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|Wednesday, November 3, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 36:
Flight crews were roused at 0630 hours - was the inclement weather grounding the bombers since October 25th finally breaking up? Immediately after a hurried breakfast, the crews were assembled in the briefing room. Roll call of airplane commanders was accomplished, and the briefing was underway at 0730 hours. Ninth Bomber Command Field Order Number 129 directs the Group to attack the airdrome located at Triqueville, France. This attack will be in conjunction with the 323rd Bomb Group - our 386th Group will lead with a thirty-six plane formation. Each aircraft is loaded with four one thousand pound general purpose demolition bombs, and maximum combat ammunition.
The aiming point will be the dispersal area on the west side of the airdrome. Axis of attack will be generally from northeast to southwest. The first box will be led by Captain Dewhurst from the 553rd Squadron, and the second box will led by Captain Caney of the 554th Squadron. The 552nd Squadron will put up six aircraft and two extras; the 553rd Squadron and 554th Squadrons will supply twelve aircraft each. The 555th Squadron will put up six aircraft plus two extra ships.
The route out from base to Radio Splasher Beacon Number 11 where we rendezvous with the 323rd Group at 12,000 feet-- Zero Hour minus 07 minutes. Then fly out over the English Channel to 50 Degrees 00 Minutes North, 00 Degrees 10 Minutes East. That is where we rendezvous with 11 Group RAF Spitfire escort at Zero Hour plus 15 minutes. From there head for enemy landfall on French Coast at Benouville which is five miles southwest of Fecamp. Continue on to Initial Point (I.P.) at Tancarville, to target, and bomb from 11,500 feet. Route back, make a right turn off target and begin let down to 11,000 feet heading for three miles southwest of Trouville, and exit enemy territory. Make English landfall at 6,000 feet over Selsey Bill and back to base. We have two emergency airdromes, Tangmere and Ford.
The airdrome at St. Andre de LEure, France is approximately sixty miles southeast of our target, it will attacked by the 322nd and 387th Bomb Groups about the same time as we will hitting our target. There is a slight chance that you might get both light and heavy type flak on the way in, but you should be at the extreme limit of their range! At the target you can expect 37mm light flak and 88mm heavy type in moderate amount.
The communications officer stated that any radio contact between the 386th and the 323rd Group would be made on VHF Channel C. Bomber to fighter communications would be conducted on that channel as well. Air-Sea-Rescue contact to be made on VHF Channel D. Radio call sign for bombers is to be, ENSNARE. Radio call sign for fighters will be THUMPER. Ground Sector Control radio call sign will be BELLFIELD. Group leaders or deputy will report on Command Control Frequency after clearing enemy coast on the way out. A watch synchronization drill was performed in a ten second count down and the briefing ended at 0819 hours. Flight crews picked up escape kits and French money packets while heading to the truck transports which would spirit them to their assigned aircraft.
Combat crews were checking over their planes and personal flight gear at 0824 hours. Engine start up time commenced at 0854 and ships began to taxi to the active runway at 0859 hours. The first three planes were angled into the wind as the pilots gave a brief engine run up, checking magnetos, propeller controls, etc.
Visibility on the ground was one mile as a green light flashed from the runway control team. First box leader Captain David H. Dewhurst, Jr. advanced the throttle levers on his ship, "DINAH MIGHT" 131576 AN-Z - he was off at 0913 hours. The remaining planes were taking to the air at the rate of one every thirty seconds. The last of forty bombers was airborne at 0930 hours. They climbed steadily at 175 m.p.h. through a three-tenths cumulus cloud base at 2,000 feet, which topped out at 6,000 feet. Both boxes of eighteen and four extra ships were taking up proper formation positions at 10,000 feet over base at Great Dunmow. The lead navigator gave his pilot a heading of 220 degrees, it would carry them to rendezvous at Splasher Beacon Number 11.
The 323rd Group was on time as they tacked onto the rear of the 386th formation at 1022 hours. The seventy-two plane formation plus some extras was now on a course of 148 degrees - cloud cover far below was beginning to obscure the landscape of southern England. Navigators estimated the cloud layer at eight-tenths or more. A bit later at mid channel, cloud cover was reduced to about five-tenths.
Navigation point 50 Degrees 00 Minutes North, 00 Degrees 10 Minutes East was reached at 1045 hours with RAF escort on time and overhead - some of the Spitfire pilots took up station on both sides of the bomber formation. In the meantime the bomber gunners had completed their test fire routine. Number two ship in the high flight of the second box had developed some sort of problem; its pilot, Lieutenant George Howard peeled off for home with, GAMBLERS LUCK" 131639 RG-G at 1049 hours. Pilot Lieutenant Roy Voorhees who was flying as extra spotted the vacancy and swooped down like a hawk to fill in the position.
The enemy coast was at hand, the other three extra pilots made a 180 degree turn taking their planes and bombs back to base. The formation crossed over the enemy coast five miles southwest of Fecamp. The undercast was six to eight-tenths coverage, visibility six miles with some haze at 1051 hours. A heading of 150 degrees would lead them to the I.P. which was located by a bend in the River Seine at Tancarville. The formation leader made a dog leg right to 185 degrees, air speed was a steady 190 m.p.h., the bomb run had commenced! Light type tracer flak was being fired at them - seconds later heavy type 88mm flak began bursting into those ugly black mushrooms in the sky around them. Most of it seemed to be below the formation which bounced the bombers around due to concussion from many shells exploding directly under the planes. The flak was coming from an area known as Pont Audemer just off to the left of their route.
A sudden flurry of radio traffic was heard attempting to redirect the bombers and create confusion among the pilots. It was quickly deduced as fake messages being broadcast by the Germans - those coded radio call signs given out during mission briefing were not accompanying the messages being sent to the bombers! Bomb bay doors were open, but the lead bombardier was having difficulty locating the target through haze and nine-tenths cloud cover. A small break in the undercast he would have maybe ten seconds or less to line up! It was bombs away from 11,500 feet at 1100 hours. The flak persisted as the formation executed the prescribed right turn off the target to a point four miles south of Trouville.
Top turret gunners began reporting enemy fighter planes making vapor trails at 20,000 feet, some thirty planes were observed coming from the direction of Rouen. Time was 1102 hours as the bomber formation took up a course of 341 degrees, reaching Selsey Bill on the English Coast at 1133. A heading of 30 degrees put them on course for home base which was reached at 1200 hours.
Meanwhile over the Continent a vicious air battle was launched against the 322nd Bomb Group as they left their target area. Those vapor trails noticed by the 386th crewmen turned out to be a mixed bag of Messerschmitt-109s and Focke Wulf-190 fighter planes. Fifteen attacked the bombers as the Spitfires jumped into the fray. Seven enemy planes managed to break through the RAF screen to hit the bombers with a total of eleven encounters. A B-26 flying in number five position of the low flight in the second box had dropped down and behind the formation just after they bombed their target. Two of the FW-190s singled out that ship and attacked simultaneously from 3 oclock and 9 oclock above. The bomber fell off to the left about 500 feet then it plunged into a dive. Three bomber crews reported seeing from one to five open parachutes from that plane. The stricken aircraft crashed and exploded in the Quittebeuf-le-Neubourg area.
The 386th, 323rd, 322nd , and 387th Groups, and in addition, two RAF fighter sweeps into France brought a reaction of approximately one hundred enemy fighter planes from Lille-Vitry, Beauvais, and Beaumont areas. Aerial reconnaissance later revealed bombing results of the 386th Bomb Group to be rated from fair to good; in spite of the extremely short bomb run caused by the heavy cloud cover in the target area!
Chester P. Klier