Thursday, September 23, 1943 – 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 27:
Briefing was called to order by Major Hankey at 1200 hours – Third Bomb Wing directs our Group to attack the airdrome at Beauvais-Tille, France by F.O. 101. We will follow the 323rd Bomb Group, each Group will put up thirty-six aircraft plus spares. Each of the planes are loaded with ten 300 pound GP bombs fused for one-tenth second delay nose and tail. The primary target is identified as Z154 on the target map. Axis of attack is generally northwest to southeast. The aiming point is ammunition and bomb storage, also dispersal areas on the northeast side of field. The airdrome is well camouflaged with two 1500 yard long runways going from northwest to southeast, and from southwest to northeast. The northeast dispersal has twenty-seven aircraft shelters, two fuel loops, and personnel quarters. Our secondary target is the airdrome located at Poix, France, Z364 on the target map.
The route out from base to Splasher Beacon Number 9 to 50 Degrees 20 Minutes North, 00 Degrees 40 Minutes East, which is our fighter rendezvous point over the channel. We make landfall at Criel and on to the target. The route back is a left turn off the target to Cayeux on the enemy coast, cross the channel making English landfall over Dungeness, and back to base. Diversion airdromes for today are Gravesend and West Malling.
Altitude and timing: Rendezvous with 323rd Group 12,000 feet over Splasher Number 9 at Zero Hour minus sixteen minutes. Rendezvous with fighter escort 12,000 feet over channel at Zero Hour. Bomb from 10,500 feet, exit enemy territory at 10,000 feet, and return over England at 8,000 feet.
This is the flak story – at enemy landfall September 21st, 88mm flak was weak, not very accurate. Dieppe has very heavy flak concentration ten miles to your southwest at enemy landfall. Some flak has been reported at Le Treport on your left going in. You can expect heavy type flak from Marseille, which is four miles left of your course and ten miles out from the target. There are twenty-two known heavy type guns located near the primary target. One six gun position two miles north northeast, one four gun position three and one-half miles to the northeast, one six gun emplacement one and one-half miles to the east, and another six gun position 1100 yards to the south-southwest. The flak in this area is classed as moderate to intense, and fairly accurate by recent experience of the 323rd and 387th Bomb Groups. Gun fire was described as bursting large and vertical rather than a horizontal spread. Opening fire apparently plotted concentration – thereafter a continuous following salvo type.
The secondary target has eighteen heavy guns. A four gun position 3,200 yards east-southeast of target, a four gun position one mile west-northwest, and a third four gun emplacement one mile to the southwest. There is also a six gun site located 1700 yards north-northwest of the target. This anti-aircraft fire has been judged to be moderate to intense and accurate. Abbeville must be avoided on the route back, it is eight miles to right of your course. They have heavy type, intense accurate flak there, also a heavy four gun position in the vicinity of Molliens Vidane.
Communications are as follows: Contact 323rd Group on VHF Channel B, also fighter to bomber on that channel. Bomber call sign is WINDBAG. The fighter call sigh is CROKAY, and Ground Sector call sign is SIMPSON. Air-Sea-Rescue on VHF Channel D. The following Splasher Beacons will be operating for the duration of the mission – 6D, 7E, 8F, and 9G. Group leader or deputy will report to Wing upon clearing the enemy coast.
The weather forecast: At take off time, six-tenths cirrus at 20,000 feet, no low or medium clouds. Visibility will be four miles in haze extending up to 3,000 feet. The route out, no low or medium clouds, a few patches of cumulus over south England. Visibility is four miles in haze, improving to six miles near English Coast and becoming eight to ten miles over France. The target will have five to six-tenths cirrus above 25,000 feet, no low or medium clouds. Wind will be from 330 degrees at 19 m.p.h. Forecast temperature at bombing altitude is 03 degrees Centigrade, freezing level is 12,000 feet. The route back will remain unchanged except for visibility falling off, four miles at 4,000 feet down to one or two miles below 1,800 feet. Low tide at 1310 hours and high tide at 1858 hours with a change of 13.9 feet.
S-2 reports twenty single engine fighters based at the secondary target, Poix Airdrome. Sixty aircraft are based in the vicinity of the primary target. All gunners keep a sharp lookout, and all crews make note of enemy aircraft markings and paint schemes. We do expect enemy fighter reaction during this mission. Our escort for today will be twelve squadrons of Spitfires. A time check was made with all watches, briefing ended at 1306 hours. Flight crews picked up their escape kits and candy bars as they filed out of the room. They climbed into trucks which took them out to their assigned aircraft parked at various locations around the periphery of the airfield. During the next half hour or so they would be checking over their planes prior to engine start time.
Meanwhile in the southeastern part of England other briefings were taking place. Some eighteen RAF B-25 Mitchell’s would be attacking a target on the Brest Peninsula. Their close escort would be three Czechoslovakian Squadrons flying Mark V Spitfires. The leader from 313 Squadron was Frantisek Fajtl who hails from Prague. His fuselage letters were RY-F. The Spitfire tactics would be: Fly at sea level at 195 m.p.h. for fourteen minutes, rapid climb to 13,000 feet at Point St. Mathieu, (which would be the bombing altitude for the Mitchell’s) left turn after bombing, recross French Coast at 9,000 feet, then dive to sea level and return to base.
Two separate Hawker Typhoon fighter sweeps were scheduled to coincide with the above air attack in France. The first fighter sweep conducted by Number 183 Squadron to set course for Lizard, Zero Hour minus fourteen minutes. Then fly at sea level for eight minutes at 250 m.p.h., then climb rapidly to 18,000 feet at Lanildut to sweep at high speed and destroy any enemy aircraft seen. Arrive at Landerneau at 16,000 feet three minutes after bombers – withdraw at discretion of the leader.
A second fighter sweep comprised of 193 and 266 Squadrons to arrive over Lizard at Zero Hour minus sixteen minutes – climb rapidly to 20,000 feet at Ushant. Then sweep at high speed and destroy any Germans seen. Fly to Guipavas at 17,000 feet and withdraw at discretion of the leader. Fighter Control Center for all squadrons will be Portreath.
Twelve other Spitfire squadrons were receiving their orders for today’s operation – execution: Zero Hour 1520, target Z154 for seventy-two Marauders, two Groups, 323rd and 386th. Close escort: 12 Group with two squadrons of Mark V for 323rd Group, and two squadrons from Heston flying Mark V’s to escort the 386th Group. Escort cover: Two squadrons from Tangmere will be flying Mark XII’s. High cover: Four squadrons, two from Hornchurch to escort the 323rd, and two from Biggin Hill to escort the 386th, all flying Mark IX Spitfires. Top cover from 122 Airfield with two squadrons flying Mark IX’s. Top cover to keep in visual contact with high cover Wings. Rendezvous to be at 50 Degrees 20 Minutes North, 00 Degrees 40 Minutes East at Zero Hour. Altitude to be 12,000 feet. Route and timing: Target Zero Hour plus twenty minutes, 11,000 feet turn left to Cayeux to Dungeness to base.
Time was 1504 hours, Major Hankey leading thirty-six B-26’s from the 386th Group had just rendezvoused with the 323rd Bomb Group 12,000 feet over Splasher Number 9. The 323rd would lead the entire show today. Major Hankey’s deputy lead in number four position was Captain Sands. High flight leader, Captain Thornton, low flight leader was Major Beaty. Approximately 1500 yards to the rear, and some 500 feet lower came Major Ramsey heading up the second box of eighteen ships. Captain Gianatsis was the leader in the high flight, and Lieutenant Purdy was fronting the low flight.
The formation was well out over the channel and had begun test firing their guns, then
Lieutenant Ansel Brandstrom piloting, “GERONIMO” 131630 RG-J who was scheduled as an extra pilot; encountered a mechanical difficulty with the plane; was seen making a graceful 180 turn heading back to base. The RAF arrived at 1520 hours with flights of four Spitfires observed flying in all quarters of the sky. Beautiful elliptical wing forms rocked from side to side as pilots maneuvered into their respective combat support positions. Lieutenant Hochrein flying, “MISS FORETUNE II” 134885 AN-M in number five position, high flight in the second box developed a mechanical fault in his ship – thus forcing him to leave the formation and return to base.
Time was 1530 hours, enemy landfall was at hand – only a few rounds of 88mm flak marred the bright blue sky as the aerial force moved inland from Criel. They were flying a course of 138 degrees which would lead them to their target some fifty-six miles ahead. Presently 386th crews could see the 323rd Group about one mile in front catching 88mm anti-aircraft fire from the left side of their route – most likely being fired from the heavy gun positions at Marseille. Not much time to ponder, within seconds the 386th was also engulfed by ugly black soot colored bursts of flak which unfurled menacingly close to the bombers. The enemy fire was moderate in amount and fairly accurate for track and altitude as orchestrated by deep throaty sounds like, Whoomph – Whoomph, indicating a very close near miss!
The flak barrage abated; only to be replaced by a more formidable threat, enemy fighters! One Spitfire was observed going down in a tight spin as two other Spitfire escorts bathe a Focke-Wulf 190 with 20mm cannon fire – a large portion of a wing panel snapped off, and the German plane plunged earthward in a grave yard spiral! A FW-190 approached Captain R.D. Williamson’s ship flying number four in the high of the second box. His tail gunner Staff Sergeant S.A. Ayers saw the enemy plane turn in from 6 o’clock position at 400 yards, he fired off one hundred twenty-five rounds in one long burst which caused the German to break away at 200 yard range without firing a shot – when last seen the enemy was spiraling down trailing smoke.
Captain B.R. Ostlind was piloting, “MISS CARRIAGE” 134961 RG-M in number four spot of the high flight in the first box. Two Me-109’s approached from 11 o’clock low, but did not fire. One of the enemy planes passed under the bomber and began climbing, at that point tail gunner Staff Sergeant R.A. Coyle fired some forty rounds at 175 yards. Top turret man Staff Sergeant D.E. Corbin joined in the firing with one hundred-fifty rounds at 200 yards without observed effect. Staff Sergeant Coyle saw Spitfires go after the fleeing Messerschmitt and shoot it down!
Major Hankey, first box leader had begun the bomb run into the target area just as a FW-190 approach his low flight leader, Major Beaty from 12 o’clock high position, the enemy was being pursued by Spitfires. Lieutenant R.J. Pyle got off twenty-five rounds at the attacker while serving as bombardier with the Lieutenant Wentz crew who were flying off the right wing of their flight leader Major Beaty. The bombardier fired his flexible nose gun from, “THE YANKEE GUERRILLA” 134946 YA-L at approximately 300 yard range, but he did not claim any hits on the fighter plane. Gunners in the waist and tail of a ship named, “SON-OF-SATAN” 131613 YA-Y flown by Major Beaty took up the battle with the same FW-190. They were Staff Sergeants L.E. McDaniel and E.O. Stensrud respectively. The enemy fighter slid to the outside of the formation, then peeled off into a dive still being chased by the Spitfires.
Heavy type flak was bursting among the bombers as they unleashed their deadly cargo on the enemy airdrome 10,500 feet below at 1546 hours. The anti-aircraft fire was fairly accurate; Lieutenant Robert Kingsley flying, “HELL’S-A-POPPIN II” 131987 YA-G number six position in Major Hankey’s flight picked up a hole in his nose wheel door cover. Another piece of flak penetrated the ship gashing a hydraulic line to the bomb bay door selector valve. His plane also received hits in an engine nacelle, outboard wing flap, a hole in the top wing skin, and two holes in his elevator, all on the left side of the plane.
Back in the second box, “SHADRACK” 131586 RU-J (this plane would later be traded to the 552nd B.S.) flown by J.M. Peters received a two inch hole in the leading edge of his right wing about six feet outboard from the landing light. Lieutenant Robert McCallum flying a ship named, “HONEY CHILE” 131636 RU-B received a nine inch diameter hole in the left engine nacelle which cut the landing gear transmitter wiring and damaged the landing gear flange mount – a two inch diameter hole appeared in the inboard side of the same nacelle.
Continuous bursting flak around the bombers did not deter persistent attacks by the enemy fighter pilots. Ship number 131827 AN-G flown by Lieutenant H.E. Hodge was now under siege by two FW-190’s. One of them flew about 1,000 feet above the number six ship in the high flight of the second box of eighteen for ten to twenty seconds, then made an approach from 8 o’clock high at 600 yards. The top turret man of Lieutenant Hodge fired some 200 rounds at the diving fighter. Staff Sergeant T.V. Edelman was scoring telling hits in the engine as part of its cowling flew off – the enemy plane rolled over exposing a silver belly and underside wings, suddenly flames appeared around the engine as the plane headed down and out of view!
A second FW-190 was coming in on the same B-26 from 5 o’clock low position – it flew along a few hundred yards below and to the right side of the formation, then quickly slid under. Staff Sergeant Paul Scott manning his waist gun let loose with one hundred-fifty rounds at 100 yard range scoring hits in the engine, the enemy peeled away rolling over on its back toward seven o’clock low. The plane slanted down emitting white puffs of smoke in rapid succession which would indicate a seriously damaging internal engine fire had occurred! Staff Sergeant F.J. De Lisle, Jr. witnessed the foregoing action from his tail gun position in Lieutenant Hodge’s plane, which established an enemy aircraft damaged claim confirmation for Staff Sergeant Scott.
Lieutenant C.B. Roe was flying, “CLOUD HOPPER 2nd ” 131763 RU-O, number six position in the lead flight of the second box – his aircraft shuddered briefly as several rounds of 20mm projectiles slammed into the bomb bay of his ship. The fusillade was fired by a FW-190 pilot who had climbed up from 4,000 feet, attacking the bomber from directly below. That maneuver hid him from the gunner’s view in Roe’s ship, but not the waist gunner on Captain T.J. White’s ship, “YE OLDE CROCKE” 131755 RU-F in the number four position of the same flight. The gunner fired four rapid bursts of about ten rounds each, the last at 200 yards. The third burst started a fire in the enemy ship’s engine, a final burst appeared to hit the pilot. The yellow nose fighter with white crosses on its wings headed straight down with fire and a plume of black smoke trailing behind. When last observed at 2,000 feet, the German plane was still burning and in a steep dive. Because nobody saw the plane hit the ground, Staff Sergeant L.S. Hileman was credited with a FW-190 probably destroyed!
The bomber formation was making the prescribed left turn off the target as a FW-190 approached, “CLOUD HOPPER 2nd ” from 6 o’clock low. A burst of fifteen to twenty tracers were seen coming from the enemy plane as he rolled into level flight about 700 yards out. Lieutenant Roe’s tail gunner returned fire with four bursts from his two guns – the fighter dropped straight down, began smoking at 5,000 feet, then crashed into the ground and exploded in a fireball! Staff Sergeant P.P. Raczor received full credit for a FW-190 destroyed.
A mile or so from the target, two FW-190’s approached the number five ship in the high flight of the first box which was flown by Lieutenant R.B. Hoffman. Staff Sergeant J.S. Russum manning the top turret of, “SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS” 134941 RG-D opened fire at 300 yards as the fighters came down from 6 o’clock high, both ships made a diving 180 degree turn away from the bomber without firing a shot. The enemy wing man stuck with his leader like a shadow as they swept down behind the B-26, then found themselves being fired upon by tail gunner Staff Sergeant C.H. Ellis. All participants came out of the brisk encounter unscathed!
It was three minutes since the formation left the target – a Messerschmitt 109 headed for,
“SHADRACK” being flown by Lieutenant J.M. Peters, number three man low flight of the second box. Staff Sergeant W.S. Gardner commenced firing with his tail guns as the German pilot maneuvered his sleek fighter at 7 o’clock low position about 700 yards out. Firing in quick bursts the tail gunner got off about one hundred rounds, scoring hits as the enemy broke away at 600 yards. Top turret man Staff Sergeant L.W. Looney saw a streak of smoke emitting from the enemy ship which was soon being chased by a pair of Spitfires.
Twelve of the enemy planes sighted by bomber crews managed to break through the Spitfire cover – however it was unusual that the German pilots did not take advantage of the sun position during their attacks! The RAF fighter pilots were extremely aggressive in dealing with the large force of German aircraft, by not allowing them to attack the B-26’s with impunity! Remarkable as it may seem only a few of the enemy got anywhere near the bombers, and most of those had pairs of Spits right on their tails.
Two sets of railroad tracks lay directly below the bomber formation – a thirty car train was observed puffing away in the direction of Poix, five miles east of their route. The Germans had set out smoke generators in a strategic pattern on the ground; surface winds carried long streamers of smoke from the pots over the countryside. That action was becoming more frequent as noted by flight crews during recent operations – however for the moment, nobody could figure out what the enemy was trying to hide from us!
Scattered bursts of 88mm flak appeared as the Group neared the exit point of enemy territory at Cayeux on the French coast at 1601 hours. The anti-aircraft fire was seen to come from the vicinity of some new concrete construction – a rectangular domed shape like the entrance to an underground shelter. Minutes later the formation was well in the clear out over the channel, heading for English landfall at Dungeness. From there is was almost a straight shot north to base where the first plane landed at 1650 hours.
The interrogation room was a real noise box filled with cigarette smoke while the crews filed their combat reports. All had high praise for the Spitfire escort for today. Major Beaty said the 323rd Bomb Group’s bombs hit a fuel dump in the southwest dispersal area. Captain Thornton said he heard, “D for dog calling Mayday on the way back.” Lieutenant Wasowicz’s crew suggested that the Spitfires refrain from diving near our bomber formations, they resemble enemy tactics at times. Some crews reported B-26’s firing on the escort, and thought more aircraft recognition information was needed. Also suggested that bomber crews meet with Spitfire pilots to discuss this problem. Many crews said both officers and enlisted men’s food situation was getting worse, can’t fly on that stuff!
Other observations: Smoke was seen rising from a factory in the middle of a forest south of Londinieres. Thirty barges reported at the mouth of the Somme River. There was a concentration of some eighty freight cars near the town of Marseille-en-Beauvaisis, and up to one hundred-sixty cars in the marshalling yard at Abancourt.
Operating from Mount Farm, England; an F-5 (P-38) Photo-recon plane from the 7th Photo Group was plying its way across the sky over Beauvais-Tille Airdrome at 1625 hours on Sortie AA-312. The purpose was to gain a damage assessment of the raid just concluded by the 323rd and 386th Bomb Groups.
Photos numbered 1513 and 1515 indicated the following results: West dispersal area shows one medium aircraft in dispersal bay damaged. Six holes in a hangar roof along with fifteen craters in a service tarmac, and eighteen craters in the east landing area. Six hits in the ammo dump located in an orchard, the fires were still burning. Approximately thirty craters in a flak gun position just to the west.
Two sheds destroyed in the northeast refueling area and three others damaged. At least sixty craters are visible in that area, many of which damaged taxi tracks. Three craters near center of northeast-southwest runway, and two craters in the northwest-southeast runway. Some scattered concentrations are seen for at least one mile to the north of the target. The northwest dispersal area had one hit on a taxi track, and a concentration of craters just to north of it in open ground.
The 323rd Bomb Group is believed to have started the big fire in the ammo dump. Other damage on the enemy airdrome indicates bombing results of the first and second boxes of eighteen ships from the 386th Bomb Group from fair to good! Five aircraft from the 386th Group in the first box, along with ten aircraft in the second box received battle damage from both flak and enemy fighters in today’s operation.
Chester P. Klier
Historian, 386th Bomb Group