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Five Missions over Germany

by W. Griswold Smith

Griswold prefaced this report by saying he had written it so that at some future date he could look back and remember how we fought a war in old 1945, and also to have something with which to “flak up” his grandchildren. He, hopes, now that the account is in print, that his children will read it.

Horace L. Varian

Zeitz (Badberka) 31 March 1945 – Oil
Had 20 minutes to have a cigarette, get up in the cold; walk to the club and shave; eat four fried eggs; get to briefing. At the mess hall we used to queue up and file past the stove so that we could tell the cook just how we wanted our eggs…While we were waiting our turn for eggs we could toast a piece of heavy English bread we used to get.

I walked into the briefing room just as my name was called. If I hadn’t been the Low low squadron I wouldn’t have made it in time. Was to fly No 3 in the second element of the Low low squadron.

When the briefing officer said we were going after oil today, you could hear a murmur and feel a shiver roll back through the briefing room. Zeitz was the last large oil refinery in production according to intelligence; however, its production was very small due to previous bombings, but that didn’t affect the number of flak guns there. After briefing, we went out to ship No. 334B …I had a S/Sgt Smith, number 3 on the crew as chin turret gunner and Toggalier. He was a quiet fellow, but a good man – he already had 18 missions. Our load was twenty-four 250 pound general purpose bombs. They could hang only 20 on the shackles, so the other four were slung in the bomb bay – which made an awkward load.

The Low low Squadron, “Fireball Dog 3,” started engines at 0505 and took off at 0530. The wing left England at Southwald at 0724 at 12,000 feet. The flight to the I.P. was uneventful. We turned onto the I.P. at 0848 – the boys said the flak was bad yesterday at Hamburg, but here I could have put the wheels down and taxied on it. Turnip (Wilson Turnipseed) didn’t see flak yesterday because he didn’t look out. – he didn’t intend to see any today either. He laid on the floor all covered up with his flak suit, hung his chute on one hook and let it hang between his legs. He was facing the oscilloscope on the “Gee” box; so he couldn’t help seeing the reflection of the flak.

On bombs away all but one of ours dropped – we were lucky, as most ships had more than one hang due to the unorthodox bomb load. About this time the squadron leader made a steep turn to the right to get out of flak. Just before that flak knocked the number 3 engine off Larson’s ship. He was flying number 2 off the lead about 50 yards ahead of us. The squadron formation broke up. I had to pull out to avoid colliding with him. Larson’s engine floated back over my wing – it was an eerie sight as it looked intact – the prop still turning – it looked like an engine flying by itself. About this time there were only three ships left in the squadron formation; however, in a minute or so all managed to rejoin the formation except Larson. The last we heard from him on V.H.F, was that he was going to try and make Russia. In the meantime O’Leary had been trying to kick out the bomb still hanging in the bomb bay, without success. He did manage to get a pin in it so I decided it was fairly safe. I closed the bomb bay doors and decided to take it home with me.

The remainder of the trip was uneventful except for some rough prop wash that made flying strenuous. I decided to kick the bomb the bomb out in the North Sea as it was loose on its shackle and I didn’t relish landing with a bomb that might come loose when we hit the ground at 1410.

About a month later the tail gunner from Larson’s crew returned to the base. He said that they had been unable to make it to Russia – he had bailed out and didn’t know if the rest had gotten our or not. The Germans captured him and when they interrogated him they showed him Larson’s wedding ring and dog tags and told him all the rest had been killed in the crash.

Larson and his navigator lived in my barracks and slept next to me on my right. It was pretty grim watching the Adjutant pack up their belongings. The navigator kept receiving about three letters a day from his wife for months.

After our second mission we were given a 2 day pass in London. Turnip, Wilk, Junior, and myself all started out for London together. We arrived at Liverpool station without mishap and decided to take the “tube” downtown, this was a mistake as none of us the language as spoken in England and it was practically impossible to communicate with the natives. We lost Junior on the “tube” and didn’t see him until we returned to base…

5 April 1945, Marshalling Yards at Nuremberg, Germany.
I was rudely awakened at 0230 and told to eat breakfast and be at briefing at 0400. – Unfortunately, I went back to sleep. Another boy in the barracks stopped and woke me as he was leaving. He asked if I was flying; I sat up in bed and said, “No I wasn’t”; so he apologized and left – I continued to sleep. The alert Sgt came back and got me up at 0405, as briefing had started, I arrived just in time to hear the weather – which, incidentally, was forecast entirely wrong…

I saw the target pictures on return and we had really “creamed” it. We received only a few flak holes. One piece came in through the nose, hit the envelometer and knocked Wilk’s hand off the switch just before bombs away.

7 April, 1945, Oil Storage Tanks, Buchen, Germany
Our target today was an oil storage depot (3 large groups of storage tanks) on a canal near Hamburg. Ground fog was very bad this morning, you couldn’t see twenty yards, and since the target had such a low priority, they were thinking of calling off the mission. First came through a 30 minute delay, then a four hour delay. We lay around in the crew chief’s tent hoping and praying that the mission would not be scrubbed as it was supposed to be a “Milk Run” with no flak. Well, it wasn’t scrubbed and we took off four hours late. We were flying number 2 in the third element of the High Squadron.

The P-51 escort never did pick us up; at any rate they never seemed to give us any support. We had barely gotten into enemy territory when they called Bandits in the area over VHF. This had been called several times on other missions and we had begun to look on it as calling “Wolf, ” but called the gunners on the interphone and told them to be on the alert anyhow. Then I heard the group in front of us calling for P-51’s as they were being hit by M!109’s. Baugh was the first on our crew to see an enemy fighter. He reported them attacking and shooting down a straggler.

The first pass was made from 7 o’clock low – up through “C” squadron and then on to us. Baugh and Russo were the first in the squadron to open fire. This ME109 put a couple of slugs into us – one went through the nose and almost got Wilk and Turnip. When this happened, Wilk said he looked at Turnip and could see it dawn on Turnip’s face that this was the real McCoy. Turnip started unlatching the nose guns and firing like hell. Wilk says that he started shooting at our P-51 escort and Turnip maintained he was keeping the area clear. The ship went on up past us and turned back down at us – Wilk and Szalwinski were pouring 50’s into him from their two turrets and O’Leary got in a few from the waist. I think he was diving directly for us, but he came in just in front and knocked the left horizontal stabilizer off the ship in front of us. That ME109 diving into the formation spurting flames all over presented such a vivid picture that I shall never forget it. When he hit the ship in front of us flown by Lt. Martin, there must have been some sort of explosion as the nose of our ship and cockpit were filled with back smoke and dust. There were quite a few holes in the plexiglass nose by now. Wilk and our crew got credit for that ME109. When he hit the ship in front of us, his wing , the 109’s, flew off and went over my wing and knocked off the horizontal diamond (Lt. Joe King). Both ships managed to get back to England all right and both pilots were awarded DFC’s for bringing them back. It is an awful feeling to see tracers flying through your ship – hear the gunners yelling, “he’s coming in – he is coming in – get him Wilk, get him – see tracers from the guns on other ships skim over your wings, under your wings, by your cockpit, and all around. You can do nothing but sit there and swear and sweat because you know if the enemy misses you, you will be shot down buy one of your own careless gunners in another ship. You hear the chatter the guns make – the terrific “Swoosh” the fighters make at is passes so close. Another ME109 came in from 5 o’clock high. Everyone said he was coming directly for us, but our gunners put out so much lead that he diverted and crashed into the ship in our position in the lead squadron, just below and in front of us. We saw both ships explode. The reason we got so many attacks directed at us was because we were the top ship and the corner ship in the group and therefore around us was the least possible concentration of friendly fire. Ordinarily fighters make their passes in a dive to get greater speed. The enemy fighters stayed with us about an hour.

We were at 15,000 feet as no flak was expected; however there was plenty of accurate flak at the target. I never thought I would be glad to see flak, but I was that day because it meant the fighters wouldn’t come in. We started out with ten ships in our squadron and on bombs away there were only six ships.

We were glad to return from this one. There were so many holes in the nose that Wilk nearly froze sitting up there on the way home. There was plenty of close support by the P-51’s all the way back across the North Sea. I guess they finally found us. And to think I met plenty of boys in London who completed an entire tour without seeing a single enemy fighter.

Lt. Howard went down on this mission; his navigator, Lt. D.R. Jones had gone to Navigation School with Turnip. He was from North Carolina and had gone to N.C, State while Turnip and I were at Chapel Hill. The three of us had gone to Norwich the night before on pass. I understand that he was a POW and was released after V.E. Day – the civilians that had captured him had knocked his front teeth out.

I learned later that there was something peculiar about the fighter attacks in so close. Either they were young inexperienced, ardent Nazis or had been given orders to kill or get the killed. (sic) The same kind of attacks were experienced by all groups of the Eighth Air Force that were attacked that day.

10 April, 1945, Airfield at Burg, Germany
This was just about the worst mission of all and now I can remember very little about it. Our target was another jet airfield just outside of Merseberg. We were flying in the Low low Squadron which is the worst place to be when jet fighters attack as the High is where the fighters ordinarily attack. The jets usually made their attacks in two’s and or three’s from 6 o’clock low or level, because from this angle they looked like P-51’s (sic) with wing tanks and gunner are afraid to shoot until they get in real close. They would coast on a formation from the rear with their jets off, open fire, turn on their jets and vanish with terrific speed. They were armed with 30 mm cannons.

I remember they made several passes at us from 6 o’clock low. I distinctly remember two ships going down in flames. I believe a couple of others were crippled and knocked out of the formation; one or two aborted earlier and there were few left when we went over the target. Lt Reeves, who was on his first mission, was flying in my squadron in front of me and little higher; he burst into flames and a wing ripped off on one of the first jet passes. They put a few holes in us too, but no one was hurt. I credit my life that day to Baugh and Russo, the tail and ball turret gunners, for putting out so much accurate fire that the jets diverted their attacks when they came in close. We were in the best position for them to attack. We had a Toggalier flying with us that day who missed an excellent chance to destroy a jet. Turnip said that the Toggalier just sat and watched the jet. That happens to a lot of people when fighters come in unexpectedly very close – it is astonishing and interesting, not to mention deadly….

11 April 1945, Small Arms Factory n Landshut, Germany
This was the 300th mission for the 100th Bomb Group. It was quite an occasion and a lot of “wheels” were around to wish us well. Colonel Sutterlin, the Group Commander, was leading the mission today. We were going after a small arms factory in Landshut, Germany, which was supposed to supplying firearms for the Southern Redoubt

My squadron didn’t have enough ships to put up a full squadron; so I was assigned a ship from another squadron. Everything checked out all right before takeoff. We were at about 9 degrees east when I noticed what looked like gas siphoning from 3 gas tank (sic) It began to get worse and I realized it was oil flowing from the breather on number three engine. The other pilots began to call me over VHF and tell me I was losing gas. I tried to answer, but my VHF would not transmit! Oil began to rush out faster and the oil pressure began to drop a little. The engineer had been watching number 2 engine as it had been running rough for quite a while. The oil pressure dropped below 15 psi; so I feathered the prop. (sic) Then I thought, “Well son, here’s your chance to be a hero – if you can stay with the formation climbing with a full bomb load and only three engines, and drop your bombs on the target – you are in. I took another look at number 2 and it was still vibrating. I thought. “Suppose 2 gives out on you after you are deep in enemy territory, and you have to drop out of the formation then – remember what those jets did to that straggler you saw yesterday. And another thing how are you going to call fighters for help when your VHF won’t transmit? You will be another of those posthumously unsuccessful heroes…

We found a clear spot over the English Channel and I salvoed our 6,000 pounds of bombs. Returning home, I found that I would have to use the short runway – this was disconcerting. I tried to make sure that I wouldn’t undershoot on my landing so I wouldn’t have to try and pick my ship up on three engines — well – I almost overshot the field and was barely able to stop on the very end of the runway…..

My original crew was: W. Griswold Smith, Pilot; Robert W. Smith, Co-Pilot; Wilson P. Turnipseed, Navigator; Paul A. Wilkerson, Bombardier; Stanley A. Szalwinski, Engineer; DeLome Cumba, Jr., Radio Operator; John J. O’Leary, Waist Gunner; Anthony R. Russo, Ball Turret Gunner; and Earl J. Baugh, Tail Gunner.