392nd Bomb Group


by Col. Myron Keilman

Two days before Christmas, 1943, was a stand-down for the 392nd. Aircraft maintenance crews were working hard changing engines, patching flak damage, and performing required maintenance on the group's thirty B-24 bombers. The combat crews were resting up from the tough missions the past ten days to Emden, Kiel, twice to Bremen and Munster. At 1000 hours, the squadron commanders and the officers of eight lead crews were notified to report to the group briefing room.

Peddling their bikes there, the appointed pilots, bombardiers, and navigators, along with the group commander, his deputy and squadron COs gathered at the big Nissen hut briefing room.

The group intelligence officer began the briefing with a special 8th Air Force Headquarters intelligence estimate of the German V-1 missile (buzz-bomb) capability. He pointed out the general location on the big wall map of Europe where some 100 odd launching sites were either known to be or were suspected to be - all in the Pas de Calais peninsula area of Normandy. He showed diagrams of what the missile was believed to look like with its 500-pound war head and pulse jet engine. His briefing went on to show the vulnerability of London and surrounding strategic targets within the missile range. He gave the intelligence estimate of the delays these missiles could evoke on the projected allied invasion of the continent and lengthening the war. Forty years have not deadened the briefing officer's final impact statement: "If these missile launch sites are not destroyed within the next three months, the city of London will be totally destroyed."

The group operations officer then briefed the 2nd Air Division's Field Order: Maximum effort, 4 six-ship squadron formations, Airborne spare airplanes to go all the way, 12,000 feet bombing altitude, 578th Squadron group leader, Route in, Initial Point (IP) aiming point, Rendezvous maneuver, Route out.

Final briefing and take-off would be predicated on weather in the target area. Visual bombing was a must.

After the briefing, these lead crews adjourned to the target study room where a special sand table mock-up of a typical V-l launch site was viewed. It had the assembly building, launch ramp, communications center, and personnel facilities all neatly camouflaged in wooded surroundings. Then there were the bombardiers target folders to study with maps and aerial photographs for each assigned target.

There was more than the usual degree of excitement over this mission. It was different. The degree of urgency was more closely felt. Six-ship formations were easy to assemble and maneuver.

Each individual squadron had a chance to compete for bombing accuracy honors.

The altitude was especially favorable for accuracy, and the crews wouldn't even need oxygen. The length of the missions would only be four to five hours. Friendly fighters could cover the whole route. Little or no flak was expected. A "milk run"!

The "frag" order that night did call for a max effort, and the group was able to ready twenty-eight airplanes with twelve 500-pound bombs each. The weather was good. The take-off was at the reasonable hour of 1100. Assembly of the four squadron formations was easy, and the group joined the wing and division bomber stream on time.

At the initial point (IP) the four six-ship squadrons turned toward their respective target headings. The scattered clouds below did not impair the bombardiers from picking up their check points and identifying the target area. With the precision of clock-work, they took control of steering their airplanes. Peering through bombsight optics, they smoothly placed the cross-hairs on the missile launch sites. While synchronizing the bombsight controls for the bombs' ballistic range, the airspeed and altitude, "killing" the airplanes drift, and checking bomb release switches to the "on" position, they gave running commentaries to their anxious pilots, command pilots, and crews. When indicies crossed, they called "Bombs away!" Bomb release lights flickered; the airplanes bounced; the pilots steered to the rendezvous heading; and the bomb-bay doors closed.

It was a dream mission. These crews had led their group through heavy flak-defended targets of Bremen, Kid, Emden, Vegasack, and more with clouds and smoke too often obscuring their aiming points. This mission was ideal for demonstrating their trained skills. From photograph evaluation, the bombing accuracy of bombardiers Capt. "Doc" Weiland, Lt. "Big Joe" Joachem, Lt. "Pud" Good, and Lt. Amos were rated excellent.

So ended the first "No-Ball" mission, the code word for the destruction of Hitler's taunting secret weapon.

By 8 February 1944, the Germans had moved in railroad mounted heavy anti-aircraft weapons. That day, the 392nd's seventh "No-Ball" mission, all hell broke loose on the bomb run. Unexpected and accurate heavy flak was very damaging, and the bombing results were poor. The "milk-run" days were over. Bombing altitude went up to 20,000 feet, and heavy, accurate flak became common.

Considering the combined effort of the entire 2nd Air Division and Eighth Air Force, the destruction of the V-1 missile launch capability must have been nearly complete. Only seven more "No-Ball" missions were flown by the 392nd. The last one was on 27 April 1944; however, the menace did not go away.

The Germans devised a simplified and exceedingly well camouflaged mobile launching system. Between June and September they "beat up" London and vicinity with hundreds of "buzz bombs". When the Allies captured the Pas de Calais area of France, the launching was moved to Holland. They even launched them from airplanes.
Britain developed a good defense for them, but a lot of them got through and their 500-pound war-heads caused considerable damage. A number of our combat crews went to London on flak leave (R&R) in hopes of seeing and hearing them. Some were rewarded with close calls and good "scares".

Then there were the V-2 long-range rockets. They, too, were launched from mobile launching systems and were difficult to locate and destroy. We were never called on to bomb them. During the winter of 1945 I remember seeing their vapor trails streaking toward the zenith as I led the 392nd Bomb Group across the English Channel en route to bomb the Third Reich. Hundreds of them with their 1,000 pound war heads exploded in London and vicintiy. It wasn't until near V-E Day (Victory in Europe), when the allied armies overran all of Germany and the Low Countries that the menace was stilled.