1/Lt Frank Crook
Berlin - Last Mission
1/Lt Frank D. Crook and his crew of the 446th Bomb Group, 707th Bomb Squadron, were about to fly their last combat mission of WWII. Tomorrow will be the "Summer Solstice," first day of summer, and the longest day of the year. Tomorrow will be June 21, 1944!
It's approaching bedtime the night of June 20. We know we are on tomorrow's flying schedule. We know Captain Harvey Z. Ekrem is leading the entire bomb group, and that we are flying on his right as group deputy lead. That's 36 four-engine heavy bombers consisting of the lead squadron of 12, high right squadron of 12, and a low left squadron of 12.
No one who is flying tomorrow's mission will know what the target is until he gets to the mission briefing room at 6AM tomorrow - except the two crews who are leading the mission. At 11PM, as was customary, General Doolittle's "Pinetree" headquarters, located near London, sent the teletype info regarding tomorrow's mission to the various bomb groups.
When you are flying your "last one," you want it to be a short, easy one to France, not a deep penetration into Germany. We walk into the war room, the intelligence officer pulls back the curtains, the red string is a long one. It runs from Bungay to Berlin! Our target is the Daimler-Benz motor works near Berlin. Just what we needed!
Not only that, the mission has special significance. It is to be (I think the first) "shuttle raid to Russia". The concept is that after bombs away, in the Berlin area, do not fight your way back across Germany to England; instead, proceed eastward, and land in western Russia. The next day, fly to North Africa, then over the Mediterranean back to England. This was done, but our 446th bomb group was scheduled to come home as normal.
Our bomb group encountered moderate battle damage, and after bombs away, Harvey called me and said "Frank, take over the group and lead them back tp England. I have big problems and I'm heading for Sweden. I never heard of this before or since, but he lost all four engines (probably due in part to some terrible "fuel management" mistake). As it turned out, he was able to get three of them restarted, descended to treetop level, and actually made it back to England.
So, on June 21, 1944, my wonderful crew and I got to lead 36 (minus those who didn't make it) B-24s from Berlin home to England. I was 22 years old!