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Saturday, March 25, 1944 - 386th B.G. Mission No. 140.
Target: Marshalling Yards at Hirson, France.

Colonel Joe Kelly was first box leader, his bombardier was Captain A.E. Hill. High flight leader was Lieutenant Romney Spencer. Low flight leader Lt/Col. Franklin Harris. Second box leader was Captain Peter Green, Jr. Bombardier Lieutenant John Dennison. High flight leader Lieutenant Albert Aberson. Low flight leader Lieutenant Walter Payne. Each ship carried eight 500 pound general purpose bombs.

The Group encountered meager to moderate heavy type flak en route to the target from Laon-Athies Airdrome area. In the vicinity of the I.P.(Initial Point) a 391st Group B-26 was observed to take a flak hit, caught fire, went into a spin and exploded at low altitude. No chutes were reported. With no flak at the target, first box leader decided to make a 360 degree turn for a better run. The second box leader bombed on his first pass, as a result the second box was now leading the first box. out of the target area. Most of the Group’s bombs dropped adjacent to and on both sides of the aiming point at 1441 hours. They struck railroad tracks and buildings which caused very large columns of smoke to rise. Both boxes had good bombing results.

Upon leaving the target area the formation experienced moderate to intense accurate heavy type flak; while flying from Poix-Nord Airdrome area and on to Oisemont—the latter being fairly accurate. Lieutenant Betts flying ship 131775 AN-N received flak hits in the accessory section of his right engine, and out to the wing tip. Damage covered approximately one-third of his right wing. His co-pilot fired off several distress flares!

Immediately after the flak subsided, ten to fourteen gray-green Me-109’s with yellow noses came out of the sun some 3,000 to 4,000 feet above the formation. The enemy aircraft were at once engaged by the P-47 escort planes. However five or six Me-109’s were able to break through—dive down below the bombers, then pull up and attack the low flight of Colonel Kelly’s box. That box which was now flying behind Captain Green’s second box of eighteen planes. The German pilots came in from 6 o’clock low position, then rolling over as they were firing, and broke down and away upside down!

Staff Sergeant Alfred Dumas tail gunner on "MISS CARRIAGE" number seven position of the high flight was flown by Lieutenant John Petrey; Dumas fired at a range of 800 yards as the Me-109’s swept by. He was joined by tail gunner Sergeant Benjamin Louis flying in number three position high flight, piloted by Flight Officer John Albers in their ship called "SEDUCTIVE SUSIE." Lieutenant C.H. Richardson flying a plane called "SPARE PARTS" number three position of the lead flight. His waist gunner Tech Sergeant B.B. Wilkerson along with tail gunner Staff Sergeant Harry Jacobs each got off some 150 rounds. Waist gunner Tech Sergeant Andrew Hoaghland flying in a plane named "BUZZ-N-BITCH II number six position flown by Lieutenant Harry Slemmons, also joined in the fray! The formation was at 11,500 feet, flying at 190 m.p.h.

"BLACK MAGIC" flown by Lieutenant Byron Potter, Jr. in number five position low flight took several 20mm hits which wounded co-pilot Lieutenant William Carls. The cannon fire hits also knocked out the radio, and blew out the right main wheel tire. Lieutenant Jerold Wendt flying in number four position low flight with "WINNIE" was damaged by nine 20mm strikes. Waist gunner Tech Sergeant Elwin Tindall, and tail gunner Staff Sergeant Joe Fredrickson were wounded by 20mm shrapnel as more enemy planes flying four abreast pulled up firing from 6 o’clock low. Staff Sergeant Hugh Laurens in the tail of "TOUCH-O-TEXAS" flying with Lt./Col. Harris, number one position of low flight fired at the enemy fighters as they pulled up and away.

Lieutenant Gordon Madson pilot of "GAMBLER’S LUCK" in number six in low flight came under attack. Tech Sergeant John Stankeiwicz in the waist and Staff Sergeant Warren Hartman in the tail returned fire. The prime target for the Me-109’s was a plane flown by Lieutenant E.F. Betts in tombstone position - number seven! His tail gunner Sergeant C.D. Powers reported over intercom that he had been wounded with cuts on head, arm, and legs. Betts plane already badly damaged by flak, now took heavy damage from 20mm cannon fire which blew off a major portion of the plane’s fin and rudder, that in turn restricted rudder control. The plane was flying with its right engine feathered and still several miles in from the enemy coast!

Captain Potter, 397th Fighter Squadron in the 368th Fighter Group, 71st Fighter Squadron flying a P-47 reported the following: At position of about fifteen miles southwest of Le Treport at 1520 hours, he sighted a B-26 bomber alone. It had battle damage but was still flying straight and level. Captain Potter had recently been engaged in a dog-fight with the enemy, and therefore was also flying alone!  He escorted the bomber to a position as 50 degrees 33 minutes north - 01 degree 18 minutes east. At that point Captain Potter’s plane was running low on gasoline, so he changed course heading for his home base. As he left the bomber was flying on a heading of 320 degrees at the above coordinates, time was 1528 hours. That position was roughly twenty miles or so northeast of the bomber’s briefed return route.

At 1536 hours RAF 10 Group received a distress signal of an aircraft in the same area. They immediately dispatched two Spitfires and seven P-47’s to search the area—with no positive results. Two additional sightings reported to Flying Control as wreckage sighted in the channel approximately thirteen miles southwest of a line between Tocqueville, France and Beachy Head England.

Meanwhile Lieutenant Betts and crew were on single engine operation and pulling 55 inches of mercury on the left engine, they were indicating a speed of 145 m.p.h. The pilot was given a course 330 degrees by his bombardier, Lieutenant R.E. Curtis, but due to extensive rudder damage that heading was not attainable. Actually they were on a course of 360 degrees.

At that point the much overworked left engine began showing signs it was about to give up. Down to an altitude of 2,000 feet the crew began bailing out over the channel. Then the engine quit, and the pilot bailed out at 800 feet. All six got out safely. Co-pilot Lieutenant L.R. Burnett reported all of the crew except the pilot hit the water within 150 yards of each other. The pilot’s watch stopped at 1542 hours when he dropped into the very cold water of the English Channel. He immediately began to inflate his rubber raft. While the co-pilot was pumping up his rubber raft he lost sight of the other members of the crew. He turned around to look for them—they had all disappeared into the heavy haze that hung over the water. He felt sure that all of them had on "Mae West’s."

Prior to bailing out the crew had tried all radio procedures including emergency IFF. Pilot Elliott Betts and co-pilot Leonard Burnett, Jr. landed fairly close to each other in the channel. The pilots lashed their rubber dinghies together so as to make a larger target, and best chance for being spotted by search planes. About a half hour later they heard one of the other men call for help—they paddled their raft in the direction of the cry; but found nobody in the thick haze. More shouts heard about dusk, then again about 2200 hours, after that nothing!

During mission interrogation the following crews flying in the same low flight had this to say after the Group exited the enemy coast. Lieutenant Adams crew members in number two position; waist gunner Staff Sergeant D.C. Johnson, top turret gunner, Tech Sergeant Richard McMullen, and tail gunner Staff Sergeant Robert Tirschek reported seeing the Betts plane at about 6,000 feet with some top wing skin blown off near the right engine.

Lieutenant Lovell’s crew number three position observed Betts plane about 4,000 feet being escorted by a P-47 a few miles off the French coast as seen by Sergeant Charles Adams and Staff Sergeant Earl Pitman. Lieutenant Potter’s crew in number five position; Staff Sergeant Lawrence Thornburg, and Staff Sergeant Jack Gemmell also reported the damaged plane’s progress. Lieutenant Wendt’s plane in number four position; Staff Sergeant Herbert May observed Lieutenant Betts ship about fifteen miles off enemy territory without escort.

Lieutenant Tommy Adams plane 131805 AN-D was forced to land Grandson Lodge because of battle damage. Lieutenant Madson landed "GAMBLER’S Luck" at Duxford. Also landing there with "BLACK MAGIC" was Lieutenant Potter. As he touched down the flat right wheel tire caused the plane to swerve off the runway and collapsed the right main landing gear strut. Lieutenant Donald Wren flying "CLOUD HOPPER 2nd" had to land at Stansted due to battle damage.

On the second day the pilots decided nobody was looking for them; they knew they were closer to France than to England. Their plan was to sail on a course of 150 degrees to France, they made about eight miles. At that time they saw Me-109’s and P-47’s fighting high above their location. That night the wind came up and blew them west on a course out to sea.! The next day the westerly course continued, they became very concerned about the condition of their feet—which appeared to show signs of freezing! Finally on Tuesday, March 28th they were seen by an RAF Mosquito Bomber crew while returning from an operation flight about thirty miles south of Dungeness in late afternoon. The bomber circled for some fifteen minutes until a flight of Spitfires arrived to cover the scene. A short time later an RAF Walrus Flying Boat landed near by and took the exhausted fliers aboard at 1820 hours. The two pilots had been adrift in the channel for seventy-four hours and thirty-eight minutes! The rescued airmen were taken to sick bay at Hawkinge.

The Betts crew:

2nd Lieutenant E.F. Betts, pilot : rescued
2nd Lieutenant L.R. Burnett, co-pilot : rescued
2nd Lieutenant R.E. Curtis, bombardier/navigator : KIA
Staff Sergeant W.A. Van Damme, radio gunner : KIA
Staff Sergeant J.P. Brusman, engineer Gunner : KIA
Sergeant C.D. Powers, Armorer gunner : KIA

Chester P. Klier
Historian, 386th Bomb Group

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