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|Friday, August 27, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 9:
Third Bomb Wing Field Order Number 55 was in effect; the Group is scheduled to bomb the airdrome at Poix Nord, France, the target is identified as Z364. Captain Hankey the Group Operations Officer began the briefing at 0500 hours.
The target description was worked up by First Lieutenant A.L. Jacobs. The airdrome is located two and one-half miles northwest of the city of Poix and lies on main road from Poix to Abbeville, which forms the west boundary of the airfield. This is an important base for German fighters, with complete maintenance and storage facilities; and in addition its the present base for twenty single engine fighters and thirty fighter-bombers. This base must be made useless to the enemy! The field has a grass surface with two runways. The east-west runway is 1850 yards in length, the other is 1800 yards long and runs north-northeast to south-southwest. Pictures taken on July 31, 1943 do not show any real effort to camouflage the area, however the runways are not clearly visible. There is no known dummy field indicated nearby, but there is another landing ground about nine miles due south.
There is a hangar in the north dispersal area and a suspected fuel storage off the north boundary, and near buildings on the west boundary. Bomb and ammo stores are located one and one-quarter miles to the north in an orchard north north-west of Hermilly, and one and one-half miles to the northeast on either side of the track. There are subsidiary stores in the north and south dispersal areas. Small buildings on west side boundary include headquarters and stores depot. Twenty-four aircraft shelters are in the woods on the north side, and twelve more in the south dispersal area. This target was hit in June when forty-three aircraft were photographed on the field. The field was very quickly repaired , indicating the importance of this airdrome.
Captain Thornton will lead the first box of eighteen and bomb from 11,000 feet. Major Beaty will lead the second box and bomb from 10,500 feet. Each ship is loaded with ten 300 pound bombs, nose and tail fuses have one-tenth second delay. We have no secondary target, all bombs to be jettisoned into the channel if you fail to bomb the primary! The 552nd and 555th Squadrons will put up twelve ships each. The 553rd and 554th will each supply six ships each plus two extras.
The route out from base to Dungeness where we rendezvous with our Spitfire escort at 12,000 feet, 0800 hours. Make enemy landfall at Toqueville to Abancourt to target. Axis of attack is southwest to northeast with aiming point being the fuel dump on the north edge of field. Left turn off target to enemy coast at Ault, exit altitude to be 9,000 feet, let down over channel to 6,000 feet making English landfall at Dungeness and back to base. In an emergency use diversion airdromes at Friston or West Malling.
Enemy fighters could be a problem, they have been reported to have up to fifty aircraft based on the target. Five twin engine fighters make their home at an airfield near the city of Versailles; seventy-five miles to the southwest they have sixty-five single engine fighters! The probability and extent of encounters will be somewhat lessened by these facts. The fighters at our target will have taken a beating by a raid on an airdrome within twenty miles of our target which is timed about fifty minutes before ours, so they may be refueling and rearming when we arrive over the target. The enemy fighters to the southwest might be diverted by raids on the Brest Peninsula.
The briefing officer with pointer in hand indicated the location of flak batteries; as depicted by red circles on the 1:250,000 scale air navigation chart which showed our route into and out off enemy territory. There are three heavy type gun positions near the target, each having four guns; one mile southwest, one mile north north-west, and another 3200 yards east south-east. There is a six gun heavy position located 1700 yards north-northwest of the target.
Previous raids indicate flak over the target as moderate to heavy. Raid of August 12th encountered heavy type flak en route six to eight miles southwest of Abbeville, near Hamel, and one four gun emplacement was observed firing near Feuguiere. Heavy gun positions are located in vicinity of Molliens Vidame, reported to consist of fourteen to twenty-four guns! A raid by Boston A-20 Bombers July 15th reported heavy intense accurate flak in this area. Thirty-four B-26s raided target August 8th at which time light type flak was observed over target exploding at 7,000 to 9,000 feet. Their leading flight received the heavier gunfire throughout the anti-aircraft encounter! Radio call signs for the day, and emergency channel information along with air navigation data was given out by the Group Communications Officer.
Weather over the channel and enemy coast does not look promising. Base at take off time will be two-tenths stratocumulus at 2,000 feet with tops to 4,000 feet. You will have a ten mile wind from 280 degrees and visibility up to six miles. The freezing level is 7,500 feet which will give you a temperature of minus six degrees Centigrade at 12,000 feet. Cumulus and stratocumulus will be increasing six to eighth-tenths at English coast, and becoming overcast at the French Coast; tops of the cumulus towering to 20,000 feet. The target looks like three-tenths cumulus with tops from 4,000 to 6,000 feet. The route back should be about the same except entire channel will be overcast. Boxted will have cumulus base of 2,000 and tops to 5,000 feet with three-tenths coverage.
The 322nd Bomb Group will be hitting a target south of us about the same time as we go in. The briefing ended at 0625 hours, and flight crews picked up their candy bars, chewing gum, and escape kits. Then they climbed into trucks which transported them out to their aircraft. Meanwhile their escort pilots were being briefed on todays show at a number of RAF Fighter Bases near the coast. They were told the target was an airdrome known as Z364. We will escort thirty-six Marauders, 126 Airfield will put up three squadrons of Spitfire Vs. The 306 Squadron (Polish Pilots) will put up one squadron of Spitfire Vs; these two units will make up the close escort; 126 Wing to lead and Wing Leader to recall the bombers if necessary, Zero Hour is 0800.
Escort cover will be made up of 64 Squadron and 313 (Czech Pilots) Squadron, each flying one squadron of Spitfire Vs. Biggin Hill will supply two squadrons of Spitfire IXs. Target cover will come from Northholt with two squadrons of Spitfire IXs over target at 24,000 feet at Zero Hour plus 22 minutes. Aircraft cover withdrawal of main party, then proceed at Wing Leaders discretion. All aircraft may climb to altitude from base. Route and timing: Dungeness 12,000 feet at Zero Hour, to Toqueville to Alancourt to target, Zero Hour plus 26 minutes at 11,000 feet. Then turn left to Ault to Dungeness to base.
The 386th Group was winging its way out over the channel after a successful rendezvous with the escort over Dungeness; all except 553rd Squadron Pilot Lieutenant H.D. Michael. His assigned ship 134962 RG-K, on loan from the 552nd Squadron did not take off because of a technical problem. Captain Charles Thornton, with his co-pilot for the day Captain Hankey, and Lead Navigator Lieutenant Sam Ackerman were assessing the cloud conditions which lay directly ahead. The conclusion was to reroute the formation about ten miles away from the prescribed course to avoid the potentially dangerous cloud build up!
No flak was observed as the Group made enemy landfall over the heavy cloud shrouded coastline at 0816 hours. Clouds became broken as Abancourt came into view. Four to five-tenths cirrus overhead could be seen, estimated at 25,000 feet. The author heard our Bombardier Staff Sergeant Zephire Peterson call out over intercom, "Bomb bay doors open!" But where was the flak? For me the only thing worse than seeing flak was that nervous time just sitting in your seat waiting for it to start unfurling its sooty black puffs all around you; especially those real close ones that sound like: Shooomph, Whooomph!
The target had about three-tenths cumulus clouds with tops to 6,000 feet, visibility about six miles. The sky looked dark to the northwest but was clear in the southwest. Bombs were falling from the planes in our first box of eighteen at 0826 hours; our intercom in "BLACK MAGIC" 131620 GR-R was strangely silent at this point. Then our bombardier announced, "Bomb bay doors closed, my bombs didnt release, Ill have to salvo them into the channel!" What that bit of news really meant for our Lieutenant Vincent crew was, all we accomplished was to get up at four oclock in the morning and go for an airplane ride!
The formation was in a steep left turn off the target as four Spits flying in trail crossed over about 500 feet above us. We were headed for Ault just thirty-two miles away on the French Coast. Bombing results were rated from fair to good with 349 bombs on the target. Captain Thornton had the formation down to 9,000 feet as prescribed as we left enemy territory at 0835 hours, then down to 6,000 feet over the channel which was now completely overcast. Very dark clouds appeared off our left in the northwest direction.
During interrogation Lieutenant R.D. Wilsons crew reported seeing eight to ten light or medium bombers on an airfield about nine miles south of our target. Another saw Spitfires attacking eight FW-190s at a distance! Lieutenant Perkins ship named "PERKATORY" 131627 YA-Q suffered category A damage from causes unknown? Some said the target looked deserted, others reported seeing personnel running around down there. The returning crews had lots of complaints: The second eighteen complained about the first eighteen taking too much time during the landing sequence, circled the field too long. Latrine facilities not sufficient in briefing room. Should allow less time between take off and rendezvous. Bombs should be spaced farther apart on airfield raids. Cloud cover afforded perfect protection for enemy fighter operations. Need to quit firing in the direction of Spitfires, more aircraft recognition needed. The balloon barrage at Canterbury not mentioned in briefing. Many asked for warmer gloves for gunners, electrically heated. Food was back in the news again, food terrible; need improved mess before missions. Cramps at altitude, gas , indigestion. Breakfast was poor according to pilot and crew. How do other groups get eggs and pancakes for their breakfast? Last but certainly not least, one hearty soul said, "Hungry as hell after each mission, want more food!"
The 322nd Group had a rough time operating just to the south of us today; one plane turned back early with mechanical failure, and another ship probably ditched before reaching the enemy coast. The formation made enemy landfall at 0818 hours, the remaining nineteen B-26s were turned back at 0833 by their escort. They were immediately jumped by thirty enemy fighters, some of which pressed home attacks to within thirty yards of the formation. The fighters seemed to be using the cloud cover to their advantage with most of the attacks being made from 5 to 7 oclock positions. At 0850 hours the Group reported a Spitfire smoking and losing altitude, but under control near St. Valery. The Marauders exited the enemy coast at 0855 hours somewhat beat up, but none the less in tact!
To observe success of the first month of operations, the 555th Squadron Red Devils had cake and ice cream. The second time officers and enlisted men had such a treat in the E.T.O. A touch of entertainment was given by Lieutenants Blaisdell, Tamlyn, and Laube - the famed Toy-Whistle-Trio, who did more toying with jokes than they did with the metal pipes. It was enjoyed by an outfit which had worked itself into a state of weariness where it could not relax - until tonight, when it laughed, thanks to the toy whistle comedy act!
Saturday, August 28, 1943:
No flying because of an all day long rain with ceilings of approximately 500 feet. Lieutenant Economidis held a meeting of bombardiers to determine what happened on the bombing mission to Poix Airdrome, August 27, 1943 (Group Mission Number 9) and what could be done to remedy the situation. Further discussion will be carried out after consulting B-17 Groups about their tactics. Stations at Bury St. Edmunds and Snetterton Heath would be contacted.
Sunday, August 29, 1943:
Third Bomb Wing sent in a warning order by telephone code at 0100 for a rendezvous at 0730 hours, squadrons were notified and operations officers started to work on details. Captain Rogers called Third Bomb Wing (Captain Wheeler) and asked for additional information regarding the Field Order. Captain Wheeler stated that this Group was not suppose to go out on this mission, and that Third Bomb Wing made a mistake of calling this Group! The order was cancelled at 0140 hours. Flying operations began at 0800 hours, formation and local flying only. Captain Hankey held a meeting of all squadron operations officers, COs from all squadrons, and all bombardiers. It was decided to use the B-17 method of bombing on the lead ship only, of each formation. Red lights are to installed on the tail cone of the fuselage on lead ships which would light up when the bombs should be released. Only two bomb sights would be carried, one in the lead ship and one in the deputy lead ship. Lead aircraft will aim at the aiming point, and the intervalometer set to 200 foot interval. This method was agreed upon unanimously, and should improve our bombing pattern considerably on future missions!
Monday, August 30, 1943:
Flying began at 0900 hours, but no bombing was scheduled because of low ceilings. The A-20 tow-target ship was out of commission, so no gunnery missions were scheduled. Captain Hankey attended a briefing at the 323rd Bomb Group this morning. Colonel Caldwell called from Third Bomb Wing and stated we may have a mission around 1800 hours with seventy-two aircraft, using two groups. Captain Hankey left the L-4B aircraft at Earls Colne because of a flat tire! Classes to begin September 1st for all bombardiers and navigators concerning targets; discussing best aiming points, best routes in and out from future targets. One target will be studied each day. Classes will held indefinitely!
Chester P. Klier