May 8, 1944
This was my first mission to the city of Brunswick, Germany being that we were turned back by weather four days earlier on May 4th. We were given credit for a sortie that day even though we never reached the city. My second time over this target was on Mission #13, May 19, 1944 and my third time was Mission #27, August 5, 1944. Brunswick is 125 miles southwest of Berlin, with a population of 201,000 people. It was an aircraft manufacturing center for the Luftwaffe as well as a major rail center. In spite of the Allied bombings, German fighter production was producing the planes they needed.
The 44th Bomb Group dispatched 33 aircraft. Lift off was at 0600 hours. One plane turned back so 32 were effective over the target along with another 256 2nd Division Liberators. Our total load was 795 tons of bombs released from 23,000 feet using P.F.F. (Pathfinder) lead. Some reported 10/10 cloud cover but visibility was at least 5/10 as can be seen by the strike photo taken over the city.
As we approached the target area, between 150 to 200 enemy defenders made a strong defensive effort, 35 attacking us at one time. The 44th shot down a number of the Nazi flyers. Flak was always frightening at Brunswick and today was no exception. We had a good escort of P38, P47 and P51 fighters from both the 8th and 9th Air Forces. The Germans were determined to defend the Reich's skies after their dismal showing the day before. Reports were made that some of the Luftwaffe's planes tried to ram our bombers in deliberate collisions and a few succeeded. In all my missions, I never saw a fighter collide with one of our bombers but often I would deliberately not look at the battles going on around me as it frightened me and distracted my navigation.
We wore steel flak helmets over our head gear. I would pull the front lip down so I could not see out but I was able to look to the ground to navigate. One thing I can remember very distinctly was that Pilot Peritti would wait until a fighter was lined up to fire at us, then at the last moment lift or drop our plane. The planes behind us would follow his lead in a wave motion. Only God knows where the cannon shells went that missed us.
I honestly do not know how many enemy fighters the gunners of our crew claimed but I'm sure we got our share of licks in. When we were in a battle and the guns were firing, I could smell the cordite. It was long after the war before the smell of gun smoke would not bring fear back to me. Also the excitement would make me sweat. I would have a cake of ice on my forehead where my perspiration was coming out from under my helmet. I pulled it off in little chunks.
The 44th Bomb Group lost one plane that day when it crashed at Halvergate killing two of the crew. None were shot down in the air battles over Germany. There is a question if this plane was on the Brunswick raid however. All tolled the B-24's lost 11 planes and the B-17's going to Berlin and other cities lost 25 more for a total of 36 for the day. Another 205 bombers were damaged, 8 beyond repair. Men known KIA was 8, 15 wounded and 373 missing. Our fighter losses were 13 in some very fierce dog fights. I would often watch these dogfights. They were usually off at a far distance and at a higher altitude. The contrails would show us the path of the planes as they maneuvered in violent arcs through the sky. Oh; What a beautiful sight to see our fighter escort catch up with us as we winged our way into enemy territory or pick us up on the way out. Sometimes they would fly over us or at our side. The fighter pilots were very cautious on how they would approach us however, never making a direct approach in case our trigger happy gunner mistook them for the enemy. They would keep out of the range of our guns and rock their wings. The P47 and Germany FV190 were very similar as were the P-51 and ME 109. It was not until they were sure our gunners recognized their silhouette that they would approach our formation. On my 11th mission, I saw one of our P-47's shot down by our bomber force because he failed to observe this identification precaution.
The sight that impressed me most was when a flight of P-38 twin tailed fighters would show up to escort us. The effect of this sight would send our internal communication system in a high pitch of approval and gratitude by all the crew. The P-38's were no better than the P-47 or P-51's and maybe not as effective but it was still a beautiful sight.
We returned to Shipdham Air Base about 1300 hours (1:00 p.m.), our actual flight time was 6 hours and 40 minutes. We were tired as this was our 5th mission already this month in only 8 days but little did we know what was to come before we got any relief.
A strange thing happened on this mission. The 96th Bomb Group B-17's were scheduled to go to Berlin along with the rest of the B-17's but became lost. They fell in with the B-24's going to Brunswick. The enemy fighters apparently seeing that they were confused, attacked them savagely shooting down 10 of their number.
Remember in my history of the 44th Bomb Group, I said we were called the Eightballs because we were a jinxed outfit suffering losses out of proportion until the jinx was broken after the ill fated mission of April 8th. Then the 492nd Bomb Group (B-24's) took over our misfortune and even the 100th Bomb Group of B-17's was called the Bloody 100th. The prize for the worst hard luck goes to the same 96th that followed us to Brunswick this day. The 96th Bomb Group was stationed at Snetterton Heath about 20 miles south of Shipdham. They had the unenviable title of having the greatest loss rate of any bomber group of the entire U.S.A.A.F.