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|Friday, February 25, 1944 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 113:
Briefing was called to order at 0700 hours by Major Hankey. 9th Bomber Command Field Order 213 to attack an airfield in Holland at Zero Hour 1010. Five B-26 bomb groups will attack airdromes in France, Belgium, and Holland. The purpose of these missions is to assist the heavies in their deep penetration by raising enemy fighters and engaging them. This will cause them to land for refueling and reaming at the time the heavies are crossing this section of occupied territory. 8th Air Force bombers will leave Beachy Head at 1100 hours, their route over to Le Touquet for enemy landfall then fly in an easterly direction. All B-26 raids will take place between 1045 and 1051 hours.
The 386th and 322nd Bomb Groups will attack target number ZB 45, an airdrome located at St. Trond, Belgium. We have a secondary target at ZH 1101, Woensdrecht, Holland. Our rendezvous point is at 5500 feet on Assembly Line, The Naze at Zero Hour minus 18 minutes. We will lead the 322nd Group. Our escort will be 11 Group RAF flying Spitfires. The 323rd and 387th Bomb Groups have a primary target ZH 71, the airdrome located at Venlo, Holland, and a secondary ZH 66, Eindhoven, Holland. Fighter escort for them will be P-51 Mustangs and RAF Typhoons. The target is at the limit of their endurance. The 391st Bomb Group will attack target number Z 290, the airdrome located at Cambrai / Epinoy, France. They will have 11 Group RAF Spitfires for their escort.
Edward R. Murrow, London Commentator for the U.S. Columbian Broadcasting System will be flying with 386th Group Commander Colonel Joe Kelly. Our target today is a mere 20 miles this side of the German border, it is our deepest penetration into enemy territory to date! Colonel Kelly will have eighteen planes and he will lead the entire formation, his high flight leader will be Lieutenant Romney Spencer, low flight leader is Lieutenant Purdy. The second box has only eleven ships led by Captain Burgess, his high flight leader is Captain Perkins with five ships. Third box leader is Major Hankey with eighteen planes, high flight leader will be Lieutenant Gus Hoffman, and low flight leader is Lieutenant Elling. All ships are loaded with 250 pound general purpose type demolition bombs.
The route out from base to bomber rendezvous to fighter rendezvous to Knocke to 51 Degrees 04 Minutes North, 04 Degrees 22 Minutes East to six miles northeast of Louvain to the I.P. at Eindhoven to target. Route back, target left turn to rally point at Louvain to 51 Degrees 04 Minutes North, 04 Degrees 22 Minutes East to Knocke to The Naze and back to base. Axis of attack will be generally west to east. Emergency airdromes to be Framlingham and Woodbridge. Flak data in the target area: Bourges is a gun defended area. There is weak heavy type flak at Ghent. Antwerp and Brussels are both heavily defended areas. Louvain Airdrome about ten miles south of town is gun defended as well. The target has one each four gun and six gun emplacements.
The weather at take off: ten-tenths stratocumulus, base 1800 feet tops to 2800 feet and visibility six miles. Ten-tenths stratocumulus from base to across the channel to the Belgian Coast, breaking to nil as you go inland. The target will be clear with light haze on surface, and visibility of six miles. The return route will be similar to route out, cloud layer over England unbroken but appears to be thinning. Nine-tenths cumulus and some stratocumulus. Patches of cumulus at 800 feet. Nine-tenths stratocumulus at 1500 feet to 1800 feet. Visibility to be five miles. You can expect enemy fighter reaction to our mission. The disposition of single engine enemy fighter locations within seventy-five miles of our target follows. Gilze Rijen,10 - Venlo, 30 - Deelen, 20 - Eindhoven, 10. Volkel, 15 - Munchen/Gladbach, 30 - Rheine, 30 - Duisberg, 5 - Dortmund, 30. In France: Cambrai/Epinoy, 30 - St. Omer Ft. Rouge, 5 - Cormeilles en Vexin/criel area, 20 have been reported; gunners take notice! Watches were synchronized after a ten second count down, that ended briefing. The flight crews filed out of the building to climb into trucks which sped them out to their assigned aircraft where they made preflight checks of the planes and personal equipment. Thirty minutes later all bomber engines were started.
Colonel Kelly lifted his ship "4 F" 131771 RU-R at 0900 hours, and this mission was underway. His formation of forty-seven planes left over base at 0938 at 6,000 feet altitude on course of 91 degrees true for The Naze to rendezvous with the 322nd Bomb Group at 0952 hours. A course of 114 degrees true was taken for rendezvous with the fighter escort 51 Degrees 25 Minutes North, 03 Degrees 00 Minutes East, with escort joining the bomber formation over the North Sea at 1016 hours. At that time bomber gunners commenced test firing their guns. The top turret dome of number four ship in low flight lead box called, "BARBARA" 131743 RU-S was struck by spent cartridge cases wafted down by the lead plane in the low flight. They probably came out of the cartridge chute from the tail guns of, "PRIVY DONNA" 131658 RU-A flown by one Lieutenant Purdy! At the time Lieutenant Jones the pilot of "BARBARA" pulled his ship out formation due to the shattered top turret dome and headed back to base.
The formation entered into a pattern of evasive action as they continued on to 50 Degrees 58 Minutes, 04 Degrees 00 Minutes East where a course of 162 degrees true was flown to the Initial Point. Slight, moderate inaccurate heavy type flak was encountered from an area extending northeast of Brussels and Louve Beauvechain Airdromes. Evasive action was taken. Then a heading of 53 degrees true to the target area, then the formation turned onto a bomb run heading of 80 degrees. With bomb bay doors open and air speed which was indicating 190 m.p.h. at an altitude of 11,500 feet, the target was attacked at 1049 hours after a bomb run of only fifteen seconds.
Bombs of the 386th first box hit one mile north of northwest corner of the airfield mostly in open fields, with one bomb hitting a house. The second box bomb strikes were across the northeast dispersal with the pattern covering ammunition storage area with direct hits on station headquarters, also other buildings in this area were hit. A column of black smoke seen rising from a building along the St. Trond-Leige Road. Several hits were made on the road junction. The third box of bombs hit just to the northwest of north dispersal area with hits across some empty blast shelters. Others struck the branch railroad, and across the road to St. Trond, also hits on one or more buildings across the road.
A left turn was made off the target to 50 Degrees 58 Minutes North, 04 Degrees 35 Minutes East with a reciprocal heading at this point. The Group crossed out over enemy coast five miles west of Knocke at 1117 hours. The Group crossed the North Sea and headed for the English Coast. Gee equipment was used to fix their position over enemy and English coastlines, which was reached at 1142 hours.
There was a reaction of approximately twenty enemy aircraft, possibly the Florrenes area to the attacks on Venlo and St. Trond. The enemy planes were airborne by 1057 hours and moved northwest passed the track of the force returning from St. Trond which were the 386th and 322nd Bomb Groups. The German fighters attacked the Venlo force made up of the 323rd and 387th Bomb Groups just off the Dutch Coast at approximately 1124 hours. An unidentified enemy twin engine fighter was shot down near St. Trond by the Spitfire escort of the Marauder force bombing that target. One Spitfire was lost in the operation, and six German planes were destroyed.
The Spitfire escort reported nine Marauders of the Venlo force were attacked before the RAF could engage the enemy. One Spitfire opened fire without results. Some twenty enemy fighters attacked the last box of bombers which was the misfortune of the 387th Bomb Group. They were mostly FW-190s along with three or four Me-109s. The air battle lasted five to six minutes. The attacks were pressed home as close as 50 yards, from six, nine, and twelve oclock positions simultaneously shooting down four of the Marauders. Many of the 387th crews stated their escort was adequate until they reached the enemy coast on the way out - no fighter escort observed at that time, the enemy planes jumped the last formation! To add insult to injury - the 387th Group was fired upon at the English Coast, apparently from Clacton as they crossed the coastline both in and out! All of the bombers had their IFF Units turned on at that time. The firing was done by British anti-aircraft gunners. The answer to a 9th Air Force query was, "The ack-ack gunners were merely engaged in practice tracking and firing - well behind the bomber formation!"
Another somewhat bizarre situation involved thirty-four Marauders from the 391st Bomb Group. They were assigned to attack the airdrome located at Cambrai-Epinoy, due to an error in navigation their leader called off the attack. The outstanding experience of this formation was the absence of effective anti-aircraft fire and no enemy fighters despite the fact that the formation was sixty to seventy miles to south of prescribed course. They spent from half an hour to forty-five minutes additional time over enemy territory without opposition!
Some observations brought out during post mission interrogation: A twin engine enemy aircraft taking off from target airdrome in St. Trond. The Malines marshalling yard filled with rail cars. At 1026 eighteen barges observed in canal moving from Sas van Gent to Termonde. Heavy type flak gun position southeast of Louvain and Beauvechain Airdrome. Three barges in harbor at Blankenberg, numerous barges in canals. A motor convoy moving northwest into Bruges. Coastal gun position observed one half mile south of Knocke. Heavy type flak position firing southeast of Brussels, and a balloon barrage seen at Flushing. Fighter escort excellent for 386th and 322nd Bomb Groups.
Chester P. Klier