The Diary of Brandon Britt, 96th Bomb Group
transcribed by Charles Harbaugh, Tiffin, Ohio
This diary was with Lt. Brandon J. Britt's posessions at the airbase in England and was held there until after the surrender of the German Forces in May of 1945.
Sgt Theodore Brown, one of the two crew members to survive the crash of the "SKYLARK", upon being released from POW camps, returned to England and the diary was given to him. Upon return to the USA he sent it to Britt's wife and she in turn gave it to his mother, Bertie Britt made a copy of it and sent it to Charles Harbaugh, the other member of the crew to survive.
I, Charles Harbaugh, after some 50 odd years, make a copy for Roland Geiger who is researching the crash site of SKYLARK.
Mission # 1
Oct 8, 43
Well kids, this one today was the first one and believe me it was a LuLu.
We went to Bremen which is Germany's most important port. It looked like quite a bit to me + according to some of the older boys it was.
Nothing of importance happened at first. We went out over the North Sea + then cut into enemy territory. That far we hat P47 escort but no farther. We reached the IP + the stupid groups to our left dropped their bombs in the fields, I guess. That is really sad. I noticed some dark clouds to our right + left, above + below. It was flack (AA). It stayed with us until we left the area. I never saw so much stuff in may life.
The German fighters hit us just before the IP to make the welcome complete. I saw a ME 210 + several FW190s. The planes started to get hit about then. One in our group pulled out with an engine on fire. He blews up in a few seconds. Another one went into a spin. One flew level + all ten men got out. We lost quite a few planes. I saw the bombs go out: long darg ugly strings.
They look good for the center of the target. Then we were turning off the run + the flack got our number. One was barley under the lead ship + we were #3. That was about all. We assembled + started for home. We saw a few fighters but no more flack.
SKYLARK had a couple of holes in her. I heard one hit the top turret.
A hard way to make a living, if you ask me.
Mission # 2
Oct 14, 43
Well kids, today was quite a day. We went deep into the heart. It was about 75 miles from the Swiss border. We went after a ball bearing plant in the town. It was about the most importand raid of th e war according to the big shots, and they hit uns ofcourse. We coaught some flack before the target + it was as accurate as usual. We had P47 + P38 escort some of the way in so we were not bothered by fighters before the IP.
The target was open so the bombs should have been right in there.
Wagner followed ours down.
Incidentally the lead bombardier was killed by flack.
We turned to the Rally Point and started for home, most of us. Then for some time the fighters were with us, FW190s, ME109s and those belly stabbing JU88s.
Harbaugh got a 190.
It was pretty quiet till we reached the French coast.
All at one flack furst all around us + right in front. It got the leaders #3 engine + battled off our ship. It hit four planes in about as many sefconds. I thing we have something in our ship that attracts flack. Then a ship in front of us startet weaving + a couple of chutes came out of it. One floated just past our wing tip. Nine chutes came out of it, I think. A little before I was watching a fighter attack a group to our right high. I saw a chute in the center of the group + the pursuit headed straight down. We didn't have enough planes left to make a decent sqdn left alone a group. Most of the planes had an engine or more feathered. Thenn three 109s hit our element which was out of position. It's a wonder we werent't all downed. I hit the throttle and yelled to get into the High Sqdn. We did quick! Tht's about all - except to see the old field again was a thrill.
Seven of the planes are still missing. Nettles, Leigers, Hammerson, Scarborough today + Hunts last Sunday.
It's a matter of the Lord being with you.
Mission # 3
Oct. 20, 1943
Today it was easy. We went to a small town in Germany. Why no one will ever know. I think it was an Escort Experiment.
We were to pick up different groups of P47s along the course. They were really in there too. I sure did look good to look up + see forth above us. They were with us all the time.
We didn't have any trouble to speak of. We saw a flack + a couple of twin engine fighters. I heardJones crew bailed out and Bliss broke his leg.
We dropped bombs thru a solid overcast.
There was a large explosion just off our left wing over the target tht has us all baffled. It may have been bombs exploding prematually from the ships above us. I didn't like it a bit.
Coming home we crossed the coast at 17,000 ft. again. That really make us al P.O. We lost some boy the last time that was done. We bitched to navigation but it don't do any good.
A couple of planes are still missing.
Mission # 4
Nov. 5, 1943
Well, today we went on another little party.
This was a town in Happy Valley. The target was the factories, refineries, steel mill etc. We might hit.
We got off to good start + climbed to altidude without much trouble. There was a lot of abortions due to the high altidude of this operation.
We crossed the Dutch coast without picking up much flack. We didn't see flack until we were nearly on the target. Then we saw it, I mean it came thick + fast. We got our bombs away + I looked up + saw at 12o'clock level a line of about 15 190s.
I yelled them off into the interphone but by that time they were by. They were attacking the ships under us.
Combs didn't fire because he was out from lack of oxygen. Stanton fixed him up + he was o.k.
After we turned to the West we picked up a lot more flack. I am starting to sweat that flack out like the old times do. There is nothing you can do but watch it.
After we left the valley we didn't pick up any more flack. It's a good thing, we were at 27,000 ft.
I heard over the radio, one man tells his friend he was 20 miles inside + couldn't make it. They agreed to meet in Paris on Christmas Day.
Our group didn't loose any planes today.
Mission # 5
Nov 19, 1943
Well, we went back to Happy Valley today - at least that's what they told us before we took off. As it is no one knows exactly what happened. We had pathfinders with us and as usual they messed up.
We took off at day break + took up our positions as #6 in the High Sqdn. We were supposed to fly #5 but we changed due to several abortions. So I was elected to fly the whole mission. I mean I was dragging when we got home. That was the first complete mission I have flown. Well we assembled OK + left the coast at alitude. We crossed the enemy coast and continued to the IP. For some reason we flew past the IP quite a ways. The group split up there + we continued on our own. We had support up till then but then it left us. We then turned back home and dropped our bombs somewhere in Europe. We saw a little flack and no enemy fighters.
This was my Air Medal Mission.
Mission # 6
Nov 26, 1943
This one was the same place as my first one. It was to be another blow at Jerry's most important port. I don't know how much damage our group did. I couldn't see the bombs hit because of clouds. Not that I would have looked if it had been clear.
The preliminaries were the same as usual though I have never seen so many planes, as left the coast with us. Nearly to the enemy coast there was some trouble with some formations + fromt here the groups looked very sad. Fighters would have knocked hell out of us, but for some reason we didn't see any enemy fighters. I believe we out smartet the HUN for once on that score.
We picked up Flack at the coast and didn't see much more till over the target. Boy, then we saw plenty. I thought we were over Happy Valley. We were very high + didn't get hit very hard but some group below us got hit plenty.
I saw a fortress loose its elevator, pull out of formation and go down spinning. No chutes came out as far as I could see. It's not a pretty sight to see ten men die before your eyes. It makes you feel tight inside and you don't know whether to curse or to pray.
Out from the target I saw Flack burst off our left wing. And heard it hit the ship. Then Brown called up and said that Shoop had been hit. He worked on him + couldn't find any wound, so he checked Shoops oxygen. That was the trouble because in a little while he came around. He was out for nearly an hour. It only takes 4-5 minutes off oxygen to kill you at that altitude.
We were over enemy territory a long time but we finally made the Channel + England. At a time like that is when England looks best.
Nov 29, 1943
It's getting to be an old story now + confidentially I think Jerry is wise to us. At least he was waiting for us today.
I went in a new role today as Formation Control Officer - as glorified Tail Gunner. I went in the lead P.F. ship with Col. Hand. We made it into the enemy coast O.K. except we were about an hour late. That accounted for the absence of P47's. Just as we got to the target the fighters hit us along with the Bremen Flack. That was the most fighters I have seen so far. The twins shot rockets + the singles just shot.
I got in quite bit of shooting and shuld have hit an Me109 or two. I was so busy with fighters that I didn't sweat out Flack as much as usual. At last the P47's hove into sight. Just as they were queing up at 3.00 o'clock. They were never prettier. The 47's stayed with us a while + we made it to the coast without further incident. I saw what appeared to be a hit in the cock-pit of a ship in the low sqdn by a rocket. The ship pulled up + out + went down in a steep dive.
I understand Parks + Hendricksen are missing along with a couple of others.
Mission # 8
Dec. 22, 1943
Well for a change we didn't go to Bremen today but to Munster. The last time we went there it was pretty rough I heard, so I wondered about it.
We took off + flew through an overcast. We were late on assembly because of that. We joined the group however over the North Sea. I don't believe I have ever seen more planes in formation. In any direction you could see 17's + 24's.
Because of the mess up I didn't expect much escort but we picked up a group of P38's just inside the French coast. They hadn't been with us 2 minutes when several crossed over on top of us. There were 2 single engine ships up there and the P38'se pulled up behind them. Almost immediately the 2 S.E.s spun down. This happened directly above us.
We continued on to the IP with droves of 47's and 38's. The continent was solid overcast. We saw a little flack after bombs away. We had a few fighter but the escort kept them away pretty well. There was a group of 24's behind us + they had fighters. A couple of them were knocked down.
We saw a B-17 do 3 of the best loops. It was fliting around like a fighter + finally dove into the clouds.
We made it home without any trouble. This was one of the easier trips, thanks to those 38's + 47's. I don't think we lost any ships in our group.
Mission # 9
Target - X
Dec. 24, 1943
Well we had a new deal today. This one was different from the others so far, in a lot of respects. First of all we went to France for the first time. I had been over France several times before, but never a target in France.
We didn't take off until late so it was a short run. Nothing of importance happened so there isn't much to tell. We went in at 12,500 ft which wooried me quite a lot. I know what Jerry can do with flack at that altitude, also we bombed by Sqdns. Which isn't too good if you get hit by fighters. We made our run over a clear target except for a little haze.
Everything went fine so we should have hit it. For a fact I didn't see a bit of flack or a fighter, enemy or escort. The escort was there though.
It was the easiest trip so far - a good birthday present (Brandon was 26 on this day).
Mission # 10
Dec 30, 1943
Today was one of those P.D. affairs. It could have been plenty rough. It was on the order of Schweifurt, just a little short of there.
I was more than a little worried when I saw the target. We were to have fighter support all the way, so that made me feel a lot better. On take off, Bent, the high sqdn Leader, failed to take off. We were next so we joined the group and the high squadron formed on us. We had never lead a sqdn before so I don't know how we did. I don't think we gave them a very smooth ride. However we kept it in as close as possible and we made it O.K.
I lead the sqdn. over the target, through the flack + all the way out. It took us 2½ hours after the target to reach the French coast. Nothing much happened, we had flack over the target but no fighters, enemy or friendly, it wasn't bad except for being long, almost nine hours.
Mission # 11
Jan 4, 1944
This one was Munster according to the papers. It was about the same as usual, except for the time. We took off and tried to assemble an hour + a half before day light. That stuff doesn't go for me. I can't see flying groups + even wing formations in the dark.
It looks like are going to get a lot of that though. We did get into fair formation after daylight. We went over as a four group formation for a diversion for the rest of the Eighth Air Force which went to Kiel. We did get a break through, in that we had nearly 500 P47's as escort.
We made the run in as planned but the pathfinder aircraft dropped short. We made a sharp turn to avoid Happy Valley + headed for the Dutch coast. We had some flack over the target + a little along the route, but it wasn't bad. We saw a few enemy fighters but they didn't hang around long to watch.
It would have been uneventful except for one thing. Just after we crossed over the coast the leader of the high sqdn, McLean, + Davis in the lead sqdn collided. No one know for sure how it happened.
McLean lost his tail + went down, while Davis lost an engine + wing. One chute was observed coming from McLeans ship. I looked in time to see McLeans pull down + over.
It's sad when you loose two crews like that.
McBlotnic was copilot for Mac.
Mission # 12
Jan. 5, 1944
This was one of those P-dingers. It was the worst yet for me, even worse than Schweinfurt.
We got this one started off with a bang. It was one of those infernal night take offs. About one more of those deals is enough for this boy. We had just started on the runway when there was a sheet of flame just off the end of the runway.
It was Marshall. No one knows what happened.
After we were off + circling the field we saw two other planes hit and explode. I really sweated it out till daylight about 8:30.
Then we joined the formation and took out over the ocean. This was another one of those deals.. We went in 4 groups as a combat wing formation. We were after an airfield just west of Bordeaux, France.
We flew #6 position in the high sqdn. I was in the right seat so I flew for about 8 hrs. We made it over France + into the target without much trouble other than a little flak. We got our bombs away O.K. + they should have been in there. Then came the fighters. We really got worked over by them.
They were everywhere knocking 17's down. They stayed with us for a good half hour. Every time I felt the tail guns going or someone called out "Fighters coming in" I really leaned on the stick. I took all the evasive action I could.
Knapp got one 190 for sure + one probable. Wagner may have gotten one also.
This was the longest + worst fighter attack I have ever seen. I saw line of 20 mm exploding off our wing three times. We finally ran the fighters out of fuel + we had a rest for about an hour. Then we crossed the Brest peninsula. We caught the usual flack + then came the fighters.
They blew the tail off a 17 straggling behind us.
Finally we cleared Brest + after about 30 minutes we raised England.
I understand 4 of the boys are missing makeing 6 in all. I estimate we lost 20 or more today.
"If the Lord is with you, you can't loose."
Mission # 13
Target - X
Jan. 14, 1944
Today was an easy one. Just about the same as the last time we went to this target.
This one was 12-B (#13) for me, after two false starts. I'm glad we didn't go on the last one. We got lost in the clouds + had to return for our first abortion. It was Brunswick ECT (?). It really was a SNAFU situation. We admitted losing 60 planes + it's a wonder we didn't loose more.
The mission was recalled 30 minutes before the I.P. Well, so much for the way + the means of the 8th Air Force Operations.
The target is thought to be emplacements to launch pilotless aircrafts (buzz bombs or rockets).
I didn't know I was going until about an hour before take off time. I went as co-pilot for Poole. We flew #2 in lead sqdn, a very easy position to fly.
We took off at 12:45 + assembled in the usual manner. We crossed the Channel and split up into sqdns to bomb.
We hit the target right in the center. We saw a little flack at 3:00 o'clock but none reached us. We saw lots of fighters but they were all friendly.
Seet beautiful P-47's + P-38's above + all around. We circled Abbyville + crossed the Channel again without any trouble. We could have been hurt by flack as were only 12,500 ft. high.
This was an easy one + I did appreciate it after the last one to Bordeaux.
We deserve a few easy ones.
Mission # 14
Jan. 21, 1944
The same old thing again. That's alright with me. I'll take all I can get like that. There isn't much to tell.
We got off + assembled in the usual manner. We did have a lot of fun dodging other groups. We flew in + through one or two. Our position was #6 in the high sqdn. So I flew the entire mission.
We split up at the I.P. and bombed by sqdns. We pulled in + flew in nice formation over France but we couldn't see the target at all. We made a large circle and still could not see the target so we headed for the Channel.
We saw a lot of flack but luckily none of it was close to us. We weren't troubled by fighters either.
Note by Charles Harbaugh, tailgunner of the Skylark
Mission # 15
Jan 29, 1944
Brandon did not return from this mission due to a mid-air collision over Germany in an air battle on the way back from the target. Two members of the "Skylark" crew survived + were taken P.O.W. They spent 12 months in Stalag Luft III, then 3 months in Stalag VIIA.
They were liberated on April 29, 1945, by General George Patton's armored division and returned to the U.S. in May of 1945.
The remains of the rest of the crew was finally located and returned to the U.S. in 1948. Four were interered in a military cemetery in Kentucky + the other 2 were intered by their families.
Two of Brandon's missions that he flew as co-pilot of other crews I was not on. One mission the Skylark crew flew Brandon was not with us due to being ill. I was on one mission with another crew to Bordeaux that the Skylark did not fly.
B-17 F-125-BO MZ-0
# No 42-30859 "Skylark"
96 BG (H), 413 BS
Base: Snetterton Heath, England
Crash near Gusenburg, Germany, on January 29, 1944
P Louis C. Kandl 1Lt O-797550 KIA FOD
CoP Brandon J. Britt 2Lt O-680599 DED
Nav Robert W. Stanton 2Lt O-736416 KIA
Bom Albert Combs 1Lt O-2043755 KIA
ROp Robert J. Scanlon TSgt 11094721 DED
TT Edward J. Knapp TSgt 13039641 DED
BT Theodore A. Wagner SSgt 36275721 KIA
RW Theodore D. Brown SSgt 32362081 EUS
LW Aaron E. Shoop SSgt 17077156 KIA
TG Charles E. Harbaugh SSgt 13145658 Kontakt
Wagner, Hamm Cemetery, Luxemburg, H-7-50, medals: AM/2-OLC-PH
Combs, USA, Golden State National Cemetery, San Bruno, CA
Stanton, USA, Golden State National Cemetery, San Bruno, CA
Kandl, Britt, Scanlon, Knapp: Group Burial in Zachary Taylor National Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky