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Black Thursday – 14 Oct 43


8th United States Army Air Force
Mission 115
14 October 1943
“Black Thursday”

The participants:

1st Air Division 3rd Air Division
91st 94th
92nd 95th
303rd 96th
305th 100th
306th 385th
351st 388th
379th 390th

October 14, 1943 dawned like many other English countryside mornings, cold, damp and hazy. The call came for the 100th to mount maximum effort. Briefing was not like any other briefing we had ever attended. There were only eight crews available and they had to be substituted from other Bomb Groups for certain key positions on the crew, such as Bill Allen being loaned to fly Bombardier for one of the crews in my unit.

The low number of crews was brought about by the extremely heavy losses suffered by our group on October 8, 1943 (seven crews), and on October 10, 1943 (twelve crews), the latter being known as ‘Bloody Munster’, a complete story in itself. Thus only eight crews.

The eight crews had been broken into flights. Four aircraft to be led by Lt. Owen “Cowboy” Roane, flying with the 390th Bomb Group and four being led by Lt. Robert “Bob” Hughes, flying with the 95th Bomb Group. Lt. Richard E. Elliott, our Bombardier, and I attended a special briefing on the target even though we were scheduled to drop on the lead Bombardier’s release. Intense target study before take-off paid off handsomely in allowing us to distinguish the target under most unfavorable conditions, like cringing from pink bursts of flak and uncontrolled aircraft.

The mess hall seemed virtually empty as we had our usual breakfast of dried eggs, spam, coffee, toast good old “Orange Marmalade”. Oh, yes! We had vast amounts of good American butter to go on that wonderful English dark bread. Even now when I think of those cool nights when we would go by and pick up a loaf or two of bread and a pound of butter and return to our huts, stoke up the coke fire in our little stove, toast and butter bread, my mouth waters. I ate it then and I will do it often now. The flight line was no more crowed than the Chow-hall was. There was no crowding up for take off. Cowboy’s unit went first and in a couple of minutes, at 10:15 we followed. We climbed through scattered clouds making one full circuit of the base and rendezvoused with the 95th Bomb Group at 2,000 feet. The time was 10:27. They were four ships short on the HIgh squadron. We moved our left wingman up into a left wing position on the element leader and moved our slotman to our left wing position and we had a square group.

Rendezvous was made with the 390th Bomb Group at 12:18 and this formed the 13th Combat Wing. Our climb to departure altitude was made and we departed the English coast at 12:18. We met out American fighter escort at the enemy coast. We were flying over and undercast but as we penetrated inland we began to come our from over the undercast. We were a little south of course and about four minutes late. We could hear chatter on the radio from units and their escorts ahead of us. The seemed to be drawing fighters (Enemy). We seemed to be getting much less action than the units ahead of us. In fact it seemed to me that the 290th was getting more action than the 95th Bomb Group. Please do not misunderstand me, although I did not see many enemy aircraft making direst attacks on our Group, the gunners on the eight 100th Bomb Group ships were credited with destroying seven enemy aircraft.

After we came from over the undercast, we were able to see gas and oil fires dotting the countryside attesting to the furious defense and the determination of the bomber crews to place bombs squarely on the target and not be denied. From time to time, we had seen flak from a distance, but as we neared the target it took on a more personnel feeling. Periodically, we could see the red hearts of the bursts of “Big Stuff”. We could now see the target area, and as we had been briefed about the smudge pots which mark the dummy target area Lt. Elliott, our bombardier, and I recognized them for the dummies they were. Smoking like the whole town was on fire.

Suddenly, our attention was diverted. The leader of the 95th was struck by flak just as we approached the Initial Point for final turn to the target at 14:47. He was descending rapidly from formation, Flak was intense. Our co-pilot, Lt. Donald S. Davis, yelled, “Move Bob!” I had felt the “WHUMP” from the burst of flak which had lifted our wingman’s plane, and was sending it directly into us. L. Howard Keel temporally had no control over the craft. The Good Lord kicked left rudder, down stick, left aileron, then back-stick and rolled out of a well executed diving split (sic) “B” which allowed Lt. Keel to pass through the space which we had occupied and execute a coordinated recovery. He also placed our ship on a direct course to the primary target upon which Lt. Elliott and I had been carefully briefed just a few hours before. Elliott picked up the target immediately and called, “Skipper, target dead ahead, set up and follow PDI.” (Pilot Direction Instrument)

I replied, “Dick, I do not have the right to commit a man to this course of action against his will. It would have to be a 100% volunteer.”

Dick called for a vote starting with the lowest ranking man, and quicker than it takes to tell about it, the answers read:

“Come in tail guns”
“Tailgunner — Go”
“Left waist — Go”
“Right waist — Go”
“Ball — Go”
“Radio — Go”
“Top Turret — Go”
“Nav — Go”
“Dick, I have your vote,” I added quickly.
“Co-pilot,” who are we waiting for?”
“Gentlemen, we go! Elliott do you not have a bombsight.”
Dick replied, “Yes, I do. I caged it just before you made that wild peel-off. I also reset the altitude to 1,000 feet lower.”
“Dick you have it. We will maintain altitude and airspeed.”

We talked about the fact that we had the element of surprise on our side, and that we would maintain the appearance of a crippled aircraft by not opening our doors until just before bombs away. We informed the crew that we were flying in a gun defended area, and that best info had it that the German planes would not penetrate the area. We also conjectured that the flak guns would not fire upon the one ship, but would allow us to leave the area and become fighter bait. It was our best guess that they did not want to draw attention to the Steam plant and allied ball bearing shops by firing on one ship. If we couldn’t find it, they were not going to disclose it. Lt. Elliott opened the doors just long enough to release the bombs, and we already had our strike camera running. It was on intervolometer, but our bomb-sight was not. Dick, knowing that he had rate killed, and course was beautiful, set the selector switch on SALVO, and bombs were away at 14:54, thus, all bombs in MPI. (Mean Point of Impact). The roar on the intercom was “Pickle Barrel.”

It was renascent of that day in training when they gave us those three small general purpose bombs for graduation at Walla Walla. We were given the Southwest target at Bordman Bombing Range and after a smooth run Lt. Elliott had demolished the target. We were then given the Northeast target for our second run and again Elliott had dispersed all the rail-road ties with a dead shot and we were told that we had graduated and were directed to carry the third bomb back to base.

Aircraft 271, “Nine Little Yanks and A Jerk”, had just opened up the North segment of the target area and there were more bombs to follow. Our aircraft was strike photo aircraft for the 100th Bomb Group and we had picked up a fine set of pictures. We made a left turn from the target, and picked up the 95th Bomb Group, which was still struggling trying to get into formation.

My wingman joined me and we asked the new leader if we could be of assistance in re-forming the group, explaining that we had an experienced formation controller riding tail guns. The offer was graciously accepted and in a very short time the 95th was formed and the 100th flight took its position in the high squadron. Sgt. Robert L. McKimmy, our tail gunner was one of the finest formation critics in the business. He lined them up for us in a hurry this day, because we were running out of the gun defended area. We joined the 390th Bomb Group and were once again the 13th Combat Wing.

Our return trip was no cakewalk, but it was not spiced with the vast number of oil and gas fires we had enroute to the target. We reached the English coast at 17:25. We left the 95th Bomb Group at 18:11 and landed at 18:17. After our strike photographs had been developed and the damage assessed by our local intelligence people, the results were called into Division. Elliott and I had been called down to observe the strike photos. Later in the evening word was received that General LeMay wanted me to attend the critique the next day. This was to be an experience for me, I had never seen so many ‘Eagles’ in one room. I had never been out of formation over a target before.

When all of the representatives from all of the groups were assembled, the critique was called to order and we had just been seated when General LeMay asked, “Will Lt. Hughes from the 100th Bomb Group come forward.” When I stepped upon the stage he said, “Will you tell this group what you did yesterday.”

I related how we had been forced to dive for our lives and how that when we recovered the target upon which we had been briefed, lay dead ahead. How all the men volunteered. The fact that we had a perfect bomb run and that Lt. Elliott pickle-barreled the target. General LeMay asked how I knew that we had pickle-barreled the target, I informed him that I had studied the strike photos and the fact that our aircraft , “Nine Little Yanks and A Jerk”, was designated strike photo aircraft for the 100th BGH, to which he responded, “That is right gentlemen, ten bombs MPI.” Stepping up to the strike map he pulled the butcher paper away to reveal an enlarged strike photo, showing the strike. His next comment was, “The Lieutenant should have a Commendation.” To which the reply came from the back o the room in clearly enunciated words, “The SOB should be court-martialed for breaking formation.” Those words were spoken by my, ‘now’ good friend, Colonel Bud Peasley, who was the airborne commander for mission 115….

On October 14, 1976, I was appointed by Colonel Bud Peasley to be the Western Regional Director — Second Schweinfurt Association, Inc.

The crew of Nine Little Yanks and A Jerk on 14 October 1944

Pilot Lt. Robert L. Hughes
Co-pilot Lt. Donald S. Davis
Nav Lt. Leonard A. Wickens
Bom Lt. Richard E. Elliott
Engineer T/Sgt Gerald Gulich
Radio T/Sgt Joseph E. Boyle
Ball Turret Gunner T/Sgt Horace Barnum
Waist Gunner S/Sgt Talmage P. Buntin
Tail Gunner S/Sgt Robert L. McKimmy

Poem by Robert L. Hughes

Bill Allen was a bombardier
Who served his country proud
The Fortress was his warring arm
His friend the fleecy cloud.
He was called to fly his final run
Flack and fighters long since stilled
Take-off was as smooth as silk, they said
And his log was completely filled.
His engines are all quiet now
In fact there was no sound
As he set his eyes upon a star
And reached for higher ground.
Saint Elmo lit his runway
Where Angel’s feet now trod
And he’s stood his final debriefing
At the sacred throne of God.
Lord, he had been a mighty warrior
For a hundred missions and more
Please take him home to rest in peace
Near the Fortress hanger door.