Essay from Robert Thomas

B-26 plane taking off in a field.

My father, Technical Sargent Stanley F. Thomas flew a total of 60
missions as a bombardier and tail gunner on a B-26 Marauder, twin
engine bomber in World War II. The minimum Air Force requirement
of missions to be served was 25-30. Since my father never
discussed the war with his children, I never knew whether he
exceeded the mandate out of patriotism, or he was just an adrenaline
junkie. In either case, along with an Air Medal, he was awarded the
Distinguished Flying Cross. The medal bracket on his uniform also
held numerous unit citations with oak leaf clusters. Along one side of
the front of his leather jacket, a number of bombs were stenciled
indicating direct bombing hits, while an adjacent row of swastikas
evidenced enemy planes downed by his unit in combat.

The B-26 Marauder was designed and put into production a number
of years prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Army Air Corp 1
(AAC) prepared itself for any possible contingency. Specification for
the plane included a speed of between 250-350 mph. Because the
plane was to be used as a strategic bomber, the plane had to be able
to out pace the then known top airspeeds of German and Japanese
fighters. The plane also had to have sufficient arms to repel any
attack by fighters as it performed its mission. Thus, both nose and
rear 30 caliber machine guns, as well as a top turret gun was
mandated. Later, the 30 caliber guns were replaced by 50 caliber
weapons. Additionally, the plane had to carry a sufficient load of
bombs, enough to cause significant damage to designated targets.
This meant that weight was of crucial importance. The desire for
maximum bomb load resulted in a short wing span. A shorter wing
meant greater takeoff and landing speeds. Since the landing gear of
the B-26 were in a tricycle-like position, particular attention had to be
paid to making sure the rear wheels touched down first, with the nose
wheel gently allowed to touch down last. This was no easy feat when
coming in at 150 mph or better. Doing so in a damaged plane made
the task even more difficult.

Crews treated their planes as if they were their own possessions.
Nose art with pet names became a standard, giving the crew and
plane a personal identity. My father’s crew named their plane, Kizio
Pofoth 2nd, Eaglet. The name consisted of the first letters of the last
names of the all the crew members (See airplane above photo).
Strategic bombing was considered crucial to any successful outcome
in a war. Before any major offensive (D-Day) the enemy’s ability to
counter attack had to be thwarted. This meant destroying war
materials factories, to limit their production of armaments and
supplies; bombing the enemy’s airfields to minimize their dominance
of the airways; and to knock out transportation venues such as roads,

The author's father in his flying jacket in front of his plane.
Devon Francis, Flak Bait (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1948), xi-xvi 1
10T Sgt Stanley Thomas

bridges and rail yards to keep them from moving supplies and troops
into areas of combat. However, at times, given unforeseen
circumstances, other targets may have to be considered a priority.
This proved to be the case when Germany began implementing the
V-1 rocket attacks on England. The V-1 emplacements were
scattered across the coastal areas of France and the Netherlands,
and had to be taken out, diverting the B-26s from other strategic
targets.

The mission of the B-26 units in WWII was to provide strategic
intervention, both prior to and after D-Day. The 387th Bombardment
Group to which my father was attached, was eventually based in
10various areas of England. A total of 36 or more planes from this
group flew out each day. My father’s squadron, the 557th was
stationed in Chipping Ongar, located thirty miles northeast of London.
From Chipping Ongar, daily sorties of planes flew out over the English
Channel to areas of France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Every mission was fraught with danger, not only from possible
mechanical problems that might render the plane unable to fly, but
also from enemy fire. Anti-aircraft guns protected many of the target
areas. These guns sent up shells that exploded at a given height.
Many of the B-26s were damaged and or brought down by barrages
of flak exploding at the height of the planes. B-26s often came back
to base riddled with holes, their crews sometimes injured or dead
from shrapnel wounds. While less frequently encountered, enemy
fighters were also a challenge. In cases of fighter attack, the skill and
dexterity of the gunners was crucial to the crews lives. Although,
occasionally, the Americans had friendly fighter escorts run
intervention for them. These escorts extended only as far as the
fighters range, which were far less than the B-26s flew to reach their
targets. Luck also played a part in the crew’s survival. My father had
to abort one mission due to severe illness. His replacement came
back deceased from a flak hit.

In addition to operating the tail gun on a B-26, my father had the
responsibility of preparing the bombs for deployment. A safety fuze
pin had to be removed from each bomb before release. The fuze pin
consisted of a cotter pin, to which a paper tag was attached. A short
safety notice was printed on one side, while the other side of the tag
was blank. For each mission flown, Sgt. Thomas saved one tag,
upon which he wrote notes related to the mission. Each tag indicated
The number of mission; the name of the target; sometimes the
weather conditions; enemy fighter encounters; amount of flak;
number and size of bombs dropped; and occasionally other personal
comments. The tags became a diary of his missions.

I sorted all of the fuse tags in order from his first mission to his last,
with only five tags missing. Rather than describe his experiences in
narrative form, I have decided to let my father’s own words tell his
story. Below are his notes as he wrote them for each mission:

1) August 16, 1943, Bernay-St. Martin airdrome, first mission, James
Michael’s first gift (New born 1st child), more to come.
2) September 3, 1943, Lille-Nord Airfield, fighter airdrome, heavy to
medium accurate flak, all safe. Dropped 6, 500 lb. bombs.
3) September 14,1943, Lille-Nord Airfield, fishing trip, plenty of flak,
target under cloud cover.
4) September 14, 1943, Lille-Nord Airfield, turned back when over
target-weather bad, went fishing, light flak
5) September 25, 1943, St. Omer-Longuenesse Airfield, target
under cloud cover, couldn’t see results, cold as hell, 6, 500 lb.
bombs dropped.
6) September 21, 1943, Beauvais-Tille Airfield, two ships hit by
fighters, one lost, one made belly landing on airfield. Also one single
engine landing. We were jumped by 18 FW 190s. Engineer of one
ship bailed out when ship was hit and set afire. Dropped 10, 300 lb.
bombs.
7) October 3, 1943, Woensdrecht Airfield, inaccurate flak, bombed
alternate target on coast. Dropped 10, 300 lb. bombs.
8) October 22, 1943, Evreaux-Fauxville Airfield dispersal area, direct
hits, beautiful morning takeoff, Little flak, no fighters. Sweated out
landing, sick as a dog. Dropped 6, 500 lb. bombs.
9) October 22, 1943, Cambrey-Epinoy Airfield, raining-fog-soup, did
not drop bombs, rear 18 shot down, FW-190, could not see 100 yds
in front, Cambai/Epinoy. 4 1000 lb. bomb load.
10) November 3, 1943 St. Andre de L’Eure Airfield, flak intense, lost 2
B26s and 1 Spitfire. Saw FW 190, Got in some potshots. Dropped 4,
1000 lb bombs.

11) November 5, 1943, Mimoyecques V-1 site, excavations between
Calais and Boulogne, France, flak intense and accurate, one B26 lost
from 386th. Six boxes of 36 planes on this target- secret
12) November 26, 1943, Cambrai-Epinoy Airfield, target X, overcast,
just got into the coast.
13) November 29, 1943, Cambrai-Epinoy Airfield, target X, Buildings
of workers, good hits registered. Typhoon cover, short trip in and out,
pas La Calais, flak heavy, bomb stuck in bay.
14) December 1, 1943. Cambrai-Epinoy Airfield dispersal area, hit her
right on the button, flak over target-light, fighters on way out, spitfires
engaged same. Dropped 6, 500 lb bombs.
15) December 1, 1943, did not drop bombs, in over coast and out.
16) December 2, 1943, Did not Drop bombs?
17) December 30, 1943, Le Meillard-Bonniers V-1 site, target 2X, tour
of France over the Pas De Calais area. Had a good dose of light flak It
was terrifying. Could not locate target. 6, 500 lb. bombs.
18) December 31. 1943, Cormette V-1 site, Pas De Calais
construction works no bombs dropped 6, 500 lb. bomb load.
19) January 23. 1944, Le Grismont V-1 site, no ball (Code for V-1)
target in Pas De Calais area, no flak, no fighters, spitfire escort fair
bombing. Dropped 5, 500lb. bombs.
20) No tag?

21) February 9. 1944, Belleville en Caux V-1 site, no ball in Pas De
Calais , cloud cover, made two penetrations, bomb not dropped,
landed at Friston-emergency-weather bad. 6, 500 lb. bomb load.
22) February 10, 1944, Poix Airfield, no ball in Pas De Calais, cloud
cover, hit airfield no flak, milk run. 6, 500 lb. bombs dropped.
23) February 11, 1944, Amiens marshalling yards at Amiens, France,
cloud cover over target, hit no ball in break through clouds-12 bursts
of flak only in rear of formation. 6, 500 lb. bombs dropped.
24) February 24, 1944, Leeuwarden Airfield, Holland, base of 60
single, and 60 twin engine fighters. Good bombing results. 10 miles
from German border, light to heavy flak. 30, 100 lb. bombs dropped.
25) February 24, 1944, St. Josse Au Bois V-1 site, no ball Pas De
Calais, St Josse Au Bois, dropped 8, 300 lb. bombs, no flak, no
fighters.

26) February 25, 1944, Venlo Airfield, Holland on German border, first
glimpse of Germany, light- heavy flak. Lost 4 B26s over north Sea to
fighters. Box in back of us saw whole show 5 miles back. Dropped
10 250 lb. bombs.
27) No tag?
28) February 28, 1944, Ray sur Authie V-1 site, no-ball Pas De Calais
cloud cover did not bomb. 8, 500 lb bomb load.
29) February 29, 1944, Behen V-1 site, no-ball Pas De Calais hit
target, no flak milk run. 8, 500 lb. bombs dropped.
30) March 3, 1944, Montdidier Airfield, hit field, flak accurate,
received 8 holes, pilot hit by flak in arm. Really sweated on this one.
14 250 lb. bombs dropped.

31) March 5, 1944, Ray sur Authie V-1 site, no-ball Pas De Calais.
1032) March 6, 1944. Bois de Huit Rues V-1 site, no-ball Pas De Calais,
no flak, no fighters.10, 500 lb. bombs dropped.
33) March 20, 1944, Criel marshalling yards, France, flak inaccurate,
fighter-none attacked, Saw Paris Eiffel tower. 14, 250 lb. bombs
dropped.
34) (no date) Criel marshalling yards hit target perfect, light flak, no
fighters. 10, 500 lb. bombs dropped.
35) March 23, 1944, Haine St. Pierre marshalling yard, hit target
perfect, light flak, no fighters, 10, 500lb. Bombs dropped.
36) March 26, 1944, Ijmuiden E-Boat pens, Holland, Marauders drop
600 tons of bombs. Flak intense, 2 men killed in lead ship, 4, 1000 lb.
bombs dropped.
37) April 10. 1944, Le Havre coastal defenses, gun emplacement, hit
target right on the button- flak intense and accurate, no fighters, 4.
1000 lb. bombs dropped.

38) April 11, 1944, Bonnieres V-1 site, no-ball, hit target, flak intense
and accurate, lost first ship in our squadron, Lt. Pratt- 2 chutes seen,
14 250 lb. bombs dropped.
39) April 12, 1944. Dunkerque coastal defenses, gun emplacement,
hit target, flak intense and accurate, lost lead plane-colonel Caldwell,
no flak holes, really prayed on this one, 4, 1000 lb. bombs dropped.
40) April 30, 1944, Bois d’Enfer V-1 site, no-ball Pas de Calais, Good
bombing, flak accurate, aileron shot up, no fighters, 4, 1000 lb.
bombs dropped.
41) April 30, 1944, Somain marshalling yards, didn’t release bombs,
tour of France, no fighters, no flak, 4, 1000 lb. bomb load.
42) May 1, 1944, Monceaux-sur-Sambre marshalling yards, bombing
fair, no flak, no fighters, 4, 1000 lb. bombs dropped.
1043) May 1, 1944, Louvain marshalling yards, good bombing, no
fighters, flak on bomb run, 8, 500 lb. bombs dropped.
44) May 11, 1944, Hardelot coastal defenses, short of target, flak
hole in right wing, no fighters, 4, 1000 lb. bombs dropped.
45) May 12, 1944, La Parnelle coastal emplacements, short of target,
no flak, milk run, no fighters, 4, 1000 lb. bombs dropped
.

46) No tag?
47) No tag?
48) May 20, 1944, Benerville coastal guns, direct hits on target, no
flak, no fighters, visibility poor at take-off, 2, 2000 lb. bombs dropped.
49) May 20, 1944, Fecamp coastal defenses north of Le Havre, no
flak, no fighters, P47 area cover, 4, 1000 lb. bombs dropped.
50) May 22, 1944, Barfleur/Panelle France coastal gun emplacement,
short of target, bombed on pathfinder, flak moderate, no hits, no
fighters, P 38 escort, 2, 2000 lb. bombs dropped.
51) May 24, 1944 Barffleur/La Parnelle gun emplacements, France,
direct hits, flak, no fighters, pathfinder tech, P 47 cover, 2, 2000 lb.
bombs dropped.

52) May 24, 1944, Etaples-St. Cecily coastal gun emplacements,
direct hits, no flak, no fighters, P47- cover, 2, 2000 lb. bombs
dropped.
53) May 26, 1944, Chartres Airfield, France, hit dispersal area, flak
heavy-accurate, lost Smith, #199 road-on single engine, no fighters,
2, 2000 lb. bombs dropped.
1054) May 28, 1944, Liege-Renory bridge, Belgium, hit north span, flak
accurate, nose hit at gun, no fighters, long haul, 4, 1000 lb. bombs
dropped.
55) May 28, 1944, Maison La Fitte R.R. bridge, Paris, France, missed
bridge, flak terrific-several holes, prayed like I never did before, No
fighters, 2 2000 lb. bombs dropped.
56) May 31, 1944, Bennecourt highway bridge. R.R. bridge France,
Seine, overcast did not bomb, no flak, no fighters, 2, 2000 lb. bomb
load.

57) June 2, 1944, Eperville-France, coastal gun emplacement, fair
bombing, no flak, no fighters, 2, 2000 lb. bombs dropped.
(June 6, 1944, D-Day)
58) No tag?
59) June 10, 1944, St. Lo troop concentrations, St. Lo R.R. bridge
France, invasion area, hit target area, meager flak, no fighters, 14, 250
lb. bombs dropped.
60) June 11, 1944, Pontaubault R.R. bridge, France-invasion area fair
results, no flak, no fighters, 2, 2000 lb. bombs dropped.

I have no information regarding whether my father returned home
after his 60th mission, or if he remained in England participating in
other duties until the end of the war.

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