The mission this day would see the 392nd suffer its heaviest losses, both aircraft and aircrew members, of any individual raid ever flown during its combat experience in World War II. Before the mission was completed, (14) aircraft and crews would be lost and (9) other ships damaged by fighters and flak, all totaling (154) casualties....
The 579th Squadron was slated to lead the Group with Lt White as lead Bombardier. Aircrews were briefed with a dual option of Friedrichshafen as a primary target and Russleheim, outside Frankfurt, as a secondary. Crews learned around 0800 hours that the primary was confirmed as their target. At approximately 1000, take-offs began. Of the (28) aircraft dispatched, (4) aborted for mechanical difficulties and returned early and (2) others met misfortune and were lost in a mid-air collision over France at 4934°N-0216°E. Both aircrews were from the 577th Squadron. In aircraft #174 ‘R’ for Roger, another Gotha veteran, 2nd Lieutenant Dalton’s crew got caught in propeller wash, colliding with aircraft #824, 2nd Lieutenant Anderson’s ship, slicing off the tail and tail turret of ft 824. Both ships collided again going down and exploded in sheets of flame before crashing. One chute was positively seen and one other probable. (Click here) to see corrections regarding Dalton/Anderson/Feran crews) The remaining (22) Liberators pressed on to their target without mishap or enemy opposition....
Nearing the target, flak became heavy. Just before the bomb run, the 44th Bomb Group in the lead of the 14th Combat Wing made a 360 degree turn for some unknown reason at the time. The 392nd continued on ahead with the first block of leading ships bombing the target but overshooting it with some bombs impacting in the city of Friedrichshafen. The second block of the Group’s aircraft, disconcerted now by the maneuvering up ahead, chose to bomb a Target of Opportunity the railroad yards at Stockach. A total of (1246) 100# bombs were released with results evaluated as fair to poor. By bomb release time, the maneuvering of the formations had separated the 392nd’s aircraft from a compact unity. Further complicating the situation was the running behind time by some (9) minutes for the briefed fighter escort rendezvous which was missed.
The time then was about 1500 hours when an estimated 60-75 ME-109 and FW-190 fighters swept in on the Group out of the contrails, five and six line-abreast, and attacked through the formation. Enemy fighters attacked twice more in the same fashion before P-38 interceptors could intervene. In the running air battle and flak barrage of about thirty-five minutes between 1445 and 1530 hours, the Group lost (12) B-24s. The intensity of the fighter encounters was attested by the (28) confirmed claims made by the 392nd gunners. The toll for the Group was far more devastating and in this short span of time and savage activity the fate of a number of aircrews was not known.
From the 576th Squadron, (3) aircrews were lost and MIA. In ship #692 ‘J’ for Juliet, 1st Lieutenant W. T. Hebron’s crew, who had flown to Gotha in the same airplane, was believed to have left the formation at 1514, position 4830N-0810E, and explode with no chutes observed. 1st Lieutenant D. K. Clover’s aircraft #411 was last seen fifteen minutes after the target drifting from formation to the south under control. No chutes were seen. On airplane #651, 2nd Lieutenant J. E. Feran’s crew who had also been to Gotha, nothing was known on the loss of aircrew and ship.
Two (2) aircraft and crews were lost and MIA from the 577th Squadron. In aircraft #497 ‘N’ for Nectar, 1st Lieutenant L. G. Peterson and his crew, also participants in the 24 February Gotha mission, were last seen at 1510 hours at position 4816N-0741E. One outboard engine was afire with the ship spinning down to the left and crashing. Four (4) chutes were seen opening at once as the airplane difficulties began with (3) more chutes sighted from delayed crew member jumps. The other 577th aircrew lost was a Gotha veteran also. In #826, nothing further was known about the loss of 1st Lieutenant G. T. Haffermehl and his crew. The 578th Squadron was to lose (4) aircraft in this short time, also. Flying ship #981 ‘U’-Bar, the aircraft he had flown to Gotha, 1st Lieutenant Clifford L. Peterson with his crew was last seen at 1500 hours at 4815N-0750E in a power dive at approximately 2000 feet. Only one chute was seen coming from his ship and the fate of the crew was not further known.
In #518 S-Bar, 1st Lieutenant W. C. Raschke and his crew were last seen at 1500 hours at 4812N-0812E when the bomber was seen to fly an almost impossible aerodynamic maneuver by completing an outside loop, then, went straight down and crashed. Nine (9) parachutes were observed. In X-Bar #465, 1st Lieutenant Rex Johnson’s crew was seen last at about 1500, position 4812N-0812E, crashing with no chutes seen. In ship #945, 2nd Lieutenant Bruce L. Sooy and his crew were lost and MIA with nothing known about their fate.
The 579th Squadron was not to be spared their losses. In this unit, (3) aircrews were lost and MIA. In airplane #127, 1st Lieutenant W. A. Kale’s crew was last seen straggling off to the formation’s left for approximately twenty minutes prior to target, then, salvoing bombs the aircraft went under the formation to the right heading toward Switzerland. Aircraft #117 with 1st Lieutenant W. G. Sharpe’s crew was seen at 1505 hours, position 4812N-0812E, going down with an undetermined number of parachutes coming out. Updated primary research information on Sharpe's crew at MACR #03329. In ship #742, 1st Lieutenant D. 0. Books and crew were last seen at 1505 at 4812N-0812E with the flight deck on fire, flying at low altitude under control with (8) chutes drifting away.
On the return route, one other aircraft would be lost on this raid. Aircraft #100 with Lieutenant J. E. Muldoon’s crew had suffered a 20MM cannon shell hit which started a fire in the Radio compartment, shorting out the bail-out bell circuit. Just before reaching the French-German border, two crewmen bailed out and nothing further was known of their fate. Muldoon and his crew had also flown on the Gotha mission. As the (7) aircraft remaining returned to England, all with extensive battle damage, aircraft #989 ‘V’ for Victory, Lieutenant Tiefenthal as pilot, landed at Graves End badly shot up with wounded and (2) dead crew men aboard; Staff Sergeant W. W. Hull and Staff Sergeant John Sopchak. The last mission aircraft landed around 1845 bringing to a close the most tragic effort ever mounted by the 392nd. Click here to read Col. Keilman, first hand account of this mission.