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Samuel M. Findley "Tex", Engineer/Tail Gunner, 323rd BG, 453rd BS

Samuel M. Findley (Tex)
Engineer/Tail Gunner
323rd BG, 453rd BS


EARLS COLNE

At Earls Colne we moved into steel Nissen Huts which were going to be my home for more than a year. Our station was located in Essex County of England just a short distance inland from the English Channel. Across the Channel from our station was the Pais de Calais area of France and there, only 20 minutes flying time away, was the greatest concentration of fighter aircraft in the world----The German Luftwaffe.

On July 16 (my 19th birthday) our group flew its first bombing mission. The target was the railway marshalling yards at Abbeville France. The raid was executed with 16 B-26s escorted by 18 squadrons of Spitfires of the British RAF. Ten of the B-26s were damaged by enemy flak and one combat crewman was injured but all the aircraft returned to station.

INTRODUCTION TO AERIAL COMBAT

On July 25th, I flew on my first mission. The target was some coke ovens at Ghent Belgium. As our flight of 18 planes approached the coast of Belgium I felt a fear and anticipation of what my fate would be. When we crossed the coast black puffs of smoke began to erupt throughout the formation. So this was flak. It didn’t seem so harmful. I developed a healthy respect for it later when I saw the holes it made in the planes. I kept my eyes peeled for German FW-190 and ME-109 fighters. The only fighters I saw were the Spitfires of the RAF that were our escorts and were a comforting sight. All of our aircraft returned to our station. No one was killed or wounded and only three aircraft were damaged. The group had now completed five missions without the loss of an aircraft. ----How long would our luck hold out?

Our Bomb Group began attacking the German airfields in France, Belgium, and The Netherlands. A loading list was posted on the Squadron bulletin board to alert the crews who were scheduled to participate on each subsequent mission. When the mission was announced these crews went to the Operations briefing room to be briefed on the target, weather, expected enemy opposition, bomb load, fighter escort rendezvous point, route to and from the target, and take-off time. When the Mission Briefing Officer announced the target he would display a large map with a string marking the route to be flown to and return from the target. Enemy flak batteries along the route would be indicated by circles drawn on the map. Where the string passed through a circle flak could be expected at that location during the mission. Of course there was always flak at the target. Any target that was worth bombing was one that was also worth defending. After the briefing we would go to the equipment room. Here our parachutes and escape kits were issued. The parachutes were of British manufacture, and the parachute harness incorporated a quick release feature that enabled the airman to quickly separate from the parachute in case of landing in the water after bailing out of the airplane. A "one man" rubber boat was available to each crewmember and it could be attached to the parachute harness if it was necessary to bail out over water. These boats remained in the aircraft, as did the flak vests that each crewman wore when flying over enemy controlled territory. The escape kit contained many useful items such as a compass, rubber water bottle, a map and money of the country where the mission target was located, etc.

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