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US Air Force

Christmas Eve Present for the Nazis

 

 Christmas Eve Present for the Nazis
 
Flying bombing missions 23,000 feet over the Bulge was somewhat different than fighting the war, hip deep in snow on the ground.  Nevertheless, it was on Christmas Eve and gain on Christmas Day while flying over the Ardennes, better known as “The Battle of the Bulge” that I was feeling sorry for myself, thinking of all the festivities I would normally be celebrating back home on this the most festive of all Holidays.  Not thinking at the moment that I was about to be part of the greatest battle ever, so fiercely fought by the U.S. in the greatest war ever fought, as it was later described by General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  The surprise German counter attack began on December 16th, creating a huge bulge in the allied front line, giving the ensuing battle its name. 
 
Due to inclement weather and fog that blanketed most of the continent, there was a lull on all flying activities, giving the Germans an advantage on their ground operations.However, the weather finally cleared and we were able to deliver our Christmas present to the Nazis on Christmas Eve by a combined aerial armada of more than 2000 Consolidated B-24 & Boeing B-17 heavy bombers, escorted by over 900 P-51 Mustangs, P-47 Thunderbolts, & P-38 Lightening fighters.  This mission is presently inscribed on the historic plaque erected in front of the Old National Guard Building on Bull Street, Savannah, Georgia, where the Eight Air Force was born in 1942 – now the home for the American Legion Post #135. 

 

 Source: United States Army Air Forces via:
 http://www.flickr.com/photos/18532986@N07/page107/
 
This mission, the first of its kind to utilize such a mass force of bombers on a single raid was designed to pound the hell out of all communication lines supplying and reinforcing the German armies, thus stalling their counteroffensive drive. 
 
The December 24th mission took off for Germany in the dusky early morning.  The first bombers were approaching their German targets as the tails of the large column were still taking off from our bases in England.Never before has anyone seen such a mass formation of aircraft assembled in the sky at any one time.  During the three-day weekend of flying, the Eight Air Force knocked out 218 enemy planes while we lost 38 heavy bombers and 40 fighter planes…Ironically, this was our crew’s 24th and 25th mission on this the 24th and 25th day of December. 
 
These missions were always outstanding in my mind, yet, they are not the most memorable ones.  We were told midweek that there would be no missions scheduled for the coming New Year day and many of us made some plans.  Well there was one hell of a New Year Eve party going on at the NCO club when about 3 A.M. there was an abrupt halt to all activities with a special announcement.  The band was silenced and the voice came loud and clear.  Due to the extreme reversal of condition at the Bulge, there will be a special mission this morning. 
 
There was no time for rest or sleep.  After a fast goodbye to our dancing partner there was a quick change into flight gear and a grumbling trip to the briefing room.Griping could be heard throughout the base.  However, after the briefing, tensions were somewhat eased when we learned that due to the extreme conditions on the ground, created by the surprise German counteroffensive, compounded by heavy snow, bitter cold, and a lack of supplies all adding to the troop’s misery.Moral support was desperately needed. 
 
This put a different light on the situation and the angry mood was quickly changed.  Upon leaving the room, we were like a bunch of college kids returning to the second half of a close football game.  Gung Ho for Victory, ready for whatever. 
 
Anxious to get going to raise some hell, I recall our nose gunner who in the process of checking his nose turret guns, accidentally fired a short burst from his twin fifties across the flight line, almost hitting the Engineering Officer who was sitting in his shack a couple hundred yard away.  Scared half to death, he tried for days to find the culprit who cut loose that burst and I’ll bet he is still talking about it today. 
 
 It was customary for Catholic crewmen to receive Holy Communion before leaving the briefing room but there was no time this day.  Father Beck, the Catholic Chaplain from Ohio rolled from plane to plane looking for Catholics.  He knew his crew’s real well, so when he pulled up to C-Charlie, our B-24, he shouted “comes get it Polak” I being the only Polish Catholic on the crew received mine under the wing.  Before he drove off, I asked where he got the Jeep he was driving as I never saw him on anything but a bicycle?  He grinned, saying God left it for him at the Chapel.  Can you picture a Catholic Priest swiping Jeeps?  Later, before takeoff, our waist gunner, Travis West, a wise cracker from Texas, jokingly asked what it was I had for breakfast?
 
Knowing that food supplies were scares on the ground, we made a slight change from our regular routine in preparing for this mission.  In addition to the bombs, we loaded up with extra crates of K-Rations, in the event we were downed.K-Rations was a heavily sealed was container about the size of a Cracker Jack box that contained some chewing gum, hard candy, sticks of cheese a couple of bouillon cubes and a few cigarettes.  Not exactly Christmas turkey but sure nice to have around when nothing else is available.  The alternative plan was to jettison most of it, if we had a successful mission, hoping they got to the right people.  Which we ultimately did. 
 
Breezing through another seven missions after this memorable New Year Day, we returned back to the States where I had the occasion to meet up with Hank Altyn a good family friend with a pitching arm destined for the big show, if not interrupted by the war.  We often played catch together and I had no idea Hank was one of the guys hip deep in snow that cold January.  He spoke of finding some of K-Rations we tossed overboard.  He talked about the tremendous boost in moral to all of the troops after seeing thousands of American bombers overhead, at a time when things were looking so bleak.  At the time having no idea that I was up there tossing them out, nor I knowing he was below.  Hank’s recollection made my war worthwhile. 
 
It was a regular routine for crews returning from a mission to excitedly describe the actions encountered on that particular mission, to the crews who were not flying that day.  However, after a few hours and maybe a few beers, the stories became so boring, that the common response was Yea, Yea, tell it to your grand kids.  The following day, the situation would be reversed.  Now, it is reality.  And for some, we are telling it to our Great Grand Kids.  And some are actually listening. 
 
Source: Battle of the Bulge May 2011

T/Sgt Frank A. KAYE

564th Bomb Squadron

389th Bomb Group.

8th U.S. Air Force

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium