398th Bomb Group

History of the 860th Chemical Warfare Company
Air Operations
April 1942 thru April 1945

by Malcolm "Ozzie" Osborn

Para 2, General Order 55, HQ 2nd Air Force, April 28th 1942 provided for the activation of certain chemical companies from personnel of the 1st Platoon, 4th Chemical Company, Service Aviation, then stationed at the Chemical Warfare Training Center, 2nd Air Force, Fort George Wright, Washington.

There were 20 enlisted men in the first cadre of personnel; these were employed on training and various duties.

  • 1st August 1943 – Company starts preparation for Preparatory for Overseas Movement (POM) examination.
  • 14th August 1943 – Received warning orders
  • 1st November 1943 – From Fresno to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey
  • 15th November 1943 – Entrained for Pier 86, North River Terminal, New York, where after the usual coffee and doughnuts they boarded HMS Acquitania.
  • 25th November 1943 – Arrived Scotland

On authority of General Order #221, HQ 8th Bomber Command, the Company was assigned to the 1st Bombardment Division. On 27th November 1943 per S.O #73, HQ 1st Bomb. Div. the following assignments were made;

  • 1st Platoon, Lt. Lester H. Smith & 32 EM to Station 121
  • 2nd Platoon Lt. Charles D. Welch & 32 EM to Station 128
  • 3rd Platoon Lt. John C. Wygent & 33 EM to Station 102
  • 4th Platoon Lt. James E. McCarty & 33 EM to Station 117

19th April 1944, HQ was moved from Station 102 to 1st Division’s newest Station, Station 131. It was joined by EM of the former Detachment ‘C’ at Station 121. HQ had the same problem of setting up its own plan of operations and in constructing its own bomb storage facilities. In a very short time HQ soon had four additional revetments built and a total of six filled with incendiaries.

HQ furnished the Group munitions for the first time on the mission of 9th May 1944 with 2 Skymarkers. By the end of its first year in Britain it had furnished the Group 350 Skymarkers, 4,457 500lb incendiary clusters and 10,254 100lb gasoline-rubber bombs, besides furnishing crew men for all loading operations.

On 17th June 1944 the 1st Bomb Division was cited for a raid on the 11th January 1944, over central Germany, and this citation permits all members of the Company to wear the Presidential Unit Citation badge permanently.

The beginning of 1945 found HQ engaged in the following operations at AAF Sta. 131. Loading of all munitions on aircraft at this Station is done by crews made up of the following personnel:-

  • 2 Squadron armament men,
  • 2 Squadron ordnance men, and
  • 1 860th Chemical man.

10 Chemical men are assigned to work with each Squadron, 5 men working at a time with each Squadron in 48 hour alerts. A minimum of 5 crews per Squadron loading during each mission. At anywhere from 2100 to 0300 in the morning, Group Operations phone the Orderly Room announcing a mission. Immediately 20 men come out of their huts, where they have been ‘sweating out the mission’, and in 4 M-1 Trucks proceed to their separate Squadron armament huts. Here each crew is given its loading assignment for the night.

The loading assignment usually consists of two or three aircraft per crew to be loaded with any of the following loads; 10x500lb incendiary bombs, tenx500lb demolition bombs, 42x100lb incendiary or demolition bombs, or any of the various loadings or combination of loadings that Operations might ask for.

The Ordnance or Chemical men immediately go to either the ordnance or chemical bomb dumps in their bomb service trucks and pick up their trailers preparatory to loading. The bombs are placed on their trailers in darkness, and the crews then pick up their fuses, flak suits etc. and hasten to their assigned aircraft, where the armament men have already placed the aircraft in readiness for loading.

While 4 men are bombing up (operating the double hoists and connecting the bomb shackles to the bomb bay racks to lock the bombs into place), one man is busy attaching tail fins to the bombs, attaching shackles to bombs, arming wires to shackles, and stripping fuses preparatory to placing them in the bombs. Following completion of the loading by the loading crews, which takes from 3 to 6 hours, ordnance or chemical officers check the loadings and the aircraft are ready to go.

Usually 3 or 4 lead aircraft carry Skymarkers (smoke bomb target markers). The Skymarker was developed partially by EM of this unit while at the Pathfinder Station 102 earlier in the year. With reference to Skymarkers; when the number of a/c carrying these bombs are received, technical personnel of the unit take the bombs out to the a/c and bomb up. After the rest of the loading is accomplished, they return to the ship for fusing, a chemical officer inspects, and the a/c is ready to go.

Naturally, in order for the bombs to be loaded, there must be a supply always available and this is where the supply section of a unit enters into the picture.

For this purpose, the unit operates a class V chemical bomb dump and it is the responsibility of the supply section to have at hand at all times any form of chemical munition that might be required by the Group.

The dump is made up of 4 main revetments, each maintained by a Squadron section; two revetments for extra bombs; one fuse hut; one burster hut; one supply unit; one armament hut; and one motor pool hut. Besides this, the unit maintains a motor park and a Skymarker refilling point.

The four main revetments are kept filled with M-17 incendiary clusters, which must be taken out of crates and stacked on boxes under tarpaulins. One of the extra revetments and a portion of the motor park is used for the storage of M-47 bombs, which are strictly incendiary and cannot be stored with bombs that are partially explosive. The other revetment is used for the storing of Napalm drums which are piled side-wise on a raised platform. Adequate fire protective equipment is maintained around all installations and tarpaulins are used to cover all munitions stored outside.

All fuses, arming wires, and fahnstock clips are kept in the fuse hut, and here the Platoon Sergeant on duty sets the time fuses when an M-17 mission is run and issues arming wires and clips. The next hut contains bursters, one and one quarter pound incendiary grenades (used for destruction of a/c forced down in enemy territory) and signal flare grenades. The supply hut contains all M-1 truck equipment and all accessories connected with the Skymarker, as well as tools used throughout the dump.

Directly behind this hut is a canvas covered installation where empty Skymarker bombs are filled with FM, capped, and stored ready for use. The armament hut has equipment for making arming wires and the various improvisations always necessary to the smooth operation of a chemical company, Air Operations. The motor pool hut contains the first and second echelon equipment and here all minor repair and maintenance work on vehicles is done.

February 1945
During the month HQ perfected a system for the filling of Napalm in bomb bay tanks to be used as fire bombs. First Division requested pictures and a written description of the process to be forwarded to higher HQ and to the USA. This was accomplished and the complete manuscript is enclosed with this month’s chapter of the company history.

March 1945
Ninety-four Skymarkers – 148 M-47 and 1625 M-17 incendiary bombs

April 1945
582 500lb incendiary clusters and 60 Skymarkers. This made an operational total with this Group of 751 Skymarkers, 8823x500lb incendiary clusters and 10,392x100lb incendiary bombs or a total of 2419 and a half tonnes of munitions.

Originally created and written by Malcolm "Ozzie" Osborn of the Nuthampstead Airfield Research Society in the late 1970s from micro-filmed unit records.

Later transcribed to electronic text for the 398th Web Pages by Malcolm ‘Ozzie’ Osborn in October 2004.

The Nuthampstead Airfield Research Society was the predecessor organization to the English Friends of The 398th.

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