556TH BOMBARDMENT SQUADRON, MEDIUM

(unnamed)
Martin B-26G-5-MA Marauder
Sn: 43-34303
Squadron Code: FW-Y

First Sortie
Last Sortie
Total
9 Dec 44
25 Dec 44
2

Crew Chief: T/Sgt. Dwight J. Hemphill
Asst. Crew Chief: Cpl. Luther Evans*


 
 
        1st Lt. James M. Neff was our crew's pilot, and I might add, a damn good one. His skills were certainly taxed to the limit during the afternoon mission to Saint Vith, Belgium on Christmas day.

        After waiting most of the morning for a special mission, which did not materialize, our six plane flight was tacked on to the Group's second mission. The I.P. was the town of Malmedy, approximately twenty-eight miles north of St. Vith. The target was heavily defended, and the scene of much Allied aerial efforts to disrupt German traffic in the area. We had a fresh snowfall on Xmas morning, the first of that cold winter. The visibility over the target was excellent, and each flight bombed visually.

        I was in my gun position as tail-gunner, as our flight leveled out for the bomb run. Lt. Vernon Briscoe was calling last second corrections., when our plane seemed to shudder. The next second, I saw the planes in our flight do what I thought was a climbing right turn. This brief recollection lasted only a millisecond before I realized our plane was descending fast in a steep left turn. I saw smoke coming from one of the engines and called Neff on the intercome. His calm reply was, "I know it." He called Gamble to come forward, "On the double." I then saw that the left wing had holes in it, as well as the tail section. Neff adroitly managed to control our descent, and told the crew to standby to bail out. I grabbed my chest pack and met Walt Simmons(AG-top turret gun.) at the waist gun window. Walt plugged into the waist window intercom as I made ready to jump.

        I learned later... that when Gamble went forward, he waded through ankle deep gasoline in the aft bomb bay. He notified Neff of this potential danger. The pilot's compartment was a shambles. Jimmy Harris, our copilot, was bleeding from shoulder and face wounds, the plexiglas was shattered and the pilot's instruments were shot out. Neff had his hands full trying to maintain control of our aircraft's desecent. Bris and Lt. Russ Trapper, our navigator, along with M/Sgt. Paris "Hoop" Hooper, our GEE operator, were feverishly, but methodically, plotting our position, and relaying headings for Neff to steer in order to be over friendly lines. The left engine seized up and Neff feathered it, when Harris announced that our right engine had burst into flames. The danger was very great for a mid air explosion, and Neff and Gamble realized it. At the persistent coaxing of our calm bombardier, Neff delayed the bail out order until Bris assured him we were over our lines. Neff ordered Trapper and Briscoe out of their nose compartment, and then gave the order to bail out. Walt and I exited the flaming aircraft from the waist window, while the other six members used the open bomb bay. Neff was the last member of the crew to jump. The B-26G circled under him, and then exploded in mid air! The fuselage fell into the Muese River near Huy, Belgium, while its two engines fell on each embankment. Four of us descended by parachute into the front-line positions held by the 84th Inf. Div., where we ate our Xmas supper. Harris ended up in a Paris hospital, and the rest of us arrived back to the 387thBG within three days. I suffered injuries to my ankles, while Bris was crippled with a knee injury. Luckily, no one else was injured. On board were:
 

Pilot
Copilot
*Bomb.
Nav.
*GEE
ROG
EG
AG
1st Lt.
2nd Lt.
2nd Lt.
2nd Lt.
M/Sgt.
T/Sgt.
S/Sgt.
S/Sgt.
James M. Neff
James I. Harris.
Vernon L. Briscoe
Russell H. Trapper
Parris W. Hooper
Wm. J. Thompson, Jr.
Wm. F. Gamble
Walter H. Simmons
*Received DFC

        William J. Thompson, Jr., 556th Bomb. Squadron, B-26 Marauder Reference and Operations Guide, p. 61.