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|Thursday, September 9, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 20:
Scheduled flight crews departed the briefing room, picking up escape kits and a packet of French money. The kits contained a variety of emergency supplies which were packed into a clear plastic box. The approximate size was one and a half inch thick, and four inches wide by six inches long. They could be jammed into the front pocket of an A-2 Leather Jacket, but it was impossible to snap the pocket cover flap over it. During bail out it was possible for the kit to be dislodged. A more secure spot was below the knee in a zipper closing pocket of the A-4 Summer Flying Suit. This was not without problems however, the packet would flop from side to side when walking. It seems most of us have very little natural padding on our shinbone! It was an occupational for the waist gunners, because they were required to spend the entire mission on their knees while they manned the guns out of the low slung waist windows. Nobody said war would be easy!
The crews climbed down from the trucks at the hardstands with their personal gear and set about checking over their assigned aircraft at 0611 hours. Engine start up time for the "RELIGION" target raiders was just thirty-eight minutes hence. Major Beaty would be leading the second box. At 0649 hours he started his engines and got on with the run-up routine. The process was repeated among his remaining charges, less one! Lieutenant R.D. Wilson encountered a technical problem with "STAR DUST" 134937 YA-N. The plane would not function properly, it became obvious he could not make the take off time schedule. The situation was compounded by the fact his plane was loaded with six 600 pound bombs; of which the two lower ones were fused with M-124 time delay device. The same device that a directive made such a fuss about during briefing! Those bombs could not be off loaded, they must be jettisoned into the channel. The ground crew had their work cut out for them, repair that ship immediately so its pilot and crew could fly those pesky bombs out of here!
The formation leader began to taxi out at 0654 hours, heading for the active runway; he moved onto the runway and held his position. He used a few brief moments to make a final quick magneto check on his engines while waiting for take off clearance. A green light flashed from the tower and his ship was on the roll"SON-OF-SATAN 131613 YA-Y was off at 0727 hours. Co-pilot Lieutenant J.S. Pearson hauled up the landing gear and held forward pressure on the propeller governor control levers mounted on the pilots pedestal. The lead flight, high flight, and low flight rapidly took proper form as all of the B-26s circled the airdrome.
The second box took up a heading for Dover as Navigator Lieutenant Edward ONeill relayed the course information to Major Beaty. Their target destination code word was "RELIGION." The weather forecast was correct about ground fog predictions, it clung to the lower areas and took on the appearance of ragged gray splashes of smoke. Soon the bellied out portion of coastline revealed DOVER 11,000 feet below as the formation left England behind at 0830 hours.
Wakes from eighty to ninety boats were visible to the bomber crews flying two miles above the channel. The seventeen plane formation went through test firing drill, and all was found in readiness for whatever lay ahead! Light flak began coming up at them while still a mile or more off the enemy coast. Landfall was made at 0841 hours and the formation made for the I.P. at Marquise, they rolled into a right turn and the bomb run was underway. The Lead Bombardier Lieutenant William Leirevaag peered into his Nordon Bomb Sight, waiting for those well camouflaged coastal batteries to come into view. Lieutenant M.O. Elling was flying, "LORETTA YOUNG" 131624 YA-S number six in the low flight. He noted the heavy type flak was preceding the formation along with being somewhat above them on the bomb run.
Suddenly the intercom became very active among the crews within their respective aircraft. All were reporting a startling sighta B-26 flying in another formation off to their right had just been shot in half by a heavy burst of flak! Lieutenant Blackburns crew said the forward half spun down to about 6,000 feet and exploded in mid-air as viewed from their ship "HELLS BELLE" 131623 YA-T. From his co-pilot position Lieutenant S.S. Cochran flying in "PERKATORY" 131627 YA-Q with Lieutenant Robert Perkins saw the aft fuselage with the entire tail assembly break off the bomber!
The formation released bombs at 0846 hours, then a very steep right turn off the target as flak continued. Major F.W. Harris leading the high flight with, "RAT POISON" 131606 AN-S took a hit just above the aft bomb bay door. Captain Haber number four in the same flight received two hits in, "ELMER" 131577 AN-Y, one in the right-hand propeller cuff, and another in the left horizontal stabilizer. Lieutenant Robert Saltsman had six hits while flying, "GRIM RAPER" 134888 AN-L, number five in the high flight. Hits were in the left horizontal stabilizer, right side vertical stabilizer, right top side of accessory cowling of his right-hand engine, also through the nacelle firewall and two fuselage bulkheads. Captain Sands flying, "MR. FIVE-BY-FIVE" 131612 YA-Z, in number four position of the low flight received a hole in a Plexiglas surface when struck by a brass arming wire which fell out of his leaders ship. That particular plane named "MAN-O-WAR 131619 YA-U was piloted by Lieutenant James T. Wilson.
Major Beaty made a deviation on the return route and brought the formation to English landfall fifteen miles northeast of Folkstone, the briefed landfall point. Soon the ships were landing at Boxted and crews went into interrogation. Most crews reported seeing the B-26 shot in half, which happened to be from our Group. A number of crews were reporting good bomb strikes. Lieutenant Elling stated that the lead flight bombs hit just inside the jetty, and the bombs from the low flight landed 700 to 1,000 yards up the coast. Lieutenant Nagels crew thought the bomb hits were fair to good, on the area where the guns were firing from on yesterdays raid. Officially the results were rated only as fair!
The Aberson crew said transportation in from the ships after a mission is bad, should have more trucks or jeeps. Food situation was on most of their minds, the Bartolain crew said the food stinks, not cooked right, and same dish water is used for a second day. The Captain Habers crew said food was pitiful for both the officers and enlisted men, getting damn sick of it! Lieutenant B.B. Whites crew echoed the comments. The Lieutenant Howe crew would like to see water coolers in the briefing room.
The 386th Bomb Group had four aircraft battle damaged, three in the high flight and one in the low flight. The 322nd Bomb Group had nineteen planes battle damaged. The number four ship in the high flight of the second box was hit by flak near the target. Its left engine was set on fire, the aircraft went into a flat spin, then came out on its back about 8,000 feet. The tail surfaces were observed to break up and the aircraft spun into the water, at least two open parachutes were seen by nearby crews. Two other bomber crews reported a third chute to open! One of the damaged planes landed at Manston. On the return flight, one waist gunner fired at four Me-109s as they passed under the bomber formation at 0748 hours. The 323rd Bomb Group reported twenty-three of their aircraft battle damaged on the joint effort raid on the coastal guns of Boulogne today.
Chester P. Klier