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|Monday, February 21, 1944 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 109:
Ninth Bomber Command, 99th Combat Wing issued Field Order 207, "The 386th and 322nd Bomb Groups will attack the airdrome at Gilze Rijen, Holland!" The briefing continued, our Group will lead entire formation with Colonel Kelly flying in lead position of the first box of twenty ships. Captain Tipton head the high flight of seven ships, Major Weiss will lead the low flight of seven planes. Major Hankey will fly lead ship in the second box of twenty aircraft. Lieutenant Wendt will lead high flight of seven ships, and Captain Caney will fly in the lead position of the seven ship low flight. Our Group will be made up of forty aircraft. The 322nd Group will follow us with thirty-six planes.
The 387th will lead the 323rd Bomb Group on an airdrome target located at Soesterberg, also located in Holland. They will have a total of seventy-two on that one. The 391st Group will be operating in France with thirty-nine ships going after the airdrome located at Beaumont le Roger. Fighter escort will be furnished by 2 Group and 11 Group RAF flying Spitfires. They gave us excellent coverage yesterday on this target, so we are glad to have the same guys with us today! The fighter leader may recall the formation by radio or by waggling his wings in front of our lead aircraft.
We will fly from base to The Naze where the 322nd Group will rendezvous with us at 6,000 feet. Group will depart The Naze at Zero Hour minus eighteen minutes; then rendezvous with fighter escort over the North Sea at position 51 Degrees 40 Minutes North, 03 Degrees 25 Minutes East at 11,500 feet, time will be Zero Hour plus ten minutes. Our formation will fly the entire mission at 11,500 feet, the 322nd will fly at an altitude of 12,000 feet. The Initial Point (I.P.) is Roosendaal, axis of attack is generally west to east. Bomb load is mixed, twenty planes carrying 250 pounders, and the other twenty ships will haul thirty 100 pound bombs each.
The flak situation was covered in detail yesterday, it has not changed. Light or heavy type from the off shore islands, heavy type flak near the I.P. and in the target area. Stay well north of Woensdrecht and south of Bergen-op-Zoom on the way out. Bomber to fighter communications on VHF Channel B. Bomber call sign, CANNON TWO, the fighter call sign is, CAJOLE, and fighter Ground Station call sign is, BELLFIELD. Communications with the 322nd Group on VHF Channel B. The weather is not promising, you can expect seven-tenths cloud cover over the major portion of your route, stratocumulus with a base of 2,500 feet and tops to 9,000 feet. Maybe some holes will open in the target area! Visibility looks like four to six miles and wind from 48 degrees at 45 m.p.h.
Colonel Kelly flying, "SON-OF-SATAN 131613 YA-Y was into the air at 1406 hours soon followed by thirty-nine other B-26s from his, "CRUSADER GROUP", as they wheeled off the perimeter track onto the active runway. There was one ship listed as an extra, "T.S. TICKET" 131827 YA-G commanded by Lieutenant Fugit. The plane was picking up speed on its take off roll when suddenly the left main tire blew out! The ship veered off the runway to the left and ran down a sloping stretch of sparse grass cover, whereupon the nose wheel sank nearly full height into the soft earth bringing the aircraft to an abrupt halt! That good old English mud prevented a nasty accident by stopping the errant plane mere yards short of the perimeter track where many other Marauders were trundling by in nose to tail fashion. The author was a witness to that as we moved our ship along that taxi track!
The Group formed up over home base and then made way to the east coast of England. Rendezvous was accomplished with the 322nd and the formation took up a heading out over the North Sea. The seven-tenths cloud forecast soon gave way to the reality of nine-tenths cover; very rapidly becoming a solid carpet of white fluff with tops to 9,000 feet. Cloud cover obscured the outer enemy held islands along the entire Dutch Coast. The navigational trick at hand was to locate that mythical centerline between the flak defenses, thus holding engagement to a minimum. Enemy landfall was recorded at 1528 hours, slight and inaccurate flak come up from a place named Domburg, but soon faded as they headed for the I.P. Weak and inaccurate heavy type flak greeted the lead formation as they neared Roosendaal. Flying in plane number 131786 RG-Q, high flight second box, in number six position was Lieutenant Robert Snyder - he noted black 88mm flak medium to intense although inaccurate. It was coming from northeast of Roosendaal. Bomb bay doors were open, 88mm flak bursts began to appear in a random pattern around the bombers as they passed over the target at 1549 hours. The leader did not release due to the solid undercast. Major Hankey flying, "WINNIE" 131617 RG-A took his second box of twenty planes across the target area at 1551 hours, but he also broke off the attack because of cloud cover.
The entire formation swung around for a possible run on the secondary target which lay near the coast. Lieutenant Blackburn flying, "HELLS BELLE II" in number two spot off Colonel Kellys left wing noted twenty-five bursts of flak about 500 feet below them. His navigator, Lieutenant Ralph Montagna plotted them as coming from Woensdrecht, approximately three miles south of course. Arrival in the vicinity of the secondary proved more of the same, solid cloud cover in all directions. The Group proceed to wind its way around known flak areas as they headed out of enemy territory at 1601 hours. The 322nd bring up the rear drew some attention from flak batteries located on the Tolen and Schouwen Islands.
Meanwhile a bit north, B-26s from the 387th and 323rd Groups caught flak rated as weak and inaccurate from The Hague, and also in vicinity of Utrecht. The 323rd managed to draw anti-aircraft fire from nine miles off the enemy coast, probably from a barge or boat! The 391st did not go inland on their assignment because the ten-tenths cloud cover over France. They executed a 180 degree turn just north of Le Harve and returned to base.
The 386th began their landing sequence at 1641 hours after letting down through clouds said to be seven-tenths stratocumulus. Visibility was four miles under the 2,500 foot cloud base. Trucks made the rounds at hard stands picking up returning flight crews and transporting them to the briefing building. Major Charles Thornton was the current C.O. of the 555th Squadron. His prior assignment was that of Operations Officer in the 552nd Squadron, my crew knew him well - he chewed out our crew one time for dropping our bombs late. Another time our crew managed to drop our entire bomb load while we were parked on the hard stand, that occurred with an airplane named, "MISS CARRIAGE" 134961 RG-M. As I was about to enter the briefing room, the Major was standing by the door with a smile on his face and asked, "Did you get it?" The author replied, "No sir, it was all covered over with clouds!" Then he said, "I suppose Ill have to go get it tomorrow!" Neither of us realized that tomorrow I would be up there in formation with him - what a fatalistic prophesy that would turn out to be!
Chester P. Klier