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|Sunday, August 6, 1944 - 386th Bomb Group mission Number 245.
The target was a fuel dump located at Forte de Andaine, France.
About the middle of May 1944 the author had amassed 57 combat missions. My crew and I returned to the States for thirty days leave plus travel time. I arrived home on June 5th. My Dad woke me the next morning to tell me the invasion was on in France. I told him that was great, and then went back to sleep.
After the thirty days leave at home, my crew reported to Atlantic City, New Jersey for more rest and recuperation. We drank a lot of milk and ate a lot of hot dogs, the likes of which we never got in Jolly Ole England! We lived in a hotel right on the boardwalk for about three weeks.
We returned to England on a ship by the name of "HMS MAURETANIA",the same ship that had taken us home. Only this time it was a lot more crowded with some 8,000 replacement troops heading for the battles in France! Most of us wore our A-2 leather flight jackets all painted up with pictures and bombs showing our mission records. There were about fifty of us on the ship, so we stuck out like a newly bandaged thumb in a coal mine among all those new troops. We heard remarks like, "Geez look at those Air Corps guys in the painted jackets, what are they going to be like after they get into the war!"
The following mission account is the first mission of my second tour of combat with the 386th Bomb Group. Only a few miles and the bomber formation would be clear of the enemy coast. However the first box leader was being affected by a heavy haze in the general area. He deviated from the prescribed course near Lisieux, continuing on until the town of Pont Le Evecque came into view. Shortly thereafter the entire formation encountered a heavy barrage of 88mm flak which was very accurate for position. Almost immediately seven of the first box planes were battle damaged. Staff Sergeant John P. Naimo was wounded in the face by a small piece of shrapnel. The heavy eight gun battery hurled their twenty-two pound projectiles skyward at the rate of fifteen rounds per minute from each gun. The anti-aircraft shells burst into ugly soot black mushrooms about six feet tall over Trouville.
Just as the formation crossed out at the enemy coast the number four ship in the lead flight was struck in the right engine. A small flicker of fire at first, then it grew larger quickly as it licked along the underside of the engine nacelle. At 2030 hours a voice was heard over the radio warning Captain Walter E. Payne his right engine was on fire. His response was quick, his ship nosed down making a wide sweeping turn out of formation. This brought him into the view of the author flying in the number one ship in the high flight piloted by Captain Ralph Marble.
The plane was about fifty yards off to my right, its bomb bay doors were open and I could see the fire as the pilot banked away to our rear, as his crew began bailing out of the stricken plane. Several chute blossomed in rapid succession, a slight delay and still another chute opened. The aircraft continued on for about fifteen seconds, then it rolled over into a lazy spin which quickly developed into a wicked tight spin. By that time I had vacated my position and retired to the starboard side waist window so as to watch the death plunge of aircraft 296184 RU-O, it had no nickname. I could actually hear a loud noise as the plane fell. It was a high pitch and rapid ang, ang, ang sound! Tech Sergeant Wayne Kizer watched out of the port side waist window as Staff Sergeant Zephire Peterson observed through his tail gun turret window. Nobody said a word on the intercom, it was as if we were transfixed by the spectacle unfolding before our eyes.
Suddenly a geyser of water shot skyward as the ship crashed into the English Channel approximately two miles off the French Coast. A large circle of foaming water appeared on the surface of the channel, it was well over 150 feet in diameter with no wreckage visible. Only then did our gaze return to the airmen hanging from their white parachute canopies, now down to about 5,000 feet. They were in a sort of stepped down pattern as they drifted above their intended watery landing place. Soon all faded from our view in the haze as the bomber formation pressed on to base at Great Dunmow, England.
The crewmen from the downed aircraft were: Captain W.E. Payne, pilot; Lieutenant H.M Alivater, co-pilot; Lieutenant E.W. Roggenkamp, bombardier; Tech Sergeant J.D. Weaver, radioman; Sergeant F.E. Swanson, engineer; Corporal W.A. Salyer, tail gunner. Five of the crew became POWs.
A number of the returning crews reported seeing five fully open parachutes and one that was a streamer. That one must have been the chute of Sergeant Swanson, for sometime later he was listed as killed in action!
Chester P. Klier