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|Monday Afternoon, May 29, 1944 - 386th B.G. Mission No. 187.
Target was the gun battery located at Calais, France.
Prior to D-Day our Group flew numerous missions which would have an effect on the actual landing of troops on European soil. Many of the missions were against targets such as, bridges, railways, and road intersections, and anything else which would disrupt German forces. The plan was to take away the ability of the enemy to move troops and armor to the eventual Allied landing areas. The Germans seemed to be concentrating on protecting the Calais area, they apparently had a strong belief that a future invasion would happen there.
Briefing at 1540 hours, the second mission for the day. This would also be the second mission this day for First Lieutenant Thomas B. Stovall. He was flying at the request of Captain Gus Hoffman. The young bombardier was eager to fly more missions, and happily accepted the offer! Our target was the 16 inch gun battery at Calais, France. Each aircraft was loaded with two 2,000 pound demolition bombs, all intervalometer settings were at fifty feet.
The route out was from base to Hastings, across the channel to Berck sur Mer area, and turn right onto a heading of 345 degrees bombing by flights of six. The weather situation was three to four-tenths cloud cover for the entire route above 2,000 feet. P-47s were busy far ahead dive bombing and strafing German flak positions in the target area. Just two minutes behind the dive bombers came the 391st B-26s unleashing their bombs on the coastal guns followed closely by another B-26 outfit, the 344th bomb Group. The 386th Bomb Group boxes slid into flights of six as formation leader Major Beaty began a 60 second bomb run at 11,000 feet on a heading of 345 degrees. His air speed was a steady 185 mph.
Co-pilot First Lieutenant Robert L. Sala picks up the narration: "We were flying in low flight deputy lead for the 553rd Squadron. We were the last flight over the target as we were bombing in trail. Our low flight leader was on a 35 second bomb run. Heavy type 128mm flak came up at us, it was intense and accurate for our flight. Just after bombs away we received a crippling hit in the fuselage and tail. Fire started in the ships radio compartment, radio and hydraulic systems were shot away! We were just over the coast as Captain Hoffman rang the alarm bell, the crew of 131848 AN-Q began bailing out!
I saw six chutes so I know all bailed out. However since I bailed out about two miles off the coast into the English Channel; and the Germans were shooting light type flak and machine guns at me, I assumed they did the same to our three gunners from the rear of the plane, after they bailed out over the French Coast. I presumed the three of them were killed while still in the "silks!" I could see our ship go into a dive and then begin a lazy spin as it crashed into the channel making a fountainhead. Captain Hoffman landed in the channel about a half mile further out than me. I did not see him in the water, but I could hear his rescue whistle once in awhile. After struggling in an effort to swim with a Mae West, I passed out from exhaustion. Apparently I was lucky, the tide carried me onto the beach; for when I regained consciousness I was lying on the beach with half a dozen German around me. By this time they had stripped me of all insignia and identification!"
Lieutenant Thomas Stovall takes over the narration: "I had just gotten our bombs away and closed the bomb bay doors, flak was hitting the ship like hail on a tin roof at 1830 hours. It got worse and I decided to get out of the nose compartment. I pushed by the legs of co-pilot Sala when there was an explosion; I was blinded and burned on my face and both hands. I stood up, found the emergency release for the bomb bay doors, it was located on the cockpit ceiling between the two pilot hatches. I pulled the handle and hooked it so the bomb bay doors would remain open; then I felt my way into the radio navigator compartment, and eventually located a parachute pack by feel. I snapped the pack onto my parachute harness and was holding onto the bomb racks when Lieutenant Sala said to me, "Lets get the hell out of here!"
My chute opened almost immediately; shells were whistling close to me, but I thought they were shooting at the planes. My eyes cleared some and I saw the White Cliffs Of Dover. I did not see any planes or chutes because I was facing away from them. I landed in the channel about 100 yards from shore. The Germans fired their rifles into the water near me and motioned for me to swim in. I could not, so they swam out and helped me in." End of bombardier statement.
A pilot report from Lieutenant Munroe E. Boersema flying "ELMER" 131577 AN-Y in number five position off the right wing of Captain Hoffman, "Because it was such a small target we were bombing by flights of six instead of pattern bombing the usual way by boxes of eighteen planes. Each succeeding flight was lower than the one in front, our flight was the last to bomb. Since the target was so small it was necessary for us to hold straight and level for a longer than normal distance on the bomb run. To offset the easy target we made; a large number of P-47s were dive bombing the flak positions. In fact I thought the mission would be a milk run since the flights preceding us were not fired upon. Apparently the P-47s had exhausted their loads, and the German gunners were able to reorganize and concentrate on the last flight.
Because there was neither flak nor fighters I went back to the bomb bay and was going to watch our bombs fall. Lieutenant Homer Fansler was doing the flying. While standing near the bomb bay it became apparent that we were suddenly being hit by heavy accurate flak! I went back to the cockpit, our entire flight had received many hits, and by time I was in my seat our plane was alone! I did not see Hoffman get hit but I could see several of our B-26s in trouble, and one going down. Our plane was the only one to make it back to home base; the rest of them landed at emergency fields around England." End of pilot report.
Interrogation reports indicate seven aircraft received battle damage by flak, six men were wounded, one aircraft shot down with six men missing in action. Captain Nagel leader of the low flight in the first box was flying a ship called, "LA GOLONDRINA" 131583 AN-X. The plane took a flak hit which knocked out his right engine. The nose of his plane was also struck and his bombardier, Lieutenant Solon A. Sternberg received minor facial cuts when hit by flying Plexiglas. Navigation was good and the Group followed the route as briefed. The target was heavily hit with good results.
Lieutenant Sala Said, "I was taken into custody and treated for my burns received as I left the burning aircraft. Eventually I was shipped off to a POW Camp. After the war was over I checked with Graves Registration and learned that Tech Sergeant Lee A. Henry, Staff Sergeants Henry Hoppe and Frank Marszalek were buried in a French Cemetery near Calais." A final word from Lieutenant Stovall, "I spent five days in an old prison in Lille, France, then on to Brussels, Belgium, and finally their interrogation center. I was in solitary there for thirty days; they had a book with information on the 322nd Bomb Group and others. All they had on the 386th Bomb Group was the name of Colonel Kelly, and two squadron commanders. Later I was sent to Stalag III at Sagan, Germany where I met two POWs who were brothers to two pilots from our Group. They were Lieutenants Saltsman and Howe from our Groups 555th Squadron."
The Hoffman crew: Captain Gus Hoffman pilot, KIA. 1st.Lt. Robert L. Sala co-pilot, POW. 1st. Lt. Tomas B. Stovall bombardier, POW. T/Sgt. Lee A. Henry radioman, KIA.
S/Sgt. Frank Marszalek engineer, KIA. S/Sgt. Henry Hoppe tail gunner, KIA.
Chester P. Klier