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Elmer Hansard, Marauder Man
391st Bomb Group, 573rd Bomb Squadron

God’s Angels
One Day With a B26 Bomber Crew

Author: Elmer Hansard
Editor: Greg Hansard

Matching Green, England…1944…June 6th….9th AAF 391st Group 573 sq.

“Everyone up, Report to Operations at four thirty” shouted the CQ as he came charging down the center of the hut. “What’s the idea at this hour?” Several of the men asked. “You’ll find out over at Operations. Breakfast is being served now so let’s hustle.” Responded the CQ.

We assumed it was just another ‘D’ day alert. Two nights ago they had us practice a night take off, and the British shot at us all night in spite of our recognition flares. It’s a good thing they were a bunch of lousy shots. When we got to the Mess Hall there was a lot of talk concerning a landing in France. If it was true, this was one flight I didn’t want to miss. For once we could fly into Coast of France, and not get the Hell shot out of us. I hurried through my breakfast so I could get to Operations and get the lowdown.

Some of the other crews were already on their way to their planes. They had already been briefed, but you couldn’t get any of them to say anything. We went to the enlisted men’s room as always, and the CPI came in and herded us into the Officers room. I knew this was no practice now because we normally didn’t go into the officer’s room.

The commander of the group came in with a paper in his hand. He waved his hands above his head for us to quiet down and then he began reading. The paper was from Gen. Eisenhower. There was one part of the commander’s speech that I remember very clearly. “Last night and this morning, the United Sates’ and Allies began landing on the beaches of France. We’ve got to make this landing a success and give them everything we’ve got. To you Bomber crews, I want you to be more accurate than ever before and make every bomb count.” I was too overcome with excitement to remember much more.

When the Operations Officer stepped up on the platform, we all cheered. He had the main lights turned down, and he flashed a map on the screen to show us the German guns. The three 8 inch guns were on the north edge of Cherbourg. Fifteen minutes after we drop the 8 “500”pound bombs, the troops would make their landing. The operations officer said the weather was hazy, so we would bomb by Pathfinder. The pathfinder allowed one bomb group to see straight through the clouds. When they dropped their bombs, we dropped ours. We would bomb at seven thousand feet. Ten thousand feet was the usual bombing altitude, today was no typical day.

The commander dismissed the enlisted men, and we went into the parachute room to get our chutes and helmets. This mission had already put a great big lump in my throat, but for the first time I couldn’t wait to get started. I wanted to see the landing with my own eyes and take in this history-making event. We caught a truck out to the plane, helped finish loading the bombs, and checked the plane. As I looked up at the sky, planes were coming from every direction, heading for France. The officer arrived shortly and gave a general check of things. We then taxied out of the park and we were on our way.

On takeoff, everyone stayed up front but myself. I was so anxious to make this run that I didn’t wonder if everything was all right. We taxied around to our position, waited for our lead plane to start down the runway and proceeded behind it. I braced myself as the big engines raced to pull the plane down the runway, skipping over the concrete dividing lines. It wasn’t long until the plane quit bumping, eased a little sideways, and I knew we were airborne. As we cleared the runway, I looked over to our right, and saw a plane surrounded by burning bellows of black smoke coming up to meet us. Someone never cleared the ground. A path of broken limbs and shrubbery trailed the plane. I forgot about the invasion for a moment and thought how easily that could have been us. The bobbing and weaving of our plane took my mind off of the burning plane. Our pilot dodged other planes streaking across the sky. The other planes were trying to find their formation and get into their positions. It seemed as though the sky was full of little red and green lights swinging from the wing tips of the planes. I felt as though I was driving down Main Street on a Saturday night at Christmas time. I felt another violent jerk as we dodged another plane crossing over our path. Several other planes crossed our path until we reached the coast. By the time we reached the coast, most of the planes caught up with their flights, and the congestion finally settled.

The clouds were low and it was difficult to see anything but your wing’s main lights. There was always the danger of someone lost coming out of the clouds and smashing into you. Our plane was now out over the channel, and we spread out to test fire our guns. I went back into the bombay to arm the bombs. We closed up the bomb bay doors, and it wasn’t long until we could see the massive amount of ships and barges below in the channel. I saw a big destroyer on fire. I saw fire from the ground forces exploding on the ground. There was smoke everywhere. Four P38’s fired at a retreating German Me109. The low hanging clouds were colored orange from the big boats shells.

The flack from the German antiaircraft guns let us know we were not wanted. We began running into the clouds to get away from the flak. Once in the clouds, it was hard to see our lead plane. Despite poor visibility, we saw the lead planes bombbay doors open. We quickly opened ours. The lead plane dropped and we followed suit. Our bombardier reported bombbay doors closed, and we went into another cloud. Only the camera will know if we hit or not as we headed for home. Then out of that cloud and right back into another. When we came out of this one we were back over the Normandy coast. Boats and landing craft were all over the channel, and the German anti aircraft balloons hovered almost as high as us. Once we made across the channel we were home free.

When we got back to the base, a truck was waiting to take us back to Operations. We went to the interrogation room and told our commander, and then out to the crew room to see the flight doctor. The flight doctor gave everyone a double shot of whiskey. The radio operator didn’t drink, so he poured his in my cup. We were about to leave for the mess hall and our pilot came out and told us “go out to the park stand and help get the plane ready for another crew that will be flying it on another mission. We were supposed to fly an early afternoon mission and a late one today. After that drink, all I wanted to do was lay down for a while. We went back out to the park stand only to find the ground crew had the situation pretty well in hand, so I fixed a cigarette lighter that hadn’t been working right.

I noticed a land army girl setting on the ground by the fence, so I thought I’d go over and maybe cook up a conversation. These girls were drafted into the Army to tend farms where they were needed. I spoke to her, and she returned the greeting and commented on how busy they were around here today. She knew better than to ask me about the landing and avoided the subject hoping I would mention it. I wanted to tell her about it, but I knew everyone must have known the invasion was on with the sky full of planes all morning. I started to sing that Old English favorite, “Roll me over in clover” and she laughed a little but quickly changed the subject with a comment on how the Jerries haven’t been over lately. A week ago, German bombs fell within two hundred yards of the sleeping quarters, and about five hundred feet from the end of our runway. Every time we took off I could see the reminder.

The other crews began to come out too, and our engineer whistled for me to come on and we could ride back on the truck. I was just getting comfortable talking, but it was about a mile and half back so I gave up my talk with the army girl and got in the truck. After mess, I got out my stationary to write a letter, when the CQ came in and told us to be at Operations in half an hour. I wasn’t quite so enthused this time, but I didn’t think it would be so bad this time with the Germans busy fighting the ground forces.

This time the operations officer told us we would hit a Bridge over the Orne river. The Orne flows through the city of Caen, France. The only draw back was that we were carrying two thousand pound bombs and the cloud coverage was low. We would have to go just as low as the clouds. They were estimated at seven thousand.

It wasn’t long until we were in the air and out over the channel. You could see the low hanging clouds ahead, and they were much lower than us. We went under the clouds and into a steep decline to about 2,000 feet. The coast of France was in view, and the cliffs of the Bay of Seine were ahead. The great Port of Lamarve was at our left. The German guns began to fire from the Port, and big puffs of antiaircraft shells exploded around us. I noticed our speed was very fast, and I called the pilot on the intercom to find out just how fast we were going. He answered three hundred and fifty miles an hour. Boy, what a speed. I barely held on to the tail because of the sharp decline, and I felt that I was going to loose my grip on the gun control handles and roll down in the belly of the plane. I squeezed so hard that I fired my guns just as one of our planes crossed behind us. I thought I hit the plane behind us, but then I noticed both guns pointing straight up over the rear plane. What a relief. The Bombardier of that plane was so close it looked as if he was setting on our tail. He was close enough that I could almost tell what time it was by his wristwatch. The bombardier didn’t even notice my burst because of the piercing German machine gun and small anti aircraft fire. It looked like the middle of a fourth of July celebration. We leveled off and started our bomb run. The flight ahead of us dropped their loads, and we opened our Bombay doors. It was hard to believe we went this long without any heavy German 88 millimeter antiaircraft fire. Suddenly two burst railed us. I called the pilot, and told him, “heavy fire at six o’clock” the bombardier said ‘bombs away’ and the third burst of 88 hit just below our right engine and sent up bellowing clouds of black smoke. The plane gave a hard roll to the right as the rest of our planes had shot ahead of us. We began losing power and the pilot kicked on the rudder to straighten out the plane. It seemed like the Germans were giving us everything they had. I called the pilot and told him the engine was on fire, but now it was just smoking. We feathered the prop and I asked for the engineer. He didn’t answer, and I thought he was hit. I whipped around and saw him and the radio operator at the side window ready to bail out. I motioned for him to come over, but he couldn’t grasp what I was motioning. I pointed at my throat mike, and he held his up indicating he had broken it off getting out of the top turret. The radio operator plugged his back in and relayed the message to the Engineer. By this time the Co-pilot was on the phone and asked if he was coming. I told him that his throat mike was broken. We didn’t know how long we could stay at this low altitude on one engine, but we figured on ditching in the channel as close to England as we could get. We must cross the convoy of ships battling below. The allied ships weren’t very considerate either because they opened up on us with anti-aircraft fire. We were told not to go over the convoys but we had too to get to the English Channel. First, the Germans shot our engine out, and now our own allies were trying to finish us off. We crossed the ships, got out of their range, and stripped the plane of everything that would come loose. My ammunition belt wouldn’t come out of the guns so I fired the ammo out. I blasted away at the channel when an American P38 patrolling the area dove on us. I held my breath, if he opens fire were dead. He buzzed us and saw the dead prop-smoking engine, wiggled his wing for good luck and headed for France. We were all a little worried. I guess he thought I was firing at the boats below and came to investigate. I left the rest of the ammo in the gun, and as I looked to the side window to my right I saw a trail of gas running from the left man wing tank. It was about a foot or so from the exhaust of our engine. I called the pilot and asked if he noticed any engine loss on the gauges. He said he was already transferring the gas from the right main tank to the left tank. The tank was loosing more than it could pump. He was concerned because the gas was so close to the exhaust, but all we could do now was stay with the plane. We were too low to bail out. I kept imagining the plane blowing to bits any minute. The coast of England was in sight and I was ready to bail out, but the pilot felt we could make it to land. The cliffs in Hastings were about two hundred feet high, and we couldn’t have been near two hundred feet. The pilot called us forward, and we got into position for a crash landing. The pilot and copilot sat in their seat, the radio operator sat in a seat in the navigators compartment, and the bombardier sat in the only other seat, the engineer sat in the floor next to the pilot’s compartment, and I strattled both of his legs. We kept our hands behind our necks to keep from snapping if we hit too hard. The left engine popped and sputtered as it began grasping for fuel. Everyone forgot anyone else was around, and we began praying like they never prayed before and some had never prayed. Almost senseless with fear, the next thing I knew were shooting along the ground and the copilot yelled, “Hold brakes hold.” We just kept scooting and bumping until we stopped. The pilot opened his hatch, and I scrambled out. I saw the thick layers of dust and thought it was smoke. I helped the others out, and then I kissed the earth. I began getting out of my parachute harness and my flying suit when I saw a great cloud of dust coming our way. It was an ambulance and a couple of English jeeps coming to our rescue. The ambulance swung around to us and a group of British soldiers jumped out and wanted to know if we had any casualties. I said “No, but we could use some new laundry”. My crewmembers caught my joke, but the Brits just stared blankly. We got in the ambulance climbed up on the stretcher and joked about how we were happy to be here. We landed at an RAF Spitfire base.

The British took us over to their Day Room and gave us each a shot of whiskey. We drank round after round and after about the fifth, the bartender told us we drank enough of their liquor. We told them to stick it, and then they invited us to lunch. Their lunch halls were great, and they had ladies from the WAFs to wait on us and keep our teacups full. This was really living. They set us up at an old cottage with six beds in it. We lay down to rest awhile. We were over a hundred miles from the field and no plans to fly. What more could we want. Besides, all the fight was out of me after today. I thought we could stay here the rest of the war.

As we lay there in the bunks we heard planes hovering overhead and it sounded just like a b26. I couldn’t figure one being way down here. About twenty minutes later an officer came to the door and told us that he was here to fly us back to the base. Talk about a bunch of long faces, we had them. On the way back to base all he could talk about was how he didn’t think he had enough room to take off with this many men. He figured if he held the brakes and opened the throttle and jumped it he could get up enough speed before we got out over the cliffs. We could then begin carrying power by pressing down toward the channel. I figure if I ever got out of this I’d never fly again.

We made it and after we got back to the base, we found that we were reported missing in action and everyone had distributed our belongings all of the area. Our crew chief was so tickled at getting us back; they boosted us up on their shoulders and carried us back to the hut. What a day, I didn’t think I could fly again. Then…

The next morning at six o’clock came the old familiar call “Get up mess at six-thirty, operations at seven. D-Day was Elmer Hansard’s 37th mission. He went on to fly 69 total missions. He was awarded the air medal 13 times. He was also awarded 2 silver oak leaf, 2 bronze leaf, the battle ribbon, three stars for battle of Britain and the invasion American defense ribbon. He retired from Indiana Bridge Company in 1986 after 44years. Elmer lives in Muncie, Indiana.

Original Art by Elmer Hansard Copyright © 2008

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