On 4 Jan 1944, the target was Kiel’s naval port, docks, and submarine pens. US fi ghter support from the enemy coast over the target was fair; intermittent 10/10 cloud cover limited the effectiveness of the bombing. From the target out, German fi ghters took advantage of weak US fi ghter support. About 30 e/a of all types (Me-109s, -110s, and -210s; Ju-88s; and FW-190s) attacked the 392nd, usually in pairs. Flak on the way back was also a factor, being very accurate from the IP to the coast out. It was concentrated in the Group’s altitude.
The combination of fighters and flak proved deadly. The 577th was hardest hit with three crews lost: 1/Lt Raymond P. Lambert (10 KIA); 2/Lt Clyde W. Rigby (10 KIA); 1/Lt Leander Page Jr. (10 interned in Sweden). Additionally, 1/Lt T.F. McNichol returned with gunner S/Sgt Albert J. MacPherson killed in action.
When interrogated, the crew said they had been attacked by four Me-110s that “followed along in rear in contrails until close enough and then peeled off and attacked.” These enemy fi ghters “riddled our a/c with 30 calibres and the two coming on left fi red rockets, one of which put a 2 ft hole in left wing.” It was probably during one of these attacks that S/Sgt MacPherson was killed.
Tail gunner S/Sgt William A. Lloyd got credit for destroying one of the fighters. His daughter, Doris Larsen, recently contacted www.b24.net and said he was another casualty of the mission. “A phosphorous shell hit him, and the plane lost oxygen. He didn’t bleed to death because of the freezing temperatures. His left leg was later amputated above the knee. As you might expect, my Dad’s experiences changed his life forever.”
Other casualties were 1/Lt John R. Becker’s crew from the 576th (4 KIA/6 POW) and 1/Lt Robert L. Hull’s crew (10 KIA) from the 579th. 2/Lt Colby Waugh (578th Sqdn) nursed his badly crippled ship as far as Sheringham, Norfolk, with four men killed in the crash and a fi fth who died later. Those who fl ew this mission remember it well, especially the cold. Frigid temperatures affected both the airplanes and their crews.
2/Lt John J. Sullivan
It was the fi rst mission for 579th Sqdn pilot 1/Lt Gordon L. Hammond and crew. Navigator 2/Lt John J. Sullivan recalled, “Kiel was to be the target, and since it would be covered with clouds, Pathfi nders were to locate it for us.
Twenty minutes off the English coast, number two turbo went out. The nose and tail guns were out completely, and the ball and upper turrets weren’t functioning properly. We didn’t want to abort on our fi rst mission but we couldn’t make the altitude of the 392nd. Hammond brought the plane into the middle of the low group (44th) and we bombed the target with them.
Shortly after we were inside the German coast, the fl ak and fi ghters hit us. We could see many planes getting hit, but most of them seemed distant. I had a tough time trying to put the select lever into position. I struggled with it until we were over the target. Most of the bombs were toggled out all right, and Hammond salvoed the rest from the pilot’s seat. He broke his fi nger doing it. After that strenuous workout I sat down to rest, and I must have passed out for over an hour. Next thing I knew my fi ngers were numb and cold.
I took my electric gloves off and placed my hands in my crotch. I got them working all right, and then I found out we had been running on three engines for 1¼ hours. No other planes were in sight. I told Hammond to lean out his gas as much as possible and gave him a heading of 200o. About 1500 we landed at our home base O.K. The thermometer went to -50oC. I hope never to experience cold like that again.”
Maj Clinton Schoolmaster
Maj Schoolmaster was the 577th’s CO. He wrote his wife about the casualties that day: “I regret their loss tremendously. It sure is a tough lick to take—but we’ll come back with twice the effort, of that I’m positive—in fact, we must! Tonight is a pretty sober and hard-hit 392nd.”
Maj Schoolmaster was later transferred to 95th Combat Wing Headquarters. On the very fi rst day of his duty there (25 May 1944), he was killed. He was lost piloting a P-47 while shepherding an outbound mission.
Pilot 1/Lt Leander Page Jr’s Internee Report:
“About a half-hour before we reached the target, the German fighters were on us. But they never touched us. We didn’t have a hole in the plane. There was plenty of flak, too, especially over the target. But we weren’t touched by it, either. I don’t know what went wrong, but about ten seconds after we’d dropped our bombs on the target, I lost all four engines.
They would come in for about five minutes, and then go out again. One engine finally came in and seemed to run steadily. We lost a lot of altitude immediately, I should judge about 3,000 feet. As I had only one engine now that wasn’t cutting out, I knew I’d never make it home. At first I started for England, but the navigator said he knew generally where Sweden was, although he had no maps of that section.
So I swung the plane round and followed the navigator’s directions, staying in the clouds all the time to avoid the fighters we knew were around. When we were over the Baltic, we threw the bombsight overboard, along with all our papers and the IFF, as well as everything else to lighten the ship. We crash-landed in a plowed field at Skona, near Simrishamn. The nose wheel broke when we hit, and our B-24 stood on her nose. No one was injured, but tail gunner Sgt Willard O. Axvig’s fingers were badly frost-bitten.”
Doug Willies, from Sheringham, Norfolk, research reports:
Aircraft “Alfred” likely got hit by flak just before bombs away that knocked out one of the four engines. Considerable structural damage was suffered, especially to the wings, and the radio no longer worked. Despite their best efforts, the pilots could not keep up with the formation. Lagging behind, they were attacked by enemy fighters and received further damage.
As they flew across the North Sea, all three remaining engines stopped completely—twice—but the pilots managed to restart them by putting the nose down and going into a dive. Things were so desperate that the pilots gave the order to prepare to ditch. Luckily, before that had to happen, the men saw land.
Survivor Henry Wilk later wrote, “Just as we got to the coast, the engines cut out for the third time and we never did pull out of the dive. Lt Waugh did do his best to make a belly landing but our wing got caught in a grove of trees and spun us into a hill, nose first.”
Eyewitnesses said the engines were spluttering and misfiring and it appeared that the pilot was trying to land in a long field. However, it seemed to them as if the plane side-slipped into the trees, possibly caught by the strong north-easterly wind blowing off the sea. Regardless, the Liberator nosed into the ground near the small village of Upper Sheringham.
2/Lt Waugh, 2/Lt Cound, 2/Lt Thomson and S/Sgt Belden were killed in the crash. The others were taken to a hospital in Cromer, where gunner S/Sgt Murphy died four days later. 2/Lt Barton had a broken leg and damage to one eye. He was in Cromer Hospital for at least a week before being transferred to an Army Field Hospital where he was a patient for about two months. His eye problem never fully cleared up so he was eventually returned to the US.
The injuries suffered by T/Sgt Wagner and S/Sgt Johnson were such that they could no longer be on flight status. T/Sgt Wagner became an airplane and engine mechanic at the 392nd before transferring to the 389th BG in May 1944. S/Sgt Johnson also joined the 392nd ground crew but in January 1945 was transferred to the infantry.
S/Sgts Kent and Wilk were the only survivors who resumed combat duty. Kent became a POW on 27 Apr 1944. Wilk finished his missions on 27 May 1944—and attended the dedication of the Memorial to his crew in 1994.