Mission #1 - May 14, 1943
Courtrai Airfield, France
War, once an outfit is committed to it, becomes a ferocious continuum which doesn't allow for sulking and pouting. Therefore, right on the heels of yesterday's SNAFU the 96th was ordered into the breach. Still lacking a ground echelon, 21 A/C were safely airborne between 1025 and 1039. Yesterday's mishaps and ass chewings seemed to motivate the group into a fine assembly. The escorting RAF Spitfires were picked up over the Channel and the 96th was finally heading for Fortress Europe. Once again Colonel Old was in the lead ship. Lead navigators were Capt. Robert L. Hodson, Headquarters Detachment and Lt. Dunstan Abel, 338th. The lead bombardier, Capt. John Latham, was also from the 338th.
The RAF escort did their job magnificently. Although many dog-fights were observed in the distance, the Group was not harassed. Many gunners only test fired during this raid. Medium flak opposed the Group over Ostend. Over the target itself the flak was generally ineffective although gunner Bill Thorns in the 338th's A/C 42-29762, Fertile Myrtle, counted several holes upon return to base. Some bomb-bay doors malfunctioned over the target. Actually a rash of this type malfunction was being reported throughout the 8th. Eventual investigation found that gunners relieving themselves into a "relief tube" located in the bomb bay were responsible. Balancing themselves four or five miles aloft in a bomber that bobbed on air currents gave them imperfect aim. What didn't hit the relief tube, hit the bomb bay door hinges and FROZE THEM!
The bombing of Coutrai was satisfactory. In fact, the Resistance informed Intelligence that III/JG-26 had to move.
Mission number one was completed without losses and with good bombing. And when at 1408 the last aircraft returned to "Grafton Undermud," the 96th Bomb Group celebrated and settled down to continue the long, bloody, distinguished fight that was to last until May, 1945.