First mission over France
16th September 1943: An Eighth Air Force navigator is hastily allocated to a B-17 Flying Fortress for his first combat mission
The USAAF in Britain was now growing from strength to strength; each day saw several different daylight missions to bomb occupied Europe. Increasingly these were co-ordinated with the night-time missions of the RAF, in order to stretch German defences.
It remained a perilous time, with heavy casualties, as the original U.S. plan that Flying Fortresses were sufficiently well armed to be able to defend themselves had proved too optimistic. Fighters capable of escorting them all the way were not yet available.
A cluster of new airfields in the east of England were filling up with thousands of newcomers, some of whom had little time to settle in before they were sent off on ‘missions’. Marshall Stelzriede1 was one of them:
On September 16, 1943, three days after arriving at Snetterton Heath, Nevin Beam, the bombardier, and I were awakened at 9:15 in the morning by an orderly, who told us we were needed at Operations to fly with a different crew, of the 413th squadron, on a raid that day. We had been sleeping very late that morning after having attended a late party the night before. We scarcely had time to dress when a truck arrived at our barracks to take us to Operations, where we arrived about 10:00.
The 413th operations officer was in a panic. The briefing had just ended, and it was his responsibility to provide complete crews for the raid. We were his replacements for a navigator and a bombardier who had been injured on a mission a few days before. When I told him I had not yet been issued any cold-weather clothing or other equipment, he and another person gave me some of theirs, and the rest of the clothing and equipment were located somewhere. Because we had not had time for breakfast, he scrounged up some K-rations for us.
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