Mission #8 - June 13, 1943
With but one day to get used to their new surroundings, the Group had to fly out against German naval installations again. Seventy-six A/C of the 4BW attacked the U-Boat yards of Kiel while 122 A/C of the 1AD (1st Air Division) attacked similar installations in the Bremen area. By now some of the 96th crews were feeling experienced and resented it today when they were called upon to participate in a Composite Group. Often this assignment meant flying "Tail-End Charlie" or being slotted into low formations of other groups -- either place was a favorite attacking spot of the Luftwaffe. Enemy attacks today were very determined and it was estimated that some 200 E/A attacked the 4BW starting some 120 miles west of the target. Messerschmidts and Focke Wulfs pressed attack from dead ahead and level. A few were seen to roll through the Wing in order to prey upon certain Fortresses from behind. Others exhibited a new trick; they tried to drop bombs on our formations -- but with little success.
At the debriefing, gunners reported that the red and yellow nosed planes of Goering's Circus spearheaded the one and one-half hours of aerial combat.
Sergeant Bob Woods, radio man for Lt. Attaway's 339th crew, flew this mission in Black Heart. His account of the raid follows:
We were awakened at 0200 and after breakfast and briefing took off at 0530 for Kiel. We left the coast at 0730 and arrived in Germany shortly after 0900. Immediately we were greeted by a host of fighters, both single and twin-engined. This attacking force was the largest we had encountered so far. Our ship was flying the "Purple Heart Corner" and the enemy attacked at the tail in elements of three. They came in fast and plenty close. Others cruised way above and dropped bombs. Soon after their first pass, our right waist gunner, "Pauby" (S/Sgt. Espero Paubionsky) was hit in the head by a .20mm shell and killed instantly. The impact knocked his body against the ball turret and the left waist wall knocking apart the oxygen connection. His body lodged between the turret and the left waist wall. His clothing caught in the turret gears and stopped it. At the same time, the oxygen system along the right side from the radio room to the tail section was also knocked out of commission.
The ball turret operator, S/Sgt. John Kangles, was out of oxygen, Woods continues. This was his first mission. He began coming out of the turret even though the turret was not in the proper position. I handed a portable oxygen bottle to him. It sustained him until he finally squeezed up into the radio compartment and onto the bomb-bay catwalk. All this time the enemy fighters were still giving us hell. In some crazy way one of their hits had destroyed the intercom. We had no way to communicate! I was afraid our tail gunner, S/Sgt. John Trujillo, had also been hit and that his position was wide open to attack. But then, thank God, I could make out that he was still on the job. After about an hour's running battle, both horizontal stabilizers featured holes as big as barrel heads. One engine was knocked out. Finally we were out over the water and on the way home. Did we have enough gas? To lighten the load we had chucked three boxes of ammo out. That's when our crew chief, T/Sgt. Bob Huff, came back to warn that more enemy fighters were attacking. I couldn't believe it! We were only an hour from Snetterton! But there they were and they kept pecking at us for another 20 minutes before they turned back.
Coming in over the base we had no hydraulics, Sgt. Woods concludes. But Lt. Attaway made a great landing as the ambulance chased us. Huff's hand had been injured. But Trujillo had escaped injury even though a .20mm knocked his seat off its base. The radio room had 15 holes. In fact someone counted 115 holes in the plane before giving up the count. I thanked God. We were all depressed about Paubionsky. He was only 19 and a great comrade. We were assigned a new plane as Black Heart I was to be salvaged.
Also flying this mission in their ship Worry Wart were Captain Maurice Youngs, 339th, and his crew. Just before reaching the enemy coast, Youngs began to feel woozy and noticed that his hands were beginning to turn blue. His co-pilot, 2/Lt. Steve Belloway left his seat to find a walk-around bottle for the pilot and then took over the controls until the pilot recovered.
Then the fighters attacked.
T/Sgt. Art Layfield, top turret gunner, said "All the guns began firing. They were rattling like an iron foundry."
One over-zealous German pilot came in too close and Sgt. Leo Liebling, left waist gunner, shot him to pieces.
Over Kiel, Youngs was shocked by a loud explosion and was thrown against the side of the cockpit. Steve Belloway slumped dead over the yoke. A .20mm shell had pierced the cockpit plexiglas and lodged in the co-pilot's chest. Youngs managed to stay on the bomb-run and the bombardier, James Bradley, salvoed his load with the rest of the Group.
But just after they left the target, Lt. Johnson, the navigator, reported to Youngs on the interphone that Bradley had been severely wounded in the left thigh. They agreed to give Bradley a shot of morphine and they stretched him as comfortably as possible on the floor of the nose compartment. Johnson then climbed up onto the flight deck in the cockpit and tried to remove the dead co-pilot from the wheel. Then Youngs found out that Johnson too had been wounded. He was too weak for the task and so Sergeant Layfield and the BTG, Sergeant Moore, removed Belloway's body.
A call from Sergeant Paysinger in the radio room revealed that he also had been hit by .20 mm fragments in the back, right arm and leg. Youngs himself had received shell fragments in his left side but was unaware of it until he landed.
An icy blast was coming through the cockpit windshield now and Youngs' hands were so frozen, he could not feel the yoke. Somehow he managed to use his elbow to push the wheel forward and lower the aircraft down from the bombing altitude of 25,000 feet to where his engineer, Layfield, took over the controls. Fortunately, Layfield had some unofficial flying time. He flew competently wearing Sgt. Leibings's gloves. Poor Liebling suffered frozen hands for his sacrifice. By the time the wounded navigator and radio man brought the plane over the base, Youngs' hands were thawed out. He took over the controls and landed.
This was the toughest so far. Three planes failed to return: Lt. Howard Rossman's 42-29748, Paradise Lost of the 338th; Lt. Bill McKell's 42-29756, Big Chief of the 339th and Lt. Bob Webster's 42-3107, Miss Carriage of the 337th.
Al Andergg, bombardier aboard Lt. Bill McKell's A/C 42-29756, Big Chief, recalls his crew's unfortunate situation. Big Chief, already hit by both flak and fighters, had dropped the bomb load but was lagging behind badly. With multiple engines gone and a bad fire in the radio room, McKell called for abandonment.
"I was first out the nose," Anderegg remembers. "After my chute opened, I counted four others. We five survivors (pilot McKell, co-pilot Sweeney, navigator Bachtelle, engineer Smithson and myself) landed in water near Pellworm Island. I was picked up by two old Germans and a boy in a rowboat. The navigator and flight engineer waded ashore. It was noon on a sunny, sunny day," Anderegg smiles. The three of us were taken to a farmyard to stretch and dry out. Some time later we were taken by wagon to the village. There was another wagon in the distance with two caskets. Our captors said the coffins contained two of our crew members but wouldn't give us any names. In the late afternoon our pilot and co-pilot were brought to the village port. We were taken by fishing boat to the mainland and, of course, the POW camps."
Here's Bill Thorns' diary entry: "This was roughest so far -- all types E/A opposition. In plain English it was hell. Our radio man flew as replacement with another crew and I saw them go down off our left wing in flames -- saw another plane explode. What a mess!"
Lt. Robert Webster's crew flying 42-3107, Miss Carriage, was another of the three that didn't come back. Attacked by fighters, most men (7 observed) bailed out into a 50 mph wind, which carried them to watery graves in the Baltic. Two, pilot Webster and Bombardier Tom DeCaro, were captured near Flensburg.
This Kiel mission provided the most horrifying experiences for the 4BW to date. Although the 96th had lost three planes and crews, the 94th lost eight (plus one that ditched) and the 95th lost ten.
After the raid, General Ira Eaker congratulated General Anderson with this Telex: "Your wing bore the brunt yesterday of the largest and most violent battle of the air war. All reports and evidence I have indicate your crews performed like skilled, experienced and confident veterans. They fought their way through to the target against the strongest fighter opposition the enemy has ever assembled. . . . with such crews and leadership as yours we cannot lose."
But anyone studying both the plan and the execution of this mission will come to the conclusion that General Eaker's congratulations were more for the sake of Public Relations than anything else. The plan for this raid called for the abandonment of the "box" formation. Instead, the Groups experimented with the "javelin down" formations. This surprisingly radical change strung the attackers out and sacrificed defensive fire power. Debriefings in all three groups of the 4BW revealed that there had been terrible errors of planning and execution in this mission. One of the best accounts of this air battle is Ralph Saltsman Jr.'s "Air Battle At Kiel" which was published in the September '88 issue of the 94th's Newsletter "Nostalgic Notes." On June 13, 1943, Saltsman was a major and a Wing Leader during this raid.
The attitudes recorded in Sgt. Laky's diary are worth noting here because they show how closely knit a crew was and how deeply the men detested being cannabalized to service other crews.
"Our crew (Kipling's Error III) was split to service others," Laky writes. "White and I flew with Lt. Dick Jerger. Steve (BTG Malinowski) flew with a crew from the 339th. Joe and Nelson flew with Lt. Tanner. Mitch (Navigator Lloyd Mitchell) flew with Capt. Jack Ford and Mendelsohn (Bombardier Manny Mendelsohn) flew with Capt. Walt Flagg. We were all hot under the collar to be so sacrificed and we all expressed our feelings to the operations officer."
It may have been the roughest yet, but still the Group celebrated one month in combat. Their losses to date were 7 A/C. They were comparatively lighter than the other two groups of the 4BW. The 94th had lost 17 and the 95th had lost 15.
Meanwhile, Sergeant Curtis Powell, whose expertise as a sheet metal worker had been undervalued when he joined the 96th, now found his specialty in high demand. Returning Fortresses were shot up badly.
"That's when my work really started as a sheet metal man and it would continue for the duration. There were six of us sheet metal technicians in the 339th," Powell writes, ". . . some days were hectic and we worked around the clock. Skin damage to the planes wasn't so bad, but when we had to repair spars, bulkheads and other structural damage, we had to form a lot of these parts by hand." Shortly after reaching the group's permanent base at Snetterton, specialists like Powell were given access to a multi-group area which displayed salvaged parts from wrecked planes. Like junk-pickers, the machinists and mechanics could sift through the parts until they found what they wanted. The area was called "the boneyard" and it was here that the men learned what the books and the technical schools failed to mention. "One thing we learned early on," Powell recalls with post-war humor, "was that parts such as wing sections, stabilizers and such from planes made in Seattle by Boeing were NOT interchangeable with ones built in Wichita and vice versa! We had to go by tech number to make a match."
Another quiet period settled over the base until the 22nd.
Colonel Old presents Purple Heart to Lt. Jim
Bradley, Bombardier on Moe Young's crew.