We were assigned to the 497th Bombardment Squadron of the 344th Bombardment Group located at Stansted, Bishops Stortford.
Towards April and May, we were instrumental in creating havoc in German transportation system by hitting more and more marshalling yards plus railroad bridges, including several over the Seine River. Although fighter reaction was diminishing, the threat of flak was still quite prevalent.
We became aware that the “big day” was approaching, but when it would be was still a mystery. A feeling of exhilaration consumed us that morning of June 6th for we realized that our efforts, along with all of the others, had made this day possible.
The Nazis had taken tremendous punishment from both the strategic and tactical air forces and. were reeling. Now it was up to the boys on the ground to finish them off. We knew our task was not finished as we would be required to give air cover and support to the advancing troops.
On June 5, 1944 all officers were instructed to carry their Colt 45 automatic on all future missions. We hit the sack about midnight and after an hours sleep, were awakened and told to prepare for a mission.
When we arrived for briefing, the giant map showing our route to and from the target was, for the first time, covered with a sheet. Our Commanding Officer Col. Vance, with a dramatic flourish removed the sheet, and announced that the planned invasion of the continent was about to begin.
This was it…D-Day was here and the Normandy invasion would be launched at 06:30 hours by the biggest concentration of soldiers, sailors and airmen ever amassed in the history of warfare. The American troops would make their landings on Omaha and Utah beaches and the assignment of the B-26 groups was to knock out the coastal gun installations.
Our targets were the gun emplacements at Utah, specifically La Madeleine, Beau Guillot and St. Martin de Varreville, and we, as the lead group, were to start all bombing operations at H-hour minus 20 (06:10 hours) and every two minutes thereafter another wave of bombers would send their regards whistling down to the enemy below.
As history relates, the weather that morning was horrendous, the worst it had been in over 100 years. We could not reach our normal flight altitude as the cloud cover was anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 feet, so in essence, we went in at low level.
As I was flying on my flight leader’s left wing I was the 15th plane over Utah on that historic day. Our box of 36 planes led by my squadron commander, Col. Del Bentley had St. Martin de Varreville as our assigned target and after dropping our load of destruction at precisely 06:09 hours, we headed west over the Normandy peninsula and then in a northerly direction towards England.
As we turned towards home we realized that it was H-hour and the first wave of troops would be hitting the beaches.
Our route carried us through an area referred to as ‘Shit-Pan Alley’, the area between the Alderney Islands and the northwest tip of Normandy. What intelligence briefing did not tell us was that there were anti-aircraft installations at both points, and we were caught in a murderous cross-fire of flak.
Our lead ship was hit, and with one engine knocked out, he dropped out of the formation. The other wing-man and myself spread apart to allow the #4 plane to move into position but he just sat there and made no attempt to take over the lead. As a result, I took over the #1 slot and led the formation back to our base. Upon landing we noticed that MP’s were all over the area. They were making certain that we headed directly to de-briefing. Once there we were subjected to a thorough interrogation and then informed that we could not leave the room which was under armed guard. Obviously high command felt the Germans didn’t realize that today was D-Day and they didn’t want us calling them long distance to inform them of the days events.
As we were still considered on ‘alert status, we couldn’t leave the area anyhow so most of us, being slightly exhausted, napped on the benches until later in the morning when a sumptuous lunch of Spam sandwiches was served. We were able to wash this delicious repast down our gullets with our choice of either powdered milk or coffee so strong it was guaranteed to grow hair on the bottom of your feet.
Sherman was right…”War is hell”.
Shortly afterwards, mission #2 for the day was called.
The French Underground had sent word that a Panzer division was being rushed to reinforce German troops in the invasion area, and the estimated time of arrival at the Amiens marshalling yards would be approximately 14:00 hours.
We would arrive several minutes later to make certain they would progress no further. As weather conditions were still poor, we had go in at altitude much lower than normal, and as a result again received an inordinate amount of anti-aircraft fire.
As soon as bombs were away, the formation entered the cloud cover hoping to break through somewhere from 12,000 to 14,000 feet. However the clouds were so dense so dense that it was practically impossible to see the other planes in the formation. I turned 45 degrees to the right and after several minutes reverted to the original heading, climbing steadily until I broke into the clear at a little over l3,000 feet. Ice had started to form on the wings so we desperately searched for an opening in the cloud layer in order to make a safe de-sent.
Within several minutes a small hole was found and I peeled off and dove for the deck. No enemy fighters were visible and we returned safely to our base.
My tour of duty, however, was completed on D- Day plus 1.
I flew 2 missions on D-Day and 2 additional missions the following day giving me a total of 57.
Our Squadron Flight Surgeon, Captain Harry Prudowsky, had observed that my normally smooth landings had become quite bouncy, and he had been informed by some of the flight leaders that my formation flying had also become erratic.
He ordered a physical examination and discovered a sizable weight loss plus increased tension which had created a sleeping problem. In World War #1 it was called Shell Shock, but inasmuch as the euphemistic era was upon us, it became Anxiety Reaction, Moderately Severe.
On June 9th the crew was grounded and on June 10th we went to 9th Air Force HQ to meet the Central Medical Establishment.
On the llth I was interviewed by a medical officer and on June 12th, my 22nd birthday, the medical board informed me that we were to be returned to the Zone of the Interior, the good old US of A.
Almost a month later, July l0th to be exact, our orders came through and we left for Liverpool where we boarded the Mauretania for our trip home.
We honor you, Harvey Jacobs.