Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Night of the Gremlin II

Theodore V. Harwood (CP./ P.) 2nd/1st Lt flew in a Martin B26
Marauder, first night mission:
Mission 1, official 456th target/mission designation #235, was flown
from England on the night
of 08-13-1944, Harwood flew in Martin B26 Marauder, 41-31708 WT-B
(Gremlin II) . 28 100
lb.. bombs were released onto the Flers fuel dump in France from an
altitude of 7,500 feet, it was
a 3 hour mission with 3 pathfinders and 34 other ships of the 323rd -
456th. Crew: Theodore V. Harwood (CP.)
2nd/1st Lt. John W. Kuczwara (Nav.) 2nd/1ST Lt. William B. Guerrant
Jr. (P) 2nd Lt./1st Lt.
Jack A. Reynolds (TG) Cpl./S/Sgt. John H. Knight ( E ) Cpl./Sgt.
Velton J. O'Neal Jr. (WG. )
Sgt. T/Sgt. Base of operations Beaulieu, England.
The following are several a detailed post war accounts of
Mission #1 from Theodore V.
Harwood (CP.) 2nd/1st Lt., one from the Pima Air Museum in Arizona,
interviewed by Major
General John O. Meonch (1986) and one from an interview with Ray
Harwood in 1989:
"Our first mission was extremely adventuresome. I will
remember this the rest of my life. I
walked out to the flight line and looked at all the different
aircraft parked in the darkness. There
were no heavy bombers, but I remember other bombers; Night fighter
P70, all black with radar
and Douglas A20's for night bombing raids. Just prior to the first
mission, a French lady gave us a
lesson in the French language, basic phrases. The first phrase that
we learned and memorized was
"I am an American" ("Je suis Americain") and the second phrase "I am
wounded" ("Je suis
Blesse"). We placed all of our ID materials, all of our personal
items, including rings, momentos,
jewelry and such items in secure bags which were left with the
section, the same place we picked
up the chutes and survival bags, which had franks, a map, butt hole
compass (named for where
you hide it) etc.. The idea was if we went down not to let the enemy
know much about us. The
survival bags were about twice the size of a wallet. These "escape
kits" were not large, they fit
inside the zipper pocket of a flight suit. Before every mission the
entire craft had to be inspected
thoroughly for any possible mechanical problem. This pre-flight
inspection was done
systematically and by the book, so as to protect the lives of each
member of the crew. Before the
engines were started you could hear the putt putts going, and smell
their exhaust. The list was
huge, from hydraulics to tire pressure. On the balloon cables: The
British would lower the barrage
balloons to let our planes fly out. After our entire group was out,
the balloons were allowed to
float up again. When we took off, we took off at 20 second intervals.
Everyone had a place to be
and things to do of importance, often it was within five minutes
from leaving the cold hard
wooden briefing bench to firing up the two Pratt and Whitney R-2800,
18 cylinder, 2,000 hp each,
engines, taxiing out for take-off. The anticipation to be the plane
thundering down the darkened
runway was an exciting experience. After the "Green Go" flare all the
planes insert themselves into
their assigned slot in line and head for the main runway. Mentally
and physically checking details
pertaining to the mission. A somber and introverted attitude prevails
as the Marauder takes flight, which
is quite opposite from the return flight homeward, listening to the
radio and chatting after safely
completing the mission. We flew at 20 second intervals at a
designated fixed air speed toward the
target. The first mission was flown at night so the usual evasive
type flying patterns were
unnecessary. The pathfinder ship would locate the target and drop a
flare at the "IP" (Initial Point)
and a flare on the target. At the "IP" the bombardier took over the
controls and flies the plane
with the bomb site until over the target area. When over the target
area, every third plane flies at
an altitude variation of 1000 feet, no formation or flight leader.
The altitude variation was to
prevent mid air collision during flight. So it was 1000 feet altitude
variations and 20 second
intervals. We were flying in the dark, and with radio silence. We
were flying with our instruments
with only small ultraviolet lamps over the instruments. It was so
dark you could not see the other
planes, even inside your own plane. The only visible light was
the "IP" flare, target flare, and the
distant, mute flash of our bombs exploding on the ground far below.
After the bombardier yells,
"Bombs away", the pilot regains control of the plane from the
bombardier. The pilot returns the
plane to the base. While on the return flight back to base we passed
over the Island of Guernsey.
The island was still heavily fortified and as we crossed over, an
aerial flare exploded with massive
flash. The entire sky lit up and the Marauders were like huge
silhouettes in the sky. The aerial
flare was so bright it nearly blinded us. Almost simultaneously, the
German artillery opened fire
on our position with 88 millimeter anti-aircraft guns. Each deadly
shell exploded when reaching a
preset altitude. The German Flak firepower was strengthened by
increasing the size of the 88 mm
light batteries from 4 guns to 8. To guard the more important
targets "Gross Batteries"
comprising 2 or 3 of the enlarged single batteries were created (up
to 40 heavy flak guns) firing
rectangular patterns of shells known as box barrages that often
proved deadly. Each battery,
large or small, was controlled by a single "predictor" (a device used
to estimate where the
aircraft would be by the time the shell reached it and thus provide
information as to where to
aim) which meant that up to 18 guns might engage one bomber a time.
When the flak batteries
pinpointed an aircraft the guns were fired in salvoes designed to
burst in a sphere of 60 yards in
diameter in which it was hoped to entrap the target and send it
plunging to its death. Each gun,
usually of 88mm caliber, could project a shell to amazing 20,000 feet
and could knock out an
aircraft within 30 yards of the shell burst. However, the shrapnel
from the explosion was still
capable of inflicting serious damage, tearing through metal and flesh
up to 200 yards away .
They sky was still lit up, aerial flare, flak blast, and search
lights from the frantic Germans below,
it was to bright to see the flash of the immense cannons below and to
loud to hear their air raid
sirens. As the flare faded, you could see the heavy contrast of the
brightly exploding flak
projectiles against the pitch darkness of the night. After a time,
the incoming artillery fell away
behind our aircraft and we came in and all landed safely with no
injuries or battle damage
reported. I slept well that night."
Harwood speaking with Maj. Gen. John O. Moench "I don't
think I was frightened, it
was just a new experience to us, we went in on a Pathfinder, ah, our
biggest problem was on take
off there was a white line like we have here at the end of the
runway, only it was it was in the
British stripe in the center. The white line came up and we pulled
off, almost at stalling speed and
we had quite a problem maintaining flight speed, finally we got our
flaps up and went out over the
harbor and we just barely cleared the barrage balloon. which were all
over the place. It was
uneventful on course, ah we picked up the ah initial point flare,
dropped our bombs, turned off
and ah at that point we hit prop wash very severely which ah raised
the hackles on our backs
because we knew just a second before there was another 26 there. On
our return flight we drifted
off course and got over - ah I don't recall either the Gernsey or
Jersey Island, the Germans
promptly through up a very high intensity para flare that lit up the
whole scene and then they
proceeded to shoot at us, fortunately they missed and that is about
all I can recount on that
According to a post war account by Maj. Gen. John O.
Moench; returning aircrews
reported their bombs set off violent explosions and ignited major
fires. It wasn't the kind of
mission that aircrews would have liked to have flown but the job was
done and done well. One
aircraft was damaged by flak in the target area but it was minor.

No comments: