Ellis M. Woodward, 84, bomber pilot, author

December 05, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Ellis M. Woodward, a World War II bomber pilot who recounted in a 1998 book how his squadron of 12 planes was attacked by a secret German Luftwaffe unit called the Storm Group while returning from a daylight bombing mission over Germany, died from complications of a stroke Monday at his Rodgers Forge home. He was 84.

After the war, he became a stockbroker in Baltimore and founded a company in Timonium to market golf gloves he designed.

Mr. Woodward was born and raised in New Orleans. His college studies at Tulane University were interrupted when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941.

After completing pilot's training and flying anti-submarine missions from Otis Field in Hyannis, Mass., he was assigned to an 8th Air Force heavy bombardment group based in Debach, England.

For Mr. Woodward, who had earlier flown B-24 Liberators, perhaps his most harrowing lead mission was his 15th, and his first piloting a B-17, on Sept. 12, 1944.

Into the early dawn, Mr. Woodward's 861st Bombardment Squadron began a bombing run to the ordnance depot at Magdeburg, Germany.

Flying in formation, the squadron met heavy anti-aircraft fire en route to the target and Mr. Woodward and his crew hoped for a smoother ride home.

"We dropped our bombs and breathed a sigh of relief," he told The Sun in 1996. "Then the tail gunner shouted, `Fighters.' And as quickly as it had come, the attack was over, and there were only two of us left in the air. We felt sure the German fighters were going to come back and finish us off."

In just over a minute, the German fighters had destroyed 10 of the 12 bombers, each with nine crewmen.

William C. Rawson, who was Mr. Woodward's co-pilot, said in a telephone interview that an enemy plane flew so close that he could see the face of the pilot.

"It was high noon, and we started to really get hammered. Our plane was really rocking as Woody tried to stabilize it. The attack was a total surprise, and then it suddenly stopped," said Mr. Rawson, of Flower Mound, Texas.

"Surveying the damage our airplane had suffered that was readily visible -- half of our left elevator was missing, our flaps had many large holes through them, as well as the wings, three of the engines had developed oil leaks, and the supercharger on No. 3 engine had been shot out -- our prospects for completing the journey home looked awfully dim," Mr. Woodward wrote in his book, Flying School: Combat Hell.

Mr. Woodward's calmness and flying skill brought the heavily damaged B-17 with two wounded crew members across the English Channel and to a final landing at an emergency airstrip.

"We were very lucky," Mr. Rawson said. "Woody was also a first-rate and a very meticulous pilot. He always used good judgment."

Mr. Woodward was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross.

What had hit Mr. Woodward's squadron remained a mystery for 49 years. It was only after an article written by Capt. Werner Vorberg, a Storm Group pilot, was published in an 8th Air Force veterans newsletter that he learned his plane had been attacked by the Storm Group, an elite group of German pilots who pledged to destroy American bombers by any means possible.

Mr. Woodward, who was discharged with the rank of captain, returned to New Orleans and in the early 1950s came to Baltimore, where he worked as a stockbroker for Blyth, Eastman Dillon and later with Stein Bros. & Boyce Inc.

An avid golfer, Mr. Woodward designed and developed a golf glove that gave players a better grip. It was worn on the PGA tour by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lanny Wadkins and Hale Irwin, among other golfers.

Mr. Woodward established the Star-Grip Glove Co. in Timonium, which marketed and sold the gloves that were manufactured in England. He later closed the business and returned to work as a stockbroker for E.F. Hutton in the 1980s. He retired in 1987.

Plans for a memorial gathering were incomplete yesterday.

Mr. Woodward is survived by his wife of 56 years, the former Patricia Taylor; three sons, Ellis M. Woodward Jr. and John M. Woodward, both of Baltimore, and Theodore T. Woodward of Cleveland, Tenn.; a daughter, Kathleen W. Holloway of Lawrenceville, Ga.; and eight grandchildren.

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