Mission 4 – December 30, 1943
Isn’t there a saying “deep in the sleep of peace” … then suddenly I felt a light upon my eyes and a voice saying, “Sirs, are all officers awake”? I glanced at the clock, then looked for the voice … 0345 and the CQ. “Breakfast at 0415, briefing at 0515, the following officers … he then read off the list … Ship 767, Smith, Keilt, Stevenson, and Allen.”
The target on this mission was the port city of Ludwigshafen, deep into Germany. The city was at the junction of two rivers and was an important Allied target because of its oil refinery and chemical factories.
Herman described this as a “Pathfinder Raid,” meaning they ”couldn’t see their target but bombed through the clouds.”
Wikipedia described the Pathfinder (PFF) aircraft as heavy bombers equipped with radar that would fly with the other heavy bombers in order to better locate the cloud-covered target.
The statistics on this mission, according to the 8th Air Force Combat Chronology: 502 of 530 B-17′s, 145 of 168 B-24′s, and 11 of 12 PFF aircraft attack the target; they claim 12-4-9 Luftwaffe aircraft; 14 B-17′s and 9 B-24′s are lost, 4 B-17′s and 1 B-24 are damaged beyond repair and 106 B-17′s and 11 B-24′s are damaged; casualties are 11 KIA, 19 WIA and 200 MIA.
These typically sobering statistics show how many of our crew members were killed in action, wounded in action or missing in action. Actually, I think that on on December 30th these statistics were better than the average.
The B-17′s would fly in as tight a formation as possible. If a plane or a small group of planes would be separated, they would be easy targets for the German flighter planes. Can you imagine flying in a formation and seeing hundreds of airplanes all around you, from your vantage point in the nose of the B-17?
Herman’s plane lost an engine that day but Smithy brought her in at 1602.
… my fourth mission racked up. Ludwigshafen was our target. Twenty-one to go, but now to sweat out my fifth. Take care of yourself, Lou, and know that at this end all is OK. God flies at our wing tips, and the prayers of you all hold fast.
As always the best