As Squadron Navigator of the 570th Bomb Squadron and Group Navigator of the 390th Bomb Group based at Framlingham, Suffolk for nineteen months in combat I helped plan, brief, interrogate and train navigators and their crews on the standard operating procedures used by the Eighth Air Force four-engine bomber crews. I flew thirty combat missions between August 1943 and January 1945. On all but the first mission I flew as a Command Navigator of a Group, Wing, Division or Eighth Air Force formation. I briefed at least 300 missions either combat or training. I was responsible to the Group Commander for the quality and performance of navigation within the group. I had the assistance of four squadron navigators in planning and preparing combat crews for training and combat missions in navigation techniques and procedures.
The group operations officer, navigator, bombardier, the staff intelligence section, the weather and communications sections all contributed their part in this training and mission preparation. The group operations officer reported directly to the Commander of the 390th Bombardment Group (H) and was the leader of this team that saw aircraft crews take the air with the best possible knowledge of each combat mission. The very survival of these crews depended on their having the necessary information on every mission.
The offices of the Operations Officer and his staff were in the group headquarters building. This was a one-story brick building. The group Intelligence officer and his staff maintained the War Room for the Commander and his staff. In the War Room there were situation maps on the wall of our entire European Theater of operation as well as other parts of the world. Intelligence reports hung on clipboards for all theaters as we were engaged in a global conflict with three dictators. It was the central gathering place for the beginning of the preparation for each mission. They kept the maps used by the navigators, the target folders with photographs and diagrams of each target. Outside the War Room was the long line-teletype machine that received all classified and coded messages from higher headquarters pertaining to intelligence and air operations. The first notice of an impending mission was a "Frag Order" to the Field Order which first alerted us for each mission. This was the start of the day for the flying staff and combat crews who flew the missions.
Briefings for the operational and training missions were conducted in a larger Quonset hut type of building. Here was a large briefing room that would seat forty crews and the entire operations staff needed for briefings. Adjoining this room were smaller rooms used for specialized briefings for pilots, navigators, bombardiers, radio operators and gunners. These smaller rooms were also used for debriefings after each mission.
During the week, classes were also held in these rooms for new crews reporting to the base prior to their going on combat status. Crews were taught the Standard Operating Procedure (SOPS) used in that theater which governed their entire time in the air, on training, and combat missions. The group and squadron operations officers, the group and squadron navigators and bombardiers were the instructors for these new crews and rotated their duties in mission preparation around the clock, seven days a week. The intelligence section provided the maps, charts, photographs and target descriptions for all of this training. Hours were spent in comparing the experience we had gained on missions flown to potential problems we would encounter on new targets in the future.
When the new radar navigation and bombing equipment was introduced by the British they gave us some H2S equipment for our Pathfinder aircraft. We had to incorporate these new techniques in our instruction. I spent hours down in the maintenance shop where this radar equipment was being maintained by our maintenance personnel to learn how it worked, how to work it and use it in the air. There was no school available for me at that time, but those who had been trained by the British to maintain this equipment were able to get me ready to use this technique in the air. Later on the Americans manufactured copies of this British equipment and made improvements on it and it was installed on new B-17s and B-24s in the states. It was named H2X, an early version of navigation/bombing equipment involving the use of the newly-developed magneton electronic tube.
After being in England a couple of months we were introduced to a new electronic box called "G". I was sent down to Bovingdon for a two-week training course to become a "G" instructor. I came back to our base and began teaching all our navigators the technique of operating this equipment. All of our B-17s were fitted out with this new device.
A Lead Crew School was in operation in this building. This was a specialized training for promising crews who would be chosen as leaders of squadrons, groups, wings and eventually air divisions and on occasion as leaders of the entire Eighth Air Force. The lead crew concept was developed by Colonel Curtis E. LeMay, commander of the 305th Bomb Group at Chelveston (from January 4, 1942 to May 15, 1943). He was also instrumental in developing the vertically-staggered tactical formations that were used over enemy territory. These gave the best protection from enemy fighters by uncovering all of the fifty caliber machine guns on the B-17s to be able to shoot at fighters without endangering the other planes in the formation. As a pilot, LeMay had also been one of the first navigators trained in the Air Corps. He was well aware of the necessity for accurate navigation and for straight and level flight on all bomb runs so that the Nordon bombsight could perform properly. He dictated straight and level runs from the Initial Point to the target in defiance of the pilot's desire to take evasive action. He can be credited with raising the bombing accuracy and the efficiency of high altitude daylight bombing more than any other person.
Flying training was conducted almost daily when the weather and aircraft availability would permit. New crews arriving from the states came to us to replace crews that were lost in combat or rotated home after their tour of twenty-five or thirty and later of thirty-five combat missions. These crews were given training in using the radio and navigational facilities available in England and later on over the Continent. Pilots were given special training in combat formation flying before going on their first mission. The number of training missions varied with the experience and learning ability of each crew. Ground school in all crew specialties was conducted to intimately familiarize each crewmember of what to expect and do in our combat situation. Crew survival was review and escape and evasion techniques were covered.
In twenty months of combat in 1943-1944 our group flew 301 combat missions. We flew a dozen food supply missions after the ending of hostilities. There were many more than 301 briefings for combat missions as many were scrubbed and did not take place. Some were scrubbed on the ground before take-off and some were recalled after the air armadas had departed England headed for Germany. Such activity called for the Operations and Intelligence sections to be on call around the clock. My combat workdays were from twelve to fifteen hours seven days a week. I only took time off for a three-day leave pass about every five or six weeks.
The Daily Routine Of A Combat Day
The group operations and intelligence staffs began their active day as soon as the "Frag" order, alerting us all of a pending mission, came in over the encrypted teletype that linked us with our higher headquarters. These came in anywhere from 11 P.M. through 3 A.M. of the day of the scheduled mission. As soon as this order came in the duty officer and NCO made calls to the Group Commander and the maintenance and operations officers. The squadron duty personnel were called all over the station. The key roster for that day that would perform the mission were then rousted out of bed to go to the mess hall for breakfast and to proceed on to their duty stations. The alert flag was raised over all headquarters buildings. Staff personnel worked hard and fast to get the aircraft prepared, crews briefed and into the air. My day usually started between midnight and three in the morning when the CQ would come to my room and wake me up to tell me that the alert was called. I would dress, eat a quick breakfast in the officer's mess and ride my bike down to the headquarters building. First place to go was the war room to read the "Frag" order. The commander would come in with the air executive officer and the operations officer. If there was something special about the mission the commander would hold a brief conference to get inputs from each staff officer.
He would then usually go down to the maintenance area to see how Major Engler was coming along with the maintenance and servicing of the aircraft. These airplane mechanics of all specialties started their heavy workload as soon as the planes were parked and the crews were unloaded after a mission. They worked all afternoon, all evening and through the night to get the repairs accomplished and the planes loaded with gasoline, oxygen, ammunition and fully serviced and checked out for the next mission. As soon as the bomb loads were received the ordinance crews delivered the bombs and loaded the aircraft scheduled for the mission that day. It was highly important that the commanders visited these hard workingmen during their nightly working hours. Their morale was improved by these personal visits by the Group Commander.
When group staff officers were scheduled on a rotating basis with the squadron staff personnel to fly on a combat mission they would sleep until the crews were called for briefing. One of the squadron navigators would replace me for the all-night mission planning session on those days in which I was scheduled to fly.
Here is what the Field Order for this mission looked like. All field orders were the same format. It looked like when it came off the teletype. The Intelligence Annex to the Field Order of the day reads, in part, as follows:
AREA NUMBER 2:
THIS OPERATION IS IN DIRECT SUPPORT OF THE 1 ST U. S. ARMY. IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE BOMBING HAS CEASED OUR GROUND FORCES WILL ATTACK IN STRENGTH AND ATTEMPT TO BREAK THROUGH THE LAST VESTIGES OF THE SIEGFRIED LINE IN THIS AREA AND REACH THE RHINE. THE AREA ASSIGNED TO THIS DIVISION FOR SATURATION BOMBING INCLUDES FIELD GUNS, STRONG POINTS AND TROOP CONCENTRATIONS THAT HAVE BEEN MARRING THE WAY TO DUREN AND COLOGNE. AS OF THE PRESENT STATE OF PLANNING, THE 8TH AIR FORCE IS TO BE FOLLOWED BY BOTH THE RAF AND THE 9TH AIR FORCE WHICH ARE SCHEDULED TO BOMB TARGETS IN THIS SAME AREA.
SUGGESTED ALTERNATE LAST RESORT TARGETS: NONE.
34TH GROUP 1 A/C LOADED WITH 10 CONTAINERS OF T-211
388TH GROUP NONE
390TH GROUP 1 A/C LOADED WITH 5 CONTAINERS OF ZG-75, 4 CONTAINERS OF WG-19, AND 1 CONTAINER OF WG-1000
447TH GROUP 1 A/C LOADED WITH 7 CONTAINERS OF T-209, AND 3 CONTAINERS OF ZG-75
487TH GROUP 1 A/C LOADED WITH 5 CONTAINERS OF T-209, AND 5 CONTAINERS OF T-210
THERE ARE ABOUT 75 GUNS WITHIN RANGE OF TARGET. THERE ARE STRONG DEFENSES TO RIGHT AND LEFT OF TARGET ALONG BATTLE LINE. THE SHARPEST POSSIBLE RIGHT TURN AFTER BOMBING IS DESIRABLE
FROM OITHE 1604 15A NOV 44
ANNEX NO. 3 TO 3 B.D. FIELD ORDER NO. 488
3. X. (17) ON AN H2X AND D.R. BOMB RUN IT WILL BE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE LEADER OF EACH GROUP TO SIGNAL BY A RED FLARE THAT HE HAS PASSED OVER AND IDENTIFIED EITHER ONE OR BOTH THE FLAK SAFETY LINES AND THE SCS-51 RADIO INDICATOR MARKER. EACH A/C UPON SEEING THE LEADER'S FLARE WILL ACKNOWLEDGE BY FIRING THE SAME FLARE. THE RECEIVING AND ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE ABOVE SIGNAL IS PREREQUISITE FOR CREWS OF THE GROUP TO DROP ON THE LEADER AND WILL NOT RELEASE UNLESS THEY DEFINITELY HAVE IDENTIFIED THAT THEY HAVE PASSED OVER THE SAFETY LINE AND THAT BOMBS WILL FALL ON OR BEHIND THE ASSIGNED TARGET AREA. THE ABOVE WILL NOT APPLY TO THOSE GROUPS BOMBING BY MICRO-H METHODS:
(18) CORRECT 3 X; (9) TO READ;
NO BOMBING WILL BE DONE AFTER 1245 HOURS
(19) UNDER THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS GROUPS WILL NOT BOMB AND WILL RETURN BOMBS TO BASES:
(A) IF M-H AND H2X BOTH FAIL AND BOMBARDIER CANNOT VISUALLY IDENTIFY TARGET.
(B) IF ON AN H2X...D.R. BOMB RUN AND UNABLE TO IDENTIFY
FRIENDLY FLAK OR SCS-5IPXEM.
(3) IF UNABLE TO BOMB BEFORE 12:45 HOURS B.S.T.
5. A. (1) FLARES: (2) CALL SIGNS: (3) LEADERS:
390A G FIREBALL LEADER COL MOLLER
390B G FIREBALL GREEN HI MAJ CAMPBELL
390C G FIREBALL GREEN LO MAJOR MC-HENRY
95A R FIREBALL RED CAPT FRANNOSKI
95B R FIREBALL RED HI CAPT WRIGHT
95C R FIREBALL RED LO LT GILLEN
100A Y FIREBALL YELLOW MAJ BARR
100B Y FIREBALL YELLOW HI MAJ LYSTER
100C Y FIREBALL YELLOW LO MAJ CRUVER
B. VHF RECALL PHRASE: LIP Y ANDERSON.
GROUPS IN ORDER FLARES CALL SIGNS APPROACH
1 13A G FIREBALL LEADER BU 12 M
2 13B R FIREBALL RED BU 12
ANNEX NO. 1 TO 3RD B.D. FIELD ORDER NO. 488 (AIR SUPPORT)
3. X. (6)
A. THE FOLLOWING NAVIGATIONAL AIDS WILL BE IN OPERATION FOR THIS MISSION.
(1) FRIENDLY RED FLAK AT 18,000, 500 YARDS APART BETWEEN THESE COORDINATES: K861423, K850453
(2) SCS 51 LOCATION: 5947N. 060645 E. MAG. BEARING: 347 DEGREES.
(3) 15 SILVER BARRAGE BALLOONS LOCATED ALONG FLAK LINE AT 2000 FEET.
(4) ORANGE OR RED PANELS 36 FT BY 7 FT., ALONG AXIS PARALLEL TO AND 500 YARDS BEHIND FRONT LINES OF FRIENDLY TROOPS.
(5) THE ABOVE NAVIGATIONAL AIDS ARE TO BE EMPLOYED AS SUCH AND NOT (R) NOT TO BE USED AS A BOMB SAFETY LINE OR RELEASE LINE.
(7) BOMB-BAY DOORS WILL BE OPENED AND CLOSED OVER THE CHANNEL.
(8) BOMB RACKS WILL BE LOCKED WHILE FLYING OVER FRIENDLY TROOPS.
(9) NO BOMBING WILL BE DONE AFTER 1400 HRS.
(10) THOSE UNITS UNABLE TO PICKUP MICRO-H BEACONS BY 5020-0440 WILL USE THIS POINT AS AN IP AND PROCEED DIRECTLY TO TARGET. THIS COURSE WILL PASS 2 MILES SOUTH OF THE CITY OF AACHEN. AFTER CROSSING AND POSITIVELY IDENTIFYING THE LINE ESTABLISHED BY FRIENDLY FLAK AND SCS 51 BEACON; UNITS WILL PROCEED ON A DEAD RECKONING COURSE TO A POINT (1) ONE MILE NORTH OF THE ASSIGNED TARGET AND RELEASE ON THE D. R. TIME PLUS 45 SECONDS.
(11) BOMBS WILL NOT BE DROPPED UNLESS SCS 51 LINE IS POSITIVELY IDENTIFIED.
(12) UNITS BOMBING ON D.R. TIME WILL NOT, REPEAT NOT INTERFERE WITH FORCE ON MICRO-H RUN.
(13) ALL FORCES WILL WITHDRAW ALONG BRIEFED ROUTE.
ANNEX N0.2 TO 3 B.D. FIELD ORDER NO. 488.
2. D. CORRECTED ROUTES AND TIMINGS;
BUNCHER 10 ZERO HOUR MINUS 29 17,000
BUNCHER27 ZERO HOUR MINUS 19
DUNGENESS ZERO HOUR PLUS 5 17,000 START CLIMB
5052-0136 ZERO HOUR PLUS 14
5020-0440 ZERO HOUR PLUS 51
5022-0533 ZERO HOUR PLUS 62
TGT. ZERO HOUR PLUS 75 START DESCENT TO 10,000
5025-0600 ZERO HOUR PLUS 83
5038-0400 ZERO HOUR PLUS 113
5052-0136 ZERO HOUR PLUS 155 START DESCENT TO MIN.
DUNGENESS ZERO HOUR PLUS 164
3. X. (14) THERE HAVE BEEN SOME QUESTIONS ON DISCREPANCIES OF ALTITUDES ON MICRO-H MISSIONS. UNLIKE VISUAL MISSIONS, PILOTS MUST FLY AN ODD ALTITUDE TO MAKE GOOD THE ALTITUDE INDICATED ON THE FIELD ORDER AS TRUE ALTITUDE ABOVE THE TARGET. MICRO-H INFORMATION IS PRECOMPUTED FOR TRUE ALTITUDE ABOVE THE TARGET AND INDICATED ALTITUDES GIVEN BY WEATHER OFFICERS IN GENERAL ORAL BRIEFING MUST BE FLOWN WITH 29.92 SET IN ORDER TO MAKE TRUE ALTITUDE OVER TARGET GOOD.
FOLLOWING ARE THE INDICATED ALTITUDES TO BE FLOWN TO MAKE GOOD THE REQUIRED TRUE ALTITUDE ABOVE THE TARGET.
TRUE ALT. ABOVE TGT. IND. ALT (SETTING 29.92)
23,000 (BRIEFED) 24,780
ALL LEAD SHIPS SHOULD FLY ONE OF THE INDICATED ALTITUDES IN THE RIGHT COL. IF M-H IS USED.
(15) 4 CHAFF A/C WILL BE FURNISHED BY THE 13 C.W. THESE AL/C
WILL INCREASE I.A.S. TO 165 M.P.H. AT I.P., ONE A/C
ECHELONED TO RIGHT OF LEAD, TWO A/C TO LEFT OF LEAD
A/C. THESE A/C WILL FOLLOW BRIEFED ROUTE FROM I.P. TO TGT.
NORMAL CHAFF DISPENSING PROCEDURE WILL BE FOLLOWED.
(16)13 C.W. WILL FURNISH SPECIAL WEATHER A/C TAKING OFF 3 HOURS PRIOR TO MAIN FORCE.
Mission Planning Routine
The operations staff began putting the mission together as soon as the full field order had been received. Aircraft nominated for the mission that day were lined up by the crews who were flying and the formation was laid out. Usually the group and squadron lead crews were selected the day before on a rotating basis. The group navigator assisted by one of the squadron navigators went to work to develop the flight plan to be given to the navigators in their special briefing. Special radio facilities to be used were checked for their proper frequencies and special instructions were prepared for the "Mickey" operators after we were given Pathfinder aircraft with radar bombing capability. The group bombardier worked up the bombsight settings from the winds forecast for the initial point to target run. He put the lead bombardier folders together to be handed out at their special briefing. He also developed special instructions for releasing the bombs for the entire formation.
All the group staff and all the crews were assembled in the main briefing room, which held over forty crews. The briefing was started off by the duty intelligence officer dramatically pulling the curtains away from the large situation map on the stage at the front of the room. There the route for the mission was shown in red string. When it showed a deep penetration like Berlin, an audible stir would erupt from the crews. The target was named and the route gone over with particular attention to special intelligence for different locations along the route. Special instructions were given out for escape and evasion at this time.
The operations officer followed with the formation briefing and special items for each squadron. He would give special instructions for take-off, form up and getting into the wing and division bomber stream. The communications officer gave the needed radio and authentication instructions for messages. The armament and ordinance officers gave their pitch on what the loading was and any special instruction for particular bomb loads, chaff dispensing and leaflet drops if these were indicated.
The weather officer gave a full account of weather forecast for take-off, mission en-route and return and weather expected over the base on return. Some of our missions ran eight to ten hours so it was important to know what to expect when returning low on gas. The group navigator gave the "time hack" which was the setting of all watches for the exact British Standard Time. It was easy to get this time over a toll free telephone call to "TIM" the central service that gave the exact time every minute with a ten second count down. Since we were located on the Greenwich Meridian all time started from our location.
The Group Commander finished off the briefing by giving his special instructions and asking for any questions that any crew had about their part of the mission. He would give special attention to the importance of the mission and a pep talk to liven up the hour.
The crews and staff then adjourned to their specialized briefings, Pilots, Navigators, Bombardiers, Radio Operators and Gunners. After these specialized briefings the crews proceeded by jeeps or trucks to their aircraft. They would give their bird a preflight and stow away their gear, climb aboard and prepare for take-off.
Staff officers who were flying that day went with the crew they were flying with directly from the briefing building. The command pilots flew in the right seat of the group lead aircraft. The command navigator shared the space in the nose of that lead aircraft with the lead bombardier and lead navigator. The co-pilot of that crew usually rode as tail gunner on these lead aircraft to assist the command pilot to form the group, wing and division bomber stream and keep him informed of the formations following throughout the mission.
Staff and squadron personnel not flying that day and those maintenance personnel who had worked all night preparing aircraft and working on the mission would then go back and rest for a few hours before time arrived for the aircraft to return to the base.
Take-off and Departure
The "flying circus" began at the scheduled taxi-out and take-off times. Each pilot ran his engine start-up check list and all four engines were properly warmed up until they were roaring soundly. After magnetos were tested the signal to begin the coordinated taxi and take-off was given. The lead aircraft took its position on the take-off runway first followed by the planes in his flight and so on down the line until all aircraft scheduled to fly that day were off the ground including two or three spares that were planned for in case one of the scheduled aircraft had a mechanical problem after it got airborne.
Colonel Moller and I arrived at the lead pathfinder aircraft with Captain Charles C. Rohr and his crew and participated in the pre-flight check-out of the aircraft.
Each flight of three aircraft formed into their formation over the field if the weather was clear and took off on their first leg of the organized group form-up plan. If the weather was overcast, then the individual aircraft took off and climbed on a planned course through the cloud cover on instruments and executed their flight, squadron and group form-up over the cloud cover. Everyone in the neighborhood could hear the massive roar of twenty-five, and later on, of sixty B-17s taking off and departing the station. This routine was repeated at airdromes all over southern England and where groups of the 1st and 3rd Division of B-17s were stationed. The B-24s of the 2nd Air Division had a similar routine in our immediate area.
After the individual groups were formed they flew another flight pattern to bring together the three groups in a wing. The wings then formed up in a division formation stream as they headed out toward the continent of Europe across the North Sea to make landfall on enemy territory.
Mission Goes As Planned
The mission to the Duren Area on March 16, 1944 was a display of the largest aerial armada of all time. The Eighth Air Force in full strength headed east across the Channel with one thousand B-17s and two hundred forty three B-24s. They were supported by two hundred eighty-two P-51 Mustangs. Following the aircraft of the Eighth Air Force was a maximum effort of Sterling and Lancaster aircraft of the Royal Air Force. These were followed by a maximum effort of two-engine bombers from the Ninth Air Force. If my memory serves me correctly there were well over 2,750 four-engine bombers in the stream crossing the channel headed for Germany. All bombing was against ground troop targets assembling in large numbers in the area between Duren and Eschweiler Germany.
The lead of the Third Air Division of the Eighth Air Force was our Group Commander, Colonel Joseph A. Moller, The Third Air Division Task Force Commander. He was flying right seat with the lead Pathfinder crew of Captain Charles C. Rohr. Major Marshall B. Shore, Group Navigator of the 390th Bomb Group was the Command Navigator and the co-pilot of the Rohr crew, Hugh W. Branch was the Formation Control Coordinator and flew in the tail gunner's position. Truman D. Rawlins was the lead navigator and William J. Matteston was the lead bombardier. Enlisted crewmembers were: Anthony J. Scacco, William H. Prather and R E. Morgan. Captain Bernard E. Epton was the radar navigator/bombardier, the "Mickey" operator, operating his H2X radar equipment from the radio room right behind the bomb bays.
Colonel Moller lived up to his great reputation as a Group Commander on this occasion. Knowing the importance of being in the first aircraft leading this great armada of four-engine bombers, as the Division Task Force Commander, he was curious about the new technique of Micro-H bombing we were assigned to carry out. Calling in the Micro-H staff and lead crew radar operators he questioned them about the reliability of this new equipment to do the job. When he found out that the airborne equipment often needed fine tuning to stay on the proper radio frequencies in the target area he asked Captain Klippel to go on this mission to help out should the need arise. Here in Captain Klipple's own words, years later, we find out what went on in the rear of the lead pathfinder aircraft during this mission. Excerpts quoted from his report, "Cats and Mice", by Kenneth L. Klippel, Group Radar Officer, 390thBomb Group, tells how it went that day.
The bombing technique to be used was known as Micro H, or colloquially as "Cat and Mouse." Instead of using the conventional H2X (Mickey) radar bombing system where the radar beam was pointed at the intended target, and thru a bombing computer, used in conjunction with the Norden bombsight, picked the right release point, a new system was to be used where the pathfinder receiver was tuned to ground beacons in friendly territory. The Theory was that one beacon (the cat) would be used to kill drift by flying a series of rhumb lines around it while the other beacon (the mouse) would be used to calculate rate. The objective was to improve accuracy because measurements could be made more precisely from the beacons than they could from reflected signals from the ground.
The only rub was that both beacons had to be received and displayed on the radarscope at the same time. Fine in theory, but difficult in practice due to the poor stability of the airborne receiver.
Prior to the actual mission, we had a number of practice missions and learned that the Mickey Operator would frequently lose one beacon or the other and that it was necessary to retune the receiver at the R/T unit (in the waist portion of the airplane). The Mickey Operator was unable to do this, hence my story.
While the mind gets misty after 40 years (it's the second thing to go) certain memories stand out loud and clear.
We were to lead this incredible stream of airplanes to the target and Colonel Moller was to be the Command Pilot. Obviously, everything was to function perfectly. Normally, I was not allowed to fly combat missions because someone on high was afraid I might divulge classified data regarding the H2X if I went down. However, in this case the "Old Man " gave me a special dispensation to go (my 6th mission) and it turned out that his judgment was good.
After takeoff, assembly, etc., we made landfall and were pleased to note that we were receiving both the required beacon signals and established our course accordingly.
Upon reaching the IP and turning toward the target, we could only receive one beacon and the tuning control was at its full clockwise position. The training and practice now paid off. I hooked up to a walk-around oxygen bottle and proceeded to the Radar unit in the waist, hooked into the intercom, extracted the special tuning tool I had brought for the occasion and called the Mickey Operator. Thru his manipulation of his tuning control, following my instructions, in conjunction with my operation of the special tuning tool, we were able to again receive both beacons and proceeded to the target through "moderate flak" that you could frequently hear. Training and practice paid off (Remember how we much enjoyed those training missions?)
Then disaster struck in the form of apiece of flak, which I still possess. I was facing forward sitting on the framework of the radar when this piece entered from below, cutting the left leg strap of my parachute harness and coming to rest in an electrical junction box on the port side of the airplane.
The bomb run was successfully completed and we returned home. I regret that I can't remember which lead crew I flew with, but they did a super job. "
Every facet of this mission went off as scheduled. There were no deviations. All of the security measures associated with the bombing that were set forth in the field order were carried out. Bombing in front of troops with high altitude bombers had become a jinx in the eyes of the ground commanders. On numerous occasions from D-Day forward there were missions that dropped their bombs too soon and friendly ground troops were killed. Our take-off, formation and flight to the target area was normal. On return we did have limited visibility and our landing was delayed as instrument approaches had to be accomplished by all returning aircraft. All arrived home safely. The Eighth Air Force did not lose any bombers that day. The statement in The Story of The 390th Bombardment Group (H), page 112 ("Only 4 of these planes were lost".) is in error. Records of the Eighth Air Force quoted in The Mighty Eighth War Diary by Roger A. Freeman (1981) "state that 1,243 B-17s were dispatched, 1,208 were effective and there were no losses. 4120.4 tons of bombs were dropped by the B-17s and B-24s."
Our War Birds Return to Base
Most everyone came down to the flight line and gathered around watching the aircraft come in to land. It was an exciting time when aircraft that had experienced battle damage or mechanical problems arrived over the field. Some with engines out, holes in wings and tails, landing gear that would not come down. Occasionally one with hung up bombs that did not get released over the target or over the channel on the way home had to be given special landing instructions from the tower. Accidents could happen and the fire department furnished by the British and our own ambulances from the hospital were lined up on the ready.
These hours were the exciting ones for the returning crews as well. The tower was the center of interest and the top roof floor was always occupied by the Group Commander, Squadron Commanders, their operations officer and the maintenance officer.
Before we became operational in late July 1943 I was in a jeep with another officer parked on a hardstand on the perimeter of the field when a B-17 from another group made an approach to the grassy part of the airfield with wheels up. It bellied in and came to a stop and flames immediately started coming out of one of the outboard engines. I grabbed a large hand-held fire extinguisher from the hardstand and we raced out to the aircraft. I climbed up on the rear of the wing and started applying fire-extinguishing fluid under the open cowl flaps. About two minutes later the British fire truck arrived and from a distance of fifty feet they sprayed that wing with soapy water. I was wearing my green shirt and pink pants and was drenched. I had the fire out before they arrived and only smoke was coming out. That was a lesson in how not to respond unless you are part of the fire department.
Debriefing, Mission Reports and Combat Stories
As each aircraft pulled into its individual hardstand it was met by the maintenance crew chief and his assistants. The pilot wrote up all discrepancies he had encountered with the performance of the aircraft and equipment on that aircraft, and turned over the aircraft log to the crew chief. Ground crew members were always interested in hearing what had happened on that mission. The crew members being tired after a long day would oblige with few pertinent comments, but held back many gory details of any turbulent missions they had experienced for another day. Flying equipment was put aboard the waiting jeep or truck and the crew proceeded to the intelligence debriefing rooms. Here each man received a shot of a good brand of whiskey handed out by the medical personnel. Each crew then sat down at a separate table and proceeded to give a report of the mission to the intelligence officer assigned to that table.
Immediately after landing Colonel Moller went to his office and called General Partridge, our 3rd Division Commander, to give him a detailed verbal report of what happened on the mission. I pitched in and assisted the squadron navigator who was on rotating duty to take my place as the group navigator staff officer for mission preparation and debriefing follow-on reporting.
Mission report forms were filled out by the pilot, navigator, bombardier, radio operator, and gunners if they had anything special to report. These papers were collected and the crew then boarded trucks for the mess halls for a hot meal. Staff officers and NCOs who had responsibility for writing up the report of the mission collected the information from all crew debriefings and proceeded to their office to write up their portion of the group report to higher headquarters.