Working on the Railroad
Working on the railroad? That is correct! Not one of the Jones crew--Jones, Croft, Bradley, Stein, Finocchio, Fried, Mace, Goldberg, or Westbrook expected airmen to have such an assignment, but then, they hadn't considered what General Eisenhower would ask of them in his preparation for D-Day. Eisenhower was there to direct Operation OVERLORD--the Allied invasion of Europe. Detailed planning for that portion of the operation which involved the Channel crossing, seizure of the beachheads, taking the port of Cherbourg and clearing the enemy from Normandy had been underway for some time under the code name NEPTUNE.
As part of the implementation of this planning, the Eighth Air Force was called upon to turn from its strategic bombing of targets deep in Germany to undertake bombing missions in preparation for the invasion. The major objectives were, then, (1) to neutralize the Luftwaffe air bases in France (Eisenhower intended that no enemy planes oppose his landing), (2) attrition of all railroads available to the enemy to create such chaos in the railway network that the Germans would be unable to speedily reinforce their coastal divisions set to counter Eisenhower's invading armies, and (3) air bombardment of coastal batteries and fortifications to assist the forces that bad to land and breach Hitler's much vaunted Atlantic Wall. The Ninth Air Force was also to give priority to these NEPTUNE pre-invasion objectives.
Meanwhile, the need arose for the air forces to send many missions to the coast of France to attack Hitler's V-1 and V-2 weapons installations--Operation CROSSBOW.(It should be noted here that the Eighth was also to continue its POINTBLANK objectives and missions when unfavorable weather, which was a frequent occurrence, precluded flying these tactical missions. Also, it is significant to note that the Fifteenth Air Force had become operational in Italy and was aiding Eisenhower in another important objective--to dry up Hitler's sources of oil and petroleum products.) The Eighth would join in that effort as soon as possible.
Had they had that understanding of the pre-invasion planning, it would have been no surprise to the crew of FLAK HACK that they were to be "working on the railroads." That activity of the air forces was known as "the transportation program." There were differing views among the planners and among the British and American Headquarters people as to the feasibility, effectiveness, and methods for such a program. The reader is referred to the research and writing of John E. Fagg, Plan for OVERLORD, which appears in Volume III of The Army Air Forces in World War II, pp. 67--84, for excellent coverage of this subject. For purposes of this war story it seems sufficient to note that there were two ways of implementing the transportation program, (2) interdiction, i.e., line cutting, strafing, bridge--breaking, and the destruction of a few rail focal points--all part of the accepted pattern of isolating a battlefield, or (2) a longer--term program of attrition to wear down and ruin the enemy's railway capacity by attacks on rail centers in France and in Belgium: attacks on marshalling yards, sidings, stations, sheds, repair shops, roundhouses, turntables, signal systems, switches, locomotives, and rolling stock. (See Fagg, page 73.) The planners who favored the latter approach determined that 101 railway centers would have to be bombed! Think of that--with so short a time for the air forces of Britain and America to do it! It was March 25, 1944 when General Eisenhower made the decision to go forward with
the transportation plan--and to do so by the second method above--to go after the rail centers.
It was this decision that led Bradley and his comrades to fly seven out of their sixteen missions in the period April 18 through June 3--almost one-half--"working on the railroads." Their targets were the marshalling yards of important rail centers. For the reporting of these missions, the author has drawn principally on three sources: Freeman's Mighty Eighth War Diary, Low's The Liberator Men of 'Old Buc'--The Story of the 453rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) in World War II, 29 June 1943--15 September 1945, and the diary of Navigator Stein.
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April 25, 1944--MANNHEIM, GERMANY--8AF 317, 453rd 39, Bradley 11.
Previously reported. See Chapter 15.
April 27. 1944--BLAINVILLE SUR L'EAU. FRANCE--8AF 323, 453rd 42, Bradley 13.
Previously reported. See Chapter 15.
May 1, 1944--BRUSSELS, BELGIUM--8AF 333, 453rd 46, Bradley 15.
Rail centers in Belgium and Region Nord of the French railway system SNCF, received concentrated attacks where the railway network was thickest. Choice of targets was intended to confuse the enemy as to the site chosen for the invasion. The strategy was to isolate the Normandy area and lead the Germans to believe the Allies were endeavoring to interdict Calais and make the landing there. The deception was successful and Hitler believed until far too late that the Allies would attempt the landing in the Calais area of the coast.
The Eighth Air Force had been assigned 23 railway targets in Belgium, northeastern France and western Germany. The Fifteenth Air Force based in Italy took on 22 targets in southern France and central Germany, while the Royal Air Force was assigned 27 targets (later 39) in northwestern France, the Paris area and in Belgium. Reconnaissance of the targets that had been bombed produced evidence that serious damage was being done, and the Germans responded by concentrating anti-aircraft batteries around important rail centers. For a time, at least, the Luftwaffe offered little or no opposition.
The mission to bomb the marshalling yards at Brussels was termed the first major mission of this type flown by the Eighth Air Force. On that day the Eighth put up 531 bombers directed at three airfields in France and 23 V-sites on the Pas de Calais. Bad weather intervened and only three attacks were made on the V-sites. Only 130 of the 531 planes were able to bomb. On this day the Eighth also sent Bradley, Jones, Stein, Finocchio and a great many more of its airmen to "work on the railroads." Seven rail centers, some in Belgium, some in France, were targeted. The 2nd Air Division hit the yards in Brussels with 254 tons of bombs and the Liege yards with 157 tons.
From Low's Unit History of the 453rd, the following,
"The first of May was another red--letter day. For the second time in five days, the Eighth Air Force accomplished two complete missions in one 24-hour period. The 453rd dispatched a total of 33 planes without a single loss. Twenty-one ships were off on the first mission to Watten, a German
V-1 rocket installation in the Pas de Calais. The load of each ship was four 2,000 lb. bombs. Dense contrails and ground haze and bombsight failure of the lead ship caused the bombs to be dropped to the left of the target. However, the day was saved with an excellent mission in the afternoon to the marshalling yards of Brussels, capital of Belgium. One 12--ship squadron, carrying a total of 64,000 lbs of demolition bombs, dropped them smack on the target."
Bad weather seemed always to plague the Eighth. During the first week of May the weather was miserable. On May 1 and again on May 4, big forces of B-24s were recalled after reaching airspace over the continent. Thick cirrus clouds and dense contrails had made assembly difficult and formation flying impossible. Weather frustrated all but three attacks on 23 V-sites briefed for attack on May 1. On May 4, the Eighth took a huge risk when it dispatched nearly 600 bombers to Berlin, Brunswick, and targets in central Germany. The mission was recalled when cirrus clouds between 13,000 and 23,000 feet were encountered. The 453rd was not sent out that day. Nevertheless, Headquarters planned to put up ever-larger forces of its B-17s and B-24s. When the weather improved (May 7) it dispatched 1,000 bombers for the first time ever--B-17s to Berlin, B-24s to Munster. The bombers flew over an unbroken carpet of clouds and encountered no fighter opposition.
* * * * * *
2nd Lieutenant Bradley Relates Incidents in England
While Bradley and his comrades are "working on the railroad" is an appropriate time to enter in this account of his wartime experiences, a letter which he wrote on May 4, 1944. The letter was written to Mr. and Mrs. George Chitwood, Monticello, Illinois, publishers of a weekly newspaper, The Piatt County Journal. With this letter, Bradley made the front page on May 11, 1944. It reads,
Wednesday evening, 10:00 p.m., May 4, 1944. England.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Chitwood,
In my 16 months of army life I believe this is the first time I have ever took the opportunity to write and thank you for sending me the "Journal" so religiously. It seems that I took the paper more or less for granted while I was in the States, but I haven't seen a copy since last January and now I really realize what it means to me. Mail, and especially newspapers, are very slow in reaching England but now that you have my permanent address I imagine that I can look forward to reading the local news again real soon.
Well, folks, a lot has happened to me since I was home on my "combat leave" last September. To begin with, I went back to Biggs Field in El Paso, Texas, and completed my training there. My crew of which there are 4 officers and 6 enlisted men, have been flying a B-24 Liberator bomber. We spent about three months working together as a combat team, dropping practice bombs, doing camera bombing missions, air to air and air to ground gunnery, formation flying and navigation missions, both day and night. Most of our flying was done around 20,000 feet to prepare us for the same conditions we would encounter in actual combat. As you know, a person must wear an oxygen mask above 10,000 feet in order to
exist. The temperatures at 20,000 ft. usually range from 20 degrees Centigrade to 60 degrees Centigrade, depending on the time of year and of course, your locality. After leaving El Paso our crew was sent to Topeka, Kansas, which was our "staging area." Here all our equipment was checked and any slightly damaged equipment replaced. I was fortunate enough to be in Topeka over the Christmas holiday and arranged to spend Christmas at my Uncle Harold's home in Kansas City. I had Mother and Mary Cynthia with me for Christmas and New Year's and was also fortunate enough to spend two days with my father before departing the States on January 17th. Our crew flew our bomber from Florida to England and we came the "Southern Route." As you may know we passed through Porto Rico, Trinidad, British Guiana, Brazil, over to Africa and then up past Ireland to England. We spent seven most interesting days of my life. What I saw there of the French and Arabic population will have to wait until after the war to be told as I couldn't possibly do justice to the story in the limited time and space that I now have. I can, however, say that these seven days were spent at an airfield where Mr. Churchill and President Roosevelt stayed while attending the Casablanca conference. It was also the spot where Mr. Churchill recovered from his recent illness. I found out while there that Churchill had left for England only a week before our crew arrived, so if I had been there a little sooner I'm sure that another historical meeting would have taken place. You could have printed in your paper: "Monticello boy shakes hands with England's Churchill." Ha!
Well, to get on with this gruesome tale, our crew was pushed around five different bases here in England and finally wound up in Ireland. Here we went to school and was indoctrinated with the E.T.O. methods and procedures--all our instructors were ex-combat men who had finished their "tour" of duty over here and we received some very good training and advice.
We finally came back to England after two weeks of schooling and made the same trip that Lyle Harris wrote you about when he went to London on his furlough. We, too, visited the so--called British "rest home" where the beds had three wooden slats for springs. We were fortunate enough in not spending the night here, though, so it wasn't so bad. We found that we were assigned to the 453rd Bomb Group and although the conditions of the base were in pretty bad shape when we arrived, we found that the personnel there was a swell bunch of fellows. We soon adapted ourselves to the place and much to our surprise, found that new equipment was being added daily and we now have a very pleasant base in which to operate from. Our crew flew its first combat mission on March 16th and we now have 15 combat missions in to date. When we finish another 15 our "tour" will be completed and we will get our choice of corning home for a 30-day leave and then signing up for another tour of duty over here or else staying here in England as instructors. I wish I could relate some of the experiences I have had over Germany, France and Belgium but censorship forbids and too, its another one of those stories that I could not do justice in this letter. I can say though, that we have had flak damage to our plane on almost every mission and have fought gun duels with Hitler's crack Air Force. Don't let anyone tell you that those boys are "down and out" We have made one crash landing but none of our crew has been scratched yet We have named our plane, "Flak Hack" which we think is a
very appropriate name. We have had quite a turnover of personnel at this base since I arrived and the latest is the addition of Major Jimmy Stewart who is our Operations officer. He is really a fine fellow and only this afternoon he picked up my co-pilot and me in his Jeep and took us down to the briefing room.
Our group did not fly today, so they had a ceremony in which all the awards to date were handed out. Major Stewart received the "Distinguished Flying Cross" and also an oak leaf cluster to be worn on his Air medal which had been awarded him some time ago. I was awarded the Air Medal today for completing five successful combat missions into enemy territory and also have two oak leaf clusters coming, but which had not been officially approved by the time of the other presentations.
Our crew has had two 48-hour passes since arrived in England on January 29 and during these times I have been fortunate enough to locate and spend some time with Lyle Harris, Billy Eshelman, Bob Moffett and also Lynn Norris. Needless to say, these "get togethers" were the next best thing to a trip home for me.
Our crew has been getting a bit "flak happy" as the saying goes over here, so we are now "sweating out" a 7--day leave in a rest home. These homes have been set aside for the Air Force for its purpose and are nothing more than a mansion where one can enjoy golf, swimming, fishing, breakfast in bed and, in other words--the works!!! Believe me, after about 150 combat hours flying time, a man is ready for it!
Well, folks, this letter is more like the "World Adas" instead of the short "thank you" which I started it to be. Give my regards to my friends in Monticello and tell them I hope to be seeing them before too long.
Meanwhile, back at Old Buckenham.....
The 453rd base, Old Buckenham, was described in Chapter 4. Now, thanks to Captain Andy S. Low's 453rd Unit History, the following can be written of conditions there at the beginning of May 1944.
It is now almost three months since the 453rd Bomb Group first went operational. In that time many changes have occurred but none have been greater than the physical change on the station itself. Overshoe Lane and Riverside Drive, once so deep in mud that even walking was difficult, have been paved with concrete. Grass is there now, where three months ago there was only mud. Shrubs and trees have been planted around all the living space. All together, the station now has that lived--in, well-kept look. The post theatre, operated by the Special Service Office, now shows movies, new movies, on the average of five times weekly. This has added immeasurably to the morale of the personnel here. The large, flat area directly in front of the Station Headquarters has been converted to softball and football fields. Equipment for these sports have been issued and now
the warm English sunshine finds many taking advantage of the opportunity. The Aero Club, operated by the American Red Cross, long awaited on this station, now operates at full blast. It fills the same niche in the lives of the enlisted men that the Officers' Club fills in the lives of the officers. Here various games are available, a snack bar has been installed and facilities have been built for the men to write letters. It is a good club and well organized. Already several dances have been held for the men, and young ladies from the surrounding towns have been in attendance.
The Officers' Club has been greatly improved and several additions made. Here, too, dances are held for the young officers. These have been held on the average of two each month and were greatly enjoyed and contributed much to the high morale of the station.
Promotions, always a great morale booster, have been coming in with regularity. The combat officers, especially, are enjoying a great many new promotions.
Food, long a point of argument here, has improved at all messes. Fresh eggs and hot cakes, the supreme soldier breakfast, are found on the tables several times each week.
The bomb record of this Group compares favorably with the efforts of much older and more experienced outfits in this theater. Indeed, at one point during the last two-month period, the 453rd led the entire 8th Air Force in bomb hits on or near the target.
Many good men have been lost by the Group in the two-month period just passed. Strange new feet are continually being placed on the bar rail at the Officers' Club, the owners of which have joined the Group as replacements for the men who are gone. That several men have failed to meet the dangerous task before them is to be expected in a business of this type, but for every man who has failed, there are ten who have not and will not. Weak men in important positions, always evident and always dangerous in the services, have been cut to a minimum in this Group. The policy with the high command of the Group seems to be a definite weeding out process for the weak and the unfit. This in itself may well be the cause for the Group's success thus far, and its greater moments to come.
So--in the third month of its operational life, it might be recorded for history that the 453rd Bombardment Group has suffered many losses, girded itself against the tragic repercussions caused therefrom, profited by its mistakes, and even now is ready to carry out any mission to any point within its range.
To all of these improvements made at Old Buckenham, Bradley said, "Well, that was fine for the station complement of the base, but it didn't mean 'didley squat' to the combat air crews who were flying missions. The most important thing to us was the number of remaining missions to complete our tour. For new crews, that had gone from 30 to 35, and now there were rumors it was to be raised to 40. With the invasion coming soon, we feared there would be no limit to the missions we would be required to fly."
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May 7, 1944--OSNABRUCH, GERMANY--8AF 342, 453rd 48, Bradley 16
After a lapse of five days, the 453rd returned to a POINTBLANK mission, putting 29 bombers aloft. Industrial areas of Osnabruck received the hot sting of 1,454x100 pound M--47 incendiaries. Flak defense was moderate. The Luftwaffe did not appear and all returned safely.
The May 8, 1944 mission to Brunswick is described in the next chapter. Meanwhile, the additional marshalling yard missions are described . . .
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May 20, 1944--REIMS, FRANCE--8AF 354, 453rd 56, Bradley 18
Bradley had just returned from a 7--day leave when he flew this mission. It targeted both airfields and marshalling yards.
It was an almost unbelievably bad day for the B-17s of the 1st Air Division and the B-17s and B-24s of the 3rd Air Division. Heavy cloud caused the 3rd BD to abandon the mission and part of the 2nd BD was recalled. It was the 1st BD crews and planes that had major trouble. Two B-17s collided over sea after assembly-only two rescued from one B-17. Freeman reports further that due to heavy ground mists and poor visibility, 8 B-17s and 3 B-24s were destroyed in take-off and assembly accidents. These losses were described as follows: three B-17s collided on the runway at their base, three planes crashed after take-off--ten killed in one crash, six killed in the other, one exploded on takeoff, and another crash landed. Good Lord! The Luftwaffe could not have taken a greater toll of planes and lives!
Andy Low reports for the 453rd mission that day,
The 453rd led the 2nd Combat Wing in the attack against the marshalling yards in the cathedral city of Reims, about 70 miles ENE of Paris. Lt. Col. Potts, 453rd CO, led the mission which proved to be very successful. Flak and enemy fighters were practically nil and all ships returned safely having delivered 114x1000 lb. demolition bombs as ordered.
Stein reported, as follows, on this mission,
Carried six 1000 lb GPs. Very smooth mission--had no fighters or flak, only at the target area. Wasn't any heavy flak, but it was accurate. Target was the marshalling yards and bombing results were fairly good. The target was only about one-half mile from the famous cathedral so we had to make certain of our bombs not going wild.
How is that for working on the railroad?
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On May 23, 1944 Bradley's 19th mission was to strike airfields at Orleans, France--to be reported hereinafter.
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May 25, 1944--TROYES, FRANCE--8 AF 370, 453rd 60, Bradley 20
Freeman, reporting on 8AF 370, lists the targets of the 2nd Air Division as three marshalling yards, at Belfort, Mulhouse, and Tonnere, and two airfields as secondary targets at Bretigny and Dijon. He does not name Troyes.
Low's brief report follows,
On 25 May 1944, 24 Libs in two combat squadron formations of 12 each, led by Major James M. Stewart, pointed their blunt noses toward the marshalling yards at Troyes, France. Each plane carried 10x500 lb bombs. The first squadron flew past Troyes and bombed Terrennes due to the interference of weather. The second squadron held their lethal cargo until Bretigny airfield, the secondary target, appeared in the bomb-sights. Bombs rained on the center of the target as briefed. Despite moderate accurate flak, all planes returned safely.
Stein didn't see this mission quite as it was reported by Low. Stein wrote,
Primary target was marshalling yards at Troyes, France. Made a long run and went right over target but did not bomb for some reason. Went to secondary and bombed with only fair to poor results. Some flak on way out but we never got hit.
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May 27, 1944--SAARBRUCKEN, GERMANY--8AF 373, 453rd 61, Bradley 21
It was no longer unusual for the Mighty Eighth to dispatch more than 1,000 of its heavy bombers on the missions of a single day. It dispatched 1,126 bombers and 710 fighters on May 27. More than six rail centers were to receive attention--and the total bomb tonnage dropped that day was 2,302 tons. This proved to be the only mission in the transportation program in which the enemy's fighters put up significant resistance to AAF bombers--nine were lost.
* * * * *
Assembly for a mission was always beset with danger. Sometimes things went from bad to worse. There were the times when a Group was to assemble with its Wing and then to join additional Wings. At briefing, they were given time, altitudes, etc. for each step of formation. But after being airborne, they were told to delay for 30 minutes. They held--which wasn't easy with all those other ships in the air. Then after passing over the coast at Great Yarmouth, they were delayed again and the assembly altitude was raised--first it was to be 12,000 feet, then 16,000 feet, and finally, 20,000 feet. The B-24 aircraft made a laborious climb--200 feet per minute--155 m.p.h.--through a thick cloud layer. Meanwhile, the Germans had ample time to assemble their fighters and prepare the counter-attack. Numbers of aircraft would abort for mechanical failures of one kind or another, others would collide or have other accident. Dense contrails made by the ships plowing through the high altitude air made flying difficult, especially for trailing elements of the formation.
* * * * *
The rail center at Saarbrucken, Germany was the assigned target on May 27, 1944.
Of that mission, Low wrote,
Twenty-four aircraft, in two combat squadrons of twelve each, laid their payload of 288x500 lb. bombs in the target area with good results. The moderate flak was negated by the effective chaff and for the seventh consecutive mission of the 453rd, enemy fighters failed to challenge the formation. As a result, all planes rested that night in their respective berths.
Stein's diary note indicated he wasn't too happy with the results achieved by the Section in which he flew,
Rather long haul. . ., stayed fairly well on course, but S-ed around a lot and hit target 33 minutes late. Moderate and accurate flak at target. Our Section did wild bombing--over-shooting and hitting about½ mile to the right--probably did some damage, though.
Oh, well, you can't win 'em all!
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Low reports, "On May 27, 1944 Lt. Col. Potts, the Group Commanding Officer, donned the silver eagle of a full Colonel. Col. Potts had assumed command of the Group on March 19 upon the loss of Colonel Joseph A. Miller.
On May 29, 1944 Bradley flew a mission to bomb oil refining installations deep in Germany at Politz--Stettin. This mission will be reported hereinafter. It was the 63rd mission for the 453rd and its crews were beginning to complete their required number of missions. Three crews had achieved that goal as of May 29.
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Bradley did not fly on Memorial Day and, as a result, tells he was a witness to the memorable events which occurred at Old Buckenham when the Group's 34 planes returned from a mission to Oldenburg. There were no losses to the Group while on the mission. But the return was something else! As has been noted before, Bradley often went over to the Control Tower at the ETA--estimated time of return of the planes. Bradley had heard that the 453rd had dispatched a record number of planes that day. It would be great to see so many ships return, circle the base, and make their landings. Bradley was not the only one making his way to the field for that purpose on that evening. Major James Stewart had the same idea and, along the way, he stopped his Jeep and invited Bradley to ride along with him to the Control Tower.
As the hour of their expected return arrived, the suspense deepened. Would there be ships returning with wounded aboard and signalling for a priority landing? Would any come in "on a wing and a prayer"?
Ships appeared, rounded the base and peeled off for landing. All went well, Bradley said, until, caught in the slipstream of the preceding plane, a pilot lost control of his already battered ship, and crashed on the main runway. It was Lieutenant Earl in his ship, "GOLDEN GABOON." The crew escaped injury but the plane burned up.
That was bad enough, but not the last memorable event of the landings that evening. Bradley then witnessed the return and landing of "ZEUS", piloted by Lieutenant Baer. Low described that memorable event,
With just his right landing wheel down and receiving power from only two engines, Lt. Baer made the most dramatic, skillful, cross-wind landing that Old Buc ever witnessed, thus saving himself and his crew from injury. Forced to drop out of formation and reduce speed, the 'ZEUS' flew home at low altitude, leaving a trail of jettisoned equipment along the way from the German border to the Channel. Upon arrival at the base and finding the main runway blocked by the still-burning 'GOLDEN GABOON', Lt. Baer prepared to land on the short, alternate runway in a strong crosswind. Those (including Bradley) nervously, anxiously waiting, saw the plane touch lightly on one wheel, slowly roll along and reduce speed until the left wing tip dragged, then suddenly saw #1 prop dig into the ground off the runway and swing the ship around viciously. Amid a cloud of dust and dirt, the plane lay still.
By his superb handling of the badly crippled 'ZEUS', Lt. Baer saved his crew from further injury and all were able to walk away from the ship unaided, including Sgt. Smiertelny and Lt. Bales, who had stuck to his navigator's table throughout the mission.
Five hours and 53 minutes from the moment he returned from Oldenburg, Lt. Baer was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In an informal ceremony without precedent, Brigadier General Timberlake, 2nd Combat Wing Commander, accompanied by Col. Ramsay Potts, Group CO, and Major James Stewart, Group Operations Officer, made the presentation in the lounge of the Officers' Club.
* * * * * *
Did Bradley sleep well that night, having witnessed the two crashes, and knowing the Crew Caller would stop at Hut #28 on the morning of May 31 and summon him to his 23rd mission?
And now to the last day of Bradley's work on the railroads:
May 31, 1944--LUMES, FRANCE--8AF 382, 453rd 65, Bradley 23.
The last day of May saw the Mighty Eighth send out 1,029 heavy bombers to strike marshalling yards and aircraft industry targets in Germany and rail targets in France and Belgium. But bad weather again became the controlling factor and caused abandonment of attacks on a number of the primary targets. The entire force of the 2nd AD was recalled due to cloud cover. There were weather fronts up to 26,000 feet in some areas. Only 356 planes succeeded in bombing any target that day.
Twenty-seven planes took off from Old Buckenham, each carrying a load of three tons. Recall brought them all back to base before they had attacked any target. Stein wrote of this, their last work to isolate the enemy divisions by disrupting the railway system:
FORM TIME 05:00
BOMBS-3--2,000 lb. GPs
REMARKS: Bad weather and cumulus clouds up to 24,000 feet caused our Wing to turn back after going about 25 miles inland. Never did drop our bombs. Some flak came up at the coast but never did any damage. Easiest mission we ever flew and got credit for--were away from the base only about four hours.
* * * * *
Of the May missions flown by the 453rd, Low wrote,
The month of May was, by far, the busiest in the history of the 453rd Bombardment Group. All records were broken. A total of 20 missions were flown in 31 days against all types of targets. Railways and airfields, as well as aircraft plants in both France and Germany, were attacked. The synthetic oil plants and refineries which Hitler has once believed were safe from aerial blitz, were not so distant as to be safe, after all. A total of 1,271 tons of bombs were dropped at the average rate of 141 tons per minute. Of a total of 431 of our planes attacking in May, nine were lost--a loss of only 2%. The Group claimed 13 enemy planes destroyed and three probably destroyed.
Note: Eight of the nine losses occurred on a single mission--May 8, 1944! See account of that mission.
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And so the mighty Eighth had played its part in Ike's "transportation program" designed to damage the railway network to a degree that the enemy would be unable to move his forces to counter the invading Allied armies. At Hitler's orders, German Field Marshal General Gerd von Rundstedt had held his large Fifteenth Army north of the Seine, poised to meet the expected assault at Calais. The Germans were now placed at great disadvantage for its troop movements and the essential military work of completing construction of the Atlantic Wall had to cease because of transportation difficulties. The Eighth had bombed its 23 allotted railway targets. FLAK HACK and her crew had flown seven missions on this objective. There remained the final interdiction of railway movement to seal off the invasion area by the complete destruction of all twelve railway and fourteen highway bridges over the Seine. That was accomplished by D-Day using the Ninth Air Force to finish the task. B-26s dropped 2,000-pound bombs, P-47s dived upon targets with 500-pounders, and Typhoons fired rocket projectiles.
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