This month’s featured artifact is the M8 flare pistol. The M8 Pyrotechnic Pistol was the standard 37mm signal flare launcher used by the United States Army Air Force during the Second World War. The weapon is a double-action pistol with a simple break-open breech-loading design, with a cast aluminium frame, stamped steel parts and a bakelite (plastic) grip. The two distinctive curved projections at the top are the latch for opening the breech at the rear, and a hook for securing the pistol in an aircraft. Alternatively, it could be secured by the muzzle using the four rectangular locking lugs seen on the end of the barrel if the aircraft had the appropriate mounting. The mount was really a little door that would have been fastened to the aircraft and allowed the barrel to extend through the aircraft’s outer skin. It was spring mounted to absorb the recoil.
Different colored flares would have been used by the flight crews near the airfield to communicate different types of emergencies such as: wounded aboard, radio out, gear malfunction or other types of in-flight emergencies. This would give the appropriate emergency ground crews and aircraft controllers a heads up as to what to expect when the aircraft touched down. This type of pistol could also have been used by crews during a water ditching situation to signal rescue vessels or aircraft from a life raft.
This type of pistol can be seen being used in early movies such as 12 O’Clock High and as recently as the 2014 tale of survival about Louis Zamperini titled Unbroken. Interestingly, this particular pistol has the manufacturer’s stamp of EVCC, which stood for Eureka Vacuum Cleaner Company. Eureka built these pistols under contract for the U.S. Government during the war. Eureka, like many manufacturers, had completely switched over to producing only materials for the war effort and along with the pistols made parts for B-29 bombers, C-47 transports and an automatic fire-control device, among other things.
From the museum archives comes these two interesting armbands that were worn by volunteers of the Reichsluftshutzbund or National Air Raid Protection League in Germany during WWII.
The red armband would have been worn by members in urban areas who had the specific task of extinguishing fires caused by incendiary aerial bombs. This was an important task as the fires caused by hundreds of incendiaries were initially small and could be quickly extinguished if caught early, but left to burn could grow in size and cause immense destruction as evidenced in the firestorms they caused in cities like Dresden and Hamburg.
Likewise, the blue armband with the white ‘O’ signified a member of the Luftschutz Crowd Control unit. These units helped to maintain order and attempted to keep panic from setting in during and after air raids so that the firefighting units could complete their tasks.
The Luftschutz was a dedicated civil defense organization that started as a volunteer organization, but after 1935 was obligatory for nearly all German civilians. By the Spring of 1943, membership reached over 22 million in response to the increasingly devastating air attacks Germany experienced during WWII.
The Loop Antenna was used for navigating by radio, which was a common practice in WWII, just as it is today. Obviously, modern radio navigation antennas look much different! Antennas like this would be attached to the top or bottom of an airplane’s fuselage. The Loop Antenna was part of a system known as a radio compass. Instead of having a flight deck indicator needle pointing toward the north pole, the needle with a radio compass would point toward a broadcasting radio station at a known location on a map. The antenna would pick up the station’s signals.
As shown in one of the attached pictures, the strength of the received signal depended upon the position of the antenna relative to the station. An air crew would tune in the frequency of the radio station, and based on the strength of the received signal, the direction of the station relative to the airplane could be determined.
Picture four shows three ways the Loop Antenna was used on airplanes. On Miss Mitchell, the loop antenna is enclosed by a black teardrop shaped structure, as shown in picture two.
On June 6, 1944, a young man from South St. Paul, Minnesota was among the thousands of US Troops that made history and defended our freedom with the invasion of Normandy. That young man was my dad, George Alex, Jr. During the Normandy Invasion he served on board LCI (L) 414.
George Alex Jr. was born on September 2nd 1925 and entered the U.S. Navy after his 18th birthday on November 12th, 1943. He was assigned to the LCI (L) 414 on March 17th, 1944, and by March 24th, he departed Norfolk, Virginia on board the LCI (L) 414, bound for England. His ship reached Falmouth, England on April 12th. At 12:00 AM on June 6th, the ship departed England for Omaha Beach in Normandy, France to land Army troops for the invasion.
George Alex Jr. continued to serve in the Navy until January 3rd, 1946, when he was discharged and returned home to South St. Paul. He married, raised a family, and continued to live there for the rest of his life. He passed away on July 8th, 2012 and is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in South St. Paul.
The history of the local museum, its former use as a Naval training base during the war, and the location in South St. Paul make this a perfect place to display the uniform of a South St. Paul man that served his country. My family and I are honored at the opportunity to display the uniform and share the story of his service. This display is how I got involved with the Commemorative Air Force and I am proud to be a new member.
Welcome to the CAF MN Wing Blog. You will find information on projects we are working on, upcoming events, and more.