Snafu--April 1, 1944
SNAFU--situation normal, all f-----up! This GI expression for the many kinds of frustration so often faced by officers, enlisted men and their units in every phase of the war seems an appropriate way to begin the account of this mission. On April 1, 1944, weather, bad weather, was a real culprit, and from this stemmed a litany of problems, or perhaps it was simply April Fool's Day!
This was 8th Air Force mission #287, 453rd Bombardment Group mission #27, and Bradley's mission #5. The Eighth had assigned targets in the Ludwigshafen, Mannheim, Friedrichshafen, and Pforzheim areas of Germany. It was a mission that, considered in retrospect, should never have gone, and once gone, should have been recalled. There were bad omens from the very start: thick clouds grounded the 1st Air Division; the 3rd Air Division put up 245 bombers but turned back after encountering heavy clouds over France. A P-51 Mustang which was scheduled to give an early report on the weather over Germany was unable to take off because of the bad weather. Generals Spaatz and Doolittle must have "goofed" at the beginning in not calling the whole thing off.
The experience of the 453rd is told very briefly in the Unit History: "Twenty-three planes departed for Mannheim on April 1, but adverse weather interfered and the marshalling yards at Pforzheim were bombed with the aid of PFF equipment" Bradley flew with Jones as one of the six crews put up by the 733rd Squadron.
Navigator Stein, writing of the mission as experienced by the Jones crew, provided a bit more detail, "Pathfinder (PFF) ship got lost and went way south of course. When almost at Switzerland, turned and bombed Pforzheim which he thought was Mannheim. Most bombs hit in target area. Very strong unpredicted wind caused the trouble and threw off all calculations. Also almost solid undercast prevented good pilotage. Nobody seemed to know exactly what they were doing or where they were." Stein notes that they carried and released six 1,000 pound GP bombs.
Of this mission, Jones commented, "Our landing upon return from this mission was a bit hairy--low on gas, landed at Colchester--no brakes, no flaps--a crash landing. Upon landing we went out the top hatch and jumped off the wing, thinking the plane might explode at any moment. We had landed at a fighter airbase and ground personnel gathered around our plane--apparently unfamiliar with a bomber and amazed at its size."
The 448th Bombardment Group was another of the eight groups of B-24s which the 2nd Air Division dispatched on April 1. This group had a particularly bad day. Thanks to Hoseason, his account of this mission follows,
Twenty-four aircraft were dispatched to bomb Pforzheim near Ludwigshafen. Dawn had gone forward by an hour that day because of the time change and so they left before first light The CO Colonel James Thompson rode as co-pilot in 712 Squadron's PFF aircraft flown by Lt Alan Teague, together with the group navigator Capt Bob Thornton and the day's radar navigator Capt Minor Morgan. This meant there were 11 men aboard the bomber with the pilotage
navigator in the nose-turret; the radar navigator on the flight deck behind the co-pilot. All the pilotage navigation had to be undertaken from the front of the aircraft in the uncomfortable confines of the turret.
At 09:09 BDST a recall option signal was received, but Colonel Thompson, weighing the weather and judging the situation to merit a continuance, the formation carried on. By now the tail wind was much stronger than forecast and this was making the bombers early despite the deliberate dog-legging course they were flying.
Colonel Thompson was determined that the bombing that day should be accurate and as a consequence, no less than three passes were made over the target. Eventually at 11:04 the lead aircraft dropped and the others followed, presuming the lead PFF which had mastered the bombing, had a good picture painted of the target by its Mickey set. Now the force turned for the rally point, and the run home. Two B-24s had been lost so far on the run to, and out of the target. At 12:50 pm Lt. Harrison C. Mellor and his crew were shot down; and at 1:15 pm Lt. Charles Knoor's Liberator blew up after a direct hit--no parachutes were seen.
But the headwind was severe and fuel problems immediately presented themselves. The dog-legging on the way in, the longer time than usual over the target area, all added to the extra time needed on the return route. These circumstances were made even more critical by the fact that a number of the bombers had been struck by flak, and as a consequence were leaking precious fuel. Fuel exhaustion problems became acute. One by one pilots found themselves in difficulty. The Group Commander's own aircraft was low on fuel and despite all endeavours on the part of his crew, it ran to a point where it could only make a powered descent; they couldn't go on. Shuffling around in the interior of the aircraft, the over-subsidised crew made their way to the hatches and started to jump. First out was the radar navigator Captain Morgan, who parachuted to safety. The next was Colonel Thompson. Then as the next crew member went through the fore hatch, the aircraft tilted and lurched into a spiral dive. The men inside were trapped. The aircraft continued to rotate and crashed into a hillside. Colonel Thompson was killed in his parachute as he made his descent--by German machinegun ground fire. He was buried in the Abbeyville cemetery, France. Captain Morgan survived and became a POW.
In every squadron, aircraft were now struggling with insufficient fuel to complete the return journey. At the French border Lieutenant Bilks dropped out of the formation to loaf his engines at 17 inches and 2,100 rpm to stretch his fuel. He just made it to Manston where he picked up 300 gallons of fuel and continued his journey back to Seething. 2nd Lt. Kenneth Weaver turned back for Switzerland; he had no hope of making it back to England with his fuel supply.
Lt Jack Black's B-24 BLACK WIDOW was severely battered by flak. By the time he reached the Channel only one engine was functioning at full power. It was clear they would have to land in the
water. He got the aircraft down without it breaking up, but holes cut by flak and the jolt of the landing prevented the dinghies from releasing normally. His crew were bobbing about in the water, kept afloat only by their Mae Wests. The radio man, Sgt. Dworacsyk went back into the sinking aircraft, taking a risk that the buoyancy of the fuel tanks would continue to hold it up while he released the rubber boats. His first attempt was unsuccessful; and his second. But on his third dive he managed to get the dinghies released and he and the eight other frozen crewmen climbed into the dinghies for safety, lifting aboard the now unconscious engineer. The co-pilot Joe Pomprett drowned before the others could reach him. Within a few hours the engineer Charles Nissen died, and they buried him at sea. The eight men lay in the two dinghies from mid-Saturday afternoon for 44 hours of bitter exposure to the wind and rain, wrapped up in just two wet parachutes. On Monday they were seen by a British fishing boat which picked them up and took them to a Navy hospital where they recovered from their ordeal.1
The last returning aircraft got back to Seething 85 minutes behind the scheduled return time. With only two exceptions the bombers got home with just minutes of spare fuel left. Twenty-three aircraft had been despatched-two returned early. Twenty-one went on the raid and of those, one-quarter didn't return. Fifty-one of the men who had taken off that morning were now dead or missing, including the Group's Commanding Officer. Four of the returning B-24s had, after examination, to be written off as beyond economic repair. These were the worst losses so far for the 448th.
Further detail is gleaned from Roger A. Freeman's Mighty Eighth War Diary, page 212. His record of this mission indicates that the 2nd Air Division dispatched 195 B-24 bombers from eight bomb groups, including the 453rd; that 17 planes bombed Strasbourg, France by mistake, 38 bombers bombed Schaffhausen, Switzerland by mistake, 9 bombed Grafenhausen. Twelve bombers were lost--9 men KIA, 12 WIA and 113 MIA. He says: "PFF failure resulted in bad navigational errors--aircraft were 100 miles south of intended course. U.S. later paid the Swiss $1,000,000 as a formal apology.2 The 12 bombers lost were from the following groups: the 93rd Group--2, 389th--3, 445th--3 and 448th--4. One 448th B-24 was interned in Switzerland, Another ditched off Dunkirk, 8 rescued by fishing boat two days later. (See Hoseason above.) One 445th B-24 crashed at Long Stratton after take-off, 9 killed, 1 injured. Three B-24s that returned were so badly damaged as to be classified as not repairable. Four fighter planes and the pilots were lost.
Reference has been made above to the utilization of Pathfinder (PFF) ships on this mission. This requires some explanation. The term "pathfinder" was used to refer to special Air Force planes with special equipment that guided bomber formations and parachute troops to their targets when cloud cover precluded visual sighting for bombing or for dropping paratroopers. Pathfinder planes used new radar technology, known to the British as H2S, and specially trained airmen. H2X was an American improved version of it In both, a beam of transmitted energy scanned the ground below the plane and the reflected signals presented a map-like picture on an indicator screen, characterized by dark areas for water, light areas for ground, and bright areas for broad reflecting surfaces of towns and cities.
General Spaatz and General Eaker saw as early as 1942 that such equipment might
be the answer to finding and bombing targets, especially in the fall and winter months when the weather over England and western Europe presented difficulties for our strategic bomber forces. The weather, always a problem, was especially troublesome during these months. Severe storms were the rule on the average of every three days and then cloud cover over the continent was heavy. In the winter of 1943 the German Air Force was clearly winning the air war. The Eighth was building up its forces of men and of planes in this period-five new groups arrived between October 1 and the end of the year. The long-range P-51 Mustang would arrive soon. But it was imperative that the AAF find a way to step up the pace of its strategic bombing. H2X, installed in Pathfinder planes, was an option. While not considered perfect, the decision was made to use it--some type of bombing was better than no bombing at all, the latter being largely the case without PFF.
First use of H2X radar navigation and sighting by PFF aircraft was on November 3, 1943-target, Wilhelmshafen. Production models of H2X did not arrive until February 1944. The initial plan was to have one PFF plane ahead of each bomber Wing. Researchers differ on the question of the effectiveness of PFF and H2X in achieving strategic bombing objectives but they did enable the AAF to achieve a remarkable rate of operations in weather quite impossible for visual bombing. On bomb runs to target using PFF lead, the bombardiers of the Wing formation following closely, observed the lead; opened bomb-bay doors when it did; dropped bombs when it did. PFF lead was used in a number of missions flown by Bradley and the Jones crew. Stein refers to such missions in some of his diary entries.
* * * * *
Bradley's first award: Upon completion of this mission, Bradley was awarded the Air Medal. This award of the Air Medal was made per General Orders No. 271, Office of the Commanding General, Headquarters, Eighth Air Force, 13 April 1944. The citation accompanying this award read:
The Air Medal is awarded to Lt. Herbert A. Bradley, Jr. for exceptionally meritorious achievement while participating in five separate bomber combat missions over enemy-occupied Continental Europe. The courage, coolness, and skill displayed by Herbert A. Bradley, Jr. upon these occasions reflect great credit upon himself and the armed forces of the United States.
By Command of Lt. Gen. James H. Doolittle
John A. Samford, Brig. Gen., USA Chief of Staff
"FLAK HACK" goes to war. The Jones crew was a replacement crew. The men had flown overseas in a new B-24J bomber but it was not "their plane." It was turned in for theater modifications before being released to a bombardment group. The Jones crew was not assigned a single plane--they flew their missions in whichever plane the Crew Chief had ready for them when they arrived at the hardstand. After flying several missions together these ten young men were developing a degree of camaraderie and a crew personality that set them apart from other crews. They had shared experiences; they had lived and acted together; they were a team. Through their first five missions their planes were nameless. To evidence their common bond they felt the need to name their plane.
It was traditional in the AAF for the crews to adopt names for their ships and "nose art" to portray the name on the ship most often flown by a particular crew. Nose art became a distinctive art and a part of the history of the AAF The results, as found in the 453rd Bombardment Group, are well-illustrated in Benarcik.3 From this source one learns the names given a dozen or more planes by crews of the 733rd Squadron: among them--PISTOL PACKIN' MAMA, SAD SACK (a well-known cartoon figure of World War II), WHISKEY JINGLES-and one of special meaning to the Bradley war story--the name, FLAK HACK.
Bradley said, "After our first five missions we were given a pass to London. Here we saw, for the first time, the English taxi-cabs. In fact, we used them to get around. We were impressed with both the cabbies and the cab. And from the cabbies we heard some great stories of their experiences during the many German bomber attacks upon the city of London. There was no doubt about the bravery of these drivers, nor about the importance of their service. The British called their taxis, 'hacks.' Well, now we had seen 'hacks' and in our five combat missions we had seen lots of 'flak.' So it seemed just right to put the two together. Don Jones, as I recall, thought FLAK HACK would be an appropriate name for our ship. We all agreed. And right away, Don said he knew which member of our crew could design and paint her--our crewman, Ernie Finocchio. Well, sure enough, Ernie did our nose art. The words, FLAK HACK, were accompanied by a drawing of a London hack and two flak bursts."
"Ernie didn't immediately have time to do the work. But then, in a few days our Crew Chief told us we would receive a new B-24J model plane and could expect to fly it for most of our future missions. So that ship became FLAK HACK."
There was more nose art. In addition to the name and painting, it was traditional to paint a row (or several rows) of bombs--one for each mission--on the fuselage. Finocchio said, "I painted these bombs in yellow paint on the olive drab surface of the plane. I also painted 'FLAK HACK' and the bombs on the leather flight jackets of our crewmen. We tried to keep those jackets but unfortunately, I lost mine after the war."
And so FLAK HACK joined the AAF.
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