Prologue: THE STORIES BEHIND THE NUMBERS
Explanatory Supplement to the Flimsies (Form 15)
What follows is a narrative based on the columns and figures in our Group's Mission log, as well as in the "History of The 486th," put together by Dick Wood and Bob Bee. They are much more than statistics.
After many weeks of preparation the 486th finally received the long awaited orders. Their first combat mission was on May 7, 1944. The target was the marshalling yards at Liege, Belgium and the Group leader was a Col. Huglin, from the 92nd CBW. The next day, our own CO, Lt. Col. Overing led the group to bomb the marshalling yards at Brussels, Belgium.
On May 9th, we bombed an airfield outside of Laon, France. This was the first time we carried a bomb load of fifty-two 100# bombs, and many planes ended up with losing the bomb bay doors when we released our load. The bombs did not drop straight down. Some bounced off the doors instead. On this mission, a fellow bombardier, Lt Schuengel, became the Groups first fatality. He also lost his bomb bay doors over the target. Some of his bombs hung up and he couldn't salvo them so they had to bring them back. While flying over England, on the way back home, he went back to the bomb bays to replace the pins in the bombs making them "safe" for landing. While doing this, he fell out of the plane -- not wearing a chute. Making your way through the tight quarters in the bomb bays without a chute was not unusual. The fact that he had no doors to stop his fall made this accident a fatal one. Needless to say, those of us who had to traverse that narrow catwalk were extra careful.
An interesting sidelight to the mission flown on May 11th was that the C.O. of our sister group, the 487th, Col. Beirne Lay, Jr., parachuted safely over Belgium after his plane was hit. He managed to evade capture and after D-Day was rescued by our advancing ground forces. After the war, he and Sy Bartlett collaborated in writing the best seller, and movie, "Twelve O'clock High." It was also a popular TV series. Remember?
Between May 7th and June 6th (D-Day) --- in preparation for the landings at Normandy -- our group flew a total of fifteen missions. Seven were to marshalling yards; six, to airfields, and two, were to oil refineries.
The 486th flew three missions on D-Day but didn't drop a bomb. The weather over the target area was so bad that the bombardiers were unable to make a visual run on their targets on the first two missions of the day, and had to bring their bombs back home. Late in the afternoon, on the third mission of the day, we never left England. The weather grew worse, with a solid overcast to over 20,000 feet. We were unable to form our group and had to let down through the same solid cloud formation, and returned to the base. A lot of credit must go to all the pilots that day, as no accidents occurred.
Not long after D-Day someone in higher headquarters decided that the 3rd Division should all fly the same plane -- the B-17. Five Groups, the 34th, 486th, 487th, 490th, and 493rd were to switch from B-24's to B-17's. During this hectic transition period, the 486th continued to fly combat missions in B-24's --- but not always at full strength. Our final mission in B-24's was on July 21, 1944.
The pilots took a crash course in learning how to handle the "Fort" in landing as well as in close formation flying. We bombardiers had to take a refresher course on the operation of the Norden Bombsight - replacing the Sperry we used in the "Libs." We also had to check out on the new chin turret, with its remote controls. And all that space in the nose compartment was a special "plus" for both navigators and bombardiers. What an improvement for us. The gunners quickly adapted to the new turrets. Our flight engineers soon discovered that they now had to stand up in the top turret, instead of sitting. And the tail gunners now had to crawl back to their position to operate their guns.
On August 1,1944 we flew our first combat mission in B-17's, sending forty planes to bomb the airfield at Tours, France. Col. Overing led this mission. Three days later, August 4th, We received our "baptism by fire" and bombed Hamburg, Germany. The records report the following: 3 aircraft lost; 16 planes with minor battle damage; 17 planes with major battle damage; 9 men wounded, and 27 missing.
We bombed many targets more than once. Our Group went to Berlin (Big "B") five times. We briefed for Merseberg five times, but on one of the missions the secondary target was bombed instead. A total of six planes were lost on all the Merseburg missions. Hamburg and Kassel were each bombed five times. Three missions each to Brest, Bremen, Mainz, Magdeburg, Frankfurt, Lutzkendorf, Munster, Mannheim, and Cologne (all the missions to Cologne were in succession).
The number we put up varied --- from a token force of four bombers to an armada of fifty-six. On September 17, 1944 (Operation Market Garden) our targets were the flak batteries in Holland. Fifty-six planes flew on that mission, setting a record. For greater accuracy we flew in six-ship formations at altitudes ranging from 10,000 ft. to 17,000 ft. As we turned off the target and headed for home I caught sight of a seemingly endless stream of planes coming toward us carrying paratroopers, as well as gliders being towed, all on their way to their objectives. I silently wished them well. In contrast, on January 16, 1945 we could only muster four bombers (one of which aborted), and flew as the low-low element of the 487th. The target was the Dressau marshalling yards.
The column headed, "Elapsed Time" --- officially only recorded missions flown in B-24's -- revealed that the shortest mission flown was on June 22, 1944. It was listed as a 'No Ball' mission. The target was a V-1 launching site right off the coast of France. It was only three hours and forty-five minutes long. The longest mission, recorded in B-17's, was on August 24, 1944. The target was the oil refinery at Dresden, Germany. The notation on a flight log reported it as over nine hours long. The longest mission in B-24's, on May 29, 1944, was logged at eight hours and thirteen minutes. The target was the oil refinery at Politz, Germany.
The column headed, "A/C Attacking," revealed that the 486th flew twenty-one missions, in which for one reason or another --- usually adverse weather conditions --- when we did not drop our bombs.
As for the columns headed. "A/C Lost," "Casualties," and "Battle Damage," our records indicate that while flying our 46 combat missions in B-24's we lost 8 aircraft. The first two were the result of crashes on take-off on May 20, 1944. Ten men were killed, and ten were wounded. The first plane lost to enemy action was on May 28, 1944. Target was Lutzkendorf, Germany. All twenty men were listed as, "Missing in Action." The recap of our combat missions in B-24's is: 8 aircraft lost; 20 crewmembers killed; 25 wounded, and 31 listed as MIA. While flying our 145 combat missions in B-17's, we lost 37 aircraft, 27 crewmembers killed in action, 52 wounded, and 272 listed as MIA
As a reminder that "Somebody up there was watching over us;" our two missions on September 11 and 12, 1944 were prime examples. The 486th led the 3rd Division on the September 11th mission to the oil refinery at Ruhland, Germany. It was later reported that, 500 enemy aircraft hit the bomber stream of the 8th on that day. The 486th was not attacked. The next day September 12th, the Group bombed the oil refinery at Magdeburg, Germany. It was later reported that the bomber stream hitting Germany was again, attacked by a large number of enemy fighters, but not the 486th.
Buried in all that data must be a gold mine of stories and memories. Maybe my reference to the record of our missions will help others to recall some of their own.
- John C. Albanese, bombardier, 833rd
All mission data from "War Stories of the O&W" by Dick Wood and Bob Bee, and National Archives.
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