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Raid on Regensburg2 | Anti Aircraft Warfare | Consolidated B 24 Liberator

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FLIGHT JOURNAL ARTICLE
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  44 F L I G H T J O U R N A L  n 1944, I was a 21-year-old kid and a long way from my hometown of Southport, Connecticut.The U.S. government had invested a ton of money, and one and a half years in training,and now entrusted me with a 10-man crew and a battle-ready B-24 Liberator that, in 1944 dol-lars, had cost $210,943 to build and equip. From the day I enlisted as an aviation cadet, until I found myself flying combat missions out of Italy, my life passed in a whirl, and I was dragged ever further from my youth. It seemed as if one moment I was trying to make gasmoney so that I could borrow my father’s car for a date,and the next, I was pushing the throttles for-ward on more than 5,000 horsepower and was by Roger McCollester enveloped in a daily “game” of kill or be killed. I was just one of the hundreds of thousands of airmen who knew we were part of a hugeeffort. As is the case in warfare, however, indi-vidual vision seldom sees the big picture. Ourworld was one small cockpit, and we could seeonly as far as our own squadron. I imagine itwas the same for the ground pounders, buttheir cockpits were foxholes and their horizonwas their rifle company. It was hard for us to completely under-stand the enormity of what we were involved Raid Regensburg on  i    My crew—back row (left to right): John Stack, waist gunner;Walter Harris, top turret/engineer; Bernard DiBattista,  navigator; Ev Johnson, copilot; John Hannon, waist gunner;front row (left to right): Francis Hynes, ball-turret gunner; Troy Sprott, tail-turret gunner; Olin Hotchkiss, bombardier; Roger McCollester, pilot; and Slim Hughes, radio operator (photo courtesy of author).  D E C E M B E R 2 0 0 1 45 in. Heavy strategic bomb groups were poised in thenorth and south of Europe, like pit bulls eager to get attheir prey. Hundreds of airfields in Britain and Italywere rapidly being supplied to equip the largest armedarmada the world had seen before or has seen since.The goal was to smash Germany’s ability to supply itswar effort by obliterating oil refineries and major man-ufacturing and shipping centers.One of the Allied Forces’ prime targets wasRegensburg, Germany. Regensburg and its environs On February 25, 1944, the 451st BG was sent to Regensburg, Germany, to bombthe Prufening Aircraft Factory. One of several major plants that manufactured the Bf 109, it was just outside the city. The Group was awarded its first Distinguished Unit Citation for this raid (photo courtesy of the 451st BG via Bob Karstensen).  46 F L I G H T J O U R N A L  RAID ON REGENSBURG were among the most strategically important areas in theentire Third Reich. It was a major manufacturing center of all types of military equipment, including ball bearings,fighter and bomber aircraft, tanks, trucks and artillery. Inaddition, the area harbored one of the largest synthetic-petroleum plants in Europe, and it was also a major railroadhub, with marshaling yards that were among the largest inEurope.In addition to its large cadre of skilled labor, Regensburgwas also a major center of higher learning and culture, espe-cially in the performing arts. From every perspective,Regensburg and its suburbs were important to the Reich’swar effort and, for this reason, the city was heavily defendedwith fighters and heavy antiaircraft batteries.It was amazing how quickly we learned Germany’s geog-raphy. A few months earlier, although I knew whereGermany was, I had never heard of Regensburg. After a fewweeks, however, I knew the names and locations of most of Germany’s major towns and many of its smaller ones. Thatknowledge was part and parcel of being a round-trip touristwho couldn’t stop to see the sights. While we slept The maintenance and ordnance boys almost never knewwhere the squadron would be headed. All they knew wasthat they would have to spend the night before every mis-sion working their butts off. While they slaved, those whowould fly the mission were also blissfully unaware of thenext day’s target. The 724th Bomb Squadron engineeringofficer and his men fueled and serviced the 20 aircraft of oursquadron that were all parked in revetments on either sideof the perimeter taxiway. This was a huge job that had to bedone very carefully because they dealt with tens of thou-sands of gallons of high-octane aircraft fuel. Every aspect of each airplane had to be attended to, including the oil tanksfor each engine; there were four on each aircraft so, 80engines in the squadron had to be topped off. Once the aircraft had been serviced, the squadron arma-ment officer and his detail took over. With heavy-dutyprime movers and bomb trailers, they began thedelicate process of loading the aircraft bombbays with 12, 500-pound general-purpose (GP)bombs that carried instantaneous fuses thatwould explode on impact. Of course, thesebombs weren’t armed when they were loadedinto the aircraft; once we were airborne and onthe climb out to bombing altitude, the bom-bardier would arm them.While the bombs were being loaded, othercrews would thread the required thousands of rounds of .50-caliber ammunition into the gunturrets. It was backbreaking work for the groundpersonnel teams. They worked feverishly allnight, right up until the aircrews boarded theiraircraft, which was usually around 0430 hours,one hour before start engine time. Time to wake up On February 25 at 2:30 a.m., the duty officerstuck his head into our tent and yelled to wakeus up. “McCollester, we’re ordered out on a maxi-mum effort today; breakfast will be at 0300hours; briefing in the War Room at 0400hours.” “OK; thanks, but no thanks, Charlie. Can’twe just sack out for another hour or so?” “Come on, Mac; up and at ‘em!”We all grumbled quietly as we struggled outof our cots in the dark. I looked over at my co-pilot, “Ev” Johnson. Lt. Evert M. Johnson wasfrom West Hartford, Connecticut; prior to joining the ArmyAir Force, he majored in engineering at the University of New Hampshire. Our bombardier was Olin E. “Hotch”Hotchkiss from Oneonta, New York, and he was a teachingmajor at an upstate New York college. Navigator Bernard“Dibi” DiBattista from Cranford, New Jersey, was a graduateof Fordham College andFordham Law School and was apracticing attorney before hisNational Guard unit was calledto active duty in early 1941; helater transferred to the Army AirForce and graduated from navi-gation school. Our radio opera-tor, and the oldest man on ourcrew, was Harold F. “Slim”Hughes, age 33. The engineerand top-turret gunner wasWalter A. “Georgia” Harris,from Atlanta, Georgia, and hehad the most pronouncedSouthern accent that I had everheard. Our two waist gunners, John M. Hannon fromIndianapolis, Indiana, and John Just before Christmas 1943, our crew arrived in Tunisia to begin a month-long rigorous formation and com- bat training. Our B-24, Mac’s Flophouse   ,  saw us through many a mission but was lost in combat on May 10,1944, when flown by another crew while we were on a well-deserved break (photo courtesy of author). Our guts constricted with fear when we saw the target. The red string ran fromour Italian bases to the Prufening Aircraft Factory, one of several major plantsmanufacturing the Bf 109—and it was just outside Regensburg.  L. Stack, from Phoenix, Arizona, the ball-turret gunner,Francis D. Hynes, from Portland, Oregon, and our tail-turretgunner, Troy O. Sprott, from Corsicana, Texas, completedour 10-man crew. Group commander Our group, the 451st, was to be the second group over thetarget. Our group commander, Col. Robert E.L. Eaton, wouldsit in the command seat in the lead aircraft of our leadsquadron, which happened to be the 726th. Eaton had grad-uated from the Point and was an exemplary officer; in fact, Iowe my life to him. He alone, with his firm discipline, hisno-nonsense critiques and especially his insistence on close-formation training, allowed our group to incur relativelylight casualties. Col. Eaton’s concept of tight formations coincided withthe ideas of Gen. Ira C. Eaker of the 8th Air Force and Gen.Curtis LeMay, also of the 8th, and both close friends of his.The concentrated firepower of an attack unit’s .50-calibermachine guns—10 to each aircraft; 200 for the 20 bombersof an attack unit—was a huge factor in keeping us alive. In anormal mission, we were certain that we were attacked lessoften than other groups because our very close formationmade it obvious to the Luftwaffe ground controllers that ourmachine-gun coverage would be extremely dense and hardto penetrate safely. Therefore, they would instead vectortheir fighters toward the looser formations. On this occa-sion, we would be more vulnerable to attack because wewould be the second group in the 15th Air Force toapproach the enemy targets. In total, 76 bombers were goingto the target. The target for today is …. As we milled around in the briefing room and found seats todrop into, we tried to ignore the curtain that hung over theblackboard at the front of the room. It covered the target forthe day, and I’m sure that we were each silently praying for amilk run. Some targets were so heavily defended that wesometimes had nightmares about them. Others, by compari-son, were walks in the park. The only clue we had that thiswould be a serious mission was that it had been described as a“maximum effort;” the high command only did that whenthey had someplace important they wanted removed fromthe map. If our commanders thought it was important, sowould the German commanders, so a milk run was definitelyout of the question. The briefing officer pulled aside the curtain and 320 guysinvoluntarily sucked in a breath and quietly muttered “Oh,my God!” Our guts constricted with fear when we saw thetarget. The red string ran from our Italian bases to the On August. 9, 1944, Fertile Myrtle   ,  a B-24 from my 724th BS, flies away from the Alma Fuzito oil refinery in Hungary. Oil refineries were amongour most important targets (courtesy of the 451st BG via Bob Karstensen).
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