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|Tuesday, September 14, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 22:
The briefing officer called the Group to order at 1430 hours. Third Wing F.O. 85 directs this Group to attack target Z281, the airdrome which is located at Lille-Nord, France. We will put up thirty-six aircraft plus four extra ships. The first box of eighteen will be led by Captain Dewhurst, all planes will be supplied by the 553rd and 554th Squadrons. Each plane is loaded with six 500 pound M-43 G.P. bombs; fused one-tenth second delay nose and forty-five second delay tail.
The second box is made up from the 552nd and 555th Squadron ships. Each is loaded with 30 pound AN-M41 Fragmentation bombs in clusters of six bombs each per stick, eighteen sticks per airplane. The bombs have an M-110AL instantaneous nose fuse only. Captain James Wilson will lead the second box.
Our axis of attack is generally southwest to northeast with an aiming point being the dispersal area on the east end of the airdrome. We will bomb from 11,500 feet. Fighter escort will be provided by RAF 11 Group Spitfires. We rendezvous with them at Zero Hour 12,000 feet over South Foreland. The route out: Base to rendezvous with 387th Bomb Group at Splasher Beacon Number 7 at Zero Hour plus thirty-two minutes. We will lead them to East Church, then onto fighter rendezvous at South Foreland. Make enemy landfall at Gravelines, to Armentieres. Route back: Left turn off target to Furnes, you will exit enemy coast at 10,000 feet. Make English landfall at 6,000 feet over North Foreland and back to base. Diversion airdromes located at Bradwell Bay and Manston.
The flak situation is as follows: You can expect heavy type 88mm flak at enemy landfall, Gravelines previously reported as weak seems to have increased both in strength and in accuracy. Weak 88mm flak has been reported coming from Cassel and Armentieres. Weak and inaccurate flak at Bailleu and Hazebrouck can be expected along your route on way into target. Barrage Balloons have been observed at Merville seven miles southwest of Armentieres. Merville has moderate to intense accurate heavy type flak. Considered as the continuous following type fire as reported by the 387th Group eleven days ago. Heavy guns near the target are located thusly: Six gun position two and three-quarter miles southwest, a four gun position three miles west, and another four gun location one and three-quarter miles east north-east of the target.
Communication information for our mission follows: Bomber call sign, CIVIL. Fighter call sign, Bauxite. Ground Sector call sign is, GOODFIGHT. Bomber to fighter on VHF Channel C, we will also use this channel for any communication with the 387th Group. Air-Sea-Rescue on VHF Channel D. MF/DF Section N. Group leader or deputy will report to Wing after clearing enemy coast, all communications are normal. Splasher Beacons in use during the mission are: 5D, 6E, 7F, 8G, 9H, 10I, and 11J from 1430 to 2000 hours.
The weather conditions are not the best we ever had, at take off time there will be some variable cumulus and stratocumulus, mainly three-tenths to four-tenths. Tops generally 8,000 with some to 18,000 feet. Visibility about two to four miles. The route out will have cumulus and stratocumulus with some cumulonimbus (thunderheads) with tops 15,000 to 18,000 feet. Over channel there will be scattered clouds of one to two-tenths cumulus and four to five-tenths cirrus over French Coast which will extend about five miles out over the channel, also large towering cumulus with tops estimated at 18,000 feet. Four to six-tenths medium clouds at 12,000 feet over French Coast. Further inland scattered cumulus with tops of 6,000 feet and a layer of medium clouds almost overcast at 14,000 to 16,000 feet. You can expect rain showers anywhere along your route. Our visibility will be about ten miles. The freezing level is 8,000 feet. The wind velocity at 10,000 feet is 38 m.p.h. from 205 Degrees, temperature is minus 03 Degrees Centigrade. The wind at 12,000 feet over the target 40 m.p.h. from 210 Degrees. Temperature will be minus 05 Degrees Centigrade. The tide information is, high water at 1256 hours and low at 1954 hours with a change of 17.8 feet. Then Lieutenant Arthur Anderson closed out his weather forecast.
Briefing ended at 1456 hours with the synchronizing of watches. Crews left the room and made their way to the trucks which sped them to their appropriate aircraft hardstands. Engine starting time arrived at 1531 hours, within five minutes the aircraft began to taxi out. Captain Dewhurst eased, "DINAH MIGHT" 131576 AN-Z into the air at 1550 hours, and this mission was officially underway. The last man cleared the runway at 1614 hours. Climb out and forming up would be a bit tricky with all the towering clouds building up! The Group set out for rendezvous with the 387th Group, the link up was accomplished at 1657 hours. With the 386th leading, both Groups proceeded to their rendezvous point with the RAF Spitfires at 1720 hours 12,000 feet over South Foreland. Two of our planes developed problems and returned to base, they were Lieutenant Roy Voorhees flying, "LADY FROM HADES" 131685 YA-J and Flight Officer Jack Watson flying, "LITLJO" 131622 RU-D. Their positions were filled in by extra ships that had been tagging along. Lieutenant Berger flying, "NEMO" 134944 YA-M took over the number five spot in lead flight, second box - a position Lieutenant Voorhees had been scheduled to fly. Lieutenant Peters flying, "PRIVY DONNA" 131658 RU-A slid into number three position low flight, lead box - the spot Flight Officer Watson had just vacated. "STAR DUST" 134937 YA-N flown by Lieutenant Morr and Lieutenant McCollum flying, "?" 131635 RU-H had been designated as extras. They were not needed so they also returned to base.
The formation was about half way across the channel and test firing was now underway. Lieutenant Bud Lambert flying, "BLACK MAGIC" 131620 RG-R noted some thirty rounds of machine fire menacingly close over the top of pilot canopy as he flew in the three position, high flight in second box of eighteen. Seconds later he was informed that his top turret man Staff Sergeant Gerard Lacaroz had been cut on the neck when the turret dome was struck by a spent cartridge case. The pilot pulled his ship out of the formation near the French Coast and returned the injured airman to Boxted. Another plane which was flown by Captain Williamson was 131889 AN-D had also been struck by a flurry of brass cases as he flew in number four spot high flight in lead box. He had received two hits in a right side propeller cuff, two more on the right side fuselage, and one came through the Plexiglas nose, luckily there were no injuries to the crew! The spent cases had been wafted downward from Captain Habers ship, "ELMER" 131577 AN-Y flying lead in the same high flight during the test firing procedure!
Weak and inaccurate 88mm anti-aircraft fire greeted the formation as enemy landfall was made at 1722 hours. The author flying with Lieutenant Donald Vincent crew in ship number 131850 RG-S noted heavy cumulus clouds building up along the coast and were extending a great distance inland! It seems from the top turret of a B-26 you can see the entire sky. We had two squadrons of Spitfires flying close escort and two more squadrons of escort cover. Our Group shared two squadrons of high cover and three squadrons of top cover with the 387th Group. The present cloud situation was ideal for enemy fighter pilots, the staggered columns of cumulus provided excellent blinds for them, from which to launch an attack on us!
A twelve gun anti-aircraft site was spotted at a road junction near town of Gravelines. Smoke emitting from pots was visible from Gravelines and extended inland for some ten miles. The outer defenses of St. Omer off to the right of our formation put up a slight amount of 88mm flak, it was very accurate for position, however we were at the extreme range of their guns. A few scattered flak bursts were observed coming from Hazebrouck about three miles or so to the right of our course. The cloud cover appeared to be eight or nine-tenths, suddenly our RAF fighter escort leader flew across in front of our formation a few hundred yards out waggling his wings! This was the prearranged signal to indicate the mission was being recalled due to bad weather in the general target area.
The bomber formation began an immediate 180 degree turn to our left as flak began to come up from Bailleu which was a few miles ahead on our course had we continued on with the mission. Cassel was about two miles to the left of our formation - anti-aircraft gunners were busy pumping up 88mm stuff at us from railroad flak cars, it was moderate in amount. We were headed toward the enemy coast when crews began reporting an air battle taking place out of our machine gun range. Two Junkers JU-88 planes were seen about two miles away. Two Spitfires engaged a Focke-Wulf-190 fighter and it was believed to have been destroyed!
Heavy type flak began bursting around the first box of eighteen , we were four miles southwest of Dunkerque, and their outer defenses were responding to our presence! Captain Dewhursts ship, "DINAH MIGHT" was hit, the right side engine was trailing black smoke, the crew shut down that engine immediately. Radioman Sergeant L.J. Graves and First Lieutenant A.E. Hill, bombardier were both wounded by flak fragments. Lieutenant Raymond Mullen flying, "THUMBS UP" 131621 RU-P received a flak hit in the right side propeller spinner penetrating through the power unit dust cover. Captain Gianatsis flying, "BLAZING HEAT" 131585 AN-J took a number of hits in the outboard side near the engine nacelle of his right wing, also in the leading edge of the right side horizontal stabilizer. "MISS MARY" 131650 AN-O piloted by Lieutenant Melvin Giles was hit underneath the left wing tip, and lower right side vertical fin - one hit in a right side propeller cuff. Eleven ships in the first eighteen received battle damage.
Our second box was in effective range of those guns - Captain Leland Perry leader of our low flight was flying, "MERT" 131616 RG-H took a hit in his right wing leading edge mid way between the pitot tube and landing light. Also in the same wing between the engine nacelle and the fuselage. The latter shot out some of the gages in his cockpit instrument panel. Four aircraft were damaged in the second box.
The formation exited the enemy coast at 1738 hours. Lieutenant Jean Blackwelders crew observed tracers going through the formation just after leaving the French Coast. They were flying in, "SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS" 134941 RG-D, number five in the high flight in the second box. A medium size freighter was seen making slow progress in the channel waters two or three miles northwest of Dunkerque. A short time later the bombers opened bomb bay doors and all jettisoned their loads into the channel.
Lieutenant Floyd Blackburn number three in the lead flight, second box flying, "HELLS BELLE" 131623 YA-T noted a 387th Bomb Group plane heading for a ditching in the channel, it appeared under control. Captain Leland Haber found the MF/DF was being jammed by the Germans, so the crew sent an S.O.S. for the plane going at 90 degrees to the English Coast. Captain Lubojasky flying, "HOT PISTOL 131633 RG-P saw the plane at 1744 hours, eight miles east of North Foreland. Lieutenant Homer Wentz crew flying, in their ship named, "THE YANKEE GUERRILLA" 134946 YA-L were also following the drama - they logged the stricken plane into the channel at 1746 hours, two miles east of North Foreland. The position was plotted as 51 Degrees 30 Minutes, 01 Degree 30 Minutes East. Another B-26 presumed to be from the 387th Group was seen circling the ditching site!
The Group made a bee-line for Boxted and very shortly were landing, parking their airplanes and going in for mission interrogation. Flight crews showed little reluctance with their comments and suggestions on how to run a mission! Fragmentation bombs are unsafe to drop in close formation - pipes holding the clusters fly back and strike planes flying behind. Salvo fragmentation bombs instead of releasing in train on jettison. Need better chow for combat crews. Suggest duck boards in showers to prevent athletes foot. Require colored goggles for all gunners. Smoking in the briefing room should be cut down in the future. Suggest use of another runway when one is blocked by accident or some other cause, rather than keep formation in the air circling.
A number of crews reported the channel ditching of the 387th Group plane. All crews said Spitfires provided excellent fighter coverage for entire mission. Use a different enemy landfall and change altitude, flak is getting too accurate! Dont like going in at the same place every day. Need more time at ships prior to take off time. We should not be sent out when they know weather is bad for B-26 operations, more significance be given weather reports! The Lieutenant Giles crew reported seeing a yellow nose FW-190 being chased by a Spitfire coming from the high flight side and crossing out in front of the bomber formation, just prior to recall of the mission.
Chester P. Klier