This is an incredible grouping belonging to Sgt. Clarence Mace, including his painted A2 Flight Jacket.
The jacket shows all original elements, no patches have been removed and accept for the artwork and name tage, the jacket is virgin.
Clarence’s handwritten journal accounting for all 30 missions, discharge paperwork, Medal certificates, etc. are included with the jacket. 4 Chapters in the book – Always Out Front – The Bradley Story – 453rd BG – mention Mace and Flak Hack. These chapters are copied below.
From Chapters 14-17: “Always Out Front” The Bradley Story
Something new awaited the Jones crew when it arrived at the hardstand for its seventh mission–April 9, 1944. Their faithful Crew Chief, whom they called “Pop”, presented them with the new B-24J they had been told would soon be assigned to the 733rd Squadron. Yes, Ernie Finocchio had done the nose art, as the new plane was FLAK HACK!
The new plane was a B-24J-130 model. It had been manufactured by Consolidated at its San Diego plant Its serial number was 42-110085, one of 50 of this particular model built at San Diego. It was OD in color. The unit code, F8, identified it as belonging to the 733rd Bombardment Squadron.
After the bad time they had experienced on the previous day, the entire crew got a lift in morale when they saw FLAK HACK waiting for them. They remembered that airmen often described the B-24 aircraft in less than endearing and complimentary terms: a flying purgatory, bucket of bolts, a poor bird, an ugly duck, and the like. Even the pilots of the Luftwaffereferred to the bombers as dicke autos–fat cars! But as Jones said, “The B-24 was a tough bird and many returned from missions badly damaged and with dead or wounded aboard. She seemed to know the lives of the men who flew her hung in the balance–she just refused to die.”
It is not known to this writer how many missions FLAK HACK flew–certainly many for the Jones crew and for other crews, as well. The 733rd Squadron flew the plane whenever it was needed and ready to go–often on days when the Jones crew was not tagged to fly. Then, too, unlike the airmen who flew her, she had no “tour”–she flew until no longer serviceable or was lost As was written in an earlier chapter, until late in the war the life expectancy of a heavy bomber in the Eighth Air Force was about 47 missions. By June 1944 the average life of a bomber was 145 days, inclusive of time spent on the ground. In the light of these facts, it is of great interest to report here the outcome for FLAK HACK. Thanks to Don Olds and the 453rd Unit History edited by Andy Low and Freeman’s Mighty Eighth War Diary, the fate of FLAK HACK is known, as follows.
On September 8, 1944, 8AF mission 611, the 2nd Air Division sent 300 planes to bomb the marshalling yards at Karlsruhe. 1st Lieutenant Frederick Beecher, 0-818555, flew FLAK HACK. Anti-aircraft fire was very heavy and accurate. Two aircraft sustained severe flak damage and were forced to land in France–all safely. Lieutenant Beecher, on the return flight ditched in the North Sea, about 70 miles northeast of Scarborough, Yorkshire at 54’55″N–00’55″E. Four, including Lieutenant Beecher, were picked up by Air-Sea Rescue. Four others were lost at sea. FLAK HACK had lived 152 days–7 days beyond the average life expectancy of a bomber at that period of the war.
April 9, 1944–TUTOW. GERMANY–8AF 293, 453rd 29, Bradley 7.
The sources of information for the account of this mission are: Craven and Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II, Freeman’s Mighty Eighth War Diary, Andy Low’s 453rd Bombardment Group Unit History entitled The Men of Old Buc, and Navigator Stein’s diary.
From Craven and Cate, pages 32–35, it is learned that the aircraft industry plant at Tutow, in far northeastern Germany, was one of several important targets that were selected for bombing because they had major aircraft assembly and component plants for Me 109s, Me 110s, Ju 88s, Ju 188s, and FW 190s. Most of these targets lay in the Brunswick–Leipzig area. Two were in the Posen area of Poland and at Tutow, Germany–both producing FW 190s.
Combat Wings were sent against Tutow by a route which led over the North Sea and across the southern part of Denmark. Neutral Sweden lay off to the north of the route–a point the significance of which will be made apparent as the story of Tutow missions unfold. A mission to Tutow was quite long–somewhat more than six hours from take-off until return to base. Care had to be taken to prevent heavy enemy fighter reaction as the distance and length of time of the flight prevented the use of all but the most long-range fighter escort. See Fig. 22.
The mission flown on April 9 was only the third visit the Eighth Air Force had tried to make to this target. The first was 8AF 226 flown on February 20, 1944 at the beginning of BIG WEEK; the second was 8AF 233 on February 24, 1944. The 2nd Air Division was not sent out on either of these Tutow missions, and the B-17s of the 1st and 3rd Air Divisions were not particularly successful in bombing the FW 190 plant. On the February 20 mission, a PFF aircraft failed to take off so the Tutow Force dropped on ETA in the vicinity of Tutow and two other locations. And, certainly, the 2nd Air Division’s 239 aircrews that were sent against targets in Gotha as part of 8AF 233 on February 24 had reason to wish they had drawn the Tutow mission. The division lost 33 planes, pilots and crews–3 KIA, 6 WIA and 324 MIA! The lead bombardier of the division, suffering from anoxia due to a faulty oxygen mask, mistook Eisenach as primary and 43 aircraft released their bombs as he did. Others realized the mistake and attacked Gotha, the primary target.
* * * * *
And so it was that FLAK HACK and crew made the mission to Tutow on April 9, 1944–the first mission for the plane, the seventh for the crew.
Ten groups of the 2nd Air Division dispatched 246 planes, but only 106 bombed Tutow, while others struck targets of opportunity. Several units abandoned the mission at various points along the route due to poor weather. Surely this mission was chalked up as “another bad day”. While 195.0 tons of HE and a considerable tonnage of incendiaries were released on the Tutow target 14 planes and crews were lost.
Seven of the planes and crews lost made it to Sweden and were interned there. Two of these were planes of the 453rd, piloted by Lieutenants Neary and Hamby. The 453rd had dispatched 27 planes, but due to bad weather over England and the channel, 11 planes returned early. Thus, FLAK HACK was one of only 16 ships of the 453rd to continue the mission–and two of the 16 were interned in Sweden. Stein said, “Well, we might have gone to Sweden, too. I could have provided the navigation for it! But we had encountered very little flak and had no holes in the ship. Also, no fighters.” So FLAK HACK and crew returned to base.
Upon their return to Hut #28 that evening, they found that a replacement crew, Lt. Parker, et al., newcomers to the 453rd, had taken the place of Lieutenants Brady, Holbert, Streeter, Ross and crew.
April 10, 1944–TOURS. FRANCE–8AF 295, 453rd 30, Bradley 8.
The 453rd Bombardment Group had begun operations two months and five days prior to this mission–February 5, 1944. That first mission targeted the airfield at Tours, France. It was termed a successful mission and all planes returned safely. Now, on April 10, it was to return to Tours. Twenty-six aircraft of the 453rd led the 2nd Combat Wing of the 2nd Air Division into central France.
Finding the primary target completely cloud–covered, they successfully bombed Orleans/Bricy Air Field, dropping 143 tons of high–explosive bombs there, and Romarantin Air Field. The Unit History reports that “all planes returned safely-a good job well done.”
The Jones crew had gone on the Tours mission carrying seven 1,000 lb GP bombs. Stein wrote of their experience,
“Primary target obscured by solid undercast. Our section bombed some small town area, hitting an open field with most bombs. First section bombed Orleans Airport with good results. Very little flak encountered and no holes in ship; also no fighters. Lost two crews, however.”
Author’s note: Freeman, Mighty Eighth War Diary, page 216, reports only one aircraft lost by the 2nd Air Division from its 243 bombers dispatched. It was the 389th Group that had this loss. The 389th, 445th and 453rd comprised the 2nd Combat Wing.
While Generals Spaatz and Doolittle wanted to continue bombing the enemy’s aircraft industries and British Air Marshall Arthur Harris was determined to break the morale of the German population through a continuation of his area bombing policy, it was now the Allied Supreme Commander, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who now called the shots. All military forces of the Allies–land, sea and air–were his. On April 2, 1944 the Combined Bomber Offensive (CBO) was officially terminated in favor of Eisenhower’s tactical bombing needs. Strategic targets were hit only on days when weather conditions precluded bombing of tactical targets.
The air forces of Britain and America then turned their attention to the pre-invasion objectives of OVERLORD–the invasion to be launched from the ports of England across the English Channel against Hitler’s vaunted “Atlantic Wall” on the coast of occupied France. Eisenhower knew that he must first have mastery of the air, then immobilize the land armies of the enemy and, finally, breach the highly fortified and strongly defended coastal barrier so that the Allied armies could land. In all the long history of warfare, nothing like this had ever been undertaken. The air forces’ pre-invasion role was crucial!
The pre-invasion objectives for OVERLORD set for the air forces by General Eisenhower were (1) neutralization of German air bases, especially those in western Europe that would be used by the GAF against the Allied invasion forces; (2) implementation of the so–called “transportation program”, i.e., damaging or destroying the railway network in western Europe–Belgium and France–upon which Hitler would depend to move his forces, equipment and supplies to counter the invading armies; and (3) missions to help breach the enemy’s Atlantic Wall. One other important objective would intervene–missions to destroy the secret V-1 and V-2 sites on the Pas de Calais and near Cherbourg.
Bradley flew 16 combat bombing missions in the period from April 18 through June 3–missions #9-24. These may be classified as follows:
(1) POINTBLANK missions against the air industry: #9 April 18 Rathenow, Germany #14 April 29 Berlin, Germany #16 May 7 Osnabruck, Germany #17 May 8 Brunswick, Germany (2) Attrition of the enemy’s railway system (marshalling yards): #11 April 25 Mannheim, Germany #13 April 27 Blainville sur l’Eau, France #15 May 1 Brussels, Belgium #18 May 20 Reims, France #20 May 25 Troyes, France #21 May 27 Saarbrucken, Germany #23 May 31 Lumes, France
(3) Neutralization of German air bases in France: #19 May 23 Orleans, France (4) CROSSBOW missions against V-weapon sites on coast of France prior to D-Day: #10 April 20 Wizernes, France #12 April 27 Marquise, France (5) Oil campaign: #22 May 29 Potitz–Stettin, Germany (6) Breaching the Atlantic Wall: #24 June 3 Breck sur Mer, France
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April 18, 1944–RATHENOW–8AF 306, 453rd 34, Bradley 9.
The 2nd Air Division sent 275 of its bombers against aircraft industry plants at Rathenow and Brandenburg. The main body struck at Rathenow–45 miles west of Big “B” itself–Berlin. A Heinkel aircraft parts plant was located there. There was every reason to expect strong Luftwaffe resistance. The weather was excellent; the 8AF threat could have been to the German capital, itself. Nevertheless, the German failed to accept the challenge. There were no enemy aircraft to be seen. Even anti-aircraft fire was meager.
In his diary, Navigator Stein noted that FLAK HACK carried 52 M47 incendiary bombs. Bombing was from 22,500 feet. The mission planners must have been expecting heavy flak response, but it didn’t happen. Stein reported that, “A lot of other targets were hit around this area of Germany by other formations in nearly every large city along the way.” As a navigator, he noted with satisfaction that, “We came in and out from the North Sea near Hamburg, but avoided flak concentrations at Hamburg, itself.”
While all of this makes this mission appear to have been “a piece of cake”, there was always an enemy other than the Luftwaffe to be faced–that of accident. Jones recalled a particularly gruesome accident.
He said, “We knew the ‘Angel of Death’ rode with us on every mission. Yet we managed in one way or another to cope–mainly, I think, we just believed it would not be our time–or we just learned to sweat it out”
Jones explained, “Planes and their crews were lost in many ways: some didn’t make it on take-off–overloaded, under-powered, mechanical failure, foggy, icy runways–others collided when flying up to the formation altitude or while making the assembly before heading for the continent. Others were lost to GAF fighters or to anti-aircraft fire.
“But” he said, “the most sickening sight I ever saw was the loss of two B-24s and their crews on one of our missions. Our formation was making its way toward the target, encountering some flak, but nothing unusual. Looking out the pilot’s window, watching the other bombers, moving along, seemingly O.K., then I saw that one B-24 was drifting toward the rear of another to its right. I was aghast! The plane continued
its drift, the other showed no awareness of the event. Then the plane just drifted into the rear end of the other plane and chewed its way right up to the trailing edge of the wing. Then both airplanes went down. What a nauseating sight! The terror those men must have felt when they realized the two would collide–and then were chewed up by the propellers. I can’t imagine why that happened. Perhaps the pilot and co-pilot were both killed or incapacitated.” After telling of this dreadful event, Jones paused for a long moment, sighed deeply and muttered, “Awful, awful.”
April 20, 1944–WIZERNES-8AF 309, 453rd 36, Bradley 10
This was an Operation CROSSBOW mission to bomb V-weapon sites on the Pas de Calais, previously described in Chapter 10. The bomb load was the heaviest yet carried by the 453rd. Each plane carried eight 1,000 lb GP bombs.
April 25, 1944–MANNHEIM–8AF 317, 453rd 39, Bradley 11.
This was a long hard mission for FLAK HACK and the Jones crew–8 hours, 16 minutes. General Eisenhower must have applauded this mission as the target was the railroad marshalling yards at Mannheim, Germany. Ike was counting on his Air Forces to disrupt the enemy railway system and so prevent German Generals Rommel and Rundstedt from rapid redeployment of their ground armies to meet the invading Allied armies.
On this day the 2nd Air Division bombers included 23 ships from the 453rd. Low reports in the 453rd Unit History that bombs were dropped on the secondary target–the marshalling yard at Landau “with only fair results.” Actually, that may have been a more generous assessment of results than was justified. Stein, the navigator-historian, may have had it right when he wrote, “Went right over Paris which was considerably off course–encountered moderate flak here and some in target area–almost 10/10 cloud cover all the way, so navigation (not Stein’s, but that of the Lead Navigator) was poor–never saw the target (So much for the Norden bombsight and even for Mickey, the radar-sighting instrument)–dropped ten 500 lb. GP bombs right near the German-French border. Poor mission because of clouds and weather. Had only one flak hole in our ship on return. One ship was lost.” Note: The comments in parentheses above are the author’s, not Stein’s.
Yes, Lt. Crockett was lost and Lt. Scherzer was last seen heading toward Switzerland, where his ship and crew were interned for the duration.
Jimmy Stewart, Jones and FLAK HACK defy the weather.
The arrival of Jimmy Stewart as 453rd Operations Officer has been reported heretofore. He flew on some of the same missions that Bradley flew. In such cases he flew as Group Lead and sometimes the 453rd Group led the 2nd Combat Wing–even on occasion, led the entire 2nd Air Division and, as will be reported hereafter, led the entire 8th AF. Accounts of such missions will be reported herein, but, for now, it seems well to pass on one of Jones’ Jimmy Stewart stories.
Jones told it this way,
“Like too many of our missions, there was one that we did in very poor visibility conditions. I remember this one because it also involved the movie actor, Jimmy Stewart, who was our Group Operations Officer. On this day, our climb to the operating altitude was strictly on instruments. Well, when I broke out on top and flew to the various assembly points, getting ready for the bomber stream to break out, there was no other airplane up there! I got to the assembly point on time and departed on time–finally I spotted just one other plane. So I hooked up with it to see what was going on. It was a plane piloted by Jimmy Stewart and I knew he was to lead the mission. When it came time to strike out for the continent, he took up the proper heading. I got on his wing–there was no one else there. We struck out across the North Sea. At the point we were about to cross the Dutch coast, our radio operator came running up to me. He said, ‘Lieutenant, I just caught a fish!’ For that mission, FISH was the word for recall–to abort the mission! So Jimmy Stewart and I returned to base. The weather was certainly lousy. Stewart told me later he thought it was a pretty great thing I’d done-to take old FLAK HACK up there that day–the only one to do it–that is, the only one except Jimmy!”
* * * * * *
April 27, 1944–Two missions: MARQUISE AND BLAINVILLE sur l’EAU, FRANCE–8AF 322 and 323, 453rd 41 and 42, Bradley 12 and 13.
The first of these two missions, flown on the same day, was a CROSSBOW mission to bomb V-weapon sites. The second was part of Ike’s transportation program–to bomb a railroad marshalling yard and so damage the railway system so important to the movement of German armies. Both missions were reported on in Chapter 10.
April 28 was virtually “stand-down” for the entire Eighth Air Force. There was a good reason, for on the morning of April 29 the many Crew Callers would be delivering the wake-up calls for a very important and dangerous mission.
April 29, 1944–BERLIN–8AF 327, 453rd 43, Bradley 14.
The Big “B”–Berlin! On the morning of April 29, 1944, Group Operations Officer, Jimmy Stewart, called out the German capital as the mission target for the day. Cold chills ran down the backs of many of the airmen of the 12 crews the 453rd was sending out. Bravado may have led some to applaud, but, among the group assembled for briefing, a number had “been there, done that” early in March. Doolittle had put his bombers over Berlin for the very first time in the war on March 6–and the Germans took out 69 of his bombers and 11 fighters! It was the greatest single loss of any air–raid of the war. The 453rd sent out 24 planes and lost four.
Among the 12 crews at the briefing on this morning was that of Lt. Richard C. Holman. The 453rd Unit History, page 21, records, “On the March 6 mission Holman had two engines put out by flak over the heart of Berlin. Attempts to tag on to passing formations failed, so Holman dropped to the cloud level, chased by six or seven FW 190s. With only top turret and waist guns in operation, the crew accounted for two and
possibly three of the enemy aircraft. Evading the attackers, the crew ran into flak over Amsterdam. Lt. Holman put the crippled Lib through violent evasive action, finally reaching the Channel. Desperately short of fuel, the crew tossed overboard guns, ammunition boxes, flying equipment, and all other equipment that could be detached. Despite serious damage by flak and 20 mm cannon shells, the ‘two-engined’ bomber brought Lt. Holman and his crew home!” This was one of those great ships that refused to die. Surely, the Holman bunch would have preferred to sit out the April 29 mission!
So, how did things go for the 8th, the 453rd, and for Bradley? For Doolittle’s Eighth Air Force, this was the fifth bombing mission sent against the German capital. The earlier missions were flown March 6, 8, 9 and 22nd. The total number of bombers dispatched was 2,567–an average of 642 per mission. As noted above, 69 planes and crews were lost on the first mission–the greatest loss on any single raid during the entire war. Total losses in the four raids were 126.
On this fifth mission on April 29, the Eighth dispatched 679 planes on a return to Berlin. The plan was to make a disruptive raid on the German civilian population by striking several targets within the city. There was trouble from the start. The 3rd Air Division, flying 218 B-17 Fortresses, led the mission. Its formation was faulty and upon penetration of enemy airspace, it was so dispersed that fighter escort had difficulty providing coverage. Because of faulty navigation, one wing of B-17s wandered 40 miles off the briefed course, and lost 17 Fortresses. Other groups of the 3rd Air Division suffered losses as well. Total losses for the 3rd Division were 28 ships and crews. In contrast, the 1st Air Division’s 228 ships had tight formation, good escort by the “Little Friends”, and lost only ten ships.
The 2nd Air Division was assigned a target chosen for the adverse effect it would have on German morale and to impede their war effort by striking a principal artery of transportation. The 233 aircraft of the 2nd Air Division, among which were the planes and crews of the 453rd, were to carry out a raid on the Friedrichstrasse Bahnhof, center of the main–line and underground railway system in Berlin. But, like the 3rd Air Division, their formation and departure were not on time as briefed. They failed the test of being “on time and on target.” They were in trail of the 3rd and 1st Air Divisions, but flying thirty minutes behind schedule. The Jagdverbande, finding the 2nd Air Division last, struck in force. A single Mustang Group was their only protection when they left Celle airspace and it had to leave due to fuel requirements, just after the B-24s completed their bomb run. “Little Friends,” this time P-47 Thunderbolts, reappeared as the bombers were on their return flight, but German fighter ground controllers seized the opportunity and put up over 100 fighters to the Hanover area to intercept them. The B-24 armada gave up 25 ships with 246 airmen MIA.
How did the 453rd fare? The 453rd Unit History contains the following account,
“After a day of rest, the 453rd dispatched 12 planes for Berlin. The flak was terrific and retorting crews reported savage encounters with the Luftwaffe which was up in force in a vain attempt to protect the very heart of the Reich. Despite enemy action and undercast, results were thought to be good. Lt Col. Sears, Commanding Officer of the 735th Squadron was Air Commander, flying with the lead PFF ship when that ship was seen to be hit and fall out of formation. Lt. Tye of the 734th and his crew were also lost. Lt Davison ditched his ship and he and his crew, with the exception of tail gunner Harold G. Oakes were fished out of the channel by the ever–alert Air–Sea Rescue Squads.”
And Stein left his diary account of this mission, not knowing that more than a half-century later it would afford this author an opportunity to tell the story for his (and Bradley’s) children and grandchildren!
April 29, 1944
Form I Time–8:20
Bombs, 5–1,000 GPs, 3–100 lb incendiaries.
“Remarks: Undercast most of the way in and out but good visibility at the target Bombs hit in railroad yards in center of Berlin. Raid very successful. Heavy flak over target and en route. Had two fighter attacks and got several 20 mm holes through fuselage. Tail turret hydrauUc system shot out #4 engine quit but got it going again. Navigator went too far south after bombing target and got back about 1 hour late. Lost 2 ships out of 12. Rather rough mission altogether. Bombed from 24,000 feet so flak wasn’t too accurate over target but there was plenty of it.”
Too bad the bombardier in FLAK HACK that day didn’t write his account of the mission. Now, in 1999, his memory is his only source. Bradley now tells it this way,
“We were at the IP and on the bomb run at about 24,000 to 25,000 feet altitude. I was in the nose turret and released the bomb load from that position. The German defenders were throwing a lot of flak at us–a carpet of black flak burst all around us! I only recall holding on and praying for a fast ride away from that place. Courage, or lack of it, didn’t matter then–it was just ‘make it or not make it’ Stein says there were some fighter attacks. If he is correct that the ship had several 20 mm holes in the fuselage, then we had a close call! Jones never wasted any time over a target. When bombs left the ship, he got away from that position fast.”
How did the Germans fare? The tonnage of bombs and incendiaries dropped on Berlin that day is one measure–1,498 tons surely made a mark. German aircraft and pilot losses is another measure. For that mission the Bomber Command claimed 73-26-34 fighters destroyed, probably destroyed, and damaged. VIII Fighter Command claimed 16-6-9 in the air for its over 600 fighters and 6-1-5 hit on the ground.
Donald L. Caldwell, in his incomparable history of the Luftwaffe Fighter Corps, JG26–Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, has this to say about damage done to the German Air Force in April 1944,
“At a May conference, Galland reported to Goering that Luftwaffe Reich had lost 38 per cent of its fighter pilots in April, while the neighboring Luftflotte 3 (JG26’s parent organization) had lost 24 per cent of its pilots. This casualty rate was ruinous, considering the low state of Germany’s manpower reserves and the length of time needed to train pilots, even under Germany’s accelerated program. The entire Luftwaffe lost 489 fighter pilots in April, while completing the training of only 396. JG26 lost 16 pilots in combat, and a further 6 in accidents; the dead included two more Staffelkapitaene. . . . . The Germans could not afford these losses.”
And how was the air war going? At Eighth Air Force Headquarters the analysts were concerned about the mounting losses of aircraft. There had been enormous aerial activity in April but also the highest yet losses of aircraft and airmen. In April the Eighth lost 512 aircraft–fighters and bombers. Of that number, 361 were heavy bombers carrying nearly 3600 airmen MIA! The Eighth had done much to take the German fighters out of the sky. But, then, the disturbing fact was that 131 of the 361 heavy bombers lost in April were victims of the increasingly effective German flak batteries. This was principally due to the improved gunlaying radar that the Germans had developed. The Allies were countering this development with improved measures of its own. Development of improved radar and radio jamming techniques were given high priority.
Growth in strength of the Eighth Air Force in the early summer was also an important factor in the course of the air war. The Eighth was now the “Mighty Eighth”–having grown to be the world’s most powerful air force. It numbered over 40 Bombardment Groups with 2,500 heavy bombers on its B-24 and B-17 bomber bases and 1,000 fighter aircraft in its 15 Fighter Groups. The 2nd Air Division alone now had a strength of 14 Groups, each having between 60 and 70 B-24s. The 3rd Air Division had 5 Groups that were also flying B-24s.
All of the air forces of the Allies in the ETO were under the command of the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, as were all other military forces–land, sea and air. To all of this Bradley and his comrades had one reaction–why don’t they get on with the invasion? Britain is packed with men and war materiel–why the delay? How much longer must the airmen fight the enemy alone? The number of tours had been increased to 35 for newly-arrived crews. Morale of the airmen had been shaken by the losses experienced in April. Bradley said, “It was really beginning to ‘get to us’!”
Working on the Railroad
Working on the railroad? That is correct! Not one of the Jones crew–Jones, Croft, Bradley, Stein, Finocchio, Fried, Mace, Goldberg, or Westbrook expected airmen to have such an assignment, but then, they hadn’t considered what General Eisenhower would ask of them in his preparation for D-Day. Eisenhower was there to direct Operation OVERLORD–the Allied invasion of Europe. Detailed planning for that portion of the operation which involved the Channel crossing, seizure of the beachheads, taking the port of Cherbourg and clearing the enemy from Normandy had been underway for some time under the code name NEPTUNE.
As part of the implementation of this planning, the Eighth Air Force was called upon to turn from its strategic bombing of targets deep in Germany to undertake bombing missions in preparation for the invasion. The major objectives were, then, (1) to neutralize the Luftwaffe air bases in France (Eisenhower intended that no enemy planes oppose his landing), (2) attrition of all railroads available to the enemy to create such chaos in the railway network that the Germans would be unable to speedily reinforce their coastal divisions set to counter Eisenhower’s invading armies, and (3) air bombardment of coastal batteries and fortifications to assist the forces that bad to land and breach Hitler’s much vaunted Atlantic Wall. The Ninth Air Force was also to give priority to these NEPTUNE pre-invasion objectives.
Meanwhile, the need arose for the air forces to send many missions to the coast of France to attack Hitler’s V-1 and V-2 weapons installations–Operation CROSSBOW.(It should be noted here that the Eighth was also to continue its POINTBLANK objectives and missions when unfavorable weather, which was a frequent occurrence, precluded flying these tactical missions. Also, it is significant to note that the Fifteenth Air Force had become operational in Italy and was aiding Eisenhower in another important objective–to dry up Hitler’s sources of oil and petroleum products.) The Eighth would join in that effort as soon as possible.
Had they had that understanding of the pre-invasion planning, it would have been no surprise to the crew of FLAK HACK that they were to be “working on the railroads.” That activity of the air forces was known as “the transportation program.” There were differing views among the planners and among the British and American Headquarters people as to the feasibility, effectiveness, and methods for such a program. The reader is referred to the research and writing of John E. Fagg, Plan for OVERLORD, which appears in Volume III of The Army Air Forces in World War II, pp. 67–84, for excellent coverage of this subject. For purposes of this war story it seems sufficient to note that there were two ways of implementing the transportation program, (2) interdiction, i.e., line cutting, strafing, bridge–breaking, and the destruction of a few rail focal points–all part of the accepted pattern of isolating a battlefield, or (2) a longer–term program of attrition to wear down and ruin the enemy’s railway capacity by attacks on rail centers in France and in Belgium: attacks on marshalling yards, sidings, stations, sheds, repair shops, roundhouses, turntables, signal systems, switches, locomotives, and rolling stock. (See Fagg, page 73.) The planners who favored the latter approach determined that 101 railway centers would have to be bombed! Think of that–with so short a time for the air forces of Britain and America to do it! It was March 25, 1944 when General Eisenhower made the decision to go forward with
the transportation plan–and to do so by the second method above–to go after the rail centers.
It was this decision that led Bradley and his comrades to fly seven out of their sixteen missions in the period April 18 through June 3–almost one-half–“working on the railroads.” Their targets were the marshalling yards of important rail centers. For the reporting of these missions, the author has drawn principally on three sources: Freeman’s Mighty Eighth War Diary, Low’s The Liberator Men of ‘Old Buc’–The Story of the 453rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) in World War II, 29 June 1943–15 September 1945, and the diary of Navigator Stein.
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April 25, 1944–MANNHEIM, GERMANY–8AF 317, 453rd 39, Bradley 11.
Previously reported. See Chapter 15.
April 27. 1944–BLAINVILLE SUR L’EAU. FRANCE–8AF 323, 453rd 42, Bradley 13.
Previously reported. See Chapter 15.
May 1, 1944–BRUSSELS, BELGIUM–8AF 333, 453rd 46, Bradley 15.
Rail centers in Belgium and Region Nord of the French railway system SNCF, received concentrated attacks where the railway network was thickest. Choice of targets was intended to confuse the enemy as to the site chosen for the invasion. The strategy was to isolate the Normandy area and lead the Germans to believe the Allies were endeavoring to interdict Calais and make the landing there. The deception was successful and Hitler believed until far too late that the Allies would attempt the landing in the Calais area of the coast.
The Eighth Air Force had been assigned 23 railway targets in Belgium, northeastern France and western Germany. The Fifteenth Air Force based in Italy took on 22 targets in southern France and central Germany, while the Royal Air Force was assigned 27 targets (later 39) in northwestern France, the Paris area and in Belgium. Reconnaissance of the targets that had been bombed produced evidence that serious damage was being done, and the Germans responded by concentrating anti-aircraft batteries around important rail centers. For a time, at least, the Luftwaffe offered little or no opposition.
The mission to bomb the marshalling yards at Brussels was termed the first major mission of this type flown by the Eighth Air Force. On that day the Eighth put up 531 bombers directed at three airfields in France and 23 V-sites on the Pas de Calais. Bad weather intervened and only three attacks were made on the V-sites. Only 130 of the 531 planes were able to bomb. On this day the Eighth also sent Bradley, Jones, Stein, Finocchio and a great many more of its airmen to “work on the railroads.” Seven rail centers, some in Belgium, some in France, were targeted. The 2nd Air Division hit the yards in Brussels with 254 tons of bombs and the Liege yards with 157 tons.
From Low’s Unit History of the 453rd, the following,
“The first of May was another red–letter day. For the second time in five days, the Eighth Air Force accomplished two complete missions in one 24-hour period. The 453rd dispatched a total of 33 planes without a single loss. Twenty-one ships were off on the first mission to Watten, a German
V-1 rocket installation in the Pas de Calais. The load of each ship was four 2,000 lb. bombs. Dense contrails and ground haze and bombsight failure of the lead ship caused the bombs to be dropped to the left of the target. However, the day was saved with an excellent mission in the afternoon to the marshalling yards of Brussels, capital of Belgium. One 12–ship squadron, carrying a total of 64,000 lbs of demolition bombs, dropped them smack on the target.”
Bad weather seemed always to plague the Eighth. During the first week of May the weather was miserable. On May 1 and again on May 4, big forces of B-24s were recalled after reaching airspace over the continent. Thick cirrus clouds and dense contrails had made assembly difficult and formation flying impossible. Weather frustrated all but three attacks on 23 V-sites briefed for attack on May 1. On May 4, the Eighth took a huge risk when it dispatched nearly 600 bombers to Berlin, Brunswick, and targets in central Germany. The mission was recalled when cirrus clouds between 13,000 and 23,000 feet were encountered. The 453rd was not sent out that day. Nevertheless, Headquarters planned to put up ever-larger forces of its B-17s and B-24s. When the weather improved (May 7) it dispatched 1,000 bombers for the first time ever–B-17s to Berlin, B-24s to Munster. The bombers flew over an unbroken carpet of clouds and encountered no fighter opposition.
* * * * * *
2nd Lieutenant Bradley Relates Incidents in England
While Bradley and his comrades are “working on the railroad” is an appropriate time to enter in this account of his wartime experiences, a letter which he wrote on May 4, 1944. The letter was written to Mr. and Mrs. George Chitwood, Monticello, Illinois, publishers of a weekly newspaper, The Piatt County Journal. With this letter, Bradley made the front page on May 11, 1944. It reads,
Wednesday evening, 10:00 p.m., May 4, 1944. England.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Chitwood,
In my 16 months of army life I believe this is the first time I have ever took the opportunity to write and thank you for sending me the “Journal” so religiously. It seems that I took the paper more or less for granted while I was in the States, but I haven’t seen a copy since last January and now I really realize what it means to me. Mail, and especially newspapers, are very slow in reaching England but now that you have my permanent address I imagine that I can look forward to reading the local news again real soon.
Well, folks, a lot has happened to me since I was home on my “combat leave” last September. To begin with, I went back to Biggs Field in El Paso, Texas, and completed my training there. My crew of which there are 4 officers and 6 enlisted men, have been flying a B-24 Liberator bomber. We spent about three months working together as a combat team, dropping practice bombs, doing camera bombing missions, air to air and air to ground gunnery, formation flying and navigation missions, both day and night. Most of our flying was done around 20,000 feet to prepare us for the same conditions we would encounter in actual combat. As you know, a person must wear an oxygen mask above 10,000 feet in order to
exist. The temperatures at 20,000 ft. usually range from 20 degrees Centigrade to 60 degrees Centigrade, depending on the time of year and of course, your locality. After leaving El Paso our crew was sent to Topeka, Kansas, which was our “staging area.” Here all our equipment was checked and any slightly damaged equipment replaced. I was fortunate enough to be in Topeka over the Christmas holiday and arranged to spend Christmas at my Uncle Harold’s home in Kansas City. I had Mother and Mary Cynthia with me for Christmas and New Year’s and was also fortunate enough to spend two days with my father before departing the States on January 17th. Our crew flew our bomber from Florida to England and we came the “Southern Route.” As you may know we passed through Porto Rico, Trinidad, British Guiana, Brazil, over to Africa and then up past Ireland to England. We spent seven most interesting days of my life. What I saw there of the French and Arabic population will have to wait until after the war to be told as I couldn’t possibly do justice to the story in the limited time and space that I now have. I can, however, say that these seven days were spent at an airfield where Mr. Churchill and President Roosevelt stayed while attending the Casablanca conference. It was also the spot where Mr. Churchill recovered from his recent illness. I found out while there that Churchill had left for England only a week before our crew arrived, so if I had been there a little sooner I’m sure that another historical meeting would have taken place. You could have printed in your paper: “Monticello boy shakes hands with England’s Churchill.” Ha!
Well, to get on with this gruesome tale, our crew was pushed around five different bases here in England and finally wound up in Ireland. Here we went to school and was indoctrinated with the E.T.O. methods and procedures–all our instructors were ex-combat men who had finished their “tour” of duty over here and we received some very good training and advice.
We finally came back to England after two weeks of schooling and made the same trip that Lyle Harris wrote you about when he went to London on his furlough. We, too, visited the so–called British “rest home” where the beds had three wooden slats for springs. We were fortunate enough in not spending the night here, though, so it wasn’t so bad. We found that we were assigned to the 453rd Bomb Group and although the conditions of the base were in pretty bad shape when we arrived, we found that the personnel there was a swell bunch of fellows. We soon adapted ourselves to the place and much to our surprise, found that new equipment was being added daily and we now have a very pleasant base in which to operate from. Our crew flew its first combat mission on March 16th and we now have 15 combat missions in to date. When we finish another 15 our “tour” will be completed and we will get our choice of corning home for a 30-day leave and then signing up for another tour of duty over here or else staying here in England as instructors. I wish I could relate some of the experiences I have had over Germany, France and Belgium but censorship forbids and too, its another one of those stories that I could not do justice in this letter. I can say though, that we have had flak damage to our plane on almost every mission and have fought gun duels with Hitler’s crack Air Force. Don’t let anyone tell you that those boys are “down and out” We have made one crash landing but none of our crew has been scratched yet We have named our plane, “Flak Hack” which we think is a
very appropriate name. We have had quite a turnover of personnel at this base since I arrived and the latest is the addition of Major Jimmy Stewart who is our Operations officer. He is really a fine fellow and only this afternoon he picked up my co-pilot and me in his Jeep and took us down to the briefing room.
Our group did not fly today, so they had a ceremony in which all the awards to date were handed out. Major Stewart received the “Distinguished Flying Cross” and also an oak leaf cluster to be worn on his Air medal which had been awarded him some time ago. I was awarded the Air Medal today for completing five successful combat missions into enemy territory and also have two oak leaf clusters coming, but which had not been officially approved by the time of the other presentations.
Our crew has had two 48-hour passes since arrived in England on January 29 and during these times I have been fortunate enough to locate and spend some time with Lyle Harris, Billy Eshelman, Bob Moffett and also Lynn Norris. Needless to say, these “get togethers” were the next best thing to a trip home for me.
Our crew has been getting a bit “flak happy” as the saying goes over here, so we are now “sweating out” a 7–day leave in a rest home. These homes have been set aside for the Air Force for its purpose and are nothing more than a mansion where one can enjoy golf, swimming, fishing, breakfast in bed and, in other words–the works!!! Believe me, after about 150 combat hours flying time, a man is ready for it!
Well, folks, this letter is more like the “World Adas” instead of the short “thank you” which I started it to be. Give my regards to my friends in Monticello and tell them I hope to be seeing them before too long.
Meanwhile, back at Old Buckenham…..
The 453rd base, Old Buckenham, was described in Chapter 4. Now, thanks to Captain Andy S. Low’s 453rd Unit History, the following can be written of conditions there at the beginning of May 1944.
It is now almost three months since the 453rd Bomb Group first went operational. In that time many changes have occurred but none have been greater than the physical change on the station itself. Overshoe Lane and Riverside Drive, once so deep in mud that even walking was difficult, have been paved with concrete. Grass is there now, where three months ago there was only mud. Shrubs and trees have been planted around all the living space. All together, the station now has that lived–in, well-kept look. The post theatre, operated by the Special Service Office, now shows movies, new movies, on the average of five times weekly. This has added immeasurably to the morale of the personnel here. The large, flat area directly in front of the Station Headquarters has been converted to softball and football fields. Equipment for these sports have been issued and now
the warm English sunshine finds many taking advantage of the opportunity. The Aero Club, operated by the American Red Cross, long awaited on this station, now operates at full blast. It fills the same niche in the lives of the enlisted men that the Officers’ Club fills in the lives of the officers. Here various games are available, a snack bar has been installed and facilities have been built for the men to write letters. It is a good club and well organized. Already several dances have been held for the men, and young ladies from the surrounding towns have been in attendance.
The Officers’ Club has been greatly improved and several additions made. Here, too, dances are held for the young officers. These have been held on the average of two each month and were greatly enjoyed and contributed much to the high morale of the station.
Promotions, always a great morale booster, have been coming in with regularity. The combat officers, especially, are enjoying a great many new promotions.
Food, long a point of argument here, has improved at all messes. Fresh eggs and hot cakes, the supreme soldier breakfast, are found on the tables several times each week.
The bomb record of this Group compares favorably with the efforts of much older and more experienced outfits in this theater. Indeed, at one point during the last two-month period, the 453rd led the entire 8th Air Force in bomb hits on or near the target.
Many good men have been lost by the Group in the two-month period just passed. Strange new feet are continually being placed on the bar rail at the Officers’ Club, the owners of which have joined the Group as replacements for the men who are gone. That several men have failed to meet the dangerous task before them is to be expected in a business of this type, but for every man who has failed, there are ten who have not and will not. Weak men in important positions, always evident and always dangerous in the services, have been cut to a minimum in this Group. The policy with the high command of the Group seems to be a definite weeding out process for the weak and the unfit. This in itself may well be the cause for the Group’s success thus far, and its greater moments to come.
So–in the third month of its operational life, it might be recorded for history that the 453rd Bombardment Group has suffered many losses, girded itself against the tragic repercussions caused therefrom, profited by its mistakes, and even now is ready to carry out any mission to any point within its range.
To all of these improvements made at Old Buckenham, Bradley said, “Well, that was fine for the station complement of the base, but it didn’t mean ‘didley squat’ to the combat air crews who were flying missions. The most important thing to us was the number of remaining missions to complete our tour. For new crews, that had gone from 30 to 35, and now there were rumors it was to be raised to 40. With the invasion coming soon, we feared there would be no limit to the missions we would be required to fly.”
* * * * *
May 7, 1944–OSNABRUCH, GERMANY–8AF 342, 453rd 48, Bradley 16
After a lapse of five days, the 453rd returned to a POINTBLANK mission, putting 29 bombers aloft. Industrial areas of Osnabruck received the hot sting of 1,454×100 pound M–47 incendiaries. Flak defense was moderate. The Luftwaffe did not appear and all returned safely.
The May 8, 1944 mission to Brunswick is described in the next chapter. Meanwhile, the additional marshalling yard missions are described . . .
* * * * * *
May 20, 1944–REIMS, FRANCE–8AF 354, 453rd 56, Bradley 18
Bradley had just returned from a 7–day leave when he flew this mission. It targeted both airfields and marshalling yards.
It was an almost unbelievably bad day for the B-17s of the 1st Air Division and the B-17s and B-24s of the 3rd Air Division. Heavy cloud caused the 3rd BD to abandon the mission and part of the 2nd BD was recalled. It was the 1st BD crews and planes that had major trouble. Two B-17s collided over sea after assembly-only two rescued from one B-17. Freeman reports further that due to heavy ground mists and poor visibility, 8 B-17s and 3 B-24s were destroyed in take-off and assembly accidents. These losses were described as follows: three B-17s collided on the runway at their base, three planes crashed after take-off–ten killed in one crash, six killed in the other, one exploded on takeoff, and another crash landed. Good Lord! The Luftwaffecould not have taken a greater toll of planes and lives!
Andy Low reports for the 453rd mission that day,
The 453rd led the 2nd Combat Wing in the attack against the marshalling yards in the cathedral city of Reims, about 70 miles ENE of Paris. Lt. Col. Potts, 453rd CO, led the mission which proved to be very successful. Flak and enemy fighters were practically nil and all ships returned safely having delivered 114×1000 lb. demolition bombs as ordered.
Stein reported, as follows, on this mission,
Carried six 1000 lb GPs. Very smooth mission–had no fighters or flak, only at the target area. Wasn’t any heavy flak, but it was accurate. Target was the marshalling yards and bombing results were fairly good. The target was only about one-half mile from the famous cathedral so we had to make certain of our bombs not going wild.
How is that for working on the railroad?
* * * * * *
On May 23, 1944 Bradley’s 19th mission was to strike airfields at Orleans, France–to be reported hereinafter.
* * * * * *
May 25, 1944–TROYES, FRANCE–8 AF 370, 453rd 60, Bradley 20
Freeman, reporting on 8AF 370, lists the targets of the 2nd Air Division as three marshalling yards, at Belfort, Mulhouse, and Tonnere, and two airfields as secondary targets at Bretigny and Dijon. He does not name Troyes.
Low’s brief report follows,
On 25 May 1944, 24 Libs in two combat squadron formations of 12 each, led by Major James M. Stewart, pointed their blunt noses toward the marshalling yards at Troyes, France. Each plane carried 10×500 lb bombs. The first squadron flew past Troyes and bombed Terrennes due to the interference of weather. The second squadron held their lethal cargo until Bretigny airfield, the secondary target, appeared in the bomb-sights. Bombs rained on the center of the target as briefed. Despite moderate accurate flak, all planes returned safely.
Stein didn’t see this mission quite as it was reported by Low. Stein wrote,
Primary target was marshalling yards at Troyes, France. Made a long run and went right over target but did not bomb for some reason. Went to secondary and bombed with only fair to poor results. Some flak on way out but we never got hit.
* * * * *
May 27, 1944–SAARBRUCKEN, GERMANY–8AF 373, 453rd 61, Bradley 21
It was no longer unusual for the Mighty Eighth to dispatch more than 1,000 of its heavy bombers on the missions of a single day. It dispatched 1,126 bombers and 710 fighters on May 27. More than six rail centers were to receive attention–and the total bomb tonnage dropped that day was 2,302 tons. This proved to be the only mission in the transportation program in which the enemy’s fighters put up significant resistance to AAF bombers–nine were lost.
* * * * *
Assembly for a mission was always beset with danger. Sometimes things went from bad to worse. There were the times when a Group was to assemble with its Wing and then to join additional Wings. At briefing, they were given time, altitudes, etc. for each step of formation. But after being airborne, they were told to delay for 30 minutes. They held–which wasn’t easy with all those other ships in the air. Then after passing over the coast at Great Yarmouth, they were delayed again and the assembly altitude was raised–first it was to be 12,000 feet, then 16,000 feet, and finally, 20,000 feet. The B-24 aircraft made a laborious climb–200 feet per minute–155 m.p.h.–through a thick cloud layer. Meanwhile, the Germans had ample time to assemble their fighters and prepare the counter-attack. Numbers of aircraft would abort for mechanical failures of one kind or another, others would collide or have other accident. Dense contrails made by the ships plowing through the high altitude air made flying difficult, especially for trailing elements of the formation.
* * * * *
The rail center at Saarbrucken, Germany was the assigned target on May 27, 1944.
Of that mission, Low wrote,
Twenty-four aircraft, in two combat squadrons of twelve each, laid their payload of 288×500 lb. bombs in the target area with good results. The moderate flak was negated by the effective chaff and for the seventh consecutive mission of the 453rd, enemy fighters failed to challenge the formation. As a result, all planes rested that night in their respective berths.
Stein’s diary note indicated he wasn’t too happy with the results achieved by the Section in which he flew,
Rather long haul. . ., stayed fairly well on course, but S-ed around a lot and hit target 33 minutes late. Moderate and accurate flak at target. Our Section did wild bombing–over-shooting and hitting about½ mile to the right–probably did some damage, though.
Oh, well, you can’t win ’em all!
* * * * *
Low reports, “On May 27, 1944 Lt. Col. Potts, the Group Commanding Officer, donned the silver eagle of a full Colonel. Col. Potts had assumed command of the Group on March 19 upon the loss of Colonel Joseph A. Miller.
On May 29, 1944 Bradley flew a mission to bomb oil refining installations deep in Germany at Politz–Stettin. This mission will be reported hereinafter. It was the 63rd mission for the 453rd and its crews were beginning to complete their required number of missions. Three crews had achieved that goal as of May 29.
* * * * *
Bradley did not fly on Memorial Day and, as a result, tells he was a witness to the memorable events which occurred at Old Buckenham when the Group’s 34 planes returned from a mission to Oldenburg. There were no losses to the Group while on the mission. But the return was something else! As has been noted before, Bradley often went over to the Control Tower at the ETA–estimated time of return of the planes. Bradley had heard that the 453rd had dispatched a record number of planes that day. It would be great to see so many ships return, circle the base, and make their landings. Bradley was not the only one making his way to the field for that purpose on that evening. Major James Stewart had the same idea and, along the way, he stopped his Jeep and invited Bradley to ride along with him to the Control Tower.
As the hour of their expected return arrived, the suspense deepened. Would there be ships returning with wounded aboard and signalling for a priority landing? Would any come in “on a wing and a prayer”?
Ships appeared, rounded the base and peeled off for landing. All went well, Bradley said, until, caught in the slipstream of the preceding plane, a pilot lost control of his already battered ship, and crashed on the main runway. It was Lieutenant Earl in his ship, “GOLDEN GABOON.” The crew escaped injury but the plane burned up.
That was bad enough, but not the last memorable event of the landings that evening. Bradley then witnessed the return and landing of “ZEUS”, piloted by Lieutenant Baer. Low described that memorable event,
With just his right landing wheel down and receiving power from only two engines, Lt. Baer made the most dramatic, skillful, cross-wind landing that Old Buc ever witnessed, thus saving himself and his crew from injury. Forced to drop out of formation and reduce speed, the ‘ZEUS’ flew home at low altitude, leaving a trail of jettisoned equipment along the way from the German border to the Channel. Upon arrival at the base and finding the main runway blocked by the still-burning ‘GOLDEN GABOON’, Lt. Baer prepared to land on the short, alternate runway in a strong crosswind. Those (including Bradley) nervously, anxiously waiting, saw the plane touch lightly on one wheel, slowly roll along and reduce speed until the left wing tip dragged, then suddenly saw #1 prop dig into the ground off the runway and swing the ship around viciously. Amid a cloud of dust and dirt, the plane lay still.
By his superb handling of the badly crippled ‘ZEUS’, Lt. Baer saved his crew from further injury and all were able to walk away from the ship unaided, including Sgt. Smiertelny and Lt. Bales, who had stuck to his navigator’s table throughout the mission.
Five hours and 53 minutes from the moment he returned from Oldenburg, Lt. Baer was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In an informal ceremony without precedent, Brigadier General Timberlake, 2nd Combat Wing Commander, accompanied by Col. Ramsay Potts, Group CO, and Major James Stewart, Group Operations Officer, made the presentation in the lounge of the Officers’ Club.
* * * * * *
Did Bradley sleep well that night, having witnessed the two crashes, and knowing the Crew Caller would stop at Hut #28 on the morning of May 31 and summon him to his 23rd mission?
And now to the last day of Bradley’s work on the railroads:
May 31, 1944–LUMES, FRANCE–8AF 382, 453rd 65, Bradley 23.
The last day of May saw the Mighty Eighth send out 1,029 heavy bombers to strike marshalling yards and aircraft industry targets in Germany and rail targets in France and Belgium. But bad weather again became the controlling factor and caused abandonment of attacks on a number of the primary targets. The entire force of the 2nd AD was recalled due to cloud cover. There were weather fronts up to 26,000 feet in some areas. Only 356 planes succeeded in bombing any target that day.
Twenty-seven planes took off from Old Buckenham, each carrying a load of three tons. Recall brought them all back to base before they had attacked any target. Stein wrote of this, their last work to isolate the enemy divisions by disrupting the railway system:
FORM TIME 05:00
BOMBS-3–2,000 lb. GPs
REMARKS: Bad weather and cumulus clouds up to 24,000 feet caused our Wing to turn back after going about 25 miles inland. Never did drop our bombs. Some flak came up at the coast but never did any damage. Easiest mission we ever flew and got credit for–were away from the base only about four hours.
* * * * *
Of the May missions flown by the 453rd, Low wrote,
The month of May was, by far, the busiest in the history of the 453rd Bombardment Group. All records were broken. A total of 20 missions were flown in 31 days against all types of targets. Railways and airfields, as well as aircraft plants in both France and Germany, were attacked. The synthetic oil plants and refineries which Hitler has once believed were safe from aerial blitz, were not so distant as to be safe, after all. A total of 1,271 tons of bombs were dropped at the average rate of 141 tons per minute. Of a total of 431 of our planes attacking in May, nine were lost–a loss of only 2%. The Group claimed 13 enemy planes destroyed and three probably destroyed.
Note: Eight of the nine losses occurred on a single mission–May 8, 1944! See account of that mission.
* * * * *
And so the mighty Eighth had played its part in Ike’s “transportation program” designed to damage the railway network to a degree that the enemy would be unable to move his forces to counter the invading Allied armies. At Hitler’s orders, German Field Marshal General Gerd von Rundstedt had held his large Fifteenth Army north of the Seine, poised to meet the expected assault at Calais. The Germans were now placed at great disadvantage for its troop movements and the essential military work of completing construction of the Atlantic Wall had to cease because of transportation difficulties. The Eighth had bombed its 23 allotted railway targets. FLAK HACK and her crew had flown seven missions on this objective. There remained the final interdiction of railway movement to seal off the invasion area by the complete destruction of all twelve railway and fourteen highway bridges over the Seine. That was accomplished by D-Day using the Ninth Air Force to finish the task. B-26s dropped 2,000-pound bombs, P-47s dived upon targets with 500-pounders, and Typhoons fired rocket projectiles.
THE BIG ONE–Brunswick–May 8, 1944
THE BIG ONE! For each veteran of World War II, of whatever branch of military service, there is always the one war-time experience or engagement that is recalled as THE BIG ONE! For Bradley and his crewmates–in fact, for the entire 453rd, the mission to Brunswick, Germany on May 8, 1944 held that distinction. It was mission #344 for the Eighth Air Force, the 49th for the 453rd and the 17th for Bradley.
BRUNSWICK! “Dirty Brunswick”, “Fighter Alley”. The reader is reminded that exactly one month earlier, April 8, 1944, that target had been hit, and losses that day were substantial. See Chapter 13. In fact, the Eighth Air Force had sent a number of earlier missions against this target. It had lost many planes and crews in the process and had learned the enemy would put up stiff resistance to any attack. To the Eighth Air Force, Brunswick had come to be known as “Fighter Alley”–the place where our forces did battle with the “Battling Bastards of Brunswick.” These were the Luftwaffe pilots that Jones said were known to be the elite of Reichmarshall Herman Goering’s airmen. Things had been bad on April 8–and would not be better on this mission.
For its 344th mission against enemy targets, the Eighth sent 500 heavy bombers of its 1st and 3rd Air Divisions to targets in Berlin and the immediate vicinity of the German capital. The VIII and DC Fighter Commands dispatched 729 and 126 fighter aircraft respectively–a total of 855 planes. The number of fighters dispatched to escort particular divisions is not known to this writer.1 General Hodges’ 2nd Air Division received orders to send over 300 of its B-24 bombers on a return visit to Brunswick. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Germans would strike back with all the force they could muster, with both anti-aircraft guns and their fighter defenses.
General Hodges called upon Colonel Potts for maximum effort from the 453rd Group. May 8 was to be both a memorable and an historic day for the Group–memorable, particularly to the nearly 300 of its airmen who faced death that day, and historic in that the 453rd was called upon to provide the lead commander, pilot, navigator and bombardier for the mission. The 453rd was to lead the entire Eighth Air Force formation that day–800 planes of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Air Divisions. This assignment was a first for the 453rd!
Potts and his Group Headquarters staff designated Captain Andrew S. Low, Assistant Group Operations Officer, as Formation Commander. Low was to fly with the PFF lead pilot, Lieutenant Engind. 1st Lt Howard W. Cole was designated lead Navigator, 2nd Lt Albert G. Saum as lead Bombardier. The deputy lead flew with Lt Stokes in aircraft 078, also a PFF-equipped plane.
Many years later, Andy Low compiled the Unit History of the 453rd Bombardment Group.2 It is one of the resources for the Bradley war story, including that of the May 8, 1944 mission to Brunswick. Other resources will be noted here as the story unfolds.
Of the BIG ONE, Low wrote, “Twenty-seven planes were dispatched by the 453rd on that mission. Only seventeen returned safely to the home airbase that evening.” The planes took off beginning at 0600 hours that morning. The estimated flight time of the mission was expected to be about six hours. The purpose now is to give an account of the
memorable events and incidents that occurred during those six-plus hours.
For Bradley (and all of the Jones crew) as well as for Lt. Parker and his crew, the day began with the wake-up call. The officers of the two crews were billeted in Hut 28. Parker had become a hut-mate only a month previous to this day. He and his crew were a replacement crew, replacing the Brady crew which was lost on the April 8 mission to Brunswick. The briefing that morning followed the usual routine. Clearly the 300-plus airmen who gathered in the Briefing Room were not happy with the prospect of another mission to Brunswick.
It is, perhaps, well to note here that a return mission to Brunswick differed considerably from most missions being flown by the Eighth Air Force at that particular time. This was the period of pre-invasion bombing of tactical targets such as railroad marshalling yards and airfields in France and Belgium. General Eisenhower had called on the Eighth for its help in preparing for the invasion, but General Spaatz still held to the belief that bombing of strategic targets could induce Hitler to surrender. General Doolittle favored placing every possible emphasis upon destroying the Luftwaffe, on the ground and in the air. It is said that Spaatz justified attacks upon Brunswick at this time on the basis that, in addition to bombing its aircraft factories, its railroads and marshalling yards would also be hit. And Doolittle was satisfied to have Brunswick made the target because the Luftwaffe would be certain to muster a large part of its remaining fighter forces and send them up to intercept the bomber stream. Doolittle would send hundreds of his fighters to engage the enemy in the air and on their airfields. Doolittle was determined to destroy the enemy air forces.
Now to the story of the mission of May 8, 1944–
Twenty-seven aircraft of the 453rd took off beginning at 0600 hours, using runway 25. Most of the ships were airborne by 0622, but several were delayed in take-off for reasons now unknown. Pilots McBride (ship 296), Banks (278), Witton (298), Parker (745) and Williams (196) and Ward (250) were delayed–the last not taking off until 0727 hours. (Note: numbers in parentheses are the last three digits of the aircraft serial number.) Fig. 23, presented herein, depicts the formation and identifies the pilot and last three digits of the serial number of the plane and the element in which each flew, and other information. Note that the planes flew in a first and a second section. Fig. 24 depicts the route flown to and from the target and gives the briefed and actual times of arrival at the various checkpoints.
Captain Low, Formation Commander, had departed earlier in the PFF ship piloted by Lt. Engind. A second PFF ship accompanied him. It was anticipated that cloud cover at the target would make it necessary to use H2X, radar target–finding equipment carried in the PFF ship, for bombing. WHAM BAM, the 453rd Group’s assembly guide ship, had also taken off and had taken its position at Buncher 6. The ships that departed first soon made their rendezvous over the field at 10,000 feet without incident.3 The six latecomers joined the formation.
The Wing checkpoints were made fairly well by the three Groups of the 2nd Combat Wing, although they ran three minutes late departing the Buncher due to interference on the Wing circle. The Division Assembly Line (DAL) was flown as briefed, times and altitudes being made good. The mission recall codeword was “Fred”, the codeword to be used at the LP for visual bombing was “Brass”, and for PFF radar-sighting, it was “Oxbow.” Given the 10/10 undercast, it was most likely that PFF bombing would be required.
In Formation Commander Low’s after-action report to his Group Operations Officer
Major Stewart, it is reported, “We departed the English coast at 0800 hours on time, over Great Yarmouth at 15,000 feet and began to climb to 22,000 feet. We were two minutes late crossing the enemy coast. We were over a 10/10 undercast but the ‘Mickey’ operators said landfall was made on course.”
There was a most unusual development shortly after departure. It was at this point that 8AF Headquarters realized that the 453rd had assigned a mere Captain as Formation Commander for this important mission. Small matter that Captain Low was Assistant Group Operations Officer–the headquarters brass insisted someone of higher rank take over. In order to attempt to correct the situation, they ordered the lead Combat Wing (2nd CW) to divert off course to the right, and the following Combat Wing to assume the lead by proceeding on course as briefed. The 2nd Combat Wing was to hold its diversion course for three minutes, then return to the second position. However, the briefed course was paralleling a weather front to the right at the same altitude. Headquarters staff was surprised when Captain Low responded that such a maneuver would penetrate the weather front and be impractical. Low recommended the mission proceed as briefed–with Low in command. The reply finally and reluctantly came, “Proceed as briefed.”4
It was 0800 hours when the formation left the English coast and 0956 when it reached the IP. In that nearly two-hour period, the flight of 27 ships fell to 22. Five ships were aborted for various reasons, though one pilot, Lt. Ward, returned to the formation in a replacement ship. One ship was shot down. Note the positions of the pilots and their ships in Fig. 23.
Lt. Charles A. Ward, Jr. in ship 250, flying as lead in an element of three with Lt. Hart (025) and Lt Stilbert (169), was the first to leave the formation. The story of Lt. Ward’s experience is told in the 453rd Unit History,
It took two ships to satisfy Lt. Ward and his crew’s determination to get to Brunswick, but get to Brunswick they did, and reduced the Luftwaffe by four planes and possibly five in the bargain.
When MALE CALL, their regular plane contracted mechanical trouble, one hour after take-off, Lt Ward returned, requisitioned another ship and took off in pursuit of the formation. By taking several short–cuts and flying alone over enemy territory, Lt. Ward managed to catch the formation just prior to reaching the target. At this point, the bombers were subjected to vicious fighter attacks. A 20mm shell crashed through the cockpit, and passed through the radio compartment, smashing the apparatus as it exploded. Concussion knocked T/Sgt Frank Diets off his feet, but quickly recovering his balance and piecing together his damaged equipment, returned it to working condition in short order. Testifying to the violence of enemy attacks, other cannon shells found their mark in the left wing tip and left stabilizer in addition to numerous scars scattered all over the ship.
A check on enemy aircraft destroyed disclosed the fact that tail gunner S/Sgt Keith M. Dibble accounted for one FW 190 and one Me 109, besides sharing credit with waist gunner, Walter W. McLain, for one plane probably destroyed. T/Sgt. McLain also shot down one Me 109 with no assistance. Ball turret gunner S/Sgt. Lafayette Evans destroyed one FW 190.
Lt William B. Bertrand of the 733rd Squadron was the next to leave the formation. In ship 610 he was flying lead in an element of two planes–Lt. Parker (745) on his right wing. The #3 engine was running rough at altitude, with erratic RPM, and manifold
pressure on the #3 engine. After return, the ship checked out OK. Note that with Bertrand’s departure, Parker was alone in that element.
Lt. Gustav R. Johnson of the 733rd Squadron became the third pilot to drop out. Ship 447 returned early because of erratic tachometer reading on the #1 engine. The #1 propeller ran away after take-off.
The fourth to abort was Lt. Melvin H. Williams (196), 735th Squadron. He was lead of his element. He returned early because of a gas leak in the bomb bay.
Aircraft 990, Lt. Hoffman, returned early because #1 propeller ran away.
Then Lt. Keith in ship 147 was shot down by enemy action–the first loss experienced by the 453rd on this mission. This occurred ten miles NNE of Celle at 0942. His ship was seen going down in a steep glide with its #3 engine on fire-five ‘chutes were seen.
Ill luck dogged the Formation Commander, Captain Low. At the IP, the picture on the radar of his aircraft malfunctioned. He checked with the Deputy lead and found that his PFF “Mickey” equipment had an excellent picture. The Deputy was ordered to pull into the lead and complete the bomb run. In a difficult maneuver, the lead aircraft moved to join the Deputy lead on his right wing position.
Captain Low reported that the formation reached the LP about four minutes late. That would have been at 0956 hours. The first sighting of enemy aircraft was in the area of Celle. Then the enemy fighters descended upon the 453rd! None of the “Little Friends” were anywhere to be seen! To paraphrase a poem written later by Wilbur Stites:5
“Mark, enemy fighters!
Me’s and FW’s at one o’clock high!
In waves stacked on waves
Corning head-on through the formation.
Where are our Mustangs to drive them from the sky?
“Ten minutes of hell’s fury.
There are planes down in flames.
Others have one engine out.
Will three get them home?
“Twenty-two thousand feet,
Flying right down the track.
Straight and level on the bomb run,
“Then dash for the RP
Enemy fighters again
Will we ever see the white cliffs of Dover?”
Low reported that the 453rd was attacked by about 15 enemy fighters–Me 109s and FW 190s when just short of the Wing IP.(Stein said in his diary, “We were hit by about 75 fighters”–and this was very likely true of the total number attacking in the period from IP to beyond RP.)6 The main form of the German fighter forces’ attack was constant wave attacks, head-on and level to slightly high out of the sun–in waves stacked up. There were, then, scattered attacks from the 3 to 6 o’clock direction. The enemy made very
determined passes through the formation.
Lt. Richard T. Witton and crew in ship 298 was the second loss to enemy attack. The following is a summary of a report of their experience.7
Witton arrived at the IP at 23,000 feet in final preparation for the bomb run. The formation was attacked by waves of FW 190s and Me 109s. Badly shot up during the early passes by the enemy fighters, two engines were lost. One engine was on fire, the other disabled, causing the ship to drift to the left while the other planes of the 453rd were turning right. Armor plate and fuselage was shot away on the co-pilot’s side, and flight deck was shot up, stripping the pilots of oxygen. Witton called for the bomb load to be salvoed, and for the crew to bail out. Conneely and others struggled to get the bomb bay doors open. The bombs were dropped. Then it was seen that both waist gunners were dead. Despite heavy damage and fire, Witton struggled to maintain position–very difficult with this plane at such a high altitude and especially difficult, given the damage it had received. Then the effort was lost when an enemy aircraft rammed the plane. Two crewmen were dead when the others bailed out Witton recalled being shot at by enemy fighters while he was falling to the ground. Eight men survived, were taken prisoner and held until in April 1945 when they were liberated by Allied forces.
Ship 100, piloted by Lt. Donald O. Jones, was hit at 0950 hours-four minutes before arriving at the LP. Lt. Catlin in ship 176 was also hit. The fate of these ships and crews will be related hereinafter.
Captain Low’s formation held together at the IP and his 22 ships made the 7½ minute bomb run. Each ship carried twelve 500 lb. GP bombs and all dropped their bombs as the PFF lead ship made the drop upon the target at 1005 hours from 22,000 feet altitude; 264 bombs were released upon the target. Anti-aircraft fire was moderate to light in the target area. As the formation turned toward the RP it again came under enemy fighter attack. As yet no friendly fighters had made contact Low later wrote that he had contacted the fighter support but that the fighter commander advised that his ships were being heavily engaged and would attempt to make their rendezvous just short of the LP. Well, they didn’t make it
Lt Stilbert in ship 169 and his crew were hit by 20mm shells just after making his bomb drop. The experiences of Stilbert and his crew are summarized, as follows,8
This was a replacement crew on its 8th mission–and it was its last. It had left the States barely one month before. After reaching the IP and beginning its approach toward the target area, their ship, LUCKY PENNY, took some flak and the crew spotted enemy aircraft. The bomb load was successfully dropped from LUCKY PENNY, but then all hell broke loose. A dull “thud” was heard in the bomb-bay area and immediately afterward, a FW 190 came up from behind and rolled away. Top gunner Angelle peppered the enemy fighter plane and it was seen to roll down and away. Meanwhile, fire was erupting in the bomber and rolling forward under the flight deck. Stilbert called the bail–out order. The men left the ship where and when they could. When Lt. Syverson, the navigator, jumped, the pilot and co-pilot were still in the plane. As Syverson fell into the first cloud
layer, he saw LUCKY PENNY explode. All that remained of the ship was its two wing tips flipping through the air–the fate of the remaining airmen almost certainly an instant death. Those who got out, the four officers and four of the enlisted crewmen, were taken prisoner. Three were lost–the two waist gunners and the ball turret gunner.
In the foregoing, an account has been given of three of the crews lost that day: Keith (147), Witton (298), Stilbert (169). Three others were lost at some point between the IP and the RP–the ships of Lieutenants Lovell (327), McKay (806), and Parker (745). No details of the loss of Lovell and McKay are known. That of Lt. Parker will be related hereinafter. All were lost to enemy fighter attacks. Flak was not considered a factor on this mission. After departing the RP, two additional aircraft were lost in a collision–Hart (025) and Banks (278).
THE BIG ONE FOR BRADLEY, FOR JONES, FOR THE CREW!
On the morning of May 8, 1944, Crew #29 arrived at the hardstand and were at stations at 0500 hours. The airmen who got aboard the new OD color B-24J, ship #100, which T/Sgt. “Pop” Brannon had ready for them, were, by now, an experienced and battle-wise crew. In less than two months they had flown 16 missions–several against important targets in Germany: Friedrichshafen, Mannheim, Tutow, Berlin, and, on April 8, Brunswick. A return to Brunswick was not an appealing prospect. Jones thought of all they had done since their first mission and he felt a sense of satisfaction that all had functioned as a team. They had become close-knit friends and comrades. “Skipper” Jones, as some called him, watched them board. There was Fred Stein, navigator; “Doc” Bradley, bombardier, some called him “Shack”; “Ernie” Finocchio, right waist gunner-alternate engineer; “Westy” Westbrook, left waist gunner; “Pottsy” Mace, tail gunner (his hometown was Pottsville, PA); “Goldie” Goldberg, radio operator and top gunner; and Murray P. Fried, engineer. “Texas” Croft, co-pilot, was not present. Lt. Asbury, a replacement pilot, had been given this mission as a training exercise.
The men were young, and they were brave. They flew in the face of constant danger, knowing all too well one might not come back from the mission. Each knew there were innumerable ways to die in a bomber. They had seen other crews lost to enemy attack and to accident. Then there was the psychological effect of seeing their fellow airmen and friends die. They were uncertain of their chances of surviving to finish out their required tour.
On the matter of fear, Jones always told his crew, “Bravery is not the absence of fear; bravery is to carry on in the face of fear.” Heroism, someone said, was only “the act of a desperate man galvanized into action by his instincts for survival!” Eddie Rickenbacker, top-scoring U.S. ace of World War I and special civilian observer for General “Hap” Arnold during World War II, is quoted as having said, “I believe that if you think disaster, you will get it. Brood about death, and you will hasten your demise.”
Stations at 0500 hours, engines at 0530, taxi at 0545 and take-off at 0600 hours–at 0614 for Jones and crew. What was on Bradley’s mind at that time–anything as profound as the matters of fear and heroism?–possibly!–probably not! It was up to Jones to fly the plane, with the assistance of the co-pilot, engineer and navigator. Bradley was to be at the bombsight as he was designated as alternate bombardier for his section of the formation in the event visual bombing was called. Given the heavy undercast, PFF radar bombing was much more likely to be the call. So, that morning Bradley may have
anticipated an experience much like that which influenced him to enlist as a bombardier, i.e., he would have nothing to do except when over the target. He would just go along, do his thing when the time came, then take a nap, write a letter and/or enjoy the scenery–and look forward to having good food and entertainment and sleep between clean white sheets that night. That was the big deal the LIFE Magazine recruiting ad had seemed to promise. Reality was to come to him a few hours later.
Jones, in ship 100, joined his element, flying right wing to Lt. Fosdick (805) with Lt. McKay (806) to the left. Trailing, at least at the start of the flight, were Lt. Bertrand (610) and Jones’ hut-mate, Parker (795). Along the way, Bertrand aborted, leaving Parker alone. Parker then moved up to Jones’ right, and these ships were then at high right in the squadron that was high right in the Group formation.
All went well as they departed the English coast at 0800 hours and were okay as they reached one check point after another en route to the IP. All was well, that is, until the first sighting of enemy fighters at about 0938 hours. It was then that the first attack was made upon the 453rd in its lead position. As has been noted, it was at this time that Lt. Keith’s ship was shot down. Keith was in the second section of the 453rd formation and was seen to go down by Sgt. Mace, the tail gunner. Jones warned his gunners to be alert. Almost at once, the nose gunner and top turret gunner called out, “Fighters at one o’clock high and closing.” Bradley got the message on the inter-com but could not see the enemy aircraft from his position below the nose turret.
Almost instantly all hell’s fury fell upon the ship and crew. A wave of German FW 190s, five abreast, came from 1:00 high in a wave attack. The time was 0950 hours and the formation was within six minutes of the IP. Ship 100 took a 20mm shell hit! Bradley said, “I was at the bombsight, sitting underneath Fred Stein’s navigator’s table, leaning against the nose wheel when we were hit the first time. The shell burst through the right side of the nose, blew out the nosewheel and severed the hydraulic fluid lines in that area of the ship. In that same instant I saw the enemy ship flash past my window, headed downward through our formation. I’ll never forget one thing–I saw the German pilot clearly and I would have sworn he was smoking a cigar! How absurd–it was his oxygen mask, of course.”
Apparently Bradley was the one member of the crew most immediately affected. He said, “When the shell exploded and ruptured the hydraulic system, the red fluid in the lines sprayed out in a fine mist into the air and into my compartment. Panic took over instantly. I thought, ‘God, the ship is on fire!’ I made a grab for the fire extinguisher, but I couldn’t get it to work. I couldn’t raise anyone on my inter-com. In that moment I thought I was alone in the ship–thought everyone else must have bailed out I almost pulled the handles on the nosewheel doors in an attempt to bail out of what I felt was a doomed ship. I guess I would have jumped had those doors opened. Fortunately for me, at that point I saw Stein’s legs above me. He was standing at the navigator’s table. He looked at me and pointed at my inter–com headset. It was disconnected. In my excitement I had jerked the connector apart. Well, then I calmed down a bit.”
But the trouble and the danger had just begun. Jones held the ship under control and made the turn at the IP for the bomb run to the target. During all of this time the enemy wave attacks continued.
As the air battle continued, all gunners in every ship were firing away–ten .50 caliber guns and 4,500 rounds per ship. Many enemy fighters were seen to have been hit, but B-24s were being hit as well. Jones saw the McKay ship (806) shot off his left wing. The enemy waves continued to come, one after the other–holding their formation so
closely together that some fighters collided head-on with the bomber being attacked. Jones caught a glimpse of Lt. Parker, in ship 745, just at the instant that an FW 190 crashed head-on into Parker’s ship. Jones said, “God, for a moment it looked just like a big whale trying to swallow a shark. They hit head-on and both disintegrated instantly in a ball of fire!” In his diary, Stein covered the loss of Lt. Parker and crew in two brief sentences, “We lost our new room-mates–Lt. Parker and crew. They come and they go.”
Now the ships of the 453rd were on the bomb run. Jones had not had time to assess the damage his ship had sustained when the signal came to open bomb bay doors. With the hydraulic system shot out, it became necessary to open the doors manually. Bradley was out front in the bombardier’s compartment, so Jones called on radio operator, S/Sgt. Goldberg, to take care of the problem. “Goldie” crawled out on the catwalk to reach the controls. Finding that the manual controls weren’t sufficient to open the doors, he improvised. He had heard Bradley say, “When all else fails, grab on to something solid and jump on them.” That worked and the doors swung upon. Then came the call, “Bombs away!” Getting away from the target area–fast–became priority number one!
Bombs were dropped at 1005 hours; now to reach the RP and head for home base. But the Luftwaffe had other plans for the remaining bombers of the 453rd. Wave after wave of fighters again bore in. In the absence of the “Little Friends”, the enemy was determined to inflict more damage. Jones’ ship was hit by several additional 20mm. shells. It was at or just beyond the RP that American fighters finally engaged the Luftwaffe fighters. Low, in a masterpiece of understatement, later wrote in his report, “The fighter support was very sparse up at the head of the column and when we were attacked, very inadequate. At Wing IP, or shortly thereafter, P-38s showed up and dispersed the enemy fighters altogether.” From Freeman it is noted that the VIII and IX Fighter Commands dispatched 202 P-38s that morning. Where had they been? Low had learned that they were heavily engaged by the Luftwaffe. The P-51 Mustangs were busy escorting the 1st and 3rd Air Division B-17s to Berlin on this day.
When Jones assessed the damage done in this terrific aerial battle, he found that his ship had sustained numerous hits and that the enemy had succeeded in seriously crippling the plane. The hydraulic system had been knocked out, the cable control for the right wheel was broken, the right wing was damaged, and there were big holes in the nose and along the side of the fuselage. Fortunately, there was no fire-“Praise the Lord and keep the engines running!” And miraculously, none of the crew was injured–none except the substitute co-pilot, Lt. Asbury, who, on this, his very first combat mission, got a nick on the ankle from flying shrapnel or aircraft parts. The wound bled a bit, and the incident earned him the Purple Heart! What a story to tell his crewmates, and someday to tell his children and grandchildren!
With the hydraulic system out, Jones knew he could not operate the landing gear, the brakes, or the flaps. He saw, at once, that a normal landing would be impossible. His immediate concern, however, was to keep his ship under control. At the 22,000 foot altitude, the B-24 was notably unresponsive to the pilot’s control. Jones said, “Trying to move it was like using a paddle in a tub of mush.”
Captain Low, too, was assessing the losses his Group had suffered. As they reached the RP, Low thought the remaining ships were in the clear, but yet another disaster was to befall this ill–starred flight. The B-24s flown by Lt. Banks (278) and Lt. Hart (025) of the 453rd had sustained severe battle damage but were still airborne and flying side–by–side. And then, without warning, disaster struck–the two ships collided and went down! This collision brought the losses for the day for the 453rd to eight ships and their crews–80+ airmen MIA! Low also learned that the 445th Bomb Group had lost two planes and one
was lost by the 467th Bomb Group. The 453rd bore the brunt of the attack. Among the remaining planes of the 2nd Air Division, at least 30 were badly damaged, with some dead and wounded airmen aboard. Two of these ships were those of Lt. Jones (100) and Lt. Catlin (176).
The remaining ships faced a two-hour return flight to Old Buckenham!
Lt Jones summoned his crew to the flight deck and determined that none were injured except the co-pilot who had sustained a minor cut. The ship had taken a number of hits and Jones and the crew assessed the damage. It was bad, but could have been worse. The best face one could put on the situation was that there was no fire, the self-sealing gas tanks had held intact, and no engine was lost But the front nose wheel was kaput, the hydraulic system was gone, and brakes and flaps could not be operated. There were holes in the right wing, in the nose, and in the fuselage. Jones concluded that, absent any unforeseen problem or the reappearance of the Luftwaffe, ship 100 should make it back to Old Buckenham.
Bradley said, “When we reached the Channel we felt a sense of relief. We began throwing unneeded gear and equipment overboard.”
For Lt. Jones to bring his ship into Old Buckenham airbase for a safe landing was certain to be a challenge. Jones began to think of making contact with Flight Control at the base. He would tell them of the condition of his plane and arrange for his landing. When that contact was made, Jones learned that other ships were badly damaged. Some had wounded or dead aboard and would have to be given priority for landing. Fire control and ambulance service would be prepared to meet the ships as they landed.
Lt. Jones said of his situation, “As we neared the English coast our ‘bad news’ got worse. I ordered my co-pilot to lower the landing gear. Only the left landing gear came down and when it did, it locked in place and we could no longer retract it. There was a manual backup for the landing gear, a crank on a cable to release the up-latches, so I had Engineer Fried engage the crank and give it a good college try. Fried did as told but, up over the pulley came a frayed cable end which meant the right landing gear was up and there was no way to get it down! I communicated all of these developments to Flight Control. I was not pleased nor was I surprised at the reply, ‘Take your ship to Watton, have your crew bail out then make your landing.’ It was an order that was easier said than done. Watton was the location of the Third Sub-depot. In effect I was being told to deliver my ship to that field for repair or for the junk pile. I wondered, briefly, if I was being sent there for the same reception!”
Jones then had his crew prepare to “hit the silk”–bail out! He and his co-pilot would then attempt to land the plane safely. The Watton Depot was 35-45 miles distant. Bradley said, “We assembled in the rear fuselage and got our chest parachute packs clamped on. Some packs were soaked with red hydraulic fluid. We wondered if those ‘chutes would open. By this time we were ready to get out of the plane one way or another. Jones had given us the order and said he was going to ‘bring this turkey home.’
The decision was made to exit through the camera hatch at the rear of the plane. Bradley gave this account of his jump,
We went out, one after the other, like a real string of paratroopers. I was the fourth one to go. I often try to recall that event–the jump that may have saved my life. Fred Stein wrote that ‘We jumped from 4,500 feet and it was a wonderful experience.’ I agree. I rolled out of the plane and pulled the rip
cord. There was no sharp jerk, just the ‘chute opening above me as I began to float. I don’t remember which one of our crew jumped just before I did, but I recall hearing him let out a screaming ‘son-of-a–bitch’ as he tumbled out the hatch. I didn’t have time to think it was funny then, but afterward, it was something we remembered and talked about. It was an oath like one might let out if a pack of matches suddenly exploded in your hand.
The first thing I remember was the awesome silence up there at 4,500 feet–after leaving that terribly noisy plane, the silence was deafening. At 2,000 feet I thought it was a long way to the ground. But then, at about 500 feet the ground started coming up fast enough to get my attention. When I hit the ground in someone’s pasture, I found myself being pulled along on my butt by the ‘chute which had partially billowed out into the wind. I suppose the whole time of my descent was just a minute or two. Even before I touched ground I heard voices not far away–sound carried so easily. I saw some Brits running toward me-one carrying a pitchfork! As they reached me they grabbed ahold of me and of the ‘chute. One of the Brits looked me over, apparently satisfied himself that I was an authentic American, and said, simply, ‘By Jove, I didn’t think you boys were practicing today!’ I replied, ‘This was no practice, but thanks, I’m okay–just look for the other guys.’ Those people of East Anglia were fabulous people–really concerned, willing to help, but people of few words. We loved them all!”
The others of the crew who made that jump came down safely, except one-Engineer S/Sgt. Murray P. Fried. Fried’s ‘chute brought him down on the thatched roof of a house or farm building. The thatch was very slick and Fried fell off, breaking his ankle in the process. He was taken to the Station Hospital and never returned to our crew. At that point, Ernie Finocchio became our Engineer, and was a good one! In due course all who jumped were assembled and a truck was sent to return us to Old Buckenham.
But meanwhile, what of Lt Jones and Lt Asbury in ship 100? Without hydraulics, without flaps or brakes, with only the left landing gear down, Jones brought the plane in for a one-wheel crash landing. It was the proverbial landing “on a wing and a prayer!” And this was a B-24 bomber with the legendary Davis wing (of which much was written in Chapter 6.) Perhaps the Davis wing made the difference! What was the speed as Jones touched down?–surely 110 mph. Did he touch down on a hard–surface runway?–probably, but then the plane went off into a grassed area. Of his landing this crippled plane, Jones said,
I knew we wouldn’t be able to get out through the bomb bay–it was likely to be crushed. So I opened the top hatch on the flight deck so it wouldn’t get jammed by the impact. Actually, to my surprise, the landing came off very well.
I quickly pushed the co-pilot out through the hatch and he pulled me out. The plane was sitting at a steep angle from the ground and there was enough smoke and smell of gasoline to scare the hell out of us–I expected the plane to burst into flame at any moment. We jumped off that plane and ran like we were being pursued. Here came the ambulance and the fire-fighters! They were prepared for the worst The ambulance crew first asked if anyone was still on the plane, then asked if there was anything they could do for us. Well, I’d always heard that they carried a bottle of White Horse Scotch in the back of the ambulance, so I said, ‘Yeah, give me a cup of that
Scotch.’ Up to that moment I had been as calm and cool as a cucumber, but when he took the cap off the bottle and handed the bottle and a cup to me, I couldn’t pour it. My nerves gave ‘way and I began ‘shaking like a dog passing peach pits!’ I couldn’t pour anything into the cup, so I threw the cup away, grabbed the bottle with both hands and had a couple good swigs. And, guess what–I got the DFC for that mission!”
In that landing the engines on the right wing were torn away, the props torn off, bent and scattered about the area. See photograph.
* * * * *
Following this mission, the 453rd Bombardment Group Commanding Officer, Col. Ramsay D. Potts, pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on Lt. Jones, recognizing his heroic performance on May 8, 1944–mission, Brunswick.
It had been a big day and a bad day for others, as well. The total losses to the Eighth Air Force bombers in mission 344 to Berlin and to Brunswick was 36 bombers lost, 8 planes Category E, 197 damaged; 8 airmen killed, 15 wounded and 373 missing in action. Its fighter commands lost 13 fighters, 2 Category E, 4 damaged; 1 pilot wounded, 13 MIA.
Germany and its Luftwaffe had a bad day, as well. The bomb tonnage dropped that day was 1,851 tons! And the 8th bomber and fighter forces claimed a large toll on the German Air Force: 131 fighters destroyed, 20 probably destroyed, and 36 damaged.9 War is hell, any way you cut it!
* * * * *
11 May 1944. The Jones crew was granted a 7-day leave. R and R–rest and recuperation–were needed following their 17 missions flown since March 16, 1944.