Donald R. Shannon, my Flight Engineer and Top Turret Gunner, maintained a combat diary during the war. In 1988 Don shared his diary with
his crewmembers, who in turn shared it with their friends and family.
Below is Don’s combat diary in its entirity.
Thanks to Don, this is the most detailed recollection of the Howling Banshee and its crew during the second half of 1944. It has evoked many fond memories.
On May 28, 1942, I volunteered in the Air Corps Reserve. I remained in the Mining Engineering School at the University of Minnesota until February 25, 1943 when I was inducted into the Air Corps. and sent to Jefferson Barracks for basic training. After basic, I was rejected for officer training due to a skin condition called dermagraphia which would prevent me from flying (actually because of a surplus of officer material). I was then sent to Gulfport, Mississippi for aircraft mechanic training. Following AM training, I was assigned to air gunnery training, despite the above reason for rejection for air force training.
Of the flying I have done prior to my first mission in combat, I will give only a brief outline. My flying began in November 1943, at gunnery school in Nevada, near Las Vegas. Our gunnery planes were B-17s, one of which was flown by my old friend from St. Paul, Bob Buckman. He gave me some very good rides. One of the flights was down in Death Valley, flying 5 ft. above the surface, 100 ft. below sea level. Bob let me fly the plane for about an hour from the copilot seat.
After Christmas, our crew was assigned and assembled at Fresno, California. Initially, it consisted of the four officers and me. I was flight engineer and top turret gunner. We were shipped up to Tonopah, Nevada for our phase training in B-24s. We flew together for almost 2 weeks before the remainder of our crew arrived. Our crew then consisted of F/O Arnold Piskin Pilot, F/O Giordano (Joe) Zanella Copilot, F/O Irving Levy Navigator, F/O Wilson Bombardier, Sgt. Donald Shannon Engineer and Top Turret Gunner, Sgt. Bill Bothwell Radioman, and Gunners Paul Hon, Jack Abbott, Marion Lutz, and Art Overlee.
For three months, we flew long cold missions of from four to nine hours, day or night. During this training period, we lost three of our crew to sickness (Levy, Wilson, and Overlee). These were replaced by F/O Joe Feldman, 2nd. Lt. Henry Sonnenfeld and Cpl. Gene Goodman. I had applied for Engineering Officer training school and been accepted. However, Piskin asked me to stay with the crew, since we had been trained and were now ready for combat. I agreed to stay on.
On April 1, 1944, we completed our flight training and were flown to Hamilton Field, Fresno, where we were informed we had been chosen for training in a special type of bombing. The officers, Bothwell and myself were to train in Florida, while the gunners were to meet us at our overseas base. We flew via commercial airlines to Orlando, Florida. Here we picked up our specially equipped B-24, which we named “HOWLING BANSHEE”. The plane was equipped to drop radio-controlled 1000 lb. bombs whose horizontal tail fins were automatically controlled by a gyro to radio-controlled by the bombardier to divert the bomb to the left or right of the normal flight path. The system was named “AZON”. From Orlando, we flew our plane to Savannah where we spent a week testing and calibrating its systems and instruments. Our next stop was West Palm Beach, our Port of Embarkation.
On May 4, 1944, at 10 PM, we left the USA and flew to Puerto Rico. The next morning after a two-hour delay due to a plane-crash on our takeoff runway, we flew to British Guyana. Our next stops were Belem, Ft. Aleza, and Natal, all in Brazil. Enroute to Belem, we crossed over the Amazon and between Belem and Ft. Aleza, we flew a low search pattern, looking for a lost B-25. At Natal, we were delayed for five days while Zanella was hospitalized for kidney infection.
On May 15, we flew from Natal to Dakar, Africa, a twelve and a half-hour flight, hitting our destination almost exactly. The following day, we flew up to Marrakech. Two days later, after checking over our guns, we flew up to England.
From Blackpool, we were flown to Ireland, near Belfast, where we were given five days of orientation on the European Theater of Operations (ETO). Following this orientation, we were flown to our permanent base at Horsham St. Faith airdrome, near Norwich, England.
Our Azon group consisted of ten crews, each with their plane. Our commanding officers, Major Holbrook and Major Rand (of the Remington Rand family) traveled with us. From the time we arrived in Orlando, Florida until we landed at Norwich, we had A-1 priority because of the nature of our special mission.
June 1, 1944 – M1
My first mission. I was assigned to an experienced crew for a five-plane raid over France. I flew nose turret in the lead plane. It was a very lonesome spot since any attacking fighters would likely come at me first. However, we had a good cover of 40 P-51s. We circled Paris about 25 miles out from its edge. Our targets were several bridges. We were not very successful. Paris and vicinity was dubbed “flak alley” because it had one of the heaviest concentrations of guns in all of Europe. We encountered only a little flak on this day, and it was mostly behind us. I could feel it but not see it. It was very cold at 18,000 feet but except for my feet, I was warmed by my electric suit and gloves. I saw no fighters, but some of the crew said they saw several diving like hell for the ground with P-51s after them. With little opposition, we stooged around over our targets for two hours. The word is that we may be credited with two missions because of length of time over the target area. So my first mission, the dreaded one, proved to be easy.
Today marks the beginning of the allied invasion of France. All military personnel were restricted to base beginning last evening. All squadrons except ours were alerted and briefed for an early mission. The sky was full of planes, but we were not included because of the nature of our special capability. It will begin for us very soon now, I think. All day the news has been about the three beachheads and of the thousands of troops crossing the channel. Everyone is very tense.
We tried hard today. We got up at 01:30 to bomb some bridges just back of the invasion lines, to tie up the Jerries. We flew down over southern England to rendezvous, but the weather was too bad and the mission was called off. Later we tried again but the weather was worse, and we had to return to base.
June 14 – M2
Our mission was bridges again today. The six bridges were located just back of Abbeyville behind the invasion lines. Clouds covered most of the targets, so bombing was not accurate. However, the flak sure was!!!!!!!! It was right on our altitude, very close, and a lot of it. Looked like a blanket in some places. We flew our own crew today, including Zanella. It was -25 degrees Celsius. We lost #1 engine over our home field, out of fuel. Before I could switch tanks, the copilot had feathered the prop, so we came in on three engines to a good landing. I should mention that during training for the special Azon bombing, we were trained to aim and control our own bombs individually, that is from each plane. After our arrival at Norwich, the commanding officer of the base took over command of our squadron and changed the method of dropping and controlling our bombs. We now had to fly in formation, dropping in pattern when the lead bombardier dropped his bombs. This resulted in a reduced accuracy for the Azon system and accounted for the poor results to date.
June 15 – M3
Today we went back over yesterday’s targets. The flak was very heavy and accurate. It is strange to watch it creep closer. It finally gets right on us and then all hell breaks loose on every side. About that time, I am glad for those two .50 caliber guns alongside my head, and for the flak suit I am wearing. A piece of flak tore through our tail, making a hole as big as my fist. We were hit three times in the right wing, but nothing vital was hit. McCormick’s plane behind us was hit harder. The nose turret gunner was killed and fuel lines cut in the bomb bay, flooding that compartment with fuel. They jettisoned everything possible and landed in southern England. My friend, Sparkman, is their engineer. They flew back to Norwich today in another plane. One man of his crew who has had 19 mission said that these last several were tougher than any previous. I think I have about 250 flying hours to my credit now.
We were briefed for a mission with the group to bomb the Pas de Calais coast where the Jerries launch the pilot-less rocket bombs new German “secret weapon”. We could not start #3 engine on the plane assigned to us, so we raced for a spare plane, jumped in, and taxied to takeoff position. Just as we were ready to take off, #2 engine blew up (probably a connection rod). That ended the mission for us. We were lucky. Had it happened a minute later, we would have been dead ducks. We would not have had power enough to complete the takeoff with our four-ton bomb load.
A notice was posted that we are entitled to add the Bronze Star to our Theater ribbon.
We returned from a flight to Manchester where some modifications were made to our Azon equipment. It was a good trip, except that we arrive there at night. The field had no night landing facilities. However, English radar picked us up and talked us in through a dense haze with the aid of flares. We humped over a line of trees just before landing. On the ground, we were advised of six unlighted smokestacks and a huge flagpole surrounding the field, all over 200 feet high. That would worry a commercial pilot but somehow, does not bother us much. There is a saying going around, “Things are tough in the ETO”. I am beginning to believe that it fits. However, at present we worry more about missions.
Tonight I feel ill at ease. We have not pulled a mission in about two weeks. I think I will write about a typical mission day. The day begins at 11:00 or 11:30 when we got up for lunch. After lunch, we read, write, or play poker all afternoon. At 17:30 we eat again and then wait for the mission notice to be posted to see who will fly tonight. The poker games begin again and last until 24:00, the games break up and we go to bed. About 1:00 the CQ comes around and wakes everyone who is flying tonight. He gives us the briefing time, we dress in our heavy clothes, and we go to the messhall for a good meal of fresh eggs and bacon, then to briefing. At the briefing room, everyone looks eagerly at the map to follow the all-important blue route line to our target. We are briefed on weather, fighters, flak, escort, escape, route, and the target area. We go to the locker room to dress carefully and check over our personal equipment. There is much good-natured joking and shouting. We head to our plane according to our position and job. We check our guns, plane, and equipment. The bombardier issues candy and escape kits to everyone. A final check and we are ready for taxiing, assembly, and takeoff. The lead plane fires flares and we are off at 30-second intervals. We assemble and head for a rendezvous with our fighter escort, somewhere on the coast. Now I transfer fuel and flight-check the plane before crawling up into my gun turret. We test our guns over the Channel and then zigzag over the Continent for 2 to 6 hours. We see flak or we don’t, it bursts near or far, we lose a plane or we don’t. Then is “drop your bombs” (Lord, I pray we don’t hit homes). We close up the formation and slow down to allow the damaged planes to keep up, and assess our damages and losses. We reach our home field, peel off, and land. We drop out of the plane, crawl on a truck, and head for the debriefing shack. We are given a shot of whiskey, cookies, and coffee. We are interrogated and learn how our buddies made out.
So far, we have lost four planes and one man. Amazing that it has not been more. McCormick brought back a plane with two dead engines and a dead gunner, with gas flooding the bomb bay.
Several days ago, he used our plane and brought it back with forty holes in it. Speer just barely made the English coast on two engines. There have been many more not-so-serious incidents.
The Germans are really celebrating the 4th, with heavy firework in London. I have just returned from a two-day leave in London. Jerry is throwing those pilot-less bombs into London at the rate of one very 15 minutes. The British call them “dootle-bugs”. They are taking it well, but many people live in the subways. Typically, a bomb rumbles over, everyone quiets down, the alarm sounds, they freeze in position and listen, then engine cuts out and they wait, several seconds later a blast rocks everything, and then they continue whatever they were doing. There is no apparent panic and not much fear, just orderly waiting. The bombs seem to come in pairs about 2 minutes apart, and land close together. The girls and old folks seem most nervous, but everything goes on almost normally, despite the “dootle-bugs”.
July 7 – M4
Today we had our roughest mission yet. Our target was a synthetic oil plant near Halle, about 75 miles southwest of Berlin. It was regular bombing with 500 lb. Bombs, since Azon is finished for us. The flak was terrific for a formation ahead of us, but we went around most of it. There were a few rockets also. The sky was filled with hundreds of bombers, even this deep in Germany. At the target, we could not release our bombs, nor could we salvo them. I had to reset the cam on the bomb rack and then Sonnenfeld dropped two by tripping the rack with a screwdriver. He got frostbite in one hand so had to come back out of the open bomb bay. I went out and wedged myself between the bomb racks in the middle of the bomb bay. No room for a parachute. I sure was cold out there. I levered out the remaining eight bombs. Most of the bombs hit in a field, buts one almost hit a railway station. Coming home, we saw an FW-190 and several JU-88s. They did not bother us, as we had too many p-51s, P-38s, and P-47s escorting us. Tommy saw one of our bombers blow up, but three chutes were seen. They also got one plane from our group during this raid. We sweated out the gas, but landed OK after a flight of 7 ½ hours at 20,000 feet. They had 2 oz. of whiskey for us at debriefing. We crossed Holland and the Zider Zee on this trip.
Our target for today was a marshaling yard or an airfield at Munich, but an engine ran away while we were assembling. It was absolutely uncontrollable and really wound up. We were preparing to bail out if it tore loose from the wing. However, it finally slowed down and we were able to stagger into an airfield near Shipdahm, England. We barely got our wheels down and locked in time. We came back to base by truck. The mission was a rough one, with lots of fighters and flak. Jones’ crew went down in Germany after losing an engine. They may have made it to Switzerland. Eiffel and Jake were in that crew. Another Group plane went cartwheeling into the Channel after a midair collision. Lucky our problem did not occur two hours later!
July 13 – M5
Target today was a marshaling yard at Saarbrokken on the German-French border in support of ground operations. We assembled through thick clouds. Formations were everywhere. We lost ours, but tagged on to another, which we hoped was going to the right destination. Many other planes were also looking for their formation, so it was a terrible mix-up. Our #4 engine was giving us lots of trouble, but we got to our target. We dropped our 2000 lb. bombs, while the rest of the formation dropped their 100 lb. bombs. We headed back with a P-38 escort. One of the gunners in our formation fired at an observation balloon, and the flak was not very accurate. We saw several rickets. The target must have been hit hard, as there were only two targets today, Saarbrokken and Munich. Over the Channel, a B-24 went out of control, diving almost straight down. However, it recovered and rejoined its formation. We sweated out the gas, but landed O.K. I wish they would stop giving us old planes and let us fly our own plane.
July 15 – M6
Target was Saarbrokken again. We are trying to knock it out so that ground troops can begin the big Caen push. This seems to be the big bottleneck. We bombed on Pathfinder, dodged the flak, saw no fighters, and sweated the gas again coming home. Piskin burned the brakes out, trying to stop on the runway. We ran off the end of the runway, but there was no other damage. This was my sixth raid, and earns me the Air Medal.
July 20 – M7
Target was an airplane plant near Eisenach, south of Leipzig. We hit an alternate target, a marshaling yard, in a little town about 20 miles northeast of the primary target. Quite a bit of flak. Some of the planes did not drop their bombs on the alternate, so we went to another target northwest of the primary. The flak was very accurate there. Planes were jinking all over the sky. I got several pictures, but it is difficult to take good pictures from the crowded upper turret. The raid took 7 ½ hours. Three of our planes were badly shot up. Evans’ plane landed with a collapsed nosewheel. Sparkman has refused to fly any more and Cowal was grounded on mental grounds.
July 25 – M8
Target today was a German troop concentration near St. Lo in France. At 10:15, we bombed the German lines. At 11:00, Allied troops were set to move through the gap we had softened. It was a good to be able to help the infantry and odd to know of an attack before it began. We dropped 51 of our 52 100 lb. bombs. Flak and rockets were intense over the target. Several bursts were very close. Several pieces of flak came up through the bottom but were stopped by the emergency generator directly below me. Thank God! One plane in a squadron to our left went down in a flaming dive and finally a spin. We saw 4 chutes from that plane and 3 from another. The target was hit hard. The bomb which hung up was in the bottom row and had been knocked loose by the other bombs. After we left the target, Bothwell, Tommy, Swede and I went back and safetied it, then resecured it to the rack. Over the target, evasive action was intense. We came close to a collision, but I yelled at Piskin to dive and the other plane’s wingtip passed between our vertical stabilizers. Piskin could not see it from the cockpit, but reacted instantly to my warning. These are all dawn raids – that is, we are awakened at dawn to eat, be briefed, and check our plane and guns. This is my eighth mission, and a long way from my thirty-fifth!
July 31 – M9
Target today was the chemical works at Ludwig-shaven, where they manufacture poison gas. We really wanted to demolish this target! Our crew is working up into the good positions in the formation now. We flew left wing on the lead ship. On the way to the target, flak was intense. Over the target, Jerry threw everything but their gun barrels at us – flak so thick you could walk on it and rockets also. We were hit three times, in a wing, on the side of the plane, and in my turret, just in front of my face. I guess we all figured this was our last flight. A plane behind us got a direct hit on the nose turret. It was Newman’s crew. The turret was torn away. Seven chutes were reported from another plane, which was hit and dove straight down. Another plane was lost also. This was the roughest flak so far. On the way home, #1 engine lost oil and we had to feather it. We kept up O.K. Over our base, we fired flares and then overshot the landing, pulled up, turned into the dead engine, almost slipped off, completed the turn, and came in for a good landing. You do not have much time to be frightened, but it sure makes you nervous. A couple more like this one and I will be ready for the flak shack. We have heard of the new German jet-propelled fighters, but have not seen any yet.
Aug. 1 – M10
Target today was our first “No-Ball”, a robot bomb ramp. We hit quite a bit of flak, but got back O.K. My T. Sgt. rating came through today.
Aug. 5 – M11
We hit a Messerschmidt jet plane assembly plant, 4 miles from Brunswick. The weather was good and the visibility excellent. Plenty of accurate flak and rockets over the target. The Groups that preceded us had started a number of large fires, with lots of smoke and flames. Over the target, a plane behind us was hit and blew up. No one got out. Several others had smoking engines and feathered props. “Tail Wind” from our Group dropped back and was last seen over the Zider Zee with two engines feathered. On the way in to the target, we passed over a seaport in Holland, which contained a large ship convoy. The Germans laid a heavy smokescreen over it. We had to pass up this ripe target. Just before we landed a ship from another Group came over our base. Eight men bailed out, and the pilot and copilot took the plane out over the Channel where they bailed out. We had to kick out our nosewheel and also had a gas leak, but landed O.K. Flying time, 7 ½ hours.
Aug. 6 – M12
Another rough one today. The target was an oil refinery on the edge of Hamburg on the south bank of the Elbe. There was flak as we crossed the coast, and over the target, the heaviest concentration of flak we have ever seen. I believe we could have put down our wheels and taxied over the town at 23,000 ft. We hit the target on the nose and there were huge clouds of smoke and flames. I watched through the bomb bay, having come down out of my turret to check an engine that was giving us trouble. Two planes from our Group were shot down over the target area. No one got out. All of our planes were shot up pretty bad. Every plane got hit at least 10 times, and ours got 13 hits. One piece about 2 in. in diameter came through the waist area, tore an elevator cable about halfway through, tore the seat out of Swede’s pants, and went out the other side of the plane. I patched the control cable up as best it could. We had to kick the nosewheel out again on landing. It was a 6 ½ hr. flight. McCormack was hit in the leg as they crossed the coast going in, but said nothing to his crew until they were over the Channel coming home. No bones were broken and he will be out of the hospital in a month. I hope the rest of our missions are not this rough. This flight earned me an Oak Cluster for my Air Medal. They are very slow about presenting these medals.
Aug. 8 – M13
Target today was an airfield near St. Quintenn in France. It was a fairly easy mission with only a moderate amount of flak. We hit the target well.
Aug. 9 – M14
Target was a ball bearing factory in Stuttgart. The sky was pretty well clouded up, so we had to dodge over and under the clouds to try to get into a good position. We made some heavy contrails, bit it made it easy to keep track of the fighters. Command decided it was too cloudy at the primary so we bombed an alternate – a marshaling yard and locomotive repair shop at Saarbrokken. Flak was bad, but Piskin did some evasive action and we did not get hit. However, other planes were hit, and one caught fire and exploded. Three chutes were seen. On the way home, I was watching Thompson’s plane, “U for Uncle”, when men began to bail out one at a time. They opened their chute immediately, eight of them. Then the plane flew away at a 20 degree angle. We heard later that it was a nine-man crew. The radio operator was afraid to bail out, se he called the fighters who told him how to set up the autopilot. He flew the plane to the Channel, where they persuaded him to bail out. On landing, another plane from our base crashed on landing. The plane was mangled, but not one of the crew was hurt. The missions lately have been very rough. The “Howling Banshee” is covered with patches, more holes than any other plane in our squadron. She is now out of service for a fuel cell change, from a flak hole received during the Hamburg raid. We are repainting the name, the bombs from missions flown, girls’ names at each crew position, and the prop domes. It is really a good-looking plane again.
Aug. 14 – M15
Target today was an airfield near Tavaux, close to the French-Swiss border. It was a long haul, but turned into a very nice trip. Several superchargers went out on the way down to the target, and we sprung an oil leak on #1 engine, but the superchargers were soon fixed and the leak did not look bad, so we continued. We flew very close to the Swiss Alps. We had a wonderful view and I took several snapshots. The snow up on the peaks sure looked good! We plastered the airfield, and saw little flak. On the way back the oil leak got worse and we had to feather the prop. Shorty Albert on Tracy’s crew fired at a P-51 that made a pass at us, but luckily missed. Piskin brought it in to a good landing. He certainly is a fine pilot, the best in the squadron. He got his 2nd Lt. Rating the other day and we received our Air Medals. They are sure good-looking.
Aug. 15 – M16
Target today Vechta, an airfield close to a town near Dummer Lake in Germany. We went in with little flak and plastered the target. “Fighter in the Area”, came over the VHF on the way out. They hit us at the coast, about 20 ME-109s and ME-410s. All Hell broke loose! We were flying left wing and they hit us on the right. There were tracers all over and plane after plane went down. I was shooting through the formation at diving bandits. One started down smoking. I fired about 100 rounds at him and must have gotten some into him. Another bandit crossed our tail at about 300 yd. I got some good shots at him and made some hits. Smoke streamed back from his plane and then he went up into the sun where I lost him. Schroder and Hull confirmed the hit for me. We lost four B-24s and I saw two of the fighters go down. This is my 16th Mission. I doubt if I will get credit for the fighter.
Aug. 17 – M17
We were briefed to bomb a small but extremely important bridge eighteen miles east of Romily Sur Seine, just east of Paris. This was our first Azon mission since it became operational in our squadron again. The whole Eighth Air Corps was “stood down” today, except for our ten-plane formation. This is to be a test of the system. The bridge was only 50 feet long, and very difficult to find. The Germans have to bring a great deal of their supplies over this bridge to the two invasion fronts. The second French invasion has been in progress for several days. We were to bomb from 12,000 ft. Two groups of P-51s escorted us. A Col. Robt Hecker, medical officer, rode with us today, why, I do not know. We passed over Cherbourg coming and going, and saw the huge supply convoys anchored at the coast. There was 10/10th cloud cover at the target, so it was a dry run. There was not flak, but it was a long 7 ½ hr. mission.
Aug. 18 – M18
We are beginning to count them now. Target was an aircraft engine works at Metze, France. The initial point of our bomb run was Nerddun. I will bet that my Uncle Clarence would remember many of these names. We went the long way, down south of Paris. The “Howling Banshee” behaved pretty well – only one amplifier went out. On the bomb run 3 minutes from the target, two of the lead planes got into prop wash and collided. They peeled off together with wings locked. After dropping about 1000 ft., they broke free and one came back almost undamaged. The other lost about 9 ft. of wing and began its long limp home. I listened on VHF and heard them calling “Little Friend, where are you? We need escort bad.” They gave their position and the fighters were called back and came up to them. We hit the targets well and were alerted to “Bandits in the Area”. We saw no Bandits and little flak. Flight time was 8 ¼ hrs. The damage plane, which was Evens’ crew, landed OK in England.
Aug. 24 – M19
Target was an oil refinery at Mizburg, near Hanover. On the way across the Channel, we developed trouble in #1 and an oil leak in #4. As we had previous trouble in #1, we decided to turn back as soon as we could dump our bombs. As we approached the coast, we asked permission to bomb a target of opportunity. They gave us an industrial section of the town of Wesermunde. We caught flak over the coast and peeled off about 20 miles inland. As we opened out bomb bays and began our bomb run, they began laying heavy flak on us, as we were the only flying target in the area. They were very accurate. They almost had us pinpointed when we completed our drop. Piskin peeled off to the right and made a spiraling dive. The flak burst spiraled down after us for 3000ft. As we pulled out of the dive, a fighter came right at us. I gave him several short bursts and he broke off. He pulled up to one side and gave us a closer look. It was a P-51 and had instructions never to point his nose at a bomber. He escorted us back to the coast after waggling his wings at us. We had no bombsight on our plane, but managed to hit some of the factories. At debriefing, the intelligence officer threw up his harms in horror when we told him where we had been. He said they had not sent planes into that area in months because the flak was too great. He said there were 60 stationary guns, all close together. He asked us who had sent us there. It was Maj. O’Neil. Anyway, he said it was a good target-all industrial.
Aug. 25 – M20
We had an Azon mission today, a 2500ft. , bridge near Moerdijk, Belgium. We took off at 17:00 and flew over, around and beyond the bridge and then came back and bombed it. We managed to get 3 or 4 direct hits on the bridge. We saw little flak and were home within four hours. Now that is the kind of mission I like.
Aug. 26 – M21
We went back for the same bridge today. Because of clouds and haze, we made a dry run. We got a little off course and most of the planes were hit by flak, but none were seriously damaged. One piece bent the aerial in front of the pilots and another went through both vertical stabilizers. As we crossed the coast on the way out, the lead plane sent two fighter escorts back to check the bridge. They did not report back. This #21.
Sept. 1 – M22
Target today was a bridge in Holland. We bombed on Azon. We left the field at 18:00. We went directly to the target in a twelve-plane formation with a squadron on P-51s escorting. We were the first element and our bombs landed all around, but missed. The second element bombed short. It was a short mission and we were back in 2 ¾ hrs. Coming in to land, we were caught in propwash and almost dumped on a wingtip. It was touch and go for several seconds, but Piskin and Zanella did a great job of bringing it back. We poured the coal to it and went around for a good landing. For a few seconds there, I was afraid we were going to join Capt. Griffeth who spin in on takeoff this morning with his crew of 13 in a PFF plane on an adjoining airfield. All were killed except for one who was seriously injured. We flew the “Silver Chief” on this mission.
After much lying around and several false starts, we have finally begun trucking low octane gas to Patton in France. At first, we were to fly groceries, but later they decided gas was more important to operations in the Netherlands. Today we flew 80-octane gas to a field just south of St. Quintin. We carried 1600 gallons in two forward bomb bay tanks, in our auxiliary tanks and in four fighter tanks mounted in our rear bomb bay. Thirty-four planes flew over at 2000ft. We had blankets and K rations along in case we had to stay overnight. We came in below the clouds, hitting the coast at Diepe at 2000ft. We flew inland across fields and towns, with everyone waving at us. By the time we got to St. Quintin, the clouds were on the ground. We tried to break through, had a few anxious minutes, but had to come home without landing. IT was strange to see all of the bomb craters, foxholes, and flak towers that had meant so much to us just a few weeks ago. Six of our planes did manage to land in St. Quintin with the aid of flares.
We flew back to St. Quintin (actually to Chartes, near St. Quintin) to deliver our gas. We landed in the fog that night so I had to stay awake to be ready to help pump out the gas. It was bitter cold, so I sat in one of the gas trucks and shared a bottle of liberated wine with the driver. As it turned out, we did not unload that night and not until next morning. We ate K rations and left for home by noon. This was the same airfield we had bombed about 6 weeks ago. We really did a job on it. The runways were now patched, but we had also hit hangers, planes, barracks and their ammunition dump. I brought back part of the tail of a ME-410, and some ammunition. There were bombs, mines, rockets and grenades spread all over the landscape. We had a fine time talking to the natives. We hitchhiked into St. Quintin in the evening and drank cold beer at a sidewalk card. A small carnival was in town, even though the Jerries were only gone 17 days. The locals were very happy and everyone shook our hands. We gave our candy (Bon-bons) to the kids and they appreciated it. There was plenty of wine. Hope we get stationed there before Jerry is through.
Oct. 5 – M23
This is our first mission since our furlough at the flak shack. Target was an airfield at Paderborn, important because it offers ground support for the Seigfried line. Near the target, they fired rockets and flak at us, but missed. We expected fighters as the Luftwafe is up in force these days, but none came. We hit the target well and came home to finish #23. It is getting very cold up there now. The Jerries have been firing stratosphere rockets at our base lately. Lord “Haw-Haw” says they are going to chase all of the Yanks out of Norwich by the end of this month.
Oct. 10 – M24
Primary target today was a marshaling yard at Geissen and the secondary was a yard at Coblenz. We had trouble with the plane and were delayed at takeoff. The tower called to tell us a Command Pilot was going with us, so he came out and flew copilot. He flubbed us all over the sky, trying to get into position to lead the formation, after bothering Piskin into a bad takeoff. He continued to bother Piskin all through the flight. The primary was closed, so we had to bomb the secondary on PFF. There was some flak and we lost #1 engine over the target. We fell behind the formation. Over the Channel, the Command Pilot had us throw out all the ammunition because he thought we might be low on gas. However, Piskin made a good landing with 700 gallons remaining, despite the interference. This is the third time we have brought back the plane with #1 feathered. This time we will get a new engine. This is #24. Errickson may be grounded for ruptured eardrums. The rockets and buzzbombs are coming in at us more regularly now, five or six each day.
Oct. 14 – M25
Target today was the marshaling yard at Cologne, through which supplies are being jammed to the front. We almost missed assembly, as the “splashers” were badly jammed. When we finally did find it, a prop ran away. Zanella kept it under control until I got out of the turret and fixed it. Flak was bad over the target, but no one was hit until we started home, through the Ruhr Valley. At one point, a big 155mm gun opened up on us and battered our formation badly. Several pieces bounced off our plane. Morrelli on Morford’s crew got a cut on the head and Simpson on Vincent’s crew was wounded several times in the leg. I guess there will be no more easy missions.
It was a ferry trip today. Our crew and Fuson’s crew flew war-weary planes to Greencastle, Ireland, just north of the Freestate on the east coast. I flew part of the trip as copilot. Tried my hand at formation flying and landing. It is very pretty here in Ireland. Grass and trees cover the low mountains and everything is very green and fresh. It is a welcome change from England. I ran into Al Dexter, a friend from home. We flew back to base in a B-17, which seems like a luxury plane after the B-24.
Had a close call today. Zanella, Kotowicz, Washington, Bothwell and I were up slow-timing “Table Stuff”. Zanella was flying pilot position. Suddenly the weather closed in. The ceiling went down to 50ft. We made one blind circle and then came down blind, with the aid of ground flares. We hit the runway at a 10 degree angle, bounced, crossed the runway, and as the right wheel approached the edge of the runway, Zanella lifted the right wing, banked us left. We continued down the runway on the nosewheel and left main until the right wheel was again over the runway. Zanella chopped power and hit the brakes. We were running short of runway when the copilot took it upon himself to hit the throttles. I pinned his arms to his side while Zanella chopped the power again. Zanella barely got it stopped before we ran out of space. Well, we made it. Joe Schroeder is now in the hospital for inspection and checkup. Zanella is a great pilot!
Oct. 19 – M26
Target was the marshaling yard at Maintz near Frankfurt. We were delayed for two hours but finally got started. We ran into a lot of flak over the target, even though we were at 27,000ft. The temperature was –47degree Celsius. Hull almost froze a hand when his electric glove would not work. Fuson’s ship lost two engines and went down into France. Later, we heard they went down into a farm field but no one was hurt. This is #26 for me. We are getting there.
Oct. 26 – M27
Target today was the Midland Canal at Minncen, Germany. We were to hit the canal at a point where it crosses a river in a flume or aqueduct. The purpose was to shatter the flume and the surrounding locks, draining the canal and blocking the river. The canal is very busy at present. We carried three 2000 lb. bombs and radar-jamming equipment. It was a milkrun, with little flak, a nice present for my birthday and 27th mission.
Nov. 2 – M28
MacLean “Mac” from McCarthy’s crew has been down for three days now. He flew as extra gunner with another crew. The plane went down over Hamburg on Oct. 31. Target today is a marshaling yard at Beilefeld, Germany. The formation was a mess over the target, but the target was hit hard. There was little flak. “Time’s Awaitin’” on our left, feathered a prop but got back OK. #28 out of the way. There was a big air battle today over Germany. More than 500 Jerry fighters came up, but luckily, they did not hit our group.
Nov. 5 – M29
Target was a marshaling yard in the Metz area. There was a lot of flak over the target. On the way home, we were flying against a very stiff wind. Could not understand why we hovered over the same piece of ground for so long. Finally we ran low on gas and looked for a place to land. We found a grass fighter strip in France and would have landed there except we finally saw a transport plane that flew near and motioned us to follow him. We did and he brought us to a field with a concrete runway, full of bomb craters. We landed, swerving around the craters. The field was near Lille and held by the British. A truck led us off the runway, where we promptly bogged down. We left the plane and got a lift into Lille, where we got hotel rooms, ate, drank and made merry. Next morning, we shopped a little before going back to the plane. The French surely like Americans better than the British do. French money is very inflated – approximately 1000 Francs to the British pound. We towed the plane out of the mud, fueled up, and flew back home. (Undoubtedly, the stiff wind we encountered was the Jet Stream, which was largely unknown until after WWII.)
Nov. 9 – M30
Target today was a strong fortification on the lines near Metz. Patton asked that this be knocked out, perhaps in preparation for a breakthrough. That will be seen shortly. We iced up on climb to assembly, but managed to shake it. Over our lines, they sent up flak to mark the bomb line. We dropped our 2000 lb. bombs and I pray they did not fall short. Coming home, we ran into heavy rain and sleet over England. There were planes everywhere, flying helter-skelter out of formation, with all of the English bases closed in and visibility down to 100 to 300 ft. at times. There were many close calls. One plane flew across our nose within 200 ft., possibly less. Most planes found a place to land somewhere. We got down OK, but I hope I do not have to do that again. #30, and worse than flak.
At first the reports were bad on the Metz raid. They said we had bombed some of our own troops. Later reports have been better and better for our group. Patton is well on his way to encirclement of Metz. The “Howling Banshee” met with misfortune today. “Table Stuff” ran into her and chewed up the tail and tail turret with two props. They are going to take her apart at the rear bomb bay and join her to the rear half of another plane. No word from Mac. Some of the boys are finishing their tours now.
Nov. 22 – M31
Target today was an oil refinery on the edge of Hamburg, in a small town named Haarburg. The trip was rather long and fighters were expected. My turret frosted up pretty bad, so luckily no one came up. Flak was intense over the target, but no one was hit, to the extent that they went down. About 90 guns were bearing on us. One top turret gunner was hit in the eye and blinded. Our ship was hit four times. We were flying the old “Silver Chief”. More flak after the target, and so home to base #31.
Nov. 26 – M32
Target was a railway viaduct near Bielfeld over which freight manufactured in the Ruhr had to pass enroute to Hamburg. Everything went wrong with our plane, but we managed to fix it and continue. Swede flew with another plane off our left wing. Our element really pounded the target. We had to drop our bombs through the bomb bay doors when they stuck partway open. Flak was sporadic, but one bomber and one fighter were hit and exploded. #32.
I received my Distinguished Flying Cross.
Nov. 30 – M33
Target today was the marshaling yard at Hamburg, just back of the lines near Staasburg. Maybe it will help with a breakthrough. We could see the Swiss Alps to the south when we turned on our bomb run. We bombed by PFF. There was some accurate flak. It appeared that one ship in a nearby formation blew up, but perhaps it was what the RAF call a “kite”, that is, a big shell full of oily rags which burn after the shell explodes. Both takeoff and landing were rough due to propwash. #33.
Dec. 24 – M34
Back from the Flak Shack and ready to go again. The target today was ground support, designed to break up the German counter attack into Belgium. First, the 9th Air Corps went in and bombed the roads, bridges and railroads. Then the fighters strafed the airfields to get the fighters up. Next the mediums went in to bomb the airfields so the fighters would have no place to land. Finally, we came in and bombed any place there might be concentrations of German troops. Our target was the village of Schonecken. We hit our target hard. Flak was moderate but accurate. We lost two bombers. Coming home, we passed over Luxembourg and Brussels, then back to base on Christmas Eve.
Dec. 25 – M35
They got us up early this morning to go back on a ground support mission. We must make use of the good weather while it remains, Christmas or no. Our target was the village of Pronsfeld and the bombing was the same as yesterday. Flak was heavier and very accurate. We took a hit that knocked out our #3 Supercharger. A ship next to us lost two engines and almost rammed us, missing by four inches. At “bombs away”, everyone yelled “Merry Christmas”. We probably caught the German troops just as they were eating their double ration of Christmas kraut…George Washington and us. Coming home, ME-109s hit the group alongside. Several bombers were shot down as they raced to join our group for increased firepower. A Pandit followed one down. Tommy gave him a couple of bursts but we were too far way to help. He finished the bomber then came up for us, Tommy cut loose again, so he broke off and got elsewhere in a hurry. We were back in time for a big Christmas dinner. Only one more to go! This is #35. Later we were informed that we had overshot Pronsfeld but hit the village of Pelm with very good results.
Dec. 27 – M36
Target was a marshaling yard at Nignkirchen, just north of Saarbrukken. It is just behind the lines and loaded with freightcars. We fairly plastered the target, getting excellent results. Flak was very light and we were only over enemy territory for 15 minutes. Piskin made a beautiful peel-off with a diving landing, through the fog. This is my #36 mission and here ends my tour in the ETO.