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The first aircraft of the 447th Group lifted off at 8:00 am with 30 second intervals for the other 25. Fair weather made such assembly possible. Upon completion of the assembly, the 3rd Division consisted of 250 B-17s loaded with 500-pound GP bombs. A total of 993 heavy bombers, B-17s and B-24s, were dispatched. Such a feat to assemble that many bombers in the span of a few hours was only possible by detailed design and practice maneuvers. The following diagrams and brief explanation gives some idea of what was involved. The total assembly area was just slightly larger than the state of New Jersey.

Traffic was heavy and they crossed the coast at Orford Ness reaching their bombing altitude of 25,000 feet as they crossed the Dutch coast. Except for some slight route changes due to weather, the fair weather permitted piloting navigation.

Fifty years later most of us have forgotten the magnitude of assembling a thousand and more B-17's and B-24's into thrity-six plane formations, all accomplished in the span of a few hours. And then getting them on their way to targets on the continent. It really was not by accident (even if it seems that way to some of us) but by 8th Air Force Bomber Command design. Each group had its own assigned "turf" over which the group leaders would fly in a "racetrack" or circular pattern until the exact minute they needed to join other groups in the Wing or Division. There was no waiting for "stragglers," who had to fend for themselves if late or lost. The area depicted in this layout (above) represents an East Anglia area of about 75 x 100 miles, or just slightly larger than the state of New Jersey.


Rattlesden AFB, England


The crew had been in the air about five hours as they neared the target. Bomb bay doors were opened approximately 30 miles from the target. This was referred to as the IP, possibly indicating the initial point of approach to the target. At this point in the mission, a turn usually to the left was made to intersect the target. Pilot Moran checked each member on the interphone, as was the custom, to make sure each was in position and ready for the final run. This was old hat for most of the crew as they had experienced it more than a dozen times and had not been in Europe three full months. Navigator Jacob reported to Bombardier Maguire the Meserschmidt air plane factory was ten miles ahead. *It will be noted these two officers are not the Navigator and Bombardier listed on the original crew list. Those two officers were killed in action on May 20. It was the practice to assign one or two experienced crew members with an inexperienced crew, for obvious reasons, for one or two missions. Navigator Kesterke and Bombardier Oulahla were the unfortunate victims of friendly fire. It was the practice after reaching formation and over space free of possibly causing damage on friendly ground, for the gunners to check their machine guns by firing a few practice rounds. Some careless gunner from another aircraft turned a burst loose and it struck the plane they were on crashing it into the North Sea with no survivors. This is the explanation of the asterisks by the names on a previous page. In addition to Rudolph L. Jacob, Jr. of South Orange, NJ, and Raymond R. Maguire of Granforf, NJ, the May 29 mission was the first for Co-pilot John F. Higgs of Stephensville, Texas. Pilot Moran was the only officer of the original crew on the May 29 mission.

On the bomb run Sonny had been throwing chaff, aluminum foil cut into narrow strips, out of the radio compartment window. This was a practice to disrupt enemy radar. On the interphone he reported he was standing by to check bomb bay doors after bombs away. Once the bombs were dropped, the doors were closed and it was very important they did. The formation would then take a sharp left downward turn to get away from the enemy fire as quickly as possible. The plane became much more maneuverable and lively with the doors closed. This maneuver usually involved a descent of two to three-thousand feet.

The crew had experienced a very good flight so far, and weather and visibility was good in the target area. BUT SUDDENLY THAT ALL CHANGED!! Just moments before bombs were to be away, their aircraft suffered enemy fire - flak, shrapnel, from exploding ground fired anti-aircraft shells struck number 3 engine on the right wing close to the co-pilot's side. Two officers from another crew, in a confidential report of May 30, stated: "Aircraft suffered a direct flak hit in the left wing gas tank, burst into flame, did a half roll onto its back and broke up just before bombs away." A May 30 German Technical Report on the crash site states presence of "one wing ... the left wing in a partial burned up condition." Left waist gunner Wachter saw flames burning past the rudder. The loss, or partial loss, of the right wing caused the plane to flip over and spiral downward. The Engineer, whose position was just behind the pilot and co-pilot, saw them fighting the controls trying to right the plane, also get their parachutes which were stored under their seats or on the map case just behind them. During this brief period, the bomber was ripped apart in the forward section just behind the radio compartment bulkhead and in front of the ball turret bulkhead by either gas tank or bomb explosion. The crash was in the neighborhood of 12:30 pm, and the site was at the outskirts of eastern Seegeritz, two kilometers north from Taucha (eight km northeast from Leipzig.) The Technical Report states the crash site covered approximately a half mile, three motors, one wing and numerous parts in one area. The front part of the fuselage was about 1,000 feet away, and the rear section of the fuselage and tail unit were another 300 feet further. The perimeter and separation indicated the explosion was before striking the ground, and the fact it pretty well spun straight down.

PART 5