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Sunday, September 5, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 13:
Target: Marshalling Yard located at Courtrai, Belgium

A piece of flak smashed through the glass nose of "LA GOLONDRINA" 131583 AN-X piloted by Lieutenant M.L. Nagel, flying in number three position of the low flight in the second box of eighteen. The fragment, approximately x x 3 inches long struck his bombardier, Lieutenant Fredrick Gass. The shrapnel penetrated the chest portion of his flak vest, directly above his heart with sufficient force to go through the vest completely, including the extra metal plate insert! However the flak vest so effectively slowed the fragment, that it merely scratched the leather name plate on Lieutenant Gass’s flight jacket. This demonstrates both the effectiveness and the wisdom shown by wearing the personal body armor, regardless of how cumbersome it may seem!

Both light and heavy type flak had become intense and accurate as the formation flew along the south side of Dunkerque. This was evidenced by the fact that seventeen planes in the first box were hit by anti-aircraft fire. Thirteen more were damaged in the second box which included the plane the author flew in! Colonel Lester Maitland was flying as co-pilot with Major Beaty in the lead ship of the formation. The Major’s regular co-pilot Lieutenant J.W. Andrews was now manning a waist gun in the aft section of their ship. For his efforts, he was wounded by a small piece of flak which had ripped through the fuselage of "SON-OF-SATAN" 131613 YA-Y.

Immediately south of Furnes the Group made a dog leg to the right and took up a heading which would lead them to the IP (Initial Point) five miles northeast of Courtrai, Belgium, some thirty-eight miles distant, the flak had subsided. Eleven minutes later the formation began a right hand turn onto which was believed to be the bomb run, bomb bay doors were open. A very heavy haze persisted over the countryside far below the bombers. A slight amount flak appeared near the Marauders, but was for the most part was considered to be inaccurate.

Lieutenant Popovici’s voice came over our intercom with a terse remark, "They are not going to release bombs, bomb bay doors closing!" Seconds later Staff Sergeant James D. Wilkie, from his tail gunner position broke the silence with, "Three fighters at 7 o’clock, 30 degrees elevation, going around to 5 o’clock about 1200 yards out!" Time was 0825 hours. The author in the top turret position had a search zone from 3 o’clock to 6 o’clock and overhead. At the moment my two guns were pointed out toward 4 o’clock position with approximately 30 degrees elevation.

I snapped my head around to the right and saw the fighters. Two were flying in echelon and trailing the lone plane by some 300 yards; suddenly the aircraft in front erupted into a ball of flame! I assumed the two trailing planes were Spitfires, and that they had just shot down an Me-109, I felt relieved. The two remaining fighters came around in a fairly shallow left turn and flew level approximately 1,000 yards back and nearly 300 yards to the outside of our flight, still at a 30 degree elevation to our position. They held that distance for thirty seconds or more; they must be Spitfires to hang around that long?

In an instant the wings of both fighters lit up with belching orange 20mm cannon fire. I recall saying aloud, "No friends of mine!" and squeezed both triggers of my twin fifties as tracers leapt from my guns in a short burst. Too far to the left, I corrected immediately as 20mm cannon fire sprayed our six plane flight—my tracers were bracketing both of the Messerschmitts flying in tight formation as they closed to 600 yards. I fired another burst of thirty rounds and the two planes split up while going from 4 o’clock to 5 o’clock position at 400 yards. A trail of smoke was visible out there, then they dipped below my line of sight. Vibrations from Wilkie’s tail guns could be felt throughout our plane as he picked up the enemy plane that broke low and across our tail. We heard him call on the intercom, "I hit him, I hit him!"

One German plane dropped down to our 8 o’clock position and appeared to be heading for the low flight. The other Me-109 had zoomed upward to about 100 feet above our tail and, not more than 25 yards behind us. Smoke was streaming out from the aft underside of its engine, which was the location of the engine coolant radiator! Man those black crosses looked big on the underside of the enemy plane’s wings. The ship wallowed for an instant, then kicked over into what appeared to be a Hammer-Head-Stall—quickly it rotated about 90 degrees, then slanted down at a steep angle trailing smoke. The pilot didn’t bail out that I could tell. More enemy fighters were attacking and I turned my attention elsewhere as we flew near the town of Ypres.

A Focke-Wulf-190 attacked the number six ship in our low flight, "BOMB BOOGIE" 131587 AN-W from 6 o’clock level, firing a long burst from 250 yards and was scoring hits on the bomber. Staff Sergeant R.J. Newell in the top turret firing a burst at 150 yards, but observed no hits on the enemy. Staff Sergeant R.C. Brown, tail gunner on number three ship "LA GOLONDRINA" fired seventy-five rounds at 300 yards. He scored hits in the engine and fuselage of the enemy which climbed up over the left wing of the number two ship, started smoking, went into a stall, and dropped off in a vertical dive.

An enemy fighter attacked "BOMB BOOGIE" at 6 o’clock level, firing continuously from 1,000 yards down to 75 yards. The waist gunner, Staff Sergeant J.E. Kubel of the attacked ship, and tail gunner Sergeant I.J. Breaux in ship number five, "MISS MARY" 131650 AN-O opened fire, but no hits were observed. Tech Sergeant O.H. Utrup waist gunner on number two ship by the name of, "GRIM RAPER II" 134888 AN-L, fired a few rounds and saw tracers going into the fuselage of the enemy aircraft, which went down toward 9 o’clock position smoking.

An Me-109 singled out ship number four, "HARD LUCK" 131610 AN-P, firing from 600 yards coming in at 6 o’clock position. Tail gunner Staff Sergeant E.T. Kozlowski and top turret man, Staff Sergeant E.G. Godziewsi fired without effect. Their waist gunner, Tech Sergeant J.C. Darby fired two bursts at a range of 600 and down to 200 yards, his tracers seemed to be hitting the enemy plane which continued to fire down to 100 yards. Three of the cannon shells hit the bomber. Tail gunner of number one ship Staff Sergeant R.L Chadburn flying in "DINAH MIGHT" 131576 AN-Z, fired three bursts at the same enemy ship from 100 yards down to 75 yards he was scoring hits in the fuselage under the pilot. The enemy aircraft rolled over on its back and into a dive straight down, some black smoke was pouring out. The pilot was seen slumped over in the cockpit!

Another Me-109 came in from 7 o’clock low on the low flight, the waist gunner was Tech Sergeant F.E. Woleben in number two ship "LA GOLONDRINA" he fired thirty or so rounds at 75 yards scoring hits in the fuselage. Tail gunner of the same plane was Staff Sergeant R.C. Brown fired forty to fifty rounds at 75 yards and made hits in the cockpit area. The tail gunner on ship number six "BOMB BOOGIE", Sergeant Fred Mauro fired three bursts at 200 yard range and saw tracers on each side of the enemy plane. When almost up to the tail of "BOMB BOOGIE" the Me-109 peeled away to the left and was last seen about 5,000 feet below trailing a streak of smoke.

Still another Me-109 attacked the low flight ships from 6 o’clock position, firing several bursts from 800 down to 300 yards without effect. Tail gunner Breaux in plane"MISS MARY" fired continuously from 500 yards on in. Also tail gunner E.T. Kozlowski flying in "HARD LUCK" got off three bursts at 300 yards, the enemy ship rolled over and off the attack to the left.

Tail gunner R.L. Chadburn in ship "DINAH MIGHT" fired five bursts at 150 yards, he observed hits in the right wing root of the Me-109 attacking from a position of 6 o’clock low. Also firing was the tail gunner of "LA GOLONDRINA" R.C. Brown. The enemy plane passed over "GRIM RAPER II" 134888 AN-L and then peeled off to the left, down and away. Waist gunner O.U. Utrup flying in the same ship opened fire at 50 yards. His turret gunner Staff Sergeant C.A. Cushman also joined in the melee with one hundred rounds and saw tracers going into the engine of the attacking Me-109, the enemy fighter zoomed away toward 9 o’clock position. The effect of the bomber fusillade was not observed.

An Me-109 selected ship number four, "HARD LUCK" for its target and came boring in from 6 o’clock low-- firing a short burst at 250 yards and damaging the bomber with 20mm cannon strikes. One round struck the left side of the fuselage just above the waist window, some of the fragmentation wounded Tech Sergeant J.C. Darby in the forehead! His tail gunner, E.T. Kozlowski answered with four bursts at 200 yards. No hits were noted as the enemy plane passed under the bomber formation flying level and apparently undamaged.

Tail gunner J.D. Wilkie in ship "SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS" 134941 RG-D spotted an Me-109 as it swept across at 300 yards. He fired a burst and saw hits in the engine. Top Turret Gunner Staff Sergeant John H. Park in "HAZARD" 134958 RG-F got off thirty rounds at 150 yards hitting the Me-109 in the wings and fuselage. Staff Sergeant Harold B. Hadley waist gunner on the same plane fired eighty rounds at 65 yards and scored hits in the cockpit area.

Two Me-109’s approached ship number four in the high flight named "HOT PISTOL" 131633 RG-P. Tail Gunner Staff Sergeant L.H. Everhart and Waist gunner Tech Sergeant S.N. Triantafellu opened fire and observed hits in the engine and cockpit of one enemy plane. Staff Sergeant A.L. Ruess tail gunner on "HAZARD" began firing and followed them through 7 o’clock low, making hits on each of them.

A Focke-Wulf-190 came in on number two ship "DANNY BOY" II 134987 RG-K in the high flight; it was fired upon by Staff Sergeant M.O. Mckim tail gunner on that plane at 75 yards. He made hits in the belly and wings of the enemy plane. Slipping under the number two and number four ships, the FW-190 continued on its path for the lead flight which it attacked from 6 o’clock position. The gunner in the tail of number three ship called "BLACK MAGIC" 131620 RG-R fired off about one hundred rounds at a range of 300 yards, observing tracers going into the enemy aircraft. Staff Sergeant W.D. Ladden, tail gunner on ship number two "DOTTIE" 134954 RG-Q fired two bursts, the first going into the cockpit, the second into the engine. The enemy plane immediately burst into flames and went down in an uncontrolled dive!

An Me-109 attacked a ship called "MISS CARRAIGE" 134961 RG-M flying in number four position of the lead flight. The top turret gunner was Staff Sergeant D.E. Corbin, he nearly expended all of his 800 round supply of ammunition between 500 and 300 yard range, causing the enemy fighter to catch fire and drop like a rock toward the ground and pouring out black smoke heavily!

Yet another Me-109 approached the number six ship in the lead flight which was called "SEDUCTIVE SUSIE" 131738 RG-O. Top turret man Staff Sergeant D.L. Sandbach, he got in one hundred and twenty-five rounds at 75 yards scoring hits in the belly of the German plane which coasted passed the waist window smoking badly, then descended engulfed in flames. An other Me-109 made straight for "SEDUCTIVE SUSIE" firing from 6 o’clock level at 200 yards without results. The tail gunner was Staff Sergeant W.V. Mcgraw, he fired a burst at 200 yards and observed hits on the nose of the fighter. Another tail gunner, E.H. Kahl in "BLACK MAGIC" got off fifty rounds which appeared to be ineffective at 400 yards—at 100 yards the enemy plane tipped up its wing and fell off to the left with smoke emitting from its engine.

Still another Me-109 approached "BLACK MAGIC" in a level curve going from 7 o’clock to 6 o’clock position. Again E.H. Kahl fired four to five bursts ranging from 300 down to 10 yards, scoring hits in all parts of his adversary. The German plane banked over the left wing of the bomber, and seemingly floated off out of control smoking and flaming from underneath! One more Me-109 went after "SEDUCTIVE SUSIE" from the 6 o’clock position firing numerous bursts at close range. The tail gunner was Staff Sergeant Robert E. Coyle, he fired two long bursts with his two guns at about 100 yards. The enemy aircraft caught fire and passed under the B-26 leaving a trail of smoke in the sky. At last the air battle ended, the Group was nearing the enemy coast. Some Spitfires were seen to shoot down ten balloons filled with flammable gas; the balloons were tethered to boats in a canal. Some slight and inaccurate flak came up at the bombers from a place named Dismuide as they headed for Furnes on the coast. A heavy type six-gun position was observed by several flight crews about three miles south of Dunkerque. A slight amount of flak which was inaccurate, bid the Group farewell as they crossed out over the enemy coast. The entire formation salvoed its bomb loads into the channel a few miles off the coast of France. This was standard procedure during the early days of operations.

The formation was letting down through some heavy cloud cover; eight to nine-tenths Altocumulus with a base at 6,000 feet. At the 4,000 foot level they were obliged to fly through a haze with a visibility of three miles. The first man landed at 0914 hours, soon the returning crews made their way into the interrogation room.

Lieutenant Mullen’s crew reported seeing a sunken freighter with an oil slick around it in the channel. Staff Sergeant J.E. Montgomery, a tail gunner on Mullen’s crew saw two Spitfires following an Me-109 down which was out of control and trailing white smoke. Lieutenant R.D. Wilson’s crew saw a FW-190 in flames and out of control at 0822 hours. They stated that waist gunners should not throw out empty shell cases because the ships flying behind are being damaged by them! The lieutenant Morr crew reported up to ten enemy fighter planes attacking the B-26’s. Four of the German aircraft were noted going down at 0830 hours after leaving the target area.

The Lieutenant Haber crew was quoted saying, "Do not give same squadron "PURPLE HEART CORNER" mission after mission! Another pilot had this to say, "Lead box using too much power, tail end ships can’t keep up, was compelled to use maximum power continuously. Also landings should be made in proper order. Better chow for crews, request separate mess for flight crews—lines are too long for flight crews who are scheduled for mission briefings.

Lieutenant Sands crew reported a Spitfire shot down by enemy fighters near target area, was last seen out of control at 5,000 feet. Lieutenant Burgess crew saw a Spitfire hit by flak near Dunkerque at 0818 hours, last seen smoking. Lieutenant Bartolain crew noted two Spitfires going down smoking badly near target area at 0825 hours. Lieutenant Skip Young said his tail gunner Sergeant Mauro was wounded by 20mm fragments when enemy fire hit the tail cone of his plane. He also had his left wing tip shot off!

The Lieutenant Saltsman crew saw three bursts of white flak near the target area; then flak stopped and the enemy fighters came in on the attack Most of the enemy planes were gray with black crosses. Captain Caney’s crew reported an Me-109 being chased by four Spits, but did not see it hit the ground. Captain B.B. White’s crew saw two enemy planes taking off from the Lille Airdrome while en route out from the target.

When all the enemy encounter sheets were completed by participant gunners, the data was then turned over to the Air Combat Committee for evaluation. It had the task of sorting out the twenty enemy aircraft encounters the Group had endured, also to assign credit and to what degree. In all, the second box gunners shot up 6,835 rounds of armor piercing, incendiary, and tracer ammunition in the defense of their formation.

The official results were as follows: Three Staff Sergeants from the 552nd Squadron were to receive credit for shooting down enemy planes. D.L. Sandbach, one Me-109 destroyed. W.D. Ladden, one FW-190 destroyed. D.E. Corbin, one Me-109 destroyed. E.H. Kahl, one Me-109 probably destroyed. J.C. Darby and R.L. Chadburn of the 553rd Squadron, shared one Me-109 probably destroyed. Also from the 553rd Squadron R.C. Brown, was given credit for one Me-109 probably destroyed. Four other Me-109’s were classified as damaged by the following members of the 552nd Squadron: R.E. Coyle, J.H. Park, H.B. Hadley, and C.P. Klier.

In the case of the claim filed by Staff Sergeant C.P. Klier, Pilot D.E. Vincent said, " I saw the plane go down smoking." Co-pilot R.C. Gragg stated that he saw the enemy plane pass our plane smoking, but lost sight of it near the ground! There was a split decision by the Air Combat Committee. Two of them ruled that C. P. Klier receive credit for one Me-109 damaged. While another member, Lieutenant John A Fulton from the 554th Squadron said, "It should be ruled at least probably destroyed!"

There were also several encounters classified as "No Claims." Marauders of the 386th were a bit beat up, seventeen planes out of eighteen in the first box were battle damaged. In the second box of eighteen planes, thirteen were battle damaged, that was the box that bore the brunt of all the fighter attacks—but they suffered no losses in their aerial clash with the Luftwaffe today! First Lieutenant A.L. Jacobs of the 386th Bomb Group made a telephoned call to Third Bomb Wing to report, "No bombing, Time was 0926 hours.

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Chester P. Klier
Historian, 386th Bomb Group


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