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|Wednesday, September 15, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 23:
This Group will attack a target in France in conjunction with the 387th Bomb Group. They will lead the entire mission; so states Third Bomb Wing Field Order 87. Each group will supply thirty-six aircraft plus extras. The target is identified as Z139, an airdrome located at Merville, France. Each plane is loaded with ten 300-pound M-31 general purpose demolition bombs. All are fused for one-tenth second delay, both nose and tail.
Route out from base to Splasher Beacon Number 8 where we rendezvous with the 387th Bomb Group at 12,000 feet. They will lead us to Faversham, and on to North Foreland for our rendezvous with the RAF Spitfire escort. Cross the channel to Gravelines at an altitude of 10,500 feet, fly to Lumbres, and on to the I.P. at Aire. Make a left dog leg onto the bomb run , the aiming point will be the dispersal areas. Route back is a left turn off target to Gravelines, and exit enemy territory at 10,000 feet. Make English landfall at 7,000 feet over North Foreland, and fly back to base. Emergency airdromes for today are, Manston and Bradwell Bay.
The weather at take off time is expected to be four to five-tenths cumulus and some stratocumulus with a base of 3,000 feet with tops to 5,000 feet. Visibility is six miles. The route out will have two to four-tenths cirrus, four to five-tenths cumulus and some stratocumulus which will be decreasing over the channel. Increasing three to four-tenths over the French Coast with a base of 3,000 and tops between 5,000 and 8,000 feet; there is also a chance of some tops going as high as 9,000 feet. Visibility will be about six miles in haze. The target area has three to four-tenths thin cumulus dissipating rapidly, tops about 5,000 feet. There are two to three-tenths medium cloud at 16,000 feet also two to four-tenths cirrus, and visibility will vary from six to about eight miles. The wind at 12,000 feet is from 280 degrees at 20 m.p.h. The temperature is minus 04 degrees Centigrade. At 10,000 feet the wind will be from 275 degrees at 22 m.p.h., and the temperature is minus 02 degrees Centigrade. The freezing level is 9,000 feet. Pressure altitude at the target is 30.05 inches of mercury.
The return route will have three to five-tenths cirrus from seventy miles off English Coast to Clackton-On-Sea, and visibility reported to be very poor in thick haze. Otherwise the conditions are about the same as the route out. Base at time of landing will have three to five-tenths cirrus and six to seven-tenths stratocumulus, at base of 3,000 and tops to 5,000 feet. Visibility expected to be approximately eight miles.
The flak data shows on previous missions this Wing reported moderate to intense but inaccurate heavy type flak encountered five miles south of Gravelines, and continuing below St. Omer to Lumbres. Moderate inaccurate 88mm flak near Bailleu, slight to moderate 88mm flak near Castle. On September 3rd there was considerable heavy type anti-aircraft fire over this target! All predictor control (seen) was encountered at 11,000 feet. The defenses opened up in time so as to concentrate their fire on the lead box of bombers. Barrage balloons have also been reported in your target area!
Known heavy gun positions are as follows: One six gun position two and three-quarter miles southeast of the target, but is believed to be unoccupied. A four gun position three miles west and another heavy gun emplacement one and three-quarter miles east-northeast.
The Command Radio frequency is 5125 K.C. and air to ground on 6440 K.C. Bomber call sign is, "WINDBAG." Fighter call sign is, "PLATFORM" and Ground Control call sign is, "SIMPSON." Air-Sea-Rescue on VHF Channel D, all radio procedure is normal. Splasher Beacons in use for entire mission are: 6G, 7H, 8I, and 9D. After a ten second count down all watches were synchronized, and the flight crews left the briefing room heading out to their assigned aircraft.
A plane named, "CRESCENDO" 131644 RG-C was rolling approximately 145 m.p.h. down the runway as first box leader Captain Charles Thornton lifted his ship into the air at 1602 hours. His formation of eighteen ships cleared the immediate base area fairly rapidly as the second box leader Captain Curran led his charges plus extra planes into the air at 1614 hours. The flights of six bombers blended quickly into two boxes of eighteen ships each. The three extra planes lagged behind ready to fill in if some plane was not able to continue due to malfunction. A fourth ship, "LA GOLONDRINA" 131583 AN-X to be flown by Lieutenant R.T. Harris had problems of its own and did not take off.
The 386th tacked onto the rear of the 387th Bomb Group over Splasher Beacon Number 8 at 1712 hours. They proceeded on to Faversham, and a bit later the seventy-two B-26 formation made rendezvous with the Spitfire escort at 1725 hours over North Foreland. Captain La Framboise and Lieutenant Kingsley broke out of formation with problems, two extra planes flown by Lieutenants Hodge and Higgins filled in the empty slots. One other extra ship flown by Lieutenant Brandstrom was not needed, so his bombardier jettisoned their bomb load into the channel and returned to base.
The cloud situation was not particularly bothersome for the formation as they drew closer to enemy landfall which was accomplished at 1734 hours. A medium size vessel believed to be a war ship was observed three-quarters of a mile northeast of Calais, was proceeding south along the French Coast making fair speed. At 1735 hours two smoke spirals were seen slanting down toward the coastline near Gravelines. At 1736 hours, three miles south of Bourbourg, some pieces of a disintegrating aircraft were observed fluttering out of the sky high above the bombers.
The formation made a dog leg to the right which put them on a heading of approximately 180 degrees. Five miles south of Gravelines, heavy type flak began coming up, it was intense and accurate, but short in duration. The next check point was Lumbres, straight ahead some seventeen miles distant. A short while later the town of St. Omer could be seen, six miles due east of present course. In a matter of minutes an 88mm gun emplacement began firing at the Group. It was the outer defense position located two and one-half miles west of St. Omer, and well within the range of the bombers. The battery appeared to concentrate their fire on the lead and low flights of the first box of eighteen planes. Captain Thorntons ship, "CRESCENDO" was repeatedly struck by shrapnel, the bombardiers nose glass was shattered which caused superficial cuts on the face of Lead Navigator, First Lieutenant F.A. Meier. Also sharing the nose compartment was Lead Bombardier, First Lieutenant Theodore Lehman, who was not hit by the shower of glassy splinters. Flak cut the undersurface of the right wing and pierced the main center fuel tank, there were holes through the right inboard wing, and a four inch hole in the outboard wing flap. The right and left horizontal stabilizer and elevator received a multitude of hits, one of which passed through the right side elevator trim tab. The left engine nacelle along with left side of the fuselage received numerous flak hits.
Number four ship flying directly behind and slightly lower than, "CRESCENDO" was, "MISS CARRIAGE" 134961 RG-M flown by Captain Ben Ostlind, was also caught in the fusillade of flak fragments. One chunk entered the bottom fuselage and exited out through the top without hitting a crew member or equipment of any importance. The tail assembly and tail gun turret were damaged along with wings and left engine nacelle; the bottom right side package gun received two flak hits as well.
A plane named, "BLACK MAGIC" 131620 RG-R in number three position, flown by Lieutenant Bud Lambert took many hits. Flak entered top rear corner of left nose well door, passed through bulkhead and cut hydraulic lines to the bomb bay doors, oil cooler and cowl flaps. Another piece cut through underside of wing and pierced the left auxiliary fuel tank, luckily the fuel had already been consumed. There was a hole two inches in diameter about twelve inches out from the right engine nacelle, and a small hole in the underside fuselage below the waist window.
Flak entered underside of right wing, passing through wing rib at the wing tip connection and stopped at the right wing forging of, "SEDUCTIVE SUSIE" 131738 RG-O. She was piloted by Flight Officer Albers flying in number six position of the lead flight in the first box. There was a three inch flak hole behind the waist window and right hand tip of the horizontal stabilizer. Another piece went up through left wing and made a hole in the center main fuel tank, but the self sealing Marang Cell (Martin Engineering) did its job well!
Lieutenant William F. Cox, Jr. was flying his ship, "DOTTIE" 134954 RG-Q number two in the lead flight. "DOTTIE" received two large holes in left engine cowling at the oil cooler duct. A piece of flak went through the wing leading edge two inches from the landing light, penetrated the front wing spar, cutting landing light wires in the left wing. There were also a number of small holes about twelve inches behind the landing light on top of the wing. Other damage was a four inch tear in right side elevator, and three inch flak hole in the fairing between fuselage and left horizontal stabilizer.
Number five ship in the same flight was, "PANSY YOKUM" 131638 RG-N flown by Lieutenant Burgess was also extensively damaged by flak. One piece hit the left center cowling on the left engine, breaking off ear of number sixteen cylinder and crushing a Lord Mount (engine support attachment encased in rubber to damp out vibration). There were two large holes in the cone of the left engine nacelle. Flak passed through lower center panel cowling of right hand engine and dented the ignition harness covering. There was also a one half inch deep dent two inches in diameter in one blade of the right hand propeller. Both wings received hits, also the vertical fin at leading edge two feet up from fuselage. Another fragment knocked a hole in right side Plexiglas nose, and still another piece hit the left side fuselage just forward of the cockpit!
All six planes in the lead flight had been hit-the high flight had three damaged by flak.
Captain B.B. White in, "HELLS ANGELS" 131615 YA-W, Lieutenant Morr flying "NEMO" 134944 YA-M, and Lieutenant Burger flying a plane named, "MISS MURIEL" 134948 YA-K. Five of the six ships in the low flight received battle damage. Lieutenant R.D. Wilson flying his plane named, "STAR DUST" 134 937 YA-N learned that his Bombardier Lieutenant L.L. Marshall had been slightly wounded in his hands. Another pilot Lieutenant Higgins flying a ship named, "BUZZ-N-BITCH II 131953 RG-T had a flak hit in the Plexiglas nose, also a rip six inches wide and twelve inches long in the left corner of the right side elevator fabric. Fourteen of the first box of eighteen planes had been damaged.
The second box of eighteen did not fare much better, twelve of them were hit by flak. One plane, 131832 RU-U piloted by Flight Officer Casey received a seven inch long crack in the Plexiglas nose, just below the center mounted flexible 50 caliber machine gun. Collectively, the four gun anti-aircraft battery was pumping up 88mm shells at the rate of sixty rounds per minute, each round weighed twenty-two pounds!
The intense flak barrage tapered off as the formation cleared the next course change at Lumbres, a castle was clearly visible on the northeast side of town. A heading of 117 degrees was taken after rolling out of a left turn, the I.P. at Aire, lay thirteen miles ahead. That distance quickly passed at 190 m.p.h. A slight left dog leg was made at the I.P. and the bomb run was underway. Lead Bombardier Lieutenant Lehman fed last second corrections into his bomb sight as the target came into view.
The aiming point was rather difficult to pick out due to all the smoke and dust in the south dispersal area caused by the bombs of the 387th Bomb Group which had just preceded the 386th. The aiming point for Lieutenant Lehman was a hangar in the north dispersal area of the airdrome. It was bombs away at 1747 hours. There was a direct hit on the main hangar, bombs from other ships in the lead flight were bursting across the dispersal area, several hits on the perimeter track and close misses on an aircraft shelter. Bombs from the high flight impacted across the center of the landing ground.
The low flight scored hits on a shop adjoining the main hangar, they hit part of a light anti-aircraft gun position, and some near misses on aircraft shelters. It was nearly impossible to see bomb strikes of the second box of eighteen because of all the dust and smoke which was rapidly ascending into the cloud free sky. Flak opposition at the target was less than expected, and the light type flak was slight in amount and inaccurate. The bombing results were rated fair to good.
The prescribed left turn was made off the target, and the 387th Group headed in the general direction of Hazebrouck. The briefed course was to split the distance between St. Omer on the left and the town of Castle on the right, which would have been a northwest direction. However the 387th managed to stir up some heavy type flak near Castle, and then began to fly violent evasive action which carried the seventy-two plane formation to almost due north run to the enemy coastline. A heavy haze began to develop far below the bombers.
Captain Thomas White while flying, "PRIVY DONNA" 13165811 RU-A in number four position in the second box, felt the vibrations of machine gun fire within his aircraft. His tail gunner, Staff Sergeant S.E. Ayers fired off some 200 rounds at an enemy fighter. Lieutenant R.B. Spencer flying ship 131790 RU-T number six in the low flight felt the same sensation as his tail gunner, Staff Sergeant J.L. Dorton fired 450 rounds in three quick bursts. Directly across in ship number five, "BARBARA" 131743 RU-S, tail gunner, Sergeant P.M. Jacobs also joined in the gun fire, his pilot was Lieutenant John Kilmartin.
Two FW-190s had climbed up out of the haze to attack the last three planes in the low flight. All three gunners fired at them from 500 down to 300 yards as the enemy fighters came in firing from 6 oclock low position. Six Spitfire pilots saw the action and dove down on the interceptors. Both German pilots executed a split-s-maneuver, (a half roll immediately followed by a half loop) which resulted in a 180 degree change of direction that carried them some 1500 feet down into the haze and far astern of the formation , where they vanished! None of the bombers sustained any damage in the attack.
Three miles east of Castle at 1754 hours a Spitfire was seen to be shot down and crash, no parachute was observed. Another Spitfire circled the doomed plane as a FW-190 was seen flying in the same area. It became obvious that the 387th Group was leading the 386th Group to an enemy territory exit over Furnes-this was a twenty-one mile deviation northeast of the briefed exit point which was located at Gravelines. However the 386th Group dutifully followed the leader on an erroneous departure point, disregarding the fact that heavy type flak could be seen coming up at the enemy coastline! They exited the enemy coast at 1757 hours at an altitude of 10,000 feet. A let down was begun so as to make English landfall over North Foreland at the prescribed altitude of 7,000 feet.
The Air Forces of three countries were involved in todays air combat action which included the RAF, USAF and the Luftwaffe. All three factions managed to screw up! To start things off, the 323rd B-26 Bomb Group was scheduled to lead the 322nd B-26 Group on a seventy-two plane raid to the airdrome located at Lille-Nord, France. The bomber stream was on time, 1700 hours at the appointed place and altitude for fighter rendezvous. Some RAF escort met the bombers and all headed across the channel.
Meanwhile on the German side, Fighter Control detected the coming air action and began calling down fighters from Antwerp, Belgium and Poix Airdrome in France. Also Some others from Lille-Nord were ordered into the air to intercept the large bomber force. A British tracking center estimated the German force of some one hundred planes at various times around Poix and Lille area! By that time the RAF Fighter Leader became painfully aware that his top cover and escort cover were not going to show-he made a decision to turn the B-26 formation around when they were very near the enemy coast. The bombers and fighters flew back to England.
German Fighter Control kept their planes in the air a bit longer while trying to figure out what was going on with such a large formation, which suddenly turned and was heading in the opposite direction! The first German units were low on fuel and returned to their bases. About that time the 387th and 386th Groups with an undetermined number of Spitfire escort started across the channel. By that time the second German unit was about to return for refueling, as the B-26s headed inland toward Merville Airdrome. Colonel Zoeckler of the 11 Group RAF, stated that some enemy fighters had tangled with allied fighters and bombers operating in the region.
The German units had received word to land at once, apparently the enemy command worried about their ability to refuel, rearm, and get up again to intercept what they believed was another wave of B-26s about to make landfall far to the south. German Fighter Control guessed wrong! The other wave was a formation of more than one hundred-thirty B-17s making their way southwest to bomb the Renault Engine and Ball Bearing Factory near Paris! The B-17s had made a deep unmolested penetration into enemy held territory; because German Fighter Control figured their fighter units did not have enough time to get up and catch the supposed formation of fast flying B-26 aircraft!
The 387th Bomb Group was flying to their base at Chipping Ungar while the 386th returned to Boxted. They went through the routine of landing, parking aircraft, and getting the flight crews into interrogation. Most crews thought the raid was an excellent example of pattern bombing, with good coverage over the area designated. Other comments were: Course was too close to St. Omer. Lead ship gunners should be more careful in testing guns! Gunners in lead planes said, "Cant test guns over channel due to overly tight formations flying behind." Friendly fighters should be informed to avoid head-on approaches, too much firing at Spitfires! Need warm gloves and colored goggle lenses for all for gunners. Should use evasive action where possibility of flak exists.
Seventy-two plane formations are too damned big! Group should vary altitude and point of entry on enemy coast occasionally. Adapters on aircraft phone jack boxes are not worth much. Better transportation needed to and from hardstand areas. Better mess required, combat crews had gas pains, want less greasy fried food. Have hot meals when we return from a mission, and want more fresh eggs. We should have drinking water in the briefing room. Five ships made their final approaches at only 500 feet of altitude, base leg carried out too far-screwed up everything. Last but not least, dont follow the 387th Bomb Group anymore!
Captain Campbell from the 387th Bomb Group sent a report to the 386th explaining why their formation made exit from enemy coast at Furnes instead at Gravelines as ordered by Third Wing Field Order. Major Borem was flying the lead ship of the formation. After crossing the target he began taking violent evasive action, and in doing so, went too far north before turning toward the exit point at Gravelines. Then discovered that he was nearer Furnes than to Gravelines, and in order to hold the time of formation over enemy territory to a minimum, he chose to take the shorter route!
Thursday, September 16, 1943:
Mission called off because of marginal weather situation. Major Rogers flew the Piper L-B4 aircraft to Great Dunmow in the afternoon. No other flying activity.
Friday, September 17, 1943:
Third Bomb Wing cancelled Field Order 90-Zero Hour was to have been at 0955. Little or no sunshine, weather as a whole not very good!
Chester P. Klier