Something new awaited the Jones crew when it arrived at the hardstand for its seventh mission--April 9, 1944. Their faithful Crew Chief, whom they called "Pop", presented them with the new B-24J they had been told would soon be assigned to the 733rd Squadron. Yes, Ernie Finocchio had done the nose art, as the new plane was FLAK HACK!
The new plane was a B-24J-130 model. It had been manufactured by Consolidated at its San Diego plant Its serial number was 42-110085, one of 50 of this particular model built at San Diego. It was OD in color. The unit code, F8, identified it as belonging to the 733rd Bombardment Squadron.
After the bad time they had experienced on the previous day, the entire crew got a lift in morale when they saw FLAK HACK waiting for them. They remembered that airmen often described the B-24 aircraft in less than endearing and complimentary terms: a flying purgatory, bucket of bolts, a poor bird, an ugly duck, and the like. Even the pilots of the Luftwaffe referred to the bombers as dicke autos--fat cars! But as Jones said, "The B-24 was a tough bird and many returned from missions badly damaged and with dead or wounded aboard. She seemed to know the lives of the men who flew her hung in the balance--she just refused to die."
It is not known to this writer how many missions FLAK HACK flew--certainly many for the Jones crew and for other crews, as well. The 733rd Squadron flew the plane whenever it was needed and ready to go--often on days when the Jones crew was not tagged to fly. Then, too, unlike the airmen who flew her, she had no "tour"--she flew until no longer serviceable or was lost As was written in an earlier chapter, until late in the war the life expectancy of a heavy bomber in the Eighth Air Force was about 47 missions. By June 1944 the average life of a bomber was 145 days, inclusive of time spent on the ground. In the light of these facts, it is of great interest to report here the outcome for FLAK HACK. Thanks to Don Olds and the 453rd Unit History edited by Andy Low and Freeman's Mighty Eighth War Diary, the fate of FLAK HACK is known, as follows.
On September 8, 1944, 8AF mission 611, the 2nd Air Division sent 300 planes to bomb the marshalling yards at Karlsruhe. 1st Lieutenant Frederick Beecher, 0-818555, flew FLAK HACK. Anti-aircraft fire was very heavy and accurate. Two aircraft sustained severe flak damage and were forced to land in France--all safely. Lieutenant Beecher, on the return flight ditched in the North Sea, about 70 miles northeast of Scarborough, Yorkshire at 54'55"N--00'55"E. Four, including Lieutenant Beecher, were picked up by Air-Sea Rescue. Four others were lost at sea. FLAK HACK had lived 152 days--7 days beyond the average life expectancy of a bomber at that period of the war.
April 9, 1944--TUTOW. GERMANY--8AF 293, 453rd 29, Bradley 7.
The sources of information for the account of this mission are: Craven and Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II, Freeman's Mighty Eighth War Diary, Andy Low's 453rd Bombardment Group Unit History entitled The Men of Old Buc, and Navigator Stein's diary.
From Craven and Cate, pages 32--35, it is learned that the aircraft industry plant at Tutow, in far northeastern Germany, was one of several important targets that were selected for bombing because they had major aircraft assembly and component plants for Me 109s, Me 110s, Ju 88s, Ju 188s, and FW 190s. Most of these targets lay in the Brunswick--Leipzig area. Two were in the Posen area of Poland and at Tutow, Germany--both producing FW 190s.
Combat Wings were sent against Tutow by a route which led over the North Sea and across the southern part of Denmark. Neutral Sweden lay off to the north of the route--a point the significance of which will be made apparent as the story of Tutow missions unfold. A mission to Tutow was quite long--somewhat more than six hours from take-off until return to base. Care had to be taken to prevent heavy enemy fighter reaction as the distance and length of time of the flight prevented the use of all but the most long-range fighter escort. See Fig. 22.
The mission flown on April 9 was only the third visit the Eighth Air Force had tried to make to this target. The first was 8AF 226 flown on February 20, 1944 at the beginning of BIG WEEK; the second was 8AF 233 on February 24, 1944. The 2nd Air Division was not sent out on either of these Tutow missions, and the B-17s of the 1st and 3rd Air Divisions were not particularly successful in bombing the FW 190 plant. On the February 20 mission, a PFF aircraft failed to take off so the Tutow Force dropped on ETA in the vicinity of Tutow and two other locations. And, certainly, the 2nd Air Division's 239 aircrews that were sent against targets in Gotha as part of 8AF 233 on February 24 had reason to wish they had drawn the Tutow mission. The division lost 33 planes, pilots and crews--3 KIA, 6 WIA and 324 MIA! The lead bombardier of the division, suffering from anoxia due to a faulty oxygen mask, mistook Eisenach as primary and 43 aircraft released their bombs as he did. Others realized the mistake and attacked Gotha, the primary target.
* * * * *
And so it was that FLAK HACK and crew made the mission to Tutow on April 9, 1944--the first mission for the plane, the seventh for the crew.
Ten groups of the 2nd Air Division dispatched 246 planes, but only 106 bombed Tutow, while others struck targets of opportunity. Several units abandoned the mission at various points along the route due to poor weather. Surely this mission was chalked up as "another bad day". While 195.0 tons of HE and a considerable tonnage of incendiaries were released on the Tutow target 14 planes and crews were lost.
Seven of the planes and crews lost made it to Sweden and were interned there. Two of these were planes of the 453rd, piloted by Lieutenants Neary and Hamby. The 453rd had dispatched 27 planes, but due to bad weather over England and the channel, 11 planes returned early. Thus, FLAK HACK was one of only 16 ships of the 453rd to continue the mission--and two of the 16 were interned in Sweden. Stein said, "Well, we might have gone to Sweden, too. I could have provided the navigation for it! But we had encountered very little flak and had no holes in the ship. Also, no fighters." So FLAK HACK and crew returned to base.
Upon their return to Hut #28 that evening, they found that a replacement crew, Lt. Parker, et al., newcomers to the 453rd, had taken the place of Lieutenants Brady, Holbert, Streeter, Ross and crew.
April 10, 1944--TOURS. FRANCE--8AF 295, 453rd 30, Bradley 8.
The 453rd Bombardment Group had begun operations two months and five days prior to this mission--February 5, 1944. That first mission targeted the airfield at Tours, France. It was termed a successful mission and all planes returned safely. Now, on April 10, it was to return to Tours. Twenty-six aircraft of the 453rd led the 2nd Combat Wing of the 2nd Air Division into central France.
Finding the primary target completely cloud--covered, they successfully bombed Orleans/Bricy Air Field, dropping 143 tons of high--explosive bombs there, and Romarantin Air Field. The Unit History reports that "all planes returned safely-a good job well done."
The Jones crew had gone on the Tours mission carrying seven 1,000 lb GP bombs. Stein wrote of their experience,
"Primary target obscured by solid undercast. Our section bombed some small town area, hitting an open field with most bombs. First section bombed Orleans Airport with good results. Very little flak encountered and no holes in ship; also no fighters. Lost two crews, however."
Author's note: Freeman, Mighty Eighth War Diary, page 216, reports only one aircraft lost by the 2nd Air Division from its 243 bombers dispatched. It was the 389th Group that had this loss. The 389th, 445th and 453rd comprised the 2nd Combat Wing.
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