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|Thursday, September 9, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 21:
The author, along with Lieutenant Donald Vincents crew had loaded on personal flight gear, and had completed the preflight inspection of our assigned aircraft, "SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS" 134941 RG-D. Two members of Lieutenant Stephen Danforth crew walked over from their nearby plane and introduced themselves. They were Staff Sergeants, L.P. McNeil and J.E. Sanchez. Sanchez was the tail gunner, McNeil was the engineer and would be manning the waist position on their ship. The name of their plane was, "HAZARD" 134958 RG-F. McNeil asked where we took our service training, then he related a couple of bad training locations where he had been prior the joining the 386th.
Presently our co-pilot Flight Officer Robert Gragg called out, "Lets go, time to start engines." Engine run-up came off without a problem. We waited our turn to taxi out onto the perimeter trackwhich began to look like a daisy-chain of airplanes heading for the active runway.
Major Charles Lockhart was the eighteen ship third box leader. We would be flying in number five position of his lead flight. The Major and his co-pilot Lieutenant Harry Slemmons had their ship, "WINNIE" 131617 RG-A airborne at 0714 hours, our crew was into the air at 0716. Major Ramsey took off at 0718 with, "YE OLDE CROCKE" 131755 RU-F followed in close order by the remainder of his high flight ships. Captain T.J. White flying, "LITLJO" 131622 RU-D led his low flight into the air at 0722 hours.
The eighteen ship formation plus one extra took shape rapidly while making a few wide climbing sweeps around the airdrome. Upon reaching assigned altitude, the Group departed the Colchester area and took up a heading for Dover on the southern coast, some sixty-two miles distant. Approximately twenty minutes later the third box of eighteen had cleared the coast at Dover. Proceeding out over the channelthe mid point was soon reached and customary test firing of aircraft guns commenced. Scores of vessels were observed plying the channel waters in the direction of Francewe hoped it really was "D-Day!"
Lieutenant Roe flying, "HONEY CHILE II" 131636 RU-B developed a problem and pulled out of his number three spot in the high flight. Lieutenant Robert B. Spencer flying ship 131790 RU-T moved up forward from his number six position to fill the vacancy. Lieutenant Wentz was assigned as an extra, seeing the open six position he maneuvered, "THE YANKEE GUERRILLA" 134946 YA-L into the high flight, thus bringing it up to full strength once again.
The enemy coast came into view, Cape Griz Nez was about four miles to the north off our left wing, and Wimereux about three miles south of our track. The I.P. at Marquise was five miles inland, straight ahead. Light type flak came up while we were still approximately one mile off shore, it was being fired from a jetty extending out from the harbor facilities.
The RAF umbrella of Spitfires and Typhoons could be seen traversing the sky as we headed for the I.P. Approximately two minutes later the formation leader executed a right turn which lined us up on the bomb run. Bomb bay doors open said Lieutenant Anthony Popovici over our ships intercom. Menacing black bursts of flak appeared around our planes. The bursts were about the size of a two car garage, which would indicate they were 128mm shells weighing thirty-five pounds each. The firing rate for that size gun is seven to eight rounds per minute from each gun being trained on us! The German anti-aircraft batteries would vary from four to six guns per battery. In some cases the 128mm guns would be mounted two each on a single gun platform! That makes for some really black sky around a formation of eighteen bombers only two miles away from the gun muzzles! The twin gun mounts were usually installed on the roofs of sturdy buildings.
The author looking over his left shoulder could see, "GAMBLERS LUCK" number 131639 RG-G flying directly across form us. It was piloted by Lieutenant George Howard in number six position of our flight. One flak round burst slightly ahead and a little below our ship. The acrid smoke from the shell burst managed to waft into our open bomb bay, and then into the aft fuselage, finally was sucked out of our open windows in the waist position. I could actually taste the sickening strong sulfur like odor! I looked over my left shoulder again and witnessed a frightening sightthe aft section of a planes fuselage with complete tail assembly was floating passed. It was pitched down about fifteen degrees with no top turret attached! For an instant I thought, "GAMBLERS LUCK" had been shot in half.I had flown my first combat mission in that ship, this tail had a different number so I knew it was not, "GAMBLERS LUCKbut where was it? I twisted around in my seat and pushed my head against the Plexiglas turret dome to see down better. The number three ship was missing from our flight. That would be Lieutenant Stephen Danforth who was flying, "HAZARD, the crew we talked with just before take off!
I caught sight of the forward portion of the ship, it was in a slow spin to the left. The bulkhead door leading to the radio-navigator compartment had flipped open affording me a fleeting glimpse of the flight deck and pilots pedestal as the stricken aircraft plunged from my limited viewing angle. The fuselage appeared to be sheared in half just aft of the trailing edge of the wing. The aft bomb bay and top turret section of the aircraft had vanished as a result of a direct flak hit. Tech Sergeant Jack E. Whitehead had been operating that turret when the plane was struck! Our bombardier called out over our ship intercom system, "Bombs away." It was 0846 hours as the flak continued to come up.
"GAMBLERS LUCK" was back in position; Lieutenant Henri Bernard flying as the bombardier on that ship takes over the narration: "We were flying directly behind and a bit below Danforths plane They were hit right under the belly of their ship and it broke in half! The tail section came back at us, our pilot Lieutenant Howard pushed the nose of our ship down abruptly; as we dropped, the tail of Danforths ship passed directly over us. It was burning at the open end! Our plane lost several hundred feet in an instant. We received a number of flak hits in our right engine nacelle and a large hole was knocked through the Plexiglas nose where I was!" End of Henri Barnards statement.
Our formation made a steep right turn off the target as prescribed at the briefing, Major Lockhart was of the opinion that the RAF Typhoon cover came in much too close to our formation as we left the target area. Briefing information indicated our fighter cover would stay at least 1,000 feet above us! We were flying at our assigned altitude of 12,000 feet when the close encounter took place over the enemy coast, after we dropped on our target "ANDANTE."
The formation was out over the water, but flak opposition was still in evidence. The anti-aircraft fire was coming from two barges moored to a jetty which was part of the harbor facility at Boulogne. Major Lockhart decided to save a bit of time by making English landfall over Hythe rather than by way of Folkstone as briefed. The formation flew on to base where the leader landed at 0935 hours. Soon all returning crews were involved in the mission interrogation process. All of them reported seeing Lieutenant Danforths ship break in half! Lieutenant Curran said it happened seconds before bombs were released at 0844 hours. Lieutenant Mullens crew reported it happened over Longet at 0844 hours. Flak burst in the rear bomb bay, flame came out from the right side fuselage, and the aircraft buckled in half. The front portion disintegrated at about 8,000 feet.
Captain Caney said pieces of B-26 passed by his ship, and then his left engine oil cooler went out of commission! Lieutenant Wentz crew stated the bomber was on fire, it spun to the left and then to the right. They said one man bailed out with his parachute on fire. The ship was in bad shape at about 6,000 feet, burning and spinning and then disintegrating. The Wentz crew also reported bombs from the formation were observed to burst in target area with very large continuous explosions, and a large cloud of smoke. A building about 150 yards by 200 yards located between the target and the railroad tracks was seen to be exploding, probably ammo storage. A large oil slick was observed out in the channel off Boulogne.
Flight Officer Watsons crew saw two Me-109s in the distance. Other crews reported seeing brief clashes between our umbrella fighter cover and enemy aircraft. Captain Lubojasky was looking from his number four position in the lead flight when the number three ship to his left was hit. Flak hit right under the turret, blew pieces off. The ship broke up at the waist position; and went down in two pieces, both flaming at the break! No chutes observed coming from the Danforth plane. End of Lubojasky statement.
The Danforth crew: First Lieutenant S.M Danforth, Second Lieutenants J.M. Bruck, and W.J. Coffey. Tech Sergeant J.E. Whitehead, Staff Sergeants L.P. McNeil and tail gunner J.E. Sanchez. The entire crew was listed as killed in action!
Most crews agreed the heavy type flak in the target area was moderate in amount, but was extremely accurate! Light flak was slight and inaccurate. Our third box bombing results were rated as fair.
The 387th Bomb Group had some bad luck on this mission - due to poor visibility one of their ships crashed on take off. Five of the crew were killed and one man was injured. Nineteen of their planes were battle damaged by flak. They reported one aircraft crashed near the target, one chute was seen to open. Another of their ships made a crash landing at base. They also reported a number of enemy aircraft, but the RAF fighter cover kept them out at a safe distance!
Friday, September 10, 1943:
All Eighth Air Force members had a two day rest for effective air coverage on the large amphibious operations yesterday. Practically all of staff gone. Captain Rogers checked with Colonel Caldwell to make certain of information.
Saturday, September 11, 1943:
Sunday, September 12, 1943:
No activity today. Mission called off due to poor weather. Bombs in aircraft were not unloaded.
Monday, September 13, 1943:
Mission canceled again today because of weather. Have not had any enemy bombers in this vicinity for approximately ten days. Expecting a mission call tomorrow morning.
Chester P. Klier--Historian, 386th B.G.