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Post Bombing of Nijmegen, Netherlands; My Stepfather's Story
Created by John Eipper on 02/15/15 7:19 AM

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Bombing of Nijmegen, Netherlands; My Stepfather's Story (Randy Black, USA, 02/15/15 7:19 am)

In response to Francisco Wong-Diaz's and John Eipper's comments about the unintentional bombing of Nijmegen, Netherlands (14 February) on 22 February 1944, I offer the following:

American, Dutch and German research, more than one book, a Dutch officer's Masters Abstract decades later, and conclusions accepted by the Dutch government all demonstrate that those bombs were not simply "dumped willy-nilly" nor "leftovers" from an earlier raid that was returning to England.

Correct me if I misunderstood his intent when Francisco wrote, "American bombers returning from a mission dumped their remaining bombs along the way." That statement leaves the impression that rather than haul hundreds of bombs back to England, the Americans chose to drop them indiscriminately on the way back, and that it is was unfortunate that the Dutch were in their path.

Perhaps I misunderstood Francisco's post. Here is what I found:

1) The bombers of the 446th Bomber Group, 8th Air Force, had orders to hit Luftwaffe industrial targets in Germany. The high-altitude, daylight raid ran into severe weather over their pre-determined targets. Ordered back to England, they followed standard protocol and attempted to hit alternate "targets of opportunity."

2) In those pre-GPS days before "smart bombs," they tried to hit bridges over the Rhine at Arnhem and Nijmegen along with a rail yard near Nijmegen. Some of the bombs missed their targets by less than one kilometer and hit the center of Nijmegen, causing hundreds of casualties and deaths.

From The Fatal Attack by Alfons Brinkhuis: The author extensively researched...US and German archives.

"His conclusions also point to mistakes and confusion and dispel any notion of intent by the ...pilots of the 446th Bomber Group of the 8th US Air Force to simply [dump their bombs anywhere handy]. Such high-altitude and daylight raids by the USAF only aimed to hit pre-determined targets and ...also targets of opportunity. Because of bad weather over German targets, the Bomber Group had turned back, searching in the crowded confusion for such targets of opportunity. They found them mistakenly (over) the bridges of Arnhem and the rail yard in Nijmegen."


I ran across a thesis for a Master of Military Art and Science, dated 2010. The thesis was written by Major Joris A. C. van Esch, Royal Netherlands Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

His abstract: "A steadfast misbelief in precision bombing evolved into the leading concept for US Army Air Force during the Second World War. This concept envisioned the destruction of the German industrial and economic system as the swiftest path to victory. However, the belief in survivability of bombers through self-defense proved incorrect, and the Allies realized that the Luftwaffe had to be defeated first, by attacking the German aircraft industry.

"On 22 February 1944, Eighth Air Force conducted a mission as part of this offensive. During this mission, the bombers were recalled because of severe weather. On the return trip, the airmen decided not to abandon the mission outright, but to attack targets of opportunity. Because of navigational errors, a section of 446 Bombardment Group misidentified the Dutch city Nijmegen as in Germany, and bombed it. Due to aiming errors, the greater part of the bombs missed the designated marshaling yards by a kilometer, and hit the city center instead. The bombardment caused chaos on the ground. It surprised the citizens, ignorant by earlier faulty alarms, and damage caused great difficulties for the provision of aid relief. As a result, the bombardment killed about 800 citizens and destroyed the historic city center."

Item 1, above, is to the best of my recollection, part of a much longer story about "Operation Argument" (Feb. 20-25, 1944) related to me as a young teenager in the early 1960s.

That story was related by my stepfather, who was the pilot of one of those 8th Air Force B-17s that for want of a primary target tried to bomb a bridge over the Rhine near Nijmegen in February 1944. The record demonstrates that the US Army Air Force contributed more than 1,000 U.S. bombers to the battle known as Operation Argument. Dad told me that the US lost more than 100 B-17s and crews that week. After a long day, he finally landed his B-17, shot up and on three engines, in southern England. His turret gunner in the turret above and slightly aft of the cockpit died on that mission, and my stepfather was wounded in the left leg from shells from an enemy fighter.

My numbers and plane models may off depending on whom you ask, but I also add that the story is hazy more than half a century since it was told to me. During the same period, I seem to recall that he also commanded B-26s, but I may be misremembering the story.

During that same period (1944), Dad took his bomber to Berlin and the surrounding areas several times, day and night. I also discovered that the average mortality of the American flight crews during that period was six missions.

Dad would have been about 26 at the time of the February 1944 raids. A few months later, as a result of his 30 bombing missions, he was awarded a certificate as a member of the "Lucky Bastards Club." During those operations, his commander was the legendary Lt. General Jimmy Doolittle.

My sister has the framed Lucky Bastards certificate on her wall in College State, Texas. She also has his bomber jacket with the 30 bombing missions indicated. My stepfather (my younger sister's father) was Major William B. Douglas at the time he mustered out in England.

Within a few days, he volunteered for the Royal Air Force, where he flew de Havilland Mosquitos until Germany's surrender. The Mosquito, aka "The Wooden Wonder," is an interesting and effective bomber-fighter aircraft built nearly entirely from wood. That glued-together plane could carry more than 2,000 lbs. of bombs, ammo for its four Browning .303 machine guns and four 22mm cannons and rockets. The twin-engine plane also had nine fuel tanks tucked tightly into the recesses of the fuselage and wings. And we only call them "the Greatest Generation."

JE comments:  Unbelievable bravery--and I have just finished re-reading Heller's Catch-22.  In a separate e-mail, Randy Black has promised to scan the image of his stepfather's Lucky Bastard certificate.  When I receive it, I'll put it on WAIS.

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  • Nijmegen Bombing, 1944 (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 02/15/15 3:26 PM)
    Randy Black (15 February) is correct in clarifying that my posting referred to the practice of seeking to find and hit targets of opportunity on the return leg of bombing missions.

    The Dutch I spoke with in Nijmegen remain sore about the alleged lack of a timely apology from their then allies.

    JE comments:  Why no apology?  Between individuals apologies don't usually cost money, but in geopolitical terms, sometimes the do--reparations, etc.

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  • The Lone Mosquito Bomber in WWII Italy (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 02/16/15 1:31 AM)
    Randy Black (15 February) mentioned the de Havilland Mosquito, which made me recall the lone Mosquito night bomber: what a terrible pain in the neck!

    During the war the bombing of my hometown was by day and night, but during the night we had the "Pippetto" or disturber. The information on it is scanty, because this plane would appear by night over all parts of the RSI, so there must have been many of them. It is supposed that they were Mosquitos. If anyone has more information on this, I will be delighted to find out more.

    This pain in the neck (or much lower!) would go around all night keeping people awake. At times it would drop a bomb or machine-gun anything seen moving. It was an excellent (not for my sleep or for those who received the sporadic bomb or burst) idea to disturb the enemy during the entire night.

    About the bombers dumping bombs that they had been unable to drop on the enemy, it has been reported by photos from various divers that on the bottom of the Adriatic Sea from Trieste to Taranto there are plenty of depleted uranium bombs. These are cluster bombs and even missiles that NATO pilots during the years 1994-'95 in Bosnia and 1999 in Kossovo dropped at sea--rather than face the Serbian guns? Lately one fishing boat was sunk when she recovered a bomb in her nets.

    The Italian government has often promised to reclaim them, but there is no money and no other NATO member wants to participate or even accept responsibility. So the war crime is fixed for thousand years with the depleted uranium that remains and will continued to poison the environment.

    JE comments:  This type of nocturnal harassment was called a "nuisance" mission, and it must have left a deep psychological impact.  The Mosquito was a remarkably effective multi-purpose combat aircraft, all the more surprising because of its wooden construction.  Per Wikipedia, it was originally intended to have no defensive weaponry, but was to rely on its speed to avoid enemy fighters.  Wood was chosen primarily to save metal for other military applications.

    We tend not to think about the military detritus on the bottom of our oceans, but all that uranium is alarming.  Is it technically possible to remove the weapons?  If it is, then why aren't they being removed?

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    • De Havilland Mosquito, and Greetings from Bern (Patrick Mears, Germany 02/16/15 8:38 AM)

      On the Mosquito fighter-bomber (see Eugenio Battaglia, 16 February), one of my favorite films when I was younger was 633 Squadron, which featured 8 of these wonderful planes in the WW II-themed film. The film and the planes are described in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/633_Squadron

      JE comments: This 1964 film used actual Mosquitos in the filming; the RAF had only recently retired them from active service.  Presently, according to Wikipedia, only two Mosquitos remain airworthy, although some 30 survive in museums.  To polish the wood, it must take a lot of Lemon Pledge.

      Patrick Mears has made my day...twice!  This morning I received both a post and a real-life postcard, from Bern.  I'm searching way back in my memory, and this may well be the first Swiss postcard anyone ever sent me.

      In fact, it's worth a scan.  Sorry about the excessive border; I couldn't crop it out.  Thanks, Pat!

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    • Depleted Urananium in the Adriatic? No (Michael Sullivan, USA 02/16/15 1:50 PM)
      I don't know where Eugenio Battaglia gets his information that there is depleted uranium ammunition all over the bottom of the Adriatic Sea from Trieste to Taranto (16 February). First of all, it would have to be dropped from an aircraft and the only ammunition aircraft carry that have depleted uranium is for 25MM and 30MM canons. Only the A-10 and Harrier carry these rounds. There is no way to jettison canon ammunition as it's a bullet and must be shot or be returned to base with the aircraft.

      Bomb jettison areas are always set up in combat zones in case the aircraft has hung ordnance. (This is when the aircraft tried to deliver the bomb or rocket pod and it failed to drop for various reasons and it can't be returned to base or the carrier deck due to the fact it could come loose on landing and detonate.) The pilot was unable to deliver his ordnance on target due to weather and is too heavy to land as the aircraft is over maximum landing weight, or the aircraft has an emergency requiring all external ordnance be jettisoned. This could be mechanical, electric, fire or fuel transfer problems.

      I don't believe there was ever a case that US pilots dropped their ordnance in a bomb jettison area in the Adriatic because they were afraid of Serbian guns! This is wishful thinking on Eugenio's part.

      JE comments: With all things aviation, Michael Sullivan knows what he's talking about. But I wonder what happened to the Italian fishing boat that sank after netting a bomb?

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      • Bomb Jettison at Sea (Michael Sullivan, USA 02/17/15 7:35 AM)

        When commenting on my post of 16 February, JE asked about the Italian fishing boat that sank after netting an underwater bomb. The rule is you don't ever touch a bomb that has been found buried on land or recovered from the sea bed because they are so very dangerous. That's why there are bomb disposal units accessible in most places worldwide to disarm bombs.

        Bombs that are dropped in a bomb jettison area over water by aircraft are dropped in the "safe" mode, but many times when they hit the water they may explode. However, most don't explode and they sink to the bottom. If a fishing boat net hauls one up it's a live bomb. The only thing a fishing boat can do, if they see a bomb in their nets, is put the net back in the water and try to open the net and get rid of the bomb.

        The good news is that the bomb jettison areas are usually established in very deep water and where the fishing boats troll it's hundreds to thousands of feet above where the jettisoned bombs lay. In Vietnam our Group's bomb jettison area was 30-40 miles out over the South China Sea where the average depth, as I remember, was close to 3,000 feet.

        JE comments:  How many of you knew this?  I'm learning a lot on WAIS today. 

        Specifically regarding the Adriatic, I suppose the bombs littering the ocean floor are from WWII as well as the later Balkan conflicts.  Some of them might even be leftovers from the Great War, especially mines.

        I found this item, which dates from 1994.  The mariners claimed that WWII bombs are rusty and covered with seaweed, while these were fresh and shiny:


        I wonder if Eugenio Battaglia knows Elena Romanato (author of the above).  She is from Savona.

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        • Bomb Jettison, Isle of Wight (John Heelan, UK 02/17/15 9:55 AM)
          The Isle of Wight is littered with WWII bomb craters created by German bombers jettisoning unused ordnance after raiding the UK and before crossing the Channel back to their home airfields across the Channel.

          JE comments: The Luftwaffe must have thought it preferable to harass the Caulkheads rather than simply to drop the bombs in the Channel.  But any jettisoned ordnance is militarily ineffective.  I'm curious:  when planning a mission, how much emphasis is placed on not "wasting" the bombs?  Do pilots get in trouble for this?  I hope Michael Sullivan can enlighten us.

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        • More on Jettisoning Bombs (Michael Sullivan, USA 02/18/15 2:09 AM)

          Without getting into too much detail, bombs are only jettisoned when they can't be returned to base due to the craft being overweight for landing, or a bomb is hung up on the external bomb rack (the Multiple Ejector Rack, MER, carries 6 bombs or Triple Ejector Rack, TER, carries 3 bombs) by one lug (attempted to drop but only one of the two lugs opened). Other reasons for jettison are the need to reduce the drag to have enough fuel to get back to base, or a serious aircraft emergency. Also there is a charge shaped like a shotgun shell that fires a plunger when the bomb pickle switch is depressed which ejects the bomb clear of the aircraft to avoid bomb/aircraft collisions.

          Ordnance is always in short supply, so jettisoning it is only done when warranted. You can land with bombs and rockets, no problem, providing you're not over gross landing weight.

          JE comments:  Very informative.  I can imagine that when you jettison, much paperwork ensues.  This is certainly the way it would be in Academia--not that we drop bombs, but we do have a lot of paperwork.

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