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|Sunday, November 7, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 40:
Briefing was underway at 0645 hours, this was the second mission of the day for the Group. It would be a thirty-six plane effort plus two spare aircraft. The 387th Bomb Group will also furnish thirty-six aircraft, thus bring the formation strength up to seventy-two bombers - each was loaded with ten 300 pound demolition bombs. The target was identified as Z475, an airdrome located at Montdidier, France. It is situated sixty miles in from the French Coast, and twenty miles southeast of Amiens. We have a secondary target known as Z145, an airfield located at Berck-sur-Mer, France. Our last resort target is Z136, an airfield which is located to the right of our course on the way back at Abbeville Drucat, France. Zero Hour is 0910, we will lead the 387th Group.
The route out is from base to Splasher Beacon Number 9 where we rendezvous with the 387th, then out over the channel to 50 Degrees 20 Minutes North, 01 Degree 00 Minutes East for our rendezvous with our fighter escort. Enemy landfall will be made at Ault, to five miles south of Poix to five miles south of Breteuil, which is also the I.P. Then a left dog leg onto the bomb run. The route back is a left turn off the target to five miles southwest of Abbeville, to the enemy coast at Cayeux, cross the channel to Rye and return to base. We will bomb from 11,500 feet, axis of attack generally southwest to the northeast. Exit enemy territory at 10,000 feet. Emergency airdromes are at West Malling and Manston. All weather, communications data along with flak information was doled out to the assembled - briefing was concluded at 0728 hours.
Engine starting time came about at 0803 as formation leader Major Thornton experienced a problem with a ship called, "MERT" 131616 RG-H. The formation deputy lead man was Lieutenant Bud Lambert, he took over the formation lead position when informed that Major Thornton would not make take off. Lieutenant Lambert was into the air at 0822 hours with his ship. "BLACK MAGIC" 131620 RG-R. The weather situation at base was a three-tenths stratocumulus layer at 2,000 feet which top out at 3,500 feet. The primary weather concern was the heavy cloud build up over the Continent as forecast by the station weather officer during briefing.
The Group circled the airdrome at Great Dunmow, all aircraft were in proper position along with two spares flown by Lieutenants Homer Fansler, Jr. and Barnett Young, flying at 12,000 feet. Time was 0915 when thirty-seven bombers struck out for the Splasher Beacon Number 9 on a heading of 201 degrees. With the 386th leading the seventy-three plane formation took up a course of 127 degrees which would carry them out over the English Channel. The cloud cover had increased to nine-tenths up to an altitude of 9,000 feet at mid channel. All gunners commenced test firing guns just prior to rendezvous with the RAF Spitfire escort. Lieutenant Jerold Wendt dropped out of formation and returned to base. His number four spot in the high flight of the first box of eighteen was taken over by an extra pilot, Lieutenant Young. The other extra pilot, Lieutenant Fansler returned to base as did Lieutenants, Brandstrom, Burgess, and Higgins. The lead flight in the first box was nearly depleted by mechanical failures - only the deputy lead ship flown by Lieutenant Lambert and his wing man Lieutenant Petrey were left to carry on!
The second box of eighteen was also caught up in the high attrition rate as Major Ramsey and Lieutenants, Roe and Hochrein returned to base with mechanical malfunctions of their aircraft. The fighter escort appeared on time at navigation point 50 Degrees 20 Minutes North, 01 Degree 00 Minutes East. Within a few minutes the formation made landfall over Ault on the French Coast at 0955 hours. The undercast was now a solid mass as the formation progressed on a southeastern heading of approximately 140 degrees. Some thirty miles inland in the vicinity of Poix the formation turned around and headed back to the enemy coast - there was no hope of making a bomb run with all of those heavy clouds obscuring the landscape below!
They cleared the French Coastline at 1007 hours, then took up a heading of 328 degrees for Rye on the distant English Coast, which they reached at 1028. A course change to 344 degrees brought them back to base at 1050 hours. Navigation must have been near perfect, no crews reported a single burst of flak over enemy territory! The 322nd Bomb Group observed five large silver objects like balloons, with aircraft moving about and apparently firing at them between 13,000 and 15,000 feet.
The 323rd Bomb Group reported seeing a strange B-26 join their formation from 7 oclock low position, about ten minutes from the French Coast on the route in. The formation turned slightly thereafter and the stranger turned approximately 30 degrees with our formation, then veered off sharply away from the formation which was then headed back to the enemy coast. The lone B-26 continued to fly into the interior of France. The plane continued on course for a short distance, then turned to follow the formation a short way - after which the crew member lost sight of it. Crew members stated they were unable to see any markings on the unidentified B-26!
That raised the speculation that possibly the Germans had captured a B-26 that had been forced to land in enemy territory-- before the flight crew could destroy their aircraft by using a pair of thermite bombs. All of our aircraft carried them for just such an occasion. The approved procedure was to set a thermite bomb on top of each wing over the main fuel tanks; then arm the bombs and take off running like hell for the next two minutes. The bomb was made up of magnesium in fine powder form along with aluminum grains, barium nitrate, sulfur, and lubricating oil. It burned at a temperature of 3700 degrees Fahrenheit. The bomb burned with intense heat; the wing would burn through, and the fuel tanks would explode destroying the aircraft!
Sunday, November 7, 1943:
A third mission for the day was ordered by Ninth Bomber Command. The target was an airdrome located at Evreux-Fauville, France which is identified as Z338. It will be another thirty-six plane effort. Nine aircraft from the 552nd Squadron, twelve each from the 553rd and 554th Squadrons; and three from the 555th Squadron. The route out from base to Splasher Beacon Number 8, across the channel to three miles west of St. Valery, to the I.P. at Quittebeuf to target. Return route, left turn off target to five miles west of St. Valery, across channel to Beachy Head and back to base. Ten Group aircraft t were airborne at 1410 hours. At that time word as received at Group Operations to cancel the mission - due to a complete overcast in the target area. Aircraft in the air returned to base with their bomb loads.
Monday, November 8, 1943:
No mission scheduled because a lingering heavy cloud conditions all over the Continent.
Tuesday, November 9, 1943:
All four B-26 Groups will each furnish thirty-six aircraft and participate in an attack on a secret target identified as Z791. Target location is near the Cherbourg area. The 323rd Bomb Group will lead the first seventy-two ship formation. The 386th Bomb Group will lead the second seventy-two plane formation. Zero Hour is set for 1430.
Some B-25 Mitchells encountered intense heavy type flak on October 28th in Cherbourg Harbor area. Major Brett, an S-2 Officer from Ninth Bomber Command said, "In view of experience on target Z790 (Mimoyecques) November 5th - the enemy has anticipated our attacks on certain types of targets and have increased their defenses. We may expect more flak than is shown by plotted positions!"
Part of our formation had taken off and were in the process of forming up when a mission cancellation order was received. All aircraft returned to base shortly afterward. No other flying activity was scheduled for the remainder of the day.
Chester P. Klier