Factory Yards and Traitors
The crew did not have a long time to recover from their first mission. The very next morning on August 4th 1944, they were awakened and were in the briefing room from 0630 and 0730 hours to receive instructions for their next mission. After the briefing, Gerow's men were assigned the aircraft “We'll get By1”.
After a delay due to fog, all 29 designated crews of the Crusaders were ready for take-off around 1010 hours. The mission had a total of 446 Liberators and 209 fighters, both Mustangs and Lightnings. The Crusaders were to target the northern German port city of Kiel. There lay the Friedrich Krupp Germania Werft, one of the largest shipyards in Germany. In this industrial complex they made submarines for the Navy. In 1944, more than 10,000 men worked there, of which about 11% were forced laborers. Along the way, over the Netherlands and Germany, the Liberators had to deal with the expected Flak guns. After that, the Germans placed an effective smoke screen over the target area. It proved effective enough that the target for the bombing was not seen. The smoke screen succeeded, and the formation flew to the railway facilities of Kiel, one mile south of the target. A total of 348, 500 pounders were released during this mission. Again, there were no enemy fighters seen, but the Flak guns at Kiel were very accurate and caused much damage and injuries. During this mission, which lasted six and a half hours, there were two airmen killed by shrapnel, both were members of the Crusaders. There were two men wounded and 40 were missing. In total, during the mission, 4 Liberators were lost, and 114 damaged.
The next morning, on Saturday August 5th, Gerow's crew was awakened for a mission whose target was the German garrison city of Braunschweig. Gerow's crew had the MIAG MÜHLENBAU und Industrie Aktiengesellschaft (mill construction and industrial corporation) a bomb factory where other armored vehicles and parts for the dreaded Messerschmitt BF110 were manufactured. This was the fifth time that the Crusaders flew a mission to the area. In February of that year, they had caused considerable damage in the city and surrounding area and dozens of people were killed. After the 0600 hours briefing, Gerow’s crew were assigned to the aircraft “Mairzy Doats”2. Despite the rising dense fog, 27 crews around 0910 hours were ready for take-off. In total, there were 452 Liberators involved in this mission and 172 Mustang fighters. Just after take-off, there was an unfortunate accident. The lead aircraft, piloted by First Lieutenant Owen Filkel from the 576th BS of the Crusaders crashed in East Dereham due to an unknown cause, where the ten-man crew perished. Another aircraft took the lead.
Over their target in Braunschweig 156, 1000-pounders were dropped, of which eighty percent fell within a radius of 600 meters around the target. Among others targets, the MIAG factory, the Braunschweiger Dom (cathedral) and the train station were hit. That day there were 36 deaths in and around Braunschweig. Although the crews of bombers saw the destruction they had done from the air and also had some idea what the consequences were, the number of deaths was an abstract concept for them. Unlike their colleagues at the front, they were not directly confronted with the suffering that was caused in enemy territory. But from their aircraft, they saw indeed how their own bombers were shot out of the sky and they heard on the radio the death cries of colleagues who plunged to their deaths. They saw their crewmates hit by flak shrapnel that cut through the skin of the aircraft they were flying. After each mission, it was again a shock to discover that there was a bed that was empty and there was a place at the breakfast table not occupied. During this mission that lasted six and a half hours, there were several deaths among Americans, ten victims within the Crusaders. There were a total of five wounded, and there were 55 men missing. Again there were no enemy fighters observed by the bombers. But the accurate and heavy Flak guns in the Netherlands and Germany caused damage to 149 Liberators, two of which could not be repaired. Seven aircraft were lost. The remaining aircraft returned around 1620 hours.
The next morning on Sunday August 6th, the Crusaders went on a mission to target one of the oil refineries and oil depots at one of the largest cities in Germany, Hamburg. This strategically important port city with its extensive industry, shipyards, bunkers for submarines and several oil refineries, was heavily defended by the Germans. In the last week of July 1943 during Operation Gomorrah, the city and the industrial complex around it was almost completely destroyed by British and American bombers in one of the greatest firestorms of World War II. In this operation, more than 42,600 civilians were killed. Until the end of the war, Hamburg was attacked 69 times. The crew of Gerow was part of a formation of 445 Liberators, escorted by 196 Thunderbolts and Lightnings. The crew flew that day the aircraft “YMCA Flying Service”.3
Despite the heavy Flak shelling, 27 of the 28 crews of the Crusaders had a successful mission. Due to the heavy Flak fire around the city, one Liberator was shot down. The crew left the aircraft in time, however one crewmember was killed. The rest were captured and transported to prisoner of war camps. All other aircraft landed after 1850 hours, safe in England. There were 13 deaths during this mission, 16 were wounded and 38 men missing. During this mission eight Liberators lost, there were 293 damaged, three of which were beyond repair. After the war, Hamburg, more than all of the other German cities, had the most casualties by air strikes.
After the first four missions, Gerow’s crew had two days of leave to catch their breath. Nearby Wendling was a train station that previously had been hardly used, but since the construction of the airbase, the platform was crowded with soldiers who wanted to spend their leave in a city. They could have fun in Norwich or Kings Lynn and spend their wages on good food, drink, clothing and souvenirs to bring home. It was also possible to go to London, but it became less attractive to visit the capital city because of the constant attacks by German V1 flying bombs.4 At the time of their leave on August 7th, there were since June 13th, the first day that a V1 fell on London, a total of 5,000 people killed and 35,000 homes destroyed. Despite the threats, American soldiers still went regularly to the capital. They could see with their own eyes how the British dealt with the devastating force that put their city in ruins. Many of them then began to realize why the RAF was less restrained than the USAAF in the bombing of German cities.
Whatever city they may have visited, before the dawn of the morning of August 9th, with a hangover or not, they were awakened for the next mission. They got an unnamed aircraft assigned and the target was the Daimler-Benz factory in the southern German city of Sindelfingen. This is where military vehicles, aircraft and aircraft engines were manufactured. During this mission 247 Liberators were deployed and 165 Mustangs, Lightnings and Thunderbolts. That day they encountered a heavy cloud over the mainland, making the heavily laden Liberators to climb high above the clouds. This caused some aircraft in the formation to wander and they were forced to return empty-handed. The formation in which the Crusaders flew remained intact, so that the bombs could successfully be dropped over the target. This was the first time that crews from the Crusaders were trained and used the RAF Pathfinder Force (PFF). They located and marked targets with flares, which a main bomber force could aim at, increasing the accuracy of their bombing radar. To do this they had a “Mickey” (this was the name that became synonymous with USAAF "H2X" radar platform. "Mickey" was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Laboratory in Cambridge, Mass. This was the "TOP SECRET" U.S. project that involved American's first development and deployment of aircraft equipped with Air to Ground Radar. One of the greatest claims of the Eighth Air Force was that neither enemy fighters nor enemy flak ever turned back a single mission. The same could not be said of European weather. Many missions were scrubbed, aborted or recalled because of the poor weather conditions en route or over the target area. In late 1943, "Mickey" began to change that). The leading aircraft had someone on board who operated the radar, which was located behind the co-pilot. Normally this is where the belly turret on the Liberator would be, it was now a radome (a radar dome) mounted in which the signals were collected. This mission to Sindelfingen lasted seven hours and twenty-five minutes; killing one, leaving ten wounded and 29 men were missing. Four Liberators were lost, 128 were injured, two of which were beyond repair.
And so it went throughout the month. On Tuesday, August 15th, the crew was in the aircraft “Idiots Delight”5 and bombed the Wittmundhafen Air Base, where many Messerschmitt BF 101's were stationed. The next day they were assigned a bomber, which from that day, they would fly more often and they more or less considered their own “flying coffin”. It was called the “Pursuit of Happiness”.6 This Liberator consecutively bombed factories at Köthen on August 16th and the French Nancy-Essey airport (199 miles east of Paris) on August 18th. This French airport was primarily used by the Luftwaffe as a base for transport and combat gliders. Gerow’s crew was on this mission to France supplemented with radar technician S/Sgt J. P. Meyers. After this day the weather was so bad that the entire 8th Air Force had to stay on the ground until Thursday, August 24th. The men now and then went to the makeshift cinema on the base for needed entertainment. This bizarre alternation of war and entertainment showed what was going on with the airmen during World War II. Many airmen called the post a "rollercoaster of emotions" with huge peaks and valleys. One day you saw your buddies die in the war, the other day it was nice to dream in a cinema. On Saturday August 19th, the Amazing Mrs. Holliday played in Wendling, a comic drama with Deanna Durbin in the lead. Moreover, there was that night from 2030 to 2430 hours a ball held in the officers' mess. Ladies from the neighboring places were also invited. From Norwich, Kings Lynn and East Dereham they could take the bus or the train, after which military trucks at the station picked them up. After the party, they were at precisely 0100 hours returned back to the station. It was strongly emphasized that only the officers who were responsible for the trucks, were allowed to return the ladies. On Wednesday, the 23rd, the film, Follow The Boys was screened, which was created especially to boost the morale of the troops. The film was full of stars at the time: George Raft, Dinah Shore, Vera Zorina, Marlene Dietrich, Orson Welles, WC Fields, the Andrew Sisters and many others.
After several days of forced leave, the crew successfully bombed Evershorst a major military airfield near Hannover, (now called Langenhagen Airport) on the 24th. The next day, the same day on which Paris was liberated after a long siege, the crew got time off and on the 26th, when they were at the movies, they watched the comedy Make Your Own Bed, with Jack Carson and Jane Wyman.
On August 27th, the primary objective was the Heinkel aircraft factory at Oranienburg, near Berlin, but due to dense clouds the crew bombed a secondary target on the German island of Helgoland, which was an important naval base. In the next five days the weather was so bad that no aircraft from Wendling were flown until September 5th. The crews spent those days, however, not idle. They were kept busy with extra training and were put to work in repairing runways. But it was not only hard work during these days; on Monday the 28th, Glenn Miller7 with his more than sixty-piece band gave a concert at Wendling. In the big hall one could also see Gerow and his men enjoying an hour of hits like In the Mood and Chattanooga Choo Choo.
The next day on Tuesday August 29th, while the crew was grounded, the weather was gloomy in Zeeland. It just blew in and it was cloudy with occasional showers. With the weather, the atmosphere also turned. Now that the allied troops approached Belgium faster than expected, the German soldiers stationed in Zeeland moved increasingly southwards to halt this advance. Horses, carriages, cars and bicycles were confiscated by the German troops, and as soon as possible used as transport to the front. The soldiers of the Magen Division were shipped across the Westerschelde and were relieved by battle-weary soldiers from the front. In the absence of this division in some places in Zeeland, the German armed forces disappeared completely, simply from a lack of replacement troops. It was obvious that the occupier became increasingly nervous. When the Germans were trapped by the Allied and Russian troops, the strict rules on the population tightened. On July 30th 1944, after the attempt on his life, Adolf Hitler issued “Niedermachungsbefehl”, which he had ordered all military courts to be abolished and opposition people who were arrested had to be considered as terrorists or saboteurs. This meant that anyone who was arrested could be executed without any trial. Encouraged by this, the hated Landwacht (Home Guard) became even bolder and acted in a more random manner than before.
On that drizzly Tuesday evening, there was knocking on the door of Clara's Pad number 12 in Heinkenszand. As soon as he opened the door and he saw the man in the gray field jacket in the rain, Kees Griep realized what was going on. When the leader of the collaborators ran directly to the buffet to pick up the hidden radio and came back, the doctor was very sorry that he had played a dangerous game. Kees Griep in his spare time was chairman and director of the local art theater Kunst naar Kracht (Art for Strength). Kees Klap, painter by profession, was a member of the theater group and had visited Kees Griep often. So he knew his way well in the doctor’s house. When this man was appointed a member of the NSB, and in addition the leader of the local Landwacht, Kees Griep expelled him. By doing so Kees Griep made a dangerous enemy. Kees Griep possessed a secret radio and that was a dangerous possession. For discovery, it was originally a short prison sentence and a fine, which was almost always the consequence for this kind of treason. But now the rules were tightened, after finding an illegal radio, the house and the entire household furniture could be confiscated. The radio possessor was then put in prison to be sent later to a concentration camp, usually Vught (Officially, in occupied Holland, only Vught was considered by the Nazis as a concentration camp (Konzentrationslager Herzogenbusch)). During the occupation, the possession of a radio for at least four Zealanders was fatal. Kees was chained and handed over to the German police by the same man who had betrayed him. They carried him off after interrogation at the prison in Middelburg. The friend of his 21-year-old daughter Iet, Geert van Dijke, who was present by coincidence, was also taken. Billeted soldiers claimed the house and furniture at Clara’s Pad, and Kees' wife and children were put on the street, with only a handful of clothes. Fortunately, they could get shelter from the family of Mayor Mes in the main street. At that time, the Mayor himself was in hiding somewhere else.
Piet van den Dries had more luck. After his friend Kees was arrested, there was a member of the NSB at the door. He told Peter that a night raid would take place in the headmaster’s house and that they would look for a secret radio. The man urged Piet if something should go wrong with the war and the Allies would win, that Piet would put in a good word for him. Piet strongly denied that he had a radio of course. He thanked the man kindly and promised him that he would think of him when the time came. Once the NSB agent had left, Peter dug a pit in his garden and buried radio there. Indeed that evening there came an invasion of the Landwacht, but there was nothing to be found that they could catch the headmaster with. After the liberation, Peter kept his word and he indeed told the authorities about the NSB agent that had prevented his arrest.
Also Nico van Biezen, the blacksmith from Heinkenszand, was faced with the consequences of his resistance work. The leader of the Landwacht Kees Klap lived in the Dorpsstraat, not far from Nico's house. He saw that there were always strange servants working in Nico's blacksmith forge, but when this Landwacht checked their papers, they were always okay.
Nico: "Everything went fine at first, but the last year everything seriously went wrong. Twice I was picked up for questioning by a German commander, and the second time I had received many blows. I was once picked up for questioning by the NSB mayor, which I vehemently argued with. As punishment, I received from him twelve soldiers billeted in the downstairs rooms and a call for inspection to work in Germany. I got two searches, but the people that were hiding in my house always had good false papers."
Nico realized that he had to watch his step. He had the advantage that his forge stood at the junction of the three main streets in the village; the Dorpsstraat that passed into the Stationsweg, and Clara's Pad. This allowed him to check these streets so he could flee in time whenever he saw agents of the Landwacht nearing his smithy. At night, he didn’t have this advantage, so he was forced to sleep overnight in a dry ditch in one of the polders.
The Group Griep realized only too well that they were in a difficult situation. They were being watched and also was one of their leaders arrested, although not for doing his resistance work, it remained an extremely hazardous situation. In Kees’ house that was occupied by a group of German soldiers, there was a list of the names of people who were involved in the OD. The list was located somewhere in his office. It would only be a matter of time before the Germans would find this piece of dangerous information. This could have grave consequences for both their own group and for the groups in the area. The men realized that they had to act. One night Nico Biezen closed the door carefully behind him and thus ignored the curfew. While he and his friend, the accountant Kees Paauwe, tried to stay in the shadows of the darkened houses as they walked with a ladder on their necks by Clara's Pad towards the doctor's house. It was raining cats and dogs, probably why there were no guards at the door. Carefully they went around the house and put the ladder against the wall as silently as possible. Kees stood guard and held the ladder while Nico climbed through a window with a crowbar. While the soldiers slept everywhere in the house and Kees almost wet his pants because of the tension, Nico searched the doctor’s office. After some searching, he found the incriminating document, put it in his overalls and crawled through the window into the rain again.
Altogether a nerve-racking action, but for now, the biggest danger has passed. Nevertheless, there was still a fear in the group that if the Germans still had suspicions about the role of Kees Griep and if during his stay in Middelburg he would talk, they could still be arrested. They could only hope and pray that it did not happen.
Nico was in those early September days not left alone and three times was given a threatening letter in his mailbox. The same man that betrayed and arrested Kees Griep scratched on pieces of paper and an old envelope all kinds of warnings:
HIDER MUST GO
WE WILL PUT YOU IN VUGT
WILL TAKE YOUR HOUSE AND SEIZE YOUR PROPERTY
YOUR WOMAN WILL BE ON HER OWN
YOUR SERVANT HIDER MUST GET THE HELL OUT
IN 2 DAYS WE SMOKE YOUR RESISTANCE NEST AND
PUT YOU IN MIDDELBURG IN THE CELL WITH YOUR FRIEND DR GRIEP
Nico wrote on the back of this threatening letter: "Such a friendly letter I found in my mailbox... My servant remained, but it worried me, because it was at the end of the war. I was actually still in hiding at night. In the evening I loaded my revolver and went to see Klap (Landwacht). I gave him two choices: to have his brain blown out right now, or to leave my family and me at peace. I won. After two days he had fled, with the mayor. I was home free again."
1: Inspired by the song I'll Get By, sung by Dinah Shore in the film Follow the Boys, in 1944. On August 23,1944, this film was featured at the cinema in Wendling.
2: A name without clear meaning. Based on a popular song from 1943. "Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy" was in child language: "Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey." In May 1944, it became a number 1 hit by the Merry Macs. It became a popular song among American soldiers abroad, the strange words in the song sometimes were used as a password.
3: Named after the car that brought tea around the airport in Wendling. YMCA stands for Young Men's Christian Association. It assisted in providing sport and relaxation for the American airmen during the war.
4: Vergeltungswaffe (Avenge Weapon) 1: a flying bomb, powered by a jet engine.
5: Named after a movie musical from 1939.
6: Based on a famous phrase from the American Declaration of Independence of the United States in 1776: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by Their Creator with Certain unalienable Rights, That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
7: This famous American jazz trombonist and big band leader had enlisted in the U.S. Army in1942, after which he was appointed Captain. As leader of the Army Air Force Band he toured the various U.S. military bases in Europe to boost the moral. On December 15, 1944, during a flight from England to Paris with a single-engine UC-64 Norseman (Canadian), the plane disappeared from radar and never made it to France. Of the aircraft, its crew and passengers they were never heard from again. There is a theory that claims that the aircraft was hit by excess bombs from British Lancaster bombers that were unloading over the English Channel on that same day.
8: The greeting of the NSB (National Socialist Movement).