Coast Guard Radioman
BENJAMIN AUTRELL BOTTOMS (200-203)
RADIOMAN 1/c, U. S. COAST GUARD
Benjamin Autrell Bottoms was born on 1 November 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 US Coast Guard on 13 October 1932, and took his boot training at the Receiving Unit, New London, Connecticut. During 1933 he served with the Destroyer Force that the Coast Guard operated in the "Rum War" of the Prohibition era. The destroyers to which he was assigned were Herndon, which operated out of Boston, Massachusetts, and 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 1934 to October 1935, he was assigned alternately to CGCs Ossipee and Guthrie, both stationed at Portland, Maine. Following further instruction at Fort Trumbull Training Station, New London, Connecticut, he served as Radioman, Third Class in the cutters Thetis, Ossipee again, and Harriet Lane out of ports along the Massachusetts coast.
From June 1937 to October 1938, he was attached to Carrabasset at Curtis Bay, following which he returned to Harriet Lane at Gloucester, Massachusetts. While assigned to Gloucester, Bottoms married Olga Bernice Rogers on 10 October 1937. 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 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 Northland to serve as Radioman, First Class of the J2F-4 Grumman amphibious plane that the vessel carried on the Greenland Patrol. Before long Bottoms would die a hero while on a dangerous rescue mission in that plane.
On 28 November 1942 as 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.
As the radioman, Bottoms would accompany the pilot, Lt. John A. Pritchard, of the cutter’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, 28 November, the Grumman J2F-4 (USCG No. 1640) was lowered over the side of Northland into the water and took off to rescue the Army air crew. Bottoms was at the radio while LT 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 Northland.
The following day, 29 November, LT Pritchard and Bottoms resumed rescue operations for the remaining U.S. Army airmen. As on the previous day they reached the stranded fliers, took one on board and after a successful take-off started for the cutter. Soon after 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 U.S. Army base and from the ship were organized to search for the lost aircraft. Though reporting an incorrect location, a bomber sighted and identified the plane. The report noted that the wings were off, but the fuselage was intact. Unfortunately, there was no sign of life. One rescue party pushed over the ice cap to within six miles of the wrecked plane but was unable to reach it. The bodies of Bottoms, Pritchard, and the injured airman who survived the earlier crashed B-17 have not been recovered.
Radioman, First Class Bottoms was 29 years old and was declared missing in action effective 29 November 1942. He was declared presumed dead a year later on 30 November 1943. Bottoms was survived by his wife, Olga and her son, Ed Richardson, his father, Andrew Jackson Bottoms and his mother, Nassie [Nassau] America Bottoms, his twin sister Nancy Janell Bottoms, and a younger sister, Eleanor Bottoms. For his part in the daring rescues, Bottoms was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously.
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.
Original Official Biography Prepared - EAS (02/1971)
Revised, CBH (02/2015)