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Group History

Airman's Account of 18 Mar 44 Berlin Mission



 


 

INTRODUCTION

Merrill Jensen's crew was assembled in Lincoln NE after earning their wings at various flying schools. We were then sent to Rapid City SD where we spent the fall of 1944 learning to operate a B-17 aircraft and how to work as a crew. We returned to Lincoln for overseas processing during the week between Christmas and New Years. Then we shipped to Camp Miles Standish near Boston and boarded the Ile de France for a five day cruise to Scotland. After two additional days aboard ship and a one day stop at Stone, we were sent to Thorpe Abbotts to join the 351st Sq. of the 100th Bomb Group, 3rd Air Division of the Eighth Air Force. While on the train, we heard the first of many tales about the BLOODY HUNDREDTH and how the entire Germany air force was after them. These stories can still be heard at reunions, but they have been disproved many times. We spent the next several days learning about combat flying and special equipment including the GEE box, ILS, bunchers and splashers.

One week before we were declared operational, our navigator was called to the briefing room to spend the night learning how information about the mission for the next day arrived from headquarters. The target was Berlin; the date was 03 Feb.1945. The Division lead plane would be flown by Maj. Robert Rosenthal and Capt. John Ernst.

As the group approached Berlin, their plane was hit just before bombs away. All but the bombardier bailed out and reached the ground alive. Some of their crew landed in the German zone and some, including the two pilots, landed in the Russian zone. Capt. Ernst was badly wounded and lost one leg. Our crew had no way of knowing how important this would be to us at a later date.

We flew missions on Feb. 9, 15, 17, 18, 21, 22, 23,28, and on Mar. 7, 8, 13, 15, & 17 with relatively little battle damage. Our targets included large cities and small towns. Some of them were hit and some were not. By this time, American forces were entering Germany and the Russians were nearing Berlin so the end of the war appeared to be near. We had not had Berlin as a target and we had not heard of a jet airplane; but that would change on 18 Mar. 1945. This is an account of that mission by those who were there.

TARGET BERLIN 18 MARCH 1945

BERLIN-Big B-that was the target hidden behind the curtain until the dramatic uncovering that started every briefing. Our group was No 2 in the second task force. Our position w 1S No. 3 in the low squadron. Page 3 shows an overhead view of the entire 13 planes in our box. We were assigned the task of monitoring the fighter frequency. The group leader was Harry Cruver. Maj. Rosenthal was at the briefing, having just returned from Russia.

After an uneventful take-off and climb to altitude, the pilots had to monitor number one engine very closely as the prop tended to overspeed. As soon as the main tanks had sufficient space, fuel from the Tokyo tanks located in the wing tips was transferred to the mains; this allowed time for the vapors to be vented prior to the bomb run. The pilot and copilot alternated flying every fifteen minutes; as they did on all missions. It was Jensens' turn as we neared the IP at Salzwedel (52 52N-12 23E). At about 1120 hours, less than five minutes from the IP, the aircraft started to shake. No one had to ask why- our guns were firing. There had been no warning. The sky was clear, but we were leaving heavy contrails which hid the attackers. A hole appeared in the lead plane's wing just aft of the number one engine. Flames and smoke poured from the hole, causing them to aborted the formation in a sharp bank to the left, taking us with them. We had not progressed very far into the turn when it became obvious that we had to clear ourselves from the lead plane. The smoke and flames had increased to the point where we were also enveloped. The task was to get above the fire and to slide from left to right so as to get far enough away that we would not be caught in any explosion. It was necessary for the pilots to switch controls twice during this brief maneuver. As we passed over the lead plane, we could see some of their crew bailing out. These actions caused those in the other planes to make a mistake in reporting the damage; our plane was reported as being on fire and out of control while the lead plane was reported as going down, but in control. This mistake is easy to understand as everyone was concerned about firing at the bandits, not about the fate of the other planes. Two additional B-17s were hit in the attack so we had all assumed that four planes had been in the attack. In 1994, we learned that the attack had been by six planes. They were from the III/JG Gruppe of Jagdgeschwader 7 and were led by Oberleutnant Guenther Wegmann. For the first time in combat, they were armed with R4M air-to-air rockets. Each plane carried 24 of these 5.5 cm impact-fused missiles on wooden racks. In all, 37 ME262s engaged 1221 heavy bombers which were escorted by 632 fighters that day. 12 bombers and two fighters were lost. A summary of Allied efforts against Berlin lists 1329 bombers dispatched with 1184 being effective.-They dropped 3374 tons of bombs.

After breaking clear of the ill-fated lead plane, we were some distance to the left and below the squadron when we added max climb power and turned right to rejoin the squadron.

I LOW SQUADRON 100th BOMB GROUP MISSION #2B2-BERLIN-18 March 1945

I SWAIN 1 KIA 418
44-8717 PFF- DESTROYED IN AIR

JENSEN 351 2 HUGHES 351
44 6295 DOWN BY ME 262
FLAK DAMAGE GOING DOWN
LANDED IN POLAND

4 GILBERT 351 11 GWIN 4 KIA 351
42 31530 43 8861 DESTROYED IN AIR
QUIT1'IN TIME SWEET NANCY
1 KILL CONF. BY TG

BOVENZI 418 5 BAYLEY 418
42 97071 FLAK 43 7811 FLAK
CANDY DANDY

13 CALDER 418 12 MASIIYNA 418
43 2090 FLAK 43 99162 FLAK
SILVER DOLLAR GINGER

7 CARLEY 418
43 8945 FLAK

9 GRIFFITH 418 8 JACOBS 418
42 3994 FLAK 210-2649 FLAK
BARRICKS BAG LADY GERALDINE

10 KING 3 KIA 351
43 37521 DESTROYED IN AIR
SKYWAY CHARIOT

THE CREWS THAT WENT DOWN MISSION #282-BERLIN - 18 March 1945

Position #1 Plane destroyed in air

SWAIN R. L. POW P
DEWEERDT P. E. POW CP 
THOMPSON W. E. POW T
CARDEN J. M. POW N
KOZIK B. F. POW  
HAUSAM R. A. POW R
KOLLING M. O. KIA E
WOODROW S. H. POW RA
WHITTAKER H. R. POW WG
FISCHER P. J.  POW BT

Position #3 Plane crash-landed in Poland with all aboard

JENSEN M. E. MIA P
KEMP C. L. MIA CP
SCROXTON R. R. MIA N
FRIEL C. P. MIA NG
GALLAGHER T. L. MIA E
PALMER J. T. MIA R
HODGES H. B. MIA BT
SCHEMBRI A. C. MIA WG
MADSEN M. J. MIA TG

Position #10 Plane destroyed in air

KING R. C. POW P
WILLIAMS J. S. POW CP
SPENCER J. W. POW N
GORDAN F. S. POW NG
MATHOSIAN A. M. POW R
WILDING R. E. POW E
MITCHELL R. G. KIA BT
GITLIN N. W. KIA WG
BAKER J. M . KIA TG

Position #11 Plane destroyed in air

GWIN E. P. KIA P
REICHEL D. N.  POW CP
LANDINO R. B. POW N
DISHER J. W. KIA RA
HAMANN H. POW E
DANIELSON W. C. KIA R
UHLER R. R. KIA BT
HEILBUTH N. D. POW WG
ACKERMAN D. N. POW WG
GRIECO J. H. POW TG