<< back >>
|Tuesday, September 7, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 16:
Flight crews were awakened at 0300 hours. Briefing got underway at 0430 by virtue of Third Bomb Wing F.O. 74, and 386th Bomb Group F.O. 20. Our target known as Z571 is the marshalling yard located two miles west of Lille, France. We also have a secondary target; ZB882 which is a two runway airdrome located at Coxyde, one and three-quarter miles northwest of Furnes. We will put up a total of thirty-six ships plus four extras. The bomb loads are ten 300 pound general purpose demolition bombs per ship. Both nose and tail fuses are set for one-tenth second delay.
The 322nd Bomb Group will be leading the 323rd on a raid to St. Pol where they will hit a marshalling yard. We will rendezvous with the 387th Bomb Group at 12,000 feet over Splasher Beacon Number 8, time will be Zero Hour minus eleven minutes. They will be leading us on this mission.
The route out is from base to Splasher number 8, then on to Ashford, continue south to Dungeness on the coast where we rendezvous with our fighter escort at Zero Hour 0807. Cross the channel and make enemy landfall one mile north of Le Touquet. Then fly to the I.P. at La Bassee located ten miles southwest of the target. Make a left turn to the target, axis of attack will be generally southwest to northeast. The aiming point for the first box is the hump in the rail yard. Second box aiming point will be the engine sheds and locomotive repair shops. After bombing, fly four miles east of Armentieres, make a left turn to two miles west of Ypres (the Germans first used mustard gas here during the first World War ) and fly over Popering; then fly two miles northwest of Furnes, and exit the enemy coast six miles east of Dunkerque. Fly across the channel to North Foreland and back to base. We have two diversion airdromes today, Manston and Bradwell Bay. The altitudes are: Rendezvous at 12,000 feet, we will bomb from 11,000, exit enemy territory flying at 10,000 feet and make English landfall at 6,000 feet.
There are two known heavy type gun positions near the target, both have four guns each. One is located two and one-half miles southwest of target, the other is three and one half miles north and believed to be unoccupied. Light flak and heavy type flak could be intense over the target! Slight but accurate heavy type predictor control, "Seen" has been reported at Nieuport on French Coast. Aircraft reported being engaged continuously but unsuccessfully by light flak along a canal from Furnes to just north of Ypres. Previous raid experience by bombers of this Wing report moderate heavy type flak five to eight miles past Knock. It was salvo firing, accurate for height but slightly to left of most formations. Heavy type flak slight and inaccurate was encountered just above Zeebrugge and en route between Furnes and the coast.
You can expect enemy opposition, there are some one hundred sixty-five fighters based within a fifty mile radius of the target! Our Group and the 387th will share thirteen RAF Squadrons of Spitfires. Five squadrons of close escort, four squadrons of escort cover, two squadrons each of high cover and top cover.
The weather at take off time will be five-tenths stratocumulus with a base at 5,000 feet, and clouds will be increasing rapidly. Due to haze and fog your visibility will be only one mile. The route out to have nine to ten-tenths cloud cover and a base of 6,000 feet, decreasing to seven-tenths broken in the London area. A short clear area along English Coast, and then eight to ten-tenths to French Coast with tops to 8,000 feet, visibility should be good. Return route will be the same except that tops of clouds over England will be 8,000 feet. Base at time of landing to be overcast with a few breaks with a cloud base at 5,000 feet, and visibility of two and one-half miles. Freezing level is 7,000 feet. In the target area the wind at 11,000 feet will be from 260 degrees at 32 m.p.h. The temperature at altitude is minus 03 degrees Centigrade. Surface temperature at target is 15 degrees Centigrade with a pressure altitude of 30.05 inches. Tide information: High water at 0415 and low water at 1127 hours with a change of nineteen feet.
Communications information: Bomber to fighter on VHF Channel C, (83 Group Guard). Bomber call sign, VANTAGE. Fighter call sign, VORTEX. Ground Sector call sign is, PETRO. MF/DF, Section H. Bomber to bomber on 5125 K.C. Communications to the 387th Bomb Group leader on VHF Channel C if required. Complete Air-Sea-Rescue facilities on VHF Channel D. Splasher Beacons in use are: 3C, 4D, 5E, 6F, 7G, 8H, 9I, and 11J from 0530 to 1200 hours. Every aircraft will monitor VHF Channel assigned from take off to return to English Coast.
Stars and Stripes Staff Writer Andrew Rooney (years later would become a regular on the CBS 60 Minutes Show) will be flying with our Group in a ship named, "LORETTA YOUNG" 131624 YA-S Flown by Lieutenant Elling. Rooney wished to observe the operations of a Martin B-26 outfit for the next few days. The plane he would be flying in today was assigned the number three position, low flight in the first box of eighteen. The briefing ended at 0559 hours and flight crews headed out to their aircraft.
The Group began to taxi out at 0639, and the first box leader Major Franklin Harris was into the air at 0655 hours. Major Ramsey took off at 0710 leading his second box of charges into the cloud filled sky. Because of weak batteries Lieutenant Roe returned to his dispersal area with a ship called, "CLOUD HOPPER 2nd" 131763 RU-O. An extra plane pilot, Lieutenant Jesse Higgins assigned to fly, "PANSY YOKUM" 131638 RG-N took over the vacant spot. Lieutenant McCallum took off at 0713, seconds later he found his landing gear would not retract on, "SMOKEY" 131667 RU-N. Then he flew around the traffic pattern and brought "SMOKEY" in for a landing. After returning the ship to its hardstand they found the reason why the gear would not go up, the ground locks had not been removed from the landing gear struts. A fact overlooked by the flight crew during their preflight inspection!
Climbing up through a heavy cloud layer with thirty-eight airplanes can be a very tricky business indeed, but the Group accomplished the feat and headed out for Splasher Beacon Number 8. The next check point was Ashford, and then on to the rendezvous with fighter escort over Dungeness. Due to a complete overcast en route to rendezvous caused the 387th Bomb Group formation failure - by their own admission! However twelve of their aircraft sighted another group of B-26s and mistakenly attached themselves to the 322nd and 323rd Bomb Group formation. As a result the small band of 387th ships attacked the marshalling yard at St. Pol, dropping a total of seventy-one 500 pound bombs on the target. One of their planes was attacked from three oclock low position by an Me-109 which came up under the belly of the bomber, then swung down and away! The 322nd Group stated their weather was cloudy about half way to the target, then changed to scattered with visibility of ten to fifteen miles. They also reported seeing an aircraft down on an English beach at a place called Pevensey Bay - it was believed to be a B-26 Marauder. During the interim the major portion of the 387th Group formation was winging its way back to base after failing to make rendezvous with the 386th Group.
Meanwhile the 386th Bomb Group found themselves with an overwhelming number of RAF Spitfires (thirteen squadrons of them) now over enemy territory one mile south of prescribed course at 0837 hours. The cloud cover was estimated at eight-tenths with tops to 9,000 feet. At that point formation leader Major Harris made a decision that weather most certainly would affect the mission, so he turned the formation back. No flak or enemy planes were observed as the Group headed home. All ships jettisoned their bomb loads into the English Channel. One aircraft brought back a bomb which refused to be jettisoned. One crew members comment at interrogation after the abortive mission was, "Need more information about other groups!"
Chester P. Klier