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|Sunday, September 19, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 25:
Briefing was called to order at 0500 hours, this wing will attack targets in France. The target is Z281, an airdrome located at Lille Nord, France. The 387th Bomb Group will lead us with thirty-six aircraft. Our Group will furnish thirty-six planes along with three spares. Each plane will carry ten 300 pound general purpose bombs fused for one-tenth delay both nose and tail. The weather at this moment appears to be marginal, there will be a one hour delay. Rescheduled take off time is now set for 0930 hours.
Major Tom Ramsey 386th leader had "4 F" 131771 RU-R airborne at 0932 hours, and so it went until all of our ships had climbed up through the low ceiling that hung over Boxted. After a few circuits around the airdrome gaining altitude, they set out for their first check point. Things were not going very well for the 387th B-26stwo returned early with mechanical problems. Thirteen others plus three spares returned to base because of inability to get into formationno doubt lousy weather conditions were a contributing factor.
Rendezvous over Splasher Beacon number 6 came off on schedule. With only twenty-one aircraft remaining, the 387th led onward to the next check point at Orfordness, then continuing toward Clacton-On-Sea. The next leg would carry them to the southwest, at that point Major Ramsey was informed by his navigator that the 387th was angling off course to the right by as much as 20 degrees! The Major chose to simply follow the other Group Leader. Ashford appeared off his left wing as the lead Group began to swing in that direction. The Spitfires were there waiting to take up the duties of bomber protection at 1109 hours. Had it not been for a weather caused delay in take off time, the formation would have been at this location two hours and thirty-four minutes earlier!
The formation was flying almost due east, just a few miles off the enemy coastline. A right dog-leg was executed and they made landfall over Furnes as planned. Light flak came up at them, it was weak in amount and considered inaccurate for position and altitude. Minutes later some 88mm flak bursts made an appearance, but only briefly, and not close to the Marauders as they flew on a southeastern heading. Spitfires in flights of four crossed over the formation from time to time. Friendly fighters did not necessarily follow the same track as the bombers, sometimes cutting sharply across the inside of the formation turn; this would enable them to scout the course ahead of the bombers in the direction of the turn. It was a fighter pilots method to conserve fuel, they could get ahead of the bombers by advancing throttles only slightly!
Cloud cover beneath the bombers was about seven-tenths, cumulus clouds were building upward and took on the appearance of gigantic gray-white stalagmites! The formation had reached Meenen, making a right turn they were on a due south course, the target lay directly ahead. Suddenly the 387th Group made a rather sharp turn off to the right , Major Ramsey also rolled his first eighteen into a turn to follow the Group in front. The RAF Fighter Leader was recalling the mission due to what he considered heavy cloud cover in the target area.
Major Harris of the 386th leading his second box of eighteen continued on from the IP (Initial Point) for a go at the target as long as they were so close. German flak gunners put up a scrap metal welcome mat for his efforts! Lieutenant T.L. Adams flying number two off the Majors right wing in ship 131823 AN-D had a piece of flak knock a hole in the pilots escape hatch. He got another hit in the right side fuselage at the forward end of the open bomb bay. The co-pilots windshield was badly cracked by still another chunk of flak. Lieutenant Mullins flying ship number 131827 AN-G sixth position of the same flight, received a rip in his rudder fabric and a flak hole in the left side aft bomb bay door.
The lead bombardier flying with Major Harris tried his best for a good sighting, but the clouds obscured the aiming pointwith only a scant look at the target he released his bombs as did the other bombardiers on his cue! The bombs disappeared from view as they fell into the broken cloud patterns below. No enemy aircraft were observed on the airdrome, but many craters were visible from a previous attack on the landing ground. One hundred and seventy-one, 300 pound bombs had just been dropped, of these fifty-seven burst in an open field between Fort de Bondues and the Wambreches Road, which is approximately 700 yards east of the intended target. Bombing results were rated as poor!
A right turn off the target was completed as moderate to intense accurate 88mm flak rocked the second box, to which two low flight pilots could attest! They were Lieutenants Wentz and KingsleyWentz in number two position flying a plane called "THE YANKEE GUERRILLA" 134946 YA-L had his right side elevator shot through, and his co-pilots windshield cracked. Kingsley flying ship number 131796 YA-H in position five took hits in his upper right side package gun fairing along with other hits in the inboard lower cowl flap on the right engine nacelle.
Several crews noted that the marshalling yard at Lille was full of railroad cars. Because the first box did not make a bomb run, and turned away from the target early: the second box found themselves several miles behind. To make matters more worrisome, they were without benefit of fighter escort for a few minutes. They can be long minutes indeed as bomber crews fly among tall cumulus clouds wondering if enemy fighter planes will come zooming around one of those fluffy white pillars with wing cannon blazing!
Armentieres came into view about four miles west of the return route. During the month of April in 1918 the German Army launched a successful mustard gas attack from that French town. The place was also known for a song during the First World Warit was called, "Mademoiselle From Armentieres." The authors Dad told him about the place. He had been infantryman in the U.S. Army First Division, and had fought in the area during 1918.
The second box of B-26s were about halfway between the target and their exit point at Furnes. The first box was a considerable distance ahead, but within view of the trailing formation. At that moment in the first box, number five positionLieutenant Duane Petit was flying "BAR FLY" 131877 RU-V at 10,000 feet. He felt gun firing vibrations in his ship at 1145 hours. Tail gunner Staff Sergeant J.E. Bolt had caught sight of two Focke-Wulf 190s barreling in from 7 oclock level with wing cannon firing from about 600 yards out. He only managed to get off some thirty-five rounds, apparently without affect, both fighters broke sharply down and away. One to the left and other to the right, and disappearing into the wispy clouds below. A third FW-190 approached "BAR FLY" from 1100 oclock above, passed over the left wing and continued down below the bomber at an angle of some twenty degrees.
The waist gunner in number six position ship was Staff Sergeant Billie B. Boyd, Jr. He was flying with Flight Officer Durward Casey in ship 131832 RU-U. Boyd picked up the fighter and was leading it perfectly as his single waist gun rattled off some fifty rounds at 400 yards. There was a violent explosionwhat had been a sleek FW-190 fighter plane an instant before was now reduced to a bunch of junk airplane parts raining down on the Belgian Countryside! Staff Sergeant Boyd received full credit for destroying a FW-190.
The air action shifted quickly to the second box of eighteen bombersa ship by the name of "XTERMINATER" 131618 YA-V was singled out for attack, the planes pilot was Lieutenant Darnell in number six spot of the high flight. A FW-190 emerged from the haze below at 6 oclock position. Cannon shells slammed into the tail assembly of his plane, several holes appeared around the base of the rudder and elevator as the 20mm shells exploded on contact. One cannon round entered the tail cone from port side, and exploded inside the aft side of the tail gunners armor plate. It blew a piece of tail cone skin off the starboard side making many jagged rips in the aft fuselage skin. Staff Sergeant C.S. Johnson was painfully wounded by flying splinters from the enemy projectile. A nearby Spitfire pilot jumped the FW-190, letting loose a withering blast of 20mm cannon fire. The German plane shuddered, then fell to earth sheathed in flames!
An Me-109 approached number five ship 131796 YA-H in the low flight which was being flown by Lieutenant Kingsley. The enemy came in from 6 oclock level firing at a range of 300 yards without effect. Tail gunner Staff Sergeant J.S. Pokrzywinski and top turret man Staff Sergeant H.J. Kurecka each fired two bursts, but no hits were claimed by either gunner. The enemy aircraft peeled off to the right and out of their gun range. Almost simultaneously another Me-109 came in from 5 oclock low, it did not appear to fire its guns. Waist gunner Staff Sergeant H.P. Guinther opened up with a long burst at 300 yards, and continued to fire down to 75 yards. He observed his tracers bounce off the belly of the Messerschmitt which dove away at a step angle. Still another Me-109 came in, this time at 6 oclock level, Staff Sergeants Kurecka and Guinther both fired on the enemy. Although their tracers indicated many hits, no real damaging results were observed as the fighter banked sharply away from the bomber.
The enemy coast was coming into view as the German pilots continued their tenacious attacks upon the 386th Bombers. A FW-190 pilot lined up on ship number 131685 YA-J being flown by Lieutenant Roy Voorhees. The enemy flier came in from 6 oclock high and fired continuously from 600 yards out, down to a mere 25 yardsscoring hits in the right wing and aft fuselage of the bomber. Tail gunner Staff Sergeant E.F. Nubert of the attacked plane answered the fire along with Staff Sergeant H.E. Reisinger who was also a tail gunner and flying with the flight leader Captain Boyd White in "HELLS ANGELS", tail number 131615 YA-W. Two other gunners flying with Captain Robert Sands in "MISTER FIVE BY FIVE",131612 YA-Z, joined in the air battle from their number four position in the low flight. They were Tech Sergeant E.A. Pitts in the waist, and staff Sergeant S.E. Waite firing from his tail gun location. Waite unleashed four hundred rounds of armor piercing, incendiary, and tracer ammunition at the Focke-Wulf fighter and scored hits all over it. The enemy plane with its cockpit shattered , blew up in flames and fell steeply to the ground where it crashed in a fiercely burning heap. Staff Sergeant Waite received full credit for the kill!
A FW-190 attacked the low flight, going after "LORETTA YOUNG", 131624 YA-S, it was being flown by Lieutenant Milfred Elling in number six position. The fighter was headed in from 6 oclock level about 300 yards out, his four wing cannon firing steadily as tail gunner Staff Sergeant G.A. Sampson returned two hundred-fifty rounds of fire at one-hundred yard range. The enemy pilot broke off the attack after absorbing hits in his cowling and enginesmoking-- the plane rolled over and dove away! Ship "LORETTA Young" was severely damaged in the attack!
Cannon shells had passed through two propeller blades on the right side propeller. One shell burst in the right wing inboard of the engine nacelle. Another burst inside the same wing on the outboard side, penetrating the aileron and rear spar. An unexploded 20mm shell had also lodged inside that wing. The left side elevator was demolished by more explosive shells, and all of the fabric was blown off!
One cannon shell entered the tail gunners compartment, passed through and exploded near the top turret. Shell fragments wounded all three crew members in the aft section of the fuselage. Staff Sergeants C.E. Cyford in the top turret, and G.A. Sampson in the tail gun spot. Tech Sergeant A.F. Bonnickson was manning the waist gun position. In the forward part of the aircraft, Lieutenant William Stevenson was also wounded by shell fragments.
A FW-190 headed in on Lieutenant Voorhees, number three in the low flight from the direction of 7 oclock medium high. The sun position was almost directly overhead and caused no glare problem for Staff Sergeant C.C. Cox as he fired from his top turret at 75 yards. Hits were noted on the enemy ship when its pilot decided to break off the attack for good reason, his engine began belching black smoke!
A Spitfire was in hot pursuit on the tail of an Me-109, both fighters darted into a nearby cloudseconds later both darted out, and by chance the enemy pilot found himself lined up on number four ship in the high flight which was flown by Captain James T. Wilson. The German pilot fired two bursts from 6 oclock level at a distance of 125 yards. He was greeted with a hailstorm of tracers!
The trailing Spitfire pilot wisely zoomed almost straight up to extricate himself from the fusillade of bomber fire power. German cannon fire had damaged the underside of the wing of "MAN-O-WAR" 131619 YA-U. Its crew fought back, top turret gunner Staff Sergeant J.L. Holmstrom opened fire as did tail gunner Staff Sergeant James J. Duggan. Duggan was scoring hits at 125 yards, the enemy broke off to the right in a very steep dive with black smoke pouring out from the engine and left side. Duggan received credit for a damaged enemy fighter. One other tail gunner, Staff Sergeant E.O. Stensrud flying in the lead ship "SON-OF-SATAN" 131613 YA-Y flown by Major Sherm Beaty also got a few rounds off before the Messerschmitt was out of gun range.
Enemy fighters continued attacking the high flight, singling out number five ship by the name of, "BUZZ-N-BITCH II" 131953 RG-T piloted by Lieutenant Ansel Brandstrom. One Focke-Wulf came in from 6 oclock level commencing fire at 400 yards. Staff Sergeant Henry C. Stuebenrauch with his Bell Turret, got off some eighty or so rounds. The exchange of fire continued down to 175 yards when the German pilot broke off his attack to starboard side. The tail gunner probably scored many hits, but without obvious results. On the other hand, enemy 20mm cannon shells inflicted considerable damage in five places on the bomber.
Lieutenant R.D. Wilson was flying "NEMO" 134944 YA-M in number three spot when it came under attack from 6 oclock level by a FW-190. Tail gunner Sergeant E.O. Poynter fired four bursts from 500 yards down to 200 yards, scoring hits on the nose of the fighter which pulled up and broke away to the right, passing over the top of the high flight.
Almost simultaneously another FW-190 went after "MISS FORTUNE II" 133885 AN-M flown by Lieutenant George W. Hochrein, number five in the lead flight. Staff Sergeant S.S. Spetich manning the top turret, fired a burst at a range of 700 yards with results unknown. His tail gunner Staff Sergeant P.V. Suway unleashed about one-hundred rounds, of which a few were observed to strike the attacking aircraft in the fuselage. The fighter dove down to port side after closing to 250 yards.
Enemy pilots were using the clouds to their advantage as three more bombers in the lead flight came under attack. Major Franklin Harris flying lead ship, called "RAT POISON" 131606 AN-S had a an enemy machine gun bullet pass diagonally through the aft bomb bay severing electrical wiring leading to the tail gun solenoid and the ammunition booster motors. Number six ship 131827 AN-G was flown by Lieutenant A.B. Mullins, his waist gunner, Staff Sergeant L. Fasol began firing as a FW-190 dropped out of the clouds from 7 oclock medium high, then slipped over a bit to 5 oclock level.
Lieutenant Stanley R. Lovells crew in, "GRIM RAPER II" 134888 AN-L in number three position took up the fight as the enemy maneuvered around to 6 oclock level position. Staff Sergeant C.G. Adams had his tail guns malfunction at a very critical time, they would not fire! The German pilot closed to fifty yards firing continuouslyboring in on the bomber, his leather helmeted head with goggles and oxygen mask were plainly visible as he swept by. Waist gunner Staff Sergeant J.E. Good opened fire on him, the fighter chandelled up to the left as top turret man Staff Sergeant Earl C. Pitman picked him up and commenced firing at the enemy climbing out rapidly to 9 oclock high, and was apparently undamaged. Lieutenant R.D. Wilsons ship "NEMO", again received attention from a representative of the German Air Force as a FW-190 approached from 10 oclock below. Waist gunner Sergeant W.C. Thomas III, opened fire at 400 yards with approximately ninety rounds, scoring hits along the fuselagethe enemy plane peeled off at 8 oclock low position without showing any ill effects from his brief encounter with the U.S. 8th Air Force!
The RAF finally restored order to the cloud infested, chaotic sky over the Belgian Countryside, they had shot down one enemy plane close to the bombers. The bomber gunners had exhibited extraordinary marksmanship with two confirmed enemy aircraft destroyed and one badly damaged. Numerous others had been dinged by some 8,574 rounds of fifty caliber ammo fired at them during an air battle among the clouds reaching up to 16,000 feet.
The formation was nearly at the enemy coast as several crews noted a convoy on thirty to forty trucks moving along a north-south road eight miles west of Furnes. Captain Charles V. Thornton, high flight leader flying "CRESCENDO" 131644 RG-C in the first box of eighteen, observed light type tracer flak along with a few bursts of 88mm flak fire as the Group exited the enemy coast. They crossed the channel and made English Landfall 6,000 feet over Deal, and then took up a heading for Boxted. Only eleven ships from the 387th Bomb Group were able to fly back to their home base. The others were so badly damaged they were forced to land at emergency airdromes, four landed at West Malling, and six others landed at Manston near the coast!
Our 386th medical crews at the far end of the active runway were alerted by double star red flares arching through the sky as two ships on final approach indicated they had wounded onboard! The AN-M42A1 flares would burn from seven to thirteen seconds, and could be seen from two to three miles in daylight conditions.
After all of the planes had landed, Staff Sergeant James Wilkie and the author were waiting on the parking hardstand, we wanted to know how our plane "BUZZ-N-BITCH II" had fared on the mission. Lieutenant Brandstrom gave us a smile as he swung our Marauder around into its normal parking position, he cut the engines and we ventured forth. There was much evidence our bird had taken a good share of 20mm cannon and machine gun bullet hits. Wilkie made straight for his tail turret to check out some bullet holes he had spotted. We looked through the tail turret Plexiglas and saw a wild pattern of dashes etched on the aft side of the armor plate. An enemy machine gun bullet had pierced the outer turret shell, struck the armor plate and spun all over the place, finally lodged between the bottom edge of the armor plate and the lower fuselage skin. Jimmy dug the projectile out with his pocket knife.
We examined the bullet, and then Jimmy handed it to Staff Sergeant Henry Stuebenrauch who was the tail gunner today. He said, "Why dont you keep it Jimmy, its your ship?" Jimmy replied, "Well, the German pilot shot it at you Henry, why not drill a hole in the butt end of it and put it on your dog tag chain for luck!" Henry smiled and said, "Okay." Lieutenant David Hartley called out saying, "Come on guys, the truck is here to take us to debriefing." After they left, Jimmy and I looked over our ship from the ground and then we climbed up on top of the wing to inspect for battle damage. A bit later he said, "What do you think C.P.?" I said, "I think we will be flying other peoples airplanes because this one would require extensive repair before it could return to flying status." There was a bullet hole in the left side fuselage by the tail turret approximately three inches in from the rear of the airplane. A hole in the forward part of the right lower package gun cover. Three holes were noted in the lower left package gun also.
A bullet entered the trailing edge of the right outboard wing flap, cutting a reinforcing strip, and pulled several rivets. One bullet traveled forward inside the wing coming out through the leading edge approximately one foot out from the landing light. Another cut the rear spar, a wing rib, and the front spar. A 20mm shell hit the top of the right wing just forward of the outer end of the wing flap. It had exploded over the aileron cables, cutting both almost in half. It damaged the aileron trim tab torque tube, breaking two of the phenolic pulleys, and making several holes in the lower wing skin. Some of the fragments had cut a large hole in the rear spar. They also cut a wing rib in four places before passing out through the front spar and landing light. There was a bullet hole in one propeller blade three inches in from the leading edge about sixteen inches up from the tip.
Some 20mm shell fragments had torn up the trailing edge of the right side elevator about one foot from the trim tab. Two ribs were damaged along with the front spar, some of the fabric was ripped off by an exploding cannon shell. Other fragment went through the horizontal stabilizer making slits on the top skin one inch wide and three inches long. Some aircraft crew chiefs painted battle damage patches red. If that would have been the practice of our crew chief, one Tech Sergeant Charles J. Poundstone - "BUZZ-N-BITCH II" would have had a red checkered tail assembly and a solid red right wing. The entire right wing had to be replaced due to extensive internal damage. Our plane remained grounded for more than a month while repairs were undertaken!
The Marauders proved once again that they could not only dish out punishment to the enemy, but maybe more importantly, they could also absorb punishment and still deliver their crews safely back to home base!
A tail gunners view of a Focke-Wulf 190 coming in at 6 o'cloak level.
RAF preliminary reports of enemy fighter reaction to our mission today, indicates there were approximately fifty enemy aircraft airborne. They had been observed taking off from Antwerp, Courtrai, Cambrai and Lille. The total number of enemy encounters is unknown.
Footnote: An addition to the story above.
Grant Bird was informed by his son about a story on the internet that concerned his flight crew in World War Two. Lieutenant Grant Bird co-pilot on the Lieutenant Darnell crew flying "XTERMINATOR." Memories came flooding back when I read about this. I was twenty years old, it was our crews first combat mission. When the fighter hit us the gunners called out on the intercom, "Swedes hit!" They had to stay on their guns while the fighters were in the vicinity. After the fighters broke off, Lieutenant Darnell okayed me to leave the cockpit to check on Swede. The tail gunners compartment was a mess. He had head wounds, shrapnel in his neck next to the jugular. Both arms and hands were burned with flesh stripped, and bone showing. The picture didnt show how bad he was hurt.
I didnt think he would make it back alive to England. I got him out of the tail and then dragged him up passed the waist guns. At our altitude the temperature was freezing, I froze part of one hand when I took off a glove to give him what I could offer in first aid. With head wounds I couldnt give him morphine. After attending to him I returned to the cockpit.
We came into Boxted (our home base) firing a red flarethe signal we had wounded on board. As soon as we stopped I went back to help with Swede. Moments before that picture was taken, the Doc shoved me aside saying, "I cant treat him with you in the way!" Swede did survive his wounds. After several months in the hospital he was sent back to the States. End of co-pilot statement.
Chester P. Klier