STEYR, AUSTRIA MISSION
23 February, 1944
By: Harry R. Gillett
Using the Operational mission reports, letters, my Diary and memory; the following is the best that I can put together on a "Post Mission Basis" of how the mission went. For accuracy, exact language as written in the Intelligence Reports used. Some of it is pretty rough as you will see. I was the Squadron Commander of the 512th Squadron and was flying as Co-Pilot with my Squadron Operations Officer Lt. Gerald Brown in A/C No. 34. Our position in the formation was in the #4 slot, leading the 2nd element Just below and behind the Section Leader A/C No 38.
This mission was fraught with difficult flying conditions from the very beginning. It must be pointed out that most all combat missions deviate one way or another from normal. Lots of reasons, but too many to go into at this time; weather, experience of the leaders, Navigation, crews, formation flying, condition of aircraft, skill of gunners, enemy fighters, flak, Luck-Good and Bad- and so on.
THE STEYR, AUSTRIA MISSION
Date: 23 February, 1944
Group Briefing was at:0600 Hours Trucks:0650 Takeoff:0740-Actual 0745 On Course:0840-Actual 0849
Over Target: 1210 (Briefed Target Time) Actual 1214 Bomb Load: 9-10- 500 Lb. Bombs .1 nose .025 T/D Gasoline: 2,700 Gallons
Target: STYRWAFFEN WALZLAGERWERK, Steyr, Austria
(150 Engine output per month; Daimler-Benz Design)
BOMBING ALTITUDE: 21,000 Ft.
Initial Point (IP): Wels, Austria AXIS of Attack: 111 Degrees
No FIGHTER ESCORT to Target. On Route Back (P-38's) to provide escort From: 47-12 N; 14-35 E at 18,000 Ft. (55 mi les South of Target, Steyr, approx.15 minutes flying time)
The 376th Bomb Group (H) to provide 36 aircraft for the mission. The Group to be split into 2 sections:
West (left of our position) we saw a number of Groups proceeding to- the North so our formation headed toward them and into the bomber stream, flying on the left side.
As we had no fighter escort al I crews were very alert for signs of enemy aircraft (At 1130 Hours and before reaching the (Klagenfurt) area. A/C No.78 Maj. Beir's crew (514th C.O.) along with other aircraft crews observed enemy fighters taking off from snow covered fields:) I must make a comment here to show how one, can really be wrong.
After the 47th Wing operations order came into 376th Operations about 2000 Hours on 22nd Feb, I went to Group Operations to check on the Target for the 23rd Feb. then came back to my quarters in the Squadron Area. On the East wall of my room I had mounted an enlarged Map of Southern Europe. Having just left a 9th/12th Air Force Combat Fighter Unit (with almost 4 years of P-40 flying). Everyone" was "Sweating Out" the German Fighters in and around the Target Area, Particularly after the Vicenza Mission. I located the Target on the Map and noticed all the deep valleys and high mountains surrounding the Target. After pointing to the Route and Area I said something like this:
The ground is covered with deep snow and freezing conditions, the Germans will not be able to get many fighters into the air. (Inwardly this statement was to beef up a positive attitude about the mission as we had No Fighter escort). Boy, was "I wrong! -It was a big day for the Enemy fighters, as we would later find out. But we made them pay a price too. The 376th Group destroyed (19 enemy fighters) or more. (See Enemy Fighters Destroyed Summary)
From that point the Section went between (Klagenfurt), Austria and (Volkermarkt), Austria, where the main formation headed toward the target.
Shortly thereafter at 1140 Hours A/C, No.39 -Lt. Hamblen in "C Flt" at 15,000 Ft Alt. aborted the mission due to his aircraft using excessive power to maintain his position and thought he would not have enough fuel remaining to complete the mission. (To abort the mission at this point could be disastrous, as you would be returning" all alone" from well within enemy territory). The section now has 15 aircraft. (Lt. Hamblen made it back to base).
After passing (Klangenfurt) the first ME-110's with their aerial rockets started attacking the formations; Intelligence information indicated they only carried 2 rockets, but, I saw 4 fired by an ME-110 into the 98th Bomb Group on our right from about 1,000 yards behind each formation. Several aircraft were hit and blew up. On some of their attacks they were not too accurate as the rockets exploded ahead or behind the formation. None attacked our formation, but you had the feeling you would be next. Time went by and we survived the attacks. But now the Me-109's, Me-110's, FW-190's and JU-88's begin to make their attacks on the formations along with the Flak.
I remember looking around and all I could see was B-24 and B-17 formations in all directions and altitudes, I had never seen anything like this before, must have been at least 400 aircraft or more, all going the same way. This was one of the first coordinated raids with the 8th Air Force, out of England, however, they were not in our area.
The low box "C" Flt with Lt. Watson leading in No.32 was not able to really have a good formation position during the flight to the target. On reviewing the mission reports it appears his No.2 engine was smoking all the way to the target area, indicating he had engine trouble of some kind, but continued on the mission anyway.
Lt. Sandberg/Lt. Col. Fellows in our lead aircraft apparently realized they could not make a run on the target from our present position in the formation so they elected to make another 360 degree turn to the left which brought our formation out over (Gmunder), Austria and then proceeded to the (IP-Wels), from there to the target, but after the IP, apparently, Sandberg/Fellows, thought they couldn't get the formation over the target due to other Group aircraft on their bomb runs to the target, sooooo, another 360 degree turn was made to the left and finally, we bombed the target, on an axis of 110 Degrees. It was during this last 360 degree turn that the low box ("C Flt" Lt. Watson leading) really caught hell from the enemy fighters.
The Air Battle (Enemy Fighters) 50-75 Fighters attacked our formation of 15 aircraft for about 23 minutes beginning after the 360 degree turn near (Gmunder), Austria. Lt. Keator's crew reported that:" A/C No.32 Lt. Watson, the lead A/C for "C Flt. the bottom box,( now consisting of 5 aircraft), No.2 engine was smoking all the way up to the target area". This low box was never able to get into proper formation after this 360 degree turn at (Gmunder), Austria.
After the IP (Wels), Lt. Watson called the lead ship and asked if they were making another turn? The answer came back-YES. During this final 360 degree turn between the IP (Wels) and the (Steyr) Target area LT. Watson jettisoned his bombs (other remaining planes in his flight also jettisoned their bombs at the same time, NW of the Target). This action was apparently taken to lighten their aircraft to enable them to get back into the Section formation of the other 10 aircraft and mutual protection from the enemy fighters. Unfortunately they had fallen too far back when the Section Leader made the last 360 degree turn. The turn was" tight" forcing "C" Flt into a trailing position and some what below the Section formation. This left them in a
-Pages 5,6, 7-
Lt. Carlson A/C No.66- 514th Sqn. -with Severe Battle Damage- Landed at Bari, Italy and reported the following:
Salvoed Bombs N.W. of target out of target Area. Other ships Jettisoned, so this ship jettisoned also to keep up with formation. Lead ship No.32 had an engine shot out.
Estimated 50 enemy aircraft seen attacked by ME- 110, ME-l09, FW-190, with in-line engine and Ju-88. Attacks made from al I directions. Majority from 6 O'clock and low. Rockets were used prior to attack. Vary eager, aggressive, many enemy A/C came with in 50 Yards.
3- B-24s seen to go down in Target area.
Crew injuries: S/Sgt George Briggles. Lacerations in face and head from 20 MM Fragments.
Battle Damage to A/C: Top Turret completely washed out. Ball Turret hit by 20 MM. Hole In Nose turret., Radio equipment destroyed, compass shot off, many holes in gas tanks, hydraulic system shot out, left tire shot out, 50 In R. Waist, oxygen bottles under floor all shot off, 20 MM in #1 and #2 Props, gas line shot off in Bomb Bay, and Tail turret ammunition box exploded.
Lt. Hay in A/C No. 70- 514th Squadron. Lt. Keator reported that A/C No. 70 was last seen in trouble and being escorted by P-38's near (Krk Island), Yugoslavia. No further information, Aircraft did not return to Base, presumed lost.
The remaining 10 aircraft of the formation completed the final 360 degree turn and bombed the target at 1214 Hours, 21,000 Ft. Fighter attacks continued through the turn and after the bombs were dropped.
I was personally greatly relieved to feel the aircraft lift as our bombs released from their shackles in the bomb bay, Now we could Get The Hell Out of There, No more 360 degree Turns! Don't recall that I ever noticed the flak. We knew it was essential to maintain a good formation position, for our survival. Our "Undivided Attention" was given to this and fighting the Enemy Fighters.
Our Bombardier, Lt. H. Bashline, after releasing our bombs passed out from the lack of oxygen. His oxygen hose had come apart somewhere during this action. Lt. Robert Vincent our Navigator, noticed his plight and after searching found the problem and reconnected the oxygen hose. Lt Bashline finally came around but didn't remember dropping the bombs.
No one on the crew saw the bombs hit as there were too many other things going on with a higher priority-Enemy Fighters-
After the bombs were dropped we made a descending turn to the right with the enemy fighters still making attacks on us. S/Sgt. J. W. Fleming-Our Tail Turret-Gunner announced on interphone he had only 30-50 rounds of ammunition left, one of the waist gunners said he had none arid as the rest of the gunners gave their ammunition report, it was about the same- needless to say the word was "Make It Count". We still had 5-10 minutes to go before we were to be picked up by the P-38's.
A few minutes later I looked forward and down and could see climbing toward us a Flight of twin tailed Fighters in a right hand "Luffberry". I immediately thought they were the new twin tailed German Fighters and now we would have to contend with them, with our remaining ammunition. Fortunately as we both got closer they turned out to be P-38's, they had arrived sooner arid had come further into (Austria) than we were briefed. A very welcome sight. They flew under us, about 4,000 feet, still climbing. The German Fighters began disappearing.
Now it was time to take stock of our crew:
No one injured.
The aircraft had taken several hits but everything was working.
S/Sgt. J.W. Fleming Tail Turret- reported he had hit and destroyed one ME-109 in flames. Later confirmed
S/Sgt. T.H. Mancia- Left waist Gunner reported he hit and destroyed an ME-110 in flames.
We returned generally on the briefed route to base without further incident.
After landing I was told to report to Group Operations along with Lt. Sandberg. Upon arrival at Group Operations along with others on the mission we were met by:
Lt. General Dewey Spatz, Maj. General Nathan Twining,15th Air Force Commander, Maj. General IRA EAKER, 8th Air Force Commander, Brig. General Ridenour, 47th Wing Commander, Lt. Col Theodore Graff, 376th Commander. Lt. Col. Fellows was also present.
The General/s proceeded to inquire about the mission which we explained in detail. (1 had served under General Eaker as a Fighter Pilot in the 20th Pursuit Group at Hamilton Field and the following 1941 maneuvers.) He proceeded to question me sharply about the mission and the many problems. Upon leaving General Eaker said to me, "He would be back". (I'm sure all those present will well recall this De-Briefing?)
Summary of Mission:
376th Lost Aircraft and Crews:
(1st Section of the 376th)
2 - 512th Sqdn-Lt. Watson A/C No.32 -Crew Bailed Out
Lt. Chase A/C No. 33 -Blew Up
1 - 514th Sqdn-Lt. Hay A/C No.70 -Unknown
(2nd Section of the 376th)
1 - 513th Sqdn-Lt. Shannon A/C No.41-Unknown
3 - 515th Sqdn-Lt. Grice A/C No.84"HARRY THE HORSE" –
Lt. Price-Crew Navig. (7-Bailed out
informed me that: (3-Gunners Killed in A/C
515th Sqdn-Lt. Belyea A/C No.82-Unknown
515tn Sqdn-Lt. White A/C No.92 Crew Bailed Out (Escaped, returned to 376th)
TOTAL: 7 Aircraft and Crews Lost
Lt. Carlson- 514th Sqdn A/C No.66- Severe Battle Damage Landed at Bari, Italy with wounded.
(1st Wave-1st Section)
A/C No. SON. PILOTS A/C Destroyed Name Crew Position
38 512 Sandberg/Fellows 1 ME-109 Sgt. Gaines -Top/Turt
34 512 Brown/Gillett 1 ME-109 Sgt. J. W. Fleming-T/Trt
34 512 “ (Probable)! ME-109 Sgt. J. C. Maniaci-L/Wst
29 512 Mullen 1 ME-109 Sgt.G.B.Sprague-N/Trt
31 512 Keator 1 ME-109 Sgt.H.R.Hall-Top/Turt
77 514 Davis 1 ME-109 Sgt.R.G.Adkins-Nos/Trt
77 514 " 1 JU-88 Sgt. R. Rall - Tai l/trt
68 514 Brunn 1 ME-110 'Sgt.W.T.Harris- N/Trt
72 514 Palmer 1 ME-110 Sgt.R.Wlodrlng-BI/Trt
78 514 Belr 1 ME-110 Sgt. E.A.Thbe-Top/Trt
66 514 Carlson (Damaged) 1 ME-110 Sgt.L.H.McGee-RT/Wast
66 514 “ 1 ME-110 Sgt.L.R.Shelley-T/Trt
66 514 “ 1 ME-109 Sgt.G.T.Ronk-Nose/Trt
66 514 “ (Probable) 1 ,ME-109 Sgt.V.R.LinebaughtBall/TRT
66 514 “ 1 ME-109 Sgt.D.L.Zappla-L/Wst
Total 1st Section: (512th-514th Sqdns)
13-Destroyed 2-Probable Destroyed 1-Damaged
( 3rd WAVE-2nd Section)
42 513 Konsynskl 1 Me-110 Lt.J.W.Monecry-/Navlg
42 513 “ 1 FW-190 Sgt. C . E . I rw In - Ba 1 l/T
42 513 " 1 Me-110 Lt.J.W.Monecry-/Navlg
92 515 White 1 ME-109 Sgt.MIl ler-L/Waist
92 515 " 1 ME-110 Sgt.R.E.Rece-Ball/Trt
92 515 " 1 ME-109 Sgt.R.C.Ulrlch-Tp/Trt
92 515 " 1 ME-l09 S/Sgt.D.A.Linnel l-R/W
93 515 Vickers Probable 1 ME-l09 Sgt.E.W.Frank-Top/Trt
93 515 " Probable 1 ME-l09 S/Sgt.D.E.Lyane-Bal/T
Total 2nd Section (513th-515th Sqdns)
6 - Destroyed
2 - Probable Destroyed o - Damaged
Total 376th Group:
19 - Destroyed
4 - Probable destroyed 1 - Damaged
Note: This tally Does Not included those enemy fighters Destroyed by the 7-Crews that were lost, except for Lt. Whites crew-No.92.
TOTAL 376th Aircraft and Crew Members Lost:
7-Aircraft 73-Crew Members
l-:-Badly Damaged Aircraft, Bari, Italy
2-512th Sqdn <32-Watson, 33-Chase>
1-514th Sqdn <77-Hay>
(514) 1-Landed Bari, Italy Extreme <66-Carlson> Battle Damage
1-513th Sqdn <41-Shannon>
3-515th Sqdn <84-Grice,82-Belyea, 92-White>
(See Attached: Missing Crew Members Report)
Mission Results: 47th Wing HDQ's on 24 Feb.1944 Reported to all Groups:
"Recce after Steyr Raid shows many strikes on Target Area but No Serious Damage to Vital Buildings either Plant"
COMMENT: “Looks Like We Will Be Going Back'”, and we did!
On April 2nd 36 planes went to Steyr. 2 A/C were lost.