On March 6, 1944, over the town of Haseleunne, the Bloody Hundredth was virtually decimated. ‘Our Gal Sal,’ piloted by Bob Shoens, was the only B-17 to return to Thorpe Abbotts in England.
Bob Shoens, pilot of “Our Gal Sal” ,was assigned to the 100th Bomb Group for combat duty. On January 31, 1944 he flew ‘Sal’ for the first time, but did not fly her into combat until his 7th mission, on January 31, 1944. While piloting ‘Sal’ during the ‘Clash Over Haseleunne’ his crew were credited with shooting down two enemy aircraft. His 28th and final mission was flown on May 1, 1944 in ‘Our Gal Sal’. He now resides in Michigan.
On March 6, 1944, the 8th Air Force launched their first large-scale raid on Berlin. General Jimmy Doolittle dispatched over 1,000 bombers and 600 fighters to the German capital city. On this day, the 8th Air Force lost 69 four-engined bombers and 11 escorting fighters. At no point during World War II did the 8th Air Force have this great a loss.
“Clash Over Haseleunne” depicts this action at high noon, 21,000 feet over the small town of Haseleunne in northern Germany.
The 92 mile-long bomber stream crossed the Dutch coast 8 minutes late, at 10:52, due to unforecast headwinds. At this time, the 13th Combat Wing, in the middle of the bomber stream, became separated from the 4th Combat Wing in front. The gap was 20 miles instead of the planned 12 miles. This would not normally be serious if it had not been for radar failure in the pathfinder B-17 of the lead group. A ‘step’ now developed in the bomber stream as the lead group moved inland 10 degrees south of the planned route. With minimal fighter protection, this exposed the 13th Combat Wing to the full fury of the units of the German Luftwaffe.
Depicted is B-17 ‘Our Gal Sal,’ flown by Lt. Bob Shoens of the 100th Bomb Group in the 13th Combat Wing, B Formation, Lead Squadron. After bombing Berlin, Lt. Shoens landed his B-17 at Thorpe Abbotts in England. He discovered that his aircraft was the only one to return to its home base, and one of the four that returned to England from his squadron.
The middle of the bomber stream was protected by eight P-47’s of the 56th Fighter Group. One of these aircraft belonged to Lt. Robert Johnson, flying his P-47 ‘Lucky.’ These aircraft were tasked with the defense of the big bombers from the head-on passes of the German Luftwaffe. Remarks Lt. Johnson today:
The mission on March 6, 1944, our greatest loss in bombers, is as clear in my mind as if it was yesterday. Eight P-47’s against three gaggles of German fighters. 50 or so per gaggle. We were so few, they ignored us and went straight for the bombers.
Two days later, the 100th Bomb Group was able to put up 21 bombers into combat on its next deep penetration into Germany. There were no losses to the ‘Bloody hundredth.’ The target: Berlin. The war went on, despite the losses.