By William A. Uvanni
George M. Beiber, Pilot & Aircraft Commander
Gerald W. Folsom, Co-pilot
Willis A. Edgcomb, Navigator
Paul A. Boensch, Bombardier
Nathan L. Woodruff, Engineer
William A. Uvanni, Radio Operator
Carl K. Miller, Armorer/Nose Gunner
Harold H. Maggard, Waist Gunner/R.O.
William I. Rebhan, Waist Gunner
Perry A. Morse, Jr. Tail Gunner/Armorer
Our crew was formed at Salt Lake City, Utah, but we didn't see each other until we arrived at Biggs Field., El Paso, Texas. We were sent there for "Overseas Training" and when we met, I suppose we all had the same thought in mind as we looked at each other.
We had slightly over two months flying training At Biggs. When we finished up, our crew had 220 hours of flying time logged, which was about 100 hours more than the other crews who trained with us. The reasons for this were the weather and the fact that each member of our crew liked all the other members.
Beiber, Edgcomb, Woodruff, Boensch and I were married and had our wives with us, lived off the post. Hal Maggard married his girl, Bonnie, about two weeks before we finished, so that brought our total married crew members to six. Hal and Bonnie had been sweethearts ever since childhood and all of us were happy to see this marriage take place.
Our phase training was similar to thousands of others, so there is no use going into details about it. We flew almost daily and learned to know each other very well. Every fellow on the crew was really a swell guy, so things went on nicely. The fact I noticed, particularly, was that each man knew his job well, and had plenty of "life." We all enjoyed OUT-especially the flying.
On 19 May, 1944, our training ended and we were alerted for overseas. The next day, our crew boarded a troop train bound for Topeka, Kansas. We arrived there a couple of days later, and remained there until 1 June, 1944.
We were issued our B-24-J at Topeka (#0542) and it was a honey. At 1:00 AM on 1 June, we took off for Bangor, Maine. All of the States looked pretty in their own respective ways. We flew right over Edgcomb's grandfather's home near Buffalo, NY and never saw as much as a field because of cloud layers below us.
On 2 June, 1944, we left Gow Field, flew to Goose Bay, Labrador. Landed in a snow storm. Just two days earlier we had been sweltering in a Kansas summer!
We stayed in Labrador two days, then hopped to Bluie West #3, in Greenland. There, we were held on the ground two more days by 80 MPH gales.
It never gets dark in Greenland during the summer, so when they woke us at 0200 hours on 6 June, we didn't know whether it was AM or PM. The fellow who woke us was jumping up and down, shouting, "THE INVASION IS ON!"
We all rushed to briefing and within a couple of hours, were again in the air, headed directly for Prestwick, Scotland. We flew between 11 and 14 thousand feet all the way - a great trip. Saw icebergs and whitecaps occasionally, when cloud cover permitted. Everyone took turns sleeping except George Beiber, Willis Edgcomb and Bill Uvanni. George flew, Willis navigated, and Bill kept radio contact with Greenland and Scotland. Radio aids were marvelous.
Our flight was uneventful, except for a German Sub which we picked up by radio about four hours out of Scotland. We didn't see him, but he was talking by radio to any American bomber crew who'd listen. He talked on and on, mainly warning us to turn around and go home because Germany had won the war. We considered trying to locate him by means of our radio compass, but decided against it. The only ammunition we had was 50 rounds for each machine gun, and we couldn't have caused him much trouble, while he probably could have given us plenty with his deck guns.
When we neared Scotland, I contacted Prestwick by voice on my radio and they instructed us to keep flying on to Valley, Wales. Had lots of fun using VOICE procedure on the radio all the way from Bangor, Maine. Our code name was "Catex Charlie" so you can guess what they called us when they answered! Every time we landed, all of the radio operators came rushing into the briefing rooms wanting to know who "KOTEX Charlie" was??!!
Landed at Valley, Wales about 1400 hours - and had our honey of a B-24 taken away from us. It had to undergo some modifications before going into combat, we were told.
The next day, we boarded a train for Stone, England. There we spent two weeks just waiting around. No one like this at all. I met an old friend of mine from my old outfit, the 85th Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft, named Heeton. He had been a Corporal when we were at Camp Davis, N.C., and went to Officers Training Service, now a Captain in the Army Air Corps. His duty was to move personnel from Station to Station. He was a very nice person; have always liked and respected him.
We left Stone to fly to Cluntoe, Ireland. Policy was to send pilots, co-pilots, navigators, bombardiers and radio operators to Cluntoe for further briefing and training, while the remaining crew members were sent to a place near Belfast.
Spent two weeks at Cluntoe and they were rather dull. Had a couple of practice alerts, saw the Irish Home Guard take our base away from the permanent part in a mock battle. Everyone there walked around with a Tommy-gun and a 45 cal. pistol. Guess they were taking no chances on German paratroopers.
Left Cluntoe after learning entirely new ways of operating radio equipment. Crossed the Irish Sea in a small transport plane, then proceeded to our new outfit, the 44th Bomb Group, the oldest B-24 Group in the ETO.
Dean Smith, a very good friend of mine, was assigned to Jimmy Stewart's Group, while most of the fellows who came to England with us from Biggs Field, were assigned to the 445th Bomb Group.
On 30 June we rejoined our crew at Shipdham. They had arrived a day earlier and were already "checked out!" The evening they arrived, the 44th BG planes were returning from Magdeburg, Germany and aircraft were crash-landing with battle damage. They told me a plane would no sooner crash land than crew members would hop out the waist windows or any possible place and make a run for it!!
The fellows in our barracks seem to be a swell bunch. No loud-mouthed ones at all. Honesty seems to prevail, as no one takes any precautions to protect their belongings. The barracks are crowded and very dirty. I sleep near the door and every time it is opened at night, it bumps my bed and wakes me.
We all had to ATTEND SCHOOL for a few days before we could become operational, to fly combat missions.
The field is very pretty - reminds me of life on a farm. Everything is so spread out, with our Squadron, the 506th, on the outer edge of the field. Things are so far apart that during a normal day, we travel about five to ten miles just going to and from mess halls, schools, briefing rooms, dispersal areas, etc.
Almost everyone has a bicycle. I paid two pounds for mine (approx. $10.). It is solid black and old as the hills. I call it the "Black Queen." It is very hard to peddle, but it sure beats walking. They have a flat-bedded wagon that they tow around the post for transportation, but you have to wait for it as it makes its rounds..
Three crews who trained with us at Biggs Field have also been assigned to the 44th BG. I know the Radio Operators very well. They are Bob E. Mann, on Lt. Butler's crew; Gene E. Maschmeyer, on Lt. Bentcliff's crew; and Tony Vitiello, from Lt. Zerman's crew. Bob and Gene are in the 506th Sq. with us and Tony is in the 68th Sq.
Tony Vitiello's crew flew their first mission to Kiel, Germany, on 6 July, 1944. It proved to be a tough one. No one on the crew was hurt, but their plane was badly damaged by flak. Their bombardier, Lt. D. Boyette, had a close call in the nose turret. He seemed to be a nice fellow, I talked to him after the mission. He didn't say much - just shook his head and said, "Flak wasn't healthy!"
7 July, 1944, BERNBERG, GERMANY. They woke us up for our first mission at 0100 hours. We knew we were going last night, and I doubt if any of our crew got any sleep. Trucks took us to the mess hall, then to briefing. On the wall-map of Europe was a red line (tape) stretched all the way from England to Bernberg, deep into Germany. We were briefed to expect fighters, as this is in a fighter region and also to expect heavy flak.
We were pretty tense on the way to the target. About five minutes before target time, we were hit by fighters. We flew in the lead element, were right up front. Approximately 60 fighters line up 15 abreast, came in at us from 1 o'clock, slightly high. They fired as they came in - I could see orange 20 mm shells as they came through the air. None of the planes from our Squadron were hit, but an entire Squadron (12 aircraft) were knocked out on that first pass. Some blew up, others went into dives and never came out.
Some of the crew saw several chutes come out of these planes and a few minutes later, the report came over VHF radio, that the Germans were strafing the airmen hanging in their chutes. We had been warned to delay our chute openings until at a lower altitude to avoid this, but under tension, we don't always do the proper thing.
We were in heavy flak all of this time and I watched through the open bomb bays. We had P-38 fighter escort, and they gathered where the German fighters were on a few minutes and really paid them off. The ones that hit us were Me-410s. German's latest. The interphone rang out with "There's a 38 on a 410 - he blew up!" "There's another 410 on fire! "Hey, do you see that B-24 burning on our right? "Another B-24 blew up behind us!" "Look at that P-38 after that German -there he goes - look at him - he's coming apart!!"
I saw Bernberg below and it looked rather small. Our target was a bomber assembly plant right on the edge of town. It was easily identified because of the large runways in front of the plant. Our bombing was excellent. All the bomb explosions I saw were on the plant area, and, within a few minutes, the whole place was nothing but smoke and flames.
We were about seven to ten minutes in the flak, and when we broke away from it, all the enemy fighters had disappeared. We had no further trouble on the way home.
At interrogation, the intelligence officer told us that missions didn't come any rougher that today's. We were relieved to learn that they would not all be like this one.
Our Group lost 3 aircraft, with five more receiving serious damages. Luthman, waist gunner on Tony Vitiello's crew, was hit by a 20 mm shell which broke his ankle and shattered the bone.
The mission lasted seven hours, we were on oxygen for four hours. Our bombing altitude was 19,000 feet, temperature a minus 7 degrees.
8 July, 1944, ROTTERDAM BRIDGE, HOLLAND. Today's target was a bridge near Rotterdam. After yesterday's mission, we expected anything, but were happily disappointed. How two missions could differ so much, I can't understand.
It was pretty cloudy, but a breakthrough near the bridge gave us a good view of the target. I watched bombs fall for about two minutes, and not one hit the bridge. They landed on both sides of it - and I was rather disgusted with the bombardiers. A strange thing to me was that we bombed across the width of the bridge and not its length! (Later, I found out that we knocked the bridge out with near misses.) It seems that concussion from 1,000 pounders going off tears structures apart, anyhow.
(There were only 10 aircraft in our formation, and there were only a couple of bursts of flak, didn't see them.
JULY 11, 1944. MUNICH, GERMANY. Had a 2 day rest, and were briefed for the 3rd. This was the Reich's second largest city. When we saw out target, a murmur of conversation filled the briefing room. It was going to be tough and no use kidding ourselves.
The day was clear and we could see for 25 miles in advance of arriving at Munich. There was an immense flak barrage over the city before the first bombers reached it. I watched through the open bomb bays again today, counted 14 oval-shaped stadiums. I thought they were race tracks, but most were probably sports stadiums for German physical culture movements.
Munich was very large and pretty from the air. The flak however, was anything but pretty. We were in it for at least 12 minutes and our Group lost two more bombers. We expected fighters, but none were reported. The mission lasted nine hours, seven on oxygen. We were tired tonight, and our faces are tender from wearing those oxygen masks.
One of the P-51s in our escort was hit by flak right over Munich. I watched him going down as I was monitoring the distress channel and he appeared to land in a river running through the city. Nobody reported a chute coming out of it so he either was killed when hit by the flak or he delayed his jump until we could no longer see him bail out. Had a funny feeling in my stomach when this happened.
JULY 12, 1944 - MUNICH, GERMANY. Plenty of excitement when Munich appeared again today! Our hearts beat a little faster to say the least. The weather is very clear, and the flak will be accurate again.
We reached the target with no trouble other than a light barrage of flak on the French coast. It looked as though Munich had a priority on flak and flak guns, by the size of the barrage they again threw up at us. There were fighters in the area, but none hit our part of the formation.
Munich looked pretty again today, but I've seen all of it I ever want to see! The same goes for all of our crew. Our faces are sore now from another seven hours of oxygen.
JULY 16, 1944 - SAARBRUCKEN, GERMANY. Back to good old Germany again. Looks as if we are doomed to do all of our missions in Adolph's backyard! But this one wasn't so far though, being just past the French border. This means a lot to us in the event we have to bail out, or are forced to crash land in enemy territory. French people offer aid to our escape, while the Germans offer virtually no hope.
The bombing results were good. Flak was quite accurate and heavy. Quite a bit of the flak was of the tracking variety. (Ack ack batteries track and shoot at individual planes and squadrons, rather than shooting at the entire formation.)
We've flown all five of our missions in a plane named Consolidated Mess (Bar-O 429) and she is a honey. So far, we've had no serious battle damage. The "Mess" seems rather charmed.
JULY 18, 1944 - TROARN, FRANCE. Had yesterday off and at last drew a haul to France. It lasted four hours. We were briefed to support our ground troops by bombing German troop concentrations at Troarn. Our altitude was 15,000 feet and we carried 52 one-hundred pound bombs. They never seemed to stop dropping when we released them.
The results were excellent, as bombs were away at 7:30 AM and we caught the Germans at breakfast, in their barracks. The flak was heavy and awfully gosh darned accurate at this lower altitude.
We could see the English Channel at all times and this was comforting. If we were shot up, chances to ditch in the Channel or to get back to England would have been good. Lately, the Air-Sea Rescue has been dashing in right next to the French coast and picking up Allied airmen who went down in the Channel.
We pulled our mission and were back in the "sack" at 9:30 AM. Banker's hours??? This mission qualified our crew for the Air Medal. We haven't received them yet - it usually takes a month or so for it to come through.
JULY 19, 1944 - KOBLENZ, GERMANY. We went into Germany by way of Belgium this morning. Our target was the city of Koblenz, which is about 125 miles from the German-Belgium border.
There was plenty of flak in the target area. We expected this because of the city's location. It is right where the Rhine and Moselle rivers meet, so it is easy to see why the Germans would defend it well.
We are all very tired tonight. We have flown seven missions in the last 13 days, and with the effect of oxygen and long hours at high altitude, have really made us weary.
JULY 20, 1944 - ERFORT, GERMANY. We were briefed to bomb an airdrome in Central Germany. So we used the city of Frankfort as a check point. I saw an "Autobahn" which runs through Frankfort, and it is the largest highway I have ever seen. It SEEMED a third as wide as the entire city!
There was an awful lot of flak over Frankfort (box barrage) and we were thankful that we were able to go around it, rather than through it.
At Erfort, the flak was light and I was really surprised. Perhaps the barrage at Frankfurt made it seem that way! The airfield that we went after was an easy target, as the weather was real clear. Our bombing results were excellent.
We came home over Holland, caught as much flak off the Dutch Coast as we did over Erfort. I can't understand why the Germans didn't defend the airfield. We could see several multi-engined bombers on that field, and although our own bombs hit the hangars, I imagine some of our heavies disposed of the planes, also.
JULY 21, 1944 - MUNICH, GERMANY. When they briefed us for Munich again, we began to wonder. A good way to get rid of a fellow is to keep sending him to Munich.
We never saw the ground after take-off until we reached the target. There was an opening over Munich, and it was the only one we saw over three countries - England, France and Germany! We were up to 25000 feet, trying to find an opening between cloud layers so that the dangers of flying formation would not be so great.
As we started our bomb run, we saw coming at us head-on a formation of B-17s making their run exactly opposite to ours! We withdrew to one side and passed over the city again, catching flak they threw up, and having our bombs all of this time. We never really knew what worry was until then!
We skirted the city and again came back to try our run again. We flew over the break in the clouds and caught the flak all over again. Several bombers had been hit and were going down. We finished this second run and still did not drop our bombs!! We were all scared to death after making that second pass, so when the report came over the VHF (radio) that we were going to try once more, I think everyone's heart stood still. Mine did! After the mission all of our crew admitted the same thing.
About this time we flew into a cloud bank and when we broke through, we were the only bomber around!! We had become separated from the whole 8th Air Force! We had been cruising around Munich for over half an hour and Woodie told Lt. Beiber that our gas was getting low. If we didn't head for home, we'd never make it. Even then, he didn't know whether or not we'd be able to make it.
I had opened and closed the bomb bay doors twice already, and Lt. Beiber told me to open them again. As soon as they were open again we dropped our bombs. Then Lt. Beiber told our navigator Lt. Edgcomb to plot the straightest route home. We were deep in Germany, all alone, with fighters having been reported around Munich. If they spot us now, we'd be lucky to make Stalag Luft! (Airmen's prison camps in Germany)
The Good Lord smiled on us as we managed to cross Germany and all the way out without seeing anything other than clouds.
About 15 minutes after crossing the French-German border, we saw a formation of about 18 American bombers. A B-17 was leading it and there were both 179 and 24s in it. We headed for them, but just as we did, flak started to break around them. So, as much as we'd like to join them for protection against fighters, our pilot decided we'd stick it out alone, rather than fly through the flak with them.
About 20 minutes later, I made a terrible mistake. I looked out my window to see flak climbing up to meet us. I was listening to my radio (I was assigned the channel at briefing) and didn't know what was being said on our interphone throughout the plane. I took it for granted that one of our crew had reported this flak. I watched it climb steadily to our altitude, looking for all the world like a great big staircase. One burst exploded right under our right wing and threw it high into the air. I couldn't wait any longer and switched to interphone and reported anti-aircraft batteries were tracking us.
By this time Lt. Beiber had taken evasive action and soon the flak stopped. He replied back over the interphone that he knew they were shooting at us now, but no one except myself had noticed it. I made a solemn oath to myself that from now on when I see flak, I'll switch to intercom, and, unless I hear it called out, I'll call it myself!
Our Navigator, Lt. Edgcomb, did a beautiful Job of plotting our course home and we landed at our base with 15 gallons of gas left for each engine. Woodie called it right. We were one of the few crews that landed at their own field. Many of the planes that came back, crash-landed on the English coast or landed in southern England, not having enough gas reach home!! (Two 44ths landed in Switzerland, two lost over Germany, one crash-landed.)
The next day, I found out that the lead plane in our formation had its bombsight destroyed by flak, preventing the bombardier from dropping his bombs. His intercom was shot out, too, making it impossible for him to tell the deputy lead bombardier to take over and drop our bombs.
I also found out that a friend named John Dowd, who had trained with me, was shot down over Munich, Several chutes got out, and I hope he was one of them, now a POW. It was his third mission and he had been with our group for about a week. (He was in Channel Hopper, interned in Switzerland).
Lt. Butler's crew had its left rear vertical stabilizer shot off over the target, also were leaking gasoline badly. We heard them say they were trying to make Switzerland on the VHF. (They were shot down before making it - all POWs),
Dean Smith, another good friend, was killed over Munich. His plane collided with another coming out of a cloud. Both planes exploded, no one got out. (Not 44th)
Rumor has it that this mission to Munich has been one of the most costly ever undertaken by the 8th AF. The 44th BG lost several planes on it, and quite a few of those who came back had to crash land on the coast.
JULY 24. 1944 - CAEN, FRANCE. Another one to France. We could see the Channel at all times, even on our bomb run. We again carried 52 one-hundred pound bombs. As we approached "no man's land", the British lit red smoke pots so we wouldn't drop on them.
Our bombs were dropped "in train" and they seemed to drop for several minutes as we released them. The German lines were covered with a rain of bombs. As they hit, the British artillery opened with a barrage of shells, too. Flak was thick and very accurate so that when the British first opened their barrage, I thought they were German ack-ack batteries, and froze all over, because I had never seen so many shooting at once.
We were in the flak for about seven minutes and then we were over the Channel, on our way home. The mission lasted only four hours, and that part of it we all liked.
JULY 25, 1944 - ST. LO, FRANCE. Today's mission was quite similar to yesterday's, only today we supported our own ground troops. We again carried 52 one-hundred pounders. As there were only 1000 yards between our men and the Germans, red smoke pots were again used. Lt. Edgcomb, upon seeing some of the heavies unload their bombs ahead of us, told us they were dropping short and would hit our own troops. He said the wind had shifted and was blowing the smoke towards them. I felt very bad when I heard this, as my brother, Frank, and brother-in-law, Fred, were somewhere down there. (Frank was in Armored, and Fred was in Infantry.)
Lt. Beiber kept flying beyond the point of release of the others and we released our bombs well beyond the smoke, making sure they fell on German troops. As we were at 12000 feet, the flak was very heavy and accurate.
We were glad to see the Channel below, landed an hour after bombs away. Our Group was badly damaged by flak. Tony Vitiello's pilot, (Zerman), was critically wounded by an 88 mm shell which burst outside his window. Large chunks of flak tore into the plane, into his chest. His tendons to his shoulder were severed, and a large portion of his chest was torn away. Tony lifted him all by himself, placed his pilot on the flight deck bench to give him first aid. The co-pilot kept the plane in a diving attitude to increase speed and headed straight for our field. The pilot owes his life to his co-pilot and radio operator, as they didn't get him there a minute too soon.
(Vitiello weighs about 150 pounds, the pilot weighs over 200)
Lt. Edgcomb was right. American bombers dropped on our own troops and many were killed.
JULY 26, 1944 - LEAVE. Today we started to London on our first pass since we Joined the Group. We have eleven missions completed.
As we were leaving the orderly room after picking up our passes, Lt. Jacobs and his crew came back from today's mission. They had an engine go out while still crossing the Channel, were forced to abort. Jacobs made the mistake of banking into a dead engine and the plane crashed with 52 one-hundred pounders aboard. No one got out. The plane was still burning, bombs were still exploding in the wreckage when we boarded the bus for town.
A gunner named "Kaydee" (Karl D. Breakey) from our barracks, went with this crew today. It was to have been his 30th and last mission. His buddy also in our barracks, is pretty well broken up over this.
In spite of this send off, we enjoyed our two-day stay in London.
JULY 29, 1944 - BREMEN, GERMANY. We weren't scheduled to fly this mission last night, but one of the pilots got into a fight in town (from another squadron), so he is "riding the sick book" and we were elected to fill in.
We would draw one like Bremen on a deal like this. The older men in the barracks had told us that Bremen was second to none - and they were not wrong. We flew in D-Bar with another squadron (67th). There wasn't any seat at my desk, so I spent most of the time on the floor.
Bremen was covered completely with clouds when we arrived and thank Heaven for that! We dropped our bombs PFF (Instrument, through clouds) and the Germans shot their guns by radar. There was a solid flak barrage the length of the city, and you couldn't see through it! They were using pink flak trying to get our altitude - and they had it. They were off slightly to the right, however, as we flew in the middle element, so we made it OK.
The bombing results were perfect - Bremen was "pin-pointed" through 10/10s overcast, and that is remarkable. Our Group lost two heavies, however, and that is not.
At interrogation, they told us about it. Lt. Greene (67th) and a plane from our Squadron (Eberharts) collided over the Wash during assembly. They were at 2000 feet, so both planes dropped in like rocks. The enlisted crew members slept in our barracks with "Red" Favors being the only member from either plane to survive. He was in the bomb bays and had his chute on when it happened. It was his 6th mission. His chute opened as he hit the water, and a Dutch rescue boat picked him up.
The radio operator on his crew slept next to me. His name was Johnny Raniello, and he had a picture of his baby he had never seen tacked to the ceiling over his bed so he could look up at it as he lay on his bunk. He was killed instantly in the Martin upper turret. The pilot and co-pilot also died instantly when the propellers from Lt. Greene's plane chewed right through the flight deck.
Someone had taken the photo of Johnny's baby down before we got back - I don't know who.
Our crew was awfully tired after this mission, but we couldn't sleep. We just talked occasionally, rested as much as possible.
AUGUST 1, 1944 - AMIENS, FRANCE. We were briefed to hit Amiens today. The briefing was held at noon due to a low ceiling and poor visibility, waiting for it to clear.
WE arrived over France around 3 PM and the sky conditions were still bad. The clouds were almost solid beneath us and as we approached the target area, the overcast broke so that Amiens was very visible below. It looked very small, had red-roofed buildings. Before bombs away, I could see flashes throughout the town, which I figured were flak guns firing at us. The flak wasn't too heavy, however.
After we dropped our bombs, I watched for several minutes -when they struck Amiens the whole town was engulfed in flames and smoke. I had a very good look at the results and the flames and smoke seemed to be forced upward several thousand feet. I don't see how a single person could have escaped destruction in Amiens.
This mission lasted five hours and we were home in time to catch supper.
AUGUST 3, 1944 - PARIS, FRANCE. This morning we had another "Stand-by." The clouds were low with visibility on the ground limited. It cleared up around noon, so we went to briefing. Our bomb load was made up of 1000 pounders, were briefed to hit Paris. It is referred to as "Gay Paree" only none of us is happy about it. Paris is lousy with flak guns and surrounded by airdromes with plenty of enemy fighters available.
We arrived over France in mid-afternoon with the ground still hidden from sight. It was a solid overcast. We were between 15 to 25 miles from Paris when our Weather Scouts (pursuit planes that go ahead of us to report weather conditions) called to report Paris entirely hidden by clouds. We were not unhappy about this, as only visual bombing is permitted on targets in occupied countries. We looked for a secondary target on the way home. However, clouds remained unbroken.
This is the first time we have ever brought bombs back. We landed at our field with the bombs still in our racks.
Note: When bombing in France, all targets must be visible to prevent an error in accuracy. This saves French lives. In Germany, we take no such measures. An error over the Fatherland worries no one but the Germans.
AUGUST 4, 1944 - Kiel, Germany. We knew we'd get around to this one sooner or later. Kiel is a great naval center and port on the northern tip of Germany. It's on Kiel Bay which is a part of the Baltic Sea. We were told to try for Sweden if battle damage was prohibiting our return home. Our target was a submarine base.
We went in by way of Denmark after crossing the North Sea. The water at Kiel was one of the prettiest sights I have ever seen. From our altitude of 21,000 feet I could see. right through the blue water to the bottom of the. bay. Sand bars stood out just as if we were but a few feet away.
As we approached our target, naval vessels anchored in the bay started to lay a smoke screen to cover Kiel but they were too late! The flak they threw up at us was on time though and it certainly took its toll of bombers. We saw several going down on our bombing run. The flak was very intense and accurate.
We were all much relieved when we broke clear of the flak. We came home over Holland and saw what appeared to us as launching pads_br platforms for "buzz bombs". The weather was clear as a bell and Holland was really pretty. The houses on both sides of the canals seemed to run for miles.
A bomber hit by flak over the target had been sticking it out with us most of the way but now trouble seemed to set in further and it started down and lagged behind. I watched him for about 15 minutes and flak batteries picked him up and when I last saw him they had his altitude and were giving him
everything. It looked like they had him and I doubt he made it home.
You have a strange feeling inside when you see this happen and know there's no way to help. (I am usually assigned to monitor the distress frequency and have to report these planes _going down.)
When we landed we reported the buzz bomp sights. Rockets were also fired at Us Over Kiel but we didn't see any hit our part of the formation.
AUGUST 5, 1944 - Brunswick, Germany. It looks as if the government is mad at us!! Paris, Bremen, Kiel and now Brunswick. These are some of the roughest targets Germany has.
Vis ability was unlimited - not a cloud in the sky over Germany. They briefed us that we'd be in heavy flak for 15 minutes. When we started our bomb run you couldn't see the bombers ahead for flak. It was all over the sky - there was more of it than at any target we'd hit 'so far.
Flak shells were bursting between 'all our plane and I've never before felt the concussion the way I did today. The air rushes like a locomotive when they go off so close. When we opened the bomb bay door the flaps on my helmet were rising and falling with the concussion of the explosions. (I never fasten my chin strap.: One shell tore several holes in our bomb bays and knocked out our hydraulic system. The doors closed on what fluid remained and spared us the trouble of cranking them closed.
When we reached the channel and dropped down to a lower altitude, Woodie and I went back into the bomb bays to see what we could do but the hydraulic lines had too many holes in them. Woodie cranked the landing gear down for our landing. . We lost more men today but I was too excited to find out the number.
A very strange incident happened over Brunswick on this mission. After our bombs had fallen and while the bomb bay doors were still open - a flak shell burst under our plane at about the very front of the bomb bays and right wing. The plane lurched upwards and smoke from the flak rushed into the airplane around the flight deck. It was all around Woodie and myself and Lt. Beiber couldn't believe we were both O. K.- we were though and as far as we could see no flak had hit the flight deck at all.
When we landed we looked the plane over on the outside and flak had hit our #2 engine and had crushed its exhaust pipe for about 15 inches but had faile to enter the engine. It must have been a. huge piece as there were no other holes visible.
AUGUST 6, 1944 - Hamburg, Germany. When we arrived at briefing this morning, the red tape on the map ran to Hamburg, Germany. Our target was an oil refinery in the city itself. Flak batteries would have us for 17 to 21 minutes and it would be intense. We carried 2 kinds of chaff to drop as the Germans had 2 types of radar working to determine our altitude.
The weather was crystal clear again and we could see for 50 miles all over Germany. Hamburg was a very pretty city - it is located on a bend of the river Elbe. The flak barrage started while we were miles from the target. We were in the 3rd. element and we could see planes going down ahead of us as they they entered the barrage.
Several B-24s went down before we even entered the zone and it looked impossible for an airplane to get through. There was even more flak than at Brunswick. As we started our bombing run the flak was bursting regularly between planes in our squadron and it looked as if everyone was getting hit by it.
I was sitting on the floor of the flight deck having already opened the bombbay doors and our plane was being forced upward rhythmically by concussion the same as at Brunswick. When the bombs dropped I jumped to close the bomb bay doors (not that it would protect us but it sure helps morale!)
I had no sooner closed the doors and turned around than "WHOOMPH" a burst of flak hit us and right where I was sitting a hole the size of a 50 cent piece appeared! My flak vest was covered with cotton batting and the air was filled with it - I thought at first that I had been hit and the flak had torn right through my flak vest and although I didn't feel anything I was injured. When I found out I wasn't hurt I called Woodie in the upper turret thinking it might have hit him. I was relieved when he said he was O. K.
The same burst ripped through the fusilage right in front of Perry Morse, tail gunner; missed his head by inches and tore through some K-rations he stored. They were torn to pieces!!
A B-24 behind us took a direct hit which blew its right wing off - it started down in a crazy spin and no chutes came out. We watched it all the way down and it landed in a small town and blew up. It must have had its bombs cause the explosion seemed to cover the whole town.
We were in the flak for 17 mimutes and then broke free. It seemed like ages. We carne over the Dutch Coast coming home and the meager barrage they threw up seemed like a joke after Hamburg.
When we landed we watched planes behind us come in, and most fired red/red flares meaning the planes were damaged and to beware. (Also injured aboard.)
At interrogation we found out that we had sent out 48 bombers (maximum effort) and of these we lost 5 over Hamburg to flak and the remaining 43 who came home had all been badly shot up !!!
Our plane "Consolidated Mess" had holes 1n the left wing a foot long; holes in the flight deck; in the bomb bays; in the tail section; holes beneath the pilot and co-pilot seats and holes in the nose compartment-and not one of our crew had received a scratch!!! The Good Lord surely smiled on us today!
A waist gunner from another crew had gone to Brunswick with us yesterday And Hamburg today. Re had 23 prior missions and said he had seen more flak on these 2 missions than all his other missions together.
AUGUST 14, 1944 - Lyons, France. This morning we were given one of the longest hauls yet. We were briefed to hit a German fighter base at Lyons in southeastern France. It is about 150 miles from Turin, Italy. Because of the distance from our base we were forced to eliminate any zig-zagging on entry and withdrawal routes.
We were warned to look for heavy enemy fighter attacks in Southern France. They told us not to be surprised if we saw older German fighters planes as they might be German Cadets taking advanced training in out-moded planes. Lyons is the center of all German fighters in southern France.
This bit of briefing must have gone over big with our fighter escort because their talk over VHF sounded as If they couldn't wait to get there.
Before we reached our target area reports from our advance escort told of enemy fighters being engaged by them. When we arrived, there wasn't an enemy plane around so thay must have really had things under control.
Flak was light again and after bombs away we had a long and uneventful trip. This mission lasted over 9 and 1/2 hours.
AUGUST 15, 1944 - Wilhelmshaven, Germany. We are now in the airfield, wrecking business. Today was at Wilhelmshaven on Germany's north coast. It is a port on the North Sea.
Intelligence briefed us for moderate to heavy flak and possible fighter attacks. We experienced neither on penetration and located our airfield with ease as the day was cloudless.
We flew over the field and could see several multi-engined (probably bombers) planes in the parking areas. We didn't drop our bombs on the first run but circled and came across again. This time we let them go for a bulls-eye on a set of hangars.
We were rather tense on our second run - experience has proven that 2 runs can be mighty risky business. However, we experienced no opposition at all - not a single burst of flak. We're getting to like airfields!!
AUGUST 16, 1944 - Kothen, Germany. Our last 3 missions were unusually easy and this couldn't go on for ever. Today's broke the run of_easy ones.
When we were given today's target we had a rather thrilling memory revived. Kothen is only 15 miles east of Bernberg which was our first mission and as bad as they come. Kothen is right in the heart of a fighter belt and has heavy flak.
A we approached Kothen, things looked more natural, flak was heavy and pretty well covered the sky. Fighters failed to show (the enemy that is - ours were there.) When we broke clear of the flak our return trip was uneventful.
AUGUST 25, 1944 - Schwerut, Germany. Schwerut is an inland port of northern Germany. It is about 70 miles east of "good old Hamburg".
Flak conditions at Schwerut were rather vague to our intelligence but we were told to expect moderate to heavy flak. Our trip in was near Dummer Lake in Western Germany. We were repeatedly told to avoid this lake." It is a training area for German artillery outfits and they can throw up a horrible barrage of flak and to fly over it is to ask for a one-way ticket!
We made sure not to pass over the lake although it looked small and insignificant way below and to our left. Every airman who has ever flown in this area has respect for that little lake.
At Schwerut the flak was negligible and we dropped our bombs and headed for home. The withdrawal route brought us by Dummer Lake again and they opened up at us. We were out of their range however. Their flak demonstration made us happy to be once removed!
This mission was another comparitively easy one. Opposition over the target seems to be on the decline. I think a good deal of this is due to the confusion caused by our ground forces rapid advances through Europe.
AUGUST 26, 1944 - Salzbergen, Germany. Salzbergen is in the vicinity of Schwerut. The day was clear again and we had no trouble locating the target. No flak was encountered and no fighters were seen. Germany looked very pretty as we flew over it today. Things looked peaceful and'a war seemed the last thing existing below.
RESTHOME - We flew no more in August 1944 due to bad weather. September started the same way with a very low ceiling and complete over-casts. Although we wanted to keep flying and finish our tour of 30 missions we were put on orders to go to the resthome.
At 3AM on the day we were to leave for Bournemouth Resthome, we were alerted to fly a mission. Lt. Beiber went to Headquarters and straightened the matter out and we left for this "vacation" at 9AM.
We all stayed over in London for a day but when we got , to Bournemouth, we were sorry to have wasted a day. Bournemouthis on the southern coast of England and it was the nearest thing to an American city we had seen since leaving the US.
In peacetime it is a resort for rich Americans travelling in Europe. It is very clean and modern. vie lived like "kings"at an, American Red Cross hotel. Slept as late as we wanted; swam; rode horseback; saw the sights; played games, etc. - I got a horse called Satan at a riding place and couldn't control him. Carl Miller, who has been around, horses on the farm and can handle them, came to my rescue and traded a little mare he had and Satan was no longer a problem. Thanks, Carl.
Food was better than we were used to and ,people treated us like their own sons around town. We stayed 7 days and then we returned to our Bomb Group. _ (Unwillingly - of course!) We felt like new men and told all of our friends not to miss their "rest-leave" for anything.
SEPTEMBER 22; 1944 - Kassel, Germany. We resumed our tour in true style. Good old Germany- Kassel was the town and it is located; ,at the eastern end of the Ruhr Valley.
Our target was the Henschler Locomotive Works and was currently producing of all things - "88 MM Flak Guns"! !! This was the first time in 24 missions that flak guns were °vr target.
Intense flak was expected and also fighter attacks. There. were clouds scattered pretty well through-out Germany and our gunners were especially alert. Kassel was covered by clouds so we bombed by PFF (instruments through clouds). Flak was moderate and nothing like we expected.
Our bombers left contrails allover the sky and it's lucky for us that clouds obscured the anti-aircraft gunners eyes. The fighters, in our escort wove pretty patterns over and under us with their Sliding motions leaving contrails.
Woodie, flying the top turret reported a German jet overhead followed by 2 P-51s. The jet emitted a trail of balck smoke when the Mustangs approached him and left them "hanging" in the air!!
At interrogation after the mission, Woodie reported the jet plane and the intelligence officer told us he was the only one from our Group to do so. Fighter pilots from our escort turned in reports bearing out what Woodie said. Everyone else had mistaken the jet for one of our planes with wing tanks!
SEPTEMBER 26, 1944 - Hamm, Germany. Our efforts were concentrated around Germany's Ruhr Valley at present. Today's target is the marshalling yard at Hamm. This is the biggest railroad yard in Germany at present. They are moving thousands of German troops through it daily.
Clouds were again in favor of the Germans. Our bombing was instrumental. Light flak was encountered instead of the intense flak expected so I guess it was even all around.
SEPTEMBER 30 1944 - Hamm Germany. The clouds of the 26th caused our bombing to be off and less efrective than it should have been so we were briefed today for a return engagement. If we can knock out Hamm we will be helping our ground forces tremendously because of the large are being transported through there each day.
Visibility was perfect and we had a 100 mile an hour tailwind behind us going across the targeto Our ground speed was "367" MPH and the flak which was heavy, was all behind us as the flak gunners failed to lead us properly!!
As we turned to come home we were against this wind and our actual ground speed was only "97" MPH! This time the flak gunners gave us too much lead and the flak was all in front of us. It was a great feeling to see them off so much in their aim.
Our bombing results were good and I don't think we'll have to pay Hamm a visit for awhile.
OCTOBER 3, 1944 - Haggenau, Germany. Last night Hal Hannon (friend from another crew) and r went to Hingham a little town near the field. We bought some scotch in a local pub and had quite a celebration. This morning when I awoke I had to have Perry Morse help me out of bed. My left foot was swollen so much I couldn't get my shoe on. Perry practically carried me to break fast and briefing. He took care of me as though he were my mother!
Our target was Haggenau in south western Germany. r felt pretty good while we were waiting around to take off and had to tell the crew about last night and its episode.. Lt. Boensch didn't think I should go on the mission but rather to the infirmary. Lt. Beiber told me to take it easy on the mission and to let Lt. Boensch open and close the bomb bay doors. (So I wouldn't fall out - r guess !!)
Haggenau is located in mountainous country and I was figuring how much more accurate the flak would be because of it being closer to us than usual. (You remember that I served a year in an anti-aircraft outfit before entering the airforce. )
For some reason we took the secondary target today. It was an hydro-electric plant in the mountains. I opened and closed the bomb bay doors as I felt better in the cold air. There wasn't any flak nd we dropped our bombs while Lt. Folsom was catching a catnap. About 10 mlnutes after dropping them he woke up and told our pilot that we should open the bomb bay doors as we should be at the target soon!!! We all got a kick out of this.
The cold air was a great help and I recommend a flight at high altitude for "the morning after!" I went to the flight surgeon after the mission and he said I had sprained my foot and wrapped it good and tight. He observed that I must have been anethsetized when it happened or it would have hurt like heck !!
OCTOBER 4, 1944. Yesterday we flew in a plane we usually did not fly. *** It went down on today's mission. We did not fly on this mission.
OCTOBER 6, 1944 - - Hamburg, Germany
OCTOBER 9, 1944 - - Koblenz, Germany
OCTOBER 14, 1944 Kaiserlautern, Germany. Last night when an alert was posted my name showed up on another crew's list - Lt. Ryan, a lead pilot. As I had flown all my missions (29) with my own crew, I was quite put out. I ran over to Headquarters to talk to the Major in charge.
I explained my desire to stay with my own crew but he said I had go with Ryan as he was a deputy lead ship on tomorrow's mission and had to have an experienced radio operator to send bomb strike messages to Division Headquarters.
The air was cloudy and the target fairly well covered. After bombs away I sent the bomb strike message to Division Headquarters. I worried about being with this unknown crew as I did not have the feeling of security that I had with my own. However, I worried more about my crewmates and kept my eye on their ship which was in the same part of the formation as often as I could.
Everything went OK for both crews but I hope I don't draw anymore of these screwy assignments !!
OCTOBER 19, 1944 Gustavsburg, Germany.
OCTOBER 25, 1944 Essen, Germany. Today we were briefed to hit the key steel city in the Ruhr Valley. Up to now it had been considered suicide to go into this valley in daylight. The RAF had been trying to knock out the Ruhr at night but hasn't been successful.
The Valley is approximately 100 miles long and is Germany's most prized area. There are 2,700 permanently located flak guns in it and no telling how many on flat cars (flak guns mounted on railroad flat cars and moved about by rail so intelligence can't brief airmen on what to expect).
There were clouds between our formation and the ground until we hit the target area and we were thankful for this as we were in flak for 30 minutes. Due to the clouds it wasn't as accurate as it could have been.
There was a break through over Essen and we bombed visually. Our results were good. Flak over Essen was not too heavy but up through the Valley it burst in clusters of 6 shells all around. (I've been told each 6 guns are fired electrically and simultaneously which is why they burst in these clusters. I know now why they call this "Flak Valley” !!
OCTOBER 26, Essen, Germany. We didn't feel so good to see Essen as the target today. We only lack 3 missions to finish our tour and we could think of better places to go.
The mission was similar to yesterday's with a little less flak in the sky.
OCTOBER 28, 1944 HARBURG, Germany. Our Group went to Harburg which is near Hamburg this morning. We couldn’t get up over 14,000 feet due to engine trouble. All the others were at 19,000 feet and approximately 4 miles ahead of us.
Woodie checked everything possible and told Lt. Beiber that whatever was wrong with the engine could not be fixed from within the aircraft. With this fact staring us in the face, we turned back. (Our first abortion in 34 missions.)
Lt. Bentcliff went down near Brussels on the way back. Gene Maschmeyer , a friend from Biggs Field Training at El Paso was the radio operator. He was a fine young man, exceptionally clean in his living habits.
Subsequent findings about our plane's engine revealed a defective crankshaft which couldn't possibly be fixed from within the plane. Woodie was right again.
NOVEMBER 1, 1944 Essen, Germany. IT COULDN' T BE !!!! Knocking out the Ruhr is mighty important.
Flak seemed a little heavier and more accurate today.
NOVEMBER 2, 1944 Essen, Germany. Some other name would have had a more pleasant sound this morning. We hoped and prayed the Valley would be cloud covered and it was!! All the way in there was only an occasional break in the cloud formation below.
There were only 2 missions I can remember when I was freezing and sweating at the same time. On our 1st. to Bernberg and on our last to Essen. This may seem humerous but believe me - it is not!! The temperature at high altitude was usually extremely cold and accounts for the freezing but, it was tension that caused the sweating over the target.
We returned home without further incident and it was a good feeling to have completed our "Tour Of Duty"!! We withheld any extreme emotional exuberance as 2 of our crew must fly 3 more missions.
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Following are footnotes; casualties and facts worth noting:
Dean Smith and crew blew up over Munich, July 21, 1944 in midair collision.
John Dowd and crew went down over Munich, July 21, 1944.
Bob Mann (Lt. Butler's crew) had stabilizer blown away over Munich, July 21, 1944. Their wing tanks were also punctured and they were losing altitude. We heard them say over- VHF that they would try for Switzerland.
Lt. Jacobs and crew stalled in on a dead engine and blew up with 52 - 100 lb. bombs in their racks on July 26, 1944. He had turned back with engine trouble. Kaydee from our barracks was with him on what was to be his 30th. and last mission. (30 was a tour at that time.)
Lt. Greene's crew and Johnnie Raniello's crew collided over the channel on July 29, 1944. They had full bomb loads. Red Favor wa s the only survivor on both crews.
Lt. Bentcliff's crew went down near Brussels in October 1944.
Lt. Milliken's crew went down over the target on August 13, 1944. This was to have been their 30th. and last mission. Eight chutes came out our fighters followed them down and reported them take prisoner. Yarbrough in our barracks was on this crew but didn't go for some reason.
I don't remember why I made no notations for our missions to Hamburg; Koblenz and Gustavsburg. All I remember is that on our last several missions that I had trouble clearing my ears on descending from high altitude and it resulted in headaches. I can think of no other reason as I did not write it down.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION:
Mainly my own observations as a participant but also chatter over intercom; other aircraft including fighter protection and other parts of our bomber formation according to my assignment; (I was often designated to monitor the distress frequency to locate downed bombers for Headquarters debriefing sessions; interrogation after missions; stars and Stripes newspaper; conversation with friends and other crews who flew with us; History of the 14th. Combat Wng; and also information from the War Department.
Smallest bomber force we bombed with: 250 heavies - Rotterdam Bridge 7/8/44.
Larger groups we bombed with: 1,100 Munich (not sure which day).
Also 1,500 heavies at St. Lo, France on 7/25/44.
Actually 3,000 allied aircraft were involved counting the fighters and medium bombers.
** When we aborted on October 28, 1944 we were the 1st. crew with the 44th. Bomb Group to have flown 33 missions without an abortion !!! **
An 88MM flak shell travels approximately 1,000 feet per second when fired vertically at an aircraft. Evasive action at 19,000 or 20,000 feet called for a slight change of direction each 18 seconds which theoretically would take us away from the location of the shell burst. This type of evasive action cannot be taken on the bomb run as the plane must be a steady platform for the bombardier who is actually flying the plane at this time. Sometimes after dropping our bombs we will descend rapidly under power and make a drastic turn to throw off the flak gunners who have had us on a steady course for the time of the run. This always felt good to me!!!
Observation of German flyers and flak gunners.
Their flyers were good and had plenty of courage; often coming into their own gunners flak to attack our formations. Their gunners were rated as equal to the world's best. (They could certainly put a lot of flak up there!)
MY ATTITUDE: I was (possibly) the best radio operator on the finest (definitely) crew in the finest (definitely) Group of Heavies/in the finest (definitely) Airforce ( 8th. Airforce) of the finest (definitely) Nation in the world! !! I understand that this was an attitude common to airmen of all nations involved.
Finally in summarizing, I deeply regret the untimely death of our crew mate, Willis Edgcomb. It was a privilege and an honor to serve with Willis who in my opinion was one of the finest navigators and most dedicated flyers that I encountered.
The Germans were good at this game (as I suppose the Japanese were also) but the Americans and the RAF were better !!! I will always hold him in memory as the very decent person he was.
I have thanked the Good Lord many times since our tour that He permitted me the luxury and security of having fine team mates such as you.
Maybe in my youth and in the excitement I saw things differently than others. However, in my heart it is as recorded in this diary.
We started with 3 other crews from Bigg_ Field who had trained with us as recorded on page 3. When we finished our tour, Lt. Butler and Lt. Bentcliff and crews had been shot down and the crew of Tony Vitiello had been broken up by injuries and I believe assigned to other crews. The odds of 1 out of 4 look staggering when considered thoughtfully.
Some 44 years after these events occurred, I would like to dedicate this diary, and its contents, to the memory of Willis Edgcomb, our excellent navigator, and to my fellow crew mates.
WILLIAM A. UVANNI