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|Tuesday, August 17, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 6:
Today is the first anniversary of the Eighth Air Force bombing raid by twelve B-17 Flying Fortresses on Rouen, France August 17, 1942.
Captain Hankey started briefing at 0500 hours, our target for today is the airdrome which is located at Bryas Sud, France. This ramrod attack is authorized by Third Bomb Wing Field Order number 41 to bomb target Z678. The airdrome is situated one and one-half miles northeast of St. Pol, about fifty miles in from the French Coast. The RAF reports this airdrome as active and must be taken out! Passive defenses: There is no report of any camouflage on the field, although it has no runways and could be mistaken for open grassy country. There are two dummy airfields nearby, four miles northeast and another six miles south-southeast. There is an active airdrome located four miles to the east, and another six miles south-southwest of the target.
The route out from base to Dungeness where you will rendezvous at 12,000 feet with Spitfires of the RAF at 1000 hours. Enemy landfall will be made over the French Town of Le Touquet, then on to the Initial Point (I. P.) at Hesdin; continue to the target where you will bomb from 11,000 feet. Make a left turn off target, and head for Hardelot on the coast where we will exit at 9,000 feet. The Group will cross the Coast of England at Dungeness after letting down to 6,000 feet over the channel, and return to base. We have two diversion airdromes on return, Manston with radio call sign LOVEJOY and West Malling, call sign ABUSH.
Our bombing approach will be manual and sighting to be synchronized method. All of our ships are loaded with eight 300 pound general purpose demolition bombs. Nose fuses are one-tenth second delay, and a forty-five second delay tail fuse.
Weather at take off time will be 1,000 foot ceiling over base, but you should break out at 2,000 feet. Visibility is two miles in haze. The south of England is reporting between six and eight-tenths altocumulus at 12,000 feet, and is dissipating rapidly. Over channel you can expect patches of low clouds and two-tenths cirrus estimated at 25,000 feet. The target will be clear with a visibility of ten to twelve miles. The return route should be unchanged.
Here is the flak situation: There is only one known heavy type four gun position which can reach within one and one-half miles of the Canche River that runs between the towns of Le Touquet and Hardelot. There are light type anti-aircraft gun positions along your route. A flak defended area about four and one-half miles northwest of target whose effective limits reach within two miles of your target, number of guns there is unknown! The target is defended by eight light positions.
The RAF attacking in a day operation at 10,000 feet encountered flak fire accurate for height but poor for position on July 15th, and also reported that defending enemy fighters flew through their own flak to press attacks on the bombers in that area! On July 31st the 322nd Bomb Group lost one ship to flak over the target, and the 323rd Bomb Group reported intense and accurate flak fire over the same target on August 12th. The enemy has up to one hundred single engine fighters available within a one hundred mile radius of your target!
A time hack was taken and the briefing ended at 0745 hours. Third Bomb Wing had originally scheduled the rendezvous over Dungeness for 0700, then delayed the time to 0800, and now it was revised to 1000 hours. The crews were at their planes by 0750 and started engines at 0825, ten minutes later they began to taxi to the active runway. The formation leader was Group Commander Colonel Lester Maitland. He led his thirty-six ships plus two extra planes, his wheels came up at 0844 hours. The last man off cleared the runway at 0913.
All thirty-eight aircraft had climbed up through the low overcast and were now circling the home airfield building up altitude as they flew in javelin down formations of six planes each. The first box of eighteen was made up a lead flight with a high flight which staggered up to the right, and the low flight staggered down to the left. The second box of eighteen was in the same flight configuration, and currently flying in trail some 1300 yards behind the lead box.
Attaining an altitude of 12,000 feet the formation departed at 0935 hours on a course of 178 degrees true for Dungeness. The Group reached rendezvous point on time but no fighter escort was to be seen in any direction. Colonel Maitland received a coded radio message from Third Bomb Wing at 1001 hours; time of the rendezvous was being changed from 1000 hours to 1024 hours! The location also changed from Dungeness to Hyth Elsham Wold! The message was repeated several times. The formation leader requested location of Hyth Elsham Wold; Third Bomb Wing acknowledged receipt of message but did not comply to request. 386th Group Operations Officer Captain Hankey
was flying with Major Beady in, "SON-OF-SATAN" 131613 YA-Y, lead ship of the second eighteen. Meanwhile Assistant Operations Officer Lieutenant Ervin Rodgers got on the land line to Third Wing immediately calling Colonel Caldwell for clarification of this change. The time had been changed, however Colonel Caldwell had issued no order to change the rendezvous point. Communications at Third Wing stated there was a mix up and they could not read writing of the order issued; at any rate the formation continued to circle, thus killing time until 1024 hours.
During the interim the lead navigator picked up Hyth some fourteen miles northeast of Dungeness on the coast, and the formation proceeding to orbit in that general area and awaiting the arrival of their fighter escort. By virtue of their standby radio operators, deputy lead plane crews were aware of what was going on; however during twenty-four minutes of continuous circling the uninformed flight crews were becoming a bit edgy and probably wondered if the "Old Man" had suddenly taken leave of his senses!
Bewitching hour arrived as the Spitfires literally appeared out of the blue; and the formation left Hyth heading out over the channel. Lieutenant Wilma Caldwell flying in number two position off Colonel Maitlands right wing could not keep up; his left engine was smoking badly as he took, "SHADRACK" 131586 RU-J out of formation and jettisoned their bomb load into the channel. Lieutenant Dewhurst crew flying in a ship named, "DINAH MIGHT" 131576 AN-Z lead ship in the low flight noted the time at 1033 approximately ten miles off the English Coast. Flight Officer Casey piloting "THE BAD PENNY" 131628 RU-L moved up to fill the vacant spot. Lieutenant Adams flying one of the extra planes, 134962 AN-K filled in number five position previously held by Casey. RAF Hurricane Fighter Planes joined the formation as part of the escort.
Flight Officer Watson was scheduled to fly in number three position of the high flight, for some reason he was delayed getting into position, so Lieutenant Lien flying his ship by the name of, "THUMBS UP" 131621 RU-P in number six position saw the void ahead and he moved up to number three spot. Lieutenant Novitsky, other extra pilot flying in, "MARGIE" 134970 RG-L slid into and filled the now open number six position. About that time Flight Officer Watson arrived flying his ship called, "4F" 131771 RU-R, then realized all positions were covered; made a 180 degree turn, jettisoned his bombs and returned to base landing at 1106 hours.
The formation a few miles off shore was paralleling the French Coast as test firing was completed. The left tail gun failed to fire on, "BARBARA" 131743 RU-S piloted by Lieutenant Mayfield. His left engine cylinder head temperature gage went out also, but they pressed on as scattered patches of low clouds lay over the channel. Three miles off the enemy coast the Group made a left turn into Le Touquet commencing evasive action of gentle turns of approximately twenty degrees every fifteen seconds under the direction of the lead navigator, Lieutenant Richard Slein. Four bursts of 88mm flak came up from the costal area at 1036 hours as they took up a heading for the I.P. near Hesdin. Bomb bay doors were opened over the I.P. and the lead bombardier, Lieutenant James C. Dunn directed two legs of evasive action. The lead crew sought the target which blended in perfectly with surrounding countryside!
The Colonel, flying, "TEXAS TARANTULA" 118284 RU-M was on a 70 degree true heading during the ninety second long bomb run at 11,000 feet. Strange as it seemed no flak came up to harass the bombers as they released their bombs at 1051 hours. The majority of bombs from the first eighteen fell on the landing field., the remainder falling to the west across the railway line and in fields. Seven bomb hits were seen to straddle the Bryas-Osterville Road.
A layer of altocumulus clouds lay just south of the target with an estimated altitude of 11,000 feet. Visibility was twelve miles as Major Sherman Beaty brought the second eighteen over the target at 10,500 feet. Their bombs fell in three main patterns, the lead flight hit the landing area, the low flights bombs hit in a field to the west. Bombs from the high flight hit three-quarters of a mile northeast of the target center. Fifteen to twenty hits were noted across a light type flak position. Probably a direct hit by one of three bombs on a searchlight location about twenty yards northeast of another light type flak position. In all 232 bombs fell on the target with results rated as fair.
The formation made a left turn off the target and resumed evasive action on the way out. The Casey crew observed a belt of searchlights to the south of Le Touquet. A very heavy concentration of anti-aircraft fire giving a barrage effect was seen; probably up to one hundred bursts of black flak four miles to the right and coming from the coastal area near Boulogne was noted. Some crews believed it was directed at another formation. The Group crossed out over Hardelot at 9,000 feet and took up a heading for Dungeness, and then letting down to 6,000 feet as they flew over the channel and back to base.
Returning crews found Boxted had nine-tenths cloud cover with a base of 1,000 feet and visibility near five miles. The first ship landed at 1145 hours. During the interrogation Colonel Maitland said, "Change of place as well as change of time was given in code; the wrong letters sent to indicate change of rendezvous point. Should have been only change of time!" Lieutenant Wilma Caldwell said, "A better way must be found for going up through overcast!" The Casey crew requested colored lenses for glasses. They saw a dummy airfield to left of target going in. The Perkins crew noted dummy aircraft on the field, and were easily spotted, other crews reported same.
Staff Sergeant John Mc Queeney, tail gunner on Lieutenant Blackburns crew flying in a plane named, "HELLS BELLE" 131623 YA-T saw two groups of railroad cars on sidings at Hesdin on route in. Fifty cars were observed in one group and thirty cars in the second group. He could not identify what the cargos might be. Several of the crews reported seeing ten to twelve enemy vessels at or near Boulogne; one of which was a fairly large freighter thought to be heading out to sea. This observation confirmed by ten flight crews.
Seven aircraft failed to bomb the target and jettisoned their bomb loads into the channel on the way back. "NEMO" and SON-OF-SATAN had intervalometer problems, A plane called, "PERKATORY" did not drop because the flight leader failed to release. "STAR DUST", "PAY OFF" and "CLOUD HOPPER 2nd" all had bomb rack malfunctions. The formation followed the ordered route and all ships returned safely. A 555th Squadron Pilot, Lieutenant Roy Voorhees flying, "THE YANKEE GUERRILLA" 134946 YA-L in number five position in the high flight; second box wrote in his combat diary, "This was a fairly quiet ride - just a milk run!"
Chester P. Klier