1st. Lt. Philip L. Benefiel's Diary
Navigator, 601st Squadron
- Capt. Lt. Harry L. Heintzelman, Pilot
- 2nd Lt. George Stecha, Co-Pilot
- 1st Lt. Gervase "Garry" S. Hyland, Bombardier
- 1st Lt. Philip L. Benefiel, Navigator
- T/Sgt. Waldemer "Wally" A. Vernet, Jr., Engineer / Top Turret
- S/Sgt. Charles T. Hallberg, Radio Operator
- S/Sgt. Ivan R. Hunter, Ball Turret Gunner
- S/Sgt. Alan Minnich Hansbarger, Waist Gunner
- S/Sgt. Henning Amundsen, Waist Gunner
- S/Sgt. Edwin A. Lindomen, Tail Gunner
- Heintzelman's Crew - 601st Squadron - Early 1944 - Training (identifications needed)
- Heintzelman's Crew - 601st Squadron - 08 August 1944
- B-17 "Hell's Bells" nose art photo, probably 1944/1945
- Lt. Philip L. Benefiel's mission list
- 1st. Lt. Philip L. Benefiel was the Navigator for the Harry L. Heintzelman 601st crew.
- The above electronic diary transcription was provided by Philip L. Benefiel's son, Keith.
- This transcription is a reproduction of the original. Spelling and punctuation changes have been made to improve readability. In some circumstances, material may not have been transcribed or was rewritten.
- Clarification of acronyms or special words or guesses of certain words are shown in brackets [ ].
This Diary is used by permission from Keith Benefiel
© Copyright Keith Benefiel
May 6, 1944
I am starting this account from the day we made our first raid. We were awakened at 0230 this morning, ate, got briefed and took off at about 0600. The target was in the Cherbourg area just north of the Breast peninsula. There was accurate flak over the target but we turned off the run just before we got to it because of a 10/10 undercast.
It was our first mission, and a short one, but it is a start and we are beginning to feel that we are doing something to aid the winning of this war.
May 7, 1944
Woke us up pretty early this morning, so I thought something big might be up. And I was right. Berlin is our target today. Took off at 0530 and started out. The sky seemed to be filled with planes, and it was a comforting feeling, too.
We got flak at a few points along the way, but because of a complete undercast, it wasn't too bad. The one break in the clouds occurred right over Berlin itself. So I got a look at the "Big B " itself .
Flak got pretty heavy over the target and we found out later that our ship lead in the number of flak holes, with 23. Three of them not over 3 feet from me. One waist gunner's life was saved because he was wearing a flak suit. Got home O.K. and slept 18 hours.
May 8, 1944
Got up at 1030 and found we had a day off so we all got dressed up and went into Cambridge. We snooped around a bit and ordered battle jackets, which are short blouses and very good looking.
The food wasn't too good but we ate it, and then went to a dance where we met a pretty good looking girl, for an English girl, and had a nice evening. Think maybe we'll see her and her friends next time we go into town.
Missed the last bus and train out and then found out that our base does not have a G.I. truck running to it at 2300 like the other bases have. So we got on a truck going to the base nearest ours, and then acting very surprised, told the M.P. that we must have gotten on the wrong bus, so they had to supply us with a truck to take us back to camp.
May 9, 1944
We just got in the hut when the C.Q. comes in and tells us that we are going to fly, so without even getting into bed, we go over and eat and then to briefing and off on another raid.
This time the target was an airfield at St. Dizier in France. We passed over a lot of World War I battlegrounds, the Marne, Chateau Thierry and a few others.
Hit the target and blew it to Hell, not a thing left of it, and got home with no damage and very little flak encountered.
May 10, 1944
Got up early this morning and got started on a raid to Rotenburg, Germany. However we got turned back at the Dutch coast by bad weather and did not complete the mission. We were all very tired and they threw a big scare into us by telling us to go and eat and come right back down to the line for another briefing. But it was called off so we went back to our hut for some well-deserved sleep.
May 11, 1944
They let us sleep until about 1030 this morning and then told us to be at briefing at 1200. So at about 1400 we started on a raid to Sarreguemines, France to bomb the rail yards there. On the way to the target we encountered flak, and for the first time, fighters. FW 190 and ME 109. Got quite a thrill out of that.
The target was obscured by haze so we bombed a railroad yard near the target and started home. As we were just getting on course, I poked my head up in the astrodome to see where the rest of the formation was and all of a sudden, there wasn't any astrodome.
Either a stray slug from a dogfight or a cartridge case from a ship ahead of us hit the dome and shattered it- and with my head in it too! Nothing more happened on the way home and we hit the sack about 2400.
May 12, 1944
Got up at about 1030 this morning and found out we had nothing to do so we all dressed up and went to Cambridge. Not much to do there so we came back early (2200), expecting a mission tomorrow. The only thing I have to say about these English girls is that they are all very sad. I may change that a bit if I can hook on to a good one.
May 13, 1944
Got up late today and found out that we had a 24 hr. pass coming to us. So at about at about 1400 we take off for Royston to get a train to London. It took us 2 1\2 hours to make the 30 miles to London Boy, what a train.
When we arrived at Kings Cross station, we took a bus to the Dutchess Red Cross club for officers. We got a room and then went down to Piccadilly for dinner. We ate at some pretty good hotel there and then went out to look around. By this time it was about 2200 and getting dark. With the blackout and all, it really gets dark.
I picked up some Irish girl and took her home and the rest of the boys went looking for something. Had quite a time that night.
May 14, 1944
Got back to the Dutchess Club at about 1000 next morning and found Harry and George in bed. We got dressed and had breakfast at the club across the street then went to the London P.X. the two girls some clothes there and then we looked for a place to go swimming. The Y was the only place and out of 30 days in a month, we had to catch them when they were cleaning the pool.
George and I picked up a couple of girls in the Regent Palace Hotel and took them to dinner and then down to the train station. There they decided to come up to Royston with us so at 2155 the train pulled out with the four of us in a compartment. Got to Royston 2 hrs later and spent 2 hrs finding them a place to sleep . Called up a truck from the base to take us home and hit the sack about 0200 that morning.
May 15, 1944
Got up at about 1030 this morning and met the two girls we had brought from London at the gate. They had heard that there was a restriction on and so we wouldn't be able to come to town which turned out to be true. So I gave them their return trip tickets to London and loaded them on a jeep going to Royston to catch the train. Hope they got it O.K.
Spent the rest of the day doing not much of anything and went to bed early because the whole squadron is alerted.
May 16, 1944
Got up at 1100 this morning and attended classes in Gee navigation. Was scheduled for a check out flight in Gee operation, but weather closed in and we didn't take off.
Saw "Buffalo Bill" at the base theater this evening.
May 18, 1944
They got me out of bed this morning to go to classes. They don't really have much to teach us but it seems that they have to keep us busy. Then played a little football and baseball in the evening and broke a few of the boys in a poker game before retiring.
May 19, 1944
Up at 0430 this morning and down to briefing and by 0800 we were off for Berlin again.
We hit flak before we got to the target. Near the target the flak got bad and we met fighters, too.
I saw one boy get shot down by fighters and one other B-17 get a direct hit by flak and go down in a spin. That impressed me more than anything else and I got my first shots in at Germans today which made me feel better.
We went over and back by way of Denmark and we were in the air over ten hours, which is a very long haul. We lost one plane out of the 600th squadron this time, first loss in the group, but we were all very lucky to get home at all.
Hitting the sack early tonight because we are alerted for tomorrow.
May 22, 1944
I don't seem to eat breakfast anymore, except on raids. We went to Cambridge again today and ordered another blouse and slacks set, a very good looking whipcord outfit. When we got back to Royston we caught a jeep which was going to London and we had to walk about 3 miles to get back to the base.
May 23, 1944
Slept all morning and then took a flight over to a base where Bob Lyles is stationed. He has 24 missions in now and the Air Medal with two clusters. Went to the show in the evening, but it was so bad that I left in the middle of it.
May 24, 1944
Well, we didn't fly again today, either. Getting very tired of doing nothing all day so George and I went to Cambridge again to check up on some clothes we have ordered made. Came back early and had to wait an hour and a half in Royston for a ride back to the base.
Met some girls in Royston and made a date for tomorrow at 1930. Hope we can keep it.
The group lost three ships today, one from our squadron, guy named Ingraham. We are sure to go tomorrow so am getting to bed early.
May 25, 1944
They got us up at 0100 this morning and we had real eggs for breakfast. At briefing we learned that our target was Nancy, France. Seems there was an airfield there that needed pasting. So at about 0930 that morning we proceeded to wipe said airfield off the map. The whole mission was the dullest affair that I was ever on. What a way to win the Air Medal. Got home at 1200 and went to bed.
May 27, 1944
We had to fly a practice mission today before going on pass. We were supposed to fly number 2 in the lead but ended up leading, and I sure wasn't prepared to lead it. Just luck that found the target O.K.
When we got down, Garry and I started out to Bedford. WE got as far as Hitchin and got stranded, and I mean it. No trains, no busses .no taxis and not even any hotel rooms. If it hadn't been for a liberty run back to the base we would still be there. So we got back to camp and decided to get a new start next morning.
May 28, 1944
Got a fresh start on my 48 this morning. Got to London about 1200 and got a room at the Jules Club where I met Harry. We went, over to 14 Duke St. to try and locate John but didn't have any luck. However, we did meet a couple girls whom we hope to see next time we go in.
We met the two girls George and I brought back to Royston last time and went out and had a few drinks, then got two rooms at the Strand Palace Hotel.
About the time we get the rooms paid for, the girls pulled a breeze on us and we couldn't find them for hell. Being very H.P.O.ed [Heartily Pissed Off], we went back and slept at the Jules Club and didn't use the hotel rooms for a thing. Rough day all around.
May 29, 1944
Got up and had waffles for breakfast this morning. Then went to the P.X. Harry had a date at 1100 so I went back to the Strand Palace and checked out and then went to see "Destination Tokyo".
Took a cab to the station and arrived in time to see Harry catch the train that I just managed to miss. Had to kill an hour and a half before the next one came in. Got back to Royston, ate at the Red Cross and the Green Plunge and came back to camp.
May 30, 1944
Up at 0300 this morning and off to Dessau, Germany by 0800. We encountered heavy and accurate flak and a few fighters too. We came back with only one small hole in the wing.
When we landed, I found that I had lost my voice. I had a sore throat for the last four days, but didn't think it would develop into anything so now I have no voice. Hope it goes away soon.
June 1, 1944
Got up in time to eat dinner and get to school. After school I played cards until we had to go down the line for a formation and receive the Air Medal. We had a parade and then about 100 of us received the medal. Well, that's the first one.
June 2, 1944
Got up at 0600 this morning and flew a short milk run over to Boulogne, France. It was a very short run just over the coast and we encountered no flak or fighters.
Played blackjack and poker the rest of the day.
June 6, 1944
Today is D-Day. They got us up at 2400 this morning. We ate and went down to briefing. There we learned that we were to start the invasion with a heavy pounding of the invasion coast.
Our bombs hit the coast just ten minutes before our troops were to land. Unfortunately, there was a complete undercast so we couldn't see anything, but saw plenty of boats in the channel. The target was Courselles.
We were all very sleepy after going on four raids in four days and we all hit the sack and slept for 20 hours.
June 12, 1944
At last we get to fly another mission, number 12. This one was to Lille, France. An airfield there which is no more. We carried delayed action bombs on our ship, which ought to cause a lot of trouble for the Germans.
June 15, 1944
Got up at 1230 A.M. (0030) this morning for a very early briefing and then off on a raid to Bordeaux, France. This was a long mission and the flak over the target was heavy. We bombed an airfield there. Got back by noon, slept until 1900 and then had to move, bag and baggage to a new Nissen Hut in another area. Got to bed about 2300.
June 17, 1944
They got us up at 0030 this morning and after being briefed and getting out to the plane, the mission was scrubbed. We went back to bed and got up in time for dinner. Didn’t do much the rest of the day.
June 18, 1944
We were awakened at midnight today to fly our 15th mission. After eating real eggs for breakfast, we were briefed, and our target was Hamburg. Most of the trip was made over water, but the flak over the target was heavy and intense. I saw two of our squadron’s boys go down in flames. One of them blew up about 3000 feet underneath us. No one got out of that ship alive. When we got back we laid out in the sun most of the afternoon and went to bed early.
June 19, 1944
Up very early again for number 16. This time our target is near Bordeaux, again, an airfield at Cazaux, France. Going down, we had to climb to 27,000 feet to get over a front, and going home, we reached 30,500 feet to get over. This is my altitude record .Garry and George both passed out and we had to leave formation and get down to a lower level, so we came home alone. Lucky I had a Gee box, for the first time too. Naturally, hit the sack as soon as we could.
June 20, 1944
They sure are keeping us busy. If this keeps up, we will be home by the middle of July. Up early again for a little raid on Hamburg. Most of the trip was across the North Sea, but when we did get there, we gave it the blasting of its history. Left fires visible for forty miles. We sure did blow it to hell today. Got a few holes in our ship and one close one, too. Got home and found we had a 24 hour pass tomorrow, so we will get to take it easy one day at least.
June 21, 1944
Slept till noon today and it sure felt good too. Went to Cambridge in the afternoon and got a haircut for the first time in a month. Also put some clothes in the cleaners. Got back early and hit the sack because we will no doubt fly again tomorrow.
June 22, 1944
No flying today either. Slept late and then after dinner we played volleyball for a few hours. First exercise I have had. Guess I’ll have to get more of it. Went to a show in the evening.
June 23, 1944
Were awakened at a very reasonable hour today to fly our 18th raid just over the coast in France. Seems that it is a rocket plane base that they want taken care of. We bombed through a 10/10 undercast and didn’t observe the results. At 1800 tonight I went on as duty navigator and found I was flying tomorrow so went home to get some sleep.
June 24, 1944
Another noball mission today. Number 19 to be exact. Target was rocket plane bases at St. Pot, France (Fleury).The weather was clear over England but over France was a complete undercast and since we didn’t have a PFF ship we didn’t bomb. Played volleyball in the afternoon.
June 25, 1944
Up early for #20 today. Believe this is the longest haul we have had. Target was Toulouse, France within 30 miles of the Spanish border. Very tired when I got back so hit the sack as soon as possible.
June 26, 1944
Up again at 0030. Powered eggs for breakfast and Munich for a target. We got out to the ship and the engines started and they scrubbed the mission. Boy, sure was glad to hear that. Went back and h it the sack until 1130. Then went up to Bassingham to a traveling P.X. and bought some clothes. Went to a show in the evening.
June 29, 1944
Up early today for a mission to Leipzig. But weather fouled up and we had to go up to 28,000 to form and by that time we didn’t have enough gas to complete the mission. Logged five hours anyway. Pass started today at 1800 but too tired to go this evening so will get up early and go to London in the morning.
June 30, 1944
Up for breakfast this morning and off for London. Got room at the Jules Club. George and I met Garry and in the evening went over to the Nurses Club and picked up four American girls and had a great time. Went to Landon’s which is a very good night club and then to the Embassy Club where we had a little trouble getting in but made it anyway. Got to bed at 0300.
July 1, 1944
Met our nurses of last night in the P.X. today and three of them and myself went on a tour of the London sights. First time I have had the time to see any of the historic sights. Then put them on the train for their post. Very sorry to see them leave. Caught a train for Royston at 1800. First time I have had a good time in London even if it did cost me 16 pounds.
July 4, 1944
Up early for a mission today. Looked like we were going to celebrate the fourth by dropping 2,000 pound bombs on a bridge at Tours, France. There were clouds over the continent so we didn’t drop them and then due to a navigational error we flew over Paris. But they didn’t shoot at us so we got home O.K. Saw a show in the evening.
July 6, 1944
Up early for a raid on Bremen today. But it was scrubbed while we were still in the briefing room so we went back to the sack. They got us up an hour later for a short mission over to the buzz-bomb targets in France .There was flak over the route and I almost got it today. A piece came through the roof and hit me in the right arm. Made the arm a little numb for a while but nothing serious. Our seven day pass starts tomorrow. Ought to have a great time. Went to the show this evening.
July 15, 1944
Sure had a swell time on my pass. Spent most of it at the 184th general hospital with the nurses we met in London. ‘Nuff said. Did nothing today but play some volleyball and saw Robin Hood in the evening.
July 18, 1944
We sure got a long haul today. Number 25 was to Peenemunde, Germany. It is North and East of Berlin so it sure took some time to get there and back. Not much flak and most of the mission was made at low altitude. Hit the sack very soon after landing.
July 20, 1944
Up at a somewhat decent hour this morning (0300). We went back to Dessau, Germany again. Very heavy flak and also fighters today. The fighters got six ships in less than two minutes in a group over to our right and I even shot ten rounds at a 190 myself. Got back without losing a ship but a few men got hit.
July 24, 1944
Well, up at 0200 again today. Target is right ahead of our troops in the St. Lo area. After the first briefing and we got out to the ships, the mission was scrubbed so we all went back to bed only to be called out again at 0800 for the same mission. We were glad to go because it’s a very short haul. Everything went off O.K. this time and we got back and hit the sack.
July 27, 1944
They dragged me out of the sack today to fly a practice mission. I was very H.P.O.ed. Got in about five hours. One boy cracked up on takeoff but everyone got out O.K. In the evening went to the base show.
July 28, 1944
Up early today for a raid on Merseburg (Leuna), Germany. It was a fairly long haul and we were pretty tired when we got back. We had been asleep for a few hours when the boys came in with our footlockers so we all got up and unloaded them. Hit the sack soon afterwards. “2 more to go”.
July 31, 1944
Today we start out on our 48 hour pass so we went over and got paid and Harry and I went up to Cambridge and then down to London. Met Garry there and we went out and started getting drunk. Met George and then went over to the “commando district” [red light district]. Here Harry picked up a six pounder and George and some bombardier wandered off and Garry and I spent a lot of time looking for a club which closed up an hour before we found it. Went back to the Jules Club and to bed.
August 3, 1944
Got up at 0730 this morning to fly mission number 31 to Saarbrucken, Germany. Plenty of flak but got back without a hole. Hallberg finished today and got a shower bath when he stepped out of the plane. Well, only one more to go now. God be with us!
August 4, 1944
Got me out of bed at 1200 this morning (midnight) to be duty navigator. Got back to bed by 0230 and woke up at 1100. Didn’t do much until the boys came back. They went to Peenemunde, Germany again and lost two ships in the process. I collected the logs and took them down to group. That ended my tour as duty navigator. Had a lot of fun in the evening before going to bed. Hope we get that last one tomorrow.
August 8, 1944
Well, today is the big day. We are flying our last mission, number 32. We were up at 0630, briefed and off on a raid in support of the ground troops near Cahn. Before we took off we loaded up with flares and smoke bombs to give the boys on the ground a show. Just before starting engines, Lt. Col. Simeral came up and said he would like to fly with us. Of course it was O.K. so we took off on what we all thought was a milk run of the first water. It developed that we encountered the worst flak that I have ever seen and ever hope to see. I’ll take Berlin any day rather than take another one like today. The group lost four ships, and I believe we all lost 20 pounds apiece. When we got back to the field we put on the best show anybody had ever seen. We set two wheat fields on fire and started a few fires on the field itself. Even the general had a good time. When we landed we found we had the biggest hole in the wing we ever had. When we got back home the boys threw us in the pool and that made us official old combat men. Had a few drinks at the club tonight and then came home.
Well, this winds it up. No more flak or fighters. No more getting up at 0130 to eat powdered eggs. We all feel that we have done our part.
Following were members of the Heintzelman crew:
One of the B-17's the crew flew in was named "Hells Bells".
Keith Benefiel, son of Philip L. Benefiel, Navigator provided the following: "Dad was given credit for three missions for serving as "Duty Navigator".
[At Group HQ, a squadron navigator, a pilot and a bombardier would have been "on duty" through the night. When targets were assigned for the following day, word came down from Wing HQ giving the target, time over target for the mission, time and place of rendezvous with fighters, type and size of bomb load, an number of planes to be involved.
Beginning with the time over target, the duty navigator plotted the course (place of landfall was usually given) using information on winds and normal airspeed. He worked back from time over target to arrive at takeoff time, engine start time and wake-up time. He also prepared a detailed flight plan showing headings, ground speed and turns.]