After “Big Week” (Feb. 20-25, 1944) had taken a heavy toll of Luftwaffe fighters, their attacks on AAF bomber formations were sporadic. Some days, none came up. At other times, they appeared in force. With the decline of German fighter strength and aggressiveness and the arrival of more P-51 Mustang long-range escort fighters, it now became operationally feasible to attack high-priority targets in and around Berlin.
Eighth Air Force launched its first strike against targets near Berlin on March 4, 1944. Because of bad weather, only part of the bomber stream penetrated to the outskirts of the city. Two days later the entire bomber force reached its targets, losing 69 heavies to fighters and flak. On March 8, fighter opposition again was heavy.
It was “Big B” again on March 9. The target was an airframe factory at Brandenburg, about 20 miles west of Berlin. Leading the second section of the bomber force was 1st Lt. Kenneth G. Jewell, flying E.Z. Duzit, a B-24 Liberator of the 66th Squadron, 44th Bombardment Group. It was Lieutenant Jewell’s second Berlin raid. Experience counted. He led the group safely around heavy flak areas, and on that day no fighters came up.
Over the target, the situation took a turn for the worse. They encountered solid cloud cover and, on the bomb run, heavy, accurate flak. As E. Z. Duzit’s bombardier released his bombs, the aircraft was hit by four bursts of flak. The nose wheel assembly and front oxygen system were destroyed, the radio was knocked out, and the No. 3 engine and right side of the plane were heavily damaged. With that engine shut down, the hydraulic pump was out.
These were losses a B-24 could survive and still make it back to base under the hands of an able, skilled, and experienced aircraft commander–but the stricken bomber no longer had an able commander. A shell fragment had nearly severed Lieutenant Jewell’s left leg, leaving the flight deck, in Jewell’s words, “a gory mess.” No one in the crew had a knife to remove the remains of his leg. Lifting the wounded pilot from his seat, they tended to his injury as best they could, stopping the gush of blood.
The B-24 was, momentarily, without a pilot at the controls. Jewell’s copilot, flying his first mission, had vomited into his oxygen mask, choked, and passed out. The crew revived him, and the shaky young lieutenant managed to keep the plane under control.
Suffering excruciating pain and the psychological trauma of losing a limb, Lieutenant Jewell remained conscious throughout his ordeal. It was his responsibility to get his crew to their base at Shipdham. The likelihood of a safe landing would be greatly diminished if he were to lose consciousness, for his copilot had never landed a B-24 by himself–much less a damaged B-24. The bomber could be flown to England on automatic pilot but would have to be landed manually, which Jewell, with only one leg, could not do. He had members of the crew put him back in the left seat. For the next two and a half hours until Shipdham came in sight, he helped fly the bomber. As they turned on final approach, it was up to the inexperienced copilot, who had to rely on instructions from Jewell and what limited physical assistance the wounded aircraft commander could provide.
Without hydraulic pressure, the B-24 had no brakes. Lieutenant Jewell directed the crew to attach parachutes to the gun mounts and, when the plane touched down, to deploy them out the waist windows to slow the landing roll. At about 70 miles an hour, the nose dropped, and the big bomber skidded to a safe stop. With plenty of coaching from Lieutenant Jewell and help from the flight engineer, the copilot “did great,” as Jewell was confident he would.
Heroism has been defined as the will to endure. For his extraordinary heroism, Lt. Kenneth Jewell was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, but that is not the end of the story. After preliminary medical treatment in the UK, he was evacuated to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. He later told Will Lundy, author and compiler of 44th Bomb Group Roll of Honor, that Gen. H. H. “Hap” Arnold visited him in the hospital. Lieutenant Jewell persuaded the General that if RAF ace Douglas Bader could fly fighters with two artificial legs, Jewell certainly could fly with one. General Arnold agreed, and, in February 1945, Kenneth Jewell was returned to flying status, the first AAF pilot with an artificial leg.
Published October 1991. For presentation on this web site, some Valor articles have been amended for accuracy.