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THE 35 BATTLES OF CREW 2366
FIVE MILES OVER EUROPE
MAY 20 TO SEPTEMBER 2, 1944
As we arrived in England on April 30, 1944, all we wanted was to survive 25 bombing missions, but that quota was soon raised to 30 and then to 35 missions at our base. Starting on May 20, we began counting off our missions; although, superstitiously, we never mentioned the number of any mission in our conversations.
We dreaded every mission, but we knew that we had to fly the missions in order to get home. All of us flew in terror. We prayed a lot. Some of us drank a lot. Some of us smoked a lot. To escape the war, we walked or biked out on the English countryside any chance we had.
Our crew was our family. We did just about everything together and took care of one another, no matter what. The English girls we met, we held them tight. They were the angels in our world of sudden fiery death. Some of us barely held on to our sanity. The flight surgeons gave us the right medicines to keep us functioning the same way our mechanics kept our bombers flying. One of the crew broke down under the strain, and we couldn't help but envy him as he was pulled out of combat. Our crew did not always fly together, but we kept track of one another, always uneasy whenever one of the crew was off on a mission with another crew. Many years later we would learn that, statistically, there was no more dangerous place to be in World War II than in a bomber over Germany. The medals we received were not for heroism. They were for having survived the danger of collision with our own planes, of being wounded by a piece of flak shrapnel, of being blown to kingdom come by a direct hit, of going down because of a malfunctioning airplane, of being attacked by German fighters, of crashing into the sea - of injury or death in a thousand ways.
The word "mission" simply does not capture the meaning of taking off in the dark morning mist of England, weaving a formation of thousands of men and machines, crossing the waters to challenge the thousands of men and machines of a powerful enemy at bay dedicated to shooting you out of the sky. These were battles, not missions.
In our tin-can flying machines, we went into battle five miles high in the freezing skies. We breathed artificial air as we flew sluggishly through terrifying barrages that left gaping holes in airplanes, tore open young men's bodies and made large airplanes disappear in fiery pieces before our very eyes. We never turned away from our mission of taking death and destruction to the enemy. With the exception of one man, our crew survived, but almost 40,000 men of the Eighth Air Force died in the high skies over Europe.The following is the description of each of our thirty-five combat missions or battles over Europe during the summer of 1944. It also contains sections called "BETWEEN MISSIONS" which describe our life on the air base and in England during the time that we were not flying a combat mission.
µ This symbol marks the description of our air battles, which is based on the personal journals or diaries written during that summer of 1944 by Bombardier Freddie Becchetti and Radio Operator Garl McHenry.
?This symbol marks passages taken from Freddie's personal journal covering his life and the life of the crew during the time that he was not flying a combat mission.
*This symbol marks a passage taken from one of Freddie's letters to his family that describes in greater detail his life and the life of the crew on the air base and in England. Military necessity demanded that his letters avoid information that might be of value to the enemy. Family necessity required that he avoid personal information that might demoralize the members of his family, so he avoided the events that might have given his family the idea that he and the crew were in mortal danger.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 1
REIMS, FRANCE. Railroad Marshaling YardsMay 20, 1944 (Saturday)
We went to breakfast and then we wandered through the darkness and the mist to the Briefing Room. Our target was to be the railroad marshaling yards at Reims, France, just north of Paris. The marshaling yards were a little over a mile from the famous Reims Cathedral.
After the briefing we checked out our flying equipment. I received holy communion from the Catholic chaplain and jumped on the truck that would take us out to the hard stand where our assigned B-24J was parked, with the ground crew mechanics bustling around it. Each of us checked his position on the plane; then we gathered under the wing to wait for our pilot Lt. Dobson. The Crew 2366 pilot, Keith Palmer, would fly with us as co-pilot to the experienced Dobson. As the jeep carrying the pilots arrived we came to attention and saluted Lt. Dobson as our flight commander. With only fifteen minutes to take off, he immediately ordered us aboard.
We took off at 5:30 a.m., carrying six 1,000-pound bombs. Dobson and Palmer circled the ship upward for about twenty minutes until we had taken our place in the 12-plane formation of the 702nd Squadron of the 445th Bomb Group. The formation completed, we crossed the Channel at about 23,000 feet.
We encountered some very light flak at the French coast and proceeded to the target. An escort of P-47's, P-38's and P-51's came alongside as we moved closer to Paris; no enemy fighters appeared. There was moderate inaccurate flak during the bomb run, and we escaped damage. After we had dropped our bombs, McHenry filmed the bomb impact and reported that the formation's bombs had hit a little short of the marshaling yards, causing only minimal damage. The formation pulled away from the target and headed for the coast and home. We reached our base at Tibenham and landed at 1:00 p.m. after a six-hour mission during which we had been over France for two and a half hours.
During the flight, Bombardier Becchetti became trapped in the nose turret. As he was rotating the turret the airstream loosened the entry door of the turret at Becchetti's back and jammed the turret, locking Becchetti inside. From inside the plane a crew member cranked the turret manually until the turret's entry door was blown off by the airstream, leaving the turret free to rotate and allowng Becchetti to get out. Becchetti emerged with his left cheek frostbitten by the sub-zero airstream which had entered the turret through the dislodged entry door.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
?May 22, 1944 (Monday)
Stayed warm in the sack until 11:30 a.m. Smith [ballturret gunner] and I got a pass and went bike riding. We went pubbing, with me on McHenry's bike. I stopped at a bike shop and bought myself a bike for 7 pounds [About $30 then]. Had a terrible time bringing the bike back to the base, with me riding one and guiding the other. I fell twice on the road from Pulham St. Mary to Tibenham. No bruises on me or on the bike. No mail for a long time. The pony express must have been ambushed! Well, I'll keep writing, with the hope that someday I'll get a letter.
?May 23, 1944 (Tuesday)
Up at 11:00 a.m. for a navigation class, since I am going to take over navigation duties on the crew; otherwise I might not have gotten up at all. Got checked out on the radar Gee Box and radio compass. Did better than I had expected. Rode around on bikes with Smith. Picked up our POW pictures. Ate supper. Went to a movie on the base, "Meet the People." Kind of corny, but it was entertainment. Back to the hut and hit the sack after writing letters. Scheduled for a mission tomorrow. Hope it's not too rough! Can't make a fire in this darn stove. Wish I had a Girl Scout to show me how!
*[Excerpt from Letter of May 23, 1944. ]
English Bikes. I bought me an English bike for about $30. Gawd, what a bike! They ought to drop English bikes over Germany and let the "Jerries" kill themselves riding them. The guy who designed my bike must be a protege of Hitler, because it is torturing me. I've run into just about everything around here. I still haven't been able to start a fire in the stove, so as a result I've been doing my writing in the sack. I know now that I should have stayed in the Boy Scouts and learned to make a fire by rubbing two sticks together. My navigator [Hamilton] says it would be much better to rub two Girl Scouts together. I went pubbing yesterday and found a pub where they have the best "sweet cyder" I've tasted. Much better than ale.
P.S. War is cold.
P.P.S. War is dirt.
P.P.P.S. War is hell!
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 2
PARIS, FRANCE, Air Base at Orly Airport
May 24, 1944 (Wednesday)
We got up at 1:30 a.m. in the English darkness and mist and went down to breakfast and briefing. At briefing we learned that we would again be going to Paris. This time we would be bombing the German air base which the Nazis had installed on Paris's famous Orly Airport. With the experienced Lt. Dobson as our pilot again and Keith Palmer flying as co-pilot in another learning experience, we took off at 6:00 a.m., carrying a load of twelve 500-pound bombs.
The large formation crossed the Channel into France and headed for the Orly Airport hangars about two miles south of Paris According to our bomb impact spotter McHenry, we scored a solid hit on the hangars; he could see flames coming from one of them as he filmed the bomb impact. He also reported that some of the formation's bombs landed in the residential sections of Paris. Flak was very heavy over the target and as we turned away from "Gay Paree." There were a few near "flako-cumulus" misses on our plane. One two-inch piece of flak hit the cowling of engine No. 2, as we flew through showers of small flak shrapnel, which bounced off the plane like gravel.
The mission lasted 5:30 hours. We were over enemy territory for about three hours. Thanks to a beautiful P-47 escort, we had no enemy fighters. My nose turret jammed on me again, but it came loose quickly. I must be doing something wrong. It is a terrible feeling being trapped for even a few seconds in a jammed turret at 26,000 feet over France!
We have been assigned our own ship. Now for the argument about a name. Leroy wants to call it "The Sheriff." Before the war, he was a deputy sheriff in the Cajun country of Louisiana. I don't care what we name it; I'm going to love our ship! We're scheduled for a practice night flight tonight. I dread it more than a mission. There is a lot of danger up there in the dark sky. Woe is us! No mail today. Wrote a letter home and wrote to my high school Spanish teacher..
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
*[Excerpt from Letter of May 24, 1944]
Spring is really painting up England with leaves and flowers, and the breezes make a very pleasant sound whispering through the branches. Maybe even English weather is trying its best to make us feel at home here. I'm sentimental, I guess, but spring really makes me think of home. I'm not homesick or anything, but I'm not exactly happy that I'm away from home, either!
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 3
TROYES, FRANCE, Railroad Round Houses
May 25, 1944 (Thursday)
The CQ in his Jeep woke us at 1:30 a.m. for breakfast, followed by a briefing. Loaded with twenty 250-pound bombs, we took off at 5:20 a.m., with Keith Palmer flying as our pilot and Cliff Bolton as co-pilot for the first time, thus bringing the original Crew 2366 together for the first time, except for Vince Hamilton, who is being used as navigator on lead ships.
Our target was the railroad marshaling yards, specifically the round houses, near Troyes, France, about fifteen miles south of Paris. We were greeted by heavy concentrations of flak at the French coast, but we stayed on course all the way to the target area, avoiding as many flak areas as we could. Because of our excellent fighter escort we encountered no Luftwaffe fighters!
The formation flew directly over the target area at Troyes, but the lead bombardier could not identify the railroad target clearly enough for a drop. With no flak over the area, the formation switched to the secondary target, but the lead plane could not find that one, either.
The formation returned to base with all its bombs still in the bomb bay. We land at the 445tth at 12:45 noon. Because of our search for the secondary target at Troyes, we had only 50 gallons of gas for each engine on landing. The Emerson nose turret performed perfectly .After landing, we found a one-inch gash in the cowling of No. 1 engine.
I felt like a new man after a shave, shower and shampoo. Tomorrow seems to be a stand-down, I hope. I had a date for tonight with a girl I met at a dance in Norwich, but we are restricted to base for some reason. We ought to be getting to London on leave sometime this year. Well, sweet sack dreams!
Today I received a pilot school graduation announcement from my high school buddy Burton Smith. He and I joined the Air Corps together in 1942.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
?May 26, 1944 (Friday)
Stand down! Yippee! We are not flying today. I really needed the rest. I got letters from the girl in Topeka and from the folks. I spent a lazy day doing a lot of thinking. After three missions I can see that religion has become the most important thing in life. It isn't a religion of poetic terms with "Thee" and "Thou" mixed up in it. It's just like God being one of your crew members. He is the most important crew member on the ship. All ten of us have begun to recite prayers that we forgot way back in grade school.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 4
FRECAMP, FRANCE, Coastal Gun Emplacements
May 27, 1944 (Saturday)
We were awakened at the luxurious hour of 7:30 a.m for breakfast and a briefing. The line on the briefing map was a short one, showing that we would take off and fly directly across the Channel to bomb the gun emplacements directly on the French coast a mile north of the town of Frecamp. Flying in a six-plane formation, we lobbed our twelve 230-pound bombs at the target and pulled away in four minutes, encountering no flak or fighters. In his filming of the bomb impact, McHenry reported that the bombs had missed the gun installations and had done no damage. We were back at the 445th at 3:30 p.m. after a smooth mission with no damage.
Meanwhile the crew's co-pilot Bolton flew with another crew and was way up into Germany getting hit by the heavy flak of Saarbrucken.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
?May 27, 1944 (Saturday)
I received a batch of twelve letters from everyone under the sun, including four from the girl in Topeka.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 5
MERSEBURG, GERMANY,Synthetic Oil Plant
May 28, 1944 (Sunday)
At 7:00 a.m. we were up and on our way to breakfast and a briefing. At 9:00 a.m., with Dobson as pilot and Palmer as co-pilot, we took off on an 8:20-hour mission to Merseburg, Germany to bomb the well protected synthetic oil plant about one mile north of that city with our ten 500-pound bombs. We entered Europe by way of Belgium and the Zyder Zee, avoiding the known flak installations along the route, but we still encountered a lot of accurate flak on our way in and even over Donner Lake. The flak over the target formed a black cloud that we had to fly through. The heavy flak would continue even during our return flight.
On the bomb run we saw one ship in our formation go down. McHenry saw six parachutes come out of the falling plane; Waist Gunner Sladovnik saw all ten. During the run a piece of flak struck my nose turret, leaving a large hole in the plexiglass. I thought I had "bought the farm" as they say. McHenry reported that a German JU-88 had passed under the formation but had made no attempt to attack, and nobody got a shot at him. After we had landed at the 445th at 5:00 p.m., we would discover more than fifteen flak holes in the fuselage, in the nose compartment, both wings and the tail assembly.
However, the most serious flak penetration occurred after the "bombs away" and after all the bombs had dropped. A large piece of flak shot into the bomb bay and punctured a major hydraulic line, so that the hydraulic fluid essential to the operation of the landing gear, brakes and wing flaps leaked out. On our return, over the Channel, in our preparations for entering the traffic pattern at Tibenham prior to landing, we discovered that neither the landing gear nor the flaps functioned properly, since the hydraulic fluid was depleted.
We had heard of cases in which the crew with a disabled hydraulic system had filled the lines with their urine in sufficient quantity for the hydraulic system to lower the landing gear and to operate the brakes and flaps; however, it sounded too much like a rumor and we dropped the idea. The excessive damage to the hydraulic lines and the planes low fuel level after the long flight also persuaded us to abandon the idea of using urine.
One of the crew members had read in The Stars and Stripes Magazine of another theater of operations, about a crew's use of parachutes to brake their plane in a similar circumstance. He suggested the idea; we liked the concept, so we decided on a parachute-assisted landing. We began rigging the parachute "brakes." We harnessed two packed chest parachutes to the .50 caliber machine gun mountings in the waist, one on each side of the plane. We stationed Tail Gunner Sherick on the right, while I was on the left, each of us with his hand on the rip cord.
After alerting the Tibenham tower to our predicament and our plan, Pilot Dobson ordered the crew to lower the landing gear manually and made his final approach without being able to slow his speed with the flaps. As the wheels touched the runway, Sherick and I yanked our rip cords, coordinating with each other in order to have a balanced braking of the plane.
Sherick's parachute on the right popped perfectly and ballooned behind the tail assembly. My parachute on the left snagged unfortunately on the .50 caliber gun sight and failed to open; however, the opened parachute on the right provided enough braking power to stop the plane before it could reach the end of the runway. The plane was immediately surrounded by emergency equipment and personnel, but Crew 2366 came out of the plane calmly as though it had been a routine landing.
The photo of what may have been the second parachute-assisted landing in history, with Garl McHenry standing near the tail and Freddie Becchetti stooping under the plane, was to appear on p. 62 of the March 1945 issue of Air Force Magazine as well as in the local newspapers in the hometowns of all the crew members..BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
?May 29, 1944 (Monday)
In the afternoon, we took a practice flight for me to apply the skills that I had studied in the morning. We flew south along the English coast to a point in the Channel south of London. As we turned for home, I became slightly disoriented, but I turned to my radar Gee Box to get us back on course for home. It was not easy, but I was able to read the blips on the Gee Box screen and make our way back to the 445th by radar. Being near London I had to guide the plane to avoid the barrage balloons over that part of the country.
Back at base, I had chow and took in a movie, "Mark Twain," which was not so good. There's a good chance we'll have a mission tomorrow. Hope not. I've got about twenty letters to answer, but I don't have the time nor am I in the mood. I am getting tired of lugging my heavy "invasion" .45 pistol around all the time, and I will be glad to get rid of the gas mask we have to carry, too. We are all hoping that tomorrow's mission isn't a rough one; yesterday's mission was bad enough. I'm going to do some tall praying tonight.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 6
OLDENBURG, GERMANY, Air Base Hangars
May 30, 1944 (Tuesday)
We were allowed to remain in bed until 4:00 a.m. before being awakened for breakfast and a briefing. Loaded with fifty-two 100-pound incendiary bombs, we took off at 7:30 a.m. for 5:30-hour mission to Oldenburg, Germany, to bomb the five hangars of the airfield there.
We flew in over the Zyder Zee and reached Germany in about 45 minutes, making it safely through all the flak gaps as we entered the Continent, but we got a lot of accurate flak over the target. We had a good fighter escort all the way, so we saw no enemy fighters. Nevertheless, we had some frightening moments.
We lost no planes, but one came back with its No. 3 engine smoking. McHenry heard an SOS on his radio. He believed it was a crew that had ditched in the Channel, but he was not sure if it was from the 445th.
We returned to the 445th at 1:30 p.m. I had chow and headed back to the hut. The weather was warm, so I went out on the grass to sunbathe. I almost got sunstroke. I received no mail today, but I wrote about five letters. There will be no rest tomorrow; we are on standby for another mission.
All of us are waiting for our first 48-hour pass to London. Thank God we got through today. I hope God is in that invisible turret with us tomorrow. I'm sure He will be. And so to bed at 10:00 p.m.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
*[Excerpt from Letter of May 30, 1944].
You can see how desperate I am for writing paper from the quality I'm using for this letter.[School notebook paper.] There just isn't a sheet of stationery to be had in the 445th Bomb Group!
If you've been reading the papers lately, you must know that I've been a very busy lad. I used to think that all that stuff we used to read about raids of 1, 2, or 3,000 planes was a bunch of propaganda, but believe me it isn't. On some of these missions you can look in all directions and all you see is airplanes. You might say, "There are gillions of them!" Hitler is really taking a beating, but please don't get over-excited about the end of the war. Germany is still in their pitching!
I haven't been off the base on pass for almost two weeks, so I'm hungry for the sight of city streets, women, theaters and women. The way things look now, we may never get to see London until we have completed 15 missions. That's a long way off, and I ain't fooling.
Religion is the most important thing on this base. When a guy sees those dangerous looking puffs of flak out on his wing, he remembers prayers he thought he had forgotten back in the Third Grade Sister school. We have a good chaplain and boy, I'm telling you that he punches a lot of "T.S." cards [hears a lot of complaints]. I've received Holy Communion before every mission, and I aim to continue doing so. When a guy knows that the Big Fellow up there in heaven is behind him, he's got 200% more confidence. The religion we've got is not a religion of fancy ceremony and biblical words like Thou, Thee, doest etc. It's a religion in which you consider God as a crew member and you're calling Him up on interphone. Here's the way airmen pray:
They push the microphone button and start talking, "Bombardier to God, over."
Then you imagine, "This is God, go ahead."
Then you say your prayer over the heaven interphone.
"Hy, God. Is everything o.k. up there in Your position? Up here in the nose of this plane, I can see a lot of flak and boy it's scaring the living daylights out of me! You are in the best position to keep that flak away, so, if possible, could You kind of keep those puffs out there! I know that I've done a lot of things that have met with Your displeasure, but, believe me, God, I'm trying and I'll keep trying to show how much I appreciate what You've done for me. You're a great guy, God, and I only hope I wasn't such a drip. This prayer goes for that boy back in the tail and the boys in the waist, upper and pilot's compartment. Kind of take care of those guys, will You, please. This is all. Signing out."
Then you imagine God pressing that mike button and saying, "Roger!"
And that's ETO (European Theater Operations) religion. Plain, simple and without formality!
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 7
LUMES, FRANCE, Railroad Marshalling Yards
May 31, 1944 (Wednesday)
The wake-up knock came at 4:00 a.m.and we went to breakfast and the briefing. Palmer and Bolton were piloting the ship, and we were flying with our original Crew 2366, except for Vince Hamilton.
Our target was the railroad marshaling yards four miles east of Lumes, France. The yards were fifteen miles long, and the specific target, the round house, was right in the middle of the yards, so it was a reasonably good target. We were carrying three 2000-pound bombs when we took off at 8:15 a.m.
We picked up some low and inaccurate flak as we crossed the French coast; then the weather turned bad, much different from what we had heard in the briefing, so the 445th called the mission back a few miles past the French coast. The fear was that our bombs, if dropped in inclement weather, might land in a nearby residential section of Lumes.
In the ensuing confusion of canceling the mission, the formation became disorganized, and the individual aircraft, including ours, found themselves flying in the clouds alone. There were no other bombers in sight and no fighter escort as we crossed the Channel and flew up the English coast to Tibenham. Under the stress of flying without protection, the crew became somewhat nervous, so that they began snapping at one another unreasonably on the intercom. The fact that we almost collided with another bomber in the clouds over the Channel increased our nervousness. We arrived at the 445th at 12:15 noon, only thirty minutes earlier than we would have if we had completed the mission.
On first analysis, the 445th did not credit us with this mission towards our quota of thirty-five missions, but it was counted for us later. That evening we heard the Germans claim in their radio broadcast that they had beaten us off and forced us to return to England in bitter defeat.
God was with us again today on this confused mission in the silent grey clouds that surrounded us on our return. God is the best crew member we have We are on standby for tomorrow and may fly again. I received no mail today, but wrote four letters before hitting the sack at 10:00 p.m.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
*[Excerpt from Letter of May 31, 1944.]
Spring is going full-blast here now. It is a pleasant change from the wintry blasts of Casper, Wyoming! The Germans are very mad at us. We have been bombing their installations. We listen to their broadcasts after we go on a mission and here is what their commentators say, more or less:
"Allied bombers came over Der Vaterland this morning. Stinklesteinburg was heavily bombed, but the bombs were highly inaccurate. However, fifteen farmers, innocently mowing hay, were killed in the field where the bombs landed. Seven Red Cross nurses were killed and three disfigured for life by a bomb dropped on a Red Cross hospital near Schnitzelfermer Air Field where bombs dropped were very inaccurate and caused no severe damage. Und now we will have a selection by Harry James and his world-famous orchestra: 'You made me love you, I didn't wanna do it, I didn't wanna do it ... You made me love you...' Eight of the enemy bombers are reported now interned in Sweden, nine in Switzerland and the entire route of the Allied bombers was strewn with the wreckage of 96 bombers shot down by flak and by the glorious Luftwaffe. Parachutes by the score fluttered earthward, where the chutists were taken and escorted to rest camps, where they were given the kindest treatment they have had in five years. Now Glenn Miller gives his rendition of 'That Old Black Magic...' "
The German propaganda furnishes us with the comedy, and the music the Germans play is the best there is to be had. The Germans are going to have to do a lot of talking to talk their way out of the beating the Allies are giving them. It is impossible to imagine the miracles that are being worked here. It kind of scares me when I think that I am a part of a thousand or two thousand-plane raid! God is surely with us!
?June 1, 1944 (Thursday)
We were awakened last night by a purple alert, which warned of a possible enemy attack on the base. We just rolled over and slept rather than running for shelters. At 10:00 a.m., I went to radar Gee Box practice and was exposed to something about "purple lines on Series 2," without truly understanding it. I had lunch and noticed that the food is getting bad, which is strange. I loafed around most of the afternoon and wrote a letter to the folks. Then I went to a meeting of group bombardiers, which turned out to be useless. I couldn't figure out why we had the meeting. I went to chow late, and at 7:00 p.m., I had to attend a critique on our missions. Why we had such a meeting I don't know, but I guess it had a meaning to somebody. Hallelujah! We don't have to carry our gas masks on the base anymore, but we are still walking with our .45 pistols on our belts. Well, I'll say my prayers and hit the sack so that I can wake up bright and early at 1:00 a.m. Let's hope it's an easy mission (a "no-ball") tomorrow.
*[Excerpt from Letter of June 1, 1944.]
England is really a nice country, but naturally it cannot compare with the United States. The English people in this region are mostly farmers and, boy, they really use up every inch of the land. The soil is cultivated right up to the very edge of the roads. Their farms aren't very big, but what little land they do have is really worked. The English really think a lot of the American soldiers over here and they do all they can to make things easy for us. They don't get very much food because of rationing, but they like to invite American soldiers to eat at their homes.
When I think of how I felt about the bicycle I had when I was fifteen, I can see why the ground crew mechanics of our ship love the ship so much. I'm telling you that when we come down from a mission, there have never been such happy faces as those of the ground crew. They practically cry when something goes wrong with an engine, and if there's a flak hole on the plane any place, it is patched up in a half-hour. Anything we, the flyers of the plane, ask to be put in the ship will be found. Our ground crew will get it issued to them officially or they'll borrow or steal it! They really sweat out our return from missions.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 8
FRENCH COAST EAST OF PAS DE CALAIS, Gun Emplacement
June 2, 1944 (Friday)
We were up at 4:00 a.m. for breakfast and a briefing on a mission to drop four 200-pound bombs on a coastal gun emplacement on the French coast about one mile east of Pas de Calais. With Lt. Dobson at the controls, we took off at 8:00 a.m. for the five-hour mission, probably a tactical mission related to the impending invasion of Europe. We were over enemy territory for only five minutes. We met no flak or fighter resistance and were unable to find our target because of the cloud cover. So we headed for our secondary target and dropped our bombs through the clouds on the signal from the lead ship using radar. There was no way to assess the damage to the target. On the return flight we saw bombers releasing bombs into the Channel and exploding floating mines near the French coast. We arrived home at about 1:39 p.m.
In my hut I found a letter from the girl in Topeka, which I answered immediately. Later in the afternoon I attended a class on aircraft identification just to keep up to snuff on the difference between American and German fighters. That evening, some of us went to an evening movie: "His Butler's Sister," with Deanna Durbin, who is terrific! I listened to the music in the movie and got very homesick!
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 9
BREQUE EN SUR, FRANCE, Three 150mm Howitzer emplacements
June 3, 1944 (Saturday)
Another early rising and a 9:00 a.m. take-off by Lt. Palmer for the French coast again as the Eighth Air Force hits at the Nazi forces which might repel an Allied invasion. Today we went against some gun emplacements near Breque en Sur, about a half mile south of yesterday's target on the French coast. The three 150mm howitzers were located about one hundred yards from a Red Cross hospital. We were over enemy territory for only ten minutes, but we drew heavy flak, some of it colored green. The flak was not only intense; it was also accurate, because of our low altitude! We picked up two or three flak holes in the ship, including a one-inch hole in the bomb bay about three feet from McHenry's radio position. Our co-pilot also reported the firing of about six rockets from the ground. The operation was so fast that nobody was able to assess visually the damage to the target.
Down from the mission by 2:00 p.m., I ate chow, checked my mail and found two letters from home, repaired my bike and worked on some aircraft identification problems. Our enlisted men are on guard duty tonight, and we are expecting to be grounded for two days.RETURN TO TITLE PAGE
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
*[Excerpt from Letter of June 3, 1944.] !
I'd like to tell you about what an effect the presence of a pretty girl on a combat base has on the boys who go up and drop 'em over Germany.
When we come down from a mission, naturally we are all tightened-up and under a strain. We walk into the dressing room dragging our flying equipment behind us. My hair, as usual, is all messed up, and my face is dirty. Everyone has a wrinkle on each cheek where his oxygen mask has been too tight for a such a long time. Everyone, including me, is just a bit exhausted, and all they want to do is "hit the sack." In we walk, and there, standing behind a large pot of coffee, cocoa or what have you, is a very lovely and charming Red Cross worker pouring the refreshment, whatever it may be!
On seeing her, the crews come to life again and head for their lockers with renewed energy. Within ten minutes there is a line of anxiously waiting soldiers waiting to be served by "Miss Red Cross Worker!" All of them don't want something to drink. They just want a smile and a few words from the woman serving the stuff, and they do get that smile and those cheery words! I'm not ashamed to say that I am usually at the head of the line. It's just old-fashioned G.I. coffee, but somehow it tastes like demitasse when she serves it!
All these guys would laugh if you said it, but down deep they know that she represents all the girls they are fighting for -- their sisters, their sweethearts and their wives. There's none of this "Hya, babe, how about a date?" stuff. It's sort of a bashful advance of tired soldiers. They hold out their cups with a quiet "May I?" She gives her best smile and a "You sure may!" She pours the liquid and the guy retreats with a sincere "Thank you!" Just a little thing like that really means a lot to guys in combat.
Well, I'm running out of words, and it's getting a bit dark outside my hut. It's warmer outside then inside these huts. I haven't attempted a fire in our little stove for a few weeks.
Don't let this get around, but I haven't gotten a haircut since April 20. As a result, I'm probably the most long-haired flyer in the ETO (European Theater of Operations). I'd get a haircut, but there's only one barber on the field, and I'll be darned if I'm going to sweat out a line of sixteen guys. When the war ends, I'm going to let my hair grown down over my shoulders!
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
?June 4, 1944 (Sunday)
I "flew" a simulated navigation mission on an English trainer and did surpringly well. I received seven letters from family and friends. I took my bike apart and adjusted the parts. Our tail gunner Robert Sherick is in the hospital with a 103-degree temperature. I wrote a letter home describing a combat mass. It's raining outside. I hope we don't get grounded.
*[Excerpt from Letter of June 4, 1944 ]
It's Sunday, as I discovered this afternoon at 3:00 when I woke up. I didn't go to mass this morning, so I decided for my own good and conscience that I'd go to the evening mass.
When I say mass, I'm sure you think of a massive altar gilded with gold and a priest in vestments fit for a king kneeling and canting Latin litanies underneath the miniature spires of an enormous altar. You probably imagine altar boys decked in delicate cassocks of lace fluttering around their idol, the priest. You see huge bouquets of roses at the altar and flight upon flight of stairstep candles winding their candescent way up to the topmost crucifix of the altar. Technicolored images of the saints hover above the scene in their cozy little arched niches in the wall. A faint odor of incense wafts its invisible way out and among the parish folk. From the left to the right side there extends a beautifully carved altar railing where miracles are wrought every day. The pulpit in all its splendor peers down upon the congregation with architectural eloquence. Maidens and ladies gain visual passageway through the conglomeration of lace, birds nests and other assorted fluff on their animated hats so that they can read their missal with one eye and observe the style of apparel on the women next to them with the other eye. Smoothly shaven, well dressed young men follow the priest with one eye and the dainty movements of a dimpled member of femininity are sharply surveyed by the other eye. Meek husbands bury their noses in their missals, hoping to escape the impatient glances of their "too damned religious" wives. That is mass in the States! Here in this combat post it's different.
At 3:00 p.m. you hear the soggy beat of a basketball on the gym floor. The punching bag is taking a terrific beating, with no means of retaliation. The swish of the net as someone sinks a field goal without touching the rim. At 3:30 p.m. the chaplain walks into the gym. Gymnasts roll up their mats and disassemble their horizontal bar. The punching bag gets one last wallop and swings in an ever-shortening arc. The basketball is dribbled in long weary bounces out the gym door. The gym is emptied except for the chaplain and two or three recruits.
By 4:45 a small miracle has been performed in the gym. The stacks of benches in the corners of the gym have unfolded and are now lined up in pewlike fashion. A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary atop a box that once contained a 500-pound demolition bomb stands on the right of an altar. There are no stairstep candlesticks, no bouquets of roses, no prickly spires up to the roof. There is just a rounded tabernacle sitting in the center of a 12 x 3-foot altar. Two lonely candles send out their flickering rays on each side of the tabernacle door. A background of purple cloth, with a crucifix in the center, sets the makeshift altar off and makes it the center of attraction.
At 5:00 p.m. the congregation of soldiers scrambles to their feet as the priest walks out and up to the altar. Steel helmets and benches rattle as the men kneel for the Confiteor. The priest, in his well-worn and patched vestments, begins the mass. The altar "boy" in fatigues smeared with grease from the many engines he has repaired on the flight line, kneels at his side, reciting his Latin, which he still remembers from the sixth grade in Sister school. The congregation is marked by messed up hair, bearded faces with spots of grease on their cheeks, fatigues soiled with grease and sweat, leather jackets of flying personnel, R.A.F. blues, captain's bars, major's oak leaves, Pfc stripes and sergeant's zebra V's. Steel helmets, baseball caps, aviator's helmets, fatigue caps, .45 caliber pistols, carbines, Tommy guns and mess cups line the benches.
A common prayer, said in Brooklynese, in a Midwestern twang or with a Southern drawl goes up from the unmilitary-looking military congregation to the God they've all got faith in. It is a prayer of the greatest simplicity, said in their own words.
"Ite Misa Est" -- The Mass is Ended. The priest in his tattered vestments disappears to the rear of the altar, and the rattle of steel helmets and benches commences again as the assembly files out of the doors.
And that is combat religion and mass!
?June 5, 1944 (Monday)
Up at 7:30 a.m. for practice flight, mainly to give me navigational experience. We drew up a flight plan, got into our flying clothes, went out to the ship, and warmed up the engines, only to have the mission scrubbed (called off)! All irritated, we went back to dressing room, had chow, checked our mail and then got called back to the flying line for the same navigation training flight. This time, we took off, and I did pretty well on the navigation problem. I'm getting better at it with every mission.
Something big seems to be in the works!? Pilots got a special briefing at 10:30 p.m. Bombardiers, co-pilots and navigators were briefed at 11:30 p.m. This is it! The invasion of Europe!
µCOMBAT MISSION 10
D-DAY, The Invasion of Europe
June 6, 1944 (Tuesday)
From our late night briefings we went to our ship, "The Dixie Flyer." With only a seven-man crew and Palmer as pilot, we took off in the dark at 2:52 a.m. with a load of 320 anti-personnel fragmentation bombs weighing approximately 6,240 pounds. Above the solid overcast, we encountered total chaos in the night sky as hundreds of bombers flew in all directions searching for their squadrons and finally, in desperation, attaching themselves to any formation that seemed organized and headed in the right direction. In spite of orders not to shoot flares, every plane in the sky was shooting flares and flying with their passing lights to keep from colliding with other planes. It was like the Fourth of July above the clouds. This was the original SNAFU (Situation Normal All Fouled Up) operation.
Our squadron's formation never came together, so we finally joined a formation which seemed to be heading for the part of the French coast eight miles south of La Havre assigned for bombing by our bomb group. The formation that we joined was composed of two B-17s, a B-26 and our B-24! We flew in formation to France and, following our instructions regarding a cloud-covered target, dropped our bombs over France --- about 50 miles beyond the place where the invasion force was landing. We dropped our bombs only two minutes before the first invasion forces landed on the beach.
There were 1,500 bombers, 1,200 fighter escorts and 900 fighter-bombers, but I don't think we helped the GI Joes down there very much. Weather was totally messed up. Meteorology did a poor job of predicting, but the weather in that area is always unpredictable.
Going in, we could not see the invasion force on the Channel, but on our return we saw thousands of ships moving in an almost never-ending train toward the French coast -- and victory! Through breaks in the clouds, McHenry was able to see the firing of coastal guns at the invasion forces as well as the large ships belching fire and smoke as they shelled the beach ahead of the landing craft headed for the beach. We got back to the 445th in good shape, went through an interrogation and critique and then hit the sack. Our tail gunner Sherick, still in the hospital, missed the big day.
All I hope is that we were able to help the "paddlefeet" (ground troops) more than I think we did through the 100% cloud cover. While I sleep in a comfortable double-decker bunk tonight, there are millions of Yanks on Normandy digging slit trenches and foxholes! With the help of God, those boys are there to stay forever and drive on to the avenues of Berlin! Well, I caught up on my sacktime, but we are on standby, so I'd better hit the sack. Here's to bigger and better invasions!
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
*[Excerpt from Letter of June 6, 1944 ]
This letter is going to be short for the simple reason that I've gotta hit the sack! I've been going now for 40 hours since yesterday and my eyes just won't stay open.
The Invasion finally came this morning in the form of thousands of airplanes and barges and millions of men! I'll just leave the details out for now, but later on I'll give you a real account of what happened. Right now, it's raining and all I'm hoping is that it is not raining in Normandy. The Infantry has it hard enough without having mud to complicate things! I feel kind of guilty as I hit my warm, soft sack when I think of those tough guys down on the beach digging their foxholes and slit trenches!
? June 7, 1944 (Wednesday)
Sacked it until about 11:00 a.m. Ate chow and got a haircut in celebration of the invasion. I feel six pounds lighter! That's about all. Sherick still in the hospital. Invasion going o.k. The infantry paddlefeet have about 20 miles of the coast now. I only hope we could have helped those boys more! I tried to write a letter home, but I didn't feel a bit like writing. Got a wrist watch from home. I lost Hamilton's watch the very same day. What a character you are, Becchetti! Well, g'night.
*[Excerpt from Letter of June 7, 1944 ]
Tonight there are boys on the beaches of Normandy and some fifteen miles passed the beach. They are probably writing their letters on a steel helmet or the butt of their rifles, while I sit next to my stove and write my letter on a "massive" 2 x 2' table. Of course I haven't been able to make a fire in this lousy stove, but it's still a stove! I'm only hoping that I helped them just a little with the bombs I dropped.
About the details of D-Day, all I know is what I read in the papers. Somehow, the newspapers always make war seem so colorful. In my opinion, there is nothing about war that is colorful or glamorous. There is nothing colorful about taking off and flying through 8,000 feet of solid clouds with thousands of airplanes all over England doing the same things in those same clouds. There's nothing colorful about jumping off a landing barge into salt water up to your neck with the "Heinies" blasting away at you with machine-guns, pistols, rifles, rocks, pamphlets and everything they can get their hands on. Like I've said before, "War is hell!"
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 11
RENNES, FRANCE, Railway Bridge
June 8, 1944 (Thursday)
We were up at 1:30 a.m., had breakfast at 1:45 a.m and were down to briefing at 2:00 a.m. Briefing began at 3:00 a.m. for one target, but by 3:15, the target was changed, giving us an idea of how fluid the situation is on the D-Day beach.
The new target was a railway bridge near Rennes, France, and we were out at the ship by 4:00 a.m., and by 5:15 we were taxiing out to the runway for takeoff, but at 5:16 the mission was scrubbed (called off) as the cloud ceiling dropped to zero.
At 6:00 a.m. the mission to Rennes was called on again as the weather turned more favorable. The formation was assembled down at the southern tip of England, where we did four 360-degree turns over the Channel and then crossed the French coast at a relatively low altitude to drop our three 2000-pound bombs on the Rennes railway bridge. McHenry reported that the formation's bomb impact had inflicted little if any damage on the bridge.
Because of our low altitude the flak was unusually accurate, and we returned with a large flak hole just below the nose turret, near the bombardier's station. We encountered no enemy fighters because of our P-51 escort; although the escort abandoned our formation on the return flight.
After our bombs had been dropped on the bridge the lead navigator became disoriented and brought the formation around and over the target and the flak again, an error that could be fatal, but there was no damage.
Below us the battle for the Normandy beach was still in progress. We could see the flashes of large naval guns and the return fire from the German defenders.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
*[Excerpt from Letter of June 8, 1944]
I think I'll take the next few paragraphs to tell you about a typical bombing mission. They are all alike, except that some of them are rough and others are milk runs.
Let's first go over to the Officer's Club. It's about 9:00 at night. The bar is cluttered with American civilians camouflaged as Air Corps officers. They are all indulging in that wicked evil, the drinking of English cider. Three English slot machines are absorbing threepences, sixpences and shillings from three blurry-eyed second looeys. They'll find out pretty soon that even English slot machines don't pay off.
The lounge is cluttered with uniformed humanity. The armchair where an army nurse is sitting is cluttered with twice as much humanity as the rest of the lounge is cluttered with humanity! Smoke curls up from Philip Morris's, Luckies and from the fireplace on the far side of the lounge. The gramophone is blaring out full blast with some guy's "Hungarian Rhapsody No.. 15 in C-flat Minor for Trombones Only." The plunk of darts on the dartboard disturbs the silence that would be there if the gramophone and the humanity hadn't already disturbed it. Complicated, isn't it? No. 2 snooker ball goes into the side pocket as some pool shark makes a two-cushion bank shot on the dilapidated snooker table. A game of ping-pong over in the corner turns the heads of the spectators into pendulums following the ping and the pong of the elusive sphere going across the net.
Now, let's go over to the snack bar, where guys who have slept through the regular supper mess come to ease their eternal hunger. Yes, that's Freddie up at the counter making himself a super-deluxe sandwich out of peanut butter and Spam!
Yeah, there they are. All that bunch of people messing around at the Club when they know for sure that they are going to be awakened at 1:30 in the morning, about three hours away.
O.K. now, let's go back to the hut. It's 1:30 a.m. The sergeant who is detailed to wake the officers up for missions comes around to the huts and gently pushes and pulls the guys awake. He ought to get a medal for the job he is doing, but then I guess a GI shoe doesn't make too much of a dent on his head. He comes in with a big smile on his face and after he has awakened us and persuaded us to drop our GI shoes and pleaded with us to "lay that pistol down," he read the order of the day: "Lt. Keith Palmer's crew will report to the main briefing room at 2:00 a.m." He then makes a hasty retreat to the accompaniment of very severe bitching from four officers and gentlemen by act of Congress and continues on his dangerous journey to awaken other unfortunates.
By degrees, we all abandon our warm sacks, slip on our clothes, strap on our .45 caliber pistols and go out into the blackout, feeling our way in the general direction of the combat mess hall. It's sure lucky we got up in a hurry, because we're only 37th in the chow line, and the eggs are going fast! Between yawns and stretches, we gulp down our breakfast and after about five minutes of batting the breeze around the dish-cluttered table, we stumble out into the blackout once again, feeling our opaque way to the main briefing room.
From the silence of the blackout, we walk into a scene of activity at the main briefing room. Blackboards are busily filled with chalk lines, maps are streaked with course line for the day's mission, and intelligence officers are setting up their photographs, maps and projector for their part in the briefing to come. The benches are littered with humanity. The same humanity that littered the armchairs and the bar of the Officer's Club a few hours ago. Every one's hair is uncombed, neckties hang ungracefully from wrinkled shirt collars, hats are over almost everyone's eyes to keep out "that damned light that keeps a guy from getting a bit of bench sacktime," cigarette smoke spirals up from a score or more fags, and everyone awaits the beginning of the briefing so that they can begin awaiting the end of the briefing so that they can get out to their ships and "get this goddam mission over with."
The C.O. (Commanding Officer), unshaven and as unmilitary-looking as the rest of us, walks in, and the briefing begins.
"Our target today is Sauerkrautburg!" The briefing officer then waits while his statement registers on our sleepy minds. Everyone just looks up at him with half-opened eyes as if to say, "Not really!" Then the briefing officers go into detail about the flak, fighters, importance of the target and other details that a briefing officer should give to a body of "eager, excited and impatient" men. S-2 (Intelligence) then gives us the specific details and checkpoint for picking up our target. Here's about how his briefing sounds, and it should be mentioned that these S-2 officers have never been in an airplane at 20,000 feet, with clouds between then and the ground, with a ground haze and the temperature at -25 degrees Centigrade, with an oxygen mask on their face, with earphone on their head and a throat microphone around their tonsils and their interphone lines and oxygen connections forming a network around their legs and with flak popping up at them all over the landscape, so you can understand why these S-2 officers think it's so simple to pick up a target.
"The target is easy to pick up as you will plainly see."
"You will be coming into the target from this angle. On your right you will see a railroad. On your left you will see a highway and a river running right into Saurkrautburg. The railroad and the highway form a V at the target. As we go down our course on the bomb run, we see a farm house. This farm house belongs to Her Hans Schnitzelfelden who lives there with his wife Katrina and five children. Over here we have a farm with a wheat field containing one apple tree in the center." And on he goes telling us of church steeples, fire hydrants, theater marquees and other checkpoints.
Briefing is over. There are no "movie" speeches by the C.O. No feeling of glory. No square-jawed men walking out and saying dramatically, "This is it!" From then on, the mission is routine. Get our heated suits, catch a truck out to the plane, take off, fly over, drop our bombs and come back to our warm sacks. (I'll describe the flight later.)
That's a typical mission.
?June 9, 1944 (Friday)
I stayed in the sack until 11:00 and was up for chow and down to navigation project at 1:30, where I was checked out as a navigator for the crew. This makes me a "bombigator." I checked out a navigation kit and assembled my maps. I went back to the hut after a stop to see Sherick in the hospital. I got up from a nap in time for chow; then I took in a movie on the base. "Song of Bernadette" with Jennifer Jones was terrific, and the story was refreshing as the rain. After the movie I went over to the club for a couple games of snooker pool and some darts. Back at the hut, I wrote letter to the folks.
At the club I learned that Pilot Fronhnapple got his right arm shattered by flak over Rennes. I guess the war is over for him! Vince Hamilton is riding as navigator for the Matthews crew, and Cliff Bolton flew with Cluxtal's crew today. Now that I'm navigator, I hope I never get this crew of mine lost. I could probably do it, too!
"Design For Freddie's Jacket"
?June 10, 1944 (Saturday)
I got up at 11:30 and did nothing all day. I played some snooker at the club. The folks sent me a letter from home about the San Felipe Fiesta in Albuquerque, which brings back some good memories. I finally worked out a design for my leather flying jacket. I think it will look o.k. We had a good critique of our missions on Thursday.. Looks as though the number of missions is going up to thirty-five. I may get only one-half mission credit for Thursday.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 12 MAYENNE, FRANCE, Railroad Bridge June 11, 1944 (Sunday)
Snacktime, flaktime, sacktime! We were pulled out of the sack at 2:30 a.m. for breakfast, briefing and a mission to drop four 2000-pound bombs on a railroad bridge east of Saumur near Mayenne, France. We took off at 5:30 a.m. assembled our formation at the low altitude of 5,000 feet. We never flew higher than 11,000 feet in the entire mission, and we were at 8,000 feet over the target, which was not protected by either flak or fighters.
The target was clouded over, so we dropped no bombs. I rode as the navigator and did o.k., but I became a little disoriented near the target. On the return flight, we opened our bomb bay doors several times, but we never dropped our bombs, bringing them back to the base. Back home, I hit the sack, got up and had a snack and went to the club to play snooker. I wrote letters to the folks and to the girl in Topeka. It seems as though our mail is being held up for some reason.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
*[Excerpt from Letter of June 11, 1944
I'm pretty hard-up for stationery as you can see from this paper, so please bear with me. If things keep going as they are going, I'll probably be writing on toilet tissue. But, then again, we don't have any toilet tissue, so I'm up the creek without a paddle.
Sorry to say, but I missed mass today. I came down off a mission, and, is my custom, I hit the sack for about fifteen minutes of relaxation. Mass is at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. I told Vince Hamilton to wake me at 4:15. Well, Hamilton decided to get about "fifteen minutes of relaxation," also. So we both slept until 7:00 p.m., at which time my stomach decided it had had enough sacktime and needed some "snacktime." Description of Life in England: "Snacktime, Flaktime and Sacktime." That's it in a flak shell!
Hungry, I walked over to the mess hall, even though I was pretty sure that it was closed. By some chance they might still be serving. I walked into the mess hall looking raunchy as is the custom of flying officers. The KPs had just removed all the containers of food from the serving table, so I said "Nuts!" loudly and from the bottom of my stomach. I asked a KP what was going on. He didn't understand, so I explained with the plain and simple statement, "I want something to eat!" The KP said that Captain Somebody had ordered all the food taken in the kitchen. Knowing that they had eaten chicken and ice cream for supper I began complaining about mess officers in general. The KPs stood around watching and listening. Then they came to the conclusion that "this poor guy just got down from a mission to Berlin and hasn't eaten anything." One KP cleaned up a table and motioned me to a chair. Other KPs got my silverware, while other sneaked into the kitchen with empty plates. Soon they returned with a meal fit for a draft-dodger. A half chicken, salad, carrots, tomato soup and, to top it all off, about a quart of vanilla ice cream!
After all the violent complaining and moaning, I was hungry. I ate every bit of the meal to the satisfaction of my stomach and the KPs. I thanked the boys and walked out, hoping that they would never find out that I had just gotten out of the sack!
My engineer is pretty touchy about flak (aren't we all!), so he is always worrying about when we are going to hit some flak. He called me up and asked me when we were going to get some flak. I called him up and told him, "Just keep looking out the window." I also asked him why he wanted to know when we were going to get some flak. He couldn't do much about it when it did start coming up, except to sit and shake in his boots, like everybody else.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 13
MAYENNE, FRANCE, Railroad Bridge
June 12, 1944 (Monday)
We were up at 2:15 a.m. and at a briefing at 3:00 a.m. to take off at 5:00 a.m. for a mission to drop the same four 2000-pound bombs on the same bridge near Rennes and Saumur, France, that we couldn't bomb yesterday because of the cloud cover. This time, we went in at 20,000 feet and were on oxygen for three and a half hours. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we were able to navigate and bomb easily. In spite of ideal conditions, we missed getting over our primary target, the railroad bridge, and had to circle over Rennes to get to our secondary target, which we hit, according to McHenry.
The flak over Rennes was deadly, and the group lost a few ships. The ship piloted by Graham was damaged so badly that he had to crash-land in England, having lost his co-pilot, engineer, radioman and his own foot. It is hard to see a good guy like Graham get it so bad. We came away from the mission with flak holes in the right wing, left tail fin, the No. 3 engine cowling and at the right waist window, so we were lucky.
We did this mission with an eight-man crew, including a guy named Misner in the nose turret and Queenan as co-pilot. I flew as navigator.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 14
RENNES, FRANCE , Railroad Bridge
June 13, 1944 (Tuesday)
We were scheduled first for an early mission to Merseburg, but the mission was scrubbed, which pleased everybody, because we would rather not go back there. That's the mission that ended up with us stopping the plane with parachutes. With Bolton flying as co-pilot, we took off at 4:10 in the afternoon, carrying ten 500-pound bombs to drop on still another railroad bridge in the dangerous area of Rennes, France, where we took such a beating yesterday. Maybe it was because we were on an afternoon mission, but the squadron had great difficulty assembling its formation over England. Finally, we headed across the North Sea and the Channel and hit the beginning of our approach to the target right at the French coast. We practically dove at the target from the coast.
McHenry reported that our bombs hit a little beyond the bridge. We encountered a little flak over the target, but the heaviest was directed at another part of the formation. We made a 180-degree turn over the target and headed for home, with no flak on the return, but expecting fighters any minute.
We got back to base at 11:00 p.m. after being on oxygen for four hours, made a night landing and found the 445th in a grand party celebrating the Group's 100th mission, which we had just flown. The Group may receive a Presidential Citation for having flown the number of missions in only six months. We were tired, but we joined the party for a few minutes, and I didn't get to bed until 12:30 midnight. The Ground Officers had a wonderful time, of course. "We'll fly them; you celebrate them!" With God's help!
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
?June 14, 1944 (Wednesday)
I dragged myself out of the sack at 12:30 noon and loafed around the hut. I went down to navigation training to plot flak areas on a map of Europe for about two hours. I ate evening chow, took a nap and sent out my dry-cleaning. Then I went over to the club and listened to the "gramophone." I sat back and listened to Tchaikowsky's "Nutcracker Suite," especially to his "Waltz of the Flowers" and "Melody of the Reeds." What a wonderful composer he was! I did a little hangar-bombing until 9:00 p.m. and decided to go back to the hut and hit the sack early. We are due for a pass tomorrow, but I have a feeling we'll be pulled out of bed early for a mission into France. The news is that the Germans have retaken two towns in Normandy.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 15
TOURS, FRANCE, Railroad Bridge
June 15, 1944 (Thursday)
Even though I went to bed early, I got only about a half-hour's sleep; because the sergeant in the Jeep came around and awakened us at 1:10 a.m. for breakfast and a 2:30 a.m. briefing. With a load of twelve 500-pound bombs and an eight-man crew, we were to take off at 8:00 a.m. and bomb a 700-ft long railway bridge across a small river four miles southeast of Tours, France.
It turned out to be one of the smoothest missions we were ever on. The weather was perfect, the flight plan was excellent, the navigators led us right to the target and the bombing was extraordinary.
McHenry reported that we demolished the bridge, with all the bombs of the formation falling within a 2,000-ft circle, and the bombing was visual from 20,000 feet, so the lead bombardier did an almost perfect job with his Norden bombsight.
It helped that we encountered no flak and that we had an excellent P-51 escort by the 9th Air Force. After getting back to the 445th that afternoon, I went to sleep on the grass outside our hut until 5:15 p.m.; then I walked over to the Enlisted Men's barracks, where we joined up and took in a movie on the base. The weather was clouding up, but we were on standby for tomorrow, and all of us were wondering when we were going to get our 48-hour pass to London. We were also wondering if our mail was getting out to the States.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
?June 16, 1944 (Friday)
I got up at noon and just loafed around, but I did go down to practice on the radar Gee Box. It is such an important piece of equipment in navigation that I can't get too good in running it Everyone is restricted to the base again, so there are long lines for chow. Meanwhile, our crew is next in line to get a pass to London, but when will that be? The news is good from the Pacific. B-29s bombed Tokyo yesterday. It's about time they put those big contraptions to work! We've had mucky weather, with rain showers all day. Morale is running a wee bit low. It might be a big mission tomorrow. Who knows?
*[Excerpt from Letter of June 16, 1944.]
I've actually got a few minutes spare time, so I"ll scratch out a few lines to let you know that everything is o.k. with me and the crew. That's about all there is to say unless there were no censor and I could tell you all about my missions. But, then again, these dry missions wouldn't make good reading from my pen. Let the war correspondents write up things like that. They make war so much more glamorous and colorful! The only guy who writes up the war accurately, as far as I can read, is Ernie Pyle. He really writes up war in a way that exposes it as a nasty phase of history. If more writers wrote the way he does, there wouldn't be so many wars! But don't get the idea that I am having it rough. If I were, you would hear about it!
Those boys that hit the beach on D-Day are having it rough. The paratroopers who landed behind the German lines are having it rough. The nurses who cared for the wounded on Normandy are having it rough. The engineers who had to rebuild the "built-down" emplacements are having it rough. But we just ramble over and above the clouds and scurry back to our warm beds and delicious meatloaf! It's still hell, however!
?June 17, 1944 (Saturday)
We were awakened at midnight for a briefing at 1:00 a.m. Everything was set for a short mission, but the cloud ceiling dropped and the mission was scrubbed, and we were informed that we had a 48-hour pass to London. In record time we dressed in our Class-A uniforms and caught a train for London at 8:24 a.m. We arrived in London at 11:00 a.m. and took rooms at the Imperial Hotel, which became our headquarters for our stay in London. We ate lunch at the nearby Green Parrot, a restaurant owned and managed by a Greek named Tony. One of the first things I did was visit the London PX store to buy a pair of "pinks" (officer's dress slacks), some dress shoes, socks and insignia pins. As we went down to the center of London we became aware of the robot bombs coming over London and dropping with great explosions while British anti-aircraft guns shot at them. The Londoners called them "buzz bombs" and even though this was only the fourth day that they had appeared, the British were already accustomed to them. They were weird contraptions. Very eerie because they were not piloted by a human being. [These missiles began hitting London on June 13, 1944. They were 1500-pound winged bombs with a speed of about 400 mph and a range of 200 miles. They flew at an altitude of 2,000 ft. and took about 25 minutes to reach London. Estimated buzz-bomb deaths was about 3,900 and injuries, about 25,000. They were equipped with wings which could cut the cables of barrage balloons. They were shot down by anti-aircraft guns, which exposed Londoners to the added danger of falling shrapnel from shells. The RAF fighter pilots were also able to get close to them and tap their wing with the Spitfire's wing and change their direction so that they would head out to sea and explode there.] We made our way to the famous Picadilly Circus for a look at the equally famous "Picadilly Commandos," the roving prostitutes that peddle their wares in that area. We brushed them off, but many of them were quite pretty especially to a bunch of guys who hadn't been off the air base for weeks. That evening some of us went to see Danny Kaye in the movie "Up In Arms," a great, funny movie. Others on the crew preferred to find a place where they could drink and relax.
?June 18, 1944 (Sunday)
In London for the second day, we got up at 10:00 a.m as Irish maids came into our rooms chattering cheerfully. Sunshine was streaming in the windows. Except for the buzz bombs overhead, it was a nice day! Some of the crew members left the hotel immediately on their way down into London for another happy day. Some of us went to Tony's Green Parrot and ate what he called "steaks," complete with cigars afterwards. Then we called a taxi to take us on a sightseeing tour of London. We saw Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Church, Buckingham Palace, No.10 Downing Street, the blitzed area of Coventry, the Tower of London, London Bridge and so on. I was greatly impressed by seeing the standard food length in silver on display at the Lord Mayor's Office. In the evening we looked for a place to dance. We went to some clubs, but they wouldn't let us in because we were not members of the club. In the evening we messed around Picadilly Circus, where the "Commandos" were parading and offering their wares. We made our way back to the Imperial Hotel and went to bed at 1:00 a.m.
?June 19, 1944 (Monday in London)
Monday, and we had to leave London and get back to the base in Tibenham. We were up at 6:30 a.m. in the Imperial Hotel, had breakfast and caught a train back to Norwich at 8:12 a.m.. Three hours later, at 11:30, we were back at the 445th, feeling a letdown. London had been sort of a disappointment, perhaps because of our high expectations. It was just Norwich on a larger scale. Even though we had a good time, the people of London were a little irritating. They seemed to be out for your money, no matter how they could get it from you, but that may be the way all big cities are. The subway or "Underground" was a great experience; there were escalators and everything! As for Picadilly Circus and the "Commandos" there must be some nice girls in London some place, but they must be hidden from the Yanks. Lord Mayor, you can have London!
*[Excerpt from Letter of June 19, 1944.
Well, it finally happened. We got a pass to London!! Right now, I'm trying to recuperate from the surprise of getting it and the effects of getting it! I don't feel in the mood to write a long letter right now about my experiences and the experiences of the crew, but I'll manage a long letter soon. I'll try to make the letter as detailed and authentic as the censors and my lazy writing will allow.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 16
POLITZ, GERMANY (STETTIN or SZEZECIN, POLAND), Synthetic Oil Refinery
June 20, 1944 (Tuesday)
With London behind us, we were up at 1:00 a.m. for a briefing on the most important mission so far. The entire Eighth Air Force, about 21 air wings or 800 bombers, was going against the synthetic oil refinery just over the German border in Poland at a place called Politz by the Germans, but Szezecin or Stettin by the Polish.
It was the most successful mission we have ever been on, but it has to be counted as one of the major air battles of history, with thousands of men and machines of two countries fighting each other to the death. The flak was intense and accurate even at the high altitude of our flight, and hundreds of enemy fighters hit the formation, fortunately failing to attack our group; although we saw some fighters in our vicinity, including six ME-109's.
Dozens of bombers were shot down by either fighters or flak; the 14th Air Wing, for instance, lost eleven bombers to German fighters. Several bombers, damaged so that they could not return to England, turned off and landed in nearby neutral Sweden to spend the rest of the war there. Just before reaching the target, we saw a mid-air collision which brought down one of our bombers. At least one of our bombers would have to ditch in the English Channel before getting back to England.
Carrying ten 500-pound bombs and a ten-man crew, including Sgt. Hoffman as a substitute waist gunner, we flew No. 3 on the lead squadron. We came away with seven flak holes in the plane, which was amazing in view of the intensity of the flak over the target. It was later determined that the Germans had flown their own captured and modified B-24 in our formation to radio our direction and altitude to anti-aircraft gunners below; hence the accuracy of their flak barrage.
Our Intelligence pronounced our bombing on this raid the best ever done by the Eighth Air Force as a whole. The photographs indicated that the refinery had been leveled. [NOTE: In spite of the success of this mission, the Eighth Air Force had to mount another massive mission against the refinery six weeks later, because the Germans, using slave labor, had repaired the plant and put it back in operation. Our group did not go on that second mission.]
Over the target, our replacement waist gunner, Sgt. Hoffman, was hit by a pea-size chunk of flak at a point between his temple and his right eye. Immediately after we had dropped our bombs and had turned for home, I, as the crew's first-aid officer, crawled from the nose back to the waist compartment to see what I could do for him.
Apparently, the flak fragment had spent its speed and force coming through the thin skin of the fuselage so that it struck Hoffman only with sufficient force to penetrate the skin and draw a little blood; otherwise, he would have been wounded fatally. I plucked the visible flak fragment from his head, cleansed the wound, applied a compress and went back to the nose compartment.
Let's don't have any more missions like this!.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIES JOURNAL & LETTERS
*[Excerpt from Letter of June 20, 1944]
When I got back from London, I was enthusiastic about writing a long letter, but now, as I begin after coming down from a rather rough mission, I don't know how long the letter will turn out to be. We'll see. Last week was a series of "bitch" session in which our crew bitched to the Squadron commander about our not having passes. We thought it was to no avail, but we finally got a pass -- a 48-hour pass to London "to visit some friend." I had slept only about a half-hour in the last 24 hours when we were called for a mission Friday night. The mission was to take place Saturday morning. We got out to the ships and were ready to take-off, when some cloudy weather came in and the mission was called off.
We were all ready to go back to bed and catch up on our sacktime, when the assistant Operations Officer walked in to the dressing room with our 48-hour passes for London . Never have you seen a bunch of men come to life in such a hurry! We forgot about going to bed as we showered, shaved and shampooed. We bought our train tickets and headed for London before Operations could change their mind!
The train trip was very interesting. We rode in compartments, so that we came in contact with British people on their way to London. The British passengers were very quiet and very courteous, and this had the effect of dampening our excitement. In the three hours that we rode with these British passengers we carried on quiet conversations, usually answering their questions as to where we were from in the United States. There was nothing we could tell them about what we were doing in England, of course. The main thing we did on the trip was sleep, because we were very tired from not having slept for about 36 hours. However, by the time we reached London at 11:30 a.m., we were refreshed and ready to take on the big city.
Sticking together in a group, we took up nine adjoining rooms at the Imperial Hotel. In our excitement, we let everybody in the hotel know that we were there. The chamber maids, a cheerful group of Irish women of various ages fluttered among our rooms opening curtains and chattering with good humor and making all of us feel welcome.
As we were settling in, a German robot bomb - the British called them aptly "buzz bombs" - roared overhead shaking the hotel with the noise, and all of us rushed to the windows and went out on the small balconies to watch it go over. We saw the flying machine up close, probably at an altitude of 1,000 feet and perhaps at a thousand yards in distance. But we had barely had a glimpse of the monstrous flying bomb before the Irish maids ran out onto the balconies and grabbed us by the arms and shoulders to pull us back into our rooms and behind the hotel wall. They treated us like unruly children and told us sharply, with no twinkling of their Irish eyes, "Get back in here, Yanks. You can be killed out there." And at that moment, the robot's engine cut off, and the flying bomb began its heavy downward arc beyond the buildings across the street. There was a deathly silence of a few seconds; then a thunderous explosion that rattled the hotel's windows and sent a frightening jolt along the floor under our feet. And an ugly black and yellow cloud rose from the other side of the buildings and spread across the blue of the sky.
It would not be our last buzz-bomb. We would see dozens of them during our time in London. The Londoners, tempered by their experience with German bombing since 1939, treated the buzz-bombs as just another harassment. They learned to judge the direction the bomb was taking and to assess the possibility of personal danger, so they soon quit rushing for bomb shelters. We watched the British in the streets around us for our cues as to how to protect ourselves at the approach of a buzz-bomb.
Finally settled in our rooms, we gathered and went searching for a place to eat lunch. We came upon The Green Parrot, a nearby restaurant owned and managed by a very personable Greek named Tony, who welcomed us "to his establishment" and treated us like visiting royalty for an hour and a half while we had an elegantly served meal and topped it off with cigars, all of us in total relaxation and captivated by Tony's exaggerated attentions and good humor.
From The Green Parrot all of us, with money burning holes in our pockets, went in various directions. Some of us went to the famous London Military Post Exchange (PX), while the heavy drinkers went in search of good Johnny Walker scotch. I went to the PX and bought a new pair of "pinks" (officer's dress slacks), a pair of dress shoes, some socks and some insignia pins, and I would have shopped for more, but the stores in that section of London were closing for a "hawf day."
Back at the Imperial Hotel, the heavy drinkers on the crew along with friends they had met from other military outfits had scraped up enough money to buy three quarts of Johnny Walker scotch, which they were emptying with rollicking great efficiency.
From there, we headed as a group for legendary Picadilly Circus. Along the way we met with dozens of kids asking in a good-natured way for "gum, chum." We reached Picadilly Circus, a large city square built around a large fountain topped by a statue of Eros the god of love, and the "circus" lived up to its legend. The place was astounding to all of us, from the most naive to the most experienced. We could not believe our eyes and our senses as we were assaulted by the "Picadilly Commandos," whose business of selling their bodies for three pounds (about seven dollars) and up for a night had recently been reduced by the departure tens of thousands of soldiers across the Channel in the invasion of Europe on June 6.
The prostitutes in Picadilly are nicknamed "Picadilly Commandos." They stand around Picadilly taking in the trade. They are an aggressive bunch of girls who really go after business, and our military warned us repeatedly about them, especially about the danger of going off alone with them. They don't use the old phrase, "Lonely, Yank?" They just come right out with "Three pounds for all night, Yank!" They probably got the name "Commandos" from the fact that they grab you by the arm and hang on while they bargain, so that you literally have to beat them off and push them against a wall. Some of them are young and very pretty; others seem worn by their experience; and there are some who are very old, but willing to sell some sort of pleasure to any man who will buy it. One very old woman approached me and said, "Come around the corner, sonny, and I'll give you the thrill of your life," which was revolting to a twenty-year old man .. You hear the wildest stories about the Commandos in the European Theater of Operations, and most of these wild stories are true!
At about 4:00 in the afternoon, there was an air raid. It seems that the Germans decided to send a few "robot bombs" over for a little excitement. When the sirens blew, I expected everyone to start running for cover. Instead, everyone got out in the middle of the street to watch the fireworks, including our crew! We had seen flak from the air, so now we wanted to see it from the ground. When those flak guns began booming, I would much rather have been up in the air, because they made a tremendous noise. The alert continued on and off until 2:00 a.m. Sunday. After a while, the novelty wore off.
We then left flak, Commandos and Picadilly and went to the land of make-believe, namely the movies, where you don't sit in seats, but "stalls." We saw Danny Kaye in "Up In Arms," a wonderfully funny movie. Midway through the movies, we heard a stirring in the seats - oops, "stalls" behind us. Then we heard the tinkling of silverware and dishes. We looked down our row of "stalls" and saw a large tray moving in our direction. It was a tea tray. You poured yourself a cup of hot tea, took a wafer or two, deposited some coins in a cup and passed the tray to the next person. All of us had our tea, and it was quite nice.
We left the movie and went back downtown around Picadilly and began looking for a night club or a place where we could dance. There were night clubs, but we were not admitted because we were not members. We came to the conclusion that the membership requirement was simply a way for the doormen to make extra money, but we refused to go along with the scheme.
Back at the hotel, we settled in Cliff's room, drank the last bottle of scotch and exchanged stories about our adventures in London town. Then we went out into the black-out, where flak was exploding in the night sky. It was a wonderful sight from the ground, but the explosions made a horrendous noise in the narrow canyons of London streets . Every once in a while, a robot bomb would fall to earth and shake the city, but we were all used to it by then. We finally hit the sack at about 2:00 in the morning.
Sunday morning, we got up at 10:30, ate lunch with Tony at the Green Parrot and went out on a sightseeing tour. The tour was what I had come to London for. We saw Buckingham Palace, where the King lives; the changing of the guard; Hyde Park, where men give speeches; the Tower of London; London Bridge, which, incidentally, does not "fall down." We went to Westminster Abbey, where we saw the memorials to Shakespeare, Burns, Dickens, Kipling, Browning, Nelson, Chamberlain and the Unknown Soldier of World War I. We saw St. Paul's Cathedral, with a big bomb crater in the middle of it. We visited the Lord Mayor's, where they have the standards of weights and measures, including the official standard foot measure in a silver block. Last but not least, we saw Churchill's No. 10 Downing Street!
We also saw the effects of German bombs on London during the "blitz." Nevermore will it bother my conscience to drop bombs on German cities; although please understand that we never waste bombs on civilians! It seemed that every London church had a crater in it.
Well, that's my London trip. It's not as detailed as I would like it to be, but time will not allow. The trip was highly educational. The details will have to wait until I am with you again.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 17
BERLIN, Aero/Tank Engine Factory
June 21, 1944 (Wednesday)
Welcome back from Politz! You are going to Berlin today! The day after the rough Politz raid and we were up at 1:00 a.m. for a mission to drop ten 500-pound bombs on an aero/tank engine factory in the southeastern part or on the main street of Berlin, Germany. We took off at 6:00 a.m. with a crew of ten men and flew a good route to Berlin, avoiding flak and fighters, thanks to the excellent escort by P-38s and P-51s.
The target was covered by low layers of clouds, so we had to shift to another target in the center of Berlin and the residential suburbs, but the intensity of the flak over Berlin did not make this secondary target worth the loss of any more of our bombers, so we drifted south of the city and literally dropped our bombs on the open countryside.
Nevertheless, our 445th Bomb Group lost four planes and forty airmen to flak on the mission. I also watched a B-17 go down over Berlin and counted the parachutes as they popped out during its long slow fall to earth. There were only seven chutes! We also watched a B-24 spin downward, but only three parachutes appeared.
With flak still around us several minutes after we had dropped our bombs, McHenry had to take his portable oxygen tank and leave his position to go out into the open bomb bay and release two bombs that failed to drop.
The long-feared Berlin mission is now out of the way for us. It was sort of a long milk-run, but that is only because we didn't get hurt by flak or fighters. There were more planes than usual that aborted - turned back before getting to the target. Berlin causes a nervous strain that is unbelievable! Enemy fighters attacked the formation directly behind us. Our own escort was very good, so we received no fighter attacks. We were back in England at 2:30 p.m. after eight and a half hours.
Back at the 445th there was a big dance tonight, with all us low-ranks mingling with colonels and generals. I danced a lot with a very nice girl named Pat from Wymondam. Phone: 2121.RETURN TO TITLE PAGE
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL AND LETTERS
?June 22, 1944. (Thursday)
I got up at noon, feeling good and went to the PX to buy some paint for painting the New Mexico zia design on my A-2 leather flight jacket.
The crew received the news today that Engineer Leroy DeRouen is being officially grounded. His nerves have broken under the strain of combat, something we have been aware of for several missions. We will miss him and the good times and laughs with him. The Politz and Berlin missions, one after the other, were just too much for him; they were almost too much for all of us. We kind of envy him for getting out of this mess.
We just heard that one air wing lost an entire squadron of twelve bombers on the Politz raid! Those fighters are rough, to say the least. We have been lucky so far in not being hit by the Luftwaffe. Maybe God in the extra turret is taking care of us! We are on "priority" for tomorrow. Let's hope the mission is an easy one.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 18
REIMS, FRANCE, Juvincourt Air Base
June 23, 1944. (Friday)
With Bernard Goldstein as our new engineer in replacement of Leroy DeRouen, we were up at noon and called to a briefing at 2:30 in the afternoon. We took off at 4:30 p.m. with a load of 240 anti-personnel fragmentation bombs to bomb Juvincourt Airfield northwest of Reims, France.
Our route to the target was as planned, with lots of flak going in and coming out, but according to McHenry, we evaded the flak which had been aimed at the lead formation and were able to take dead aim and plaster the field with the frags. On the way back, a B-24 exploded in midair over Brussels, and we were hit by some unexpected flak at Overflakee, but we encountered no enemy fighters. With several flak holes near the pilot's position, we returned to the base at 8:30 and had to circle in the night sky for a long time before getting clearance to land.
Back at the base, I went to chow and then to bed. We are not scheduled for a mission tomorrow. All of us are just praying that we can get through. I wrote letter to the folks before going to sleep..
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL AND LETTERS
*[Excerpt from Letter of June 23, 1944. ]
The last few missions, I've been navigator on the crew. I haven't been lost one time, but once in awhile I get awfully "temporarily confused." My old navigator Vince Hamilton, razzes me about my "lousy" navigation, but I remind him that I learned in four days what it took him 18 weeks to learn! That stops him.
When I ride as navigator, I am suppose to keep a log or record of the flight. A log lists everything that happens on the trip and where you've been and where you're going and what time you're going to get there. It gets me terribly confused sometime, but in my own little way, I keep a log even though it may not be according to 8th Air Force procedure.
I came down from a mission the other day with a slightly disorganized log, and the Captain at Navigation criticized me for being so sloppy. Well, when I come down from a mission, I am not in a good mood, so I exploded in his face. He could have been General Doolittle for all I cared. I told him that he was lucky to even get a log and that what did he expect for four days' training. I told him that if I had wanted to be a navigator, I would have gone to navigation school back in the States. You may wonder how I can speak to a Captain like that, but the fact is that rank doesn't mean too much here.
Incidentally, the newspapers give a pretty good account of our missions, so you can believe them. It's hard to believe, but they tell the truth in most cases! They color it up a bit, but I guess that's why we have newspapers.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 19
AMIENS, FRANCE, Transformer Building
June 24, 1944 (Saturday)
We were allowed to sleep until noon and then awakened for lunch and then a briefing for what looked like a "milk run" mission to drop fifty-two 100-pound bombs on a transformer building near the town of Amiens, France. The mission turned bad right at the French coast, where we took some accurate flak from some guns at Pas de Calais. It turned even worse as we found ourselves over France looking for the target. The navigator of the 445th group got lost while searching for the target, and we suddenly found ourselves over Lille, France, being hit by flak which we should have missed in our flight. Our plane took some solid flak hits.
The flak missed our co-pilot and hit just below his position knocking out our hydraulic system Up front, a piece of flak popped through the nose turret and hit my left knee. Fortunately, the flak fragment had lost its force after striking the plexiglass of the turret; otherwise, it would have torn up my knee! There were also large flak holes in the left tail section and just below the waist compartment.
The lead bombardier could not locate the building containing the transformers, so our formation flew over the target area without dropping our bombs.
As we turned away from the target area, we almost had a mid-air collision with one of our bombers. I almost stuck my head through the astrodome in alarm when I saw the other plane skim by, close enough to see facial expressions of the other crew!
On our return flight, just as we cleared the French coast, we suddenly dropped 2,000 feet as our four engines conked out at once. The cause turned out to be a burnt out wire in the navigator's radar Gee Box, which we were able to turn off immediately and recover our power, but it was a terrifying moment in which we lucked out.
On reaching the base, since the flak had punctured the hydraulic line under the co-pilot, we had to lower our landing gear by cranking it manually, which was not an easy task, but we didn't have to resort to parachutes again. God and God alone got us through this one! It should have been a simple milk-run, but it just turned out bad!
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL AND LETTERS
?June 25, 1944 (Sunday)
For some strange reason I was up at 7:30 in the morning even though I didn't have to be up and there was no mission scheduled. At 9:00 a.m. I went to watch a training movie on the radar Gee Box, in the afternoon I went to mass and confession. I received no mail today. Our buddy Navigator Vince Hamilton is in London today! I loafed around and re-arranged my room; then I slept for a few hours, wrote three letters and sent some pictures home.
*[Excerpts from Letter June 25, 1944.
I tried to write this letter last night at midnight, but I was not too much in the mood. I had just come down from the roughest mission I've ever been on. My mind and my hand were not what they should be.
I'll try to make this letter as interesting as possible, but please forgive me if I don't, because all I see is war! And war is not interesting. War is lack of sleep, lack of entertainment and lack of sense. War is high altitude, oxygen masks, sub-zero temperatures and those old standbys: flak and fighters! I try to go on these missions and pass them off as just something I have to do, but I've found that only a superman can do such a thing.
When I first got here, I couldn't see how a man could get so-called "flak-happy," but I've seen too many guys unable to sleep because their nerves failed to loosen up. They don't crack all at once as the movies or fictionhave them do so dramatically. It's a slow, steady disintegration of the nerves.
The only way to combat combat is by preoccupation. I try my best and halfway succeed, but I am no superman! The only thing I can depend on is that Superman of all Supermen. I pray to Him like I never prayed before and I am sure He will see me through this "hell five miles above the earth."
But enough of bitching! I've been sketching a few nudes out of that sketch book that you sent and getting some enjoyment out of doing them. They're not too hard, but the fact that I'm copying them makes them easy. But what the heck, I'm not trying to win an art prize. I'm just drawing for my own "satisflaktion."
General Jimmy Doolittle, now commander of the 8th Air Force, was here the other day. He did an inspection of the navigation room. We had just come down from a mission, so all the navigators and bombigators like me were straightening up their maps. Doolittle walked up to one bombigator and asked him what he was doing, because the bombigator was looking puzzled and a bit confused. The bombigator, without looking up to see who had asked him, said, "Damned if I know what I'm doing, bud. I guess I'm just trying to find out where in hell I've been." General Doolittle laughed at that one!
That same night, there was a big dance at the Officer's Club. Everybody and his brother was drunk. One of the more interesting scenes was an argument between a general and a second lieutenant over the merits of the Sperry bombsight as compared with the Norden sight. The argument became a bit profane, but what was interesting was that their military rank didn't have anything to do with the argument. They went at each other hammer and tongs. Just two airmen arguing.
This is my "Letter of Request." These are the things I would like for you to send me, if you can: ?
Sketch book "How to Draw the Face."
Colored pencils for drawing.
Heavy typing paper for drawing.
Socks, size #12 OD color 6 pair.
Small paint brush.
Some pictures of all of you.
Charcoal for drawing.
Dried fruit of any kind.
A letter each day, if possible.
A blonde with rosy cheeks, sparkling blue eyes, teeth like pearls, built like a P-39, wrapped in a navy-blue sweater; although a brunette will do.
?June 26, 1944 (Monday)
We were scheduled for a long mission to Munich, but it was scrubbed this morning early, so I was able to sleep like a baby until noon. Best sleep I've had in a long time. At noon, I went to headquarters for the awarding of the Air Medal to a bunch of us. [Air Medal for completing 15 missions. A cluster for every five after that.] They made a big deal out of the awarding, so that we had to stay there until 5:00. I went to the PX to buy some drawing paper, took in the mission critique and went to a movie called "Hitler's Gang," which was really corny. Back in my hut, I did some drawing and then hit the sack for some deep sleep. I've received no mail for three days. I am still praying that He will pull us through, and I hope I don't get flak-happy before it's all over. I sometimes feel the strain getting to me.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 20
PARIS, FRANCE, Railroad Junction
June 27, 1944 (Tuesday)
We stayed in bed until noon and then got up for a briefing on a mission to drop twelve 500-pound bombs on a railroad junction near the small town of Creil about six or eight miles north of Paris, France. After taking off at 3:55 in the afternoon, we crossed the Channel and got hit by more flak than expected over Leon as we moved on the target. Our bomb run lasted an incredible 29 minutes as we flew over two airfields, taking flak all the way and encountering a serious flak barrage over the target.
The bomb run was so long and the flak so intense that we didn't even look to see where our bombs hit, even though it was a visual bombing. We had taken so much flak that we were very much in a hurry to get out of the target area. Before turning off, we saw a B-24 go down over the target, but no parachutes appeared. It was reported that the downed B-24 ditched in the Channel. I also saw a B-24 going down in flames with parachutes coming out of it.
We had a P-51 escort, thank God and the 9th Air Force.
There were no enemy fighters, but a lot, a lot of flak. We did some evasive action, but not quite enough to keep from being hit by flak. And to top it all off, McHenry had to crawl out into the bomb bay to unhook a bomb that had not dropped on the target. We returned to base at 6:48 p.m. with flak holes in the tail and the left wing.
Our pilot on this mission was Lt. Miller, who was flying his 35th and final mission, while we have fifteen to go. This mission really got to me. I am tired! Meanwhile, Vince Hamilton is back from London with the usual wild stories, plus the continuing story about the buzz bombs over the city.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL AND LETTERS
?June 28, 1944 (Wednesday)
I was up at noon and feeling rested, but still recovering from yesterday's flak-filled mission. I had some chow and did some drawing during the afternoon. The weather is bad; there is lots of rain, and I got no mail today. Nuts! S-2 Intelligence called me down to do some target identification problems, which don't make sense to me, but which must be important to S-2. Why do I have to look at more maps? It's disgusting! Well, the only thing I can depend on to keep me from going flak-happy is that Guy in the Invisible Turret. I never knew that I know so many prayers!
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 21
KOTHEN, GERMANY, Junkers Aircraft Factory
June 29, 1944 (Thursday)
The CQ in his Jeep woke us up at midnight for a 1:00a.m briefing for a mission against the Junkers aircraft factory on the east side of he railroad near Kothen, Germany, a seven-hour mission. Going in, we evaded the flak at Donner Lake, but got some intense and accurate flak over the target.
The aircraft factory at Kothen was covered by low clouds, so the formation turned toward the secondary target, an airfield near Stendal. The lead squadron missed the secondary target at Stendal and dropped its bombs in the woods ten miles east of the town of Burg.
Our squadron turned off and bombed a target of opportunity, the railyards at Debishbel, Kalternidor, Germany. There was no more flak on our return, and we landed at the 445th at 12:36 noon, having been on oxygen for almost six hours and not having lost any planes. We went to interrogation, ate some meatloaf and hit the sack for the afternoon, getting up at 6:00 p.m. for chow and to write some letters. We are not scheduled to fly tomorrow. Thanks be to God that we made another mission!
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
?June 30, 1944 (Friday)
We are not scheduled for flying today. We can use the rest, but it's always nice to get in another mission toward ending the tour of duty. I went in to Norwich, but there was nothing to do there. I dropped in at the Red Cross Canteen, which is rather nice, but I didn't meet any girls. Went to a shop in Norwich and bought some paints and brushes and got back to the hut by 8:00 p.m I got a letter from Albuquerque today, with a newspaper clipping from the Albuquerque Journal on me as a hero in the parachute-assisted emergency landing we did. I don't feel like a hero! Tonight I followed the flight surgeon's instructions and took one of the sleeping tablets he prescribed and went to bed.
?July 1, 1944 (Saturday)
We didn't have to fly today, so I stayed in the sack until noon. In the afternoon I went down to S-2 Intelligence to do some projects on target identification and to Navigation to get my maps back in order. Then I went to the Club to play some snooker and found Bolton and Hamilton getting their haircuts. They were had been reported to the Shaggy Officers Union. I got letters from the girl in Topeka and from the folks, both of which I answered.
*[Excerpt from Letter of July 1, 1944.
I received your June 22 letter with the newspaper clipping on our emergency landing. If you think you were surprised at reading it, you should have seen me! I had no idea it had been sent to the Journal. Now, let me set you straight on the "hero" stuff.
Yes, we did get our entire hydraulic system shot out by flak over the target, so, therefore, we were minus brakes and a few other incidentals when it came time to land. I had read in Stars and Stripes the day before about how another crew had worked the parachute idea, so when I found out we were landing without brakes, I suggested the idea to the pilot. He thought it was a pretty good idea, so I went back to the waist area, where the waist gunners and I rigged up the parachutes.
We sat back there in readiness, and when the plane's wheels touched the ground, Sherick let his go on the right waist and simultaneously I let mine go on the left waist. Only Sherick's chute popped open properly; mine snagged on a gun, but the plane stopped faster than we thought with that one chute!
We taxied to the end of the runway with the parachute billowing behind us, and at the end of the runway there were crash wagons, fire trucks, guys with cameras and the flight surgeon.
I guess that they expected us to fall out of the ship exhausted and dripping with blood or some other such substance, but we all piled out bitching as usual. We bitched about the flak, we bitched about Hitler, and we bitched because there was so much bitching going on. Meanwhile, guys were taking pictures, and I was telling the flight surgeon that everyone was o.k., even though we were all bitching. The crew chief of the ship insisted on having a picture of all of us in front of the plane that we "had saved," so we dragged ourselves into one little bunch and posed. As we left the the ship in the truck on the way to the dressing room, all the crew chiefs of the other planes were giving us the old "o.k." sign. We answered with the same sign.
While we were in interrogation, some guy came up and began asking us questions about the parachute landing. He asked DeRouen whose idea it was and I guess DeRouen told him that it was mine, because the guy then started prodding me with questions.
Well, when I come down from a mission, I don't especially like to talk to anyone, so I just told him that we had read about it in the Stars and Stripes and we just decided to try it. Then I walked out and went to the dressing room. I've found that the more you keep your mouth shut in this man's army, the less they'll bother you. How did I know that he was a public relations man and that he was quoting me! I thought he was just a guy collecting accounts of parachute landings or something.
When we found out we were going to land without brakes, there was not a bit of excitement or panic on the ship. We had gone through too much hell a few hours before to worry about landing without brakes. We just decided to do it and after deciding, we just calmly did it.
I never imagined that the article would ever reach Albuquerque. Well, anything to make the war a little more colorful! You'll probably receive a letter in which I tell you that I have received the Air Medal. Well, the Air Medal is not for the parachute landing. All I hope is that we don't have another landing like that.
We landed the other day with the hydraulic system shot out again, but we had just enough for brakes. We did not have to use parachutes, but it was just about the same situation.
I had often wondered how I would react in a tight spot, too. Naturally, I get excited, but it seems that we are in tight spots every second of the mission, so tighter tight spots become just routine.
?July 2, 1944 (Sunday)
There was no flying for us today, so I went down to Personnel to fill out some papers related to my Second Lieutenant promotion. I also had to sit for an interview with a panel of higher officers. I saw in the comics that Milton Caniff and his "Terry and the Pirates" had already had a parachute landing before us. We are hoping for our second 48-hour pass one of these days, for another trip to London.
*[Excerpt fromLetter of July 2, 1944.
Today was the kind of day that makes me just a bit homesick. A few white clouds, a bright sun and a soft breeze whispering in the elms and maples.
The poppies have given England a crimson tint for the time being, while the buttercups are slowly disappearing.
Sprays of bridal wreath and daisies are still popping up through the English green.
The cuckoo bird across the road is still giving with that "keerazy" call of his.
I haven't heard a meadowlark for a few weeks, but maybe it's because I don't get up before noon.
Every evening, the farmers herd their little bunches of cattle and horses up the road in front of our quarters.
The fields that a few weeks ago were seas of waving wheat are now pocked with the shocks of bundled wheat.
Spinach, interlaced with our old friends the weeds, has sprouted in recently cultivated soil.
Sometimes we come back from a raid at about 400 feet above the ground, and you can see farmers and their daughters waving at us from the furrows below. It gives a guy a great feeling to think that he has just helped a little bit to make those fields peaceful again.
Speaking of waving at soldiers, if there is anything a guy likes more than to be waved at when he's in a truck or on a plane, I don't know what it is. Whether the person be young or old, a wave is like a shot in the arm. No matter how unpatriotic you may be feeling at the time, a wave can make you think that they are the people you're fighting for. You realize that they probably have somebody in the armed services and since they can't wave at them, they wave at you. So always wave at soldiers and give them your best smile. I think that all soldiers think alike, because they will always wave back.
Remember how I was telling you about the "white clouds and bright sun" at the beginning of this letter? Well, since then, the clouds have turned color, and it has started raining. You can probably see the marks of the raindrops on this page. Well, that is England for you!
?July 3, 1944 (Monday)
No action today. I had to take a 6-4 physical exam and passed it o.k. in spite of my advancing age. Big news: We got our 48-hour pass. We go to London tomorrow!
?4th of July, 1944(Tuesday)
We arrived in "Buzz-bomb City" London at 11:30 from Norwich and went to the Imperial Hotel again. We drank White Horse scotch and ate lunch at the Green Parrot with Tony the Greek. We went to the PX to buy a few nice things, such as more Johnny Walker scotch. Then we went down to Picadilly to look over the Commandos, and there were a lot of them still peddling their wares. The buzz-bombs were still flying overhead during the afternoon. Mysterious looking things! Some of us went to see "Up In Arms" again and laughed just as much as the first time. We can't seem to get enough of Danny Kaye in that movie. We again had tea in the movies. They pass a tray down the row, and you make your own tea. We went back to the hotel to roust everybody out of the sack. Then we gathered at the Green Parrot for supper and cigars, followed by a visit to a night club. Later some of us went to Covent Gardens for dancing, but it was already too late. I met Allen Cassady and Robert Craig of my Big Spring Bombardier Class on the street. We swapped war stories for about two hours. Small world!
Down around Picadilly, I ran into Wenceslan Chavez, with whom I attended high school in Albuquerque. We cried on each other's shoulder. We hardly gave a thought that it was the Fourth of July.
?July 5, 1944 (Wednesday)
I got up at 8:00 in the Imperial Hotel and had breakfast in bed, with the Irish maid Kathleen wandering into the room and chattering happily on a sunny morning. We heard buzz-bombs over the city all night; I may have dreamed some of them. One came over in the morning and some of us, forgetting our lesson, rushed out onto the balcony to watch it go over, but Kathleen dragged us in and told us not to be foolish. Again, we wandered down to Picadilly Circus, where we pushed off the Commandos. Then we saw a movie, "Two Girls and a Sailor" starring June Allyson. She is going places. Instead of eating at the Green Parrot, we ate lunch at the swank Criterion Restaurant, with its mirrored. It was mpressive and expensive, of course. We got back to the hotel, ate dinner with our friend Tony at the Green Parrot and then went down to Picadilly again, where saw another movie, "Follow the Boys," full of corny propaganda. For variety we went up to Regent Street to see the BBC Building.
On a dark street, we picked up a drunken paratrooper lying in three inches of alley water. We carried him into a hotel, checked him into a room and sobered him up. He had been on one of the parachute landings before D-Day. He was wearing a Purple Heart!
?July 6, 1944 (Thursday)
At 11:30 we boarded the train for Norwich and about three hours later signed in at the 445th and hit the sack to recuperate from London. There were a couple letters from home waiting for me. One of them was from the girl in Topeka. She asked me to write her a poem, so I did:You wonder why I never try
*[Excerpt from Letter of July 6, 1944.
In London, Picadilly is a place to see. It's old and yet it's new. Modern and yet ancient. Crowded and yet desolate. Cabs rushing in and out among the pedestrians. Double-decker buses lumbering along honking their fantastic horns. Subways disgorging their hurrying-to-get-somewhere commuters. Bicycles with cleverly attached baskets winding in and around the entire conglomeration.
There are traffic lights, but nobody seems to ever look at them, because there is never a sudden halt of traffic, no waiting on the curb, no creeping halfway out into the street to beat that cab across the street. It is just a constant flow of humanity, machinery and "Commandos."
Dutch uniforms, French uniforms, British uniforms, Yank uniforms and the Bobbies in their black button-trimmed uniforms. But no German uniforms, thanks to God and the Allies!
Now, let's go down the street a few more blocks. The "Commandos" are down there, too, but we are ignoring them, remember? A few guys here and there selling newspapers and magazines. Some selling flowers, mostly violets. And there's a guy selling cherries in a wagon. "I'll take two pounds..." and we go down Picadilly eating cherries and throwing the cherry-stones on the sidewalk like everybody else.
All the stores have window displays, where, instead of the prices, the number of ration coupons is marked on the articles. Money doesn't mean a thing around here. On a few corners, musicians make music over outstretched hats. I'm always a sucker for musicians, so I drop a shilling (20¢) in the hat.
And that's a rough description of Picadilly. Very rough.
We then all went to the "cinema," where we saw a good old American movie. We saw "Up In Arms" with Danny Kaye. If you haven't already seen this movie, see it as soon as you can.
*[Excerpt from Letter of July 7, 1944.
Churchill has made a statement about the effects of the buzz-bombs, so I guess it is o.k. to write about them.
I'll admit that they are new and revolutionary, but Mr. Hitler cannot win the war with it. He may be able to add a few blast victims, concussions, torn limbs, split eardrums and the usual dead women and children to his list of infamies, but that does not win wars. It is indeed a good scare weapon, but how does he expect to scare veterans of the '39 blitz?
You are in London trying to sleep in your hotel. The air raid sirens begin their mournful wail. Now, according to Goebbels, everyone is suppose to run for the nearest air raid shelter, but the British and the Yanks must not listen to Goebbels, because everyone just keeps going where they were going and they stick their heads out the window to see the thing go over.
A few minutes after the sirens sound, there is a roar that sounds like a whole squadron of five-engine bombers. You want to pop your head back into the hotel room, but curiosity is powerful. The roar continues, and by this time you are certain that it is a whole squadron of airplanes going over. Then somebody points upward and you follow his finger up into the blue. You see a little speck at first, and you can't imagine that it is producing all that noise. But in a few seconds it is right overhead and tearing along at its terrific speed. How innocent it looks up there, but it doesn't sound innocent. It goes over and past you, and you breath a sign of relief. The roar continues...
All of a sudden the roar stops! The innocent looking bug banks sharply and goes into a screaming spin and then a whistling dive. Silence.
Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock. Loud heart beats, loud silent prayers.
Windows rattle, chandeliers swing and tinkle, window curtains flutter nervously, and a cloud of dirty, yellow-brown smoke spouts up from the Boom! Hitler cuts another notch in his axe. Goebbels screams out over the Berlin radio of the destruction of a railroad junction or something. Goering boasts about his Luftwaffe.
And the rescue workers scrape away the rubble of what used to be a hospital. There are the usual sheet-draped bodies on the sidewalk, the usual rush of ambulances and the usual spectators cussing Hitler under their breath. There is a last prayer of thanks and supplication, a sighed "I wonder where the next one will hit" and everyone goes where they were going before the robots sent the robot.
There is nobody to punish, nobody to vent your rage on. Just have courage and patience.
µCOMBAT MISSION (ABORTED)
ST. QUENTIN, FRANCE, Bridge
July 8, 1944 (Saturday)
We were awakened at 1:30 for a mission. The target was a bridge on the French coast near St. Quentin. We took off, assembled and flew in formation across the Channel, but by the time we got to the coast, the weather had socked in and we were recalled to base, so we lost out on an easy mission. We did not have enough time over enemy territory, so the 445th did not give us credit for the mission. Back at the base, I hit the sack. After waking up, I went to the Club for some morning poker. I missed lunch, painted my jacket, played some more penny-ante poker and wrote letters to the girl from Topeka and to the folks. I was in the sack by 10:00 p.m. since we were scheduled for a mission the next day.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL AND LETTERS
?July 9, 1944 (Sunday)
Today's mission was scheduled and canceled, so I went to mass, had chow, played in two sessions of poker and lost. I painted on my jacket some more, attended a mission critique and wrote again to the girl from Topeka and my folks. We are not scheduled for a mission tomorrow.
?July 10, 1944 (Monday)
No flying scheduled today, so I wrote some letters. Bolton and I got our bikes and rode out into the countryside. The hills can tire you! We haven't flown for a long time. That's too much rest for any man. We may be getting rusty. Well, with God's help, we'll all get through.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 22
MUNICH, GERMANY, Riem Airfield
July 11, 1944 (Tuesday)
We got up at 3:00 a.m. for a mission against the Riem Airfield east of Munich, Germany, and took off at 8:15 a.m. with a load of two 500-pound bombs and ten bundles of propaganda leaflets weighing about 350 pounds per bundle. Decoupil flew as our engineer. The mission kept us in the air for a full nine hours and on oxygen for seven hours! The whole continent was covered by clouds, so we had to navigate all the way by dead reckoning. There were many pockets of flak along the route, but we evaded them. The flak was very intense over Munich, but it was exploding below the formation, thanks to our use of chaff [Thin strips of aluminum that we tossed out the airplane when we were over flak. The chaff in the air jams the radar of the anti-aircraft gunners, giving them false readings as to our altitude].
We couldn't sight in on the target airfield because of the clouds, so the entire 8th Air Force and the 15th Air Force from Italy (a total of 1,500 bombers), using radar, dropped their bombs and propaganda leaflets in the center of Munich, which was our secondary target. There were also some delayed-action bombs.
We lost four ships from our group to flak, and two B-24's, including Lt. Fryes' crew from our squadron turned for Switzerland, although later the rumor was that the Fryes' crew never made it. There were no fighter attacks directly on our group, we sustained no damage to our ship.
At the morning briefing, the briefing officer received some objections from the crews when he gave the center of Munich as the secondary target. In response, he explained that it was to attack the "skilled workers." War is not fun for anybody!
The return trip was long and tiresome. We bucked a headwind and flew at about 170 mph ground speed, getting back to the base at 4:45 p.m..
So we ended up giving the Germans something to read and then stuffed it down their throats with 500-lb bombs. It is all so silly and deadly! This was considered the largest and most successful attack on Munich during the war.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 23
MUNICH, GERMANY, Riem Airfield Again
July 12, 1944 (Wednesday)
I never thought they would wake us up again, but they did, at 4:00 a.m., for another mission against the Riem Airfield east of Munich, Germany, like yesterday. The secondary target would be the industrial section of Munich. It's getting to feel as though Munich is home! We took off at 8:30 a.m. with a load of six 500-pound bombs and four clusters of incendiary bombs.
About an hour from the target, near Luxembourg, we lost our No. 4 supercharger and thought about aborting, but we decided to stick with it, because there is a lot of empty space and a lot of flak and enemy fighters between Luxembourg and the 445th Bomb Group's base. Besides, the Continent was about seventy percent covered with clouds, so that all navigation would have been by precise dead reckoning, which I could do, but perhaps not with the exactitude needed to work our way around the various flak centers and across the North Sea to the base.
Then No. 3 engine started spitting oil, so I studied my maps and began twisting the dials of my E-6B navigation calculator to work out the navigation for our return. I also worked out a heading for neutral Switzerland to our south, just in case.
We found Munich again covered by clouds. Both the 8th and 15th Air Force dropped their tons of bombs by radar in the middle of the city on the secondary target of the industrial section. McHenry again had to leave his position and reach out into the bomb bay to unhook a cluster of incendiary bombs which had failed to drop.
We were in the air for ten solid hours on this mission, six hours on oxygen! Ten hours at forty to fifty degrees below zero! We reached Tibenham at 6:30 p.m. after a long and exhausting mission. There was the same intensity of flak over the target, but we lost no planes on this mission. We encountered no enemy fighters.
Our engineer on this mission was Sgt. Hawkins, who was flying his 35th and final combat mission. Because of the various malfunctions, he had a busy last mission.
We listened to a German news broadcast in English during the return flight. The propaganda was very funny stuff to our ears!RETURN TO TITLE PAGE
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNALS & LETTERS
?July 13, 1944 (Thursday)
We slept late, until 11:00 a.m. I dropped over to the mess hall for lunch and then picked up some letters from the folks and from the girl from Topeka. In the afternoon I went to the base hospital for an x-ray and some blood tests. While I was there they brought in a crew that had crash-landed. That was really something to see! I came out of the hospital with the shakes. War is so senseless. "Ah, War, how sweet thy Peace!" Guys who played football with you yesterday suddenly are cripples or dead. I'd better quit thinking of such things, or I'll get squirrely. Navigator Vince Hamilton got promoted to First Lieutenant. Hurrah for him! With God's help, we'll make through!
*[Excerpt from Letter of July 13, 1944.
The Ernie Pyle clippings you sent were very interesting. He really gets down to earth and rips this lousy war apart. I only wish that the censors would let him alone. Boy! Would he tell a story. Probably nobody would believe him, because people have been seeing the enlistment posters with their glamorized view of war.
You asked me to tell you about Paris, London and the White Cliffs of Dover.
My second mission was to Paris. While flying over the city, I looked out the window to see if I could see the Eiffel Tower or the Arch Triumphant or some mademoiselles, but all I could see were puffs of flak filled with steel spitwads, so I crawled back into my flak suit, pulled my flak helmet down to my knees and prayed. The Paris Chamber of Commerce didn't make a good impression on us that day. That was Paris in May.
As for the White Cliffs, they are an inspiration. On clear days when we are coming back from a mission tired and anxious to hit the sack and sleep. We still have our flak suits on. Everyone is still tense. Finally we get past the enemy coast on our way across the Channel. At this point, I tell everybody they can take off their flak suits. It's a clear day, and on a clear day it is possible to see the White Cliffs from the European side of the Channel. From my position in the nose of the plane, I am the first one to see the White Cliffs, so I announce them as soon as I see them. When I do, it seems that even the airplane breaths a sigh of relief. Those cliffs mean home for all of us. The closest we've come to the Cliffs is 2000 feet above them one day when we went under some clouds.
?July 14, 1944 (Friday)
We were not scheduled for a mission today, so went to check my mail. There were letters from the girl from Topeka, from my high school buddy Burton Smith, now a pilot instructor in Austin, Texas, and from the folks. Then I went over to the enlisted men's barracks and played rummy with the crew members. We ate all of the candy that Sherick had received from home.
For some strange reason the base is becoming formal. We have been ordered to salute all superior officers on the base as though we were a bunch of cadets! You would think that the war was over! We may be on a mission tomorrow, flying at No. 3 position to the lead.
*[Excerpt from Letter of July 14, 1944.]
The gnats around here are driving me nuts. This particular region of England has just broken out with a plague of little black bugs. They're about this big: x and they get in a guy's ear, eyes and mouth. I call them "black dandruff."
There's a little path through an orchard from our hut to the Officer's Club. It's an apple orchard. I have been watching the growth of the apples, and of course I was not able to wait for them to ripen. I picked a couple green ones and ate them with great smacking of lips and sour grimaces. They reminded me of Raton and the way we used to steal apples in the neighborhood. The next day, I went on a mission and learned that green apples are not the ideal food for traveling at 20,000 feet. I got cramps at high altitude. The pain was so great that I almost forgot the flak that was hitting around us! Us little boys will never learn.
The stove in our hut continues to be idle. It is a most obstinate stove. It will not take a flame. Now, when it gets cold, I just dive in bed, pull my pen and paper in with me and write my letters in bed. As you can see, though, it doesn't improve my writing much.
My buddy Vince Hamilton got a promotion yesterday. To first lieutenant. He deserved it, because he is a good navigator; but I didn't tell him so. Don't want him to get a big head!
Our poker games have stopped temporarily, but they will probably begin any day now. I am about three shillings (60¢) loser, so I have to catch up.
The boys on Normandy seem to be doing o.k., but if you look on a full-scaled map of Europe, you will realize how small a foothold they have. But they are making the best of it. More power to them! They do the downstairs; we'll do the upstairs!
Nothing seems to faze me anymore. Today, I was eating supper, and Jimmy Stewart walked into the mess hall. I looked at him, told Cliff Bolton that " There's Jimmy Stewart" and went back to eating my meatloaf. As I munched on the meat, I thought, "My achin' back! That was Jimmy Stewart!" Then I thought, "So what!" Jimmy Stewart was the commander of the 703rd squadron on our base when I first arrived here, but he got promoted and transferred a couple weeks afterwards. He is well-liked on the base, being a regular guy. A few weeks ago, he was at an Officer's Club dance with us. He was just as happy as any of us! He's a lieutenant-colonel, but he is chummy with second lieutenants and just about everybody.
I wish I could tell you how many missions I have flown and how many I still have to fly, but the censor would rather our not publicize information like that. Don't ask me why, but there must be a reason. Believe it or not, but our crew asked me to thank you for your prayers. I told them about your vigil light, and they agreed that it is stuff like that which will get us through.
?July 15, 1944 (Saturday)
The mission I expected for today didn't develop, so I got up at 11:00 and had chow. I got letters from Grandma and from the girl in Topeka. I went to the Club to play some snooker, and I also listened to some Tchaikowsky and some old records of Caruso on the "gramophone." Caruso was terrific! At Navigation I did some flak plotting. There is a big mission on tap for tomorrow, either Magdeburg, Cologne, Leipzig, Calais, Frankfurt or Berlin.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 24
SAARBRUCKEN, GERMANY, Railroad marshalling yards
July 16, 1944 (Sunday)
We were up at 1:10 a.m. for a mission against the railroad marshalling yards at Saarbrucken, Germany. With Sgt. Bradshaw as our engineer and a load of twelve 500-pound bombs, we took off at 5:30 a.m. One ship was carrying leaflets. We had been scheduled to fly south of Luxembourg through Strasbourg, but the formation changed the route so that we went north of Luxembourg. We could see "pink" flak [the flame of the explosion could be seen] over Luxembourg. The target was covered by clouds so we dropped our bombs by radar; thus we could not assess the bomb damage. The flak barrage was very intense, but we sustained no damage; there were no enemy fighters. I had a terrible sinus headache over the target. It was so bad that I almost forgot the flak, but not quite! We were back in Tibenham at 12:30 noon after the seven-hour mission.
COMBAT MISSION NO. 25
PARIS, FRANCE, Railroad Bridge on the Marne
July 17, 1944 (Monday)
We were awakened at 2:00 a.m. for breakfast and a briefing for a six-hour mission to bomb a railroad bridge on the Marne River, about 35 miles east of Paris. Goldstein was back with us as engineer, and we had a load of eight 1000-pound bombs to take out the bridge. In case we could not bomb the bridge, we were to bomb any military installation not close to a built-up area and identified as an enemy installation.
We took off at 6:30 in the morning and encountered clouds all the way to the target, but the clouds suddenly cleared as we began our bomb run, so that the formation had a clear shot at the bridge. We took one run at 21,000 feet, but failed to drop our bombs. Took a second run and dropped our bombs, but the results were only fair! Out bomb bay doors got jammed halfway as we flew over the target so that the bombs could not be toggled electrically, so we had to salvo them mechanically through the partially open bomb bay.
There was flak along the way and over the target, but no enemy fighters. We had a good fighter escort, but our bombing formation was poor, so that the formation's bombs were scattered around the target. We came away with one minor flak hole, returning to base at 12:30 noon.
On our return, we listened to good music on the radio compass and saw flak at Reims and some tremendous flak explosions over Dieppe. Back at the base, I picked up some letters from home: My high school Spanish teacher and my Aunt Margaret wrote to me, a great letter from my aunt. My buddy Bob Barker got his silver bars today. He has only five missions to go. Lucky guy! That ol' Invisible Turret did it again. As long as the folks back home keep praying and we do likewise here, we're in.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
*[Excerpt from Letter of July 17, 1944.
Here I go again trying to make this routine life seem interesting. England was not "typical" today. The sun was actually out for more than five minutes. I am practically suffering from heat exhaustion.
We may get a pass to London for next Thursday, so I am already thinking of that soft bed in the Imperial Hotel. But I am wondering how much sense there is in going to London to dodge buzz-bombs. You would think that we get enough of that stuff. But still we keep going down there for more.
I got all of five minutes sleep last night, so I was really feeling good on the mission today. My nose-gunner had to wake me up two times during the mission.
I just read that the Japs are executing all U.S. flyers who bail-out over the Land of the Sinking Sun. I can see now that there will be a great massacre when the Yanks go marching into Tokyo. The Japs just ain't human. Like vermin, they must be exterminated. That's the only solution I can see for the post-war period! I really hope it doesn't turn out like that, but there are too many Yanks who have seen their buddies killed in cold blood by those little rising sons.
I have been getting highbrow in music lately. They have some Tchaikowsky recordings at the Club, so I have been going over there very early in the morning to listen to them without bothering the people who always want to listen to swing. The "Waltz of the Flowers," "The Reed Song," and the "Chinese Dance" are all old stuff to me now. I also play a recording of Enrico Caruso singing "The Lost Chord." What a great singer he must have been! And so thrilling to hear his voice, even though it's on a scratched record.
? July 18, 1944 (Tuesday)
Last night was first good night's sleep I have had in a long time. I slept until 11:00, but received no mail. I wrote a letter to my Aunt Margaret. We were scheduled for an afternoon mission, but at 3:00, Operations changed its mind. John Smith and I got a pass and went pubbing on our bikes. We rode down to Harleston on our bikes through some beautiful countryside. We stopped for fish and chips a couple times. In Pelham St. Mary, we met up with Daphne and Pat and gabbed with them for about four hours. It was interesting to hear the strange ideas they have of Americans. We returned home with our legs aching from pedaling.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 26
GUNZBERG, GERMANY, Jet Plane Factory
July 19, 1944 (Wednesday)
We had a midnight wake-up for a briefing on a mission to the Leipham Airfield about one mile southeast of Leipham at Gunzberg, Germany, on the Danube River about 100 miles west of Munich. Our co-pilot was Stan Kriwick, flying his first combat mission, and Bernie Goldstein was with us as engineer. We took off at 4:45 a.m. and had a good flight in and out, with only some low and inaccurate flak at various points along the route. There was no flak over the target.
We were carrying 240 anti-personnel fragmentation bombs to drop them on the airfield where Messerschmitt-252 jet-propelled fighters were parked. Other squadrons were carrying 500-pound demolition bombs aimed at the factory itself and the hangars where the jets were being manufactured..
Our bomb drop on the target was a good one. It looked as though the target had been bombed before. We saw many fighters on the ground, but none in the air attacking us. We had excellent fighter cover. The mission lasted eight and a half hours. Back to the 445th at 1:05 p.m. after seven hours on oxygen, and I hit the sack immediately.
Ball Turret Gunner John Smith's brother Francis, in gliders, visited him today. Smith and I were sore from all the pubbing and biking we did yesterday.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 27
GOTHA, GERMANY, Aircraft Factory
July 20, 1944 (Thursday)
We took off at 7:40 this morning and flew an eight-hour mission carrying twelve 500-pound bombs to bomb a Messerschmidt-110 factory at Gotha, Germany. There was no flak until we got over the target, but it was low and inaccurate so we sustained little damage, thanks to God and to our use of chaff to foil the radar of the gunners. Our bombing results were excellent. Our bomb group's last mission to Gotha resulted in the loss of 13 of the 26 B-24's sent by the bomb group, so we were a little leery of Gotha before the mission.
We had a hot -rock gunner flying with us today, and from the beginning I was all for throwing him out of the ship. He was a big-mouth on the intercom and downright dangerous. As we reached the French coast going in, he suddenly tested his guns, without warning the crew. Everybody got on intercom and called him a damned fool!
We really blasted the ME-110 factory. We got flak over the target from thirteen guns and from various emplacements along the route in. On the way back we could see the flak cloud over the Ruhr. That was really something to see. I hope that we never head in that direction. I am for leaving the Ruhr to the British at night! We had an excellent fighter escort and, of course, the presence of God in our extra turret, who got us back to our base at 2:30 p.m..
Our ball turret gunner John M. Smith did not fly with us on this mission. He was on a 48-hour pass with his visiting brother, who is serving with the glider forces. Goldstein was with us at engineer, and Diffenbacher flew waist gun in replacement of Sladovnik.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
*[Excerpt from Letter of July 20, 1944.
If you have been reading the papers, you will know that I have been pretty busy the last few days. We are still waiting for another 48-hour pass, even though we are not sure we want to go into London and dodge buzz-bombs. Maybe we'll volunteer for something easy, like a mission to Berlin!
The other day Ball-turret Gunner John Smith and I decided to go "bike pubbing." We weren't scheduled for a mission that afternoon, so I went over to Operations and talked them into giving us a ten-hour pass. We put on our Class-A uniforms and rode out of the base and into the countryside. We passed through some lovely countryside, just pedaling along without a care. Then we realized we had to get back to base. We decided to try to make evening chow, but we soon got tired of pedaling "over hill and dale." English bikes kind of take it out of you. They are hard on lungs, legs and fannies, but, of course, we are a little out of condition.
We finally pulled up to a village called Pelham St. Mary. We let our bikes fall, found a spot of grass and lay down for a breather. A gang of kids 8 or 10-years old breezed up and asked us for "gum, chum." I had my rations with me, so I share them with the kids. They formed a "queue" (line) to get our Chiclets. Then the kids began asking us questions about America.
Smith, who likes to tell tall tales, told them about how our dogs are so big that we saddle them and ride them like horses. He also told some frightening stories about the alligators in his home state of Florida. I told stories about the Indians and cowboys back home in New Mexico. The kids asked why I had a different uniform from Smith's. Smith told them that I was actually a German prisoner. The kids were all for hanging me from a tree by the toenails.
It was too late for us to get back for chow, so we asked the kids if there was some place we could get something to eat in the village. They told us that the fish & chips man would be there at "hawf pawst seven," so we decided to wait for him. We played and joked with the kids for a while; then we went off to the pub and had some cider. There was no pubkeeper's daughter, so we went out and messed with the kids some more. At "hawf pawst seven" the Fish & Chips man came up the road tooting his horn. That was the cue for the queue to form, and it seemed that the entire village had been waiting for fish & chips, which are the equivalent of our hot dogs, I guess. Actually they are pieces of fish and french fries. We finally worked our way through the queue and got our fish & chips, hot and salty and cozy in a large cone made of a sheet of newspaper.
While munching our fish & chips, we met two pretty girls, Daphne and Pat, and struck up a conversation with them. We talked to them for about four hours. It was a very interesting conversation. They had some strange ideas about Americans, and we tried to straighten them out, without telling them any tall tales. Of course, we have strange ideas about the English, too. So we learned a lot about each other in those four hours. Finally, it was time to get back to the base. We said so-long to Daphne and Pat and pedaled back to the base, getting there fifteen minutes before our ten-hour pass was to expire. We were really tired! Smith and I agreed that we had more fun on that little ten-hour pass than we had on our 48-hour passes to London. It was good, clean, healthy fun!
Yesterday, I saw America. I saw it in a softball game. There were colonels, majors, second lieutenants, privates, sergeants, corporals playing. The umpire was a major. The game proceeded as though there were no rank. A private was razzing a colonel as he came to bats. A sergeant on second base was arguing with the umpire -- a major. The spectators had no respect for anybody on the field. They cheered players or booed them without regard for their rank. It was the stuff that democracy is made of. It can happen only in the American army. It can happen only in America!
?July 21,1944 (Friday)
Again there was no flying today, so I slept about twenty of the twenty-four hours. I took in a movie on the base: "Up In Mabel's Room," which I enjoyed. We are still waiting for our third London pass, but we are hoping it will come after pay day. I wrote a six-page letter to the folks. We are praying a lot these days.
*[Excerpt from Letter of July 21, 1944.]
I wrote you a letter last night and then hit the sack until noon today, so I'm pretty well rested up now. According to the Stars and "Tripe"(Stars and Stripes military newspaper) today, Senor Adolpho Hitler almost got himself assassinated in Naziland by some "assassinators." We are sending our chaplain to Berlin by air to punch his T.S. card (A sort of sympathy card)! I've gone on some pretty good missions lately. None of the missions are really "good," but we've got to have some kind of standard, don't we? I would like to tell you about all my missions, but I'm afraid that they'd make very dry reading. I guess it can wait. The censor would want it that way, I think. I know that I could get away with murder in my letters home, but somehow it kind of bothers me to put anything censorable in my letters. No matter how much us guys laugh at censorship, we know down deep that there is a good reason for it. When a guy gets into combat he will do anything that will protect him. I'm going to tell you about an incident in yesterday's mission.
Our nose-gunner got a 48-hour pass to visit his brother, so we were minus a gunner. Operations put a 1st Lt. bombardier to fly in the nose turret with us, and, had I known it in time, I would have refused to fly with him, because I had heard some very unpleasant rumors about him. It became too late in the mission to bitch about him, so we had to take him with us. The guy is what is know as a "hot rock" around the base, and you can spot a "hot rock" two miles away. While waiting for take-off, he started blowing off about his hot navigating on the mission the day before, so I became sure about the rumors about him. He being a bombardier and I being a bombardier, and I knowing what kind of navigating a bombardier does, I was kind of doubtful about his "hot navigating." We finally took off, with him on the flight deck fast asleep. I went up to the nose to work on my navigation, and about twenty minutes later at 12,000 feet, he decides to come up and get in the nose turret Well, at 12,000 feet the crew dons oxygen masks, so I was busy on the intercom checking the boys in on oxygen and trying to navigate. So here he comes . All of our crew puts on our Mae West life preservers and parachute harnesses while we are on the ground, but not this guy. Oh, no! That would be too simple. He had to come up into my small nose cubicle and proceed to get himself tangled up in my intercom connections, my oxygen connection and my heated flying suit cord while getting on his equipment. He finally got into the nose turret after much jostling in the cramped quarters. I shoved his fanny in the turret, slammed the door, locked it, breathed a sign of relief and turned around to begin anew my navigating. As soon as he got into the nose turret, he picked up his intercom microphone and began the chatter that we would have to endure for six hours. Normally, we keep the intercom clear of talk, except for special warnings or comments, but it was not to be with this guy on a microphone. When we get to sixteen or seventeen thousand feet for the assembly of the group's formation, there are literally hundreds of airplanes over England trying to get into formation. He insisted on calling off every plane that got within three miles of us. "Plane at 12 o'clock coming straight at us!" "Plane at 3 o'clock level and coming right at us." "Plane at 1 o'clock heading our way!" I looked out the window to see where his "plane coming straight at us" was. I looked and looked and all I could see was a speck about a mile out in the blue "bearing down on us." I finally relaxed and just ignored him. Then we got in formation. We were flying No. 3 on the lead squadron in the lead element, that is on the left side of the lead ship in the lead squadron. Co-pilot Bolton was flying the plane because he's on the right side and can see the lead plane much better from that side. The regular distance between ships in formation is about 35 yards, so Bolton, being a good formation pilot, had our plane at about 35 yards from the lead plane's left wing. The guy, up in the nose turret, calls on the intercom, "Aren't we just a bit close to that plane, chum?" Bolton is kind of touchy about people telling him about his formation flying, so as I expected, our ship began to move toward the lead ship as Bolton began inching us into a really tight formation. We were close enough to see the gunners in the lead ship signaling for us to come in a little closer; then the guy popped up with "What the hell's going on here?" Bolton, with his voice dripping acid, said, "Relax, Buddy. Who in hell's flying this machine?" The guy then settled down a little, so that we didn't hear from him for about five minutes. Everything went o.k. from then on except for his constant jabber over the intercom, which is usually pretty silent on our crew, except for important remarks.
Then we got to our target. He then proceeded to give me instructions on how to set my bombing switches. That did it! I opened up his turret, punched him in the back and yelled the facts of life into his ear, explaining that I, too, was a bombardier and fully capable of getting our bombs out of the plane when it came time. I shoved him back in the turret, locked the turret door and flicked on my bombing switches, feeling much better after the explosion into the guy's ear. Our crew has the rule of silence on the last five minutes of the bomb-run, so I called up and requested the silence so that everyone could hear "bombs away." About that time, the flak began coming up, so the guy began calling it. "Flak at 12 o'clock, oh my God!" "Flak at 11 o'clock, Cripes!" I called him and told him to "shut up" and that we knew it was there. He didn't know that the rest of us were trying to pray. "Bombs Away!" and we pulled out of the flak. He kept jabbering all the way home, but we just ignored him. When we got down from the mission, Bolton and I went to Operations and told them that we would refuse to fly with this guy again. We're waiting for the next mission to see what they will do. I don't think we will get him again. The funny thing is that the guy has had more missions than our crew and should know better.
Just for your interest, here are some terms that we use and their definitions. You may have heard some of them already, but here they are anyway:"HIT THE SACK..." The process of casting one's self upon an ersatz innerspring mattress and flying fifteen flak-infested dream missions for about two hours before the wake-up sergeant flips on your light switch and tells you to "report to briefing at 1:30 a.m."
?July 22, 1944 (Saturday)
I got up at noon and went to Navigation to work on our maps. Then I walked over to the enlisted men's barracks to gab with the crew. We are on standby, but we went to a dance anyway. Lots of drinking and dancing, although I just stood around and talked mostly. I hit the sack by 11:00 p.m., hoping that tomorrow's mission is something easy, like Moscow or Berlin.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 28
LEON, FRANCE, Airfield
July 22, 1944 (Sunday)
The wake-up sergeant let us stay in bed until 11:00 a.m. We ate breakfast, sat for a briefing and went to our plane, but the mission was scrubbed before we could take off. We took off our flying suits and equipment, and I went to mass and then to lunch.
Halfway through lunch, we were called out again for a briefing and a mission. We took off at 3:00 p.m. with a load of forty 100-pound bombs to attack the Leon Airfield just south of Paris. We encountered flak along the route in, but none over the target, and there were no enemy fighters, probably because of an excellent escort by P-47's. Our bomb run was at 22,000 feet, but the lead plane had to abort, so the rest of the group went into the target and dropped their bombs on the signal from the No. 2 leader. We returned to base at 10:00 p.m. with no damage. We are expecting a maximum effort tomorrow.
BREAKTHROUGH AT ST. LO
[On D-Day, June 6, the Allies had invaded Europe. They then spent over a month digging in and preparing for a drive eastward into the heart of Germany. They broke out of their beachhead on July 24, and the 8th Air Force helped in softening up the Nazi lines. The bombing was from relatively low altitudes, so that the anti-aircraft fire was very accurate, very deadly. The St. Lo missions were about as dangerous as it could get for slow and heavy bombers. The fact that there were men and machinery from our own forces moving below added to the danger.]
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 29
ST. LO, FRANCE, Breakthrough
July 24, 1944 (Monday)
We were awakened at midnight and I went down to Navigation, where there were big things happening. We waited around until 4:00 a.m., which was zero hour for the beginning of a mission to support the Allied breakthrough at St. Lo, France, where the D-Day invasion had stopped to get itself ready to proceed onto the Continent. The Zero hour was postponed until 9:00 a.m., so we went back and hit the sack until 7:00 a.m.
We took off at 9:20 a.m. carrying twenty-four 260-pound anti-personnel bombs. Our target was a narrow stretch of the French coast, a road from Perieres to St. Lo. in front of the German lines a little south of Caen, France. Our bombing approach was to begin at the French coast. We began our bomb run, but our target was obscured by one layer of clouds, so we held onto our bombs for fear of hitting our own men on the beachhead.
We crossed the peninsula, flew over Pt. du Roc and headed north to a secondary target at a dangerous altitude of only about 12,000 feet, where we received heavy and accurate flak from German military units. We saw one ship just off to our right explode in midair from a direct hit. There were no parachutes.
We finally dropped our bombs, but I don't think we helped the gravel-grippers much. I wish we could have helped them more, but weather conditions were less than ideal, making a bomb drop extremely dangerous to men on the ground.
We returned to base at 3:00 p.m. miraculously without any battle damage, considering the flak we had flown through at the low altitude of 15,000 feet. At home, we had lunch of meat loaf, creamed carrots and chocolate pudding. We're scheduled for another mission tomorrow. With God's help, we'll make it. Without it, we've had it!
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 30
ST. LO, FRANCE II, Breakthrough Support
July 25, 1944 (Tuesday)
I got no sleep and was up at 2:00 a.m. for a mission, which took off at 6:00 a.m. Our target is the same as yesterday, exactly the same: The road from Perieres to St. Lo. We are to drop twenty-four 260-pound anti-personnel bombs in the middle of the German lines in that area. It is a simple mission, except for the fact that we are going over the German lines at only 11,000 feet, almost skip bombing, and the Germans are expecting us with well trained gunners and powerful guns. They can't miss. Our own ground troops put yellow flares around their lines so that we don't drop our bombs on them.
Pilot Long, of the 703rd Squadron, on his first mission, was shot out of the sky. Only four chutes came out of his plane. The plane was smoking several minutes after our bombing then the tail burned off and the plane blew into four pieces. The guys who got out in parachutes should have landed in friendly territory. Our group lost two planes. Osborne came back with three crew members wounded. The 389th BG lost two planes; the 453rd, one. Really a rough milk run, but we returned with no battle damage!
We could see the beachhead down below crowded with ships, and the roads from the beach were crowded with vehicles. We saw a new landing field covered with American fighter planes. Even though we had a flak barrage, there were no enemy planes.
On our return we heard a rumor that the 14th Combat Wing had dropped bombs on our own troops. [The rumor turned out to be true.] Back from the mission, I slept outside on the grass for two hours.
Meanwhile, I have heard rumors about my bombardier school classmates: Allaman, Bonnell, Carpentier and Bernard have been shot down. Bernard is in Switzerland, and Carpentier was lost in a ditching in the Channel.RETURN TO TITLE PAGE
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
*[Excerpt from Letter of July 25, 1944.
It's 10:00 at night, and I have to get some sacktime, because we will probably fly on a mission again tomorrow morning early, so this is going to be very short.
Well, we got that nutty hot-rock gunner kicked off our crew, so everybody is pretty happy about that. If we don't go on a mission tomorrow, we are scheduled for a 48-hour pass to "buzz town" London. It's toward the end of the month, so there won't be too much money in our pockets for spending in London. I still have the Air Medal stored away, but I can't find the time to send it. Outside, the weather is being typically English. I hear the pitter-patter of rain on the roof of the hut.
?July 26, 1944 (In London on pass)
There was no mission today, so we went on our 48-hour pass to London. We decided to wait for the 1:00 p.m. train. The train ride was uneventful, but we had to stand all the way. We put up at the Imperial Hotel as usual, ate dinner, went to a movie and then wandered around Picadilly Circus for a while; then we went back to the hotel and hit the sack. There were a few buzz-bombs during the night, they tell me. I didn't hear any of them. It was really a restful night for all of us. In the morning, Pilot Palmer went to Oxford University; Slad went up to High Wycombe. Our usual maid at the Imperial, Kathleen, was off for the day, and all of us missed her charming chatter. Now that I remember it, I must have felt the flashes of two buzz-bomb explosions, because there were two times when I woke up and automatically began praying. My! What combat has done to you, Freddie!
?July 27, 1944 (Still in London)
We were up at 8:00 a.m.and had breakfast at the Imperial. McHenry, McGovern and I went down to Trafalgar Square to get some service ribbons made. Back at the hotel,we talked with a B-26 pilot, had chow, washed up and went down to Trafalgar again to pick up our ribbons. We went to the PX, but it was closed. We ate a meal. Then McGovern and I went to Covent Gardens to dance. Man, what a wonderful place! What a discovery. Boy, have I been missing fun on these London passes. I met my highschool classmate Wenceslan Chavez on the street in Picadilly Circus! He has finished his tour and will go back to serve as an instructor. We reminisced and cried on each other's shoulder in the middle of the Picadilly crowd. I went back to Covent Gardens to dance and met a wonderful girl. I asked to walk her home, and, believe it or not, she had a chaperone. I hit the sack at the Imperial at 1:00 a.m. During our five hours of sleep, there were 19 buzz bombs over London!
?July 28, 1944 (Friday)
We were up at 6:00 a.m. in London. We took the train to Norwich, but had to stand up all the way to Colchester. At the base I found letters from Uncle Tommie and Cousin Helen. Tommie took me to task for using profanity in my letters to the folks. I wrote to the folks. Everyone hit the sack while I wrote letters. Our old navigator Vince Hamilton has only one mission to fly, the lucky dog! In France, the British were pushed back at Caen. The Yanks have advanced beyond St. Lo. Leroy DeRouen is back from the flak home. He's looking good and relaxed. And the grind begins again. The praying continues. I received some colored pencils, charcoal and book for drawing heads. I've never worked with colors, but nothing ventured etc, etc.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 31
BREMEN, GERMANY, Oil Refinery
July 29, 1944 (Saturday)
With very little sleep, we were awakened at 2:00 a.m. for a briefing for a mission to bomb an oil refinery in Bremen, Germany. I was groggy all morning and didn't really wake up until we were over the French coast after having taken off at 7:05 a.m..We were carrying sixteen 250-pound bombs and four 500-pound incendiary bombs. The target was in the northern part of the town of Bremen, Germany. The overcast was 100%, so we bombed on the radar-equipped lead plane, but we were unable to see the results. We were over enemy territory for about one hour. We had good P-51 fighter escort, so no enemy fighters. There was flak along the route and from the 265 German guns over the target, about like the flak at Berlin, but the chaff worked very well, so the flak bursts were low. We had one flak hole in the top of the fuselage by the waist about three inches long. The flak fragment had broken into three pieces.
We arrived back at base at 1:00 p.m. after being on oxygen about four hours at 23,000 feet. We did not see any planes go down. There was a built-up area close to the target which we were not to bomb, but I don't know what it was.
Back at the base, we learned that Vince Hamilton finished his 35th mission today. I found letters from the girl in Topeka and from my folks. It's a stand down for tomorrow. I slept through dinner, but Hamilton is busy celebrating his 35th.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
?July 30, 1944 (Sunday)
I got up in time for the afternoon mass, where there was a big attendance. I went back to the hut and did a drawing of a girl, based on a photo. At Barker's hut I ate some of his fudge and listened to the radio, read magazines, bitched and came back to the hut. We are on the flight plan for tomorrow.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 32 (BAIL-OUT)
LUDWIGSHAVEN, GERMANY, Chemical plant
July 31, 1944 (Monday)
We were up at 2:30 a.m. and took off at about 9:00 a.m. From the beginning, our plane was acting up so we were unable to catch up to the formation on its way to Ludwigshaven. At 16,000 ft, our No. 4 propeller ran away. Palmer feathered it and called for an abort, and we were authorized to return to the base. There was a solid cloud cover, so that neither land nor water was visible..
As instructed, we flew out to 52 degrees 30 minutes and 2 degrees ten minutes over the Channel to dump our armed fragmentation bombs before returning to base, while losing altitude all the way at the rate of 300 ft per minute. .
We set a heading for the base, losing altitude steadily. To lighten the plane, we began to throw out everything loose in the plane: flak suits, ammo and anything else heavy, but we still could not hold altitude or airspeed. The crew voted to bail out in the hopes of lightening the plane enough for Palmer and Bolton to land it. We were at about 1,500 ft. My navigation indicated that we were no longer over the North Sea and that we were over land, near our base, but we could not see the land because of the cloud cover below us.
McGovern bailed out at the camera hatch first. (He fractured his tibia on landing). Sherick went out second. (He's o.k.) Sladovnik third. (He broke his left leg.) Smith out next. (He sprained his right ankle.) Goldstein went out fifth and landed o.k. I went out sixth and sprained my right ankle. McHenry went out last. (He sprained his right ankle.) Palmer and Bolton stayed with the ship and brought it in after we had bailed out.
I landed in a victory garden just behind 185 Newmarket Road in the residential area of Norwich, England, where Mr. Morris took me into his home, treated me like a king, gave me a scotch and soda and everything. Boy, the Lord was with us this time, and I ain't kidding.
Radio Operator McHenry's Wrote the Following Account of the Bail-out
Just as we slid into formation, our No. 4 engine cut out and we had to feather it. Then the supercharger on No. 1 engine went out apparently.
We began losing altitude and started out into the Channel to jettison the bombs. I was getting a weather report on the radio when we jettisoned the bombs. We were supposed to get rid of them if we had to abort. I asked the base where we could land, and they sent a message to jettison the bombs at a certain coordinate over the Channel.
We were still losing altitude, so we started throwing out all the loose things like ammunition, waist guns, flak suits, etc. We were still losing altitude, so the pilot said we would bail out.
I sent a coded message to the ground station saying "Bailed out." By that time, McGovern, Sherick, Sladovnik, Smith, Goldstein and Becchetti had bailed out.
The pilot said that he and the co-pilot were going to make a crash landing. We were at 1500 feet in the overcast, which was 500 feet above the ground. I could either bail out or crash land. I chose to bail out and thought about putting on my G.I. shoes. I picked up my chute and went back to the waist. I put on my chute and stretched myself out over the camera hatch, with my feet toward the front. I relaxed, drew up in a ball and rolled out. I could hear the sound of the plane die away in the distance. I was still in the overcast and pulled the ripcord. Then I hit the chute pack to see that all of the chute was out. Then the chute pulled around my legs pretty tight, and I looked up and saw it all spread out, with none of the shroud lines wrapped over the top of it.
I heard someone hollering "Help!" and looked down. I had just come out of the overcast and I could see a crewman lying in the corner of a field. I started to turn the chute so that I could land with my back to the wind. I did not pay too much attention to the landing, so I fell down. I got up and started running toward the crewman. I had landed near a horse on the side of a small hill, and my right leg was numb about halfway to my knee. I ran to the gunner. It was Sladovnik, who said, "Don't be scared, but I think I broke my leg."
I started down the road and flagged down a milk truck, which took me one and a half miles to Hethel Army Air Base. We met an ambulance at the gate and went back for Sladovnik. We went back to Hethel, and they took Sladovnik to another hospital after an examination. They told me that he had broken his leg. They reported us to our home base and pretty soon Smith came in. About 3:00 p.m. that afternoon, we had an ambulance from our base come and get us, and we went home by way of Hospital 231st. We learned at Hethel that our plane got back to the base all right. We went to home base, and they sent us back to the 231st Hospital. Smith and I got out of the hospital on August 4, 1944.
Sherick, wearing solid GI shoes was not hurt. McGovern fractured his right ankle and was kept in the 231st Hospital. Sladovnik had spilled his chute above the ground trying to miss landing on a fence. He broke both bones in his left leg. He stayed at the 231st Hospital until August 3 and went to Temple, Texas, in a C-54 to a hospital there. Becchetti was allowed to leave the hospital with his sprained right ankle. Smith and I were in the hospital on crutches for two days. Both of us had hurt our right ankle. We injured soft tissue, but broke no bones. Goldstein came out of the experience uninjured.
Sladovnik and McGovern will not fly again and were put in for the Distinguished Flying Cross. All the rest of us with more than 30 missions have already been put in for the DFC.
Smith never recovered from the thrill of landing among the pretty English women in an ATS women's base near Norwich, where the women took him in and cared for him.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
?August 1, 1944 (Tuesday)
I slept with a sleeping pill until 10:00 a.m., got up, dressed in my Class-A uniform and went over to Second Division headquarters, where I was to be interviewed by a panel for my promotion to 2nd. Lieutenant. But the interview had been canceled; however, I saw our commanding officer, Col. Terrill there waiting for his interview to become a general. I went back to the base, changed clothes and went down to see Smith and McHenry in sick bay. I talked to Dr. Halperin about ending our tour with the bail-out, and he talked to our squadron commander Major Martin. Martin insisted that we go on for the 35 missions in spite of the bail out. So I guess I still have four big ones to go. They gave a mission's credit for the bail out, which is a consolation. My ankle is a little tender, but I think I'll be able to fly in a few days, I hope. I got no mail and wrote to the folks and the girl from Topeka. After drinking a 7-up, I hit the sack.. I'm still praying and I'll keep it up. That "Invisible Turret" seems to be doing His best, and He knows best. We're ready any time He is!
*[Excerpt from Letter of August 1, 1944.
There's not much to speak or write about, so this letter may be just a bit brief. I've been doing some drawing the last few days. I made an attempt at drawing Bolton's wife Lil from a photograph. Well, you know how my portraits come out. They don't look like the person I'm trying to draw, but they look like a person. However, it came out pretty good, even though it didn't look like Lil. I did it in color with the pencils you sent, so you can imagine. Mathews, a next door pilot, wants me to try to draw his girl, so I'm working up the mood to start on it. It'll probably look like a girl, but it won't look like his girl. Well, it's better to have tried than not to have tried at all. We're all recuperated from the last 48-hour pass to London and raring to go on another. We'll probably get one in two week or more. Tomorrow, I go up to higher headquarters for an interview concerning my promotion to second lieutenant.
?August 2, 1944(Wednesday)
I finally got my promotion interview over with at headquarters. A panel composed of a colonel and two majors interviewed me for about 15 minutes. I had to go into minute detail about the bail out over Norwich. They asked how I was equipped in Topeka and also why I thought I had been made a Flight Officer instead of a 2nd Lt at graduation from cadets. On the way back to the hut, I bought a dozen eggs at a farmhouse. What an omelette we will make with them! I guess I'll get my gold bars in about ten days, maybe sooner. I had a run-in with squadron commander Major Martin. I wanted him to cut short the missions of the crew members who had been injured in the bail out. He didn't want to. I blew up and told him that he was being unreasonable. I tried to draw Matthew's girlfriend, but failed as usual. Smitty and McHenry are still in sickbay. Sladovnik is going home with his broken leg. Lucky dog! I would sure like to see him before he goes.
*[Excerpt from Letter of August 2, 1944.
About the only thing there is to write about is my interview for the purpose of becoming a gentleman...officially. I went to headquarters with about a dozen other unfortunate Flight Officers wanting to be promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. I was second to meet the promotion panel.
They called me in. I gave a final flip to my necktie, pushed my shoulders back and walked in. I came up to the desk, did a snappy right-face and gave the Colonel my best cadet salute, which I reserve for special occasions. The colonel invited me to sit down and I did, with a courteous "thank you, sir." Then I felt like a goldfish in an empty goldfish bowl. We then started to talk.
The colonel asked me where I was from. I told him "New Mexico." He asked me why I had received Flight Officer bars, and I told him that I had been trying to figure that out for eight months. We gabbed a little more and I was feeling much more at ease.
One of the majors was at Ellington Field when I was there, so he asked me if I remembered him. I told him apologetically that I didn't. He then asked me if I remembered the Commanding Officer at Ellington, Captain Roscoe Ates (the comic movie star). I told him, "Who could ever forget him?" He and I then reminisced a little about Ellington Field, talking about the good food, the gigs and tours.
The colonel asked me what I thought of England and combat and about what I was going to do after I finished my missions. There was a lot of joking and laughing with the colonel and the two majors. Finally, the colonel looked at the two majors and asked them what they thought. He said, "You're o.k."
I got up, gave my special occasion salute with a big grin on my face, did a right-face and ambled out. On the way back, the truck driver told me and another Flight Officer where we could get some eggs, so we drove over hill and dale to a farm house where we purchased five dozen eggs at 62 cents a dozen. Gad! What an omelette we made!
[Not wanting to alarm the folks, I did not tell them about the bail out over Norwich. I also did not tell them that most of the interview consisted of a discussion of the bail out. The interview panel wanted to know in great detail how we bailed out.]
?August 3, 1944 (Thursday)
I was up at 7:30 for breakfast. We had fried eggs! I went back to the hut and shined my shoes. I learned that I am on standby until 9:30 a.m. I gave a detailed report on the bail-out to parachute officers. Bolton and Palmer are on a mission without us. Peters is flying as their navigator. I sure hate sitting on the ground. I think they went to Paris. I got a letter from the girl in Topeka. She is in Chicago on a vacation. I tried to draw Matt's girlfriend again, but the drawing still didn't come out good. I went over to sick bay to see Smitty and McHenry again. They are doing o.k. I'd like to go to the dance in Harleston tonight, but there's nobody to go with. I'd like to be able to relax, but I can't. I have too much on my mind. Maybe I'm forgetting to pray. That's the only remedy as far as I can see.
?August 4, 1944 (Friday)
I got up at 11:00 a.m. to find out that Palmer and Bolton are on another mission without us. Their mission was to Schwerin, just above Berlin. I sweated them out. I had chow and then took out my backpack parachute again, hoping that I never have to use it again. Smitty and McHenry are out of sick bay. I went to see them and Goldstein at the barracks. I am back on flying status. I tried to draw a picture from the photo of the girl from Topeka, but it turned out bad. Palmer and Bolton came back safely from their mission, which turned out to be a long milk-run. Lucky dogs! My bike's broken, so I used Matthew's all day. I hope to fix my bike tomorrow. I sent some snapshots home and censored a money order for McHenry. I owe letters to about a dozen people back home, but I can't seem to get it all together to answer them.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 32
BRUNSCHWEIG, GERMANY, Aircraft Engine Factory
August 5, 1944(Saturday)
The sergeant woke me up at 5:00 a.m. for briefing. The mission was the bombing of an aero engines factory at Brunschweig, Germany. My nerves were really in bad shape, and my sore ankle didn't help much, so I was rather scared. I didn't settle down until we had crossed the enemy coast. It was strange not flying with the rest of Crew 2366.
There was a big flak barrage over the town of Brunschweig, but the target itself was relatively flakfree. We hit short of the target. We came away with no holes in the ship, thank God. I got back to base feeling much better. The Invisible Turret was along with us again.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 33
HARBURG, GERMANY, Oil Refinery
August 6, 1944 (Sunday)
They got me up at 4:15 a.m. for another mission without my fellow crew members of Crew 2366. We were briefed to bomb an oil refinery in Harburg, near Hamburg. It turned out to be a beautiful day for bombing. We encountered the most intense flak barrage I have seen in a long time, but we came away with no holes, thank God. We hit the target right on the nose. I came back rather tired.
Prayer is probably the most powerful things devised for man's use.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL AND LETTERS
?August 7, 1944 (Monday)
There was no mission slated, so I stayed In the sack until way late. The Chaplain came to tell us that Sladovnik wanted to see us before they shipped him home. I requisitioned a command car and we all piled in and headed for Wymondham, but we didn't get there in time. Slad was already gone, but McGovern was still there. We gabbed for about an hour and a half, then we went pubbing in the command car. I broke my fountain pen last night. I sure don't like sitting on the ground. I keep praying and hoping, and maybe if the Lord sees fit, I'm apt to finish some of these days!
?August 8, 1944 (Tuesday)
With no mission scheduled, I stayed in the sack until noon, in time for lunch. Sherry, DeRouen and Goldy were on their way to Norwich, so I thought I'd go in with them.
In Norwich, I bought a book, "The Speeches of Winston Churchill" and took it to Mr. Morris at 185 Newmarket Road, where I had bailed out. I had tea and cake with him, but had to leave in about 15 minutes in order to catch a cab back to town.
[Mr. Morris's maid, Mrs. Taylor, was the mother of Sid Taylor, whom I contacted in 1993 through a letter I had written to the Morris address. Sid and I became good friends through correspondence. In November 1995 I visited him in England. He drove me around Norwich and the Tibenham area, so that I was able to see the remains of the 445th Bomb Group's air base, which is now operated by the Norfolk Glider Club.]
In Norwich, we saw a good movie, "Cover Girl." We had some fish and chips, caught a bus and went back to the base. I hit the sack immediately, but was unable to sleep. I was feeling kind of homesick or something. There's a mission scheduled for tomorrow, so I have to get to sleep. Whoops! There comes Slim the wake-up man in his sleep-jeep to wake us up. No rest for the wicked.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 33
STRASBOURG, FRANCE, Oil Storage Depot
August 9, 1944(Wednesday)
I was awakened early for mission to hit oil refinery at Strasbourg, France, and everything went bad from the beginning. No. 3 engine wouldn't start. We taxied late. The interphone system was on the blink. The radar Gee Box was not working right. What more could happen? Lots more! The nose turret gunner got himself stuck in the turret. He couldn't turn it around when we were sixty miles into enemy territory. Palmer decided to abort, so we pulled away from the formation and I had to navigate us back to the base. I got the plane to OverFlakee and headed across the Channel to Yarmouth in case we might have to land on the emergency field there. We hit Yarmouth right on the button and then headed north to Tibenham. We landed, explained the aborted flight and expressed our desire that it be counted as a mission and all of us went and hit the sack.
At 7:00 p.m. Major Martin held a squadron meeting in which he laid down some new rules which riled everybody. Nuts to Major Martin and the rest of the military!RETURN TO TITLE PAGE
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
At 6:45 a.m.I was up and down at the mess hall lugging four fresh eggs to be fried by the cooks, only to find that the mess hall was serving fresh eggs. I patched my bike tire,.went to ride on it, the tire blew out again, I threw the bike in the weeds. Major Martin held a critique at 4:00 p.m. It was the same talk of discipline and military crud. I wrote some letters, broke my Shaeffer's pen and used my Parker again. I am scheduled for a mission tomorrow. As long as we keep praying, we'll make it. I hope they count the abort as a full mission. I am kind of doubtful, myself.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 34
STRASBOURG, FRANCE, Oil Storage Depot
August 11, 1944 (Friday)
At 8:45 a.m. I was awakened for another mission to bomb the oil refinery at Strasbourg. It was a beautiful day for flying, bombing and flak. After "bombs away" the black puffs of flak began exploding around us, and for a minute, I thought the nose turret had been blown off. Russell's crew came back on two engines; like us, they were tossing out flak suits, ammo, radios and even the putt-putt generator to make the ship lighter, but they didn't have to bail out. Our navigation was beautiful on the mission, since it was visual over the continent.
We are still sweating out getting credited for that abort. The big-wigs haven't made up their minds yet. Here's hoping! He was with us again today, in the Invisible Turret. Let's hope He continues to ride with us.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
*[Excerpt from Letter of August 11, 1944.
I just got down from a mission, so theoretically I should be in the sack flying the mission over again in my dreams, but I'll just take a few minutes and scribble out a few lines to you.
Bolton became a 1st Lt. today, so he is happy as a lark. Naturally, he is trying to get me to salute him, but I, being a good civilian, tell him that I salute nothing under a colonel. I'll get my 2nd Lt bars pretty soon and then even colonels will be exempt.
.? August 12, 1944(Saturday)
At 11:00 a.m. I went down to squadron headquarters to find out if we were credited with a mission for the abort, but there is still no decision. At 5:00 p.m. I borrowed Peters' bike and went pubbing in the direction of Harleston. In Harleston, I ate at the HMS Allied Forces and took in a pub. There was a dance in Harleston, and I danced and had a good time with a pretty little girl Audrey. She danced like a dream. She could jitterbug; I couldn't, so we stuck to my old one-two step, which served us well.
[In 1993, I made contact with Audrey (White), and in 1995, 51 years after we had danced, I met her during a visit to England.
Audrey White at the age of 16 when she met Freddie Becchetti and danced "like a dream" with him at Corn Hall in Harleston.
?August 13, 1944 (Sunday)
At 11:00 a.m. after a good night's sleep I learned that so far they have not given us credit for the abort. I have started drawing a picture of flak, trying to make the flak look like black orchids in the sky. Bruno came by for some talk. I worked on the flak picture through the afternoon. I am scheduled for a mission tomorrow, so I went to mass and confession. I'd better shave tonight.
µCOMBAT MISSION NO. 35 THE LAST ONE!
FINESSE, FRANCE, Bridge
August 14, 1944 (Monday)
I was up at 3:00, and the first thing we found out was that our aborted mission would be counted. Hurrah! So this would be my 35th and last mission. Our target: A bridge near Finesse, France, just south of Laon. We encountered no flak, no opposition of any kind at the bridge. We made one run, but did not drop bombs. We made second run and missed the bridge by a mile.
On the way home there was lots of chatter on the intercom. We hit the ground at Tibenham. I kissed the dirt and said goodbye to combat for a little while. I'm as patriotic as the next guy, but I know when I have had enough. And I have had it! I've had enough of flak, chaff and the shaft.
All I can say is "Thanks a lot m'Lord!" That's all I can say. I wrote home and told them the news, but, as usual, I had to leave out the details.
BETWEEN MISSIONS: FREDDIE'S JOURNAL & LETTERS
*[Excerpt from Letter of August 14, 1944.
I'll take a little while off from thanking God and write you a letter I have been dreaming about since my first mission. Before I go on, I would like to tell you that never in all my twenty years have I realized how powerful prayer to the Almighty is until I got over here. There are a lot of details that I cannot describe in which prayer kept me going, but I may be able to tell you when I get home.
Speaking of getting home...and that is really a pleasant thing to speak about, I would like to make a prediction. Let's see now. Today is August 14, right? Well, if everything goes well, this kid just might pop in on you in about a month, about September 14. Yes, you read right. I may be home in a month! However, please don't get your hopes up too high, because this army can do the craziest things!
I want to tell you right now that there were many of my letters with white lies in them. I'll explain why when I hit home. You know that I used to think that when I finished my tour of duty I would be able to write at least fifteen pages on how I felt, but somehow, I am a bit speechless right now. Naturally, I am as happy as any guy can be, but it seems impossible to put down on paper just how happy I am. Things are so irregular and unpredictable around here that I don't know why I go around making predictions, but I just had to let you in on my celebration!
Please thank God in your prayers for getting me through this little bit of hell over here. I used to think that when I finished up, I would have a long prayer made up thanking God, but all I can say is "Thank you, God!" and that is all. I am sure He understands. I am going to start thanking you folks right now, because I know that if it hadn't been for all of you sweating me out, I would never have made it.
This letter is sort of a letter of request. A request that you send no more packages, but please keep writing letters until I am on that Indian rug in the living room. This letter is not a bit detailed, but if the details have been able to wait this long, I'm sure they will be able to wait a month more. I am going to sign off right here, with lots of love and kisses. FREDDIE, Feeling very Happy!RETURN TO TITLE PAGE
THE INDEX OF THE THIRTY-FIVE WW II BOMBING MISSIONS OF TECHNICAL SERGEANT GARL McHENRY AND SECOND LIEUTENANT FREDDIE BECCHETTI OF B-24 CREW 2366 OF 445TH BOMB GROUP ,702ND SQUADRON, U.S. EIGHTH AIR FORCE, TIBENHAM, NORFOLK, ENGLAND FROM MAY 20 TO AUGUST 14, 1944.THE FOLLOWING INDEX SHOWS THE MISSION NUMBER, THE TARGET CITY, THE BOMBING OBJECTIVE, RESULTS AND REMARKS IN PARENTHESES, AND FINALLY THE LENGTH OF THE MISSION IN HOURS AND MINUTES.
1 May 20 Reims, France R.R. Marshaling Yards. [Bombs hit short. Freddie trapped in nose turret; frostbite] 6:00
2 May 24 Paris, France Orly Airfield 2 mi. south of paris. [Bombs hit hangars, some residential areas.] 5:30
3 May 25 Troyes, France R.R. Marshaling yards. 15 mi. south of Paris. [Did not find target. Bombs returned.] 8:00
4 May 27 Fecamp, France Heavy coastal guns emplacements, 1 mi. north of Fecamp. [Missed target.] 4:30
5 May 28 Merseburg, Germany Synthetic oil refinery. (Much flak. Lost hydraulic fluid. Parachute-assisted landing.] 8:20
6 May 30 Oldenburg, Germany Five hangars at airfield. [Hit target with incendiaries, little damage. Flak hole in wing.] 7:15
7 May 31 Lumes, France R.R. Marshaling yards.[Weather went bad. Danger to residential area. Bombs returned.] 4:40
8 June 2 Pas de Calais, France Coastal guns [Bombed through clouds using lead ship's radar. No damage assessment.] 6:10
9 June 3 Pas de Calais, France Coastal howitzers 150mm. [Dropped bombs. No damage assessment. Flak hole near Garl.] 5:10
10 June 6 Normandy D-Day Gun emplacements just ahead of Allied landing. [Dropped 320 anti-personnel frags.] 6:10
11 June 8 Rennes, France R.R. Bridge n. of Rennes. [Low-level bomb run. Received accurate flak. Missed bridge.] 6:15
12 June 11 Mayenne, France R.R. Bridge [Low-level 8,000 ft. all the way. Overcast. Brought bombs back.] 5:00
13 June 12 Mayenne, France R.R. Bridge. [High-altitude mission. Accurate flak. Hit target. 4 flak holes in plane.] 6:45
14 June 13 Rennes, France R.R. Bridge 7 mi. west Rennes. [Good hit on target. Little flak. 445th's 100th mission.] 6:45
15 June 15 Tours, France R.R. Bridge 4 mi. SE Tours. [Weather perfect. Demolished bridge from 20,000 ft.] 6:15
16 June 20 Stettin (Szezecin) Poland Politz synthetic oil refinery. [Heavy flak & fighters. Perfect bomb hit. Gunner wounded.] 8:00
17 June 21 Berlin, Germany Aero-Tank Factory. [Overcast. Dropped bombs on Berlin suburbs. Very heavy flak.] 8:30
18 June 23 Reims, France Juvincourt Air Field NW of city. [Dropped frags. Goldstein new engineer. Flak on return.] 5:15
19 June 24 Amiens, France Transformer Building. [No bomb drop. Flak on return. Fred's knee hit by flak.] 4:15
20 June 27 Paris, France R.R. Yards 10 mi. N of Paris. [Heavy flak. Hit target. Garl had to pry hung bombs.] 5:00
21 June 29 Kothen, Germany Junkers Aircraft Factory near Berlin. [No bomb drop on 1st & 2nd target. Dropped on R.R.] 7:00
22 July 11 Munich, Germany Reim Airfield [Joint 8th & 15th AF mission. Overcast. Bombs dropped by radar on city.] 9:00
23 July 12 Munich, Germany Reim Airfield [Joint 8th & 15th AF mission. Incendiaries on city. Almost had to abort.] 10:00
24 July 16 Saarbrucken, Germany R.R. Marshaling yards. [Target obscured by clouds. Dropped by radar. Some leaflets.] 7:00
25 July 17 Paris, France Marne River bridge E. Paris.[Two bomb runs to hit bridge. Jammed bomb bay. Salvo.] 6:00
26 July 19 Gunsburg, Germany Jet Plane factory near Munich. [Good drop of frags and 500-pounders. Little opposition.] 8:30
27 July 20 Gotha, Germany Messerschmitt factory near Berlin. [Good drop on buildings and parked planes.] 7:45
28 July 23 Laon, France Airfield near Paris. [Good bomb hit from 27,000 ft. Little opposition.] 7:00
29 July 24 St. Lo, France Periers-St. Lo road [Dangerously low-level 15,000 ft. Accurate flak. Drop was ineffective.]5:30
30 July 25 St. Lo, France Periers-St. Lo road on German troops.[Low-level 11,000 ft. run. Heavy flak. Good hits.] 6:00
31 July 29 Bremen, Germany Oil refinery N of Bremen. [Incendiaries from 23,000 ft. by radar. 265 flak guns.] 6:20
Injuries sustained in the bail-out of July 31 ended the combat tour for Garl McHenry, Lawrence Sladovnik, Gregory McGovern, John M. Smith. The other members of the crew continued on flying status and had to complete the quota of 35 combat missions. They flew those missions independently with other crews. The following were Freddie Becchetti's final combat missions:
32 August 5 Brunschweig, Germany Aircraft engine factory. [Becchetti on sprained ankle & nervous. Much flak.
Missed target] 7:00
33 August 6 Harburg, Germany Oil refinery near Hamburg. (Lots of flak. Perfect hit on the target.] 7:00
34 August 11 Strasbourg, France Oil depot. [Good hit on target. Lots of flak. Nose turret takes bad flak hit.] 7:00
35 August 14 Finesse, France R.R. bridge S of Laon.[No flak. Two bomb runs. Both missed. Freddie's last mission.] 6:00RETURN TO TITLE PAGE