|Monday, December 13, 1943 – 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 54:
Briefing was called to order at 1030 hours; target identification is ZH57, otherwise known as Amsterdam-Schiphol, Holland. This attack constitutes a maximum effort by this Command against an extremely important German Air Force Airdrome! It is felt that hits on runway intersection may not only render runways unserviceable, but may disrupt the drainage system of this field which is below sea level. Hits on hangar aiming points will destroy a vital repair facility.
The following B-26 Groups will take part in this mission: 322nd, 323rd, our 386th, and the 387th. The target will be attacked in three waves, with the 322nd Group leading the entire effort. Each Group will put up thirty-six aircraft flying in boxes of eighteen ships plus spares. These formations will make up the first two waves hitting the airdrome, the third wave will be an other mission mounted to the same target with all four B-26 Groups participating. Each Group will supply a single box of eighteen aircraft plus spares. Third wave crews will be flying some thirty minutes after the first two waves go in, so you are asked to remain in the briefing room for weather update and any other information we might receive in the interim.
All aircraft will carry four 1,000 pound general purpose demolition bombs with one-tenth second delay tail fuses. Ammunition to be maximum combat. The 322nd Bomb Group will lead the first wave with thirty-six ships followed by our guys also with thirty-six planes. The second wave to be led by the 323rd Bomb Group followed by the 387th Group; each with thirty-six aircraft.
We will rendezvous with the 322nd at Splasher Beacon Number 6 at 1347 hours. Zero Hour is 1415. Rendezvous with Spitfire escort will take place 11,500 feet over the North Sea at 52 Degrees 10 Minutes North, and 03 Degrees 30 Minutes East at Zero Hour. Enemy landfall will be made two miles south of Katwijk Aan Zee. Evasive action will be taken during time over enemy territory. Continue course southeast to five miles north of Woerden, then left turn to a heading of 358 degrees, then left turn onto the initial point. Axis of attack will be generally southeast to northwest. Make bomb run at 11,500 feet with a left turn off target to a heading of 270 degrees. Exit enemy coast at Zandvoort; continue course to landfall at Southwold and back to base.
Communications to 322nd Group on Channel C. Bomber to bomber and Command frequency VHF Channel A. Bomber call sign, Dypeg Two. Fighter call sign, Garlic, Ground Sector call sign, Ailsome. Air-Sea-Rescue on Channel D. Emergency homing to Coltishall on VHF Channel D with call sign, Manlove. Emergency homing to Earls Colne VHF Channel D, call sign, Boskin. Emergency airdromes, Bungay, Martlesham, Heath, and Woodbridge.
The weather at take off time at 1240 hours will be six-tenths to seven-tenths cirrus cloud with a visibility of three miles. Route out is four-tenths to five-tenths stratocumulus, by mid channel you should have two-tenths to three-tenths with visibility picking up to five miles. The target area will be clear with visibility of six miles or more with slight haze. The route back will pretty much the same. At home base it looks like seven-tenths to eight-tenths cirrus with four miles visibility. The briefing ended at 1150 hours, and the flight crews piled into waiting trucks which sped them to respective hard stands. They loaded on flak vests, parachute packs and Mae Wests’. After a walk around inspection of their aircraft, they climbed in and arranged the flight gear at each members station.
1225 hours and engine starting time, the Pratt and Whitney R-2800’s came to life with a muffled roar around the field. At 1235 hours Lieutenant Colonel Charles Lockhart nodded to his ground crew, and they hurried to pull the chocks from the wheels of his Marauder; he would be leading the show for the 386th . He taxied onto the perimeter track and headed toward the active end of the runway, followed by all of the other planes. He lined up his ship and made a brief run up to check magnetos. A traffic control truck was parked off to the side, flashed a green light and he began the take off run. This was repeated approximately every thirty seconds until all participating aircraft were off the airfield.
The formation of thirty-six aircraft plus two spares left over base at 1331 hours on course of 47 degrees true for rendezvous with the 322nd Bomb Group over Splasher Number 6. Leaving that point at 1346 hours on a course of 98 degrees true to Southwold located on the English Coast where they arrived at 1353 hours. They continued on course to the fighter rendezvous 1415 hours. Three squadrons of RAF Spitfires joined flying close support, and three more squadrons flying escort cover. The formation of seventy-two bombers plus six squadrons Spitfires took up a heading of 90 degrees true. Exactly 17 minutes to the rear, the 323rd and 387th Groups with a total of seventy-two more aircraft were winging their way along the same route.
Landfall on the Dutch Coast was at hand, slight and inaccurate black puffs of heavy type flak appeared in the sky about the 322nd Group. Evasive action was taken by the 386th Group as they made enemy landfall two miles south of Katwijk Aan Zee at 1426 hours. At that moment Lieutenant Higgins flying, “BUZZ-N-BITCH II” 131953 RG-T in number five position of the lead flight received damage from a flak hit. He peeled off to the right and headed his aircraft back to England where he landed at Seething.
The formation continued evasive action as it took up a southeastern leg to a point five miles north of Woerden, at which time they executed a steep left turn and headed for the (I.P.) Initial Point. Upon reaching the I.P. Colonel Lockhart eased his formation onto a bomb run heading of 335 degrees amid an intense and very accurate flak barrage. His Bombardier, Captain F.A. Meier was using the synchronized method of sighting which incorporated preset drift and dropping angle, with manual bombing approach.
With bomb bay doors open and indicating an air speed of 190 m.p.h., attitude 11,500 feet as the runway intersection aiming point was coming into view. Heavy type flak pounded the formation; there were pink or red bursts four to five times larger than the usual black flak bursts. A six gun heavy flak position located immediately off the northwest corner of the airdrome was firing at them. Also at the northwest corner of the field, seven silver single engine aircraft could be seen on the ground. One gun position three miles south of Schiphol, and numerous gun positions along a canal southwest of the airdrome toward the City of Amsterdam were in evidence.
At 1437 hours Lead Bombardier Captain Meier dropped his bombs, but only three of the 1,000 pounders fell clear. One failed to release due to a bomb rack malfunction. His other bombs hit in good concentration across the aiming point as observed by his tail gunner, Staff Sergeant Alan Dipple. He noted bomb craters previously made in the west dispersal area of the target as well. A new heading of 270 degrees was given to his commander by Lead Navigator Lieutenant A.L. Andrews as they came off the target, and then immediately resuming evasive action as the flak continued. Colonel Lockhart’s first box sustained flak hits on six bombers. Major Franklin Harris was leading the second box of eighteen planes from the 386th in a plane named, “RAT POISON” 131606 AN-S; the German grounds gunners were correcting aim like mad, so by the time Major Harris had cleared the target area, sixteen of his planes had received battle damage! As the formation neared the enemy coast they began to get heavy type flak from Zandvoort. Flak also came up from Haarlem on the left side, it continued until they were approximately three miles out over the North Sea. The Corbin crew flying in a ship by the name of, “CLOUD HOPPER 2nd” 131763 RU-O in number five position, low flight of the first eighteen watched a drama unfold beneath them! A B-26 from the 322nd Group was low over the coast on the way out, it appeared under control as four Spitfires swept down to cover it.
Lieutenant Kilmartin flying, “THE BAD PENNY” 131628 RU-L had received two flak hits in his left engine, and another hit in his right engine and right wing. Two holes in the left side on his horizontal stabilizer, and one in the right side along with a hole in the fuselage. He was flying in the second eighteen, low flight position number three. Lieutenant Burgess could see a crack in the hatch over his head in his ship by the name of, “PANSY YOKUM” 131638 RG-N, a hole in the left wing as he was flying number two of the high flight in the first box of eighteen. Another pilot, Lieutenant Michael in the second box high flight, number two position was told by his top turret man that the right side machine gun was out of action because of a faulty solenoid in ship number, 131805 AN-D.
The McNutt crew flying ship number 131945 RG-W number six position high flight in the first box were happy for more reasons than one to be out of flak range—they had taken off short of one flak vest! Flying, “LETHAL LADY” 131646 RU-C, Lieutenant Purdy in lead position low flight in the second box had top turret junction box leads smashed by flak. His left wing was hit along with right wing and horizontal stabilizer.
The English Coast came into view and the Group made landfall over Lowestoft at 1510 hours. Colonel Lockhart swung to a heading of 237 degrees which brought his formation over Great Dunmow Base at 1528 hours. He flew his traffic pattern and then eased his plane, “CRESCENDO” 131644 RG-C onto the runway, it had been a very rough mission, but his aircraft came through unscathed with one 1,000 pound bomb still hanging in its bomb bay.
The returning ships were landing in rapid succession, and now it was Lieutenant Giles turn! He was flying, “BOMB BOOGIE” 131587 AN-W and was surprised a short while ago when his engineer gunner, Staff Sergeant Kenneth Kuznetzoff came into the cockpit to inform him they still had a 1,000 pound on board. The ship’s bombardier compartment bomb indicator panel clearly showed that all bombs had been released! At which time Lieutenant Richard Ludwig hurried to the bomb bay to see what could be done while they were still over the North Sea. He tried to salvo the bomb but it was defiant. About all he could really do now, was insert the safety wire into the fuse and inform the pilot they would have to take it home!
Just as the ship touched down the defective mechanism let go, and the bomb dropped. It fell on the bomb bay door forcing it open; thus pinching the bomb between the edge of the door and the centerline cat walk of the ship. The drag of the bomb nose on the runway pulled it to the rear of the bomb bay with the bomb fins now caught against the aft bulkhead, the cat walk, and the bomb bay door. From the outside it must have looked like a B-26 with a 1,000 pound tail skid! Seconds later the bomb wrenched free of the plane and alternately slithering and bounding behind the airplane. This caught the eye of Captain Ervin Rogers who was assistant group operations officer. He hastily grabbed a microphone saying, “Control Tower to aircraft on the runway, there is a bomb following you!” Pilot Giles spoke softly via his throat microphone, “I know it, he paused, then said, it wont go off—-I hope!” Luck was with them, the bomb finally rolled off the runway where it lay with a badly battered nose. It had not exploded during the dragging because it had a tail fuse only!
The flight crews flowed into the interrogation room with gusto, first they were happy that the mission was over, and second they wanted to get this over with so they could go eat. No food since breakfast, and it was now past 1600 hours. Many said, better food and no more “C Rations.” When mission conflicts with eating hour food should be available for crews. Captain Haber’s crew reported seeing a B-26 with an engine feathered , and its crew throwing equipment overboard thirty miles south of Lowestoft at 1512 hours. Colonel Lockhart said the weather was better than briefed, but a very slight haze in the target area. Flight Officer Bayne’s crew saw Spitfires chasing a twin engine fighter off in the distance. A number of comments were made concerning parachutes, seat packs for pilots and back packs for waist gunners. Captain Green’s crew flying, “LITLJO” 131622 RU-D reported they had to salvo one bomb due to faulty A-2 type release unit.
All of the spare aircraft had problems, Lieutenant Blackwelder assigned to fly a ship named, “GERONIMO” 131630 RG-J did not take off because of manifold pressure drop. Another pilot, Lieutenant Callahan flying, “?” 131635 RU-H returned early because of the inoperative manual propeller control on his right engine. Lieutenant Hoffman of the 552nd Squadron returned with a problem from thirty miles out over the North Sea.
Bombing by all four Groups ranged from fair to good. All received heavy battle damage. The 322nd Group with thirty-four planes hit. The 323rd Group reported thirty-one damaged, one crash landed at Halesworth, one at Woodbridge, and another crash landed at home base. The 386th had twenty-two aircraft hit. The 387th Group had over thirty aircraft damaged. Yet with all that flak and battle damage, not a single plane failed to return to England. What stout birds those Martin B-26’s really were!
Chester P. Klier
Mission 55: http://b26.com/historian/chester_klier/055.htm