The 406th Occupier

Page 16

Supporting Ninth Army

W ith the new surroundings and new command went a new job, that of supporting the Ninth U.S. Army in its crossing of the Roer River and subsequent drive to the Rhine. Due to the flooding of the river when the Germans blew its upstream dams, the expected period of intensive ground cooperation did not come off and we settled down into two weeks of working on the principal rail centers of the area as well as entered the initial phases of isolating the Ruhr Valley with beyond the Rhine Armed Recce missions.

These two additional weeks were a Godsend also from a domestic standpoint, for they were used to transport lumber from Aachen, prefabricated houses from Antwerp, generators from Metz, and mess tables from England. At the end of this two weeks' interim, we had literally built a small city out of the mud and were as well set up as we had ever been before, if not better.

Engineering Problem This scene was taken at Handorf, Germany, but is typical
of what the engineering outfits accomplished at many of the
fields used by the Raiders. Here the engineering boys are
shown building an extension to a runway.

On the 22nd of February the long awaited operation Clarion was laid on, which involved simultaneous use of all available aircraft in the theatre on a tactical strike at strategic rail installations designed to so paralyze the enemy's communications system that he could not effectively defend against the assault on this last remaining Siegfried and Rhine defenses. The Group's mission on this grand show was to escort groups of medium bombers to rail bridges on the northeast fringes of the Ruhr near Gutersloh, where five minutes before reaching the target they would precede the bombers in and dive-bomb. After the subsequent attack by the mediums, in addition to escorting them on withdrawal, we were to strafe rail targets of opportunity. Clarion was one of those operations that tries the souls of the group staff by not going off exactly as planned but turning out alright in the end. The field order was late in coming in but fortunately an afternoon time over the target was assigned, which allowed a good briefing and sufficient time to get a maximum number of aircraft in shape.

Rendezvous time was changed more than once, but the crowning blow was the fact that after the first squadron and half of the second was airborne, the mediums could not make their assigned time at rendezvous. Because two groups stationed on the same field had to be airborne by squadrons at practically the same time, this hour delay in bomber rendezvous required that the planes which had prematurely taken off had to orbit the field for an hour and a half. The resulting confusion caused the first two squadrons to miss rendezvous and escort a different box of bombers into the assigned target area.

After successfully dive-bombing the target and starting on the withdrawal, these two squadrons were jumped by enemy aircraft, the only such encounter of importance made by the Ninth Air Force on that day. In the resulting fight, we claimed 11 destroyed and one damaged to turn a mission based on bad timing into one of singular success. The day following this successful all-out strike, the 23rd of February, Ninth U.S. Army jumped off on its drive from the Roer to the Rhine and the 406th had one of its most profitable days flying both armed reconnaissance and ground cooperation missions. This outstanding effort brought a written commendation from Brig. General Nugent, Commanding General of the 29th Tactical Air Command.

The next month was one of good and constant activity reminiscent of the summer of 1944, with early take-offs and landings around 2100 hours. The sweep to the Rhine and the air power that supported it was clean cut and quick. As it was completed, the group shifted without a halt into the job of aiding in isolation of the Ruhr. Mission after mission was run against the small marshaling yards that form the edge of the built-up area of that great industrial section. Every known method was used to find and destroy profitable targets. Tactical reconnaissance radio broadcasts were monitored for late traffic citings in the assigned recce area, two ships known as snoops preceded each flight to the target area to find targets, and hot targets were constantly passed from one squadron to the other, both on the R/T and by telephone immediately after interrogation. This intensive campaign continued unabated right up until the last week of March 1945.