<< back >>
|Wednesday, August 18, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 7:
The 0700 hour briefing was underway and the thirty-eight crews present were informed of todays target; the airdrome at Woensdrecht, Holland. The author and crew squirmed a bit at the revelation, our last mission just three days ago was to the same place! We were told the 322nd Bomb Group would be hitting the airdrome at Lille-Vendeville in France with thirty-six aircraft. The attack to coincide with ours in an effort to thin out enemy fighter reaction!
Woensdrect Airdrome is situated two and one half miles east of Woensdrect proper and about thirty-five miles in from the Dutch Coast. The airdrome is approximately 1100 yards by 1100 yards, somewhat irregular in shape and has no runways. The vital points are located in a woods off the east boundary where there are thirty-one aircraft shelters, a small hangar, and some barrack huts. There are twenty aircraft shelters at the edge of a woods along the north boundary. Our aiming point will be the dispersal areas located on the northeast side of the field. All ships are loaded with ten 300 pound bombs, nose fuses are set for one-tenth second delay, and tail fuses have a forty-five second delay. You will rendezvous at 12,000 feet, bomb at 11,000 feet, and exit enemy territory at 9,000 feet.
The route out from base to Clacton-On-Sea to 51 Degrees 36 Minutes North, 03 Degrees 33 Minutes East; then 51 Degrees 36 Minutes North, 03 Degrees 58 Minutes east to the target. Route back from target turn right to Goes, to 51 Degrees 40 Minutes North, 03 Degrees 33 Minutes East over to Clacton-On-Sea and back to base. We have two diversion airdromes on return, Martlesham Heath and Bradwell.
Our escort will be nine squadrons of Spitfires; five close escort, two escort cover, and two high cover. Zero Hour is 1000. Enemy fighter reaction is to be expected with thirty single engine fighters based on the target! It is reported there are an additional thirty single engine fighters approximately twenty-five miles northeast at Gilze Rijen. The intelligence data indicates a force of one hundred and ten German fighters are available from seventy-two to one hundred miles from the target.
Air-Sea-Rescue facilities available on VHF Channel C by use of normal R/T distress procedure to PETRO and switching IFF to emergency. Splasher Beacons in use are 5D, 6E, 7F, 8G, 11H, 13B, and 15C from 1100 to 2000 hours. Bomber to bomber frequency is 5259 KC. Bomber call sign is VANTAGE, fighter call sign is PLATFORM, and Ground Sector Control call sign is PETRO TWO. On return Group leader or deputy will report to Wing on nearing English Coast. VHF R/T must be held to a minimum and used only in an emergency. Aircraft in distress will fire a red flare. Group will abandon mission if unable to rendezvous or maintain contact with fighter escort.
Lieutenant Arthur Anderson spelled out the weather situation; base during take off will be three to five-tenths medium cloud at 10,000 to 12,000 feet, visibility two to four miles. The route out is overcast, medium cloud 9,000 feet rising and breaking up over enemy coast, 15,000 to 17,000 feet. There will be scattered thunderstorms over North Sea with heavy precipitation. Visibility four to six miles except in precipitation. Temperature at 12,000 feet will be 01 degree Centigrade. The target looks like eight to nine-tenths medium cloud at 15,000 to 17,000 feet with cirrus showing through in breaks. Visibility is six miles with horizontal visibility at level of planes should be fifteen to twenty miles. The return route will be same as route out except decrease in precipitation. Boxted will have nine-tenths medium cloud 12,000 to 15,000 feet, and visibility will fall into the two to four mile range.
The customary watch synchronization ritual being accomplished the briefing ended at 0806 hours. Within five minutes flight crews were checking over their assigned aircraft and loading on flak suits and other personal gear. Ships of the first eighteen started engines at 0841 and began to taxi out at 0846. The second eighteen plus two extra aircraft started their engines at 0849, taxiing out to the perimeter track at 0854 hours.
Major Sherman Beaty was the formation leader flying his ship, "SON-OF-SATAN" 131613 YA-Y, they were off at 0900 hours. His left wingman Lieutenant Raymond Sanford who was flying, "HELLS FURY" 131625 YA-R had some anxious seconds just at take off; his right engine propeller governor went up to 2850 r.p.m. Thanks to the fast hands of his co-pilot Lieutenant W.E. Ruple as he manipulated controls located on the pilots pedestal, the situation was resolved quickly! Lieutenant Jean Blackwelder had engine trouble with his assigned aircraft, "SEDUCTIVE SUSIE" 131738 RG-O, as a result did not make take off. All other scheduled bombers were now in the various stages of forming up and heading out for rendezvous with the RAF over Clacton-By-Sea.
Lieutenant Emmet Curran had taken off at 0920 and was now experiencing an engine problem with his ship, "THUMBS UP" 131621 RU-P forcing him to abandon his number four position in the low flight, second eighteen. His flight time for that day was one hour flat! Lieutenant Wilma Caldwell took over that spot, and the extra pilot Lieutenant James M. Peters flying, "BOOMERANG" 131631 RU-G filled in the now vacant number five position of that same flight. Rendezvous came off on time and the formation was out over the North Sea carrying out the usual test firing procedure. Some 2391 rounds of fifty caliber armor piecing, incendiary, and tracer ammunition was expended. An empty shell case knocked a hole in the fairing of the upper right package gun on, "PRIVY DONNA" 131658 RU-A; and the waist gunner on "HELLS FURY" managed to break off the rear sight on his right hand waist gun!
Visibility fell off sharply at 1017 hours and the formation was immediately engulfed in a heavy rain storm; it persisted for several minutes causing the Group leader to miss his prescribed enemy landfall point slightly to south of course. They broke out of the heavy clouds and corrected immediately to their planned route to the I.P. Major Beaty led his bombers over the I.P. as bomb bay doors were opened, and flak appeared on both sides of the formation and out in front as well. The 88mm black flak bursts moderate in amount were now becoming intense and fairly accurate as bombs were released at 1038 hours. A piece of flak cracked the pilots windshield of Captain Justin Lubojasky flying his aircraft named, "HOT PISTOL" 131633 RG-P. "THE MAD RUSSIAN" 131600 AN-U being flown by Lieutenant Klimovich was struck in many places; a hole in top of forward part of fuselage, the radio operators window was cracked, another piece tore a hole in the leading edge of the wing near the right engine nacelle on the inboard side.
The formation rolled into the prescribed right hand turn off the target as the flak continued to plague them. Bomb strikes could be seen in the center of the field and in the north dispersal as well as the east dispersal areas. Other bomb bursts were a bit short and to the left of target. Some hit along edge of the dispersal area. In all, 295 bombs hit the target with fair results.
A red flare was seen about two miles southeast of the target coming from a ship flown by Lieutenant Petit called, "PRIVY DONNA." Both engines cut out at the same time, both of the propellers were merely wind-milling as the ship dropped down several thousand feet below the formation. Lieutenant Romney Spencer flying, "DOTTIE" 134954 RG-Q in number three position of the high flight, noted that Lieutenant Petits right engine was smoking as his plane dropped out of number two spot in the low flight! Lieutenant Petit and crew had other problems beside the engines acting up; their bombs failed to release and his bombardier Lieutenant Dale Ringwald could not make the bomb bay doors close! The pilot and his co-pilot Lieutenant Carol Larson combined efforts working the fuel mixture quadrants, fuel booster and engine primer switches in a desperate attempt to restart the powerless engines! Luck was with them as both engine responded with a surge of power. After assuring themselves the power plants would take it, they gingerly began the long climb back up to the formation level.
The outer defenses on the north side of Antwerp were now engaging the bombers with heavy type flak. Lieutenant Gus Hoffman pilot of, "OUR BABY" 131608 AN-Q could see flak holes in the outer leading edge of his left wing; the left side horizontal stabilizer, and right side elevator were also riddled with flak fragments. Flak holes in the navigator compartment and up through the ships belly just aft of the nose well doors was evident. The underside of the fuselage was hit near the tail turret severing electrical power to that unit.
A red flare was fired from the number three ship, high flight of the first eighteen; it was plane number 131775 AN-N piloted by Lieutenant Mullins. Heavy black smoke poured from both engines as the ship seemed to go down like an express elevator; three Spitfire Pilots swooped down to give him cover during his descent. Finally he regained power some 6,000 feet below the bomber stream. By the time he started the arduous climb back up to Group level the second box had already passed over him so he tacked onto the rear of that formation.
The anti-aircraft fire continued as the formation leader received a radio message from Third Wing saying, "Mission recalled!" The author flying with the Donald Vincent crew in, "BLACK MAGIC" 131620 RG-R number five position, high flight in the second box of eighteen was now out over the water; they noted flak coming up from a gun position near the mouth of a river flowing from Antwerp to the North Sea. Staff Sergeant Zephire Peterson bombardier on that crew stated the ground gunners had the altitude right but they were over leading the high flight by at least 100 yards. While flying back over the North Sea a submarine was observed at 1115 hours sailing a zig-zag course at position 51 Degrees 41 Minutes North and 01Degree 13 Minutes East. Six to eight ships appeared to be in a convoy moving north from Walcheren Island. Were pin-pointed at position 51 Degrees 39 Minutes North and 03 Degrees 36 Minutes East.
Lieutenant Mullins was trailing some distance behind the formation as they crossed the coast of England, the escort fighters left the Group, and the lone B-26 flew on by itself. Meanwhile all the other bombers had landed and crews were in interrogation, at last Lieutenant Mullins was seen on final approach much to the relief of the airplane counters standing on the outside deck of the control tower.
Returning crews reported seeing thirty to forty-five vessels dispersed in the waterways and inlets within the Dutch Coast, particular in Ooster Schelde. Lieutenant Klimovich crew saw a ten gun battery about five miles west of the target. Many complaints about the poor food in the mess hall. All crews thought the fighter escort was excellent, and Spitfires stayed with the Group all the way to the target and return route. Many crews spoke of the red flares fired in the target area. Captain Perrys ship, "MERT" had a flak hole in the top turret dome. Lieutenant Burgess said his plane, "PANSY YOKUM" 131638 RG-N received a flak hit in the leading edge of the right wing between the engine and landing light. The left landing light on, "DOTTIE" was broken by flak. The ships Plexiglas nose and right wing tip of, "MISS MARY" 131650 AN-O which was flown by Lieutenant L.E. Haber. Lieutenant Erving La Framboise flying, 131607 AN-R picked up a flak hit in the inboard side of his right engine nacelle.
While our Group was on the bomb run over Holland; the 322nd Bomb Group had reached their I.P. four and one-half minutes early due to unexpected variance from briefed wind conditions. The lead bombardier lost contact with his pilot when the intercom became unserviceable. At that point twenty-two aircraft dropped their bombs on an airfield which was later found to be other than the primary target. The bombed airfield was located south of Armentieres and southwest of Lille; described as having a triangle of runways, and a dispersal area on east side of the field. Bomb strikes were observed on southeast corner among airfield installations. The other fourteen crews discovered the mistake and made a 180 degree right turn which brought the second box directly over the primary which they bombed on the route back. They were in heavy flak for some four minutes! On the way out they ran into heavy flak south of Dunkerque which was fired in salvoes of four to six bursts at a time, many of their aircraft were damaged!
Later in the day at 1600 hours, Colonel Maitland met with his Squadron COs, along with Squadron and Group Operations Officers, also flight leaders met with the Wing Commander, Group Commander and Squadron Leaders of 11 Group RAF. The Wing Commander stated that he lost us many times during over evasive actions thus fighter escort was unable to protect us. The assembled decided that evasive action would be sacrificed for better fighter protection. The decision was made that the bombers would take two turns of evasive action upon crossing the enemy coast and then a straight course would be flown to the target; other than navigational turns of course. One or two turns of evasive action in the vicinity of the target would be taken. The wing Commander also stated that our turn off the target was too shallow. It was agreed that a sharper and more definite turn would be made!
Thursday, August 19, 1943:
Local flying only. Tracer 1 was cancelled by Third Wing and assigned to another Group. All flying ended at 2000 hours due to darkness. All quiet last night. Telephone mission warning received from Third Bomb Wing at 0347 and cancelled at 1140 hours after target was changed. Telephone mission received for tomorrow at 2042 hours.
Friday, August 29, 1943:
Mission scheduled for 1700 rendezvous, thirty-six aircraft loaded with ten 300 pound general purpose bombs, target 2659, no other information. Waited until 1050 for more information and Field Order, but none came. Lieutenant Rogers called Third Bomb Wing. Lieutenant Cash ( A-3 Duty Officer ) said mission was scrubbed, and we would not be needed for balance of the day. This Group was told to continue with training. At 1246 hours Third Bomb Wing called saying the mission would be carried out as outlined previously. At 1338 hours Third Bomb Wing called and scrubbed mission again, and 386th Group would continue training until notified!
Saturday, August 21, 1943:
No flying because of very low ceiling all day. Captain Hankey and Colonel Maitland flew, "TEXAS TARANTULA" 118284 RU-M to Earls Colne for Wing Conference at 1100 hours. Field Order 49 received at 1420 hours for mission tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, winding up a two day pass in London, Lieutenants A.M. Lien and Wilma T. Caldwell picked up a photo they had made yesterday. Then went to the Odeon Theater to see the movie, "Coney Island." Caldwell said it was the finest movie he had ever seen. Later they caught a train at Liverpool Station and returned to Boxted. The next day he would be killed in action while flying on a mission in France. As a result he would be posthumously awarded, "The Distinguished Service Cross" our Nations second highest award for heroism in combat!
Chester P. Klier