Mission #14 - July 11, 1943
LeBourget (Paris), France
1/L Mike Arpaia, 339th, was the lead bombardier and he was determined to make amends for our earlier failure to bomb this central Luftwaffe base. Crews were awakened at 0130, briefed and ready for an 0500 take-off. Twenty-one A/C were dispatched and of the 16 that bombed, almost everyone returned to base with varying degrees of flak and/or fighter damage. It was reported that around 100 E/A attacked the 4BW. Nevertheless, only the 94BG, strung out by aborts and stragglers, lost 4 planes.
Flying with the 96th this day was Peter (later Sir Peter) Masefield who had been on liaison duties with the 8th for the RAF. Several days later (18 July) he made a broadcast over BBC giving the following first hand account:
Last week I flew from England to Paris . . . and fortunately back again . . . in an American aeroplane. Four years ago that wouldn't have excited any comment at all. But on last Wednesday, Bastille Day, there seemed to be any amount of efforts to prevent the flight. Something upwards of 60 German fighters did their damndest to stop the Fortress in which I was flying and 83 others . . . to say nothing of the flak. It was warm work while it lasted but I wouldn't have missed it for anything. The American bombers fought their way through to the target in spite of all the Germans did. They bombed the objective neatly, precisely and then fought their way home again. And, of the whole force, four were lost.
The target was LeBourget; not the whole great aerodrome, but a cluster of workshops and hangers at one end of it . . . The Germans are using the workshops for repairing FW-190s, so it is a very important target . . . When we were briefed at 2 o'clock in the morning we were told that the opposition would be fierce. This is a job for daylight precision bombing if ever there was one. It had to be carried out without killing thousands of French civilians.
Now, the secret of success in a raid of this sort against intense fighter attack is extremely tight defensive formations so that the twelve .50 calibre guns in each Fortress can put up a terrific volume of cross-fire. During the weeks in which I had been living with the American crews, we had constantly flown practice missions getting that horizontal pyramid formation absolutely perfect. And it's an incredible sight to see 80 or more great four-engined bombers all packed in and bristling with guns.
Just as dawn was breaking, we took off. I was flying with Captain Lambert and his crew in Daisy June III. We were leading the high squadron just above and behind Captain Vern Iverson's Mischief Maker which was leading the entire 4th Bomb Wing . . . The squadrons and groups formed up as we climbed . . . Then, at over 20,000 feet, we leveled out. Other Fortresses were rising and falling behind us as if bucking an ocean swell . . . We turned out to sea heading for France. Almost immediately four most comforting squadrons of Spitfire IX's began to escort us. Just past Rouen the Spits turned back. We were sorry to see them go because now we knew the fight would soon start.
And sure enough it did!
Eleven o'clock high! Eleven o'clock high!
Ahead and above us on the port beam four FW-190's were coming around in a vertical bank. They came head on. Wings seemed to sparkle as guns fired and tracers lazily curved under our wing and disappeared behind. By now our nose guns were firing. The fighters plunged in, rolling as they came and diving down underneath. Hardly had they gone than another lot appeared . . . and after them? Still more!
But the Forts swept on. Guns firing, tracers curving they plowed forward like an armada of battleships keeping perfect formation, closing up rather than stretching out under enemy fire . . .
Peter Masefield's BBC report, besides being wonderfully detailed, was a most encouraging tribute to American precision bombing and it concluded thus:
And so we followed Mischief Maker back across the Channel to those English fields which looked more beautiful than ever. The photos of the bomb-run showed that the job had been well done. Not all the fighters in France could stop the Fortresses getting to their target. Having lived with these crews and shared one of their missions, I feel that I've witnessed a little of that immensely important job the U.S. Eighth Air Force under General Ira C. Eaker is doing on these precision raids; dovetailing completely with Sir Arthur Harris' RAF night-time area bombing.
The spirit of these American crews, as that of the RAF, is magnificent! To General Anderson, Colonel Curtis LeMay, Colonel Archie Old and their gallant crews, I say 'Thank you for all your kindness and help; for a wonderful and inspiring experience. Good luck and good shooting, boys!'
Major Tom Kenny's famous lead plane, Fertile Myrtle 3rd.
Obviously, not all crews made this Bastille Day mission. One such crew was Major Kenny's of the 338th's Fertile Myrtle. Bill Thorns and one of his crew members had made some tough missions and were full of anticipation as they dressed up for their double dates in London. The handsomeness of these two gunners must have been exciting. At any rate, one of the girls sort of swooned. (Actually, she had an epileptic fit.) After our two 96 airmen revived her with cold compresses, they canceled the dates and spent most of the afternoon watching the funeral procession of General Sikorski. What fun!