Coast Guard Radioman
BENJAMIN AUTRELL BOTTOMS (200-203)
RADIOMAN 1/c, U. S. COAST GUARD
(DIED A HERO ON GREENLAND ICE CAP RESCUE, WWII II)
Benjamin Autrell Bottoms was born on November 1, 1913, at Cumming, Georgia. He grew up in farm country near Marietta, Georgia, where he graduated from Marietta High School in 1931.
Bottoms enlisted in the U. S. Coast Guard on October 13, 1932, and took his boot training at the Receiving Unit, New London, Conn. During 1933, he served with the Destroyer Force that the Coast Guard then operated in an all-out suppression of smuggling -- the "Rum War" of the prohibition era. The destroyers he was assigned to were the HERNDON, which operated out of Boston, Massachusetts, and the CONYNGHAM, based at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In December 1933, he was transferred to the Communications Division at the Coast Guard Depot (Yard), Curtis Bay, Maryland, where he became interested in radio operating. From June 1937 to October 1935, he was assigned alternately to the Cutter OSSIPEE and the Cutter GUTHRTE, both stationed at Portland, Maine. Following further instructions at Ft. Trumbull Training Station, New London, Connecticut, he served as Radioman 3/c in the cutters THETIS, OSSIPEE again, and the HARRIET LANE out of ports along the Massachusetts coast.
From June 1937 to October 1938, he was attached to the Cutter CARRABASSET at Curtis Bay, following which he returned to the Cutter HARRIET LANE at Gloucester. After a brief period of training with the Boston Division, he was assigned to the Coast Guard Air Station at Salem, Massachusetts, in October 1939. During the period June to November of 1941 he was stationed temporarily on board the Cutter NORTHLAND as preparations were being made for the cutter to take on an aircraft. He then returned to the Salem Air Station for a brief time.
Early in 1942 he rejoined the Cutter NORTHLAND to serve as Radioman 1/c of the J2F-4 Grumman amphibious plane that the vessel carried on the war-time Greenland Patrol. Before long Bottoms died a hero while on a dangerous rescue mission in that plane.
On November 28, 1942 as the Cutter NORTHLAND drifted in Comanche Bay, a radio message notified the commanding officer that the position of the U.S. Army B-17 “Flying Fortress” that had crashed into the Ice Cap near the West Coast of Greenland had been ascertained.
Bottoms eagerly volunteered to accompany the daring, enthusiastic pilot [LT John A. Pritchard] of the ship’s plane on the hazardous rescue flight. Though no one ever before had successfully landed a plane on the ice cap, the two men were confident that the rescue could be accomplished.
At 1020, November 28, the Grumman J2F-4 (USCG No. 16140) was lowered over the side of the NORTHLAND into the water and took off to rescue the Army air crew. Bottoms was at the radio while LT John A. Pritchard piloted the plane. Picking up weak radio signals from the bomber, Bottoms was able to give the pilot accurate bearings on the wrecked B-17. After flying for about 30 minutes over the desolate wasteland, the pilot sighted the wreck, circled over the Army airmen, dropped a package of medicine, and signaled he was going to land. Regardless of the warning signals not to try to land with wheels down, the pilot set the plane down on the 2,000-ft. high Ice Cap. The wheels of the plane sank into the snow up to the pontoons.
Since the pilot could not get closer than within four miles of the wreck, Pritchard undertook the hazardous journey alone on foot while Bottoms kept contact with the ship to notify the skipper of their operations. After reaching the wrecked B-17, the pilot informed the Army fliers that his plane could only carry two of them at a time. Two injured men who could walk with some assistance were selected. With the aid of a third Army airman, the pilot brought the injured men back to his plane. Bottoms helped LT Pritchard and the third Army airman turn the plane around for a takeoff. Remembering the difficulty of landing with wheels down, LT Pritchard decided to take off from the ice using the plane’s pontoons. The wheels were forced up and LT Pritchard, with Bottoms and the two injured airmen, took off in the late afternoon. After careening, sliding, and bumping over the ice hummocks, the plane soared safely into the air and back to the Cutter NORTHLAND.
The following day, November 29, Bottoms volunteered again along with LT Pritchard to resume rescue operations for the remaining Army fliers. As on the previous day they reached the stranded fliers, took one on board and after a successful take-off started for the ship. Soon thereafter the plane encountered a heavy snow storm and crashed on the ice cap. Bottoms’ last radio message to the ship was that they had a successful takeoff and that he needed weather reports. After the storm subsided, search parties from a nearby Army base and from the ship were organized to search for the lost J2F. A bomber sighted and identified the plane which was partly buried in the snow . One rescue party pushed over the ice cap to within six miles of the wrecked Grumman but was unable to reach it. The bodies of Radioman Bottoms, LT Pritchard, and the injured airman who survived the crashed B-17 were never recovered.
RM 1/c Bottoms was 29 years old, 5-ft. 10 in. tall, weighed 150 lbs., and had 10 years of service when he was declared missing in action as of November 29, 1942. He was declared presumed dead a year later on November 30, 1943. For his part in that daring rescues Bottoms was awarded the DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS posthumously.
RM 1/c Bottoms was survived by his wife, Mrs. Olga Bernice Bottoms who was living at their home [in] Salem. They had been married on October 10, 1937. Olga was the daughter of fisherman Henry Rogers and Adelaide M. Arvilla Rogers of Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Bottoms also was survived by his mother, Mrs. Nassie [Nassau] America Bottoms, who when notified of her son’s death was living in Atlanta, Georgia. Later correspondence with the Coast Guard revealed her address as Anniston, Alabama. According to personnel records, Bottoms mentioned one sister, Nancy Janell Bottoms, who was living with her mother in 1940. His father, Mr. A. J. Bottoms was not living [incorrect, see below].
Prepared - FEB. 1971 - EAS
According to Bob Bowden, son of Bottoms sister Nancy, Radioman Bottoms and Nancy were twins. Bottoms was also survived by his father, Andrew Jackson Bottoms, who lived until the mid-1970s, and a younger sister, Eleanor.