To Fly A Mission--Friedrichshafen
At Bomber Command, High Wycombe, at 1600 hours on March 15, 1944, General Doolittle is just concluding his daily operations conference. His Weather Officer has reported unfavorably on cloud conditions over certain potential targets in Germany, favorably on conditions anticipated over others. The General is thoughtful--the expectations of higher echelons of command, of General Spaatz and of the Allied Supreme Commander, General Eisenhower, are known to him, as are the demands of current bomber operations POINTBLANK, ARGUMENT and CROSSBOW. What is to be the mission on the 16th? He decides--deep into Germany the aircraft industrial plants at Augsburg and at Friedrichshafen are to be the targets. A vast and intricate machine of destruction is set in motion when the stations are alerted by the warning order. Behind are weeks of planning; ahead, many hours of preparation. Teleprinter messages go from Bomber Command to Air Divisions, from Divisions to Wings, from Wings to Groups.1 . . . And, so, in this Bradley war story, to an account of the preparation for and execution of mission 8AF 262, 453rd 19, and Bradley 1, March 16, 1944--target, Friedrichshafen.
Wilbur Stites was a left waist gunner on a B-24 bomber of the 453rd. In 1991 he wrote a beautiful poignant poem that expressed the experiences and feelings he had on a mission--from his first learning he would go the next morning until his return to his hut following the mission. With his permission, his poem is now used here to give the reader a "feel" for the experience of a mission call, briefing, formation, bomb run, and return.2 Of that night of March 15, 1944, Bradley, Jones, and the others, like Stites, would have said:
"I'm awake in my bunk,
All sleep's gone away.
My crew's on alert--
To fly a mission today!"
Receipt of the teletype message from Wing set all elements of the 453rd on a repetitious cycle of mission preparations--administrative and service functions. Typical of all the activity were the many bomb--laden trailers being moved from bomb dumps to waiting planes. Following the mission alert check list, the Group CO was called at 0200 hours BDST. At the same hour the four squadron S-3s (Operations), Ordnance and Armament CQs, Bomb Dump, Engineering, and Communication Sections were alerted. Twenty-one planes were to be readied, each with ten 500 lb. GP-HE bombs, gas load--2800 gallons. The Camera Section and Bombsight Vault were alerted. The Weather Officer and Medical Department were notified. Briefing would be at 0430 hours. All were advised that take-off was set for 0600 and approximate estimated time of return (ETR) was 1430 hours. The Officers Mess and Combat Mess, the Red Cross, the Chaplain and Flying Control were informed of the schedule.
Squadron S-3s had determined the particular crews to be called for the mission. Bradley said, "How and why did they pick our crew? I never knew, but we often went on successive days or every other day. Sometimes, but not often, there was 'stand-down' for the entire Eighth Air Force because of bad weather. That was okay with us!"
There's a knock on the door.
The orderly enters,
We've heard this before.
"What's he thinking, I wonder,
As he calls men out to fly,
Knowing that some
Are being called out to die.
"I grab up my gear
And head for the mess.
Not hungry, but better
Eat something, I guess.
"I hope for the best
As the cook rattles his pans.
But, oh no, no luck
It's powdered eggs again."
Good weather was forecast. The mission would surely go. Lieutenants Bradley, Jones, Stein and Croft dressed and made their way in the black-out to the officers mess hut while Sergeants Finocchio, Goldberg, Mace, Fried, Westbrook, and Seay were doing the same from their area of the base. Spam and scrambled eggs (from dried powdered egg) was the usual fare. Following breakfast they proceeded to a waiting truck which took them to the Briefing Center. The enlisted men of the crew joined them there.
"The big map at briefing
Reveals at a glance,
We're going deep into Reichsland.
Fighters expected, flak will be intense."
When all bomber flight crews assigned for the mission were present, the doors were locked. Bradley was immediately impressed--his first briefing was an eye--opener. He said, "You can't imagine all that went through my mind. There were nearly thirty crews there-nearly 300 of the group's airmen were to make this mission! And Group officers--I hadn't even seen most of them before. There was Colonel Joseph A. Miller, Group Commanding Officer, and Major Robert C. Sears, Group Deputy Commander. Group Intelligence Officer, Captain Victor F. Sieverding, was present. Major Frank E. Sullivan, Group Operations Officer, called "Attention" when the CO entered--then, "At ease"--and took the roll call of the crews alerted for the mission. The squadron COs and operations officers were present, including our 733rd Squadron CO, Captain Robert H. Kanaga, and our S-3, Operations Officer, Robert D. Coggeshall. The Chaplain gave a short prayer, then took a seat at the rear of the briefing room so that those who wished to do so could see him again before leaving."
Meanwhile, the entire station was astir and at work. Ordnance supplied the bombs--ten 500 lb. GP in each bomber. Armament supplied the guns and provided the turrets with ammunition--4500 rounds. Radio mechanics, bomb--sight men and the fueling men who filled each bomber with nearly 2800 gallons of aviation fuel--all were carrying out their duties. Photo section provided a number of K-20 and K-24 cameras. The Crew Chiefs saw that it was done well and done on time.
The Group Operations officer began the briefing, then a number of headquarters staff covered particular subjects--the Navigation Officer, Bomb Officer, Photo Officer, Weather Officer, and others.
Two primary targets, Augsburg and Friedrichshafen, were identified. A major--almost a maximum effort--was planned. The 1st and 3rd Air Divisions, flying B-17 planes, were to bomb targets at Augsburg, each putting up over 200 B-17 bombers. Friedrichshafen was selected for the attention of nine bombardment groups of the 2nd Air Division's B-24 bombers--225 to be dispatched. The Eighth was to dispatch a total of 740 bombers that morning.
VIII Fighter Command of the Eighth was not to be outdone by Bomber Command. It was to dispatch 868 planes--P-38s, P-47s, and P-51s as fighter support from 13 of its fighter groups. Even Fighter Command of the Ninth Air Force was to make a contribution--by sending out P-47s and P-51s from three of its fighter groups. Clearly the Me 109 and Focke--Wulf 190 fighter pilots were to be challenged.
As the briefing continued, formation positions were assigned for each of the group formation sections and the leads for each were named. Section formations were marked out on the large wall--board and print--outs were provided. Section, Group, Wing, and Division assembly times and positions were explained. Take--off, climb and assembly procedures were spelled out in terms of air speeds, altitudes arid reference points. Occasionally a murmur of surprise or dismay was heard as some pilot reacted to the scenario being described. "FWs, here we come . . . Oh, oh, who thought this one up!" Color codes, radio codes, and communication codewords were provided--"PAPA" for recall of this mission; other warnings and guidances were given. The lights were put out and aerial photographs of the target and of the target area were shown on a screen.
Next came the route and weather details for going and for returning to base. Maps noting the locations of known enemy Jagdgeschwader (JG)--fighter wings--and of known anti-aircraft batteries were provided. The route in and out had been planned so as to avoid these hazards as much as possible. The surface wind on this morning was northwest. Runway 25 was to be used for take-off.
Group headquarters officers flew with the missions from time to time and then often were designated to lead the group. On this mission to Friedrichshafen, the Group Deputy Commander, Major Robert Sears, was to fly the command lead for the 453rd. Lt. Philip Stock was to fly the lead plane. A deputy mission commander was also named, as well as a lead bombardier and lead navigator.
The briefing ended when the Operations Officer, Major Sullivan, called for "time hack"--the ritual the airmen followed to synchronize their watches to the official mission time. From this point on it was important that each pilot and each formation, from the three--bomber element to the entire bomber stream formation, be "on track and on time." Jones said, "Like Army field artillery battalions that strove to place their fire 'on time and on target'--the Air Force groups were, in a sense, long-range artillery and also needed to operate with precision of time and location and reach the target on time."
At the conclusion of the general briefing the bombardiers, navigators and gunners assembled separately. Bombardiers were informed by ordnance specialists of the particular considerations relating to the type and number of bombs, methods of fusing, etc. Navigators were provided with copies of necessary maps and charts. Gunners reviewed what Intelligence had learned of any recent changes in the German
fighter attack strategy or location of their airbases. For the dozen or so planes that were to carry cameras, a crewman was dispatched to pick up the equipment. Co-pilots were sent to the Intelligence Office to pick up escape kits for their crew. The pilots remained in the room briefly for any last minute instruction or change of plan. When all was completed, the crews moved on to the clothing and equipment room. There they put on specialized clothing--some of it wired for electric heating. See Chapter 6 for the description Bradley gave of the airman's clothing and equipment.
"I climb into the truck
For the ride to the plane.
The ground crew has her
In great shape again."
Then it was time for the crews to go to their planes parked on the hardstands alongside the runway. A B-24H plane was there awaiting the Jones crew. No crew had as yet adorned this great machine with nose art. It had no name--it was a virgin ready for its maiden voyage. It and its new crew were about to lose their innocence. How many missions would this plane fly? No one knew the answer. The B-24 which had carried these men to England over the South Atlantic a few weeks earlier had already gone to war and it and its crew had been lost. The fact that replacement planes and replacement crews, like the Jones crew, were now readily available to the Eighth Air Force did not lessen the concern the men felt. It wasn't a good idea for them to dwell on the longevity statistics for planes or men in this war. And, at this point, that wasn't their concern--they were young men, ready to fly! Bradley remarked, "On this first mission we were sure we were indestructible, but later we learned the average life of an 8th Air Force crew was 15 missions. That, and our April 8th and May 8th mission losses sobered us up!"3
The Crew Chief and some of his men were on hand. The Chief reported to Jones on the state of readiness of the plane. It was ready to go. Earlier in the morning he had supervised the fueling teams as they topped off the gas tanks--nearly nine tons of aviation fuel was required for each plane. Little, if any, thought was given by the men to the source of all the POL (petroleum, oil and lubricants) required to keep all of these planes of the Eighth Air Force flying.4
The ordnance men were winding the last of the bomb load into place. Fuel and bombs made up most of the total load of the bomber. Ammunition had been supplied. Brakes, landing gear, bomb racks and turret controls had been serviced and checked. The plane's four great engines had been carefully tested. The two pilots, Jones and Croft, walked around the aircraft with the Chief, poking and prying, while they discussed various aspects of the mission. Jones said, "I always liked to kick the tires. I guess that was a habit carried over from the same practice with my automobiles, or maybe it was a superstition. Many airmen developed superstitions about flying a mission--some pretty crazy--but maybe it helped!"
Things were nearly ready. In twenty minutes they would start the four engines. In thirty--five minutes they would begin to taxi the plane to its take-off position. In one hour--if the mission was not scrubbed--they would start their roll down the runway. The level of anticipation and apprehension among the crew was building. This was their first mission. The target was an important one and the Luftwaffe was certain to defend it with determination. The anti-aircraft flak batteries and the fighter planes of the German Air Force would be there in force.
There remained only last minute preparations. Those who felt the need to
"relieve themselves" did so. It would be a flight of more than eight hours--with no "pit stop."
Jones made a last final inspection of his plane. He twirled the turbo-wheels of the four superchargers under the wings. He tested the rim of each turbo wheel with his fingertip for any unevenness of rotation. He examined the tires for cracks. He grabbed the propellers and shook them to check for play in the engine mounts. Then he inspected the control surfaces.
At more than twenty hardstandings in the dispersal area, the scenes were much the same. When everything about the plane was in readiness, Jones turned to his crew--the nine others whose fate was now one with his. With an air of finality, he said, "Let's saddle up."
See Fig. 11 for the crew names and their positions. Changes of crew and changes in position will be noted as they later occurred. Pilot (and plane commander) Don Jones occupied the left-hand seat of the two pilot seats; Bill Croft, co-pilot, the right-hand seat. Bradley, the bombardier and nose gunner--they called him "Doc" for reasons now unknown--was in the nose turret. Fred Stein, the navigator, occupied a position behind the nose turret. Murray Fried, the engineer when missions began, was located behind the pilots on the flight deck. Seymour "Goldie" Goldberg was the radio operator and top gunner. The ball turret was manned in the beginning by Hoy Seay (and, of that turret and gunner, more will be written). The crewmen assigned to the right and left waist guns were Ernest J. Finocchio and Jim Westbrook. "Ernie" was also the assistant engineer and later became the engineer. "Westy" was left waist gunner and assistant radio operator. Mace was the tail gunner.5
AND THEN IT WAS THE TIME TO GO! (For most of what is written hereinafter about assembling and formation flying, the author thanks James Hoseason.) The flight Control Officer, watching the second hand of his watch reach the exact moment, nodded to the enlisted man standing by. A single green flare arched across the early morning sky above Old Buckenham. It was the signal to the pilots to start engines. At each hardstand the bombers came to life. At Jones' order, Bill Croft pressed a switch. Out on the starboard wing an inertia starter whined. The Liberator shook mightily as No. 3 engine spun and caught. That engine had the hydraulic pump to supply the brakes and, so, was started first. In quick succession Jones ordered, "Hit four--hit two--hit one." The four 1200 h.p. engines came alive, the props pulling at the air. Soon the big bomber vibrated gently with the energy of four great engines idling. There was, at first a ragged loose sound that, in due course, rose into a rich cry of power as, for several moments, the engines were pushed to full--open to enable Jones to check the mags and turbos. This tremendous roar, as of a great herd of prehistoric beasts, filled the air and brought all of the sleeping English neighbors awake. And the same roar arose that morning over the whole of East Anglia from a total of thirty airbases like that of the 453rd at Old Buckenham (an event repeated nearly 1,000 times on the nearly 1,000 days of the Eighth Air Force missions in this war!) Thirty bombardment and fighter groups were committing 740 heavies and nearly 7,400 airmen and 868 fighter planes and pilots to their destiny on this day. The Mighty Eighth was flexing its muscle in a big way.
Then came Jones' call: "Brakes off", and the heavy bomber started to roll forward. Throughout the plane everything sounded so metallic and reverberated so much. The brakes hissed like a huge truck. The thing bobbed as they taxied. Surely, it wouldn't fly!
Jones' machine cut a hulking shape in the light mist falling from the clouds this March morning. Behind his plane was another bomber looking like a large ghost--another just behind it--and another and another. Nose to tail, brakes squeaking in protest, engines advancing and throttling back in power, they proceeded in an ungainly and elephantine fashion. Then came a final squeal of brakes that punctuated the roar of engines and propellers as the line of bombers dragged to a halt. Now the planes waited, engines idling--poised, ready for take-off. There was still more waiting as H-hour approached. At this point, everything was on schedule. Crews waited impatiently-prepared and seemingly nonchalant--but inwardly apprehensive.
At Bomber Command HQ the Commanding General was waiting for one final report. Hundreds of miles from where he sat, high over the continent was an AAF Mosquito on the final stage of a weather reconnaissance flight. The pilot flashed his coded signal, "All clear." Instructions were flashed to all bases. From Old Buckenham Control Tower a two-pronged green flare hissed into the sky. (A red flare would have indicated the mission was scrubbed.)
The idling engines of the lead aircraft sprung into a tortured roar. Lieutenant Stock, flying the lead plane, with Major Sears aboard, pushed his four throttles to full power in a single steady motion. He watched the manifold pressure climb to peak power and hold steady before he released the brakes. Then the big bird began to move forward toward the fading runway lights in the distance. One at a time, at 30--second intervals in the order of joining formation, B-24s turned in, lined up, checked that the nosewheel was straight, and then took off down the runway.
"My intercom crackles,
'Pilot to all,
Get in take-off position,
We're ready to roll.'
"Lift, baby, lift, up, up.
Ah, breathe a bit more at ease.
The gear's up and locked,
And we're over the trees."
Jones' airplane was the eighteenth in line. The bomber picked up speed and halfway along the runway, the air speed was 60 mph. Slowly the airspeed climbed upwards and toward the take-off speed--80, 90, 95, and then there were no more runway lights in front. At 115 mph in the last 100 feet of runway, the bomber was airborne. Jones stabbed the brakes to stop wheel-spin and pulled the "gear up" lever. His intense concentration on the instruments did not relax for a moment. The airspeed hovered at 120 mph and the rate of climb, slightly above zero. Jones was reaching for 3-engine speed of 140 mph. As the air speed indicator climbed, the altimeter at last began to register. At 500 feet the pilot rolled the bomber into a turn to pick up a heading toward their first Buncher radio beacon.(Note: At this point the reader's attention is called to Hoseason's diagrams of squadron formation take-offs for clear weather and assembly and formation building. See Figs. 13, 14, 15 and 15a.) Thirty seconds behind the bomber lay another, thirty seconds later, yet another, and so on. All over Norfolk, plunging into the clouds and darkness by the score, were B-24s depending on the precise planning to avoid collisions that would otherwise mean ghastly carnage even if they didn't fall on the sleeping British below.
As they reached 2,000 feet, the bomber entered cloud. At 6,000 feet the big bird broke the shackles of the overcast and came into the clear bright morning above a
sea of blinding white. The needle of the radio compass on the instrument panel suddenly flipped sharply-the first beacon had been reached. Looking out from his nose position across the sea of cloud, Bradley could see bombers popping up through the overcast in a dozen different places.
Their radio compass was then tuned for Buncher 6. The needle indicated that the beacon was behind them. After they reached 7,000 feet they turned through 180 degrees and headed back for the Buncher beacon. When they arrived at the beacon, the formation guide plane, WHAM BAM, was circling and firing flares to aid the pilots in finding their places. Since take-off, the challenge for each pilot was to take his position in his designated flight of three planes, called an element: a center lead plane, a left wing-man and a right wing-man. Following in trail, the second flight of three formed the next element--taking its position higher and slightly to the right of the lead element and called the "hi-right" element. Similarly, the next three planes positioned themselves slightly to the left of and lower than the lead element--called the "lo-left" element And then again the next three planes formed an element positioned slightly lower and more centered to the three other higher elements. This fourth element was generally called the "Purple Heart" element as it was believed to suffer greater losses. This formation of twelve planes was termed a "mission squadron."
Four squadrons then had to be brought together as the 453rd Group formation. Many times this was a difficult maneuver. The 1st section was the lead squadron. Another squadron, the 2nd section, then joined the formation as the "hi-right" squadron; another formed as the 3rd section at "lo-left" and a fourth and final squadron formed as the 4th section at the "lo-center" or "slot" position. Such a Group formation required thirty-six planes. This number was not always available, in which case the formation was modified accordingly. Then, too, it was not unusual that some planes were unable to take off because of some mechanical problem and at times, planes aborted or crashed during take-off or assembly. The remaining pilots and elements then moved to positions where they were needed. A basic requirement was that the planes form a tight close formation to better defend against enemy fighter attacks.
Jones now joined his element, squadron and section. The sections took their places in the 453rd Group formation. The lead section of the Group was at 9,000 feet altitude. The 453rd formation proceeded to Buncher 7 where the high section of the 2nd Combat Wing was forming at 10,000 feet--the planes of the 389th Bombardment Group up from Hethel airbase, the 445th from Tibbenham, and the 453rd from Old Buckenham. After pick-up at Buncher 7, the Wing turned inland and made a broad sweep over the Fens to join the 2nd Air Division line. It consisted of nearly 240 B-24 heavy bombers--bombers from nine Groups and from four Combat Wings: the 2nd CW, 96th CW, 14th CW, and 20th CW. The 2nd Air Division formation then joined the 1st and 3rd Air Divisions, forming a bomber stream of 740 planes bound for targets in Augsburg and Friedrichshafen.
The huge mass of aircraft (some called it an "aluminum overcast"), was exactly on time as briefed. The sky over England was heavy with the weight of thousands of tons of planes, bombs, fuel, and men being lifted four miles straight up on a giant aerial hoist to the western terminal of a 20,000 foot high elevated highway that led deep into southern Germany.
The formation passed over the English coast twelve miles northeast of radio beacon Splasher 5. As the fifteen mile-long bomber stream crossed the North Sea, three hours had passed since Bradley and the Jones crew left Old Buckenham--five hours and twenty minutes to go--for those who would return.
"Ten thousand feet,
In formation flight,
A beautiful sight
"Twenty thousand feet.
Flying right down the track."
Quite often, planes were forced to leave the formation. Of this experience on this first mission, Jones said, "I barely avoided colliding with an aborting plane of another squadron that, instead of clearing the formation, flew through us. This wasn't an uncommon experience. Single ships forced to break formation were a constant worry."
Navigator Stein said of the early stages of this mission, "As we left the English coast we continued our climb to 24,000 feet, levelling off about ten miles from the French coast. The German flak batteries had anticipated our coming. Our first warning was the big black puffs we saw ahead. That didn't concern us too much--that is, it didn't concern us until shrapnel peppered our plane. Fortunately our Combat Wing formation crossed over the area of flak batteries before the Jerries had completed their 'ack-ack' sighting adjustments. They probably zeroed in on formations following ours." To reach Friedrichshafen meant a 600--mile flight over hostile territory, both enemy-occupied France and Germany, itself. The target was in Germany but on the border with Switzerland at Lake Constance. There would be more flak batteries to contend with, and enemy fighters, as well.
At some point after this huge formation passed the enemy coastline, the 1st and 3rd Air Division formations of B-17 aircraft broke away to follow their briefed routes to their assigned primary targets at Augsburg. The 2nd Air Division formation continued its flight toward its Initial Point (IP). Located at 25,000 feet altitude and some distance from the target at Friedrichshafen, this was the point from which the bomb runs on the target would commence. Along the way the crews of planes of each element, squadron and combat wing were challenged to fly the perfect mission--the pilots to maintain a tight formation, the engineer to monitor fuel supply, the navigator and bombardier to do their thing to keep the plane on course, and to be prepared to release the bombs accurately on target The gunners were keenly alert and ready to respond to any fighter attack.
Bradley said, "We had been briefed to drop 'chaff or 'window' at certain points along the mission route. It was small strips of aluminum foil which we dropped from the aircraft as a radar-jamming technique. The chaff would generate false returns on enemy radar and block reception. This would foul German flak batteries' calculations and generally confuse the enemy as to the size of our formation. We called it 'chaff, the British called it 'window', the Germans called it 'duppel'."
Jones had been briefed on what to expect of the German fighter forces. It remained to be seen how the Germans chose to deploy their fighters to counter this mission. They would first need to decide what target or targets the Americans would hit Only when it became apparent to them that Augsburg and Friedrichshafen were, indeed, the targets could they decide the deployment of their fighters. The gunners expected German fighters--ME 109s and FW 190s--to make an appearance. They were ready with .50 mm guns.
Jones had also been briefed on the fighter support to expect from VIII Fighter
Command--the number and types of fighters to be dispatched and the locations and times they would appear. In fact, a total of 868 "Little Friends" were dispatched that day. It is not known now how many flew in support of particular air divisions. The total included 124 P-38s, 608 P-47s and 135 P-51s. Sixteen fighter groups sent this force out. These planes differed in the range they could fly. This also governed the part of the mission flight they could defend, when they could be there, and how long they could stay and fight before returning to base. Many did fly more than one sortie that day. See Fig. 9 for range of fighter aircraft.
"Straight and level on the bomb run,
Here comes the flak."
The formation flew on toward Friedrichshafen to its IP. Stein wrote in his diary, "En route to the target, we saw enemy fighters attack the Combat Wing ahead of us--14 ships went down." Bradley saw the action far ahead.
As the 2nd Combat Wing reached the IP it broke into three components--the squadrons of the 389th, 445th, and 453rd Groups. The Wing formation was far too unwieldy for a unit bombing operation, so when the IP was reached, the lead aircraft fired two red flares, spaced five seconds apart. Then the individual groups made their turn onto the target The 389th low group went on straight ahead for 20 seconds and then made its turn. The 453rd as high group proceeded for 20 seconds beyond the 389th, which carried it over Swiss territory, and then turned in on their run. This was the most critical defensive period of the mission as the groups were now apart and thrown on their own.
Now the moment of truth arrived--the moment for which the entire mission was undertaken. In the lead 445th aircraft the bombardier opened the great doors in the belly of his B-24, exposing the bomb load suspended in their racks. The following bombardiers did likewise, and the eyes of each froze on the belly of the lead plane. But for Bradley there was trouble. Of this event, Stein wrote in his war-time diary: "Our bomb bay doors failed to open completely, so bombs didn't release over target." What a time to have a mechanical problem!6
Despite the powerful black bursts of 88mm projectiles of flak becoming noticeably thicker as the formation approached the bomb release point, the lead bombardier held his plane as steady as possible.
"Ten minutes of hell's fury,
There's a plane down in flames.
We've got one engine out, but three
Should get us home again.
"Mark, enemy fighters,
MEs at six o'clock high.
Here come our Mustangs
To drive them out of the sky."
Then the bombs of the lead plane began their fall--1,000 GP, 500 GP, incendiary and fragmentation. Instantly, all bombardiers in the following planes released their bombs until there was a mass of 275.5 tons of high explosives and incendiaries en route to the German target below. At the same time, the bombers released millions of propaganda leaflets.
The group then flew a straight course for 15 seconds before turning off to the
Rally Point (RP). The lead group had proceeded to the RP at an airspeed of 115 mph, making S-turns to permit the trailing groups to catch up. The lead group crossed the RP at a height 1,000 feet lower than the bombing altitude. The Hethel and Old Buckenham groups closed with the lead group as quickly as possible to regain a defensive formation.
Now the Wing set compass for Splasher 5--Cromer, flying dog-legs to avoid known flak concentrations. They still had a long journey home over heavily-defended enemy territory. It was a nervous flight home, despite rejoining with their "Little Friend" escorts on the other side of the city.
"The bombs were on target,
We did the job right.
I see the white cliffs of Dover,
We're back from the fight
"Touch down at the air base
With a squeal of the brakes.
There's the Red Cross to greet us
With coffee and cakes."
As for the bomb load carried in the Jones aircraft, Stein wrote, "Bradley kicked them out on the way back, hitting some buildings, roads and fields."
After crossing the enemy coast the Americans started the let-down. Reaching the English coast at Great Yarmouth the 2nd Combat Wing broke and each group made for its airfield. The 453rd had dispatched 21 bombers--21 had returned! The group landing procedure upon returning to base in clear weather was, in theory, quite orderly. But it assumed that all pilots were in close formation in their respective low, lead, and high squadrons. Given the differing circumstances which affected each plane's return flight, this was not always the case. The return from the mission to Friedrichshafen on March 16 was in good order and the weather at base was clear. As the low squadron circled the base the low elements of the low squadron peeled off and landed; its lead and high elements continued around the base and these then, in turn, peeled off and landed. Meanwhile, the lead and high squadrons made wider circuits of the base until the lead squadron landed in the same manner as the low squadron. The high squadron continued around the base once more and then landed its low, lead and high elements in succession. Procedures were in place for emergency landings. See Fig. 16 depicting the landing procedure. When wounded crewmen were aboard, flares were fired from the plane to alert the ambulance crews. As soon as the plane with wounded or dead aboard landed, the ambulance went to meet it. Severely injured crew members were transported to the 231st Station Hospital about four miles from Old Buckenham. The dead were buried at the Madingley American Military Cemetery, Cambridge, England.
It was a sweet moment for all aboard when the Jones crew made its landing, completing its first mission. As the wheels touched down the suspense and fear ended. Time of arrival at base was 1430 hours--a total flying time of 8 hours, 20 minutes.
Taxiing to the hardstands in a B-24 was never easy. Finocchio climbed out on top with a mike lead--line and, speaking to them through their headsets, guided Jones and craft as wing--tips could not be seen from the pilot's seat.
When Bradley, Jones and crew got out, they found a dozen or more wicked--looking holes in the fuselage and a damaged port rudder. They looked at each other in
disbelief. Jones remarked, "She's a tough bird--let's keep her!" When the crew piled out, some of them jumped for joy, expressing relief at having "made it." Then the crew was trucked to the de--briefing. The Red Cross ladies welcomed them with coffee and doughnuts.
The 2nd Air Division had lost five aircraft: 93rd--2, 389th--1, 445th--1, and the 458th--1. Nine B-24s made forced landings in neutral Switzerland and their crews were interned. One B-24 crashed in Switzerland. One 458th Bomb Group B-24 came down in the sea--its 13 crew members were rescued. A badly damaged B-24 from the 44th Bomb Group crashed at Friston Airfield and burned. The day's casualties for the 2nd Air Division were 6 KIA, 7 WIA and 46 MIA. Though Bradley and the others didn't know it, it was the 1st and 3rd Air Divisions that had the tougher time on this day. Together, they lost 18 aircraft and crews in bombing Augsburg. Luck of the draw?
"So back to the hut,
We're on alert again.
When will it be over,
Oh God, when will it end?"
Table of Contents
Previous Chapter (7) * Next Chapter (9)