Countdown to Kassel - September 24, 1944

Home by Christmas? Maybe not

Operation Market Garden is foundering and would fail in two days. Up to this point, even the generals had been talking about finishing up the war in the ETO by Christmas. On September 24, however, the tone of their internal communications had already changed.

Sept 24

Letters written by commanding Generals to one another on September 24, 1944

General Carl Spaatz to General Hap Arnold: “There is no conclusive evidence of any intention of the Germans to quit.” Msg U-68483, Spaatz Papers, Diary.

General Kepner to General Hodges, whom he replaced as commander of the Second Air Division on August 1, 1944:

“We have our good days and our poor days; as usual, it is a matter of seeing the target, and generally our poorest results come from those uncertain days of partial overcast when the boys have great difficulty in going in definitely, either on PFF or visual. As you know, the uncovering process from PFF to visual is a pretty difficult matter, and we often find ourselves pinched for time when we find that it is a tie between PFF and visual. The boys do the best they can and, of course when trying particularly hard to put the bombs on the target, one must make some allowance for human mistakes, which I try to do.  Altogether, I am very pleased with the entire Division, and consider myself fortunate to be in command of an organization that you had so well on its way when you turned it over to me.”

On the front lines of the air war, weather is keeping the boys from getting their 30 missions over and done so they can go home, and they’re not happy about it. According to Captain Wayne Allen’s diary, one week before the Kassel Mission, on Wednesday, September 20, behavior on base was so far out of hand that Col. Jones called a meeting of all officers to discuss the drunkenness and fighting in the officers’ club.

One problem was that the required number of missions had been upped from 25 to 30. Before the end of the war, it would rise again to 35. Another was that, as the new boys gained missions under their belts, their faith that they would survive to 30 missions went down statistically.

From the diary of Sgt. Herbert W. Schwartz:

September 23-24 Another two days of sleep and managing to keep busy. Weather here in England is gradually becoming worse and consequently, we are doing less flying.

A Flight Plan is made up every evening, but seldom do they announce the official status before retiring. We retire not knowing whether we will fly the next day or not. (p. 257)  Lt. French has only two more missions and we have been on every recent flight plan.

It is getting colder, hard rains are becoming frequent and weather is very unpleasant. Now I notice myself becoming more irritable, more nervous. I never thought this sort of life would ever get the best of me, but as I lay around the quarters all day, I find out it just about gets the best of you. You have more time to think, think about future missions, dreaming about home, etc. WE have been harboring the Red Cross. They sometimes have entertainment. Shows are a good way to get your mind off things, but there have been no shows the past two days. I guess I should consider myself fortunate [just heard from friends in the Pacific theater, where conditions are much worse].

More on the subject from Kassel Mission veterans

Howard Sturdy, on the lead Chilton crew, became uncomfortable as he moved through his missions, wrote his niece in an article in the Kassel Mission Chronicles. Senior crews, it seems, got the privilege of having their cots closer to the woodstove in the hut; but it wasn’t always a happy privilege. “ He started to notice that, as people got closer to that wood burning stove, they didn't come back from their missions. He was not really happy when his cot got closer and closer to the wood burning stove. He was hoping to be home for Christmas that year. (from “Uncle Howard Sturdy” by Renee Polmear, Kassel Mission Chronicles, 2010)

Corman Bean, bombardier, Schaen Crew: “I don’t understand how air crews, after being up there four or five times and being shot at like that, I don’t understand how we ever got guts enough to go up again. But you know, it always happened to the other guy. And we knew we had to, so we did. But when we get older and smarter, forget it.” (from an interview with Aaron Elson)

Frank Bertram, navigator, Miner Crew: “At its best, flying combat was nerve-racking. Even in training it was nerve-racking. We’d sweat out every takeoff and every landing and in between we’d pray.”

Tims is 3rd from left

Tims is 3rd from left

Robert Tims, navigator, French Crew wrote: “As I look back now, the war in the air was a curious kind of war. For us airmen, compared with the ground forces slugging it out below, it was a remote, even impersonal, war - until, of course, you got blown up or had to bail out. For the dogfaces on the ground, the target was the enemy soldier in the hedgerow ahead; for us, it was a pinpointed city on a map. We could see the impact of our bombs on the target below, but we could not hear it or smell it or feel it. We destroyed buildings and factories but could not see the rubble. We killed or maimed dozens or hundreds of people with every bomb toad we dropped but could not see the mangled bodies or smell the blood. We did not speak in those days of collateral damage, because it was inevitable and commonplace.

Eating and sleeping in England and fighting in Germany, all in the same day, had a subtle psychological impact on us. It was bombs-away over Munich at 11 o'clock in the morning and a pint of bitters at a pub in Norwich at 8 o'clock that evening. Or it was a raid on Berlin one day and a seat in London's Old Vic the next, watching Laurence Olivier as Richard the Third or Ralph Richardson in the title role of “Peer Gynt.”

On the first few bombing missions, we did not believe we could be killed; on the last few, we did not see how we could avoid it. It was like a reprieve each time we crossed the English Channel from enemy airspace and made landfall at Beachy Head, Selsey Bill or the White Cliffs of Dover. For us, as for Richard the Second, England was indeed a "precious stone set in the silver Sea."

© 2019 by Linda Alice Dewey, All rights reserved