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August 2019
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US Air Force

Where Was The Air Force ?

Where Was The Air Force ?

 
(Note from the Author:  I would guess that many members of the ground forces had questions about where was the Air Force during the early days of the Battle of the Bulge. (Following are) my recollections of the experiences of my medium bomb group during that period and remaining days of the battle.) 
 
As the Army ground force were bearing the brunt of massive German counter attacks in the Ardennes region on December 16, 1944, the Army Air Force Units in the area were unable to respond.  At a base in Northern France only 70 miles south of Bastogne, Belgium, the air crews of the 387th Bomb Group (Medium) were experiencing extreme frustration.  
 

Photo: Martin B-26B-50-MA Marauder Serial 42-95857 of the 556th Bomb Squadron

Low ceilings and limited visibility grounded us from the 16th through the 22nd of December.  During this period missions were scheduled and briefed each morning.  Impatient air crews remained near their assigned aircraft, receiving repeated one hour delays until late afternoon when the mission would be officially scrubbed. 
 
Our group, equipped with Martin B-26 aircraft was one of several medium bomb groups of the 9th Air Force, which had been specifically organized to support allied ground forces following the invasion.  The 387th Bomb Group was the first of the Medium Bomb Groups to relocate from its British base to one near Cherbourg, France, in late August of 1944.As the ground forces moved forward we were issued tents and mess kits and moved forward also to other former Luftwaffe bases, which had been over run. 
 
The fighter and medium bomb group of the 9th Air Force had attained a high degree of mobility and our group could fly into a new base, set up tents and renew operations the following day.We had transferred to our base in Northern France, adjacent to the village of Clastres and near the city of St Quentin in November of 1944. 
 
Soon after the German attack had been launched, rumors of paratroopers being dropped into the area caused base security to be heightened.Sentries were posted near the hardstands where the aircraft were parked and around the tent areas.A procedure for abandoning the base was also issued.As a worse case scenario the air crews were to make instrument takeoffs, home into a radio station in England and, if visibility precluded an instrument landing, the aircraft would be pointed toward the Atlantic Ocean and the crew would parachute out.The non-flying personnel would load up in six by six trucks and head South. 
 
Fortunately, our embattled Ground Forces had blunted the German thrust and it was unnecessary to implement the procedure.On the 23rd of December the skies cleared and both the 8th and 9th Air Forces could join the fray. Missions assigned to the medium bombers were to “interdict the Battlefield” – that is cut the transportation routes between the enemy combat forces and their sources of supply and reinforcement.Flying at lower altitudes (ten to fifteen thousand feet) than the heavy bombers, the medium bombers (twin engine) were theoretically able to drop bombs more precisely on smaller targets such as bridges and road junctions. 
 
Beginning with morning and afternoon missions on the 23rd, the 387th Bomb Group (M) launched missions on the 24th, 25th, and 26th of December.Targets in Mayen, Prum, Nideggen Irrel, St Vith, Konz, Karthaus and Nonweiller were attacked.The bridges and transportation hubs were bitterly defended with some of the most intensive and accurate flak that we had experienced. 
 
When the weather cleared the Luftwaffe also became active.The 387th Bomb Group lost five aircraft to enemy fighters on our mission to Mayen, Germany, on the 23rd.At night, individual JU-88’s would drone overhead and we spent several sleepless nights, reacting to “Red Alerts” broadcast to our tent areas over the loud speaker system. 
 
On about the third night most of us chose to ignore a particular persistent intruder and the associated “Red Alert.”The German pilot apparently sighted our runway in the moonlight, cut his engine and glided silently down to within firing range before simultaneously advancing his throttles and squeezing his gun switch.The roar of his twin engines and the sights and sounds of the 20mm shells ricocheting off the runway brought all of us out of our tents in a wild scramble for a limited number of fox holes.Shovels became much in demand.When the dawn arrived the fresh snow was marked with freshly dug soil.A single night intruder had accomplished what a long standing order on our Squadron Bulletin Board had failed to accomplish. 
 
As our ground forces assumed the offensive in the Ardennes and the Germans began their withdrawal our B-26’s were active in attacking their escape routes.On January 23rd, the 387th was one of two groups scheduled to bomb the Dasburg Highway Bridge spanning the Our River.The bridge was severely damaged, resulting in major traffic congestion of German vehicles attempting to make a crossing.Fighter-bombers, bombing and strafing the stalled vehicles, claimed 1,177 destroyed and another 536 damaged. 
 
During the period of December 16, 1944 until January 28, 1945, the 387th Bomb Group suffered the loss of 15 aircraft, plus a number of crew members KIA or MIA. 
 
Source:  Battle of the Bulge November 2005

1st Lt Paul R. PRIDAY

556th Bomb Squadron

387th Bomb Group.

9th U.S. Air Force

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium