Thursday, January 9, 2020

"What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?" - Part 3-A

It has been a long time since I made any posts in this series about what my father, Leslie Pelham Pitts, did during WW2.  The two previous posts, Part 1 and Part 2, were made in December 2011 and January 2012, respectively.

These three posts (3-A, 3-B, and 3-C) will list the missions in which my father participated as a crew member of a B-17 in the 731st Bombardment Squadron, 452nd Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force, flying out of Deopham Green Air Base in the United Kingdom.  They are copied verbatim from his flight diary which is in my possession.  At the time he was a Tech Sergeant and was top turret gunner and flight engineer for all of the missions.

Aerial image of RAF Deopham Green, Norfolk, England, Jul 1946
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
His first ship, #702, was named "Sweet Sue" and the second, #807, was named "Dream Gal."  I think the first name was after his sweetheart, my soon to be mother, Sue.

Note:  Any notes or comments made by me are in square brackets [ ] .  I've also used an on-line 8th Air Force mission calendar to verify his recollections.  Quotations are from the mission calendar.

Mission 1:  November 24, 1944.  Target: Lutzendort.  A 9-hour P.F.F. [Pathfinder Force led] mission against synthetic oil plant.  Flak very heavy.  Looked like a thick black cloud.  We got hit in #1 [fuel] tank.  No ships lost.  We flew ship # 745 with 12 500# G.P.'s [500 pound general purpose bombs].  Our ship was late taking-off so we went to war all by ourselves.  Later we fell in with a 1st Division group but left them after the target.  [The 452nd Group was in the 3rd Air Division.]
[Note:  The mission calendar has no missions on the 24th, stating that all were cancelled because of weather.  There was a small mission on the 23rd against the Norstern benzoil plant near Gelsenkirchen and a large mission on the 25th against a synthetic oil plant at Merseburg.  I believe that latter mission is the one on which my father flew his first mission, since it was apparently postponed from the 24th.]
[Note:  "Mission 723.  1,043 bombers and 965 fighters are dispatched to hit synthetic oil plant at Merseburg, Germany using H2X ... .  671 of 766 B-17s hit the Leuna oil plant at Merseburg."]

Mission 2:  November 25, 1944.  Target: Hamm, Gr [Germany].  A 6-hour P.F.F. mission against railroad installations and marshaling yards.  Flak very light (milk-run).  We flew ship #726 with 12 500# G.P.'s.
[Note:  No mission to Hamm on this date, see above.  The marshalling yard at Hamm was hit on the 26th, which was probably his second mission.]
[Note:  "Mission 725.  1.137 bombers and 732 fighters are dispatched to make attacks on rail viaducts,marshalling yards and oil installations in W Germany.  ...  381 B-17s are sent to hit the marshalling yard at Hamm (266)."]

Mission 3:  December 4, 1944.  Target: Giessen, Gr. An 8-hour visual mission against marshaling yards.  Flak heavy in spots.  Jerry tracked us and got two hits in our left wing and Haas [one of the crew] got his tail feathers singed in ball [turret].   There was [sic] three changes in lead, the third navigator screwed up and took us over Frankfurt - lost two ships.  We flew #702 with 10 - 500# G.P.'s and 2 M-17 500# incendiaries.
[Note:  "Mission 736.  1,191 bombers and 977 fighters are dispatched to make PFF attacks on rail targets in Germany.  ...  457 B-17s are sent to hit marshalling yards at ... Giessen (62 aircraft).]

Mission 4:  December 5, 1944.  Target: Berlin (Big "B").  An 8-hour visual mission against tank and mobile gun factory.  Flak heavy - but none near us.  Jerry hit groups behind us with fighters.  Our lead-ship went down with 3 engines out.  But for us - another milk-run. We flew ship #702 with 20 250# G.P.'s.  Big "B" ain't so big any more.
[Note:  "Mission 738.  589 bombers and 884 fighters are dispatched to make attacks on Germany.  ...  451 B-17s are dispatched to make PFF attacks on munitions and tank plants at Berllin (404 aircraft)"]

Mission 5:  December 18, 1944.  Target: Mainz, Gr.  We flew a 7-hour and 15-minute raid as chaff ship against marshaling yards.  We took-off in fog so thick that the birds were sitting along the edge of the runway looking at us in wonder.  They weren't even walking.  Our ship was #934 - an ole war-weary job.  It couldn't stay with the others - so again we went off to war all by our lonesome.  Jerry fighters hit the group right behind us.  And there we were "flubbin-th-dub" all over the Jerry sky.  A P-51 named "Lady Ovella" picked us up and escorted us to France.  We hit the deck and came back over Dover.  Those white cliffs so looked good!
[Note:  "Mission 754.  985 bombers and 773 fighters are dispatched to hit communication and tactical targets in Germany using PFF.  ...  157 of 220 B-17s hit the marshalling yard at Mainz.]

Mission 6:  December 24, 1944.  Target: Darmstadt, Gr.  An 8-hour and 15-minute visual mission against Jerry airfield.  It was a max effort with 7,000 Allied planes in the air.
[Note:  "Mission 760.  A high pressure front across W Europe brings clear weather and the Eighth AF launches a maximum effort against airfields and communications in W Germany; this was the largest air strike of WWII; 2,034 bombers and 853 fighters are dispatched; they claim 92-6-21 Luftwaffe aircraft; 12 bombers and 10 fighters are lost.]
Jerry was also up in force.  He hit the group right ahead of us.  I saw two ships fall in flames.  We ran into heavy flak over the front lines.  The lead fell and we got several bad jolts.  We stayed with the group altho No's 1 and 2 engines were hit.  The primary was knocked out and also the secondary.  So we hit the last resort target.  Murad [the bombardier] really did a job on a bridge and both sides of the river [not further identified]. (Marshaling yards)  [Note:  26 targets of opportunity are hit by 37 B-17s.]
Then "we had it."  Had to feather #1 and #2 was windmilling.  We lost altitude and fell behind the formation.  Fuel was getting low so we landed at Laon, France on Christmas eve.  Stayed there till the 27th when we got a ride back on a C-47.  The nite before, ole Jerry strafed the field and shot-up a B-24 and a C-64.  Didn't touch our ole ship.  But, she was a wreck anyway.  Over 70 holes, 2 engines out and the other two almost as bad, and the main spar in the right wing almost shot in two.
That was ship #702 ["Sweet Sue"] with 12 500# Mk. II incendiaries.
[Note:  Calendar states 11 B-17s were damaged beyond repair.  Evidently "Sweet Sue" was one of them.]

B-17s dropping bombs on Dec. 24, 1944
Photo courtesy of  the Imperial War Museum's American Air Museum
Mission 7:  January 5, 1945.  Hanau, Gr.  An 8-hour & 15-minute visual mission against marshalling yards.  Flak was high and to the right - big stuff - 155 mm.  Gave the place a good plastering.  They gave us 9 hours worth of gas for a 10 hour mission.  So we landed at Laon again.  Had a good time there and came back on the 7th.  We flew ship #318 with 8 250's and 2 M-17 incendiaries.  (Koerber [original pilot] made command pilot so we checked out with Lewis [former co-pilot] as pilot.)
[Note:  Mission 871.  "1,032 bombers and 584 fighters are dispatched to hit rail targets and airfelds in C Germany. ... 370 B-17s are dispatched to hit marshalling yards at Hanau (57) ... .]

Mission 8:  February 6, 1945.  Target: Chemnitz (Leipzig area).  A 9-hour P.F.F. mission against synthetic oil plant.  We were the first group over the target.  Must have taken them by surprise 'cause the flak came up after we left.  On the way in we got flak over the Frisian Islands and coming home lead screwed-up and took us over Frankfort and Weisbaden.  Saw one ship go down in flames.  We flew ship #700 with 6 500's.  Gas was very low so we came home alone.
[Note:  "Mission 821.  1,383 bombers and 904 fighters are dispatched to attack oil targets in Germany; the expected clear weather does not materialize and the bombers attack secondary targets and targets of opportunity using H2X radar. ... 474 of 494 B-17s hit the secondary target in 2 forces, the marshalling yard at Chemnitz ... .]

B-17s from 3rd Air Division bombing Chemnitz marshalling yard on Feb. 6, 1945
Photo courtesy of  the Imperial War Museum's American Air Museum
Mission 9:  February 9, 1945.  Target: Fulda, Gr.  A 7-hour and 35-minute mission to the Leipzig area.  Chemnitz was primary target but we couldn't hit it because of weather.  Missed secondary and last resort.  So we dropped on target of opportunity.  We flew ship #807 with 10 500's.
[Note:  "Mission 824.  1,296 bombers and 871 fighters in 6 forces hit oil targets in Germany; except where noted, attacks were made with PFF; ... targets of opportunity are ... the munitions industry at ... Fulda (24)"]

Mission 10:  February 19, 1945.  Target: Osnabrueck, Gr.  A 6-hour and 30-minute mission against marshalling yards.  A milk-run.  We flew ship #143 with 10 500's.
[Note:  Part of Mission 835, "196 B-17s are sent to hit the marshalling yard at Osnabruck (155)"]

This ends the first part of my father's mission log.  Parts 3-B and 3-C will be along later.

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