The Eighth Air Force battle plan called for 993 bombers to attack aircraft manufacturing facilities and synthetic oil production plants in the Third Reich. The Second Air Division dispatched 339 B-24s. The 20th and 96th Combat Wings were sent to the aircraft assembly plant at Tutow, Germany. The 14th CW (the 392nd, 44th and 492nd BGs) and the 2nd CW (453rd, 445th and 389th) were focused on the synthetic oil refinery at Politz, 68 miles southeast of Tutow on the western edge of German-occupied Poland.
In its Resume of Mission, 2AD noted, "Just before the target, the 2nd and 14th CWs were hit by 30-40 fighters on a head on attack. Attacks were also made on the 14th CW from 6 o'clock. One Ju-88 lobbed rockets into the formation from behind. The 2nd CW lost 2 aircraft and the 14th, 9. The flak was moderate and accurate in the target area."
Per the Tactical Report, "Estimated sightings of E/A [enemy aircraft] on this mission total 130. Possible duplicate sightings have been taken into account. SE [single engine] E/A numbered about 90. Me-410s, 20, and Ju-88s, 15.
A few Me-110s were also seen. SE E/A were encountered before the target and in the target area. TE [twin engine] E/A were encountered in the target area only. The Division was furnished escort by five fighter Groups, only two of which report an extensive enemy reaction. One fighter Group bounced 40-50 FW-190s at 12:00 in the Malchin area [southwest of Tutow] and were themselves bounced by 20 top cover E/A. This action tied up the Group until the bombers had proceeded through the target...
"The overall tactics of the enemy on this mission seemed to be as follows: he was able to concentrate along the route a number of fighters larger than our escort with which he tied up our fighters from a point [near Malchin] on the way in to past the target. Thus he was able to attack us with the remainder of his SE fighters and with a sizeable number of TE. Since he had effectively tied up our fighters, he probably felt that the twins were safe and attacked us with that knowledge. The tactics worked out well for the enemy.
Our fighters made no claims for TE E/A and reported no sightings of them, an indication of the effectiveness of the enemy's technique. "Six Groups attacked the Politz Oil Refinery with fair to good results. In spite of smoke screen, considerable damage was sustained... "Intense accurate predictor control fire was encountered over Politz... Friendly fighter support was good. Thirteen aircraft were lost: eight to enemy aircraft [all from the 14th CW], two to flak and three to unknown causes. Claims were sixteen enemy aircraft destroyed, three probables and three damaged."
Crews were told that the plant at Politz had a capacity of 600,000 tons per year, equivalent to about 10 percent of Germany's synthetic oil production. It had been previously bombed by 8AF on 11 Apr 1944 but no damage was caused.
Airmen were advised they'd be above 12,000 feet, and therefore on oxygen, for six hours; time over enemy territory was three hours; and the temperature at altitude was -20oF. In what was later proved to be a grossly inaccurate statement, crews were also told that fighters "were probably not equal in numbers and skill to rest of German Air Force." Each Lib carried ten 500-pound General Purpose bombs.
The first 392nd plane, #42-7466, took off at 7:59am with 578th Sqdn pilot Capt Cliff E. Edwards and crew, Command Pilot Maj Malcolm Martin, and lead navigators Capt Leonard F. Untiedt and 2/Lt Ray Dunphy. The last of the 27 ships was airborne at 8:20. Pathfinder Force (PFF) radar service was provided by the 578th's 1/Lt Louis E. Zweig Jr. and crew aboard #42-50338.
1/Lt George E. Jones, 576, aborted #42-110027 over the North Sea due to oil pressure problems in two engines. Strong tail winds pushed the B-24s faster than planned, despite their making "s" turns to kill time. Copilot 1/Lt J.D. Long was flying with Capt John J. Reade and Command Pilot Maj George C. Player, all 578th. He recalls, "We were crossing the German coast when our navigator called in saying we were on course and were 10 minutes ahead of schedule which scared the hell out of me because our fighter escorts were 10 minutes behind...
"Eventually we got to where we could just about see our target, but I also saw about 100 German fighters flying parallel to us off to our left. So we made a gradual turn to the right and they started to pull up on us to get up in front of us so they could turn and come back down through our lead. We then made a turn to the left which put the German fighters too far forward. They dived under us and attacked the 492nd Group's formation, shooting down three airplanes on that one pass, which we avoided. And it was Capt Cliff Edwards who made those turns which allowed us to do it."
In its Narrative of Mission, the 392nd reported that the enemy fighters came in three waves, two before the target and one after. The first attack was at 11:50am "when about 75 S/E planes (Me-109s and FW-190s) attacked from 11 to 12 o'clock, high, going through the formation in a massed dive." Then, at about 11:54, "evidently the same group of S/E fighters made another head-on attack, this time from about one o'clock, again coming through the formation in a dive."
In his Lead Navigator's report, Capt Untiedt stated that "Control Point 3 was made 4 minutes early at 11:56 at which point we were maneuvering out of the lead Combat Wing's course and at the same time attacked by a wave of 25 enemy fighters. Up to this time until almost over the target, our gunners did not see any fighter escort to report. At 11:58, I personally saw two B-24s go down behind us."
2/Lt Dunphy later wrote in his journal, "The Luftwaffe met us in force by Tutow and swept through four times from front to rear of formation. Nose turret was out in elevation and I was cranking and shooting-swearing and praying all in the same breath. Estimate of 100 S/E & 50 T/E fighters. Our escort finally caught up (we were 8 minutes early) and drove them off. Target was bombed through smoke screen and column of smoke 20,000 ft. high could be seen for 100 miles on the way home."
Lead Bombardier 1/Lt Walter F. Joachim reported that he "made a normal run... but due to a very good smoke screen which obscured 8 to 10/10 of the target, I did not pick my M.P.I. [Mean Point of Impact, where the bombs were supposed to hit] up. I synchronized [the bombsight] on the spot I thought was the M.P.I. but must have used the top of the smoke as my bombs dropped short. Results were fair to poor. From the I.P. [Initial Point, where the planes make their final turn to the target] we had several severe fighter attacks.... Bombs were away at 12:13."
Lead Bombardier Capt Richard F. Colburn, 577, was flying with Capt Robert D. Copp's crew aboard #42-52415. "The target was obscured by 8/10 smoke screen coverage. From check points around the target, I was able to establish the location of the M.P.I. and the main pattern of bombs were seen to hit on or near the briefed M.P.I. through the smoke screen... Bombs were away at 12:14...."
2/Lt Alfred F. Leghorn, 579th, dropped bombs and flew back with the 389th BG. Bombing with the 492nd BG were 2/Lt Norman J. Hunt, 2/Lt Hubert L. McMillan, 2/Lt Robert A. Neiderriter (all 579th) and 2/Lt Donald E. Monroe (577th). Per the Narrative, the third attack occurred about 12:25pm when "20-30 T/E planes (either Me-410s or Ju-88s) attacked from the tail bearing rockets, lobbing them into the formation. The enemy a/c followed our formation from the target for about 30 minutes out into the Baltic. The first attack was the most severe."
When his crew was interrogated upon their return to Wendling, 576th pilot 1/Lt Joseph R. Demers reported, "Formation very good during fighter attack."
As a result of flak and enemy fighters, four 392nd Libs and crews were lost in the target area; upon reaching England, one crew crash landed and one was forced to bail out. #42-95243, with 577th pilot 2/Lt Lawrence E. Larson, was hit by a German fighter. It was last seen at 11:54 making a slow turn, while seven chutes were counted. These chutes must have come from a different ship, however, as 2/Lt Larson's plane ultimately crashed at 1pm about 90 miles west, near the town of Kittendorf, Germany. Seven bodies were found near the wreckage. The other three crewmen -2/Lt Larson, engineer S/Sgt Henry C. Carter, and waist gunner Sgt Frederick Selden-successfully bailed out but were killed by German home guard and police after they landed while "attempting to escape."
#42-52604 was damaged by fighters just before bombs away. 392nd crews saw it turn and head out over the bay, apparently under control; eight chutes were spotted.
Radio operator Robert D. Davis writes extensively about this mission in his book, Before I Forget (available at www. amazon.com). But first, he notes that he was promoted to Technical Sergeant in early May. "Base pay-$114.00/month plus $57.00 extra for flying and getting shot at."
"Not that I was superstitious, but I did have some pre-flight rituals, and they got a little off kilter before this mission. Not a good omen. For instance, I usually walked or biked to the mess hall with two men from the Bridson crew, gunner George Powers and radio operator Umberto Paolucci... since we had flown so many missions together, but this day, they had already left. There were some others-not big-just little things...
"The clergyman-whether a priest, pastor or rabbi-was always welcome, at least to me, when he would pull up in front of the ship in his jeep to give his blessing before you taxied out for take-off. Somehow-unlike all of our previous missions-he didn't quite manage to get to us before we started to move out. Only enough time for him to wave. "I, for one-I don't know, always felt a little relieved? calmer?-after he had been to our ship. I think it was Ernie Pyle who said, 'There are no atheists in foxholes.' I would never argue with that.
"Forming up seemed to go ok, and then for some reason the lead navigator decided to take us across the European coast ten minutes ahead of time. This meant we were well ahead of our fighter escort. This also meant they had to leave us ten minutes early, and the US fighters scheduled for the second leg of the escort would be late-so that when we started our bomb run, we would be without fighter escort. "And that's just what happened... The German fighters bounced us just as we started our bomb run. They came in waves from head on-109s, 190s, Ju-88s-and without escort, we were sitting ducks.
"On one of the passes, a 20 millimeter came in just past the top turret, down through the area over the bomb bay, severed some fuel lines that cross the up-side of the bay, into the afterdeck in the waist where it hit an oxygen bottle and started a fire.
"Someone reported the fire over the intercom. I grabbed a fire extinguisher, gave bombardier 2/Lt John P. Yacavone the extinguisher and his chute, and told him to get back to the waist and help with the fire. He did.
"Soon after that, it was time to release the bombs. I was glad to get rid of them, for by now the fire had spread, and long streamers of burning gasoline were dripping on the ones in the back bays. Once they were gone, I closed the doors again and got back up on the flight deck.
"About then S/Sgt Ervan J. Cook, the flight engineer in the top turret, started yelling at me that his guns were jammed. "There was a cable that ran under the turret seat that unlocked the seat so you could drop out. I reached up, pulled the cable, and dumped him out onto the flight deck. I got into the turret, cleared the guns, got back out, and got him back into the turret.
"Now, the first fighters that had passed through had turned and climbed back up level with us on the left hand side and started coming at us from about the ten o'clock position. "A 20 millimeter hit the armored glass window right next to Eisermann's head. Six inches further back and I wouldn't be writing this. It made a tiny hole in the glass when it exploded. A very loud sound.
"Now the flight engineer starts yelling to me that the life raft is on fire. I grab the release handle and jettison the life raft. "I take another look into the bomb bay, and the fire is really getting serious-larger streamers of flames from the ruptured fuel lines were now covering the back of the bomb bay-and no possible way to put it out. Eisermann turns and looks at me, and I just shook my head no.
"He hits the alarm bell and I drop down and re-open the bomb bay doors. Before I can stand back up, someone jumps right onto my back and dives out the bomb bay. It was Pappy [copilot 2/Lt Clarence E. Fothergill].
"The flight engineer is next to go, and then I put on my chest chute. I'm now squatting on the catwalk looking at Gil. He waves for me to go, but I motioned for him to come on. He put the ship on autopilot, and when he got from his seat to the flight deck, I waved a quick good-bye, wrapped my arms around my legs, and rolled headfirst out of the plane. "What kept that airplane from exploding is anyone's guess."
Davis notes that "If I had known and had looked to the northeast eighty miles or so, I probably could have seen Stalag Luft IV, the prison camp I was soon to visit." All members of the crew became POWs. Tail gunner S/Sgt Edward B. Coleman died of abdominal problems on 15 Apr 1945 during the Death March.
392nd airmen reported seeing two Libs go down at 12:12pm. #42-95136, flown by 1/Lt Tyler, was seen to turn over at 21,000 feet with two engines out. Navigator 1/Lt Earl F. Bassett was the only survivor.
German records say the plane crashed at 11:45, so it must have left the formation earlier than 392nd crews thought. After the war, 1/Lt Bassett wrote a letter to Ace's widow.
"There isn't much I can add to what you already know. First of all, we were headed for Stettin and underwent an attack of enemy fighters, possibly forty or fifty. They had already gone through us once and were returning from the rear, when we were hit by a 20 millimeter shell on the right side of the ship between the nose and the leading edge of the wing, very close to the co-pilot's seat. This hit shot out our oxygen lines and started a blazing inferno, fed by oxygen.
"The co-pilot, 2/Lt Joseph A. Ricci, and your husband must have been wounded, possibly fatally, and must have been straining to keep the ship at a level keel. At this time my clothing was burning furiously. I had no actual contact with the rest of the crew for our communication system was also shot away, so I had to abandon the ship.
"From my personal experience with the crew you can rest assured that no cowardly action was taken by any of them. They all died a hero's death, and nothing can be said in their behalf which would over-rate their deeds. I was lucky in escaping their fate, merely lucky."
392nd BGMA member Robert Tyler has extensively researched the fate of his older brother. He has a letter Ace wrote from pilot training after he got his initial glimpse of a B-24 cockpit. "The first time I looked at the instrument panel, I almost fell backwards. Ha. Ye gods, and little fishes! You never saw so many instruments in your life."
He soon mastered them all and told his family that each time he took the ship up he liked it better.
The mission to Politz was his 17th. Despite the loss of two engines and a fire onboard, Tyler was able to regain some control of the plane. He nursed it westward for over an hour. In a 2003 letter, a German eyewitness even told Bob that the B-24 appeared to be on a "glide path" in its final moments. Seven bodies were recovered from the wreckage; per German records, three other men had bailed out, but two were killed when their chutes did not open. The nine men were carefully buried by Italian POWs. One later wrote that "For each grave was put a little cross, and on it the identification tag belonging to each, later on some plates were placed on the graves. French and Italian prisoners took care of these heroes in a furtive way."
#42-95045, in the same four plane section as 2/Lt Tyler, was last seen in the target area. It is not known what problems the plane had; 392nd eyewitnesses said it just seemed to "slip down" and "everything seemed to be under control." All aboard were killed in the crash.
#42-95137, Merry Mac I, flown by 2/Lt Wesley A. Schafer, suffered severe damage in the fighter attacks just before the target. Per their Interrogation Form, this 579th crew did not bomb the target because a "20mm shell hit ship; couldn't get bomb bay doors open." Bombs were jettisoned in the Baltic Sea on the way back.
Schafer reported his plane had a large hole in the tip and aileron of the right wing; the #4 engine had a hole in the cowling and a piece knocked out of its prop; the #2 engine had received a direct hit and had to be feathered; there was a hole in the bomb bay just above the auxiliary pump; the right side of the radio compartment had been hit; there were two holes in the #3 engine plus a hole in its cowling; the hydraulic system had been knocked out; the governors on the #1 and #4 engines had been cut; the electric system for the #1 prop was out; and "the #4 gas tank probably had a hit since it ran out of gas."
He later wrote, "[We] fell behind the group and headed for England alone. Our engineer T/Sgt Henry R. Reid Jr. saved us from the North Sea by draining fuel from outboard to inboard tanks (by tilting the plane). COLGATE gave us the heading home. As we passed over the coast, all engines failed. We all jumped [over Thorpe St. Andrew, Norfolk] and returned to base the next day."
2/Lt Robert W. Shoenberger was navigator on 2/Lt Albert W. Evans' crew in the 576th. He recalled that #41-29433 was strafed by a German fighter and apparently its fuel tanks were hit. The ball turret gunner's oxygen mask hose was cut by a bullet and he thought he'd been hit as he couldn't breathe. They broke from formation and turned toward England, leaking fuel the whole way. They still had a load of bombs on board so their first step was to release the bombs. The bomb bay doors wouldn't open so bombardier 2/Lt James K. Conner secured the firing pins in the bombs and released them through the doors as they went over a field in England. The doors broke away from the plane and were later used to help locate where the bombs had fallen (as the bombs had buried themselves in the ground). Evans then killed all power to the plane and they belly landed into a field at Sporle, just west of the base near Swaffham.
When Shoenberger helped to find the bombs, he discovered that a farmer had already used the bomb bay doors to make a roof for his chicken coop. The farmer was quite upset about the 500 pound bombs in his field!
The only men injured in the crash landing were radio operator S/Sgt Gerald A. Glowienke, who hurt his ankle, and Conner, who wrenched his back.
Tail gunner Sgt William L. Altschaft was credited with destroying an FW-190.
2/Lt Leghorn and crew, aboard #42-95037, Sally, were on their first mission. They landed safely at Wendling with two engines shot out and the nose turret blasted apart; bombardier F/O Melvin Rothman had been knocked out by the explosion, lost his oxygen mask, and passed out.
2/Lt Leslie R. Hadley, copilot on 2/Lt Philip F. Anundson's 577th crew, remembers that "Politz was a nasty area to go into. They had Me-109s, FW-190s, and Me-210s plus an amazing number of 88mm flak guns."
In his manuscript, 392nd BG Squadron 576, pilot Burrell M. Ellison wrote, "We flew this one with two of our old crew missing, 2/Lt Quitman C. Hurdle and 2/Lt Earl F. Bassett. Hurdle, having flown as squadron bombardier on several previous missions, had completed his tour and was being transferred. Bassett had been assigned to Lt. Tyler's crew for this mission. I had a replacement enlisted man in the nose turret and he was scared almost to death.
"The timing must have been off for we missed our fighter escort and it is just what the Luftwaffe had been waiting for. About 15 minutes from the target and for approximately 30 minutes thereafter, we were under attack by 100 to 150 FW-190s, Ju-88s and Me-109s. During the first three attacks the Me-109s and FW-190s went through the formation and between the B-24s, thereby creating havoc. They literally shot the 392nd to pieces. German pilots came so close that I felt I would recognize them if I met them on the street. "We lost six to eight of the 27 planes we started with and I thought that we would be among the missing that night. One 20mm came through the front windshield and missed my head by a small fraction of an inch, went on back and ripped some clothing from T/Sgt Howard F. Samples in the top turret. We also had 20mm shells in both spars which buckled the wings, but by the grace of God, did not ignite the fuel. Also, we had a cylinder shot out of our number two engine which made it inoperable. Number three engine was hit and running rough but I could use it about half of the time. I could not feather the propeller on the number two engine at all.
"The enemy fighters must have run low on gas because they withdrew. We were deep in Germany, plane shot up and no friendly fighters in sight. The situation did not look good. I ordered everything that wasn't nailed or welded down thrown overboard and this included bombsight, flak vests, guns, ammunition-everything! I tried to snuggle up to another group as they passed but couldn't maintain enough speed or altitude. Even the B-17s were passing us. I was resigned to the fact that we would be guests of Mr. Hitler that night.
"I flew all the way back with my hand on the landing gear lever... if an enemy fighter showed up, down would come the landing gear. And to think that we were so close to finishing 30 missions, too. We lost altitude gradually all the way toward the English Channel, but we stayed in the air and no enemy fighter appeared. Finally, at about 4,000 feet we crossed the English Channel and started looking for someplace to land. We had gas and no field was in sight so we made it back to Wendling.
"...we were the only ship in the traffic pattern and the ground crew had given us up for lost. Our airplane was so badly damaged that it never flew again. The mission was not a total loss however; the bombing was good and nose gunner S/Sgt Clyde S. Anderson got credit for one fighter. "After briefing, ball turret gunner S/Sgt Jackson A. Tupper and waist gunner S/Sgt Edmund J. Patnaude both gave me their shot of whiskey. I needed it. Not one man on the aircraft was wounded. That was a miracle."
Tail gunner S/Sgt Stanley J. Prazak's Combat Form shows the severity of the final attack. At 12:20, "Three of the e/a, Ju-88s, came in one at a time, the first from 7 o'clock, the second from 6 and the 3rd from 5 o'clock. The first started firing at 900 yards and the tail gunner returned fire, a few rounds at 699 yards. He fired 150 or 200 rounds, about 7 or 8 bursts. The ball turret gunner saw the tracers go into the e/a and smoke start coming out, so he watched it and it apparently tried to peel off to go under the formation but was not able to pull out. It was seen going straight [down] to about 5,000 feet, at which point it exploded." He got credit for destroying that plane.
Right waist gunner S/Sgt Clyde G. Whitt wrote in his diary, "Briefing at 4:30. Takeoff at 8 o'clock. Lot of flak on way to target and a lot over target. Hit about 30 Ju-88s and Me-109s just before and after the IP. Lucky they didn't hit our ship. The fight was plenty hot. We made a good hit on target. A B-24 was on top of us on the bombing run and we thought his bombs were going to hit us. They missed us by a hair."
Tail gunner Sgt Donald G. Barker was given credit for the probable destruction of an Me-109.
Capt Copp's engineer/top turret gunner, T/Sgt Gilbert L. Hodge, was credited with destroying an FW-190.
Two gunners on 2/Lt George L. Bridson's crew, 578th, reported firing at enemy ships. A Combat Form for tail gunner S/Sgt George L. Tatelbaum says that at 11:48, "First fleet of FW-190s came in from nose, attacking, called out over interphone by copilot. As ships came past the tail turret, gunner was able to get some good shots in at range of 100-150 yards. This FW-190 was about the 5th or 6th of a group of about 30 which went thru the formation. E/A blew up and a portion of his tail assembly flew into another FW-190. " Right waist gunner S/Sgt James B. Seery's Combat Form says, "E/A attacking from high at 1 o'clock. 2 came in side by side. First they knocked off ship flying #3 in high element [2/Lt Stoltz's]. Gunner started to open up when planes were about 900 yards out. Passed ship, one peeling off upwards and the other went down in flames, engine on fire, just before ship blew up."
Neither got credit for these incidents.
2AD may have been in the process of taking out the ball turrets, as every crew was asked if they favored their removal. 2/Lt Evans' crew was "unanimous" to leave the ball turret in. 2/Lt Larsen said they "Certainly need" those turrets as "Enemy were making attacks at belly." The crew of 1/Lt Donald E. Monroe, 577, said "Germans seem to know that ball turrets are being taken out and are attacking these ships from bottom."
However, in its report, Relative Effectiveness of Gun Positions-B24's, 2AD statistics show that of 45 encounters with enemy aircraft during the Politz mission, only two were from the ball turret. Most encounters were from the tail (16), the nose (10), top turret (7), left waist (6) and right waist (4).
Other crews that completed this mission were 2/Lt Keith D. Bratton, 576th; 1/Lt Myron A. Bradford and 1/Lt George A. Schelton, both 577th; 1/Lt Charles A. Hamblen, 578th; and 2/Lt John T. Cornell and 2/Lt Leo K. Ruvolis Jr., 579th. Meanwhile, ground crew personnel went about their daily business while waiting anxiously for the planes to return.
Editor's note: An article in Twentieth Century Crusaders tells how, on 2 Mar 1944, many returning 392nd crews got diverted to an RAF base due to bad weather at Wendling. The next day, crews were trucked to a nearby US Armored Division for chow, "still in their flight gear, looking quite shabby and disheveled, due to not have any toilet articles, shaving gear, etc. with them.
"Some of the crews reckoned that if they could drive a B-24 Liberator bomber, driving a Sherman tank wouldn't present too many problems. Subsequently, much havoc was wreaked in and around the Division's tank park."
A jeep stopped near 2/Lt Joachim, who was "standing nonchalantly by the roadside, hands in his pockets and big cigar clenched between his teeth." A US Army general, "sitting upright and resplendent in the back seat, barked authoritatively, 'Soldier!! What do you think you're doing?' Without removing hands from pockets, [the Lieutenant] replied with equal authority, 'I'm fighting this war, general. What are you doing?' " Off sped the jeep and general.