Countdown to Kassel - September 26, 1944

Koblenz, Hamm, and the night before Kassel

September 25 – Mission to Koblenz

Herb Schwartz (Tail Gunner, French Crew): Awakened to fly at 4:00 and it was a bad morning to crawl out of the sack—rainy and cold but went thru everything…Short mission (6 ½) hrs. [to Koblenz], high altitude, bad weather (100 mile gale at 30,000; cumulus clouds at 25,000) good position were in store for us but we were all eager to fly. We will not get any leave until (Lt.) French finishes. Our plane (022), an old job, was sunk in the mud due to the heavy rains and they could not pull her out. We were scrubbed – again. I was quite peeved after getting ready, but still believe a lot in fate so I passed it on. All ships from our group returned safely. Attended movie – “Lassie, Come Home” = quite good. Wrote a few letters. Weather is quite bad, so we are never sure of flying the next day or not. Most of our future targets we feel sure will be PFF missions. (War Diary)

Note: PFF is short for “Pathfinder,” the new secret radar that allowed them to bomb through the clouds. The decision would be made to bomb by radar or by PFF by the group’s mission commander as they approached the target. He would radio to the rest of the groups the code word for one or the other. Each squadron was led by a ship equipped with pathfinder radar.

From Aaron Elson’s interview with ground crewman Gene Crandall:

Gene Crandall: A pathfinder is a radar ship. When they first had radar, they could discern from the radar some things, and a pathfinder had a radar they could look down and see, like through the fog and so forth, and see cities and all. And they had about two or three pathfinders to every mission, and the best navigators and the best bombardiers flew in the pathfinder. And at the end of the war, the pathfinders, they would all clue in on this Pathfinder, and he had a tail light, and as he would signal, they’d drop bombs. 

September 26 – Mission to Hamm

The skies finally cleared on September 26, the first time I weeks, and the Second Air Division ran a mission to Hamm. Many who would fly the next day to Kassel are on this flight, including Jim Schaen’s crew, Herb Schwartz and the French Crew, Bill Dewey’s crew, Frank Bertram and Reg Miner’s crew. 

Bombardier George Collar: On 26 September, I went with Lt. Russell to Hamm Railyards on the edge of the Ruhr. This was his 35th and final mission, and on the way home over the North Sea, he asked permission to leave the formation (said he was having supercharger trouble). We dove right down to the deck at Great Yarmouth and did a low-level buzz job all the way back to Tibenham. I was sitting in the nose turret, so I had a ringside seat. We flew so low that we had to climb up to avoid church steeples. Once we went over a chicken farm and about a thousand white leghorns rolled over the ground like tumbleweeds.

Frank Bertram (Navigator, Miner crew): We had flown the day before and we actually led the mission; our squadron was deputy lead squadron and in the lead squadron both planes with radar were knocked out by flak, so we took over. That was going into the town of Hamm. We had no problem going in; we got out of there, came back and we landed safe. Throughout the years I’ve kept in close contact with my pilot, Reg Miner. Man, he could handle that bomber like it was a kite. And he was over there for one reason: that was to win the damn war and get home. (Elson interview)

McCoy, right, in front of Heavenly Body

McCoy, right, in front of Heavenly Body

Later, the boys cleaned up and took the liberty truck into Norwich to see a double feature. Many senior officers went, including Major Don McCoy, who had just returned from nearly two months in sick bay from an August 2 on-base injury. In the theater, McCoy confided to the group officer next to him that he was finally cleared to fly the next day. Bombardier Lt. John Woodley from the Hansen Crew was also there. Neither would see another movie in Norwich.

Meanwhile, 2nd Lt. Nelson Dimick from Pearson’s crew was planning his 20th birthday party for the next day. He had already bought two fifths of very good black market scotch at the officers club. The going price was about 18 a bottle. Dimickhad asked an enlisted English girl to be his date (from Luc Dewez). But fate had other plans for Lt. Dimick.

Back at the base, squadron officers began preparing load lists for the next day’s mission, assigning who would be aboard on which planes that were ready to go. At 11 p.m., the teletype began clacking, signaling operations officers that they would be working through the night.

© 2019 by Linda Alice Dewey, All rights reserved