The 36th Mission


English girls were sociable and friendly, but they let us know where we were. Their companionship was enough for most of us; our average age was twenty, and we had serious business to attend to the next day. We were not men but boys, away from home and desperate for anything away from the military and thoughts of tomorrow. That first night out we got drunk and closed the pub.

October 11, 1944—Koblenz

We woke up at 3:00 A.M. with the taste of cotton in our mouths. At the briefing, as we sat there full of foreboding and loaded down with equipment as well as hangovers, the words just came and went and bounced off the walls. All I caught was that we were going to a town called Wesseling where the Germans had a synthetic oil refinery that was heavily protected by antiaircraft guns. There was also a very good chance that we would encounter fighters.

From my diary: “We had just got back from a forty-eight-hour pass and had a swell time. Saw some of England from the ground instead of from the sky. We were supposed to bomb the city of Wesseling, but because of visibility took the secondary target of Koblenz. It turned out to be a better target because of the flak guns and no fighters. We hit a marshaling yard outside the city, and the results were good because the run was visual—no clouds. I forgot to mention that while we were on pass, a couple of flying bombs, V-2s, came down around the town and did quite a bit of damage. But not as much as we did to the Germans today.”

October 15, 1944—Cologne

From my diary: “We hit the marshaling yards and a synthetic oil refinery instead of the Henry Ford plant. We bombed visually, and the results were excellent. Flak was moderate to heavy and pretty accurate. No fighters came up to greet us, only our own, and we were plenty glad to see them. Not so scared today. I guess the biggest thing we’re afraid of is the ship blowing up, as quite a few of them have been doing.”

October 17, 1944—Cologne

From my diary: “Today is my birthday—just turned 19. We went to Cologne again. We sure are giving it a lot of bombing. . . .

“My turret got hit with a piece of flak. The double glass is the only thing that kept it from hitting me. The glass shattered but didn’t break through. Lucky for me, but I was helpless to defend the ship because I couldn’t see out of it. When I reported this to the pilot, he told me to maintain the position as best I could, which I did. Boy, was I happy to hit the ground.”

October 18, 1944—Cologne

From my diary: “Same place—Cologne. We finally hit the Henry Ford factory and were quite sure we did a good job this time. The same old flak thick as ever. I don’t even count the holes in the ship any more.”

October 22, 1944—Brunswick

From my diary: “We went to a new place today, Brunswick. Lots of flak, but we managed to get through to the target O.K. We bombed a motor plant. Later we found out it was an aircraft factory. We had to bomb by instrument, so we couldn’t see the results.”

October 25, 1944—Geilenkirchen

From my diary: “Flying pretty often now. Sometimes every day, sometimes every few days, but they all count to get closer to home. We sometimes have to abort missions, and these I never keep track of because they do not count them.

“This was an oil refinery, and I hope we hit it. It will help to keep the fighters on the ground. Seven missions and I haven’t had to fire a shot. At least not at an enemy, only to test-fire the guns. I’d sure like to finish just like that—no guns.”

October 26, 1944—Münster

From my diary: “A secondary target, a railway yard. The flak was pretty heavy, but it wasn’t very accurate. Just a few holes and no fighter opposition as yet.”

November 1, 1944—Geilenkirchen

From my diary: “Another blind run, and we couldn’t tell if we hit it. Plenty of flak again. When we got back, we found a lot of men had been injured.”

November 2, 1944—Rheine

From my diary: “It was a good target—visual. It was a factory, and we did a good job on it. Boy, it seems like these first ten missions went fast. Hope the rest go just as fast. Well, we finally got a pass to go to London, and it’s about time.”