January 20, 1945


In England, Verne wrote in his diary . . .

01-20-45 — 4th Mission – HEILBRONN

Poor pass. It sure went to the dogs since we went on a mission today. Temperature was 58° below zero. Colder than all get out. Bombed marshaling yards at Hielbronn but had to bomb secondary target. This was a milk run for sure. 14 bursts of flak at 3 o’clock and none of it close. Tired tonight.1 Two letters from Aileen.

Thirty-two aircraft attacked the rail yard at Heilbronn as a secondary target, when weather forced them to abandon a small oil depot. Bombing was by pathfinder, with results estimated to be on one side of the target area.2

Dense persistent contrails were present at 26,000’. The mission was troubled with 10/10 cloud cover and atmospheric moisture content was such that windows frosted very badly reducing visibility to practically zeros. Glaze ice formed so solidly over the interior of windows and windshields that it had to be scraped off with knives and metal instruments so that the wing ships and formation just ahead could be seen. Immediate refreezing occurred each time so constant scraping was necessary. The aircrafts’ instruments also froze over and had to be scraped to be seen. At times, visibility was down to one-half to three-quarters of a mile. No enemy fighters were sighted and friendly fighter cover was excellent considering the length of the Division line.3

Maj. Linn E. Wilde was the pilot during this mission with Combat Crew #87 flying Boeing-built B-17G, #43-37831, — Lady Velma.

Notes & Commentary

1 The aircrew were credited with 7:50 hours of flying time according to the Individual Flight Record of Boyce L. Pruitt. Verne Gray and Boyce Pruitt were both members of Combat Crew 87.

Ronald J. Reid. “A Tribute to Sgt. Boyce Lester Pruitt”. (unpublished manuscript, 2007). See “Individual Flight Record, January 1945.”

2 United States and Albert E. Milliken. The story of the 390th Bombardment Group (H). [New York]: Priv. Print., 1947. p. 120.

3 Operations Narrative of Mission #245, 20 January 1945. Headquarters 390th Bombardment Group (H), Office of the Operations Officer, 22 January 1945. microfilm B0426 Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1973, frames 931-933.

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3 Responses to January 20, 1945

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    That’s the first time I’ve read something about how the freezing temperature could hinder a mission.


    • a gray says:

      Weather conditions were critical throughout a mission, from takeoff to landing. Weather reconnaissance aircraft sometimes flew ahead of a bomber streams to keep them advised of the weather conditions they would experience as a mission progressed.


  2. a gray says:

    A pilot friend of mine sent me the following comment:

    The later G models had some heating coming from number 2 engine to help with the frosting in the cockpit. Not nearly enough. Windscreen ice is a problem.

    If they got high enough that would sublime after time as the icing at 25,000 is not too much of a problem. If it was summer with a high large cumulus cloud or thunder storm, that would cause icing at altitude. On the 747-400 the only time I had to use wing anti ice was climbing out of Manila with very high cumulus clouds that forced rain above the freezing level. Heavy ice. The B-17 has boots for the wings and tail and alcohol for the props so that works as a de ice. Icing can be so heavy in Europe that the boots cannot keep up with the buildup. Also clear ice is harder to detect that rime.

    The worst part for a B-17 would be in the circle climb out over England to get into formation for the run to Germany. Big problem. The rate of climb on a loaded B-17 is so slow they would have a tough time getting clear of clouds at altitude.

    This is the wet adiabatic lapse rate problem we talked about.


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