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Carpetbaggers: Air Arm of the OSS in Europe

Meanwhile, up north at Leuchars Field in Scotland, near Aberdeen, Carpetbaggers were conducting a variety of missions to Scandinavia. The first and largest of these was Project Sonnie, or Operation Sonnie, which began on March 31, 1944. In addition to dropping agents and supplies to the Norwegian Resistance, Sonnie operated a clandestine airline. Unmarked, unarmed B-24s modified to carry passengers and flown by aircrews wearing civilian clothes transported from Stockholm to Scotland 2,000 Norwegian aircrew trainees as well as American airmen interned in Sweden. As Sweden conducted commercial relations with Germany, American aircrews had the unsettling experience of parking their aircraft within spitting distance of the Germans’. During its 15 months of operation, the “Carpetbagger airline” carried about 4,300 passengers out of Sweden.

Project Sonnie had the distinction of pulling off one of the great intelligence coups of the war. On June 13, 1944, at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast, Nazi rocket scientists launched A4 flight No. V89, a test flight of the ballistic missile later known as the V-2. The ground controller lost sight and control of the V89, which crashed about 200 miles away near Kalmar, in southeast Sweden. Swedish authorities gathered the debris and, following secret negotiations between the British and Swedish governments, Lt. Col. Keith Allen flew a Carpetbagger C-47 to Stockholm where he picked up the wreckage and carried it back for study in England.

Once clear, Callahan pulled the ripcord. The shock of the parachute’s opening almost caused Sanders to lose his grip. Callahan then told Sanders to work his way around to Callahan’s front so that they could better hold onto each other, which Sanders did.

The history of the Carpetbaggers also includes a remarkable rescue that occurred on the night of June 27, 1944, near West Eaton, roughly 20 miles east of Harrington. Lt. William E. Huenkens and his crew were flying at about 1,800 feet and returning to Harrington after completing a training mission.

Suddenly tail gunner Sgt. Randall “Randy” Sadler saw the approaching silhouette of a Junkers JU-88 night fighter. Sadler shouted a warning just as the JU-88 intruder opened fire. Cannon shells ripped through the Liberator, killing two and starting a fire in the bomb bay. Huekens ordered the survivors to bail out. Navigator 2nd Lt. Bob Callahan and bombardier 2nd Lt. Bob Sanders were in the nose. Sanders tried to grab his parachute that was hanging by the bomb bay, only to discover it was on fire. He returned to find Callahan, wearing his chest-mounted parachute, preparing to exit the aircraft. Sanders shouted the news about his chute to Callahan, who quickly told Sanders to climb onto his back, cross his arms through the back straps of the parachute, and hold tight. Sanders did and Callahan then slid them out of the burning bomber.

Dropping through the "joe hole." National Archives photo

Dropping through the “Joe hole.” National Archives photo

Once clear, Callahan pulled the ripcord. The shock of the parachute’s opening almost caused Sanders to lose his grip. Callahan then told Sanders to work his way around to Callahan’s front so that they could better hold onto each other, which Sanders did. They landed in a wheat field, with Callahan suffering a broken ankle and Sanders spraining one of his and suffering some bruises and scratches. As they began limping toward a nearby road, they heard Sadler calling out. Though badly burned on the head and arms, he managed to bail out. They were the only survivors.

Callahan was awarded the Silver Star for his role in rescuing Sanders, and the crew all received Purple Hearts. After he heard the story of the rescue, Heflin asked Callahan and Sanders to re-create it. A parachute was rigged to the crane and photographers recorded their re-creation. The complete story of the rescue and accompanying photos are posted in the Carpetbagger Aviation Museum section of the Harrington Aviation Museum website.

With Allied armies crossing the German border in January 1945, intelligence about what was happening inside Germany became a priority – particularly when senior commanders received rumors of a last-stand “National Redoubt” in the Bavarian Alps. Missions inserting agents into Germany were given the codename Joan-Eleanor Project (or JE Project), sometimes also referred to as Operation Red Stocking.

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DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN is a bestselling and award-winning author, radio host, and president of the...