Friday, March 21, 2008

Used books and military history.

Today I whipped through P. G. Wodehouse's book of shorts called Eggs, Beans and Crumpets. I purchased this book at the famous Blackwell's in Oxford, on the very top floor. Beautifully, Blackwell's first opened as a used book shop of only 12 square feet with 700 items for sale. Look how it's grown! Nine quick shorts do the job of entertaining oneself on a six/seven-hour bus ride home from the west country.

The coolest thing about my book is... Well, several things. The book was originally published by Herbert Jenkins in 1940. My copy is a second publishing, and though I don't know the year this second publication happened, there is a name and military unit information on the title page. Cool, right? "William H. Hylton, 332nd 59d 91st group"

So the internet is a powerful thing. I typed in "322nd" and "Hylton" into Google. I found the previous owner! I have, inadvertently, forged a bond with this person. Here's his deal: the 322nd Bombardment Group was created on 19 Jun 1942, and was activated on 17 Jul 1942. Online, I found some "dailies" from the 91st BG, and they gave me a little more info regarding my Hylton. Wm. H. Hylton was a 2nd Lieutenant and a navigator. On 3 Jan 1943, he was listed as destroying an FW 190. The only other time he comes up in that record is on 4 Mar 1943, as "Lt. William Hylton - Bombadier" and, quite sadly, as MIA. The dailies go through December 1943, but he isn't mentioned again. A little more research, and I found that he was never found, and presumed dead. I also learned that he entered the service from Texas, for what that's worth. The 91st division were nicknamed "The Ragged Irregulars" because they were so depleted by fatalities and injuries. I found a nice commemorative plaque.
So now I'm on a mission. A 2nd Lt. is pretty decent standing in the Air Force, which makes me think that he was older. Maybe he had a family? Maybe they'd like his book back? I'm intrigued that it would surface in a book shop in Oxford. Somehow it made its way over from Germany. How?!?

Time will tell. I'm on the trail.


Snilloc said...

As the old saying goes:

"Used books contain more than just dust mites, and Lyme disease."

Failon said...

This is very, very cool. I've a bit of a passion for aviation history. I guess that's what I get for having a former Navy pilot and aviation history professor for a father... :P

Anyway, 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force is O-1, or the lowest officer rank. An officer, yes, but he was probably commissioned as an officer almost immediately after enlisting (not uncommon for navigators/bombardiers of the era, given the responsibility placed on them). Another link you provide listed him as a 1st Lieutenant, or O-2 (one rank higher than O-1). According to that same link, he was awarded the Air Medal at least twice (for individual or group merit, it doesn't say) and wounded in combat at least twice as well.

Also, shooting down a Fw-190 is no mean feat, especially with the single .50 cal machine gun that he manned. The Focke-Wulf 190 was a tough little bird, with the firepower to chew through just about anything. Looking at the dailies you linked to, they encountered a ton of these 'Butcher Birds' possibly accounting for the heavy losses they sustained throughout.

The book was probably in his possession on base in England when he was shot down and not sent home with the rest of his belongings. It's pretty unlikely that the book was with him when he was shot down over Hamm.

Fascinating stuff. Good find, Hil. :)

Failon said...
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Failon said...

A bit more...

The plaque refers to the 322nd Bomb Group (Medium) which flew the B-26 Marauder. Lt. Hylton flew with the 322nd Bomb Group (Heavy) in the B-17 Flying Fortress.

His crew flew on missions with the infamous Memphis Belle (first heavy bomb crew in the 8th Air Force to complete their 25-mission tour of duty during WWII) on the following dates:

November 9, 1942- St. Nazaire, France

December 6, 1942- Lille, France

January 3, 1943- St. Nazaire, France (during which Lt. Hylton downed his Fw-190)

January 13, 1943- Lille, France

January 27, 1943- Wilhelmshaven, Germany (first bomb run against Germany flown by Americans)

If you look for Lt. Ralph Felton, Hylton's pilot and commanding officer, you'll find more missions and details in the dailies.

He was stationed at RAF Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire when he was shot down. The book was probably with his belongings on the base.

Also, the 91st Bomb Group was awarded the Distinguished (Presidential) Unit Citation on March 4, 1943 for the mission over Hamm, where Hylton's B-17 was downed.

Failon said...

According to the following page, Felton's (and Hylton's) plane was named Spirit of Alcohol aircraft serial number 41-24483, as of January 3, 1943. Match the crews listed to that date in the dailies.

Spirit of Alcohol made another appearance when it was shot down on May 19, 1943, under the command of a Lt. Baxley. This is two months after Felton and his crew were lost.

According to the dailies, Felton continued to fly 41-24483 until January 27, 1943, when he was flying 41-24511. (No indication could be found for the switch.) When Felton's crew was shot down, they were flying 41-24512, named Rose O'Day. The switch from 511 to 512 probably occurred after the mission of February 4, 1943, when 511's control cables were nearly severed. The aircraft was probably undergoing repair and Felton transfered with his crew to 512.

512 is mentioned once prior to March 4, 1943, when it flew to bomb Brest, France on February 27, 1943. The pilot of 512 was unreadable from the original dailies, but is presumably Lt. Felton. This makes the 6th mission that Felton/Hylton flew alongside the Memphis Belle.

"Minutes later Lt Ralph A Felton's B-17F 41-24512 Rose O'Day (from the 322nd BS) succumbed to an accurate burst of fire from a Bf 110 - three crewmen parachuted into captivity."

I have not yet been able to find who those three were, out of the names listed in the dailies on March 4, 1943. I don't think anyone knows for sure, as all ten crew members are listed as MIA.
This forum post might have the names of the German crew who is credited with shooting down Rose O'Day (Georg Hutter and Dietrich Wickop) but my French sucks, so I can't say for sure.

Hilary said...

C^3: so true, but Lyme's disease?

Failon: Cool cool COOL!!! Thanks for all the good info, I'm still sleuthing, I'll have to fill you in on what I'm finding. Also, I went to the Imperial War Museum today. You would have loved it... Thought of you.

Failon said...

As if I wasn't suffering from enough jealousy as it was... :P

joepaul said...

My father, Robert M. Paul was the Radio man on the Rose O'Day when it went down. He and a few others survived the crash. Harold Kios (Spelling) is the only one still alive and is suffering from cancer. My Dad was rescued temporarily by a Dutch family, but the Germans found him the next day. He spent a little over two years in prison camps. These were amazing men. Glad to see that people have interest in what they did.

Hilary said...


Thanks for the info. It's ironic; the book I bought would have been pretty valuable if Hylton hadn't written in it. But because he did, the book means infinitely more to me. I feel a great sense of respect for the men and women of the armed forces, both of days past and today, but there is something special about those who served during this particular conflict, isn't there? My father's parents both served in the Navy during WWII, my grandfather as an engineer on a sub in the South Pacific, and my grandmother as a member of the Singing Platoon. I'm proud of that heritage. Thanks for sharing your part of this incredible story!

Rudy said...

Ms Hilary, do you still have William H. Hylton's book? Rudy

Hilary said...


I believe so. I'm packing up books for a move, so I'm not sure of its precise location. Do you have some connection to Hylton?


Rudy said...

His Father, Leon, and my Great Grandfather Rudolph were brothers.

Rudy said...
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Hilary Lemon said...


How wonderful! I will see if I can find the book. Perhaps you would like to have it?


Rudy said...

I would very much like to acquire this book. Let me know. Rudy