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Owen Roane: Blitz Week

by “Cowboy” Roane

On the eighteenth of July we were alerted for a mission to Kassel, a target far inside Germany and of course it would be far beyond the range of our friendly fighters. Just before the flight was to take off, it was cancelled due to reports of poor weather lingering over the continent. To keep the crews from being too disappointed about not having a flight to accomplish, our ever caring operations people scheduled a training flight. The following day, part of our crew flew a test hop on one of the group planes just out of major maintenance. I took the crew chief along on the flight as co-pilot to better know the character of his charge. Shortly after takeoff, I realized enough attention had not been paid to the check list. When I started my usual left turn, I encountered resistance to the movement. I then noticed that the aileron lock was still in place so rudder control was used to make the turn. After a safe altitude was attained, I noted the problem to my crew chief co-pilot as I banked the plane and removed the obstacle. I handed the locking pin to my helper for the day, and he made as if to throw it out the window. I have forgotten the individual, but I bet he hasn’t forgotten the incident.

On the twenty-third, the meteorologist predicted that the huge low pressure area that had lingered over Northwest Europe for the last three months, was giving way to a high. We figured if the forecast held we would be busy for the next few days going out to meet the Hun. Actually the briefing the next morning showed something very different on the Agenda. Because our Wing, 402,C.B.W., had been equipped with extra fuel tanks referred to as “Tokyo Tanks,” we were selected to make a trip of 1900 miles to Trondheim, Norway with little opposition expected from German defenses. To obtain maximum fuel economy, we crossed the North Sea and Norwegian Sea at 2,500 feet and climbed to 20,000 feet just before land fall to bomb submarine pens in the fjords 360 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

In all we had forty-one planes, including twenty-one from the 95th Bomb Group stationed at Horam, only five miles from Thorpe Abbots. We dropped our 500 pound bombs on the target with only meager opposition from fighters and flak; however, Laden Maiden did sustain some damage to one wing and one plane made a crash landing in Northern Scotland. The lost plane belonged to Curtis Biddick. Two men were wounded in action from other 100th Bomb Group crews. Our flying time for that trip was twelve hours and twenty-five minutes. The Flying Fortress groups to our north having shorter range bombed other U-Boat pens in the southern part of Norway. Those groups were designated the First Bomb Division. We became the Third Bomb Division.

When our flying boots had barely stopped rocking from removal for retiring we were awakened to join our friends for briefing. At that gathering we learned of a maximum effort by bombers of the RAF to literally remove the city of Hamburg, Germany from the World War II competition. They had struck in force that night and were, even as the briefing officer spoke, returning to England. They had created mass confusion in Hamburg not only from the mass area bombing but from an aircraft defensive effort called Window. It was the dropping of millions of strips of tinfoil that caused false reflections on the German radar screens and rendered them helpless. We were to join the RAF effort by daylight bombing for the next four days, while they continued their night raids. With much satisfaction, I thought of the Luftwaffe blitz of London.

The long range capability of our division aircraft dictated that we fly beyond Hamburg to Warnemunde to bomb an aircraft industry plant and also act as a diversion to the Luftwaffe to keep them from all swarming on Hamburg. Finding the primary target still covered by clouds, our Air Boss took us to Kiel to unload on our secondary target. The flack was intense and much heavier than the 88mm stuff that usually hammered us. The burst were much larger, blacker, and louder. The plane from the 350th squadron being flown by Richard Carey in place of the ailing regular pilot, William Desanders, was caught by a burst and was rapidly descending toward the Selenter Sea. I witnessed another scene where a large burst of flak caught a fort from another group just under the right wing, breaking it off, leaving the plane and crew to go into a dive toward earth and no parachutes were counted. Laden Maiden would need much patchwork that night but the engines were sound and by our record, number six was accomplished.

On the twenty-sixth, we departed for Hanover with Colonel Harding as Air Boss because we were leading our wing. We were to rendezvous over the Frisian Islands but the other groups didn’t show. We had to either abort or go on into Germany alone, which we weren’t too keen on doing when our lead spotted a convoy off the coast of Germany. Since no friendly vessels should be there, we had a go at it, and several bombs hit among them. A new radio beacon called a splasher had been installed but it didn’t help us get assembled that day. One more mission and no battle damage to our plane that day and apparently we could sleep in the next day.

July twenty-eighth was another mission day but our crew and the Laden Maiden were left off the alert listing. I didn’t ever question the selection of crews for participation as I believed the operations people knew this business and I was not one to tempt fate by trying to pick the missions we would participate in. The formation returned early as weather again obscured the target and our group leader decided to turn back when the German coast was reached. They did experience a new defense system employed by the Luftwaffe that was concluded to be an attempt at air to air rocketry. Luckily the attempt failed to accomplish the heart’s desire of the German Air Defense.

We gathered later that day in Class A uniform to receive our first Air Medals awarded for five bomber missions over enemy occupied territory. Now the challenge would be to get through the next fifteen mission to receive the three succeeding Oak Leaf Clusters to accompany the Air Medal. After that, acommplish five more missions for a Distiguished Flying Cross and ticket home.

The following day we were alerted for the Warnemunde target that weather denied us just four days earlier. The flight in was made above a very substantial cloud deck. I was wondering if we were on the right track as only a few fighters and meager flack was dogging us. When we arrived at the target area, the target was clear, a quick run was made and bombs unloaded. We were told that it was a good strike.

The last two days of July we stayed on the ground and recounted the happenings of the first month in combat. JWe had logged 91 hours and 50 minutes aloft. We had credit for light combat sorties but the group had lost three more planes and crews to enemy action. We had flown four missions in six days during the final weeks of July.

August the second came with a practice mission on the menu. We bored holes for four hours and on landing, an uneventful flight became eventful. We landed safely, but near the end of our landing roll, the airplane started acting up and went down on her knee on the left side. I let the airplane ground loop and ended up in the grass with the left wing down and one and two engines smoking. Campbell decided the best way out was through the Astrodome. Schmucker meanwhile saw the engines smoking, grabbed the fire extinguisher, and pulled the CO2 activator. The resulting spray had nowhere to go but out through the Astrodome. That relief valve was filled by Campbell scrambling out. The result was a stream of foam hitting Campbell in the seat as he was making his exit. He said that it was amazing how cold that CO2 was even through his flying clothes. The cause for the collapse wasn’t pondered too long as we had no need to wonder why, we were only meant to continue to fly.

The ninth was a day to try to forget but fifty years have done little to dim the vision. Our plane was still in the docks and we were to fly practice formation. Sammy Barr offered his plane for my crew’s use. I would have declined the offer of Torchy, but since Sammy was Operations Officer, I had not much choice. The plane was on hardstand number 20, which was part of a combination of four parking places. Reeder was in number twenty-one parking place and was to lead our element on the flight. We had started Torchy and done our preliminary warm up but had to wait for Reeder to taxi past. A man on the ground just beyond my number one engine propeller was looking up at me as if he had something to say. I motioned toward Reeder’s plane taxing out but instead of his turning to look, he backed up. The prop of Reeder’s number four engine caught his head and part of it, with his cap was tossed toward us. He dropped like an empty sack. We taxied out behind Reeder and flew our six hour flight silently as if none of us saw the catastrophe. On return, we learned the name of the victim. It was written out as Eldridge, Shirley B.

On August 10th, the 100th Bomb Group took off on what was to have been the “Big Mission” but our crew was left behind to do a slow-time flight with Laden Maiden. The aircraft checked out fine as we knew it would. Morton and crew had replaced engines number one and two along with the left wing and landing gear. We were again fit for service. The group returned without making the briefed trip but with tight lips as the same mission would be flown later and maybe the 100th formation would include us.

The twelfth of August was a mission day for the group but again, our crew was not included. Their bombs were dropped on Bonn causing considerable damage according to the photos. Victor Reed with whom I was to have flown my first mission had his airplane hit by flak over the target and one fragment penetrated his outer clothing but struck the silver wings he was always want to wear. This episode so upset Reed that he was unable to fly any more missions. Also the August twelfth mission flown by my friend Glenn Dye and his crew was their fifteenth straight mission which coincided with the fifteenth mission of the group.

On the fourteenth, we were called on to participate with the group in a decoy flight just of the coast of Belgium to attempt to bring the Luftwaffe out within range for our short range allied fighters. I never heard of the results of the scheme. No bombs, no enemy fighters, no flak, no damage and no mission credit. Nothing risked and nothing gained.

Our ninth mission finally happened the following day. We were part of a campaign to bomb the enemy air fields in the area to make the Germans think that we were getting ready for the invasion of the continent. We flew one mission that morning and another that afternoon to bomb Merville and Lille. We were called back on the second attempt for unknown reasons and we never learned what effect the ruse might have had on the German High Command.

The sixteenth was used to prepare for the “Big Mission” the next day. This time, our crew was alerted and we were ready.