<< back >>
|Sunday, October 24, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 34:
Simultaneous briefings were underway at 0745 hours, the first would be a Group effort of thirty-six aircraft. The second mission was scheduled to take off approximately thirty minutes later, and would require eighteen aircraft. Major Beaty would be the formation leader of the first mission. His high flight lead was Captain Sanford, low flight leader was Lieutenant Lien. The second box would be led by Major Lockhart, with Captain Thornton in front of the high flight, and Major Harris leading the low flight.
The target was airdrome Z619, located at Beauvais Nivillers, France. The IX Bomber Command F.O. 126 sighted these facts in its decision to order an attack on this particular airdrome. It is possible that some of the enemy aircraft reported to be in the Beauvais area may be based at this airdrome. In view of the recent heavy raids by this Wing on the other target immediately to the west ( Beauvais Tille ) is believed to be two-thirds unserviceable. This attack is in line with Wing bombing policy, to hit wherever the hun may be found, and force him to move his operational units- then hit him again wherever he is thought to have reestablished himself!
Each aircraft is loaded with six 500 pound demolition bombs, fusing is one-tenth second delay, both nose and tail. Our escort today will be Spitfires from 11 Group RAF. All gunners be especially careful, our second mission guys will have about two hundred or so P-38s and P-47s escorting them along with three other B-26 Groups. We do not want any mix up in aircraft recognition out there!
The 387th Bomb Group will lead the entire mission with thirty-six aircraft, we will bring up the rear with our thirty-six ships. The 322nd and 323rd Bomb Groups will be hitting the Montdidier Airdrome with seventy-two planes about the time we go in! Their target is located twenty-four miles northeast of our target. We also have a secondary target, Z364 at Poix Airdrome; and a last resort target which is located at Brombos. It is about one mile west of our return course, and eighteen miles northwest of Nivillers.
Zero Hour is 1200. We rendezvous with the 387th Group 12,000 feet over Number 8 Splasher Beacon at Zero Hour minus thirteen minutes. The route out is from base to Splasher Number 8 to Beachy Head to fighter rendezvous at 50 Degrees 20 Minutes North, 00 Degrees 30 Minutes East at Zero Hour. Make enemy landfall five miles northeast of Dieppe, to the I.P. at Onsembray, then a left turn onto the bomb run at 11,000 feet. The axis of attack is generally southwest to northeast with the aiming point being a dispersal area on west side of field. The route back is a left turn off target to five miles southwest of Le Treport to Beachy Head to base. Emergency airdromes are located at West Malling and Gravesend.
From previous experience we know there is heavy type flak emplacement with four guns, one and one-half miles north of the target. It should be noted that our target is very close to the airdrome at Beauvais Tille. They have three six gun positions with heavy type flak located two miles north-northeast, one and one-half miles east and another 1100 yards south-southwest. Flak has been reported southwest of Beauvais in the vicinity of your I.P. at Onsembray. Avoid Le Treport on the out!
The weather officers briefing follows: At take off time visibility will be a scant one mile in haze, but no low or middle clouds. The route out will have six-tenths cumulus from base of 2,000 feet and tops to 9,000 which will diminish over the channel. The target area will have a high cirrus overcast, but no low or middle clouds, with visibility up to twenty miles. Return route will be similar except haze could be thicker! High tide at 0822 hours, and a low tide at 1459 hours with a change of 16.5 feet.
The assembled flight crews were given the usual communications data, with nothing really new added. Watches were synchronized after a fifteen second countdown, briefing ended at 0846 hours. Forty bomber crews went out to their aircraft to perform the ritual of preflight duties. Major Beaty waited for a green light from the mobile tower truck parked off to the side of the active runway, at the far end he could see what appeared to be a dingy curtain of mist! The weather forecast did say visibility would be one mile in haze! This was certainly no better than as predicted. The green light flashed and the first box formation leader took his ship, "SON-OF-SATAN" 131613 YA-Y into the air at 0940 hours. Soon the thirty-six plane strike force plus three extra ships were orbiting their airdrome while gaining altitude, and finalizing positions in the two box formation at 12,000 feet. They departed over base on a heading of 175 degrees bound for Splasher Beacon Number 8, and a rendezvous with the 387th Bomb Group.
Very high cloud banks were much in evidence in the general area of Splasher Beacon Number 8 location. It was deemed prudent by the 386th Group leader not to link up with the 387th BOMB Group there, but to proceed to the next scheduled check point at Beachy Head. Rendezvous was accomplished there with more safety by virtue of the diminishing cloud build up along the English Coast. The seventy-two plane formation headed out over the English Channel at 1152 hours on a course of 158 degrees, bound for fighter support rendezvous some forty miles distant.
Lieutenant Bud Lambert had not taken off due to mechanical problems, as a result Lieutenant Jesse Higgins took over number four spot in the high flight in the second box. Lieutenant John Petrey encountered some difficulty with, "MISS CARRIAGE" 134961 RG-M while flying in number two position of the high flight- he left the formation and returned to base. Flight Officer Thomas Beall moved into that position with his ship, "SEDUCTIVE SUSIE" 131738 RG-O; as Lieutenant John Lee filled the newly vacated number five position with, "LETHAL LADY" 131646 RU-C. Just after test firing was completed, two extra scheduled aircraft peeled off and returned to base with their bombs.
The author was summoned to the cockpit by co-pilot Robert Gragg- the Flight Officer had glanced back into the navigator-radio compartment and observed wildly fluctuating indicator needles on the generator control panel. The generators were definitely out of parallel, and must be adjusted immediately. The voltage regulator unit is located on the starboard side of the fuselage in the waist section of the ship. I went back to see what I could do to rectify the situation, meanwhile our radioman Staff Sergeant Robert OKane kept watch on the voltmeter and ammeter dials on the control panel. He would inform me via intercom in regard to the adjustment progress. We went through the paralleling routine a number of times, but at best the generators would remain in parallel only a few minutes. Our pilot, Lieutenant Donald Vincent was informed of the dilemma- after a very brief discussion, he pulled, "GAMBLERS LUCK" 131639 RG-G out of formation and we headed back to base. A wise choice, on the return flight our left engine generator went out completely. The Martin B-26 requires a reliable supply of electricity with its two Curtiss Electric Propeller control units, an electrically driven top gun turret, bomb rack releases, and twelve machine gun firing solenoids. We landed at Great Dunmow with our bomb load on board amid some very heavy haze. As I climbed out of the plane the crew chief asked me if it was a generator problem. He said, "It seems the generators work okay during ground run up, but in the air the pilots say they act up- well anyway, Ill ground the ship and put on a new generator right now!"
The bomber formation made rendezvous with the Spitfires at 1200 hours. Thirteen minutes later they made enemy landfall five miles northeast of Dieppe. At that point Lead Navigator Lieutenant Edward ONeill, Jr. flying with Major Sherman Beaty, verified a course heading of 136 degrees for his pilot. The Initial Point ( I. P.) which was located at Onsembary was approximately fifty-six miles further on. Twenty minutes later the formation made a left turn off the I.P. At that juncture, the Lead Bombardier Lieutenant William Leirevaag would be guiding the lead plane, bomb bay doors were open as he busily went about making small corrections during the last few miles of the bomb run. They were flying a heading of 30 degrees with an indicated air speed of 190 m.p.h. Altitude was 11,000 feet as the cross hairs in his Norden Bomb Sight were on the aiming point- a dispersal area on the west side of the airdrome. It was bombs away at 1231 hours, all other planes in the first box dropped on his cue. Just about twenty-five seconds later bomb bursts were erupting on the enemy airdrome below.
Bombs from the lead flight hit in a woods bordering the dispersal area, it probably contained many instillations because several large explosions were seen. Bombs from the high and low flights were short of the woods with a burst pattern in open country. Major Lockharts second box came up on the target as his Lead Bombardier Lieutenant A.L. Andrews released his bombs. The leading flight and the high flights bombs burst very close to one of the two hangars in that area. The low flight had a strung out bomb pattern across the center of the airdrome. Overall bombing results were rated from fair to good!
The formation made a left turn off the target, at that point nearby Beauvais Tille Airdrome could be observed- it was badly cratered, including the runways. Two twin engine aircraft were parked at the northwest corner of the field, the planes seemed to have circular markings on their wings! Suddenly some flak burst came up around the bombers, however it was negligible in amount and not accurate. Approximately eight minutes later and some twenty-five miles away from the target, a few miles east of their course- four enemy aircraft could be seen taking off from Poix-Nord Airdrome, three others had just taken to the air and were climbing out from the field. The bombers were flying a course of 315 degrees while heading for the enemy coast, a point five miles southwest of Le Treport. Major Franklin Harris saw a Messerschmitt-109 from his low flight lead position, the enemy came in firing from left above, and then began a very steep turn toward 6 oclock position. The Major called out that maneuver to his gunners over intercom. Tech Sergeant Joe Magness in his top turret could not bring his guns to bear in time- but tail gunner, Staff Sergeant Hugh Laurens was ready for him, firing some 200 rounds at the fighter. Tracers sparkled all around the enemy ship as its pilot fire walled his throttle and climbed frantically into the sun to escape some very accurate fire from the bomber. A trail of black smoke was left in the sky as the enemy plane sped away upward- however that is a normal happening when a fighter pilot would quickly accelerate his engine during a fast break away!
A slight amount of flak greeted the formation as they exited enemy territory at 1247 hours, none of the bombers suffered any battle damage. A heading of 316 degrees was held for Beachy Head, which was reached at 1303 hours. Then the formation circled back out over the channel in order to lose altitude so as to enter under the heavy cloud cover. A course of 02 degrees was taken for base which was reached at 1327- the base was socked in making landing there impossible.
Major Beaty took the formation southward approximately thirty miles to a place called Gravesend, which was one of the alternate airdromes for today. They began landing on the RAF Base at 1355 hours. Major Thornton took his high flight into Boxted, that was the previous base for the 386th. Now it was the home for the 354th Fighter Group flying P-51 Mustangs. Major Lockhart landed some of his aircraft at another base located at Great Sailing- while Major Harris took his low flight to a B-17 base which housed the U.S. 381st Bomb Group at Ridgewell. Flight Officer Beall landed his ship at a B-24 training field called Tibenham.
One 387th Group ship made a crash landing at Gosfield, one of the planes 1,000 pound bombs failed to release over the target, a crewman replaced the safety pins in the bomb fuse. Three or four minutes later the bomb fell accidentally through the bomb door of the ship. The 323rd Group had a series of enemy attacks made on them, the first occurred shortly after leaving the target, and continued to the vicinity of Amiens. The second attack took place near Abbeville. All attacks were brief and sporadic as the Spitfires prevented determined attacks from developing! No pattern of tactics was observed.
The 322nd Bomb Group was attacked by some forty enemy planes made up mostly of Me-109s along with a good number of FW-190s. Red flak appeared just before the German fighters came in- this seems to add credence to the idea red flak is a signal to the German pilots to attack the bombers, then the gunners on the ground would cease their fire! The enemy aircraft also took advantage of the cloud cover while making some fifty passes at the bomber formation. Determined and repeated attacks were pressed at times to as close as thirty yards. Head on attacks were predominately from 11 oclock high position, all of the tail attacks came from below. Eighteen of the bombers had been battle damaged, some heavily, but none of them were shot down- once again proving how tough those Marauders really were! Bomber crews reported that some Spitfire pilots could be overheard on the VHF radio saying they knew where the attacking FW190s had landed in the Amiens and Poix areas!
Chester P. Klier