Mission No. Thirty-Five – December 24, 1944
Target: Giessen – Tactical Airfield
Bomb Load: 38-100# G.P.
Gas Load: 2700 gallons
Briefing: 0530 & 0745
Plane: M5602 – No Name
Position: #2, #2 Element, High Sqdn., 41st “C” Gp.
T.O.: 1023 Land: 1723 Time: 7 hours, 0 minutes
Left Base: 1119 @ 12000′
Bombs Away: 1431-1/2; 22700′; -43 degrees C
Distance: 1007 SM
Remarks: Took off from Grafton-Underwood. No clouds over entire route. Bombed visually. No flak over target. Formation broken up by light but very accurate flak over Rhine on way out. Reformed & completed trip back. Unable to land at base because of fog. Landed at Manston. Returned to base by truck on Christmas Day. Fifth Oak Leaf Cluster. ALL DONE!
[Note: This was the 379th Bomb Group’s 233rd mission.]
Dad started talking about this mission the other day. I’m not sure what triggered the memory but it’s the most I’ve heard him discuss his experiences during the War in a long time…and he was really on a roll! So, I grabbed a piece of paper to take some notes and pass them along here.
Dad mentioned that they landed at an abandoned RAF air base because the weather in Kimbolton was bad. His plane was one of the first to land. He said they ate supper right away and then were sent to the empty barracks where they were issued temporary cots and English-style mattresses. “Those were terrible things,” he said. The mattress was not a single piece but was 3 pieces that were not fastened together. The cots were wood so, when you moved in your sleep, the mattress sections moved too!
After getting settled into the barracks, they were being briefed for a possible mission the next day. Dad was not happy about this as he had just flown his 35th and he felt if they sent him back up in the sky that he was “tempting fate.” Air Command had not made a quick decision about the possible mission so Dad and others went outside to watch the planes land. He said it was amazing to see this airfield full of B-17’s on every available strip. Some circled the airfield for hours before they could land! He was surprised they could do that because of fuel.
Eventually a decision was made not to fly the mission on what would have been Christmas Day but, for whatever reason, it was decided that the pilot, co-pilot, engineer, radio operator and bombardier would ferry the planes back to Kimbolton. Usually the navigator flew to ferry planes instead of the bombardier. Bombardiers were trained to navigate but Dad said that “most were pretty bad at it.” So, instead of flying the plane back to Kimbolton, all of the navigators and other crew were sent back by open air truck – and it was cold! Dad said it was colder than on the plane because they had their gear and you had the plane to block the wind. Not so in the back of a truck! He remembers that England had a really hard frost overnight. It was very pretty and looked almost like snow.
So Dad and the rest of the navigators and other crew finally arrive at Kimbolton. The crews that had ferried the planes had already returned, eaten and been allowed leave but Dad didn’t know this so he was surprised, when dropped off at his squadron’s quarters, that there were so few people around. He and the rest were fed their Christmas meal which he says was a good meal. He said they had all of the usual for dinner: turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, some sort of vegetable, bread. Dad says all of the meals at Kimbolton were always good because they were “American food.” The one thing he did not like was how the English cooked lamb.
So, after dinner, everyone was leaving base and Dad, having flown his last mission, didn’t know what to do. His officers didn’t really know what to do either so they told him he could have a few days leave. He was very happy about this as, at this point, he had met his first wife, Madge, and so he went to London to visit her and her parents. He stayed with them while in London and said they must have just “hung around” London.