Mission, 5th December

Excerpts from the manuscript  “Wild Bill Crump”, written by S.E Crump and (c) J.W.CRUMP & S.E.CRUMP.

At an 07:15 briefing the Group were informed that Field order1374A ordered them to provide penetration target and withdrawal support to the 6th Combat group 2nd force 1st Division B-17`s, part of a large combined force of 1st and 3rd Division B-17`s totalling 456 aircraft that would be bombing munitions and tank works in Berlin whilst a further force of 135 2nd Division B-24`s attacked rail yards in Munster. With the Squadron going to the big `B`, they were fairly certain they would run in to the enemy. The Squadron took off and made R/V at 09:41 at Egmond at 22,000 ft with the thirty nine B-17`s of the 401st bomb group flying in good formation.

They escorted them through the target, which because of virtually complete cloud cover had to be bombed using PFF (radar) techniques, and then out again. Just west of Steinhuder Lake on the way home, two twin engine jets were seen (both later identified as ME-262`s) but on each occasion they were unable to engage them. In the first incident the Squadron were flying at 25,000 feet with Ray and Andy in the same flight, Ray on the wing of the flight leader Captain Hockmeyer and Andy on the wing of Lieutenant Nebinger. Suddenly the bogie had appeared from above heading straight at the flight at high speed. The aircraft did not fire but going at a tremendous rate passed directly under the flight, at which they could look down and see the black crosses on its wings. Andy yelled “it’s a blow job” a somewhat unique term that he used to describe jets. Immediately the whole flight tried to turn tightly, without stalling, in an effort to pursue the aircraft. But before they could complete their turns a pair of blue nosed P-51’s came screaming past from above trying to catch what could now be seen to be a fleeing ME-262, no doubt low on ammo and fuel. The flight rejoined the Squadron and the bombers were left as scheduled over the Zuider Zee at 13:15 five miles south of Keppel at 25,000 ft. For the 360th the escort had been uneventful, but for most of the other 8th Air Force units in the air, including flights from the Group’s other two squadrons it was an entirely different story.

The German early warning radar had picked up the large force of bombers, and their even larger number of almost 900 escort aircraft as they had headed towards German capital. The German fighter force was alerted, and by the time the stream of heavies had approached their targets, large formations of enemy fighters were there to receive them, and a monumental aerial battle ensued. A roving 361st Squadron under Captain Gansberg in the Wittenberge area north east of Berlin, saw contrails bearing down on the bombers, just as they were leaving the target. Wing tanks were jettisoned and everything pushed forward in a race to engage the enemy before they intercepted the bombers. A force of between 40-60 FW-190`s were identified which veered to the southeast to avoid the P-51`s but there was no escape and in a furious fifteen minutes nine FW-190`s were destroyed and one damaged. A flight of the 359th joined in and claimed five destroyed and one damaged but lost one pilot, the 361st losing four pilots including Capt Gansberg (one Captain Tarbutton was later reported a P.O.W.). In skies that had been largely devoid of targets for the 360th, the 8th Air Force fighters that did encounter the enemy claimed 87 confirmed victories, the 357th Fighter Group leading with 22 claims followed by the 479th with 14.

The ME-262 called out by Andy, had been pursued by Lieutenants Grabovski and Wensch of the 352nd Fighter Group. Grabovski had fired several bursts at the jet from long range with no results, before getting in one burst that caused the 262`s right engine to smoke. But unable to close they had both broken off and headed home, Grabovski’s probable, the only aerial jet claim of the day.

Line up

Maj Wood Lt Laviolette
Lt Ragsdale Lt Ciocchi
Capt Yannell Lt Carlson
Lt Dunn Lt Gatlin
Capt Borelli Lt Peacock
Lt Switzer Lt Quigley
Lt Gleason Lt Crump
Lt Ceraolo Lt Welch

Capt Hockmeyer

Capt Ellingson

Lt Burwell Lt Paquet

Lt Nebinger Capt Pleasant

Lt Andrino

The force attacking Berlin, the primary target being Tegel on the Western edge of the city with its Rheinmetall Borsig AG plant, was split into two. The 1st force comprising the 3rd Division carried high explosive bombs, while the 2nd force comprising the 1st Division carried a mix of G.P. and incendiary bombs, in the hope of starting fires in the shattered buildings.

Flak over Berlin was only moderate and largely inaccurate, though several rockets were seen to rise and explode near the bomber formations, the Squadrons charge’s the 401st Bomb Group were able to complete their mission untroubled by the flak or enemy fighters. In spite of the flak being light, it still claimed most of the 1st Divisions nine losses on the day, 3 aircraft from the 91st and 303rd Bomb Groups, 2 from the 306th and 1 from the 351st.