On This Day in History, April 16: B’klyn Flier Amidst Berlin Bombing

April 16, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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BROOKLYN — Webster tells us the word “flak,” originated in 1938, is derived from the German word fliegerabwehrkaonen which comes from 3 words combined: flieger (flier) + abwehr (defense) + kanonen (cannons). Its English definition is: 1] antiaircraft guns; 2] the bursting shells fired from flak. It was those bursting shells that a young WW II airman from Brooklyn wrote home about as reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of April 16, 1944:

“Flier Tells of Flak `So Thick You Could Walk Across on It.’” “A tremendous flak field `so thick you could walk across it,’ with enemy-occupied territory [Berlin] below alight “like Times Square on New Year’s Eve,” is described by a young Brooklyn flier in a letter to his father, Benjamin Albaum, an accountant with the Brooklyn division of Todd Shipyards Corporation.

“The flier is Staff Sgt. Elvin Albaum, 20, of 2415 Newkirk Ave., rear gunner on the Flying Fortress Berlin First, one of a large formation of heavy bombers of the U.S 8th Air Force, which on March 4 [1944] made the first American air attack on Berlin.

“How does it feel to come back from a bombing raid over Germany? `Most of it is a feeling of wanting to lie down in a corner and going to sleep forever,’ he wrote in a letter to his father after completing his seventh raid, the third in which he had participated in as many days. `You are glad to be back and alive, and for the first time in 12 hours the tension is off. You feel sorry for the guys who went down, but you try not to think about that. They’re gone — and tomorrow it might be you.’”

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“‘Yesterday, although, we didn’t expect it, we ran into a tremendous flak field — you always have flak, but yesterday you could step out of the [air] ship and walk across it. It was terrifying. They shot the hell out of us. We were lucky.’

“‘Just before we took off yesterday the Germans came over and bombed the area around us. When we took off we could see great patches of fire in several places. But it was puny — puny in comparison to our raid. The Continent looked like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. I don’t know how they stand up under our attacks — or where they get the fighter planes to attack us with. The last couple of raids our fighter protection has been excellent and we weren’t hampered by fighters too much. It was mostly flak’

“‘It really isn’t worth mentioning, but our crew is going to be awarded the Air Medal (all 10 of us) for five combat missions over enemy territory.’”

Air Medal not worth mentioning — indeed! On March 6-8, 1944, U.S. heavy bombers raided Berlin for the first time. A force of 660 bombers was sent and 69 were lost. The raid was repeated on the 8th when the 580 bomber force again lost about 10 percent of its number despite an escort of 800 fighters.

Maybe a war was raging in Europe but just under the above story in the Eagle was this: “Daffodils in Bloom: Visitors to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden today will find the daffodils on Boulder Hill in bloom.”

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