Stanley "Stan" Walsh, Bombardier
397th Bomb Group, 598th Bomb Squadron
Christmas Day 1944 - 397th Bomb Group - Battle of the Bulge
by Stan Walsh
Farmers, cab drivers and meteorologists said it was the worst December weather Europe had seen in over 60 years. On December 12, under leaden skies the 397th Bomb Group launched a PFF Pathfinder led mission targeting Gmund, Germany, a strategic crossroads near the Belgium border. Returning to A-72 Peronne, France, we landed under minimum conditions in deteriorating weather. A weather front moved in blanketing Europe with clouds and fog. For eleven days, we were grounded - nothing moved - except German Panzer and Tiger tanks.
On 16 December 1944. hundreds of tanks came clanking out of the trees of the Ardennes. This was Hitler’s last desperate effort code-named “Watch on the Rhine” which we called “The Battle of the Bulge." At A-72, we sat helpless, unable to support troops surrounded at Bastogne.
A week of non-flying anxiety mixed with bad news from the front followed. We feared enemy paratroopers might infiltrate and sabotage our airplanes. Aircrews were pressed into guard duty standing in two-hour shifts nightly at each hardstand. They were long lonely cold hours sometimes punctuated with “Halt, who goes there?” challenges. Happily, not a shot was fired.
December 23, 1944 the weather cleared. Everything that could fly was in the air including the Luftwaffe.
The 397th Bomb Group legacy marks this day as "Black Saturday", We lost ten Marauders to enemy fighters and flak.
Christmas Day, December 25, 1944. My “Longest Day". At 6 AM, we were briefed for a “special mission."
We were to lead a 6-ship formation loaded with fragmentation bombs on a low-level hedgehopping raid against enemy troops. We waited in the Operations room.
A regular mission was called - we remained "on hold." Hours passed - mission planes returned with battle damage. One plane ran off the runway, another bellied in and burned - fortunately crews escaped.
On hold and hungry', the cooks made turkey sandwiches for us. Late in the afternoon, our “special” was scrubbed. We took off on a regular medium altitude mission. We were to rendezvous with fighters over Liege and do a fast bomb run into Malmedy. We circled over the city - our "little friends" never showed. Alone at dusk we dashed into the Bulge receiving intense accurate flak - “Bombs away - Let’s get out of here! “
In winter darkness, we turned toward "Drunkard”, code for A-72. which had no runway lights. Low on fuel alter circling Liege, 9th Bomber Division diverted all planes to alternate fields. Ours was A-71. which has the luxury' of two searchlights - one on each end of the runway pointing straight up. Question is on which side of the threshold. We made a low pass and found the lights were left of the runway threshold. We circled. I sat between the pilot and copilot watching the instruments. On touch down the right engine tachometer needle suddenly dropped to zero. The prop still turned - no loss of control - tachometer just broke.
My “Longest Christmas Day” ended at midnight after a cold truck ride to “Drunkard.” Entering the room, my pals nonchalantly looked up and said. "Oh, Stan, you’re back. We were about to open your Christmas presents."