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The Bremen Mission

Bremen Mission October 8, 1943 & Copilots of the 100th

by John Luckadoo

John Luckadoo went on to become the 351st Operations Officer and later the 350th OPS Officer ; finishing as the command pilot with DeSanders on 13 Feb 44 NoBall. He was an eyewitness to the loss of the 100th Thomas Murphy and the famed PICCADILLY LILY on the 8 Oct 43 Bremen mission. Here he writes on the 50th anniversary of the Bremen mission.

On this day 50 years ago, October 8, 1943 I looked Death in the face — and survived.  Our Group, the 100th B.G., was flying at 23,000 feet, which made us the low group in the Wing formation.  I was leading the second element of the low squadron, otherwise known as the “Purple Heart Corner.”  My original crew had already finished their combat tour just three weeks before and I was on my 22nd mission with a new crew of the 351st Squadron.

The Group was led  that day by Maj. John Kidd and Blakely’s crew and our Squadron was led by Capt. Tom Murphy and Al Barker, the Squadron Operations Officer, in “Picadilly Lily”.  As we approached the Initial Point just before turning onto the Bomb Run, we encountered extremely heavy flak and were attempting to take evasive action.  This is quite difficult to do and still maintain a tight formation, which we were required to do for mutual protection as well as a tight bomb pattern. Bremen was being ferociously defended by everything the Germans could throw up at us.  Some later described the flak that day as being so thick we could have “put down our wheels and taxied on it!”.  By this time, the Germans had perfected a technique of tracking our formation as to height and compass heading, and firing in “box volleys”.  This meant plotting our course, leading us by a mile or so and firing a series of anti-aircraft shells which varied in height and width to match our entire formation.  This necessitated our flying directly through this holocaust with devastating results.

Not only was their anti-aircraft defense proving very effective against us, but they were also pressing their fighter attacks upon us by flying right through their won flak!  This was some of the most persistent fighter resistance we had yet encountered and the first occasion in which they were flying on through their own defensive flak.  As we struggled to maintain formation and try desparately to level up for the Bomb Run, while still fending off the fighters and withstanding the on-slaught of flak produced a high level of perspiration in all the cockpits, even though the outside temperature was about 60 degrees below zero.  Finally on the Bomb Run, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that a flight of 2 FW-190s were attacking us from 11 o’clock and level with our Squadron formation.  Our gunners were pouring out lead as fast as they could to try and fend them off.  Never-theless, they barreled right through the formation without waiv-ering and the lead pilot, either already dead or grossly miscalcu-lating, collided in mid-air with the “Picadilly Lily” directly in front of me.  The FW-190 in the wing position flew right on across my top turret and actually scraped it as he went by.

Others in the formation were also taking devastating fire from flak and fighters and began falling out of formation like flies.  I moved up to take over the Squadron as Murphy be-gan spiraling down and then exploded shortly after about half the crew bailed out.  Just after bomb release, Kidd and Blakely were shot out of formation as was Buck Cleven who was leading the high squadron. On the Bomb Run we lost fully two-thirds of the formation.  Seeing that I was the only element leader left flying, I fired a rally flare as we left the target and attempt-ed to get the remaining ships into some sort of formation order to try and make it home.

By this time the 95th Group which was following us in the next wave of bombers was sighted and I succeeded in tacking onto it in place of their low squadron that they had already lost.  In assessing our own damage, I discovered that we had received a flak burst on the plexi-glass nose and a big hole remained where the bomb-sight had been.  This left a sizable hole which produced a rush of sub-zero air to push through the bombardier and navigator’s compartment and straight on up into the cockpit.  Even with sheepskin-lined flying boots over heat-shoes, I soon had both feet frost-bitten and could barely control the rudder pedals as a consequence.  But our most immediate concern was trying to stay up with the formation despite the additional damage we had sustained to the No. 3 engine.  By careful nursing we managed to keep from having to feather this engine, which would have caused us to lag behind the formation and not have the protection it afforded.  As we began letting down from higher altitude, it began operating somewhat better so we were able to stay up with the others.

One of the stranger orders ever to come down to us from higher headquarters was the standard operating procedure by which every lead crew would be required to have it’s co-pilot fly in the tail gun position, while a “command pilot” took over his place in the cockpit.  Supposedly, the co-pilot was intended to act as a Fire Control Officer in this position as far as spoting incoming enemy fighters and calling for a concentration of firepower in that direction.  Several glaring shortcomings were soon apparent in this order, such as (1) co-pilots had absolutely no training or experience with the 50 cal. machine guns mounted in the tail, (2) they had no means of communicating with the gunners in the other aircraft, except by inter-comm to their own pilots who would then have to radio to the other planes and then have that pilot relay the information to his gunners, and (3) also to risk the costly flight training these men had received in this fashion raised serious questions of priority.

On this Bremen raid, several co-pilots were occupying the tailgun position.  Lt. Marshall Lee was in the tail of “Picccadilly Lily”, was killed in action when this ship went down in front of me.  In addition, Lt. Charles Via was also in the tail of the Group leader (Blakely-Kidd) and was severely wounded by a 20 mm. shell through his leg as well as by flak fragments. But he stayed at his post, was credited with two fighters and subsequently was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Although the official tally of losses on this raid was seven ships from the Hundredth, only five or possibly six planes actually made it all the way back to Thorpe Abbotts on that fateful day.  The rest were either shot down, crashed or exploded in midair.  For only six to fully survive out of a total of 18 planes the Hundredth sent out that day, only partially reflects the terrible price paid.

On the other side of the coin, I had a strange experience some 5 or 6 years later when living in Denver.  My wife and I were members of an organization who entertained foreign visitors from time to time, and we were asked to have a young German couple in our home for dinner.  This very attractive couple turned out to be a German princess and her husband, who was the general manager of the Opel factory in Bremen at that time.  As we sat on our patio after dinner and started to compare notes, it turns out that she, too, had very vivid memories of October 8, 1943.  She told me that the British had kept them up most of the night before, bombing the city in single-plane raids.  She was employed as an executive secretary to the plant manager of the munitions factory which we bombed that day!  As she revealed her side of the story from being on the ground, I related some of the hardships we had experienced from about 5 miles up.  It was, indeed, one of the eeriest feelings I have ever had to sit there and realize that previous enemies were now breaking bread together, under my roof.

Below John Luckadoo writes of the Original 100th Co-Pilots

When Col. Darr “Pappy” Alkire, Commander of the 100th Bomb Group, had to notify his air crews in late January, 1943 that they were not certified as “combat ready” and therefore would not embark for overseas duty as anticipated, a number of repercussions were about to be felt. Not only were the crew members sadly disappointed, but were also being threatened with the prospect of being split up as a Group and parceled out as replacement crews in other outfits. Losses were beginning to mount in Groups which were already operational with the newly commissioned Eight Air Force in England. At this time the 100th B.G. was divided up and the crews sent to various locations for additional training to overcome their apparent deficiencies. Not only was the future of the 100th becoming in doubt, but morale was beginning to take a precipitous dive. Assigned the duty of checking out other crews for combat readiness, while not recognized as such themselves, began to take its toll.

It was at about this point that Higher Authority began to realize that the co-pilots of the 100th were accumulating considerably more time in the B-17 than many First Pilots who were being certified for combat. Consequently, the conventional wisdom was to replace ALL of the original co-pilots with recent twin-engine pilot school graduates. And so it was that nearly 40 members of the Class of 43-B at Moody Field in Valdosta, Ga.  were shipped to the 100th at Kearney, Neb. in early March, 1943, having just been declared multi-engine pilots on February 18th. However, as these new recruits began to fill the right-hand seats of the four engine giant of the Group, some of the crews readily accepted the inevitable while others developed and almost instant resentment that these new interlopers had broken up original crews While still smarting from not having been sent overseas immediately after finishing “phase” training some crews were determined to make life miserable for the latest additions to the crew rosters.

As the urgency for bomber crews escalated in the Eight Air Force, the decision to withhold the 100th from combat was finally reversed and, for better or for worse, in late May, 1943 the Group was released for embarkation. With scarcely 80 days in B-17s, these newly integrated co-pilots found themselves spanning the North Atlantic, combat bound. Many of us had precious little time at the controls of the aircraft and were sorely lacking in vital formation techniques and emergency procedures., particularly under fully loaded flight conditions. Confronted with these negatives, not to say the smoldering animosity of some of the other crew members, just managing to get to the combat zone presented some rather formidable risks!

In my own case, crew resentment at having to accept a green co-pilot in place of a favorite buddy who had been through the training phases. proved quite contentious. But as we reached out intermediate point at Gander Lake, Newfoundland, Lt Glenn W. Dye, the First Pilot, became hospitalized while we were awaiting favorable tailwinds to enable the 12-hour crossing of the Atlantic. When finally released from the hospital nearly two weeks later, the rest of the Group had already departed and he was actually so weal form sulfa treatments he had to be loaded into the airplane. The stark realization by the crew that the new co-pilot was going to have to get us to the combat zone, finally sunk in and the crew reluctantly began to function as a team.

Upon arrival at Thorpe Abbotts on June 15th, we were already two weeks behind the Group in becoming operational. As a result, Lt Dye became determined that he was going to complete his required 25 combat missions and return to the States as quickly as possible. From June 25th, 1943 to September 16, 1943 the 100th Bomb Group completed some 30 or more combat missions, of which Dye and his crew, with the exception of myself and S/Sgt Elder Dickerson, completed their tour of 25 combat missions. To my knowledge, this record of completing a combat tour in less than 11 weeks was never surpassed in the Eighth Air Force. Sgt Dickerson, a waist gunner, was flying with Tom Murphy in “Picadilly Lily” which was lost on the Bremen raid, October 8, 1943. It was Dickerson’s 25th mission.

As combat experience increased and losses of original crews were sustained, the co-pilots of the Group were checked out as First Pilots as fast as possible and assigned replacement crews. On the Groups very first operational mission on June 25, 1943 4 members of the Class of 43-B were lost over Bremen.

F/O George W. Cox (KIA) (Schmalenbach crew)
F/O George Z. Krech (KIA) (Adams crew)
Lt Bluford B. Mullins (KIA) (Petrich crew)
Lt William J. Styles (DeSaunders)

During the month of July, 1943, 3 more co-pilots of this Class went down:

Lt Melville Guy Boyd (POW) (Pearson crew) July 4 La Pallice
Lt Archibald l. Robertson (EVA) (Duncan crew) July 10 Paris
Lt Carl F. Hudson (KIA) (Barnhill crew) July 18 Dickleburg

On the Regensburg shuttle mission to North Africa on August 17, 1943 the heaviest losses to date were sustained from this Class, a total of eight:

Lt James B. Evans (POW) (Van Noy crew)
Lt Walter B. Trenchard (POW) (Braley crew)
F/O John L. Williams (POW) (Hollenbeck crew)
Lt John O. Whitaker (KIA) (Knox crew)
F/O Richard l. Snyder (KIA) (Flesh crew)
F/O Joseph C. Harper (INT) (Oakes crew)
Lt Raymond J. Nutting (EVA) (Claytor crew)
Lt Kenneth O. Blair (UNK) (Scott crew)

A raid on Paris September 3rd produced four more losses of the co-pilot class:

Lt Jack C. Boyd (KIA) (King crew)
F/O George D. Brykalski (KIA) (Barker crew)
Lt Charles W. Floyd, Jr. (KIA) (Fienup crew)
Lt Eugene V. Mulholland (EVA)

On September 6, 1943 – three more on the raid on Stuttgart:

Lt William R. Freund (INT) (Turner crew)
F/O Harry F. Edeburn (KIA) (Reeder crew)
F/O John H. Thompson (POW) (Woodruff crew)

The month of October, 1943 accounted for the greatest toll of all. One was lost on October 4th on the raid on Hanau:

Lt Herbert E. Trent (POW) (Helstrom crew)

..continuing through the devastating maximum effort raids on Bremen on Oct 8th, Marlenburg on Oct 9th; and Munster on the 10th. Eleven members of the Class were shot down:

F/O James P. Thayer (POW) (DeMarco crew)
Lt Charles A. Via (SWA) (Blakely crew)
Lt Marshall F. Lee (KIA) (Murphy crew)
F/O Daniel Barna (POW) (Barr crew)
Lt Winston L. MacCarter (POW) (Fuller crew)
Lt Hoyt L. Smith (POW) (Biddick crew)
F/O John F. Stevens (POW) (Kiessling crew)
Lt Glenn E. Graham (POW) (Cruikshank crew)
Lt Maurice E. Beatty (KIA)
Lt John L. Hoerr (POW) (Brady crew)
Lt William M. Beddow (KIA)

As a consequence, out of the nearly 40 members of the Class of 43-B who replaced the original co-pilots of the 100th, only four completed their combat tours, they are:

F/O Charles A. Brooks 14-Jan-44 No-Ball target (Reed)
Lt John H. Luckadoo 13-Feb-44 No-Ball No#120 (Dye)
Lt Edward K. Moffly 13-Feb-44 No-Ball No#120 (Carnell)
F/O Arch J. Drummond 18-Apr-44 Berlin (Swartout)

In all, this class of pilots actually sustained approximately a 90% loss factor within the first four months the Group was operational. While many of the myths about the overall losses of the Hundredth are not supportable, it would certainly be interesting to compare the loss ratio of the Class of 43-B with any other group during a like period of combat.