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|A few memories from Lieutenant Colonel Hankey, first 386th Bomb Group Operations
Officer. First Lieutenant Harry G. Hankey arrived at MacDill Field, Tampa, Florida on
Monday December 7, 1942. He was selected by 386th Bomb Group Commander Lester J. Maitland
to be the new B-26 Groups Operations Officer. Hankey also known as "Tad"
held that position until September 1944 when he was reassigned to serve in Washington,
D.C. While in our Group he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
The author received the address of Hankey from my former 552nd Squadron Commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles Lockhart in the spring of 1979. I explained my desire to write about the history of the 386th Bomb Group. Hankey sent me a box of 174 great photos concerning the Groups activities. Also an eight page letter which related some otherwise unknown information about our Groups operations during its overseas stint in England. What follows is an unedited typed copy of a hand written letter I received on May 16, 1979 from Tad Hankey.
Well the trip to the South Pacific, New Zealand, and Australia is over - so now I can get to the pictures etc. I promised you. On the bottom of the box are two of Douglas aircraft magazines. These articles are pretty much self explanatory. I made the trip to South Carolina while I was in Washington. The next old tired newspaper clipping came from somewhere but Im at a loss to know where.
The copies of the newspaper articles were all written by Cornelius Ryan who was assigned to us just before D-Day. He was a cub reporter on the Daily Telegraph and never had a by-line before. Our low level raids on D-Day and several days after (due to cloud cover) gave him a birds eye view no one else was getting - so his articles became famous. Of course he was great or he couldnt have gone on to write the great books he did - such as "The longest Day" and "A Bridge Too Far." Ryan and I traded hats - I got his correspondence hat - he got my old "crusher." I reminded him of this not long ago just before he died.
The next book on the Group was a thing Tom Haire and some guys put together in France or Belgium at the end of the war. Tom went to Cornell with Lockhart. I saw Tom several times in New York after the war. He had taken over the Haire Publishing Company. The rest of the pictures Ive tried to note on the back as much as I can recall.
Note 1. This was inspection day at Lake Charles. Les Maitland was mad at me that day and while this group toured the flight line and looked at the crews, I had to climb in every plane at the nose wheel entrance, check it out and climb out the waist window. A little diabolical torture of Les. He and I have laughed over it many times since.
Note 2. The Catholic Chaplain used to have his boys kneel for a prayer and blessing outside the briefing room after briefing. I told him not to as the other guys might feel badly or get upset because they were not religious. I said all crews came by the church on the way to mess before briefings, and to do it there for those that wished. He got mad, said my briefings were too frivolous and went to Bomber Command. Unknown to me the next briefing he had the Bomber Command Chaplain as well as General Anderson of the Bomber Command at the back of the briefing room. That happened to be the time I showed the naked girl in the wheat field, and insisted all bombs must hit the airfield we were bombing, as any outside would destroy the life and breath of any Frenchman. The General took my side.
Note 3. Being in Group I never had a plane as we used to borrow squadron planes and lead crews, so I got Lockhart of the 552nd to give me one of the new silver beauties to put my name on. Actually I flew every new plane that came to the Group to see if they were stable enough to become "lead" planes. "The Helen Girl" didnt qualify but I already had my name on it. Anyway on the 1st mission of this plane some officer in the 552nd flew it. I led the mission and on the way back we came in over the southeast coast of England. The cloud cover went up to 12,000 feet. We fanned out to go down through the overcast, and the guys in the right hand "6s" fanned out so far they came in over the French Coast. Eckstein was shot down a mile off the French Coast yelling over the radio that he was "friendly" as he thought it was over England! "The Helen Girl" took plenty of low flak and just made it back to Manston (the big crash field) just behind the cliffs of Dover. All crew was safe but "The Helen Girl" was a one mission airplane.
Note 4. When we first started ops, the decision had been made for each flight of 6 aircraft to drop with their own bombardier, well the results were lousy. I sent Economidis the Group Bombardier Officer to all the Fort bases to see what they did. The answer seemed to be - get three or four great bomb leaders and drop on the lead plane. These pictures in my ops office is when I decided we would try the same. This was against the 9th Bomber Command policy who had decided to drop by the 6 flight method, but we turned out to be right and with a few good lead crews we set a new standard in bombing accuracy.
Note 5. John Malectic was one smart Dutchman with a great sense of humor. One morning after a night raid on our base some one brought in a 20mm shell to Malectic the armament officer. John looks at some small initials on it that look like I.Z. - so he says to Economidis, "My God Itzen Zitzen, that means high explosive. This is their new shell I heard about!" All of which is pure fabrication, Economidis picks up on it though - believes it, and tells the Wing Bomb Officer who tells Thatcher the Wing C.O. who tells General Anderson at Bomber Command. And my God weve got them all in here one day wanting to see the Itzen Zitzen shell I had to explain it was all a gag. General Anderson thought it was funny as hell that Thatcher (who had seen it, but wasnt told the truth) had fallen. Thatcher saw no humor in it.
Speaking of Colonel Thatcher, there are two stories about him. One was when he was C.O. of a rival Group (323rd ) he always believed in dragging in the B-26. You will recall we came in high, dropped flaps and wheels and dove for the field - all in case you only had one engine, and the B-26 on one prop would not fly with gear and flaps down. Thatcher always fought us on this until he lost two planes on final approach that rolled in when power was applied on one engine working.
Thatcher( as C.O. of another group) was mad as hell at me because I left the rendezvous point without his formation of 36. We were at Bomber Command in front of General Anderson and his claim I was two minutes early. I felt we were on time and he was late! He was really pulling rank and calling me a liar. I had pointed out we got to the "point" when the fighters did and they left with us. This even made him madder as they had no cover. Boy it was a real Donny Brook, until I asked him where he got his time setting. He said very aggressively, "From the Bomber Command." So I asked General Anderson where they got their time set - and this set up the funniest chain reaction I ever saw. The General turns to ask the Chief Of Staff, he turns to ask the Ops Officer and he doesnt know but hell go get the Navigation Officer, which he did; who comes in with an old chronometer in a wood box which they place before the General. He looks at me and says, "Okay where do you get your time." I told him I called Greenwich every morning and get a time tic - which the whole world used including the British Fighter Command. That ended Thatchers argument, but he never forgave me!
The rest of the pictures that Ive grouped without comment on the back are all air shots, base shots etc. If I recall anything about them I noted it on the back. Hope this has been of some help. Of course I could have made it 100 pages or more because the 386th has a lot of memories for me. Let me hear from you.
Sunday, August 29, 1943 - 386th Bomb Group Operations Strategy Conference:
Men seated around table going clockwise, starting at ladder: Lt. E.A. Rogers, Assistant Group Ops Officer; Lead Bombardier from a B-17 outfit; Major F.W. Harris, CO of the 553rd BS; Capt. T.J. White; Major T.I. Ramsey, CO of the 554th BS; Major S.R. Beaty, CO of the 55th BS; Capt. D.H. Dewhurst; Capt. A.E. Hill; Capt. E.E. Raper, Lead Navigator; Major C.W. Lockhart, CO of the 552nd BS; Officer, unknown; Capt. C.V. Thornton, 552nd Ops Officer; Capt. H.G. Hankey, Group Ops Officer; and Lt. S.G. Economidis, Lead Bombardier.
Chester P. Klier