August 5, 1944
It was back to Brunswick today for the fourth time. As I have recounted in my other narratives concerning this particular target, we expected the worst anytime we headed to Brunswick. It was the second most feared target after Berlin due to flak but especially the excellent German fighter groups in the vicinity.
Today's mission turned out to be an anticlimax to our fears. The 44th Bomb Group launched 34 aircraft for this mission. Twelve of the 68th squadron planes made up the second section with the 67th in the lead and the 506th squadron in the third section. The group was lead by PFF (Pathfinders guided by radar). In spite of the reputation of the Nazi fighter groups, they were notably absent on this day both flying into the target and back to base.
All three Bomb Divisions had dispatched a total of over 1200 planes to 15 different targets in Hitler's Germany. Just under 100 B-24's of the 14th Combat Wing were assigned to bomb an aircraft factory at Brunswick. Each plane was loaded with 13 100 pound and 9 500 pound bombs. We were protected the whole distance with very effective fighter escort.
The clouds broke at the target so our bombardiers were able to drop their bombs visually. Our squadron achieved excellent results hitting squarely on target. The flak did not seem as intense as we had expected, our 68th squadron receiving no serious damage.
The flight home was uneventfull except for one interesting thing. As we headed back towards the English Channel, a lone B-24 was flying perhaps 5000 feet below us and off to our left. Its number three motor was on fire. The pilot put the plane on auto pilot and we watched everyone bail out. (One of my jobs as navigator was to record how many and where men bailed out.) The gunners were counting as they watched the crew abandon ship. The plane was now on its own without any crew when just like nothing had happened, the fire went out. All of us watched with fascination as the "ghost ship" sailed merrily along. The course of the pilotless ship and ours paralleled each other for maybe 20 minutes when it came time for our formation to make a turn to the right. I'll forever see the image in my mind of this derelict flying off to eternity as our paths separated and we lost view of it. I wonder if it is still flying as my minds eye still sees it. It makes me think of the song, "Ghost Riders in the Sky."
Eleven days had passed since the St. Lo mission on the 25th of July. During this time, two events had occurred worth recording. The first was on July 27th. Of 373 Liberators sent to Germany, 23 were lost and again the 492nd Bomb Group of our 14th Combat Wing suffered most terribly. On this date, August 5, 1944, orders were cut to remove this group from combat duty. The last mission of the 492nd would be in two days, then it was disbanded. In three months time the 492nd had lost 51 aircraft. Its claim to fame was "heavier losses than any other B-24 group for this length of time." On August the 15th, the Group Commander of the 492nd assumed command of our 44th Bomb Group, replacing Col. John Gibson as the "Old Man". The 491st Bomb Group at Metfield (the same group that had the bomb dump blow up) was transferred to the 492nd's old base at North Pickenham about 10 miles west of Shipdham to become the third group of our 14th Combat Wing, the other two being the 392nd and us. However they refused to assume the tail marking of the 492nd and as it was considered "marked by the Luftwaffe" thereby retaining their green identification marking. There were all sorts of rumors floating among us as to why the 492nd Bomb Group had been "deliberately singled out by the Luftwaffe". The most persistent was that in one of their earlier operations, one of their planes had lowered its landing gear to indicate to attacking Luftwaffe pilots that they were willing to land. The story goes that as soon as an enemy fighter closed in to escort the 492nd plane down, the gunners on board opened up shooting the German plane out of the sky. Rumor had it that the Nazi pilots never forgave the 492nd. This is an unlikely story as Luftwaffe records indicated after the war but never the less, this is what we combat crews believed at the time.
The second note worthy event about this time was the sighting of the first enemy jet fighter plane, the ME 163. I never saw an enemy jet up close in combat. I did get a very short glimpse at one over Northern France one day. The point is that we combat crews were very frightened by anything new. For example, we were once fired upon by flak that burst with red smoke rather than black. It apparently was no more dangerous than black smoke but it scared the heck out of us. Life was dangerous enough in combat as it was and we sure did not need the new high speed jet aircraft after us. Frankly I did not relish the idea but as the old adage goes, "Ours was to do or die, ours was not to question why."
I might mention at this point that the 3rd Division that had been a mixture of Fortresses and Liberators was converted to all B-17's on August 1st. Now the 1st and 3rd Divisions were all B-17's and the 2nd all B-24's totaling 40 Bomb Groups.