May 28, 1944
On Sunday morning of May 28,1944, I had the surprise of my life. When I went to early briefing (I was a lead navigator now) I could not believe what I heard. We were going to Zeitz again. The very same synthetic oil refinery 20 miles southwest of Leipzig, Germany that we had left wrecked and burning just 16 days before on our 10th mission of May 12th. My question was, "What are we going back to Zeitz again for?" Well, little did we know of the German's ability to repair and even completely rebuild industrial plants that our intelligence people had considered destroyed. At this time of my limited knowledge, I thought we were going on a wild goose chase which made no sense. We all knew better now and before the day was out, I was to once more look down on this refinery to see with my own eyes that it had been completely rebuilt and back in production.
While rebuilding their oil refineries, the Germans also put around them some of the strongest concentration of anti-aircraft guns in all of Hitler's Europe. We no longer could expect just 4 gun ack-ack batteries to track and fire at us. These "Grossbatteries" of 88mm as well as 105 and 128mm caliber were in groups of 12 to 24 guns that gave a "shot gun" effect. The tighter our formation, the more effective they were. As I have said before, we dispersed aluminum foil strips called "shaff" or "window" to jam the radar which aimed the flak guns. This was very effective except for the lead formation throwing out the first of the stuff. The first groups caught all hell as I was to really find out on my 26th mission to St. Lo when we lead the Air Force.
Today's mission was a major effort by the 8th Air Force. In all, over a thousand 4 engine bombers were sent out to more than 30 different targets in Germany,864 of these reached their objectives. Of all these planes, our 2nd Division Liberators made up the largest single force. The 44th Bomb Group's 26 planes were part of 187 to strike Zeitz with almost 450 tons of bombs whereas on May 12th, we had only 250 tons. We were out to destroy this oil refinery once and for all.
Take off was 1000 hours. Our fighter escort was so effective, we never saw an enemy on the way in or out. (However the 1st Division's B-17's had 300 fighters attack them with rather severe consequences, especially the 401st Bomb Group which lost one-fourth of the 32 bombers MIA for the day from all three Air Divisions.)
The AA gunners at Zeitz must have been low on ammunition or asleep because the flak was much less intense than we expected. However the flak that they did send up was accurate as our 506th squadron lost one of its planes for the only loss of the day for the 44th Bomb Group. The 389th Bomb Group lost two more including 3 planes down in the 2nd Division. Our bombing results were excellent. Viability was unlimited. The black smoke was almost to our flight altitude before we were out of sight of the target. This time "we tore them up bad".
Anyone who has read Albert Speer's "Inside The Third Reich" will recall that he said that as long as we struck at his factories, he could keep production going by repair, dispersal and going underground. But on May 12th, the day we started bombing the oil refineries, he knew the war was lost. Production of gasoline and oil dropped from 182000 tons in March 1944 to 39000 tons in July to 12000 tons in August and less than 5000 tons by September 1944. After the war, many German leaders said that no single thing greater than the 8th Air Forces attacks on their oil resources was responsible for the collapse of the Nazi war machine.
We arrived back in Shipdham Air Base at 1730 hours, having been in flight some 7 hours and 30 minutes.