Mission Number Five to Oschersleben, Germany
From Lt. Vern L. Moncur's bomber mission journal.
(303rd BG Mission #98)
Date: January 11, 1944
Target: Oschersleben, Germany
Altitude: 20,000 feet
Plane: N-029 "Wallaroo"
Position: No. 6, Lead Squadron, Lead Group
This mission was the toughest mission thus far, and as later events proved, it was the toughest mission we had in the whole combat tour. It was rated as one of the three toughest missions that the 8th Air Force ever flew. (In this my crew and I heartily agree!!) Immediately upon crossing the French coast, we were engaged by very accurate flak guns. This continued for three hours - three hours which seemed like an eternity. Many of the bursts were right ahead of us, under our nose, wings, behind us - in fact all around us. All of them were far too close to suit any of us.
This raid was sort of botched up. Our wing was the second wing to go in. Because of very bad weather closing in over England, the whole mission received orders to return to base immediately. Our wing, the second one, was only ten minutes from the Initial Point from which our bomb run would begin when the recall message came through. Because of our nearness to the target, the recall was disregarded and we went on in to bomb. The wing ahead of us did the same thing. However, the fighter escort which was supposed to be with us received the recall too, and our entire escort turned around and went back to England with the other wings of bombers. Within five minutes after the P-47s left us, the Luftwaffe came up in great numbers and gave us a running battle for the next three hours and forty-five minutes.
In the first wave of enemy planes, there were at least one hundred ME-109s, FW-190s, JU-88s and a few ME-110s and JU-87s. The first pass made at our group included thirty to thirty-five ME-109s and FW-190s. The low group, to our left, had three Forts go down from this first pass. We also saw three German fighters shot down by this group during this time. The No. 4 ship, lead ship of our element and on whose wing we were flying formation, had its No. l engine hit. It immediately burst into flames and dropped out of formation. A few minutes later, this plane exploded. Soon afterward, the No. 3 ship ahead of us also caught on fire in the No. l engine and peeled out of formation. This ship exploded, also. Lt. Purcell was the pilot, and he and his crew didn't have a chance. (Purcell and I had been together through all of our training.) I then moved my ship up into the No. 3 position, flying on the left wing of the Wing Leader, General Travis.
Several fierce attacks were made on our squadron - the other groups were getting worked over by the Krauts, also. We were all really catching hell. We made several evasive maneuvers to get away from the fighters during this time. It looked like the Germans thought we were headed for Berlin on this mission, and were making an all out effort to stop us.
Our bomb run was made amidst accurate flak bursts and continued fighter attacks. Our target was the factory that produced 45% of the German FW-190 fighters. From all reports, we did a highly satisfactory job of bombing and destroyed practically all of this plant. Later on, we were awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation Badge for this day's work. Just before we turned on our bombing run, possibly fifteen or twenty minutes before, a FW-190 made a pass at our lead ship and then came on through the formation towards us. S/Sgt Rosier, top turret gunner, shot him down and thereby got his first fighter. The ball turret gunner, Sgt. Hein, got a "very probable" fighter within two or three minutes after Rosier had nailed his fighter.
Upon our withdrawal from the target, we were attacked spasmodically by fighters and shot at by some very good flak gunners. During the concentrated fighter attack, our plane received damage from a 20mm shell that was fired from a little above and to the left of the cockpit, going just over the cockpit, grazing the fuselage, going through the stabilizer and elevator on the right side of the plane. Apparently the Gods were with us, because this shell didn't explode when it hit. Otherwise, we would have been blown to Kingdom Come.
We also had a large hole shot through the No. 3 engine oil cooler, which just grazed a gas tank and then hit the hydraulic line which operates the No. 4 engine cowl flaps. Another lucky hit for us!
As we approached the German border, two more Forts in our group were lost - only two or three men got out of each ship. I also saw another Fort (ahead and to our left) do a very steep wing-over, nearly going over on its back, and then go down in flames. About this time I saw a German fighter get hit by a flak burst and explode. This made us all chuckle! High above and ahead of us, a P-47 hit a German fighter, and the Jerry's plane exploded. And to our left, a P-47 knocked down a JU-88 at about the same time. (We had a few P-47s and P-51s come out to help us on our withdrawal as soon as Bomber Headquarters found out that there were two wings of bombers which had gone on to their targets.) As an added feature during all of this time, we were continually being shot at - and far too accurately, too - by some very good Kraut flak gunners.
Upon reaching beautiful England, we found the usual weather awaiting us. England was socked-in with a very dense overcast, and to get below it. we came in over the coast at about 2000 feet and then had to drop down to about 300 feet before we ever reached the base. The field was really socked-in, and after buzzing the field, we finally located the runway and landed. Immediately upon touching the ground, I locked the brakes because I had landed too far down the runway for a normal landing roll. We slid both wheels - the pavement was wet from the rain and sleet - and did just slide to a stop not over thirty feet from the end of the runway. We had just enough room left to turn the plane around by locking one wheel and turning on a point.
Lt. McManus, my roommate, was reported to have landed somewhere in England, so we all felt relieved and happy that he and his crew were safe. Mac and I are the only ones left of the original ones in our squadron who started together in primary training.
All of us were a very happy and thankful bunch of boys to get our feet on the ground that day. England never looked so good! There was no injury to any member of the crew, though our plane was shot up quite a bit in several places. Our bomb load was 6 five-hundred pound demolition bombs, and we also carried one bomb bay gasoline tank.
The last reports we received from this mission listed ten planes lost out of our group. Altogether, sixty-one Flying Fortresses and crews were lost on this mission. Of the ten crews lost from our field, I knew five of the First Pilots personally and had done much of my training with them. They were Lieutenants Purcell, Eich, Schwaebe, Simmons and Hallden.
From the official site of the 303rd Bomb Group.