487th Bomb Group (H)
Station 137 - Lavenham, Suffolk, UK
22-Sep-43 to 7-Nov-45


[Tim Erskine's Note: I would like to thank Bob Holliday for sending me a copy of Andy's diary. I have included it here, as it was sent to me.]


I was copilot on a B-17 and, since Jack Stanley, our pilot, had more than average experience, we eventually found ourselves on a lead crew. We led squadrons, groups, wings, even the entire Third Division once. Naturally, my navigator, Norman K. Andrew, or Andy as we called him, had to have superlative skills, and he did. Andy was 28; I was only 22. He was from Houston, every bit a Texan, and loved to talk about his days in the oil drilling tool business. Fortunately, I was a good listener.

Andy is no longer with us but recently his daughter Kathy sent me his original diary in three closely-written volumes. Andy had a broader view of the air war over Europe than I did. While I flew, or watched instruments, Andy watched the landmarks, the flak sites, the enemy fighters, and what was happening to other groups. I think his diary is extremely worthwhile as a detailed record of what went on up there. It demonstrates how difficult it was to coordinate a huge stream of bombers with their human and explosive loads through weather, enemy action, mechanical and electronic failures, and human errors, to the targets. Sometimes we had to turn back without bombing anything; other times we bombed "targets of opportunity." One way or another we almost always dropped our bombs.

We were stationed at Lavenham, England, about 35 miles east of Cambridge. We belonged to the 837th Squadron, 487th Bomb Group, 4th Wing, 3rd Division of the Eighth Air Force. We arrived as replacements in July when the older crews were still talking about D-Day, and flew our first mission in August. Due to the weather there were sometimes weeks between missions. When we weren't training we found time to explore London, Cambridge, Bury St. Edmonds, and Lavenham. I have focussed on the actual missions here.

I was proud to have been part of this action and I am proud to present Andy's view of it all. He was an unforgettable person.

Bob Holliday
Santa Monica, Calif. , February 1996

NOTES ON ORGANIZATION: A squadron would mount a formation of 13 aircraft; a group had 3 squadrons and would mount 39 aircraft; a wing had 3 groups; a division had a number of wings. The 1st and 3rd divisions were B-17s; the 2nd division was B-24s. Squadrons flew in a vee formation with the left one higher and the right one lower than the lead squadron. It was important to fly a tight formation for maximum protection from fighters, but a frontal attack with 20mm guns could be deadly. The normal B-17 crew was 11 men; lead crews usually carried more than that, what with Air Leaders, special navigators, and special bombardiers. Only the lead and deputy lead aircraft carried Norden bombsights; others toggled their bombs when they saw the lead ship drop its bombs. The 13th ship in a squadron was "tail-end Charlie," a vulnerable position.

Lead crews flew fewer total missions because they were the "aiming points" and were more frequently shot down by flak and fighters. Also, they flew more practice missions. We were in England for 9 months compared with an average of 4-5 months for wing crews.

Andy used many abbreviations and technical terms. I have tried to explain them below.

5/10ths, etc. - fraction of cloud coverage
AFCE - anybody know?
A.F - airfield
Buncher - a beacon of known location
Chaff - aluminum foil to fool radar
CQ - Charge of Quarters, enlisted man who wakes you from a sound sleep
Engine # - Sit in the pilot's seat and count engines from left to right.
Gee Box - Plot your position by homing on a network of beacons. Very accurate.
IP - Initial Point where you start your bomb run
Kts - Knots, nautical miles per hour
Micro-H - Electronic assistance on the bomb run, using beacon
MPI - main point of impact desired
NM - nautical miles
PFF - Pathfinder radar for bombing through overcast
Splasher - a beacon where you gather your squadrons and groups together
RP - rally point where you reassemble squadrons after the bomb run
T/O - take off
V-1 - German pilotless aircraft("buzz bomb") powered by ramjet, dived on signal from timer
V-2 - German ballistic rocket carrying a ton of explosives



8/9/44 Mission #1

Flew our 1st mission today, 34 to go. They woke us at 1:50 am. Briefing time 3:00 am. So we knew it was pretty sure to be a long one. Had pineapple juice, fresh egg, hotcakes, sausage, cold cereal, coffee. Target Schmitt ball bearing works, Nurnberg. Took off 0715 - left England 0856. Over enemy coast 0921. Ran into overcast and cloudy weather. Turned back approx. 50 miles southeast of Aachen. Picked a target of opportunity - dropped on lead ship and leveled the town of St. Vith - in Belgium. Encountered flak at Liege - moderate. Landed 1220. Logged 5-1/4 hrs.

8/13/44 Mission #2

Woke us up at 5:45 am for mission #2. On the way to breakfast we piled out of the truck and saw a buzz bomb. It was really moving along - stringing out flames behind it. It sounded a bit louder then an outboard motor. What a gliding angle! It hit about a mile and a half from the field. The briefing for the mission was the real Army stuff. Gave us series #3 charts and the "Gee" signals were series #2. Mission was three-ship element bombing behind the German lines - about 25 miles west of Paris 1 mile south of the Seine. We went into France between Cherbourg and Bayeaux. We skirted the lines (on the Allied side). We were lead ship of our element - I was really sure that we stayed on course. Between St. Lo and Uire there was a 12-ship formation flying on our left about 8 miles. They plowed right over a flak battery at Falaise. I was looking right at them when one of the ships got a direct hit in the right wing. The wing broke off between #3 and #4. Wing fell in flames - the ship fell in flames, tight spin to the right. No parachutes observed. Three minutes later another one got a direct hit. All I could see was shiny bits of aluminum - just a ball of fire. No one had a chance. The formation did not try evasive action. As near as I could spot the flak it was close to Falaise. We turned on the I.P. and made a 15-minute bomb run. hit a road - purpose of raid was to interrupt Jerry's supply lines. We dropped 36 100-lb general purpose bombs. About 20 miles SW of Rouen there were about 12 rocket bombs. They really leave a trail of smoke. Jack called out 4 planes down in flames before I saw what he meant. Van Nostrand called 5 parachutes - it was a high formation that the sun just hit at the right angle. After the rally point I called Jack to tack onto a formation. As usual Jack said, "Hell, Andy, let's go home by ourselves - get there quicker." So we drug into England with a formation on our tail. I can still see that B-17 in a tight right spin. I knew they couldn't get out - it was spinning too tight. I'd rather get a direct hit.

8/24/44 Mission #3

Was awakened at 1:45 this morning by Dick Giles. They were on their way to briefing. I thought to myself, "Missed us this time." -- but, the CQ woke me at 2:00 am for 2:30 briefing. So--after a breakfast of canned grapefruit - 2 eggs over easy - bologna (ugh!) - and cereal - and fresh oranges and coffee, I was well prepared for the shock of the rising curtain (on the mission route). Holy Smokes! Whoever planned this one should have given it to the Russians - it was sure a lot closer to them. Anyway - take-off was 7:45 - departed Splasher #7 at 9:08, left England and headed for Heligoland at 9:32. Just before Heligoland Dick lost his oxygen and aborted so the deputy lead took over. Target was a synthetic oil plant at Dresden - secondary, an airplane assembly plant; last resort an airfield. It had rained off and on until take-off. The apron to my flak suit was wet (really frozen stiff at 25,000 ( 25 deg.C). Saw a hell of a lot of flak all along the route but the nearest to us (except at the target) was approx. 300 yds - they used rockets - not even close and saw one burst of red flak - the rest was black. Every town we went by was smoke screened - but Bremen was getting quite a pasting. They were putting flak all the way up to 30,000 but I observed no hits.

We made a very fancy bomb run - evasive action for all but about 3 minutes - then the bomb bay doors would not open electrically. So Rector cranked them open. Then - on bombs away only 1/2 the load dropped, 5 500-lb GPS so Chuck hit both the salvo and the toggle switches. That did it, but it threw the other 5 500-lb bombs about 3 sec over the target - approx. 1000 ft. Then Rector had to hand crank the doors shut while we were making just about a 180 and diving. There were 51 sure guns at the target. The ride home was just a ride. Some flak but all of it wild. Back at the base when we landed we darn near ground-looped. The pin in the tail wheel sheared and we took off across the infield. To top it off it started raining like the devil and everybody got wet. There was one ship (B-17-G) that landed at Lavenham that made it all the way back from Dresden on 2 motors. They had thrown everything they could out, including the parachutes.

Logged 8-1/2 hours - 5:05 on oxygen and traveled 1204 nautical miles not counting evasive action. On that oxygen - I had to move to the Bomb-Copilot line so Jack would have enough to get home - landed with the red light on and 75 pounds on the gauge. So ends it - hope we didn't kill any women or children with those wild bombs.

8/25/44 Mission #4

Rudely awakened at 4:30 for 5:00 briefing. Looked like a short one - but - it was sure longer than yesterday's. Left Great Yarmouth at 9:32 and headed over the North Sea. Right through a stationary front. It really scattered the formation. We were reforming for 100 miles. Came over Germany at the Denmark peninsula about 5 miles left of course. Everything was smooth - solid undercast - when, with no warning the Flensberg flak batteries opened up. They must have tracked us for 10 minutes because the first bursts were right off our left wing in the formation. The plane would jump up about six inches every time a burst would let go underneath and there were several. One of the ships got his, jettisoned his bombs and headed home. We got the hell out of there. From Flensberg we cut across Kiel Bay to Nykobing on one of Denmark's islands. Angled across the Baltic Sea and hit Germany again near Stettine Haff. Two flak batteries took shots at us going by but we were just out of range. We flew west of Stettine where the flak forced us to fly 4 miles off course - that flak wasn't very well figured out. Turned on a 6-minute bomb run and hit an experimental airfield (Recklin Field, the Wright Field of Germany) on the SE shores of the Muritz Sea. Had about 15 flak guns at the target and they were good. One of the boys went down in flames - the stories vary, from 3 to 9 chutes came out. It was the deputy lead - 6 officers and 5 enlisted men. We had 7i holes from flak. Went north to Nykobing and home the same route as we flew out. Plane out for 4 days. Logged 9-3/4 hours but only 2-1/4 hours on oxygen. I'll dream of that bomb run - there were 3 bursts of 3 right across the nose. If that gunner had loaded just a little slower, he would have had us.

Well, four down and 31 to go. Wasn't quite as scared today as yesterday - but that's not saying much. Better get some sleep - we're alerted for tomorrow - if we do it'll be rough - day 3 in a row is rough.

8/26/44 Mission #5

Up at 4:00. Briefing, Plan "B" at 5:00. It sure looked good to look at the flak map and see Brest for the target. Not Brest itself, but a flak and coastal battery across the bay.

Nice trip - But - there isn't such a thing as a milk run. We went over the target at 20,400. There were clouds about 9/10 - but we had a beautiful hole and about a 1-1/2 minute bomb run. The Air Leader had jumped the gun and decided to go under the clouds so we didn't drop. Damn it! So we circled around and came in at 17,400. I could see a battery in Brest winking at us. The ship jumped about a foot once - but the only flak observed was at 7 o'clock level and close in. Found out later they were shooting grey flak and it blended with the clouds. Anyway I wish they would do that more often - it has its psychological advantages. Dropped 38 100-lb GP's. I think we dumped them in the bay. However someone ahead of us has put a load on the target - I saw the smoke the first time over.

Logged 7 hours. The best part of it was only 3 hours on oxygen and only 45 minutes carrying that flak suit. My shoulders are really sore from the last 2 long trips. So ends Mission #5. Traveled about 680 NM not counting the 2nd run. Make it 700 NM.

9/1/44 Mission #6

Up at 2:30 am for 3:45 briefing. However I've had so much sleep the last 3 days that I hardly slept at all.

We are beginning to get some benefit from the occupation of France. We were scheduled to bomb Mainz, a supply depot. Going over we were behind the lines. However we ran into some pretty soupy weather. It went up to about 30,000. We circled around and over Paris trying to get through. Our position was #3 on the lead element; #1 and #2 were pathfinder ships. We milled around in the overcast for about 1-1/2 hours. Ships and formations were everywhere. At one time one formation went right across over us and one went under. Really gave us a scare. The mission was finally recalled. Two ships, not from our field, had a mid-air collision - coming around a cumulus build-up from different directions. Some of our boys, on the way home, weren't quite on the ball and went over Le Havre. Got some flak but no damage.

Logged 7 hours. Plus a few more gray hairs. Temperature went to -31C.

(Ed.note: During this break of almost a month we were designated a lead crew and took some appropriate training. We now had only 30 missions to fly instead of 35.)

9/30/44 Mission #7

The mission today was a PFF - but we still flew. Number 2 in the high. Bombed the marshalling yards at Bielfeld - I think we dropped short. We had a pilotage bombardier getting his 25th mission in so he can go home. Pretty sharp boy. We had about 8/10 most of the way - 10/10ths the rest. We had no flak, no fighters. Some of the wings coming in behind us went too close to Munster. Osnobruk tried a few bursts - about 1/2 mile off our right wing. One of our boys flipped over on his back and tore the wing off of his left wing man (this was #037, the ship we flew over from the states). Both went down - must have been prop wash. One ship in the group behind us blew up. What a day!

10/2/44 Mission #8

The sergeant woke me up at 2:15 for 3:00 am pre-briefing. For some reason they did not get me up for Target Study. Target: Primary - A/F north of Kassel. Secondary - PFF on the marshalling yards in Kassel. For some reason I had a feeling of confidence all the way through. Slept soundly for two hours last night. After getting out to the hardstand and pre-flighting my stuff I lay down in the crew chief's tent and slept for 15 minutes.

T/O 0645. We ran into some light inaccurate flak between Koblenz and Mainz as we crossed the Rhine. I was working like mad on my guns. Joe put the left hand gun on the right side and vice versa. I had to change the switches at 25,000 ft and -40C. Was sweating when I finished - too busy to even watch the flak. The formation was really lousy -- all over the sky. Supposed to come in on a mag. heading of 116 - came in on 176. Target about 8/10ths covered. Bombed from 27,400 ft. On the turn from the target we were carried by an 80-knot wind over the flak area at Gorringen. Flak at target moderate - fairly accurate. Flak at G---- light, accurate. At the R.P. I was watching one B-17 that was circling below us and losing altitude. Obviously hit. The right wing came off at #4 and the plane caught fire and disintegrated in not over 10 seconds. One chute observed. Not from our Group. Time of mission 7:45; 4:30 on oxygen. Maximum cold -44C. Easy trip home.

10/22/44 Mission #9

Target study 5:45 am. Target - Munster. It was what the uninitiated call a milk run - but I still sweat them all out to the target. We led the low squadron. The mission was strictly PFF - 10/10ths. Had one hole just east of the Zuider Zee. Something new was tried today. Two ships carried nothing but 1600 lbs of chaff. They flew above the high squadron and at the I.P. they took off in a 200 fpm dive with an 8 P-51 escort. When we dropped the flak was bursting about 8000 ft under us. I had a #27 set Gee box and was able to pick up the "C" blip all the way. Load was 12 500-lb GPs. We put 6 on the target; 3 a half second over; and 3 one second over.

11/2/44 Mission #10

Up at 3:30 for 4:30 pre-briefing. Target: Merseberg, Germany, synthetic oil plant. Third highest priority target in Germany.

Everything was fine until we hit the target area. Instead of a bomb run of 95 magnetic we finally dropped on 194 mag. Toured the Leipzig flak area from north to south (the long way). Four planes in our immediate vicinity went down in flames. Quite a rat-race at the target - groups everywhere. Dick Giles, McDougall, and Remaklus finished 30 today. Dick said that for the first time he was really scared and wanted to turn out. We were in flak for 12 minutes. It was classified as intense, accurate, barrage type. Evasive action was no good - it was everywhere and not just a few puffs. After landing the boys said Big B was a milk run compared to it. The Leipzig area has 450 guns and I think they had had a chance at us.

Load 10 500-lb GPs. My figures: 874 B-17s over target. 4,370,000 lbs of bombs. Our escort was 850 P-51s and P-38s. They tangled with the Luftwaffe at the I.P. at 12:30 - we were over the target. They hit the group behind us at the R.P at 1330. 19 E/A were shot down over the target - one P-51. We led the low squadron. What a day! Planes shot up - planes aborting - planes all over the deck coming home. Coming over the North Sea we saw a B-17 with no horizontal stabilizer. We had one small hole in our stabilizer.

11/9/44 Mission #11

Up at 2:00 for 3:00 pre-briefing. Target: a honey right behind the lines. Some forts holding up Gen. Patton. We were group deputy lead. For a while I thought we were going to lead.

The primary was visual - secondary PFF. We couldn't see the primary until we were right over it - so we hit the secondary, the marshalling yards at Saarbrucken, Germany.

We had flak in the high and low squadrons - one ship in the low caught on fire and blew up. Three chutes seen - 2 were on fire.

11/11/44 Mission #12

The CQ woke Bob and Chuck at 3:50 for target study. Then he woke Jack and me at 3:55 for 4:30 pre-briefing. Target: marshalling yard just south of Coblenz, Germany (Oberlaunstein). We flew deputy group lead until just before the IP. We then took over the lead for a Micro H bomb run. I called Whittnell just before the IP to see if he had it. He said yes, then, as we turned we slid into the Trier flak area. No damage. I got a Gee fix from the Ruhr chain at Bombs Away. We were right on course and 3-1/2 miles from the target. Load 11 500-lb GPs.

11/26/44 Mission #13

Called at 4:30. T/O at 0840. Target: marshalling yard at Hamm, in Happy Valley. Had to do some fancy weaving to get in the bomber stream. They had 3 groups over Buncher #13 at the same time - stacked. We were leading the 487th. We had trouble all the way in over-running the group ahead. On the bomb run one lonesome B-17 nearly cut us out. Whitt got Chuck started at 70 deg. when Jack took off 10 deg. to the left. By the time we got back on the run all the check points had gone by. Chuck dropped on the indices and I got a Rheims Chain "gee" fix. 2-12 NM short of target on course. Estimated that we missed the MPI but hit the yards.

Saw one plane down in flames at RP. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Divisions used the same corridors coming out. Never saw so many planes in my life. The field socked in 15 minutes after we landed.

11/27/44 Mission #14

Was really surprised to be awakened at 4:45 am for 5:30 pre-briefing. It was a micro-H run on the marshalling yard at Bingen, Germany - on the Rhine. Looked like a milk run but there was quite a bit of battle damage from flak. Kramer was leading the group. They had their bombsight, electrical system, and oxygen shot out. Aborted at the target. We led home, but only got credit for a squadron lead. I was sure glad to get the lead - we were really skirting three flak areas. We are due to lead the low tomorrow if it's PFF. Saw two V-2s taking off for London - they were still within 10 deg. of vertical when they passed out of sight at at least 55 to 60,000 ft. Traveling from 500 to 800 mph.

11/30/44 Mission #15

Rough! Target: Merseberg. We were flying deputy lead. Had a fighter escort of 26 groups. Estimates ranged from 850 to 1250 planes. We went in south of Coblenz and right through the Luftwaffe's back yard and out the front yard. Right over the IP (after they had over-shot) the lead told us to take over for the bomb run for a visual run. Then they held the lead for about 80 miles and we couldn't get in. Then - this hot (?) pilotage navigator we had didn't have a map to help Chuck. I grabbed one and gave it to him and he was just in Chuck's way. Chuck had to set up the AFCE. Also - the 100th Group were going in abreast of us about 1/2 mile right. The smoke screen was in full swing and the flak was everywhere. Chuck couldn't pick up the Leund refinery through it - so we bombed a refinery (?) vicinity of Zeist. After landing the Air Leader tried to say he called for a PFF run. What a mess! We lost Kursran - direct hit in #3 - flamer and blew up. The 100th Group lost 3 or 4.


Go to Part Two of "A Navigator's Story"

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