FIRST RAID TO BLECHHAMMER

Flight Journal|April 2020

FIRST RAID TO BLECHHAMMER
Escaping and Evading in Southwest Slovakia
PETER KASSÁ K

The 15th U.S. Army Air Force was created on October 30, 1943, to support the Allied Air Forces in their efforts to destroy Axis industries and communications and to break the morale of the German people. Located in Italy, it could easily reach targets in Southern France, the Balkans and Central Europe. Its most known and fearsome targets became the Romanian oil fields at Ploesti and oil refineries and industrial parks around Vienna in Austria. The refineries in Upper Silesia in Northern Europe (now Poland) became the third most visited target and spread fear among the aircrews because of its strong antiaircraft artillery.

The first Fifteenth AF raid on those refineries was flown on Friday, July 7,1944. A stream of 189 5th Bomb Wing (BW) B-17s attacked the refinery IG Farbenindustrie—in American papers known as “Blechhammer-South” (today, Kiedzierzyn, Poland). Another 226 49th and 55th BW B-24s attacked the oil refinery known as “Blechhammer-North” (Blachownia Slaska, Poland), and were supported by 140 304th BW B-24s that dropped their bombs on a refinery in what is today Zdzieszowice, Poland. Fighter cover was provided by 352 Fifteenth AF fighter planes of various types.

The 464th and 465th BGs were stationed at Stornara Airfield and belonged to the 55th BW. On this date, the entire 55th BW, accompanied by Liberators of 49th BW (altogether, seven or eight groups) attacked the oil refinery at Blechhammer-North. For the 464th BG, this was its forty-ninth mission.

In the 778th BS, 464th BG combat formation, B-24H Liberator (S/N 42- 52489) was piloted by 2nd Lt. Earcel H. Green along with 2nd Lt. Roy L. Gulledge as copilot. Other crew members were 2nd Lt. George O. Winberg, navigator; 2nd Lt. Neal T. Cobb, bombardier; S/Sgt. Jesse C. Houston, nose turret gunner; T/Sgt. Jack E. Elliot, radio operator and upper turret gunner; S/Sgt. Andrew C. Parker, ball turret gunner; T/Sgt. Claude H. Davis Jr., engineer and left waist gunner; S/Sgt. Gerald E. Howland, right waist gunner; and S/Sgt. John J. Schianca, tail gunner.

The flight path to the target took the formations over several countries in Southeast Europe. German HQ’s 8th Jagddivision (8.JD) was responsible for the protection of the southeast part of the Reich. To meet the enemy bombers, 17 twin-engine heavy fighters, Me 410B-2s that belonged to I./ZG 26, took off from Malacky-Novy Dvor airbase in Slovakia.

These were soon supported by 18 Bf 110G-2s—their twin-engine brothers from II./ZG 1—that took off from Wels Air Base and headed northeast to meet American forces. Their duty was to break up the U.S. bombers’ tight boxes in one organized attack that would use W.Gr.21 rockets and gunfire. Then they were to clear the area to save their tails from U.S. escort fighters and let the faster single-engine Luftwaffe fighters finish the attack.

For these purposes, 27 Bf 109G-6s from II./JG 27 took off from Fels am Wagram, followed by 25 I./JG 302 Bf-109Gs from Götzendorf. As a subordinate unit to 8.JD, I./JG Ost was airborne from its base at Liegnitz as well, flying 20 Bf 109G-6s and 10 Fw 190A-5s.

The bomber formation also flew over Hungarian air space, and to defend their homeland, Hungarian fighters of Vadaszostaly 101 Puma FG supported their German allies by sending 34 Bf 109G-6s from the Veszprém Air Base to face the Americans.

A Witness to War

Many inhabitants of Southwestern Slovakia remember the long bomber streams that flew above their heads and were accompanied by the terrifying sound of thousands of engines. One of them was Ladislav Vrskovy, a resident of Dolny Lieskov village:

“I was 28 years old and working in a nearby town. When air raid sirens started to wail, we all abandoned our work and ran to secure ourselves. I went with my friend to a nearby forest, in the direction of our village. We watched the bombers fly from the north back to Italy. One plane was flying lower and behind the others; its altitude was only about 3,000 feet, and dense black smoke formed a long trail behind its engines. It was obvious: this one cannot make it back to Italy.

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April 2020