Mission #25 - September 9, 1943
Although an escort of P-47s kept the Luftwaffe away, the flak around Paris was very heavy. Bombing, however, was poor and one crew, Lt. Nordewier's, flying in A/C 42-3353 Tar Fly, was missing in action. The crew had been at Snetterton only one month.
Between the 9th and the 16th another "first" began developing when the 8th ordered some units to double their strength. The 96th became the first of such units. Supply officers became busier. Extra crews and ground personnel flooded onto the base and double bunks became the order of the day until more Nissens could be put up. The new crews fattened each squadron thus: the 337th received 11, the 338th got 12, the 339th got 14 and the 413th fattened up by 11.
Major Robert B. Good was appointed Group Operations officer. He replaced Major Jack Hayes who was transferred to Wing. Both men had combat experience.
Very soon after the 96th thirty-fifth mission, the 8th Air Force's growing pains became quite evident. They were manifested in a series of reorganizational moves. At Snetterton they had traumatic repercussions.
The Air Force in every theater, but especially in Europe, was in a dynamic state. Expansion was the name of the game. Structural changes were required and the 8th made them in order to execute its strategies as fast as possible while still maintaining full control of its resources.
One important change which rippled through the 8th transformed what had been known as Bomb Wings (BW) into Bomb Divisions (BD). There were now three Bomb Divisions. The 1st and 3rd were composed of B-17s while the 2nd was made up of Liberators. A Bomb Division had control over new organizational layers called Combat Bombardment Wings (CBW). Overnight the 96th went from control of the old 403rd Combat Wing of the old 4th Bombardment Wing to the new 45th CBW of the 3rd Bomb Division. Most CBWs would be comprised of at least three Bomb Groups. Not so the 45th, not at first anyway. The 45th CBW would be composed of only the 96th and the 388th. However, from now on the 96th was a "double strength" unit. It would dispatch two sub-groups, an A and a B, to most missions.
But the most traumatic change for the 96th was in the fact that Archie Old was to move on. That was the bad news. The good news more than made up for it. Like his mentor, Colonel Curtis LeMay, Colonel Old was promoted at age 36 to staff duty at the new 45CBW. Not only was the 96th part of the 45CBW, but the new wing's headquarters were located at Snetterton. In a sense, Archie's new office was but a stone's throw away from his old one.
On the evening of the 11th, Colonel Old was honored by the men of the 96th and commanders of the several service-units at a sit-down Spamless banquet. On their behalf, Ground Exec "Sandy" Moffett gave a glowing tribute to this feisty outgoing commander. Moffett's speech ended with this upbeat summary:
"The success of any unit depends on every man. Colonel Old has preached that constantly . . . His has been the toughest of all jobs -- the coordinating and supervising of every man's effort and focusing it upon a goal that will mean success or failure. This Colonel Old has done, and done well. He has been a rigid disciplinarian when he needed to be, and he enjoys a good time as much as any man I ever knew. He'll eat you out like you've never been eaten out at 4 in the afternoon only to play cards and have a drink with you the same night. But he expects the best out of every man, and will never be satisfied with less -- I guess that is why he usually gets the best. He fought for this group against higher headquarters with all the guts that any of us could expect or wish. . . . For his iron-assed ways which brought us so far, and for his friendship, the 96th thanks him. We hate to see him leave our ranks, but we wish him good success in his new job, and we know that he will find it."
Under Colonel Old the 96th had flown some 35 missions and General Fred Anderson, staff officer of the 8th, had cited the unit twice. Archie himself held the Silver Star, the third highest military award, and the Distinguished Flying Cross for displaying outstanding achievement while leading formations on more than 12 instances to Nazi targets.
The 96th's new commanding officer was 32 year old Lt. Colonel James L. Travis of Portland, Oregon. This was the same Colonel Travis who had to bail out of Lt. Attaway's Black Heart Jr. only a few weeks ago.
Colonel Travis had entered the Army after having been graduated by the University of Oregon in 1933. Two years later he was graduated by Randolph Field after which he spent some time assigned to A-29s where he pulled submarine patrols off both the east and west coasts.
"Gentleman Jim" Travis had arrived in the ETO before the 8th flew combat. First he had been Assistant Wing Officer with the 4th BW. Just prior to coming to the 96th, he had been Executive Officer of the new 45th CBW. So far he had made 7 combat missions. In taking over the group, he expressed his delight. With four months of combat behind it, he stated, the 96th was close to being the best, if not the best, unit in the ETO.
Ordered to double its size, 96BG builds bunks almost to the ceilings.