Pilot B26 - Martin Marauder - 9th Air Force - 344th Bomb Group
497th Bombardment Squadron
We were assigned to the 497th
Bombardment Squadron of the 344th Bombardment Group located at Stansted,
Towards April and May, we
were instrumental in creating havoc in German transportation system
by hitting more and more marshalling yards plus railroad bridges,
including several over the Seine River. Although fighter reaction
was diminishing, the threat of flak was still quite prevalent.
We became aware that the "big day" was approaching, but when it
would be was still a mystery. A feeling of exhilaration consumed
us that morning of June 6th for we realized that our efforts, along
with all of the others, had made this day possible.
The Nazis had taken tremendous punishment from both the strategic
and tactical air forces and. were reeling. Now it was up to the
boys on the ground to finish them off. We knew our task was not
finished as we would be required to give air cover and support to
the advancing troops.
On June 5, 1944 all officers
were instructed to carry their Colt 45 automatic on all future missions.
We hit the sack about midnight and after an hours sleep, were awakened
and told to prepare for a mission.
When we arrived for briefing, the giant map showing our route to
and from the target was, for the first time, covered with a sheet.
Our Commanding Officer Col. Vance, with a dramatic flourish removed
the sheet, and announced that the planned invasion of the continent
was about to begin.
This was it...D-Day was here
and the Normandy invasion would be launched at 06:30 hours by the
biggest concentration of soldiers, sailors and airmen ever amassed
in the history of warfare. The American troops would make their
landings on Omaha and Utah beaches and the assignment of the B-26
groups was to knock out the coastal gun installations.
Our targets were the gun emplacements at Utah, specifically La Madeleine,
Beau Guillot and St. Martin de Varreville, and we, as the lead group,
were to start all bombing operations at H-hour minus 20 (06:10 hours)
and every two minutes thereafter another wave of bombers would send
their regards whistling down to the enemy below.
As history relates, the weather that morning was horrendous, the
worst it had been in over 100 years. We could not reach our normal
flight altitude as the cloud cover was anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000
feet, so in essence, we went in at low level.
As I was flying on my flight leader’s left wing I was the 15th plane
over Utah on that historic day. Our box of 36 planes led by my squadron
commander, Col. Del Bentley had St. Martin de Varreville as our
assigned target and after dropping our load of destruction at precisely
06:09 hours, we headed west over the Normandy peninsula and then
in a northerly direction towards England.
As we turned towards home
we realized that it was H-hour and the first wave of troops would
be hitting the beaches.
Our route carried us through
an area referred to as 'Shit-Pan Alley', the area between the Alderney
Islands and the northwest tip of Normandy. What intelligence briefing
did not tell us was that there were anti-aircraft installations
at both points, and we were caught in a murderous cross-fire of
Our lead ship was hit, and with one engine knocked out, he dropped
out of the formation. The other wing-man and myself spread apart
to allow the #4 plane to move into position but he just sat there
and made no attempt to take over the lead. As a result, I took over
the #1 slot and led the formation back to our base. Upon landing
we noticed that MP's were all over the area. They were making certain
that we headed directly to de-briefing. Once there we were subjected
to a thorough interrogation and then informed that we could not
leave the room which was under armed guard. Obviously high command
felt the Germans didn't realize that today was D-Day and they didn't
want us calling them long distance to inform them of the days events.
As we were still considered on 'alert status, we couldn't leave
the area anyhow so most of us, being slightly exhausted, napped
on the benches until later in the morning when a sumptuous lunch
of Spam sandwiches was served. We were able to wash this delicious
repast down our gullets with our choice of either powdered milk
or coffee so strong it was guaranteed to grow hair on the bottom
of your feet.
Sherman was right..."War is hell".
Shortly afterwards, mission
#2 for the day was called.
The French Underground had sent word that a Panzer division was
being rushed to reinforce German troops in the invasion area, and
the estimated time of arrival at the Amiens marshalling yards would
be approximately 14:00 hours.
We would arrive several minutes later to make certain they would
progress no further. As weather conditions were still poor, we had
go in at altitude much lower than normal, and as a result again
received an inordinate amount of anti-aircraft fire.
As soon as bombs were away, the formation entered the cloud cover
hoping to break through somewhere from 12,000 to 14,000 feet. However
the clouds were so dense so dense that it was practically impossible
to see the other planes in the formation. I turned 45 degrees to
the right and after several minutes reverted to the original heading,
climbing steadily until I broke into the clear at a little over
l3,000 feet. Ice had started to form on the wings so we desperately
searched for an opening in the cloud layer in order to make a safe
Within several minutes a small hole was found and I peeled off and
dove for the deck. No enemy fighters were visible and we returned
safely to our base.
My tour of duty, however,
was completed on D- Day plus 1.
I flew 2 missions on D-Day
and 2 additional missions the following day giving me a total of
Our Squadron Flight Surgeon, Captain Harry Prudowsky, had observed
that my normally smooth landings had become quite bouncy, and he
had been informed by some of the flight leaders that my formation
flying had also become erratic.
He ordered a physical examination and discovered a sizable weight
loss plus increased tension which had created a sleeping problem.
In World War #1 it was called Shell Shock, but inasmuch as the euphemistic
era was upon us, it became Anxiety Reaction, Moderately Severe.
On June 9th the crew was
grounded and on June 10th we went to 9th Air Force HQ to meet the
Central Medical Establishment.
On the llth I was interviewed by a medical officer and on June 12th,
my 22nd birthday, the medical board informed me that we were to
be returned to the Zone of the Interior, the good old US of A.
Almost a month later, July
l0th to be exact, our orders came through and we left for Liverpool
where we boarded the Mauretania for our trip home.
These memoirs published with
the authorization of Harvey Jacobs.