Mission #17 - July 26, 1943
Continuing to pursue the Casablanca directive which listed priority targets for "round the clock" bombing, the 96th headed for the railroad yards of Hannover. The group was forming up shortly after an 0800 take-off when Lt. Joe Bender, Pilot of the 337th's A/C 42-30356, Tarfu, was climbing to altitude. He heard a snap and felt a jolt as the prop governor in No. 1 engine broke its oil distributing shaft. Immediately the propeller "ran-away" spinning crazily at over 3000 rpm's.
Bender's co-pilot, Lew Feldstein, takes up the story:
Oh, we finally shut it down all right. But because we were so heavy with bombs and fuel, we had overboosted the other three engines and blown a section of intake manifold on number 3. That forced us to overboost numbers 2 and 4, straining our turbo-superchargers even more in the attempt to fly out over the North Sea to dump our bombs. We finally did dump them, but we were overheating number 2 so badly that, as we turned for the coast some ten miles away, we had to feather it! The temperature needle was at the maximum redline! That now left us with number 4 boosted to 1350 horsepower and number 3 giving us 800 more HP on partial throttle.
Lew Fluelling, our navigator, spotted an RAF field under construction at Little Snoring, some five miles in from the English Coast. But it was already too late to land on the main runway. Directed entirely by Fluelling because we could not see, we switched off the power on number 1, rolled steeply to the right, and tried to align our big wounded bird up with the cross runway. We were following Flueling's directions blindly, so when he yelled 'Pull up! Pull up!' over the intercom, we did.
And by God, we stalled a 58,000 pound aircraft approximately 50 feet in the air! Then we hit hard and narrowly missed a little Austin convertible on the cross runway.
Incidentally, Feldstein continues, this was happening as two workmen were eating their lunches in that car. WOW! Did they sprint away when they saw us bearing down on them! As you can imagine, we damaged that aircraft beyond repair.
As for the rest of 96ers, they came under attack by 65 enemy fighters just southeast of Oldenburg. In typical fashion the Germans followed the Wing to the target, then backed off to leave us to the flak batteries, only to pick us up after the bomb run and harass us all the way home.
More than bombs were descending this day. To quote Bob Wood's diary:
Something the crews had eaten acted like a laxative. They had some weird stories to tell me when they came home. One boy, a tail gunner, got the urge while they were being attacked by fighters. He used an empty ammunition box as a combination seat and toilet -- all the while shooting his guns at the enemy. Every other kind of receptacle was commandeered and thrown out over enemy territory.
One aircraft, 42-3281, Mary R, flown by Lt. Frank Spino, 337th, lost two engines during the early attacks but doggedly continued on the bomb run under the directions of bombardier, Lt. Anthony Grasso. Immediately after dropping her bombs Mary R went down. All ten men parachuted safely -- albeit into captivity.
Bombing was relatively poor. The number 2 plane in the lead group was hit by flak and jettisoned its bombs early. Unfortunately, other planes took this as a salvo signal and also dropped their bombs -- most of which fell short of the target.
Even though the 96th hadn't actually reached the Norwegian target on the 24th, there had been long distance raids three days in a row now. Men were getting tired and there was an eroding effect on morale. The 338th lost four on this raid. Two of them collided over the target. The 94th lost two, but claimed ten E/A destroyed. The 27th dawned to find many bases depleted of operable planes and crews. And the crews who were still considered combat-ready were, in fact, on the verge of exhaustion. There were many grateful prayers for a day passed in slow-timing and other maintenance practices.
In the group PRO office, 1/L Bernard Ehrenreich was becoming very busy. Ever since the Wabbit Twacks escapade almost two weeks ago, the 96th had become a Mecca for foreign correspondents. Ehrenreich's diary reads like he was under siege. For days he had had to escort the courageous and courtly Peter Masefield.
Now his entry reads, "Got a New York Times man by the name of Graham here now and had a gal, Mrs. Gaskell, from 'Liberty' and a chap named Ralph McGill of the Atlanta Constitution. And there's a correspondent from the Pittsburgh newspaper too." It reads like Bernie was expecting Mr. Foreign Correspondent himself, Joel McCrae, with his wide lapelled, belt-buckled raincoat and brim-bent fedora at any moment. Instead, however, the evening of the 27th brought popular journalists and authors, Corey Ford and Alexander McBane. "Apparently on assignment from General Arnold," Ehrenreich speculates, "to write about 8th Air Force stuff for 'Colliers.'"
As luck would have it -- very, very bad luck -- the 96th would have war stories -- very, very sad war stories -- to go around in only a matter of hours.
Captain Bender does in another TARFU. At least one a month.