THE BIG ONE--Brunswick--May 8, 1944
THE BIG ONE! For each veteran of World War II, of whatever branch of military service, there is always the one war-time experience or engagement that is recalled as THE BIG ONE! For Bradley and his crewmates--in fact, for the entire 453rd, the mission to Brunswick, Germany on May 8, 1944 held that distinction. It was mission #344 for the Eighth Air Force, the 49th for the 453rd and the 17th for Bradley.
BRUNSWICK! "Dirty Brunswick", "Fighter Alley". The reader is reminded that exactly one month earlier, April 8, 1944, that target had been hit, and losses that day were substantial. See Chapter 13. In fact, the Eighth Air Force had sent a number of earlier missions against this target. It had lost many planes and crews in the process and had learned the enemy would put up stiff resistance to any attack. To the Eighth Air Force, Brunswick had come to be known as "Fighter Alley"--the place where our forces did battle with the "Battling Bastards of Brunswick." These were the Luftwaffe pilots that Jones said were known to be the elite of Reichmarshall Herman Goering's airmen. Things had been bad on April 8--and would not be better on this mission.
For its 344th mission against enemy targets, the Eighth sent 500 heavy bombers of its 1st and 3rd Air Divisions to targets in Berlin and the immediate vicinity of the German capital. The VIII and DC Fighter Commands dispatched 729 and 126 fighter aircraft respectively--a total of 855 planes. The number of fighters dispatched to escort particular divisions is not known to this writer.1 General Hodges' 2nd Air Division received orders to send over 300 of its B-24 bombers on a return visit to Brunswick. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the Germans would strike back with all the force they could muster, with both anti-aircraft guns and their fighter defenses.
General Hodges called upon Colonel Potts for maximum effort from the 453rd Group. May 8 was to be both a memorable and an historic day for the Group--memorable, particularly to the nearly 300 of its airmen who faced death that day, and historic in that the 453rd was called upon to provide the lead commander, pilot, navigator and bombardier for the mission. The 453rd was to lead the entire Eighth Air Force formation that day--800 planes of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Air Divisions. This assignment was a first for the 453rd!
Potts and his Group Headquarters staff designated Captain Andrew S. Low, Assistant Group Operations Officer, as Formation Commander. Low was to fly with the PFF lead pilot, Lieutenant Engind. 1st Lt Howard W. Cole was designated lead Navigator, 2nd Lt Albert G. Saum as lead Bombardier. The deputy lead flew with Lt Stokes in aircraft 078, also a PFF-equipped plane.
Many years later, Andy Low compiled the Unit History of the 453rd Bombardment Group.2 It is one of the resources for the Bradley war story, including that of the May 8, 1944 mission to Brunswick. Other resources will be noted here as the story unfolds.
Of the BIG ONE, Low wrote, "Twenty-seven planes were dispatched by the 453rd on that mission. Only seventeen returned safely to the home airbase that evening." The planes took off beginning at 0600 hours that morning. The estimated flight time of the mission was expected to be about six hours. The purpose now is to give an account of the
memorable events and incidents that occurred during those six-plus hours.
For Bradley (and all of the Jones crew) as well as for Lt. Parker and his crew, the day began with the wake-up call. The officers of the two crews were billeted in Hut 28. Parker had become a hut-mate only a month previous to this day. He and his crew were a replacement crew, replacing the Brady crew which was lost on the April 8 mission to Brunswick. The briefing that morning followed the usual routine. Clearly the 300-plus airmen who gathered in the Briefing Room were not happy with the prospect of another mission to Brunswick.
It is, perhaps, well to note here that a return mission to Brunswick differed considerably from most missions being flown by the Eighth Air Force at that particular time. This was the period of pre-invasion bombing of tactical targets such as railroad marshalling yards and airfields in France and Belgium. General Eisenhower had called on the Eighth for its help in preparing for the invasion, but General Spaatz still held to the belief that bombing of strategic targets could induce Hitler to surrender. General Doolittle favored placing every possible emphasis upon destroying the Luftwaffe, on the ground and in the air. It is said that Spaatz justified attacks upon Brunswick at this time on the basis that, in addition to bombing its aircraft factories, its railroads and marshalling yards would also be hit. And Doolittle was satisfied to have Brunswick made the target because the Luftwaffe would be certain to muster a large part of its remaining fighter forces and send them up to intercept the bomber stream. Doolittle would send hundreds of his fighters to engage the enemy in the air and on their airfields. Doolittle was determined to destroy the enemy air forces.
Now to the story of the mission of May 8, 1944--
Twenty-seven aircraft of the 453rd took off beginning at 0600 hours, using runway 25. Most of the ships were airborne by 0622, but several were delayed in take-off for reasons now unknown. Pilots McBride (ship 296), Banks (278), Witton (298), Parker (745) and Williams (196) and Ward (250) were delayed--the last not taking off until 0727 hours. (Note: numbers in parentheses are the last three digits of the aircraft serial number.) Fig. 23, presented herein, depicts the formation and identifies the pilot and last three digits of the serial number of the plane and the element in which each flew, and other information. Note that the planes flew in a first and a second section. Fig. 24 depicts the route flown to and from the target and gives the briefed and actual times of arrival at the various checkpoints.
Captain Low, Formation Commander, had departed earlier in the PFF ship piloted by Lt. Engind. A second PFF ship accompanied him. It was anticipated that cloud cover at the target would make it necessary to use H2X, radar target--finding equipment carried in the PFF ship, for bombing. WHAM BAM, the 453rd Group's assembly guide ship, had also taken off and had taken its position at Buncher 6. The ships that departed first soon made their rendezvous over the field at 10,000 feet without incident.3 The six latecomers joined the formation.
The Wing checkpoints were made fairly well by the three Groups of the 2nd Combat Wing, although they ran three minutes late departing the Buncher due to interference on the Wing circle. The Division Assembly Line (DAL) was flown as briefed, times and altitudes being made good. The mission recall codeword was "Fred", the codeword to be used at the LP for visual bombing was "Brass", and for PFF radar-sighting, it was "Oxbow." Given the 10/10 undercast, it was most likely that PFF bombing would be required.
In Formation Commander Low's after-action report to his Group Operations Officer
Major Stewart, it is reported, "We departed the English coast at 0800 hours on time, over Great Yarmouth at 15,000 feet and began to climb to 22,000 feet. We were two minutes late crossing the enemy coast. We were over a 10/10 undercast but the 'Mickey' operators said landfall was made on course."
There was a most unusual development shortly after departure. It was at this point that 8AF Headquarters realized that the 453rd had assigned a mere Captain as Formation Commander for this important mission. Small matter that Captain Low was Assistant Group Operations Officer--the headquarters brass insisted someone of higher rank take over. In order to attempt to correct the situation, they ordered the lead Combat Wing (2nd CW) to divert off course to the right, and the following Combat Wing to assume the lead by proceeding on course as briefed. The 2nd Combat Wing was to hold its diversion course for three minutes, then return to the second position. However, the briefed course was paralleling a weather front to the right at the same altitude. Headquarters staff was surprised when Captain Low responded that such a maneuver would penetrate the weather front and be impractical. Low recommended the mission proceed as briefed--with Low in command. The reply finally and reluctantly came, "Proceed as briefed."4
It was 0800 hours when the formation left the English coast and 0956 when it reached the IP. In that nearly two-hour period, the flight of 27 ships fell to 22. Five ships were aborted for various reasons, though one pilot, Lt. Ward, returned to the formation in a replacement ship. One ship was shot down. Note the positions of the pilots and their ships in Fig. 23.
Lt. Charles A. Ward, Jr. in ship 250, flying as lead in an element of three with Lt. Hart (025) and Lt Stilbert (169), was the first to leave the formation. The story of Lt. Ward's experience is told in the 453rd Unit History,
It took two ships to satisfy Lt. Ward and his crew's determination to get to Brunswick, but get to Brunswick they did, and reduced the Luftwaffe by four planes and possibly five in the bargain.
When MALE CALL, their regular plane contracted mechanical trouble, one hour after take-off, Lt Ward returned, requisitioned another ship and took off in pursuit of the formation. By taking several short--cuts and flying alone over enemy territory, Lt. Ward managed to catch the formation just prior to reaching the target. At this point, the bombers were subjected to vicious fighter attacks. A 20mm shell crashed through the cockpit, and passed through the radio compartment, smashing the apparatus as it exploded. Concussion knocked T/Sgt Frank Diets off his feet, but quickly recovering his balance and piecing together his damaged equipment, returned it to working condition in short order. Testifying to the violence of enemy attacks, other cannon shells found their mark in the left wing tip and left stabilizer in addition to numerous scars scattered all over the ship.
A check on enemy aircraft destroyed disclosed the fact that tail gunner S/Sgt Keith M. Dibble accounted for one FW 190 and one Me 109, besides sharing credit with waist gunner, Walter W. McLain, for one plane probably destroyed. T/Sgt. McLain also shot down one Me 109 with no assistance. Ball turret gunner S/Sgt. Lafayette Evans destroyed one FW 190.
Lt William B. Bertrand of the 733rd Squadron was the next to leave the formation. In ship 610 he was flying lead in an element of two planes--Lt. Parker (745) on his right wing. The #3 engine was running rough at altitude, with erratic RPM, and manifold
pressure on the #3 engine. After return, the ship checked out OK. Note that with Bertrand's departure, Parker was alone in that element.
Lt. Gustav R. Johnson of the 733rd Squadron became the third pilot to drop out. Ship 447 returned early because of erratic tachometer reading on the #1 engine. The #1 propeller ran away after take-off.
The fourth to abort was Lt. Melvin H. Williams (196), 735th Squadron. He was lead of his element. He returned early because of a gas leak in the bomb bay.
Aircraft 990, Lt. Hoffman, returned early because #1 propeller ran away.
Then Lt. Keith in ship 147 was shot down by enemy action--the first loss experienced by the 453rd on this mission. This occurred ten miles NNE of Celle at 0942. His ship was seen going down in a steep glide with its #3 engine on fire-five 'chutes were seen.
Ill luck dogged the Formation Commander, Captain Low. At the IP, the picture on the radar of his aircraft malfunctioned. He checked with the Deputy lead and found that his PFF "Mickey" equipment had an excellent picture. The Deputy was ordered to pull into the lead and complete the bomb run. In a difficult maneuver, the lead aircraft moved to join the Deputy lead on his right wing position.
Captain Low reported that the formation reached the LP about four minutes late. That would have been at 0956 hours. The first sighting of enemy aircraft was in the area of Celle. Then the enemy fighters descended upon the 453rd! None of the "Little Friends" were anywhere to be seen! To paraphrase a poem written later by Wilbur Stites:5
"Mark, enemy fighters!
Me's and FW's at one o'clock high!
In waves stacked on waves
Corning head-on through the formation.
Where are our Mustangs to drive them from the sky?
"Ten minutes of hell's fury.
There are planes down in flames.
Others have one engine out.
Will three get them home?
"Twenty-two thousand feet,
Flying right down the track.
Straight and level on the bomb run,
"Then dash for the RP
Enemy fighters again
Will we ever see the white cliffs of Dover?"
Low reported that the 453rd was attacked by about 15 enemy fighters--Me 109s and FW 190s when just short of the Wing IP.(Stein said in his diary, "We were hit by about 75 fighters"--and this was very likely true of the total number attacking in the period from IP to beyond RP.)6 The main form of the German fighter forces' attack was constant wave attacks, head-on and level to slightly high out of the sun--in waves stacked up. There were, then, scattered attacks from the 3 to 6 o'clock direction. The enemy made very
determined passes through the formation.
Lt. Richard T. Witton and crew in ship 298 was the second loss to enemy attack. The following is a summary of a report of their experience.7
Witton arrived at the IP at 23,000 feet in final preparation for the bomb run. The formation was attacked by waves of FW 190s and Me 109s. Badly shot up during the early passes by the enemy fighters, two engines were lost. One engine was on fire, the other disabled, causing the ship to drift to the left while the other planes of the 453rd were turning right. Armor plate and fuselage was shot away on the co-pilot's side, and flight deck was shot up, stripping the pilots of oxygen. Witton called for the bomb load to be salvoed, and for the crew to bail out. Conneely and others struggled to get the bomb bay doors open. The bombs were dropped. Then it was seen that both waist gunners were dead. Despite heavy damage and fire, Witton struggled to maintain position--very difficult with this plane at such a high altitude and especially difficult, given the damage it had received. Then the effort was lost when an enemy aircraft rammed the plane. Two crewmen were dead when the others bailed out Witton recalled being shot at by enemy fighters while he was falling to the ground. Eight men survived, were taken prisoner and held until in April 1945 when they were liberated by Allied forces.
Ship 100, piloted by Lt. Donald O. Jones, was hit at 0950 hours-four minutes before arriving at the LP. Lt. Catlin in ship 176 was also hit. The fate of these ships and crews will be related hereinafter.
Captain Low's formation held together at the IP and his 22 ships made the 7½ minute bomb run. Each ship carried twelve 500 lb. GP bombs and all dropped their bombs as the PFF lead ship made the drop upon the target at 1005 hours from 22,000 feet altitude; 264 bombs were released upon the target. Anti-aircraft fire was moderate to light in the target area. As the formation turned toward the RP it again came under enemy fighter attack. As yet no friendly fighters had made contact Low later wrote that he had contacted the fighter support but that the fighter commander advised that his ships were being heavily engaged and would attempt to make their rendezvous just short of the LP. Well, they didn't make it
Lt Stilbert in ship 169 and his crew were hit by 20mm shells just after making his bomb drop. The experiences of Stilbert and his crew are summarized, as follows,8
This was a replacement crew on its 8th mission--and it was its last. It had left the States barely one month before. After reaching the IP and beginning its approach toward the target area, their ship, LUCKY PENNY, took some flak and the crew spotted enemy aircraft. The bomb load was successfully dropped from LUCKY PENNY, but then all hell broke loose. A dull "thud" was heard in the bomb-bay area and immediately afterward, a FW 190 came up from behind and rolled away. Top gunner Angelle peppered the enemy fighter plane and it was seen to roll down and away. Meanwhile, fire was erupting in the bomber and rolling forward under the flight deck. Stilbert called the bail--out order. The men left the ship where and when they could. When Lt. Syverson, the navigator, jumped, the pilot and co-pilot were still in the plane. As Syverson fell into the first cloud
layer, he saw LUCKY PENNY explode. All that remained of the ship was its two wing tips flipping through the air--the fate of the remaining airmen almost certainly an instant death. Those who got out, the four officers and four of the enlisted crewmen, were taken prisoner. Three were lost--the two waist gunners and the ball turret gunner.
In the foregoing, an account has been given of three of the crews lost that day: Keith (147), Witton (298), Stilbert (169). Three others were lost at some point between the IP and the RP--the ships of Lieutenants Lovell (327), McKay (806), and Parker (745). No details of the loss of Lovell and McKay are known. That of Lt. Parker will be related hereinafter. All were lost to enemy fighter attacks. Flak was not considered a factor on this mission. After departing the RP, two additional aircraft were lost in a collision--Hart (025) and Banks (278).
THE BIG ONE FOR BRADLEY, FOR JONES, FOR THE CREW!
On the morning of May 8, 1944, Crew #29 arrived at the hardstand and were at stations at 0500 hours. The airmen who got aboard the new OD color B-24J, ship #100, which T/Sgt. "Pop" Brannon had ready for them, were, by now, an experienced and battle-wise crew. In less than two months they had flown 16 missions--several against important targets in Germany: Friedrichshafen, Mannheim, Tutow, Berlin, and, on April 8, Brunswick. A return to Brunswick was not an appealing prospect. Jones thought of all they had done since their first mission and he felt a sense of satisfaction that all had functioned as a team. They had become close-knit friends and comrades. "Skipper" Jones, as some called him, watched them board. There was Fred Stein, navigator; "Doc" Bradley, bombardier, some called him "Shack"; "Ernie" Finocchio, right waist gunner-alternate engineer; "Westy" Westbrook, left waist gunner; "Pottsy" Mace, tail gunner (his hometown was Pottsville, PA); "Goldie" Goldberg, radio operator and top gunner; and Murray P. Fried, engineer. "Texas" Croft, co-pilot, was not present. Lt. Asbury, a replacement pilot, had been given this mission as a training exercise.
The men were young, and they were brave. They flew in the face of constant danger, knowing all too well one might not come back from the mission. Each knew there were innumerable ways to die in a bomber. They had seen other crews lost to enemy attack and to accident. Then there was the psychological effect of seeing their fellow airmen and friends die. They were uncertain of their chances of surviving to finish out their required tour.
On the matter of fear, Jones always told his crew, "Bravery is not the absence of fear; bravery is to carry on in the face of fear." Heroism, someone said, was only "the act of a desperate man galvanized into action by his instincts for survival!" Eddie Rickenbacker, top-scoring U.S. ace of World War I and special civilian observer for General "Hap" Arnold during World War II, is quoted as having said, "I believe that if you think disaster, you will get it. Brood about death, and you will hasten your demise."
Stations at 0500 hours, engines at 0530, taxi at 0545 and take-off at 0600 hours--at 0614 for Jones and crew. What was on Bradley's mind at that time--anything as profound as the matters of fear and heroism?--possibly!--probably not! It was up to Jones to fly the plane, with the assistance of the co-pilot, engineer and navigator. Bradley was to be at the bombsight as he was designated as alternate bombardier for his section of the formation in the event visual bombing was called. Given the heavy undercast, PFF radar bombing was much more likely to be the call. So, that morning Bradley may have
anticipated an experience much like that which influenced him to enlist as a bombardier, i.e., he would have nothing to do except when over the target. He would just go along, do his thing when the time came, then take a nap, write a letter and/or enjoy the scenery--and look forward to having good food and entertainment and sleep between clean white sheets that night. That was the big deal the LIFE Magazine recruiting ad had seemed to promise. Reality was to come to him a few hours later.
Jones, in ship 100, joined his element, flying right wing to Lt. Fosdick (805) with Lt. McKay (806) to the left. Trailing, at least at the start of the flight, were Lt. Bertrand (610) and Jones' hut-mate, Parker (795). Along the way, Bertrand aborted, leaving Parker alone. Parker then moved up to Jones' right, and these ships were then at high right in the squadron that was high right in the Group formation.
All went well as they departed the English coast at 0800 hours and were okay as they reached one check point after another en route to the IP. All was well, that is, until the first sighting of enemy fighters at about 0938 hours. It was then that the first attack was made upon the 453rd in its lead position. As has been noted, it was at this time that Lt. Keith's ship was shot down. Keith was in the second section of the 453rd formation and was seen to go down by Sgt. Mace, the tail gunner. Jones warned his gunners to be alert. Almost at once, the nose gunner and top turret gunner called out, "Fighters at one o'clock high and closing." Bradley got the message on the inter-com but could not see the enemy aircraft from his position below the nose turret.
Almost instantly all hell's fury fell upon the ship and crew. A wave of German FW 190s, five abreast, came from 1:00 high in a wave attack. The time was 0950 hours and the formation was within six minutes of the IP. Ship 100 took a 20mm shell hit! Bradley said, "I was at the bombsight, sitting underneath Fred Stein's navigator's table, leaning against the nose wheel when we were hit the first time. The shell burst through the right side of the nose, blew out the nosewheel and severed the hydraulic fluid lines in that area of the ship. In that same instant I saw the enemy ship flash past my window, headed downward through our formation. I'll never forget one thing--I saw the German pilot clearly and I would have sworn he was smoking a cigar! How absurd--it was his oxygen mask, of course."
Apparently Bradley was the one member of the crew most immediately affected. He said, "When the shell exploded and ruptured the hydraulic system, the red fluid in the lines sprayed out in a fine mist into the air and into my compartment. Panic took over instantly. I thought, 'God, the ship is on fire!' I made a grab for the fire extinguisher, but I couldn't get it to work. I couldn't raise anyone on my inter-com. In that moment I thought I was alone in the ship--thought everyone else must have bailed out I almost pulled the handles on the nosewheel doors in an attempt to bail out of what I felt was a doomed ship. I guess I would have jumped had those doors opened. Fortunately for me, at that point I saw Stein's legs above me. He was standing at the navigator's table. He looked at me and pointed at my inter--com headset. It was disconnected. In my excitement I had jerked the connector apart. Well, then I calmed down a bit."
But the trouble and the danger had just begun. Jones held the ship under control and made the turn at the IP for the bomb run to the target. During all of this time the enemy wave attacks continued.
As the air battle continued, all gunners in every ship were firing away--ten .50 caliber guns and 4,500 rounds per ship. Many enemy fighters were seen to have been hit, but B-24s were being hit as well. Jones saw the McKay ship (806) shot off his left wing. The enemy waves continued to come, one after the other--holding their formation so
closely together that some fighters collided head-on with the bomber being attacked. Jones caught a glimpse of Lt. Parker, in ship 745, just at the instant that an FW 190 crashed head-on into Parker's ship. Jones said, "God, for a moment it looked just like a big whale trying to swallow a shark. They hit head-on and both disintegrated instantly in a ball of fire!" In his diary, Stein covered the loss of Lt. Parker and crew in two brief sentences, "We lost our new room-mates--Lt. Parker and crew. They come and they go."
Now the ships of the 453rd were on the bomb run. Jones had not had time to assess the damage his ship had sustained when the signal came to open bomb bay doors. With the hydraulic system shot out, it became necessary to open the doors manually. Bradley was out front in the bombardier's compartment, so Jones called on radio operator, S/Sgt. Goldberg, to take care of the problem. "Goldie" crawled out on the catwalk to reach the controls. Finding that the manual controls weren't sufficient to open the doors, he improvised. He had heard Bradley say, "When all else fails, grab on to something solid and jump on them." That worked and the doors swung upon. Then came the call, "Bombs away!" Getting away from the target area--fast--became priority number one!
Bombs were dropped at 1005 hours; now to reach the RP and head for home base. But the Luftwaffe had other plans for the remaining bombers of the 453rd. Wave after wave of fighters again bore in. In the absence of the "Little Friends", the enemy was determined to inflict more damage. Jones' ship was hit by several additional 20mm. shells. It was at or just beyond the RP that American fighters finally engaged the Luftwaffe fighters. Low, in a masterpiece of understatement, later wrote in his report, "The fighter support was very sparse up at the head of the column and when we were attacked, very inadequate. At Wing IP, or shortly thereafter, P-38s showed up and dispersed the enemy fighters altogether." From Freeman it is noted that the VIII and IX Fighter Commands dispatched 202 P-38s that morning. Where had they been? Low had learned that they were heavily engaged by the Luftwaffe. The P-51 Mustangs were busy escorting the 1st and 3rd Air Division B-17s to Berlin on this day.
When Jones assessed the damage done in this terrific aerial battle, he found that his ship had sustained numerous hits and that the enemy had succeeded in seriously crippling the plane. The hydraulic system had been knocked out, the cable control for the right wheel was broken, the right wing was damaged, and there were big holes in the nose and along the side of the fuselage. Fortunately, there was no fire-"Praise the Lord and keep the engines running!" And miraculously, none of the crew was injured--none except the substitute co-pilot, Lt. Asbury, who, on this, his very first combat mission, got a nick on the ankle from flying shrapnel or aircraft parts. The wound bled a bit, and the incident earned him the Purple Heart! What a story to tell his crewmates, and someday to tell his children and grandchildren!
With the hydraulic system out, Jones knew he could not operate the landing gear, the brakes, or the flaps. He saw, at once, that a normal landing would be impossible. His immediate concern, however, was to keep his ship under control. At the 22,000 foot altitude, the B-24 was notably unresponsive to the pilot's control. Jones said, "Trying to move it was like using a paddle in a tub of mush."
Captain Low, too, was assessing the losses his Group had suffered. As they reached the RP, Low thought the remaining ships were in the clear, but yet another disaster was to befall this ill--starred flight. The B-24s flown by Lt. Banks (278) and Lt. Hart (025) of the 453rd had sustained severe battle damage but were still airborne and flying side--by--side. And then, without warning, disaster struck--the two ships collided and went down! This collision brought the losses for the day for the 453rd to eight ships and their crews--80+ airmen MIA! Low also learned that the 445th Bomb Group had lost two planes and one
was lost by the 467th Bomb Group. The 453rd bore the brunt of the attack. Among the remaining planes of the 2nd Air Division, at least 30 were badly damaged, with some dead and wounded airmen aboard. Two of these ships were those of Lt. Jones (100) and Lt. Catlin (176).
The remaining ships faced a two-hour return flight to Old Buckenham!
Lt Jones summoned his crew to the flight deck and determined that none were injured except the co-pilot who had sustained a minor cut. The ship had taken a number of hits and Jones and the crew assessed the damage. It was bad, but could have been worse. The best face one could put on the situation was that there was no fire, the self-sealing gas tanks had held intact, and no engine was lost But the front nose wheel was kaput, the hydraulic system was gone, and brakes and flaps could not be operated. There were holes in the right wing, in the nose, and in the fuselage. Jones concluded that, absent any unforeseen problem or the reappearance of the Luftwaffe, ship 100 should make it back to Old Buckenham.
Bradley said, "When we reached the Channel we felt a sense of relief. We began throwing unneeded gear and equipment overboard."
For Lt. Jones to bring his ship into Old Buckenham airbase for a safe landing was certain to be a challenge. Jones began to think of making contact with Flight Control at the base. He would tell them of the condition of his plane and arrange for his landing. When that contact was made, Jones learned that other ships were badly damaged. Some had wounded or dead aboard and would have to be given priority for landing. Fire control and ambulance service would be prepared to meet the ships as they landed.
Lt. Jones said of his situation, "As we neared the English coast our 'bad news' got worse. I ordered my co-pilot to lower the landing gear. Only the left landing gear came down and when it did, it locked in place and we could no longer retract it. There was a manual backup for the landing gear, a crank on a cable to release the up-latches, so I had Engineer Fried engage the crank and give it a good college try. Fried did as told but, up over the pulley came a frayed cable end which meant the right landing gear was up and there was no way to get it down! I communicated all of these developments to Flight Control. I was not pleased nor was I surprised at the reply, 'Take your ship to Watton, have your crew bail out then make your landing.' It was an order that was easier said than done. Watton was the location of the Third Sub-depot. In effect I was being told to deliver my ship to that field for repair or for the junk pile. I wondered, briefly, if I was being sent there for the same reception!"
Jones then had his crew prepare to "hit the silk"--bail out! He and his co-pilot would then attempt to land the plane safely. The Watton Depot was 35-45 miles distant. Bradley said, "We assembled in the rear fuselage and got our chest parachute packs clamped on. Some packs were soaked with red hydraulic fluid. We wondered if those 'chutes would open. By this time we were ready to get out of the plane one way or another. Jones had given us the order and said he was going to 'bring this turkey home.'
The decision was made to exit through the camera hatch at the rear of the plane. Bradley gave this account of his jump,
We went out, one after the other, like a real string of paratroopers. I was the fourth one to go. I often try to recall that event--the jump that may have saved my life. Fred Stein wrote that 'We jumped from 4,500 feet and it was a wonderful experience.' I agree. I rolled out of the plane and pulled the rip
cord. There was no sharp jerk, just the 'chute opening above me as I began to float. I don't remember which one of our crew jumped just before I did, but I recall hearing him let out a screaming 'son-of-a--bitch' as he tumbled out the hatch. I didn't have time to think it was funny then, but afterward, it was something we remembered and talked about. It was an oath like one might let out if a pack of matches suddenly exploded in your hand.
The first thing I remember was the awesome silence up there at 4,500 feet--after leaving that terribly noisy plane, the silence was deafening. At 2,000 feet I thought it was a long way to the ground. But then, at about 500 feet the ground started coming up fast enough to get my attention. When I hit the ground in someone's pasture, I found myself being pulled along on my butt by the 'chute which had partially billowed out into the wind. I suppose the whole time of my descent was just a minute or two. Even before I touched ground I heard voices not far away--sound carried so easily. I saw some Brits running toward me-one carrying a pitchfork! As they reached me they grabbed ahold of me and of the 'chute. One of the Brits looked me over, apparently satisfied himself that I was an authentic American, and said, simply, 'By Jove, I didn't think you boys were practicing today!' I replied, 'This was no practice, but thanks, I'm okay--just look for the other guys.' Those people of East Anglia were fabulous people--really concerned, willing to help, but people of few words. We loved them all!"
The others of the crew who made that jump came down safely, except one-Engineer S/Sgt. Murray P. Fried. Fried's 'chute brought him down on the thatched roof of a house or farm building. The thatch was very slick and Fried fell off, breaking his ankle in the process. He was taken to the Station Hospital and never returned to our crew. At that point, Ernie Finocchio became our Engineer, and was a good one! In due course all who jumped were assembled and a truck was sent to return us to Old Buckenham.
But meanwhile, what of Lt Jones and Lt Asbury in ship 100? Without hydraulics, without flaps or brakes, with only the left landing gear down, Jones brought the plane in for a one-wheel crash landing. It was the proverbial landing "on a wing and a prayer!" And this was a B-24 bomber with the legendary Davis wing (of which much was written in Chapter 6.) Perhaps the Davis wing made the difference! What was the speed as Jones touched down?--surely 110 mph. Did he touch down on a hard--surface runway?--probably, but then the plane went off into a grassed area. Of his landing this crippled plane, Jones said,
I knew we wouldn't be able to get out through the bomb bay--it was likely to be crushed. So I opened the top hatch on the flight deck so it wouldn't get jammed by the impact. Actually, to my surprise, the landing came off very well.
I quickly pushed the co-pilot out through the hatch and he pulled me out. The plane was sitting at a steep angle from the ground and there was enough smoke and smell of gasoline to scare the hell out of us--I expected the plane to burst into flame at any moment. We jumped off that plane and ran like we were being pursued. Here came the ambulance and the fire-fighters! They were prepared for the worst The ambulance crew first asked if anyone was still on the plane, then asked if there was anything they could do for us. Well, I'd always heard that they carried a bottle of White Horse Scotch in the back of the ambulance, so I said, 'Yeah, give me a cup of that
Scotch.' Up to that moment I had been as calm and cool as a cucumber, but when he took the cap off the bottle and handed the bottle and a cup to me, I couldn't pour it. My nerves gave 'way and I began 'shaking like a dog passing peach pits!' I couldn't pour anything into the cup, so I threw the cup away, grabbed the bottle with both hands and had a couple good swigs. And, guess what--I got the DFC for that mission!"
In that landing the engines on the right wing were torn away, the props torn off, bent and scattered about the area. See photograph.
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Following this mission, the 453rd Bombardment Group Commanding Officer, Col. Ramsay D. Potts, pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on Lt. Jones, recognizing his heroic performance on May 8, 1944--mission, Brunswick.
It had been a big day and a bad day for others, as well. The total losses to the Eighth Air Force bombers in mission 344 to Berlin and to Brunswick was 36 bombers lost, 8 planes Category E, 197 damaged; 8 airmen killed, 15 wounded and 373 missing in action. Its fighter commands lost 13 fighters, 2 Category E, 4 damaged; 1 pilot wounded, 13 MIA.
Germany and its Luftwaffe had a bad day, as well. The bomb tonnage dropped that day was 1,851 tons! And the 8th bomber and fighter forces claimed a large toll on the German Air Force: 131 fighters destroyed, 20 probably destroyed, and 36 damaged.9 War is hell, any way you cut it!
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11 May 1944. The Jones crew was granted a 7-day leave. R and R--rest and recuperation--were needed following their 17 missions flown since March 16, 1944.
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