasted 8 hours, with ones farther away to targets like Berlin lasting as long as 11 hours.
“Those 11-hour missions were a hairy experience due to how much fuel they used up.”
Each man received one point for each mission, and once 25 points were accumulated it was time to go home.
While the ‘Memphis Belle’ had been the first B-17 to complete 25 missions, Andriesse said the ‘Vampire Vertigo’ was the last to do so before the war came to an end.
“Our last target was Ingolstadt,” he recalled. “That was the last mission the 8th Air Force flew, on April 21. And I am sure the number of attacks by enemy aircraft was lower because we were at the tail end of the war.”
The following month, on May 9, Roy Andriesse was promoted to 1st Lt., and then flew food drop missions over Holland.
The Vertigo was eventually flown back from England to the U.S. but Andriesse said it was not he and his crew who flew her back.
Upon his return from England to the United States by ship which he said took a month, he received his discharge at the base in Santa Ana, Calif.
Returning home, he used the G.I. Bill to attend college, which is where he met his wife, Ann. The two were married in 1950 and had three daughters: Judith Ann, Carolyn Sue, and Ellen Marie.
“I never would have gone to college if I had not joined the military,” he said. “It was the G.I. Bill that made that possible for me.”
Andriesse earned a Bachelor of Science degree in economics, took a year off after school, went to work as an administrator for W.P. Fuller paint company for eight years, and then landed a position as sales representative for a Japanese company, Asahi Glass, which he held for 30 years, finally retiring in 1990.
In 1991, Roy and his wife, Anne, built a home in Neahkahnie just above the beach.
“I love to sit here for hours, just looking out to sea, and remembering those days when we flew over the English Channel on our missions,” he said. “That was a long time ago.” For Roy, the roar of four B-17 engines had long since been replaced by that or the pounding Oregon surf.
Roy Andriesse passed away on January 20, 2014.