Arthur Linrud was born on a farm north of Velva, North Dakota on November 23, 1920. He graduated from high school in 1939. Art was drafted in the army and reported for basic training on October 8th 1942. Art ended up in the Army Air Corp and after training and passing many physicals he ended as a heavy bomber flight engineer, top turret gunner. In the summer of 1943 Art was shipped to England as a replacement. Art ended up on a B-17(S/N 42-3436, WF R) with the Dennis McDarby crew, 305th Bomb Group, 364th Squadron.
Art started flying missions with this crew in October of 1943. Most of Arts missions were flown during the infamous Hell Week where the Eighth Air Force went all out to try to destroy the German military infrastructure.
The first day of Hell Week was Oct. 8, 1943, Bremen, (The story “Our Baby” also tells of this raid). The next mission, Oct 9, was to the ports at Danzig, Poland, this was the longest mission of the war to date. The next day, Oct. 10, was to Munster, Germany. After these missions the McDarby crew was allowed to stand down for rest and repairs for several days.
Early in the morning of October 14th Art was awakened for a mission. It was a lousy morning, cold, foggy, raining, the air field was socked in. Art was sure the mission would be scrubbed but he and the others went to breakfast anyway. After breakfast the weather was still terrible but the order to stand down did not come. Art went to the briefing and found out the target was the Schweinfurt ball bearing plants deep in the heart of Germany. No matter, Art thought, we won’t be going anyway. No one would send hundreds of bombers up in this soup, Art waited for the mission to be cancelled. Art and the rest of the crew went out to the plane, it was still raining and foggy, soon the order to stand down would come but instead came the order to start engines. Art thought the mission would still be scrubbed but soon they were rolling down the runway and taking off. Art realized they were going to Schweinfurt, the mission was not cancelled. The target was hundreds of miles into Germany with no friendly fighter escort. This was going to be a rough one.
They didn’t break out of the overcast tell 8000ft and then things started to go wrong. Arts bomb group, the 305th failed to find its combat wing with the 92nd and 306th Bomb Groups. The 305th fell in behind the 351st and 381st Bomb Groups but in doing so ended up in a very vulnerable position. All the time it had taken the bombers to form up had used up fuel reserves and the extra time it had taken meant the friendly fighters had to leave soon after the bombers crossed over the coast into France and many fighters didn’t even find the bomber formations. Things were going from bad to worse.
Before the bombers even reached the coast of France they were attacked by single and twin engine German fighters, some of which had under wing slung rockets that they could fire into the bomber formations, safely out of range of the bombers 50 cal. defensive fire.
When the bomber formations were crossing from the Netherlands into Germany, Arts plane received a direct hit in the #2 engine with a rocket or large caliber cannon shell, pieces of the engine and cowling were blown away and fire erupted from what was left of the engine. The plane dropped from formation and went into a dive. Lt. McDarby ordered everyone to bail out. Art dropped out of the top turret and got down in the nose with his parachute on, he opened the nose hatch and the bombardier and navigator said they were going to follow right behind him, Art never saw them again. Art dropped through the hatch and after falling several seconds, pulled his rip cord. The chute opened and Art found himself in a slow descent over the Dutch and German boarder.
Off in the distance, Art saw two German fighters turn toward him, he had heard about enemy fighters strafing airmen hanging in their chutes and this is what it looked like they were going to do, one fighter headed right for him and Art waited for the bullets, none came. When the fighter reached Art it suddenly pulled up and over the chute, missing it by mere feet. The prop wash really jerked the chute around but the fighters flew off and did not come back. Art wondered if the German pilot was trying to spill the air out of his chute or if he was just having a little fun, we will never know.
Art reached the ground and was surrounded by German soldiers and civilians. He had come down near the tail gunner Dominic Lepore who had a quite severe wound to the head. A German Doctor came and took care of him.
Arts friend Benjamin Roberts was the ball turret gunner on the McDarby plane. When the plane was hit, one of the waist gunners, Bob Wells cranked the turret back up into the plane and helped Ben out and into his chute. About this time the plane was again hit by German fighters, riddling the fuselage with holes and then the wings tore off. Ben pulled himself out the waist window and his head glanced off the tail causing him to be knocked out momentarily. When Ben came to, he realized what was happening and quickly pulled the rip cord, the chute had just opened when Ben hit the ground. Ben looked up to see the fuselage of the plane coming down and it landed not more then a hundred feet away. Ben crawled over to the wreckage and found the man who had just helped him, Bob Wells, dead in the rear of the plane. Both waist gunners, copilot, navigator and bombardier died in the plane. The plane crashed near a coal mine on the boarder of Belgium and the Netherlands near Maastricht. The pilot, radio operator and tail gunner along with Art and Ben became POWs and spent the next 18 months in prison camps. Art Linrud, Ben Roberts and Dominic Lepore ended up in Stalog 17B.
PILOT: 2Lt. Dennis J McDarby POW
COPILOT: 2Lt. Donald P Breeden KIA
NAVIGATOR: 2Lt. William J Martin KIA
BOMBARDIER: 2Lt. Harvey a Manley KIA
ENGINEER: Sgt. Arthur E Linrud POW
RADIO OPERATOR: S/Sgt. Hosea F Crawford POW
BALL TURRET: Sgt. Benjamin F Roberts POW
LEFT WAIST: Sgt. Leonard R Henlin KIA
RIGHT WAIST: Sgt. Robert G Wells KIA
TAIL GUN: Sgt Dominic C Lepore POW
Of the 16 B-17s in the 305th Bomb Group that were sent to Schweinfurt, only two returned. When the Americans took Schweifurt in 1945, the German flag flying over the Klugelfischer ball bearing plant was captured and presented to the 305thBomb Group by the 42nd Infantry “Rainbow Division”.
After the war Art Linrud returned to North Dakota to work the family farm north of Velva and raise a family. Art is now retired and lives in Minot ND.
Sources: Personal interview with Art Linrud and Ben Roberts, Missing air crew report – USAF
To see more about this mission, see the story “BLACK THURSDAY”.