In England, Verne wrote in his diary . . .
01-21-45 — 5th Mission – MANNHEIM
Still trying to get our passes. Another mission today. Bombed marshalling yards at Mannheim Germany. Colder than hell. 53° below. Felt twice as cold as yesterday. 1 No letters today. Moderate flak and tracking.
Maj. Linn E. Wilde was the pilot during this mission with Combat Crew #87 flying on Boeing-built B-17G #2102972 —Boston Blackie/Heavenly Cent
Winter flying conditions persisted in a pathfinder attack on Mannheim marshaling yard, in which all bursts were lost in the undercast. Flying weather at the Base was equally hazardous, for one plane in trouble was sent out over the North Sea to drop its bombs before landing. Radio contact was lost, and the plane was never seen again.2
No enemy fighters were sighted during the mission and support by the escorting fighters was excellent.
Aircraft 176 of the 568th Bombardment Squadron left the formation at 10,000’ at 0936, over Splasher 28 during assembly, with #3 engine feathered. The aircraft called the control tower for instructions on dropping bombs and was told to fly 40 miles east of Southwold and return over Southwold. This was the Division S.O.P. [standard operating procedure] and message was received at 0940. At 0953 hrs, a QDM was received, but the aircraft could not be contacted. No further radio communications or word was heard from this aircraft. Flying Control notified Air-Sea Rescue.3
No trace of the missing aircraft or its crew was found.4 The missing aircrew was as follows:
2nd Lt. William E. Spragins
2nd Lt. William J. Brandt
2nd Lt. Junius H. Yount
S/Sgt. John J. Molans
Sgt. George W. Heginbotham
Sgt. Edward W. Sawyer
Sgt. Carl Du Bose
Sgt. John A. Lesac
Sgt. Jerimiah A. Withers
Notes & Commentary
1 The aircrew were credited with 7.25 hours of flight 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 (unpublished manuscript, 2007).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 #246, 21 January 1945. Headquarters 390th Bombardment Group (H), Office of the Operations Officer, 24 January 1945. microfilm B0426 Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Force Historical Research Agency, 1973, frames 936 – 937.
4 Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) of the U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942-1947, digital image, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com/image/46707093/ : accessed 17 January 2015), “Missing Air Crew Report, #11801”, B-17G, Aircraft Serial Number 42-107176, Uninvited Missionaries, 568th Bombardment Squadron.