It was a long flight, and the wait over the task force and the climb to altitude had burned up a large amount of fuel. Ensign Lew Hopkins looked at his fuel gauge and concluded that it was going to be a one-way flight. Although low on fuel, McClusky continued the search. He turned the formation slightly to the right and flew due west for 35 miles, then he turned right again to the northwest, intending to conduct a standard box search.
Two of his bomber pilots ran out of fuel and ditched in the water. Finally, at , well north of the plotted intercept position, McClusky spotted a single ship, all by itself, proceeding northward at great speed, its bow wave making a broad wake that looked for all the world like a white arrow painted on the surface of the sea. McClusky guessed at once that it was a laggard from the Kido Butai and, using that V-shaped bow wave as a guide, he altered course to follow the arrow just east of due north. Ten minutes later, at , he saw dark specks on the horizon ahead of him.
As he flew closer, the specks resolved themselves into surface ships. He had found the Kido Butai. At age 32, Best was younger than most of the squadron commanders, and looked younger still.
Flying into hell : the Bomber Command offensive as seen through the experiences of twenty crews
Out of uniform he might have had trouble getting a Honolulu bartender to serve him a beer. A New Jersey native, he was whippet thin with an aquiline nose and prominent ears. But he was a great pilot. He often had to endure some good-natured banter because his middle name was Halsey and, indeed, he claimed a distant relationship with the admiral. As McClusky, Best, and the commander of VS-6, Lieutenant Earl Gallaher, approached the Kido Butai that morning, they saw so many valuable targets below them that there was confusion about which to attack. The nearest target was the big carrier Kaga ; five miles to its right and a few miles ahead of it was the Japanese flagship Akagi.
According to doctrine, Gallaher and Best were to lead their two squadrons against different ships. He saw the two carriers not as near and far, but as left and right. Best never heard the order. The Americans had gained a crucial advantage by arriving over the Kido Butai at a critical moment; now the confusion in assigning targets threatened to waste it. National Archives.
Best used hand signals to prepare the pilots of his squadron to dive on the target. Too late. Already committed to the dive, 10 of the VB-6 pilots joined the onslaught on the Kaga. Twenty-seven American planes dove on the Kaga. They plastered it with bombs, and within minutes it was a smoking wreck. But this left only three planes for the attack on the Akagi. Best gathered his two wingmen, one on each side, and the three American planes flew toward the Akagi in a shallow V formation.
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Kroeger and Weber released their bombs at almost the same moment. The immediate damage was extensive, but the secondary damage was catastrophic.
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Other ordnance lay on the carts and on the racks along the bulkhead. Within minutes, that ordnance began to cook off, and once the explosions started, the aviation fuel from the wrecked planes fed the fires. Meanwhile, approximately 10 miles to the north, Yorktown planes were hitting the carrier Soryu. In an electrifying five-minute period, three-quarters of the Kido Butai was destroyed.
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The bomb bay doors on every plane began to slowly close as we headed away from the dangerously saturated flak area. The flak eventually thinned out and we were soon in the clear. Although there were enemy fighters in the air, we did not encounter any. The mission lasted nine hours and most of us would have been glad to go back if we could inflict as much damage again. We would do anything to help bring this war to an end sooner.
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See Leonard Streitfeld: Hell from Heaven. Life in the Army Air Force with all its thrills. Or the horror of watching a formation buddy in a nearby B, throw smoke, drop from the squadron and only being able to count six chutes before he disintegrates into a giant smear of debris.
Or listening to the heavy breathing on the intercom of a shaken comrade as he asks his God for mercy. Or visions of torture and starvation in an enemy prison camp. And you realize that a simple twist of fate. Is this the war to end all wars? See rd Bombardment Group for more about their involvement in this raid. The bomb load had contained a high proportion of explosives to incendiaries — even so fires burned and spread for four days. Diarist Ursula von Kardorff wondered why people did not go mad:. Today the city centre had its heaviest raid yet. I would not have believed it possible for them to be worse.
Luckily I was in the deep shelter, but even there people began to panic. Women started to scream when the lights finally went out for good. Why does nobody go crazy?
See Ursula von Kardorff: Diary of a nightmare: Berlin, Then followed the details of the take-off, flying order, targets and return flights. The whole mission was to be carried out at less than feet until we reached the targets so that the enemy ground stations could not pick us up. To this end, radio silence was the order until we reached the target. We were given a magnificent breakfast, cutlets, roast beef and a glass of wine.
For sweets there were patries and several cups of fragrant coffee. To support the German offensive through the Ardennes the Luftwaffe had planned a co-ordinated operation to try to neutralise the Allied fighter bombers. The heavily outnumbered Luftwaffe had made little impact on the battle so far. Rather than directly confronting the Allied fighters in the air, Operation Bodenplatte aimed to destroy as many Allied fighters on the ground as possible.
Worner came in with the ominous envelope already open in his hand. The last minutes before we were airborne seemed an eternity.
Nervous fingers stubbed out half smoked cigarettes. In the scarlet glow the sun slowly appeared above the horizon to the east. It was 8.
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And the armada took off …. Despite the careful planning Operation Bodenplatte did not achieve the level of surprise hoped for, only a minority of attacks were to hit undefended airfields. The Allied fighters were soon in the air and the large numbers of very inexperienced German pilots who had been pressed into service paid the price. These pilots were irreplaceable. Although the Allies are estimated to have lost almost aircraft destroyed and about damaged on the ground, these were empty aircraft and such was the Allied supply situation most planes were replaced within a week.
Contemporary film of aerial combat and ground strafing by planes of the 8th Air Force during this period:. These continued at the same intensity that they had reached in — in the remaining months of the war , tons of bombs would fall on Germany, more than twice the tonnage that had fallen in the whole of In a raid on the canal had led to the first Victoria Cross for Bomber Command.
Now another member of Bomber Command was similarly recognised:. This airman was the wireless operator in a Lancaster aircraft which attacked the Dortmund-Ems Canal in daylight on 1st January, The bombs had just been released when a heavy shell hit the aircraft in front of the mid-upper turret. Fire broke out and dense smoke filled the fuselage. The nose of the aircraft was then hit and an inrush of air, clearing the smoke, revealed a scene of utter devastation. Bedding and other equipment were badly damaged or alight; one engine was on fire.
Flight Sergeant Thompson saw that the gunner was unconscious in the blazing mid-upper turret. Without hesitation he went down the fuselage into the fire and the exploding ammunition. He pulled the gunner from his turret and, edging his way round the hole in the floor, carried him away from the flames. He himself sustained serious burns on his face, hands and legs. Flight Sergeant Thompson then noticed that the rear gun turret was also on fire. Despite his own severe injuries he moved painfully to the rear of the fuselage where he found the rear gunner with his clothing alight, overcome by flames and fumes.
A second time Flight Sergeant Thompson braved the flames. With great difficulty he extricated the helpless gunner and carried him clear. Flight Sergeant Thompson, by now almost exhausted, felt that his duty was not yet done.