While Generals Spaatz and Doolittle wanted to continue bombing the enemy's aircraft industries and British Air Marshall Arthur Harris was determined to break the morale of the German population through a continuation of his area bombing policy, it was now the Allied Supreme Commander, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who now called the shots. All military forces of the Allies--land, sea and air--were his. On April 2, 1944 the Combined Bomber Offensive (CBO) was officially terminated in favor of Eisenhower's tactical bombing needs. Strategic targets were hit only on days when weather conditions precluded bombing of tactical targets.
The air forces of Britain and America then turned their attention to the pre-invasion objectives of OVERLORD--the invasion to be launched from the ports of England across the English Channel against Hitler's vaunted "Atlantic Wall" on the coast of occupied France. Eisenhower knew that he must first have mastery of the air, then immobilize the land armies of the enemy and, finally, breach the highly fortified and strongly defended coastal barrier so that the Allied armies could land. In all the long history of warfare, nothing like this had ever been undertaken. The air forces' pre-invasion role was crucial!
The pre-invasion objectives for OVERLORD set for the air forces by General Eisenhower were (1) neutralization of German air bases, especially those in western Europe that would be used by the GAF against the Allied invasion forces; (2) implementation of the so--called "transportation program", i.e., damaging or destroying the railway network in western Europe--Belgium and France--upon which Hitler would depend to move his forces, equipment and supplies to counter the invading armies; and (3) missions to help breach the enemy's Atlantic Wall. One other important objective would intervene--missions to destroy the secret V-1 and V-2 sites on the Pas de Calais and near Cherbourg.
Bradley flew 16 combat bombing missions in the period from April 18 through June 3--missions #9-24. These may be classified as follows:
(1) POINTBLANK missions against the air industry: #9 April 18 Rathenow, Germany #14 April 29 Berlin, Germany #16 May 7 Osnabruck, Germany #17 May 8 Brunswick, Germany (2) Attrition of the enemy's railway system (marshalling yards): #11 April 25 Mannheim, Germany #13 April 27 Blainville sur l'Eau, France #15 May 1 Brussels, Belgium #18 May 20 Reims, France #20 May 25 Troyes, France #21 May 27 Saarbrucken, Germany #23 May 31 Lumes, France
(3) Neutralization of German air bases in France: #19 May 23 Orleans, France (4) CROSSBOW missions against V-weapon sites on coast of France prior to D-Day: #10 April 20 Wizernes, France #12 April 27 Marquise, France (5) Oil campaign: #22 May 29 Potitz--Stettin, Germany (6) Breaching the Atlantic Wall: #24 June 3 Breck sur Mer, France
* * * * *
April 18, 1944--RATHENOW--8AF 306, 453rd 34, Bradley 9.
The 2nd Air Division sent 275 of its bombers against aircraft industry plants at Rathenow and Brandenburg. The main body struck at Rathenow--45 miles west of Big "B" itself--Berlin. A Heinkel aircraft parts plant was located there. There was every reason to expect strong Luftwaffe resistance. The weather was excellent; the 8AF threat could have been to the German capital, itself. Nevertheless, the German failed to accept the challenge. There were no enemy aircraft to be seen. Even anti-aircraft fire was meager.
In his diary, Navigator Stein noted that FLAK HACK carried 52 M47 incendiary bombs. Bombing was from 22,500 feet. The mission planners must have been expecting heavy flak response, but it didn't happen. Stein reported that, "A lot of other targets were hit around this area of Germany by other formations in nearly every large city along the way." As a navigator, he noted with satisfaction that, "We came in and out from the North Sea near Hamburg, but avoided flak concentrations at Hamburg, itself."
While all of this makes this mission appear to have been "a piece of cake", there was always an enemy other than the Luftwaffe to be faced--that of accident. Jones recalled a particularly gruesome accident.
He said, "We knew the 'Angel of Death' rode with us on every mission. Yet we managed in one way or another to cope--mainly, I think, we just believed it would not be our time--or we just learned to sweat it out"
Jones explained, "Planes and their crews were lost in many ways: some didn't make it on take-off--overloaded, under-powered, mechanical failure, foggy, icy runways--others collided when flying up to the formation altitude or while making the assembly before heading for the continent. Others were lost to GAF fighters or to anti-aircraft fire.
"But" he said, "the most sickening sight I ever saw was the loss of two B-24s and their crews on one of our missions. Our formation was making its way toward the target, encountering some flak, but nothing unusual. Looking out the pilot's window, watching the other bombers, moving along, seemingly O.K., then I saw that one B-24 was drifting toward the rear of another to its right. I was aghast! The plane continued
its drift, the other showed no awareness of the event. Then the plane just drifted into the rear end of the other plane and chewed its way right up to the trailing edge of the wing. Then both airplanes went down. What a nauseating sight! The terror those men must have felt when they realized the two would collide--and then were chewed up by the propellers. I can't imagine why that happened. Perhaps the pilot and co-pilot were both killed or incapacitated." After telling of this dreadful event, Jones paused for a long moment, sighed deeply and muttered, "Awful, awful."
April 20, 1944--WIZERNES-8AF 309, 453rd 36, Bradley 10
This was an Operation CROSSBOW mission to bomb V-weapon sites on the Pas de Calais, previously described in Chapter 10. The bomb load was the heaviest yet carried by the 453rd. Each plane carried eight 1,000 lb GP bombs.
April 25, 1944--MANNHEIM--8AF 317, 453rd 39, Bradley 11.
This was a long hard mission for FLAK HACK and the Jones crew--8 hours, 16 minutes. General Eisenhower must have applauded this mission as the target was the railroad marshalling yards at Mannheim, Germany. Ike was counting on his Air Forces to disrupt the enemy railway system and so prevent German Generals Rommel and Rundstedt from rapid redeployment of their ground armies to meet the invading Allied armies.
On this day the 2nd Air Division bombers included 23 ships from the 453rd. Low reports in the 453rd Unit History that bombs were dropped on the secondary target--the marshalling yard at Landau "with only fair results." Actually, that may have been a more generous assessment of results than was justified. Stein, the navigator-historian, may have had it right when he wrote, "Went right over Paris which was considerably off course--encountered moderate flak here and some in target area--almost 10/10 cloud cover all the way, so navigation (not Stein's, but that of the Lead Navigator) was poor--never saw the target (So much for the Norden bombsight and even for Mickey, the radar-sighting instrument)--dropped ten 500 lb. GP bombs right near the German-French border. Poor mission because of clouds and weather. Had only one flak hole in our ship on return. One ship was lost." Note: The comments in parentheses above are the author's, not Stein's.
Yes, Lt. Crockett was lost and Lt. Scherzer was last seen heading toward Switzerland, where his ship and crew were interned for the duration.
Jimmy Stewart, Jones and FLAK HACK defy the weather.
The arrival of Jimmy Stewart as 453rd Operations Officer has been reported heretofore. He flew on some of the same missions that Bradley flew. In such cases he flew as Group Lead and sometimes the 453rd Group led the 2nd Combat Wing--even on occasion, led the entire 2nd Air Division and, as will be reported hereafter, led the entire 8th AF. Accounts of such missions will be reported herein, but, for now, it seems well to pass on one of Jones' Jimmy Stewart stories.
Jones told it this way,
"Like too many of our missions, there was one that we did in very poor visibility conditions. I remember this one because it also involved the movie actor, Jimmy Stewart, who was our Group Operations Officer. On this day, our climb to the operating altitude was strictly on instruments. Well, when I broke out on top and flew to the various assembly points, getting ready for the bomber stream to break out, there was no other airplane up there! I got to the assembly point on time and departed on time--finally I spotted just one other plane. So I hooked up with it to see what was going on. It was a plane piloted by Jimmy Stewart and I knew he was to lead the mission. When it came time to strike out for the continent, he took up the proper heading. I got on his wing--there was no one else there. We struck out across the North Sea. At the point we were about to cross the Dutch coast, our radio operator came running up to me. He said, 'Lieutenant, I just caught a fish!' For that mission, FISH was the word for recall--to abort the mission! So Jimmy Stewart and I returned to base. The weather was certainly lousy. Stewart told me later he thought it was a pretty great thing I'd done-to take old FLAK HACK up there that day--the only one to do it--that is, the only one except Jimmy!"
* * * * * *
April 27, 1944--Two missions: MARQUISE AND BLAINVILLE sur l'EAU, FRANCE--8AF 322 and 323, 453rd 41 and 42, Bradley 12 and 13.
The first of these two missions, flown on the same day, was a CROSSBOW mission to bomb V-weapon sites. The second was part of Ike's transportation program--to bomb a railroad marshalling yard and so damage the railway system so important to the movement of German armies. Both missions were reported on in Chapter 10.
April 28 was virtually "stand-down" for the entire Eighth Air Force. There was a good reason, for on the morning of April 29 the many Crew Callers would be delivering the wake-up calls for a very important and dangerous mission.
April 29, 1944--BERLIN--8AF 327, 453rd 43, Bradley 14.
The Big "B"--Berlin! On the morning of April 29, 1944, Group Operations Officer, Jimmy Stewart, called out the German capital as the mission target for the day. Cold chills ran down the backs of many of the airmen of the 12 crews the 453rd was sending out. Bravado may have led some to applaud, but, among the group assembled for briefing, a number had "been there, done that" early in March. Doolittle had put his bombers over Berlin for the very first time in the war on March 6--and the Germans took out 69 of his bombers and 11 fighters! It was the greatest single loss of any air--raid of the war. The 453rd sent out 24 planes and lost four.
Among the 12 crews at the briefing on this morning was that of Lt. Richard C. Holman. The 453rd Unit History, page 21, records, "On the March 6 mission Holman had two engines put out by flak over the heart of Berlin. Attempts to tag on to passing formations failed, so Holman dropped to the cloud level, chased by six or seven FW 190s. With only top turret and waist guns in operation, the crew accounted for two and
possibly three of the enemy aircraft. Evading the attackers, the crew ran into flak over Amsterdam. Lt. Holman put the crippled Lib through violent evasive action, finally reaching the Channel. Desperately short of fuel, the crew tossed overboard guns, ammunition boxes, flying equipment, and all other equipment that could be detached. Despite serious damage by flak and 20 mm cannon shells, the 'two-engined' bomber brought Lt. Holman and his crew home!" This was one of those great ships that refused to die. Surely, the Holman bunch would have preferred to sit out the April 29 mission!
So, how did things go for the 8th, the 453rd, and for Bradley? For Doolittle's Eighth Air Force, this was the fifth bombing mission sent against the German capital. The earlier missions were flown March 6, 8, 9 and 22nd. The total number of bombers dispatched was 2,567--an average of 642 per mission. As noted above, 69 planes and crews were lost on the first mission--the greatest loss on any single raid during the entire war. Total losses in the four raids were 126.
On this fifth mission on April 29, the Eighth dispatched 679 planes on a return to Berlin. The plan was to make a disruptive raid on the German civilian population by striking several targets within the city. There was trouble from the start. The 3rd Air Division, flying 218 B-17 Fortresses, led the mission. Its formation was faulty and upon penetration of enemy airspace, it was so dispersed that fighter escort had difficulty providing coverage. Because of faulty navigation, one wing of B-17s wandered 40 miles off the briefed course, and lost 17 Fortresses. Other groups of the 3rd Air Division suffered losses as well. Total losses for the 3rd Division were 28 ships and crews. In contrast, the 1st Air Division's 228 ships had tight formation, good escort by the "Little Friends", and lost only ten ships.
The 2nd Air Division was assigned a target chosen for the adverse effect it would have on German morale and to impede their war effort by striking a principal artery of transportation. The 233 aircraft of the 2nd Air Division, among which were the planes and crews of the 453rd, were to carry out a raid on the Friedrichstrasse Bahnhof, center of the main--line and underground railway system in Berlin. But, like the 3rd Air Division, their formation and departure were not on time as briefed. They failed the test of being "on time and on target." They were in trail of the 3rd and 1st Air Divisions, but flying thirty minutes behind schedule. The Jagdverbande, finding the 2nd Air Division last, struck in force. A single Mustang Group was their only protection when they left Celle airspace and it had to leave due to fuel requirements, just after the B-24s completed their bomb run. "Little Friends," this time P-47 Thunderbolts, reappeared as the bombers were on their return flight, but German fighter ground controllers seized the opportunity and put up over 100 fighters to the Hanover area to intercept them. The B-24 armada gave up 25 ships with 246 airmen MIA.
How did the 453rd fare? The 453rd Unit History contains the following account,
"After a day of rest, the 453rd dispatched 12 planes for Berlin. The flak was terrific and retorting crews reported savage encounters with the Luftwaffe which was up in force in a vain attempt to protect the very heart of the Reich. Despite enemy action and undercast, results were thought to be good. Lt Col. Sears, Commanding Officer of the 735th Squadron was Air Commander, flying with the lead PFF ship when that ship was seen to be hit and fall out of formation. Lt. Tye of the 734th and his crew were also lost. Lt Davison ditched his ship and he and his crew, with the exception of tail gunner Harold G. Oakes were fished out of the channel by the ever--alert Air--Sea Rescue Squads."
And Stein left his diary account of this mission, not knowing that more than a half-century later it would afford this author an opportunity to tell the story for his (and Bradley's) children and grandchildren!
April 29, 1944
Form I Time--8:20
Bombs, 5--1,000 GPs, 3--100 lb incendiaries.
"Remarks: Undercast most of the way in and out but good visibility at the target Bombs hit in railroad yards in center of Berlin. Raid very successful. Heavy flak over target and en route. Had two fighter attacks and got several 20 mm holes through fuselage. Tail turret hydrauUc system shot out #4 engine quit but got it going again. Navigator went too far south after bombing target and got back about 1 hour late. Lost 2 ships out of 12. Rather rough mission altogether. Bombed from 24,000 feet so flak wasn't too accurate over target but there was plenty of it."
Too bad the bombardier in FLAK HACK that day didn't write his account of the mission. Now, in 1999, his memory is his only source. Bradley now tells it this way,
"We were at the IP and on the bomb run at about 24,000 to 25,000 feet altitude. I was in the nose turret and released the bomb load from that position. The German defenders were throwing a lot of flak at us--a carpet of black flak burst all around us! I only recall holding on and praying for a fast ride away from that place. Courage, or lack of it, didn't matter then--it was just 'make it or not make it' Stein says there were some fighter attacks. If he is correct that the ship had several 20 mm holes in the fuselage, then we had a close call! Jones never wasted any time over a target. When bombs left the ship, he got away from that position fast."
How did the Germans fare? The tonnage of bombs and incendiaries dropped on Berlin that day is one measure--1,498 tons surely made a mark. German aircraft and pilot losses is another measure. For that mission the Bomber Command claimed 73-26-34 fighters destroyed, probably destroyed, and damaged. VIII Fighter Command claimed 16-6-9 in the air for its over 600 fighters and 6-1-5 hit on the ground.
Donald L. Caldwell, in his incomparable history of the Luftwaffe Fighter Corps, JG26--Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, has this to say about damage done to the German Air Force in April 1944,
"At a May conference, Galland reported to Goering that Luftwaffe Reich had lost 38 per cent of its fighter pilots in April, while the neighboring Luftflotte 3 (JG26's parent organization) had lost 24 per cent of its pilots. This casualty rate was ruinous, considering the low state of Germany's manpower reserves and the length of time needed to train pilots, even under Germany's accelerated program. The entire Luftwaffe lost 489 fighter pilots in April, while completing the training of only 396. JG26 lost 16 pilots in combat, and a further 6 in accidents; the dead included two more Staffelkapitaene. . . . . The Germans could not afford these losses."
And how was the air war going? At Eighth Air Force Headquarters the analysts were concerned about the mounting losses of aircraft. There had been enormous aerial activity in April but also the highest yet losses of aircraft and airmen. In April the Eighth lost 512 aircraft--fighters and bombers. Of that number, 361 were heavy bombers carrying nearly 3600 airmen MIA! The Eighth had done much to take the German fighters out of the sky. But, then, the disturbing fact was that 131 of the 361 heavy bombers lost in April were victims of the increasingly effective German flak batteries. This was principally due to the improved gunlaying radar that the Germans had developed. The Allies were countering this development with improved measures of its own. Development of improved radar and radio jamming techniques were given high priority.
Growth in strength of the Eighth Air Force in the early summer was also an important factor in the course of the air war. The Eighth was now the "Mighty Eighth"--having grown to be the world's most powerful air force. It numbered over 40 Bombardment Groups with 2,500 heavy bombers on its B-24 and B-17 bomber bases and 1,000 fighter aircraft in its 15 Fighter Groups. The 2nd Air Division alone now had a strength of 14 Groups, each having between 60 and 70 B-24s. The 3rd Air Division had 5 Groups that were also flying B-24s.
All of the air forces of the Allies in the ETO were under the command of the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, as were all other military forces--land, sea and air. To all of this Bradley and his comrades had one reaction--why don't they get on with the invasion? Britain is packed with men and war materiel--why the delay? How much longer must the airmen fight the enemy alone? The number of tours had been increased to 35 for newly-arrived crews. Morale of the airmen had been shaken by the losses experienced in April. Bradley said, "It was really beginning to 'get to us'!"
Table of Contents
Previous Chapter (14) * Next Chapter (16)