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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 East Anglia).

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 missions.

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 the regulator.

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 everywhere. 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 the sky.

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 parachutes.

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 so.

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 sight.

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 wounded aboard.

We shut down engines and logged 9 1/2 hours mission time and considered the good Lord had been with us for sure on this one.

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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