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|Monday, September 27, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 29:
Weather was improving over the Continent - crews were sitting on benches as briefing commenced at 1400 hours. Third Bomb Wing F.O. 108 directs us to hit the airdrome at Conches, France. Yes, that is correct, we started out for this one yesterday, but Wing called it off just before rendezvous. We also have a secondary target, Z460, the airdrome located at Beaumont le Roger, France. There are a few changes however, Captain Weiss will be leading the formation, and the 323rd Group will be following us. They will make rendezvous with our Group 12,000 feet over Splasher Beacon Number 8 at 1644 hours. We rendezvous with our Spitfire escort at 1710 hours over the channel.
Six of the 552nd Squadron planes are loaded with ten each 300 pound M-31 demolition bombs. The other thirty ships plus four extras are loaded with eighteen each 100 pound general purpose (GP) bombs, all are fused both nose and tail with one-tenth second delay. Each aircraft will carry maximum combat ammunition.
The route out from base to Splasher Beacon Number 8 to Shoreham to 50 Degrees 00 Minutes North, 00 Degrees 10 Minutes East, (fighter rendezvous) to five miles west of Fecamp to Serquigny to target. The axis of attack is generally northwest to southeast. The intersection of runways is our aiming point. The 323rd Group will go for the north dispersal area and hangar. The route back is left turn off target to Yvetot to Beachy Head to base. Diversion airdromes are, Friston and West Malling. Maps used on this mission will be number 8 and Le Harve.
You can expect light and heavy type flak near Fecamp on the way in, flak ships have been reported operating just a mile or so off shore. The primary target has twelve to fourteen heavy guns spread around from the southwest to northwest, and northeast of the airdrome, it is considered to be accurate for both range and tracking. On the way out stay well clear of the Cany-Barville area just southwest of St. Valery. They have a flak gunnery school there; we do not wish to graduate any of their students!
All communications remain the same as yesterday except for radio call signs - bomber call sign is NUXIN, fighter call sign is ANCIENT, and ground sector call sign will be MUNDY.
Weather at take off time will be three to four-tenths cirrus at 20,000 feet, four-tenths cumulus with a base of 3,500 feet and tops to 6,000 feet. Visibility should be about six miles. The route out from base has up to four-tenths cirrus increasing to seven-tenths over French Coast, and continuing to target. You will have two to four-tenths cumulus at 3,500 feet, increasing to five to six-tenths at English Coast, then decreasing three tenths or less rest of the way. Visibility six miles, improving eight to ten miles over Continent. The target has six to seven- tenths circus above 20,000 feet, with up to two-tenths cumulus, tops to 8,000 feet. Ground visibility will be eight to ten miles horizontal visibility aloft is forty to fifty miles. Wind from 40 degrees at 25 m.p.h., temperature at altitude will be minus 03 degrees Centigrade.
Conditions on return flight will be four-tenths high cirrus and some stratocumulus six to eight-tenths with a base of 4,000 feet over England. Visibility to be three to four miles in smoke and haze. At landing time, visibility can be expected in the three mile range with haze.
Our seventy-two plane attack will be covered by twenty-one squadrons of RAF Spitfires from 11 Group. They will disperse as follows: Close escort, escort cover, high cover, forward target cover, and rear withdrawal support. The RAF expects enemy fighter reaction to this mission! Watches were synchronized after a ten second count down, and flight crews left the briefing room at 1646 hours - picking up escape kits and French money packets on the way out. Within ten minutes all crews were checking over their assigned aircraft. As usual Lieutenant Anthony Popovici on our Donald Vincent crew had his jokes to help ease the pre-mission tension; he was heard to say, "Did you hear the story about the gentleman farmer? He always milks his cows with his gloves on!" or he might say, "She was a decided blonde - she decided yesterday."
Engine start up time arrived at 1521 hours, a few minutes later ships began to taxi out to the active runway. Formation leader Captain Don Weiss was airborne with his aircraft, "INCENDIARY MARY" 1311768 YA-O at 1540 hours. Lieutenant R.E. Kingsley was scheduled to fly, "MISS MURIEL II"131796 YA-H, however he did not make a take off due to a flat tire. Lieutenant A.G. Burger, Jr. filled in that position, number five in the lead flight of first box of eighteen ships. His ship was, "STAR DUST" 134937 YA-N.
All first box aircraft were circling a few thousand feet above Great Dunmow while Captain Emmett Curran led his second box of eighteen up to join them. The last man cleared the runway at 1602 hours. Soon thirty-six planes plus three spares were heading southward to rendezvous with the 323rd Group at 12,000 feet over Splasher Beacon Number 8 - that being accomplished as scheduled precisely at 1644 hours. The seventy-two plane formation took up a heading for Shoreham amid towering columns of dazzling white cumulus clouds trailing along the English Coastline for a considerable distance.
The formation was approaching our rendezvous point for the fighter escort - Zero Hour was at hand approximately twenty miles off the enemy coast. Bomber gunners had already test fired their guns, all in readiness should the Luftwaffe choose to intervene! None of the regular scheduled bombers had developed any problems, the three extra ships would not be needed today. They peeled off, jettisoned their bombs into the channel, and flew back to base. Minutes later the RAF arrived at 1710 hours - taking up stations along both sides of the bomber formation and overhead. Three minutes later the bombers made enemy landfall five miles west of Fecamp, no flak came up to harass them, it was very strange - but nobody was complaining for the lack of attention!
The Group was maintaining a heading of 150 degrees on its flight to the INITIAL POINT (I. P.) at Serquigny some fifty-five miles ahead. Visibility was super as the bombers droned on at 190 m.p.h. One to two tenths cumulus clouds could be seen about 4,000 feet below as the formation neared the I. P. - light tracer flak and heavy type 88mm flak filled the sky off to the left over the target airdrome! The enemy anti-aircraft gunners were firing at our forward target cover, an unidentified single engine aircraft was observed going down at 1725 hours. The I. P. had been reached and the bombers turned left to begin their bomb run. All was very quite over the target a few miles ahead, other than a few dissipating black flak smoke patterns that still hung in the otherwise clear sky.
This was the worst part, the enemy can see you and they know where you are headed, but nothing happens! Two minutes seems like two hours, the first few bursts of flak seem almost like a relief, the tension is broken - followed very quickly with prayers that the flak barrage will cease immediately! Two single engine aircraft are seen going down, one was smoking and the other apparently out of control directly over the target at 1729 hours. One was believed to be a Spitfire, no chutes were observed!
The bombers had released their bombs and mushrooms of dirt could be seen erupting across the runway intersection on the target airdrome two miles below. A prescribed left turn was executed off the target as the planes took up a heading for Yvetot, about forty-eight miles distant. Fighter planes were very active a mile or so off to the southeast near Evreux Airdrome as reported by Staff Sergeant James Wilkie, tail gunner on Lieutenant Vincents crew flying in, "PANSY YOKUM" 131638 RG-N". Several aerial dog fights were underway well out of bomber gun range.
Rouen is nine miles off the right wing, marshalling yards there appear to be deserted. just off the left wing three barrage balloons can be seen flying over the town of Quillebeuf. The formation had reached the next check point located at Yvetot, only ten more miles and the Group would be clear of the enemy coast. Lieutenant Popovicis voice came over our intercom system stating, "They are getting too close to St. Valery, we should be off to the left side here!" The warning words of the briefing officer flashed across the authors mind, "Avoid the flak school at St. Valery!"
All Hell broke loose with sudden fury, black bursts of 88mm flak saturated our high flight in the lead box, and it was deadly accurate! Close bursts jolted our bomber, we could hear them explode, sounded like whooph, whooph, schumph! There was machine gun fire, I saw tracers going over the top of our ship. They were coming from the tail guns of Sergeant William Newel flying with Lieutenant Cox in a ship called, "DANNY BOY II" 131987 RG-K. They were in number two position, directly ahead and slightly higher than us. Looking out to 6 oclock position, I saw no enemy aircraft for him to shoot at - could have been a high state of nerves, maybe he simply clamped down on the triggers of his machine guns to relieve tension.
Schumph, a flak fragment slammed through my top turret dome, and I felt a hot sting as the jagged metal slashed under my left cheekbone, instinctively both hands covered over my face. Everything turned red, like looking into the sun with eyelids closed. My first horrifying thought was my eyes had been hit and I was blind! Faintly I heard my shaky voice over intercom, "Engineer to crew, Ive been hit!" I tried wiping my eyes, they cleared a bit - there was blood on my gloves. I glanced quickly around our flight, then a chilling sight - Lieutenant Cox had just taken a direct hit in his left main fuel tank. A sheet of flame nearly one hundred feet long shot rearward over the top of our plane. The fire burned off all fabric on his rudder and elevators. I could see the heat twisted metal framework that remained. Lieutenant Cox did a heroic job of maneuvering that flaming hulk clear of our flight, it was his last act of piloting at 1747 hours!
Staff Sergeant Howard Scholz was looking out of the starboard side waist window of, "CRESCENDO" 131644 RG-C flown by high flight leader Captain Charles Thornton. Scholz could see directly into the cockpit of the doomed ship only forty feet away. He said, "Lieutenant Cox had an unlit cigar clinched in his teeth and was staring out at his flaming wing and engine - gripping the control wheel with both hands, and turning it from left to right!" End of gunners statement.
In seconds the fire had burned through the wing, it folded upward, then broke off just outboard of the left engine. None of the crew appeared to have the faintest chance to bail out as the bomber plummeted to earth like a flaming meteor. The plane exploded on impact in an area known as Cany-Barville, two miles south of St. Valery Airdrome. The flak continued, number four ship in our flight suddenly zoomed upward at nearly a 60 degree angle, and on the verge of stalling out. The pilot of, "SEDUCTIVE SUSIE" with tail number 131738 RG-O, Flight Officer John Albers had been wounded by a pieces of shrapnel which lacerated his left upper arm and forearm. When struck he jerked his arm back which in turn caused him to pull back on the control column causing the ship to climb at a very step angle. Other pieces of flak tore up the front right chest portion of his flak vest, but did not penetrate the armor. The bomber wallowed as Co-pilot Lieutenant James Engles who had also been wounded, struggled to regain control of their plane - then he rejoined our flight. I heard myself over the drone of our engines, shouting at the top of my voice, "Stop shooting, you got one thats enough!" Aerial combat can be a seemingly unreal experience; everything happens so fast, accelerating emotions at a fantastic rate. Airmen find themselves praying in one breath and swearing in the next - while they might cringe with fear, yet remain defiant with anger!
The flak barrage lifted as quickly as it had begun; we were out over the channel now. I slumped down in my top turret, emotionally drained as faces looked up at me from the interior of the aft fuselage. Lieutenant Vincent had turned control of the ship over to Lieutenant W.H. Bell, and then hurried aft. Staff Sergeants Robert OKane and James Wilkie from the waist and tail respectively had left their positions to check-up on me. I gave them a thumbs-up gesture and a weak smile. They offered first aid treatment, but I told them I was comfortable and would remain in the turret. They all gave me a reassuring pat on the knee and returned to their crew positions. Every plane in our high flight had been damaged by flak and one had been shot down. Members of that crew were: 1st Lieutenant W.F. Cox, 2nd Lieutenants F. Stone, and H.J. Corbin, Tech Sergeant G.H. Dunn, Staff Sergeants A.J. Vermette and W.R. Newell. All were KIA.
The formation crossed the channel, made English landfall over Beachy Head, and then flew directly to base at Great Dunmow where all landed safely. Soon crews were filing combat reports with Group Interrogation Officers - they related the facts and registered complaints as well. Most crews saw the Cox plane go down in flames, none reported seeing any open parachutes. The crew of Lieutenant N.C. Giles had a bomb rack malfunction, as a result they returned with all eighteen bombs still in the ship. Lieutenant Ansel Brandstroms crew observed an aircraft just off the runway on the target airdrome. Captain Albert Caney crew thought 100 pound bombs were too small to do much damage on a airfield. Also the mission was scheduled too late in the day, and that air speed was too fast on return to England. The crew of Flight Officer Albers stated that Lieutenant J.B. Engles saved the airplane and crew when he grabbed control of their ship when the pilot was hit by flak!
One balloon was reported at St. Valery and ten ships were in the harbor at Fecamp. A gun emplacement was noted one mile northwest of Rouen. Some crews said there is not enough ventilation in the briefing room. Flight Officer A. Deussens crew requested that fresh eggs be served now and then. Lieutenant Duane Petits crew said ordnance should be more careful in loading - four of their bombs did not have tail fins attached. Another crew reported a bomb hoist was left between the bomb racks. Others said not enough evasive action on the mission, warmer gloves for gunners, hands on verge of freezing with fingers swelling up from cold at altitude! A total of 573 bombs were dropped on the target by our Group with results ranging from fair to good.
The 323rd Group reported a Spitfire was seen to crash into the channel approximately five miles east of Fecamp. The pilot was observed bailing out and his chute was seen to open. At the time of the incident bomber crews had heard his position fix being reported by radio to the Air-Sea-Rescue Service on Channel D. The RAF reported four Spitfires lost on this operation, and it claimed five enemy planes destroyed and one other probably was destroyed.
Meanwhile out on the hard standings, ground crews were assessing battle damage The Group had incurred. It had been a bad day for the 552nd Squadron, and particularly so for our high flight. Six men had been killed and three others wounded. One aircraft was shot down, and five others were damaged, three of them were extensively shot up!
One plane called, "SEDUCTIVE SUSIE" 131738 RG-O was flown by Flight Officer Albers received the following damage: Flak hole in right side fuselage twelve inches aft of the Plexiglas nose, entering the bombardiers junction box, cutting a large number of wires and damaging the junction box door.
A large piece of flak cut a three inch hole in the right side of the fuselage forward of windshield four inches below skin splice, and damaging a frame member. Flak passed diagonally through fuselage skin hitting top of pilots pedestal, bending and breaking the propeller control quadrants and wounding Pilot Albers. A small flak hole twelve inches below co-pilots windshield which wounded Co-pilot Engles.
There was a flak hole in right side of fuselage eighteen inches above navigators window, which cut through a longeron. Some flak holes in upper right section of the Plexiglas nose and also top center of nose. Another flak hole in fuselage on right side just forward of the bulkhead between navigators compartment and bomb bay, twenty-four inches from rear of door and seven inches from the top. The flak traveled diagonally through the rear bomb bay and hit a longeron. Flak went through the fairing of right top package gun, and in the right side fuselage at the tail gunners position. Flak made a hole in right top section of cowling on left engine, it passed through the carburetor air scoop breaking cover of the right distributor and cut several ignition wires. Flak entered near the same location, passed through the carburetor air duct, but no damage to the engine. There were flak holes in cuffs of right engine propeller, and a hole in the bottom of the radio compass loop housing.
A ship named, "PANSY YOKUM" 131638 RG-N flown by Lieutenant Vincent was damaged as follows: A two by eight inch hole in right horizontal stabilizer, starting at forward spar and running aft. Flak hole at left top side of fuselage just to rear of bomb bay tank filler cap. A flak hole in forward part of Plexiglas turret dome which wounded Engineer Chester Klier. A flak hit in nose section midway between windshield and the Plexiglas nose. Another flak hit punched a hole in upper venturi cowling of left engine. Flak cut emergency air brake line and a hydraulic line, also dented the firewall, but no damage to the engine accessories. There was also a flak hole in left side leading edge of vertical fin approximately twelve inches from bottom of fin.
Lieutenant Bud Lambert flew his ship, "BLACK MAGIC" 131620 RG-R, it received a flak hit in the leading edge of right outboard wing flap, twenty-four inches from outer end. Flak also damaged the tip of right aileron, tearing off one square foot of fabric, and cut some ribs and the trailing edge. There was a flak strike in right side of fuselage just below the tail gunners escape hatch, it also cut electrical wires going to the tail guns. Also a flak hole in underside of the fuselage directly under the tail gunners armor plate along with a hole in the center of right portion of the tail gunners Plexiglas window. One plane from the 553rd Squadron was also damaged by flak, it was flown by Captain James Gianatsis in the high flight of our second box of eighteen planes. The ships name was, "BLAZING HEAT" 131585 AN-J.
The author was taken to the Group Medical Unit - Captain Michael M. Mikita was the flight surgeon who held up a sliver of flak he had removed from my face, just below the left cheekbone. "Your lucky", he remarked, it was a clean glancing slice and not a gouge, the skin should heal nicely." After treatment I returned to our hut in the 552nd Squadron area. Settling back in bed, and slowly unwinding; the days events passed by in hazy review - I had completed my "thirteenth mission." In the truck going out to the airplanes, some of my squadron mates jokingly suggested, "Why dont you call this one 12-A." My reply was, "Im not worried, and Im not superstitious!" Now as I drifted off to sleep, I wasnt so sure!
Tuesday, September 28, 1943:
A combat mission was scheduled for the afternoon, but was called off at 1200 hours. Bad weather prevented any flying for the remainder of the day.
Wednesday, September 29, 1943:
Third Bomb Wing issued Field Order 109, this Group was ordered to attack the airdrome at Conches, France as a primary target. The secondary target was an airdrome which was located at Beaumont Le Roger, France. Also a last resort target which was an airdrome next to the town of Tricqueville, France. Thirty-six aircraft were required, each loaded with ten 300 pound general purpose demolition bombs, fused nose and tail for one-tenth second delay. Zero hour was set for 0930 hours. Because of poor flying weather, the mission was cancelled at 0710 hours. Colonel Simpson called at 1900 hours to inform the Group there would be no missions scheduled until the following afternoon. Aircraft are still loaded with 300 pound bombs. Later in the day the Group received a shipment of three Link Instrument Trainers.
Thursday, September 30, 1943:
No flying due to the inclement weather situation.
Friday, October 1, 1943:
Bad weather still keeps all aircraft grounded!
Chester P. Klier
Mission 29 .PDF File