398th Bomb Group

Dresden-Prague Mission Examined

Allen Ostrom

“Why Us?” Asked The Pryor

“No need to apologize,” he said, “our church building suffered more from 40 years of Russian occupation than from your bombs.”

That kindly comment came from Pryor Englehardt of the Emauzy Monastery in Prague as he welcomed members of the 398th Bomb Group Tour to Prague in 2000.

Then, he mused with a distinct twinkle in his eye –

“But why us?”

This question, even in jest, was a distinct reference to the bomb run made on Prague by the 398th on February 14, 1945, resulting in considerable damage to the Monastery and other buildings in the Czech city, supposedly off limits to Allied bombing during World War II.

To correct that mistake, the 398th returned the following day – February 15, 1945 – to the proper target – Dresden.

At the time, and before entering the ministry, Pryor Englehardt had been a young anti-aircraft gunner in the German army. These days he sees to the re-building needs of his church, undoing the damage done by the bombs of 1945 and the Russian occupation from VE Day in 1945 to 1985.

“They used the church for a stable in those days,” he added.

The monastery today adjoins a major office building housing the Civic Institute of Prague, where four 398th members held a seminar in 2000 to discuss the WWII bombing error. This seminar included Dave Mills, John Cosco, Keith Anderson and Allen Ostrom.

The four, armed with Intelligence reports – plus eye witness accounts by Cosco and Mills – offered their “apologies” to Englehardt, the Civic Institute and the large gathering of interested patrons, television and press members.

In the end, the key issues centered around (1) weather (2) inoperable radar navigation (3) Dead Reckoning navigation errors on the part of the group leader, Colonel Lewis P. Ensign.

The 1st Division Combat Report included this narrative –

The 398th Group, which was to lead the Division, was forced to turn south at 5207 N – 0649 E by high clouds. At this point the GEE equipment in the lead and deputy lead became inoperative because of lack of range and enemy jamming. Near Munster the formation was forced to swing further to the right of course to avoid taking the whole Division through clouds that appeared too thick for the formation. In this area a constant course was not possible because of cloud cover and because the H2X equipment was unable to attain more than a 20-mile range on the scope. At approximately 9 degrees E the lead aircraft’s H2X became completely inoperative and the lead was turned over to the deputy who contacted the scouting force and was told that the visual secondary target was overcast but that he might be able to reach the primary as briefed. Therefore, he started a run toward the secondary target which his H2X operator, working with equipment which was erratic, believed he had identified on the scope. On the run to the secondary target, clouds broke in what was thought to be the vicinity of primary target and a decision was made to attempt an H2X run on that target. About three minutes before bombs away the deputy H2X equipment went out completely. But the bombardier saw a large built up area through a break in the clouds to his right which, because of circumstances, he assumed to be the primary target. He turned and made a short, 30 to 40 second run on it with good results. This target turned out to be PRAGUE. After bombs away the turn off the target was to be to the right and at approximately 10 degrees E. The briefed course was intercepted and followed up. The original leader took over the lead of the Division after the turn off the target.

The 91st Group followed the 398th Group and bombed the same target except for the lead squadron which bombed an unidentified target of opportunity by H2X equipment. The lead and low squadrons of the 381st Group, realizing they were far off course, bombed BRUX, and the high squadron bombed a target of opportunity believed to be PILSEN.

The lead squadron of the 305th Group attacked BRUX and all other units attacked DRESDEN.

All this time several others in the 398th formation (and undoubtedly in the other groups, as well) had been having doubts about the mission – the cloud cover, the winds aloft, questions about the navigation, icing, “S” turns, radio comments, etc. (See various comments by 398th crewmen).

Additional 1st Division photo intelligence report on Prague –

Approximately 60 HE bursts are seen one mile southwest of the center of the city on business/residential areas, with part of the pattern extending to the Eastern edge of the Central marshalling yard. Later a heavy concentration of IB burst is seen in and beyond this area, while a small group of HE bursts is seen in a built-up area two miles Southwest of the center of the city. The three marshalling yards visible at the time of the attack are moderately to heavily loaded. Of the 414 HE bombs dropped, a total of approximately 160 bursts can be seen on cloud and smoke obscured photographs.

(Note: a single burst seen on a photograph may well be the result of the explosion of more than one bomb).

An Intelligence Report directed to the American Consulate General in Prague –

Pertinent histories and documents in this Center of the US Eighth Air Force and component units show that on 14 February 1945, aircraft of the 398th and 91st Bombardment Groups of the Eighth’s 1st Air Division, through navigational error, bombed Prague, Czechoslovakia, instead of the intended target – Dresden, Germany. Given the location in Prague of the Monastery of Emmaus, depending upon which part of Prague is considered to be its center, and considering the accuracy of the statement in the strike photo interpretation reports that some 80 high explosive bombs were seen bursting east and west of the river two miles south of the city’s center (and from the study of the strike photos, in the general vicinity of the monastery), it could have been struck during the attack.

Article transcribed by Lee Anne Bradley, 398th Group Historian, October 2007.

See also:

Printed in Flak News Volume 20, Number 1, Page(s) 4,9, January 2005

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