This article describes the bombing mission flown by the 8th Air Force on April 29, 1944, with an emphasis on the role of the 392nd Bomb Group. The Wyatt crew, including my uncle, 2Lt Douglas N. Franke, were among those from the 392nd who were killed in action during this undertaking.
As Robert E. Vickers notes in his book, Wendling's Crusaders, Remembrance of the Missing (p. 251-255), approximately 3,850 men flew combat operations as part of the 392nd Bomb Group. Of these, 825-over twenty percent-lost their lives in combat-connected operations. Another 445 men became prisoners of war, 98 were interned in neutral countries, 37 were shot down but evaded capture, and 181 were wounded.
This account describes only one of the 285 missions flown by the 392nd Bomb Group in World War II. It is written in grateful appreciation of all these men who took part in the air war over Europe.
The data in this article come from Army Air Corps documents in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and survivor accounts. I also relied heavily on interviews with Kamenitsa and Ofenstein crew members conducted by Greg Hatton, published in The Journal of the SAN ANTONE ROSE. I am indebted to the 392nd veterans who answered hundreds of questions and double-checked my work to make sure their crew's story was accurately portrayed. Unless otherwise noted, all survivor recollections were from information in the Archives or from personal communications with my father, Robert Franke, or me.
The 8th Air Force called for a massive strike against the Friedrichstrasse Railroad Station in Berlin-751 bombers from eight B-17 and four B-24 Combat Wings-arranged into three forces:
The first force was 263 B-17s from four Combat Wings in the 3rd Bomb Division. Each plane was loaded with three 1000-pound General Purpose bombs and four 500-pound incendiary bomb clusters.
The second force was 236 B-17s from four Combat Wings in the 1st Bomb Division. Most of these planes also carried three1000-pound GP and four 500-pound IB clusters, but some were instead loaded with five 1000-pound GP bombs or with 100-pound incendiaries. Several others carried "nickels"-"bombs" filled with propaganda leaflets.
The third force was 252 B-24s from four Combat Wings in the 2nd Bomb Division. The Liberators carried either five 1000-pound GP and three 100-pound IBs or 52 100-pound IBs.
Per the Intelligence Annex to Field Order No. 279, the mission was "a concentrated effort on this target alone with the idea of striking a really, damaging blow at these facilities. This target is a key point in the city's [railroad] passenger traffic system. The city is ringed and crossed with elevated and underground [railroads]. This target is one of the few places where [railroad] passenger facilities may be considered an important target for air attack. Tremendous dislocation would be caused to employees of war industries by disruption of these [railroad] facilities. At this point these facilities are most vital, for the main E/W-N/S lines cross."
Their Tactical Mission Report (p. 2) detailed the 8th Air Force battle plan: "The first force consisted of four B-17 Combat Wings from 3rd Bomb Division. The Combat Wings were to form in pairs with a four-minute interval between the heads of the two pairs. Two Pathfinder aircraft were assigned to the lead Group in each of the first three Combat Wings and one each to the lead Group of the fourth Combat Wing and the low Group of the first. The second force was constituted of four B-17 Combat Wings from 1st Bomb Division. These Combat Wings were to fly in trail at close intervals. Two Pathfinder aircraft were detailed to each Combat Wing. The third force comprised four B-24 Combat Wings from 2nd Bomb Division. The second Combat Wing (two Groups) was to fly echeloned left on the lead Combat Wing and the third and fourth in trail at five-mile intervals. Two Pathfinder aircraft were assigned to each the first, third and fourth Combat Wings and none to the second." This plan was generally followed, although reports from Groups in the 1st Bomb Division indicate they actually flew three Groups abreast and one Group in trail.
8th Air Force Bomber Participants:
According to the 8th Air Force Tactical Mission Report (p. 1), the entire formation was to make a "direct penetration and withdrawal along a common route. The course was designed to keep the bombers north of the known strong ground defenses in the Dummer Lake and Hannover regions and to allow a downwind bombing run to minimize the strong and effective fire expected from the target defenses." Fighter support by sixteen groups from VIII Fighter Command (593 planes), four groups from IX Fighter Command (183 planes) and two RAF Mustang Squadrons (24 planes) was supposed to ensure "continuous escort for all forces over enemy territory." (p. 4) Two of the P-47 Groups from VIII Fighter Command were scheduled to make second sorties during the bombers' return trip to provide support for stragglers.
Most of the first force had a fairly easy mission (if any mission could be called "easy.") However, their 4A Wing, the 385th and 447th Bomb Groups, had a vastly different experience. Radar equipment in one of their Pathfinder aircraft failed completely and it only worked sporadically in the other. With their navigational tools thus impaired, they veered to the south on their way to Berlin. Off-course and unescorted, the Wing was hit hard for over 30 minutes by an extremely determined and aggressive force of about 125 enemy aircraft in the Brunswick area, continuing through the target area and for the first few minutes of the withdrawal.
With the exception of that unlucky Wing, the first force and all the second force had ample fighter protection to the target. The third force, the B-24s from the 2nd Air Division, was not so fortunate. They met 60 to 80 enemy aircraft northeast of Hannover. These fighters attacked for 10 minutes and then, after reforming, attacked for another 20 minutes on the final approach to the target. They finally broke off after the formation had made its final turn to the target. In less than 25 minutes, five B-24s crashed as a result of these attacks and many more were damaged.
The off-course B-17 Wing, which was thoroughly disorganized by the strong enemy attacks, bombed Magdeburg as a visual target of opportunity. Two groups of Fortresses bombed that city while the third, which had endured especially severe attacks, jettisoned their bombs in the same general area.
The rest of the enormous formation-only 580 bombers by that time-dropped over 1,408 tons of bombs on Berlin, with "fair to good" results. (8th Air Force Narrative of Operations, p. 1-2) According to the "Bombing Data" section of the 8th Air Force Tactical Mission Report, bombing altitudes ranged from 21,500 feet (445th BG) to 26,425 feet (100th BG).
Returning to England:
The B-17s were generally protected on the withdrawal. Again, it was the B-24s that suffered. None of the P-38, the P-51, or the P-47 Groups designated to protect the B-24s on the return trip located the Liberators when scheduled. As a result, they were vulnerable to attack by a great number of enemy aircraft. Nearly 100 enemy fighters found them in the Hanover area and hit in strength until the P-47s assigned to sweep the withdrawal route arrived in the Dummer Lake area. Sporadic attacks were then made until the bombers reached the Zuider Zee.
8th Air Force Losses:
Eighth Air Force losses on April 29, 1944 (not including planes that crashed in England) were 26 B-24s, 38 B-17s, and 14 US fighters, as follows:
First force (3rd Bomb Division): Of 263 planes airborne, 225 were credited with a sortie (meaning they had flown far enough to enter an area where flak might be effective or where usual enemy fighter patrols occurred). There were 28 losses. Eighteen of the downed planes belonged to the unlucky 4A Wing, which lost one-third of the 55 planes it dispatched. Three P-51s were lost while escorting this part of the formation.
Second force (1st Bomb Division): Of 236 planes airborne, 214 were credited with a sortie. There were 10 losses, nine caused by flak. Three P-38s, one P-47, and four P-51s were lost while escorting the second force.
Third force (2nd Bomb Division): Of 252 planes airborne, 230 were credited with a sortie. There were 26 losses, 18 due to German fighters. Three P-51s were shot down while escorting the third force.
A total of 355 bombers had some degree of battle damage, most (325) due to flak. (All loss statistics are from the 8th Air Force Tactical Mission Report, "Bomber Summary" and "Fighter Summary.")
The 14th Combat Wing:
According to its Mission Journal, the 14th Combat Wing of the 2nd Bomb Division (44th and 392nd Bomb Groups) was alerted about the upcoming mission at 1730 hours on Friday, April 28. At 1850, they were notified how many planes they were required to provide. By 2000, it was decided that the 44th would furnish 24 ships and the 392nd, 18-and four of these would fly with the 44th. It was later determined that these four planes would comprise "the high element of the low left squadron" of the 44th's formation. Some time in the planning process, four crews-led by 2nd Lieutenants Fryman, Prell, Shere, and Wyatt-were chosen to fly with the 44th.
At 2005, the bomb load for the 14th and 2nd Combat Wings was established as five 1,000-pound General Purpose bombs and three 100-pound M47A1 incendiary bombs per plane. The other B-24 Wings would carry 52 100-pound incendiaries per plane.
At 0115 on April 29, mission planners at the 392nd decided to hold the gunners' briefing at 0400 and the officers' briefing at 0430, followed by the navigators' briefing at 0530.
Briefers told the 392nd's crews that their Mean Point of Impact (MPI, or target) was the Friedrichstrasse Railroad Station in the heart of Berlin, the crossroads of north-south and east-west traffic and a network of elevated and underground tracks. According to notes used at their Main and Enlisted Men's Briefings, this mission represented "a shift in 8AF strategy" as its purpose was "to strike a real blow" to Berlin's railroad passenger traffic system. This was "one of the few places where passenger facilities [were] important enough for air attack." Destroying the railroad station would cause a "tremendous dislocation of employees in war industries." The briefer emphasized that the effort would be "all out on this one target" as all three Bomb Divisions had the same objective. B-17s from the 3rd Division were scheduled to hit Berlin eight minutes before the B-24s, which would bomb concurrently with B-17s from the 1st Division. With dimensions of only 500 x 100 yards (per the 392nd's Statistical Summary of Operations), the target was just a tiny dot in a city with over four million residents.
The Initial Point (IP)-where the B-24s turned into their bomb run-was east of Friesack, 36 miles from the target. Code word for releasing chaff (aluminum strips intended to confuse the radar used by German flak batteries) was the imaginative "throw it out." Special instructions cited in the Bombardier's Briefing Form included, "Cameras on at bombs away. Turn off all power turrets from IP to bombs away. Keep right rear bomb bay switch off. Have navigator salvo after fifth indicator light goes off." And-most intriguing of all-"Bring bombs back if not in trouble."
As for enemy opposition expected, the briefer said tersely, "No certainties. Usual possibilities."
It was anticipated the Bomb Group would be over enemy territory at 0952, over target at 1127, and back to base at 1430. Length of time above 12,000 feet when they would have to use their oxygen masks was five and a half hours.
After all the briefings were over, personal items turned in, equipment collected and protective clothing put on, 392nd crews were at their stations at 0625. They started engines at 0705, taxied at 0710, and their first plane, under the command of lead pilot Capt. Robert D. Copp, took off at 0725.
The Group was fully formed at 0832; Wing and Division assembly was successfully completed and the formation departed the English coast at 0923. Almost immediately, they began falling behind schedule due to an unpredicted wind shift. They crossed the enemy coast at 0957 at 20,000 feet; a few minutes later, one of the 392nd's planes aborted due to mechanical problems. The rest gradually climbed to 24,000 feet.
Per the Command Pilot's Narrative, "Very little 'S'ing was done until we approached the first flak area near Osnabruck and Hanover." Shortly afterward, about 50 enemy fighters attacked the Wing at 24,000 feet. They caused four 392nd planes to crash and two more to turn back due to damage or wounded crewmen, and completely scattered the formation. The P-47s had seen the fighters coming but unfortunately could not engage as they were at the limits of their endurance. Most of the P-51s that were supposed to replace the P-47s had mechanical problems and they turned back at 1116 hours without ever finding the B-24s. (VIII Fighter Command Narrative of Operations, p. 2.)
After the attack, Copp reported in his Immediate Priority Message of Aircraft in Distress that "9 ships seem to be unaccounted for." He approached the target with just four ships from the 392nd (his own, Reed's, Brunn's, and Bell's); most of the remaining 392nd planes had merged with the 44th Bomb Group as they reformed after the fighter attacks near Hannover. Several Groups approached Berlin simultaneously from different headings, causing more disorder. The 392nd's Lead Bombardier's Report put it concisely: "Too many aircraft in very poor formations over target."
The Lead Bombardier's Narrative summarized the mission status to that point: "Of the 18 aircraft taking off, 4 aircraft were shot down by enemy aircraft prior to the target, 2 aircraft returned early because of battle damage, both aircraft jettisoning full load in enemy territory, 1 aircraft returned early bringing bombs back and 11 aircraft went over the target." Then he gave bombing results: "[Shere] and [Wyatt], missing in action, are believed to have bombed the primary target and their bombs are included in totals. Two aircraft bombed off [Copp], lead ship of this group. The other eight aircraft dropped off lead aircraft of the 44th Group." There was no photo coverage of the 392nd's lead section, but those flying with the 44th Bomb Group hit 7 ½ miles southwest of the primary MPI. (When the 2nd Bomb Division Photographic Section completed its Photographic Analysis of the mission, it noted that 11 aircraft from the 392nd "attacked Berlin on 44 Group which in turn bombed on 389 Group which was bombing on 453 Group.")
This 44th BG photo array, taken at 23,500 feet, shows the cloud coverage over Berlin. Since 8 of the 392nd's planes dropped bombs when the 44th did, this photo no doubt shows the conditions they saw as well.
After bombing, the Wing and Division rally (where the planes reformed into Wings, and then into Bomb Divisions) was "very poorly accomplished". At different times, the 392nd's Lead Navigator found himself to be either north or south of course by his dead reckoning, indicating to him that the wind had shifted "considerably." Stunning proof of the difference between predicted wind speed and direction and what was encountered is given in the 20th Combat Wing's Summary of Wing Critique: An autoplot carried by one of their navigators showed his position as 75 miles north of Berlin but when he made a visual check, he was actually about 50 miles due west of the city.
The wind had a direct impact on US fighter support, especially on the return. Copp noted in his Command Pilot's Narrative, "… no [fighter] support was observed at the target or on the withdrawal." The 8th Air Force Tactical Mission Report (p. 5) was even blunter: "…the B-24's were unescorted from a point a short distance west of Berlin on the penetration, through the target area and for more than 200 miles on the withdrawal." This was due in large part to winds "both stronger and more northerly than predicted" that "caused the bombers to lag considerably behind the time schedule and resulted in several Combat Wings flying a few miles south of course." This Report's Weather Annex said the B-24s encountered winds 10 to 20 degrees more northerly than forecast and 10 to 15 knots stronger than predicted.
American fighters were greatly frustrated by their inability to find the bombers they were supposed to protect. For example, the 361st Fighter Group was scheduled to provide withdrawal support for the B-24s from 1232 until 1305, between Steinhuder Lake and Lingen; their Deputy Commander's "Report on Mission of 29 April 1944" stated:
"…I continued on with the lead squadron, orbiting the Steinhuder area, arriving there at 12:40. At that time, [radio] contact with B24's was made but no accurate report as to their position could be received from them except that one [Combat Wing] stated they were thirty-five minutes late. While I orbited with the lead squadron, I directed Titus squadron to penetrate deeper in search of the B-24's. At 13:10, B-24's called saying they were northeast Hanover. Because of the penetration and length of time we had spent orbiting, I directed the pilots who had at least two hundred gallons of gas to follow me and the remainder to return to base… Then, at 13:15, B-24's again called and said they were forty miles north of Hanover under attack. We still were not able to sight the B-24's and, because of our endurance, could not penetrate any deeper. At 13:15, the Group, according to briefed courses, should have been at the west coast of the Zuider Zee, but, being in the Hanover area instead, I gave recall at 13:15… Pilots on this mission averaged four and one-half hours flying time. Group could not possibly have remained any longer in search of B-24's." (p. 2)
Taking advantage of this lack of support, German fighters harassed the B-24s intermittently all the way to the coast. Attacks were particularly strong in the Dummer Lake and Zuider Zee areas and the German focus on stragglers caused two more 392nd losses.
The 392nd left the Dutch coast at 1425, flying at 18,000 feet. They were over the English coast at 1512, altitude 3,000 feet, and above the base at 1528 at 1,300 feet. Pilot 2Lt Jones, who had badly wounded crewmen on board, fired his red-red flares and landed immediately, without completing the landing pattern circuit. His plane, the first from the 392nd to return, was almost an hour later than forecast at the mission briefing. Seven more planes touched down at Wendling in the next six minutes. The last plane from the 392nd to return landed at 1544.
In its assessment of the German fighter reaction to this mission, the 8th Air Force's Tactical Mission Report 29 April, 1944, noted:
"An estimated 350 enemy fighters, nearly all single-engine aircraft, opposed this operation, with as many as 50 making double sorties. Concentrating a force of more than 100 fighters in the Hannover area, the enemy elected to attack the lightly escorted B-24 force, striking as soon as the P-47's turned back and apparently diverting the single Group of P-51's remaining with the bombers with a flight of 30 single-engine fighters while 60 to 80 enemy aircraft struck the bombers in a two-phase attack continuing to the Initial Point…. Again, on the withdrawal the B-24's, then without any support, were hit even harder than during the penetration by a force of 100 enemy aircraft, many of which were making second sorties…. This operation was marked by the skilful manner in which the [German Air Force] controller handled the forces at his disposal, particularly in the exploitation of temporary advantages." (p. 6)
Eighteen crews from the 392nd Bomb Group participated in the mission against Berlin that Saturday in April 1944. Here are their stories, given in the order they took off. Names in italics were killed in action on this mission. Dates of death for individuals who were killed on later missions are also indicated.
The position of each plane in the 392nd's formation. Arrows indicate planes that crashed. Crews were assigned to the 392nd on these dates: original cadre (Aug. 1943): Copp, Slipp; 4 Dec. 1943: Jones, Wittel; 9 Mar. 1944: Prell; 21 Mar. 1944: Bell, Bridson, Kamenitsa, Ofenstein, Rogers, Sabourin; mid-Mar. 1944: Brunn; 10 Apr. 1944: Bishop, Gann; 11 Apr. 1944: Wyatt; 14 Apr. 1944: Fryman, Shere; 16 Apr. 1944: Reed. (NARA files)
As lead plane for the 392nd, Capt. Copp's ship took off right on time at 0725. At 1104, 50 single engine fighters in double line abreast attacked his formation. These fighters not only shot down four of the 392nd's bombers, but also disrupted the formation as a whole. 1Lt Gries made this terse entry in his navigator log: "Both wing men gone. Formation scattered." With the deputy lead on his right (Slipp) and the wingman on his left (Reed) turning back because of battle damage, Lt Gries' Lead Navigator's Report noted that the formation proceeded toward the target "just following one another."
Further difficulties arose when bombardier Rapenport prepared to drop his bombs. When he opened the bomb bay doors, the left one-damaged by a 20mm shell-only opened partway. After several frantic moments trying to fix the problem, Rapenport's Lead Bombardier's Narrative told how he went back, "pulled the two pins and told the Pilot to salvo. The bombs went away at 1148 and the point of impact was in the southeastern part of the city…"
Getting out of Berlin unscathed was not easy. At 1208, 1Lt Gries recorded in his log: "Made wide right turn and continually S'sed to avoid flak. Very heavy. 10 minutes."
On the return, a group of seven FW-190s attacked the Group ahead around 1330 and then came back and passed from front to right of Copp's plane. Lt Roberts, in the nose turret, fired about 200 rounds at one fighter from 200 to 700 yards and saw some bullets hit the ship. It was seen smoking and spiraling toward the ground out of control. Because the crew was "too busy watching other fighters to note its crash," Lt Roberts received no credit. During the next 33 minutes, they recorded five B-24s going down with only 10 parachutes seen.
They landed at 1530 hours with minor damage to their plane from 20mm cannon shells.
Like Capt. Copp's, 1Lt Slipp's was one of the original crews to man the 392nd in Aug. 1943. Initially the copilot on the Gonseth crew, Slipp became first pilot on Mar. 18, 1944, when Gonseth took over lead crew responsibilities in place of Capt. Graper, who had been injured in a car accident.
As deputy lead, the Slipp crew was the second to take off, at 0726. During the first major attack, S/Sgt Cordick fired three bursts at an FW-190. He saw it go straight down, enveloped in flame. Less than 10 minutes later, while still about 75 miles from Berlin at 24,000 feet, flak and fighters hit them and Slipp had to feather the #3 engine. Fifteen Me-109s came from above and from the east, forcing the gunners to look directly into the sun to spot the fighters. The top turret gunner saw them, almost at the last moment, and yelled a warning over the intercom. The plane was hit by five 20mm shells, seriously wounding the navigator in the hip and the left waist gunner in his foot and leg. In his account of his war-time experiences, "A Story of Three Years," ball turret gunner James Buzick recalled (p. 10), "We were all alone in deep Germany with two wounded people on board, and my guns were inoperative. One of the explosive shells had hit the ammo can of my ball turret and the ammo in the can started to explode. The explosion was so strong it broke the inch thick Plexiglas on the ball turret that I used to sight through. I'm not sure what happened next but I found myself out of the turret and in the waist area of the airplane trying to help the wounded waist gunner, and putting on my parachute. I was too big to wear a parachute in the ball turret. We later found the butt end of a 20 mm explosive shell lodged in my left machine gun, which was situated only inches from me when I was in the turret. I did not have a scratch… I tried to get [S/Sgt Kolczynski] to lie down so that I could take over his guns. Blood was running down his legs from a wound…he refused. He said, 'No damn German is going to shoot me and get away with it!'" He stayed at his gun the whole way back.
Slipp salvoed his bombs and left the formation from 24,500 feet. Soon after, two Me-109s spotted the lone plane and attacked. Slipp dove for the cloud cover at 10,000 feet. After eluding the fighters, Slipp went on the interphone and gave the crew a choice: Sweden or England? The crew voted for England, where they thought there'd be better medical treatment for the wounded crewmen. They stayed low and in the clouds for miles-occasionally venturing above or below the clouds, but always spotting German fighters. In fact, they flew so low across Holland that two crewmen remember German soldiers in a windmill shooting at them with rifles.
They crossed the English Channel just above the water and actually had to gain altitude to get over the cliffs as they approached England. They landed at Wendling at 1316; S/Sgt Buzick remembers (p. 11) that their brakes didn't work very well since they had lost most of their hydraulic fluid. S/Sgt Kolczynski was "stiff as a board" by then and the crew had to carry him to the floor exit by the tail and lower him down.
Axis Grinder had a badly damaged ball turret, a hole in the wing by the #3 engine that was "large as a wash tub" and many other smaller holes.
This crew photo was taken in Oct. 1943, before 1Lt Slipp became their pilot. Since they were a lead crew at the time, it includes the command pilot, lead navigator, and lead bombardier. Back row (l-r): Sgt Fred White, Maj. William Taylor, Capt Mel Graper, Lt John Jones, Capt Harold "Doc" Weiland, Sgt Walt Kolczynski. Front row (l-r): Sgt James Buzick, Sgt Don Cordick, Sgt Bill McKinley, Sgt Bill Lorenzen, Lt Don Williamson, and Lt Rapenport, who was the lead navigator on Copp's crew for the mission to Berlin.
According to the 577th Squadron diary, this was Alfred II's 50th mission, 46 without an abort.
The Reed crew took off on their third mission at 0727. Some time before the IP and flying at 24,000 feet, five Me-109s-the first wave in a group of about 50-attacked from 12 o'clock. As noted in the crew's Interrogation Form and S/Sgt Whitt's Combat Diary, their plane was badly damaged: the hydraulic system was knocked out, gas tanks punctured, controls shot out, #2 engine shot out, #4 engine bad, right rudder shot off, and they had been hit in the bomb bay, cockpit, and radio compartment as well. 2Lt Reed made a sharp turn to the left, got out of the formation, and headed down toward the clouds, quickly jettisoning his bombs. A crew check revealed that everyone was okay. Reed got the plane back to England, but realized he couldn't land the plane safely and ordered the crew to bail out. At about 1320 hours, some of the crew jumped out and landed near Beccles, Suffolk; another crewman jumped out a little later and landed near Ingham, Norfolk. Reed then set the automatic pilot and bailed out himself. Alfred II flew on for a few more miles before it finally crashed and burned near Walcott, Norfolk, at 1329. The only casualty was 2Lt Reed; it was believed he hit the plane while exiting and was unable to open his parachute.
The Brunn crew was unique among the 18 that took off that morning: They were originally assigned to the 376th Bomb Group in San Pancrazio, Italy, and flew 12 missions with them to Toulon, the Anzio beachhead, Regensburg, and Steyr, Austria, among other targets. In mid-March 1944, they were hurriedly transported from Italy to Casablanca to Prestwick, Scotland, and then to Wendling. Their first mission with the 392nd was on 1 April 1944. Having lived in a tent from January to March 1944 while in Italy, 2Lt Brunn wrote his parents that the 8th Air Force was "the Park Avenue of war fronts." At the time, the mission requirement in Italy was 50, in England, it was 30, and their 12 missions with the 15th Air Force were recalibrated to count as 7 missions for the 8th Air Force.
They took off at 0728. Pilot Brunn recalls that the scene over Berlin "was an awesome gray mass like flying into a thunderstorm." They dropped bombs at 1146 from 23,700 feet. At 1328, ten to twelve enemy fighters attacked the formation in front and then two FW-190s went back through Brunn's formation. T/Sgt Hassett fired about 100 rounds at 200 yards; he saw some bullets hit and the plane went down smoking, but he got no credit. This may have been the same attack that put a hole in the #3 gas tank. Hassett hurriedly transferred the remaining gas to another tank while copilot Reinbold prayed that they wouldn't get hit again while all that fuel streamed out.
Their luck held, and they landed at 1530.
This photo shows several of the Brunn crew at Wendling, probably after a game of volleyball.The volleyball net was located just outside their hut. Back row (l-r): S/Sgt Ernest Fund, F/O Henry Reinbold, S/Sgt James Hair, S/Sgt William Harris. Front row (l-r): 2Lt James Coyle, S/Sgt Richard Goric.
This photo of the Brunn crew was taken in mid-July 1944, after they had completed all required combat missions. Some of the enlisted crew had already been transferred to other assignments; S/Sgt Fund, for example, was a nose turret instructor in Ireland. Back row (l-r): T/Sgt "Mac" Adams, T/Sgt Thomas Hassett, F/O Henry Reinbold. Front row (l-r): 2Lt Walter Brunn, 2LT Richard Griffith, 2Lt James Coyle.
The Gann crew lifted off at 0729. While north of Amsterdam at 19,700 feet, the pilot noticed a large oil leak in the #3 engine. Gann feathered the propeller and turned back at 1000, landing at Shipdham. Inspection revealed that an empty shell case, ejected when ships in front of him test-fired their guns, had severed the propeller feathering line. The line was removed and replaced, and the airplane returned to Wendling at 1122. All bombs were brought back.
Bell took off at 0729. He was flying in the 44th BG's formation when they neared the IP. At 1117, four or five enemy aircraft came through in a pack. The bombardier, in the nose, fired at a Me-109 from about 200 yards; he saw the plane smoking, its engine on fire, and parts of the right side cowling flying off. The waist gunners confirmed seeing pieces of the enemy aircraft go past their windows. (For his efforts, Bogie earned a "probable.")
Bell dropped his bombs at 1145 from 23,500 feet along with the 44 BG's lead squadron. They saw smoke up to 18,000 feet coming from the target. At the crew interrogation, he said there were "too many planes over target waiting around for bomb run." He also commented that enemy aircraft seemed to concentrate on stragglers as they were "hanging about in clouds waiting for them." They returned safely to base at 1531 with only minor damage to the plane, but reported that four oxygen masks-for Blanco, Dorn, Bogie, and Seymour-had failed.
The Wittel crew took off at 0731. At 1102, about 30 miles northeast of Hannover, 50 enemy aircraft struck head on in a massed attack. Wittel recalled afterward that friendly fighter support was changing when the first pass was made and by the time P-38s came in and engaged the enemy at 1105, it was too late. Their top turret gunner fired 75 bursts at an FW-190 and thought 30 to 40 hit. He saw the plane go down smoking but there was too much fighting to positively say it crashed. Wittel dropped his bombs from 24,000 feet when the lead ship of the 44th did-and was one of the few ships from the 392nd to have photographic coverage of the event.
His group was attacked at 1220, one pass from the nose, and again at 1310-an attack by scattered enemy aircraft against stragglers, three to five at a time.
Wittel's was the last plane from the 392nd to land that day, at 1544. According to T/Sgt Cletus Jeffcoat's diary, this mission "was the longest time over enemy territory. We had a big headwind and it took us a long time to get out. We made it back to the field and couldn't get the wheels down. After a while we got them down, but not locked. We began to think we were going to have to bail out. We finally got them locked and came in on three engines. We were all in the back for crash landing. We thought we had no brakes, but our auxillary system worked. Every one was sweating us in, had lots of other crews to come out to our plane. Really drew a crowd. No one hurt, thank God."
Pilot William Kamenitsa had originally enlisted in the infantry. His name was misspelled as "Kamenitsy" on his initial paperwork; whenever he tried to have it corrected, he was admonished, "The Army doesn't make mistakes, you must be wrong!" The misspelling followed him when he transferred to the Air Corps, and all official documents show his name as "Kamenitsy."
The Kamenitsa crew in early April 1944. Back row (l-r): 2Lt John Faas (KIA 7-7-44), 2Lt John Caulfield, 2Lt Gene Miller, S/Sgt Edwin Heater, Sgt Jack Krejci. Front row (l-r): Sgt Oliver Guillot, 2Lt William Kamenitsa, Sgt ArchieYoung, Sgt Lark Morgan, S/Sgt Joseph Trivisonp
The crew had gone through training with the Rogers crew and the twenty men were close friends.
The Kamenitsa crew took off at 0732. Around 1100 while north of Hannover, fighters attacked Ofenstein's plane, which was flying just to the left and slightly behind Kamenitsa. They apparently scored some direct hits to the front part of the plane as Ofenstein's plane first tilted, with the right wing just above Kamenitsa's left wing, and then abruptly dropped, breaking off about ten feet of Kamenitsa's left wing and the entire left aileron. Graham immediately salvoed the bombs from the pilot's pedestal while Kamenitsa fought to keep the plane under control. Because of the missing wing section, the left side of the plane was getting very little lift, causing the left wing to drop and making the plane circle to the left. To compensate, Kamenitsa put full power to the left engines and reduced power on the right engines. The correction did not allow them to fly "straight" but it did keep them from going into a full spin and certain death for most of the crew. He told the crew he thought he could get them back to England, if he could just get into some cloud cover.
From the back, Sgt Morgan reported that his guns had jammed. At the waist, Sgt Krejci was so intent on firing at the Me-109s that he wasn't aware Kamenitsa had lowered his wheels as a sign of surrender. When he heard Kamenitsa telling the gunners over the interphone to "cease fire" he didn't understand why. It wasn't until Sgt Guillot pointed to their left wing that he realized they were in trouble. The fighters finally stopped shooting at the crippled B-24 but they continued to circle the plane all the way down.
Engineer Heater stood between the pilots' seats and used his fingernails to scrape ice from the windshield so Kamenitsa could see. He headed for a large field, with the B-24's undercarriage brushing the trees at its edge. They touched down at about 150 mph and all went smoothly at first. Then the nose wheel hit a ditch or road and collapsed, burying the nose in the ground where it plowed a furrow for a few hundred yards. The top turret caved in, cutting Heater's legs and pushing the armor plating behind the pilots forward, ramming them against their steering columns.
When the plane finally stopped moving, the nose section was buried under the cockpit and there was nothing in front of the pilots but dirt. In the back, the two waist gunners had been holding tightly to their guns. When the nose hit and the plane abruptly stopped, they were hurled toward the front of the plane over Sgt Young's head, finally colliding with a forward bulkhead. Survivors agreed it was miracle that the plane never caught fire.
The German fighters kept close watch on the downed crew from the air until civilians took them prisoner. They were eventually taken to an air raid shelter in Hanover where someone commented that the Rogers crew was probably already back in England drinking beers in their honor. Then the door opened and the surviving members of the Rogers crew walked in.
The Kamenitsa plane shortly after its crash. The white object was Sgt Guillot's parachute, which he was planning to use to burn the plane. That scheme was abandoned when a quick head count showed three men were missing, presumably still in the wreckage.
Jones took off at 0733. Bombardier Thomas recalled that when they got up to 24,000 feet, the temperature had dropped to 34 degrees below zero. He was still cold after turning the thermostat on his electrically heated flying suit up to high.
Just after 11 a.m., he saw a dozen enemy aircraft attack the B-17 formation about two miles to his left. When the friendly fighters went out to engage, 40 German fighters came in from above. About 10 or 12 seemed to target Jones' ship. Bombardier Thomas, in the nose turret, fired at an FW-190 until it caught fire and exploded about 150 yards off the left wing. A minute later, at 1111, S/Sgt Marvin destroyed another FW-190 from his position in the right waist.
Jones released his bombs at 1146 from 23,500 ft. while under attack by 50 German fighters. As Jones put it later, "They looked like a swarm of bees and they certainly stung us." During the melee, a bullet came through the left side of the nose turret between Thomas's neck and shoulder, passed by the navigator's head and hit the copilot in the right ankle, nearly severing his leg. Another round cut through Jones' oxygen line and he had to make do with portable oxygen bottles for the rest of the mission.
Radio operator McAdams somehow maneuvered Sandoz out of his seat and onto the flight deck, where he cut Sandoz's flying suit away and applied a tourniquet to the mangled leg. He sprinkled sulfa powder, the only antibiotic available, onto the wound and tended to Sandoz the whole way back.
Jones, who was now formed with the 44th BG, was attacked again on the return trip by four enemy aircraft that swooped down from 11 o'clock high. S/Sgt Surber, who had moved from the ball turret to the left waist gun, shot the right wing off a Me-109, destroying it at 1327 while simultaneously the tail gunner fired at four more Me-109s coming in from 4 o'clock, causing one to smoke.
Bombardier Thomas recalled that as they neared the Zuider Zee, seven Me-109s began "playing around and picking on stragglers. We were all nearly out of oxygen at this time and were really sweating out the coast and leaving so we could drop down below the formation. I was worried about George giving out of oxygen, as there was no one to keep an eye on him. We finally saw the clouds break and the beautiful Channel. Also the [enemy fighters] left just as we had to drop down on account of oxygen."
Jones flew the whole way back by himself, getting a replenishment oxygen bottle as needed. When they finally got back to Wendling, 2Lt Thomas fired three red flares, signifying injured on board, and they landed at 1528 without flying the traffic pattern. They pulled off the runway into a revetment as soon as they slowed down and Sandoz was quickly taken away by ambulance. The doctor later told Jones that Sandoz would have died if they'd been just 15 minutes later getting him medical attention. Three crewmen (Marvin, Lane, and Surber) had frostbite on their faces; Marvin's was considered "pretty severe." When their plane was inspected later, it had two holes in the nose turret, two 20mm holes in the wing, and several flak holes.
The Jones crew had the most success against enemy fighters of any 392nd plane that day: three destroyed. They were the only 392nd crew to have more than one claim against enemy fighters approved.
The Ofenstein crew took off at 0734. Sgt Guillot, Kamenitsa's left waist gunner, was in the perfect spot to see what happened to Ofenstein's ship during the attack. "We had just gone through heavy anti-aircraft fire and I could see heavy anti-aircraft up ahead of us that was shooting at the first wave of heavy bombers that were over Berlin. 062 was up on my left… Suddenly, a German fighter's shells hit the Ofenstein plane. It lifted 062 up, maybe ten to fifteen feet, and blew it forward! Pointed in the nose up position above us, it rolled over, came down and hit our wing. The last time I saw them they were in a steep descent to the left with their left wing much lower than the right."
Navigator Purner told Greg Hatton he had just logged a position report when the bombardier yelled from the nose turret that fighters were coming in from 11 o'clock high. They flew in from the left and the interphone resounded with calls of "fire in the bomb bay" and "fire in the engine" and "fire all over." Then they hit Kamenitsa's plane and their tail assembly was ripped off. Almost immediately, the plane went into a flat spin to the left and lost altitude rapidly. The #1 and #2 engines were gone, and a third engine was on fire. Purner put his navigator's desk up and sat on the edge of the nose wheel door. They dropped through the cloud cover at 15,000 feet at almost the exact time he heard the bailout bell.
Ofenstein had lowered the landing gear as a sign of surrender, so when Purner slid out the hatch he immediately wound up astride the mudguard, just above the lowered nose wheel. The slipstream pulled both his felt boot liners and fur-lined flying boots off his feet. He'd previously been hit in the left leg and foot by shrapnel, so this was quite painful. Try as he might, centrifugal force kept him pinned against the nose wheel, spinning as the plane did and seeing the ground come ever closer. At less than 1,000 feet, he was blown free when the ship apparently exploded; he didn't pull the ripcord but suddenly saw his parachute open above him. After landing, he buried his chute and then lay alone in a grain field until S/Sgt Smith joined him. Together, they watched the B-24s fly away. He and S/Sgt Smith evaded capture until German civilians found them at 2215 on 1May. Purner later told the Johnson City Press (April 29, 2000) that "Civilians captured me, and that was not a pleasant situation. One of my gunners was with me, and we were beaten. They had a rope around my neck, and we had resigned to the fact that we were going to be hung. Two older German men armed with Luger pistols managed to persuade the young hotheads in that mob that we should be held for military interrogation."
As he told Greg Hatton, S/Sgt Krushas had been enjoying the scenery from his top turret. At 11 a.m., it was a beautiful spring morning with white puffy clouds. His appreciation of the fine day ended abruptly when the bombardier yelled "Fighters off the nose, eleven o'clock!" Krushas immediately pinpointed a swarm of German fighters, maybe over 100 in all. He fired as the fighters approached, but 20mm cannon shells quickly put his turret out of business.
The radio operator, standing between the pilots' seats, saw about 20 to 30 fighters attack his group of about 14 airplanes. He told Greg Hatton of the terrifying events that soon followed. When they got hit, a fire started that quickly spread into the bomb bay. Gasoline was pouring down from the punctured tanks and was feeding the fire, a frightening sight with 5,300 pounds of bombs still on board. S/Sgt Kennett went down to try and put the fire out. While he was standing on the catwalk, the bomb bay doors opened. The fire was "just tremendous" by then and Kennett had no chance of putting it out. He looked toward the flight deck and saw Wall motioning for him to get out. He went to the flight deck, snapped on his parachute and tugged at Krushas' feet where they dangled from his top turret. Finally, Kennett recalls, "I gave up and figured [Krushas was] going to ride the ship down. I didn't know what [he] was doing and I had to bail out. Things were getting pretty risky there." The pilots were still working furiously at the controls when Kennett went out the bomb bay. He was captured right after landing.
As Krushas told Hatton, he had in fact climbed down from his top turret when he heard Ofenstein yelling over the intercom for the crew to bail out. He went forward to the flight deck and witnessed the pilots' Herculean efforts to keep the ship flying. Then, it occurred to him, "Hey…we're in battle! I've left my post!" He was back UP in his turret when Kennett grabbed his legs. In a quick glance around the plane, Krushas saw the whole top of the wing on fire; on the flight deck, the gas in the fuel sight gauge was also ablaze. Burning gasoline was landing on his parachute where it lay atop the radio transmitter cabinets. He yanked the parachute out of its case (which thankfully was not yet on fire), snapped it on, and went to the edge of the flight deck, about three feet above the catwalk in the bomb bay. There, too, burning gas was dripping onto the bombs. Figuring he had no other options, he dived off the flight deck, slipping neatly between the bottom thousand-pound bombs. As he descended, he watched Kamenitsa's attempt to land his plane in the field. Krushas wound up unconscious in a treetop with parachute cords wrapped around his neck; an old German climbed up and cut him loose.
Sgt Hatton was first out the escape hatch between the waist and tail positions, expecting Smith, Rowlett and Schmelzle to quickly follow. Both Hatton and Smith remember that as Schmelzle was putting on his parachute, it unexpectedly opened up; he was gathering it together when they jumped. Smith got out just as the plane jerked into a tight spin at about 10,000 ft. The last thing Smith saw inside the plane was Schmelzle and Rowlett stuck to the bulkhead by centrifugal force.
Hatton and Krushas had already been captured and were locked up in a silo when they heard an air raid siren that afternoon. They looked out a small window and saw American bombers on their way back to England. Then they were taken for interrogation and afterward put in a large room with many other captured airmen. Krushas vividly remembers German fighter pilots walking through the room asking, "What plane were you in? What bomber? What letter was on your plane's tail?" as they tried to find someone from the planes they had just shot down.
The Ofenstein crew. Back row (l-r): 2Lt Leo Ofenstein, 2Lt John Wall, 2Lt David Purner, 2Lt Harold Buzzi. Front row (l-r): S/Sgt Vitold Krushas, S/Sgt Roy Kennett, Sgt Hyman Hatton, Sgt Oliver Schmelzle, Sgt Robert Rowlett, S/Sgt Arthur Smith.
Fryman's was the first of the four crews chosen to fly with the 44th BG to take off, at 0735. Despite extensive battle damage, the plane made it back to Wendling and was in a landing-pattern circuit over the field. At 1522, the plane suddenly exploded and then crashed two miles south of the base, killing the entire crew.
This photo of the Wyatt crew was taken on 17 April 1944. Back row (l-r): S/Sgt David Harbaugh, S/Sgt Jack Goetz, S/Sgt Robert Monroe, Sgt Robert Thompson, Sgt John Sorrells, Sgt Alfred Archambeau. Front row (l-r): 2Lt Bert Wyatt, 2Lt Walter Gichan, 2Lt Douglas Franke, 2Lt Aubert Tufts.
The Wyatt crew took off at 0735 and joined the 44th BG formation as ordered. Capt. Copp saw them in formation over the target and it was presumed they had dropped their bombs. They crashed at 1345 in a forest near the small town of Dinklage, Germany, about 230 miles due west of Berlin. The plane was apparently a straggler as no US airman saw what happened to it. German records show that both a flak battery and a fighter claimed to have caused the crash, although they don't say in what order, under what circumstances, or what damage either caused. A young German saw El Lobo in the air just before it impacted: neither right engine was working and thick black smoke was coming from the forward part of the fuselage. Other witnesses at the crash site remember seeing unexploded bombs in the wreckage that German soldiers from Vechta Airbase detonated a few days later.
This document, from Headquarters, German Air Force Region XI, lists 4 of the 20 crashes in that area on April 29, 1944. The Wyatt crash is at the bottom, Shere's is just above it. The columns (from left to right) show the location of the crash on the German military grid system; the geographic location; time of crash; plane type and amount of damage; who claimed the crash; what happened with the crew-number dead ("tote") or captured ("gefangen"); what military authority was responsible for salvaging the aircraft; who actually salvaged it; and additional remarks. Enough of the tail section remained after Shere's crash for the Germans to identify the B-24 by its serial number, 1-28759.
One of the four planes assigned to fly with the 44th Bomb Group, the Prell crew took off at 0736. When just a few minutes from the IP, three Me-109s pressed the attack. The bombardier fired at the middle plane until it went into a spin off the right wing, where the right waist gunner saw it explode 4,000 feet below them. Almost simultaneously, the top turret gunner fired at the Me-109 on the left. It was smoking as it went past the B-24. Prell dropped his bombs at 1145 from 22,500 feet. Navigator Anderson recorded intermittent attacks from Berlin all the way to the Dutch coast, with the largest attack about 1327.
Prell landed at Wendling at 1529-the only one of the four crews designated to fly with the 44th BG to return.
At 0737, the Shere crew took off, the last of the four 392nd planes chosen to fly with the 44th BG on this mission. Excluding Sgt Wilcox, who was a substitute from 2Lt Larson's crew, ball turret gunner Joe Maloy was the most experienced man. He was on his third mission while everyone else was on his second mission.
They were hit by flak after dropping bombs but while still in the Berlin area; Maloy remembers that the shrapnel bouncing off the B-24 sounded like hail on a tin roof (The Fayette Citizen Online, Nov. 4, 1994). Shere feathered one engine but was able to keep up with the other planes. A short time later, German fighters came down through the formation, knocking out two planes above Shere's and causing another of his engines to windmill. With this damage, they could no longer keep up with the formation and they headed toward England alone, losing altitude with every passing moment.
In his story, "Mooning Frankfurt," navigator Ryan provided a detailed account of what happened next. The nose turret was out and he remembers thinking that if it was a hydraulic problem, then probably all the turrets would have to be worked manually, a slow and therefore ineffective operation. The intercom was silent, leaving Ryan to wonder if the plane was on autopilot. He knew the flight deck had taken a lot of damage and he wasn't sure if the pilots were even flying the airplane anymore.
Then Ryan saw a single Me-109 that sprayed the damaged B-24 with bullets until it was finished. The bailout bell sounded, and Ryan went out the nose wheel well. As he was hiding his parachute in a bush, Joe Maloy came "hot-footing across the field… There were a lot of people chasing him and by the time he got to me, he was gasping and wheezing, blood was streaming down his face, and I thought he must be seriously wounded. In the minute or so it took to convince me that his wounds were slight, the German people were on us… We were surrounded by people from a nearby village. A young boy was acting as interpreter. The first question he asked was 'Do you want to go to Berlin?' We said, "Hell, no, we just came from there.' That probably was not a good thing to say because they immediately shook a few pitch forks at us.'" They were taken to the village jail where they were reunited with Bennett, Wilcox, and Hampton (who had been hit in the stomach by a piece of shrapnel-luckily, the many layers of clothing he was wearing kept the metal from doing serious internal damage). Morris was brought in later with two leg wounds; one of the fighter's bullets had gone completely through his calf and another through his thigh.
Joe Maloy's ball turret had been raised and as he climbed out, he saw two bright orange flashes and heard two loud bangs. He felt like someone had hit him hard with a handful of rocks. He had no time to wonder what had happened, though, as he immediately took over the right waist gun in place of wounded Thomas Hampton. He remembers that the fatal attack was by three fighter planes. The crew shot one down, another abandoned the assault, and the third attacked from below and to the left-it was this plane that caused the fatal damage.
After he had bailed out and was floating down to earth, Maloy finally had time to remove his helmet and goggles. He discovered that his helmet was filled with blood. After he and Ryan were captured and taken to a jail, Maloy found ten more wounds on his right side from his waist to his shoulder. He and Ryan used a small knife to dig out most of the 20mm shrapnel.
Engineer Orlando Friesen had a difficult time escaping the plane. When the hydraulics went out, his top turret got stuck in an awkward position. He tossed his parachute down (he had been sitting on it) and squeezed out of the turret as quickly as he could. A glimpse onto the flight deck convinced him the copilot and radio operator were already dead and the pilot was almost dead. He promptly sounded the bailout bell. Hurriedly putting on his parachute-a difficult job since the plane was then in a steep dive-he jumped through the opened bomb bay doors. The plane was quite low when he finally got out and he hit the ground hard. In fact, he didn't really become coherent until he was in Stalag 17B.
Tail gunner Marvin Morris spent about two months at a German hospital in Lingen and later told Maloy that the downed German pilot came to visit him there. A bullet from one of the bomber's .50 caliber machine guns had hit the German pilot and they compared war wounds.
The crash occurred shortly after 1330, less than 15 miles west of where the Wyatt crew would crash at 1345.
The Shere crew. Standing, l to r: 2Lt Fred Shere, 2Lt Milan Zeman, 2Lt Robert Cox (KIA 8-12-44), 2Lt Patrick Ryan. Kneeling, l to r: Sgt Fonzy M. Wilson, Sgt Marvin Morris, Sgt Joe Maloy, Sgt Frank Bennett, Sgt Thomas Hampton, S/Sgt Orlando Friesen.
They took off at 0738. They had already flown so many times in #028 that they regarded her as their ship. Being a superstitious lot, they refused to name her or have nose art painted on her, because they felt those ships were shot down more often.
They were particularly vigilant. They carefully logged when Gann turned back at 1000 and they reported Bishop and Rogers pulling out of formation during the first attack, and then Slipp at 1114. They noted that the first attack was by 24 planes in a good formation coming in at 11 o'clock. S/Sgt Hollien, manning the top turret, fired 100 rounds at one of these planes, an FW-190; it emitted black oily smoke and then blew up under their stabilizer. Although P-38s eventually chased the Germans away, the formation was greatly scattered.
Navigator Lipschitz felt they were all alone over Berlin and they dropped their bombs at 1145 with the 445th BG (the "F" group) from the 2nd Combat Wing-who was supposed to be flying abreast of their own 14th Combat Wing. The formation was very disorganized. From his vantage point at the front of the plane, Lipschitz thought the flak looked like he could walk on it, 640 guns. He recalled that after bomb release, Sabourin made a quick right turn, put the nose down and left Berlin, looking for a B-24 formation to join. He saw a cluster ahead and merged in, surprised to see planes from his own Group.
Sabourin remembers, "The German fighters had a field day with our formations. The timing for our fighter cover replacements was off perhaps 10 or 15 minutes. Evidently, the German ground radar picked up this delay and directed their fighters, so enabling them to strafe the formation, and they literally did strafe them. You could see them up ahead. They looked like little birds, swallows. The next thing you knew they were coming through the formation firing at you and the little 'Christmas tree lights' would be popping up all around you." (20th Century Crusaders by Ian Hawkins, p. 128-129).)
They landed at 1532.
The Sabourin crew. Back row, l-r: 2Lt Roland Sabourin, 2Lt Erwin, 2Lt William Singleton, 2Lt Elmer Amble. Front row, l-r: S/Sgt Walter Mateski, S/Sgt Eugene Mahon, S/Sgt Frederick Hollien, Pfc Joseph Spagnola, Sgt Edward Moran, and S/Sgt Kenneth Robbins.
The Bishop crew. (L to r): Sgt John Bonnassiolle, S/Sgt Joseph Karaso, Sgt Michael Chiodo, S/Sgt Orus Baxter, 2Lt Robert Bishop, Sgt John Harringer, 2Lt Thomas Digman, 2Lt Arthur Luce, and 2Lt Donald Hess. Not shown: Sgt James Blong and S/Sgt Ralph McDonald.
The Bishop crew took off at 0739. Around 1103, after the first fighter attack, the Sabourin crew saw them pull away from the formation, reporting that it "looked like the right elevator was shot up badly. No chutes." Sgt Guillot, Kamenitsa's left waist gunner, remembers that when his airplane came to rest after the crash and the dust had settled, he could see a huge fire and black smoke near a farm house or barn a few hundred yards away. He was sure it was a bomber from his own Group, perhaps Ofenstein's, since their two planes had collided and left the formation at the same time. As it turned out, the plane was actually Bishop's. German witnesses remember seeing the dogfight between the fighters and the bombers in the sky over the farm, and then the B-24 spiraling down toward the horse pasture below. They confirmed that everyone was killed in the crash. About an hour after the impact, a bomb exploded in the wreckage, destroying much of what remained of the plane and sending debris far and wide through the little town.
This aerial photo, taken in 1945, has been edited to show how close to each other the Bishop and Kamenitsa planes crashed.
The Bridson crew started out in plane #852 but it developed uncontrollable turbo superchargers while forming up. They returned to base, landed, quickly transferred to the spare (#42-52548), and took off again at 0747.
The first attack was at 1103, seven or eight FW-190s coming from high and head on, two or three at a time.
Copilot Green recalls that on the bomb run and just above his altitude of 25,000 feet there was a thin cloud layer between 50 and 100 feet thick. German fighters used this cover to get ahead of his formation, turn and make a head-on dive through the formation. He was positioned high right and slightly ahead of the main formation so he was unable to see how effective the German tactics were. The flak was the worst he had ever experienced, completely blocking any sight of the Groups ahead. At about two minutes before bomb drop, he happened to glance up to a "most horrifying sight":
B-17s with bomb bay doors open and converging on our line of flight. I tried to alert the formation to this and asked for an immediate break to the left. This didn't happen. As I looked up I could see the bombs dropping from the B-17s and we were flying right through their pattern. At this point our formation also released our bombs and the entire formation made a sharp left turn to try and get out from under the 17s. The results of all this is that the formation we were in scattered in what seemed total chaos, which I guess is about the only way to describe it. I recall seeing several ships going down, both 24s and 17s but there was just no way to determine who they were in all the confusion. After getting out of the Berlin area there were many, many single ships trying to re-gather into a semblance of protective formation. This was not as easy as it would seem because if your aircraft couldn't be positively identified the formation just wouldn't let you join up… On the long flight back we finally did manage to get close enough to another formation for some protection, but not near as much as we would have liked. After crossing the English Channel we made our way back to our home base alone and didn't find out until the next day who in our Group didn't make it."
Those B-17s may have belonged to the 303rd Bomb Group, part of the second force (1st Bomb Division). Their "S-3 Narrative of Combat Mission Flown 29 April, 1944 to Berlin, Germany" reported that "B-24's were making runs on the city below us as well as other B-17 formations at our altitude [25,800 feet]."
Bridson's crew was one of the few in the 392nd to bomb when Copp did, releasing at 1145 from 24,500 feet.
The other attack noted in their records was from ten Me-109s at 1329; these planes came from both sides at 11 and 1 o'clock high.
They landed safely at 1534.
As Sgt Longo told Greg Hatton, "The morning of April 29 was really something because… we were really down. None of the fellows talked to each other or said 'Hi'…everybody was down in the dumps. Our plane, The Bad Penny, was getting fixed and so we were flying Double Trouble." The Rogers crew had flown The Bad Penny on nine of their ten previous takeoffs at the 392nd, so having to fly in a different plane undoubtedly seemed like a bad sign.
Rogers was the last of the 18 planes to take off, at 0755. S/Sgt. Gienko recalls that even before being hit in the first attack, engine problems made it hard for them to keep up with the formation and they had begun to fall back. As a safeguard, he hung his flak armor above and to the rear of his tail turret instead of wearing it, because he thought he had more protection that way. This precaution obviously worked, as it kept him from being wounded during the fighter attack.
German fighters roared in from the front of the formation, scoring a direct hit on the nose with a 20mm shell, demolishing the nose turret, killing the bombardier; and sending a line of bullets down the middle of the plane. Two bullets hit Danford and another bullet went through Longo's leather jacket but didn't touch him. Gienko got off a few rounds as the -190s and -109s flew past him, but it wasn't long before the plane left the formation; at 1103, Bridson's crew saw Rogers pull out at 24,000 feet with "1-2 engines smoking."
The plane was on fire and the bailout bell soon sounded. The men left the plane by any means possible-navigator through the nose hatch (after first trying to drag the bombardier out of the nose and realizing he was dead); copilot through the upper hatch; engineer, and radio operator through the front bomb bay; and both waist gunners and ball turret gunner through the waist windows. By the time he got out of his tail turret and up to the waist position, everyone else seemed to be gone and S/Sgt Gienko thought he was the last one left. After frantically struggling to open up the floor hatch, he went out the right waist window. Narrowly missing the right stabilizer, he descended in constant fear of being shot at by all the German fighters that were still in the area. After landing, he, Lt Weir, and T/Sgt McCalicher were taken to an anti-aircraft battery. Later, some Gestapo agents drove them to the same air raid shelter in Hannover where the Kamenitsa crew survivors were being held.
The plane crashed at 1106 in a deer enclosure near the small town of Meitze. One man (Kane) was found dead in the wreckage and eight more were rounded up within minutes. The fate of 2Lt Rogers, the pilot, remained a mystery until 1947, when his body was found in a forest some distance from the crash site with his parachute still intact.
The Rogers crew. Back row, l-r: 1Lt Gerald Rogers, 2Lt Jack Roper, 2Lt Fred Kane, 2Lt Richard Weir. Front row, l-r: T/Sgt Robert McCalicher, Sgt Robert Longo, Sgt Robert Danford, T/Sgt Earl Lawson, S/Sgt Edward Gienko, and Sgt Harold Andrews.
Losses for the 392nd on 29 April 1944: eight planes crashed, 44 men were killed in action, 27 men were taken prisoner, and several more who got back to England were wounded or frostbitten. Simply put, 71 of the 181 men who left Wendling that morning did not return that afternoon. It was the second worst of the 285 missions flown by the 392nd Bomb Group.
Three of the 18 planes flown to Berlin by the 392nd were survivors of the mission to Friedrichshafen on 18 March 1944, when the Group had its highest losses of the war. All three-El Lobo, Double Trouble, and Doodle Bug-crashed.
What were the folks back home told about the mission? Lucretia Boothe Maloy saved an article about the Berlin raid that she saw in her local newspaper, The Montgomery [Alabama] Advertiser, on 30 April 1944. She was unaware that her son Joe, on Shere's crew, had participated in the mission and become a prisoner of war; she simply thought the size of the headlines meant that the article was about "something big" and therefore worth keeping. It began:
"Two thousand U.S. warplanes smashing through box-like stacks of hundreds of German fighters in the greatest daylight battle of the war cast a 2,500-ton torrent of exploding steel and incendiaries on invasion-jittery Berlin today at a cost of 63 bombers and 14 fighters…. The Berlin assault was declared to be not only the fiercest air battle ever fought at the Nazi capital: It was the fiercest ever fought in the whole course of the war… The assault on Berlin was perhaps unequaled by any previous daylight blow of the war. Roaring more than 500 miles across Europe through a gauntlet of German fighters and anti-aircraft bursts, about 1,000 American Flying Fortresses and Liberators converged on the Nazi capital at the noon hour, bringing to Berliners once more the real and terrible preliminaries to invasion."
The MIA telegrams began arriving in mid-May.