St. Pol, France
May 15, 1944
After two deep penetrations of Hitler's Germany on the previous Friday and Saturday, what a relief to be informed that our mission on this Monday, May 15th would be to northern France in the Pas de Calais area. No one jumped with joy however because we all knew that even though our course would carry our aerial task force over enemy held territory for a relatively short distance of only 109 miles, we could expect an intense and accurate flak barrage at most targets equal to many in Germany itself. Luftwaffe opposition was not a major worry as our fighter escorts were plentiful by this time but our gunners had to be constantly on the alert in case one or two enemy airplanes slipped past our "little friends".
The Germans had been constructing launching sites for their V-1"Buzz Bombs" which were soon to be sent against England and London in particular. We airman had no idea what we were bombing as we had never heard of a buzz bomb. As a matter of fact, on June 12, 1944, when we first heard that these pilotless "Flying Bombs" were being launched by the Germans, we thought it was an act of desperation on their part, that they had no more pilots or planes to strike back with. In other words, it was very funny to us but later we changed our tune when we went to London on rest leave only to be brought back to reality by five of them exploding close by. More on this later under the section on London.
It was anything but a joke but at this point in time we only knew we were assigned to bomb these mysterious sites. The code name given to this effort was "Noball" missions which began in December 1943. The 44th Eight Balls were living up to their name when on January 21, 1944, the group lost five Liberators searching for these almost invisible targets (see page 81-85 of "Log of the Liberators" by Steve Birdsall for a most interesting description of this mission).
In spite of events like described above, generally these missions were thought of as "Milk Runs" because of the short duration over enemy territory and with almost no aerial opposition. But as I said before, they could be rough from flak.
The 44th Bomb Group launched 17 planes of which 16 joined 73 others of the 2nd Division to bomb a V-1 site under construction at Siracourt two miles southwest of St. Pol, France which is 45 miles due south of Dunkerque. All tolled we carried 352 tons of bombs. Our load was 8 1000 pounders. Our course took us due south from Shipdham to Claxton on the English coast, 50 miles east of London. From there we flew southeast to our famous entry point on the Belgium Coast half way between Dunkerque in France and Ostend. Going south 36 miles put us 10 miles west of Lille, France. We took a southwesterly course for 28 miles to our IP (Initial point before the target). The bomb run was 12 miles northwest to the target. After unloading our bombs, we headed due west 33 miles where we broke the French Coast, went out over the channel until we headed north again back to "Jolly Old England".
If there ever were a "Milk Run", this was it. We encountered no flak and the P-51 escort fighter spotted not one enemy plane, it was a most enjoyable trip. However we never saw the target due to a heavy cloud layer but this did not keep us from bombing. Usually the Germans jammed my Gee Box with spurious radio signals as soon as we crossed the enemy coast. This resulted in a multitude of blips on my screen to the point where I could not tell the true course from all this "grass" (it was called grass as the phosphor on our cathode ray tube emitted a bright green color.) For some inexplicable reason, the Germans were not jamming our signals and my Gee Box was working perfectly. Warga had no idea where to drop the bombs. I asked him to calculate how far in advance of the bomb drop would be required in order to hit the target from our 23,000 foot altitude. He made this calculation which I plotted on my map. I then set the Gee Box controls to these coordinates. I watched the blips come closer and closer. When they got exactly one over the other I said, "Bombs Away" at which time he released our load of explosives. Only "Heaven Above" knows where those bombs went. Of course we reported this at debriefing at which time we got the impression that we had performed a "job well done". I've often wondered over the years what the Germans thought when these bombs came out of nowhere.
The 8th and 9th Air Forces flew over 25,000 sorties against these V-1 sites before D-Day on June 6th. We called the missions "Noball" but the overall Operation was named "Crossbow". The Crossbow campaign destroyed 83 of these sites and forced the Germans to construct prefab portable launch pads. Also they had to go to great pains to camouflage them better. This delayed Hitler's plans of destroying London with his Vergeltungswaffe, ie, vengeance weapons.
It's difficult to believe that my Form 5 shows we were in the air five hours that day. We landed approximately 1115 hours. I was sure proud of myself.