Daylight Bombing and Missions Counts Changing: 25 to 30 to 35
The US Army Air Forces' Daylight Bombing Campaign began slowly in 1942
with a few raids carried out across the English Channel. In January of 1943,
at the Casablanca Conference, it was agreed the Royal Air Force Bomber
Command operations against Germany would be reinforced by the US Army
Air Force in a Combined Operations Offensive plan called Operation Pointblank.
The text of the Casablanca directive read:
Your primary object will be the progressive destruction and dislocation of the
German military, industrial, and economic system and the undermining of the
morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance
is fatally weakened.
In the beginning of the combined strategic bombing offensive on March 4th,
1943, 669 Royal Air Force and 303 US Army Air Force heavy bombers were
available. 1943 turned out to be very tough year for the Daylight Bombing
Campaign with horrendous crew and ship losses dogging the Army Air Force.
Of most poignant regard, the Heavy Bombers lacked Fighter cover throughout 1943
and in the beginning of 1944 still insufficient fighter cover for the ships going into
the target and returning to base. With the advent of the addition of longer ranging
fighters, as an example the P-51 Mustang, things improved for the ship's livelihood.
During this period an enormous toll was placed on the airmen of the 8th Air Force.
Losses of anywhere from twenty to fifty bombers during a single mission were not
uncommon. With the ten man crews aboard each plane, two hundred to five hundred
men could be lost on any given day. The odds of survival were especially grim in
those early years of Daylight Bombing.
During this deadly period, the odds that a B-17 crew member would survive the war were less than 50/50. By the time my father was half into his 35 mission count, things began to ease up due to increased fighter cover and the fact, by mid 1944, the Luftwaffe was becoming more and more ineffectual.
On some missions, more than one out of every ten planes were lost. When my father arrived at Horham, he was told that crewmen would be asked to fly no more than twenty-five missions. Facing the reality of enormous losses and subsequent depletion of trained airmen, the Air Force disregarded that promise. In his letter of April 9, 1944 my father mentioned that the number of missions he would be flying had increased to thirty. By the time he reached his thirtieth mission, the number had been raised to thirty-five. He would accomplish that on August 26th, 1944, completing his final 35th mission over a target in Toulouse, France.
Piloting the B-17, 'Mirandy' (42-31992), Lt. Ernest Anders Erickson flew his first combat mission over Cazaux, France on March 27th, 1944, that took the 334th Squadron over the full length of France to the border with Spain. His second mission, again flying Mirandy' on March 28th was over Chateaudun. In a letter home, written after his third mission on April 1st, flying 'Taint A Bird II' (42-30342) over Dunkirk, France, he spoke of it matter-of-factly, mentioning 'Flak' damage with no particular emphasis or surprise. This was his first written revelation of Flak to his parents.
April 1st, 1944
Somewhere on the Airfield
Dear Mom, Dad and Dinny,
I've been on three missions in the last week or so, one was to Southern France, and I really could see clearly the Pyrenees Mountains, they separate France and Spain.
It was beautiful. The place is called Cazaux. The next one was to a place south west of Paris, called Chateaudun. Sure wish we could have got a glimpse of Paris, maybe on another mission. The most recent one was to Belgium. We encountered a lot of flak on all three missions. We got four large flak holes on the underside of the left wing.
Another punctured the main gas tank, had quite a leak over the Channel as we were heading home and it was drizzling out as we landed. Still another hit the wing tip tank (they are called Tokyo Tanks.) Another went through the landing flaps and they were partially dangling when we landed. The last one went through the main span. It took quite a piece out of the span. We got all this right over the targets. I could tell when we got hit the one time. It happened a few seconds before we dropped the bombs. It was quite the jolt. I thought the ball turret gunner got hit, or possibly the tail gunner. I called them up, but they were okay.
On the way back from Cazaux we, or rather the gunner boys, shot at some German ships in the Bay of Biscay, just off the coast of France. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. We are going out on one tomorrow, so I guess I'll have to get up pretty early. Don't mind though! It just means one less to go. We have to do thirty now.
He explained 'Flak,' in another letter he wrote to a Bismarck High School buddy who was still training for service back in the States.
If you look at 'Flak' from an Army stand point, it's similar to a grenade which is made of cast iron and manufactured for fragmentation, meaning smaller deadly metal shards/pieces blow out in all directions. Anti- aircraft projectiles when they explode, produce similar small to medium sized fragments referred to as 'Flak.'
These pieces are made of strong/hard metals, like steel or iron. The original projectiles have brass rings to conform with the grooves in the gun tube for spin stabilization. Brass shells for the powder and primer stayed in the gun tube, and are ejected on the ground after being fired, just like in the movies we have seen.
The threaded pieces are from the detonator tip or inside the projectile tip where the detonator is screwed in. There are now these nasty 'proximity' anti-aircraft projectiles that will detonate upon detection next to an aircraft. These are the most deadly, where the older German 88 mm shells would be set on a burn timer to explode at known altitudes. Either way you look at it, no airman, anywhere, on either side, cares for 'Flak' one little bit.
The ferocious German anti aircraft weapons known as Flak Guns were waiting at every target the 8th and 15th Air Forces chose on any given day. On top of that, the Germans set out 'Smoke Pots' to obscure the targets and often it was quite effective. Many missions were aborted or ended unsuccessfully due to weather or the targets being obscured by German smoke screens. 'Smoke Pots' were the responsibility of specialized German units who operated thousands of the devices all across mainland Europe. 'Smoke Pots' were large metal barrels holding 400 pounds of the deadly chemical chlorosulfonic acid, with a large bottle of compressed air attached.
Often put into action an hour before an anticipated attack by the Heavy Bombers, each Smoke Pot bellowed out a massive smoke screen into the atmosphere. Besides being effective against the Bombers, unfortunately the 'Smoke Pots' coughed out considerably dangerous caustic fumes affecting the very soldiers setting up the equipment and anyone else within miles of the target sites the Germans were attempting to protect.
The very notion of the number one priority of protecting the facility or oil refinery, considering any safety precautions were lost on the Nazis, overriding any thought of how the chemicals were affecting their very own soldiers and citizens. Like many other instances of deadly warfare, the end result is always the same, everyone is affected and everyone inevitably suffers.
Whether it was severe weather issues or the targets being obscured by smoke, the Heavy Bomber Squadrons often headed to secondary targets. Besides the smoke, there were still the Luftwaffe fighters picking away at the Heavy Bombers before and after Bomb's Away. If a Bomber fell out of formation due to flak damage or engine troubles and slagged behind the main group, they became a strangler and it was hell on wheels just to hope to get back home and not get picked off by a German fighter. Many never made it home.
The Airmen knew the score and most had horrific memories of all those unfortunate contingencies of death and finality flying thousands of miles up in the air. The Airmen had some odds in their favor in dueling with a German fighter homing in for the kill, with the multiple 50 mm guns aboard the ship, they had a fighting chance.
As it was, with the innumerable dark bursts of flakís black flowers that bloomed over targets, like Berlin, Munich and over the notoriously dangerous skies of the Romanian oil refineries, flak was the true killer of the Heavy Bombers. These were the moments that rushed a scare through every Airman's chest. Flying chunks of metal knew no boundaries and heaven help the ship that received a dead-on shelling.
There were three commonly used Flak Guns by the Germans, the first one to mention has to be the 88 mm or as it was referred to as Acht-Acht Guns. The 88 mm was the most feared artillery weapon of the Germans. It got its name from the German word, Flugabwehrkanone, meaning aircraft defense cannon.
The 88 mm guns were also used by the Nazi's in their Tiger and Tiger II tanks. During the Spanish Civil War, German troops fired the guns at oncoming tanks and fortified bunkers with very effective results. This success in combat led to versions of the 88 mm equipped to engage ground targets that were in view or barrage enemies from long range.
The gunís high muzzle velocity and heavy projectile made the 88 particularly effective against heavily-armored vehicles. In the use against the Heavy Bombers, when an 88 mm shell scored a direct hit, it often completely destroyed the ship. The versatile gun earned nearly mythical status among Allied flyers, infantrymen, and tank crews. Beleaguered troops compared their previous bombardment experiences with the 88s, most felt the latter were the most fearful artillery the Germans used during the war.
One Australian soldier commented that the 88 mm gun was not only an effective anti-aircraft or anti-tank weaponóďit was anti-everything." The 88 fired an explosive shell with a diameter of 88 millimeters, had a range of over 25,000 feet and on a good day they could toss up shells weighing twenty one pounds above 30,000 feet, shooting off fifteen rounds per minute.
Another was the 105 mm cannon, it could expel a 35 pound shell at fifteen rounds per minute effectively well over 30,000 feet up in the air, a spot in the cosmos where the Heavy Bombers often flew. The scariest of the three was the 128 mm beast and when needed they were mounted on railway cars. It propelled a 50 pound shell upwards to 40,000 feet, at twelve shells per minute at the ships, leaving no doubts the 105s potential impact to any Allied airplane.
From these three Flak guns, the Aircrews were being targeted by some very serious weapons, yet they had little time to worry about it. Their duties on board during the melee kept their minds focused. In a short time every Heavy Bomber Airman experienced what Flak could do to man and machine. They came to realize just how dangerous it was to patrol the skies over Nazi occupied Europe.
On April 2nd 1944, Ernest wrote a long letter to his mother, father and sister Dian. He covers a lot of ground about his current thoughts at the time, discussing ship names, comics, his camera, food packages from home and the situation and environment he was beginning to feel comfortable in.
Somewhere in England
April 2nd, 1944
Dear Dad, Mom & Dinny,
That was really good mail service on the last V-Mail letter you sent on March 15th. Just a little over two weeks. Also that one of mine that you got in seven days.
Am glad that you got my picture. I was beginning to wonder if you would ever get it. As I have undoubtedly told you before, I got the camera. I have four or five rolls of film so will take some pictures soon. It will take a couple weeks to get them developed. Will then send you some.
Yes, by all means, send me some candy, especially chocolate. Iíll put in a request now so that if you have to show the request to someone, you can show them this. Please send me some candy, any kind, chocolate if you can. Also send me a bottle of decent shaving lotion. Canít get it at all over here.
I have enough to last another two or three weeks. I hope to get that small box you sent soon.
If you want, you can send me a couple of cans of popcorn. One of the fellows had some here. Sure was good. We can get butter and salt at the mess hall and can pop it here in the barracks.
Send these packages separate and several days apart. Wrap them good, because the camera could be seen through the package. Was a pretty ragged looking package, however the camera seems okay. When I got to the orderly room for my mail, one of the Sergeants said, ďLieutenant you have a camera here.Ē Was kind of funny.
Tell Dian thanks for the kisses. Tell her Iíll meet her at the depot again someday. Maybe Iíll just surprise you and not tell you when Iím coming.
I have been on a few missions over enemy territory. None have been real bad, but rough enough, since these are my first tastes of combat. I am getting used to the flying, but the flak is something for sure, and you have to experience it before you know what it is like. You just have to hope it misses your ship. We take things easy when we donít fly. My crew is due for a 48 hour pass in the next week or ten days.
If you want to, you can send the papers to me. Those that you sent with the camera were nice. Sure to look them over, especially Alley Oop. Thereís a ship over here called 'General Oop.' There are other names like 'Situation Normal,í 'Lucky Strike.í ĎFour Nights In A Bar Room' and such. We hope to name a ship down the line. I have some ideas.
I got five letters today. Whatís the dope on the Air Corps enlistments being cut down. I heard they were stopped. Whatís the deal with Donny?
The Servicemenís Issue from the Tribune is not coming through. They sure do a piss-poor job of getting those out donít they? But what can you do, as I do enjoy them when they do arrive. I'm off flying combat duty for a bit, that'll give me some time to take some pictures and do some writing. Nice if some sun would come, as I would like to lay out and read a Tribune.
Tell the Folks Hello
With that, another letter home complete, my father would write in the realm of one hundred more to his family in North Dakota by the time he returned home. In each letter constantly keeping his family apprised of his activities and for his Mother Clara's sake, a possible time table when he might be completing his Combat Flying and be heading home. But for the time of the writing of this letter, my father had 32 arduous missions ahead of him. His letters would continue mixing hometown thoughts with revelations of the constant assault on his senses from flying a Heavy Bomber over Nazi occupied Europe.
My father, Lt. Ernest Anders Erickson smiling along with the navigator standing behind him laughing because his heated flight pants are wide open. The two are beneath their ship, the 'Lili of the Lamplight' (44-6085). Both appear relaxed even though they are embarking on a mission in the early days of June 1944 out of Horham Airfield in England.
On June 6th the crew would complete their 21st, a No-Ball mission over the French coast south of Calais, specifically targeting V-1 sites hidden in forest areas outside of Boulogne. The 'Lili of the Lamplight' and crew would carry out two such missions, the second on June 7th, both supporting the Invasion that began in the early morning hours of June 6th, 1944.
Lt. Ernest Anders Erickson dug these flak pieces from behind his pilot's seat after a mission in 1944
A German Flakvierling 38 Anti-Aircraft Crew searches for Heavy Bomber formations atop the Berlin Zoo Flak Tower.Notice the range measuring device the soldier is holding in the foreground and the radar station atop the building in the background.