First Brunswick--April 8, 1944
Some target locations in Germany were already anathema--a curse--to the Eighth Air Force bomber crews when Bradley came on the scene. They earned such a reputation because they were so strongly defended by Luftwaffe fighters and by anti-aircraft batteries. The reasons were clear--these targets were the location of factories and installations vital to the German aircraft industry. It was a matter of high priority to the Americans that these industries be destroyed, and of even greater priority to the Germans that they be defended. Schweinfurt, where the AAF lost 60 out of 228 bombers, was one of these. So was Regensburg, Marienburg and Bremen--targets that lay deep in enemy territory. After the destruction of the Marienburg plant, the A.G.O. Fleugzeugwerke A.G. at Oschersleben was Germany's principal remaining center of FW 190 production. At Halberstadt the Junkers Fleugzeug u. Moterenwerke was believed to be making wings for the deadly rocket-firing Ju-88s and three separate plants in the Brunswick area operated by Muhlenbau u. Industrie A.G. were jointly engaged in the manufacture of aircraft parts and assembly of the deadly Me 110s and were known to be working on another secret technology of war--the jet propulsion aircraft1 Each of these targets had been attacked a number of times and, at each, the Germans put up a stiff battle and seriously mauled the attacking force. All of this had been the subject of discussion in the Officers Club at Old Buckenham and Bradley and Jones were not likely ever to forget the names of these targets. And after their mission of April 8, 1944, they would never forget the name, "Brunswick"!
On April 8, 1944 the Eighth Air Force would again take on the Brunswick targets: 8AF 291, 453rd 28, and Bradley mission 6. This would be Bradley's first mission to the targets at Brunswick but it wasn't the first time for the 453rd nor for the 2nd Air Division and certainly not the first for the Eighth Air Force. From Freeman's Mighty Eighth War Diary it is found that the 8th AF had sent nine missions to those targets in the period January 11 to March 29, 1944. The B-17s of the 1st and 3rd Air Divisions had made seven of the missions, while the 2nd had made three (one with the 3rd). The astonishing thing is that 2,179 planes were dispatched on these nine missions and 106 B-17 and B-24 aircraft were lost, along with approximately 1060 airmen--a loss of nearly 5%! Had Bradley, Jones and the others known these facts, they might very well have told the Crew Caller to "get lost" Sick call would have been a better option.
As has been said, Old Buckenham never slept Action began at 0200 when notice of the mission call was received by the Group Watch Officer. His first call that morning was to Major James Stewart the newly-appointed Group Operations Officer. Then, in quick succession, calls were made to the other Group Headquarters Officers and to each unit having mission preparation duties.
Actually, these calls were not by any measure, the beginning of the activity for this mission. 8AF Headquarters, Division and Wing Headquarters had already played a key role. The primary and secondary targets had been identified and maps and photos assembled, decisions made on the numbers of bombers and fighters to be dispatched, bomb types and load, amounts of ammunition, gas load, communication codes, provision for visual and PFF Pathfinder radar bombing, mission flight routes and times to and from the target with altitudes, IP and RP locations and times of return to base projected. Groups
and squadrons had determined how many and which pilots, crews and planes would be dispatched with designation of leads, deputy leads, lead navigators and lead bombardiers for each Combat Wing, for each Group, and for each Section. On each base the numerous departments were alerted to mission requirements and the time each step was to be executed. Transportation, Officers and EM Mess, Medical Department, and Red Cross were informed. And out on the hardstands the Crew Chiefs supervised final work to get the required number of planes ready to go.
For this Brunswick mission, the 2nd Air Division had called upon the 453rd to dispatch 37 bombers from its four squadrons. They were to be part of the 350 B-24 bomber force from the ten Groups which comprised the 2nd, 14th, 20th and 96th Combat Wings. The 1st and 3rd Air Divisions were to send their B-17 bombers against other targets on this day. VIII FC was to dispatch 780 fighter planes in support of the bombers of the three divisions.
The Crew Caller had the occupants of Hut #28 on his list for the morning call. Both the Jones and Brady crews were tagged for this mission. Elsewhere on the base the enlisted men of these crews were called. Breakfast was at 0530, briefing at 0630.
Of breakfast, Bradley said, "With the arrival of Jimmy Stewart as our Operations Officer, things changed. We got fried eggs, even, sometimes, some bacon, ham or Spam. And the rusty silverware disappeared. Our Officers Mess took on a new look. We gave Jimmy the credit. That was just one of the reasons we became so fond of the guy."
The briefing followed the usual pattern. This was to be a long, difficult mission. Take-off was set for 0915, estimated time of return (ETR) was 1530--a total mission time of 6 hours, 15 minutes was expected. Each plane was to carry a fuel load of 2500 gallons of gasoline, ten 500 lb. GP high explosive bombs, and maximum rounds of ammunition for each of the ten .50 caliber guns. Provision was made for visual or PFF Pathfinder bombing. Cameras, K-20 and K-24 models, were to be placed in 11 bombers. Finocchio said that at times, he was called upon to operate the camera in his plane. There was a camera hatch which Finocchio opened and, with another crew member holding onto him, he snapped as many photos as he could during the bomb run.
Thanks to Don Olds of Rolla, Missouri, 453rd historian, this writer had access to some 57 pages of 453rd Group reports of this Brunswick mission. From this source it was learned that the 2nd Combat Wing (the 389th, 443rd and 445th Groups) would be led by the 445th. The 389th was to be at hi-right and the 453rd at lo-left in the wing formation. The 445th formation was to include two PFF-equipped planes. It is not clear if there were other PFF ships.
The 453rd Group's 37 planes were to form three sections: I, II, and III. See diagram--Fig. 21. Major Frank E. Sullivan of the 732nd Squadron with pilot Lieutenant Bates in plane 201 (last three digits of the plane number) was to be Lead of Section I. Deputy Lead was to be Lieutenant White in Lieutenant Bingaman's ship 650. Also in Section I the Lead Bombardier was to be 2nd Lt. John C. Murphy. The Lead Navigator was to be 2nd Lt John C. Kosky. The three leads were to be in Lieutenant Bates' plane. Lieutenant Brady and his crew, (Bradley's hut-mates) were to be in ship 180 in Major Sullivan's Section I.
For Section U, 1st Lt. W. D. Faulkner of the 734th Squadron was to be Lead in his ship 237. With him were to be 2nd Lt. Leroy C. Train, Lead Bombardier, and 1st Lt. Barney Fowle, Lead Navigator. Deputy Lead was Lt. Ward in ship 154.
The Lead for Section III was to be Lieutenant Neary in his plane 244. Jones, in plane 085, was to be Lead of an element of three aircraft of Lt. Neary's Section III.
This was to be the formation for the 453rd as announced at the briefing. Changes occurred as the action continued. Lieutenant Hamby and one other crew were dropped from the roster of planes to be dispatched. Thus, 35 bombers were to take off that morning.
In the 2nd Combat Wing the 453rd was to move abreast of the 445th, the lead group, before reaching the Wing TP, the 389th was to be in trail, were to take interval in turn and Sections were to get slightly in trail before reaching the Group TP. Chaff was to be carried and released. The 453rd was to carry 170 units. One unit every four seconds was to be the rate of release from TP minus 2 until after leaving the target area. Bradley did this when he later flew at the right waist gunner's position. The code words at the TP were "HOT ROCK" for visual bombing; "POP-EYE" for PFF bombing. The code word for recall was "PAPA." Fighter planes were to reach elements of the bomber stream at prescribed times and places. At target the fighter call sign was "Denver One Nine."
Fig. 22 is a map of the flight path for this Brunswick mission. Note the recorded times that Section I of the 453rd arrived at the various points on the route. In the records provided by Olds, it is noted that on the mission check-list prepared for the briefing, the time scheduled for arrival at the English coast following take-off and assembly was to have been 1059. The actual time was 1155. Thereafter, the actual times of arrival at the various points on the route were later than the briefed time: at IP at 1415 rather than 1243, time of return to base was at 1629 rather than 1548 as briefed. Such variations were probably not unusual.
And so, when the briefing was concluded, the crews completed their preparations for the flight and were trucked out to the hardstands. Soon crews were at station, engines were started, the planes taxied to runway 08, and one by one they took off.
How did these 35 ships and their 350--plus occupants fare on the mission to Brunswick? Take-off, assembly and departure were accomplished without incident. But then, five ships were forced to abort the mission at various points along the route and they returned to base.
Pilot Lieutenant Wattenberger, plane 250 in Section III, was first to abort when the #4 engine propeller feathered. Section I then lost Lieutenant Davison 631. He returned early because #1 and #4 engines developed runaway propellers. The third loss was that of Lieutenant Neary 244, the Lead of Section HI. Jones in plane 085 was Lead of his element of three planes immediately following Neary's element. Jones saw Neary leave the formation. Section LT then lost Lieutenant Bertrand in plane 025. He didn't like the way his plane was flying. He couldn't keep up with the formation. Lieutenant Cannavarro in plane 469 in Section I was last to abort. He had become ill. At this point, Brady in ship 180 was the only remaining ship in Cannavarro's element as Holman in ship 147 had taken Hamby's place in the lead element before T/O. Hamby had been scratched from the mission. These changes of formation may have left Brady in an exposed position as the formation reached the TP and may have contributed to his fate.
The account of the mission is best told in the words of its participants. The records provided to the writer by Olds contain after-action reports of the mission as written and submitted to Headquarters by several persons.
The report made by Major Frank E. Sullivan reads,
1. Group Assembly. The 453rd Bomb Group formation, consisting of three sections, assembled over Old Buckenham at 5,000' without difficulty, climbed to 13,000' with formation in good order.
2. Arrived on Wing assembly line and fell in trail on the 445th Group, 2,000' lower to the left of the 445th. Passed Buncher 6 at 15,000' at 1144 and Buncher 5 at 1149, trailing the 445th Group by about 1½ miles at the low--left position with the 389th Group high right and slightly in trail of the lead group.
3. Departed English coast at 1155 with the 2nd Combat Wing trailing the 14th Combat Wing. Difficulty was experienced in staying with the 445th and, after calling several times and asking for a reduction in speed, the decision was made to reduce power to the place where this Group could remain compact. At approximately the Holland--German border the 96th Combat Wing passed this Group at about 19,500'. The altitude attained by the 453rd Group prior to hitting the target was 18,500'.
4. IP-Target. Reached LP at 1355 trailing the 20th Combat Wing by about 7 miles and approximately 1½ miles behind the 96th Combat Wing. Cut to the right of the briefed course at the Wing IP to close with the balance of the 2nd Combat Wing, overtaking them on their bomb run. At this right turn, the hi-right Section of the 453rd was caught on the inside and pulled ahead. Fighter attack occurred at this time and the low left Section of the 453rd split up and filled in with the lead Section. Bombing was done in the lead Section on AFCE at 18,000' with the last Section of the 389th Group dropping (bombs) from directly overhead.
5. Route out. Formation held together on bomb run and reformed very quickly into a Wing. The briefed route out was followed, crossing the Dutch coast at 1527 and the English coast at 1610 four miles north of Great Yarmouth and landed at base at 1644.
6. Fighter support was, in general, excellent, although there were not enough fighters at the Wing IP to cover the wide area occupied by the 2nd Combat Wing and the 96th Combat Wing at this time.
7. Enemy fighters. Crew estimates range from 25 to 75 E/A attacking from 50 miles before reaching Wing IP to target area. Attacks were generally made by 12 to 20 E/A from directly ahead, passing through the formation and breaking up to make individual attacks from rear. On one occasion 12 FW 190s abreast and directly ahead laid down 'barrage' of rocket fire from 2,000/2,500 yards, then pressed home attack with 20 mm. cannon. Rocket hits were observed. Many individual attacks were made from all directions but generally from below. Reports indicate that there were a few more FW 190s than Me 109s.
8. Flak. Intense and accurate at target. Both barrage and individual pointed fire was observed.
9. Observations. New airdrome was seen to be under construction six miles NNE of Meppel. Nine T/E aircraft were seen on southern end of
airdrome. Four 4-engined planes were parked at an airdrome just southwest of the target at Brunswick. Twenty-four BB (barrage balloons?) at Minden at 8,000 feet. BBs reported at Nienberg, Hanover and Lingen. Flak burst emitting parachute observed at target.
The Lead Bombardier, flying with Major Sullivan in Lieutenant Bates' ship 201 in Section I was 2nd Lt. John C. Murphy. He filed the following report with his Commanding Officer:
1. Bombing Approach and Run. We were leading the Group flying low left on the lead group, 445th. From time of take-off to time of landing, there was visual contact with the ground. We made a right turn of 96° at IP. There was no cloud coverage, merely a slight haze over the target. The heading of the bomb run was 250° true heading. The length of the bomb run, after picking up the IP, was forty-five (45) seconds due to evasive action against flak and a group flying just above us on the bomb run. A-5 pilot was used. We ran into intense and accurate heavy flak on the bomb run. Bombs were away at 1415.
2. Disposition of Bombs. Nineteen (19) aircraft were in the formation as we passed over the target. Each aircraft was loaded with 10 x 500# GP bombs fused 1/10 nose and 1/40 tail except aircraft 42-52180 which had only nine (9) bombs aboard. Aircraft 42-52201 and 42-52244 had an extra M47A1 incendiary bomb with smoke streamer attached. All bombs were dropped on my sighting operation with a minimum intervalometer setting. No rack malfunctions were reported. Four (4) aircraft returned to the base before reaching the target. Two (2) of them returned their bombs to the base and two (2) jettisoned their bombs in the channel due to engine failure. Six (6) aircraft are missing from the mission and it is assumed that they dropped their bombs on the target.
(Author's note: Other records of the mission state that five planes aborted--not four, and that seven planes were shot down--not six.)
The report filed by 2nd. Lt. John C. Kosky, Lead Navigator, follows:
1. Take-off was contact and only a moderate haze impaired pilotage navigation. We reached Buncher #5 at scheduled time (1133), but departed one (1) minute late due to the milling of another group, apparently the 389th, which necessitated our making an abrupt turn to the left. However, because of no climb in this phase of the forming, we reached Splasher #5 five (5) minutes early and departed on course from there. The initial heading took us north of briefed course but it was corrected 70 miles from the English coast and we crossed the enemy coast on course still five (5) minutes ahead of schedule but 3,500 feet lower than briefed. For the remainder of the run to the Wing IP, we adhered to briefed course, the contact weather permitting good pilotage. At the Wing LP we encountered enemy aircraft opposition, twelve (12) FW 190s that dropped two (2) aircraft from our formation. The lead group went approximately eight (8) miles west of the WIP before turning to the Group IP, but cut in sufficiently to make the Group IP good. From the Group IP to the target, we encountered heavy and accurate flak, mostly of large caliber, and took evasive action which caused us to come into the target on a heading of 250° rather than the 241° as briefed. Then, rather than making the right turn after the target, we continued on the same heading until intersecting
the course at 52 06N 09 22 E, where we picked up the briefed route and stayed with it for the duration of the mission with only a slight deviation to the north when passing over the Zuider Zee.
. . . . . . . A thin to moderate haze made close scrutiny of the ground, at distances more than ten (10) miles, difficult. From a navigational standpoint, I can state that it was a successful mission, but the formations of the wings were too widely dispersed. This may account, in some part, for the loss of seven (7) of our aircraft. We reached the friendly coast four (4) miles north of Great Yarmouth and landed at home base at 1644.
As has been noted, Section LT (actually the composite of Sections II and III) with 11 planes, found itself in the lead of the 453rd on the bomb-run. This was the result of the turn which the 453rd made to close up with the other groups of the 2nd Combat Wing. The records of this mission available to the writer contained only one after-action report pertaining to this composite of Sections II and III. Written by 2nd Lt. Leroy C. Train, Lead Bombardier of Section LT, it reads:
1. Bombing Approach and Run. The mission was flown as briefed except that at the IP our section moved into the lead position and flew a course of 269° magnetic to the target. Visibility was exceptionally good with the exception of a smoke screen that had very little effect on the bomb run. The primary target was slightly obscured by smoke and dust from previous bomb bursts. Flak was medium and accurate. My section had been bit by fighters while making the turn at the IP. The mission was flown manually. The length of the bombing run, after aiming point was identified, was 90 seconds. Bombs were away at 1413. I aimed short of the assigned aiming point as it was obscured by smoke.
2. Disposition of Bombs. Eleven (11) aircraft were in the formation as we passed over the target. Each aircraft was loaded with 10 x 500 GP bombs fused 1/10 nose and 1/40 tail. Aircraft 42-52237 had an extra M47A1 incendiary bomb with smoke streamer attached. All aircraft dropped their bombs on my sighting operation with a minimum intervalometer setting. No malfunctions of racks were reported. One (1) aircraft, 42-110025 which returned to the base before reaching the target area, jettisoned his bombs in the channel due to mechanical failure of the aircraft. Aircraft 42-110076 failed to return and it is assumed that he dropped his bombs on the target.
As Major Sullivan reported, there were a few more FW 190s than Me 109s. Some of the Me 109s were painted all black, while others carried a three foot wide red band behind the canopy. There were three types of FW 190 markings: some with red nose, cowling and spinner; some painted a reddish--brown color with streaks; and still others painted white with red cowling. With such information, American S-2, Intelligence, could often identify the GAF Gruppe or Staffel from which the attack came.
Hoseason wrote: "A Gefechtsverband (battle formation of German fighters) as seen from the AAF bombers about to be attacked head-on was a sight to dry any throat. The Sturmgruppe was made up of heavily-armed and armoured Focke Wulf 190s for the attack on the bombers; and supporting it were two 'light' Gruppen to hold off the bombers' fighter escort." It was sights of this kind that shook Bradley's morale and, at times, made him doubt his eager acceptance of the opportunity to join the Air Force.
Hoseason also wrote, "The need of the GAF to destroy the American bombers during a single short firing pass led to an impressive rise in the fire power of the German fighters. The 1943 FW 190 bomber destroyer was armed with two 13mm machine guns, two 20 mm cannon, two 30 mm cannon with three-second burst and weighing 74 pounds." It could also carry two 210 mm rockets.
The bomber tactics of the Eighth Air Force required that its pilots maintain close tight formation. This made it possible for gunners to bring maximum defensive firepower of their .50 mm guns upon attacking fighters. The enemy considered that it was most effective to first attack a formation head-on. Jones said, "We needed to find some way to defeat this tactic. From observation, I knew their range was about 1,000 yards directly ahead when they began firing their guns. Also, I knew they had to be in perfectly coordinated flight for their bullets to go where their guns were aimed--there could be no slipping or skidding. So I decided on a tactic which I thought might throw them off course. At about 1,000 yards I'd make sure that I had room to do this--then I'd jerk on the steering wheel control column and make the airplane jump. The plane would jump up ten feet, or something like that. My hope was that if the guy had me in his gunsight, I'd lose him. If he tried to track me he would be thrown into uncoordinated flight. That may have helped us survive. I'll never know." This tactic that Jones used became known as "jinking."
Navigator Stein made the following entry in his diary:
VI BRUNSWICK 4--8--44
FORM I TIME 0635
BOMBS: 7--1,000 lb GPs
REMARKS: Encountered about 30 enemy fighters just before target, also a lot of flak in target area. Bomb results very good in spite of flak and smoke. However, lost 7 crews, including Lt. Brady's, our roommates in Hut #28. Flak hole in astrodome and several others on the ship. Good fighter support from P-47s and P-38s.
The 453rd Unit History records the outcome of this mission:
On April 8, the Group suffered its heaviest loss in a single raid to date. Of 32 ships dispatched, 7 failed to return. . . . Lts. DeJarnett and Bingaman of the 732nd Squadron, Lts. Bergman and Brady of the 733rd Squadron, Lt. Swigert of the 734th Squadron, and Lts. Dixon and Wells of the 735th Squadron were lost with their crews.
The seven planes and crews lost by the 453rd that day were only one part of the story. Freeman, in Mighty Eighth War Diary, page 214, gives details of 8AF 291 flown that day. The 2nd Air Division put up 350 ships. Of these, 303 bombed their target, dropped nearly 800 tons of H.E. bombs and claimed 58 German fighters shot down, 9 probably shot down, and 32 damaged. In the process the 2nd Air Division lost 30 B-24s with 300 crewmen MIA. It was a bad day!
Yes, on this, Bradley's sixth mission, he saw his hut-mates shot down. That day Brady and his crew were flying aircraft 42-52180, a plane belonging to the 734th Squadron, named LIL EIGHT BALL. Olds (in 1998) provided Bradley a copy of the Missing Crew Report and with it, a report of the GAF Airfield Command at Zwischenahn which the Germans later sent to AAF Headquarters. From these two sources it can be said that Brady was last sighted near Salzwedel (the German report placed the crash site at Elmendort in Oldenburg), and that the plane was lost as a result of enemy aircraft attack,
that nothing more was known about this loss and that no search was made. The crew of ten and their fate was as follows:
Pilot Brady, Fred G., Jr. 1st Lt. 0--745--598 dead Co-pilot Streeter, Lee H. 2nd Lt. 0--691068 dead Navigator Ross, Jack 2nd Lt. 0--809730 dead Bombardier Holbert, Rowland F. 1st Lt. 0--433047 dead ROM Coffin, Bruce P. T/Sgt 31289065 dead Tail Gunner DeVries, Ernest E. S/Sgt 39274744 captured Ball Turret Christensen, Alvah M. S/Sgt 19123710 wounded Top Turret Horn, Abraham I. T/Sgt 12164163 dead Left Waist Bird, Clifford W. S/Sgt 15170068 captured Right Waist Pace, Harold G. S/Sgt 15104249 captured
The GAF report indicated that those taken prisoner were confined in Dulag Luft, a German prisoner-of-war camp. Its location was not disclosed. Sgt. Christensen, who had been wounded, was taken to the Reserve Hospital of Kreyenbruck in Oldenburg and on August 2, 1944 was removed to Dulag Luft.
So on the evening of April 8, after a thorough mission debriefing, Bradley and the others returned to a cold deserted Hut #28 in the 733rd Squadron area. The stillness that greeted them heightened the sense of loss they felt Their four hut-mates, Lieutenants Brady, Streeter, Rose, and Holbert were missing-in-action. Bradley had seen their plane go down. Bradley felt the loss of his fellow bombardier, Lt "Herb" Holbert very much. They had become close friends in the brief time they shared Hut #28. Bradley tells it best "It really upset me when Herb was shot down. He was a neat guy--friendly, always the optimist. There were times when I was pretty depressed about the whole affair we were in, but he had a way of sharing my load--made me feel better. I think we were good for each other. When I think of him now I find myself wanting to remind my grandkids how important it is to have a friend when one is hurting, as I was hurting then."
It was Bradley who sat on his bunk that night, staring at the empty bunk of his bombardier friend. He knows what happened on the bomb run this day. He knows he has a job to finish--a letter he must write. He will fly again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next until his tour, his part of the great war, is done . . . and he will always remember the friend he lost on April 8, 1944.
In due course, it was Bradley who packed the personal property and shipped it to Holbert's parents who lived in Granger, Texas. He wrote them a letter, too, and to this day, he is uncertain how he managed to say what he truly felt about the loss of this young man. Surely he expressed the hope that he and his crew had survived the crash. After the war, Bradley visited the Holberts.
And so ends the story of this mission to Brunswick . . . but stay tuned; it has a sequel!!!
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