April 27, 1944
|The 44th Bomb Group flew two combat missions
for the first time this day, longer daylight hours permitted this. The
afternoon mission was to the key Marshaling Yards at Chalons-Sur-Marne,
South of Rheims, 60 miles east of Paris, one of the most vital marshaling
centers between Paris and Germany. We launched 25 planes as our part of
almost 600 for the Air Forces total of the day. (The morning effort was
20 planes to Moyenneville, France with the loss of one to enemy action.)
A total of 72 aircraft attacked, from the 44th, 392nd and 445th Groups. Intelligence had reported a loaded ammunition train there. Our bomb load was 12 500 pound bombs. Take off was after 1600 hours (4:00 p.m.). The trip to the target was uneventful with no enemy aircraft attacks. The weather was beautiful and visibility unlimited. As we approached at 20,000 feet, the flak was moderately heavy but our bombardiers held us steady on course. Because the bombs fell in a large arc, the bombardier released them some distance before we would fly over the target area. I heard "Bombs Away", felt the plane lurch upwards as the load lightened, and as one of my duties, pushed the salvo handle under my desk to release any bombs that might fail to fall or a result of water freezing the electronic latches.
I never failed to watch the bombs fall as I had the best view to see in all directions of any crew member. My bubble windows on either side of my navigator compartment afforded full visibility straight down as well as forward, outward and to the rear. Just as our bombs began to walk across the assigned MPI, a most astonishing thing happened. I can't really describe what I saw but I'll try. Suddenly a blinding flash of light of brilliant silver, yellow and red exploded before my eyes. We were directly over an ammunition train when it blew to bits. Many locomotives and 600 railroad cars were disintegrated. A mile of tracks 200 yards wide were torn from the earth. I let out a yell and tried to describe to the rest of the crew what I was witnessing.
I must have been very excited as my pilot asked me to calm down but I couldn't. As we left the target area, a huge mushrooming cloud began to rise, it was at 15,000 feet in a few minutes and finally reached our flying altitude of 20,000 before we lost sight of it. The cloud looked exactly like an atom bomb blast as we know it today.
No one else in the crew saw it explode, not even Lt. Warga, our bombardier. For days, I kept trying to tell the crew what I had seen until they all got fed up with my foolishness.
It was not until September that word and pictures finally convinced my crew that I had not dreamed my wild story. A confidential report published by the 2nd Bombardment Division entitled "Target Victory" came to group operations. As squadron navigator of the 68th squadron, I was in a position to obtain a copy. Attached is a Xerox copy which describes in great detail the destruction that I had witnessed. Not a train moved through the Chalons Marshaling Yard for two months. By this time, the invasion was three weeks old and this important rail community was denied the German defenders. At long last I was vindicated.
There were no incidents on the return to home base and we landed at 2100 hours (9:00 p.m.) after 5 hours and 40 minutes in the air. This was a bit late as the experience of April 22nd had taught us.
Eight Air Force heavy bomber losses from all missions this day was four planes. 254 others were damaged, two beyond repair. Three airmen were KIA, 16 wounded and 40 missing. This was 8th Air Force Mission Number 322.