398th Bomb Group

Bluie West One (BW-1)

By Howard Traeder
Pilot, 601st Squadron

First off, Bluie West One (BW-1) was located on the SW coast of Greenland, near the Eskimo village of Narsarsuaq. There was also a Bluie West Eight (BW-8), located farther north.  We first encountered BW-1 on our flight from Goose Bay direct to Iceland.  We were approaching Reykjavik, midway across the Denmark Strait, when Radioman Joe Reveman picked up a recall message that the field at Reykjavik was closed due to intermittent snow showers and directing us to reverse course and land at BW-1.  We complied, after verifying that the message was legit, and not a German decoy to lure us to an emergency landing on the ice cap.  Marv Blancett, our Navigator, took us directly to BW-1, as verified by our radio compass and visual sighting, when we were directly over it.  However, our landing instructions required that we follow the fjord out to the Davis Strait and then drop down and fly up the fjord, between its mountainous walls, about 50 miles, at, as I recall, about 1,000 ft altitude, or less, until we saw the wreckage of a ship.  At that point, we were to watch for the field on the right, prepared to turn about 30 degrees and begin our landing approach to the one and only runway, which sloped upward toward the glacier emanating from the icecap.  We landed with no problem on Christmas Eve in 1944, when daylight  in Greenland existed only from about  1000 to 1400 daily. 
We enjoyed a great Christmas dinner the next day and loafed around the base with the company of several other crews and the base personnel, until we were briefed for the flight to Iceland on 29 December. When one of the base personnel mentioned a hangar fire, I quizzed him and learned that it was the same fire that our local Pastor told my farm family about before I even enlisted. His son-in-law was working on a construction project in a faraway place called Greenland, which I assumed was all snow and ice. In a letter, he had told about working on an airplane hangar, which was very near completion when it was accidentally set on fire and burned to the ground. I was looking at that very hangar! Small world!

On 29 December, we were cleared for takeoff and began our run down slope on the runway.  Part way, Flight Engineer Fred Bradley called out "No Airspeed" and I immediately aborted the takeoff, feeling that it was safer to keep that plane on the ground than to try to get it safely down later, given the perilous surrounding terrain.  We already had too much momentum to stop on the runway, so lost our landing gear on rough shore ice, and came to rest on the 40 inches of ice out on the fjord, with our plane ablaze.  After safely evacuating the plane, we were soon joined by a crowd of base personnel who could do nothing but watch our B-17, fully loaded with 2780 gallons of high octane aviation gasoline, burn itself out, which it did without exploding.  Later, crew members in the waist reported seeing #3 engine afire midway down the runway, so we may have had bigger problems than I realized when I aborted the takeoff. See
Traeder's Crash at Bluie West: 43-39085 - 29 Dec 1944.

We were "guests" at BW-1 until 17 January, when we rode to Iceland as passengers in a C-46 cargo plane.  During our stay, we even tried our skill at skiing in the mountains seen to the right of the airfield in the photograph.  The burnt out wreckage of  our B-17 lies at the bottom of the fjord in the foreground.

I had the pleasure of a repeat visit to BW-1 as I landed there on 4 June 1945 and took off again the next day for Goose Bay, enroute home from the war in Europe.  At that time of year, it really never got dark, because the sun reappeared in the East shortly after disappearing in the West.  After landing, I was asked to report to the Operations Officer, Capt. Morgan, who presented me with a glossy, 8x10, photo of my burning airplane, taken six months earlier.

Veteran: Howard F. Traeder
Pilot, 601st Squadron
Date of Personal History: August 2003
Author: Howard F. Traeder
Submitted to 398th Web Pages by: Howard F. Traeder

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