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Eight Air Force Historical Society - Minnesota Chapter - Bob Egan Stories

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Black Week Raid on Poland         (Adapted from an article in the Dec. 1999 edition of "8th AF News.")
by Bob Egan

Note: The Bob Egan crew was part of the 577th Squadron of the 392nd Bomb Group flying B-24 Liberators from a base in Wendling, England.

Early in the morning of October 9, 1943, we were all assembled for the briefing of the day's mission. The map showing the route for the mission was covered with a curtain. Believe me, there were a lot of gasps when the curtain was removed and the route to Danzig, Poland was revealed!

For most missions, we formed flights, squadrons, groups, wings, and divisions and started out for the target at eighteen thousand feet from East Anglia. (About 25% of our normal fuel supply was used up in this type of assembly.) On this day, we used a different strategic maneuver. Our lead ships took off in the dark out over the Wash and then over the North Sea with a flashing amber light in the tail turret. They flew on a northeasterly heading under 1000 feet, making wide ess turns. The following ships cut off the esses and formed en route. By the time our formation was complete, it was daylight.

We stayed under 1000 feet so that German radar in the low countries could not pick us up on their radar screens. At the Kiel Peninsula we climbed to 10,000 feet, which was the first time the Germans knew where we were. Germany was on our right, and Denmark, Sweden and Norway were on our left as we proceeded eastward to the Baltic Sea. The Luftwaffe didn't hit us, because--I believe--they did not know where we were going and would not commit their forces until they knew.

We passed the turn south that we would have taken if we were going to hit Berlin and proceeded east for another 300 or 400 miles to the Polish Corridor. We then climbed from 10,000 to 15,000 feet for our bombing run. We still had not encountered fighter opposition, and some credit should be given to a force that went to Anklam, Germany. This force suffered heavy losses while helping to divert the opposition away from Poland.

Our assigned target was the German battle cruiser, Scharnhorst, which was at anchor just off Gydinia. Our run on Scharnhorst was not successful, because we missed our target by 2000 feet. Still, we must have surprised them, as they did not put up as much flak as expected.

As we left the target area, we descended again to 10,000 feet to fly back over the Baltic Sea. It was then that we encountered long and constant opposition from enemy fighters. Our navigator recorded two and one-half hours of being under fire from single and twin engine fighters. We suffered some damage from flak and fighters, but all eleven 392nd BG planes that crossed the target returned safely. This was, by far, our longest trip to a target up to this point in the war. (We carried bomb bay tanks, which added 700-800 gallons of fuel necessary for this trip.) It was a very tiring experience.

After leaving our target, we passed many Forts (B-17 Flying Fortresses) on their way to Marionburg. They had a very successful mission, destroying their target.

As I said before, this was on October 9, 1943. By October 11, 12 and 13, letters of commendation came in from Prime Minister Churchill, RAF Air Marshal Portal, Generals Marshal and Arnold in Washington, D.C. and Eight AF Generals Eaker and Anderson. The general theme of these letters of commendation was that the week of October 8, 1943 altered the course of the war and that the Germans were not safe from our bombing anywhere in their entire realm. Each airman who participated in this October 9th mission has copies of these letters of commendation in his file.

October 9, 1943 was long, eventful and memorable. As I understand it, we put up about 350 bombers on this day (with no fighter coverage) and suffered 60 losses. (By March of 1944, we were putting up about 1000 bombers per day and, with fighter coverage, suffering an occasional 60 losses.) Appropriately enough, the week of October 8-14 is now the annual nationwide Mighty Eight Air Force Week.

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