Napoleon said that in war, the victory would go to the side with the most guns. Said another way, in war, victory goes to the side with the highest level of technology, especially so if the technology is new to warfare, can be developed secretly and put to use as a total surprise to the enemy, and deployed at the right time and place and in sufficient strength to overcome any defense. In World War II, three new secret weapons of the very greatest importance were introduced. These were radar, long-range missiles, and the atomic bomb.
Late in 1942 British intelligence learned that the German enemy was developing long-range secret weapons designed to bombard England from sites on the coast of occupied France. There was great fear of the potential of such a weapon. Would it carry conventional bombs, would it carry poison gas, or possibly, the germs of biological warfare? Would it be capable of striking such a devastating blow upon Britain and upon American forces being mobilized in England as to prevent the Allied invasion of the continent?
Shortly before dawn on 13 June 1944, the seventh day after the successful Allied invasion of Normandy, the first of two types of long-range missiles developed and deployed by the Germans rose from a launching site and flamed across the sky in the direction of London. It was a pilotless aircraft or a winged bomb, the German V-1. It made its flight from the Pas de Calais on the French coast and fell to earth from above London, striking a railroad bridge in the center of the city. After the V-1, the Germans launched their second long-range secret weapon--the V-2. The V-1 was basically an aerial bomb with wings. The V-2, by contrast, was the world's first long-range rocket missile. Weighing 12 tons, it was blasted high into the sky, reached a speed of nearly 4,000 miles per hour, and descended upon its target without warning and without sound. A new era in warfare had begun when this weapon became operational. (See figs. 18 and 19.) A V-3 weapon was also being developed.
The reader is referred to Joseph W. Angell's writing--Chapter 4, CROSSBOW, in The Army Air Forces in World War II Vol. III--for his complete account of these weapons and of the RAF and AAF response to their deployment Angell wrote: "By the time of Germany's collapse in the spring of 1945, more than 30,000 V-weapons (approximately 16,000 V-1s and 14,000 V-2s) had been fired against England or against continental targets in areas held by the advancing land armies of the Allied forces." See Notes for additional information from this source and from Hoseason.123
The Combined Bomber Offensive against this weapon and its launching sites was code--named Operation CROSSBOW and the missions flown to attack V-1 and V-2 sites were dubbed "NO BALL" missions. The 8th Air Force had mounted a large "NO BALL" mission in late December 1943 (8 AF 164). On this mission the three air divisions sent 722 bombers to strike V-1 and V-2 sites in the Pas de Calais. This may have been the Americans' first such mission. There were many more in 1944. Several early missions of the 453rd Bombardment Group were this type of mission. VIII Bomber Command considered these missions a digression from their strategic bombing objectives. So their answer was to schedule attacks on V-weapon sites when weather over Germany forced
cancellation of strategic bombing. The airmen, like Bradley and his comrades, had mixed feelings about these missions. While they disliked the fairly substantial flak defense of the Germans, they liked the fact that they were over hostile territory only for a short period of time. They considered this a better deal than the long hauls into Germany. To some airmen, these missions of four to five hour duration were termed "milk runs" but that was true only for those who met little or no German response from fighters or from anti-aircraft fire.
Bradley, Jones, and crew--mates were sent out by the 8th Air Force, 453rd Bombardment Group, on three Operation CROSSBOW missions. These were:
Date 8th AF 453rd Bradley Target Time 26 March '44 Mission #280 Mission #25 Mission #3 Domart, Fr. 4:30 20 April '44 " #309 " #36 " #10 Wizernes, Fr. 4:17 27 April '44 " #322 " #41 " #12 Marquise, Fr. 3:20
Bradley said of these three missions, When our squadron put our crew on alert for a mission to be flown the following morning, we were never told the target We had heard of these "NO BALL" missions because our Group had already flown several of them. It was said that they were usually "milk runs"--flying time of only three to five hours, and usually, little, if any, German fighter opposition. Flak anti-aircraft fire could be pretty heavy, though." But when Bradley went to the briefing for his first "NO BALL" mission he learned that it was a serious matter--a matter of high priority for the British and the American air forces at the time.
In the early morning hours of March 26, 1944, the 28 crews were given a thorough briefing. The launching sites for these weapons were located in the Pas de Calais and in the vicinity of Cherbourg. There were many ski sites from which V-1s were to be fired and seven "Large Sites" from which V-2 rockets would be fired. (See Fig. 20.) The briefing officers made it clear that these weapons posed a serious threat. Unless these sites and weapons were destroyed very soon, London and much of southeast England would be highly vulnerable to bombing and the planned invasion of the continent might even be delayed. The invasion was then tentatively planned for early May so time was running out for completion of Operation CROSSBOW.
The importance of these missions was emphasized at the briefing with the display in the target-study room of a special sand-table mock-up of a typical V-1 launch site. Maps and aerial photographs for each assigned target were given to the bombardiers. Bombing was to be from 10,000 feet.
The assembly for the mission would follow customary practices and the Group aircraft would join their 2nd Combat Wing formation, then their 2nd Air Division bomber stream. For the 26 March mission, the 453rd dispatched 28 aircraft to become part of the 185 B-24 bomber force of the 2nd Air Division, which, along with 243 B-17s of the 1st Air Division, were to hit nine V-weapon sites in the Pas de Calais. The 453rd was assigned the launching site target located at Flexicourt, near Domart, France. On this same mission, 145 B-17s of the 3rd Air Division were to bomb seven sites in the vicinity of Cherbourg. A total of 573 bombers of the 8th Air Force were dispatched. VIII FC and IX FC dispatched 316 P-47s as fighter support and to carry out their own "rhubarb" flights to destroy GAF assets on the ground.4
From Fred Stein's diary entry of March 26, 1944 some details of this mission are learned. The form time was 0500 BDST. The bomb load was twelve 100 lb GP bombs,
57 incendiaries. Of this mission. Stein wrote, "Lead ship made two runs on target, taking us over Abbeyville three times altogether. Flak was heavy and accurate every time. Target was located in a small woods and I don't think very many bombs hit it. Most of them went wild. No fighter opposition. Few flak holes."
The 453rd Unit History account of this mission bears out Stein's impression that not many bombs hit the target. That source says, "Clouds prevented accurate observations, but bombs were known to fall in the northern portion of the target. All ships relumed safely." The 453rd suffered no losses of planes or men that day, but a number of aircraft were damaged by flak shrapnel. The 392nd, up from its base at Wendling and flying with the 14th Combat Wing, lost one bomber and its crew.
It was also on this date that Captain Robert Coggeshall, who was Group Training Officer, became Commanding Officer of Bradley's 733rd Squadron, while Captain Kanaga assumed the duties of Group Training Officer.
Their second "NO BALL" mission was flown on April 20, 1944. The target was Wizernes--the location of more V-1 sites. This was Eighth Air Force mission #309, 453rd, #36 and Bradley, #10 and was a maximum effort. Twenty-four V-weapon sites were attacked out of 33 briefed. The bomb types used were 1000 GP and 500 GP. Jones' plane and each of the 28 B-24s of the 453rd carried eight 1000 GP bombs--the heaviest bomb load yet carried by them. The 453rd again flew lead for the 2nd Combat Wing. A total of 842 bombers were dispatched by the three Air Divisions from 31 bombardment groups; 570 bombers were effective in bombing their targets.
The Eighth lost nine of its bombers and crews that day: two were B-24s of the 2nd Air Division--one from the 2nd Combat Wing's 445th Group. 345 bombers were damaged, three additional planes were damaged beyond repair, principally a result of flak. The casualties included 12 KIA, 34 WIA, and 89 MIA. Other problems beset several bombers of the Eighth: two planes were ditched north of Calais--only six crewmen were rescued. One B-17 had crashed on take-off, crew safe; two B-24s crash-landed--one from the 445th Group. Six crewmen of one plane were killed. Nearly 2,000 tons of HE bombs were dropped.
VIII FC dispatched 388 P-38, P-47, and P-51 fighters on this mission--lost two planes and pilots. Four enemy aircraft were shot down. As a first ever for the 8th Air Force, VIII FC sent out 35 P-51s as fighter-bombers. They were to have been escorted by 31 P-47s, but the P-47s were unable to locate the P-51s because of weather conditions. The P-51s dropped 16.5 tons of bombs on airfields. Fifty-six P-38s were sent out as fighter bombers on the same day but weather conditions prevented bombing.
And what happened to Jones' crew? The account written upon return by navigator Fred Stein illustrates the uncertainty that lay with every bombing mission: would clouds obscure the target?, would mechanical problems force a plane to abort its mission?, would navigational errors cause the combat wing to miss its route, carry it over areas where concentrations of German fighters and/or flak batteries could disrupt the mission or destroy the plane?, would the bomb-run be poorly executed?, would a plane be badly damaged or run out of fuel making its return to base impossible, or requiring ditching at sea, or making a crash-landing the final outcome? These were the unfriendly gremlin happenstances that denied the success of many missions.
Such a happenstance affected the outcome for Bradley, Jones and crew on this "NO
ALL" mission. Stein told the story, "The Combat Wing lead navigator made landfall about 40 miles south of the course that had been briefed. He ended far right on bomb run and never saw the target. Very poor lead navigation. Returned to base with bombs. Only light flak with one or two small holes in ship--no fighters."
And now an account of their third mission of Operation CROSSBOW. At the briefing on the morning of April 27, 1944 they learned their target would be V-weapon sites at Marquise, France.5 It, like the other "NO BALL" missions was expected to be of short duration--less than four hours from take-off until return to base. But on this morning there was a surprise announcement--the 8th Air Force called upon the 453rd Bombardment Group to fly two mission that day! This was the first time such a call had been made of the 453rd. In addition to the Marquise mission, a second mission would be flown. The second target would be the railroad marshalling yard at Blainville sur l'Eau in France.
The Marquise mission was part of Eighth Air Force mission #322, 453rd #41, Bradley, #12. Eighteen planes were dispatched by the 453rd. Twenty-five V-weapon sites were briefed, of which 21 were attacked and others were attacked as targets of opportunity (T/Os) because some squadrons had problems in picking up primaries in haze. The bomb types used included 2000 GP, 1000 GP, and 500 GP HE bombs. Very heavy tonnage of bombs were dropped--1,847 tons!
The Eighth dispatched 596 bombers and 357 fighters on the first mission of the day. The targets were in both the Pas de Calais and Cherbourg areas of France. Thirty-one Bombardment Groups participated including the 453rd. The 2nd Air Division dispatched 302 B-24s, of which 169 were effective; i.e., dropped their bombs on target Four aircraft were lost by the Eighth. One B-24 was lost and on return, two B-24s crash-landed. Two additional planes were damaged beyond repair. Flak barrages damaged 252 aircraft--some Groups were hard-hit. Three airmen were KIA, 16 WIA, and 40 MIA. This "NO BALL" was "hard--ball" for some.
Navigator Fred Stein recorded the following for the Marquise mission, "Form I time 4:05; bombs: 8--1000 GPs. Remarks: Over enemy territory only about 20 minutes. Hit target OK. No fighters. Moderate flak but no damage to our aircraft--milk run!"
They returned to base at 0725 and prepared for their second mission of the day.
Three hours after the first ships returned from Marquise, 24 planes of the 453rd were off for the railroad marshalling yards at Blainville sur l'Eau in eastern France--50 miles east of Nancy. All of their aircraft returned and bombing results were good.
This second mission of the day was 8th AF mission #323, 453rd mission #42, and Bradley's 13th mission. The 8th AF put up 486 bombers and 543 fighters--quite a day! The 2nd Air Division's 198 bombers attacked railroad marshalling yards at Blainville sur l'Eau and at Chalons Sur Marne. Bradley's 2nd Combat Wing of the 2nd Air Division returned virtually untouched but a 446th Group B-24 crashed at Flixton after take-off and ten airmen were killed. Upon return a badly-damaged 392nd Group B-24 crashed on the cliffs at Westgate-on-Sea, and eight were killed.
Navigator Fred Stein reported in his diary that on the Blainville sur l'Eau mission the bomb load was twelve 500 GP bombs. He said they had the good fortune to find that a
concentration of enemy tanks and armored vehicles had just been moved into the railroad yard, which was their target. Bradley's bomb drop was on time and on target, "Very good bombing results." Stein reported that, happily, no German fighters appeared to attack their formation. Flak was moderate; several flak holes in their ship.
It seems that Jones' ship always returned with a number of flak holes. No wonder he sat on his armor-plated vest!
Bradley's personal experience with the V-1 weapon:
As was reported heretofore, the Germans launched their first V-1 "buzz--bomb" from a site on the Pas de Calais on June 13, 1944. It fell to earth from above London, striking a railroad bridge in the center of the city. Many additional V-1 launchings followed. Hoseason wrote, "The total V-1s launched from ramps in France was 8,892. When the launch sites were over-run by the Allied invasion forces, an additional 1,600 bombs were launched in the air from the German He-111 aircraft--total 10,492. Nearly 3,000 failed to reach England due to mechanical or other defects, a further 4,000 were destroyed by the defenses: guns, barrage balloons, and fighters. The number surviving numbered 3,531 and, of these, 2,419 reached the London Civil Defense Region. 6,184 people were killed."
Bradley, Jones, Croft and Stein were on pass in London sometime after June 13. They heard a number of these "buzz--bombs", heard their single engines shut off as fuel was expended, and then heard the explosions as the winged bombs crashed to the ground.
Bradley flew a final CROSSBOW mission on July 2, 1944. It was also the final mission of his tour of duty. This mission is described hereinafter.
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