The target was a highway bridge across the Seine River at Mantes-Gassicourt in France. Just about one week before D-DAY all bridges were suddenly prime targets. I was Lead Bombardier for our formation of 36 planes. We were to bomb in flights of 6, all with the same aiming point, the center of the bridge. This single bridge connects the main part of town on the west with a long island running down the center of the river. We were to ignore the two bridges that connected the island on the east bank. My pattern hit first. A Bulls-eye. I think one span of that bridge was falling into the river even before the 2000 lb. bombs from my two wing flights landed right on the target. Four out of six flights appear to have bombed that target just about as briefed. Two flights missed the bridge but landed in the river. Not one bomb from the 386th Group was seen to hit that little town on either side of the river. Excellent Results.
What we did not know until we returned to base was that a second strike of 36 planes was briefed to hit that same bridge in the same place just 15 minutes later. the next day we heard that the second Group tried to bomb through smoke still covering the area. Most of their bombs landed in the town on both sided of the river. I considered this very poor planning at the time. In fact, I was mad as hell.
LEAD MISSION # 32. (12th. of 16) 12 JUNE 1944
D-DAY was almost a week ago. Our target is the Bretigney Marshalling Yards on the southern edge of Paris. It is hard to know for sure but this may have been the most destructive 36 plane mission evercarried out by Ninth Bomber Command. We had reason to believe that we severely reduced the ability of the German Seventh Army tasave Normandy from Allied invasion. A division of German tanks was reported to be off-loading at our target. Undoubtedly, their objective was to go into action immediately against Patton's Third Army or Momtgomery's British & Canadian forces. I was Lead Bombardier for the second box of 18 planes. About 50 miles from the target the Lead Formation had one of its planes shot in half by the first salvo of flak, probably from a battery of 88mm guns that did not appear on our briefing map. We approached the target from the west. We could see that it was full of traffic. Lots of steam engines. Lots of box cars loaded with tanks, fuel, supplies & ammunition we hoped.
Five out of six flights scored a Bulls-eye on that marshalling yard. I saw the largest explosions and the most fireball activity of my entire combat experience. Before our formation could turn around and head back home a plume of smoke reached almost to our altitude of two miles. Our Group received a Commendation for this mission which stated that we had destroyed everything that we went after, and more. This had to be one of the best, if not the best B-26 raid ever carried out against Hitler's Europe.
LEAD MISSION # 33. (13th. of 16) 15 JUNE 1944
Our target is the MARSHALLING YARD at LAVAL, FRANCE. Probably not near as important to Rommel as Bretigney was 3 days ago. Laval is a fairly small town with a good size marshalling yard. Another off-loading point for Seventh Army supplies. We knew we had to go in between 3000 and 5000 ft. because of the heavy overcast. I was Lead Bombardier for one flight of 6 planes. My aiming point, as well as the other two flights in my box was the center of the yard. The other box of 18 planes was briefed to hit a nearby construction complex. Our bomb load was unusual. Each plane carried 20 - 250 lb. G.P. bombs. My pattern cut the rail line coming from the west, demolished some storage sheds, the Station Office, a memorial statue and caused one large explosion. The construction site was really clobbered by the other box. An Excellent Mission carried out with no bomb-sight. Five out of six flights hit within the target area.
LEAD MISSION # 35. (14th. of 16) 22 JUNE 1944
Our target was a section of the defense system constructed in a ring around the Port of Cherbourg. The weather was bad. The 386th was the last Group to bomb these German strong points before American troops were set to attack. Pathfinder planes led us to the point where we are to continue to follow and bomb on their lead or break off and make our own bomb run. The Bombardier in our Lead Box went all the way with Pathfinder. His pattern hit just over the aiming point but in the target area. I could see the target. I ignored Pathfinder and made a visual bomb run. My box plastered the aiming point just minutes before the American Army attack was launched. No bombs from the 386th. hit even close to where our troops were supposed to be. We had quite a bit of flak damage but lost no planes. Strike photos of this mission as well as pictures of the surrender of Cherbourg Commanding General von Schlieben were re-printed in magazines and propaganda leaflets dropped behind German lines. Copies of these re-prints can be seen in Strike Folder # 35. Some might say this was our best mission. It has to be rated Excellent.
LEAD MISSION # 36. (15th. of 16) 25 JUNE 1944
Our target was a section of the Alencon-Argentan Forest in France. This forest area was reported to be the location of a major ammunition and supply dump for Rommel's Seventh Army. I was Lead Bombardier for the second box of 18 planes. Both boxes had the same aiming point. Each plane carried 30-100 lb. bombs. We could cover a lot of forest with over 1000 bombs. The pattern of the Lead Box landed mostly outside the target area. My own pattern was just about centered on the aiming point. We saw no big explosions nor fires. The mission was Excellent. I just hoped the French Underground information was correct.
LEAD MISSION # 37. (16th. of 16) 9 JULY 1944
Our target was a gasoline refinery in Normandy. I was Lead Bombardier for all 36 planes in our formation. We were briefed to bomb in flights of 6. Col. Joe Kelly was First Pilot. Lt. B.A. Carrell was Navigator.
On the way to the refinery we passed over a highway bridge at a place I later found out was Orleans-Chatelliers in Normandy. As we neared the oil refinery it was plain that we could forget that target because of a solid cloud cover. I asked Col. Kelly if it was O.K. with him to go after that bridge on the way home. He liked the idea. While we were turning the formation back in the other direction I asked Lt. Carrell for new drift and ground-speed figures from his E-6-B Computer. That took a minute or so. By the time we were settled on our new heading I had this new data pre-set in my Bomb-sight. The bridge came into clear view. I started the bomb run. Our Flight was the only one with bomb-bay doors open. The other 5 Flights were just watching and wondering what we were up to. We had decided not to involve others in this new target. I was able to synchronize quickly. Suddenly, I lost sight of the ground completely. We were now flying over a solid layer of clouds. I glanced at the two electrical contacts on the bomb-sight to see how far apart they were. From this I could estimate about how long it would be to bomb release. It would be 30 seconds, possibly longer. I turned to Lt. Carrell and told him that I could no longer see the target (which he already knew) but that I appeared to be perfectly synchronized and that I intended to wait it out and make the drop. He may have given me a blank look or he may have nodded his head. I'm not sure. Anyhow, my Flight dropped 24 - 1000 lb. bombs through a solid layer of clouds. As I closed the bomb-bay doors I hoped for a break in the clouds so that I might see the target again. My hopes were barely realized. The clouds parted just enough for me to see the 1000 pounders hit that bridge. Our plane's automatic camera took pictures good enough for our Group Photo Interpreter to confirm the hit, just as I claimed. The clincher came the next day when a Photo Recon. outfit sent us pictures taken right after the strike. The pictures they took showed two spans missing from that bridge. From a technical standpoint that had to be my best job as a Bombardier. I Could never have come close without good crew support, especially from the Navigator, Lt. Carrell. The other 5 Flights returned to base with their bomb load. At debriefing, even those in my own Flight thought that I was just making a big joke when I claimed to have hit that bridge. One Pilot, Capt. Saltsman bet me an English Pound (about $4.) that I couldn't prove it. Even with our Photo Interpreter and the Group Recon pictures backing me up he still wouldn't pay off. He said, "If it's impossible, then I don't care what anybody says. It just can't be done". See for yourself in Strike Folder # 37.