The Normandy Campaign
Its D-Day missions flown, the Eighth Air Force continued tactical missions in support of the ground troops. The Battle of the Beaches, the first phase of the Normandy Campaign, was underway and, as expected, it was tough going. Those who have read Eisenhower's Crusade in Europe, Max Hastings' Overlord, D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, or The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan1 will know that the planned landing and lodgment time-table was not met. On the left, the German armor and defensive strength held at Caen and on the right the port of Cherbourg was not taken until June 26. The fighting was continuous throughout the front, with only local gains anywhere and almost stalemate in the Caen sector.
In late June Eisenhower was considering whether or not a secondary landing would be needed. He decided against it One of his reasons was that the Air Forces were successful in carrying out effective missions that continued to deceive Hitler into thinking that the Normandy landing was not the principal attack. This deception kept the Germans from building up an impregnable line opposing the Allies. The line that the Allies expected to hold by D plus 5 was not reached until D plus 50. St Lo was taken by the Americans on July 18. Finally on July 25 the breakout was achieved on a line stretching from Caen through Caumont to St Lo. The Air Forces contributed by placing a tremendous carpet bombing along the St. Lo sector of the American front.2
This writer can attest to the stunning effect this carpet bombing had upon the enemy, as he was a witness to some of it Having come ashore on Utah Beach on July 18 during the phase of the Normandy campaign known as the Battle of the Beaches, the author and his unit were moved inland near the village of Osmanville for the night Some years later he wrote in his own war story, Letters to Margaret,
Events of the evening and night of July 18, 1944 are still vivid in my memory . . . During this first day in the Normandy beachhead, we had seen huge streams of Eighth Air Force bombers overhead and we heard the thundering explosions as they laid their bombs down in 'carpet bombing' of the area held by the German forces a few miles ahead at St Lo. Officially this was the day St Lo fell to the American forces. Later we saw the village--totally demolished . . . During that night the sky was alight with gunfire and anti-aircraft fire. It was a beautiful but fearsome sight Suddenly, in the night, . . . the sound of airplanes overhead . . .
Enough of that . . .
The Eighth Air Force, 2nd Air Division B-24s, the 453rd, and Bradley had more work to do. Almost all of the missions were then tactical in nature. Bradley had flown his 25th mission on D-Day. He hoped, but doubted, that five more missions would complete his required tour. In fact he flew seven more-the last on July 2, 1944.
Two principal sources provide information for the account of these post-D-Day
missions: The Story of the 453rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) in World War II, 29 June 1943-15 September 1945, edited by Andy Low (Capt. Andrew S. Low, Jr. was Assistant Operations Officer, 453rd during this period of the war until July 31 when his plane was shot down) and the mission diary kept by Navigator Fred Stein.
Quoting from Low, "The weather continued to be bad, but despite the undercasts, the Group (453rd) attacked railroad bridges and airfields in the beachhead area. For the following nine days bombs dropped continuously in an effort to disrupt the enemy's communication system and deny him use of bases for his once-vaunted Luftwaffe."
June 7, 1944--ARGENTAN--8AF 397, 453rd 73, Bradley 26.
Low continued, "Argentan, an important communication center 40 miles south of Le Havre, was attacked on the 7th by 23 Libs carrying 69 tons of high explosives. Again, results were unobserved."
Navigator Fred Stein's remarks were, "XXVI Argentan. Bombed the rail and road junctions at the town of Argentan through 10/10 clouds. Had a good look at the beachheads as there were breaks in the undercast all along the coastline. Also clear corning out. No flak. No fighters."
June 8th. Low, "Avranches and Reden were attacked on the 8th."
June 10, 1944--EVREUX--8AF 403, 453rd 76, Bradley 27.
Low, "Flying two missions on the 10th, Evreux and Dreux airfields were the targets of 34 ships dispatched."
Stein, "XXVII, Evreux airport, Bombs, 24-250 lb GPs. Remarks--Clouds and contrails up to 24,000 feet prevented our Group from forming so we took off with another Wing from the beachhead. They bombed at Evreux airport although our Group was briefed for Dreux airport. Ran into some flak on the way in and 2 B-24s went down. Undercast most of the way so went mostly by use of G Ray."(Author's note: G Ray was H2X radar sighting.)
June 11th. Low, "Weather still dogged the Groups' efforts on the 11th. The railroad bridges at Le Port Boulet across the Loire River, about 50 miles southwest of Tours, was the first target for the day. Twenty-four ships prepared to unload 96 tons of destructive force but were turned back by Jerry's ally since D-Day--the bad weather. Out again in the afternoon, 12 ships departed for the airfield at Cormeilles-en-Vexin. Thirty-six tons of bombs were dropped too early when the lead ship suffered an accidental release. Only two ships held their bombs and attacked the airfield with only fair results."
June 12, 1944--MONTFORT--8AF 407, 453rd 79, Bradley 28.
The Eighth AF dispatched 1,442 B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers against 16 airfields in northwest France and six railroad bridges in the Rennes and St. Nazaire areas, dropping 3,103 tons of bombs and losing eight ships. Fighter Command sent 988 fighter pilots as escorts and on sweeps and patrols over the Channel northwest of Paris and Rennes area and, of these, 276 went as fighter-bombers against five railroad targets in the Tours--Paris area. Sixteen crews and planes were lost.3
Low, "On D-Day plus six the weather finally cleared. Two missions were flown-one against the railroad bridge at Montfort-sur-Mer, the other against the airfield at Conches. The approaches to the bridge were heavily hit even though the bridge, itself, was not and the airfield was hit soundly. Thirty-four planes carried 124 tons of bombs."
Stein recorded the target as a railroad bridge at Rennes; time of bombing the target as 0630 hours, and that their bombload was "four 2000 lb-ers." His remarks were, "Good visibility over Continent. Made two runs on target and hit in target area, but don't know what damage we did. Got some flak from Rennes but no hits on our ship. No fighter opposition. Impossible to see the bridge from 20,000 feet."
Eisenhower wrote, "On June 12, 1944 the first flying bomb, known as the V-1, reached London . . . The V-2 was not used until August . . . It seemed likely that if the German had succeeded in perfecting and using these new weapons six months earlier than he did, our invasion of Europe would have proved exceedingly difficult, perhaps impossible . . . OVERLORD might have been written off."4 See Chapter 10, CROSSBOW, for the missions Bradley flew against the V-1 and V-2 weapons.
June 13, 1944--VICOMTE-SUR-RANCE--8AF 409, 453rd 81, Bradley 29.
Low, "On the 13th, for the fourth consecutive day, two missions were flown. The first was the railroad bridge at Vicomte-sur-Rance and 22 ships attacked, carrying 10x500 lb. bombs each. The second mission was a return to Montfort-sur-Mer."
Stein wrote that the Jones ship was unable to locate its formation so they tacked onto the 445th Bombardment Group formation at Cortland Bill and bombed an airport with them--visually and with good results. They encountered no fighters and no flak.
"June 14th," Low wrote, "witnessed the attack on the night fighter base of Chateaudun. Carrying 49 tons of 100 lb. general purpose bombs, 19 planes peppered the north dispersal areas as briefed while other Groups rendered the runways and taxi-strips unserviceable. The Luftwaffe was denied another base of operations." The Eighth AF dispatched 1,525 bombers and 908 fighters on June 14.5
June 15, 1944--LE PORT BOULET--8AF 414, 453rd 84, Bradley 30.
Low wrote, "A return to the railroad bridge at Le Port Boulet on the 15th of June proved very successful. Three squadrons, carrying a total of 108 tons of 500 lb. bombs, dropped them all on the 35-foot-wide bridge. Later reconnaissance photos showed the bridge severely damaged, though not broken."
Stein was pleased. He wrote, "Put a very good bomb pattern right on the bridge from 20,000 feet, knocking it out. No flak and no fighters, although there were fighter attacks in the area."
On that mission, 89 B-24s of the 2nd Air Division dropped 267 tons of bombs on this target.6
June 16-28, 1944. The Jones crew did not fly during this period. They had flown on 13 days of the 26 days from May 20 to June 16 and had completed 30 missions on June 15. They were now awaiting the arrival of a crew to replace them. Poor weather restricted operations of the Eighth at times, but otherwise, it continued its intensive bombing campaign. In addition to many tactical operations it sent many "NO BALL" bombing missions
against CROSSBOW V-1 and V-2 targets. On June 18 it sent 1,378 bombers on its first major strategic mission since D-Day. Oil refineries in Germany at Hamburg, Misburg, and Bremen were the principal targets on that day.7 Oil and industrial targets in Germany were hit on the 20th. Fifty planes were lost, 499 airmen MIA! Forty-five planes were lost on June 21 by the Eighth on strategic bombing of targets which included Berlin. These were major missions against strategic targets and the Luftwaffe and flak defenses took a heavy toll.8
On the 18th the 453rd dispatched the largest number of planes yet--46--with the heaviest bomb load yet carried--131 tons--and plastered the port area of Hamburg when weather prevented bombing the airfield. On the 19th and 20th, V-1 and V-2 sites were targeted. The first bomber and crew loss for the 453rd since May 9 occurred on June 20 when 50 aircraft were lost by the Eighth. The crew and ship made it safely to Sweden. The target for the Group was the synthetic oil plant at Politz--Stettin, Germany. Bradley had flown that same mission on May 29. The Eighth returned frequently to its strategic targets to continue to disrupt operations.
The 453rd flew on June 21 in what Low said was "the greatest daylight raid of the war on Berlin." Thirty-four planes participated. Lt. Williams and crew were lost to flak. Another ship and crew fell victim to flak on June 22--the third loss in three days. Two missions were flown on June 24 and on the second, Captain Baatz of the 732nd Squadron and Major Kemp, Group Adjutant, who was flying with Baatz, were lost.
June 21, 1944--BRADLEY AWARDED THE DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS.
Pursuant to General Orders Number 105, Headquarters 2nd Air Division, Office of the Commanding General, the DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS was awarded to 1st Lieutenant Herbert A. Bradley, Jr. 0752310. The citation read,
. . . for extraordinary achievement while serving as Bombardier of a B-24 airplane on many bombardment missions over enemy occupied Continental Europe. Displaying great courage and skill, Lieutenant Bradley, fighting from his gun position, has warded off many enemy attacks and has materially aided in the successful completion of each of these missions. The courage, coolness and exceptional skill displayed by Lieutenant Bradley on all these occasions reflect the highest credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States.
By command of Major General Hodges,
Charles B. Westover,
Chief of Staff
June 29, 1944--STENDAL--8AF 447, 453rd 98, Bradley 31.
On June 29 the 453rd celebrated its first year anniversary, flying its 98th mission. Bradley and the Jones crew had flown their tour of 30 missions on June 15. They were not happy to be tagged for any additional missions. They knew of crews being lost on such flights--it wasn't good to tempt fate at that stage of
Low wrote, "Forty-eight Libs were assembled in the largest formation the Group had ever attempted for a single mission. The target briefed was Kothen airfield. Weather, which had complicated operations for the best part of the month, again interfered. The four squadrons found Kothren cloud-covered and went on to bomb Gardelegan and Stendal airfields. Results on both were good. This was its 98th mission--the Group regretted it had not reached the 100-mission mark on its first anniversary."
Stein's diary carried this account, "Fairly easy but long 6 hour, 45 minute mission. Good visibility but primary target was obscured by undercast, so we bombed secondary--the airport at Stendal, 40 miles west of Berlin. Considerable accurate flak at primary target but none at secondary." He did not mention having seen any German fighters.
Low wrote that June had been a month for breaking records: 690 sorties flown on 33 missions, 1,953 tons of bombs dropped. Weather was the enemy. It allowed only 17 visual bombings during June.
July 2, 1944--RENESCURE--8AF 450, 453rd 99, Bradley 32.
At this point the crew of FLAK HACK was concerned that it was being called upon to fly additional missions. Apparently there was no replacement crew ready to take their place in Hut #28.
Of the July 2 mission, Low wrote, ". . . Two squadrons totalling 22 planes attacked the flying bomb installations at Renescure and Santrecourt in the Pas-de-Calais area. Sixty tons of 500 lb bombs were dropped through the undercast with the aid of PFF equipment"
Stein wrote, "Bombed by GH as we had 10/10 cloud cover. Some flak but no damage. Flew at 24,500 feet. Hit supply depot for flying bombs--tried, anyhow. In French Calais area."
The Jones crew hoped that upon their return from this mission a replacement crew would have been assigned. Such was not the case. Instead, Jones was informed they were to fly again the next morning--July 3. That morning the call came, they went through the usual briefing, trucked to the hardstand and boarded FLAK HACK. Take-off and assembly came as usual but as the formation reached the continent the call to abort the mission was received. Bradley recalled, "We spilled out of that plane in a hurry! I bent down, kissed the ground and thanked God and my lucky stars."--and that day their replacement crew arrived!
Changes in 453rd Staff. Low wrote that the date July 2, 1944 was to be remembered not only for the 99th mission flown that day, but for the staff changes. Lt. Col. James M. Stewart was relieved from his duties as Group Operations Officer and transferred to Wing Headquarters. Major Andrew Low, Jr. was relieved of his duties as CO of the 735th Squadron and became Operations Officer. Other re-assignments were made at the squadron level. Col. Ramsay Potts continued in Command.
Summary of the Bradley missions. There were 109 calendar days from the date of Bradley's first mission, March 16, 1944 to July 2, 1944, inclusive. He flew on 31 days (two missions on April 27). Eleven missions were flown on successive days. On sixteen
occasions there were one or two days between missions; on six occasions, an interval of four to seven days. There was an 11-day interval after the Brunswick mission on May 8 and a 13-day interval following Bradley's 30th mission.
Frequency of missions was one consideration; hours of flight time was another. The duration of flight time was as long as nine hours from take-off until return and landing. Thirty-four per cent of the missions' flight times were as long as seven to nine hours, 44% were between five and seven hours duration and only 22% under five hours.
To frequency and duration of flight, add that 13 of his missions were flown against targets in Germany, including Berlin and Brunswick, all heavily defended by flak batteries and the Luftwaffe.
And to all of this, add the physical and emotional stress of long, grueling flights flown at high altitudes on oxygen in a cold, cramped, noisy aircraft that was subject to mechanical failure, where the expectation and reality of enemy attack was always present, and the odds of survival not that good . . . From this recipe for disaster these young men brought a record of individual and collective bravery, loyalty and achievement that gave the Allies the margin it needed for victory.
A map of Western Europe and of England showing the locations of the targets of Bradley's 32 missions is presented as Figure 26.
Leave/Reassignment. On July 11, 1944, Bradley was granted a 7-day leave. This was his second and last leave while overseas.
On July 14, 1944 orders were made that transferred him from the 453rd Bombardment Group (H) to the Casual Pool, 12th Replacement Control Depot. This was a step toward shipment to the States. He had flown the southern route to his great adventure overseas; now he would return on a steamship--the U.S.S. LaFayette.
THE FINAL ACCOUNTING. Bradley and his comrades had done what the Eighth Air Force asked of them. But the war continued. It would be nearly eleven more months before the German military and the Nazi regime would be reduced to unconditional surrender. That act came on May 9, 1945 and the curtain rang down on the terrible conflict.
In Benarcik's In Search of Peace (pp. 226 and 268) and other sources it is reported,
A total of 350,000 airmen served with the Eighth Air Force in England. Of this number, 26,000 were killed--7.2%9
Compared to the other branches of the U.S. military, the Air Force sustained the heaviest losses.(U.S. Marines--3.29%; U.S. Army--2.25%; Navy--.41%)9
The 28,000 POWs from the Eighth Air Force amounted to 2/3 of the total American airmen held POW--43,000.10
The Eighth lost 6,537 of its B-24 and B-17 bombers and 3,337 of its fighter aircraft.9 Freeman says that accidents accounted for one in six of the bomber losses. With each bomber, as many as 10 airmen KIA, WIA, or MIA.
The Eighth Air Force flew 986 missions. The 2nd Air Division flew 95,948 sorties in 493 operational missions.10
The 2nd Air Division lost 1,458 B-24 bombers while on operations.10 6,389 airmen of the 2nd Air Division died in combat.10
366 airmen of the 453rd Bombardment Group (H) died in combat operations.10
The 2nd Air Division Bombardment Groups received Presidential unit citations and five airmen received the Congressional Medal of Honor--the highest award for bravery-four posthumously.10
NO EIGHTH AIR FORCE MISSION WAS EVER TURNED BACK BY THE ENEMY!
Major General Ramsay D. Potts, USAF (Ret) paid tribute to Bradley in his letter, which follows.
Colonel Donald O. Jones, USAF (Ret.)
Donald O. Jones, the son of Harry H. and Lunda (Smith) Jones, was born in Macon, Georgia on December 16, 1922. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps on January 1, 1942 in Tampa, Florida. After basic training, Don went to Scott Field Air Base, Illinois where he attended the radio operator/mechanics school. He applied for aviation cadet training and was accepted. This took him to Maxwell Air Base, Alabama for pre-flight training, then to Douglas, Georgia for primary; Greenwood, Mississippi for basic flying school, and his advanced training was at George Field, Lawrenceville, Illinois. It was there that he graduated as a pilot in Class 43E on May 28, 1943 and received the 2nd Lieutenant commission and wings. In July 1943 he proceeded to Smyrna, Tennessee for transitional training for heavy bomber (B-24 Liberator) flying; then to Clovis, New Mexico where he took his first combat flight training.
At Clovis, 2nd Lieutenant Jones was designated as an aircraft command pilot and several airmen were assigned to his crew. He recalls that Ernie Finocchio became one of his crew while at that location. Jones then went to Biggs Field, El Paso, Texas, where he picked up the rest of his 10-man crew. Together they completed phases two and three in combat training. That went well. At Biggs, Bradley became the bombardier on the crew. They received their preparation for overseas movement (POM) orders and proceeded to the Topeka Air Base, Topeka, Kansas where they were assigned a new B-24J bomber aircraft.
The story of movement overseas and of the 32 combat missions Jones and his crew flew has been told herein. Jones was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant while overseas.
Following his return to the States, 1st Lieutenant Jones was assigned to Chanute Field, Rantoul, Illinois for a Communication Officers course. This assignment ended in February 1945. He was then assigned to the Airways and Air Communication Service (AACS). This led to his being sent overseas--this time to India, up near the place the famous Lido Road began. He flew occasional missions over "the hump." Most missions, however, were supply missions flown down into Burma and southwest China. He was in India about six months. During that assignment he received promotion to Captain.
After the war in the Pacific ended, Captain Jones returned to the States. Again he was tagged for an overseas assignment--this time to Japan--2½ years, still in the AACS. Upon completing his Japan assignment he was sent to AACS Headquarters, Andrews Air Force Base. While there he became Major Jones.
At AACS Headquarters he had the great good fortune to be accepted as a Command and Staff School student in the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. This led to three years on the Staff of the Supreme Allied Commander--Atlantic of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization--NATO--Navy, based in Norfolk, Virginia.
After that experience, which Jones termed "wonderful," it was back to the Air Force to become a B-47 aircraft commander. The B-47 was America's first strategic jet bomber--a six-engine machine! He successfully completed the training required of commanders--training for three positions on the plane. After transitional flight training at Wichita, Kansas, Major Jones was assigned to the 379th Bomb Wing, 525th Bomb Squadron,
Strategic Air Command, 2nd Air Force. The unit was based at Homestead, Florida. Jones became Squadron Operations Officer. He was there three years.
Jones then had the good fortune to be transferred up to the Pentagon, Washington, D.C. He served there for five years on the air staff of Directorate of Operations. He was promoted to Lt. Colonel while there.
Then Jones again drew an overseas assignment--a NATO staff assignment in France. He was in the Planning Division, Allied Air Forces--Central Europe. This Headquarters left France (at De Gaulle's insistence) and relocated in Holland for a time. Jones was in Holland two years. The rank of full Colonel came to him while there.
After this stint of service in Europe, Colonel Jones was assigned to the Tactical Air Command Headquarters, Langley Field, Hampton, Virginia. At that Headquarters he served as Chief of the Concepts Division of the Plan's Directorate--a two-year duty.
Then, once again, Jones went abroad--this time to the Philippines. There he was Deputy Chief of Staff, Plans and Programs, 13th Air Force. After serving three years there he returned to the States. He retired in January 1974.
Colonel Jones was one of those who served in wartime and in the peace that followed. He had "the right stuff."
JONES COURT-MARTIALED/BRADLEY TO THE RESCUE! Upon return to the U.S. in July 1945, Jones enrolled in a Communication Officers' School, Chanute AFB, in Rantoul, Illinois. Required to get in his "flying time," Jones flew a BT-13 plane one afternoon. Knowing Bradley lived in a small town about 30 miles distant, he decided to give him and the townsmen a "wake-up call." He repeatedly buzzed the town! Result--the local police chief turned him in and a courtmartial ensued. Bradley "got out front" at once, took several prominent Monticello citizens to testify in Jones' defense. The charge was that he had flown below 500 feet; they testified he was never lower than 700 feet So the Judge Advocate changed the charge to flying as low as 700 feet. Thus, Jones was found guilty, fined, and restricted to base.
On appeal to St Louis, this finding was reversed, as the charge had unlawfully been changed in mid-trial, thus depriving the defendant a fair trial. Jones said, "Well, that really 'teed off the CO. He then cited me for 'characteristics unbecoming and officer and pilot' and 'unfit to fly.' The Flying Evaluation Board found in my favor. That so enraged the CO that he called me in, told me, 'The day you finish your course I want you out of here, off my Post and don't ever return!' I saluted smartly, 'Yes, sir!'" Bradley had come to the rescue!
NOTE: Don's brother, Henry (Red), was also a World War II airman in Europe. He served on a B-17 bomber aircraft as a radio operator/gunner. In January 1943 a raid was made upon the German submarine base at St. Nazaire--an extremely difficult mission. His plane was severely damaged and the crew forced to bail out. Jones bailed out, was aided by the French underground, and sought to escape into Spain. He was caught at the Spanish border by the Germans and then imprisoned in a POW camp. He remained a prisoner until General Patton's army brought them freedom in May 1945.
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