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Special Duties Pilot (Hardback)

The Man who Flew the Real 'Inglorious Bastards' Behind Enemy Lines


By John M Billings
Imprint: Air World
Pages: 144
ISBN: 9781526786265
Published: 7th July 2021




As featured by the Independent, click here to read the article online.


Article - Still flying at 97: Autobiography recounts WWII pilot's life as featured by Stars and Stripes 

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If there was ever a man who was born to fly, it is John M. Billings. He took his first plane ride in 1926, began taking piloting lessons in 1938, and joined the US Army Air Force in July 1942. After training he was assigned to fly Consolidated B-24 Liberator long-range bombers. He joined the 825th Bombardment Squadron of the 484th Bombardment Group. After flying fifteen daylight strategic bombing missions, Billings was selected for assignment to the 885th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) (Special).

As its designation suggests, the 885th was no regular bombing unit. The 885th specialized in flying top secret, low-altitude missions at night in support of the clandestine operations of the OSS and the Special Operations Executive. The unit’s covert missions included parachuting OSS and SOE agents and supplies deep inside German territory.

The most eventful and dangerous of Billings’ thirty-nine secret missions with the 885th was his assignment in February 1945 to clandestinely insert a three-man OSS team, code-named Greenup, into Austria. The drop zone selected for the Greenup insertion was located on a glacier in a valley surrounded by mountains in the middle of the snow-covered Alps. Billings and his crew finally found the weather in the Alps clear enough to spot the drop zone, slip their unwieldy B-24 between the mountain peaks and descend to an altitude just a few hundred feet above the moonlit snow. On Billings’ signal, the OSS agents parachuted right on target.

The insertion of this OSS team was the inspiration for the feature film Inglorious Bastards. However, Brad Pitt’s vengeful character was far removed from the leader of the Greenup team, Fred Mayer, who achieved success by infiltrating enemy ranks to gain vital intelligence.

After the war, John Billings flew with Trans World Airlines and Eastern Airlines. He also flew more than 300 ‘Angel Flight’ airlift missions which involve the specialized aerial transportation of critically ill medical patients. This is one man’s story of a remarkable lifetime of flying, both in peace and in war.

"An accomplished pilot with decades of experience in military, airline and medical aviation, Billings is also an excellent writer. This memoir presents his unusual story in a fast-paced and highly readable style."

Aviation History

“World War II is filled with heroic stories, but few measure up to the daring contributions of John Billings, an OSS pilot who was involved in a mission so daring it takes your breath away. Read this book and be grateful.”

Tom Brokaw, author of “The Greatest Generation"

After the gentle self effacing progress of the book gos on you suddenly realise that he has flown half a tour with a B24 bomber squadron based in Italy. Mr Billings I’d suggest is a master of understatement and not a man to “blow his own trumpet”. It struck me that had this not been an autobiography then the accounts of various missions may well have been made more of.

Read the full review here

Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

Still flying at 97: Autobiography recounts WWII pilot's life

The Independent 26/05/21

About John M Billings

JOHN M. BILLINGS took his first plane ride in 1926, began taking piloting lessons in 1938, and carried on flying ever since. Having joined the US Army Air Forces in July 1942, he was assigned to fly the Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber. He completed fifty-three missions during the war, thirty-nine of which were for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime predecessor to the CIA, and the US Special Operations Command. After the war John was an airline pilot with TWA and Eastern Airlines. John is also rightfully proud of having flown 300-plus ‘Angel Flight’ airlift missions which involve the specialized aerial transportation of critically ill medical patients.

Perfect Partner

Midnight Flight to Nuremberg The Capture of the Nazi who put Adolf Hitler into Power (Hardback)

This is the story of an American C-47 ‘Dakota’ pilot who earned three Air Medals, seven Battle Stars and flew twenty-seven combat missions during the Second World War. As a young U.S. pilot, Harry Watson, arrived in Britain as the Battle of Normandy was reaching its crescendo. Thrown immediately into the fray, Harry, along with more than 200 aircraft, set off to carry supplies to the troops fighting in France. But with visibility reduced to zero, the aircraft were ordered to turn back – all did except Harry, who successfully delivered his life-saving cargo of blood and US Army nurses. Harry…

By Marcus A. Nannini, Harry E Watson

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