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48 Hour Pass To London

At the completion of the debriefing session on the Berlin mission, the Buffalo Gal’s crew was given a 48 hour pass. This was welcome relief We had seen over 200 men in our Bomb Group shot out of the sky during our first five missions of aerial combat and we were all getting a little “flaked up.”

The crew assembled at the Diss train station within an hour, bags packed and ticket in hand for some anticipated fun and relaxation in London.

Upon arrival at the train station in London, the enlisted men headed for the Strand Palace Hotel on the famous Strand, near Trafalgar Square. The officers went to the Jules Annex of the Red Cross Club on Jermyn Street.

The Red Cross Club had three floors of dormitories which were nothing more than large open rooms with a sea of steel cots. Charlie Hardiman and I dressed in blouse and pinks and decided to explore the pub situation. We found it advisable to seek out one of the underground establishments since it would soon be time for the nightly Nazi bombing.

We located an establishment that had been recommended and found ourselves a table. The place was crawling with military and civilians of both sexes. Wartime London was a melting pot for the armed services of every nationality, and their uniforms were often picturesque. In the United Kingdom women were drafted into the services; so most of the girls and women were in uniform.

A waiter came to our table and asked if we wanted a wine order. Since we desired something a little stronger than wine to drink, our answer was negative. The waiter vanished. A little later, bottles of Scotch whiskey were being brought to the other tables. We inquired as to how to go about obtaining a bottle or two of the Scotch. We were told that when the waiter came to the table earlier inquiring about a wine order, that was our cue for placing an order for the Scotch. All the Scotch that was to be consumed there for the evening then had to be ordered and delivered from an outside bootlegger or black market operator and that was it for the evening. Gin or beer was the only alcoholic beverages available so gin it was.

At about 21:00 hours, a rumbling explosion shook the cellar room. Dirt and dust dropped from the ceiling and the power went off. Candles were lighted and the party continued. Bombs were being dropped by the Nazi bombers on London. A few minutes after the first bomb blast, a helmeted air raid warden came down the stairs and inquired if there were any injuries. He got no answer. He then asked if there were any elderly or infirm in the room. Again no answer. His next inquiry was if any of the women there might be pregnant. A burly female voice from the back of the room said, “Blimey Matey, give us a little time, we just got here!”

The pub was a bedlam of revelry. Smoke, loud talk, piano music, songs of all branches of services, some clean and some bawdy. The call to drink up was announced as it was time for the midnight closing. The nightly bombing of the city was over and everyone departed the scene. Charlie and I took a cab back to our quarters at the Red Cross Club.

Sleep came easily since we had consumed the best part of two fifths of gin mixed with grapefruit juice. Ugh!

About 03:00 hours, I was rudely awakened by an explosion of the highest magnitude and found myself lying on the floor on top of my A-3 bag. My ears were ringing and breathing was restricted because the air was full of dirt and dust. The power was off and visibility was zero. Blackout curtains made any outside lights invisible. I could not see my hand in front of my face. Someone finally produced a flash light or torch, a term the British preferred to use. My bridgework was loose and water could be heard running in all the commodes as every one of them in the building had been flushed by the explosion. Believe me, this had been one hell- of-an-explosion. Cool performers that they traditionally were, the English made an absolutely unbelievable announcement later in the day that, “It may be possible the Germans have finally perfected the dreaded V-2 rocket, and there is a strong possibility that one of them may have landed in the heart of London in the early hours of this morning.” What in the name of hell did they think it was, a firecracker? The next morning, Hardiman and I found the hole the thing made. That sucker made a hole a block wide when it landed about a half mile from where we were sleeping.

That evening found us back in the underground pub where Chuck and I had been the night before. We made sure to turn in a wine order this time. That V-2 rocket blast had assassinated my hang-over and my gin soaked membranes violently opposed any more gin. It was Scotch or nothing - so Scotch it was. To awake with a splitting head and a full load of remorse - was it worth it? Hell, yes! We were soon at it again. The conviviality of wartime is unimaginable if one has not actually experienced it. People who had not seen each other before five minutes ago became comrades. Complete strangers drank out of the same bottle with no thought of disease.

This is how we became acquainted with a First Lieutenant who was lead bombardier for one of the Bomb Groups. We spent most of that evening listening to a most bizarre and intriguing tale about an accidental bombing event. Here then is his account of the 7 September 1943 task force mission that was sent out against the Evere Airfield on the outskirts of Brussels, Belgium.

The prime purpose of the mission was to bomb German Air Force installations, including shops, fuel storage facilities, ammunition dumps and living areas of the fighter base.. The airfield was heavily defended by 88 mm flak guns. In placing the guns, the Germans had left off a few of them on one side, leaving a weakness in their gun defenses. It had been decided that the approach route for the mission would best be unexpected from that direction which was south to north and forced the route to the target to be directly across the city.

At the Initial Point of Halle, a few miles southwest of Brussels, the combat wing leader was to fire a green flare and then turn northeast directly across the heart of the city. At this signal the groups would break into a bombing interval of one mile and follow the leader in. Each group would then release their bombs when their group bombardier released his. After the bombing, the leader was to turn left and the following groups would reform into a defensive formation. As was the rule in all operations over occupied countries, bomber crews were cautioned against any bombing of other than specifically designated targets. Stress was placed on the unfortunate predicament of the Belgian people under German domination. - that these people were our friends and could be counted on for assistance in case our bombers should be shot down or they should have to make crash landings on Belgian soil.

At the IP, the formation turned to split according to plan, and the bombers headed directly across the heart of the city. The bomb bay doors opened and each bombardier was ready to toggle his bombs out as soon as he saw the bombs failing from the lead bomber of his formation.

Each lead bombardier of the strike force was busy locking on to the target with his bomb sight.

The formations were aligned in a column of groups and moving across the city from south to north. They had encountered no fighters or flak. The bombardier continued his story. His group was in the second position. He said he had identified the target and had completed his bomb sight adjustments and was prepared for the bomb run on the airdrome. He watched the city pass slowly beneath his bombsight window. A very heavy haze hung over the city of Brussels.

The bombardier said he had finished making minute corrections to the bomb site as he neared the target. All switches were in the on position and he felt he had a good run on the aiming point and he felt the plane lift as his bombs went out. He looked down and saw the arming vanes spinning away and watched his bombs as they walked down the path of impact.

His pilot made the left turn off the target run as briefed and was closing in on the wing lead to reform into a defensive formation.

The Lieutenant said as he was closing the bomb bay doors, he looked up and saw bombs from other groups hitting another target and not the one he and his group had bombed. He said it was kind of like a bad dream when he realized that he was seeing bombs being dropped by the other groups on the Evere airfield target.

He said, “As we swung west to return to England, he would never forget the boiling smoke from the airfield target. And to the south, and in the middle of the city, a much smaller column of smoke from his bomb pattern.

The Lieutenant related that he had picked up on a target which was geometrically similar to the Evere airfield. At the moment of bomb release, I was sure that it was the real target. He went on, “I just flat picked up the wrong target and I dropped 168 - 500 pounders (14 of my groups aircraft) 3 1/2 miles short of the target.”

The next morning, information reports to the intelligence section indicated that the Lieutenant’s bombs had fallen on the Royal Belgian Military Academy that was being used to house and train the Germans. The information reports further stated that 1,200 German troops were casualties from the accidental bombing and across the channel, the accident was being called a remarkable exhibition of American precision bombing. An official announcement covering the bombing was that “Such are the fortunes of war,” and the incident is now closed.”

Such are the fortunes of war indeed! Some targets were a piece of cake - others took some luck interlaced with the bombardiers skill. In his case, “How lucky can you get?”

We went from one pub to the other drinking just about anything they had available. The English seemed to lean on a lethal concoction of gin and Guiness. An Oklahoma Indian P-51 pilot standing between Chuck and me said, “that stuff is rough as a wood haulers ass, but it’ll sure get the job done.” He wanted to know what we were doing for the war effort. We explained that we were over there doing the same thing he was, trying to kick Hitler’s butt every chance we got. He told us that Indians were sort of psychic and could see in the future. He singled out Flannigan, Cox and me and said we would come out of the war without a scratch, and Hardiman would make it, but he would get a piece of flak in him before his tour was over. Later I asked Chuck what he thought about the psychic Indian’s prediction. His only answer was, “Kiss my ass!”

We ate fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, ogled the army of prostitutes that thronged Piccadilly. The idea of buying sex wasn’t my dish of tea. They didn’t starve however on my account . . .they had plenty of customers. The Bobbies wisely ignored the “ladies of the night” and let them carry out their oldest profession. They stood in doorways and never left. Always the tell-tale glow of a cigarette let it be known they were there. Their tricks were done in a standing position. That enabled them to do five in the same amount of time it took to do one in a hotel room.

After a while we disengaged from riotous living and took to the historic sights to be seen in the historic old city. We visited Charing Cross Station, Pall Mall, Leicester Square, Regent Street, Maiden Lane, Berkley Square, Waterloo Bridge and the Tower of London. We went to Westminster Abbey and Parliament.

We toured Hyde Park where soap-box orators abounded. Most of them, we were told, were polishing up on their oratory skills preparatory to becoming politicians.

The next day we returned to Thorpe Abbotts to again become warriors in a shooting war. For a few days we had had a new lease on life and we rehearsed the good times for days on end.

We had missed a Squadron Inspection while we were in London and it was reported not to have been a happy occasion.

Third Air Division Commander, General LeMay had pulled a surprise inspection on the 350th Squadron and the Squadron Commander” had taken to the woods.”

At the conclusion of the inspection, Louis Hays came roaring into the Squadron area with a jeep load of armorers hanging on for dear life. Louis went flying through a mud puddle and threw up a wall of mud that landed a few feet from the General. With fine military precision and in keeping with a GI’s notion that Chain-of-Command means shit rolls down hill, an executive order went from General to Commanding Officer, to Executive Officer to Adjutant to First Sergeant: “Get that man.”

The Bloody Hundredth went back to Berlin the day we departed for London. Only nine planes from the group went out this time and all came back. We must have used up a hell-of-a bunch of their fighters for them on those first two Berlin’s because no Nazi fighters were seen on this one.

I am absolutely amazed at some of the infinitely small motivational ideas that Group Command conjures up that boosts morale. On our return from the March 8 Berlin mission, a new medical policy had been put into effect and the returning crews were rewarded with a double-shot of Scotch rather than the customary single, which has proved to be one of the best ideas yet. Morale went up like a sky- rocket.

March 13 saw more early morning activity around the base than had been seen in many moons. The reason was because the rumor was spread around the previous night at the Commissary that everyone, paddle feet as well as combat troops, would have two fresh eggs per man for breakfast. That was enough to drive anyone out of his warm sack.

Reports from a critique at Framlingham indicated that the 100th Bomb Group did right well on the initial Berlin raids. Distinguished itself in fact.

During the course of the day, Generals Spaatz, Doolittle, LeMay and Kissner arrived, it was assumed to boost morale after the terrible Group losses at Berlin. They conducted an inspection of the base and presented eight decorations including the Silver Star to Colonel Bennett for “superb judgment and gallantry” for the Erkner Bearing Factory job at Berlin on March 8, for which the Group received a second Presidential Unit Citation.

After the presentations the Generals ‘held court’ at the Officers Club, chaffing with all comers and answering any and all questions and proving themselves to be good Joes in every way. One young Second Lieutenant who had stayed at the bar a little too long and built up a pretty good “snoot full” of courage walked up to General Jimmy Doolittle, squared his shoulders and buried his index finger about three inches deep in the Generals chest and announced, “You think we don’ know whachur here for doncha?” Doolittle explained, “Well son, after the terrible losses this Group sustained on the initial missions to Berlin, we wanted to come here and see if there is anything you need that might make you a little more comfortable and also to provide equipment and material for your Group to make things better here.”

The Lieutenant squared his shoulders again and poked that finger deep in the Generals chest. By this time General Spaatz was becoming pretty incensed but Doolittle seemed to be enjoying it. The kid went on, “You think there’s something wrong with our morale, dontcha? Well let me tell you something. Nothin’s wrong with our morale, and if it was, we don’t need a bunch of gahhdam Generals comin’ round here tryiana flxit.”

Some of the kids friends took him in tow and guided him back to his Nissen hut and the episode was forgotten.

Thirteen new crews arrived today to bring the Group back up to full strength. The events of the day had been extremely interesting and revelatory. The Air Force Command and staff went back to their duties and the story of the Lieutenant telling off the 8th Air Force Commander was told and retold until it became somewhat boring.

Events like this take some of the edge off the bloody war. So much has happened to us all since we got here. We’ve seen death and destruction. Zeb Kindell was a close friend. I saw his plane blow up over Dummer Lake in March. Paul Martin and I went through Primary, Basic and Advanced training together. We congratulated each other with a big hug the day we got our wings and bars. It really tore my heart out when I saw his Fort turn into a bail of fire.

So... .if some kid gets a little juice in him and wants to defend the integrity of his organization, take his good conduct medal away from him for a week or so but don’t put him irons. He might have been over Berlin yesterday.

Like the man says, “Their golden youth blots out the sky, they let the comets plod. As each one flies to live or die for country and for God.

Next...Sing These Songs Mightly


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