B-17
THUNDERBIRD
Vern L. Moncur
Mission Journal
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Mission Journal

Pilot Vern L. Moncur's AAF Officer Qualification Record

This is the transcription of Lt. Vern L. Moncur's bomber mission journal, which he kept during his service as a B-17 Pilot for the 303rd Bombardment Group (H), 359th Bombardment Squadron in Molesworth, England. Lt. Moncur and his crew flew five different B-17s on their first six missions. They were then assigned to the "Thunderbird" for the balance of their missions. They took "Thunderbird" on her first mission (the crew's 7th mission) on January 29, 1944.

Lt. Moncur's crew was one of the first in the 303rd Bombardment Group (H) to complete their combat missions without anyone on board being injured or receiving the Purple Heart. They were the only crew ever assigned to the "Thunderbird" as their primary aircraft. After Lt. Moncur's crew finished their combat tour, "Thunderbird" became a "first mission ship," given to new crews to get them off to a good start. The new crews were then assigned to different B-17s for the balance of their combat.

Servicemen who kept journals were not allowed to take them home with them upon their discharge. However, they were allowed to wrap them and address them to themselves to be sent later. After the war ended, the journals were mailed to them.


MISSION #1
(303rd BG Mission #88)
Date: December 13, 1943
Target: Submarine Pens, Bremen, Germany
Altitude: 30,000 feet
Plane: T-561 "The Duchess"
Position: No. 2, Lead Squadron
[read Andrus' comments]


This was the first mission for all of us. Fortunately, the trip turned out to be a fairly easy one, in spite of plenty of excitement at times. We encountered flak on our bomb run and over the target area. The flak was moderate to heavy and fairly accurate. Since this was the first time we had ever seen flak, we didn't realize just how dangerous it really could be. The first time you see it, it sort of fascinates you. You wonder how that harmless looking black puff could possibly hurt you or your plane. It didn't take us long to change our minds! No fighter opposition was met by our group. The P-47s gave us perfect protection around the target and on our withdrawal.

The crew got along fine, though we had a few minor troubles which could have been disastrous had prompt action not been taken. Sgt. Baer, left waist gunner, passed out from lack of oxygen soon after we left the target. The intake valve on his mask had frozen solid, preventing him from getting enough oxygen. We broke away from the formation and descended rapidly to 11,000 feet. He soon recovered and felt all right. Sgt. Dickman, right waist gunner, also passed out temporarily from lack of oxygen as he attempted to revive Sgt. Baer. S/Sgt. Andrus, radio operator, experienced the same thing because of a frozen oxygen mask. The temperature was 50 degrees below zero.

We had trouble releasing our load of bombs because of the intense cold which froze the bomb bay door release mechanism. The doors were finally opened by Lt. Chang, but the bombs were dropped by the pilot's release, after it became impossible for the bombardier to release them. On this raid we carried 42 One-hundred pound incendiary bombs.

The No. 2 supercharger went out of commission as soon as we reached altitude and very little power was available from that engine. The No. 1 oil pressure dropped very low - to about 45 pounds. However, both engines operated well enough to keep us in formation and, fortunately, it was unnecessary to feather the engine.

Though we had to leave formation soon after releasing our bombs over the target, we were able to rejoin our own squadron before we reached the English coast. There was no injury to any member of the crew, and no battle damage to the airplane. Incidentally, this plane, ''The Duchess,' was the plane in which Lt. Jack Mathis, bombardier from Texas, was flying when he was killed. For his actions and performance of duty, Lt. Mathis was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.


MISSION #2
(303rd BG Mission #92)
Date: December 24, 1943
Target: Vacqueriette, France
Plane: N-029 "Wallaroo"
Position: No. 3, Lead Squadron
Altitude: 12,000 feet
[read Andrus' comments] [read Chang's comments]


This was our first mission into France. The target was the German "secret weapon" installation in the Pas de Calais area. We encountered no fighters or flak - apparently the Germans didn't know just how much our bombers knew about their targets, and they didn't want to reveal their flak installations and aerial defenses.

Just before reaching our target, the No. 4 supercharger began to over-speed. Soon afterward, oil poured out over the cowling and the No. 4 engine caught fire. The propeller was feathered and the engine stopped immediately. The crew was alerted to be ready to abandon ship. But luckily, the fire was apparently blown out by the slipstream. We could not hold our position in formation as the group made 2000 foot climb immediately after passing over the target. We had to drop out of formation. It was impossible to stay in position on three engines with a full load of bombs while making this rapid 2000 foot climb. We fell back to "tail-end Charlie" (sometimes known as "coffin corner" or "Purple Heart Alley") and stayed in this position from the target back to our base.

We returned to base on three engines with a full load of bombs. To further complicate an already ticklish situation, we found our base completely covered with haze and fog. This made it almost impossible to locate the field and get in. We made our return flight over England at an altitude of 500 to 600 feet. Our bomb load was 16 three-hundred pound demolition bombs. There was no injury to crew, or battle damage to the plane. This was a rather novel way of celebrating Christmas Eve.


MISSION #3
(303rd BG Mission #94)
Date: December 31, 1943
Target: German Ship, Gironde Bay, France
Altitude: 16,000 feet
Plane: U-131 "Flak Wolf"
Position: "Tail-end Charlie," High Squadron
[read Andrus' comments] [read Chang's comments]


This was one of the longest raids which was sent from this base. We were in the air about 8 hours. We were sent to bomb a ship in Gironde Bay, near Bordeaux, France, which was supposed to be loaded with a cargo of raw rubber. This ship was grounded in shallow water and the Germans were attempting to unload it with small tugs and little boats. (This information was given to us by the Intelligence Office.) What we found was a little different.

Upon reaching the target area, we found it was impossible to bomb because of complete cloud coverage. Therefore, we had to abandon our primary target. We had been assigned to three alternate targets, so we proceeded to fly to our first alternate. This target, too, proved to be completely covered with clouds, though we did receive a little attention in the form of flak. We then continued our aerial tour of France by going to our second alternate target - and we had the same luck as before. Complete cloud coverage stopped us from bombing, though a few bursts of flak told us that we were still unwelcome. The third target was no different - it apparently just wasn't our day. Therefore, it was necessary to return to our base and land with a load of bombs. We were carrying 12 five-hundred pound demolition bombs. So much for our "cook's tour" of France, but during this time we were having a few mechanical troubles of our own.

The No. 2 propeller "ran away" soon after reaching our primary target, but we were finally able to get it to settle down after babying it along for quite a while. We then left the inboard throttles set and made adjustments in power settings with the outboard throttles only. Whenever No. 2 throttle was touched, the prop would really "wind up." We were able to get back without having to feather the prop - luckily for us.

On the way into the target, we ran into light flak while crossing the Brest Peninsula, but none of it hit very close to our plane. We had a bunch of JU-88s with us for awhile, but they were pretty wary about coming in too close to our guns, which none of us regretted very much. P-47s gave us excellent cover on the withdrawal from the target and across the Brest Peninsula.

Upon reaching England, we ran into the kind of weather pilot dreads. We found very adverse weather all the way in from the English coast. All of our flight back over England, we flew at about 500 feet above the ground and were unable to even see the other ships in the formation. With several hundred bombers doing the same thing, it became a rather ticklish business. We gradually dropped out of formation and struck out on own, figuring it was much safer than flying formation on instruments. We got a "QDM" from Sabbo." (In other words, we received a bearing by radio from our plane to our base. We also used several English radio stations - called "Darky" stations.)

Upon reaching the field, it was next to impossible to see a runway. We buzzed the field at about 100 feet and finally felt our way through the rain and fog until we found out where the runway was. Nineteen planes were landed in this fog and rain in a little over 12 minutes, a record in fast landings even under perfect conditions.

Slight battle damage to plane from flak, but no injury to any of the crew. This was the way we ended the year 1943.


MISSION #4
(303rd BG Mission #97)
Date: January 7, 1944
Target: Ludwigshafen, Germany
Altitude: 25,000 feet
Plane: Q-306 "Queenie"
Position: No. 5, Low Squadron, Lead group
[read Andrus' comments]


This was another mission into Germany. Upon getting well into France, we encountered heavy flak as we went near "Happy Valley" (Ruhr Valley). We received hits in our plane in four different places: the oil cooler of No. 1 engine; 3 fairly good sized holes in the left side of the radio compartment; the supercharger bucket wheel on No. 1 engine; and in the fuselage, near the main entrance door of the plane. The engines performed very well. No trouble of any kind was encountered with them.

Upon reaching the target, we were unable to drop all of our bombs because of a bombrack malfunction. Only three bombs were released, and after that we were unable to get the bomb bay doors closed. We had to fly back to England with them wide open.

Because of the increased drag (and resultant loss of air speed) due to the open bomb bay doors, we were running a little low on gasoline. Lt. Chang was finally able to salvo one of the bombs by prying it loose with a screw driver as we crossed over the English Channel. This was done in an attempt to decrease our load and save a little gasoline. But before he could release the other two bombs, we were nearly to the English coast. He then replaced the pins in the fuses of the remaining two bombs, which made it safe to land with them, and we brought them back to England with us. We landed with our bomb bay doors still open - they barely cleared the runway by about three inches.

The time of this flight was 7 hours. We received no injury to any member of the crew, though our plane was shot up quite badly in several places. On this raid there was excellent fighter coverage by our P-47 and P-38s.

We carried one bomb bay gasoline tank with us in order to give us the needed range. In the other bomb bay, we had 6 five-hundred pound demolition bombs.


MISSION #5
(303rd BG Mission #98)
Date: January 11, 1944
Target: Oschersleben, Germany
Altitude: 20,000 feet
Plane: N-029 "Wallaroo"
Position: No. 6, Lead Squadron, Lead Group
[read Andrus' comments]


This mission was the toughest mission thus far, and as later events proved, it was the toughest mission we had in the whole combat tour. It was rated as one of the three toughest missions that the 8th Air Force ever flew. (In this my crew and I heartily agree!!) Immediately upon crossing the French coast, we were engaged by very accurate flak guns. This continued for three hours - three hours which seemed like an eternity. Many of the bursts were right ahead of us, under our nose, wings, behind us - in fact all around us. All of them were far too close to suit any of us.

This raid was sort of botched up. Our wing was the second wing to go in. Because of very bad weather closing in over England, the whole mission received orders to return to base immediately. Our wing, the second one, was only ten minutes from the Initial Point from which our bomb run would begin when the recall message came through. Because of our nearness to the target, the recall was disregarded and we went on in to bomb. The wing ahead of us did the same thing. However, the fighter escort which was supposed to be with us received the recall too, and our entire escort turned around and went back to England with the other wings of bombers. Within five minutes after the P-47s left us, the Luftwaffe came up in great numbers and gave us a running battle for the next three hours and forty-five minutes.

In the first wave of enemy planes, there were at least one hundred ME-109s, FW-190s, JU-88s and a few ME-110s and JU-87s. The first pass made at our group included thirty to thirty-five ME-109s and FW-190s. The low group, to our left, had three Forts go down from this first pass. We also saw three German fighters shot down by this group during this time. The No. 4 ship, lead ship of our element and on whose wing we were flying formation, had its No. l engine hit. It immediately burst into flames and dropped out of formation. A few minutes later, this plane exploded. Soon afterward, the No. 3 ship ahead of us also caught on fire in the No. l engine and peeled out of formation. This ship exploded, also. Lt. Purcell was the pilot, and he and his crew didn't have a chance. (Purcell and I had been together through all of our training.) I then moved my ship up into the No. 3 position, flying on the left wing of the Wing Leader, General Travis.

Several fierce attacks were made on our squadron - the other groups were getting worked over by the Krauts, also. We were all really catching hell. We made several evasive maneuvers to get away from the fighters during this time. It looked like the Germans thought we were headed for Berlin on this mission, and were making an all out effort to stop us.

Our bomb run was made amidst accurate flak bursts and continued fighter attacks. Our target was the factory that produced 45% of the German FW-190 fighters. From all reports, we did a highly satisfactory job of bombing and destroyed practically all of this plant. Later on, we were awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation Badge for this day's work. Just before we turned on our bombing run, possibly fifteen or twenty minutes before, a FW-190 made a pass at our lead ship and then came on through the formation towards us. S/Sgt Rosier, top turret gunner, shot him down and thereby got his first fighter. The ball turret gunner, Sgt. Hein, got a "very probable" fighter within two or three minutes after Rosier had nailed his fighter.

Upon our withdrawal from the target, we were attacked spasmodically by fighters and shot at by some very good flak gunners. During the concentrated fighter attack, our plane received damage from a 20mm shell that was fired from a little above and to the left of the cockpit, going just over the cockpit, grazing the fuselage, going through the stabilizer and elevator on the right side of the plane. Apparently the Gods were with us, because this shell didn't explode when it hit. Otherwise, we would have been blown to Kingdom Come.

We also had a large hole shot through the No. 3 engine oil cooler, which just grazed a gas tank and then hit the hydraulic line which operates the No. 4 engine cowl flaps. Another lucky hit for us!

As we approached the German border, two more Forts in our group were lost - only two or three men got out of each ship. I also saw another Fort (ahead and to our left) do a very steep wing-over, nearly going over on its back, and then go down in flames. About this time I saw a German fighter get hit by a flak burst and explode. This made us all chuckle! High above and ahead of us, a P-47 hit a German fighter, and the Jerry's plane exploded. And to our left, a P-47 knocked down a JU-88 at about the same time. (We had a few P-47s and P-51s come out to help us on our withdrawal as soon as Bomber Headquarters found out that there were two wings of bombers which had gone on to their targets.) As an added feature during all of this time, we were continually being shot at - and far too accurately, too - by some very good Kraut flak gunners.

Upon reaching beautiful England, we found the usual weather awaiting us. England was socked-in with a very dense overcast, and to get below it. we came in over the coast at about 2000 feet and then had to drop down to about 300 feet before we ever reached the base. The field was really socked-in, and after buzzing the field, we finally located the runway and landed. Immediately upon touching the ground, I locked the brakes because I had landed too far down the runway for a normal landing roll. We slid both wheels - the pavement was wet from the rain and sleet - and did just slide to a stop not over thirty feet from the end of the runway. We had just enough room left to turn the plane around by locking one wheel and turning on a point.

Lt. McManus, my roommate, was reported to have landed somewhere in England, so we all felt relieved and happy that he and his crew were safe. Mac and I are the only ones left of the original ones in our squadron who started together in primary training.

All of us were a very happy and thankful bunch of boys to get our feet on the ground that day. England never looked so good! There was no injury to any member of the crew, though our plane was shot up quite a bit in several places. Our bomb load was 6 five-hundred pound demolition bombs, and we also carried one bomb bay gasoline tank.

The last reports we received from this mission listed ten planes lost out of our group. Altogether, sixty-one Flying Fortresses and crews were lost on this mission. Of the ten crews lost from our field, I knew five of the First Pilots personally and had done much of my training with them. They were Lieutenants Purcell, Eich, Schwaebe, Simmons and Hallden.


MISSION #6
(303rd BG Mission #100)
Date: January 21, 1944
Target: "CROSSBOW"
Altitude: 12,000 feet
Plane: X-405 "Wallaroo Mk II"
Position: No. 2, Lead Squadron
[read Andrus' comments]


It was an uneventful and routine trip. We took a new airplane on its first raid. We saw a little flak in the distance, but none was close enough to be dangerous to us. Our bomb load was 12 five-hundred pound demolition bombs. There was no injury or battle damage to the plane.


MISSION #7
(303rd BG Mission #101)
Date: January 29, 1944
Target: Frankfurt, Germany
Altitude: 26,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 2, High Squadron, High Group
[read Andrus' comments]


This was our first raid in our newly assigned ship, though we had started on a mission in this ship a few days before this raid. That mission was recalled soon after we reached altitude and were out over the North Sea. This recall proved to be a very good thing for us, however, because the No. 1 engine failed completely on our final approach to our landing. Had we not been recalled to our base, we would have got about over the target when the engine failed - and it would have been quite a haul to make it back to England on three engines.

We got along OK and had no fighter opposition, but the flak was heavy and accurate - it always was over Frankfurt. We received two direct hits in the left wing, one of which hit the main wing spar and cut it so badly that our new plane had to go to the hangar immediately after we landed and have a new wing put on. Another near miss from a flak shell shook the plane very much. It actually felt like one of the engines had been knocked completely off. The concussion from some of these flak bursts was terrific.

Upon returning to the field, we found the usual lousy Limey weather waiting for us. We had to let down through the "soup" on instruments. We homed on a splasher-beacon and were able to get to the field OK. We got so used to making instrument let-downs that it became common practice in England.

Again we were lucky in not having a man injured, though our plane received a few bad holes in it. S/Sgt. Wike, tail gunner, was grounded for this mission because of a cold. He was also suffering from a bad case of nerves from what he had seen on some of these missions. Our bomb load was 42 one-hundred pound incendiary bombs in five-hundred pound clusters. [Sgt Wike was replaced on this mission by John F. Newman.]


MISSION #8
(303rd BG Mission #102)
Date January 30, 1944
Target: Brunswick, Germany
Altitude: 27,000 feet
Plane: M-629 "Connecticut Yankee"
Position: No. 2, Lead Squadron, High Group
[read Andrus' comments]


This was our second mission in two days, but we got along alright. We flew another Squadron's plane because our plane was in the hangar for a new wing and patch-up job.

We had an excellent escort of P-47s, P-51s and P-38s on this trip. The flak wasn't as accurate on our group as usual, though other groups were getting a lot of it. We did get enough of it to keep us sweating it out and to give us a few holes. We saw quite a few enemy planes - ME-110s, ME-210s, FW-190s and ME-109s. The ball turret gunner, S/Sgt. Hein, nailed one of the FW-190s as it made a pass at another Fort in a lower squadron and then peeled off in our direction.

On this mission we carried 21 general purpose one-hundred pound bombs. These bombs were fire-bombs as well as anti-personnel bombs. We had to carry one bomb bay gasoline tank in order to get the necessary range. We ran into a lot of very persistent vapor trails at altitude on this mission. That made the fighter danger more probable and we had to be doubly watchful of "bandits." Luckily, we did not have any direct attacks, though several German planes skirted the bomber formation. They kept pretty close to the clouds so that they could get into them for cover if jumped by one of our P-47s or P-51s. There was no injury to the crew, and very light battle damage to the plane


MISSION #9
(303rd BG Mission #103)
Date: February 3, 1944
Target: Wilhelmshaven
Altitude: 28,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 5, High Squadron
[read Andrus' comments]
[read Chang's comments]


The weather on this mission was the worst (as far as flying was concerned) I have ever seen. Very dense and persistent vapor trails ("con-trails" or condensation trails) were encountered at all altitudes above 18,000 feet. These vapor trails plus the dense clouds made flying formation very difficult. In fact, formation flying was practically impossible. On top of this, our group followed another group and got in its "prop wash" and con-trails.

We finally got over the target and dropped our bombs. After bombing, we began a let-down and the group, such as it was, went into the undercast. The plane we were following nearly lost the formation. Apparently the pilot had vertigo momentarily. When this pilot, Lt. Goolsby, noticed that he was flying wrong, he very abruptly turned to the right and almost hit us. My No. 4 engine didn't miss his tail guns by two feet. In trying to avoid hitting him, I had to pull my ship into such a tight turn that we stalled out and nearly fell into a spin. Our turn was so tight that it "spilled" the gyros in all of my flight indicators. Some of these gyros topple only after a bank of seventy degrees has been made.

After this narrow squeak, I decided then and there that I wasn't going to stay up there in the overcast and stooge around with that plane any longer. We began a systematic instrument let-down through the clouds. At this time we were just starting out over the North Sea. We let down through about 14,000 feet of solid clouds - through zero-zero conditions. We could just barely see our wing tips. On the way down through this thick layer of clouds, we picked up quite a bit of rime ice on our wings and empennage. It sort of worried us for a little while, but luckily it didn't become very thick or heavy enough to cause danger.

We came back to our base alone. We began a gradual descent at 2,000 RPM and 29" Hg -a 190 miles per hour indicated airspeed. We reached the base, landed and were interrogated before the other crews arrived back home. There was no injury to the crew or battle damage to the plane. Our bomb load was 12 five-hundred pound high explosive bombs. We really had another tight squeeze, but the Gods smiled on us again when that B-17 made a pass at us.


MISSION #10
(303rd BG Mission #104)
Date: February 4, 1944
Target: Frankfurt, Germany
Altitude: 25,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 5, Lead Squadron
[read Andrus' comments]


This was our fourth mission in six days. We were kind of tired because of so many missions so close together. Apparently this was the beginning of the "big push" as far as the Air Force was concerned. Upon leaving for this mission, we feared it be another bad weather day. But this day was the exact opposite of the day before. It was a perfect day and we got along all right.

Over the target, we ran into a lot of really accurate flak. We picked up our usual assortment of flak holes in the plane. The left wing caught a good sized piece of flak and the windshield was shattered by a chunk of flak, but luckily we didn't get hurt by the flying glass splinters. It seemed that we were leading a charmed life, and we all hoped our luck would continue.

The crew worked very nicely together. In fact, they did on all of our missions. This made my work much easier and relieved me of a lot of worry. We didn't see any fighters, but the flak was very accurate and heavy and much too close. Our P-47s and P-51s gave us excellent fighter cover on this mission.

Navigation on this trip was rather sloppy because the lead navigator took the group right across "Happy Valley" or "Flak Alley" - common names for the Ruhr Valley. We were also led into several other flak nests that we were briefed to keep away from. Finally, we ended up fifty miles off course when we reached the English coast. Our bomb load was 42 one-hundred pound incendiary bombs. Again, we received no injury to any member of the crew, but our plane was shot up rather severely.


MISSION #11
(303rd BG Mission #107)
Date: February 8, 1944
Target: Frankfurt, Germany
Altitude: 26,000 feet
Plane: X-405 "Wallaroo Mk II"
Position: No. 3, Low Squadron, High Group
[read Andrus' comments]


This was our third trip to Frankfurt and the flak seemed even thicker than before - if that were really possible. However, it wasn't quite so accurate on our group because we were flying in the high group position. Immediately upon reaching the French coast, the lead group was attacked by FW-190s. These German fighters shot down two Forts within a minute and a half. Three FW-190s were shot down during this time, too. It all happened so quickly that it hardly seemed possible. The fighters only made one pass at the group, because within five minutes our P-47 escort got there and the Krauts didn't hang around for any more.

Over the target the flak seemed thick enough to walk on. They were using real heavy guns on us this time (probably 155mm guns). We really sweated out our ride across the target. Nothing else of importance happened. Our ship was the only one in the low squadron to finish in its assigned squadron. In fact, we were the entire low squadron the last 100 miles of the trip. Four of our squadron's ships returned to our base before we even reached the target. This left us by ourselves in the low squadron.

The bomb load was 12 five-hundred pound high explosive bombs. There was no injury to any crew member, but our plane received a big jagged hole in the right wing.


MISSION #12
(303rd BG Mission #109)
Date: February 20, 1944
Target: Leipzig, Germany
Altitude: 20,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 5, Lead Squadron, Low Group
[read Andrus' comments]


This was the longest trip to date. We were in the air nearly nine hours and were really tired when we finally got home. This trip could have been a very rough one, but we had excellent fighter cover - and so the few passes the Krauts made at us didn't hurt us too much.

We had one pass made at us from the tail, and a 20mm shell exploded right near the top turret. This explosion knocked the plexiglass out of one side of the top turret dome. T/Sgt. Rosier, top turret gunner, wasn't injured. We also picked up our usual number of holes in the wings. One piece of flak just grazed the edge of one of the Tokyo (wing tip) tanks in the right wing.

On our trip to the target, we had a headwind of nearly seventy-five mph. It seemed like we would never reach the target. But on our return trip, we came much faster. We still had a few Krauts sneaking up behind us, just out of range of our .50 caliber machine guns. We ran into some heavy accurate flak at the target. Luckily, we received only minor damage to the plane and no injury to the crew. This trip turned out to be an easier one that expected and that made us all happy. Our bomb load was 12 five-hundred pound high explosive bombs.


MISSION #13
(303rd BG Mission #110)
Date: February 21, 1944
Target: FW-190 plant near Leipzig, Germany
Altitude: 21,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 3, Lead Squadron, Low Group
[read Andrus' comments]


This was raid "12-B." (We were not superstitious, but there was no sense in taking any extra chances.) Contrary to expectations, this mission turned into a very easy one. We were unable to bomb (or even reach) our target because of clouds and adverse weather. Our group brought its bombs back. The group leader, a major, was threatened with court-martial for not bombing some target in Germany instead of bringing the bombs all the way home.

We did run into some flak and our old "Thunderbird" received a hole in the right wing, right next to the Tokyo tanks. The flak just grazed the edge of the tanks and didn't hurt anything. We also picked up another big flak hole in the vertical stabilizer.

Our No. 13 mission turned out to be an easy one, in the language of the Air Corps, it was a "'milk run." There was no injury to the crew, but the plane suffered a little battle damage. The bomb load was 12 five-hundred pound high explosive bombs.


MISSION #14
(303rd BG Mission #111)
Date: February 22, 1944
Target: Aschersleben, Germany
Altitude: 20,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 6, Low Squadron, Lead Group
[read Andrus' comments]


This was the third mission in three days and we were plenty tired before we even started out. The target was Aschersleben, and that was almost as rough as Oschersleben. This was our second roughest raid so far, and we didn't care to have another one like it.

Fighters attacked the high group and made a pass or two at our group. After one of these passes, one of the Forts seemed to be having some kind of trouble. The pilot pulled out of formation and opened the bomb bay doors as if to salvo his bomb load. In about ten seconds the ship exploded in one massive orange ball of fire. It was a sickening sight to witness. This was the first time I had seen a Fortress go down like that.

We were in the plane nearly nine and one half hours. We went through a lot of flak, and as usual, picked up a few holes. One piece of flak went through the cowling on the No. 1 engine. How it missed hitting one of the cylinders is still a mystery to me. There was no crew injury. The plane had to be patched up in a few places, but the damage was not very serious. Our bomb load was 12 five-hundred pound high explosive bombs.

After landing, I decided to go the hospital for a few days rest. Our group didn't fly the next day, but the next two days after that our squadron flew. Lt. Brooks, Lt. Cunningham and S/Sgt. Hein flew with different crews which happened to be short one man each. This put these three fellows one raid ahead of the rest of the crew (except for S/Sgt. Wike who was two missions behind.)


MISSION #15
(303rd BG Mission #115)
Date: March 2, 1944
Target: Frankfurt, Germany
Altitude: 27,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 6, High Squadron, High Group
[read Andrus' comments]


This was an easy trip, but it could have been plenty tough if we hadn't had perfect fighter cover. Even then we were jumped by about fifteen Jerry's, but the P-51s soon made them "hit the clouds." We ran into our usual hot reception over Frankfurt from flak gunners down below. We always went over Frankfurt at pretty high altitude. It just wasn't healthy to go in at a lower altitude. However, our group seemed to get less attention from the flak gunners than did the other groups which were flying a little lower than we were. The outstanding thing on this mission was the perfect fighter cover given us by the P-47s, P-51s and a few P-38s.

The bombing was done by "Pathfinder" (radar) as we had a complete undercast in the target area. One of the reasons that the flak was not quite as accurate as usual was the fact that we used what we called "chaff." This was metallic strips thrown out of the planes as they approached the target area. Since we were completely out of sight because of the undercast, the Krauts used radar to sight and aim their flak guns. This chaff disrupted the reception of their radar plane detectors, thereby throwing them off on their range and deflection.

Our trip to the target took one hour (from the enemy coast) while the flight from the target took us a full three hours. We had a very strong tailwind on the way in and just as strong a headwind on the way out. We carried eleven men on this trip. A cameraman was with us, but he was unable to get any pictures because of the undercast.

There was no injury to any member of the crew, though we did have the right window in the cockpit shattered by a piece of flak. This was the only damage to the plane this time. Our bomb load was 42 one-hundred pound incendiary bombs. The temperature on this flight was very cold. The thermometer registered at 50 degrees below zero.


MISSION #16
(303rd BG Mission #116)
Date: March 3, 1944
Target: Berlin (Weather prevented us from reaching the target.)
Altitude: 27,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 5, Lead Group, Low Squadron
[read Andrus' comments]


The target was the "Big B." The weather was so bad that we were forced to climb to 27,000 feet over the North Sea and were unable to get completely out of the clouds and poor visibility. This excessive altitude took a lot of extra gasoline since we had been briefed to go in at 20,000 feet. Therefore, because of the weather and shortage of gasoline, we were unable to get to the target.

We crossed over the Helgoland Islands and got moderately accurate flak. The combat leader decided to turn around and go back to England just after we had crossed over Helgoland. On our turn around in the haze, two Forts collided and exploded in mid-air. It was quite a spectacular sight. The bombs in these two planes went off like a Fourth of July fireworks display. None of the crew had a chance of getting out of either ship because it happened so quickly. Even had they gotten out, they would have been no better off because they were out over the water when the accident took place.

Upon our return to England, we found fairly decent weather for a change. This was a very welcome exception to the rule for English weather. This was the first mission that we had brought the old "Thunderbird" back without a few holes in it. None of the crew was injured. Our bombs, 12 five-hundred pounders, were dropped over the Helgoland Islands.


MISSION #17
(303rd BG Mission #117)
Date: March 4, 1944
Target: Bonn, German
Altitude: 27,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 2, Low Squadron, Lead Group
[read Andrus' comments]


Again our target was Berlin, and again the weather forced us to go to 27,000 feet. Therefore, our briefed route was too long to allow for this added climb because of the possibility of running short of gasoline. Our combat commander decided to bomb a target of opportunity somewhere in Germany. We flew over the southern part of "Happy Valley" and bombed Bonn, Germany.

The flak was quite thick over the target, as it always was over the Ruhr Valley, and we were 1ucky to be flying as high as we were. We picked up a few flak holes, but all of them were small. There was no injury to any of the crew. Our bomb load was 12 five-hundred pound high explosive bombs.


MISSION #18
(303rd BG Mission #118)
Date: March 6, 1944
Target: BERLIN
Altitude: 19,200 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 5, Lead Squadron, Low Group
[read Andrus' comments]
[read Chang's comments]


This was our third briefing for "Big B" in three days - and we made the most of it this time! We went over at a very low altitude for Berlin and all of its flak guns.

Our fighter support was splendid, and even though the Krauts kept ripping through other wings, our combat wing was rather lucky in not getting too many direct fighter attacks that seriously threatened us. We had a few passes made at us, but no one in our group was hurt much.

Over the target it looked like the Fourth of July - flak bursting in red flashes and billowing out black smoke all around us. The flak over Berlin was the most accurate and most heavy flak we ever got into. It seemed almost thick enough to drop your wheels and taxi around on it. The Krauts were practically able to name the engine they were shooting at. We received hits in the No. 1 engine, the No. 2 engine and the No. 4 engine. Our left Tokyo tanks were shot out. (We had transferred the gasoline out of them before this hit.) The plexiglass surrounding the left cheek-gun was shattered by a chunk of flak. The horizontal stabilizer had a big hole shot through it, and the vertical stabilizer received a jagged hole in the top of it. We also picked up another hole in the right side of the fuselage, near the tail wheel. The hit in the No. 1 engine went through the cowling and clipped the four cable conduits carrying the wires to the front spark plugs in two cylinders. It also knocked off a few fins on both cylinders. The hit in the No. 2 engine knocked out one cylinder, though the engine still gave us partial power and continued to operate on our return flight to England.

On our way back from the target, we had a few passes made at our group, but the P-51 fighter escort very quickly took care of these ME-109s. Our fighter escort was really swell on this mission. The whole day's operation cost the 8th Air Force sixty-eight bombers. This was the heaviest loss ever received. Our group established a record on this mission. We put up twenty-seven ships, and every one of them went across the target, and every one of them came back. Our ship, the Thunderbird, received the heaviest damage of any of the planes in our squadron.

We were lucky on this mission and got along fine. Our plane was shot up the worst this time of all the missions we flew, but still we received no injury to any member of the crew - though I had a close call. A piece of flak came through the cockpit and cut the left sleeve of my leather flying jacket, but didn't touch me. Our bomb load was 10 five-hundred pound high explosive bombs.


MISSION #19
(303rd BG Mission #122)
Date: March 18, 1944
Target: Lechfeld, Germany
Altitude: 21,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 2, Lead Squadron, High Group
[read Andrus' comments]


This raid was one of the most scenic trips we ever made. Incidentally, it was also one of the most disappointing, because we missed the target completely. We flew along the side of the beautiful Swiss Alps for quite awhile, and also along the northern shore of Lake Constance. It was a really wonderful sight. The mountains were covered with snow.

Nothing very important happened on this trip. We were not attacked by fighters, and the flak wasn't nearly as heavy as it was over some of the other targets. This target was an airdrome. The other groups hit the target, but our group missed it completely. In fact, the lead bombardier had lined our group up on another airfield some five or six miles away from the target we should have bombed.

The plane received only a few minor flak holes, and no one on the crew was injured in any way. This was our second try for Mission 19. We had started on it a few days before, but blew out the left tire on our plane as we taxied into position for take-off. This was a lucky break for us. Had this tire blown out on our take-off a few seconds later, it could have been very serious and dangerous. The bomb load was 42 one-hundred pound incendiary bombs.


MISSION #20
(303rd BG Mission #124)
Date: March 20, 1944
Target: Frankfurt, Germany
Altitude: 28,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 6, High Squadron, Lead Group
[read Andrus' comments]


This was one of the toughest raids because we were flying in an overcast nearly all the time over enemy territory. Our low squadron got lost from the group and came home alone. The whole low group, some twenty-one ships, also got lost in the overcast and turned around and came back. As a result, we only had about thirty-four planes left in our wing. But, we went on to the target and bombed. Our wing of thirty-four planes was the only wing that went in and bombed that day, and we had to battle the weather every mile of the way. We did some very good bombing in spite of the weather and visibility handicaps.

On our withdrawal from the target, we were completely covered by clouds - solid clouds below and solid clouds above us. This was the only time I ever experienced vertigo - a sensation in which everything seemed to be completely out of place. Planes seemed to be turning into one another. When I looked at the flight instruments, it was hard to believe their readings because of my sensations. However, the instruments were always right. We received a few minor flak holes in the fuselage and wings, but we had no injury to any member of the crew. Our bomb load was 12 five-hundred pound high explosive bombs.


MISSION #21
(303rd BG Mission #125)
Date: March 22, 1944
Target: Berlin
Altitude: 27,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 2, High Squadron, High Group
[read Andrus' comments]


This was a much easier mission than the March 6th trip over the "Big B." We went up to a much healthier altitude and the flak was not as accurate. We picked up our usual quota of flak holes, but none of them hurt us very much. This time we did some very accurate bombing. We saw a few fighters, but our fighter support was excellent and our group didn't get hit by the enemy fighters.

The whole raid was an exceptionally easy one compared to the other Berlin raid and nothing outstanding happened. We carried 10 five-hundred pound high explosive bombs. Other than flak damage, we weren't hurt in any way, and none of us were injured.


MISSION #22
(303rd BG Mission #126)
Date: March 23, 1944
Target: Hamm, Germany
Altitude: 20,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 3, Lead Squadron, Lead Group
[read Andrus' comments]


We flew on Colonel Calhoun's wing on this mission. Our group was supposed to bomb Munster, but clouds prevented us from doing so. The railroad yards at Hamm, Germany were just as important and were listed as our secondary target. Therefore, we made a bomb run on Hamm and had excellent results. The trip was very successful and we got along fine. It seemed good to get a fairly short trip for a change. This mission was only six hours and ten minutes long.

We got a hole in each wing and one in the vertical stabilizer. We had no fighter opposition, but the flak was pretty rough over the target. There was no injury to any of the crew, but the plane received some battle damage. We were carrying 12 five-hundred pound high explosive bombs.


MISSION #23
(303rd BG Mission #128)
Date: March 26, 1944
Target: Wizernes, France
Altitude: 21,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 5, High Squadron


This mission looked like a real "milk run" - until we got to the enemy coast. We went into the target at 21,000 feet, and were only over enemy territory twenty-six minutes. But, we were shot at before we got over land and constantly thereafter until we were back over the English Channel again. It was about the "hottest" bomb run I have ever been on. We were bombing by squadrons, and our squadron was broken up by the accurate and intense anti-aircraft fire. It was then up to each of us to get out as best we could. One of the planes in our squadron received a direct hit and exploded. We had the old "Thunderbird" doing better than 220 miles per hour on our way out of enemy territory. Flak was bursting so close beside us and underneath us that it shook the whole plane, and at times actually made the controls jerk in my hands.

We picked up four large holes in the wings and tail, but luckily nothing vital was hit. We carried 5 one-thousand pound extra-high explosive bombs, and our squadron did the best bombing of the whole group. There was no injury to any member of the crew.


MISSION #24
(303rd BG Mission #129)
Date: March 27, 1944
Target: Chartres, France
Altitude: 19,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 6, Lead Squadron, Lead Group


This looked like another easy mission, and it was, except for the target area. The Krauts were really "hot shots" with their flak guns, and we received a lot of very close bursts of flak. Our target was an airfield and our bombing results were excellent. The German flak gunners were getting better every day, it seemed. They were really getting a lot of practice. A big chunk of flak ripped a hole through our right wing and grazed the Tokyo tank. No one was hurt, but the plane received several large holes in it. The bomb load was 42 one-hundred pound general purpose bombs.


MISSION #25
(303rd BG Mission #130)
Date: March 28, 1944
Target: Dijon, France
Altitude: 16,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 4, Lead Squadron, Low Group


This was the easiest mission we were ever on. We did not have a single shot fired at our group, and our bombing was excellent. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and it really was pleasure to see how nice and pretty everything looked in France. Our altitude was low enough to be comfortable and warm. This was one of the very few raids during which we didn't pick up any battle damage to the plane. Again there was no injury to the crew. We carried 12 five-hundred pound high explosive bombs.


MISSION #26
(303rd BG Mission #131)
Date: March 29, 1944
Target: Brunswick, Germany
Altitude: 24,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 6, High Squadron, High Group


This was the most worthless raid we ever went on. We didn't bomb our target and the target we finally bombed was of no importance. About all we did was plow up a few acres of corn for the Krauts. We fought bad weather all the way to the enemy coast. On our return, we were faced with an almost solid mass of clouds that were dropping lower as we went inland.

At the coast the base of the clouds was 800 feet. By the time we finally got to our base, we were flying at 120 feet above the ground and had very little or no visibility. We were actually feeling our way over the tops of the trees and low hills. As we were circling our field at about 100 feet in an attempt to find a runway on which to land, we were almost run over by three B-17s that were flying around the field in the wrong direction. That was the nearest we ever came to "getting it" in bad weather. I don't believe we could ever have been that lucky again. Just a short time before this, we were almost run over by a B-24. We received no battle damage and no crew member was injured, though we saw about twenty German fighters under us at one time. Our bomb load was 12 five-hundred pound high explosive bombs.


MISSION #27
(303rd BG Mission #132)
Date: April 9, 1944
Target: Marienburg, East Prussia
Altitude: 15,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 4, Low Squadron, Lead Group
[read Chang's comments]


This was a unique mission in a couple of ways: (1) It was the longest flight we ever made; and (2) This was the only time we ever carried leaflets or "nickels," a form of propaganda. We were in the air a little over twelve hours and had to fly through some pretty rough weather right at the start of the trip. We never saw a German fighter, and didn't get any flak until over Denmark on the way home. Then, for a few minutes, it was really a hot ride. Our plane received no serious damage, though we did get a few holes. Nine Fortresses were shot down over Denmark in about nine or ten minutes. We came back the last 150 miles over the North Sea at 400 feet altitude in order to get under the weather. We flew through snow and rain squalls all the time. But as we came farther across England, the weather improved and was all right at the base.

This ride finished the tour of combat for Lt. Brooks and S/Sgt. Hein. Lt. Cunningham had finished up his tour on the mission before this one, so I had another co-pilot with me, Lt. Victor Gorecki. There was no serious battle damage to the plane and no injury to the crew.


MISSION #28
(303rd BG Mission #133)
Date: April 10, 1944 (HAPPY DAY!!)
Target: Brussels, Belgium
Altitude: 21,000 feet
Plane: U-050 "Thunderbird"
Position: No. 4, Lead Squadron, Low Group


This was the one we were all waiting for!! It finished the combat tour for all of us on the crew except S/Sgt. Wike, who still had two more missions to go. This was really a nice one to finish up on, too, because it was so short. The flight only took four hours and forty-five minutes and we landed back at our base at 11:00am.

The bomb load on our last mission was 6 one-thousand pound high explosive bombs. The bomb run was a little rough because of very accurate and intense flak. On our first approach to the target, another group got in our way and it was necessary for us to make a second run on the target. Incidentally, this was the only time our crew ever had to make a second run on a given target. On the second run, we got a large hole in each wing and had our left tire shot off. Everything else went fine and we returned to our home base OK.

Our landing was a very easy and good one considering the fact that the tire was gone on the left wheel. The plane stayed on the runway all the way down and I ground-looped it out of the way near the end of the runway so that other planes could land behind us.

I had always told my crew that on the last ride, I was going to just let the plane roll to the end of the runway, cut all the switches and then walk home. I just wouldn't take any more chances. I got my wish. We left the plane right where it stopped on the edge of the runway and "walked home." This was a happy day for me, because I had taken my crew "across the top" on twenty-eight missions without one of them getting a scratch and without once turning back for any reason. We had been on two of the three roughest missions the 8th Air Force ever made, and our crew was the first crew in our group to ever finish a tour of combat without anyone receiving the Purple Heart.