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|Sunday, August 22, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 8:
Target: Airdrome located at Beaumont le Roger, France.
Lieutenant Wilma T. Caldwell wrote in his diary, "Up at 3:00 A.M. for briefing. We were in the planes and ready to go, but mission was scrubbed!" The next entry for this date would be written late in the evening, and by a different hand! The mission was rescheduled for late afternoon. Bomb load for each aircraft will be ten 300 pound general purpose demolition bombs. Both nose and tail fuses set for one-tenth second delay. Any bombs not dropped on target will be jettisoned into the channel.
11th Group RAF will provide eight squadrons of Spitfires for fighter cover for the two boxes of eighteen planes each we will put up. The 322nd Bomb Group will be operating northeast of our target area at about the same time as we go in. Encounters with large numbers of German fighters is expected. S-2 stated recon photos indicate the opposition force in the target zone is somewhere between sixty and eighty single engine fighter aircraft. The Germans have twenty-four airfields within a fifty mile radius of the target. Abandon mission if unable to rendezvous or maintain contact with fighter escort. Any aircraft in distress fire a red flare! Flares are single star AN-M43A1 and double star AN-M42A1.
The route as follows; base to Shoreham, enemy landfall eight miles west of Fecamp at Etretat, and on to the I.P. (Initial Point) at Broglie. Then a left turn commencing bomb run, axis of attack is southwest to northeast. The aiming point will be dispersal areas at west end of airfield. Left turn off target and exit enemy coast at 9,000 feet over Fecamp, cross channel to Shoreham and return to base. Aircraft with Norden Bomb Sights will use synchronized method, aircraft without sights will toggle on their element leaders. Bombing altitude will be at 10,000 feet.
Evasive action will begin three miles off enemy coast with gentle turns of approximately 20 degrees every fifteen seconds. Evasive action to be under the direction of the lead navigator to the I.P. located five miles southwest of target. At that time lead bombardier will take command until the bomb run is completed. The lead navigator will resume direction of evasive action from this point to three miles after leaving enemy coast.
The weather in the target area is expected to be three to four-tenths cloud cover at 8,000 feet, visibility six miles. Temperature is minus 04 degrees Centigrade at altitude. Wind will be from 230 degrees at 22 m.p.h. Radio call sign information: Bombers, Windbag on VHF 83 Group Guard. Bombers VHF to fighters on Channel C. Air-Sea Rescue facilities also available on Channel C. Ground Sector Control call sign is Simpson. Fighter call sign is Crokay. Target cover fighters will operate under Hornchurch Control on 83 Ops 1. Fighter sweep will be under Kenley Control on Kenley Ops 1. The close escort will operate on 83 Group Guard under Kenley Control.
At 1710 hours a green light flashed from the mobile tower at the end of the runway and formation leader Major Franklin Harris was rolling in "RAT POISON" 131606 AN-S. The remainder of his eighteen ship formation took off in thirty second intervals. At 1710 hours second box leader Major Thomas Ramsey was leading his second box of eighteen ships into the air and began forming up over Boxted. The thirty-six plane formation left base at approximately 1754 hours at an altitude of 10,000 feet. Climbing on course with a magnetic heading of 226 degrees to Shoreham, they arrived at rendezvous point about forty-five seconds before designated time, the Group mission number eight was finally underway!
Support Spitfires joined the 386th bomber formation at 12,000 feet over Shoreham as planned. Four squadrons provided close escort, two more for escort cover, and the other two squadrons wheeled overhead as top cover. They were told at their briefing the two bomber boxes would be separated by approximately 1,000 yards astern during the run to the target. Fighter Wing Leaders are to dispose squadrons to give maximum protection to both boxes of eighteen bombers.
A few miles out over the channel Lieutenant Duane Petit flying a ship sporting a large "Question" mark on the side of its nose, (?) 131635 RU-H began to experience a propeller problem. He slid his aircraft out of number two position in the low flight of the second eighteen. His bombardier jettisoned their load into the channel, and they headed for home base at Boxted. Flight Officer Casey moved up forward from his number five position to fill in the now vacated number two spot in the low flight. Meanwhile another formation was heading out against the enemy. The weather was CAVU as thirty-six B-26s from the 322nd Bomb Group climbed on course to their rendezvous point on the coast. No fighter cover was to be seenat Group briefing they were told eleven squadrons from the 11th Group RAF would support them during their raid on Poix Nord Airdrome. The enemy had twenty fighter planes and thirty fighter bombers based there.
The first box low flight leader received a signal from Wing at Zero plus 20 at 1808 hours, he attempted to contact the formation leader and deputy leader without success. About this time an aircraft developed a badly smoking engine and could not keep up! The pilot peeled off and headed for home base. At 1820 hours a recall message was received by the 322nd Bomb Group leader, turned his remaining thirty-five planes homeward. This would prove costly for the 386th Bomb Group, because it would free up a large number of enemy fighters in the northeast sector!
The 386th Group was nearly halfway across the channel at 1834 hours as Flight Officer John Albers flying "SEDUCTIVE SUSIE" 131738 RG-O, and Lieutenant Leonard Burgess flying "PANSEY YOKUM" 131638 RG-N observed a Spitfire dive into the water, no chute was seen! The enemy coast at Fecamp came into view as the formation began evasive action as scheduled. Landfall was made at 1845 hours near Etretat. They were greeted by light type flak with red tracer, it burst with white puffs, was intense but somewhat inaccurate! The target lay ahead fifty miles inland on a 155 degree course. At that time the formation was flying about two miles west of briefed route.
Midway to the I.P. heavy type flak with greasy black puffs was initiated from the gun batteries located at Triqueville, it was moderate in amount but was inaccurate. A ship named "BLAZING HEAT" 131585 AN-J was flown in number four position lead flight of the first box by Lieutenant J.A. Gianatsis. His radioman Tech Sergeant R.E. Martin reported seeing twenty oil storage tanks on left approaching target area near a canal at 1850 hours. Minutes later about twenty or so bursts of heavy type flak came up over Bernay just prior to reaching the I.P.
With the I.P. at hand, Major Harris made a left turn onto the 195 m.p.h. bomb run. Those four-tenths clouds at 4,000 feet over the target will hamper Lead Bombardier Lieutenant W.E. Smith in his endeavor to line up the ammunition dump aiming point. Lieutenant Melvin Giles crew in ship 134962 AN-K number six position in lead flight of the first box can see a white arrow on the ground while approaching the target. It is pointing in the opposite direction from the target. Lieutenant Bud Lamberts crew in number three position of the high flight in second box flying in "BLACK MAGIC" 131620 RG-R also noted the phenomenon!
Heavy type inaccurate flak appeared over the target as it was bombs away, soon bomb bursts were observed on the airfield and adjacent area. The aiming point had been missed with results rated only as fair. Major Thomas Ramseys second box of eighteen on a 25 degree heading with his Lead Bombardier Lieutenant L.L. Smehyl zeroed in with his bomb sight from an attitude of 9,500 feet. His bombs smashed across the dispersal area in the vicinity of the bomb dump, his results were rated as good.
Because of a short in the electrical system of "TEXAS TARANTULA" 118284 RU-M the intercom was cutting out as Captain Thomas J. Whites crew spotted six to ten aircraft parked on the southwest corner of the target airfield. Aerial photographer Private Charles Petro in the ships waist received his thrill for the day when a piece of flak tore a hole through the rudder of his ship 134962 AN-K piloted by Lieutenant Giles. Lieutenant Robert B. Spencer flying "HONEY CHILE" 131636 RU-B received a flak hit in the aft bomb bay which ripped an eighteen inch gash in the bulkhead. Some smaller fragments wounded Tech Sergeant R.R. Faith as he rode in the top turret position of that plane.
Just after clearing the target area air activity picked up at a furious pace above and behind the bomber formation. A mixed bag of FW-190s and Me-109s, sixty in number were trying to break through the Spitfire cover. At 1903 hours a Spitfire was seen to go down smoking. No chute was observed as reported by the Lieutenant Burgess crew flying in "PANSY YOKUM". Lieutenant D.H. Dewhurst flying "DINAH MIGHT" 131576 AN-Z along with a Group operations officer who was flying as co-pilot saw Spitfires chase some Me-109s into a clouda moment later three aircraft lay crashed on the ground, their identity unknown!
The sun was at the 9 oclock position as the air action was moving ever closer to the bombers. Captain Whites crew called out a dog fight of eight to ten planes about a mile behind the low flight in the second box. In a flash three FW-190s broke out of the pack making straight for the low flight from 6 clock low position. Their wings lit up with belching 20mm cannon fire. All of the tail gunners returned fireone of them was 32 year old Staff Sergeant Henry Popp firing from his tail spot with the Casey crew. Waist gunners and top turrets took up the fight as enemy planes broke away both high and low.
Lieutenant W.T. Caldwell was flying a ship named "PAY OFF" 134971 RU-Q in number six position of the low flight in the second box. He was taking 20mm hits in the bomb bay, smoke began to pour out as the fire spread. His right engine burst into flame, he was able to hold formation momentarily, then took his plane out of formation to the left. Tech Sergeant C.H. Burdick, Jr. was wounded as he manned the top turret of that plane. One parachute appeared as the ship lost altitude, but was still under control as it entered a cloud bank. He picked up a bit of altitude and headed toward the formation, a second parachute was seen to open. The plane rolled over on its back and then into a vertical dive. The aircraft came through the second cloud bank in three parts, all burning fiercely as viewed by the Captain Caney crew flying "BOOMERANG" 131631 RU-G, they were in the number four position of the lead flight in the second box.
Co-pilot on the Caldwell crew, Lieutenant Andrew Lindsay picks up the narration just prior to his bailing out of the stricken bomber: "The gasoline and hydraulic lines had been punctured, the hydraulic fluid and gasoline made a furnace of our bomb bay almost at once. Under those circumstances the likely hood of an explosion was present every second. W.T. with complete disregard for his own life maintained control of the aircraft until his crew could abandon it. No more could be expected of any man. When I left the cockpit, W.T. was still on the controls, smoke was so thick I could see the instruments only with difficulty." End of co-pilot statement. Lieutenant Lindsay received burns on his face and hands as he exited the plane.
In the same low flight, Aerial Engineer Staff Sergeant Billie B. Boyd, Jr. was manning his single waist gun in ship 131628 RU-L which was piloted by Flight Officer Durward Casey. A FW-190 dipped under their B-26 at 6 oclock low position and out at 4 oclock level. Eighteen year old Boyd rattled off one long burst from his 50 caliber Browning Machine gun at the attacking aircraft. Captain Clarence Mc Kinney flying as an observer in ship 134947 RU-K flown by Lieutenant Emmett Curran in number four position of the same low flight picks up the narration: "Staff Sergeant Boyd was firing at the FW-190 at a range of 25 yards. His fire raked the enemy plane from rudder to engine cowl, then the pilots head lurched back as the plane began emitting smoke and flames as it went into a spin. It crashed on the ground burning furiously! That particular FW-190 had a light gray bottom, black nose and yellow around the numbers and insignia." The Staff Sergeant received full credit for destroying that enemy plane.
The Group was now eight miles northwest of the target. A railroad and a highway crossed at the southwest corner of a town called Brionne as the enemy fighters continued to press the attack. One Me-109 apparently attacking the Spitfire escort dove from 3,000 feet above the bomber formation and 700 yards to the left low flight which put him directly into the sun at 10 oclock position. Lieutenant Raymond Sanford was the pilot of "HELLS FURY" 131625 YA-R was in number four position of low flight in the first box of eighteen. The top turret gunners of all number four ships always guard into the sun. Pilot Sandfords top turret man Staff Sergeant W.E. Turner was on the ball as he picked up the diving fighter going from 9 0clock to 8 0clock position. He fired three quick bursts of twenty rounds each at the fleeing enemy but did not see any hits.
Captain Caney crew in aircraft "BOOMERANG" developed a top turret problem. The right hand gun ammunition booster ran away and piled up ammo all over the top of that guns receiver section and gun sight, thus blocking the gunners view and stopping that gun from firing! Lieutenant Gordon Purdy was flying "LETHAL LADY" 131646 RU-C in number three position in the lead flight second box. His tail gunner Staff Sergeant A.J. Hietkamp saw a FW-190 coming in at 6 oclock low, he commenced firing a long burst of some 80 rounds at about 700 yard range. He did not see any hits as the Jerry broke down and away at 7 oclock low. However his waist gunner Staff Sergeant J.R. Dixon saw the enemy dive away to the left emitting smoke, and then disappear into the clouds!
The air battle ended as quickly as it had begunfriendly fighters flanked the formation as the coast at Fecamp came into view. The Group had let down to 9,000 feet as they were instructed at briefing, now a new confrontation to deal with! A large number of German Rheinmetal 37mm light anti-aircraft guns began barking into life with an extremely intense barrage of tracer flak. White flak puffs tattooed a crazy pattern in the deep blue sky around the Martin Marauders as they exited enemy territory. Major Ramsey noted the time at 1914 hours. The escort peeled off as the Group flew over Shoreham heading for base. All aircraft were very low on fuel supply upon landing. Lieutenant Irving La Framboise taxied in ship 131607 AN-R with only 15 or so gallons remaining in his tanks!
The interrogation room was a lively place as flight crews waited to file their official air combat reports. All seemed to be talking at once and making hand gestures to emphasize the battle tactics of the enemy interceptors. Many crews reported seeing Lieutenant Caldwells plane go down on fire. One of them was Lieutenant Robert Perkins crew who were flying in "PERKATORY" 131627 YA-Q in number six position low flight first box saw four parachutes fully open. The Giles crew expressed their view of the food not being conducive at operational altitude. The Lieutenant Lovell crew also complained for better foodtoo many gastric pains!
Lieutenant Purdys crew reported six barges in the River Seine. Lieutenant Cox crew reported fourteen enemy aircraft sighted in the target area. Also stated some flights were mixed up over target. Flight Officer Albers crew reported machine gun fire just off the coast north of Fecamp. Lieutenant Burgess crew saw three small boats in the harbor at Fecamp. Lieutenant Lovell crew reported a destroyer, eight small boats, and three barges in the harbor at Fecamp. Heavy gun concentration along the coast and plenty of activity near Le Harve. Major E.F. Quinn flying co-pilot with Major Harris observed a freighter moving north at slow speed. Major Harris crew said I.P. at five miles from target was too close for maneuvering! Major Ramsey stated, "Follow bomb run decided upon. Dont route us over known flak areas, particularly over defended ports, and stay high over light flak installations. Lieutenant Meyers crew commented on evasive action taken; was not sufficient, track was not changed, merely attitude of aircraft.
The Caldwell crew: Lieutenants W.T. Caldwell, Jr. KIAA.G. Lindsay, evadedF.A. Schultz. KIATech Sergeant C.H. Burdick, evadedStaff Sergeants W.A. Callahan, POWE.C. Sharpe, POW. Callahan managed to make contact with some members of the French Underground and made it to the Spanish Border, only to be picked up by the Germans when they shook down a train. Burdick made contact with the Underground as well, but no details are known how he evaded. Sharpe was captured immediately due to the fact he landed directly into the Field Headquarters of a Panzer Unit. He was injured during his landing because his chute did not fully deploy. Lindsay was able to connect with a young boy who was in the French Resistance. Later he was turned over to a man by the name of Henri and his wife Honor who lived in Evreux, France. His wife took care of Andrew Lindsays burns on his face and hands and fed him during his painful recuperation time. Later he moved in with Jacques and Magdeleine Mourlet, they lived in the town of Quimper (Normandy). They were active in the Underground movement also. They lived up stairs and a Gestapo Officer lived down stairs. The house only three doors from the Gestapo Headquarters. The Germans never found out. Eventually Lindsay was well enough to travel and he was passed on to another group that got him over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain, and finally back to England. Lieutenant W.T. Caldwell was posthumously awarded the second highest medal that the U.S.A. bestows upon an individual for heroism in combat, the DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS.
Later that same night a warbling air raid siren reminded the Group members this day was not yet over. Moments later the off beat rhythm of German aircraft engines could be heard overhead at Boxted. The author along with several other 552nd Squadron members peered into the night sky as one aircraft flew over us approximately 600 feet of altitude.
His navigation lights were on and a flashing amber light was visible on the underside. He called the control tower in perfect English and asked for a runway; switched on his landing lights, put down his landing gear on final approachapproximately half way down the runway he dropped a load of Butterfly bombs (anti-personnel bombs) and climbed out rapidly. British night fighters jumped the Me-210 intruder as Assistant Operations Officer Lieutenant Ervin Rodgers gave a blow by blow account of the air action over the loud speaker system. The enemy aircraft was seen wreath in flames from wing tip to wing tip as it spun down and crashed.
A bit of humor prevailed when one of the onlookers remarked, "The engine sounds are getting fainter, they must be going away"another voice was heard saying, "I reckon not, sounds ta me like theys goin higher sos they kin drop em harder!" No damage or casualties were reported at Boxted Air Base tonight.
Chester P. Klier