TARGET BERLIN AGAIN
We were briefed 5 March 1944 for Berlin again but the
mission was scrubbed before take off due to clanked up
weather over the target. Colonel John Bennett scheduled a
practice formation mission to the wash (a barren area of
We were on oxygen for about three hours during the
mission which was really not much of a strain compared to
time usually spent breathing oxygen on long combat
After landing I walked back through the bomb bay, radio
room and waist section checking on equipment and
housekeeping. I exited by the rear door and found
navigator Chuck Hardiman leaning against the plane,
nauseated and throwing up. He told me his oxygen system
had smelled like rotten eggs during the flight and it made
him violently ill. I stopped a passing jeep and asked the
driver to take Chuck to the infirmary so the flight surgeon
could see after him.
Bombardier Buddy Cox appeared about then and I asked
him if he had detected any foul odors in the oxygen system
in the nose section during the day’s flight. His silly grin led
to some arm twisting that produced a confession. Buddy
had been on a beer binge the night before. Today’s high
altitude practice mission had caused an usual amount of
discomfort on Buddy’s belly which is a common experience
for pre-flight beer drinkers because atmospheric pressure is
reduced considerably at altitude. The gas in the belly and
intestines expands to a point where something has to give.
Each time Buddy relieved himself of the vapors, the little
devil in him caused him to get tricky. He would disconnect
Chuck’s oxygen hose from its regulator and then sit on the
thing for a few seconds before connecting the hose back to
I caught a ride to the officers club for a beer and Chuck
arrived from the infirmary about the same time. The flight
surgeon had given him something to settle his stomach and
he was feeling much better. I felt it my duty to reveal the
source of the problem to Chuck as the ‘happy-go-lucky’
bombardier was making his way through the door. Just as
Buddy walked up and said “hi,” he got one across the chops
that laid him on the floor. He jumped up pointing a finger at
me yelling “You told him didn’t you?”
It was still dark the morning of 6 March 1944 when the
wake up orderly threw open the door yelling, “Uniform of
the day will be jockey straps and tennis shoes.” He places
two fingers under his nose to imitate ‘Der Fuhrer’s
mustache’ and says, “Up mit der periscope vere vee vatch
der 100th Bombing Groupen bombing der brussell sprouts
fields vile der liddle kiddies cheer dem und,” then
announces “champagne and crepes suzette being served in
the permanent officers mess - you transient combat glamour
boys are getting powdered eggs and salt peter in your
coffee. Everybody up and at ‘em.” He slams the door in a
hail of GI shoes yelling “twenty-seven hundred gallons and
ten five hundreds.” That’s bad news - long trip ahead.
Breakfast was good. Fresh eggs, fried Spam, grits, saw mill
gravy, toast and hot coffee. I filled my canteen with sweet
hot coffee and headed west for the briefing room at the
appointed hour. The night air was heavy and cold and
filled with the familiar sounds of aircraft engines and auxiliary generators running - trucks going
The briefing room was noisy as usual until the brass walked
in with the order “ten-shunt” that brought everyone to their
feet. Dead silence prevailed.
The briefing officer opened the “pearly gates” that covered
the giant map of Europe and revealed a ‘red piece of yarn’
extending from Thorpe Abbotts to Berlin. Somebody
moaned, “Jesus H. Christ. Who got drunk and dreamed
that one up again?” “Holy shit!” was heard as well as
“Mama Mia I”
The weather briefing was for good weather over the
continent. We were to have good fighter support and heavy
concentrations of Nazi fighters were reported to be located
near the Dummer Lake area and heavy concentrations of
flak could be expected in the target area.
Herb Devore was flying lead with Major Bucky Elton in the
copilot’s seat as command pilot. My aircraft would be in
the number nine position - high squadron. That spot was
better known as “tail-end-charlie,” and was the
equivalent of being at the end of the line playing pop-the-
whip. In an outside turn, the one on the end flies through
the air like a bat-out-of-hell. On inside turns, you stall out
trying to slow enough to keep from overrunning the
formation. New crews always got the dirty end of the stick.
We were rolling down the runway at 07:10 to take our
place among the 730 bombers dispatched to the Berlin
industrial suburbs with a reported escort of 800 fighters to
protect us. This column of bombers stretched out for about
90 miles and was led by the First Air Division with its five
combat wings reported to be heavily escorted by fighters.
Their target was the Erkner Bearing Plant on the east edge
of Berlin. The Third Air Division followed them and was
led by Brigadier General Russell Wilson. Our target was
the Bosch Electrical Plant on the north-west edge of Berlin.
The second Air Division - B-24s - brought up the rear.
We climbed to our bombing altitude of 23,000 feet and
were on time at the assembly point. We made landfall on
time. The weather was clear and the air was unusually
stable. The temperature at our altitude was 65 degrees below zero.
Our first interception came at Haseleunne near Dummer
Lake in West Germany, where, forewarned by their radar,
the Germans had concentrated their fighters with the
intention of attacking the First Air Division. The German
ground controllers suddenly realized a Combat Wing flying
in the middle of the bomber column was without fighter
escort. That was us. A small force of interceptors was
immediately sent to engage fighters protecting the head and
tail of the column, while a very large force attacked the two
unshielded groups, the 95th and the 100th, the same
formation that had made it to Berlin two days before.
Thirty-six planes had set out from Thorpe Abbotts, with
Major Bucky Elton as command pilot flying lead with
Herbert Devore’s crew. After take-off and assembly, six
ships returned, leaving thirty to carry on.
At 11:59 all hell broke loose. We were attacked by over a
hundred German fighter planes from the Third (3ruppe of
Jagdgeschwader 54 made up of IvIE-109s and FW-190s.
They hit us head on in pairs. On the first pass they had six
of our nine ship high squadron on fire but missed me. They
swung around and came at us again head on and took out
the six that were already burning and shot down two more
of our high squadron leaving my plane the only one left in
the high squadron. They then took out seven more bombers
from the lead and low squadrons, making a total of fifteen
bombers shot down from the 100th Bomb Group in less
than ten minutes. It looked like a parachute invasion.
Bombers and fighters were on fire and exploding all over
I saw Lt. Rish’s plane break in half at the radio room - then
it exploded and blew navigator Leingenfelter out the side.
Lt. Lautenschlager’s plane was on fire and spinning. I saw
German pilots firing on American pilots dangling from their
The Berlin area was filled with the flaming wrecked planes
of Captain Minor, Lieutenants Brannan, Rish, Terry,
Barrack Handorf, Grannack, Koper, Kindall, Lautenschlager, Radke,
Bartun, Murray, Ainerio and
Montgomery. Fifteen of our Group’s bombers and 150 men
went down in less than ten minutes.
I was flying with a togglier, Tech. Sergeant John Walters in
place of my regular bombardier on that mission. My
bombardier Arthur Cox was a replacement for the ailing
bombardier of the deputy group lead plane.
Although we were the only plane left in the high squadron,
we were not being ignored by the German Luftwaffe. They
had intentions of wiping-out the entire high squadron. On
the second fighter pass, Sgt. Walters shot down two of the
attacking ME-109s - one of which blew up in our face
forcing us to fly through his burning debris, which set my
number two engine afire. The other fighter had a wing
break off and the pilot either bailed out or was thrown out
when his plane went into a flat spin. While this was taking
place, a Messerschniitt 210 was firing 20 mm. cannon shells
at us from about 9 o’clock level. Flight engineer Sgt.
Clarence Luquet’s written report on the incident was, “A 20
mm. shell entered the flight cabin of the Buffalo Gal just
behind the pilot and exploded Among equipment
destroyed by the shrapnel was my two canvass ‘~cpent
ammo’ bags, my electrically he axed flight suit and boots,
but not Clarence! Another shell had penetrated the cabin
behind the Pilot and exited behind the copilot after
destroying the cabin oxygen tanks. Our ground crew
couldn’t believe that all of us walked away from our Gal.”
Sgt. Luquet had some minor scratches and was left with a
real bad attitude about Luftwaffe fighter pilots.
A rocket had penetrated the right waist section near the tail,
damaging the right horizontal stabilizer and some of its
bracing. The rear oxygen tanks were shot out and an
electrical cable was severed. We had no choice but to go
down and get some air to breathe. I put the plane in a near
vertical dive, redlining the airspeed indicator at 300 mph.
Left waist gunner Wiley Dobbs later reported that we
rocketed by someone dangling from a parachute, and at our
speed, the illusion was that the guy in the parachute seemed
to be traveling up rather than down.
During the dive, the engine fire went out and a dense layer
of clouds appeared at about the 5000 foot level. The
copilot and I leveled the plane from the dive and we were
able to jettison our bombs to help us increase flight - speed.
As we leveled out from our dive, tail gunner Ross Frank
announced over the intercom that we had company. He
reported that we had about fifteen ME-109s that had
followed us down. As soon as we released the bombs and
retracted the bomb bay doors I made a hard left turn and
went into the clouds. I switched to the bomber - fighter
radio channel and announced to our fighters that I had
fifteen ME-109s hemmed up over Dummer Lake at 5000
and they better come on down if they wanted some of the
action. I was of course hidden in the clouds and running
like hell to save our butts. We found out later that a gaggle
of our P-S is had followed the 1 09s down, got the drop on
them and shot ten of them out of the sky.
We continued flying near the 5000 foot level on instruments
continually changing our altitude in case we were being
tracked by enemy radar. The navigator had given us a
compass heading that should allow us to reach some point
in England. Some time later the clouds began to thin out
and we were able to see a body of water ahead. I called the
navigator on intercom and asked if we might be seeing the
North Sea or maybe the English Channel. He answered
with “Do a 1 80~ turn right now,” which I did. He then
announced that we were heading straight for Wangerooge,
one of the Frisian Islands that was loaded with flak guns.
We kept near the coastline until we saw flak coming up
from Dunkirk and Dieppe which gave us a marker allowing
us to turn and safely cross the English Channel and on to
our base at Thorpe Abbotts.
When we arrived, the command and staff was anxious to
debrief the crew and find out what had happened before we
were forced to leave the formation.
We were about 45 minutes ahead of the rest of the 100th
Bomb Group’s fifteen surviving bombers that had made it to
the target. We reported the destruction of our entire nine
ship high squadron and we knew many others went down
but we had no way of knowing just how many.
We were keenly aware that we had gone to great deal of
trouble that day to bomb a turnip patch in Germany. The
plane we were flying was 009. She was fill of holes and
had suffered a lot of baffle damage as well as being
stretched a little from the 300 mph pull out with a fill load
of bombs aboard. That Gallant Lady was refitted with new
engines, the battle damage was repaired and history records
her missing in action after another fierce air baffle over
Germany on July 28, 1944.
The air baffle that was fought on March 6, 1944 has been
recorded in the history books as being the biggest air baffle
ever fought in the history of military aviation. The “Bloody
Hundredth” Bomb Group lost 15 bombers that day - The
Mighty 8th Air Force lost 69 bombers - 347 were damaged,
including 121 from our Third Air Division.
On this 6 March 1944 mission, 69 of the 8th Air Force
bombers failed to return from Berlin. Even though the
100th Bomb Group loss was 50 percent, this overall total
represented about a 10 percent loss. The tour of each
bomber crew was arbitrarily established at thirty-five
missions. It was simple arithmetic then that with these kind
of losses the last twenty-five missions would be flown on
borrowed time. For every mission a crew survived beyond
ten, some new, or replacement crew, would be missing in
action in their place. It was truly remarkable that these men
remained steadfast with such odds against them.
The weather was a mess on Tuesday 7 March 1944. We
were allowed to sleep in since no mission was scheduled
due to the bad weather. We needed the day off to lick our
wounds from the day before.
I went out to the hardstand to see how things were going on
repairs to the Buffalo Gal from the beating she had taken
yesterday on the mission to Berlin. The number two engine
had been removed and the firewall looked naked. The new
engine and prop had arrived. Sheet metal men were
repairing the damaged horizontal stabilizer and braces. A
patchwork of new aluminum patches covered the flak and
bullet holes. The crew chief said he’d have the “Gal” ready
to go in a couple of days.
The rest of the day was spent writing letters. I also carried
some clothes to the English lady that was kind enough to do
my laundry. Flannigan and I spent a few hours at the
Officers Club in the evening. About 10 p.m. the signal went
out that we were on mission alert so we hit the sack to try
and get some sleep. The phone near my bed rang about
midnight. I wrote down the names of the crews on mission
alert and their formation position. I chalked in the
information on the mission board while all the crew officers
in our quarters looked on. They got us all this time.
Maximum effort. We could only put up 15 planes because
that was all we had that would fly. Conversation about
where we might be going on this one lasted for another hour
before restless sleep took over.
The orderly woke us at 04:00 hours. I dressed and went to
the back door of the mess hail and asked the cook to fix me
a fried egg sandwich - the only thing I feel I can keep down.
We went through the usual briefing room procedure and
when the doors were opened on the map revealing the
target, my heart almost stopped. It was Berlin again - we
were to go back over the same route we took two days
before when we took such a beating. I told my copilot that
this is pure suicide. I still had visions of seeing Zeb Kendall
blow up on his first mission killing every man on his crew.
We had trained together all the way from primary to here.
Ccl. Bennett pitched a fit during the night when he found
out we were being dispatched back to Berlin again. He
made an impassioned plea for mercy for those of us that had
survived the Berlin mission two days ago, but his words fell
on deaf ears.. He then demanded that he be allowed to lead
our 13th combat wing. He was granted permission to do
I went back to my quarters to get dressed for the mission. I
sat on the side of my bed, picked up my Bible, opened it
and placed my finger on a page and then read the scripture
hoping for some divine comfort. I read, “Fear not for I am
with thee.” I said, “if’S ME AGAIN, GOD.” “If You
are going with us on this one, You better hang on tight.
This same trip two days ago was a tough one.”
The 45th Combat Wing was 8th Air Force lead on this
mission. All hell broke loose at Dummer Lake just as it did
with us two days before except the 45th Wing was being
attacked this time. While the Luftwaffe fighters were
hammering them, they missed a turn that would put them
on the correct heading to Berlin.
Col. Bennett’s navigator caught the error and Bennett made
the turn to Berlin which put us in the lead of the entire 8th
Air Force. We estimated that 75 to 100 enemy fighters
came in at 12 o’clock high and went by us to attack the
trailing 45th Wing below us.
Rockets were fired from the ground. I watched one coming
up and it seemed like 30 minutes had passed before it got to
our altitude. It looked as though it would come into the
formation with us and it did get close enough for me to see
the rivets. It looked like a white telephone pole with fire
spewing out the tail end as it went on up and out of my
We had a good bomb run on the Erkner Bearing Factory
and scattered ball bearings all over Berlin. We lost Lt.
Chapman and his crew shortly after bombs away. We saw
chutes and hope they all got out of his burning plane.
As we neared the French coast line on the return trip, we
picked up an intense flak barrage from guns that had been
moved in on railroad flat cars. The Germans anticipated
that we would go out the same way we came in and they
were laying for us. The Group made a standard peel off and
landing by Squadrons with no red flares to indicate
We shut down engines and logged 9 1/2 hours mission time
and considered the good Lord had been with us for sure on
As I departed the plane, I saw the navigator stop a passing
jeep and climb aboard. This was unusual and left me
puzzled. The bombardier said Chuck had handed him his
navigation log and told him to make the navigator’s
debriefing report for him.
My navigator appeared at the Officer’s Club bar about an
hour later. I asked him where he had been and he told me
he’d been at the hospital.
He was quite chagrined at having been hit in the belly by a
piece of flak about the size of a black eyed pea when we
were shot at passing over the French coast earlier in the afternoon.
The flight surgeon recommended leaving the small piece of
flak in his belly because it would probably cause more
damage to remove it than leaving it alone.
Next...A 48 Hour Pass In London
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