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McKenzie Rides Marauder Bombing Path for Invaders

A B-26 Marauder base in England, June 6.  Riding in the Van of American. Spearhead which covered the landing of American Rangers on the coast of France, this reporter had a panoramic view this morning of the D-Day invasion and saw the first American come ashore from smoking landing boats which had ridden through a curtain of German gunfire to reach the beach a few minutes before.

Deep behind the invaded beach, American paratroops and glide-borne rangers were locked in battle along a wide irregular front. Airborne units had landed soon after dawn and were engaged with the enemy when warships of the United Nations steamed in open order to within a few miles of the coast and commenced to pour in a steady fire. Low wispy clouds down to 1,500 feet mottled the battlefield and the Marauder crews could discern only fragmentary glimpses of the struggle etched by the flat, spitting fire of mechanized guns and the spurting bursts of tracer bullets.  The Germans had dammed or diverted waterways and flooded large sections of the countryside.  Some sheets of water appeared to be anywhere up to 20 miles in diameter.

Rain Down Bombs From 3000 Foot

The run of the Marauders down the invasion coast just as dawn broke was one of the most dramatic and amazing single episodes in the history of air warfare. The American bombers came down as low as 2,000 feet to blast batteries of German guns with a rain of bombs in a little under 15 seconds. Scarcely a man who began that run expected to come out alive. Although the crew were briefed to bomb the target from 10,800 feet to 10,000 feet, they were told just before they took off in the dark that must come down to 5,000 feet or even 1,000 feet to get under a lowering cloud curtain, and they realized that their assignment was a suicide parade. At anything under 10,000 feet, a Marauder has a tough time with the flack. At 8,000 feet, it theoretically has not even a 50-50 chance, but at 2,000 feet carbines and machine guns can stop it, let alone a 88 MM anti-aircraft shells. But this target was considered vital to the first assault. It had been ordered blasted. Behind the shore batteries, a target impervious to anything less than blockbusters, sheltered picked Nazi anti invasion troops. With airborne American troops fighting close to the target on the landward side and others landing from barges to seaward, precision bombing was vital unless a large number of American were to be slaughtered. That is why the crack group of bombers known as the "Silver Streaks" were briefed to come right down on top of the target if necessary for deadly accuracy.

Gen. Omar Bradley’s intent, apparently, was to button up the German troops in the shelters and by the concussion of the 250-pound impact explosive bombs to stun them into insensibility, so they would fall easy victims to the inrushing invaders who were timed to arrive on the beach just as the Marauders passed over in order not to rear fresh obstacles before the landing, tanks, 250-pounders were chosen instead of the 2,000 lb bombs these aircraft usually carry. To protect the landing forces from the exploding forces from the enfilading fire, and at the same time to mark clearly on invasion channel to the beach, American B-25 Billy Mitchell Bombers dashed right down on the water and began to run to the beach at right angles to the bomb run of the Marauders.  The timing of the smoke barrage, the landing and the bomber-run was excellent.

Race Onto Target With Throttles Wide

As we cut the French coast, a red Me-109 dived to the carpet, raced under the formation and zoomed to register our altitude for the gunners in the flack valley we were about to enter, but a tail- gunner in the box behind me sent a few bursts skipping after him and he peeled off for an adjacent landing field, apparently unhurt. Then the flak began. We had dropped down so low that machine-gun tracer bullets were flying up through our formations like sparks out of a factory chimney, curving redly over and into us, but the Silver Streaks, attempting to no evasion, raced down on the target strip with throttles wide open. The advance flights suffered heavy flak for the whole 15 seconds of their run, but with magnificent courage wavered neither to left nor right, laying their loads along the whole length of the target. As the last Marauder element was moving in for its run, an FW-190 jumped it, got in a burst, and one of the Silver Streaks exploded. The stricken ship crashed in flames on the waters edge.

Only two of more than 350 Marauders on the mission failed to return, the United Press reported.  While the Marauders were making their run, the guns of the fleet continued to pump in the metal, and the coast was being well saturated. At the other end of the dual, the German guns which we had watched heavily shelling the incoming invasion fleet seemed to have slacked about 75%.  At the end of their run the Marauders turned inland to make a wide detour back to England.  As we turned away, the dive bombers of the 9th USAAF began to scream down and the main body of the invasion fleet had drawn perceptibly closer to the beach.

Sky Above Black With Our Fighters

High above, allied fighters were milling round in the sky. Long before a great mass of them had swept over Northwestern France. As H-hour drew near, the sky was black with them. With the exception of the two punch-hitters, which jumped our formation from the deck, we did not see a single German fighter.

All our way over France, isolated moderate flak pursued us, but we soon climbed above the machine-gun range and saw the tracers curving harmlessly away. From this morning on, everyone who took part in this historic spearhead attack, which opened the second front, may consider that he is living on borrowed time. The crewmen of the Marauders looked like pack-train two humped camels. The foundation of their massive clothing was a may west life jacket, over that came a bulky parachute, and over that came a flak suit, which is a smock of iron plates that weighs 200 lbs. The whole is topped off with a steel helmet, and none of it seems thick enough when 88 MM shells from ack-ack guns are rocking and bumping the machine. Our ship was captained and flown by Capt. Curt S. Seebaldt of Rochester, Michigan. He said after we landed that he felt profoundly honored to have been among the first United States Groups to spearhead the invasion.  His co-pilot, a tall youth from Cut Bank, Mont. Lieutenant Carllyle Webb, declared: " I am no actor, but I believe I have just taken part in the opening scene of the greatest show on earth."   The navigator was Lieutenant Edwin Freeman of El Cempo, Texas, who described the mission as the greatest flight he had ever made.

The Bombardier, Lieutenant Edward Harrison of Tunstall, VA, summed up what all the combat crews thought of the sweep: "It’s the first time I’ve been that close to the enemy." The wheels of that vast invasion machine began to turn for the cross-channel lunge last Wednesday. The last forward moves in the assemblage of the invasion forces were completed. Vast transport fleets were at their stations. Warships of the allied fleets were moving in on the bases for their opening attack. All the intricate machinery of the greatest invasion enterprise in history was accelerating quickly and smoothly to assault tempo.

For weeks, the cargo of correspondents–each individual assigned to his D-Day post–had been drilled and versed in the part he was to play. They were called to Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force by telephone from Wednesday morning on and instructed to tell nobody of the summons.

Correspondent Put Under Military Law

From the moment they arrived at headquarters, they were under strict military law: Forbidden all communication with the outside world. They were told D-Day was at hand, briefed for the assault and assigned to their invasion stations. They left their hotels quietly and secretly, carrying light combat kit and leaving their effects strewn about untouched. Even their room maids would not guess that anything unusual was afoot. Their bills were left unpaid. Dates waited starry-eyed and forlorn.

The last sections to move out were the radio, camera, and newsmen assigned to cover the 9th Air Force medium bombers. They were flown from a London Airport to various command airfields and disembarked in parties of three. This correspondent was in the last party to disembark– at the station of the famous Silver Streaks.

This crack outfit of precision bombers, who since January have strewn havoc and desolation among marshalling yards, airfields, highways, docks and strategic bridges deep in France and Netherlands, has an equally famous Commander, Colonel Reginal F.C. Vance of San Antonio, Texas.  Colonel Vance was assessed by General McArthur to be more valuable to the U.S. than 200 pounds of her gold.

It happened like this:

Colonel Vance, who arrived in the Philippines 17 days before the Japs, led U.S. dive-bombers until there was none left. He then was attached to Macarthur’s Staff and fought down through Bataan, through the tunnel into Corregidor and into the last Ditch. When the moment came for MacArthur to decide on indispensables to evacuate to Java, 200 pounds of bar gold were thrown off to make way for him.

The Silver Streaks have made more than 67 missions since they arrived in England last January. The sons of three Generals man ships, they are: captain Lucius D. Clay, Jr., First Lieutenant Jack J. Jones, and Captain Charles E. Hardy. These and 13 other pilots of the Silver Streaks are West Point graduates.

Every man of every combat crew in the group has been decorated, and all are now seasoned veterans of the flak-alleys of the invasion defenses. In operation, they weave through

shrapnel, dart over their targets, drop their bombs and then race home like bats out of hell. Flak is their chief hazard. Fighters of the Luftwaffe seldom trouble them. The Silver Streaks are as heavily armored as either a B-24 Liberator or a B-17 Fortress and have much more superior speed and maneuverability.

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