I believe it was President John F. Kennedy that made a trip to Berlin one time and his famous phrase was, “Come to Berlin”. I went to Berlin on two occasions and it was never a very pleasant trip. It seemed every time I went, they were determined to try and kill me. Not only that, but Berlin was a long trip; it was heavily defended with anti-aircraft guns and, also, by fighters. It was a bad trip, no matter how you cut it. Slight battle damage, gas consumption, etc. could cause you to not come back or at least you might have to land in France or worse.
I remember during the war, that Hollywood made a movie about a Berlin mission. Here is the scene: In this large, Quonset hut, are all of these flight crews in their flying jackets, hats and equipment. At one end of the building is this stage and a podium. At the back of the stage is this area that’s covered with a curtain. The briefing officer enters from the rear and everybody stands up at attention. He walks up on the stage, addresses the group, says “at ease” and they all sit down. He gives them a pep talk and then walks over to the curtain, pulls it aside and there is a big map of Germany. He takes his pointer and he says, “Gentlemen, we are going to BERLIN!” Everybody jumps up, claps and cheers: Hooray, Wow, Boy, Hot Dog, Rah-Rah-Rah.
Well, let me tell you how it really was: Take the same scene. Sure enough the man comes in and everybody stands up at attention. He seats you. He gives a little opening statement. He opens the curtain and he takes his pointer and says, “This morning we’re going to Berlin”. You could of heard a pin drop. Then, “Oh No”. You could hear them saying in the back, “Oh my God. Oh no. Oh not again. Oh my God”. And that was it. There wasn’t any cheering. There wasn’t anything to be happy about going to that damned place. Anyway this is the attitude that Hollywood tried to show; that bomber crews were real happy when they had the chance to bomb Berlin. Well, it ain’t so! It was a baaaaaddd trip!
On this day, after we left England, we went north and our route took us near the island of Helgoland, off the north coast of Germany. Helgoland fired a few shots at us to let us know they were awake, but did no damage.
We continued on until we hit our initial point, which was fifty-two miles(or more), north and west of Berlin. Leaving the IP, we went straight toward Berlin. Going gown the bomb-run, there were planes in front of us, above us and in back of us. What was so unusual: We were forty miles from Berlin and getting accurate anti-aircraft fire! The only explanation I have for this is the fact that the Russians were advancing westward toward Berlin and the Germans were pulling all of their heavy guns back and using them to defend Berlin and the surrounding area. At one particular time, I looked out my nose and there was an explosion right above the plane. I never could figure out how that shell got up there without going through me! The explosion was there, but nothing hit us. Where did that steel go? I have no idea.
On this trip a strange thing happened.
The formation, above and in front of us, was getting badly hit by the fighters. In looking around, there were many, many parachutes in the air. I looked out of the nose and here came something falling. As it got closer, I saw that it was a man falling face- down with his arms and legs out-spread. He came down so close that we almost ran into him! We were at twenty thousand feet and I know what he was doing - he was free falling, before opening his parachute, because at that altitude you can’t breath. He had to fall to the lower altitude before he lost consciousness. It was a terrifying experience. He dropped right under our nose! I never did see him after that, so I don’t know what happened. Going into Berlin, the sky looked like a black thunderstorm! It wasn’t a thunderstorm, it was smoke, bomb smoke- it was vapor trails-flak smoke, etc. You could see, again, all these parachutes in the air. One time (on the bomb run) there was a flak explosion directly, in front of our plane! We went right through the smoke! Over Berlin I saw German fighters flying in their own anti-aircraft fire. The flak was aimed at the bombers, but the fighters were right there. The anti-aircraft fire was severe at this time.
We dropped our bombs and, immediately, took a very abrupt right turn to get “the hell” out of there. However, all of us didn’t get out of there. We went in with twelve ships. We came out with eight. The fighters and flak got our low element of three and one other ship on the bomb run.
After we turned off of Berlin and got out of that horrible gunfire and the fighters, we had a pre-designated course out, going back to England. I was not the squadron leader at this time. I was the deputy. I was the man on the lead’s right wing and would take over only in the event that the lead got in trouble or got shot down or needed help. As we were progressing on our route out, I was doing a little mental calculations and the course that we were following wasn’t the course that I was told we were going to use. In figuring my position and course and time and speed, I computed that, if we stayed on this course, we were going to end up over The Hague in Holland at an altitude below ten thousand feet. The Hague was still held by the Germans and was heavily defended. When I re-computed my problem and saw that I was right, I called my pilot. I told him, “If we continue on this heading, we are going to end up over The Hague.” He replied that he was going to get hold of the leader and tell him what my computation showed. After a few minutes, he called me back and he said, “Lee, they say you’re wrong; that’s not correct; they’re on their course, they know what they’re doing.” Ok. All Right. Well, at my estimated time of arrival, I looked down and we were right over the middle of The Hague, at just about the altitude I computed. Wow!
The time over The Hague was very short. No shots were fired at us. Soon we were over water. There were no anti-aircraft guns in the water. The return to England was uneventful. When we landed, as I got out of the airplane, the military police were there and they arrested the pilot, and me and took us, under restraint, to the Colonel’s office in the command building. His office had this desk and trappings of a regular office. Right in front of his desk was this carpet. And this is exactly, what being “on the carpet” means. My pilot and I were escorted by these military policemen in front of the Colonel’s desk. The Colonel was livid. He was outraged and he yelled at me, “What do you mean taking that formation over The Hague?” When he stopped his tirade, I had the opportunity to explain to him that I had known this was going to happen. I had told my pilot it was going to happen and that I had written it down in my navigator’s log for documentation. My pilot confirmed that this is exactly true. He had called the lead ship and had been advised that they knew what they were doing and that Bane’s navigation was faulty. With this the Colonel turned a little whiter than usual and didn’t say much, except, “You’re dismissed, that’s all.” We got out of there! It turned out, that the lead ship had been shot-up pretty bad and the navigator had lost quite a few of his instruments. He was having trouble, and was not computing correctly. He needed help and should have been given it. Apparently, there was a lack of communication. Maybe, in the heat of battle and nervousness, our people didn’t communicate, clearly. But, it ended up all right and there were no charges. We were dismissed of any responsibility. The only tragic part was that my squadron lost four airplanes and four crews over Berlin. So, when you hear the term, “Come to Berlin”, don’t go under the conditions that I went! Over.