The First Of Many

First Crews of the 8th Air Force

Lowell L. Getz

Introduction

The US Army Air Corps was breaking new ground when it began daylight bombing of German targets in World War II. This was the first time daytime air warfare of such magnitude had been attempted. The British had given up bombing by daylight as being too dangerous and were bombing at night, when German anti-aircraft weapons and fighters were less effective. But, the bombing results were also less effective. Specific targets were seldom hit. The British were limited primarily to area bombing of cities. The Americans finally convinced Roosevelt and Churchill to allow them to bomb during the day, when target acquisition would be much more accurate. But, the proficiency of the German anti-aircraft artillery defenses and the fighters were also much more effective during daylight hours. There was no known way of coping with these defenses in a manner to minimize casualties while maximizing effectiveness of the bombing. As a result, the 8th Bomber Command, as the American bomber force at first was designated, engaged in a learning process to determine the best means of accomplishing its mission, with maximum efficiency and minimum loss of aircraft and lives. The first Bomb Groups to be deployed were the “guinea pigs” in this learning process and as a result suffered exceptionally high casualties. Because the high casualties, in order to improve morale, Bomber Command set a quota of 25 missions for each crewman, after which he could return home. However, approximately only one in three crewmen of the early Groups survived to return home.

The 91st Bomb Group (H) was one of those first groups. The 91st Bomb Group arrived in England the first week of October 1942 and flew its first mission on 7 November 1942. The 8th Bomber Command was organized into the 1st and 2nd Bomb Wings (BW). The 1 BW included the 101st Provisional Combat Wing (PBCW), which was comprised of the 91st and 306th Groups and the 102nd PBCW, formed by the 303rd and 305th Groups; all flew B-17s. The 2BW consisted of the 44th and 93rd Groups, which flew B-24s. For the next six months of the air war, until 13 May 1943, these six bomb groups carried the daylight air war to Germany. It was from these groups, through trial and error and perception of the Group leaders, especially Colonel Curtis LeMay of the 305th, that the most proficient means of flying combat bombing missions were developed.

The exact structure of the formations varied as the groups experimented with different arrangements of bombers within the squadrons, squadrons within the group and groups within the strike force. In late 1942, the group formations were flown in a “javelin pattern” (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1
Fig. 1. Javelin formation flown during latter part of 1942. (Roger A. Freeman; “The Mighty Eighth”)

The groups were flown in line, approximately one and one half miles between groups, with each trailing group “stacked” slightly (about 100 feet) above the group ahead. By early 1943, the structure was modified so that the squadrons of a group were more compactly organized (Fig 2).

Fig. 2
Fig. 2. Box formation, developed by Colonel Curtis LeMay, commanding officer of the 305th Bomb Group, that began being used in early 1943.

This formation provided better covering fire within the group. There normally were three squadrons to a group formation. Each squadron consisted of three elements, of three planes each. Within an element, the planes formed a “V”, with the element lead aircraft in front, the No. 2 position on the right wing of the lead and on the left wing of the lead, the No. 3 position. The squadron lead was at the front of the lead element. On the right of the lead element was the “high” element, sometimes referred to as the “B” element. On the left of the lead element was the “low” (“C”) element. The squadrons of the group formation were organized similarly to the elements within squadrons, with the squadron positions designated as were the elements within a squadron.

91st Bomb Group (Heavy)

I use the accounts of the 91st Bomb Group to represent the dangers and losses incurred by crewmen of the first Groups who flew the early missions of the air war. As were the other five Groups, the 91st Bomb Group was comprised of four squadrons: the 322nd, 323rd, 324th, and 401st Squadrons. There were at first nine crews, each, assigned to the 322, 232 and 401st Squadrons and eight crews to the 324th. Each crew consisted of ten men. There were other crewmen who flew some of the early missions, but were not included in the analyses because they obviously were not members of the original crews. Fate of these first crews of the 91st Bomb Group provides an example of the hazards encountered by crews of the other Groups in 8th Bomber Command in paving the way for later arriving crews. Losses of the other five groups were similar to those of the 91st Group.

Table 1. Fate of the original 35 crews (350 crewmen) of the 91st Bomb Group (H) that began the bombing campaign over Europe.

Fate

Squadrons

 

322

323

324

401

Total

Percentage

No. Crews

9

9

8

9

35

 

Total
Crewmen

90

90

80

90

350

 

KIA

16

35

25

35

111

31.7

DED*

1

2

1

8

12

3.4

POW

5

13

1

19

38

10.9

Survived

68

40

53

28

189

54.0

* Died of non-combat causes; includes 8 from a crash of a B-17 in Ireland, 3 October 1942, during deployment of the 401st Squadron from the U.S. to England.

Of these first 35 crews and 350 crewmen, 42.6 % were either killed in action or shot down and became POWs; another 3.4 % died of non combat causes, for a total of 46.0% (149 crewmen) who did not survive their 25 missions. That only 7.3% of the combat casualties were POWs most likely is because the majority of the targets bombed during the initial operational phase were U-boat Pens and other harbor targets (19 of 30 missions, November-March). Accordingly, most missions did not go very far onto the continent. Thus, few bombers were shot down over land where the crewmen who survived being shot down became prisoners of war. Many of the aircraft lost to enemy action were downed over the Channel or the North Sea, where most crewmen either went down with their plane or drowned.

401st Squadron

I will focus on the 401st Squadron as an example of the vulnerability experienced by the Bomb Groups flying in the first part of the air war over Europe. The initial seven B-17s and their crews joined the Squadron the first week of October 1942, flying from Gander, Newfoundland. One of these bombers crashed in Ireland, killing 8 of the 10 crewmen aboard. The two additional bombers/crews arrived the next week. Of the 90 crewmen in these original nine crews, only 28 survived the 25-mission quota (Table 1), 68.9% casualties.

The 401st Squadron flew its first mission on 8 November 1942. Some of the crewmen flying in the five aircraft the 401st put up on the 8th were not members of the original crews. For that mission these men filled in at positions for which original crewmen were not available. Of the 50 crewmen flying for the 401st Squadron on 8 November, 22 (44.0%) eventually survived 25 missions (Fig. 3; Table 1).

Fig. 3
Fig. 3. Loading list for 401st Squadron, 8 November 1942, the squadron’s first mission: orange, killed in action; pink, prisoners of war; blue, died of non-combat cause; green, survived.

Captain Oscar D. O’Neill’s Crew

Fig. 4
Fig. 4. The O’Neill crew. Standing (left to right): S/Sgt Charles J. Melchiondo, Sgt Harry Goldstein, S/Sgt William D. King, T/Sgt Benedict B. Borostowski, S/Sgt Eldon Lapp. Kneeling (left to right): 1Lt Robert W. Freihofer, Cpt Edwin M. Carmichael, Cpt Oscar D. O’Neill, Jr., Cpt Edwin R. Bush, S/Sgt Aaran S. Youeli. (Oscar D. O’Neill)

I have documented the actions of one of the original crews, that of Cpt Oscar D. O’Neill, whose 23 missions serve as an example of the experiences of those early crews during the air war over Europe, albeit one that survived longer than most. I include copies of some of the original records on which events regarding each mission were recorded. For the first 22 missions these provide information related to Cpt O’Neill’s participation in the missions. For the final (17 April 1943) mission, I include most of the records from the mission file in the National Archives. This provides a rather complete sense of what was done in preparation for and upon the completion of each mission. Perusal of the records for Cpt O’Neill’s missions will give you a sense of what the early crews experienced.

For most missions, I will describe the following: the target; combat organization; action on the mission, to include those incidents involving planes and crews from the 401st Squadron; copies of the original interrogation (“debriefing”) reports for Cpt O’Neill’s crew; and other appropriate information/documents. At the end of each mission account, I provide the “Effectives” (i.e., the total number of planes from all Groups of the Strike Force assigned to the designated target of the 401st Squadron that made it over the target; these do not include groups assigned other targets on that date), the number of planes lost (“Losses”), the number of crewmen wounded (WIA), killed (KIA; all missing in action and not recovered after the war were declared KIA) and Prisoners of war (POW) from the Strike Force that went over the 401st target. Keep in mind each aircraft of the “Effectives” had a crew normally of 10 men. Scanned copies of original documents of the missions are in the “Appendices.”

Cpt O’Neill’s crew and its aircraft, Invasion II, originally had been selected by Hollywood director Maj William Wyler as the subjects of his WW II Air Corps documentary depicting the activities of American bombing crews flying out of England. It appeared that this crew and aircraft would be the first in the 8th Air Corps to complete 25 missions. Unfortunately, Cpt O’Neill and his crew and Invasion II were shot down on their 23rd mission. Maj Wyler then turned to Cpt Robert Morgan and his crew and the “Memphis Belle”, in the 324th Squadron, for the subjects of his documentary.

Following are the accounts of the missions flown by Cpt Oscar D. O’Neill and his crew:

1942

Mission 1. November 08
Target: Abbeville, Drucat Airfield

For this mission, the 91st put up 12 bombers, five from the 401st Squadron. The 91st went to Abbeville alone. The 301st (still in England at this time; was transferred to North Africa on 23 November) and 306th Bomb Groups, the only other Groups up on 8 November, went to Lille, France. When the 323rd Lead aircraft, No. 399, “Man-O-War”, with LTC Baskin R. Lawrence, who was leading the Group, aboard had to abort the mission, Cpt Haley W. Aycock, the 401st Squadron CO, flying in No. 431, “The Saint”, took over as Group Lead.

The primary target on 8 November was the aircraft dispersal area to the east of Abbeville. This base, a German fighter airfield, later was to become home of the crack German Jagdgeschwader (JG) 26 fighter group, called the “Abbeville Kids” by the American bomber crews.

Weather conditions over England and above the Channel were clear, with a few cumulus clouds floating over the French coast and target. Two groups of 18 each, Spitfires, one group on each side of the 91st bomber formation, flew as escorts to and from the target. There was no fighter protection to the rear of the formation. Enemy fighters were not encountered on the way to the target. The 91st Group formation started receiving flak bursts about 10 miles east of Ault. These continued on into the target area and all the way to the coast on the route out. Although heavy in some places, most of the bursts were below and to the rear of the aircraft. Only sporadic hits were registered on the bombers.

Fourteen Me 109 German fighters attacked the 91st formation as it left the French coast on the way out. The enemy aircraft came in on the bombers from 0500 O’clock to 0700 O’clock low, most carrying the attack to within 800 yards of the bombers. None of the runs came from the sides or from the front. Cpt Aycock was hit in the left leg by a .30 caliber bullet at the beginning of the attack, thus becoming the first 401st casualty.

Effectives: 12. Losses: 1. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 1. Appendix 1

Mission 2. November 17
Target: St. Nazaire, U-boat Pens

The order of Groups of the 1BW for this mission was: 91st Group, followed by 303rd, 306th and 93rd (assigned to the 1BW for this mission) Groups. The 305th Group flew a diversionary mission to within 30 miles of Brest and the 2BW (44th Group) flew a separate mission to Cherbourg. The weather was good over France with 25-mile visibility and 5/10 cloud cover. Cloud cover over the target was 10/10. The 303rd Group returned to Molesworth without dropping. Only 14 of the 20 aircraft in the 91st formation made it to the target; all dropped.

Enemy fighters appeared close to the 91st Group, but did not attack, instead, concentrating their efforts on the trailing 306th. One 306th plane was severely damaged, killing one and wounding three crewmen. The plane made it back to England. By this time, the Germans had realized that the 8th Bomber Command was concentrating its attacks on submarine pens. On 17 November, the Germans had positioned 75 flak batteries around St. Nazaire. The number of batteries soon exceeded 100 and flak over the target was exceptionally heavy. St. Nazaire became known as “Flak City” to the air crews. Six 91st bombers were hit by flak over the target on the 17th, wounding two crewmen. All planes returned safely to base.

Effectives: 35. Losses: 0. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 5; KIA, 1.
Appendix 2

Mission 3. November 22
Target: St Lorient, U-boat Pens

For this mission, the order of Groups was: 91st, 306th, 305th, 303rd, and 93rd (assigned to 1 BW for this mission). The mission struggled from the start. Many of the aircraft from the various groups were late departing because of poor weather conditions. Fighter escorts accompanied the Strike Force as far as the French coast. Weather over France was equally bad, with 10/10 cloud cover over the target. Only 11, all from the 303rd Group, of the 76 aircraft assigned to the Strike Force found a hole in the cloud cover and dropped on target. Although all 91st aircraft returned safely to England, many landed at alternate bases owing to poor visibility at Bassingbourn.

Effectives: 11. Losses: 0. Crewmen Casualties: 0.
Appendix 3

November 23

Cpt O’Neill’s crew did not fly the mission to the submarine pens at St. Nazaire on 23 November. This was a disastrous mission for the 91st Group. Three of the ten aircraft put up did not return. Two Squadron Commanders, Maj Victor Zienowicz of the 323rd and Maj Harold Smelser of the 324th, were lost when their aircraft went down. All 22 men on these two planes were killed in action. Further, the Group Navigator and Bombardier were lost when these two aircraft went down. One other 91st plane, with 1Lt Nathan Corman’s 324th Squadron crew suffered severe battle damage. Unable to land at Bassingbourn because of poor weather conditions, Lt Corman landed at Watford. In so doing, the aircraft hit a field pylon and crashed near Leavesden, Herts. Five of the ten-man crew were killed.

Effectives: 36. Losses: 4. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 16; KIA, 58. Mission 4. December 06
Target: Lille, Marshalling Yards

The 1BW lead the Strike Force with the 101st PBCW in the lead; the order of Groups was: 91st, 303rd, 305th. The 2BW, 44th Group, flew a mission to Abbeville. The 306th Group flew a mock diversion. Four of 22 aircraft put up by the 91st aborted prior to the target. Fighter cover for the mission was good. Two squadrons of Spitfires picked up the Strike Force at the French coast, accompanying it to the target. Four squadrons of fighters provided cover over the target and six more covered the rear of the Strike Force on the return.Bombing results of the 18 91st Group planes that made it to the target was poor.

Only a few fighters came at the Strike Force, but two 91st crewmen were seriously wounded by flak over the target. The 305th Group lost its first aircraft on this mission, shot down by a FW 190, killing nine of the ten man crew.

Effectives: 43. Losses: 2. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 5; KIA, 21; POW, 1.
Appendix 4

Mission 5. December 20
Target: Romilly sur Seine Aerodrome

For this mission the 101st PBCW led the Strike Force, with the 306th Bomb Group leading the 101st PCBW. The 306th was followed by the 91st, 305th and 303rd Groups, echeloned rearward and upward in that order. Twelve B-24s from the 44th Bomb Group of 2BW joined 60 B-17s of the 1BW that went over the continent.

Weather conditions were good over France. The Strike Force was subjected to only light and inaccurate flak five miles north of Dieppe, over the target and north of Paris. Between 50 and 75 enemy aircraft, both Me 109s and FW 190s began harassing the bomber stream about 35 miles inland from the French coast. As the Strike Force made a sharp left turn at the IP onto the bomb run, the fighters queued up in front in two lines on each side of the 91st Group Lead Aircraft, No. 515, “Jersey Bounce.” The attacks kept up on to the target and on the return, until the bombers were about 15 miles out over the Channel. German fighters peeled out of their formation four at a time to make a feint at the formation. These flights then split into groups of two and came barreling in on the bombers at 1100 O’clock or between 0100 O’clock and 0200 O’clock. Two planes from the 401st went down--No. 432, “Danellen” with 1Lt Dan W. Corson’s crew aboard (9 KIA, 1 POW) and No. 452, flown by 1Lt Robert S. English and his crew (3 KIA, 7 POW).

As the bombers went over the target, the German fighters disappeared. Flak was light over the target and the crewmen thought they were in the clear for an easy return to Bassingbourn. Most were looking at the “sights of Paris”, especially the Eiffel Tower. Someone started singing “The Last Time I Saw Paris.” Then someone else yelled out “Here they come again!” A swarm of fighters came in from the right, attacking first the 306th Group and then the 91st.

A flak burst over the target set the No. 3 engine on fire and released the landing gear of Cpt Ken Wallick’s Lead plane, No. 512, “Rose O’Day”, causing her to drop behind the formation. 1Lt Bruce Barton, in No. 439, “Chief Sly”, and 1Lt James D. Baird, flying No. 483, “Spirit of Alcohol”, dropped back to provide protection for “Rose O’Day”. Both “Rose O’Day” and “Chief Sly” were hit hard by German fighters. Although Cpt Wallick was able to bring his aircraft back to Bassingbourn, the No. 3 propeller broke on landing, tearing away part of the engine cowling. “Rose O’Day” eventually was repaired and flew again. Lt Barton had to crash land “Chief Sly” in a pasture near Fletching, Sussex. “Chief Sly” was salvage.

From the beginning, it had been frowned upon that a bomber leave formation to go to the aid of another aircraft out of formation and being attacked by enemy fighters. In so doing, formation integrity was weakened. Because some of the early instances of such action appeared to be beneficial, these events had been condoned. After the incident of 20 December, however, 8th Bomber Command ordered such action to cease.

Effectives: 72. Losses: 6. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 12; KIA, 40; POW, 18.
Appendix 5

Mission 6. December 30
Target: Lorient, U-boat Pens

Once again the 306th Group led the Strike Force with the 91st, 303rd and 305th echeloned upward in that order. The 2 BW did not fly on 30 December. Each 91st bomber carried two 2,000 pound bombs. It was hoped such large bombs might break through the thick concrete over the pens. The 323rd Squadron led the Group for this mission. Maj Paul D. Brown, in No. 549, “Stupen-Taket”, was Group Lead. The 401st CO, Maj Edward P. Myers, was flying as copilot with Cpt O’Neill in No. 070, “Invasion 2nd”, as 401st Squadron Leader.

Moderate, but generally inaccurate flak was encountered by the Strike Force from flak ships in the Channel, along the route to the beginning of the bomb run, at the Initial Point (IP), Dos Porden, and on the way into the target. Heavy flak over the target rocked and tore into the bombers. Approximately 30 FW 190s charged the formation while over the target. Attacks came from all directions except the rear. Fighters lined up in front of the formation in two lines, one on each side of “Stupen-Taket.” They peeled off out in front and came charging through the formation.

During the fighter attacks, “Invasion 2nd” took a number of 20 mm cannon shells. Maj Myers, was hit in the femoral artery by cannon shell fragments and bled to death. Because of the heavy fighter attacks, no one was able to leave his position in the plane to tend to Maj Myers. Even so, there would have been no way to stop the blood flow from the femoral artery. Cpt O’Neill had to remain at the controls to keep “Invasion 2nd” in formation as he watched Maj Myers bleed to death. The radio operator, T/Sgt Thomas B. Cottrell, was badly wounded in the left arm and left leg. The No. 4 engine was knocked out, the electrical system went out and there were numerous holes in the wings and fuselage. Cpt O’Neill brought “Invasion 2nd” back to Bassingbourn, but it would be some time before she was ready to fly again.

A head-on attack on No. 449, “Short Snorter”, by FW 190s set the No. 3 engine on fire just as she cleared the target. The plane immediately started going down. About five minutes later, as she went out over the Atlantic, two chutes were observed to come from the aircraft just before “Short Snorter” exploded, the debris falling into the water. None of the ten crewmen survived.

Effectives: 40. Losses: 3. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 17; KIA, 32; POW, 1.
Appendix 6

1943


Mission 7. January 13
Target: Lille, Locomotive Works

The order of battle for the Strike Force on 13 January was: 1BW, 102nd PBCW, 305th and 303rd; 101st PBCW, 91st and 306th. The 2BW, 44 Group, flew a diversionary mission. For this mission, Cpt Oscar O’Neill’s crew was assigned to a newly arrived aircraft, No. 362, “Short Snorter II”, that had not yet flown a combat mission. Their regular plane, No. 070, “Invasion 2nd”, was still being repaired from damage incurred on the mission to Lorient on 30 December. No. 362 was not up to flying a combat mission. She had been rushed into service and had not been properly checked out. A number of systems were not working well. While still over England a series of technical failures occurred. The No. 1 engine started running rough as Cpt O’Neill took her above 20,000 feet. There was a leak in the right oxygen system, which was almost empty by the time they formed up. The oil temperature was too high in the No. 4 engine. The ball turret was leaking oil and the guns would not fire when tested. The intercom was in poor working condition making it difficult for the crew to communicate. And, the left waist and tail guns were not adjusted correctly. Cpt O’Neill had no choice but to abort the mission and return to base.

Effectives: 64. Losses: 3. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 9; KIA, 22; POW, 11.
Appendix 7

Mission 8. January 27
Target: Wilhelmshaven, Naval Base

For this first mission into Germany, the 1BW, lead the Strike Force, with the 101st PBCW leading the 1BW. The order of battle of 101st was 306th, 91st. The 102nd PBCW followed with the 305th Group leading the 303rd. The 2BW, with the 44th and 93rd Groups flew a diversionary mission to Vegesack.

The port of Bremen was the primary target for 1 BW on 27 January. When the Strike Force arrived at Bremen, it found the target obscured by 5-7/10 cloud cover so the bombers headed to the secondary target, Wilhelmshaven, which also was clouded over and had a smoke screen. The Strike Force dropped their bombs, anyway. As a result, a lot of the bombs dropped in the water, rather than on the docks. The lead bombardier of the 306th did not drop on Wilhelmshaven and led the Strike Force out over Emden, where he alone dropped. Unfortunately, this took the planes through another flak area. The crewmen, at debriefing, were understandably upset.

The 2BW groups could not find their primary or secondary targets and went to their target of last resort, Wilhemshaven. Still the bombardiers could not find the target and the groups did not drop. This was the first mission on which US aircraft, flown by US airmen dropped US made bombs on Germany.

Effectives: 55. Losses: Aircraft, 3. Crewmen: WIA, 3; KIA, 26; POW, 6.
Appendix 8

Mission 9. February 04
Target: Emden, Marshalling Yards

The primary target for the 4th of February was the marshaling yards at Hamm, with the marshaling yards at Osnabruck as the secondary target. The 101st PBCW, with the 306th Group leading and the 91st following, was in front of the 102nd PBCW, led by the 303rd Group, the 305th trailing, on this mission. The 2 BW flew a mission to Hamm marshaling yards. Both the primary and secondary targets for 1 BW were clouded over so, after circling for an hour and a half, the Strike Force diverted to a target of opportunity, Emden. The 305th Group could not find the target and aborted back to base. The other three groups dropped through dense clouds and an effective smoke screen. Results of the bombing were not observed because of the visual obstruction.

This was a rough mission for the 91st Group. German fighters hit 91st formation when it was about 10 minutes from Emden. Between 15-20 fighters attacked the bombers on into the target. Fighters continued to pound the bombers on the way home until the aircraft were well out over the North Sea. Most of the attacks came from the rear. There also was heavy and very accurate flak over the target and at Vieland on the way out.

Two 323rd High Squadron bombers went down. No. 544, “Pennsylvania Polka”, with 1Lt Alan L. Bobrow’s crew, which had started out as Lead of the Second Element, but was lagging behind the formation on the return. The No. 2 engine was smoking when they were hit by two FW 190s, knocking out engines No. 3 and 4. Then the tail section began to tear away. “Pennsylvania Polka” went down in the North Sea, taking all ten crewmen with her to the bottom. No. 589, “Texas Bronco”, which was on Lt Bobrow’s right wing, was hit by flak over the target and later by Me 109s and Me 110s. The pilot, 1Lt Eugene B. Ellis, crash-landed on the beach of Terschelling Island, Holland, where the crew destroyed the aircraft. The bombardier, 1Lt Marvin H. Beiseker, Jr., was killed in the air and the radio operator, S/Sgt Michael T. La Medica, died of wounds later in the day. The rest of the crew became POWs.

Over half of the returning 91st planes were severely damaged and five crewmen wounded.

Effectives: 39. Losses: 5. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 17; KIA, 30; POW, 20.
Appendix 9

Mission 10. February 14
Target: Hamm, Abortive Sortie (weather)

On the 14th, the mission was aborted over Holland before reaching the target owing to poor visibility and 10/10 cloud cover. Because the Strike Force crossed over onto the continent, the crews were given credit for a sortie. Flak was observed coming up at the bombers and 11 German fighters approached the strike force with only one encounter. None of the planes was damaged.

Effectives: 0. Losses: 0. Crewmen Casualties: 0
Appendix 10

Mission 11. February 16
Target: St. Nazaire, U-boat Pens

The 1BW was the lead Wing for this mission. The 101st PBCW, with the 306th Group in the lead, followed by the 91st, led the Strike Force. The 102nd PBCW, with the 305th Group in front and the 303rd behind it, followed the 101st. The 2BW (44th and 93rd Groups) brought up the rear. The 93rd B-24s did not make it to the target.

Flak over the target was heavy, but the aircraft flew through it within a few minutes. Two German FW 190 fighters dropped a series of time-fused fragmentary devices down on the Group in an attempt to break up the formation. The explosions occurred behind the Group, causing no damage to the bombers. A number of other fighters pressed their attacks into the Strike Force, taking out five aircraft. None from the 91st went down, but one crewman in the 324th Squadron was killed in the air. Two B-24s from the 44th Group were involved in a mid-air collision over the Channel. Only one of the twenty crewmen survived.

Effectives: 65. Losses: 8. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 7; KIA, 53; POW, 23.
Appendix 11

Mission 12. February 26
Target: Wilhelmshaven, Docks

The primary target on the 26th of February was harbor facilities at Bremen, with the port of Wilhelmshaven the secondary target. Seventeen bombers from the 91st were joined by 42 B-17s from the 303rd, 305th and 306th Groups and by 6 B-24s from the 44th and 93rd Groups of the 2nd BW. The 102nd PBCW led the 1BW Strike Force, with the 305th Group in front, the 303rd trailing. The 101st PBCW followed the 102nd, with the 306th Group in front and the 91st in the rear. The 2BW (44th, followed by the 93rd) was at the rear of the Strike Force.

The mission started out routinely with the crewmen up at 0230 hours for a quick breakfast to get to briefing at 0315 hours. Crews were at stations at 0730 hours and all aircraft were in the air by 0815. The weather was clear and from all indications it would be a routine mission. Not so.

The Strike Force was ten minutes late coming together as some of the Groups had difficulty in moving into their proper places in the formation. On the way across the North Sea, the Lead Navigator of the 305th Group forgot to check wind velocity. As a result, the entire Strike Force drifted several miles south of the briefed route, taking it over German anti-aircraft positions on the Frisian Islands. A number of aircraft received flak damage from these batteries. Waiting German fighters intercepted the formation just off Vieland Island in the Frisians.

No. 362, “Short Snorter II” of the 401st Squadron with 1Lt Beman Smith’s crew aboard, was reported turning back just before reaching the Frisians Islands, under control and apparently undamaged. Most likely Lt Smith was encountering mechanical problems and was aborting back to base. Almost immediately after No. 362 left the formation, she was observed being pounced upon by five twin-engine Ju 88 enemy aircraft. There was no further observation of “Short Snorter II.” No. 362, along with all ten of her crew went to the bottom of the North Sea. No. 447, “Kickapoo”, with John Swais’ crew, was last seen with the No. 4 engine smoking. No one observed where it went down and the crew never found.

As the Strike Force went on inland, German fighters once again attempted to disrupt the formation by dropping delayed-fuse bombs down on it. Again, it was unsuccessful. The fledgling war correspondent, Walter Cronkite, flew on this mission in the 303rd Group. He reported that he was “too excited to be scared.”

Effectives: 65. Losses: 7. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 14; KIA, 44; POW, 26.
Appendix 12

Mission 13. February 27
Target: Brest, U-boat Pens

On the next to last day of February, the target was the submarine base at Brest, France. Eighteen aircraft from the 91st joined up with 47 B-17s from the 303rd, 305th and 306th Groups in 1BW, along with 15 B-24s from the 44th and 93rd Groups of 2BW. The 101st PBCW (306th Group in front, followed by the 91st) was in the lead, with the 102nd PBCW (305th Group leading the 303rd) following in the upper arm of the wedge. 2BW (44th and 93rd) was at the end of the Strike Force.

The 91st planes arrived at the Wing assembly point on time and formed up on the Lead Group. Cloud cover over the briefed route was 10/10 until about 40 miles from Brest. When the formation broke from the clouds it was north of the briefed course. Because of this, the Strike Force missed the rendezvous with its Spitfire fighter cover. The Lead Group also had to set a new course for the bomb run, to begin from the south of Brest. The formation went over the target on a NNE direction and dropped at 1456 hours from 24,000 feet. Flak was intense, but inaccurate, at the target. The 305th Group was within sight of the target when it received a fake recall message and returned to base without dropping. The Strike Force went off the target and on out to the coast on the course it should have taken coming in. As the bomber stream approached the French coast, it picked up the fighter escort, which accompanied it back across the Channel. Only four FW 190s and two Me 109s approached the Strike Force and these came no closer than 1,000 yards to the bombers.

Effectives: 60. Losses: 0. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 0; KIA, 0; POW, 0.
Appendix 13

Mission 14. March 04
Target: Hamm, Marshalling

The mission to the marshalling yards at Hamm, Germany on the 4th of March was one of the most dramatic missions the 91st Bomb Group flew during the entire air war. The 102nd PBCW led the Strike Force on this mission, with the 303rd Group flying Lead, ahead of the 305th. The 101st PBCW, comprised of the 306th Group as Lead, and the following 91st, followed the 102nd. Maj Paul L. Fishburne, the 22-year old Commanding Officer of the 322nd Squadron, led the 91st. 2BW (44th and 93rd) flew a diversionary mission.

The Strike Force took off at 0800 hours, formed on schedule and headed out over the North Sea. The groups encountered heavy, 10/10, cloud cover consisting of three layers between 13,000 and 17,000 feet. Above these was another layer of crystal clouds extending from 21,500 to 26,000 feet. Visibility soon dropped to less than 1,000 yards. When it appeared conditions would not improve, the 102nd PBCW diverted south, where it encountered clear skies and dropped on Rotterdam, the secondary target. The 306th aborted back to England. Because radio silence was maintained on the mission, Maj Fishburne supposedly was unaware that the other groups had left and the 91st was going on alone.

Earlier, at the briefing, the 91st weather officer, Maj Lawrence A. (“Sunshine”) Atwell had told the crews there would be dense clouds over the North Sea, but that conditions should improve as they approached the continent and would be clear over the target. Just as “Sunshine” had predicted, the lower cloud layers diminished to about 5/10 cover near the coast. Maj Fishburne continued on course, assuming the other groups were up ahead of him in the soup and that the Strike Force was progressing as briefed.

As the 91st crossed over onto the continent, the skies cleared, revealing no bombers or contrails up ahead. Maj Fishburne called his tail gunner, S/Sgt Thomas J. Hansbury, over the intercom and asked how many planes were still in the formation. Sgt Hansbury replied, “Sixteen.” Maj Fishburne then realized the 91st was all alone and heading over the continent with only 16 aircraft. It was the policy of higher headquarters that small groups of unescorted bombers not go deep into enemy territory. Maj Fishburne had to make a decision as to whether to abort back to base or go on to the target with his small force. Although he would have been justified in turning back, Maj Fishburne made the decision to continue on to the target. His orders had been to bomb the target. He assumed, correctly, the target would be clear. Irrespective of what the other groups had done, Maj Fishburne followed the last orders of which he was aware. The 91st continued on to Hamm.

With Bomb Groups scattering in different directions, German air defense was confused briefly. Fighters did not attack the 91st formation until it was 30 minutes from the target. Approximately 175 fighters came at the formation for the next hour. FW 190s, Me 109s, Me 110s, and Ju 88s attacked the bombers singly and two or three in line, abreast or in trail. The attacks were mostly between 1000 O’clock and 0200 O’clock low and high. The enemy aircraft concentrated on individual bombers rather than the formation in general.

Flak over the target was especially intense and relatively accurate. In spite of the vicious fighter attacks and flak over the target, all 16 of the 91st aircraft made it to the target with most bombs hitting the aiming point.

As the Group came off the target, four bombers were lost from the formation of 16 aircraft. No. 549, “Stupen-Taket” of the 323rd was hit by the flak barrage and exploded in mid air, the debris coming down about 8 km NE of Dulmen (8 KIA, 2 POW). A 322nd Squadron aircraft, No. 512, “Rose O’Day”, was shot down by German fighters and crashed in the North Sea off Texel Island, Holland (7 KIA, 3 POW). Two 324th aircraft, No. 370 (9 KIA, 1 POW) and No. 464, “Excalibur” (3 KIA, the other 7 crewmen rescued by Air Sea Rescue and returned to Bassingbourn) were also hit by German fighters and ditched in the North Sea. Captain O’Neill’s radio operator, S/Sgt Edward N. Yelle, was killed in the air.

Photo reconnaissance flights three days after the attack revealed almost all bombs had fallen on target. Cpt Tex McCrary of the European Theater of Operations News Service, who had flown on several other missions and perused numerous strike photos, flew the mission with Cpt O’Neill. Cpt McCrary and the photo interpreters, concluded the Hamm strike to be the most perfect they had observed to date.

Still, the Generals at higher headquarters were more than a little upset that Maj Fishburne had continued on alone with such a small force. On the other hand, that he took the 91st on to the target with excellent bombing results, while the other groups diverted from the briefed mission, could not be overlooked. Somewhat reluctantly, Maj Fishburne was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). However, Maj Fishburne was reduced in rank to Captain and transferred to the 351st Bomb Group at Polebrook. There he was assigned as CO of the 509th Squadron and promoted back to Major. Because of the limited information transferred between Groups, men at Bassingbourn assumed Maj Fishburne’s punishment was a lesson to any other Lead Pilot who might consider taking the Group on alone to the target. The 91st Bomb Group was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for its accomplishments on the 4th, the first Bomb Group to be so designated. So as not to encourage other groups to go it alone deep into enemy territory, the DUC award was not made known until two years following the end of the war! Maj Fishburne never revealed, even to his family or to the author, whether he had heard the recall transmission. The “twinkle” in his voice when he explained it would not have mattered had he heard the order, his last orders were to bomb Hamm, suggested he had heard the recall order.

When the strike results of the Hamm raid were reported to Churchill and Roosevelt, previous skepticism regarding the soundness of high altitude precision daylight bombing of strongly defended targets without fighter cover weakened. The 4 March mission by the 91st Bomb Group has been credited with being a major factor in the decision to continue daylight bombing.

Effectives: 44. Losses: 5. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 7; KIA, 39; POW, 6.
Appendix 14

Mission 15. March 06
Target: Lorient, Power Station at the U-boat Pens

The order of the Strike Force was: 1BW (l01st PBCW, with the 306th Group in the lead followed by the 91st; the 102nd PBCW was lead by the 305th Group, with the 303rd trailing). The 2BW (44th and 93rd Groups) flew a diversionary mission to Brest. The mission to the submarine pens at Lorient, France on the 6th was a milk run for the 91st. Flak over the target, and from a flack ship in the harbor, was moderately heavy, but inaccurate. Only thirteen 91st aircraft made it over the target.

Although several fighters hit the 306th, none fired on the 91st formation. One FW 190 dived down through the 91st formation, behind the No. 2 bomber, No. 339, “Man-O-War”, in the Lead Element of the Lead Squadron. The fighter had just taken on a plane in the leading 306th Group and was simply diving to escape rather than attack the 91st. The mission was not a milk run for the 303rd and 306th Groups. The former lost one plane (2 KIA, 8 POW) and the latter two aircraft (4 KIA, 14 POW; 2 evaded capture).

Effectives: 65. Losses: 3. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 0; KIA, 6; POW, 22.
Appendix 15

Mission 16. March 12
Target: Rouen, Sotteville Marshalling Yards

The 1BW was led by the 101st PBCW, with the 306th Group leading the 91st; the 102nd PBCW followed, with the 305th Group ahead of the 303rd. 2BW flew a diversion mission. The Strike Force had good Spitfire fighter protection from the time it started over the Channel, all the way to and from the target. German fighters made only a few feeble passes at the formation. None was effective. There was light inaccurate flak over the target and along the route out. A milk run.

Effectives: 63. Losses: 0. Crewmen Casualties: 0.
Appendix 16

Mission 17. March 13
Target: Amiens, Glisy Airfield

The mission, on the 13th was pure confusion. The primary target was the locomotive depots at Amiens, France, the alternate, marshalling yards at nearby Abbeville. The 102nd PBCW, with the 305th Group leading the 303rd, was ahead of the 101st PBCW. The 91st was flying Lead of the 101st PBCW, with the 306th assigned to fly high on its right. 2BW flew a diversion mission.

The Lead Squadron was composed of two Elements from the 324th Squadron and one from the 323rd Squadron. Cpt Robert K. Morgan was in the Lead aircraft, No. 485, “Memphis Belle.” Cpt Bruce D. Barton, in No. 139, “Chief Sly II”, led the five bombers in the High Squadron. Cpt O’Neill, in No. 070, “Invasion 2nd”, led the five aircraft in the Low Squadron.

When the Strike Force formed up over England, the 306th Group insisted on flying at the altitude and position in the formation assigned to the 91st Group. It was with difficulty that the 91st was able to edge the 306th out of its position and to form up correctly. Then, while going over the Channel, the 305th Lead Group took the Strike Force to the west of the briefed route, crossing over Dieppe rather than Cayeux. When it reached the IP, the 91st was to execute a right turn to make the bomb run over the target. As the 91st started its turn, the pilots saw the 306th Group flying to their right at the same altitude, 23,000 feet, preventing them from turning onto the IP and making a run to the target. The 91st formation scattered like a flushed covey of quail as Squadron Leads maneuvered to miss the 306th planes.

In the confusion, Cpt O’Neill, popped his plane upward to avoid the 306th bombers. He continued up and over the 306th formation and went on to the primary target. Six aircraft went with him. These included the four other planes of the 401st Low Squadron, one from the Lead Squadron, No. 639, “The Careful Virgin”, with 1Lt Charles R. Giauque at the controls and No. 178, “The Old Standby” and Cpt Kenneth K. Wallick from the High Squadron. The seven planes dropped forty-two 1,000 pound bombs on Amiens from 24,500 feet, but most likely missed the aiming point because of the quick change in altitude while on the bomb run.

The rest of the Lead Squadron turned to the left and dropped on the alternate target, Abbeville. The remaining four planes in the High Squadron scattered. Three, No. 139, “Chief Sly II”, Cpt Bruce D. Barton, No. 453, “The Bearded Beauty-Mizpah”, 1Lt John T. Hardin and No. 497, “Mizpah II”, Cpt Robert B. Campbell, dropped near Porix; No. 454, “Motsie”, 1Lt William D. Beasley, south of Aimes; and No. 481, “Hell’s Angels”, 1Lt James D. Baird, “in a field somewhere in France.”

German fighters did not come up at the Strike Force and there was no flak over either target. Moderate, but inaccurate flak was encountered as the bomber stream went back over Dieppe on the way out.

Effectives: 75. Losses: 0. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 6.
Appendix 17

Mission 18. March 18
Target: Vegesack, U-boat Yards

The next mission, on the 18th to the submarine pens and docks at Vegesak, on the outskirts of Bremen, Germany, was an important one for VIII Bomber Command. This was the first mission on which the AFCE (Automatic Flight Control Equipment, “autopilot”) bombing system was employed. Up to then the bombardier had given maneuver instructions to the pilot over the intercom on the bomb run. This proved to be ineffective in lining up accurately on the aiming point. To increase accuracy, the autopilot was connected directly to the Norden bomb sight. The bombardier actually flew the bomber as he adjusted the bomb sight on the bomb run. The pilot turned the plane over to the bombardier at the start of the bomb run, resuming control of the aircraft at bombs away.

For this mission, the 1BW, led by the 101st PBCW was first in the Strike Force, with the 91st leading. The 102nd PBCW followed, led by the 305th Group, then the 303rd. The 2BW (44th and 93rd Groups) followed the 1BW. The Germans were up in force on the 18th, starting their attacks just east of Heliogland Island as the Strike Force came in over the North Sea. The fighters continued their attacks to the target and on the way out, until the bombers were 50 miles clear of the German coast. At least 60 enemy aircraft came at the formation. More than half were FW 190s, with Me 109s, Me 110s, and Ju 88s also harassing the bomber stream. All 91st aircraft made it safely back to base.

On this mission to Vegesack, the lead Bombardier of the 303rd Group, 1Lt Jack W. Mathis was seriously wounded just before Bombs Away by a flak burst on the right side of the nose of his plane, “The Dutchess.” Lt Mathis was thrown nine feet to the rear of the nose compartment. Although his right arm was almost completely severed and there were deep wounds to his side and abdomen, Lt Mathis was able to pull himself back to his bombardiers seat in time to release the bombs on time. The navigator was stunned by the blast and unable to attend to Lt Mathis. By the time the flight engineer could disengage himself from warding off fighter attacks and go down into the nose compartment, Lt Mathis was dead. For his action that day, Lt Mathis was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the first 8th Army Air Corps crewman to be so awarded. Jack’s brother, Mark, a bombardier in a B-26 Group, was visiting Molesworth and was there to see Jack being removed from the aircraft. Mark asked for and was granted a request to transfer to the 303rd. He was shot down and killed on his fourth mission with the 303rd.

Effectives: 97. Losses: 2. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 20; KIA, 15; POW, 6.
Appendix 18

Mission 19. March 22
Target: Wilhelmshaven, U-boat Pens and the pocket battleship, “Admiral Scheer”

For this mission, the 1BW was in front, led by the 101st PBCW (91st Group, then the 306th), followed by the 102nd PBCW, led by the 305th Group, then the 303rd. The 2BW was at the rear of the Strike Force.

Forty to fifty fighters intercepted the strike force. Once again the German fighters, attempted to disrupt the bombers by dropping timed-fuse bombs into the formation. This time one of the bombs blew away the right wing of Captain Hascall C. McClellan’s 324th Squadron aircraft, “Liberty Belle.” The plane and crew spiraled down into the North Sea. There was no survivor.

Effectives: 84. Losses: 3. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 18; KIA, 28; POW, 2.
Appendix 19

Mission 20. March 31
Target: Rotterdam, Ship Yards

The order of battle for this mission was: 1BW, led by 101st PBCW, with the 306th (?) Group leading the 91st; the 102nd PBCW followed, with the 303rd Group in front of the 305th. The 2BW (44th and, 93rd Groups) brought up the rear. The Strike Force attempted to throw off the German defenses, by flying a “double triangle” diversionary course over the Channel. It did not work well in that on the first leg of the diversion, the target was clear, but there was 10/10 cloud cover on the bomb run. Cpt O’Neill did not drop and brought his bombs back to Bassingbourn.

Two B-17s of the 303rd Group collided as they attempted to form up in the dense cloud cover over England. Both crashed near Wellingboro. Fifteen of the 20 crewmen aboard the two aircraft were killed.

Effectives: 33. Losses: 4. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 10; KIA, 36.
Appendix 20

Mission 21. April 04
Target: Paris, Motor Plant

The mission on the 4th of April was to the Renault auto works at the edge of Paris. The 102nd PBCW led the Strike Force, with the 305th the Lead Group, followed by the 303rd. The 91st brought up the rear of the 101st PBCW, which was led by the 306th. The 2BW (44th and 93rd) flew diversionary sweeps over the North Sea on the 4th of April. No enemy aircraft came at the bomber stream on the way in, but the bombers encountered moderately heavy and accurate flak over the target. Only the 305th Group placed its bombs directly onto the Renault plant (only one bomb missed the target). For this excellent precision bombing, the 305th was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation. On the way out, Germans fighters put in an appearance, first hitting the formation about five miles beyond the target. At least 60 enemy aircraft, both Me 109s and FW 190s, attacked the Strike Force, continuing the harassment until ten miles off the French coast.

Effectives: 85. Losses: 4. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 6; KIA, 12; POW, 26.
Appendix 21

Mission 22. April 05
Target: Antwerp, Aircraft Plant

Another wild mission was flown on the 5th. This time the bombers went to the Erla works, an aircraft and engine repair facility two miles south of Antwerp, Belgium. The facility was turning out 10-20 repaired German fighters per week. Since it was a short run across the Channel to Antwerp, the crews were able to sleep in. Briefing was at 0700 hours with the first aircraft lifting off at 1230 hours.

The 101st PBCW, with the 306th Group leading, the 91st following, led the 1BW on this mission. The 102nd PBCW, with the 305th Group in the lead, followed by the 303rd trailed the 101st. The 2BW (44th and 93rd Groups) trailed the 1BW. The Combat Wings came together on time and formed up correctly. On leaving the assembly point, the Strike Force strayed too far south. This was overcorrected on the flight over the Channel, resulting in the formation passing over the coast about three miles north of where briefed.

Soon after crossing onto the continent approximately 75 German fighters began a vigorous attack on the bomber stream. The fighters concentrated on the lead 306th Group. The attacks were made from head on, apparently with the intent of disrupting the bomb run. After attacking the 306th, most of the fighters flew over or under the 91st formation to attack the trailing groups.

Four 306th planes went down over the target. In addition, the lead aircraft was hit hard. Aboard were LTC James W. Wilson, flying as Group Lead, and BG Frank A. Armstrong, CO of the 101st PBCW, monitoring how well LTC Wilson handled the job of Wing Lead. Because of all the confusion of planes falling from the formation and the viciousness of the German attacks and hits upon the Lead aircraft, the 306th Group drifted to the right. The bombers flew directly under, 1,000 feet below, and in front of the 91st just as the two Groups started the bomb run.

Even with all the confusion, the 306th lead bombardier, 1Lt Frank D. Yaussi, was able to put his bombs on the target. Unfortunately, none of the other 306th bombardiers was able to drop on his smoke streamer and missed the target. The 91st bombardiers had to delay dropping for 3-5 seconds so as not to hit the 306th Group bombers below them. They, too, missed the target. And, none of the bombs from the following 102nd PBCW hit the target. Most of the bombs fell on populated areas, including the town of Mortsel, where 943 civilians were killed and more than 1,300 injured. The tactics of the German fighter command had served their purpose. Only Lt Yaussi’s bombs had hit the target and the Americans suffered a political embarrassment. The Belgium government later filed a protest over the inaccurate bombing by the Americans, which resulted in the loss of so many civilian lives.

Effectives: 82. Losses: 4. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 6; KIA, 12; POW, 27.
Appendix 22

Mission 23. April 17
Target: Bremen, Aircraft Plant

The mission on the 17th of April, was one of the worst days of the war for the 91st Bomb Group. On the 17th, the Strike Force was organized into two “wedges”, with the 91st at the front of the Lead 101st PBCW (Cpt Lawrence P. Dwyer, Jr. was Lead pilot, with Maj Paul D. Brown flying as his copilot and Group Leader, in No. 559), the 306th flying below and a Composite (indicated as the104th for the mission) Group, formed by two squadrons from the 91st and one from the 306th, at the “top” of the wedge. The 102nd PBCW formed a similar wedge that followed the 101st. 2BW did not fly on the 17th.

On this mission, Mark Mathis flew his first mission with the 303rd Group. He flew in the same aircraft, No. 41-24561, “Dutchess”, with the same Norden Bombsight his brother had flown in and used on 18 March when he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Three missions later, Mark was shot down and killed.

The 401st Squadron put eight planes over the continent (one other, 1Lt Earl F. Riley in No. 763, aborted over England): No. 070, with Cpt Oscar O’Neill’s crew; No. 391, 1Lt Robert B. Walker; No. 172,1Lt Harold N. Beasley; No. 484, Cpt John W. Carroll; No. 437, 1Lt Donald H. Frank; N. 337, 1Lt Nathan F. Lindsey; No. 450, 1Lt John W. Wilson; No. 574, 1Lt Nicholas P. Stoffel. 1Lt Lowell L. Walker, Jr., in No. 399, from the 323rd Squadron was also assigned to fly with the 401st.

Cpt O’Neill led the 401st Squadron, with 1Lt Beasley on his right wing and Lt Walker on his left wing. Lt Riley started out leading the high element, with Lt Wilson on his right wing, Lt Stoffel on the left and Lt Lowell Walker trailing in the diamond position. When Lt Riley aborted back to Bassingbourn, Lt Walker moved up from the diamond position to take over Lead of the Element. The Composite 104th Group was led by a squadron from the 306th Group. The High Squadron of the Composite Group was led by Cpt Carroll, with Lt Frank on his right wing and Lt Lindsey on his left.

The flight path took the bombers to the northeast out over the North Sea, over the East Frisian Islands and on into Germany west of Wilhelmshaven and Oldensburg (Fig. 4).

Fig. 5
Fig. 5. Flight route into and from the target for the 17 April 1943 Breman mission
(National Archives)

The IP was at Wildeshausen, five minutes from the target. As soon as the 91st passed over the East Frisian Islands, moderately heavy and accurate, flak came up into the formation. When the planes passed beyond the range of these anti-aircraft guns, German fighters appeared. Me 109s and FW 190s attacked the formation all the way to the target. Me 110 twin-engine fighters flew along out beyond the range of the bombers’ machine guns and lobbed 20 and 30 mm cannon shells into the formation.

Flak over the target was intense, the most concentrated barrage the Group had encountered on any mission up to then. The crews had been briefed that morning that there were an estimated 496 anti-aircraft batteries around Bremen. This appeared to be an accurate assessment. However many batteries there really were, the guns put up a solid box of exploding 88 mm and 105 mm shells.
After bombs away, the prescribed route out of Germany started with a 90 degree right turn off the target, heading south into a sweeping right turn just north of Vilsen, angling back over Wildeshausen, and then to Ahlhorn. From there, the bomber stream made a straight-line run out of Germany, passing east of Emden, west of Aurich and onto the North Sea over the west end of Juist Island of the Frisians.

The enemy aircraft did not break off their attacks on the 91st until the Group had left the enemy coast and was about 40 miles out over the North Sea. At this time the Strike Force was picked up by a formation of 12 British Spitfires that escorted the bombers back to England. Only two of the eight 401st bombers, both from the Composite Group, were still in the air when the Strike Force was met by the protecting British fighters.

What follows is a description of the action and fate of the six 401st aircraft and crews that were shot down:

No. 070, “Invasion 2nd”

While over the target “Invasion 2nd” took flak hits and was attacked by German fighters. Three fighters came in head-on at 1200 O’clock level and shot off the front of the No. 2 engine. Cpt O’Neill rang the bail-out bell and called out over the intercom for the crew to leave the aircraft.

The ball turret gunner, T/Sgt Benedict B. Borostowski, came up into the fuselage and went to the partly open waist door. The door was jammed and would not open further. The waist gunners, S/Sgts William B. King, left waist, and Eldon R. Lapp, right waist, were sitting in front of the door, unable to squeeze out. Sgt Borostowski stepped up and one at a time put a foot between their shoulders, and in turn, pushed both gunners through the narrow opening. The others in the rear of the aircraft had already left. The tail gunner, S/Sgt Aaron S. Youell, dropped through the tail escape hatch. The radio operator, S/Sgt Charles J. Melchiondo, and the flight engineer, T/Sgt Harry Goldstein, went out through the bomb bay. There was no one left to push Sgt Borostowski out. So, he went to the tail escape hatch and dropped out. The rest of the crew, including Cpt O’Neill and the copilot, 1Lt Robert W. Freihofer, bailed out through the nose hatch. The bombardier, Cpt Edwin R. Bush, detached the Norden bombsight and tossed it out the escape hatch before following the navigator, Cpt Edwin M. Carmichael, through the opening. All crewmen survived to become POWs.

“Invasion 2nd” crashed landed itself in an almost perfect landing on the ground near Oldenburg.

No. 459, “Hellsapoppin”

Three or four minutes after the target there was a very hard jolt under the left side of “Hellsapoppin”, close in to the fuselage. An anti-aircraft shell had exploded just under the plane. Flak ripped into the left front side of the aircraft, flaking off chunks of metal from the fuselage and throwing them through the interior of the plane. At the same time, three feet of the right wing tip was blown off by a flak burst. A one and one-half foot hole appeared in the nose compartment and the nose window Plexiglas blew out. There was fire in the left wing and nose compartment. The radio room became engulfed in fire from broken oxygen lines.

The pilot, Lt Wilson, was wounded in the head and the copilot, 1Lt Arthur A. Bushnell, in the right eye, both legs, left arm, and right hand by flying aluminum. In the nose, the bombardier, 1Lt Harold Romm, was hit in the left leg by flak. Earlier, before the target, Lt Romm had been hit in the same leg by a machine gun bullet during an attack by a FW 190.

In the top turret, the flight engineer, T/Sgt Norman L. Thompson, felt the jolt and when he looked out, saw the left wing on fire. He had just seen a fighter off the left wing going after a plane below and was afraid it would come back up at “Hellsapoppin.” The enemy fighter was about 15 feet too low for Sgt Thompson to deflect his top turret guns to get off a burst. Since the intercom was shot out, Sgt Thompson was not certain what was happening to the plane. He stepped down from the turret and went into the cockpit. There he saw both pilots with their oxygen masks off and blood pouring out from under their helmets. He assumed both were dead. Sgt Thompson had not heard any firing from the gunners since “Hellsapoppin” had left the target. He believed they either had been killed by the flak and fighters or were too seriously injured to move. From the intensity of the fire, he knew “Hellsapoppin” could explode any second. Sgt Thompson took a final glance at the instruments to ensure the plane was still in level flight. He went back to the bomb bay and opened the doors, which still operated. After checking below and seeing there was no plane under him, Sgt Thompson dropped out.

Almost immediately after Sgt Thompson bailed out, the plane broke in two at the radio room. Four others some how or other managed to escape the aircraft, Lts Bushnell, Barton, and Romm and the radio operator, T/Sgt Howard A. Earney. All were wounded. These four survived to become POWs. The rest of the crew remained trapped in the falling aircraft.

“Hellsapoppin” crashed 20 miles south of Bremen.

No. 172, “Thunderbird”

“Thunderbird”, also was hit hard by flak over the target and limped along only a few minutes longer than did “Hellsapoppin.” “Thunderbird” took two direct hits on the No. 3 and 4 engines. The right wing was set ablaze immediately with burning oil. There was also fire in the radio room and bomb bay. Lt Beasley hit the fire extinguisher switch. Nothing.

The ball turret gunner, S/Sgt James L. Branch, looked up into all the fire, and knew “Thunderbird” was in serious trouble. He figured it was time to get out. Sgt Branch had been hit in the corner of an eye with a piece of shrapnel and blood covered the eye. He called Lt Beasley over the intercom and asked if he could come up into the fuselage. Lt Beasley told him he could. After getting out of the turret, Sgt Branch grabbed a fire extinguisher and went up to the radio room and bomb bay, but could not extinguish the fires. Lt Beasley then asked Sgt Branch to go to the rear of the plane to see if everyone was out. He had already rung the bail-out bell. Sgt Branch went to the rear of the fuselage and saw that the tail gunner, S/Sgt Johnnie Cagle, had bailed out through the tail hatch. He then told the waist gunners “to get back there”, to the waist hatch, and went up and told the radio operator, T/Sgt Jay M. Franklin, “get your ass back there and bail out.” Sgt Franklin started back, but passed out in the door of the radio compartment, apparently from lack of oxygen. Sgt Branch and the right waist gunner, S/Sgt Everett L. Creason, picked him up and threw him out, assuming he would come to and open his chute when he fell to where oxygen was adequate. He did. Sgt Creason bailed out and Sgt Branch called up to the pilot to tell him everyone else was out and he was leaving. After leaving the aircraft, Sgt Branch opened his chute and looked up. He saw “Thunderbird” rise up on its back, turn up on it nose and go straight down to the ground.

While all this was going on in the rear of the aircraft, the flight engineer, T/Sgt Mark L. Schaefer, came down from the top turret and stood in back of the pilot and copilot to assist them in getting control of the aircraft. He saw Lt Beasley push the control column all the way forward and then pull it all the way back. No response! The controls were shot out. Lt Beasley and the copilot, Lt McCain, were getting ready to get out of their seats and snap on their chutes as Sgt Schaefer went down to the nose hatch and bailed out.

As the action had begun to develop, the bombardier, 2Lt Mathew Michaels, who was on his first mission, saw puffs of black smoke around the aircraft. He thought to himself, “This must be what they had told us about.” Just then “Thunderbird” took direct flak hits in the right wing. Lt Beasley rang the bail-out bell, which Lt Michaels mistakenly took to be only a warning. While Lt Michaels was waiting for the second bail-out bell to ring, the navigator, 1Lt Harry D. Sipe, headed for the nose hatch and bailed out. At that time a fighter appeared along side the bomber. Lt Michaels fired at him with the side gun, but missed. “Thunderbird” immediately afterwards started spinning downward. A case of .50 caliber machine gun ammunition pinned Lt Michaels to the top of the nose compartment. He heard glass breaking as his head crunched against one of the windows. A fighter came in on “Thunderbird” from head on, blowing away part of the nose with 20 mm cannon fire. The next thing Lt Michaels knew he was floating free of the plane. Either he had been blown out the nose when the 20 mm cannon shells hit or was stunned by the explosion and did not remember going out the nose hatch. He was still fairly high up and pulled his rip cord in time to float safely to the ground.

Lts Beasley and McCain must have been locked into the plane as it nosed over and dived downward. Their bodies were discovered in the wreckage of “Thunderbird” by the Germans.

“Thunderbird” crashed about 20 miles southwest of Bremen.

No. 574, “Sky Wolf II”

Although “Sky Wolf II” had been hit hard on the bomb run and the No. 1 engine was on fire, Lt Stoffel kept her in position over the target. The bombardier, Lt Coppage, toggled the bombs with the rest of the Squadron. As soon as the Group turned off the target and was just beyond the edge of the flak barrage, more enemy aircraft jumped “Sky Wolf II.” A 20 mm shell hit the nose throwing Plexiglas into the face of Lt Coppage, causing severe, profusely bleeding, wounds. The navigator, 1Lt John F. Segrest, Jr., who had also suffered wounds in both legs and his shoulder, told Lt Coppage he needed immediate medical attention and should bail out. He then helped Lt Coppage out the nose hatch. Although alive when he left the aircraft, Lt Coppage did not survive.

Lt Segrest then went up into the cockpit to help Lt Stoffel fly the plane. They flew along for about five minutes when more fighters came at them. “Sky Wolf II” took a direct 20 mm cannon shell hit that knocked out all the controls. Lt Stoffel rang the bail-out bell and said to Lt Segrest, “Let’s go.” Both officers went down to the nose hatch and bailed out.

The electrical system to the ball turret was not active and the gunner, Sgt Carl H. Quist, could not rotate around to get out. He remained trapped in the falling aircraft. The tail gunner, Sgt Mathew C. Medina, had not been heard over the intercom for some time. He apparently was either dead or so badly injured he could not bail out. Sgt Medina also went down with “Sky Wolf II.”

“Sky Wolf II” crashed 10 miles south of Aurich, in Ostfriesland, Germany.

No. 391, “Rain of Terror”

“Rain of Terror” was hit by flak as well as by Me 109 and FW 190 fighter cannon fire over the target, setting the aircraft afire. The bombs had just dropped and the togglier, Sgt Zedoneck, was turning the plane back over to Lt Walker when more flak hit the aircraft. The bomb bay doors were still open. Lt Walker and the copilot, F/O Robert A. Vetter, managed to keep the plane with the formation in spite of the fire. On the way to the coast, a fighter made a pass over top of the bomber, wounding the top turret gunner, T/Sgt Robert F. Flanagan. The tail gunner, S/Sgt Nick Sandoff, most likely was killed during this attack. The radio operator, T/Sgt Gust E. Collias, saw him slumped over in the tail.

As “Rain of Terror” continued towards the North Sea, the fires became more intense and Lt Walker and F/O Vetter no longer could keep her in the air. Lt Walker told Sgt Collias that there was fire in the cockpit and for the crew to leave the aircraft. The aft crew bailed out, Sgt Collias going out through the bomb bay. Sgt Collias did not see the left waist gunner, S/Sgt Donald J. Snell, in the plane when he bailed out. He assumed Sgt Snell had already gone out the waist door. Whatever the circumstances, Sgt Snell did not survive. The ball turret gunner, S/Sgt Raymond C. Ottman, came up from the turret and went out the waist hatch. He had been hit in the buttocks and back during the fighter attacks.

The togglier, Sgt Zedoneck, and the navigator, 1Lt Roy W. Scott, bailed out the nose hatch. Sgt Zedonek landed in a tree, severely straining his back. German farmers spotted him and turned him over to the military. Lt Scott fell softly to the ground about two miles SW of Bremen. The two pilots remained with the plane in spite of the increasing intensity of fire within the aircraft. “Rain of Terror” continued loosing altitude. The pilots finally made a crash-landing on the beach north of Norden. They both survived to become POWs.

All 401st planes were gone now from the Low Squadron. Only the 323rd Group spare aircraft, No. 399, “Man-O-War”, flown by the 92nd Bomb Group crew, was left. Lt Walker formed up with another Squadron for protection. The Low Squadron was gone.

No. 337, Short Snorter

No. 337 made it through the fighter attack and flak over the target without being hit. On the way out to the coast, however, she was hit by fighters that inflicted heavy damage. Still, No. 337 remained in formation. At about 1326 hours, as the aircraft passed 3 miles east of Emden, No. 337 took direct flak hits that knocked out the No. 3 engine and set the No. 4 engine afire. Lt. Lindsey, feathered No. 3 engine. Almost immediately afterward another anti-aircraft shell burst into the cockpit killing both Lt Lindsey and the copilot, 2Lt George Slivkoff. Other flak hits smashed into the aircraft. No. 337 began slowly circling downward in the direction of Norden and the North Sea.

The bombardier, 2Lt Albert Dobsa, was hit in the stomach by one of the flak bursts. The navigator, 2Lt Rocco J. Maiorca, was uninjured. Lt Dobsa sensing the plane was out of control went up into the cockpit to see what was wrong. There he saw both pilots dead in their seats. He looked back into the fuselage and saw crewmen lying on the floor, also apparently dead. Lt Dobsa knew it was time to bail out and went back down into the nose. Lt Maiorca was standing above the nose hatch, hesitating to jump. Lt Dobsa simply pushed him out the hatch and dropped through after him. Lt Dobsa came down in the shallow water on the Frisian Islands beach where he was captured immediately by German troops. Lt Maiorca drifted about a mile out to sea off the Frisian Islands from where he swam ashore. He was in the water three hours and was captured by German troops upon reaching the shore. No. 337 went on out to sea where she crashed, taking the rest of the crew with her.

Only two of the seven 401st planes, Nos. 484, “Bad Egg”, and 437, “Frank’s Nightmare”, that had gone over the continent were still flying. “Frank’s Nightmare” had only six machine gun bullet holes in the right stabilizer. Lt Frank landed her at 1556 hours. The “Bad Egg” had one of the tail guns disabled by a flak burst and several flak holes in the fuselage. She touched down at Bassingbourn at 1615 hours.

Of the twenty-one returning aircraft in the other three Squadrons, three sustained heavy damage. The top turret of No. 497, “Frisco Jinny”, was blown out by the 20 mm cannon shell that killed Sgt Hale. The other two bombers with major damage were from the 323rd Squadron. No. 077, “Delta Rebel No. 2”, with Lt Birdsong, was hit hard. A 20 mm cannon shell exploded in the nose, knocking out most of the glass, damaging the Norden bomb sight and wounding the bombardier, 1Lt Robert G. Abb, in the hand. The No. 1 engine was also hit. No. 475, “Stric-Nine”, flown by 1Lt Homer C. Briggs, Jr., was raked by 20 mm cannon fire as it came off the target. The No. 4 engine and the oxygen system on the left side were shot out. “Stric-Nine” landed at Hethel to refuel before going on to Bassingbourn.

The remaining 91st planes returned safely to England. No. 789, “Golden Bear”, of the 322nd Squadron landed at Shipeham Airdrome to refuel. The last plane in formation going straight on into to Bassingbourn, No. 481, “Hell’s Angels”, of the 322nd, with Lt Baird at the controls, touched down at 1636 hours. The sky was clear of bombers. The 401st ground crews milled around with looks of disbelief on their faces. Only three of the nine Squadron planes that had taken off six and a half earlier, were now sitting on their hardstands. One of these had aborted over the channel and did not go over the continent. Fifty 401st crewmen, along with ten men of the 92nd Group flying in the 401st Squadron, were missing. Eventually it would be learned that 32 had been killed, 28 surviving to become POWs. While accustomed to losses, so many on one mission and all from one squadron had a demoralizing effect on all crewmen of the 91st Bomb Group, flight and ground alike.

Morale was no better in the 306th Bomb Group at Thurleigh. Ten of the two dozen planes the Group had put up today were shot down. Five of the six planes in the High Squadron and three of four in the Low Squadron were lost. Thirty-four crewmen were killed and 66 became POWs. Planes of the 369th Squadron of the 306th flying in the Composite Group were hit hard by flak and fighters, but none of these bombers went down. On today’s mission to Bremen, all 16 bombers lost from the Strike Force, of the 107 that made it over the continent, were from the 91st and 306th Groups.

Of the 233 91st Group crewmen who returned to Bassingbourn from Germany on 17 April, 42 later will be killed in action, 31 others will become POWs--31.3% casualties. This is about normal for this period of the war; many of the crewmen lost today had only a few more missions to go to complete their quota of 25.

The future for the bombers of the 91st Group that survived the day was even bleaker. Eighteen of the twenty-three returning B-17s were shot down within a few months time. Three others were so badly damaged, they were placed in salvage and cannibalized for spare parts. One was declared unfit for combat service and transferred to the Aphrodite program. There, she was filled with explosives and sent as a flying bomb to the V-1, “Buzz Bomb”, site at Mimoyecques, France. She was blown to bits, but missed her target. Of the 230 crewmen flying on the last mission of these 23 bombers, 80 were killed in action, 92 became prisoners of war. Another 19 crewmen who were shot down, evaded capture.

Effectives: 107. Losses: 16. Crewmen Casualties: WIA, 4; KIA, 61; POW, 100.
Appendix 23

Epilogue

During the 161 days O’Neill and his crew were at Bassingbourn, the 91st Bomb Group had 58 crewmen KIA, 109 MIA (later declared KIA) and 51 who became POWs. In the 401st Squadron alone, 20 were KIA, 46 MIA and 36 became POWs. But, the lessons learned during this period eventually resulted in fewer losses. That the German fighter force was greatly decimated of pilots, owing to continuous attrition and deployment of poorly trained pilots obviously contributed to decreases in bomber losses. As did deployment of the P-51 fighter, whose long range provided fighter cover to the strike force to even the most “deep” targets greatly contributed to reduced bomber losses. However, the lessons learned from the trials and losses of those first bomb groups played the major role in reduced losses to both flak and fighters by the later arriving groups. The heavy sacrifices of these first groups were not in vain.

Most of the 8th Air Force air crewmen who survived World War II are now gone. That they were able to live out their lives, marry, have children and have careers was to a great part owed to those who lost their lives during the “learning phase” of air operations over Europe.

References

The following sources were used in preparation of this report:

The Mighty Eighth Combat Chronology and The Mighty Eighth Combat Chronology Supplement (Paul M. Andrews and William H. Adams, Eighth Air Force Memorial Museum Foundation 1997); The Mighty Eighth (Roger A. Freeman, Motorbooks International, 1991); The Mighty Eighth War Diary (Roger A. Freeman, Motorbooks International, 1981); Records from the mission folders of the 91st Bomb Group and Missing Air Crew Reports in the U.S. National Archives at College Park, MD (8601 Adelphi Road College Park, MD 20740-6001). I also interviewed surviving crew members for information regarding actions involving their aircraft. I did not, however, use any information from my personal conversations with Cpt O’Neill so as not to infringe on copyrights of a book he was writing, which included his WWII activities.

November 08 :1 LL