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|Saturday, April 8, 1944 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 142:
Briefing was called to order at 0935 hours, thus ending a long layoff due to a bad weather period. IX Bomber Command directs this Group to attack the marshalling yards located at Hasselt, Belgium, also known as ZB 889. We will put up forty aircraft in this effort. The 391st Bomb Group will be flying with us on this mission. All aircraft will carry four 1,000-pound demolition type bombs.
The route out: Base to Sherness to North Foreland that is our rendezvous point with the 391st Bomb Group at 1217 hours. Continue on over the channel to position 51 Degrees 12 Minutes North - 02 Degrees 20 Minutes East at (Zero Hour) 1230 hours where we rendezvous with our fighter escort. They will be American P-47’s. All gunners are aware that the P-47 at a distance looks an awful lot like the German FW-190. Proceed to enemy landfall at Nieuport. Then fly a southeast dogleg to position 50 Degrees 41 Minutes North---03 Degrees 56 Minutes East.
Then fly to the Initial Point that is located at position, 50 Degrees 41 Minutes North - 03 Degrees 24 Minutes East. You should arrive there at 1307 hours. At that time make a sweeping left turn that will put you on a due north heading to the target at 1313 hours. Make a left turn off target and fly due west, at 1322 hours make a slight dogleg right. Then fly a straight course to a position on the coast of Belgium that is located at 51 Degrees 20 Minutes North---03 Degrees 48 Minutes East. Make a slight dogleg left to line up with North Foreland on the southeast coast of England. From there fly a direct line back to base. Estimated time of arrival, 1357 hours.
Weather: At base we have fog that is beginning to lift. Presently three to five-tenths patchy fog, Visibility is one mile. There is one-tenth cirrus at 20,000 feet. Route out: Six to eight-tenths cirrus at 20,000 feet. There will be slight amount of stratus cloud over the channel at 16,000 feet, and will be persistent for rest of the route. No medium cloud the whole way. Visibility to be four to six miles over channel, and ten to twelve miles of visibility over enemy territory. The target area: One-tenth stratus at 16, 000 feet, nil medium or low cloud. Visibility ten to twelve miles. Route back: Similar to route out except visibility will be four miles.
The flak situation: There is accurate heavy type flak at Bierset and Le Culet Airdromes, which are located southwest of Antwerp and Knokke. There are heavy type flak guns at the airdrome located at Zeebrugge; which is south of Antwerp. However it is believed to be somewhat inaccurate. Gunners keep a sharp eye out for enemy fighter reaction to our mission. There are a number of Me-109 and FW-190 airdromes in the vicinity of today’s operation.
Major Thomas White will lead the entire formation. His lead flight will have six aircraft. The high flight leader is Lieutenant Colonel Charles Lockhart with seven planes. Ship number five flown by Lieutenant McNutt, and number six flown by Lieutenant Petrey will carry bomb strike cameras The low flight leader is Lieutenant G.S. Jones with seven ships. His flight will have two planes with cameras in positions number one and three. Number three ship will be flown by Lieutenant Callahan. All strike photo cameras are designated as Type K-21, and are rigidly mounted on the floor in the aft section of the aircraft. They utilize 4 x 5 size black and white film.
The second box leader will be Major Dewhurst, with six planes. His number two man is Lieutenant Adams, who will have an air combat photographer flying with him. He will be using a hand held 4 x 5 film size camera designated as Type K-20. The high flight leader will be Captain Sands with seven planes. His plane is equipped with a strike photo camera. There is also a strike photo camera in number seven ship flown by Lieutenant Dismukes. The low flight is led by Captain Tipton with seven planes. Ships number four and number five each have a strike photo camera. The pilot of the number four plane is Lieutenant Brokaw. Plane number five is to be piloted by Lieutenant Clark.
A ten second count down was taken to insure that all watches were synchronized. That ended the briefing at 1020 hours. Flight crews exited the room and were sped away to their assigned airplanes. Upon arrival they were allowed thirty minutes to load up some personal gear, and then each would checkout their individual crew station. Engine start up time was 1055 hours. A thunderous roar could be heard about the airdrome as eighty 2,000 horsepower engines came to life--creating mild tornadoes behind the planes. The total effort of all those engines would have the capability to produce some 160,000 horsepower!
Major White began to taxi out at 1105 hours--thirty-nine others were trundling toward the active end of the runway. A mobile control tower was parked about 100 feet to the left of the active runway at 1111 hours. A green light flashed to the formation leader. He advanced the throttles on a plane named, “4 F” 131771 RU-R, thirty seconds later it was into the air and climbing out to the left. At the same time his number two-man was now half way down the runway as the number three-man was beginning his take off roll - so it went until all forty planes were airborne. The formation continued circling the airdrome located at Great Dunmow while gaining the prescribed altitude - at which time the 386th formation took up a heading of 140 degrees to Sheerness some 39 miles ahead. It was located on the southeast shore of the Thames Estuary. At that point a new heading of 98 degrees for North Foreland was taken, a distance of 29 miles. The 391st Bombers were on time at that rendezvous point. The air armada struck out across the English Channel on a heading of 105 degrees; which was a straight line for the enemy coast at Nieuport, it lay 63 miles across the English Channel.
Approximately mid point, the rattling of some 280 machineguns began as the bomber gunners commenced test firing their weapons. Hundreds of 50 caliber tracer bullets could be seen glowing in the blue sky. Test firing proved satisfactory, and the bombers droned on. Presently our P-47 escort made an appearance at 1230 hours, then took up station on both sides of the bomber formation, and high overhead as well. After crossing over the enemy coast at Nieuport, the Group immediately took a southeast dogleg to a position 50 Degrees 40 Minutes North - 03 Degrees 56 Minutes East. The formation continued on for some 20 miles, the town of Roeseare was approximately 5 miles to the right of course as they flew on for 42 miles to the vicinity of Edingen. Then a course change to 85 degrees which put them on a 52 mile leg to the I.P. located near Hannut, a left turn was executed. The formation was immediately engaged by a flak battery; firing 88mm shells from the town of Bierset. Four of the planes in the high flight in the lead box were battle damaged. Lieutenant Colonel Lockhart was their flight leader. The number two ship named, “MALE CALL” 131737 RG-Y piloted by Flight Officer Beall was struck by flak. Also the number three ship called, “GERRONIMO” 131630 RG-J flown by Lieutenant Ralph Marble was damaged. Back in the second box of twenty planes, two were hit by flak. Captain Gianatsis flying a ship called, “BLAZING HEAT” 131585 AN-J in number four position. Lieutenant Rauh flying, “MISS MARY” 131650 AN-O in number five position. Both pilots were in the lead flight.
The number four plane piloted by Captain Lubojasky, was ship number 134962 RG-V. That particular aircraft had been transferred October 10, 1943 to the 552nd Squadron from the 553rd Bomb Squadron. The number six position plane flown by Lieutenant John B. Petrey was known as, “MISS CARRIAGE”134961 RG-M. Captain Marion Skubala, an RAF Observer flying with Lieutenant Petery was wounded in the right forearm by some flak fragments. Flak smashed into the cockpit of Captain Lubojasky’s plane, the blast severely wounded the upper left arm of Lieutenant John Bryant. The flak fragments had struck just above his left elbow. They severed an artery and caused a compound fracture of his arm. A piece of flak also broke part of the control wheel on the co-pilot side. The pilot immediately whipped his ship into a 180 degree turn--ordered his bombardier one Lieutenant Wendell Rice to jettison their bomb load. After which Captain Lubojasky put his plane into a shallow dive from an altitude of 11,500 feet , he advanced his ships throttles, then asked his bombardier-navigator for the quickest route back to England. Some P-47 escort planes ever vigilant pealed away from the bomber formation to cover the retreating B-26.
Lieutenant Bryant immediately exited his co-pilot position heading for the navigator compartment. His position was taken over by Flight Engineer Eugene Hood, Jr. He had been summoned forward from his top turret position to assist his pilot. Tail Gunner Staff Sergeant Lynch H. Everhart remained at his crew position. Tech Sergeant Socrates N. Triantafellu was the radioman on the flight crew. Also onboard was Tech Sergeant Armando F. Madeira, he was a combat photographer in the 552nd Bomb Squadron. He was very adept at first aid procedures, he immediately cut away clothing from the injured upper arm of the co-pilot. The first thing was to apply a tourniquet to control the heavy bleeding as a result of a severed artery. Seeing the Lieutenant was in extreme pain he administered a potent shot of morphine. Tech Sergeant Triantafellu also assisted during the return flight. Lieutenant Wendell Rice continued to give his pilot information concerning the safest route out of enemy territory. Upon reaching the enemy coastline their altitude was down to a mere 3,000 feet as they streaked across the North Sea to a landing at the emergency airfield which was located on the southeast coast of England. Lieutenant John Bryant was rushed off to the hospital located at Margate. Tech Sergeant Armando Madeira was credited with saving the life of the co-pilot!
The Group was now on a due north bomb run to their marshalling yard target located about 10 miles ahead at Hasselt. An enemy 88 mm flak battery located to the right side of the formation sprung into action from their location at Tongeren; the city of St. Trond was a few miles off to the left at that point. The enemy anti-aircraft gunners were doing their utmost to disrupt the bombers in their race to the target! A withering blast of flak struck the left engine nacelle of, “MISS CARRIAGE,” the engine stopped running almost immediately. Hydraulic components and supply lines were hemorrhaging fluid within the nacelle. Co-pilot Lieutenant Willard Adams feathered the left engine propeller so as to reduce drag on their ship. The pilot John Petrey was busy trimming the plane for single engine operation.
It was bombs away at 1313 hours, then the formation made a left turn off the target, and took up a heading of 270 degrees for some twenty miles. “MISS CARRIAGE” was slowly losing altitude and falling back behind the formation. That situation did not escape the eyes of some P-47 pilots who swooped down to shepherd the crippled bomber out of enemy territory.
The formation made a dogleg to the right to 290 degrees, which they continued on to where they departed the enemy coast at Le Zoute. Then across the North Sea to North Foreland, which was reached at 1357 hours. The Group continued on by taking a course of 307 degrees, which carried them back to base, where they arrived at 1413 hours. The returning crews were soon assembled in the interrogation room where all of the mission details would be recorded by S-2 Officers. All types of questions were asked of the crews - where did the flak come from, was the mission briefing accurate? Did the weather differ from forecast, any enemy fighters seen, and what type? Did you observe any road or train traffic etc? The Lieutenant McNutt crew reported seeing the Captain Lubojasky crew salvo their bomb load near Zaffelare. The lieutenant Cox crew flying in ship number 131812 RU-J returned to base with all of their bombs due to a bomb rack malfunction. They had been flying in number two-position in the lead flight in the first box of twenty planes.
After a perilous single engine return across the North Sea, Lieutenant Petrey and his co-pilot were aware this could be a risky landing. The plane settled in on the emergency landing field at Manston, it was a two mile long sod strip near the southeast coast of England. The following explains a sequence of events believed to have happened at touch down. Due to battle damage, the left main landing gear collapsed at well over 100 m.p.h. The left wing struck the ground ripping off the left engine as the ship took up a wide circuitous path away from the landing area. Then it struck a medium size tree that snapped off at its roots, causing the plane to flip over on its back. That resulted in the disintegration of the vertical fin and rudder. A series of crash photos appears to support this scenario!
The plane was a total loss. The bombardier was Lieutenant Jack Brandenberg, who was killed in the crash at 1400 hours. He had multiple injuries and a skull fracture. All of the injured Petrey crewmembers were taken to the nearby hospital located in Margate. Pilot John Petrey had a laceration of his scalp. His co-pilot Lieutenant Willard Adams had multiple compound fractures of the right arm and thigh, and a severe case of shock. He died two days later, April 10, 1944 at 0900 hours. The radioman was Tech Sergeant Robert S. Fitzsimmons he had forehead and multiple rib injuries. The tail gunner was Staff Sergeant Alfred F. Dumas he had a lacerated scalp. An RAF Officer flying with the Petrey crew as an observer, was Captain Marion Skubala. He received a shrapnel wound in his right forearm. The only crewmember not injured was Flight Engineer Staff Sergeant William J. Hunt.
The following is the official bomb damage assessment: Bombs on the target 152 x 1,000 pounds, a total of seventy-six tons by thirty-eight aircraft from the 386th Bomb Group. First Box: Concentrated pattern fell on north, west, and east sides of the aiming point. There were several hits on siding to west of engine shed, and across tracks to north of the shed. Several direct hits on the shed. With only partial coverage it makes accurate determination of hits nearly impossible. There were three tall columns of smoke which including one apparently due to an ammunition explosion.
Second Box: Bombs from the lead flight largely filled in a complete pattern for the first box. The assessment of damage not possible, because bombs dropped later fell into the smoke. This was caused by the bombs, and other explosions; from the first box. Strike photos of the 391st Bomb Group taken approximately fifteen minutes later show the west one-third of engine shed destroyed. Hits on southeast corner, and a chunk out of south side of the building. Many rail cars were destroyed. Other rail cars seen scattered around sidings to the west of engine shed. All the skylights were blown out of the engine shed! Captain R.W. Bushnell, A.C. Photo Interpretation Officer.
Lieutenant Jack E. Brandenburg and Lieutenant Willard R. Adams were buried at the U.S. National Cemetery at Brookwood. The following Sunday about 100 officers and men attended Memorial Services, which were held in the Post Chapel at Station Number 164--Great Dunmow, England.
Earlier on the author and crew had two occasions to fly, “MISS CARRIAGE,” in August 1943. On the first flight she provided an episode of near heart stopping experience! That story can be located on the contents sheet of this web page, by clicking on the heading Airdrome Evreux Fauville, France.
Chester P. Klier
Historian, 386th Bomb Group