The 392nd were now veterans of the bomber war over Europe having just completed over 200 Missions. The men were due to celebrate passing this milestone on the evening of the 2nd – and many were hoping that the Mission for the day might be ‘scrubbed’, as they fairly often were, due to bad weather. It was not be, they were briefed at 0515 and took off at 0930, on their way to bomb Bingen in Germany.
Their own fighter escorts were reported to be out in good strength, so the prospects for the mission were good. Yet the Luftwaffe were still capable of throwing out a few surprises. The formation was bounced by as many as 50 German FW190 fighters just after completing their bomb run and rallying for home at 1244. In a little over 10 minutes it was all over for six out of the nine aircraft in the 577th Squadron.
The attack was so intense that was difficult to work out what happened. There were only 19 survivors out of the 54 men in the planes that went down. For the families of those who were lost there would be little information about how they met their end. What information did emerge would be scanty, and a long time coming.
It was not until July 1, 1945, that S/Sgt Jasinski was able, after his release from POW camp, to write to the widow of crewmate T/Sgt Paul W. Haney:
I am Ray Jasinski, the waist gunner on the same crew as Paul. He may have mentioned my name in one of his long letters to you. I say long because he would start writing them in the morning just after breakfast and write at intervals all during the day and sometimes long into the night. We used to kid him about it!
I have been home for two weeks and would have written sooner but I’ve been hoping you would have by this time received some encouraging news from the War Department.
I would like to tell you about several things that happened before the mission, such as our (the crews’) preparations for the 200 mission party and how we all hoped for a stand down (that there would be no mission scheduled for the next day) but were very disappointed when awakened the next morning for the mission.
It seemed everything went wrong that day. Paul couldn’t get the radio to work right, which was very unusual. When he finally got the radio to work, the oxygen line sprang a leak. So we had to change to another ship in whose bomb bay doors I almost got caught when Joe Scalet was testing them.
We finally took off, caught up with our group, and headed for our target. It was a routine mission, target sighted, and bombs dropped, and three minutes later we were hit by fighters.
As you probably know, the two waist gunners and the tail gunner on a B-24 are pretty well isolated from the rest of the crew. The only contact we have with them is the interphone. We chatter over this interphone all the time calling out flak, fighters, etc. But from the time we sight the target until about 5 minutes after “bombs away,” no one is allowed to chatter over the interphone unless it’s an emergency.
Well! We were hit in two of the engines. I believe it must have been pretty serious because Lt. Comeau gave us the bail-out orders to all the crew. If there was any way possible of getting that ship back he would have, because he was tops.
The three of us (2 waists and tail) leave through the rear hatch near the tail in case of an emergency while the rest of the crew leave from the forward nosewheel hatch or the forward bomb bay doors. These exits, at that time, we in the waist could not see. So we did not know what was going on up forward. I jumped and that was the last I saw of anybody until I met Harold in a German interrogation center. I did not see or meet any other crew member since.
In this letter, Mrs. Haney, I wish I really could have written you some sort of comforting news, but I myself did not know of what happened to any of the other crew members until I arrived home and was told by my sister who has been writing you and the other next of kin of the crew.
If there are any questions you feel I could answer for you, please write and ask.
I will now close, praying and hoping that you, his wife, and the rest of us who are his friends, will hear encouraging news soon.
It was later confirmed that only Ray Jasinski and Harold Krause had survived to become POWs.
Earlier Ray Jasinski had given a more graphic account of what had happened:
While approaching the target, I was throwing out chaff; a few minutes later “bombs away” was given, and a few seconds later we entered a haze (clouds, etc.,). Approximately (2) minutes later, we came out of the haze and “enemy fighters’ was called out.
I then went to man my gun at which time we had the first enemy fighter attacks. On this attack Sgt. Kearns, the left waist gunner, was hit in the stomach by enemy 20mm (cannon) fire, tearing a hole in his stomach about the size of a man’s fist. All of the crew members wore flak suits but Sgt. Kearns did not button the bottom three (3) buttons of his flak apron. When he stood up to man his gun, the apron fell away as he was hit.
During this first attack, the only other person that I saw was the tail gunner, Sgt. Krause, who had his back to me but was manning his gun. At this time, fire broke out in both bomb bays and the command deck. The radio operator, Sgt. Haney, was talking over the interphone to the pilot and started to say “there is a fire” when he stopped. It is my belief he may have been hit by enemy fire.
About this time the enemy fighters were beginning a second run and the pilot gave the word out “this is it, fellows — bail out”. I waited until the tail gunner got back and held the escape hatch open, and I bailed out first. I did not see anyone else bail out after me and do not recall having seen any parachutes dropping while I was descending.
To the best of my knowledge, when I bailed out, the airplane seemed to be on fire from aft of the bomb bays to as far as I could see forward. I did not see our plane crash or explode in the air…
See B-24 Net for a detailed account of all the accumulated evidence of what happened to each of the six planes.