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 The IXth Bomber Command
Written by Edward Peterman©

A B-26 pilot and Major in 1945, and a Colonel upon retirement from the Air Force Reserves
[re-typed Aug. 9, 2015 from the original faded typescript; date of writing unknown]

It was a rare summer afternoon for England -- warm, sunny, with no clouds in the sky. The two USAF mechanics casually watching the shiny new unmarked B-26 bomber landing at their base should have been catching some badly needed sleep while awaiting the return of their own B-26 from its second mission of the day. Inordinately proud of their oft-maligned, now widely respected, red-hot sweetheart, they watched as the plane taxied swiftly and surely to a hardstand.

“Yep,” one said, “it’s sure a real man’s airplane.”

The newly arrived Marauder crew climbed out, but instead of the usual minimum crew of six, two blue-uniformed girls of the British Air Transport Auxiliary strode briskly to Group Operations to complete the delivery of the Group’s latest replacement aircraft.

***

The story of the 9th Air Force begins with its birth in the Western Desert of Africa in 1942. It was a dire time for the Allies as German and Italian armies threatened Alexandria and the Suez Canal. In the months that followed, the 9th grew from a handful of planes to a force of eight complete groups, and it learned and created successful methods of employing air power for tactical use. When Fascist forces in Africa had been defeated and Italy invaded, the 9th’s Headquarters was moved to England where there existed a great need for its hard-won tactical knowledge. This is the story of the bombardment portion of the 9th AF.

The backbone and workhorse of the 9th Bomber Command was the B-26, Martin Marauder, a twin-engined bomber designed to operate from the “deck” to 20,000 feet, at a speed as fast as most fighter craft. The design of this plane was not started until the outbreak of World War II in Europe. Normally, it took a bare minimum of three years to design, build, and perfect a new plane. Only after the completion of long tests of the prototypes would a production line be established and planes start rolling out to the using commands.

The Army recognized that it no longer had the time to follow usual procedures. The Martin Company had to put the B-26 into production from scratch. It had to take the first plane off the line, hurriedly put it through its tests, and then go back to the production line and make whatever changes were deemed necessary on planes that were already in the fabrication stage!

The first flight test occurred in Nov. 25, 1940. France had fallen and the situation was urgent. Within 90 days, the Army had taken over the plane for an accelerated service test and given the go-ahead to the factory.

With “just another” airplane, the circumstances might not have been so serious, but this new plane actually took off and landed at speeds in excess of the normal cruising speed of many of the planes in the Air Corps inventory at that time, and there were many new techniques that pilots had to master. Because of the short wings designed for speed, the plane required a longer takeoff run than most Air Corps bases could provide, and engine failures on takeoff caused the accident rate to soar alarmingly.

The plane that originally excited the imagination of pilots and crewmen now started to receive such names as the “Widow Maker” and the “Baltimore Prostitute” (no visible means of support). Flying personnel assigned to a new base and discovering that they would be expected to fly a B-26, all too often immediately applied for re-assignment or else to the Base Hospital for treatment of ulcers, sinuses, or B-26 phobia.

When the problems of engine failure on takeoff and crew inexperience were solved, the crewmen began to take a perverse pride in their assignment to the notorious B-26, and the stories they related to flyers of other, “safer” types of planes did little to enhance the reputation of the B-26 as a “family plane”.

Early reports from the Pacific and then from North Africa, however, found the planes and their crews acquitting themselves with honor.

With the assignment of the first Marauder group to the 8th Air Force in England, the decision was to use the plane at deck level. This had worked well in the Pacific, was tried and abandoned in the Mediterranean, but it was decided to use the tactic again in England. There was a reason. If the Marauders were to fly at medium altitude, they would need fighter escort to beat off the waves of Nazi interceptors. There were no American fighters available for escort, but if the bombers bellied down to the deck, they should be safe from fighter interception. The RAF experience seemed to confirm this concept.

On May 14, 1943, the 322nd Bomb Group flew its first mission from England. The target was a power plant at Ijmuiden, Holland, which supplied electricity for a collection of Nazi U-boat pens. Sweeping in at 250 mph, below the flak towers and in the face of a withering hail of AA and small arms fire, the 12 B-26s placed their bombs in the target. All 12 planes returned, although all were critically battle-damaged and virtually unrepairable. Morale fell badly with recon photos showed the plant still standing. It is assumed that, since delayed-action fuses [30 minutes] were commonly used on occupied-country targets at that time, the Germans forced the Dutch to defuse the bombs before they could detonate.

Three days later, orders came to repeat the raid, same target, same tactics, and same route. The group CO and other responsible men tried to get the orders changed, to no avail. Eleven planes set out. One developed engine trouble and returned. Ten went on. None of the attacking bombers survived the mission.

What was to be done with the Marauder, once again the bastard child of the Air Force? A few top echelon officers recognized the part it could play against the Nazis, its potential tactical value and understood its employment in that category, rather than as a strategic bomber.

Col. Samuel Anderson of the 8th AF (later Maj. Gen. & CG 9th Bomb Command) was convinced that, if the aircraft was used at medium altitude (10,000 – 15,000 feet) with adequate fighter protection, it would execute its designed tactical function admirably. A brilliant student of air warfare and a master of the English language, he convinced his superiors not to kill a good horse, but to use it properly. A period of retraining of the crews already in England was required, to acquaint them with the medium altitude concept.

Sixty-two days after the tragedy of the second mission to Ijmuiden, the medium bombers again went into action, hitting the Abbeville marshalling yard from 12,000 feet. Sixteen bombers participated and all returned safely on this all-important first mission at medium altitude.

In the fall of 1943, the 3rd Bomb Wing of the 8th AF was transferred to the 9th AF as the basis of the IX Bomber Command. Their assignment was the continuation of their participation in Operation POINTBLANK, the air offensive designed to smash the German AF in the air and at its roots and so win full supremacy of the skies as a preliminary to the coming invasion of the Continent by Allied ground forces. The medium bombers (and later the light bombers, which comprised the 97th Wing of 9BC) also attacked marshalling yards, power stations, and other installations within the range of their fighter escort.

On Nov. 5, 1943, a secret target of a new type of “construction works” near the French coast was hit. By December, the nature of the mysterious target was known throughout the Command – they were for a secret Nazi pilotless weapon designed to strike London and other key points. Such targets, known as “NOBALLS”, soon became second priority, ranking only after missions in support of the SAF strategic bombers and against the German AF.

By Spring 1944, the 9BG had received its full complement of Bomb Groups, eight B 26 groups and three A-20 light bomb groups, each equipped with 60 planes. The number of bombers attacking major targets or target areas increased from the paltry sixteen at Abbeville to literally hundreds.

March 26, 1944 found the B-26s returning to Ijmuiden to hit the boat pens with 344 bombers over the target. Despite heavy flak defenses, only one bomber was lost in the attack.

Simultaneously with the great increase in combat operations, an intensive training program was in operation to increase the proficiency of operations. Pilot-bombardier teams strove mightily to decrease circular error bomb scores to zero, gunners needed greater accuracy to fight off the savage German fighter attacks, and navigators and bombardiers had to learn new techniques in blind bombing operations.

By April 1944, the fighter strength of the Luftwaffe had been shifted from France to the Low Countries and to Germany itself. This permitted the 9BC to concentrate on attacks on marshalling yards, with secondary emphasis on NOBALLS. The location and nature of these targets made them extremely difficult to identify and bomb, and German flak was generally very heavy around the NOBALLS. It was a credit to the B-26 designers when many, many badly damaged planes limped home in unbelievable conditions, only to fly again in just a few days, wearing all sorts of patches and replacement parts.

From May 1 thru June 5, 1944, the bombers almost exclusively swung their efforts to tactical attacks in preparation for the invasion, hitting airfields, rail targets, road bridges, coastal gun placements and enemy strong points, with two missions a day being flown on many days by most Groups. Continuous bombing of marshalling yards not only seriously curtailed movement of German material to coastal areas, but vast quantities of equipment and supplies were destroyed, as well as many locomotives and countless pieces of rolling stock. The Nazi capability of rapid and quantitative rail transport was rapidly being destroyed. In this period, an interdiction program was established to isolate future invasion battlefield from German re-supply areas and also to keep the Germans off balance and confused as to which area would be the actual invasion site.

Destruction of all the road and rail bridges on the Seine River between Paris and Le Havre would and did hamper the German movement from either south of the Seine to the Pas de Calais area or vice versa. Destruction of the bridges on the Loire had the same result.

On D-Day the 9BC performed yeoman services. Taking off and joining up in formations before dawn, and combating extremely bad weather conditions, the bombers attacked coastal batteries and strong points immediately in front of the landing troops. Weather conditions forced the bombers to attack from altitudes that gave grave exposures to both concentrated light and heavy flak. Instead of the usual 12-13,000' altitude, most boxes and flights were forced to make their bomb runs at altitudes of 3,500 to 7,000', with some runs being made as low as 1,000'. Despite the adverse weather and the battle damage from low altitudes, 1,011 9BC bombers were launched during the day, June 6, in support of the invasion landings.

In the sweep across France into Germany, the medium bombers basically operated in direct tactical support of the advancing ground forces. Bridge busting became the specialty of the B-26s, with impressive bombing scores being rung up. In August and September, all Groups moved onto the Continent, often to bases on which they had bombed the GAF only days before! This advanced base location gave them new capabilities in penetrating the enemy homeland. There was not a major action or campaign on the Western Front in which the 9BC did not play an active role, although at times strong German AF reaction and flak took heavy tolls of men and aircraft.

One of the more interesting missions performed by 9BC in February 1945, was its participation in Operation CLARION, which called for all Allied Air units to launch a coordinated maximum effort on the German transportation system throughout the entire country. A massive blow at one time would so tax the enemy's repair capabilities that he could not rectify the damage for some time. 503 9BC bombers were dispatched to bomb 50 separate targets with 81 aiming points from altitudes of 8,000 to 12,000 feet, and then drop down to the deck and strafe targets of opportunity connected with the transportation system. Results were amazingly good, and losses were limited to only 3 bombers downed and 3 damaged beyond repair.

Despite the dire predictions of its youth, the B-26 emerged from WW II with an outstanding record of bombing accuracy, an impressive record of enemy aircraft destroyed in the air and the lowest loss per sortie record of any aircraft in the theater. The tactical employment of the medium bomber had been developed, polished and honed to a degree beyond the wildest dreams of air tacticians only a few years earlier. The medium bomber acquitted itself with honor in Europe, and every 9BC group won for itself a Presidential Unit Citation before the German surrender on May 8, 1945.

***

Compiled 26 Aug. 2015

Short version of Edward Peterman's military ranks, notable events, and locations of bases

In World War II, Edward Peterman (who had no middle name, which was noted as "NMI" on his military forms) was in the United States Army Air Force. After Germany's surrender in World War II, Ed went from active duty to being in the Air Force Reserves. Below is a time line of his promotions and other notable events. His medals are listed near the end.

Dates Ranks, locations, and notable events:

1942
6 Jan.: Ed voluntarily enlisted in the Army Air Force at the age of 21, Moffet Field, Calif.

10 Jan.: Higley Field, Chandler, Arizona (in flight school class of 42-G)

23 Jan.: Thunderbird Field, Phoenix, Arizona (Basic training)

26 Jan.: First Army Air Force flight; he flew World War I-style PT-17s.

27 Feb.: Cadet Captain of "B" Company

27 March: Graduated from Basic training at Thunderbird Field and received the Burridge D. Butler trophy for being the most outstanding cadet of the class of 42-G.

30 March: Gardner Field, Taft, California (Basic Training -- he flew Vultee BT-13A Valiants, plus an AT-6-A once).

May: Graduated from Air Corps Basic Flying School at Gardner Field

29 May: Williams Field, Chandler, Arizona for Advanced Training; he mainly flew AT-9s, but also AT-6As and BT-13As (the latter for instrument training).

23 July: 2nd Lieutenant--During this week, transferred to MacDill Field, Florida.

29 July: MacDill Field, Tampa, Florida for active flight duty. He had his first flight in a B-26B, the second-generation of the twin-engine Martin Marauder bomber.

8 Sept.: The 344th Bombardment Group (M) Army Air Force was activated at MacDill Field.
8 Sept.: Ed was assigned to the 496th Bombardment Squadron.
28 Dec.: Lakeland Army Air Field (also known as Drane Field) Florida; he flew B-26s.

Dec.: Pilot and 496th Squadron Operations Officer as a 2nd Lieutenant; he reported only to the 496th's Commanding Officer (CO), 1st Lieutenant Jewell C. Maxwell, and Group Operations Officer, Captain (or Major?) Robert W. Witty.


1943
25 Jan 1943: 1st Lieutenant

9-24 Aug.: Captain--Ed was promoted some time in this period as indicated by his signature as a Captain in his Pilot Log Book.

9 Nov.: Ed successfully landed his B-26 with only one engine working. One engine had been accidentally shot up while his plane towed a practice target!

15 Nov.: To Bryan, Texas for 4 weeks practice in bombing and strafing while flying AT-6s.

16-20 Dec.: Went back to Lakeland Air base


1944
7 Jan.: Hunter Field, Savannah, Georgia, the staging area for the move to Europe. All crews were ordered to remove camouflage paint from the underbelly and underside of wings of planes, which revealed silver aluminum. After that the 344th Bomb Group was known as Col. Vance's Silver Streaks (Austin, p. 284).

12 Jan.: Went back to Morrison Field, West Palm Beach, Florida for final preparations for going to Europe.

20 Jan.: Began flying the "southern route" to Europe, consisting of 9 separate flight legs as follows (Austin, p. 24-25).

20 Jan.: Morrison Field to Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico (5 hrs. 30 min.)

21 Jan.: Borinquen Field to Atkinson Field, British Guiana (6 hrs. 10 min.)

22 Jan.: Atkinson Field to Belem, Brazil (5 hrs.)

23 Jan.: Belem to Natal, Brazil (5 hrs. 15 min.)

31 Jan.: Natal to Ascension Island, in the North Atlantic Ocean (7 hrs. 20 min.). Ed's co-pilot on this trip to Europe was John H. Robinson, who had also been checked out as a first pilot. Robinson wrote the following note in the book by Austin (1996, p. 285):
"The trip from Natal to Ascension Island was delayed by two things. Going in to land at Natal I had asked Pete [Robinson's nickname for the pilot, Ed Peterman] to let me shoot the landing. He was reluctant but agreed. I screwed it up. ... I hit the nose wheel first and damaged the nose wheel tire so that it had to be replaced. It took an extra day for them to find one and replace it. ...The second reason for delay was quite serious. On running up the engines and checking the Mags preparatory to taking off for Ascension Island we found that we could not get full power on one engine. We took it back to the local crew chief who partially tore it down and found that someone had sabotaged it by stuffing newspaper into the air intake port. It was not a location where it could have blown in by an errant breeze so it had to be sabotage."

1 Feb.: Ascension Island to Roberts Field, Liberia (5 hrs. 20 min.)

2 Feb.: Roberts Field to Dakar, French West Africa (4 hrs. 10 min.)

4 Feb.: Dakar to Marrakech, Morocco (6 hrs.)

17 Feb.: Marrakech to St. Mawgan (Cornwall, England) (8 hrs.)

20 Feb.: St. Mawgan to Stansted Field (Bishop's Stortford, England) (2 hrs.). Stansted was the 344th's base until Sept. 1944.

Ed's plane was called "Slick Chick" #957, labeled as N3R on the side.

8 March 1944: First combat sortie (mission #1), which was to an airdrome in Soesterberg, Holland (Austin 1996, p. 80). He flew in 3-3-1* position in the formation [see the definition of * footnote near the end of this document].

8 March 1944 and onward: Flew numerous combat sorties, several of which were recalled due to weather, plus many practices for gunnery, bombing, formations at night as well as day, and for navigating to targets with the Gee Box, Norden bomb sight, and "Pathfinder" systems (the latter was the first-generation radar navigation system that could see the ground through the clouds).

9 May: Flew this day as both co-pilot and pilot with Lt. Col. Robert W. Witty, Deputy Commanding Officer of the 496th Squadron

17 May: Ed wrote in a letter home that he had tremendous faith in the B-26, despite the Truman Commission's report, which called it a dangerous flying ship and condemned it as impractical and a poor weapon.

19 May: Flew this day on his combat sortie #13 as co-pilot with Lt. Col. Jewell C. "Bill" Maxwell, Commanding Officer of the 496th Squadron. Flew in the lead plane in the formation (indicated by the 1-1-1 in the Pilot's Log*).

7 June: Post-D-Day combat sortie #18 to hit heavy coastal gun batteries at La Pernelle and Barfleur on the Cherbourg peninsula, France (Austin 1996, p. 33 and 83). In a letter home dated 7 June, Ed said "Big event - the invasion of the continent yesterday. It was a big day for the English people".

22 June: Ed still flying his "Slick Chick" plane, N3R

25 June: Flight Commander of "B" group at Stansted Field, England.

28 June: First notation in Ed's Pilot Log of using the "Gee Box" navigation system for finding targets on combat sorties. The "Gee Box" system was based on a series of hyperbolic curves; see an informative video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WG_BCbFqQeI .

4 July: First notation in Ed's Pilot Log of using the Norden Bomb sight (labeled "PDI", for Pilot Deviation Indicator).

24 July: Pilot's Log says "Combat sortie #23, special purpose ship", indicating that he had something unusual on board. It wasn't the type of plane itself, which had appeared many times before in his log book (B26, class B50, type 974, 2,000 horsepower).
The 344th Bombardment Group later "Received a DUC [Distinguished Unit Citation] for three-day action against the enemy, 24-26 Jul 1944, when the group struck troop concentrations, supply dumps, a bridge, and a railroad viaduct to assist advancing ground forces at St Lo." (from a B-26 history web site http://www.b26.com/page/344th_bombardment_group.htm )

27 Sept.: Flew to new base, Cormeille-en-Vexin, France; its code was A59.

3 Oct.: Ed wrote in a letter that he lost his plane, "Slick Chick", because "someone else was flying it, when an engine gave out and it landed in France. When it was repaired the depot gave it to another group. That sure did hurt me. At the time it went down it had more missions and time than any other ship in the squadron."

14 Oct.: Flew on his combat sortie #32 as co-pilot for Cletus Wray, who replaced Jewell Maxwell as Commander of 496th Squadron. Flew in the lead plane, 1-1-1*.

1 Dec.: Ed's letter home says "I now have two group jobs: group control officer in rotation with two others - controlling missions and procedures. The other job is group tactical inspector. I still retain my flight commandership, too."


1945
14 Jan.: Appointed as Group Training Officer, air and ground, at Group Headquarters, Cormeille-en-Vexin, France (from letter home)

Feb.: Flew several combat missions (#41 through #45, except #44) as lead plane in the formation, 1-1-1*

9 March: Combat sortie #48 to Biebrich, Germany; Ed was lead plane in the formation,
1-1-1*. This is the mission for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (see the complete quote of the military citation under the heading, "Medals, ribbons, ..." near the end of this document).

4 April: Flew to new base at Florennes-Juzaine, Belgium (Austin 1996, p. 48), which was closer to Germany than Cormeille-en-Vexin. The new base's code was A78.

March, Apr.: Flew combat missions #46 through #53 as lead plane, 1-1-1*

19 April: On combat sortie #52, Ed mentioned seeing German jet fighters.

25 April: Ed's Pilot Log Book says "Combat sortie #53; Fini la Guerre!", which probably meant he thought that the end of the war was near. This turned out to be his, as well as the 344th Bomb Group's, last combat mission. In all, the 344th flew 261 missions.

1 May: Major--Ed was promoted effective this date, about a week before his 25th birthday.

8 May 1945: Germany surrenders.

12 May: Ed's Pilot Log Book says he piloted a B-26 "To Paris for transfer home." Below that it says "Finish of duty in E.T.O." [European Theater of Operation]. Gets a flight to London that same night, but then has to wait about a month for a boat.


Edward Peterman's total B-26 flying record:
- 1,010 hours flying in B-26s
- 53 combat missions in Europe, and earned enough extra points through being in the lead plane (1-1-1) in 20 of those missions, as well as other activities, to qualify for leaving active duty after Germany's surrender.


Medals, ribbons, and decorations received by Edward Peterman:
- Air Medal with 9 oak-leaf clusters
- American campaign ribbon
- European campaign ribbon
-- Includes two bronze stars for participation in D-Day and in the air offensive over western Europe
- Distinguished Flying Cross, for "extraordinary achievement" in leading a formation of medium bombers to a target in Germany despite exceptionally intense ground fire. The official citation accompanying the award describes the event of 9 March 1945 as follows:
"Major Peterman was leading a formation of B-26 type aircraft dispatched on a mission to bomb critically important railroad yards at Biebrich, Germany, and although heavy anti-aircraft fire severely damaged his aircraft, he, nevertheless, ignoring the intense ground fire, vigorously led the aircraft on throughout the bombing run and enabled his formation to successfully bomb the objective" [Quoted from a newspaper article dated July 1945].

- Reserve Service Medal with one cluster (for service in the Air Force Reserves, San Jose, Calif.)


Post-1945 ranks:
1945: Major in Air Force Reserves in San Jose, California, USA. Attached to the Gilroy, California Flight, 9367th VART Squadron (from newspaper article).

28 Sept. 1953: Lt. Colonel and Commander of Air Force Reserve Flight 9367th VART Squadron.

9 July 1957: Appointed Commander of the 9082nd Air Reserve Group of the 2640th Air Reserve Center in San Jose, California. He was a Lt. Colonel.

July 1960: Colonel in Air Force Reserves in San Jose.

1980: Retired from Air Force Reserves


Sources of information used above in addition to Ed Peterman's Pilot's Log Book
- Austin, Lambert D. Sr. (editor). 1996. 344th Bomb Group (M) "Silver Streaks": History and Remembrances World War II. Southern Heritage Press, P.O. Box 10937, St. Petersburg, Florida 33733, phone 1-800-282-2823. ISBN 0-941072-20-7.
- Newspapers articles (the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury, and the Gilroy Dispatch)

________________________________________________________________________
Footnote
* Notations such as this in Ed Peterman's Pilot's Log Book refer to his plane's location in the formation of B-26s that day. Based on page 64 of Austin's (1996) book, a common formation consisted of a "box" of 18 planes, with 6 planes in each "flight" and one or two spare planes at the back of one of the "flights". Each mission had one or more boxes, which were numbered with Roman numerals as Box I, Box II, or Box III. The 6-plane flights within each box were numbered clockwise as seen from above, that is, the lead flight would be flight #1, the one to its right would be flight #2, and the one to the lead's left would be flight #3. Then, within each flight, the planes' positions were also numbered roughly clockwise by rows.
Thus, for instance, in his Pilot's Log Book, Ed's shorthand notation of 3-3-1 for his combat sortie #1 (i.e., his first one) meant that he flew in Box III, flight #3, in plane 1 (i.e., the lead ship) at the front of that flight. As another example, for sortie #4 on the afternoon of 10 April 1944, he flew 1-1-5, i.e., Box I, flight 1, plane 5. He also had 20 of his 53 missions where he was in the lead position of all boxes, 1-1-1. These interpretations were verified on 24 Aug. 2015 by an e-mail from Trevor Allen, the historian at www.B26.com. Trevor also said that "...the lead ship was regarded as the most dangerous slot to fly since the Luftwaffe flak gunners knew it commanded the entire Box or Boxes". That is, the lead ship decided when to drop the bombs for the whole box or boxes.
 

 

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