B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group


Bombing the Breisach Bridge
by Ben West, 443rd Bomb Squadron


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23 DECEMBER, 1944

160 Anti-Aircraft Batteries Protected the Breisach Bridge


Normally a combat crew only learns intelligence briefing in the early morning hours just prior to a mission.

For me, the BREISACH Bridge across the Rhine River was an unwanted exception. As the 443rd Squadron Commanding Officer, I had been sent to 42nd Wing Headquarters for several days. General Doyle greeted me and specifically asked what problems concerned the men in the squadron. I answered honestly that they were primarily concerned as to when replacements might arrive enabling those approaching 65 combat missions could rotate to the sates. The tour of duty before rotation had been periodically increased from 40 to the point that one wondered if the magic number could ever be achieved.

My answer was not the response the response the General wanted or expected and he was very cool to me thereafter!

While at wing Headquarters, I came down with influenza and during my recovery I spent a lot of time with the intelligence section. They were very concerned with a very troublesome target, the heavily defended 1000 foot bridge at BREISACH. The Germans needed that bridge to supply that sector and as an escape for their retreating armies.

Some weeks before, the French B-26 group a Lyon had endeavored to knock out the target when it was protected by 27 known anti-aircraft batteries. They lost four bombers. The weather had been poor afterward. My group, the 320th, would be next to try and take out this target.

Only now, photo reconnaissance showed as many as 160 guns protected the approaches to the target. Intelligence section placed red pins into the war map on the wall designating where each gun was last known to exist. Seeing this pin-infested map, one wondered who in their “cotton picking minds” would fly into that hornet’s nest at our bombing altitude of around 12,000 feet. This was definitely a “heavy bomber target” as they could fly twice as high as us. At their elevation flak batteries were not nearly as accurate, whereas at ours, they were really looking down our throats so to speak. Apparently wing had endeavored to get this target reassigned, but could get “no takers”.

We would just have to do the best we could with a very bad situation. At least from our angle of approach being perpendicular to the bridge we need contend with only 117 flak batteries. Aren’t we lucky! They would be tracking every move we make anticipating just where our formations would be in space when their antiaircraft shells would explode showering red hot shrapnel in all directions. That is a very sobering actuality to look forward to.

It was common practice for the Squadron C.O.s to be assigned on all the rougher missions. I was sure it would be the same with this once the weather cleared. I crossed my fingers and watched the clouds and waited for days. I wrote a few letters home to family and my wife with carefully chosen words that spoke of distant times to come to ease the pain of realities should they come to be. Of course I prayed a lot. This was the Christmas Season minus the usual ornaments & festivities. This was WAR. (Continued)

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