I can’t remember when I’ve started a letter to you so late in the day. I probably won’t finish this tonite – but I’ll feel better for at least having made a start. In the next day or two I may have to miss writing you and I didn’t want to make it two days in a row if I could help it. There was a time when I used to like the peace and quiet of an evening in which to write but I’ve lost some of my ability to relax in the latter part of the day and when the night comes – even if I’m not busy I want to talk with the fellows or play some Bridge. During the day – the mornings particularly when I write you – things are usually in a state of turmoil here and I know my letters to you, dear, suffer in content and expression; but you know what I mean and you must realize sweetheart that it’s just impossible to concentrate. I haven’t apologized for my letters to you in a long while but I know they’re often jumbled and must lack continuity of thought. But I do love you, darling, and no one but you – and when I’m back home again – that will be the thing that counts most of all.
You know, dear, the boys wonder how I can find material to write you most every day. They’ll stand and watch me and say “What! Wilma again!” And I tell them they don’t know what it is to be in love and that I could write page upon page by the hour if I had the time and the place. And they say no more. And I’ll say no more for tonight, sweetheart, except that I love you dearly and miss you more. I’m tired, dear, and I’m going off to bed. See you in the morning, darling. Goodnite for now –
Hello again – dear!
First chance to write today is right now. We had a fairly busy morning, despite a heavy rainfall. Incidentally, the snow in these parts is entirely gone and it’s just like Spring. I don’t know how long it will last, but it’s nice.
As I intimated last night, I know definitely now that I won’t be able to write you tomorrow, but I should be able to the day after, dear. I got one letter from you yesterday – dated 1 January – and I didn’t know whether to be angry or amused at the incident you told me about on New Year’s Eve. Some fellows just can’t help being cheap and making asses of themselves – and I’m sorry darling that you had to put up with what you did. I’m mighty glad you had some real friends with you to see that you weren’t mistreated – and I think their attitude was swell, particularly Abbot’s, who echoed my own sentiments. That sort of party pest is one I’d like to poke in the face myself. Well just sit tight, sweetheart, and I’ll be home to see that you’re taken care of adequately at all times – and boy! will that ever be a pleasure!! As I’ve already written you, dear, I was not sleeping at the beginning of the year – and if you were thinking hard – about me – it was because I was doing the same about you. Our messages must have crossed paths somewhere in Mid-Atlantic.
We’ve been reading in the Stars and Stripes the past several days about how many letters and packages, both incoming and outgoing, were lost to the Germans during the recent counter-attack, and we all can’t help wondering what each of us is missing. We’ll not know for months, I guess. Not only that, but I sent out a few packages of odds and ends to you about that time – and I hope they all got out – although there was nothing included that was really very valuable, as I remember it.
Now – I’ve got several things to take care of in anticipation of tomorrow, dear, and you’ll just have to excuse me if I leave you for now. I hope you’re having a nice Sunday, whatever you’re doing, darling – and how I’d like to be doing it, too! My love to the folks, dear – and
P.S. Just another type of Christmas Card for the scrapbook, dear –
|USAAF 8th Airforce over Berlin, Germany|
3 February 1945
In the raid, led by highly decorated Jewish-American USAAF Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Rosenthal of the 100th Bombardment Group, Friedrichstadt (the newspaper district), and Luisenstadt (both divided between the boroughs of Kreuzberg and Mitte, the central area) and some other areas such as Friedrichshain were severely damaged. The bombs consisted mostly of incendiary and not high explosive ordnance, the area mostly hit did not include railway main lines, which were more northern (Stadtbahn) and southern (Ringbahn), but two terminal stations of Berlin (Anhalter and Potsdamer Bahnhof, the latter of which was already out of service since 1944 due to bomb destruction).
The bombing was so dense that it caused a city fire spreading eastwards, driven by the wind, over the south of Friedrichstadt and the northwest of neighboured Luisenstadt.
The fire lasted for four days until it had burnt everything combustible in its range to ashes and after it had reached waterways, and large thoroughfares, and parks that the fire could not jump over. Due to the exhaustion of German supplies the German anti-aircraft defense was underequipped and weak so that out of the 1,600 US aircraft committed only 36 were shot down and their crews - as far as they survived the crash of their planes - taken as prisoners-of-war.
A number of monuments, such as French Luisenstadt Church, St. James Church, Jerusalem's Church, Luisenstadt Church, St. Michael's Church, St. Simeon Church, and the Protestant Consistory (today's entrance of Jewish Museum Berlin) as well as government and Nazi Party buildings were also hit, including the Reich Chancellery, the Party Chancellery, the Gestapo headquarters, and the People's Court. The Unter den Linden, Wilhelmstrasse and Friedrichstrasse areas were turned into seas of ruins. Among the dead was Roland Freisler, the infamous head justice of the People's Court. The death-toll amounted to "only" 2,894, since the raid took place in daytime, and not surprising the inhabitants in their sleep. The number of wounded amounted to 20,000 and 120,000 were left homeless.
In the following excerpt from Mission to Berlin: The American Airmen Who Struck the Heart of Hitler's Reich, author Robert F. Dorr details the first harrowing American bomber runs of that monumental February 3rd mission.
February 3, 1945—10:51 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
The stream of more than a thousand Eighth Air Force bombers, from one end to the other, was 360 miles long. At 10:51 a.m. British Summer Time on Saturday, February 3, 1945, when the first wave of Flying Fortresses reached Berlin, the last bomber was over the Zuiderzee in Holland.
At exactly that minute — 10:51 a.m. — a bomber dropped out of the bomber stream and turned for home. The aircraft was Happy Warrior, piloted by 1st Lt. William Settler of the 838th Bombardment Squadron, 487th Bombardment Group. Although at least one crewmember recalls the sequence of events differently—saying that Happy Warrior completed its run over Berlin—official records say that Settler aborted when his number one engine went out and he could not keep up with the formation. By this account, Settler dropped his bombs on a target of opportunity just north of Osnabruck and began the struggle to get home.
The bombers formation continued relentlessly ahead. Col. Lewis E. Lyle, commanding officer of the 379th Bombardment Group and air commander of the mission, said, “The bomber stream was three to five hundred miles long.” Lyle later said that each Fortress crew would spend only between thirty and sixty seconds over the center of Berlin itself, but that “every second would demand vigilance.” Lyle was at the front of the bomber stream when the formation, flying at 25,000 feet just north of Osnabruck, turned on the initial point, flying northeast on a heading of sixty-five degrees.
The initial point, or IP, was the point beyond which the bombardier of each lead aircraft controlled the flight path, using his Norden bombsight, and the Fortresses were expected to move ahead on an unwavering, straight-line heading, no matter how many flak blasts appeared ahead of them.
Lyle’s crew was 100 percent focused on the job of leading and guiding every one of the B-17s in the long lineup.
Lyle, who would be officially credited with sixty-seven combat missions but would claim seventy-two, was universally admired and respected but not always loved. Life aboard a B-17 with Lyle in command was remarkably straightforward, often silent, and sometimes downright sullen. “From the outset, my crew understood that they were not to talk or even eat until we hit the ground after the mission was completed,” Lyle later wrote. “If you were talking, your mind was not on the business at hand.” Lyle wrote that he became known as a strict disciplinarian who made sure crews “knew that I was the only person operating the aircraft and was the only crew member that could do something with the airplane for their "survival.” As commander of the entire Berlin mission, Lyle spent a little less time worrying about throttle, yoke, and rudder and a little more time on navigation, attack, and accuracy.
Lyle often used ten-foot cloth streamers obtained from the base parachute shop and tied to the fins of the lead Fortress’s bombs, to increase visibility of the lead airplane’s bombs when they were released.
As the first group over Berlin, Lyle’s 379th Bombardment Group passed through flak that an intelligence officer called “moderate, black, and accurate.” Some clearly felt that “moderate” was not a strong enough descriptor. Six Fortresses in Lyle’s 379th group took major damage, a dozen sustained minor damage, and one was lost. The B-17 piloted by 1st Lt. William Webber was hit by flak and lost over the Berlin city center. It was 11:02 a.m., British Summer Time.
Webber’s plane was The Birmingham Jewel of the 379th group’s 525th Bombardment Squadron. Webber and three others were killed. The Germans captured five crewmembers who survived the war. The dead were Webber, toggleer Staff Sgt. Raymond Weatherbee, radio operator Technical Sgt. Carl E. McHenry, and ball turret gunner Sgt. William I. Wells. The survivors were copilot 2nd Lt. James T. Kiester, navigator 2nd Lt. Thomas A. Pickett, engineer-gunner Technical Sgt. Harold F. Francis; waist gunner Staff Sgt. William Scarffe, and tail gunner Sgt. Bennett D. Howell.
Most bomber crewmembers formed few lasting impressions of Berlin itself, a plains city without distinctive terrain features. At the beginning and end of the bomber stream’s passage overhead, undercast covered the city’s rooftops and avenues. In the middle and end of the long bombing run, smoke churned skyward from bomb explosions. The ball turret gunner and tail gunner of a Flying Fortress—the latter in his uncomfortable, kneeling position facing rearward, had the best view but were busy calling out flak bursts and looking for the Luftwaffe fighters that never came. One member of the 379th group said, simply: “It was a city.”
In another bomber of Lyle’s 379th group, 1st Lt. Carl L. “Kayo” Cook was minding his bombardier’s position in the nose and possibly feeling some temporary relief that his Fortress had not yet been hit. Cook had just written to his wife, the former Helen Kraft, in Pender, Nebraska, cheerfully reporting that he’d be home soon because he had just six missions left to fly. He was the father of two daughters, including one born just three weeks before on January 12, whom he’d never seen. Cook’s mother-in-law had recently remarried. The family was planning a big homecoming for him.
A fragment of metal, apparently from a flak explosion, punctured the Fortress’s glass nose, continued into the cramped narrow tube of the fuselage, and killed Cook instantly.
No one else in his plane was touched. Cook’s crew would make it home without him.
A mighty machine unstoppable in its momentum, unable to slow down or change course, the Fortress formation pressed ahead while flak intensified and undercast and smoke began to shroud rooftops far below. One box of Fortresses after another, the bomber stream passed over the German capital.