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HISTORY OF THE
387TH BOMBARDMENT GROUP (MEDIUM) AAF
THE TIGER STRIPE GROUP
MARTIN B-26 MARAUDER
Table of Contents
The air arm of the United States combat forces in Europe was the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces. The Eighth Air Force was designated as strategic; that is, it bombed factories and towns with the view of crippling the industrial capacity of the enemy. It was composed primarily of heavy bombers and of fighters to serve as escort for the bombers. The Ninth was designated as the tactical air force; that is, its mission was the bombing of enemy transportation, enemy supplies, fortified points and, in general, the close support of ground operations. Combat planes of the Ninth Air Force included medium bombers and fighters: B-26 Marauders, A-20 Havocs, A-26 Invaders, P-38 Lightnings, P-51 Mustangs, P-47 Thunderbolts, and P-61 Black Widows (Night Fighters).
The work of medium bombers of the Ninth Bombardment Division of the Ninth Air Force occupies an important place in the air war against Germany. At the peak of its activities this division was composed of three combat wings, the 97th, 98th, and 99th. The 97th Combat Wing was composed of three groups of A-20 Havocs, which were later converted to A-26 Invaders. The 98th and 99th were composed of four groups each of B-26 Marauders, some of which were converted late in the war to the newer A-26 Invaders.
The 387th Bombardment Group, one of the four groups comprising the 98th Combat Wing, used B-26 Marauder bombers exclusively during its 393 combat missions. These strong ships proved their worth on numerous occasions in bringing back crews who might otherwise have been lost in a less sturdily constructed airplane.
In a history of any air combat group the greatest attention and publicity are, rightly, given to the combat crews. They are the men who have undergone the longest and most specialized training and who risk the dangers of enemy flak, enemy fighters and plane accidents. In the early stages of overseas training in the United States air crews and combat crews sometimes failed to understand their mutual interdependence; overseas, under stress of combat, each section learned how to appreciate more fully the work of the other.
For every combat mission run against the enemy there lies behind its successful completion long hours of work by the ground crews. Engineering crews, ordnance, armament, communications, intelligence, weather, cooks, and clerks in the orderly room play their part.
Therefore, when a member of the 387th Group thinks back over the air campaigns, he recalls, besides the combat crews, the names of ground crews who worked night and day, week in and week out, on the "line". After D-Day, a mission was assigned each day to a tactical group like the 387th. Each night engineering men pre-flighted the engines; armament men loaded the planes with bombs and ammunition; ordnance men delivered the bombs and fused them; and communications sections checked over their equipment. Often at the time the mission was called in there was a deluge of rain, a dense fog, or a snow-storm; yet the mission had to be made ready. Crews had to be fed, whatever the hour, and maps and all available data concerning weather and the target area compiled and presented by the intelligence and weather sections. Records of missions and service and pay records had to be kept by the operations and personnel sections.
Yet, with all the work within the tactical group, operations could not have been carried on without the cooperation of the service group and station complement. The 387th was fortunate in having excellent help from the service team assigned to it. Shortly after the Group had arrived at AAF Station 162 in England, it was joined by the 53rd Service Group and 46th Station Complement Squadron. Later, the 53rd was transferred and the 70th Service Group assigned. Then, after the move to R-87, the designation of the 70th was changed to the 483rd Service Group. These outfits did yeomen service in getting supplies and providing maintenance for the tactical group.
Thus the outstanding combat record of the 387th was achieved by teamwork—the smooth coordination of air and ground crews, service groups, and station complement. Each helped the other toward the goal which was the total defeat of the enemy. Each deserves commendation for the excellent spirit displayed in achieving the final victory. The record of achievement speaks for itself in the narrative that follows.
The 387th Bombardment Group (M), with its four member squadrons, the 556th, 557th, 558th and 559th, was activated at MacDill Field, Tampa, Florida on December 1, 1942. The next day personnel of the newly activated Group began arriving.
The original cadre came from the 21st Bombardment Group of MacDill Field. Later fillers to headquarters personnel were assigned from Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, Third Bomber Command, Miami Beach, Florida, and Daniel Field, Georgia. The majority of the original members of the 556th squadron were recruited from the 313th Bombardment Squadron. Original personnel for the 557th came from 314th, those of the 558th from the 315th, and the 559th from the 398th. All those parent squadrons were members of the 21st Bombardment Group (M) stationed at MacDill. Others came from Barksdale Field, Louisiana, Anti-Submarine Company, Jacksonville, Florida, 344th Bombardment Group (M) Lakeland, Florida, and 309th Bombardment Group, Columbia, South Carolina.
On December 20 Major David S. Blackwell of Third Bomber Command was assigned as first commanding officer of the Group. Throughout December and January additional personnel continued to arrive. On January 19, 1943 Colonel Carl B. Storrie was assigned from Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, Third Bomber Command as group commander, relieving Major Blackwell, who remained as group executive until January 22, at which time he was transferred to the newly created 391st Bombardment Group (M). By February 9 the roster of group staff officers had been filled. These included Colonel Carl P. Storrie, commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Stillman, group executive officer, Major Samuel L. Crosthwait, group adjutant, Captain John M. Campbell, group S-2, Major Thomas M. Seymour, group S-3, Captain Marvin M. Harvey, group S-1, Captain James L. Moffett, group surgeon, and First Lieutenant William F. Taulde, group chaplain.
The greater part of the personnel, who had been recruited from OTU and BTU organizations, began, for the first time, to feel that they were to become part of a real combat unit. During the first phase of training, group headquarters was located temporarily in a two story barracks. The 556th, 557th and 559th squadrons were billeted in the casual camp area, rather aptly called "Boomtown". In the shacks the men could look through the roof and see the sky, and look down through the boards of the floor and see the sand. Some mornings in January were cold but, in true Army style, heat was furnished only on warm mornings. Chow for the field mess was lousy, but could be supplemented by meals at the PX and soda fountains. Officers ate at the swank officers club; but rates were not exactly cheap for newly made second louies.
The final details of the first phase were completed by February 2, when the entire Group, at Colonel Storrie's summons, met at the base theater for his famous "Hat in the Ring session". The Colonel began the meeting my throwing his hat "in the ring" in the name of the 387th, and called on all men to do their part. The answer was a unanimous affirmative.
On February 8, 1943 the Group moved into Hangar 4 at MacDill. There the operations, intelligence, engineering, ordnance, and armament sections were quickly set up and the six-weeks period of second phase training began. A strenuous flying schedule was initiated with four-hour periods each for mornings, afternoons and evenings. The bombing ranges at Venice, Osprey, Mullet Key and Avon Park were used for practice bombing missions, and selected areas in the Gulf of Mexico for gunnery practice. Intelligence briefings usually preceded all missions. Crews not engaged in flying attended ground school, which included lectures on air tactics, aircraft identification, first aid and nomenclature of guns and ammunition. The result of this strenuous schedule was a steady welding together of the various units so that they could move quickly and fight effectively.
On March 18 Lieutenant Colonel Herbert M. Stillman, group executive officer, was transferred from the 387th to take command of the 322nd and the air echelon of one squadron were in England, and Colonel Stillman flew to England to assume command. It was from there that he was to take off on the fatal mission to ljmuiden, Holland on May 17, 1943. On that mission ten B-26s, led by Colonel Stillman and flying at low level, were shot down by the Germans. Colonel Stillman, fortunately, suffered only broken bones in the crash, and though taken prisoner, escaped alive.
By the end of the second week of April the Group was nearing the end of second phase training. Since the third phase called for group operations by itself in cooperation with a service group, personnel of the 387th began packing technical and personnel equipment for their first move to Drane Field, near Lakeland, Florida. The move was accomplished on April 23, and in the end proved agreeable to all. At first the men missed the ornate and elaborate PX's and clubs of MacDill Field, but this loss was more than compensated for by the adoption of more comfortable and less formal uniforms and the knowledge that they were the only unit on the field. Working in the open and in tents after using the big hangars at MacDill gave them a feeling of real accomplishment, for they were operating under conditions similar to those in a combat theater.
Shortly after the Group arrived at Drane Field, the second phase of training was completed and the third began. Under Colonel Storrie's able direction the combat crews and ground personnel were becoming expert in their jobs, and accustomed to operations at any time or place.
During second phase training several pilots had become quite "hot" and were flying their planes rather low over the Florida terrain. One day Lieutenant Charles B. White, now Major White, came back with leaves and twigs caught underneath the fuselage, scratches and green stain from leaves under the wings. He told the crew chief to hurry and get the plane cleaned up and the scratches painted over. This the crew chief promptly accomplished. Soon Colonel Storrie came around the line to look over the planes and stopped critically before Lieutenant White's particular ship.
“Sergeant, what happened to your ship here with these scratches on it?"
"My pilot hit a bird, sir," answered the crew chief, loyally lying.
"Well, what caused this green stain underneath the wings?"
"Why, he hit a parrot, sir."
The colonel closed his jaw tightly and walked away.
Before leaving Lakeland the Group, because of its fine record of training during this period, received a personal commendation from Brigadier General Parker, commanding general of Third Bomber Command, stating that the training record of the 387th was the finest yet done by any medium bombardment group.
Third phase training continued into May and then slowed down because of a shortage of gasoline. On May 5, Major Philip Bykes, of the 25th Wing of the Anti-Submarine Command, joined the Group as executive officer, filling the vacancy left by the transfer of Lieutenant Colonel Stillman. With the end of the third phase in sight, the Group was ordered to Godman Field, Fort Knox, Kentucky to complete this stage and to join the Second Army maneuvers, then in progress. On, May 10, Colonel Storrie led the air echelon in a group mission from Lakeland to Godman Field. The ground echelon, under command of Major Crosthwait, left Lakeland on May 11th by train and rejoined the air echelon at Godman Field two days later.
During the Tennessee maneuvers of the early summer the missions flown by the B-26s of the 387th in close support of ground troops played a large part in assisting the attacking Blue Army by inflecting large losses on the defending Red Army. On May 20th during the visit of Third Air Force inspectors, a mission was flown from Godman Field to simulate an attack on a power plant at Soneca, Georgia, and the Group was pronounced "ready for combat". The next day the air echelon was alerted for overseas movement, and by May 23rd all air echelon personnel had left Godman Field by train for Selfridge Field, Michigan. This separation of air and ground units was to last until the reunion in England. There were rumors at the time that ground and air echelons were to be permanently separated, as in the case of the 344th Bombardment Group. No one wanted to believe those reports, because since December an efficient organization had been built and close friendships formed. Also, very few, after the months of strenuous training, had any desire to return to MacDill and begin training over again.
The flight echelon arrived at Selfridge Field on May 23, 1943. There the crews found new B-26s and new personal equipment. For two weeks the crews were busy checking out the new ships, testing gas consumption, and becoming accustomed to the feel of the new combat models of the B-26 Marauder. Since only a minimum of ground personnel had come along, the crews had to take care of both technical work and administrative details. Pilots became adjutants, gunners, first sergeants and sergeant-majors, new roles for flying crews.
On Friday, June 10, the entire flight echelon prepared to take off from Selfridge to Hunter Field, Savannah, Georgia on the first leg of the journey to England. When thunderheads were reported over the mountains on the route to Savannah, there was some doubt concerning the time of take-off. All doubt was removed, however, about nine o'clock when Colonel Storrie, piloting Bat-Outa-Hell II, took off leading the 558th squadron. At intervals of one hour apart the other squadrons, the 556th, 559th and 557th, followed. Some planes did not leave at that time because modifications had not been completed. The weather from Selfridge to Savannah was nasty, and before all planes could arrive, the weather had closed in on Hunter Field. Consequently, all but two 557th planes had to land at other fields and did not arrive at Hunter Field until the next day.
At Hunter the crews received all equipment necessary for overseas service, and further modifications on the planes were made. On Sunday Colonel Storrie again led the 558th on its trip to Langley Field. Others followed on Sunday and Monday, and by Monday night most planes were serviced and ready for the trip north. More bad weather between Langley Field and Presque Isle, Maine, forced the planes to land at Crenier Field, Manchester, New Hampshire; but on the morning of June 16 the entire Group, except about six stragglers, took off for Presque Isle, which was the port of embarkation for planes going over the northern route. The stay, prolonged to three days at Presque Isle because of bad weather, gave the crews a chance to get their ships ready and to get thoroughly briefed on the difficulties of navigation over the north Atlantic. There could be no approximations; navigation had to be perfect. On the afternoon of June 19 the squadrons took off at hour intervals for the trip to Goose Bay, Labrador. The trip proved a good orientation flight for the navigators, but was otherwise uneventful. The stay at Goose Bay was only long enough to allow for eating, refueling, a short nap and briefing.
Flying to B W 1, Greenland, was by far the most hazardous part of the journey because most of the trip was made in a thick fog which limited visibility to a hundred yards. It also provided some beautiful sights, for when the planes were about fifty miles from land, the fog broke, and the crews first saw the icebergs drifting in the sea 9,000 feet below, resembling giant ice cream cones of multiple geometric designs. The landing was a difficult procedure requiring a great amount of skill. The approach is in one direction only and requires the landing of the plane on the water's edge where the landing strip, made of mesh, rose rapidly uphill to a height of 160 feet above sea level. The crunching of the wheels against the mesh was a welcome sound to all crews. Fortunately every one of "Kolonel Karl's Kombat Kids" safely touched soil on Greenland.
The weather at B W 1 was constantly closing in and lifting, but never becoming clear enough to permit a take-off. As a result, the various flights took off at intervals of from four to ten hours apart; but by the afternoon of June 21 all planes except one were off and on their way to Iceland. The trip from Greenland to Iceland was the most beautiful stretch of the trip. The sun was bright, and at one time visibility was good for 152 nautical miles. No trouble was experience in attaining an altitude of 12,000 feet to get over the ice caps, and the scene of the planes at this height was a sight to remember. Iceland was visible forty-five minutes before the planes had arrived at the shoreline, and the landmarks on which the crews had been briefed in Greenland were so clearly visible that there was no mistaking the destination.
On Iceland, again, there was a delay because of bad weather, but on June 23 the take-off for Prestwick was allowed. This trip, unlike the one from Greenland, was flown at an altitude of 1500 to 2000 feet, and the planes were constantly darting in and out of low flying clouds. After three hours of flying the rocky shore of Stornoway, Scotland, became visible. Landfall was made and permission given to proceed to Prestwick. Prestwick was reached about five in the afternoon, and the crews were fed doughnuts and chocolate by the Red Cross. After the planes had been refueled, the formation headed south and reached Aldermaston in England just at nightfall. The last planes came in with the help of landing lights. After waiting at Aldermaston a day for Colonel Storrie, who had been forced to land at Stornoway, the planes took off on the afternoon of June 25 for Chipping Ongar. The trip was short, but it gave them their first glimpse of London, which they were to see many times thereafter. On seeing the city and the installations of their permanent base, the reaction of all the crew was "We'd like to stay here until we can return to the USA". The crossing had set two records. It was the fastest trip yet made by any group and the first group ever to cross without the loss of a single man.
The ground echelon remained at Godman Field, Fort Knox, Kentucky, until June 10, and in that time finished training and packing. On that day the band began to play, the big bass drum began to beat, and the ground personnel of the 387th followed it right out of Godman Field onto the train for Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. After arriving at Camp Kilmer on the morning of June 11 the Group put itself into the hands of the staging officials for final check of equipment, supplies, and general readiness. With the promise of passes to New York City as soon as the entire Group was checked out, it took only two days to tie all loose ends together and get the stamp of approval. It was here that the distasteful but necessary procedure of mail censorship began. During the last eight days at Kilmer there were lectures and drilling during the day and passes to New Brunswick and New York City for half the men at night.
On June 22 the final order for movement overseas came, and the next day all were enroute to New York harbor. The trip consisted of a train ride to Hoboken and what all would swear was at least a five-mile hike with full pack and baggage to the edge of the Hudson River. Then came the ferry trip across to the Queen Mary. With the Group on this gigantic liner were what seemed like two-thirds of the combined Army and Navy, but was, in reality, a contingent of about 14,000 troops. The following day the Queen pulled away from the dock and started down the Hudson, into New York Harbor, through the mine field, and out to sea. Most of the men had assumed, without saying so, that the trip would begin in the middle of the darkest night available but, as usual, the Army had other ideas. The boat left the dock exactly at noon. To the accompaniment of whistles, bells, and foghorns the Queen Mary slipped slowly past the New York skyline out into the Atlantic. It was felt by all aboard that the noise could be heard as far as Berlin.
For the first two days the course was south, far enough for the paint to steam off the sides and far enough, too, for the men below docks to become thoroughly parboiled. All troops aboard had meanwhile been initiated into the ominous habit of wearing life preservers. From the very first the great number of soldiers on board gave the ship the look of a slaver. Personnel were divided into sections which changed quarters each afternoon. Those who had been on deck one night went below the next, and vice-versa. For the enlisted men and junior officers there was not much to choose between the pallets on deck and their stifling air of the hold. A dozen second lieutenants were jammed into a cabin originally built for two. First lieutenants, crowded eight into one of the same type cabins, fared a little better. The tradition of R H I P was carefully observed on up the line so that the single one-star general aboard basked alone in a single cabin.
Meals, served twice a day, were quite good as far as the officers were concerned; but to dignify the sorry stuff served to the enlisted men by the name meals would be a gross overstatement. Luckily, there was a PX on board; the men lived largely on a diet of candy. On the third day the course veered sharply north until weather conditions changed from torrid to frigid. During the first trip the usual rumors of torpedoes and subs made the rounds, but nothing sensational occurred. The Queen, attended constantly by a B-24 Liberator overhead, ploughed along imperturbably, zigzagging through a smooth sea. The first signs of land were the mountains of Northern Ireland which, on the morning of June 29, rose dimly out of the horizon off starboard. The bluish gray shadow of the crags outlined in the sunlight was the introductions to many more beauties of the older world. The big ship passed two strong convoys in military column, trailing barrage balloons behind them and escorted by destroyers. After turning south and proceeding down the Irish Sea, the Queen Mary, about dusk, made a horseshoe turn and headed northeast into the Firth of Clyde. In the last sunlight of a gorgeous cloudless day the soft light of a summer evening glanced across the hedgerows, rounded green hills, ripe wheat fields, thatched roof cottages and yellow haystacks to give all objects a warm golden sheen. The sight of a girl in a red dress, walking with her dog in the fields along the shore, added the finishing touch to a picturesque sight. Maybe the scene would be that beautiful any time; maybe it only looked that good to soldiers ending an ocean voyage.
Finally the Queen Mary drew abreast of Gourock into the company of fifteen or more large ships, many ex-luxury liners, all loaded with soldiers. Almost immediately the men were transported to shore by lighter—a job that did not end until the next night. After the men had been loaded on the trains, the trip to the field began. At the end of an all night trip the train pulled into Chelmsford, Essex where the men were put into trucks and taken on a thirty-minute ride to the next base. On arriving at airfield A-162 at Willingale, near Chipping Ongar, the ground echelons were welcomed by the flying crews, who spoke knowingly of left-hand driving, cycling, haystacking, "thruppiny bits," RAAFS, mild and bitters, and Piccadilly.
On landing at Chipping Ongar the crews had found that the field was barely ready to receive them. The air echelon had arrived in such excellent time that the runways were only partially complete. When he learned that the 387th planes were at Prestwick, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Brown, commander of the 831st Engineer Battalion, had kept his men working far into the night of the two days preceding the planes' arrival in order to get the field ready for the landings. The hardworking engineers, who had spent eight months of rain and fog to get the field ready, admitted a feeling of satisfaction at the sight of sixty-five new B-26s dropping wheels on the field. Although neither the runways nor the squadron areas were complete, the spirits of the men were high. After the ocean voyage ground and air crews alike were glad to be together again. Colonel Storrie expressed the feeling of the Group when he said, "Where are the bombs? Let's go to war!"
On June 27, 1943, the day after the arrival of the air echelon at A-162, Major General Ira C. Eaker, commander of the Eighth Air Force, and Brigadier Generals Robert Candee and Francis M. Brady of the Eighth Air Support Command arrived at the field and addressed the crews in the base hanger. General Eaker complimented the Group on its successful Atlantic crossing and its fine record as a medium bombardment group and outlined the job they were to do.
Formal dedication of the field took place on July 17 with all units of the field taking part. A review of the various units was held with music by the 342nd Engineer's band. An aerial demonstration by thirty-six B-26s flying close formation followed. Brigadier General C. A. Moore, Chief Engineer Etimsa, then presented the field, on behalf of the Engineers, to Brigadier General Robert C. Candee of the Eighth Air Support Command. General Candee congratulated Lieutenant Colonel Brown and his men of the 831st Engineers, builders of the field, on the fast and capable work done. He concluded by saying, "Archimedes once said, "Give me a base on which to stand and a lever long enough and I can move the earth". You, General Moore, and your men have given us the base and Colonel Storrie is very eager to start moving the earth. A tour of the field was then made, followed by a luncheon with Brigadier General Moore, Lieutenant Colonel P. C. Brown and representing the British Army, General J. R. Nigan and Lieutenant Colonel E. A. K. Lake.
The 387th, along with other medium bombardment groups, had been assigned to the Eighth Air Force. Later, after the transfer of the Ninth Air Force to England, these groups were to be assigned to that organization and were to form the Ninth Bombardment Division, composed of three combat wings; the 97th, 98th, and 99th. This grouping was to continue until the end of the war against Germany.
During the period of fair weather in July the station was in the process of being completed, for the Group had arrived several weeks ahead of time. Various officers and enlisted men attended training schools. In contrast to the training period, when the squadrons had operated with a good bit of independence, group headquarters took over a larger control. Group operations, group intelligence, group personnel and other sections in headquarters began drawing men from the squadron sections to help with their work. There was relatively little air activity because many modifications had to be made on the planes and because there was no gas until late in the month. Ground school was organized for air crews and toward the end of July several practice bombing missions and "doughnuts" north to the Wash were flown. All efforts were made to see that the crews were sufficiently shaken down and primed before the time came for operations.
(4 July 1942 - 5 Jun 1944)
. . . . . . Rocket and Bomb Sites
. . . . . . Airdromes
. . . . . . Marshalling Yards
. . . . . . Coastal Defenses
. . . . . . Bridges
. . . . . . U-Boat Pens & Power Stations
Preceding their operations as independent units, bombers of the Unites States Army Air Forces had flown in support of British RAF formations in attacks on enemy held objectives in France, Belgium and Holland. The first all-American bomber attack on German-held Europe had been made July 3, 1942 on the strategic city of Abbeville, France by twelve B-17 Flying Fortresses of the Eighth American Air Force. This mission was a prelude to the devastating aerial onslaught against the Germans during the period later designated as Air Offensive, Europe.
As American air strength mounted, several groups of B-26 Marauders arrived in England and were attached to the Eighth Air Force as air support. The 322nd Bombardment Group was the first of these, followed in order by the 323rd, 386th and 387th. Targets during the early stages of the campaign consisted mainly of German airfields in France and Belgium, from which scores of fighters were harassing and attacking allied bomber formations. As a result the Luftwaffe, up to this time unchallenged and superior, was steadily moved back from the coast. When the men of the 387th arrived, they were told that the nearest German fighter field was only twenty minutes flying time away--directly across the channel.
As operations began, squadron commanders of the 387th were: 556th, Captain Walter J. Ives; 557th, Captain Charles R. Keller; 558th, Captain Joseph H. Richardson and 559th, Captain William T. Boren. These officers were to lead their men in laying the foundation of the long series of commendable and effective missions flown by the Group until the final defeat of Germany.
The group insignia, yellow slanted stripes on a black background, painted on the vertical stabilizers of the planes, was given the name "Tiger Stripe" by the men of the 387th. As time went by the Group became generally known as the "Tiger Stripe Marauder Group."
Operations began modestly on July 31, 1943 when thirty-six 387th aircraft, led by Colonel Storrie, made a diversionary sweep over the English Channel in support of other Eighth Air Force groups. Again on August 2 Colonel Storrie led a similar mission, which, like the first, was flown without incident.
On August 15th, a 387th formation led by Colonel Storrie flew its first mission as a unit against St. Omar/Ft. Rouge airfield, France. Results were good. Succeeding missions during August and September included attacks on marshalling yards at Courtrai, Serquiz, Rouen and Lille. On September 8 and 9 the Group took part in a practice invasion of the French Coast in the Boulogne/Calais area. Flying in inclement weather through clouds and thick haze, 387th crews bombed coastal defenses of Boulogne and Andante. These first missions, because crews were "green" in combat and the weather was bad, necessitated long bomb runs; but only one crew was lost in August. Over Lille/Venderville the plane of Lieutenant E. L. Anderson and Lieutenant L. C. Stevenson was hit by a direct burst of flak, broke in two, and went down burning.
Results of these early operations were, in spite of the handicaps of bad weather and lack of experience, generally good. They proved the effectiveness of medium bombardment in neutralizing enemy airfields and coastal defenses, as well as hindering the flow of supplies throughout France and Belgium.
On subsequent attacks during September and October gunners of the "Tiger Stripe" Marauders were credited with shooting down or damaging several FW-190's. Their efforts prevented fighter formations from getting too close, and all losses during this period were sustained from flak, not from enemy fighters. Yet, the losses inflicted on the enemy could hardly compensate for the shooting down of several valuable crews. On September 21 Major William Boren's plane was shot down by accurate flak over Deauvai/Lille airdrome, but several months later Major Boren, with the help of the French "underground", escaped back to England. On this same mission Lieutenant Clinton Dersheid, navigator in Captain Charles White's plane, was killed by flak shrapnel. Box leaders for the missions of August, September and October, besides Colonel Storrie, included Major William T. Boren, Major Philip A. Sykes, Major Joseph H. Richardson, Captain Walter J. Ives, Captain Don Scott and Lieutenant Glenn Grau.
Two noteworthy missions were flown in November against a new type target—the “NOBALL.” These objectives consisted of rocket guns and pilotless aircraft installations in the Pas de Calais area of France. The installations had a two-fold handicap for the bombardiers: (1) because of their comparatively small area and expert camouflage, they were very difficult to spot from the air, especially if the weather was hazy; (2) because of the small area covered, they were extremely hard to hit. They required excellent “pinpoint” bombing. The first NOBALL target hit by the 387th was Vineyesques, France near Cape Gris Nes on November 5. The second was against Martinvast in the Cherbourg area on November 11. Results were fair to good. The NOBALLs offered a real challenge to pilot-navigator-bombardier crews in teamwork and coordination. Bombing accuracy steadily improved, and after the invasion forces had landed on the continent results could be evaluated. Mediums, again, had proved the effectiveness of pin-point bombing technique.
On November 3 the Group achieved its best bombing results up to that date. With good visibility and little flak, the formation, led by Lieutenant Colonel Seymour and Lieutenant William Tuill, hit the airdrome at St. Andre de L’Fure with excellent results. The aiming point was a group of repair shops and living quarters. Of the forty-five buildings in the area thirty-six were destroyed and several more damaged by the concentrations of bombs that fell in perfect pattern. Four planes were damaged by flak. Results obtained on this mission gave them the confidence they needed in tackling Amsterdam Schipol in the afternoon.
The formation leader on each of the first twelve missions run by the 387th had been Colonel Carl R. Storrie, gallant and able group commander. Under his leadership the green flying crews had been initiated into combat, had learned to hold the course through flak-blotched skies, and had felt the exhilarating pleasure of shooting down German fighters. Now they were becoming experienced veterans, capable of carrying on the high traditions of the 387th under another leader. Early in November Colonel Storrie was called to another assignment in the States. Later it was learned that he was in the Pacific flying B-29 Superfortresses. At the end of the war he was in command of a B-29 wing, and had flown the last incendiary mission of the war over Japan. On November 8 Colonel Jack Caldwell succeeded Colonel Storrie as group commander. Colonel Caldwell, by his work in higher commands, had initiated the technique of medium altitude bombing for medium bombers. Now he was to demonstrate in actual combat the soundness of his theories.
The missions during November creating the greatest amount of interest among the crews were the attacks on Amsterdam Schipol airfield, over which a number of American bombers had been shot down. On November 3 Captain Joe M. Whitfield led the attack on this target. As expected, flak over the target was intense. Results were only fair to good, but the mission served a valuable purpose in giving the men confidence in their flying ability and in their planes. They had been through heavy flak, but they and the B-26s could take it. The return visit to this hot spot was made December 13 when a fifty-four ship formation, led by Lieutenant Colonel Charles R. Keller, obtained good results. Flak was again heavy and the majority of the ships were damaged, but the place wasn’t so “hot” after that. The weather continued bad through December and January, necessitating the grounding of aircraft all too often. On December 20 the Ninth Bomber Command was assigned the destruction of NOBALL targets as their primary function, and the majority of the targets attacked during those months were NOBALL. Even when the weather was good enough to allow a take-off, the visibility over the target generally prevented the bombardiers from getting the good results of which they were capable.
Since comparatively few missions were being run, it became possible for the men to enjoy the recreational facilities of the base. Day rooms had been set up in the different squadrons and beer made available. A good officers’ club had been established in a large Nissen hut, and the enlisted men had the Aero Club available for doughnuts and coffee and for dances. Usually there were two large huts available for movies. The parties and dances were a most welcome change from the dreariness of the weather. Both officers and enlisted men, in the presence of American nurses and English girls, became party conscious. On December 20 the officers of the 556th squadron took over guard duty so that all of their enlisted men could attend a grand “soiree” that lasted most of that night.
On January 1, 1944 Captain Glenn Grau had replaced Major Walter J. Ives as commander of the 556th. Major Ives went to a new assignment at Ninth Bomber Command.
Early in February there was a notable increase in the number of neckties being worn about the base. The arrival of four flight nurses, for the purpose of learning procedure in handling injured crew members, was probably just a mere coincidence. “Four are O.K.,” said newly promoted Major William Engler, group S-2, “but forty would be better.”
February, March and April brought with them improved flying weather and a corresponding increase in operational sorties. Forty of the fifty-two targets hit during this period were the now familiar NOBALLs. A new procedure, whereby the Group was given secondary targets in case the primary could not be hit, produced some excellent results. The destruction of an oil storage plant on the Seine on February 9 was one result of this new adopted policy. Losses on these missions, though few, were costly. On February 15 “Shady Lady,” piloted by Lieutenant T. J. Alford, was shot down over Cherbourg on the way home from a successful mission to La Glacerie, France.
Toward the end of February targets for the mediums were temporarily changed to German airdromes in order to divert the swarms of enemy fighters from the Eighth Air Force “Heavies” then in the process of destroying German airplane factories. Carrying one hundred pound demolition bombs, the formations destroyed enemy aircraft, hangers and ammunition stores. The Nazi airfield at Venlo, Holland was attacked on February 25 in extremely bad weather. Major Richardson, commanding officer of the 558th, led the second box to the target, and Captain Corburn, his bombardier, scored a direct hit on the aiming point. Attacked by over twenty Me-109s after leaving the Dutch coast on their way home, four of our planes were shot down. The pilots of these aircraft were Major Richardson, Lieutenant J. H. Falls, Lieutenant R. H. Jansing and Lieutenant J. H. Steinback. Enemy fighter losses (confirmed) were two destroyed, one probable and three damaged. Major Richardson was succeeded by Captain Robert H. Keller as commanding officer of the 558th. About this time another change in squadron commanders took place, with Captain Joe Whitfield replacing Lieutenant Colonel Charles R. Keller as head man of the 557th.
After the difficult pin-point no-balls much larger targets, such as the marshalling yards at Creil and Chievres and the Soesterbert airfield, seemed easy to hit. Results on all these were excellent. Another change in targets was the raid on the E-boat pens at Ijmuiden, Holland on March 28. On this mission “Top Sarge,” the lead ship piloted by Captain Glenn Grau, had one engine knocked out, the electrical system damaged and the observer killed. In spite of this great handicap four 1000 pound bombs were laid inside the pens. After the bombs had been dropped it appeared an impossibility to get the ship back. By skillful flying Captain Grau nursed his one engine along, carefully hoarding his altitude, and limped back across the channel and crash-landed in England.
The success of missions such as these had proved the feasibility of medium altitude bombing by medium bombers. Results were even better than anticipated, and higher commands were quick to recognize and reward the men who had first planned and then shown the true value of medium bombers. On March 20 Colonel Jack Caldwell, able and gallant group commander of the 387th, received a signal honor in the award of the Legion of Merit for developing “strategy for use of medium bombardment aircraft in this theater…and in training crews in new flying tactics.”
With only fifteen operational days during April the Group achieved excellent bombing results. Targets included NOBALLs, marshalling yards and, for the first time since September, a number of coastal defenses. The first of these occurred on April 10 when Colonel Caldwell led a thirty-six ship formation over Le Havre. The bombardiers had not lost their accuracy, for all strikes were seen to hit the target area, and one scored a direct hit on a gun emplacement. The same afternoon Lieutenant Colonel Seymour led the attack on the Namur marshalling yards. Following a formation of “window” ships, the 387th Marauders dropped incendiaries which started numerous fires.
The joy the crews felt after the two highly successful missions of the 10th was short-lived. Two days later, leading a formation over coastal defenses near Dunkerque, Colonel Caldwell and his crew were shot down by enemy flak. Included in the crew were Major Williams and Captain Moffit. Colonel Caldwell was succeeded as commanding officer by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas H. Seymour, who had been with the 387th since MacDill Field. Formation leaders on succeeding missions during April were Major Grau, Major William Brown and Captain R. W. Keller.
During this period the often discussed “mobility move” took place. To keep all units from feeling too settled, Major General Lewis Brereton, Ninth Air Force Commander, had given his command the motto, “Keep Mobile.” During the course of the day of April 18 a truck convoy made a practice move to Borchan and the Group ground echelon marched to Blackmore.
On the social side the various squadrons staged several enjoyable parties. Accommodations at the field were improved, and the presence of English girls and American nurses continued to be a welcome change. A decided uplift in the morale of the combat crews at this time was felt by the return to the United States of several veteran combat teams for well-deserved rests.
During the latter part of the month the Group, in addition to its attacks on marshalling yards, NOBALLs and airfields, did valuable work in helping reduce Nazi coastal defenses in Normandy. These attacks were part of the over-all plan of softening up German fortifications on the French coast before the invasion of the continent. On April 26, 28 and 29, 387th Marauders assisted in pre-invasion maneuvers staged by allied army and naval forces in Devonshire. Tension and anticipation of the coming invasion of the continent filled the air, pervaded the Group and increased each day.
Two missions were flown on May 1. In the morning thirty-six aircraft bombed Louvain marshalling yards with excellent results. In the afternoon the same number, carrying 1,000 pound bombs as on the Louvain mission, hit the locomotive sheds, choke points and rail lines at Monceau in northern France. During the next week, since bad weather prevented flying missions, several formations of planes flew training missions in conjunction with ground troop maneuvers on the south coast. In addition to the maneuver missions all crews practiced new formation bombing by fours and sixes instead of the standard eighteen-ship box. This change was tried in an effort to increase the probability of hits on the targets.
The Group went back on operations on May 10 with a morning mission of thirty-nine aircraft to remove the railroad bridge at Oissel, just south of Rouen. Two weeks’ practice proved its worth when the formation, flying and bombing by fours, left the bridge definitely severed and the rail lines to the north out. The crews on this attack were given special commendation by Major General Samuel E. Anderson for the excellent job. In the afternoon, bombing in flights of sixes, the formation dropped 500 pounders on closely parked goods wagons, locomotive sheds, warehouses and engine sheds at Creil. One flight, unable to get into position for the run on the primary target, bombed Boix airfield, the secondary target, with excellent results.
From May 11th until the 25th the chief targets were coastal gun positions at Ft. Mardick, Quisterham, Benerville and Barfleur. On May 25 the crews attacking the Liege/Val Benoit bridge did a beautiful job of cutting both spans and the ramps, but the next day the Group had to retire temporarily into the “doghouse” when one flight of six, after the other flights had hit the Chartres Airfield, dropped in gross error and almost hit the famed Chartres cathedral.
Next day, making a good comeback to atone for this error, the flights showed excellent results on the railroad bridges at Le Manoir and Orival. With the help of a short spell of good weather, the good work was continued on the bridges at Liege/Renory, Conflans and Maisone Lafitte. The Conflans mission was costly in the loss of Captain E. C. Harmon and his crew. Captain Harmon had been one of the first pilots to join the Group at MacDill.
As rumors of the approaching invasion increased, the 387th and other medium groups were kept busy knocking out coastal guns along the channel coast. On June 2nd, thirty-seven planes bombed Epreville. The next day six flights of sixes hit the Etaples/Camiers coastal defense positions and scored direct hits on several gun positions and command posts. Flak was heavy during the attack June 4th on the Calais/March coastal defense guns. The next mission was on D-Day.
Among the awards coming through during May were the Silver Star for Major Joseph Richardson and Bronze Stars of Technical Sergeants L.P. White and Hendrickson, whose ships, “Lady Irene” and “Secksma Sheen,” respectively, had flown fifty missions without aborting.
(5 June 1944 – 24 July 1944)
. . . . . . Bridges
. . . . . . Defended Areas
. . . . . . Fuel Dumps
. . . . . . Road Junctions
. . . . . . V-1 Sites
. . . . . . Marshalling Yards
. . . . . . Miscellaneous
Beginning with D-Day, the targets hit by the Group changed from medium range strategic targets, such as marshalling yards and airfields, to short-range tactical targets. Although there were missions in marshalling yards and the NOBALLs, which had begun firing pilotless aircraft towards London, the majority of the targets were road junctions, rail lines and fuel and ammunitions storage dumps. During the Normandy campaign the Group, besides doing good bombing, received several commendations for efficient, accurate and speedy reporting of observations by combat crews. It is estimated that during the first two weeks of the invasion the 387th observation reports resulted in the location and destruction of one German division headquarters, three supply dumps and a number of tanks and other vehicles.
D-Day, June 6, 1944, the 387th participated in the Ninth Bomber Command assignment of attacking the east coast beaches of the Cherbourg peninsula. The Group’s specific targets were three strong points on the beach in the vicinity of Les Dunes de Varreville. The mission came in at 0100 hours and briefing was held at 0230 hours under the direction of Major William B. Engler, Captain Karl G. Peterson and Captain Sam H. Monk, who had assembled H-Hour and D-Day data. The formation leader was Captain Joe Whitfield. Orders were to keep the bombs within a short distance of the coast, because paratroopers were to land just beyond the beaches. The mission was a success. Bombs fell about 800 feet west of the center of target, possibly damaging a north-south road, and none fell too far inland from the beach.
On June 7th it was learned that the 17th German Panzer Division was moving north to the invasion beachhead. The report called for a mission to deny this route to the Germans. Because of bad weather the formation attempting to bomb the rail junction at Rennes was not successful, but it did get good results on a railroad west of Vire and on a choke point of vehicles near St. Lo. The next morning a highly successful mission was flown against the railroad junction at Pontaubault. The best strike was made by Lieutenant Donald Tall, bombardier in Captain Robert H. Will’s flight, whose bombs hit the target perfectly.
The afternoon mission proved to be one of the roughest and most remarkable ever flown by the Group. Captain Rollin D. Childress was to lead eighteen aircraft to a fuel dump in the Foret de Grimbusq, south of Caen. At the takeoff at 1958 hours the ceiling was 900 feet. The formation assembled without difficulty, but on going up through the solid overcast it became widely dispersed. Eleven of the planes returned to the base; one crash-landed at Gravesend and one, piloted by First Lieutenant Raymond V. Morin, crashed while attempting to land at Briston in ceiling zero weather. Captain Childress gathered three aircraft with his own and continued on, sometimes at deck level in quarter of a mile visibility. He managed to find the target and his bombardier, First Lieutenant Wilson J. Cushing, bombed it with great accuracy from 6,000 feet. As the formation of four turned off the target, moderate extremely accurate flak shot down the fourth airplane piloted by Captain Charles D. Schober. The airplane exploded in min-air and no parachutes were observed. Included in Captain Schober’s crew was Captain John D. Koot, group weather officer. The remaining three aircraft, proceeding homeward, braved the horrible weather conditions over England and landed at the base at 2230 hours. Captain Childress was congratulated on his tenacity and perseverance by Colonel Willard Lewis, commander of the 98th Combat Wing, and by group commander Lieutenant Colonel Thomas H. Seymour. He was also awarded the Silver Star. The effectiveness of the bombing was attended to by a congratulatory telegram from the ground forces which stated that the important fuel dump, the immediate supply for an entire panzer division, was destroyed.
During the remainder of the Normandy campaign two missions a day were flown whenever the weather promised a fifty-fifty chance of success. Bridges at Paontaubalt, St. Lo and Ambrieres were hit, but the chief targets were road junctions, railroads, gun positions and NOBALLs. Results were good and the attacks did their part in preparing for the Allied breakthroughs at Falaise and St. Lo. The two most spectacular of these missions were the bombing of a buzz-bomb headquarters at Doullens Citadel on July 6 with good results and the attack on the fortified area south of Caen on July 18. The carpet-bombing mission, a consolidated effort of American and RAF bombers, was a prelude to the great push by the British under General Montgomery. Carrying 260-pound fragmentation bombs, the 387th formation, led by Major Robert Keller, took part in the attack that wiped out a whole German division. Lieutenant Robert S. Weyell and his crew were lost on this mission. The last mission from Chipping Ongar was the attack on the railroad bridge spanning the Loire at Tours on July 18. Results were excellent.
On July 17, the Group had an unfortunate experience in the loss of Colonel Thomas M. Seymour, commanding officer, in an airplane accident. His place was taken by Colonel Grover C. Brown, who left the positions as Chief of Staff of the 98th Combat Wing (M) to take command of the Group.
During the campaign in Normandy, as a result of the retreat of the German from the coastal areas, targets for the mediums were getting farther away so that missions were becoming too long for effective tactical support. The 98th Combat Wing had been ordered to move to the south of England. On July 18, the advance echelon of the 387th moved from Station 162 to Station 452, located at Stoney Cross, Hants, and on July 21 the rear echelon followed. The move was accomplished with a minimum of effort and no loss of operational efficiency. A whole year on one field had been a long time. Pleasant associations of Chelmsford and the surrounding country remained, and several men, including Captain Allen Sherman, had married English girls.
(25 July 1944 – 14 September 1944)
. . . . . . Defended Areas
. . . . . . Fuel Dumps
. . . . . . Bridges
. . . . . . Leaflet Missions
. . . . . . Railroad
The bad weather of late July hindered both air and ground forces. The lull was used well by General Bradley to build up supplies and make plans for his brilliant breakthrough at St. Lo. On July 25, after waiting five days for favorable weather, a formation of 387th planes took off for the St. Lo sector and put all its bombs in the assigned area.
As the American Armies raced across France, units of the Ninth Air Division were hitting fuel dumps, bridges and defended areas. Interesting secondary missions were the dropping of propaganda leaflets on the Brest peninsula to warn the Germans holding out there to surrender.
Early in August the 387th was assigned the destruction of a RRY bridge at Auvres-Sur-Olze, north of Paris. The mission was successful, but flak damaged several of the planes. “Lady Irene” had been so badly hit that she could not be landed. Over the field the pilot, Lieutenant Don Morris, ordered his crew to bail out. After he had seen his crew safely on their way down, Lieutenant Morris, an enthusiastic amateur photographer, decided to try to get some pictures of the proceedings. After trimming the ship, he crawled back to the navigator’s compartment, found the camera, and after dropping from the nose wheel well, took pictures of the other parachutes and the plane when it crashed. Under the expert care of Technical Sergeant Dan P. White, “Lady Irene” had flown a total of 116 missions, the last 99 without aborting.
By this time it was apparent that at least some medium groups must move to the continent in order to support effectively the swiftly moving ground troops. After several weeks of packing the reconnaissance and advance parties went across the Channel from Stoney Cross to Station A-15 at Maupertus, in Normandy. The flight echelon flew over on August 27, and the next day flew its first mission from French soil, and attacked an ammunition dump at Querrieu, near Amiens. Enormous explosions and fires were seen after the attack. Lieutenant M. A. Jordan and his crew were missing after the plane had been hit by flak. Pilot Jordan and togglier Powell were POWs, Co-pilot Earl J. Seagars was an evadee and the three other crew members were killed in the plane crash.
The rear echelon departed August 29 and arrived September 1, personnel were brought across the channel by LCIs and vehicles by LCTs. Landing at Utah Beach, rear echelon personnel marched eight miles to a bivouac area, from which place they were taken by truck to A-15. The base was more comfortable than expected. Enough houses were found to shelter part of the men, tents were set up for the others and after a day or two the Group proceeded with its duties.
The stay at Maupertus was of short duration. Within a few days after the 387th had set up on the continent the B-26s could barely reach the Germans ahead of General Patton’s Third Army. Since the drive from southern France either had its own air cover or was so swift that it needed none, the only targets still available in early September were the garrisons at Brest, St. Nazaire, Lorient and other coastal cities. The strong points at Brest received most attention and were attacked September 5 and 6. The advancing Third Army called for help, and on September 10 and 12 missions to Gehternach and Foret de Haye were briefed and flown. Results achieved by Lieutenant Colonel R. S. Stewart and Captain E. Stanton, group bombardier, were excellent.
On September 12, the reconnaissance party left A-15 for airstrip A-39 at Chateaudun, and three days later were followed by the advance party. On arrival at A-39 the 387th found visible evidence of the accuracy of the “Big Brothers,” the B-17s of the Eighth Air Force. As a result of earlier raids by the American heavies and RAFs, parts of the field and most of the installations were complete shambles. Nearly all building and hangars were demolished and both runways were well peppered. On personal investigation the men found Chateaudun a neat town with several wine shops and a good theater that was soon used for American movies. A private bathhouse was leased by the Group and provided the luxury of hot showers.
(15 July 1944 – 23 March 1945)
. . . . . . Bridges
. . . . . . Marshalling Yards
. . . . . . Ordnance Depots
. . . . . . Defended Areas
. . . . . . Communication Centers
. . . . . . Fuel Dumps
. . . . . . Miscellaneous
Conditions at A-39 did not materially obstruct operations. The various sections were quickly set up and in the space of two or three days the planes were “ready to go.” On the 21st the Group flew a mission to Ehrang marshalling yards north of Trier. The bombing produced excellent results, one major explosion, several fires and hits on railroad tracks. On the same day the rear echelon arrived. On the 29th the Group, led by Major Joe Whitfield, came within one flight of perfect bombing on the mission to Euskirchen marshalling yard. Five excellents and one fair were recorded.
October brought worse weather than September and proved to be the month of fewest operations to date for the Group in the ETO. In spite of the weather, one “break” was given to combat crews. Paris was placed “on limits” for small quotas of combat personnel who were provided with rooms and meals during forty-eight hour passes. The only difficulty was that a crew’s turn came so seldom. Ground crews still were in tough luck as far as “forty-eights” to Paris were concerned.
Briefings were held, but missions were either scrubbed or turned out to be “dry runs.” Targets during the month were Duran, the Bullay railroad bridge, the defended area of Camp de Bitche, Trier and Moerdijk railroad bridge. The mission to Bitche resulted in the loss by flak of Lieutenant P. G. Simkins and his crew. The mission to Moerdijk railroad bridge was important because it was an escape route for the retreating Germans and was flown on the 19th as a PFF, but the bridge was not destroyed. The Bullay railroad bridge mission was briefed eleven times until the end of the month, but there was only one takeoff. This was recalled. In the meantime orders came to leave A-39 for A-71. On October 28 the reconnaissance party left for A-71, located at Clastres, France near St. Quentin; two days later the advance party followed. By November 5th both ground and air echelon had arrived.
Installations at A-71 were much better than at Chateaudun. Hangars were available for the technical sections and several brick buildings were found available for group headquarters, special service, Red Cross, the PX, station hospital and a gymnasium. Squadron officers and men lived in tents, and there was an abundance of mud; but the building of walks and mud control restrictions soon improved living conditions.
Poor weather for over a week hindered operations, but on November 10th, pictures and overlays of nine special targets had been assigned to the air forces as their part in the renewed attack east of Aachen, Germany. The final date for the selected target was November 16th and not until that day was the mission called for. Going out behind two PFF planes, the formation under Lieutenant Colonel R. S. Stewart and Captain Edwin Stanton bombed visually and very few bombs hit outside the target area. Two days later, on the mission to Weisweiller, the same thing happened. Bombing visually the bombardiers tracked their bombs from one corner of the target straight across the center through the town and across the autobahn, a factory and a row of storage sheds. Next day at Merzig the formation, after making three passes, each at a lower altitude, finally dropped at 6,000 feet, hitting trench systems and strong points and setting off land mines. The purpose of the mission was to help General Patton’s offensive east of Metz. Other missions, with indifferent results, were attacks on Kaiserslautern ammo dump, Limburg ordnance depot and Zweibrucken.
December was a bad month for the Group. Because of the weather and malfunctions of equipment, 387th bombed our own territory several times; three bad accidents occurred and during the fight in the “Bulge” several tangles with Jerry fighters were experienced. The month also produced examples of highest bravery and the tenacity to fight against odds—stuff that wins wars.
On December 9, the Group had its first taste of American bombs in an accident after the Dulman supply depot mission. Since no bombs had been dropped because of bad weather, each plane was returning with sixteen 250 pound demolition bombs aboard. In the haze and dusk the ship, flown by Lieutenant J. T. Allman, 559th pilot, became caught in the “prop wash” and crashed into the field about sixty yards from the end of the runway. The gas tanks caught fire and exploded and fourteen of the sixteen bombs detonated. In all twenty officers and enlisted men were killed and several others injured. The 559th squadron lost its commanding officer, Major Robert E. Murphy, and its assistant communications officer, Lieutenant Mac. I. Fruch. Among the casualties were Captain Watters, Squadron Surgeon of the 556th and holder of the Soldier’s Medal for other rescue work, and Sergeant J. F. Boch, also of the medics. Others killed were chiefly medical and fire-fighting personnel engaged in attempting to extinguish the fire and rescue the crew, who were still alive after the crash.
Captain B. W. Thompson served as commanding officer of the 559th squadron until December 30th when he was succeeded by Major A. L. Caney, who had served as training officer of the 394th Bombardment Group (M).
(16 December 1944 – 24 January 1945)
. . . . . . Bridges
. . . . . . Defended Areas
. . . . . . Railways, Communication
and Road Junctions
The Allied advance into Germany was rudely interrupted by the plans of Von Runstedt, whose armies broke through the thinly defended American sector in the Ardennes and for days, in the confusion of extraordinarily thick fog, made a dash for Liege, Antwerp and other key cities. As the fog cleared, the German advance was stopped only about seventy-five miles from A-71. The mission of the air forces in this campaign was largely to destroy bridges to hinder the German’s retreat, for the enemy’s advance had been halted within a few days.
At A-71 the Group was alerted on December 20th to be ready to move on six hours notice and on the night of December 26 the field was strafed by a lone German plane. No damage was done. Vigorous steps were taken for defense against sabotage and small arms were carried by all personnel.
Meanwhile the planes, after being grounded for several days by heavy fog, took off on December 23 to get the Mayen railroad bridge, an important link in the enemy’s supply system. Ordered to bomb by PFF, the crews found CAVU conditions in the target area and scored, as was learned later, four excellent and one superior out of seven flights. Just after crossing the bomb line en route to the target, the formation was jumped by fifteen to twenty-five ME-109s, who concentrated on the low flight of the second box and knocked down four ships—those of Lieutenant W. O. Pile, W. N. Church, C. O. Staub and W. J. Pucateri. Partial compensation for this loss was the destruction of four ME-109s and four damaged by Technical Sergeant Joseph Delia, Staff Sergeant D. D. Fasey and Sergeants James Jones, Ed Wesolowski and Leo Mossman. The other flights, after the Germans had been beaten off, continued to the target through intense and accurate heavy flak and destroyed the bridge. The fifth plane was lost when Lieutenant Smith’s plane was picked off just before “bombs away.” In returning to the field Lieutenants W. P. Wade and T. G. Blackwell were forced to crash-land their badly damaged ships.
Following the attacks on Prum and Nideggen the Group, on Christmas day, amid hail and snow, went after the Irrel road junction. On this mission occurred one of the most heroic incidents in the history of the Group. The lead plane of Lieutenant John A. Alexander of the low flight was hit hard by flak over Bastogne, four minutes from the target. Two minutes later the interphone was shot out and a few minutes after the intervalometer. Since the time remaining was too short to make the necessary adjustments, Lieutenant Harvey W. Allen, the bombardier, signaled to the pilot to make another bomb run. With rudder, ailerons and wings full of holes, Lieutenant Alexander managed to hold the plane level so that the bombs could be salvoed, hitting inside the target area. Losing altitude fast and perceiving an indicated air speed of only 160 mph, Lieutenant Alexander coaxed his ship back across the bomb line near Trier and ordered the crew to bail out. Seven of the nine aboard made the jump, but staff Sergeant Michael Aguilar was thrown against the radio table and his chute flew open. Lieutenant Alexander gallantly offered to try to crash land the plane, but Sergeant Aguilar gallantly refused to agree, realizing the impossibility of a crash-landing among the hills. Climbing gingerly down through the nose wheel with the parachute draped over his arm, Sergeant Aguilar successfully made the jump. At 700 feet Lieutenant Alexander bailed out and watched his plane crash into a small creek and explode. They were not yet out of danger, for some American soldiers, thinking they might be Germans, fired at them before they could identify themselves. For their acts of gallantry, Lieutenant Alexander was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and Lieutenant Allen and Sergeant Aguilar the Silver Star.
In the afternoon a 387th formation attacked St. Vith with excellent results, but the most exciting events of the day were to happen after the mission. A 397th plane, coming in after dark, hit short of the runway, burned and exploded. The twenty-eight 100 pound demolition bombs knocked out nearly all windows, both on the base and in Clastres. Fortunately all the crew escaped. About twenty minutes later a 387th plane, returning with sixteen 250’s from a test flight, came in. In landing the nose wheel tire was punctured by a bomb fragment from the 397th ship, the 387th plane nosed over, caught fire and exploded. This crew also escaped, but all other whole windowpanes in Group headquarters were shattered.
Operations for 1944 ended with the attacks on railroad bridges at Konz-Karthaus on December 26th and at Nonnweiler December 27th. Hits were scored on the former; the latter was destroyed. Just preceding Christmas Lieutenant Don Whitsett had flown his seventy-fifth mission in”Mississippi Mudcar” and had departed for the States. This plane was one of the original B-26s which had been ferried across the north Atlantic in June 1943; Lieutenant Whitsitt had flown in it as co-pilot. On December 23rd the “Cat” was shot down on its 150th mission.
January of 1945 was characterized by bad weather, many briefings and a few missions against bridges, transportation and communications centers. With the exception of the mission to Sinzig railroad bridge, flak was much less intense. Because of the small number of missions, it became possible to get much work done improving facilities at the field and squadron areas. Enlisted men’s day rooms and officers’ messes and clubs were built with the help of civilian labor and, to the profound relief of the lower grades of enlisted men, civilian KPs were used for the first time in the ETO.
Following the arrival of new crews, the largest number in the history of the Group, training classes were set up. Emphasis was placed on formation flying, navigation, GEE equipment, PDI, camera bombing, practice bombing and night flying. Inspections on the line found technical sections in excellent condition. During the winter combat crews had been allowed to make visits to the front lines, and some had been there at the time of the Ardennes breakthrough.
By January 20 the breakthrough had spent its force and the Germans were in full retreat. On January 22 the Group materially hindered their retreat by bombing the Dassburg highway bridge. Just as a long German convoy started across, the bombing knocked out the western approach and the end of the 134 foot span and also stopped the head of the column, which had already crossed the bridge and was well on its way. This latter event occurred when one flight dropped late and scored a lucky hit on the road. Shortly after the road and bridge were tied up, American fighter-bombers appeared and destroyed the complete column. On that day the fighters scored the highest number of vehicles destroyed up to that time—some 1700 trucks and wagons.
Bombing Sinzig railroad bridge on January 25 through moderate and accurate flak, the formation had excellent results. Some flights, showing the results of the strenuous training and practice bombing, were able to lay all their bombs within the 1000 foot circle. Results obtained on this mission were a prelude to the record making accuracy to be shown in March and April.
During February the majority of the missions were led by Pathfinders, and several went awry when the PFF equipment failed. These abortions and the lack of clear weather for visual bombing forced the use of GEE equipment, which proved unsatisfactory. Yet February was a highly successful month.
The Xanten and Engers missions were both flown on February 14th. Led by Captain R. N. Gunn the formation, supporting British troops, laid bombs in excellent pattern inside the target area of the communications center at Xanten. In the afternoon the floor of the heavily defended railroad bridge at Engers was pierced by 1,000 pound bombs, but was not destroyed. On these missions Lieutenants J. P. McClung, G. W. Patterson, Jr. and E. I. Walker showed outstanding flying skill in bringing back their badly damaged planes.
Washington’s birthday brought the largest scale effort up to that time of Allied Air Forces in the ETO. Every type of target was hit during the day. Flights from the 387th hit railway bridges at Wehrstapel and Nutlar-Dulmen and the defended village of Dulman with excellent to superior results.
The spectacular event of the day was furnished by Lieutenant George W. Patterson and his crew. Flying through heavy flak over the target, his brand-new B-26 had been damaged so badly that he found it impossible to land. On returning to the home field he gave orders to his crew to bail out. This they did with the entire Group watching the show. After the pilot bailed out, the ship flew smoothly along for several minutes, then dived gracefully into the ground. Lieutenant Peterson floated leisurely down and landed directly in front of his squadron orderly room.
“Why did you land here, George?” his friends asked. He answered, “Hell, you know it’s so damned hard to get transportation that I thought this would be the quickest way back.”
Similar reports were received about missions to Vlatten communications center and the bridges of Ahrweiler and Mayen. The latter bridge, severed by the 387th on December 23, had been repaired by the Germans.
As winter showed signs of coming to an end, conditions at A-71 improved by leaps and bounds. New kitchens and day rooms were furnished, and tables were built that didn’t sway and rock, spilling food and its eaters alike on the floor. For lack of paint, some walls were burned to bring out the natural finish of the wood. Several parties were held at Carpenter Hall, St. Quentin, for both enlisted men and officers. To the officers’ dances came both American nurses and French civilian girls; the nurses to dance, the French to eat. Many officers and men wore “Class A’s” for the first time on the continents. On February 15 Lieutenant Colonel Glenn Grau, senior squadron commander of the Group, left the 556th for the States and a new assignment. He had joined the Group as a first Lieutenant and then been commanding officer of the 556th since January 1, 1944. His successor was Major M. K. Campbell.
March and April rate as the peak period in the history of the Group. With the best weather in over a year and the accelerated Allied advances on the western front, thirty-seven missions were recorded during March, the highest of any month, and the highest point of efficiency was achieved by the combat crews. During April the bombardiers reached an ultimate of success in bombing results. Outstanding bombing records were made by Lieutenants S. T. Ryper, R. F. Worthington, A. F. McGahen, W. H. Butterfield, M. E. Adkisson, V. J. Ward, H. W. Allen, W. C. Dumphy, J. E. Lemmons and J. E. Ritter.
The plotting of courses to and from the target and the responsibility of bringing the formations to the targets was the work of the navigators. The 387th was fortunate in having capable men to handle this job. Some had graduated as bombardiers but had been pressed into service as navigators. In this new role they performed excellently. Among the navigators who guided entire formations are Major William V. M. McBride, Captain Henry Jones, Captain Howard E. Tolley, Lieutenant Leonard H. Steinhart, Lieutenant Fred H. Pankin, Lieutenant A. D. Oldham, Lieutenant R. O. Stone, Lieutenant Paul J. McCabe and Lieutenant Joseph E. Genone.
Much credit in any medium bomber crew is due the gunners—those men who rode the missions in the turrets, the waists and the tails of the planes. Besides the threat of flak, the planes were always subject to attacks by enemy fighters. It was the business of these men to be always on the alert and to hold off the FW-190s, ME-109s and ME-262s and if possible to shoot them down. In addition the gunners acted as scouts and observers, reporting enemy concentrations and movements. Certain gunners also acted as togglers, sometimes with sensational results, as in the case of Technical Sergeant Petereson. The record of the 387th gunners was outstanding.
During March the Americans and Allied armies ended the winter stalemate west of the Rhine, crossed the river and moved well beyond it. The First American Army secured and exploited the Remagen bridgehead; the American Third Army Group broke into the territory east of the upper Rhine and the British 21st Army Group and Ninth American Army moved north and east above the Ruhr, and north toward Bremen and Emden. Crews of the 387th bombed enemy defense points and cut rail nets and escape routes. Incendiary bombs were used in the attacked on fuel dumps, ordnance shops and communications centers. Of the eleven groups of the Ninth Bombardment Division, the 387th ranked first when the records of March were completed—a fitting tribute to the perfect teamwork of air and ground crews. The Group dropped a record total of 2,172 tons of bombs, rated first in training hours, maintenance and the smallest number of abortives and achieved a bombing score of 90.75 percent.
Two innovations were tried. These were the “Bullseye,” a new method of target location and the radar bomb fuse, an adaptation of the artillery proximity fuse. With “Bullseye” a formation unable to bomb visually or by PFF would return to a pre-designated point and recall the tactical ground control station on VHF, thus passing to the control of the ground station. This station, after pinpointing the position of the formation, would vector the formation on a course where a ground radar station could get fixes on its position and take over. This procedure was tried by the second box of a formation on March 13th on the Kreutzal marshalling yards after the pathfinder had aborted over the target but, when the control station seemed confused, the box leader turned back to the base.
The radar fuse was designed to burst a certain distance above the ground in order to produce a more effective blast and wider scattering area of the 260 pound fragmentation bomb. The 387th was selected to test the fuse by actually dropping bombs fitted with the new device. Before observers of the Ninth Air Force, Ninth Bombardment Division and bomb disposal units, Dr. Ashton, the inventor, Dr. Taylor of SHAEF and Captain Ed Kershaw, 387th ordnance officer, ran tests on March 5, 9 and 13. Results were satisfactory and on March 25 fuses were used in 260 pound frag bombs in an attempt to nullify flak fire at Pirmasens supply and communications center. Up to the time the frags were dropped, the flak fire was moderate and accurate; after the bombs had dropped, the flak fire stopped completely. On later missions this bomb load was again used with similar results and also against defended towns and ordnance depots. Missions during the period consisted of attacks on bridges, defended areas, communications centers and ordnance depots. Outstanding among these were Landeau, Worms, Vossen railroad bridge, Haltern, Coesfeld, Linslaken and Fursburg.
On the afternoon of March 5th a formation of thirty-three planes, led by Captain S. S. Pidgeon and using PFF, blanketed the Kreustal marshalling yards with 500-pound bombs, two-thirds of which landed within the 1000-foot circle. Following several days of cloudy weather, necessitating use of PFF, Pirmasens was attacked. The target was reported tactically valuable as a highly important road junction and storage area, hampering the advance of the Seventh Army. One flight of planes carrying frag bombs fitted with radar fuses led the way. The main formation followed, dropping 1000-pound bombs for superior results. The frags eliminated the flak. The next day over Landeau thirty-seven planes, bombing visually, put all bombs into the built-up area of the town, blanketing several buildings and streets and starting fires.
On March 18th over Worms, through moderate accurate flak, the formation was able to bomb visually. Over half its 100-pound bombs were laid in the target area, covering road junctions and installations. Lieutenant C. G. MacCowan and his crew were lost on the bomb run. Attacks on Siegen on the 17th and Kroutzal the afternoon of the 18th, though results could not be determined, were designed to cut off supplies to enemy forces trying to contain the First American Army’s bridgehead at Remagen. On March 19th two targets were bombed on the same mission. A formation composed entirely of 387th planes covered the Vossen railroad bridge and a formation of 344th and 387th aircraft bombed Seigen, this time visually, with excellent results. On March 21st an attack on Coesfeld railroad junction was made. It was an important link on the rail line east of the Ruhr and was made in the face of moderate accurate flak. Lieutenant George B. Fallon’s aircraft’s right engine was damaged by flak and he feathered it. It was only 20 minutes flying time to friendly lines. He never made it. He and his crew were reported as missing. Both engines had suffered flak damage and eventually all of the crew bailed out. One gunner evaded with the Dutch underground, the rest were POWs. Flak damage was heavy, but results of all six flights were excellent. A good day was completed when a formation, led by Captain Robert W. Fairburn and Lieutenant Dewey E. Albright, scored an excellent on the communication center of Stadtlohn.
(22 March 1945 – V-E Day)
. . . . . . Fuel Dumps and Ordnance Depots
. . . . . . Marshalling Yards
. . . . . . Railroad Bridges
. . . . . . Defended Areas
. . . . . . Communications Centers and Flak
During March the enemy was in full retreat both on the eastern and western fronts. Allied Armies were crossing the Rhine. The rigid training of Allied airmen had brought the crews to the finest peak in the history of aerial warfare. Bombing results in all groups reached their highest efficiency. A new and welcome change was the lessening of German flak.
To break up an enemy defended position at Halton communications and flak positions opposing Canadian and American Armies, thirty-four planes took off March 22nd in a thick haze. Weather proved a grander obstacle than flak. Eighty radio fused frag bombs were dropped before the main formation came over. Pictures showed several hits in the center of the town. Dinslaken, on the east bank of the Rhine River above Duisburg and directly in advance of the jumping-off point across the Rhine by British and American troops, was hit on the 23rd with excellent results. Rating on the missions to Weyenbush railroad junction and Flieden were excellent; those to Kreholt and Vlothe railroad bridges and Friedberg and Wurzburg marshalling yards were superior.
As the month closed, a new problem arose in connection with the rapid advance of the ground forces. The headlong drive had eliminated all short of medium range targets. Consequently, the last three missions had been among the longest in the history of the Group. Two missions a day were becoming almost impossible, and problems arose in regard to combat fatigue, excessive wear on the engines and gas consumption. Fortunately, the early end of the war prevented a move into Germany.
Social life continued as before. The enlisted men added dances in St. Quentin to their Saturday night Red Cross affairs, while the officers put a Wednesday night “guest night” on the program of the officer’s club at Conigscourt/Tizerolles. The “guests” were American nurses only. Transportation to and from St. Quentin, as well as orchestra and refreshments, was arranged by the club itself.
On March 2 a great morale booster came to life on the station—the opening of the station ice cream and Coca-Cola bar under the direction of Lt. John Golden, PX Officer, and his section. With Coca-Cola syrup and ice cream direct from the United States, the bar business was such that supplies had to be replenished by March 7th and at regular intervals thereafter.
The high-spot social function of the month was the Old Timers’ banquet on March 29th at the officers’ club for those officers who had left for the Z.I. (Zone of Interior) as original members of the 387th Bombardment Group. The committee, headed by Chaplain William Maulds, did a fine job. The dinner was supburb, the drinks excellent and the program was most enjoyable. It was a memorable affair for those persons who had been with the Group since MacDill. Only fifty-five members of the Group remained, eleven air crew and forty-four ground personnel. With the theme of “An All American Show,” the party was graced by nurses from the 197th General Hospital and the 228th General Hospital, both of St. Quentin.
During the month group Special Service Officer, Captain Oliver J. Lanchard, completed his survey to determine how many were interested in an education program. Under his direction the “home” studies using ASMI courses were begun. His “Red School House” program classes met two nights a week at the Clastres schoolhouse. Classes in psychology, business arithmetic and advertising were begun.
April opened with bad weather that slowed down the terrific pace of the preceding two months. Ground men and combat crews, however, could not appreciate the brief respite, for all the Allied armies in Europe were moving with increasing momentum against the enemy, largely because of the constant impact of full Allied air power. Nobody wanted to let up now that the inevitable annihilation appeared to be merely a matter of continuing the all-out effort for a few months longer. There was no doubt about it; the enemy was staggering and reeling and this was no time to allow him any relief, especially after it became evident that no part of the German forces would surrender until rendered totally incapable of fighting. Then, too, a new threat was arising. It appeared that the Germans were preparing and fortifying a national redoubt in Southern Germany from which they hoped to be able to carry on the war for a considerable period. This danger had to be eliminated.
During the month only seventeen missions were airborne. Two were recalled, one because of bad weather, the other because ground troops had advanced beyond the target. The disadvantages of longer distance was somewhat alleviated by the possibility of flying straight courses. No longer was it necessary to fly around such well-known flak centers as Kaserslautern, Landau, Koblenz, Mannheim, Frankfurt and Schweinfurt. Targets were six marshalling yards, four oil dumps, four ordnance depots and one defended area. Objectives, such as the marshalling yards of Jena and Ulm on the 8th and 18th, respectively, and the city of Magdeburg on the 17th, indicated the relationship between air and ground units. Bombing accuracy reached its height and destruction to targets was greater than ever before. The Group score of 96 with a C. E. of 234.4 feet is believed to be the best set by any medium bomber group in any theater. On four missions every flight was rated superior and during the entire month only one flight was rated lower than excellent.
On April 3rd the Group flew its first mission of the month, a trip to the marshalling yard at Holzmeiden, but total cloud cover forced the formation to drop on PFF. The same conditions were present the next day over Erbach oil storage depot. After several days of bad weather, during which the ground forces were making tremendous gains, the Group, on April 8th attacked an oil refinery at Nienhagen. Flying through beautiful weather, forty-seven planes dropped 500-pound incendiary clusters for excellent to superior results. No flak greeted the planes. On the following morning the target was an ordnance depot an Amberg/Kummerbruck. On the bomb run the formation was attacked by the new enemy jet fighter and an ME-262 shot down Lieutenant Stroud and his crew. One parachute was seen to open. Results were superior. Against the marshalling yard and flak positions of Jena the same afternoon results were again excellent to superior.
Continuing the grind along with our armed forces, the Group on April 10th struck an ordnance depot at Rudolstadt. Captain Anderson led the formation, both flights of which were rated superior. The next morning, although visibility was poor, Lieutenant Alexander’s flight dropped bombs on the marshalling yard at Aschersleben for another superior. In the afternoon Lieutenant Purvis’ flight scored a superior on the assembly and storage depot at Bamberg. On the abortive mission to Kempten April 12 Lieutenant B. W. Bates and his crew became lost in the thick clouds and failed to return.
Fast acquisition of enemy territory, combined with bad weather, kept the planes grounded for the next few days, but on the 16th two missions were run. In the morning the marshalling yard at Gunzenhausen was bombed with excellent results. After the pathfinder ship had aborted the on bomb run, Lieutenant Alexander and his bombardier, Lieutenant Allen, made two runs on the target and succeeded in accomplishing the mission in spite of clouds and bad visibility. In the afternoon the Group picked up the mission against Kempten ordnance depot on which it had aborted because of weather fourteen days before. Results were superior. On the next day, April 17, the target was a defended area in the city of Magdeburg which was then holding up the advance of the Ninth Army. Results were superior, and Lieutenant Purvis teamed with his bombardier, Lieutenant Worthington, to come up with the rare feat of dropping the flight’s pattern of bombs exactly on the pin-pointed aiming point, the photographs clearly showing that there was no circular error whatever. On April 18 the Group twice attacked the big Donau oil storage depot. In the morning four of the six flights rated superior, but in the attack on the formation by enemy fighters Lieutenant E. J. Walker and his crew were shot down. In the afternoon, when the pathfinder ship aborted, Lieutenant Alexander led the formation over the target to bomb visually. Every flight got its bombs away beautifully for superior results. On the following morning a “maximum effort” formation led by Captain Tarapchak and Lieutenant Arp attacked the marshalling yard at Ulm. Seven flights scored five superiors and two excellents. Results against Gunzberg railway siding in the afternoon were excellent.
This concluded the bombing for the month and for the ETO. One mission was airborne a few days later, but was recalled. The weather became too bad for flying and Allied ground forces were overrunning huge areas of enemy territory. All remaining targets were out of range from the base at A-71. Toward the end of the month word came that the Group would move again. On April 29th the advance party began to move to the new base at Beek, near Maastricht, Holland. For the first time in the ETO the bulk of equipment was moved by rail. There was only one runway on this field, it was inferior to the one at St. Quentin (A-71), but other facilities proved much better than at Clastres. The 556th and 559th squadrons were fortunate in having an orchard as squadron sites; an Group headquarters was established in the schools of town. With the arrival of the rear echelon on May 4th and the announcement of the final liberation of Holland on the same day, the spirits of soldiers and civilians rose to a peak of enthusiasm. Several celebrations were held by the Dutch with 387th men as their guests. The town mayor and Colonel Brown addressed the civilian population on one of the festival nights, the mayor welcoming the Group to Beek and Colonel Brown, in turn, expressing the pleasure of the Group in being there. Dutch children dressed in orange colored costumes and orange colored lights added color to the scene. By the time the celebrations were over, V-E Day had been officially proclaimed and the festivities continued a few days longer. Thus, the period of twenty-one months of operation for the 387th Bombardment Group (M) in the ETO came to a close.
At the war’s end the 387th was the leading group in the entire Ninth
Bombardment Division. The following statement appeared in the 98th Combat
Wing’s “Status Report” for the month of April 1945: “As a fitting climax to
Wing Operations, the average circular error for the Wing, 395 feet, was the
best since its inception and an improvement of eighty-seven feet over March’s
circular error, heretofore the best; the 387th Group, with a circular error of
237 feet for the month, broke all pervious circular error records for the
Division. This record is even more outstanding since it is not marred by any
AFTER V-E DAY
The stay at Beek, a little less than a month, proved to be the most pleasant period spent by the 387th in the ETO. Everyone personally felt a deep satisfaction that the war was over, and the Dutch were a most hospitable and agreeable people. Officers and first three graders of headquarters were billeted in civilian homes; both officers and enlisted men enjoyed clubs located in requisitioned cafes. Frequent parties were held in Beek and in nearby Maastricht and the food was excellent.
After the celebrations had subsided, a program of ground and air training was instituted. Because of the poor condition of the runway many tires were punctured either on takeoff or on landing. The Group was saddened by the loss of a valuable crew on May 20 when Lieutenant George W. Patterson, Lieutenant Robert S. Sibinski and Staff Sergeant B. V. Stafford were killed in a crash near Charleroi. A veteran of over forty missions, Lieutenant Patterson had on numerous occasions brought his badly damaged plane back safely to base. On another occasion, on February 22nd over A-71, he and his crew had safely bailed out of a plane too badly damaged to be landed.
During the middle of the month a survey was begun by Captain Karl G. Peterson to determine the courses desired by the men in the school to be set up under the Army Information and Education program. A great amount of interest was shown and plans were completed for beginning the courses as soon as the Group moved to a more permanent base.
Shortly after V-E Day Lieutenant Colonel Gayle C. Smith, capable and popular group operations officer, left the 387th for a new assignment in the Z. of I.; Lieutenant Colonel Smith, when he was then Lieutenant Smith, had come overseas as assistant operations officer of the 557th squadron. Later he had been made assistant group operations officer, then group operations officer. Courteous and able, he had well deserved his advancement. Successor to Lieutenant Colonel Smith was Lieutenant Colonel Straughan D. Kelsey of Ninth Air Division headquarters.
On May 20 Lieutenant Colonel Richard Stewart succeeded Colonel Grover C. Brown as commanding officer. Colonel Brown, who was returning to the United States for a new assignment, had ably led the Group during the busiest period of operations and under his leadership the Group had attained its highest level of efficiency. On Colonel Stewart’s assumption of command orders came directing another base move. On May 23rd the reconnaissance party set out for B-87 airfield at Rosieres-en-Santerre, France (near Amiens). The advance party left the next day, and on May 30 the rear echelon followed.
The field near Rosieres, located in the village of Meharicourt, had been used previously by the French and British after the Germans had pulled out. The runways were in excellent condition and housing for part of the personnel was placed in pre-fabricated buildings constructed by the Germans. One of the finest features was the existence of a number of small brick and concrete buildings which could easily be used for classrooms in the I and E school. Within a few days an intensive training program had been instituted in preparation for possible service in the Pacific. It was believed that the 387th, because of its long service in the ETO, would be returned to the United States, retrained and kept as “Strategic Reserves,” but no one knew. In the meantime practically all personnel leaving the Group were combat crews who had finished their required number of missions. A welcome innovation was the beginning of a system of leaves and furloughs to England and the Riviera. Trips to these places were the first vacations most of the group crews had enjoyed in nearly two years. Many were glad to visit again friends they had left in England, some to marry English girls, and glowing stories of bright sunshine, blue seas and abundance of beautiful women were brought back from the Riviera.
On June 20, after much hard work and careful planning, the first term of the Information and Education school was begun. The name, Tiger Stripe University, was taken from the Group designation, carried over Europe by the 387th B-26s for over twenty-one months. Supervisors were Captain Earl G. Peterson, group intelligence officer, a Ph.D. from Stanford and Lieutenant John Lawrence, photo-interpretation officer, an M.S. from Auburn. Initial enrollments totaled 1399 and subjects included bookkeeping, business law, physiology, business English, accounting, trigonometry, algebra, poultry management, American history, public speaking and photography. The courses were divided into more than forty classes which were held in the small brick buildings located on the southeastern part of the field. Tables, benches and blackboards were procured for the classrooms. Since concrete roads connected the buildings, a bus service of ordnance bomb service trucks and trailers was established to make regular runs from the squadron areas. Many of the instructors held college degrees and with only a few exceptions all had taken college courses. Covering high school and college level courses, the school was the first actually begun by any unit of the Ninth Air Force or by any unit of group level in the ETO. Interest in the classes increased during the four weeks, and visiting inspectors gave the school a rating of superior.
A week before the I and E opening the Group had received a new commanding officer in the person of Colonel Philip A. Sykes. Colonel Sykes, then major, had come overseas with the 387th as operations officer and had flown a number of missions from England. He was, therefore, well acquainted with the work and traditions of the 387th. Other changes were the designation of Major Gust E. Lundberg as group adjutant in place of Major John G. Rooks, who went to ANG in Germany and of Captain Karl G. Peterson as group S-2, replacing Major William B. Engler, who returned to the States.
As July began, an added recreational feature appeared in the acquisition of two hotels at Berck-Plage, a beach resort in the Pas de Calais area, as an exclusive rest camp area for all group personnel. The short rests of three days duration at this beach with its good meals, well-stocked bars and friendly civilians, proved to be one of the most popular and enjoyable features of the stay in France.
On July 30, the second block of the I and E school began with an enrollment of 1082. As in the first session, all flying personnel were divided into two sections. On alternate weeks one section would have flying in the mornings and ground school in the afternoons. Ground classes for combat crews were correlated with the I and E school. Skeet shooting, link trainer periods and small arms qualifications were supervised by Captain Edward G. Cassidy, group gunnery officer. At this time the group received its quotas for the Army University Centers and for short courses in French civilian universities. Students were selected and sent to the army university centers at Shrivenham, England and Biarritz, France and the French universities of the Sorbonne, Nancy, Douai, Desancon and Dijon.
On August 21st the first issue of the long-awaited semi-monthly group newspaper, the Tiger Rag, appeared. The staff, assisted by Lieutenant George Koen, group public relations officer, was composed of Master Sergeant I. F. Koberlein, Staff Sergeant Smith B. Mosely, Sergeant Don A. McDonald, Technical Sergeant James D. Gafnea, Private First Class Albert Joseph and Private Arthur C. Strzelicki. Feature stories of the first issue were the 387th Unit Citation, the rest camp at Berek and the opening of the second term of Tiger Stripe University. Before the staff was transferred back to the States, two other issues were brought out. These covered the celebration of the Group’s second anniversary of operations, the unit citation award in Paris and the shipment of nearly 600 men home. Printed in Amiens and well edited, the Tiger Rag proved a welcome feature on the life of the Group.
Early in August, the 387th learned that on July 23 it had been awarded a Unit Presidential Citation of “Extraordinary heroism in armed conflict with the enemy on December 23, 1944.” The award was made to Colonel Sykes by Major General William E. Kepner, commander of the Ninth Air Force, on August 14 at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. While the presentation was being made thirty-six of the Group’s planes led by “Five by Five,” veteran of 188 combat missions and the aircraft “Flying Ginny,” boasting 184 missions, flew over the immense crowd. Other awards, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Silver Star and Soldier’s Medals, were also presented to members of the Group.
The second session of the I and E school was coming to an end as news came that the Japanese had accepted Allied terms of unconditional surrender as outlined at the Potsdam Conference. To most soldiers in the ETO this news meant the return, sooner or later, to the good old USA and an eventual return to civilian life. The first quota to return home left B-87 August 16. Others not included in the list of essential classification hoped to follow soon. For those men remaining, selected instructors in the I and E program held a week-long clinic in vocational guidance in an attempt to give all available information on job opportunities.
As officers and enlisted men with a high number of points were shipped out to go home, others with seventy-five points and above were sent in to take their places so that the Group could be sent home as a complete unit. During September news came that the 387th would not go through an assembly camp, but would proceed directly to a port area. This news meant that all processing would be done at B-87. Captain Ed Kershaw, group S-4, Captain George Hancock, custodial officer and Major William H. Bertsche, Jr., group executive officer, kept crews of men busy turning in various supplies preparatory to transferring the field to the French government. Personnel records, under the direction of Major Gust E. Lundberg, Captain Arnold Smolecs and Captain John Plummerfelt, were completed and checked.
The morale of the men, naturally, was high. There was little work, and there were the Red Cross Club, picture shows and plentiful passes. What did waiting around a little while matter when they were going home in a few weeks? As they faced the prospect of returning to civilian life, men of the 387th could feel the satisfaction of a job well done in the ETO. With the same teamwork and cheerful cooperation at home that they had shown in Europe, they felt confident of meeting successfully the problems that lay ahead. They could be leaders in peace as well as war.