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As you know I have been researching our Fathers last mission in Germany. These are the accounts of that day that I have learned and I would like to share.

On the morning of 24/Feb/1944 05:30 hours the 445th BG, of the 8th Air Force went into briefing to learn their target mission for that day was the Messerschmitt factories at Gotha Germany. This was mission # 28 for the 445th; this was to take place deep into enemy territory. It was the 5th mission of that week known as "Big Week". The 703rd (Jimmy Stewarts squadron) was designated lead squadron, (Jimmy did not fly this day as he stayed back to coordinate operations). As I have learned the men of the 445th had a bad feeling about this particular mission quite apprehensive, yet as trained seasoned flyers they went on prepared there aircraft, and preflight checks as usual.

The 8th Air Force, 701st, 702nd, 703rd, 704th, BS, 445th BG put 30 B-24 H Liberators in the air that day. They were flying out of Tibenham England the home of the 445th BG. As the sun rose that day the bombers with the distinct throaty roar of their engines breaking through the thick morning haze taxied onto the tarmac. These grey intimidating war birds sat lined nose to tail as if they were quietly suspended in time waiting for the green flair signaling take off. These bomber crews sat quietly knowing exactly what they were in for and the difficulty of this mission. In the matter of 15 minutes the 30 B-24's were circling the air field as they formed the bombing formation of their group. The 8th Air Force put many planes in the air that day. They were to fly to the coast and meet with the 15th Air Force and the rest of the combat wing, where they were to circle once more forming a much larger formation consisting of both B-24's and the older yet sleeker B-17's. (This was a little friendly battle between the air crews the B-24 was faster carried a bigger payload and flew more missions in WW2 but not as popular with the press because it was considered ugly).

It was a very clear and cold day over the icy waters of the North Sea. On approach of the European shoreline they were supposed to meet up with and have an allied fighter escort. Do to a navigational error this did not happen. The bombing formations continued on, correcting there coarse, (unfortunately without fighter escort). Even with the tactical error the group was ahead of schedule and feeling quite optimistic they had a chance of surprise. At this point of the mission do to the good weather, and the fact there was no fighter escort, the German Luftwaffe saw them coming and were ready. Protect the Luftwaffe factories at all cost were there orders and they were up to the challenge. For they knew if these were lost it would be the beginning of the fall of the Third Reich. The Germans were ready to ferociously defend them.

Knowing the difficulty of the mission on this day the 445th put only its most experienced crew's in the air. Shortly after take off five of the 30 B-24's due to various mechanical difficulties returned to base, this left 25 B-24's from the 445th. They pressed on to their target. After entering German air space, one and a half hours before bombs way. The whole formation including all formations of the combat wing B-24's and B-17's were intercepted by German PW190's and ME109's. up to 150 fighters were reported.

The squadron came under fierce attack from above at 12:00 hours. Causing a considerable amount of confusion forced the formation to an altitude of 12000 feet. The fighters cut through the squadron using various tactics and formations including dive-bombing and rockets including parachute bombs and scrambled the formation (a fighter pilots dream). The German fighters were experienced as to were the American bomber pilots. The 445th managed to reform on their bomb run and climb to 15000 feet whitch helped in the accuracy of there drop. The 445th lost six planes before bombs away (Dad's was not one of those) and seven after, however they did have there top turret shot off and that is when the top turret gunner Orville L. Last was killed.

The "Paper Doll" heavily damaged and under severe attack from enemy fighters pressed on. The bombing groups taking heavy losses held there coarse taking down several German fighters themselves. The group reformed as they were trained and the remaining 18 B-24's of the 445th BG along with the remaining combat wing completed there bomb drop with pin point accuracy. 82% of target was destroyed putting it out of commission. This was considered one of the most successful bombing missions of WW2 (even with the heavy losses). The 445th was awarded The Presidential Unit Citation. (The only one the 445th was awarded during WW2). As it turned out this air battle is considered one of the longest air battles in the history of WW2. It lasted two and one half hours ending at approximately 14:20 hours.

Out of 25 planes sent to Gotha by the 445th thirteen were lost. six before bombs away and seven planes after. Of the remaining twelve only two returned to Tibenham. The others were forced to land at various bases across Europe because of heavy battle damage and unable to continue to fly.

After bombs away the 445th was still taking heavy enemy fighter attacks for another hour



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