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|Monday, October 18, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 33:
Major Hankey called the briefing to order at 0600 hours. Colonel Maitland and the Major would be flying the lead plane of a thirty-six-plane formation. Their high flight leader was Captain David Dewhurst, with Captain Leland Perry heading up the low flight. Major Thomas Ramsey would lead the second box of eighteen with Captain James Wilson leading the high flight. Lieutenant Peter Green would be flying the number one ship in the low flight.
Our target is Z341, an airdrome located at Beauvais Nivillers in France. All ships are loaded with six 500 pound demolition bombs which are fused for a one-tenth second delay, both nose and tail. We also have a secondary target Z460, it is an airdrome located at Beaumont Le Roger in France.
We rendezvous with the 323rd Bomb Group over Splasher Beacon Number 8 at 0847 hours. Our Group will lead them on this mission, altitude is 12,000 feet, and formation air speed will be 195 m.p.h. Rendezvous with our Spitfire escort will take place over the channel at position 50 Degrees 20 Minutes North, 01 Degree 00 Minutes East at 0905 hours. The route out from base to Splasher Beacon Number 8, to Dungeness to fighter rendezvous. Make enemy landfall at Criel to the I.P. at Auneuil to target. Route back, turn left off target to Criel to Hastings, and back to base. Axis of attack will be from southwest to northeast. The aiming point is a woods and dispersal area on the west side of the airdrome. We will make enemy landfall at 12,000 feet, bomb from 11,500, exit the enemy coast at 11,000, and return to England at 8,000 feet. There are two alternate airdromes for emergency landings - Friston and West Malling.
Second Lieutenant Ralph Burson, Jr. had worked up mission weather forecast. At take off time there will be three-tenths cumulus from 1,500 to 2,000 feet, there will also be four-tenths altocumulus. Visibility will be three-quarters up to one mile in patchy ground fog. The route out will have patchy medium clouds over England at 13,000 feet, along with four-tenths high cirrus. Cumulus with tops to 6,500 feet at four-tenths along English Coast. Over French Coast and inland, stratocumulus will vary from six to eight-tenths with tops at 2,000 feet. Visibility aloft is nearly twenty miles. Winds at 12,000 feet from 200 degrees at 30 m.p.h., and the temperature is minus 13 degrees Centigrade. The return route will be similar to route out, at landing time the base will have two-tenths cumulus from 2,000 to 6,000 feet, and visibility of three miles.
Pertinent flak information and communication instructions were given to the combat crews - a time check of watches was made as the briefing concluded at 0646 hours. Engine start up time came around at 0716 and the lead plane, "TEXAS TARANTULA" 118284 RU-M was taxied out at 0721 by Major Hankey to the active runway. A green light shown from a mobile traffic control truck at 0735, and the mission was officially underway. Flight Officer Durward Casey did not make a take off with his plane named, CLOUD HOPPER 2nd 131763 RU-O, nor did Lieutenant G. Howe, Jr. with his plane, "HARD LUCK" 131610 AN-P both ships had mechanical problems. All others were into the air as scheduled, and were forming up over the airfield. The formation plus extras left over base with an altitude of 9,000 feet at 0828 hours. They flew a course of 175 degrees to Splasher Beacon 8 where they met up with the 323rd Group at 0847 hours.
The two Group formation left the English Coast 12,000 feet over a lighthouse situated at Dungeness, then headed out toward the navigation position for a rendezvous with the fighter escort. A rash of aircraft malfunctions began to materialize - Captains Gianatsis Dewhurst, along with Lieutenants Meyers, Michael, and Giles left the formation, the high flight in the first box of planes no longer existed! Lieutenant Adams vacated his spot in the lead flight, and Lieutenant Howard left his position in the low flight. An extra pilot, Flight Officer Beall took over that position; however Lieutenant Brandstrom, another extra pilot dropped with an airplane problem. Back in the second box of eighteen, one Lieutenant Petit was forced to return to base early. By the time rendezvous was made with the escort at 0905 hours, the formation had taken on a rather ragged appearance to say the very least!
Enemy landfall was made at 12,000 feet over Criel at 0914 hours, and the formation took up a heading of 146 degrees, putting them on course for the I.P. located at Auneuil, some fifty-five miles inland. Cloud cover was about eight-tenths and getting worse. A short way beyond the town of Neufchatel it became obvious to the forward target cover escort that the mission should not continue. Stratocumulus building up from below had now reached ten-tenths cloud coverage, and the condition extended at least thirty miles ahead of the formation, and most certainly covered over the target area. The RAF lead pilot signaled to the bomber leader that he was calling off the show after penetration of about thirty miles. The formation began a 180 degree turn to the left that put them on a course for Criel on the enemy coast at 0920 hours.
Flight crews could see as many as fifteen enemy aircraft identified as being Me-109s and FW-190s - they offered no serious opposition for the moment, being observed from a great distance, and at altitude up to 20,000 feet. The RAF was doing a splendid job of keeping the Germans at long range from the bombers. One Me-109 managed to sneak through the Spitfire cover and came diving down from directly out of the sun from 2 oclock high position. The fighter went for the second box firing six to eight bursts from his 20mm wing mounted cannons, miraculously none of the B-26s were hit by his fire!
Lieutenant James Baxter was flying co-pilot with Captain Emmett E. Curran in number four position of Major Ramseys lead flight. They received an unprecedented thrill as the enemy fighter appeared to come right at them head-on as he rounded out his screaming dive unbelievingly close to the front of the second box formation--then jammed his throttle full forward, blackish smoke poured from his engine exhaust ports as the enemy zoomed back up into the sun! Up until this point the bombers had not been fired upon by any anti-aircraft gunners or German fighter planes.
The clouds had built up to nearly 9,000 feet as the formation exited the enemy coast at 0935 hours. They made English landfall 8,000 feet over Rye, which was nine miles northeast of Hastings, the briefed point of reentry. The formation flew on a heading of 344 degrees back to base where they arrived at 1010 hours. Thirty-six aircraft plus two extra planes returned with loads which totaled two hundred twenty-eight 500 pound bombs, all ships landed safely.
A second briefing for the day was called for approximately 1300 hours. It would be a two group effort with each group furnishing thirty-six ship aircraft plus a few extras. The target was Z256, an airdrome located at St. Omer Rouge in France. The 323rd Group will lead our Group on this one. The 552nd and 555th will each furnish six ships plus one extra. The 553rd and 554th Squadrons will each put up twelve planes.
The route out from base to Splasher Beacon Number 9 to rendezvous with 323rd Group, then follow them to Beachy Head, across the channel making enemy landfall at Le Touquet. Then make a left dog leg flying to the target at St. Omer. Make a left dog leg off target to enemy coast at Furnes, cross channel making English landfall at North Foreland, and back to base. The usual flak data, communications, and the weather information was given to the assembled crews, they would have to contend with large formations of cloud cover.
Thirty-six aircraft and two extras began taking off at 1517 hours, then they circled the airdrome while forming, and building up altitude. A short time later they left over base on a heading of 205 degrees which would lead them to rendezvous with the 323rd Group over Splasher Number 9 at 1628 hours. The seventy-two plane formation proceed from there on a heading of 152 degrees to Beachy Head where rendezvous was made with their fighter escort at 1635 hours, then headed out over the channel.
Cloud cover below the formation had closed in to ten-tenths, it looked like solid clouds for many miles ahead. At mid channel the fighter escort leader signaled he was turning the bombers back due to the enormous cloud problem. The Group arrived over base at 1711 hours where all landed safely with their bombs still on board!
A third Field Order for the day was received from IX Bomber Command by Operations late in the evening, it concerned an upcoming mission. However it was cancelled before a morning schedule could be prepared.
Chester P. Klier