“yes, By Damn, We’re Going Back To Berlin”

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As we made our turn away from the target, we could see part of the action behind us, falling planes, swinging parachutes, fighter planes wheeling in huge circles through the sky. Slender black columns of smoke on the ground indicated where a plane had crashed and was burning. We saw our target briefly but couldn’t make out too much damage. Two days later, when we hit the same target, the flames leaped up thousands of feet, and Lunt could still see the smoke when we were 150 miles away.

OUR FIGHTER ESCORT was effective from Berlin back to England, and we had only isolated attacks from German fighters and occasional bursts of flak. When we got down to fifteen thousand feet, we removed our oxygen masks. The cockpit glowed with Mickey’s smile and Bill’s happy face. For almost eight hours all we had seen of each other were pairs of eyes between helmet and oxygen mask; now there were three happy and relieved faces. Mickey found some rock candy in our emergency stores and spread it around the crew. The ball of tension that had been in our stomachs since early morning was replaced by a dead-tired but happy feeling—and hunger. We ate our last meal about twelve hours before; it would be a couple of hours before our next.

As always, the sight of green-quilted England brought the secure feeling of home.

The clouds had formed over Bassingbourn. With his Gee box Bob guided the plane to the runway for an instrument letdown and landing. The flight log showed the flying time for the mission as eight hours.

 

The loyal ground crew made us happy with their welcome. There were only two little holes for them to fix; Joe and Bob had heard the whisper of death again. The truck driver picked up the crew and the equipment and delivered us to the equipment hut, where he waited to take us to the Intelligence hut for debriefing.

There we learned that three planes were lost from our squadron and three more from the rest of the 91st Bomb Group. The Stars and Stripes announced the next day that we claimed 176 Jerries destroyed, with a loss of 68 U.S. bombers and 11 fighters. Later the Luftwaffe War Diaries called this flight one of the most bitterly contested air battles of the war. Nearly half the defending Luftwaffe force was destroyed.

Our ten aircrew members gathered around a table for the debriefing, dog-tired and withdrawn. One or two young Intelligence lieutenants asked questions, but they didn’t ask the right questions and seemed somewhat in awe of us. We didn’t help them and we didn’t volunteer any information, except that three members—Lunt, Topits, Roberts—had each shot down a German plane.

It wasn’t that way when we first went into combat. For the first five missions or so, everybody was excited and chattering after the flight, describing in detail the events of the past few hours. Then, with each mission, the crew became more reticent. Starting in mid-April an inch of whiskey in a water glass was given to each crew member at the table; it didn’t help.

“Did you see any flak?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“All over.”

“Did you see any fighters?”

“Yes.”

“How many?”

“Maybe two hundred.”

“Where?”

“Between Hanover and Berlin.”

“What kinds?”

“All kinds.”

(In January they were skeptical about our reports of Stuka Ju-87 dive bombers and four-engine Dorniers mushing along at our altitude trying to shoot at us.)

“Did you see anybody go down?”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“Mason, Tibbetts, Coleman.” (A crew was always identified by the first pilot.)

“Did you hit the target?”

“Don’t know.”

The frustrated Intelligence officer finally let us go.