Bombing Nazi Targets In Norway
The Eighth Air Force's mission number 75 was Norway. On the 24th three targets in Norway are attacked. This is Eighth's first mission to Norway and its longest (1,900 miles or 3,040 km round trip) to date. On Saturday, 24 July 1943, 179 B-17's and 1 YB-40 are dispatched against the nitrate works at Heroya, Norway; 167 aircraft hit the target at 1317-1414 hours; they claim 9-2-0 Luftwaffe aircraft; 1 B-17 is lost and 53 are damaged; casualties are 3 WIA and 10 MIA. The USAAF delivered a crippling blow to the German plant producing synthetic cryolite, used in the manufacture of aluminum. Work at the plant is disrupted for 3.5 months, and unfinished aluminum and magnesium plants are damaged and subsequently abandoned by the Germans.
U-boat bases or bunkers at Trondheim and Bergen 45 B-17's are dispatched against the port area at Trondheim; 41 hit the target; they claim 4-2-3 Luftwaffe aircraft; 1 B-17 is damaged beyond repair and 9 are damaged; casualties are 3 WIA. 84 B-17's are dispatched against the port area at Bergen; they find 10/10 cloud cover and return to base with their bombs.
The Eighth Air Force's mission number 131 was Norway. On the 16th, two targets in Norway are hit with the loss of 2 bombers. On Tuesday, 16 November 1943, 130 of 189 B-17's hit the industrial area at Knaben at 1133-1238 hours; they claim 2-0-4 Luftwaffe aircraft; 1 B-17 is lost and 7 damaged; casualties are 1 WIA and 10 MIA. Knaben was described by ETOUSA headquarters as "the most important industrial target in German-held Norway." Practically Germany's only source of molybdenum - a vital element used in hardening steel and making machine tools - was damaged severely.
At Rjukan 147 of 160 B-17's hit the industrial area at 1143-1145 hours; 1 B-17 is lost and 1 damaged beyond repair; casualties are 2 KIA and 10 MIA. 29 of 39 B-24's hit Rjukan at 1204-1212 hours; no losses or casualties. Rjuken power plant is one of the world's largest electrolysis works and an important producer of hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and essential components of high explosives. Heavy damage was done and thoroughly plastered.
The aiming point of the target was the pen-stocks down the mountain from the dam for the hydro-electric building in the valley below. This building also contained the Norwegian heavy water plant which was being used by the Germans to provide heavy water for their experimentation in the development of the Atomic/Hydrogen bomb.
This was the only mission made by the 390th Bombardment Group to a Norwegian target. Twenty of our group of B-17Fs took the long route over the North Sea from England to hit this target. One aircraft tied in with the 1st Division formation and bombed
Rjukan was located in a peaceful valley seventy-five miles west of Oslo. The terrain was rugged and the hillside where the penstocks came down was steep. This heavy water factory was instrumental to the German scientists in their plans for building an atomic bomb. The tremendous amount of hydro-electric power generated from Norwegian streams was to be harnessed for production of this heavy oxygen or as we called it, heavy water. It was the critical element the Germans believed could be made into an atomic force which would defeat the allies, England and America, if they could just get it perfected before the allies did.
On the long over-water trip north over the North Sea our navigator, Gus Mencow, used his sextant to shoot the sun for a sun line exactly at noontime. This gave him a good location of our north latitude and the north-south distance covered since we left England. From this, he adjusted his ground speed value to compute a better-estimated time of arrival (ETA) at the Norwegian coast. This was the initial point (IP) for the start of our bomb run. I believe this was the only time that celestial navigation was ever used in the European Theater during World War II. Gus was a highly competent navigator, a member of the lead crew of Captain Jim Geary in the 570th Squadron.
Their lead aircraft was affectionately known by its crew as, "Pistol Packin' Mamma". Flying with this crew was Major Joseph Gemmill as Command Pilot and the Squadron Navigator, Captain Marshall Shore acting in the capacity of Command Navigator. The Bombardier was Captain Donald Ventress, the 570th Squadron Bombardier. The bomb load on all 390th aircraft was four (4) each, 1000 pound general purpose bombs.
Three runs were made on the target. On the first run, prop wash from the 95th Bomb Group interfered, and on the second run clouds and smoke interfered. On the third attempt the bombs were released prematurely, and struck the hillside west of the target. Other Groups, fortunately, damaged the plant severely. This plant was later-on struck by a Norwegian sabotage team that penetrated it on the ground, and Rjukan was never fully developed. The first and only large shipment of heavy water to head for Germany was sabotaged and the ship was blown up in a Norwegian fjord before it left Norway. The Norwegians were smarter in this respect than the Germans. The German quest for heavy water was completely thwarted.
One aircraft # 230455R, Schifliss Skonk, from the 569th Bomb Squadron on its twelfth mission flown by Raymond Becker, Pilot, caught fire and crashed in the North Sea. Three small boats were seen to head for the scene. There were no survivors. Gunners of the 390th group were given credit for shooting down two enemy fighters that attacked the group over Norway.
On the third run at the target, an unfortunate thing happened to cause the bombs to fall a distance from the aiming point. The Command Pilot, Joe Gemmill, thinking that the bombs had been released, even though the red release light in the cockpit had not get come on, took control of the aircraft from the automatic pilot and started a turn off the target run. This caused a bombing error which was not the fault of the Bombardier. It was regrettable. We had flown so far to this important target and wanted very much to make a good hit on the aiming point. But such things happened occasionally in combat, especially when under attack from fighters or flak. This was not the case on this mission as flak was not very accurate and there were no fighters around bothering us at the time. Our return flight back to England was long and boring. We landed with the loss of one crew that ditched off the Norwegian coast.
On 15 November 1943, a few days after the first Allied 1,000 bomber strike on the Third Reich, my group, the 392nd, was alerted for a special mission to Norway. The lead crews' pilots, bombardiers, and navigators were called to the Intelligence Room and given a special briefing and target study. The 2nd Air Division operations order specified the target as the Germans' secret heavy-water plant - a nuclear energy development facility. The plant operated in conjunction with the hydro-electric plant near the town of Ryuken, in the mountains seventy-five miles west of Oslo. It was a small target, not easy to locate or sight-on from altitude.
The mission was long - over 600 miles one way - so the bomb load was lightened to ten 500-pounders, and the route and bombing altitude was lowered from the usual 20,000 plus to 12,000 feet. This altitude conserved fuel and would enhance the bombing accuracy. It was a nice altitude to fly, remember?
The next morning, 16 November, a predawn takeoff was made by twenty B-24Hs. Assembling in group formation, they flew northeast 280 miles over the North Sea, then for 160 miles through the Skagerrak. Landfall was at Lanngesund Fjord, then past the city of Skien and northwest to the target.
The obstacle to accurate navigation and "pinpoint" bombing was the scattered clouds shielding the terrain. This was dramatically overcome by expert teamwork by the pilotage navigator in the nose turret, the lead crew navigator, and the lead crew bombardier. The bombing run was made on automatic-pilot by bombardier "Doc" Weiland, and the formation of twenty B24s dropped their bombs simultaneously right on the aiming point - the hydroelectric and heavy-water plants. The 392nd's bombing results for that day were rated by 2nd Air Division photo evaluation as excellent - the target badly damaged. No fighters, no flak, and all airplanes returned. Great!
Two days later, 18 November, the 2nd Air Division "frag" order called for another mission to Norway. Target: JU-88 airplane assembly plant. Location: Oslo airport, otherwise known as Kjeiller or perhaps Kjeller. Distance: 700 miles from our Norfolk County base of Wendling.
Takeoff began at the pre-dawn hour of 0600. The red-yellow identification flares of the lead ship and deputy-lead (that was me) sparkled brightly in the darkness as the group's twenty-four bombers pulled into their assigned positions of the formation. Again the course was northeast across the North Sea and through the Skagerrak, then on to Oslo. Three airplanes had to turn back because of engine failure or the like. I remember the sky was clear and blue the whole way, with fleecy white clouds below us somewhat hiding the icy, cold waters of the North Sea. The gunners test-fired their 50 caliber guns and anxiously scanned for anticipated enemy fighters from Denmark. None showed.
The clouds diminished toward landfall, and when we turned at the initial point (IP) for our bombing run, the city of Oslo could be viewed. The skilled navigator-bombardier team of Swangren and Good systematically checked off landmarks, course heading, wind drift, true airspeed, and minutes to "bombs away." Then, there was the target standing out in the late morning sun. At 12,000 feet altitude - it would be a shame to miss it. Bombardier Joe Whittaker, with me in the deputy-lead airplane, was following through with every essential detail of a bombing run. Should anything have happened to the lead airplane and it suddenly aborted the bomb run, Joe had his bombsight crosshairs right on the aiming point of the assembly plant, and if given the word "take-over" would have successfully delivered the bombs.
I don't remember any flak, but I do remember what a smooth, coordinated bomb run it was, and Lieutenant McGregor holding the lead airplane precisely on the bombing altitude and airspeed. Twenty-one airplanes in tight formation simultaneously released 210 bombs on target as briefed.
Outbound, the same scattered-to-broken clouds lay over the Skagerrak beneath us. Then the gunners spotted the adversaries. Skimming across the cloud tops opposite to our line of flight, a dozen or more twin-engine JU-88s sized up our formation. Rest assured our "loose flyers" moved into tight formation for mutual protection from concentrated fire power.
Climbing so as to make fast diving passes, they circled in behind us. Diving in pairs, they lobbed rockets and 20 millimeter explosive shells into our formation. Our tail and top turrets responded with bursts that vibrated the whole airplane, then the ball turret opened up on them as they broke off the attack below. Sergeant Johnson, flying with Lieutenant Everhart, riddled one so badly it burst into flame and was last seen diving toward the sea.
I've forgotten on which pass the fighters made on us that two of our airplanes were badly hit, lost power, and could not keep up. As they fell behind, the JU-88s concentrated their attacks on them. The B-24s dove for the clouds below. For awhile our gunners watched a game of hide-and-seek. The bombers dodged from cloud to cloud while the fighters - like hawks - circled and dove as they spotted the crippled bombers between the clouds, and then they were lost from sight. Months later we learned that one of them made it to Sweden, where the combat crew was interned for the duration of the war.
With a true airspeed of nearly 200 miles an hour, but bucking headwinds, it took us all of an hour to clear the Skagerrak and range beyond the German fighters. Ten hours after takeoff, Deputy Group Commander Lorin Johnson peeled off the formation for landing at AAF Station 118, Wendling. Recorded 2nd Air Division evaluation of bombing results: Excellent.
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