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|Saturday, July 31, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 2:
Group Operations Officer Captain Hankey began the briefing, our target is the airdrome located at Abbeville, France! A murmur drifted among the assembled flight crews, and for good reason; we were going to hit the home of Herman Goerings pet fighter group, "The Abbeville Boys" who flew those well known yellow nose fighter planes.
Colonel Maitland entered the briefing room from the rear as someone called, "Tench Hut," all rose as he walked to the front of the room and took a seat. Captain Hankey said, "As you were," we all sat down and he continued. The target is situated two and one half miles northeast of Abbeville, it is 2200 yards by 1200 yards of firm grass surfaces. There are three concrete runways that resemble the letter "A", and are well camouflaged; the runways probably not discernable. The field has shelters for sixty-eight aircraft and has been hit previously by the Heavies. We would like to write it off, this mission is very important, and its accomplishment a real contribution to the war effort!
We will put up twenty-one ships, the 322nd B-26 Group will be going on this one also. The 387th Bomb Group will fly a thirty-six plane diversion escorted by P-47s. Our escort will be eighty Spitfires from 11 Group RAF. Bomb loading as follows: nine aircraft will carry eight 300 pounders and twelve aircraft will each haul eighteen 100 pounders. All bombs are general purpose type with one-tenth nose fuse and one-fortieth second delay tail fuse.
The route from Boxted to Hastings where you will rendezvous at 12,000 feet with the escort at 1600 hours. Enemy landfall in vicinity of Cayeux, France then on to target, and bomb from 11,000 feet. Make a right turn off target and head for Ault where you will exit enemy territory at 10,000 feet. Cross the channel to Beachy Head, and back to base at 6,000 feet.
You can expect light type tracer type flak both going in and coming out as their coastal batteries protect full stretch of coast. There are no heavy type flak positions positively located along the route other than the target area! The target has three heavy gun sites, a six gun emplacement three-quarters of a mile northeast, a four gun position one mile southwest, and another four gun site three and three quarters mile southwest. Each of fourteen heavy guns has an effective fire range of roughly a three mile radius. Past reports indicate flak from here has been moderate to intense from 11,000 to 12,000 feet with high accuracy! You can expect a rather intense defense of the target because there are nineteen light anti-aircraft guns and numerous machine gun positions. There are no reported barrage balloons in the area.
Gunners stay alert for enemy fighters, Poix Airdrome twenty-two miles southwest of target has fifty single engine fighters. Lille sixty-three miles northeast has forty single engine fighters, and within an eighty-five mile radius the Germans have two hundred and fifty fighter planes. At this point in the proceedings Staff Sergeant James D. Wilkie and the author glanced at one another managing a weak smile. After all, this was our first air combat mission - our baptism of fire so to speak!
The briefing continued, Air-Sea-Rescue layouts: Tangmere on North Weald Fixer. Kenley number one on Tangmere Fixer, and Kenley number two on Biggin Hill. R/T kept to absolute minimum by bomber and escort. VHF bomber to fighter on Channel C. Call signs: bombers - WINDBAG, fighters - CROKEY, and Ground Station - PETRO. Close escort to operate on 11 Group Guard 1, under Kenley Control. 386th Station Control is SUNDIAL, 552nd Squadron - PEERATE, 554th Squadron - HILLBROWN, and 555th Squadron - TWODROP.
The synchronized method of bombing will be employed on this mission. Ship positions numbers one, four and seven of each flight will have Norden Bomb Sights. The lead ship sight is synchronized for range and deflection, while other ships with sights are only synchronized for range. All other aircraft will toggle on their element leader. The Manual Bombing Approach will be used because the Automatic Bombing Approach is not provided in the Martin B-26 Airplane.
Staff Sergeant Wilkie and the author were assigned to fly with Lieutenant George Howard and his crew. We walked up to him and introduced ourselves; he smiled and said, "Welcome aboard," then we caught sight of the name emblazoned on the nose section of his airplane, it read - "GAMBLERS LUCK!" Was this an omen?
Colonel Maitland lifted "TEXAS TARANTULA" 118284 RU-M off the runway at 1457 hours, followed in turn by twenty other Martin Marauders. The Group formed into three flights of seven ships each, and set course for Hastings on the southeast coast of England. The weather people certainly had the correct forecast; the sun was bright and the sky was clear at 12,000 feet over the English Coastline. The Spitfire escort began to appear all around the bomber formation at 1600 hours. They looked beautiful with their distinctive elliptical wings and war paint schemes against the azure backdrop!
The formation was approximately at mid point over the English Channel as Lieutenant Howard cut in on the intercom saying, "Time to test fire your guns, but be careful of the Spitfires!" The rattle of heavy machine gun fire could be heard from nearby bombers as the gunners commenced test firing. White puffs of vapor appeared a few inches in front of gun muzzles as the hot gases met the one degree below freezing air temperature.
The enemy coast came into view and landfall was made at Cayeux, France. The formation leader headed for the Initial Point ( I. P.) at Titre. The aiming point will be the center of the airfield. Heavy type flak bursts began to unfurl, black puffs of 88mm about 1,000 feet above the formation and to the left. Then a mixture of black and white bursts blossomed, it was moderate in amount and inaccurate.
Bombs away at 1619 hours, the leaders bombs hit to the right of the cross-bar runway and on southwest side of the target. Lieutenant Joseph Ross, Jr. released his bombs from "HELLS HURRICANE" 131634 YA-W piloted by Lieutenant Robert Sands. The bombardier panel indicated only eleven 100 pounders dropped, seven others remained on their shackles. The intervalometer malfunctioned and the electrical overload broke contact at the circuit breaker switch. Time did not permit the bombardier to reset the circuit breaker and release his bombs after the release point was definitely passed! He jettisoned them into the channel on the way back to England.
The formation quickly turned to the right off the target and began altitude let down as course was selected for Ault on the French Coast. Five crews noted twenty to thirty bursts of black flak nine miles northwest of the target area. Captain Leland Perrys crew flying, "MERT" 131616 RG-H lead plane in the high flight, spotted a Focke-Wulf 190 turning away because of the Spits. Colonel Maitlands plane was experiencing radio difficulties in communication with the escort fighters, they were not receiving his transmissions. Five enemy planes followed the Group for about one mile south, but made no attack. The bombers were now down to 10,000 feet and exited the enemy coast at 1623 hours. Seventeen and one half minutes later they were over Beachy Head where they took up a heading for base. The first plane landed at 1716 hours and the last man touched down at 1731 hours.
During interrogation Captain Hankey said, "Some bombs landed in the trees, buildings, and spread all over the field!" Heavy concentration of hits in the dispersal area on north side of airfield, some bombs observed hitting a group of five buildings on the south side of field. Other hits on center of the airdrome, none hit any runways. Results were rated as fair to good. Lieutenant George Howard said, "They had the right altitude but to both sides of formation, damn good thing altitude was changed. Flak was getting good just at the limit of range on the way out!"
No 386th aircraft received any battle damage, however the 322nd Group was not so fortunate, they were attacked by fifteen enemy planes encountered immediately after leaving the target. Combat was brief, nine fighters, FW-190s and Me-109s attacked from 6 oclock low. Others attacked from 4, 5, 7, and 8 oclock low position. Five of the bombers were damaged and one gunner slightly wounded by a machine gun bullet. One claim for a probably enemy plane shot down was filed by a B-26 gunner.
Sunday, August 1, 1943:
Mission was scheduled for 1045 hours, but called off because of weather. Same mission rescheduled with four hours to prepare. Called off again by Colonel Caldwell because 11 Group RAF fighters could not escort bombers. General Candee visited this base at time of briefing. The General was informed of the mission being called off. No flying activity this date.
Chester P. Klier