JOSEPH VAN DER HAEGHEN THE PERFECT B-17 PILOT

By Maxine Van der Haeghen

My husband of 63 ½ years, Joe Van der Haeghen, died early in the morning of January 1, 2009. He was 91 ½ years of age…and lived it to the fullest!



Joseph van der haeghen crew

Lt. Joseph Van der Haeghen and the crew of the Doris Mae.
BACK L-R: Lt. Joseph Van der Haeghen (P), Lt. William Kinney, Jr. (B), Lt Eugene Wilson (N), Lt. Donald Furber (CP) FRONT L-R: Sgt. Ralph Voorhees (FG), Sgt. Alvin Renfro (TG), Sgt. George Carroll (RO), Sgt. Fillman Thurman (BT), Sgt. Lloyd Estes (TT), Sgt. Michael Polito (FG) Assigned to the 545th BS. (Photo courtesy of the 384thbombgroup.com)

Joe was the “perfect” B-17 pilot! He earned his wings at Roswell, New Mexico, on January 2, 1943 and landed at Grafton Underwood, England on June 6, 1943. He was a member of the 545th Bombardment Squadron of the 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy). He began his missions as co-pilot of the “Doris Mae” until the August 17th raid on Schweinfurt. During the raid they lost 600 men and 60 planes. Five planes returned, but Joe’s was the only one in his original squadron, so he became a 1st pilot.

On their September 27 mission over German he lost three engines and for a while was flying on one engine, which is “impossible” for a B-17! Finally one engine kicked back in and they made it home very slowly, but safely.

He completed his 25 missions on December 31, 1943 and there were never any casualties to his crew on any of his missions!



1st Lt. Joseph Van der Haeghen’s Citation for the Distinguished Flying Cross:

Citation to accompany the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross dated 2 October 1943, for extraordinary achievement while serving as Pilot of a B-17F airplane on a bombing mission over Germany 27 September 1943.

Thirty minutes before reaching the target the No. 2 supercharger on Lt. Vander-Haeghen’s airplane went out of commission. Ten minutes before reaching the target the No. 3 engine went out and could not be feathered. As this windmilling engine was causing drag on the airplane combined with the lack of power from the No. 2 engine, Lt. Vander-Haeghen was forced to fall back in the formation.

Realizing that the safety of his airplane depended on him staying in the formation, he tried to open his bomb bay doors to salvo his bombs. The bomb bay doors would not open mechanically and he pulled his emergency release but only one door opened. He salvoed his bombs and the weight of the falling bombs opened the other door. The bomb bay doors remained open and could not be shut. While trying to get back into formation, enemy fighters succeeded in seriously damaging the No. 1 engine, No. 2 engine suffered further lack of power when hit by flak.

 Realizing that his only means of returning safely to the base remained in him seeking the low cloud cover and also at low altitude he would regain the power of the No. 2 engine, as the supercharger would not be needed, Lt. Vander-Haeghen displayed skillful airmanship and courage dived his plane into the clouds which were at 4,000 feet. With the interphone system and command and VHF radio out of commission and realizing that it was impossible to ditch his airplane successfully as the bomb bay doors remained open, Lt. Vander-Haeghen skillfully nursed his crippled airplane home at 120 miles an hour, flying on instruments and with two engines out of commission.

Signed by J.K. Lacey, Colonel

Air Corps, Commanding.

For More on the 384th Bomb Group Check out:

www.384thbombgroup.com



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