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Back to Mission 11 Mission 12 Monday, 29 May 44 Politz Forward to Mission 13
Mission 12
The 8th Air Force was given the nod to go deep into German-held territory for the second day in a row. Deep targets were not only weakening Hitler's industrial might, but forcing the Luftwaffe's defense perimeter to shrink. The 492nd flew as part of a four-wing B-24 armada assigned to hit oil refineries at Politz, Poland.
The Group sent up 29 of their ships and crews under the command of Major Mahoney, the Squadron Commander for the 859th. Two of the planes had to abort for mechanical problems. The assembly went well. The groups in the 14th Wing were all able to hook up in their correct positions. The B-24 armada, which included 2 B-24 Wings from the 1st Air Division, also had a good assembly. The only problem encountered was that unpredicted tail winds kept putting the armada ahead of schedule. In order to kill time, the groups and wings had to periodically fly small dog-legged or zig-zag courses. These "swings" were to affect the events of the day.
Fighter Protection
Since the B-17s of the 1st Air Division were expected to draw most of the heat, most of the escort groups were assigned to them. The 12 groups of B-24s going to Politz were to share the protection of just one fighter group. The Luftwaffe lured the escorts away from their bombers with one fighter group and attacked the armada with others. So, one could say that fighter protection to the target was zero.
Enemy Resistance
The mission planners drew up routes that were supposed to make the Germans think that all 3 divisions were headed to Berlin. They expected most of the Luftwaffe to fall back and concentrate on defending their capital city. They also anticipated that the 1st Air Division would get the bulk of resistance. However, the Luftwaffe didn't do that. Instead, they divided their forces and shadowed the 1st and 2nd Air Divisions, looking for golden opportunities to attack.
The Luftwaffe began attacking the 492nd and the 14th Wing before they reached their IP. They caught the Wing while their "swinging" was at its widest, thus reducing their ability to protect each other. The enemy continued their assault as the B-24s flew to the target, over the target, past the target and out over the Baltic Sea bound for home. It was one of the toughest air battles ever fought by the 492nd.
Flak over the target was heavy; the heaviest encountered by the Group thus far. Normally, flak zones would at least offer a break from the Luftwaffe. But on that day the Luftwaffe flew through their own flak and smoke screens to attack the B-24 aramda at Politz.
Despite all of the difficulties and resistance thrown at them, the Politz raiding force was credited with the best bombing results for the 8th Air Force that day. The 27 credited sorties of the 492nd were all able to put their bombs on the target. But not all of the bombers made it home.
Landry Crew 817 was already suffering severe battle damage from flak and repeated hits scored by FW-190s, Me-210s and Me-410s when they reached the target. They were hit again by another Me-410, setting their left wing on fire. Still they were able to bomb their target. Shortly after releasing their bombs, the wing melted off and the crew was forced to bail. At some point the bombardier was killed. Somehow the remaining 9 men all got out safely.
McMurray Crew 801 took a hard beating. One of their waist gunners, S/Sgt Tracey, was hit in the back by a piece of shrapnel and died on the way home.
O'Sullivan Crew 713 also reached their target in a battered ship. Just as they released their bombs, they were hit by German fighters flying through the flak. They lost two engines and a fire broke out in the radio compartment. Witnesses saw only one parachute as the plane went down. But reports of their demise would be premature.
Harris Crew 707 didn't go down, but three of their men were wounded in battle.
Returning Home
What should had been a massacre wasn't. Instead, the 492nd was able to repel the Luftwaffe. They took down more enemy planes than they lost. The Luftwaffe didn't learn their lesson and followed the Group out over the Baltic. Yet still they weren't able to knock down any more 492nd bombers.
The Group certainly proved they were bonded to one another. Although many of the ships were serverely damaged, the Group stayed together. The healthier ships slowed down and escorted the cripples back to England. They were determined not to lose anyone to the straggler hunters.
Gaulke Crew 602 wasn't knocked out, but their plane was giving out. They knew they couldn't reach England, so they dropped out of formation and made it to Sweden.
Prewitte Crew 916 couldn't make it back, either. But they did get far enough across the North Sea to arrange for a sea-ditch rescue. All except the bombardier, Lt Muller, were rescued and returned to duty.
The other ships reached England, but not all could make it to North Pickenham. The Davis Crew 704, Goodridge Crew 812 and Prytulak Crew 907 landed at the closer Oulton Airfield instead.
The O'Sullivan Crew 713 that was seen going down during the air battle, survived and limped back to North Pickenham alone. They also found their way back without a navigator, who accounted for the single parachute seen leaving the falling craft. The odds of them making England were slim, but as long as there was a chance, bomber pilots would risk it. For safely bringing back his ship and crew, Lt O'Sullivan was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The Group found themselves locked into a "hard luck" situation, yet they fought their way out of it suffering relatively few casualties. And they still got the job done. Perhaps the mini-stories from this mission collectively paints the better story of what the men in this Group were really made of. It was the Group's finest hour. If the details of this mission were accurately portrayed in a Hollywood movie, the critics would accuse the screen writers of being overly imaginative. No one would believe it.
The story of the "Hard Luck" or "Ill-Fated" Group, as they would later become known, isn't a story about how a group was wiped out in 89 days by the Luftwaffe. It's a story of how a group was wiped out while slugging it out with the Luftwaffe in "hard luck" situations. Not all hard luck situations could be overcomed by determination like this mission was. Sometimes the odds were just too overwhelming.
Some of the day's survival credit should go to the mission's leader, Major Mahoney. This was his first combat mission command. He and his relationship with the men proved invaluable. Under heavy fire he kept the Group glued together in a protective formation. Mahoney was one of the more popular and respected commanders in the 492nd. He had been with the group before it was a group, back when it was the 12th Anti-Submarine Squadron in Langley, Virginia. He had also served as the acting group commander when the 492nd was first formed and activated. The men readily followed him because they wanted to.
Mission Data
Mission: 12
Date: 29 May 44
City: Politz, Poland
Target: Oil refinery
Bomb Load
Tons: 63
Type: GPs and SBs
Result: Good
Enemy Action
Flak: Heavy
GAF: 100+
Counter Action
492nd Casualties
More Info
This mission's impact
on the overall war
Prytulak Crew 907
O'Sullivan Crew 713
Prytulak Crew 907
Gaulke Crew 602
J Harris Crew 707
Landry Crew 817
McMurray Crew 801
O'Sullivan Crew 713
Prewitte Crew 916
Gaulke Crew 602
Landry Crew 817
McMurray Crew 801
Prewitte Crew 916
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