First Mission of the 446th
This was the Big Day! The first mission for the 446th Bomb Group. This was also my first mission as a ball turret gunner.
Our plane was named "Sitting Bull". Our squadron was the 707th. Jesse Walker, our pilot, loved his flying machine and was not against " jumping the barns" on the English countryside following missions but not today.
Our day started at 0230 AM. Breakfast at 0300 AM. The mud season had arrived at Flixton Airbase. It's dirt roads were now in six inches of mud. We sloshed through the mud in our sheep-lined boots to breakfast at the mess hall - then off to the mission briefing and then dressing for the mission.
The briefing room produced a dramatic looking map of England and Europe, with a bright red, heavy string stretched between the English coast and Bremen, Germany. A startling look came over most faces in the room. Our prior thinking of an easier, first mission quickly disappeared. The target was the submarine pens at Bremen. They had to be destroyed. This was going to be "Big League" from the start and climatic to more than a year of intense training for most.
The briefing continued: the Second Air Division would send a total of 500 Liberators and Fortresses to accomplish this mission. The Germans could send up 100 fighters at this location. Flak would be heavy. Air temperature at 20,000 feet would be 60 degrees below zero. Frostbite, etc.; a thorough briefing of what to expect.
It was later reported by the 8th Air Force that the flak encountered on the Bremen Mission was the heaviest they had seen to that date.
The 2nd Air Division reported that the Germans had sent up 50 fighters and the bombers had shot down 14. Eleven bombers were reported missing. Only seven of our 446th division planes were attacked by fighters on this Bremen Mission. Our plane was not involved with fighters on this day.
This was a successful mission. Heavy damage was inflicted on the sub pens. However, the climax of this day was about to begin.
The accumulation of heavy weather, head winds, evasive flying in the flak areas and the time in the air had all taken their toll on our fuel. The time of day was approaching 4 PM. We had left England at 8:30 AM. The topic of conversation on the intercom became fuel only.
As you may have guessed, we made it across the channel and let down on instruments through the cold December overcast skies to the start of our runway. Red flares filled the air from the tower telling us to go around again. Do not land! A B-17 had pancaked in and collapsed on the runway. Jesse made a fast and correct decision - land now! He touched down on the runway and avoided the B-17 by going off into the so-called grass area.
Four gunners, including me, were not aware of our situation. We had removed our intercoms and had moved our body weights forward - enhancing the balance of the plane for landing. We were standing on the bomb bay, on the catwalk, in the most forward position possible.
There was a rude awakening as the plane rocked with a pronounced thud as the landing gear was torn off from the plane. I had a glimpse of green grass and then stones and dirt were flying up and past me as the bomb bay doors disappeared. This was followed by a long, pronounced scraping and a sudden stop as the plane dug into the earth.
The bomb racks and attached cat walk proved their toughness and remained in great shape for our escape to the rear. I was expecting a fire to break out and moved as quickly as possible over a jammed ball turret and dove out of the waist window. The waist gunner had the same thought and landed on my back.
Thank God! Our Crew had been spared. The plane did not burn. There was no fuel.
The one mission plane "Sitting Bull" would forever sit.
We named our next plane "Piccadilly Commando ". We lost this one on the dispersal area prior to takeoff during our "20 - something " mission. The engineer spotted a sparkling incendiary hanging on a bomb-bay rack. Ten men left the area in a hurry and watched the Piccadilly burst into flames and explode into a hunk of melting metal.
We finished our 30 missions in borrowed aircraft. (The number of required, completed missions had been increased from 25 to 30 during our tour of duty.)
My 30th mission was flown on May 27th, 1944. This was one day after my 20th birthday. I was awarded my Distinguished Flying Cross just prior to "D" Day.
I was asked if I wanted to participate on a "D" Day Mission. I declined with 30 missions accomplished.
Reprinted from the Beachbell Echo, December, 2000