The 406th Occupier

Page 3

During the period May 1 to May 31, 1944 Anthony V. Grossetta, the Commanding Officer, was promoted from Lieutenant Colonel to Colonel dating from 27 May 1944.

That First Mission — May 9

The month of May 1944 can be described only in relation to a single event; an event long awaited, universally anticipated and vividly experienced - the committing of the organization to combat. May 9, 1944 may have had its significance to others but to the men and officers of this Group, it was a day apart. The day when from runways lined with onlookers forty eight P-47's took off, formed up and set course for an enemy coast landfall. Although Colonel Grossetta, the Commanding Officer, described it as a "Geography Mission" to the packed briefing tent some two hours before take off, no mission will ever mean quite as much to the 406th, or its history, as this first one in combat. It is rare when so much preparation, so many months of training and work, so many trials and problems have such a tangible and vivid culmination. When the last plane was airborne those who waited turned away and made a pretense at nonchalance; some going to eat, others to sleep, still others back to work, but for all there was an undercurrent of satisfaction and a feeling that from this simple yet meaningful beginning would develop a substantial, sustained and highly personalized contribution to the war effort. Around this focal point of mission, one the other events of the period flowed in two well-defined channels. First, and decidedly downstage, were the succeeding missions and operational experiences. In the immediate background and often crowding, the main attraction for interest was the organization's continuing training and development for future phases of operations. It might be well in reporting them to follow this apparent division keeping in mind their interdependence as to sequence, purpose and personnel.

Operational Phase: From 9 May until end of period, the Group flew twenty-one combat missions ranging from four Fighter Sweeps in the beginning to thirteen Escorts with four interspersed Dive Bombs during the rest of the month. 935 Sorties were flown for a composite pilot's operational hour's 1937. The missions ranged in penetration from short sweeps in northwest France to escorts and a train busting foray into western Belgium and western Germany. (See Supporting Document #2 for map of missions).

Plane Wreck This scene was snapped at Ashford, England. The pilot was
seriously injured, but later returned to service before going home.

Statistical analysis can give only the briefest of outline, and cannot convey the problems confronted or experience gained. The fighter sweeps in the beginning were marked by trial and error perfection of battle formation, by flak "orientation", by a complete lack of enemy aircraft opposition. These mission too were characterized by developing in the pilots the long accepted habits of a good fighter pilot, i.e. to have a "swivel neck", correct R/T procedure and discipline, and even further clarification on how to call "bogies" and "bandits". The little things that have been learned by many before were experienced and clinched by us. On May 21, the Group participated in the first big sweep against enemy rolling stock attacking its assigned area in Belgium and Western Germany with good success.

The majority of missions during the period were escort to both medium bombers of the Ninth Air Force and heavies of the Eighth. Close support, cover, and area support were flown and the problems of each met in turn and solved successfully. Each mission differed from the other and each in turn was studied, planned and flown with the object in mind of furnishing the best possible protection to the bombers at a time when their successful attacking of strategic and semi-tactical targets was essential to the isolation of the enemy and his battlefield. Proven tactics were used but in some instances innovations crept in, for instance high cover squadrons on escort missions at times dispatched one flight still higher to gain the maximum protection from enemy aircraft operating in pairs up sun. The monotony of the escort work was broken delightfully with four Dive Bomb missions. These missions came at a time when much discussion and development was going on in this theatre about the use of the P-47 as a Dive-Bomber. It was with some satisfaction that this Group, originally activated as a dive bomb group, attacked the marshalling yards at Cambrais on 19 May 1944. The pinpoints were overpasses and choke points at the northern and southern ends of the yard plus repair shops in the center. The dive was begun at 7,000 feet with release varying between 3500 and 2000. The repair shop was hit squarely by three 500 lb. GP's and fair to good results obtained on the overpasses and tracks. The Group Critique following this initial try was an exciting if somewhat incoherent affair. Each man fumbled his way from the rear of the darkened briefing tent to point out on the target photograph as it was flashed on the screen just where his particular bomb hit. Each pilot's personal participation in the mounting attack on the enemy was brought home to him that day. Subsequently the M/Y, (marshaling yard) at Creil, a railroad bridge at St. Germain, and the Cambrais/Epernay A/D, (airdrome) were subjected to similar attack. All dive-bomb attacks from the beginning were made from echelon and as one expressive pilot put it: "that method is here to stay". The success of these first and experimental dive bomb missions did much to convert the pilots of the organization, who are fighter trained and fighter minded, to the ground attack type of work, an important fact to a fighter bomber group slated for close support in a tactical air force.