On 17 July 1944 the 386th was ordered to attack an important oil facility at Rennes, France, located southwest of Paris. Six flights of six planes each were to make separate bombing runs. As Group Bombardier I was responsible for briefing the Lead Crews as far as the bombing was concerned. I believe it was General Herbert Thatcher, our Wing Commanding Officer who was at this briefing.
As the crews were boarding their Jeeps to move out to the flight line the General overheard me make an off-hand remark that, for this particular mission, we might be just as well off sending only one flight rather than six. He asked me why I would make such a statement. I explained my remarks as follows: This mission to Rennes is definitely not run-of-the-mill. It is much tougher than usual because (1) the target is at the extreme range of our B-26 fuel supply. We must go straight in on the target, make a U-turn and come straight home. Even then some planes might not make it all the way back. (2) flak batteries line the approaches to the target. Our formation will be under heavy fire just before starting the bomb run. Our crews are not used to that. (3) it will take a Lead Bombardier of exceptional nerve, skill, experience and determination to pull this one off. (4) the only one I am sure about on this mission is Capt. Smith, the Lead Crew Bombardier. General Thatcher didn't say much but I could tell he wasn't too impressed. Capt. Smith was the last to report to de-briefing after the mission. All the other Lead Crews reported intense flak. Some Lead Bombardiers never saw the target. None came close to hitting it. Smitty was smiling as he got out of his Jeep, and with good reason. His flight camera confirmed his claim of a direct hit. The target went up in flames.
General Thatcher was at the de-briefing. He was impressed. Capt. Smith was promoted to Group Bombing Officer right after I left for home on 24 September 1944. I believe he completed his tour of duty as the ranking Bombardier on the Staff at Ninth Bomber Command. They could not have found a better man for the job.
Albert E. Hill
(Captain William E. Smith)