I feel that I am uncommonly lucky, not only because I came out of World War II in one piece, but that I have on hand a fairly good strike photo of every good mission that I flew as a Lead Bombardier. I will always treasure the many friendships developed with the fine people of the 553rd. Bomb Squadron and the 386th. Bomb Group. Listed below are four outstanding Lead Crews that I recall in addition to my own. There are more that belong on this list. My memory and records are just not capable of listing all those who deserve to be mentioned.
Lt. Col. Tad Hankey and Col. Joe Kelly (and other Group officers) mixed in with the above crews both as Pilot and Co-pilot. The crew of Capt. Gianatsis began leading missions later than the first four but achieved success.
I am very proud of the following facts, as I recall them. A1.1 four of the Group Bombing Officers came out of the 553rd. Bomb Squadron. The first two Group Navigation Officers were from my Squadron. Another 553rd. Navigator was transferred to one of the other Squadrons to serve as their Squadron Navigator. One of the three Group Operations Officers started out in the 553rd.
The 386th Bomb Group received a DISTINGUISHED UNIT CITATION for the period 30 July 1943 to 30 July 1944 for quote "for the most outstanding record of all B-26 Groups in the European Theater of Operations in terms of the number of successful sorties flown, tonnage of bombs dispatched and enemy aircraft destroyed, while at the same time maintaining the highest bombing accuracy score", unquote. General Omar Bradley studied bombing patterns and accuracy for several months prior to D-DAY. The 386th. was assigned H-Hour minus 5 minutes. No greater honor and responsibility could be received by a B-26 outfit than to be the last Bomb Group to bomb just ahead of the first assault troops to hit the beaches of Normandy on the Sixth of June, 1944. I was Lead Bombardier on one of the 18 plane formations.
A similar situation arose concerning a mission on 22 June 1944. American assault troops had been in Normandy for 12 days. The issue was still in doubt. Fierce battles raged all over. Our forces desperately needed additional port facilities for offloading supplies & equipment of all kinds. Cherbourg had such a harbor. American troops were poised to attack on 22 June. Again, the 386th was ordered to strike at the heart of Cherbourg's defenses just minutes before our troops were to attack. Again, we were the LAST formation to bomb. Our troops were massed very close to these German fortifications. The difference between us bombing their defenses or making a mistake and hitting our assault troops is staggering.
I was Lead Bombardier of the second box of 18 planes. Heavy cloud formations were expected in the target area. This caused Bomber Command to put a single Pathfinder aircraft just ahead of our formation for us to use in case visual bombing was not possible. The Lead Crew of the formation ahead of us followed their Pathfinder all the way and hit just beyond and a little to the left of the aiming point. No danger to our troops. Results probably excellent. I could see the target. I ignored Pathfinder and carried out a normal bomb run. The flak was heavy and accurate. My bomb pattern covered the aiming point and extended beyond. No chance of hitting our troops. Soon after that combined air and ground attack Cherbourg fell to the Allies. Our strike photos of this raid, along with a photo of the surrender of Cherbourg's Commanding Officer, General von Schlieben, were reprinted on propaganda leaflets to be dropped behind German lines. Once again the 386th was challenged with a crucial assignment and received a Commendation for a job well done.
Listed below is my record as a Lead Bombardier for a total of forty five missions.
Results Unknown. We bombed through an overcast by Pathfinder.-- 1 time.
With such a record of achievement I feel that I was a member of the most outstanding Bomb Squadron in the most outstanding Bomb Group in the Ninth Bomber Command.