one story of many

The WWII Service of
SSgt. WILLIAM F. MCMYNE
US 8th Air Force
466 Bombardment Group (Heavy)
784th Squadron - Crew 413

HIS STORY - GETTING THERE

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466th Bombardment Group (Heavy) Insignia
The Flying Deck

   

784th Squadron Insignia
The Clubs

 


The 466th Bombardment Group (Heavy) flew B24 Liberator bombers.   The B24 Liberator, fully armed and combat-ready, carried a crew of ten men. Its gross weight when loaded was greater than 60,000 pounds. It had, in the most common versions, four movable turrets, each with two .50 caliber machine guns and two individual .50s in the waist, making a total of ten guns. It was powered by four 1,200 horsepower engines and carried 2,750 gallons of fuel. Many B-24 missions were round trips of 1,500 miles and some extended ranges were near 2,000 miles. The B-24 could fly higher, faster, farther, and take more punishment than any other plane in World War II.

B24H of the 785th Squadron "Belle"

During the course of the war, the 466th flew over 5,600 sorties in 231 missions that dropped over 13,000 tons of bombs over France, Germany, and Belgium.   333 men lost their lives during those missions, with an additional 171 taken prisoner, 8 evading capture, and 27 interned in neutral countries.  Almost 100 B-24 Liberators were lost during the missions. 

My father and Crew 413 were assigned to the B24 Liberator “Virgin Sturgeon” (B-24H-15-FO #42-52516 Code:  T9-P).    In the words of Chris Brassfield, 466th Bomb Group historian, "The H-15-FO block of B24's was one of the most numerous, and was the predominate model in the original batch of aircraft assigned to the 466th BG."   The "H" model was developed to significantly improve the overall defensive strength of the B24 by incorporating motorized front gun turrets found to significantly improve defense against a frontal attach, a weakness of prior B24's.  Other improvements included a new tail turret design with larger plexiglass windows, a higher top turret bubble for increased visibility and offset waist gunner positions (starting with block 20 aircraft) to prevent the waist gunners from interfering with each other in battle.

Chris also provided me with a photo of my father's B24, a very rare picture as few pictures exist of the bombers that were shot down so early in the engagement. 

The Virgin Sturgeon
"Needs No Urgin"

(Many thanks to Chris Brassfield, historian for the 466th Bomber Group, for providing me with this picture.)

My father was the lower ball turret gunner. 

 
Retracted position. Cutaway drawing from a WWII armaments catalogs shows ball turret gunner in place, with internal ammo cans in the turret. Extended position.

The group's first mission was 22 March 1944 to Berlin.  In a letter welcoming the 466th to the 8th Air Force, Lieutenant General James Doolittle noted that mission was the longest first mission flown by any group in the European Theater of Operations.   Lt. Col. Woolnough writing in his book on the history of the 466th  recalls the briefing for the 466's first mission:

"At 0515 all the crews were assembled in the main briefing room.  At least 325 men were crowded in that large Nisson hut on the flight line (29 crews and a large share of the staff.)  Colonel Pierce said a few words of encouragement to the grim assemblage and turned the show over to operations.  The briefing officer stood up, pointer in hand, and motioned for the curtain to be removed.  There it was--a huge map of Western Europe.  All of the flak areas were marked with blotches of red cellophane, it looked like a bad case of measles.

In an instant every eye had taken in the yarn-marked line from our base to the target--BERLIN--Big B!  It seemed that 300 hearts had skipped a beat.  Everyone sucked in a breath of air.  It was unbelievable.  We all expected a milk run for a start.  Here they were putting us in the big league without a warmup.  Everyone started jabbering until the pointer pounded attention...then the Intelligence Officer gave details on the AA facing us--29 guns at the primary and 500 guns at the secondary,  "expect flak all along the way...you will be passing over well stocked airfields constantly.  Watch their tactics and be able to report their maneuvers when you return."  If we return, we thought." 

Lt. Col. Woolnough continues, describing the mission itself and beginning with the takeoff from Attlebridge airfield:

"...Walling began to roll.  He wasn't off the runway yet when we started.  Twenty seven aircraft followed us out, spaced 30 seconds apart.  The big chase began as the group reached the forming altitude of 8000 feet... At full strength (24 planes) we joined the Wing at Boston.  The Wing joined the Division at Louth...we headed ENE over the North Sea.  What a sight to see!  The sky was full of bombers.  It was hard to imagine that we were part of such a great force, when just two months before we were dribbling blue practice bombs over the white sands of New Mexico. "

"...In time we reached the target area.  With dismay we could see that clouds were obscuring the primary target.  We would have to face the 500 guns of Berlin.  Soon the code word "Black Out" was recieved.  It was official--Berlin...We could see what looked like a black cap over the spot where the city should be.  As we got closer we could see that the cap was made up of individual bursts of black flak--at our altitude.  They were using a barrage pattern over the city.  Firing at our altitude so we could run into it.  The flak really looked harmless.  Once in a while a tgrace of one would float past my window.  Now we could hear them explode, even that wasn't very loud.  Every once and a while we could hear the pieces rattle off the wings and fuselage as we ran through the debris of a spent round.  We almost  held our breath during the bomb run, holding the a/c as still as possible to insure a good bomb pattern.  Then suddenly, "Bombs Away".  We saw the bobms dropping out of Wallings bomb bay and immediately felt our ship jump when Bortness released our load.  The lead closed his bomb bay doors, held his heading for a long minute, and then began a slow turn to a westerly heading.  We were going home--what a relief--why!  That was nothing!"

Things were not going as well in the second section of planes in which my father was flying as a member of crew number 413 piloted by Harry Sturdevant.  Lt. Col. Woolnough continues in the Attlebridge Diaries:

"What we didn't know was that something was going on in the second section.  Masoon-419, Hinman-608,and Terry-612 few in positions j1, 2 and 3 in the lead element.  Komer-613, Sturdevant-413, and Brand-605 were flying positions 4, 5 and 6 in the slot element (directly behind and slightly below the lead element).  Moments before bombs away, at 1324 hours, trouble.  Komers crew-613 reported that the Terry a/c "was apparently hit by flak--two propellers came off, #1 engine blew up, did a slow roll and hit the Brand a/c". 

My father's plane was flying on Brant's right wing and reported that the Terry a/c had a large hole near the top turret and that his props had come off.   Another crew member who was there reported "Our tail gunner got a bird's eye view of everything that went on that day over Berlin.  He was so terrified that he had to be helped out of the turret."  Being so close to the action it is possible my father or members of his crew saw what happened.

The planes returned to base around 1700 hours that evening, having been in the air since about 0800 that morning, 9 hours in the air.  Twenty four planes flew on that first mission and dropped 55.6 ton of bombs.  Four aircraft did not return.  Twenty two men were killed in action and 7 were taken prisoners of war.  The 466th's and my father's first mission was the biggest daylight raid of the war to date and the longest first mission ever flown by any group in the European Theatre of Operations.

Incredibly, the next letter my eighteen year old father wrote on April 1 simply said,  "Nothing new or startling has happened lately."  

His next letter the day after on April 2 casually referenced the raid,

 "Just a line to send this clipping picture of my raid on Berlin.  I sent Ag the newspaper clipping but they give us these so I thought I’d send them.  Please be sure & save them."


Clippings About The 466th's & My Father's First Mission
Sent Home By My Father In His Letter Dated April 2

 Most likely my father did not really take things so casually, but chose to make light so as to make things seem business as usual so his mother would not worry.   I will never know what went on in his mind during or after that first mission.  Certainly his wonder and enjoyment of his travels was over.  I expect he would never look at the world or himself the same way again.

 On mission two over Achmer, Germany, two planes were lost.  As one crewman described it,

 "We were enroute to the target.  A shadow of a plane went across the top of us and the next thing we saw was a plane going right down on the top of our element lead.  It looked like it landed smak on the top of the bottom plane.  Both planes busted open, and they hit with such force that the front turret flipped up, and out, straight down. " 

One pilot who had seen the collision very closely never flew again.  It was his first and last mission.

In addition to Berlin and Achmer, my father's crew flew 3 more missions over France in the Virgin Sturgeon without incident.  Although the Virgin Sturgeon returned ok, during those missions a total of 91 planes flew, 5 aircraft were lost, 36 men were killed in action and 3 interred as POW's.

On April 8, 1944, the 466th bomber group bombed a variety of targets near Brunswick, Germany.  I imagine that my father started the day putting all he had seen and heard of prior missions out of his mind, staying focused on defending his aircraft, damaging the German war machine and returning back to Attlebridge safely.  That was not to be.  The Virgin Sturgeon and its crew would not return.

One crewmen on the mission remembers,

"They don't come any harder than the one we flew today to Brunswick.  The Jerries threw everything they had at us, fighters and flak.  It was the big "maximum effort" raid our operations had long predicted.  Well, it came today, on Holy Saturday.  Personally, I'll remember it as Unholy Saturday." 

What happened to the Virgin Sturgeon and to its crew was recounted by a crewman named McKaig:

"ME-109's and FW0190's started after us and were attacking us all the way to the target.  I don't know what happened to our escort.  They were gone all the time we were over the target and didn't return until about 1415.  We came up on the target under (fighter) attack and heavy flak.  We dropped our bombs at about 1402.  Our target was an airfield at Brunswick.  Just after we left the target an FW-190 started attacking...a ship off our right wing (this was my father's plane) and his number 3 engine caught fire.  I think four of us tail gunners got that FW-190 because he was smoking pretty heavy and it looked like flames coming out of his engine as he peeled out.  I saw three parachutes leave this ship." 

The Missing Air Crew Report records that the ball turret gunner (my father) and the bombardier of the Virgin Sturgeon, Thomas W. Twisdale, were blown out of the ship and were the only surviving members of the crew.  The Virgin Sturgeon crashed 10 miles west of Brunswick.

A B24 of the 464th Bomb Group
Direct hit by flak and going down a year and a day after the Virgin Sturgeon

Of the 30 planes that flew on that mission, 6 did not return, 21 men were killed and 38 were taken prison by the Germans.  My father's account (as related to me by his brother Jim) of what happened is consistent with the MACR report.  My father said he remembers being hit by flak in the foot but did not remember exiting the plane or pulling the ripcord of his parachute.  His next memory is of regaining consciousness in a field with a group of German soldiers running towards him.  He said he immediately threw his pistol away to reduce the chances that they would fire at him.  So the eighteen year old boy who had thought that "if things go awful good and no mishaps we should be back in the states by Xmas" would end the day as German prisoner of war.    In one very important way that was good news.  Twenty one of his fellow airmen were not so lucky that day. 

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If you have any further information regarding my father or any comments or questions please contact me at bmcmyne@embarqmail.com

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