Thursday, April 12, 1945 - 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 395:
New developments concerning my Bomb Group History project came to me in a rather bizarre manner - with a policeman standing on my doorstep the morning of November 29, 1983. He had just received a radio call to inform me that I should contact police headquarters for an important message! Then I was told to call a certain number collect in New York City and ask for Lieutenant William Seidenstein. I was surprised to learn that it was the District Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn! All this due to the fact that I had an unlisted telephone number, so he decided to work through my local police department.
Lieutenant Seidenstein told me he had been asked to get in touch with me by some people in Bavaria. It regarded a mission the 386th Bomb Group had flown to their town on April 12, 1945. Was this the beginning of a multi-million lawsuit for property damage? After all, the courts have been arriving at some surprising decisions in recent years!
The lieutenant told me the Lotos Film Company of Bavaria wanted to contact me. I said, "Wait a minute, I have a letter in my file from a law firm in Arlington, Virginia with the names of eight lawyers at the top stating that they represented the Lotos People." He said, "That’s correct, I have a copy of the letter in front of me." The letter mentioned the date of the mission, and listed names of seven pilots that took part in the raid, and also each pilot’s squadron number. The pilot’s names listed were: Doyle D. Dickson, 554th, James B. Colvert, 554th, Donald J. Amiot, 554th, Edward E. Elliott, 555th, R. Harbinson, 553rd, J.C. Cothron, Jr., 555th, and Karl W. Huckaby, Jr., 554th Squadron. At the time I was in contact with four of those pilots. I wrote to the law firm telling them that I would not release addresses of the pilots, but would send each of them a copy of the letter and suggested if they wished to contact the law firm it must be their decision. I guess those pilots thought the same as I did - there was no response from the pilots!
The Lieutenant told me the law firm was no longer on the project, and the Bavarian people would like him to act as middleman in contacts with me. I said, "Okay what would you like me to do? He asked it I would do some research on the mission to aid these people. I requested two weeks time with a suggestion that he call back then. I plunged into the research program, finally coming up with notes that actually measured twenty feet in length. Then I wrote a rough draft of the entire mission from briefing time to interrogation after the mission was completed. During the next phone call I briefed the Lieutenant on my findings, he would call the people in Bavaria on the telephone to bring them up to date on my progress.
A few days later another telephone call from the Lieutenant saying they were very interested and would like to fly to St. Louis to talk with me about the mission. The meeting would involve a movie crew and soundman, the end result being a documentary to be shown on German Television. I was also told that a prediction was made several hundred years ago by young woman saying the town of Kaufbeuren would never be destroyed, however I would learn more of that when their party arrived at my home. A date was set for the 4th and 5th of February, 1984 for our historic meeting.
I met the travelers at The Airport-Marriott Hotel, directly across the road from the terminal at Lambert St. Louis International Airport. There was Lieutenant William Seidenstein and his lovely wife Donna along with Film Producer Eberhard Thiem and Arno Peik. They followed me with their rented car to my home some seven miles distant. Upon arrival they unloaded several aluminum suitcases and a small trunk, all packed with camera gear. I asked Eberhard how he found out where I lived, his answer was, "Your government told me." Nuff said!
The next thing was a welcome to St. Louis and refreshments, then some brief talk about the overall project. Eberhard and Arno began unwrapping a large package saying they had a gift for my wife and myself. It was a tall vase about sixteen inches high and about five inches in diameter made of clear glass. It has two white birch trees almost as high as the vase with a stone wall, a roadway with some flowers along side. They said the scene was not painted on the glass. Each of the many colors was made of colored glass, and then it was fused into the clear glass of the vase. Eberhard held it up to the light coming through the patio door, those colors came alive in the bright daylight. A truly beautiful piece of art, they said it had been made special for us, and is one of a kind made by the Kaubeuren / Neugablonz Glassworks which stands on the ground of the ancient German ammunition factory. The process of fusing into glass is called "Glasmalerei," then the material is coated in layers and the vase is burned two or three times with a temperature of 580 to 600 Degrees Centigrade. "Zylinderglasvase" is the name of the vase. The artist was Monica Kempkes from Munich, Germany.
The entire party followed me downstairs to my research office which is some twenty feet in length. I opened the door, turned on the lights saying, "Welcome to my bunker. The place caught their attention in a hurry, there are 140 framed 8 x 10 and larger aviation photos on the walls. Some are autographed and inscribed to me by famous aviators, one of whom is General Lester Maitland standing next to his racing plane in 1923. Another is a swastika which I chopped from the fin of a Focke-Wulf 190 in France. Also a piece of wing tip from an RAF Mosquito Bomber that blew up over our airdrome about noontime February 5, 1944 at Great Dunmow after colliding with an RAF Lancaster Bomber.
I had set up a table 4 x 5 feet, on top of which I fitted together a mosaic of 1 : 1,000,000 scale air navigation charts provided by the U.S. Defense Mapping and Aerospace Center located in St. Louis. The charts are dated 1943 and 1944. They cover from west coast of England to our bases at Boxted and Great Dunmow on the east side and over to France, Belgium, Holland, and the lower part of Denmark. Then eastward across Germany to the Polish Border. South covering part of Austria, Switzerland, and northern part of Italy. The mosaic is completely covered over with Plexiglas. During mission researching I draw out the courses flown by the Group on top of the Plexiglas with an orange grease pencil, showing all check points, I.P. target, etc. On occasion I photograph the routes for record.
Eberhard set up his flood lamps and movie camera to record the table top route scene of Group mission number 395 to his home town of Kaufbeuren. Just a day before they arrived I had completed painting in 386th colors, a scale model of an A-26 aircraft. Our Group had switched over to the Douglas A-26 Invader about mid February, 1945 when we ceased operations with the Martin B-26 Marauders. The very last plane to fly over the target was Lieutenant Karl Huckaby, I chose to model his ship, 322386 RU-E. Please note, the last three digits of his tail number coincidentally match our Group number. The model was placed on the route to Kaufbeuren by Eberhard, then shot some movie footage of the scene.
About 1815 hours we left my home and made our way back to Lambert field where I had made dinner reservations at the 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant. The building is a replica of a French Chateau which served as Headquarters for the 94th Aero Squadron during the First World War. A full size Nieuport 28 Fighter Plane is parked out in front along with sandbagged machine gun nests, a 1917 ambulance, a mine field with shell holes, and a barbed wire entanglement completed the illusion of decades past! The theme continued on the inside as well, photos of fighter aces, more machine guns, and aircraft parts. There was a full wing panel of a German plane hanging from the ceiling above our table. The west side of the building was all windows so one could watch the planes taking off from the east end of Lambert Field. The control tower chatter was piped in for tables having head sets. Our youngest son Dennis joined us for dinner, after which the party returned to our home, and the history work was resumed in the bunker.
I learned more about the woman who made the prediction concerning Kaufbeuren, she was born in 1682, became a nun and lived in Crescentia Convent located in Kaufbeuren. Her name was Sister Crescentia Maria Hossin, she died April 5, 1744. Eberhard gave me an artist rendition of her along with a painting showing Kaufbeuren circa 1700, and Crescentia Convent circa 1800. I have two aerial photos taken April 30, 1983 showing the convent and St. Martin’s Church from an altitude of approximately 500 feet. The houses and shops are mostly four to five stories high topped with steep gabled roofs that radiate old world charm!
Arno and Eberhard gave me details of what went on during the war regarding their town. An airdrome was situated at the south end of town, Hitler and his staff would land there then make a forty minute automobile drive up to his mountain top retreat which he called "Bercitesgaden" The grass runway airdrome also served as a final assembly point for fighter planes that had been shipped in by train. Wings would be bolted on and the planes then flown off to active war fronts! A large munitions plant was located on the north side of town, it produced ammo during World War I and all through World War II.
The plant is now the site of the glass works. I remarked to Eberhard, "It is better they make glass there," he laughed pointing to me saying, "Ja Ja, better for you!" Apparently the U.S. Air Force and the RAF were unaware of the activity there all during the war. Air Force records show the area was only attacked one time. That took place on the 25th of February 1945 when twelve B-17’s bombed there as a casual target - it had a railroad siding along the edge of town. The reason being the 388th B-17 Bomb Group had been scheduled to attack a primary target in Munich, it was closed over so they dropped on the Kaufbeuren area on the way back. Twelve planes dropped a mixed load of 500 pound general purpose demolition bombs along with some incendiary bombs. One bomber released ten containers of propaganda leaflets as well from 22,000 feet at 1217 hours. The planes were from the 45th Combat Bombardment Wing, 3rd Air Division, Eighth Air Force. All of the planes were from ‘C’ Squadron. Only one house burned and another collapsed from the bomb blast - the nun’s prediction was still holding!
Eberhard took many still shots of my research material to verify facts concerning the 386th bombing mission of Thursday April 12, 1945. The most informative evening ended at 2300 hours with plans to reconvene at their hotel at 0900 hours Sunday.
Sunday morning greeted us with an arctic blast, four inches of new snow with winds gusting to 50 m.p.h. My wife Violet and I piled into our car and drove two miles to pick up our eldest son Ronald, then continued on to the hotel - not an easy task, the roads were slick and the swirling snow reduced visibility to one hundred feet at times. The photo crew tagged on behind us in their car.
Today’s agenda called for a rendezvous at the home of our son Dennis, which would be the site for the final shooting of the film documentary. Fresh snow made his place look like a chalet in the Swiss Alps. Eberhard was out of their car in a flash with his huge movie camera, panning across the front as we walked to the door amid the blustery snow! Two fireplaces were producing thousands of welcome B.T.U.’s as we were greeted by Gayla and Dennis. After hot coffee and Danish, the setting up of movie and the sound equipment got underway. When those large quartz flood lamps came on the living room took on the appearance of a Hollywood set! The ceiling in this room is two stories high with gold tone skylights.
Eberhard asked me to sit at the end of a davenport near the fireplace, he wanted a two minute close-up shot with me telling of the bad weather conditions at Kaufbeuren and Kempton on that fateful day! After which he moved his camera and tripod up to a balcony, he would be shooting down and across the living room to where I was sitting. I asked Arno if he would be asking questions interview fashion during the filming. He said, "No, all of the documentary is complete except your part. We have reserved fifteen minutes of filming for you to tell the story of your Group’s bombing mission to our town!
There were no cue cards, no script, just on my own - or as they say in show business, ad-libbing off the top of my head! Luckily for me I had finished writing the final draft of the mission only a couple days before, most of the important details were still fresh in my mind. However, fifteen minutes of looking into the camera and speaking from memory can seem like a very long time indeed! Arno would give me a signal when to start and then show five fingers after each five minutes was completed.
Eberhard began rolling film with camera looking into the leaping flames of the fireplace, then slowly panned to me as Arno gave me the start signal. I mentioned Field Order 542 from 99 Combat Bomb Wing which directed the 386th Group to attack an ordnance depot located at Kempten, Germany. A secondary target was the marshalling yard located at Goppingen on the return route. Briefing had begun at 0535 hours at the Group’s new home, St. Trond, Belgium. In all, thirty-eight flight crews received route information, flak data, along with communications and weather information. Captain Robert Preston, an S-2 Officer, who just happened to have a sideline job as a Hollywood actor had worked up the intelligence package for this particular mission.
Major Bud Lambert led the formation of A-26’s off at 0745 hours with Liege, Belgium as the first check point. Then flew a 160 mile leg to Ludwigshaven where they linked up with their P-51 Fighter escort. The bombers at this point were averaging 229 m.p.h. Some light type flak came up approximately 10 miles southwest of Heidelberg as the formation crossed over the bomb line at 0905 hours. The Group’s next course change would occur at Dillingen, which lay some 115 miles ahead. Each plane carried six 500 pound bombs.
Briefing instructions called for bombing from 12,000 feet, they were now flying at 7,000 feet due to descending ceilings as slashes of rain fell across windshields of two boxes of nineteen aircraft each. The rain became steady and visibility dropped off to about two miles. The formation turned right at Dillingen taking up a heading of 183 degrees which would lead them to the I.P. (Initial Point) at Kaufbeuren; having a airdrome and railroad junction it was considered as a causal target. On this leg the formation began their maneuvering for position so they could bomb by individual flights of six due to the small area of the target. To complicate matters, lowing ceilings forced the bombers to fly below 5,500 feet as they made a right turn over Kaufbeuren thus setting up a bomb run on Kempten eighteen miles to the southwest.
Lieutenant Nicholas Bouras could not pick up the target in his bomb sight because of the heavy haze and less than one mile of visibility. His pilot Major Lambert decided to return to base with their bombs - high flight leader Lieutenant Tibbs Golladay did likewise. They exited with both flights to an area southwest of the heavily defended Stuttgart. Lieutenant William Mills, leader of the low flight had seven ships in his flock as he headed for the secondary target at Goppingen, where they bombed from 6,500 feet with excellent results. Unknown to him, he was the only flight leader not receiving the word that the marshalling yard target had been called off! Meanwhile second box leader Captain Oates could not locate the Kempten target in the haze after three runs, now running low on fuel his flight finally jettisoned their bombs into a woods three miles east of Mindelheim. Lieutenant Smith leader of the low flight, had his flight jettison their bombs into an open field near Schormdorf, but in the process stirred up the flak defenses on the northeast side of Stuttgart at 1040 hours.
Captain Dickson was leading the seven ship high flight on its third bomb run, but to no avail because of extremely poor visibility. They decided to bomb the causal target at Kaufbeuren. Eye witnesses on the ground said they could see the bombs hanging in the open bomb bays of the aircraft as they flew over the town. I was told many of them blessed themselves saying, "This must be the end!"
All seven ships released their bombs at low altitude. Number four pilot was Lieutenant Edward Elliott, he said his altimeter was indicating 3,500 feet. The immediate terrain in that area rose to 2822 feet at the airfield, which means they were flying only 678 feet above the ground in a heavy rain, and visibility less than a mile in the foothills of the Swiss Alps! Pilots could only see fifteen seconds ahead through their windshields while flying nearly four miles per minute - precious little time for corrective action while flying in close formation--should a mountain suddenly appear in the curtain of mist and fog! The seven crews returned to base claiming to have bombed Kaufbeuren. A photo interpreter said no bomb strikes appeared on the negatives from the automatic camera because the intervalometer was set for 12,000 feet. The camera had a twenty second delay setting, and actually did not start taking photos until the aircraft was about one-quarter mile beyond the impact area of the bombs. He thought the photos looked like the Oberbeuren area, a tiny suburb of Kaufbeuren. In reality the bombs landed in nearby Mimmingen, impacting across the road dangerously close to an allied officers P.O.W. camp. However no injuries were recorded. All thirty-eight ships returned safely to base, although six of them received battle damage. Most pilots during interrogation questioned the wisdom of flying a mission in such atrocious weather conditions!
Sister Crescentia Maria Hossin’s centuries old prediction: "At Kaufbeuren, two houses will not burn at the same time!" It prevailed against the B-17’s of the 388th Bomb Group raid of February 25, 1945 when only one house burned down, a second collapsed from the blast. On April 12, 1945 it managed to divert winged warfare away from her home town in still another way. The 386th Bomb Group came into being because of war need on the 1st of December, 1942, eventually it helped carry the war to Germany.
History has come full circle; possibly our Group records will show that some very extraordinary circumstances occurred during the mission. No lives were lost, no property damage in the town, no airmen were wounded, none of our airplanes collided or hit a mountain in such horrible weather conditions, and none of the allied P.O.W.’s were hurt when the bombs fell so close to them! A total of one hundred thirty 500 pound bombs were dropped in the vicinity. Perhaps in a minute way the record will show a bit of proof for the myriad facts required by the Catholic Church to raise this former German citizen to sainthood! This woman pursued a life long practice of religious virtue. As a faithful daughter of St. Frances she observed strict poverty, solitude, fraternal charity, and most of all humility.
On October, 1900 Pope Leo XIII performed a rite of beatification for the Blessed Crescentia of Kaufbeuren - the first stage of sainthood. Now the devoted citizens of Kaufbeuren along with the Lotos Film Company hope to provide the required proof for her to reach the final step - that being canonization! Since her death on Easter Morning well over 270 years have past by both in war and peace - which can only add credence to the statement, "Time is the greatest healer of all!"
After the filming had been completed, with no retakes required camera gear was packed away, then Gayla and Dennis provided all with a very tasty buffet luncheon. Arno told the assembled the one hour film documentary would be shown on German Television later in the year. Much too soon it was time to say good by to our new found friends; they drove to the airport, and we drove on home!
Religious portions are excerpts taken from a story entitled, "Blessed Crescentia of Kaufbeuren 1682 - 1744." Written by Fr. Berchmans Hofmann C.M.M.
Chester P. Klier
Historian, 386th Bomb Group