A Navigator's Diary
This is the diary of 2Lt Samuel D. Scorza, navigator on Crew 74. At first I was hesitant to share my father's diary. I remember reading this over and over again when I was growing up, trying to imagine what it was like to be him and do the things he described. It just seemed too personal - an invasion of privacy. I have come to realize, however, that this is a bit of history, and history should not be kept from anyone.
Towards the end of his tour and the raids on the invasion coast in late May and early June 1944, he did not have either the time or energy to write about his just completed missions as he had done throughout most of his tour. The entries for his last several missions are sparse or non-existent.
Please forgive any typos, as they are mine.
Comments in [italics] are mine.
Sunday March 5, 1944
We got off the ground at 0745 and proceeded to form our flight. The various groupings were “snafu” so we tacked onto another group going on the same mission. We left the English Coast at 0930 at 17,000 ft. crossing the French coast at 1006. We reached our first attack of “ack-ack” midway to the target - it was a strange feeling to see the black puffs of smoke a little below us and only a few hundred yards away. Temperature was comfortable - a -22°. We reached the initial point and the purpose of the mission began to take shape. As A.J. was operating the nose turret, it was up to me to release the bombs. So I set up the switches to release the bombs and anxiously awaited sighting the airfield. The moment came at 1152 and with a flick of the finger three tons of demolition bombs went down toward the airfield. The radio operator, watching through open bomb bay doors, noted four of the bombs headed for a cluster of buildings and hangers, soon there was just smoke, fire and debris. Our bombs away we headed for home after circling somewhat away from the target for the other groups. At Cognac, France we received heavy “ack-ack” and too accurate for comfort. It exploded shell after shell along our right and at our level and followed us for eight minutes. Flak seemed to be everywhere. We finally reached the French coast and the English Channel at 1430. No fighters were sighted by our crew, although other crews reported being attacked by FW-190’s and ME-109’s. Plenty of our own escort fighters, mainly P-51’s, P-47’s, and P-38’s were on hand to take care of attacking Jerries.
It was a good feeling to see the English coast again and to soon be
on the ground again. After a slight mishap, we landed at 1600. The
mishap being some slow-thinking pilot who shot in front of us as we came
in for a landing. He changed his mind, gunned his engines, and left us
in a heavy prop-wash which momentarily put our ship out of control, so
we gunned the throttles and went up and around again for another
The total time in the air was 8 hours and 15 minutes - approximately five hours on oxygen. Altitude 17,000; temp -22°C. Winds from the north at 60 knots. Visibility about five miles - at times complete under cast. Target however was clear. After the various interrogations and evening briefing, I am quite exhausted.
Wednesday March 8, 1944
Everything went off pretty well. We crossed the Dutch coast about noon and continued on our way to Berlin. It wasn’t until we were deep in Germany until we hit heavy flak, which hit our ship and tore a hole through the tail end of the fuselage. With the heavy fighter support, we didn’t get attacked by fighters. How I love those boys for keeping the fighters away. We saw numerous dogfights, but Jerry was always outnumbered. We cut south of Berlin, made a quick turn north and then west straight over the industrial site on the edge of Berlin. We dropped our bomb load at 1439. The smoke and fires rising from Berlin were tremendous, they could be seen for miles. The whole town of Berlin was visible. Funny thing, all the other large German cities we passed were all covered with smoke screens and Berlin wasn’t, don’t think they expected a raid on Berlin itself.
Some 850 Fortresses and Liberators with a fighter support of 1000 P-47’s, P-38’s, and P-51’s. We headed straight for home, with heavy flak coming up all over and fighters, which were promptly taken care of by our boys. Some 38 of our bombers and 11 of our fighters were lost - to 130 of Germany’s planes. We saw a Liberator go down in flames just before reaching Berlin. Five men parachuted out and three of our P-47’s went down to cover them as they went down. The Lib tore apart in air and crashed in flames in a wooded area near Berlin. [This was most likely Lt Adamson's crew] We felt swell on reaching the North Sea again after leaving Germany and Holland. We wondered what all the people thought of below as they saw almost 2000 planes go by during the day. The ceiling was quite low over England we came in at 400 feet and landed at 1740.
The total time in flight was 8 hours and 5 minutes. On oxygen 6 hours. Altitude 25,000 feet and temp -37°C. winds from east at 40-60 mph. Our target was really plastered today, a real accomplishment carrying the war to the capital of Berlin itself.
Wednesday March 15, 1944
P-47’s went along with us from the channel and over Holland. P-38’s and P-47’s gave us good coverage. when we went through we couldn’t see any German fighters, but there were quite a few during the days operation. We were attacked by flak four times and the hits were very close - close enough to clear part of the paint off of our flying white horse and all that remained was shiny metal and a dent. From our I.P. to the target, flak was very heavy. A.J. was in the turret, and from his signal I released the bomb load on Brunswick. There was an almost complete under cast below, but through a few holes in the clouds I could see fires. Bombing was by P.F.F. Only three bombers were lost on today’s raid and five of our fighters - compared to 36 German fighters shot down. Altitude was at 23,000 feet, temp -40° below.
Tuesday March 21, 1944
Thursday March 23, 1944
[The ship that was lost was "Fritzi" B-24H-10-CF 41-29329 7V L, flown by F/O Harold W. Hetzler's crew. All 10 crew members were KIA.]
Friday March 24, 1944
Our target was an airfield at Metz, France and our secondary target was an airfield at St. Dizier, France. We hit our secondary airfield as the first was completely covered with clouds. The flight itself was rather uneventful except when we crossed the coast of France at Dieppe. We received a volley of flak fire and again at a place about thirty miles inland. That was the only flak or fire of any kind. The Luftwaffe failed to show up, and we had clear sailing. We went to bomb the airfield at Metz, but found under cast conditions - so we altered course and headed for St. Dizier. The field was already under fire as smoke climbed to heights of about a mile or so. We dropped our 240 X 20lb fragmentation bombs - I watched them go all the way down. They dropped on a group of 50 - 75 buildings - that airfield was completely destroyed.
Weather was clear and visibility was good. I wondered how many stray bombs crossed the river to the French town of St. Dizier. The mission took 7 hours of flight and 7 hours of ground preparation. If it wasn’t for the fact that I took a number of aspirin, I don’t know how I would have carried on. We need rest badly, and hope we get it. Altitude was 17,000 feet, temp was -20°C. Bomb load 240 X 20lb fragmentation bombs - 4800lbs all total. Could see Paris and the Eiffel tower on the way to the target.
Sunday March 26, 1944
With a load of 10 X 500lb demo bombs, we took of at 1246. We used a 753rd squadron ship, #733 [B-24H-10-DT 41-28733 J4 P “Rhapsody In Junk”]. It had the old type super chargers. A few minutes after take off, the terrific pressure from the outside air forced the top hatch open. It hit me on the head and stunned me for a few minutes. It hurt plenty all through the mission, but it’s okay. Whoever was navigating in the lead ship “stunk”. I realized as soon as we left England and crossed the channel that we were far off course and our heading was incorrect. I kept an accurate account of our position and we entered the coast of France about fifty miles south of where we were briefed - instead of the lead navigator correcting north, he continued southeast. To make things worse, we lost one super charger and couldn’t maintain altitude or airspeed for long - we kept [up] as well as we could. By this time, due to being so far from the planed course, we lost our fighter escort. Finally the lead ship must have discovered they were lost and turned on a heading of 330° for home. We crossed the French coast and jettisoned our bombs in the Channel due to super charger trouble - everyone else brought their bombs back. We were fifty miles away from our target. We were okay once we got below 15,000 feet.
Upon landing and return to briefing hut, I never saw so much “brass” waiting for us. Brigadier General, several Colonels, many Lt. Colonels and Majors. They just nosed around and listened in to everyone telling how badly the mission went. It’s a bad name for our group and someone is going to do some sweating. Some 15 hours or more wasted and we were lucky - if it were a longer mission, we would have had to bail out over enemy territory. Then too, it’s a good thing no enemy fighters were around, or we really would have had a battle. Altitude was 20,000 feet. Temp -20°C. Bomb load, 10 X 500lb demo’s totaling 5000 lbs.
[Due to his head injury, my father spent several days in the hospital after this mission. During that time, his crew flew two missions with a replacement navigator. When most of the crew completed their tour on June 5, 1944, my my father flew the next two days, June 6 and 7 to complete his tour.]
Wednesday April 5, 1944
Saturday April 8, 1944
The small room we were in was full of big brass and me only a lowly lieutenant.
Our target was an airfield about two miles north of Brunswick. This was a new experience for me as I was selected to be in the lead ship which was leading the entire 96th Combat Wing. Lt. Locke [389BG lead crew, pictured above] was pilot, Col. Isbell was command pilot, Lt. Reed was DR and Gee navigator, another Lt. was a radar or pathfinder navigator and my job was to do pilotage navigation. Col. Isbell kiddingly promised me a swift kick in the pants if we missed our target. We took off at 1000hrs and proceeded to Horsham and buzzed the field several times at 100 feet. We then proceeded to assemble with all the groups and left the coast of England at 1202. We crossed the coast of Holland at 1239 and proceeded on course. Heavy flak was coming up from Quakenbruk, Osnabruck, Hannover and other towns along the route. Then as we approached the wing I.P. enemy fighters - ME-109’s by the hundreds were seen attacking our ships. As many as four Lib’s at a time were seen to go down - which made us all sick. Our own fighter support wasn’t enough to take care of the Germans as they weren’t in the vicinity of the target when we received the brunt of the attack. Our bombs were dropped on the airfield at 1516 and we really hit and smashed the airfield - but good.
We had to battle our way all the way home as excessive heavy flak was being shot at us coming too close for comfort. ME-109’s kept picking off one ship at a time, jumping on those that were easiest to get. The enemy fighters followed us all the way to the channel. Many dogfights could be seen with our own P-38’s, P-47’s, and P-51’s with the ME-109’s. Many crippled ships could also be seen flying over the channel back home. It was surprising to see our own fighters come seemingly out of nowhere in reply to a distress signal from one Lib. The English coast never looked better as we crossed it and proceeded for Hethel and landed at 1700. The colonel left the plane immediately and sent a car after me. The rest of the crew went back together on a truck. I felt quite important riding in the command car alone and thankful to the colonel for thinking about me.
We were interrogated by Hethel’s intelligence officers and we were picked up by our car and driven back to Horsham. The boys in the Pathfinder ship patted me on the back and complimented me many times on the nice job of navigating. They wanted me to join their crew. It was a good job of navigating for we were always on course and hit our target dead on. Of course the weather was good, which was a helpful factor. Battle damage to our ship was mainly a large hole in the wing and numerous smaller holes in the fuselage. After all the missions we have been on without seeing a single German fighter - it was surprising to see the Luftwaffe up in such great numbers. We weren’t prepared for it and I believe our own fighter support was outnumbered. The German radio claimed they stopped us from going to Berlin. That’s a lot of “poppycock”, we went to our target with no deviation or altering of our briefed mission.
I can’t help but feel somewhat proud of the fact that I had so important of a part to play as lead navigator in the lead ship - leading some 100 or more airplanes to the target. The responsibility was resting heavily on my shoulders, but I trusted in the Lord for help and I know He was with me. It’s a wonderful feeling of accomplishment to fill so important a position. At least we didn’t take them to Switzerland like they did last Saturday. This was by far the toughest and eventful mission so far. We were fortunate in our group. Out of thirty ships we lost only one, Sievers crew. Lt. Sievers, Lt. Driver, Lt. Dayson, and Lt. Slaughter were in that crew. One boy from another ship [Sgt. John W. Kirby, 752nd] was shot up in his legs and died late tonight in the hospital.
Monday April 10, 1944
Tuesday April 11, 1944
We lost an engine while still over Germany and slowly fell from the formation. When we reached Holland and the channel we were alone, except for another Lib that wanted to stay with us in case of attack or going down in the water. We were all set for ditching the plane. I had the radio operator break radio silence and send SOS messages every ten minutes with our position. I left my navigation and stood by on the flight deck near the radio operator. I navigated in my head - we were just a little south of the field when we made landfall. I felt good about that. Land was beautiful to see - we cancelled our SOS and shot red distress signal flares and landed immediately. Really sweated this one out - thought it was our last.
Thursday April 13, 1944
Wednesday April 19, 1944
After spending a two-day leave in London, I returned late last night to find I was on the alert. Went to bed at 0100 and was awakened at 0300. During those two hours of sleep we had two air raid alerts, which interrupted what little sleep I could have had. Our mission today was to bomb an airfield at Paderborn, Germany. Our group led the division. Again, fighters chose not to come near our formation and flak was very meager. With a clear day and all possible conditions - the bombardier missed the target. A perfect mission, if only we had hit that target.
Thursday April 20, 1944
[This crew actually landed at West Malling]
Our greatest barrage of flak and rocket fire was received from Abbeville while we were on the bomb run. A plane was hit square in front of us and blew up. Five men were seen to bail out. We made our way to Belgium and left the Continent. The Germans got the jitters with 2000 of our planes raiding the invasion coast until dark. They sent reconnaissance bombers over every hour last night as they thought the invasion was taking place. It sure looks like everything is pointing to the invasion, but it will in all probability be several weeks yet.
Saturday April 22, 1944
We proceeded to our base when I noticed what I at first thought to be an English Mosquito flying through our formation. He was shooting at us and missed by a few yards. A.J. could have shot him down had he known it was a Jerry. After a few seconds, he was shooting at another plane and one engine exploded and the plane was hurtling earthward, a mass of flames. Somehow the signals were crossed and an alert was given on the ground and we were immediately under fire from English ack-ack and we at low altitude. We took off for the North Sea and tried to make contact with the field, which was under attack by German fighters who followed us home. After a hectic time we finally made our way back to the field and by God’s grace and mercy we found it and landed at 2130.
We were all nervous wrecks. Interrogation was brief. We ate and saw a movie rather than go to bed as we were too excited to sleep. Finally went to bed at 0330. It was discovered the next day that some gunners from another crew that wasn’t flying held an English ack-ack battery from firing at the point of pistols. A never to be forgotten mission. Our division lost ten planes over Germany and seventeen planes over our own bases.
Thursday May 5, 1944
Sunday May 7, 1944
Took off at 0700 for Osnabruck, Germany with 12 X 500lb demos to be dropped on the marshalling yards. Complete under cast, bombs were dropped by P.F.F. Heavy flak, but no fighters. Very cold, -38°C. Landed at 1130.
Monday May 8, 1944
Before we even took off we were scared stiff. About four planes crashed on takeoff due to heavy frost on the wings. The sky was filled with smoke towering several thousand feet. We shot off a red flare on take off, taxied around and cleaned our wings off again. Took off and returned again because a gas cap was loose and the gas was siphoning out. We filled up with gas and took off a second time and tried to catch up with the formation. We noted one plane that crashed - several homes were demolished - nothing left of the plane. Our target was the airfield three miles north of Brunswick. Fighters were fighting us in the target area. I watched numerous dogfights and saw three planes go down in flames. Our tail gunner saw eleven B-17’s go down. About forty ME-109’s headed for our formation, but turned suddenly and made an attack on the B-17 formation. Three fighters made a pass at us on the bomb run, one hit in the nose turret - no one hurt. The Grace of God is what brought us back from this mission. It was really rough.
[While planes from nearby group's may have crashed, only one plane from the 458BG crashed shortly after take off. Lt Paul Kingsley and crew from the 754BS]
Tuesday May 9, 1944
Friday May 12, 1944
[This is actually one of the more interesting, if cryptic, entries in the whole diary. It was on this date that the crew was lucky to have made it back. The painting by Mike Bailey, pictures B-24H-15-CF 41-29342 J3 S "Rough Riders" turning back with two engines feathered and a third losing power. When asked by the pilot, which was closer, Switzerland or England, the navigator told them England. After jettisoning all excess weight into the Channel, the crew made an emergency landing at Manston. The rest of the crew accused my father of having a date that night as the reason for not going to Switzerland. Co-pilot Al Hilborn related to me that he did indeed have a date and that he kept it.]
Saturday May 13, 1944
Sunday May 21, 1944
Tuesday May 23, 1944
Wednesday May 24, 1944
Wednesday May 31, 1944
Bertrix, Belgium [Marshalling Yards]
Friday June 2, 1944
Sunday June 4, 1944
[B-24H-20-CF 42-50320 J4 J Nose wheel collapsed on landing. Accident Report 44-6-4-510]
Monday June 5, 1944
[Target was Stella Plague, France - Coastal areas. Crew 74 completes their 30-mission tour, my dad has two to go.]
Sam Scorza, standing far left