Mission 12a – March 6, 1944
This would be Herman’s 12th mission, the Liberty Lady’s 13th. The last mission for each.
In an old notebook filled with his writings, I found a few pages that Herman had written about this morning, typed and on yellowed onion skin paper. My guess is that these pages were written while he was interned in Sweden, most likely April/May 1944. (Sadly, either he did not write about the flight itself nor what happened afterward, or those pages have been lost.)
Herman described in detail what happened that morning, Monday the 6th of March. About the briefing:
“As the Colonel took his seat, dead silence throughout the room. The Intelligence officer arose and began to pull up the curtain over the map. As it rose higher and higher, the tense faces expressed the feeling of all. Christ! Where were we going, surely it wasn’t “Big B.” Higher and higher, then a loud exclamation, as all present saw the target at once. A murmured hubbub as sounds of “Nice knowing you,” “this is it,” and so forth filled the room. Silence once more as the Major raised his stick for attention.
“Gentlemen, this is it. Berlin … you have waited for it a long time and now you have it. This is the first big daylight raid on the nerve center of the Nazis. Heretofore the Germans have only heard of the 8th Air Force, that is, the majority of the citizens of Berlin. Today they will see the might and size of one of the largest scale operations to date. You will not be out there alone. Fighter cover is assured for the route and over the target area. There will be Forts and Libs, hundreds of them. Now here is the briefed route …”
So the weather had improved over the past few days, and all systems were go! There were still some visibility issues, however, which affected the final plan … and the outcome.
Twenty B-17′s from the 306th Bomb Group, Thurleigh, would fly low box, and seven in the high box, in the 40th Combat Wing of the 1st Bomb Division. The Liberty Lady, piloted by Charles W. Smith, was one of them. Their primary target: VKF Ball Bearing Works, Erkner, a German suburb right on the eastern border of Berlin.
The 1st Combat Division would lead the attack. By 11:30 am, the bomber stream was 100 miles long!
(to be continued …)