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In the beginning, this work had a modest goal - a genealogy of the 386th Bomb Group. It would be made up showing the chain of command and have photos of flight crews and their respective aircraft. A listing of all tail numbers and aircraft nicknames would also be desired. While looking through some ancient general orders I ran across the name of Loren R. Dunn, an aerial engineer in the 554th Squadron. I had never met the man in my seventeen months service with the Group. In the early days of operations, Group orders listed the home town of an individual - but alas, he had moved! A very cooperative long distance operator finally tracked him down in a nearby town of Waterloo, Indiana. Needless to say he was most surprised to hear from me. He agreed to lend me his photos and supporting papers - this project was off the ground in early 1978.
During the following months and years my Group contacts grew to well over 800, and I had made some 5300 negatives from photos sent to me by former Group members. I made 185 hours of taped interviews. I am in contact with some twenty-six bomber and fighter groups that flew in the European Theater of operation during World War Two. That also includes the American Eagle Squadrons that flew with the RAF during the Battle Of Britain. Many contacts were also established in Europe.
I have had the rare privilege of meeting and talking with some of the most outstanding air combat veterans of all time! Some were heroes on our side of the war; others were former enemies - but certainly were heroes to their side! One simple fact prevails; take away the white star and bar, the multi-colored roundel, or the black and white cross, and these men were very much alike. They are devoted to duty and country, they are very courageous, they posses the spirit of adventure, and have the tenacity of a bulldog!
United States: One man that comes quickly to mind is Brigadier General Lester J. Maitland. His airmanship endured for decades. In July 1921 he took part in the bombing and sinking of a captured German Battleship. He helped Brigadier General Billy Mitchell prove that aircraft attacks could sink capital ships. During March 1923, he flew to a new speed record at Dayton, Ohio. September 1925 he was an aide to General Mitchell at the special hearings. In June of 1927 he and his partner Lieutenant Albert Hegenberger became the first fliers to make the 2400 mile transpacific flight from Oakland, California to Honolulu. Hawaii. December 1941 he was the base commander when the Japanese attacked Clark Field north of Manila. In November 1942, he was chosen to become the commander of the brand new 386th Bombardment Group. Just over a half year later he led that Group into air combat while flying from Boxted, England.
Another great flier, Brigadier General James H. Howard, a Flying Tiger Ace who later became an ace in the European Theater. He was awarded the Medal Of Honor when he took on thirty Messerschmitt 109s single handedly and shot down four of them. His 354th Fighter Group took over the base at Boxted after our Group moved over to Great Dunmow, England. He visited at my home on two occasions.
Lieutenant Colonel Richard Turner, a multi-ace with eleven victories, He was the wingman for General Howard, and also visited at my home. The 386th Group bombed his flight of P-51s over the Brest Peninsula on September 5, 1944, I was a witness to that. They were dive bombing heavy enemy gun positions which we were bombing at the same time. He told me, "Nobody told me the B-26s were on the way!"
Luckily all of his planes emerged from the dust clouds and returned safely to base. Our flight records show we were both at the same place at the same time. He said to me, "You shouldn't be sorry about our little escapade of dive bombing and level bombing the Forts at Brest. It just shows how good we were at coordination, even accidentally, we gave them a good one two punch!"
England: I talked with Wing Commander and Battle Of Britain Ace, Peter Townsend, he told me that he thought the Marauder was a good kite! Another contact was an aero historian by the name of Ian MacTaggart. Roger Freeman is an author of a number of books concerning the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces. He also wrote a book called, "B-26 Marauder At War" in which he chose to show a half page photo of this writer on page 125. Roger was a lad of fifteen or so when the Group was based at Boxted, near Colchester, England. His father worked the adjoining farm to our air field. Roger had the presences of mind to jot down the nicknames and corresponding tail numbers, along with squadron call letters of our ships. If we flew, he would be out by the fence writing down names and numbers - which is more than I can say for myself. His assistance in this regard was most appreciated.
Belgium: Former members of the Belgium Underground gave me information which told of their war time activities, such as Armand Hardy, and Anne Brusselmans. Anne was instrumental in helping several people from the 386th. Another helpful person from that country was Noel Schillewaert who supplied me with data concerning one of our Group missions. He also included an official German report which was summed with, "Alles Kaputt!"
Germany: On two occasions I spent many informative hours in discussion with Lufwaffe Colonel, Erich Hartmann, about Me-109 combat tactics. He is the worlds top fighter ace with 352 aircraft shot down during World War Two. Before the war while only fourteen years old; he was taught to fly in a glider pilot training program, by his mother!
I found Lieutenant General Adolf Galland an interesting conversationalist, he was a 104 plane fighter ace. We discussed Martin B-26s verses the Luftwaffe. He shot down four Martin Marauders while flying the twin-jet Me-262 - getting two on each fighter pass at the formation. All of a sudden both of his jet engines were damaged, his instrument panel was shot up; and he was wounded. At that point he was compelled to make a forced landing with his badly damaged Me-262. The person who received credit for knocking the German General down was Staff Sergeant Henry Deitz, a waist gunner in a Martin B-26 Marauder! General Galland was the General Of The Fighter Arm from 1941 until very near the end of the war when he was replaced by Hitler.
386th Group members will recall how we bombed secret targets; sometimes referred to as, "No Ball." That was a term used in British parlance, which means a unfairly thrown ball; such as in the game of "Cricket." Operations were carried out against these sites which began with a raid on November 5, 1943. The Group bombed those well dispersed rocket sites known as V-1s seventy-six times while they were in various stages of construction. The last raid of this nature was carried out on May 9, 1944.
During the summer months of 1944 a number of air raid red alerts were sounded at our base located near Great Dunmow. Who could forget the foggy night during a red alert, when the pulsating roar of a V-1 could be heard overhead - then the engine cut out. All nerves were on edge during the momentary silence when suddenly some sadistic joker threw a handful of stones on top of a Nissen Hut. Many a man bolted into a nearby slit trench! Seconds later a huge red blast lit up the darkness as the rocket bomb crashed to earth about one quarter mile off our base.
On another occasion while walking to a mission briefing during a red alert about 0800 hours, I saw three V-1s approaching. One passed over our 552nd Squadron area, one flew directly over me with about 150 feet of altitude, while the third passed over our combat mess hall. All three managed to fly clear of our air field.
While on leave in London a new menace plagued us - the V-2 Rocket! The late Doctor Werner von Braun was the engineering genius behind all that rocket deviltry. By a twist of fate some eighteen years later, he was the Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center where I worked for six years in Huntsville, Alabama. I found the scientist to be a very pleasant person who was also an avid light plane pilot. He was very interested in a 1908 Quick Monoplane restoration project some colleagues and I were working on. I wrote a story about that aircraft which is now on file at the Smithsonian Institution; along with a set of patent papers concerning that plane He asked me for a copy of that magazine article. The restored aircraft with a thirty-eight foot wing span now hangs from the ceiling of the Aerospace Museum in Huntsville, Alabama. Doctor von Braun always attended the annual air shows which some associates and I conducted there.
I was contacted by the Lotos Film Company from Kaufbeuren, Germany. They were interested in a bombing mission which the 386th Bomb Group flew to their town on April 12, 1945. I was asked to do research on that mission. Several weeks later the movie Producer, Eberhard Thiem, Arno Peik, Lieutenant William Seidenstein and his wife made a journey to my home near St. Louis. They arrived loaded down with movie and sound equipment. I was to narrate on camera for fifteen minutes during a one hour presentation of a film documentary; which would be shown on National German Television.
It would be the fortieth anniversary of the bombing raid. The original target for that day was an ordnance depot located at Kempton, Germany. However some of the formation became disorientated in extremely foul weather. It developed into an intriguing story which involved a nun born in 1682. It came true hundreds of years later when the 386th Bomb Group flew over her town of Kaufbeuren!
Czechoslovakia: Squadron Leader Frantiseck Fajtl flew with the 313 Czech Squadron, which operated with the RAF on bomber escort duty, They flew with Spitfire MarkVs. When comparing flight records; we found that we had shared two combat missions while he was flying close escort for the 386th Group. He gave me photos of his plane and data concerning other pilots in his command. He flew Hurricane fighter planes during the Battle Of Britain.
Holland: Air Historian Albert Jansen, John Maas, and G. van den Niewendijk supplied me with valuable information concerning 386th operations over their country. Gerrie Zwanenburg, Identification and Recovery Officer in the Royal Netherland Air Force confirmed thirty-six of our missing in action listing to a killed in action status. He also gave the locations of burial sites of our crew members. That information is now shown on the memorial plaque located at the former 386th Bomber Base near Great Dunmow, England. The Group is most indebted to him along with Jack Knight in England for his engineering the project on his side of the pond!
This is the first volume of a proposed five volume set, the entire work would cover the Group activities from the day of inception to the end of the war. I have attempted to arrange all the facts of each mission in logical sequence as they occur. The first page of each mission story shows the bomber formation layout for that particular assignment. It indicates such items as, target, bomb load, names of pilots, aircraft nicknames, also tail numbers, and weather conditions during the mission.
The 386th Bomb Group saw air combat service with both the Eighth and the Ninth Air Forces. The Group first flew operations with the Martin B-26 Marauder. During the month of February 1945 they switched over to flying with a new type of aircraft, the Douglas A-26 Invader. The Group flew a total of 409 bombing missions, the first thirty-five missions are recounted in the first volume. The remaining combat mission accounts will be dealt with in subsequent volumes.
My intention is to try to put the reader into the cockpit, hunched over a bomb sight, into a top turret, or other gunner positions to reveal what it was like to fly combat in the B-26 and A-26 aircraft. You will learn something about the men who were part of this fine organization - people like Major George Howard and First Lieutenant Roger Winberg. Each of these pilots flew an unprecedented ninety plus missions during their careers with the 386th Bomb Group. Two Staff Sergeants in my squadron were Harry Dickerson a tail gunner with 85 missions, and Gordon Angel a flight engineer with 90 missions. They were crew members on Lt. Col Leland Perry's crew. Their plane was named, "MERT'S FLYING CIRCUS." For all of those who were there, I hope it will provide a nostalgic return to the days of your youth!
Chester P. Klier