The 406th Occupier

Page 17

Crossing the Rhine

On the 22nd of March the group commander, the operations officer, the intelligence officer and the ground liaison officer went to Munchen Gladbach for Command's briefing on the last great air show of the war operation flashpoint. The group's assignment in the air part of this crossing of the Rhine was one of the most difficult jobs ever given it. It called for flak suppression by bombing and strafing and launching of rockets in an assigned area to the Allied airborne landing area.

The 23rd of March was spent in planning and preparing for the mission and early on the morning of the 24th, the day of the operation, the briefing was held.  This briefing approached the one for invasion of the Continent in suppressed excitement. It was a well planned and executed briefing. First the ground liaison gave the ground picture as to where and how the crossing would be made, then the intelligence officer outlined the air plan and briefed in detail on the location and capabilities of all known gun positions in the assigned flak suppression area, following which the group commander assigned specific gun positions to each squadron and instructed on the tactics to be used in attacking individual light gun positions as they revealed themselves.

Friends Finally Separated Capt. William Anderson,Jr. (left), commanding officer
of the 512th squadron, and Capt. James C. Brown (right),
operations officer, with the 512th's pet, "Andy".

The mission was effectively executed but with the loss of Lt. Col. Gordon W. Fowler, 513th squadron commander, who did not return from the first mission. The flat patrol was maintained for over three hours during the entire drop operation including fly out. In the area north of the Lippe Canal, east of Wesel along the uncompleted autobahn, particularly intense and accurate fire against the troop transports was silenced.

With the crossing of the Rhine the Group turned to affording Armored Column cover, usually for the Second Armored Division which drove north of the Ruhr toward Munster and out into the open country of the North German Plain. As this drive developed momentum and went into the breakthru stage, it became necessary to carry external gasoline and fly longer and longer missions to afford the necessary air cover. This period too was marked by a general shortage of bombs and ammunition. We carried anything and seldom did two planes of the same flight carry the same loading, but the air cover was maintained, which was the all important thing.

With encirclement of the Ruhr and establishment of the pocket there, we turned again to some in close ground work but for the first two weeks in April the main job was to sustain the thrust into and across the north of Germany. It was soon apparent to all that we would not be able to continue to fly the exceedingly long missions, which being based in Belgium required, so plans were laid for what many considered the last move.