On November 3, I flew my ninth mission, to raid a shipbuilding company at Wilhelmshafen. Flak was extremely light, and because of total overcast, there was no enemy fighter action. It was the most airplanes (50) that the 96th Group had put up this far into the war. Most crews liked this mission, because only a short time was spent over enemy territory. There was no damage to any airplane or crew.
My tenth mission, on November 13, was our second trip, out of five, to the seaport at Bremen. Flak was always heavy there, as high as 30,000 feet. The nearer you get to a cloud like that, the stronger the trepidation you feel, and as you approach it you can't understand how any airplane could possibly get through it. But then you feel it wrapped around you, and
finally you look back on it and wonder how in the world you could have gotten through it undamaged. One crew was lost on this raid, which was
unsuccessful, in that the target suffered only slight damage. An exciting incident happened on this raid. A chunk of flak came through the window just behind the pilot's head, hit the upper turret ring, and bounced off the back of Tom Dempsey's head. Fortunately, it had lost most of its energy, so that the only damage to Tom was a headache and a small lump on the back of his head. The most important part of the raid was that we had P-38 support for the first time and it proceeded much deeper into the continent than prior support by the P-47s.
After a number of difficult missions, a pass was a most welcome interlude, and London was the favorite destination for me, Beriont, Beam, and Dempsey. Over a number of visits, we managed to see most of the points of interest there. We normally stayed at the Reindeer Club, run by the Red Cross, or at the Club's annex. On this trip, the very first place we made a bee-line for was Buckingham Palace, to see the changing of the guard. It was a very pompous ceremony, but not nearly as pompous as in peace time, we were told.
During this show at Buckingham Palace, an English civilian stopped alongside us and explained the significance of the different portions of the ceremony. Then he explained to us that he was a tour guide, and conducted tours all over the city. He would give us an all-day tour for five dollars each, and we jumped at the opportunity. It turned out to be a very fortunate decision, because on this tour we visited many more points of interest than we ever would have seen on our own.
We started with the Victoria Monument, then went to Windsor and St. James Palaces. Next was the Old City, with its Bank of England, where we all got "cartwheels" and small-size three-penny bits. We watched the loading of money, contained in big bags, into ordinary trucks at the bank door, with no armed guards standing by, and no guns carried by the two loaders. We saw Covent Gardens, a famous marketing area, and the gates of the Roman wall. From the London Bridge and Tower Bridge, we got a good view of the Tower of London, but did not enter because of the length of time it would have taken. The guide had been in business since 1912, so he was able to give us a good rundown on the history of all the places we visited. We went down the Strand and Fleet Street, with stops at Victoria Embankment and the "Old Curiosity Shop", and then proceeded to St. Paul's Cathedral. There he showed us the burial place of a number of Britishers related to American history. Part of the Cathedral had been damaged by by the blitz. The "heart of the British Empire" is supposed to be at the dome of the Cathedral. In front of the Cathedral was a statue of one of the queens of England looking frowningly toward a nearby saloon, a scene that had some religious connotation attached to it.
Next we went to Whitehall Street. He showed us the War Office, the Foreign Office and 10 Downing Street, which we could view from 100 feet away, but no closer. There was Scotland Yard, along with the Parliament houses of Lords and Commons, but we didn't have time to go inside. After Big Ben, Westminster Bridge, and Westminster Abbey, there was the Guild Hall, where there was a ceremony in which the sheriffs were presented to the Lord Mayor of London. It was typical British pageantry, with the wigs, robes, and candle bearers.
By this time it was rather late, and we had to part from the guide. He hinted for another dollar apiece on his fee, which we were glad to give him, because besides his giving us a wonderful tour, we had ridden a cab most of the day and he had bought our dinners. He had also used his skill in keeping the curious away from our little group, and in getting us ahead of other people at different stops. Dempsey and I both had cameras, but because he had more film than I did, I let him take all of the pictures.
Because of food rationing, many of the restaurants served poor food and charged high prices. For a price of about ten shillings, a person would get a small piece of a very poor grade of meat, with possibly a medium-size potato or brussels sprouts, with no butter and a very small piece of bread. For a drink there was usually tea with one lump of sugar, and hot milk if it was requested. Dessert was unsweetened pie or a pudding. If coffee was ordered, it was usually made with sugar in it; if a person wanted unsweetened coffee, as I did, it had to be made that way specially.
After a number of trips to London, I became familiar enough with the city to find my way around wherever I wanted to go. The underground lost much of its mystery, but taxis were too expensive to use and the drivers expected big tips. Generally we used buses for travelling wherever we wanted to go. Not many private citizens had cars, making hitch-hiking difficult. However, once I was picked up by a bobby in a police car and taken from Liverpool Station to the Reindeer Club when I couldn't get there in any other way.
An exciting event happened one evening in London. We were walking along the edge of a park when a "crash alarm" alert sounded. We started to run
to an air-raid shelter at a nearby hotel basement when three anti-aircraft guns inside the park cut loose with a volley of shots just over our heads, apparently at some enemy aircraft that had been detected by radar. We were really shaken up by that.
When we were briefed on the morning of November 17 for a raid on a target in Rjuken, Norway, about sixty miles west of Oslo, elation broke out all over the briefing room. The reasons for euphoria were that little, if any enemy opposition was expected, and we would fly at an altitude of only 12,000 feet over water, or 6,000 feet over the terrain in Norway. Assembly into formation would be made on the way to the target, instead of at high altitude. It was difficult for some of the planes to find their proper spots in the formation. Very few of us had ever been to Norway, and most of us liked to travel. On the way, one crew had to abort because the ground crew had failed to "top" the fuel tanks. Naturally, that was one upset crew, because they lost out on credit for a very easy mission.
By the time we reached the coast of Norway, we had passed the group that was supposed to lead the mission, so we made a 360-degree turnaround to let them go ahead of us. The target was a German heavy hydrogen plant. The Germans apparently planned to use heavy hydrogen in atomic bombs they were believed to be developing. By the time we reached the target, it was already obliterated, but we were ordered to drop our bombs there anyway. That was unfortunate, because nearby was a
beautiful potential target, a power dam. Nev Beam let me toggle the bombs on this mission, just for the fun of it. Pilotage was very easy to perform over the fjords, mountains and lakes. There was no fighter opposition, but we learned later that one airplane of another group had
been hit by a single barrage of flak on the way into Norway, and was seen to be descending toward an air field. Norway is farther north than
England, and the sandwiches we brought along were frozen, so on the way back home, we ate them like frozen candy. By a strange coincidence, when Tom Dempsey wrote and told his wife he had been to Norway, she wrote back and wanted to know if he had been near Rjuken, as that is where one of their neighbors had come from.
This raid, on November 19, was our twelfth, and was supposed to be to Gelsenkirchen, but because of troubles with the pathfinder navigation equipment, we ended up bombing military targets at Arnhem, Holland instead. There was a certain amount of flak experienced there, but it was insignificant, considering the length of time spent over the Ruhr Valley, which was normally one of the heaviest flak areas in Germany.
One week after Arnhem, on November 26, our crew made our thirteenth mission on our third trip to the seaport at Bremen. We were awakened at 4:00 AM to lead the second squadron under the group lead of Capt. Miracle's crew. As we approached the enemy coast, Capt. Miracle had to abort for mechanical reasons, so we took over group lead. Again, the Germans were able to put a smoke screen over the entire city, and the flak over the city was a black cloud at all altitudes. It was a fearsome sight to see as we approached
the city. Word from Intelligence was that the mission was a success, but in the Eighth Air Force, thirty crews were lost.
It was nine days before our next mission, but we were by no means idle during that time. We had a new B-17G assigned to us, and Dempsey and I spent three hours on November 27 "swinging" the compass and calibrating the air speed meter. John Beriont was slated to be promoted from our crew to become squadron operations officer, and when that happened, Dempsey would move from co-pilot to pilot. But as will be seen, it would be some time before that happened. On November 29, we were briefed for Bremen again, but had to abort over the North Sea for mechanical reasons. It turned out that we missed an extremely bloody mission. Of all the planes that made the mission, four of them became missing in action, and 21 returned to base with damage; only two of the ships were totally unscathed. As we watched our planes return after the mission, it was obvious that they had had a bad time, because of the multitude of flares indicating damage or casualties. The bombardier and navigator of Budleski's crew, Joe Taylor and Jim Rose, who lived in our barracks, flew this mission with Hendrickson's crew. Sadly, they were lost, as that crew was shot down.
An exciting incident happened that night. We were all in our barracks reading or writing letters, when we heard one of the machine guns in an airplane parked on a nearby revetment fire several rounds of ammunition. Simultaneously, we heard bullets hit the metal side of our barracks, and all of the men inside hit the floor in a flash. What had happened was that one of the armament technicians was checking a gun, not knowing that a few rounds of .50-caliber ammunition had been left in the gun. No one in our barracks was injured, but we heard later that out on the line, one man had his leg blown off and another man was hit several times.
On November 30, we were briefed for Solingen, in the Ruhr Valley, but again
our crew was forced to abort because of mechanical reasons. It turned out to be an easy mission with no losses, so we were very sorry we had to miss it. In the afternoon, the Effects officers came and removed the property of Joe Taylor and Jim Rose. Dempsey was still waiting to be checked out as the first pilot of our crew. On December 4, Dempsey, Beam and I went to the firing range and shot a few rounds of skeet.
For our fourteenth mission, on December 5, we had breakfast at 3:00 AM, were briefed for a mission to Bordeaux at 4:00, and took off at 5:00. The 96th Group put up two groups of airplanes again -- we were part of the B group. It was an unsuccessful mission, in that both the target and the secondary target were overcast, and few bombs were dropped.
It was a mission on which we almost lost a flight surgeon. Frequently, ground officers volunteered to fly on combat missions, and if they obtained permission from the group commander and the pilot of a plane, they would fly with that plane. On this mission, one of the flight surgeons joined our crew and took his place sitting on the floor of the nose compartment, leaning against the rear bulkhead. He asked me to adjust his oxygen mask for him, which I did, tightening each strap as he asked me to do. During a mission, it was Bombardier Beam's job to make an oxygen check by calling all stations on the interphone at specified intervals of time to verify that all of the crewmen were well. During one of the oxygen checks on this mission, he made the check, and as usual, looked back over his shoulder to check me and the doctor. He jumped out of his seat and screamed "Doc is down!" I jumped up and turned around, and saw the doctor sprawled across the floor, with his oxygen mask pulled part way away from his face. Being short of oxygen, he had vomited into the oxygen mask and it had frozen and cut off the flow of oxygen. His eyes were rolling around. We put him on emergency oxygen and cleaned out his mask, and he was alright. Having helped him to adjust his mask before leaving the base, I might have felt partially responsible, except for the fact that I had adjusted each strap exactly as he had directed me to. And it was the Medical Department's responsibility to teach crewmen proper use of the oxygen equipment.
To fool the Germans, we left England near Southampton, crossed the Brest Peninsula, then flew directly out to sea and flew southward at a very low level over water. When we were at a point just opposite Bordeaux, we made a 90-degree turn to the left, climbed to 25,000 feet, and prepared to attack the target. It turned out that both the target and the secondary target were overcast, so Group B, of which we were a part, returned to base with a full bomb load. We had gone so far south that we could see the Spanish border. The best thing that happened on this mission was that we were escorted for the first time by P-51 Mustangs, which had a much longer range than the P-47 Thunderbolts, and consequently we had little fighter opposition. The worst thing that happened was gas. Not the fuel kind, but the intestinal kind. The problem was so widespread among all of the crewmen throughout the group that it was apparent that it must have been caused by
something we ate before we left the base. This was the main topic of conversation at the debriefing.
We felt an intense need for relaxation after the Bordeaux raid, and
fortunately, Top Sergeant Lee came in just at that time with weekend
passes for our crew, which we spent in London as usual. Most of the two days was spent sleeping and eating at Fisher's and Genarro's. When we arrived back at Eccles Station, it was after dark, and there was no transportation to the base available at the station. One of the other officers arriving at the station at the same time was Lt. Grant, whose first name was actually "General". He went to the telephone and called the Transportation Department. "Hello, this is Lt. General Grant. Would you please pick me up at the station?" Within a few minutes a car drove up and asked for General Grant. Grant pulled out his ID card to legitimatize his telephone call. It was a surly sergeant who drove us back to the base.
On December 11, we made our second raid on the submarine base at Emden, my fifteenth mission, with more than 500 bombers participating. There was a very strong headwind as we left our home base. The group ahead lost three B-17s before we reached the French coast, and lost five more after that. We lost no ships from our group, although one crew was very thankful to be able to make it back home. One of our crews in the high squadron had a malfunctioning bomb rack which delayed release of its bombs. One of its bombs dropped onto the wing of an airplane under it, and stayed there. The pilot flew the plane gingerly enough that he was able to return to base safely with it on his wing. The following day, we were aroused at 12:30 AM
for a mission somewhere, but fortunately the mission was scrubbed before we even reached the Operations shack.
On three occasions, I was in a B-17 when it had a tire blow out on the ground. The first time was at Dalhart, when the pilot made too sharp a right turn off the landing strip before he had slowed down sufficiently. The result was too much of a strain on the left tire, causing it to blow out. The second time was when Beriont gave full throttle for take-off, and didn't notice until he was half-way down the take-off strip that he had not taken the cover off the pitot tube, thus making it impossible to read the air speed. He decided not to take off without an air-speed meter, and closed the throttles. Without knowing the air speed, he would have to fly "by the seat of his pants," and that is not easy in a plane as large as a Fortress. The brakes locked, as he applied them, causing the tires to skid to the end of the runway and the plane to ground-loop in the mud with a blown tire.
My third tire blowout was when I was assigned to navigate for Col. Travis, the group commander, when he made a business trip to another base. The colonel told me he didn't need a navigator, but I could come along if I wanted to and read maps for him. This trip demonstrated for me, again, why all of the personnel in the group thought the world of Col. Travis. As we flew along, he pointed out to me many points of interest, and even circled Ely so I could get a good view of the cathedral. When I mentioned that I had a brother who was a first sergeant at the 381st Group, he told me the commanding officer was a close friend of his, and that he would fly me there after he finished his business. But when he came back to the airplane and started the engines, he taxied too fast around a curve on the taxi strip, and blew a tire. He commented that he couldn't understand why the tire had blown so easily, but the GI who had flown along as the engineer told me, out of the hearing of the colonel, "Any damn fool knows he was taxiing too fast." By the time the tire was repaired, it was after dark, and too late to make our visit at the 381st.
Once, when we skidded off the end of the runway after a raid, Beriont did something I never heard of any other pilot having done. He backed the ship out of the mud onto the runway. He did that by setting the right brake and gunning the right outboard engine, which was farther outboard than the right wheel. That caused the right wing to go forward and the left wing to go farther back, pivoting around the right wheel. Then he repeated the process, braking the left wheel and gunning the left outboard engine.
After repeating this process back and forth several times, the net result was that he backed the airplane up and onto the runway.
Night flying over England was extremely difficult under the best of conditions because of the total blackout. The coded lights of the ground navigational system provided the best means of navigating at night. There was one "pundit" light at each air base, coded for whatever the date was. Because of the total blackness of the countryside, there were lights along the landing strips, with red lights to indicate the proper direction for landing. Around a circle about two miles in diameter, there were perimeter lights. Planes flew a traffic pattern around the perimeter of this circle in a clock-wise direction, and landed on the landing strip as outlined by the lights. There were cross-lights indicating the distance from the beginning of the landing strip, and flashing lights indicating whether the landing approach was at the proper angle. The lights were green if the angle was correct, red if it was too low, and amber if it was too high. There were also red lights to inform the pilot that, if he was not on the ground by that point, he should "gun it" and try again. In case of an air raid alert, all of these lights were turned off, and "dummy" lights were turned on. These lights were arranged exactly the same as an airport's lights, except in a different location. So, when the Jerries thought they were bombing a certain air field, they could be bombing a farmer's air field. There were key differences between lighting at the real fields and the dummies that our crews knew about, so they could detect the real from the dummy.
If a crew became lost anywhere over England, it could call "Darky" over the command set, and a ground set would answer and inform them as to their location with respect to two or three towns. If it was necessary for the pilot to land, Darky would have vertical searchlights turned on over the nearest suitable field. The Darky system, except for the searchlights, could also be used in the daytime. Many of the airfields looked so much alike that they were difficult to differentiate from each other, even in the daytime. We were fortunate at Snetterton Heath, because the base was located at a bend in the third railroad from the coast, midway between Norwich and Thetford. There was also a recognizable pattern of woods just to the northwest of our base. So it was fairly easy to identify the base when returning from a mission.
Twice within a few days I was called on the carpet by Col. Tiller, the squadron commander, for an unintentional breach of censorship regulations. I had found out that a friend from navigation school, Ralph Smith, was stationed with the 388th Group and had ditched once in the North Sea after his plane had been knocked down by flak. He had been rescued and later was awarded the Purple Heart. I wanted to ask him about it, so I wrote him a letter. At the same time I wrote a letter to another classmate named Shorb, and told him about my Saarbrucken-Saarguemines mission, when we almost didn't make it back. I figured the letters were OK, because they were handled by Army censors and the letters were written to officers. About ten days later, Col. Tiller called me in and read me the riot act, because the first letter had been intercepted by the censor and turned in to him. His major problem with the situation was not that any element of security had been breached, but that this might result in stricter censorship being imposed upon the squadron. I explained the letter to him, and he understood, but as I left his office, he told me that if I did it again, I would be court-martialed.
A few days later, he called me in again, and told me the letter to Shorb had also been returned, and he asked me for an explanation. I explained to him that this letter had been written and mailed at the same time as the first one, and that it would never happen again. He suspected as much, and didn't have much to say this time.
I had the dubious pleasure of having censorship duty for about three days once, and it was quite an experience. The way it worked was that enlisted men would bring their letters directly to the censor and stand there while the censor reviewed the letter. If the censor found anything that approached being a violation, he would scissor it out of the letter.
If it did violate security, it would be referred to the man's commanding officer. The most embarrassing situation was to read a man's letter to his wife or girl friend back home, telling in graphic detail what he would do as soon as he got home.
On December 13, we were briefed to raid the shipping center at Kiel. The course to be followed was the same as for other targets in north Germany. With a total overcast, we looped around over water all the way to the north coast and were to cross the coast at the base of the Danish Peninsula. From that point, we were to fly east to the Initial Point (IP), and then to the target on a 10-degree heading (north by northeast) and rally at a point north of Kiel. The wing Mickey navigator somehow made the bomb run from the IP toward Hamburg instead of Kiel, as reported later at the debriefing. Most of the navigators noted the mistake, with Heligoland appearing in the wrong direction with relation to the airplanes. Fortunately and surprisingly, no flak was experienced in that area, which was known to be heavily fortified.
But that was not the only Mickey error that day. After leaving Hamburg, a heading was taken that should only have been taken if Kiel had actually been bombed. The result was that our course took us directly along the west coast of Denmark, where it was necessary to take evasive action for 45 minutes in an effort to avoid the extremely heavy flak. Finally, the Mickey navigator realized his error and took a due-west heading, which did take us to the English coast. Our group navigator was livid, because there had been a number of previous errors by the Mickey navigators that got the formations into trouble, as well as many problems with the equipment itself. On this mission, two pieces of flak almost hit me and Beam. One of them entered the plane at the base of the drift meter on the right side of the ship. The other one came in at the corresponding place on the left side of the plane. Fortunately, both pieces were headed backward. Instead of one of us being hit, one of the projectiles knocked out part of the radio. Beam and I were sprayed with shards of plexiglass, but neither of us received a scratch.
On December 15, we were briefed at 1:30 AM for a target at Berlin. Most in the briefing room looked deeply distressed. But takeoff was delayed because of poor weather, and at 5:00 o'clock we were called back to Operations and briefed for another raid on Kiel. But again we did not take off because of bad weather.
On December 16, we flew our seventeenth mission, this time to a shipbuilding company in Bremen -- our fourth trip to Bremen. The 96th put up three groups, and lost seven crews out of the ten that were lost by the 8th Air Force. Five of the seven went down over the Friesian Islands. In one incident, two planes that were taking evasive action collided, and chutes were seen to come out of only one of the planes as it spun down toward the ground. In another incident, one plane had an engine shot off, causing it to descend rapidly and collide with a plane below it, and both of the planes were lost.
When the planned P-47 escorts were late in arriving, still another serious situation arose. Crews could see a formation of planes approaching, and could only assume that it was the P-47s, because the sun made visibility difficult. The planes disappeared into the sun, but didn't come out the other side. Instead of P-47s, the planes were FWs (German Focke-Wulf fighter planes), and out of the sun they attacked one of the three groups put up by the 96th, causing several casualties. Two other crews, piloted by Lt. Smith and Lt. Freemole, were hit at the same time by the Jerries, and both planes dove into the Friesian Islands. Our crew had our usual good luck ; even though one engine went out on the way back home, we made it easily with the three remaining engines. This was one of the worst raids for the 96th Group, in terms of the number of losses.
Four days after the previous disastrous raid to Bremen, we were briefed to raid the same target again. This time the target was the Focke-Wulf factory. Again the 96th put up two groups. The 96th Group had to take over the wing lead when the Mickey lead plane had to abort because of equipment failure. In a change like that, it requires a complicated maneuver to rearrange the squadrons. For that reason, and because of concentrated condensation trails, a number of crews could not find their new place in the formation and had to return to base. On this mission, one of our gunners was given credit for destroying an enemy aircraft, and another got time for an assist. The only other credits our crew ever got were on another mission, when one of the crew was credited with one damage, and Nev Beam got an assist.
While, again, we had no damage on this mission, a sad incident occurred that affected us very deeply. Green Fury II, the battered plane we had been given when we joined the group and used until we were assigned a new B-17G, was shot down over the Friesian Islands with most of its crew being killed. To make it even worse for us, the pilot, Lt. Stan Budleski, had lived with us in our barracks until his bombardier and navigator were killed on a raid while substituting in another crew. After that, he was assigned to another crew and moved out of our hut. On this day, his ship was one of two casualties in our group. Four of his crew were blown out of his plane and parachuted to safety on the ground, where they were taken prisoner of war. The other six were killed, including Stan Budleski.
My nineteenth mission was to Munster again, on December 22, to bomb the rail center. Fortunately, the Mickey equipment worked well this time, and the raid was a success, using a combination of regular bombs and incendiaries. Fighter support was good, and opposition fighters were scarce. However, flak was fairly heavy, but our fighter support followed us through it. On this mission, Beam had a problem with his bomb toggle, and dropped his bombs too soon, ahead of the lead bombardier. We were carrying incendiary bombs. Just when the other crews were dropping their bombs, a burst of flak below us blew a chunk of flak upward through our bomb bay. If our bombs had not been dropped early, we would have been devastated. About half way across the English Channel, a plane that had apparently been damaged by flak dropped out of the formation and did two complete loops before diving to the water. Only two parachutes came out of it.
The briefing for a raid on Christmas eve, 1943, was one of the extremely few times when smiles filled the briefing room. When the Operations officer unveiled the map showing the planned target, it showed the course extending across the Channel, barely dipping into the Rocket Coast of France. It would be a number of months before the Germans would launch robot bombs (V-1 and V-2 rockets), but Intelligence had determined very accurately where the individual V-bomb emplacements were. The target was referred to as "Target X" to protect security, because at the time the Germans did not know that so much was known about the sites by the Allies. To avoid attracting attention to these sites, the Germans had located no fighter bases or flak guns nearby, and consequently we had no opposition. We saw only one flak burst, and it was in the distance at Abbeville. Our own fighter support formed a protective semi-circle to the east of us, to discourage any enemy fighters from approaching from other areas.
This was the only time we had bombed in squadron, rather than group formation. We bombed from 12,000 feet, with us in the number two position. Each squadron was assigned its own target site, and the orders were to make as many bomb runs as necessary to obliterate the assigned target. We made two bomb runs before dropping our bombs, but unfortunately it appeared that we had hit only the edge of our target. I took some pictures of France with my cheap camera and cheap film, but the pictures were of poor quality, which was just as well, because it was against all regulations to take pictures.
Crews flying raids on the Rocket Coast at a later time did meet stiff opposition, because once the Germans realized that secrecy had been broken, there was no longer a need to keep fighters and flak guns away. Lt. Bevers, a pilot who lived in our barracks, had much difficulty once on a mission to the Rocket Coast, after I left the group, and he told me about it later when I returned to the base on a visit. He had gotten a direct burst in the bomb bay which had almost completely severed the main structural spar of the airplane, and knocked one of the bombs loose at the front end of the bomb bay. Since England was still in sight, he made a 180-degree turnaround and started back home. A waist gunner and the radio operator were injured, and Bevers saw that the plane was in very bad shape. So he decided that they should bail out over England after they salvoed their bombs over the Channel, and he sent the co-pilot back to check the condition of the two injured men.
His report to Bevers was that the two could never survive bailing out, and that he would help land the airplane if Bevers wanted to try landing. They managed to find a field in England, and landed the plane safely, in spite of the fact one flap did not work. His one good brake pulled him off the landing runway, and miraculously he went safely through the only open space in a line of parked B-17s. After he stopped the airplane, he found that moving the aileron control caused the whole tail end of the airplane to "wag", as if the plane was held together by only the skin surface. The waist gunner died during the landing, but the radio operator recovered. Bevers was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, which he richly deserved.
It seemed that the Germans, as well as the Allies, tended to avoid any strong air operations on Christmas day. On Christmas day, 1943, there probably would not have been any operations anyway, because there was a heavy fog over both England and enemy territory. Our preparation for the holiday began about a week before. One of the crew brought in one of the most beautiful and shapely trees most of us had ever seen. When pressed to tell us where he had gotten it, he finally showed us a tree on a nearby farm which had the top six feet sawed off. To decorate the tree, every man in the barracks set to work making paper decorations that were designed by John Bedell, the bombardier on Frank Berry's crew, who was a professional artist in civilian life. He was later shot down and killed on a mission in early 1944. All of us helped hang the decorations on the tree, and the finished product provided more satisfaction to the men than most of the trees they had had back home.
On Christmas eve, we had a beautiful dinner in our own hut. It consisted of a pheasant and a rabbit that had been shot by one of the men, and a chicken one of the men brought from a small store in town. The cooks at the officers' mess were talked out of the other "fixin's" and a cake, and Dempsey did the cooking on the small stove that provided heat for the hut. In the evening, we all went to church at the base chapel. The Protestant chaplain handled the service well until he mentioned the folks back home, and then he started to cry. Almost immediately, a room full of probably 150 homesick grown men were shaking and wiping tears. On Christmas day, we had a second dinner at the mess hall, and spent the afternoon hiking to a small town near the base, where friendly townsmen welcomed us and wished us "Merry Christmas". We also visited a small churchyard, where some of the graves went back many centuries.
About this time, we were briefed to bomb Berlin on three different occasions, and each time the crews were visually shaken up when they saw on the briefing map what the target was to be. Keep in mind that, up to this time, Berlin had never been bombed by the Eighth Air Force in daytime formations, and so no one had any idea what to expect when the first daylight formation raid there actually occurred. The first actual daylight formation raid by the Eighth Air Force to Berlin was not flown until March, 1944, for which I was grateful, since that was two months after I had finished my tour.
The first time we were briefed for Berlin, the plan was to fly directly to the target without fighter support, because we would fly over a thick overcast the whole distance, and German fighters would not be able to attack. Also, the course would be designed so as to avoid flying over any known areas of bad flak. But meteorologists are known to be wrong sometimes, and we could visualize at least the possibility of having to return all the way back from Berlin under a clear blue sky with no fighter support. But after engines had been started, the first planes had reached the takeoff strip, and the flare for the first takeoff had even been fired, the welcome "mission scrubbed" came over command radio. The second time, we had actually taken off, but were called back for some reason. The third time, it was called off again before takeoff.
The famous raid to Regensburg occurred on August 17, 1943, almost a month before our crew arrived at the 96th Group. On that raid, which bombed oil facilities at Regensburg, the 8th Air Force, including the 96th Group, continued to North Africa for a landing instead of returning to England. Then, on the way back to England a week later, they bombed Bordeaux, France. While in North Africa, Capt. Miracle's crew obtained a small donkey from an Arab, made an oxygen mask for it, and flew it back home. "Lady Moe", as it was named, was a peculiar-looking animal, very small but with an exceptionally large head. Presumably the reason for its name is that they thought it was a male and named it Moe, then added the "Lady" when they found out he wasn't.
She could always sense when it was chow time, and was invariably waiting outside the door of the mess hall at that time. One of the group's jokers would let her in the door and she would go right up to the serving table. Then the mess sergeant would take her out the door and feed her. She was the pet of everyone in the group. Miracle's crew made a blanket for her back, with the crew's name embroidered on it. When she couldn't get into a hut to lie near the stove, she would sleep in a tent that had been set up for her, along with two Dalmatian puppies that belonged to one of the officers. She was fed by everyone, and preferred candy and cookies to regular donkey food.
Once Dempsey gave her a stick of gum, and she chewed it without swallowing, looking very human in that respect. On a couple of occasions, Dempsey brought her into the hut and put her into someone's bed, under a blanket. Moe would sleep for hours, until the owner of the bed came back. Once, Dempsey acquired a pair of ladies' panties, cut a hole in the rear for her tail, and slipped them on Moe. She scampered up the walk to the officers' club, making a very comical sight. She often played around with the two Dalmatians. First she would chase them, then they would chase her. To escape from them, she would jump into a haystack.
She finally got even with Dempsey. Whenever someone would tickle her flank, she would either try to bite the person or turn around and try to kick him. She was in our hut near the stove one evening when some of the boys were teasing her. This time Dempsey had his back turned and was bending over to tie his shoestrings when somebody tickled her. She reached out with both rear feet and let him have it on his backside. It almost seemed like she had a smile on her face as she left the hut.
On December 30, 1943, the target for my 21st mission was one of Germany's largest chemical plants, at Ludwigshafen. The one group ahead of us stirred up the flak, which was only moderate when we got there. No enemy fighters showed up, so we suffered no losses. Since the target area was socked in with fog, there was some question about whether we had really hit Ludwigshafen or the city across the river, Mannheim. The Germans reported that we had hit both cities. Apparently Mickey had worked well on that mission.
Our only raid on Paris was to the ball bearing works at the northwest edge of the city, on December 31, 1943. It was my 22nd mission, and my ninth during the month of December. It also meant that we had spent both Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve over France. A previous raid to Paris by others had suffered severe losses, so we headed there with some trepidation. We took off and assembled as usual, and headed across the British coast at Beachy Head, and crossed the French coast in the area where the Normandy landings would occur five months later. On both the route in and the route out, we noticed a considerable amount of railroad traffic, and we reported this to Intelligence at the debriefing after returning home.
We could see the Eiffel Tower while still 40 miles from Paris. On this raid, the battle order seemed to be -- well, rather stupid. Normally, bombing raids were made in a downwind direction to provide greater ground speed. This time, we flew downwind until we were past Paris, which aroused much of the Luftwaffe and ground flak batteries. We then made a sweeping 180-degree turn and made the bomb run upwind, resulting in our moving very slowly over the target. This gave the Germans every opportunity to be ready for us, especially since it was a crystal-clear day. As the bombs fell, I watched them through the drift meter and could tell that they squarely hit the target. As the bombs hit, I continued watching, and a flak burst perhaps 100 feet below us almost scared me out of my flying suit. Soon after that, we were out of the heavy flak area.
As discussed before, targets in France, Holland, Belgium, Norway or any other occupied friendly country were never bombed unless the target could be clearly seen. No BTO (bombing through the overcast) was ever done in any of those countries. In addition, raids there were usually timed for sometime around noon, when native-citizen workers might be away from the target area for lunch. While flak was extremely heavy against the later crews in the formation, our bombing accuracy was also great, and the mission was a success. One benefit of this mission was that many of the crewmen had the opportunity to get at least a glimpse of some of the points of interest in Paris.
For our last eight or so missions, we were classed as a lead crew. While we never actually led the group, except to replace a lead crew that had to abort, we did lead a squadron a number of times. But this classification gave me and bombardier Beam the dubious privilege of being awakened on the day of a mission about an hour earlier than we normally would have been. The reason was that we had to attend a pre-briefing. At the S-2 building, we got a preview of the identity of the target, and a chance to look over the battle order before the main briefing. The purpose was to give us an extra overview of the mission, in case we had to take over the lead during the mission.
Our first raid in 1944 was to Bordeaux again -- my 23rd mission. I could see the 25th and last one coming closer and closer. On this mission, engine number three cut out, but we were able to drop our bombs and return home safely on three engines. The mission started out on a sad note, when a ship in one of the lead squadrons made a successful takeoff but had trouble gaining altitude with a full bomb and gasoline load, and apparently stalled out and crashed. All of the crews in the following airplanes were forced to fly over the burning wreckage as they successfully took off. Visibility was poor for most of the flight, but improved somewhat over France.
Since the target was a Luftwaffe base, it was to be expected that fighter opposition would be strong. It was particularly bad near the initial point, mostly coming from twelve o'clock high. A number of crippled bombers that couldn't remain under the protection of the formation were knocked down by the fighters as they left the formation. At the target, our squadron (the 338th) was attacked repeatedly by a lone ME-109 (Messerschmitt). As I manned my gun, the fighter came within 50 yards or so of our airplane. We could see his face with his oxygen mask on as he flew past. I am certain I hit the plane at least once or twice, but not in a location that would bring it down. If so, it would have been the only time that I hit one. There were two consolations from this difficult mission. First, there was a direct hit on the target, and second, our gunners knocked down seven enemy fighters. But sadly, we lost a total of six planes, with 60 of the 8th Air Force men either killed or missing in action.