A day in the life of combat Crew 136 started early in the predawn
AROUND THE CLOCK, 24 -7. The ground crews had completed its
maintenance, retrofits and repairs on planes throughout the night.
Nighttime is for sleep, a time for rejuvenation of tired minds and weary
bodies; but for American combat fliers, the wake-up call always came in
the early morning hours of a mission. Teams of Mechanics had worked
around the clock to repair, service and ready aircraft for the day's new
mission. The idea of "long ranged, daylight, precision bombing."
was a team concept. Instrument and communication specialists calibrated
flight instruments and checked radios; Mechanics patched
flak holes and leaks, fueled bombers, loaded bombs,
installed retro-fits, tuned engines and check and rechecked every system
of a B-17 bomber. No detail was to small to ignore. System checks and
rechecks were necessary before sending crews and planes into battle.
0 DARK THIRTY. The teletypes clicked cryptic messages to Group
Commanders at air bases across East Anglia. Strategic Orders from VIIIth
Bomber Command at 8th Air Force Headquarters in Pinetree listed targets
and objectives for each Bombardment Group. Air Group Planning and
Intelligent Officers at the 490th Bombardment Group had prepared aerial
maps, photographs and coordinated for Group's Squadrons who would bomb
specific objectives in Germany. Supply, record keeping, air traffic
control, medics in the dispensary, meteorologists, cooks, mechanics and
the motor pool all supported flight operations. Many members of the team
had worked through the night.
A small city of service personnel including the Medical staff,
mechanics, ground assistants, transportation crews, the motor pool,
supply and service groups, intelligent officers, weather experts,
planners from bomber command, communication specialists, flight control
personnel, Administrative Officers, clerks and record keepers all worked
to make each mission successful. The team had one goal: to put maximum
effort and planes on the target over Germany. More than 2,300 men and
women were housed on a typical airbase. They fed, housed, maintained and
assisted flight crews. Airbases, like AAF Eye Station 134, were
scattered across East Anglia, with about two hundred and fifty other
American bases located all over England, Scotland and Wales.
A typical bomb crew consisted of ten Specialists, four Officers and six
Enlisted men. The First Pilot commanded the ship; the Copilot flew in
the right seat of the cockpit, ready to support or fly if he was needed.
The Navigator was the direction finder, trained to guide the aircraft
and keep it on course. The last Officer was the Bombardier, the expert
who sighted the objective, directed and dropped the bombs over the
target. The enlisted men were Gunners, an Armorer, a Flight Engineer and
a Radio Operator. Each man had trained for specific work, but he could
fill-in for a team member in case of emergency. If a vital activity
needed attention, every crew member stood ready to help. Camera
Operators and Photographers sometimes accompanied air crews in flight.
All crew members had primary and secondary duties. Each man could
substitute at another battle station, performing new duties if his buddy
was injured or killed.
2:30 A.M. TO 4:30 A.M. The wake-up call came early.
At 2:30 a.m. sleep ended for flight crews, and a new day began. The mess
cooks had prepared Breakfast. The wake-up call was a signal to bomber
crew that it was time for a hearty breakfast of coffee, ham and eggs,
toast and pancakes at the mess hall — mess cooks served food that
would stick to the ribs all day. The crew dressed and hurried to the
mess hall. After breakfast, the Supply Officer issued flying equipment,
checked and readied. The supplies and high altitude gear included
survival rations, electrically heated flight suits, oxygen masks and
head phones, parachutes, Mae West Jackets, [a flotation vest used in
water landings] individual O2 bottles, maps, flares, high altitude shear
ling outer wear and a Norden bomb sight. Bomb Loaders racked bombs in
the bomb bay and stored boxes of .50 caliber ammunition at the Gunner's
platforms or stations. Ground crew had worked on planes all night. The
bombers were ready, serviced and airworthy.
4:30 A.M. TO 5:45 A.M. The preflight briefing followed breakfast.
Crews were notified of their flight status the night before a mission.
The pre-flight briefing outlined the target objectives, map coordinates,
rally points and the formation patterns. The lecture gave crew the
flak and fighter reports, weather conditions, maps of the
target, formation and decoy orders, confirmed secret radio codes,
communication ciphers and call signals. The most sensitive codes were
written on edible rice paper. The papers were to be eaten--destroyed in
case of capture.
5:45 A.M. TO 6:00 A.M. Transportation to the airfield runway was
compliments of the motor pool drivers.
6:00 A.M. TO 7:30 A.M. The planes were ready for taxi, take offs
Drivers from the Motor pool chauffeured air crews to the runway.
Aircraft engines were switched on. Each engine sputtered and fired. One
by one, each plane began to taxi down the runway like a crab. A signal
flare announced the take-off each aircraft at 30 second intervals.
Engines revved up as heavily loaded planes lumbered and strained to gain
altitude and build a formation aloft. Planes circled above, formed a
battle armada by grouping the planes in a tight, preplanned formation.
The lead group headed the attack; a high or top flight watched above,
and low group protected the rear of the formation. Planes flew in a
pre-established order, usually 12 or 13 planes from a single squadron,
with a total of 36 planes from the Group making the complete armada. It
was an ominous array of fire power and a force highly respected by the
Luftwaffe. During the trip, Escort fighters joined the
armada; near the end of the war when fighters had auxiliary fuel tanks,
they protected bombers all the way to Berlin and back to England. Crews
checked and rechecked their equipment, and readied their guns for
action. Squadrons of the planes rose over England and France. The
target was Germany.
8:00 A. M. to 2:30 P.M. Planes flew missions called bomb runs. As
flights flew toward their assigned targets, Bombardiers marked the
coordinates. When the bomb bay doors opened, the bombardier gave the
order, "Bombs Away." After the ordinance fell to earth,
planes circle again, reforming as they turned away from targets to a
"rally point" toward a new course homeward. Pilots reformed the armada.
The next stop was the home airfield in England.
In flight, Pilots had a few, but limited options when they flew over
Germany or back to England. A few options were safe choices, but most
To successfully complete the mission unharmed and return to base or to
— end or abort the mission before dropping bombs and return home
— drop the bomb load and fight off flak and enemy fighters
— limp home on a 'wing and a prayer'
In the case of severe damage over land to
— abandon the aircraft in occupied territory, parachute to safety
— crash land at any available airfield or in a neutral country
In the case of severe damage over water to
— ditch in the English Channel
— abandon the ship and parachute to safety in unoccupied or
A crash landing in a damaged plane was a pilot's decision of last
resort. A crash landing was dangerous, risky and simply unsafe. As
battle damaged planes with injured men limped toward home, Flight
Engineers fired flares to alert ground crews of the conditions in each
aircraft. A red flare indicated that badly wounded men were on board.
Ambulances stood ready to assist injured fliers; and fire trucks were on
the field, manned and ready, and on high alert to suppress any potential
Usually, a mission lasted for 8 or 10 hours. It was absolute boredom for
most of the flight — but occasionally the tour had an act of
complete terror when a German fighter passed on a
'turn-in' shooting 20 mm cannon shells at the bomber. The
fighter's pass lasted a few seconds and after several short burst of
fire from the gunners on the B-17's, the M2 Browning Machine Guns fell
silent and the enemy fighter broke away. The air battle was over.
3:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. After landing an Interrogation followed
the air battles.
As planes limped toward home, Ground Spotters anxiously searched the
skies, looking, counting and listing the planes that had returned from
battle. If the plane and crew made it back, an Interrogation, called a
debriefing, provided intelligence on the target, flak, weather
conditions and the mission. Pilots, Navigators and Bombardiers wrote
separate reports. Red Cross Workers or mess cooks provided hot coffee or
Scotch whisky, donuts and sympathy. Crew prepared mentally for the next
mission. Mechanics quickly assessed the damage to each aircraft and
began the repairs to make planes battle ready for tomorrow's bomb run.
5:00 P. M. to 5:30 P.M. The men assembled in the Mess Hall for
6: 00 P. M. to 9:45 P.M. In the evening, Recreation included
reading, letter writing or listening to "Germany Calling"
from Radio Hamburg.
10:00 P.M. The lights in the Nissan huts went out.
A Waist Gunner fired a .50 caliber M2 Browning automatic machine gun.
The Gunner, dressed in body armor, wore an electrically heated suit,
gloves and shoes, head phones and a throat microphone which connected
him to other crew members. A fleece lined leather helmet and heated
boots finished his dress. A breathing mask supplied each Aerial Gunner
with Oxygen from the plane's reservoir tanks.
On the next day — near dawn, a new wake-up call summoned
bomber crews across England, as weary fliers stumbled into a new day.
Before daybreak, the 490th Bombardment Group began to recycle its
previous day's routine, repeating yesterday with a new enthusiasm. Men
ate a hearty breakfast; then they checked equipment and attended a
Pre-flight briefing. Planes taxied down the runway as bomber crew cycled
toward Germany skies once again.
Flares fired from the control tower paced the planes down the runway. A
new bombing armada formed and headed toward a new primary target.
Krieger and the Crew 136 repeated this pattern of flying and bombing
targets in Germany twenty-eight more time. Most of the missions were
routine, but a few contained enough excitement to last a life time. When
the fight had action with enemy fighters, the combat lasted only a few
seconds. It was sheer terror and then slowly, quietly, life returned to
normal. But the recollections and fear always lingered; the memories of
intense flak in German skies never faded. On the third
mission, Krieger and Crew 136 had haunting moments that last a life
time. The Mission over Cologne confirmed each flier as a combat veteran.
"He is my refuge and my fortress" Psalms 91: verse 2.
Mission to Cologne, Germany. Eighth Air Force Mission 789: Wednesday, 10
The targets were two bridges, which spanned the Rhine River in the
"Happy Ruhr Valley." The objectives were the Hohenzollern and Deutz
Bridges in Koln, Germany
Mission No. 3 ... Krieger could not conceal his fear when he wrote an
emotional letter to his girlfriend. "On my 19th birthday I was
praying ... the flak was intense ... we lost a plane on each
wing." Nothing in his family background or his personal
experiences, nothing in his hometown, nothing in his high school
education and nothing in his civilian life prepared Krieger for the
panic that came from flying in combat. The crew had its orders and flew
toward Cologne, Germany.
Bam!!! Flak hit the plane piloted by Lt. Walter A.
McGrath; and the aircraft exploded in midair. The gates of hell had
opened. On his nineteenth birthday, J. Emerson Krieger saw McGrath's
plane disintegrate just off his wing. Later in the barracks, Emy
recalled the mission, as he and James Cox wrote accounts in their
Diaries about 'the mission from hell.' The squadron
received orders to bomb two important railroad bridges, the Hohenzollern
and Deutz Bridges, in Cologne. Both bridges were vital transportation
links spanning the Rhine River.
As the 849th Bomb Squad flew in the Low Squadron toward the target,
McGrath's aircraft was hit first, downed on the Pilot's
33rd mission in 'No Man's Sky.' Lt. McGrath and four other
members of the crew were killed instantly when his ship exploded in the
intense flak barrage. The plane received a direct hit on
the right wing; "it flipped over on its back and went into a tight
spin." The aircraft, "Old Patch," was on fire
— the aircraft had lost a wing — and then, the ship exploded
and disintegrated in midair.
Three members of the crew, the navigator, bombardier and top turret
gunner were blown clear of the ship when it fragmented. Each man pulled
the 'D' ring on his parachute. Hess saw parachutes open and float toward
the ground. Sgt. Richard Lynde recalled that the Navigator and
Bombardier were taken to a German hospital; but he never saw them again.
The two enlisted men, Top Turret Gunner, James E. Chambers, and the Ball
Turret Operator, Richard Lynde opened their parachutes as they escaped
from the damaged aircraft. Sgt. Lynde managed to escape from his
gunner's platform just before the explosion. Both Chambers and Lynne
spent the rest of the war in Dulagluff Stalag 13 in
Nurnberg, Germany. When the Allied Forces approached the camp late in
the war, the Germans moved prisoners to Stalag 7a in
Meeseburg. The 14th Armored Division of Patton's Third Army finally
liberated American POWs from Stalag 7a camp on 29 April
1945. The men had spent about three and a half month in captivity.
James C. Cox wrote about the heavily armed target. 01-10:
Number three. [Mission Number 3] The roughest yet. 200 guns -flak
accurate- lose three ships in our sqdn. [squadron] 12
Krieger remembered: "Jan 10"
To-day we went to Koln [Cologne] We were suppose to bomb a
Bridge Clouds were to]o] thick so we bombed the marshalling
yards. The flak was intense. We lost a plane on each wing first rough
target we had 10 holes. Ball gunner and I both had close calls.
25,000 [altitude] 1000 [bomb load] Lost 3
ships [damage report]
2 fellows are B. W. [badly wounded] 7 are ok but
rest were killed 6:30 [air time]
Hesseltine echoed the story with technical data: Jan. 10- 1945
"Today's target was a railroad bridge at Cologne. The secondary
target was marshalling yards at Cologne. The secondary target was bombed
P. F. F. Mission time lasted five to six hours. Bomb load six 1000 lb.
bombs. Intervalometer setting was 240 M P H G. S. X. distance between
bombs 50 feet. No fighters encountered but moderate flak was very
accurate. Two or three of our bombers were lost over the target. Saw one
ship in flames on our right. Four chutes were seen to open from the
ship [McGrath]. we were in the low squadron at 27,000 feet.
Temperature at altitude -55°F."
The purpose of the raid was to destroy the transportation links and
railroad system crossing the Rhine River. Fifty years later Professor
Arthur Struempler wrote about his experience in a narrative about his
mission and the combat over Cologne. In his Autobiography,
Struempler wrote an unpublished memoir which he completed in 1994.
Struempler remembered the flak]BL Dover Cologne.
"January 10 is at the peak of the cold weather in Northern Europe and
January 10, 1945 was particularly cold. At 13:00 we came down the
Rhine [River] from the south so as to take advantage of a tail
wind to spend minimum time over the heavily defended target....
Flak appeared on the horizon as we were approaching our target at 30,000
feet. Sergeant Runkel [Fight Engineer] ... said, "Look at all the
pretty flak." The next thing we experienced was a churning, rolling,
bouncing and uncontrollable airplane like being on very rough, turbulent
rapids. The concussions from the artillery shells were bouncing us
around and we were being hit. Shrapnel hit everywhere. The engineer's
next words were a very slow ''Jesus Christ.'"
Excerpted from "No Man's Sky" by R.C. Cline. Copyright © 2015 by R.C. Cline. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.