Stamped 1515/7/8: Damage at Avignon, one hit on railway bridge over Rhône. Traffic interrupted for a week.
From 09.25–09.25 hours, Plan de Dieu and Caritat were shot up by Thunderbolts of the 79th FG, which claimed an He 111 and a Ju 52 destroyed but appear in fact to have inflicted slight damage on two Ju 88s and wounded one man of the airfield's Flak crews.
Twelve Bf 109s were scrambled from 08.46–08.51 in response to a raid by B-25s of the 310th BG on the rail bridge at Avignon. All the Messerschmitts took off from Aix-Les-Milles: four from the 1. Staffel, three from the 2. and five from the 3, with interception taking place at 09.35 hours. The 86th FG was escorting the bombers and the 527th FS's diary exclaims:
"Excitement! On an escort mission today — B-25's — sixteen Me's attacked the bombers, but were driven off without breaking up their formation. Lts. Mauck and Saunders each got strikes on the "Jerrys", each claiming one damaged."
The bombers claimed damage to a Bf 109 and the 525th FS also engaged, claiming one probable (by Lt. Curtin) and two damaged (by Lts. Purdum and Jordan) near Cheval Blanc, 17 km north of Salon. Radio talk revealed to Allied Signals Intelligence that at 09.40 (local time) "an aircraft was shot down; its nationality could not be determined." At 10.00 hours, Thunderbolts of the 522nd FS/27th FG sighted a Bf 109 which they chased into the ground 4.5 km. north east of Salon, without firing a shot and the victory was awarded to the Squadron collectively.
The 1./JGr. 200 lost two Bf 109 G-6s that day: its Staffelkapitän, Hptm. Georg Seckel bailed out with injuries that put him on hospital for the next two weeks; Uffz. Walter Cöster (who had survived being shot down on 14 July) was killed. It was probably Cöster’s demise that Uffz. Walter Lang recalled while in captivity:
One fellow who had just escaped from the Partisans and come back to the Staffel crashed the following day in the “red 9.” We used to say: “Flyers get more out of life, but those who don’t fly live longer.”
The German pilots did claim some compensatory success: a P-47 shot down by Seckel for his 40th victory; and two B-25s damaged. One of the latter was subsequently awarded to Ogefr. Horst Rippert as a full kill. In fact the Americans reported no loss or damage to any participating aircraft with the exception of a P-47 rendered Cat. III by Flak, its pilot returning safely nevertheless.
At 17.56 hours, Allied aircraft reported five Bf 109s between St. Étienne and Grenoble but there was no contact.
With Georg Seckel and Arndt-Richard Hupfeld in hospital and the 2. Staffel's Kurt Bell apparently fetching new aircraft, JGr. 200 was now without any Staffelkapitäne in its zone of operations.
That afternoon the Germans reported that only one bomb had hit the railway bridge but even so, the damage was such that traffic was expected to be interrupted for a week.
For the diarist of the 527th FBS "Escort mission — routine" was all the comment he felt necessary. For the pilots of the Free French 4e Escadre and the crews of the 310th BG, it was rather different:
"Some of the men flew to Avignon today and it was rough."
Their target once again was the railway bridge and the Gruppe scrambled 12 Bf 109s, meeting the incoming force over the sea, off L'Espiguette, at 09.40 hours. They rapidly became entangled with the escorting P-47s, claiming two shot down and three damaged — MAAF Signals Intelligence heard one victory being called in at 09.40.
The French summarised the action as follows:
13 P-47 of G.C. II/3 and I/4. Attacked on bomber escort mission by 12 Me 109 west of ISTRES. 7 P-47s maintained the escort, 6 accepted combat.
Results: 2 Me 109 destroyed. 1 P-47 failed to return.
Sergent Seeten of Groupe de Chasse 1/4 "Navarre" was missing in action while Sgt. Galano of GC 2/3 "Dauphiné" belly landed and found refuge with Résistants (information from Guy Julien). GC 2/3's Adjutant Le Guennec claimed a Bf 109 over the Étang de Scamandre while Lt. Dugit-Gros and Capitaine Faure-Doré of the same unit shared a Bf 109 over Arles. This corresponds exactly with the German losses: a Bf 109 was shot down and was belly-landed by its wounded pilot; a second flier bailed out of his aircraft with slight injuries and came down on land. These machines seem to have been Bf 109 G-6 W.Nr. 163835 and 440559 respectively.
Nevertheless, one Messerschmitt got past the escorts and came at the bombers from 6 o'clock, damaging aircraft "3259" of the 428th BS:
"Lt. Werling [1/Lt. T.J. Werling] of our own squadron had a few cylinders of his right engine knocked out by enemy fighters on the bomb run but returned safely."
The Mitchells were over the target area from just before 10.00 hours and their gunners claimed the fighter as a "probable." The B-25J of the 488th BS's 1/Lt. James C. Burrhis (s/n 43-4013) was hit and went down in flames north east of the target with between three and five parachutes being seen to open (two of the crew were killed, two wounded and two posted missing). Another aircraft was seen to be falling behind when the formation turned away after bombing, as the diary of the 381st BS relates:
"One aircraft [B-25J s/n 43-7527] piloted by 1st Lt. Joe W. Maywald failed to return. … 2nd Lt. Woodson J. Williams was severely injured by 20 mm. fire from attacking enemy aircraft and was taken to the 35th Station Hospital.
[Next day] … word has been received from the 35th Station Hospital that … Williams [co-pilot of Lt. F.W. Watson's 43-27494] died as the result of wounds received on yesterday's mission. Lt. Williams had been with the Squadron for less than two weeks, having been assigned on 30 July 1944. It was his second combat mission."
Williams was buried in the US Military cemetery near Bastia, Corsica. Since the diary says in two other places that he was wounded by Flak, it seems likely that the above reference to fighter gunfire was an error, however. Lieutenant Maywald's bombardier, 2/Lt. Erwin E. Carman had been injured on the run-in and with the aircraft losing power, he force landed on an open field. The entire crew was taken prisoner but they escaped and were able to contact American forces following the Invasion. All were back in Ghisonaccia by 22 August, except gunner Sgt. Andrew W. Citara who was taken sick and had a brief spell in hospital before rejoining his squadron on the 27th. Apart from the two shot down, 11 bombers were reported as holed by Avignon's "intense, accurate Heavy Flak."
According to Signals Intelligence on 9 August, "aircraft heard returning from an unknown mission [at 09.26 hours] may have been on a patrol over the South of France."
On the 10th the elements of JGr. 200 were based as follows: the Stab, 1. and 3. Staffeln at Aix-Les Milles; the 2. Staffel at Avignon-Ost, according to one report, "...little more than a dirt landing strip and a Werft [workshop]. The aircraft … dispersed in dirt blast shelters camouflaged with brushwood" (it is now the city's airport).
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