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|Wednesday, December 1, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 48:
Briefing was called to order at 0715 hours. Ninth Air Force Marauders were to hit the enemy again. Field Order Number 149 directs all B-26 Groups to attack the airdrome at Cambrai-Niergnies, France. This is our primary target identified as Z151, the secondary target is Bryas Sud Airdrome Z678. Our last resort target is known as Monchy Breton Airdrome Z730, both are located in France.
Captain Perry will lead our eighteen ship formation with Major Lockhart flying deputy lead. The high flight will be headed by Major Hankey, and Captain Sands leading the low flight. Our Group will rendezvous with the 323nd Bomb Group over Sevenoaks at 1004 hours, altitude to be 12,000 feet. The 323rd Group shall lead us to Splasher Beacon Number Eight, the 387th Group will tack on behind us with the 322nd Bomb Group bringing up the rear at 1009 hours. The 323rd Group will lead the entire formation to Dungeness on the southeastern tip of the English Coast. Our Spitfire escort will rendezvous with our bombers flying at 12,000 feet, scheduled time is 1015 hours.
The overall mission plan as follows: Route out from base to Sevenoaks, to Splasher Number eight, and on to Dungeness. Across the channel making enemy landfall at Berck-sur-Mer on the French Coast; continue inland to the Initial Point (I.P.) located at Bertincourt and on to the target. The route back will be a left turn off the target to three miles north of Arras to St. Pol and exit the enemy coast at Berck-sur-Mer. Across the channel, making English landfall at Hastings and back to base.
Our Group will bomb from 11,500 feet. The axis of attack will be generally west to east with the aiming point located at S801/8-023025. The lead and deputy lead ships will have Norden Bomb Sights, all other planes will release their bombs off the leader visually! The 552nd Squadron will carry ten 300 pound M-31 general purpose (GP) demolition bombs. The 553rd, 554th, and 555th Squadrons will carry ten 250 pound M-57 GP bombs. All bombs are fused instantaneous and all intervalometers set for 75 feet.
You can expect light type tracer flak at enemy landfall, but regarded as inaccurate from latest reports. Light type flak has been reported between Bapaume and Juvincourt. The target area has light type flak said to be moderate and fairly accurate. On the way out some light flak batteries near St. Pol and heavy type flak emplacements are in operation in the Hesdin Forest, so stay well north of there!
Staff Weather Officer, First Lieutenant Arthur Anderson had an encouraging weather forecast for the flight crews. At take off time only trace cirrus; no medium or low cloud, visibility will be two miles. The route out, no medium or high cloud. Stratocumulus overcast in the London area but breaking to one-tenth to three-tenths over channel and French Coast. Visibility will be four to six miles. Temperature at altitude is expected to be minus 12 degrees Centigrade. The target area will have a wind from 315 degrees at 50 m.p.h. Scattered stratocumulus but no medium or high cloud, and visibility up to six miles. The route back will be the same as the route out. At landing time you will find two-tenths to three-tenths altocumulus over base and visibility picking up to three miles.
Radio communications are as follows: Fighter to bomber on VHF Channel A. Bomber call sign is Northview Two, fighter call sign is Beagle. Ground Sector call sign is to be Marsbeam. Communications to other Groups on 5230 K.C. (bomber to bomber), air to ground on 6440 K.C. Splasher Beacons 4D, 5E, 6F, 7G, 8H, 9I and 16J will be in use for the entire mission. Air-Sea-Rescue on VHF Channel D with emergency homing to West Malling, also on Channel D, call sign Birdcage. Group leader or deputy will report on Command Control frequency after clearing the enemy coast. Scheduled emergency airdromes are Manston and Gravesend.
Briefing ended at 0810 hours, crewmen picked up their escape kits at the door and boarded trucks assigned to deliver them to their respective aircraft parked out on the hard stands. Engine starting time arrived at 0845 hours, five minutes later the formation lead man began to taxi out to the active end of the runway. A brief engine run-up and Captain Leland Perry taxied "BLACK MAGIC" 131620 RG-N onto the runway and held position with his brakes. A green light flashed; he released brakes and advanced throttles, some thirty seconds later the ship was into the air, this mission was underway at 0900 hours. Seventeen other bombers plus one extra followed in twenty to thirty second intervals. flights of six aircraft each formed up as the formation gained altitude while circling home base at Great Dunmow.
Meanwhile at another flying field in Southern Englandstaccato barks were emitting from stubby exhaust stacks, and could be heard across the field as Rolls Royce Merlin 45 Engines came to life. Soon the din smooth to a powerful throaty hum at Ibsley Airdrome.
Czechoslovakian Fighter Squadron Numbers 310, 312, and 313 began to taxi out for take off; Squadron Leader Frantisek Fajtl of 313 Squadron would lead the show today!
A final cockpit drill prior to take off: elevator trim tab one division nose down from neutral and rudder trim tab fully to starboard. All controls were free, gages indicating properly, and brake pressure above the minimum 120 pound p.s.i. Mixture control set at rich, airscrew (propeller) speed control fully forward, both fuel cocks on, and contents of lower fuel tank full; flaps up and radiator shutter fully open.
The leader received take off clearance, he slowly opened the throttle to the gate and his take off roll quickened. Into the air at 0930 hours, alighting gear (landing gear) up. He held the ship level until reaching 140 m.p.h., and then easing into a normal climb of 185 m.p.h. The Mark V Spitfires would hold this rate while climbing on course to their rendezvous altitude with the B-26 Marauder formation.
The voice of First Lieutenant Fred Meier came over the intercom informing his pilot of a 187 degree true course to rendezvous at Sevenoaks. Captain Perry acknowledge the information from his lead navigator as he took up the heading at 0954 hours, 12,000 feet over base. After joining up with the 323rd Group, both Groups proceed to Splasher Beacon Number eight where they met the 387th and 322nd bomber formation. The four Group bomber stream arrived over the Dungeness Lighthouse at 1016 hours. They took up a true course of 144 degrees which carried them out over the English Channel, the enemy coast lay a mere forty-three miles ahead!
The author flying in our ship "BUZZ-N-BITCH II" 131953 RG-T looked up and forward as a glint of sunlight reflected from a fighter plane canopy! Approximately a thousand feet above, a multitude of unmistakable elliptical wings of our escort came into view. I pressed my microphone switch and informed our crew that the RAF had arrived! I had developed a secret love for the Spitfire ever since the day one of them made a brief stop at our previous base, Boxted located near Colchester. The pilot had vacated his plane near the operations building. I recall looking into the efficiently appointed cockpit and wondered if my long legged six foot one inch frame would fit into it. Alas, I restrained myself knowing the possessive feeling some pilots have for their aerial steeds! Bomber crews have a close bond with friendly fighter planeshow could I possibly foresee in decades hence that I would be involved with the design of fighter planes yet undreamed!
A mild thundering vibration was felt throughout the ship as test firing of our machine guns commenced. White puffs of smoke appeared about the gun muzzles as hot gun gases collided with the twelve degrees below freezing air temperature. All crew positions reported via the intercom, test firing was satisfactory. The single extra ship would not be required on this mission, so it returned to our base with its ten 250 pound bombs.
The formation began flying two legs of evasive action just two miles south of landfall at Berck-sur-Mer, time was 1026 hours. Then proceeding on course and passing five miles north of the heavy type flak batteries located at Abbeville. Continuing on, passing two miles south of Doullens. It was easily identified by a convergence of six roads, a river, and a railroad track. The layout resembled a huge spider! Our wings covered the next twenty-five miles of French real estate at a fast clip by virtue of a high speed quartering tail wind. The formation ground speed was approximately 230 m.p.h., although our air speed was a steady 190 m.p.h.
Four miles south of Bapaume the author caught sight of tracers coming up from a heavy wooded area under the left side of the formation, but it appeared to be aimed off to our left wing about ten oclock position. The German gunnery director must have guessed we were about to turn left because the 323rd Group we were following had already reached the I.P. and made their left turn. Seconds later the tracer flak line of fire drew near our particular flight path. I pondered if the enemy ammunition make-up was the same as oursone tracer round to every four rounds which you could not see coming!
The light type flak exploded in a barrage of one hundred or more gray-white bursts about the size of a hundred pound sack of potatoes. They saturated a cube of sky nearly two hundred feet on a side. The altitude and tracking lead were almost perfect, but lucky for us the azimuth was off by approximately sixty yards to our left. Had it not been for that error the anti-aircraft fire would probably have hit all of the ships in our lead flight!
First Lieutenant Roy Klein was the lead bombardier today, and his task would not be an easy one! A scheduled 70 degree course change at the I.P. necessitated a bomb run with nearly a direct 50 m.p.h. cross wind! Lieutenant Klein used the synchronized method incorporating preset drift and dropping angle with his Norden Bomb Sight; the bombing approach would be manual. With bomb bay doors open our eighteen plane formation was on a 45 degree bomb run heading. Tracer flak came up from several locations about the perimeter of the target airdrome. It was moderate in amount and fairly accurate. Time was 1046 hours as the bombs slanted earthwardshiny arming-vanes which resembled pinwheels rotated freely. Their function was to arm the bomb fuses after falling a safe distance from the bombers; having done so they would shear off and spin wildly through the air!
Bombs exploded on the target nearly two miles below, crews observed hits and judged the results to be good! However an impartial evaluation would be made by a K-21 Camera mounted in Lieutenant Higgins plane "SEDUCTIVE SUSIE" 131738 RG-O flying in number five position in the lead flight. Another strike photo camera was carried in Lieutenant Abersons ship "HELLS-A-POPPIN II" 131987 YA-G flying in number four position of the low flight. Lieutenant G.H. Charters acting as observer had a hand held K-20 Camera and was flying with Lieutenant C.A. Miller in a ship by the named "SPAM BURGER" 131970 YA-F, number four position in the high flight. Bomb bay doors were closed as we made a prescribed left turn off target; our turn and bank instrument was indicating a one half needle width turn rate, (1 and one half degrees per second). This carried us on an arc to the northeast sector of Cambrai. The formation rolled onto a northwest heading on a leg to the rally point three miles north of Arras.
Squadron Leader Frantisek Fajtl flying Spitfire RY-F picks up the narration: "Shortly after the bombers released their loads I received a radio report from our RAF Tracking Center stating a number of enemy fighters were heading into our sector! I could see two Schwarms of Focke-Wulf 190s (eight German Aircraft). They positioned themselves at some distance from our flight path. I could not understand their behavior, they had at least three advantages. The position of the sun behind them, the choice of attack from a higher altitude, and the fact they were over their own territory!
The tension was building as they continued to follow us for a long time. I thought it might become a pretty hot dog fight before our friends from other squadrons could come to our aid. At this point I was not sure we could protect our bombers in case the Germans would start the fight! I glanced upward and could see the enemy fighters flying in the suns glare. Even as I looked, several more FW-190s joined up to reinforce the enemy formations. Yet they did not attack us, only following along. If we had such a chance over England, we would have gone to it like hell!" (End of Squadron Leaders statement).
Upon reaching the check point north of Arras, the formation made a dog leg to the left paralleling a montage of villages stretching for about twenty-five miles. We neared the next check point three miles north of St. Pol; the route split the distance between two of the centuries old castles located at an intersection of a railroad track and the right hand fork of a highway four miles northwest of St. Pol. A flurry of light type inaccurate flak came up as we made a ten degree left dog leg. The formation was now lined up for our run to the enemy coast at Berck-sur-Mer, thirtyfive miles distant. Evasive action was begun because of previous experience in this areawe fully expected heavy type flak opposition from the Hesdin Forest sector which lay three miles to left of our course, but it did not materialize! A German truck convoy was observed traveling on the nearly north-south road between the towns of Hesdin and Abbeville, with the latter being on the south end. The activity and time was duly noted.
Fifteen barrage balloons were seen several miles south of our course near the coast. The formation was down to 10,500 feet so as to comply with instructions given at briefing. A few rounds inaccurate flak appeared as we exited the enemy coast over Berck-sur-Mer, time was 1111 hours. Landfall over England was made a 1026 hours as the Group passed over Hastings. The Spitfire escort peeled off and headed for their home bases.
We arrived over our base with the first man landing at 1149 hours. Soon flight crews were inside the briefing room and reporting mission details to interrogation officers. The Vincent crew saw two enemy fighters taking off at Cambrai, also reported thirteen enemy aircraft on an airdrome near Arras at 1055 hours. Crew wants more fresh eggs for their breakfast. Captain Perry crew reported seeing fifteen enemy planes on the ground near the target. Higgins crew spotted nine parked aircraft in the target area. Major Hankey saw good hits on target, but thought breakfast this morning was bad! Five enemy fighters were observed taking off from the target airdrome at 1055 hours by the Aberson crew. An RAF Tracking Center plotted 30 to 40 enemy aircraft flying in Lille-Cambrai area, but no contact was made with the bombers by the enemy as reported by the crews.
The 323rd Bomb Group reported a camouflaged installation and a landing strip with white fighters and black multi-engine aircraft parked there. It was also noted that a marshalling yard at Lens was full of trains. The 387th Bomb Group reported an unusual amount of rail activity observed throughout the mission. Numerous goods cars were seen in the marshalling yard at Cambrai. The 322nd Bomb Group reported seeing four large aircraft taking off from the target airdrome after the bombing run. All four B-26 Groups reported excellent fighter support during the entire mission!
The 386th Bomb Groups eighteen planes dropped a total of 177 bombs on target. One ship failed to release one of its 250 pound bombs normally, as a result the bomb was jettisoned into the channel on the way back. One other ship returned with two 300 pound bombs because a ballast resister tube in the bomb release interval control unit burned out.
None of the aircraft from our Group sustained battle damage on todays operation.
Note: Czechoslovakian Squadron Commander Frantisek Fajtl and the author exchanged battle tactics information over a period of six years. Our flight records show that we shared two operational missions against the Luftwaffe, that would be Group missions number 48 and number 67 flown by the 386th Bomb Group.
Chester P. Klier