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|Friday, November 5,1943 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 38:
All flight crew officer names were checked off the loading list at the briefing room door. None of the enlisted men were allowed to enter, they were told to wait in the anteroom until briefing was completed. The response was nearly unanimous"What in hells going on?" This was going to be a very big mission, fifty-four bombers from this Group were scheduled to fly! Some one-hundred seventy-five enlisted men milling around in a room for half an hour could gin up some dandy rumors about todays impending activity.
Was this to be the invasion of France? Many of the assembled recalled last September 9th when the Group was told at briefingthis could be it men; we dont know for sure, but the invasion could be on!
That was the day when swarms of boats put out from England, about half the distance across the English Channel they made a 180 degree turn heading back to England. It was practice for themwe pressed on and got the hell shot out of us over the coastal guns of Boulogne. One of our Groups bombers named "HAZARD" 134958 RG-F was flown by Lieutenant Steven Danforth was blown in half by 128mm flak during the bomb run to the targetthe author was a witness to that!
In the interim, Major Hankey briefed the officers concerning Ninth Bomber Command Field Order 132 at 1045 hours. The target was secret and any information pertaining to it must not be divulged to any crew members not present in this room! The location was Mimoyecques, France. Your target is known as Z790 and is identified as Excavation Number "8". This raid will be carried out with two formationsthe first is thirty-six aircraft which rendezvous with the Spitfire escort and go on to the target. The second formation will be made up of eighteen aircraft which will be led by the 387th Bomb group which will also be made up of eighteen aircraft. All planes are loaded with two thousand pound general purpose bombs, each ship will carry two of them. The bombs have tail fuses only with a five second delay. You will not rendezvous with fighter escort en route; but they will provide top cover for you in the target area.
Colonel Maitland will fly lead ship, Major Hankey will fly with him. Second box lead will be flown by Major Lockhart. The third box will be headed by Captain Caney. The flight route, weather, communications data, flak and enemy fighter information was also given to the crews. A synchronization of watches was accomplished and the briefing was concluded. There was total confusion as the officers emerged from the briefing room at 1116 hours. Enlisted men crowded around asking; "Where are we going, whats the target, is the invasion on?" The officers were tight-lipped about the entire situation. Then the crews piled into the trucks which would take them out to their planes. As a matter of fact, the gunners were not told what kind of fighter escort to expectBritish or American, and what type? It was almost a wordless ride out to the hardstands where the aircraft were parked, and the officers felt like they were showing a mistrust toward their fellow crew members. They had flown together for nearly a year; until today personal feelings and military orders within a given crew were all one ball of wax. The enlisted men were openly irritated and felt let down!
Colonel Maitland lifted "TEXAS TARANTULA" 118284 RU-M off the runway at 1210 hours - following in order at approximately thirty second intervals was the remainder of his thirty-six planes which made up a two box formation. Captain Albert Caney third box leader had a technical problem with his aircraft named "PRIVY DONNA" 131658 RU-A.
Lieutenant Peters was scheduled to fly in number four position as deputy lead behind him. The lieutenant was much surprised when Captain Caney walked over to a plane named "CLOUD HOPPER 2nd " 131763 RU-O, climbed up inside and said, "Move over, Im taking your ship to fly lead position!"
Visibility at Great Dunmow was four to six miles, but overhead was another story. It was nine-tenths stratocumulus with a base of 2,000 feet and extending up to 3,500 feet which must be flown through to reach formation altitude It can become a bit uneasy knowing there are fifty-three bombers flying within an area of some four miles by four miles in nearly solid cloud cover. When they broke out on top with the sun shining brightly down on the fluffy clouds, the scene resembled a colony of cockroaches climbing out of a snow drift!
The first two boxes had formed up and left the vicinity at 1313 hours on a course of 157 degrees for Dungeness. The third box with seventeen planes would depart about nine minutes later on a course of 175 degrees for Splasher Beacon Number 8. They arrived five minutes early, then flew a wide 360 degree turn killing time until the 387th Group made an appearance. As luck would have it, that Group was latefinally they arrived and took up their position as lead box heading for the English Coast.
Ten-tenths cloud cover made position over the coast of England impossible to determine with any real accuracy, but they took up a heading of 132 degrees for Le Touquet on the French Coast. The first thirty-six planes of the 386th Group were about twenty-seven miles ahead. They had made rendezvous with their Spitfire and were very close to making enemy landfall at Le Touquet. Luckily there was a hole in the undercast, Lead Navigator Lieutenant Richard Slein was able to spot his check point and gave Colonel Maitland a new course of 60 degrees which would lead them to the I.P. (Initial Point) at Desvres, time was 1339 hours.
Meanwhile back in the third box of the 386th; Captain Caney was wondering what kind of a sideshow he was observing! The lead box of eighteen ships from the 387th Group were flying legs of evasive action. They flew 15 degrees to the left, then swung back and flew a leg to the right; a very fine maneuver when it performed in a flak zone over enemy territory. However this formation was still more than twenty-five miles off the enemy coast! They would not have a fighter escort rendezvousfighters that met up with the first thirty-six planes would remain in the general target area to provide umbrella cover for the Groups coming in a bit later.
Shortly after making a left turn off the I.P. at Desvres; the first two boxes from the 386th Group began catching heavy type flak. Colonel Maitlands planes were on a forty-five second bomb run into the target. The heading was 340 degrees, air speed 190 m.p.h., bomb bay doors were open. Lead Bombardier was Lieutenant James Dunn, he lined up the target in his Norden Bomb Sight. He would be using the synchronized method that incorporated preset drift and dropping angle. Flak was bursting very close, some big pink bursts also were observed among the predominately large black bursts. He released his bombs at 1347 hours from 10,000 feet. All other planes in his box dropped on his cue.
One of the heavy type flak shells scored a direct hit under the aft section of Captain R.D. Williamsons ship. The aircraft broke in half at the dorsal area. One man was seen to fall from the stricken plane, but nobody saw if his parachute opened. The after fuselage with its complete tail assemble attached, flipped end over end with an open parachute canopy wrapped around the tail unit. The front portion of the airplane went into a violent spin all the way down until it crashed and burned! The bomber had been flying in the first box of eighteen , number four position of the high flight.
The Williamson crew: Captain R.D. Williamson Pilot; Second Lieutenants J.E. Davis Co-pilot; R.S. Hoffman B/N; Tech Sergeant C.L. Solomon R/G; Staff Sergeants J. Brusman E/G; and R.D. Evans A/G. This pilot was flying a plane called "TWO WAY TICKET" 131602 AN-T on the Groups very first bombing mission which took place on July 30, 1943. His left engine lost power just after take off and the ship crashed a mile off the end of the runway. The aircraft was torn to pieces, but the crew survived with cuts and bruises. Captain Williamson had sustained the most severe injurya broken finger! However today luck ran out for them; all were killed in action when ship 131889 AN-D went down due to enemy action! Fourteen of the other 386th Group aircraft were battle damaged, three men had been wounded by flak.
All this time the third box had been led on a merry chase by eighteen planes from the 387th Bomb Group. Because of all the evasive action over the channel, the formation leader had no sense of navigational direction and timing. Enemy landfall was made at the wrong place, and they failed to lead the 386th Group over the target. They exited the enemy coast at 1351 hours and began dropping their bombs through the clouds below. At 1352 hours three balloons were noted flying at 5,000 feet. The third box of 386th planes brought all of their bombs back to basewith the exception of Lieutenant Wentz flying "MR. FIVE BY FIVE" 131612 YA-Z. His right engine began losing power and he was forced to feather it just over the French Coast on return flight. His bombardier jettisoned their bomb load into the channel. After returning to the English Coast the pilot landed at an emergency airdrome.
At interrogation, the third box crews had many unkind words concerning the operation today with the 387th Group. Our Group could not fly at the assigned altitude because that is where the 387th was flying! They not only missed the proper enemy landfall going in, they exited at the wrong place as well. Let us lead them! Other complaints were: The enlisted men should be in on all future mission briefings, need information for target recognition. Did not know what kind of escort planes to expect, or what enemy fighter strength might be! We want "two" Mars candy bars to take along on our missions.
Major Lockharts bombardier had a bomb release malfunction; as a result he did not drop his bombs. Other bombardiers in the second box released off the leader in the first box when they realized there was a problem. However most of their bombs landed beyond the target due to the delayed release time involved.
The 323rd Bomb Group reported a B-17 coming from the south and trailed their formation at the same altitude at some 4,000 yards distance. It followed the B-26 formation within five miles of the English Coast; then it turned around and flew back in the direction of the French Coast. It is believed this was a captured aircraft, and was being used to track American aircraft for cruising speed and observing formation tactics which would be of benefit to German fighter pilots. Most likely the bomber formation was being recorded on movie film as well.
The RAF fighter pilots reported seeing forty enemy fighter planes in operation during the mission. Twenty enemy planes started toward the bombers but made no contact. The other twenty enemy aircraft appeared in the Cambrai area, then turned north in the direction of Ghent, Belgium. At no time did the escort engage the Germans in aerial combat. Their primary assignment was to stay with the bombers until the enemy pilots would show intentions of attacking!
Note: Concerning this target, information was forthcoming. Those secret targets were in fact identified as launching sites for the German V-1 Buzz-Bombs!
Chester P. Klier