A WWII USAAF 15th Air Force B-17 navigator grouping belonging to 1st Lt. Harry Larson, navigator on 'Mission Belle' (2641st Special Operations Group, 885th Bomb Squadron, OSS Support Unit). The first item in the lot is dark brown leather, issue jacket with bright russet elastique hem and cuffs. The jacket has a single, original Talon front zipper with collar snaps, and a hook and eye fastener at the throat. The jacket was made by Aero Leather Clothing Co. of Beacon, NY, and has an intact sewn-in label with small size 36R sub-label, and lists production under the 42-8775-P contract. The exterior leather is somewhat stiff, with minor wear and flaking along the edge seams, collar, and on the forearms and shoulders of the sleeves. There are some further scattered spots of white paint across the surface of the leather as well. The cuffs and hem are in excellent shape with practically no fraying, or insect damage. The back of the jacket is embellished with a heavily flaked depiction of a B-17 Flying Fortress under the aircraft’s nickname: “MISSION BELLE” across the top. The light brown interior lining of the jacket is heavily frayed and torn at the neck, and has darker staining beneath.
Second is Lt. Larson’s tailor-made USAAF dress uniform tunic, which has an embroidered 15th Air Force patch on the left shoulder, 1st Lt. bars on the epaulets, Presidential Unit Citation ribbon over the right breast pocket, and USAAF Navigator’s Wings over the left. The tunic has false button pockets, and exhibits some minor insect damage on the exterior cloth. The interior is partially lined in olive drab satin, and has an embroidered “Davis Tailorcrest” label under the left breast with Larson’s initials added above. A further label is present inside the lapel pocket stating that the tunic was made to measure for H.W. Larson by P.H. Davis Tailors of Cincinnati, OH on October 27, 1943.
Next is Larson’s 'crusher cap' with low relief officer’s pattern eagle device on the front of the crown. The cap has a worsted olive drab crown with no evidence of insect damage, but there are stains along the top. The woven band has frayed along the top edge, and the soft brown leather peak and chinstrap have scuffs and surface wear. The interior of the cap has a partially detached, flaked leather comfort band, with cracked sweat shield, and visible, but illegible, maker’s label.
The next item is an empty leather USAAF Pilot’s Navigation Kit with embossed front and scuffed edges. The olive drab cloth interior pockets are in fine shape with some light staining, and Harry Larson’s Army Air Corps business card is present in the ID window. Also included is a small binder of information concerning the 885th Bomb Squadron and its aircraft, including what is apparently Larson and crew standing in front of a B-17 with subdued USAAF roundel. The 2641st Bomb Group was comprised of the 885th and 859th Bomb Squadrons, and conducted covert attacks, supply, and personnel drops into Occupied Europe in support of OSS operations behind enemy lines from their base at Brundisi, Italy. They flew a mix of aircraft, but primarily used modified B-17 and B-24 bombers with special exit hatches in place of the standard Sperry Ball Turret on the belly of the fuselage. Their operations were conducted on moonlit nights, and their aircraft were painted black or dark green with minimal identification markings. Theirs was a hazardous task, even discounting the threat of Luftwaffe night-fighters, as the drops had to be conducted only a few hundred feet off the deck at near stall speeds. This is a fantastic lot that pertains to a little-known aspect of World War II covert operations history.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.