April 1, 1944
"Group went to Ludwigshaven, Germany, or Should Have! 14th Combat Wing dropped their bombs on Switzerland - what an April Fool's joke! No losses"
The 44th Bomb Group was also involved:
"April Fool’s Day brought forth a mission that was to be a most unfortunate one for the Group. Generally, adverse weather was met by the planes on their way to the target – Grafenhausen, Germany. Some planes dropped their bombs on this target, while others, due to navigational difficulties, dropped theirs on the Swiss city of Scraffhausen, literally an island of Swiss territory surrounded by Germany. The leader of the 506th Squadron’s planes was cognizant of the situation and was apprehensive of his position when he realized that the formation was looking for a target of opportunity. His awareness was well justified and his section did not participate in the mistaken bombing. This was a most regrettable incident which marred the day’s operation and caused grave concern in the Group, and of course, added to the worries of our State Department."
The US made $4 million in reparation payments to the Swiss for the incident.
The 392nd mission summary:
This mission of the Group was to be recorded as one having embarassing overtones with international complications between the embassaries of the United States and Switzerland. The briefed target was Ludwigshafen’s chemical works the mission to be led by a PFF radar ship. General briefings were held for (24) aircrews with (23) taking off commencing around 0645 hours. Enroute to the briefed target, the PFF lead ship erred in pilotage while flying over an undercast and led the Group aircraft far south of course into southern Germany near Lake Constance and approximately (10) miles into neutral Switzerland. It was learned after landing that the unit had bombed a forested area (3) miles southeast of the Swiss city of Schaffhausen some (120) miles southeast of the briefed target of Ludwigshafen. A total of (1184) 100# bombs had been released in the area. No enemy aircraft were encountered, but some AA fire was experienced with (9) aircraft picking up battle damage. All airplanes returned around 1445 hours. As could be expected in the aftermath, a great deal of explanation had to be given on the results of this mission.
In an article in the June 1980 issue of the Second Air Division Journal, Myron H. Keilman (579th Squadron commander) explained how Schaffhausen was bombed by mistake. "Briefing for twenty-four combat crews was held at 0445 hours. The target: Ludwigshafen chemical works. A PFF (Pathfinder) airplane assigned from 2nd Air Division Headquarters, with radar navigation equipment, would lead the group. A 392nd Command Pilot and a well-experienced dead-reckoning navigator would augment the PFF crew. I don't recall who the command pilot was but the navigator was Captain Koch, 576th Squadron Navigator. Take-off was started at 0645. After assembly over the 14th Combat Wing's radio beacon, the 392nd and the 44th headed for Ludwigshafen. Over the continent the group encountered a weather front with tops at 21,000 feet. As the formations departed the English coast, the Mickey set (radar) malfunctioned, but the command pilot chose to continue on with the mission. Without visual reference with the terrain, the lead navigator had to rely solely upon prebriefed estimates of winds aloft to carry out his dead-reckoning type of navigation. Of course, winds aloft can change by the hour as high and low air pressure patterns move, thus blowing the airplane formations from their briefed route. The navigator was helpless in knowing when and how much change was occurring.
Viewing the route flown versus the briefed route, one can see that there must have been quite a change in both the direction and velocity of the winds aloft. The formations were blown some 120 miles to the right of course and 50 miles further in distance.
In retrospect, it is quite obvious that when the formations arrived over some broken clouds at about the time their arrival in the target area was due and a target of opportunity was sighted, the command pilot gave the order to bomb, and 22 airplanes dropped 1184 100-pound bombs.
After "bombs away" and the formation was heading home, the command pilot held a critique with the navigator and bombardier as to what community they had bombed. Their best estimate - according to time and distance flown and the forested terrain (Black Forest) - it was Freiburg, Germany; thus the radio operator sent back his strike report to that effect to 2nd Air Division command post. With this in mind and no further visible landmarks to change their opinion, they made their way back to the British Isles and their base at Wendling, Norfolk County. The formation landed at 1445 hours - a long eight hour mission.
Within hours, word filtered down through operation channels that Switzerland had been bombed. Our group commander, Col. "Bull" Rendle, spent the rest of the night on the telephone. Scrutinizing the navigator's and bombardier's logs confirmed the time that the community of Schaffhausen was bombed coincided with the time our bombs were released - and the target not positively identified. Thus it was concluded that the 392nd Bombardment Group bombed Switzerland on 1 April 1944.
Bombing Swiss territory was very serious as the United States certainly wanted to be a friend of Switzerland. Through diplomatic channels, sincere apologies were made; reparations would be paid for loss of lives and for damage done by 1184 100-pound bombs; and disciplinary action would be taken to prevent another occurrence.
What was the disciplinary action? The lead navigator, Captain C.H. Koch, was rebuked and never again allowed to perform the function of lead navigator.
As a person friend, I really felt sorry for Captain Koch. He had flown as my navigator on numerous eight and ten-hour ocean patrol missions between Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands in 1942. He was as highly qualified and as competent an aerial navigator as there was in the US Army Air Force. When the radar set malfunctioned that day, the odds were against precision navigation and the command pilot should have recalled (aborted) the mission.
1 April 1944 -- Mission #59 -- Target: Schaffhausen
Edited by mcoffee, 01 April 2010 - 12:42 PM.