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The Month Leading up to Victory in Europe in WWII

Just a few days ago, May 8, 2021, marked the 76th anniversary of V-E Day, or Victory in Europe Day, in WWII. In today’s world, we anticipate a liberation and freedom from the Covid-19 pandemic, but seventy-six years ago, Americans, the British, and our other Allies were marking the end of and freedom from Naziism under Adolf Hitler.

In the Spring of 1945, the end of the war in the Pacific was still many months away, but WWII in Europe was winding down. Concentration camps and POW camps in Germany were being liberated and the last of the bombing missions over Germany were being flown.

Here’s a look at what was happening in Europe during the last month leading up to Victory over Europe and VE Day.

On April 6, 1945, “Operation Grapeshot,” the Spring 1945 Allied offensive in Italy, began. It was the final Allied attack during the Italian Campaign. This attack into the Lombardy Plain in Northern Italy by the 15th Allied Army Group ended on May 2 with the formal surrender of German forces in Italy.

On this date, the 8th AAF flew Mission #903 and the 384th Bomb Group participated with their Mission #305. The target was the railroad marshalling yards at Leipzig, Germany. Sadly, three 384th Bomb Group crews were lost on this mission. The entire MacKellar crew was killed when they crashed near Broughton after takeoff, and shortly after Bombs Away the B-17’s of the Fred Gray crew and David Hastings crew collided, killing twelve of the sixteen crewmembers aboard the two ships.

On April 7, the 8th AAF flew Mission #931 and the 384th Bomb Group participated with their Mission #306. The targets were oil and munition depots and explosive plants. The 384th’s specific target was the underground oil storage plant at Hitzacker, Germany.

On April 8, the 8th AAF flew two bombing missions. One was Mission #932 with targets of the Derben oil depot, the Schafstadt Airfield, the Stendal marshalling yard workshops, the marshalling yard at Halbertstadt, the marshalling yard at Plauen, Hof, and Eger, an ordnance depot at Grafenwohr, the munitions depot at Bayreuth, the Blumenthal jet aircraft factory at Furth, and the Unterschlauersbach and Roth Airfields. The second was Mission #934 with the target of the Travemunde port area. The 384th Bomb Group did not participate in either of these missions.

On April 9, the 8th AAF flew two bombing missions. One, in which the 384th Bomb Group participated with their Mission #307, was Mission #935. The targets were underground oil storage, an ammunition plant, and ten jet airfields. The 384th’s specific target was the airfield at Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany. The second was Mission #937 with the target of the Stade Airfield.

On April 10, the 8th AAF flew two bombing missions. One, in which the 384th Bomb Group participated with their Mission #308, was Mission #938. The targets were airfields known or suspected to be used by jet aircraft. The 384th’s specific target was the ordnance depot workshop area at Oranienburg, Germany. The second was Mission #940 with the target of the Dessau rail depot.

On April 11, U.S. troops from the 6th Armored Division of the Third Army liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp shortly after the prisoners stormed the watchtowers and seized control of the camp. Also on this date, U.S. forces liberated the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp, a sub-camp of Buchenwald.

On this date, the 8th AAF flew Mission #941 to a variety of targets in Germany, including airfields, oil depots, munitions plants and depots, and marshalling yards. The 384th Bomb Group participated with their Mission #309, target the underground oil storage depot at Freiham, Germany.

On April 12, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage at his Warm Springs, Georgia vacation home. Vice President Harry Truman, who had held the office for eighty-three days and had had little contact with Roosevelt, was summoned to the White House.

Truman was unaware that Roosevelt had died. After being sworn in as President, one of Truman’s first acts was to meet with Roosevelt’s advisers to learn of matters of national security, including the existence of the atomic bomb.

Also on this date, Canadian forces liberated prisoners at the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands.

On April 13, the Soviets captured Vienna, Austria.

On this date, the 8th AAF flew two bombing missions, Mission #945 to the marshalling yard at Neumunster and Mission #946 to the Beizenburg rail junction. The 384th Bomb Group did not participate in either of these missions.

On April 14, the 8th AAF flew bombing Mission #948 to enemy pockets on the French Gironde estuary. The 384th Bomb Group participated with their Mission #310 with the specific target of the gun battery in Royan (Bordeaux), France. The 8th also flew an experimental and unsuccessful bombing operation with Mission #950 against the Neuruppin Airfield in Germany.

On April 15, British troops liberated the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Anne Frank and her sister Margot died of typhus at this camp a month earlier.

On this date, the 8th AAF flew bombing Mission #951, in which the 384th Bomb Group participated with their Mission #311, to strongpoints on the French Atlantic coast – German ground installations of pillboxes, gunpits, tank trenches, and heavy gun emplacements. The 384th’s specific target was the flak guns at Pointe de Suzac at Royan, Frnace.

On April 16, the Soviets launched their final offensive and encircled Berlin.

On this date, the 8th AAF flew two bombing missions. The first was Mission #954, in which the 384th Bomb Group participated with their Mission #312, to rail targets in Germany. The 384th’s specific target was the railroad marshalling yards at Regensburg, Germany. The 8th’s second bombing mission of the day was Mission #955 to bomb the tank ditch defense line at Pointe de Grave in France.

On April 17, the 8th AAF flew bombing Mission #957, in which the 384th Bomb Group participated with their Mission #313, to rail targets in Germany and Czechoslovakia. The 384th’s specific target was the railroad marshalling yards in Dresden, Germany.

On April 18, German forces in the Ruhr surrendered.

On this date, the 8th AAF flew Mission #959 to bomb rail targets in Czechoslovakia and Bavaria. The 384th Bomb Group did not participate in this mission.

On April 19, the 8th AAF flew Mission #961 to attack rail targets in Germany and Czechoslovakia. The 384th Bomb Group participated with their Mission #314 to the railroad station and marshalling yards at Elsterwerda, Germany.

On April 20, the 8th AAF flew Mission #962 to attack rail targets NNW to SSW of Berlin, Bavaria, and  Czechoslovakia. The 384th Bomb Group participated with their Mission #315 to the railroad marshalling yards in Seddin, Germany.

On April 21, the 8th AAF flew Mission #963 to attack jet fighter airfields and rail targets in southeast Germany. The 384th Bomb Group did not participate in this mission.

On April 23, Soviets troops reached Berlin. Also, the 358th and 359th U.S. Infantry Regiments (90th US Infantry Division) liberated the Flossenbürg concentration camp.

On April 25, the last bombing mission of the Eighth Air Force (8th AAF) in WWII was flown.

In his volume, Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces, Jack McKillop wrote of this mission,

European Theater of Operations (ETO), Strategic Operations (Eighth Air Force), Mission 968:

589 bombers and 486 fighters fly the final heavy bomber mission against an industrial target, airfields and rail targets in SE Germany and Czechoslovakia; they claim 1-1-0 Luftwaffe aircraft (including an Ar 234 jet); 6 bombers and 1 fighter are lost:

  1. 307 B-17s are sent to hit the airfield (78) and Skokda armament works at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia; 6 B-17s are lost, 4 damaged beyond repair and 180 damaged; 8 airmen are WIA and 42 MIA. Escorting are 188 of 206 P-51s.

  2. 282 B-24s are sent to hit marshalling yards at Salzburg (109), Bad Reichenhall (56) and Hallein (57) and electrical transformers at Traunstein (56); 20 B-24s are damaged; 1 airman is WIA. The escort is 203 of 216 P-51s; they claim 1-0-0 aircraft in the air.

  3. 17 of 19 P-51s fly a sweep of the Prague-Linz area claiming 0-1-0 aircraft in the air; 1 P-51 is lost.

  4. 17 of 19 P-51s fly a screening mission.

  5. 4 P-51s escort 2 OA-10s on an air-sea-rescue mission.

  6. 22 P-51s escort 5 F-5s on photo reconnaissance missions over Germany and Czechoslovakia.

  7. 88 of 98 P-51s escort RAF bombers.

For the 384th Bomb Group, this Eighth Air Force Mission #968 was their Mission #316 and their target the Skoda Armament Works at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. The 384th Bomb Group website notes this mission as “THE LAST ONE!”

The 384th Bombardment Group (H) flew as the 41st Combat Bombardment Wing C Group in Air Task Force 1 on today’s mission, the last strategic bombing mission of the war in Europe. Under strict orders to bomb by visual means only, the Lead and Low Squadrons made two bomb runs, and the High Squadron made three. Results appeared to be good, and the delay resulted in the 384th dropping the final bombs of the war on Axis targets in Europe.

It was not known that this would be the last strategic bombing mission of WWII in the ETO until well after this mission ended.

Only one of the 384th Bomb Group’s B-17’s did not return from this final mission. The Andrew Gordon Lovett crew’s B-17 43-38501, Sweet Chariot, was disabled when three engines were knocked out by flak only ten minutes away from allied territory and crashed near the German-Czech border.

Of the crew of eight (no waist gunners were assigned to the crews by April 1945), three evaded capture (the pilot, co-pilot, and tail gunner), and five were taken prisoner (navigator, togglier, radio operator, top turret gunner/engineer, and ball turret gunner).

On April 28, the Allies took Venice. Benito Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, captured as they attempted to flee to Switzerland, were executed by Italian partisans.

On April 29, the U.S. 7th Army liberated the Dachau Concentration Camp. Also, Adolf Hitler married his longtime mistress, Eva Braun.

On April 30, holed up in a bunker under his headquarters in Berlin, Adolf Hitler committed suicide. He and Eva Braun poisoned themselves and their dogs with cyanide capsules and Hitler shot himself in the head with his service pistol.

On May 1, Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Reich Minister of Propaganda, and his wife Magda committed suicide after murdering their six children.

On May 2, German troops in Italy surrendered. Also, the Theresienstadt Ghetto/Concentration Camp in the Czech Republic was taken over by the Red Cross.

The BBC History website reported about this date,

…After one of the most intense battles in human history, the guns at last stopped firing amongst the ruins of Berlin. According to Soviet veterans, the silence that followed the fighting was literally deafening. Less than four years after his attack on the Soviet Union, Hitler’s self-proclaimed thousand-year Reich had ceased to exist.

Also on this date, my father George Edwin Farrar, his Stalag Luft IV roommate Lawrence Newbold, and other POW’s of Stalag Luft IV were liberated on the road near Gudow, Germany by the British Royal Dragoons.

On May 5, the Mauthausen Concentration Camp was liberated. The camp was known for its “Todesstiege” (Stairs of Death) in the rock quarry at Mauthausen. The Nazis forced prisoners to repeatedly carry heavy granite blocks up 186 stairs until they died or were murdered if they failed.

On May 7, Germany surrendered to the western Allies at General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Headquarters in Reims, France. German Chief-of-Staff, General Alfred Jodl, signed the unconditional surrender, to take effect the following day.

On May 8, 1945, V-E (Victory in Europe) Day was declared as German troops continued to surrender to the Allies throughout Europe.

On May 9, Germany surrendered to Russia at Soviet headquarters in Berlin. The Soviets had insisted that a second ceremonial signing take place in Soviet-occupied Berlin. Also on this date, Hermann Göring was captured by members of the U.S. 7th Army.

Naziism had been defeated and the war in Europe was over.

Sources

8th AF Mission 968/384th Bomb Group Mission 316

Jack McKillop’s Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces

Missing Air Crew Report MACR 14317

The Battle for Berlin

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021


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