On the Dec. 24, 1944 mission we led the high group. Target was the airfield at Koblenz, Germany.
This mission turned out to provide good examples of the problems the English weather dished out to the Eighth Air Force. Sometimes the weather was more of a hazard than enemy action.
Most of our missions involved taking off early in the morning, and there was frequently a heavy ground fog, which required that we take off under instrument conditions. Usually we would break out by the time we got to 1,000 feet. Missions were not scheduled unless it was expected that weather on the return would be adequate for safe landing, but it didnt always turn out that way either, as this mission was to prove.
I can remember lots of times taking off with no forward vision from the cockpit because of the ground fog. It was necessary to keep the plane straight down the runway as it raced past. This was not a very comfortable way to take off, with a plane heavily loaded and carrying a full bomb bay.
Enroute weather was sometimes a problem, making it difficult to form up the group, and to get the group in battle formation with other groups for procession over the target. Usually, however, the weather was eventually far below us. In the early days, a mission was scrubbed if the target was not expected to be visual. Now, however, we had a Mickey plane and a Mickey operator, which enabled us to bomb by radar. This also gave us a false sense of security, as we felt, perhaps incorrectly, that the German anti-aircraft fire was less accurate if the gunners had to rely on radar.
Occasionally, on a mission, we had to fly through hazy weather while in formation. This was particularly difficult. A pilot learns to fly through weather by relying on his instruments, but when flying formation he dared not take his eyes off the plane ahead to even glance at the instruments. In effect, the wings of the plane ahead became the artificial horizon normally provided by instruments, but it was very deceiving, and the pilot sometimes felt that he was flying in a sharp bank or a climb or dive, although he knew this wasnt the case. Formation flying for five or six hours, on oxygen most of the time, was very taxing at best, but flying in formation under conditions of poor visibility was exhausting.
This mission to Koblenz was one of those in which we took off in a heavy ground fog. Unfortunately, two planes crashed on takeoff.
The mission itself was fairly routine, after we got above the weather. It was a long mission, but flak was scattered and inaccurate, and no enemy fighters were sighted.
Returning to England, we found that weather was still bad at our base, and we were diverted to Ridgewell and Rattlesdon. Thirty-six bombers, all arriving at one time for a landing, create quite a traffic problem. It doesnt help any when the pilots are all suffering from fatigue and the planes are all running out of gas! Then visualize what happens when another group is diverted to land at the same field at the same time. I remember looking out and seeing two other planes on the final approach with us, one on each side, each of us trying to out-chicken the others, as we didnt know if we had enough gas to go around. Then land right behind someone else and race to get off the runway before the guy behind ran up our tail.
But we made it, and nearly everyone else did, although there were some near misses, both in the air and on the ground, and some planes were run off the runway and stuck in the mud.
After interrogation, the long ride home in the dark in trucks. Some didnt get home until late afternoon on Christmas Day.
Transcribed for the 398th Web Pages by Dawne Dougherty.