By Allyn Vannoy
Even as they were being integrated into the European Allied air campaign, the use and operation of American B-26 Marauders, and other medium bombers, was still being worked out—with sometimes, as at IJmuiden, Holland, disastrous results.
As Lieutenant Colonel Robert M. Stillman, the newly assigned 322nd Bomb Group commander and a 1935 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, who had recently been shot down and captured, entered the gates of the German POW camp, he encountered a fellow American officer. The officer was stunned to see Stillman. “You can’t be here— you’re dead. We saw you crash. I’ve already reported you and your entire crew as dead.” Stillman should have been dead. But somehow, he had managed to survive the catastrophic crash of his twin-engine B-26 Marauder as it plowed into the earth at over 200 miles an hour.
The commanders of the U.S. Army Air Forces had entered the war knowing exactly what they wanted to do in terms of strategic bombing, and did a superb job of explaining it to the layman. The newspapers covering the air war knew what strategic bombing meant and why it was being carried on.
Press releases about a given raid were simple to interpret in terms of their impact—smashing a ballbearing factory, destroying an aircraft manufacturing plant, or knocking out a key railroad line. But tactical bombing operations were not generally covered by the press and if so, poorly explained.
Senior commanders had difficulty in figuring out how to best employ the new medium bomber units. Some proposed that they strike from low altitude like a fighter-bomber, though in North Africa flying low-level bombing had been found to be less than successful.
Three medium bombardment groups were assigned to support Operation Torch—the Allied invasion of French North Africa in November 1942. They initially carried out low-level attacks against heavily defended targets, incurring heavy losses with poor results, before switching to medium-altitude attacks.
While the medium bombers operating from bases in England included A-20 Havocs and, later, A-26 Invaders, most of the groups were equipped with B-26 Martin Marauders.
The B-26 Marauder was a twin-engined medium bomber that had the distinction of being the first aircraft designed during the war to see active service. The Marauder was unique in that the war prevented the usual design and construction of an experimental prototype airplane prior to quantity production.
The effort drew on the experience of U.S. Armed Forces, the Glenn L. Martin Company, designers, and American’s allies to produce a superior design. The principal specifications of the Marauder called for speed and performance that surpassed existing aircraft of its type, combined with firepower and superior bombing equipment. Martin would build 1,585 Marauders at its factory near Baltimore, Maryland.
A crew of six or seven included a pilot and co-pilot, bombardier, navigator, radio operator, and two or three gunners. The aircraft had a maximum speed of 287 mph, with a bomb load of 4,000 pounds. Though small, the Marauder was well-armed with 11 .50- caliber machine guns—one in the nose, four forward firing in blisters on the sides of the fuselage, two in a dorsal turret, two in a tail turret, and two in waist positions.
The B-26 was a shoulder-winged monoplane with tricycle landing gear. The body was a streamlined, circular fuselage. Originally designed with two bomb bays fitted mid-fuselage, it was capable of carrying 5,800 pounds of bombs. However, in actual practice it was determined that such a bomb load reduced range too much, and the aft bomb bay was usually fitted with additional fuel tanks instead of bombs. The aircraft was powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engines—the same engines used in the F4F Hellcat, P-47 Thunderbolt, and F4U Corsair.
The wings had a low aspect ratio and were considered relatively small in area for an aircraft of its weight, producing the required high performance. The small area also resulted in a wing loading of 53 pounds per square foot, which, at the time, was the highest of any aircraft accepted for service until the introduction of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress.
When first introduced, the Martin B-26 Marauder was the object of jokes and scorn by heavy-bomber crews as well as the public. After entering service with U.S. Army aviation units, the B-26 received a reputation as a “widow-maker” due to the early models’ high accident rate.
The aircraft’s short wings and high wing loading required a high landing speed of 120 to 135 mph, making it tricky to land since it came in steep and fast. It had to be flown at exact airspeeds, particularly on final landing approach or when one engine was out. The B-26 also required constant attention while in flight by a skilled, well trained pilot at the controls. In an effort to overcome reservations about the plane’s operation and use, demonstrations were conducted with the Marauder operating on a single engine, including by Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, taking off and landing with only one engine. In addition, 17 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) were trained to demonstrate the B-26, in an effort to “shame” the ego of male pilots.
The B-26 entered service with the U.S. Eighth Air Force in England in early 1943. Five medium bombardment groups in the ETO were outfitted with the Marauder—the 322nd, 323rd, 344th, 386th, and 387th. As the medium bombers were starting to be deployed, Major Glenn C. Nye and Major Grover C. Brown of the Eighth Air Force’s 3rd Bombardment Wing were developing an operational plan that called for low-altitude bombing and navigation, successfully used by the RAF and to a certain extent by B-26s in the Pacific.
In March 1943, the 322nd Bombardment Group arrived in England at Bury St. Edmunds. Major Nye was appointed as the commanding officer of the group. Crews were told they would be conducting all their bombing and navigation at zero altitude!
However, crews reported to Major Nye that not only had they never flown at zero altitude, but not even below 1,000 feet, had little experience in formation flying, and many gunners had never even fired their guns while airborne. It was apparent that an intensive low-level bombing and navigation training program was needed. For eight weeks the crews trained and practiced, yet many of the officers held reservations as to the practicability of operating the Marauder at low altitude.
Major Brown argued to higher headquarters, after studying and flying with the RAF, that the B-26 was not suited for lowlevel attack missions in the ETO—not just because of its poor performance at low level, but also due to German anti-aircraft defenses. His opinion and concerns were shared by most of the pilots in the 322nd as the German defenses were much stronger than anything encountered in the Pacific. However, despite the dissenting voices, training went on.
During the spring of 1943, there was intense political pressure on the American air commanders to get everything available into action as soon as possible. In addition, it was thought that low-level bombing in German-occupied countries would be more accurate and would produce fewer civilian casualties.
By the second week of May, the B-26 squadrons were considered ready for combat. On May 12, Lt. Col. Robert M. Stillman, who had replaced Major Nye as 322nd Bomb Group commander, was informed that their first combat mission would takeoff on the morning of the 14th and would be part of a combined Allied operation.
The target was a power-generating station at Velsen near IJmuiden, Holland.
The plant provided power to a large industrial complex, a U-boat base, and the rail system for the Amsterdam-Rotterdam area. The same target had already been hit twice, on May 4 and 5 by the RAF, but with little success.
It was believed that damaging or destroying the target would disrupt the German electric power grid; however, power plants and relay stations were usually small, calling for an unusually high degree of bombing precision. But the generating equipment was vulnerable to large bombs and was extremely difficult to replace. Due to this vulnerability, the Germans routinely massed anti-aircraft guns and fighter defenses around and near them.
The field order from the 3rd Bomb Wing called for the maximum number of bombers available to each carry four 500- pound bombs. The crews were selected and briefed on the mission, which was to fly from Orfordness on the Suffolk coast to Noordwijk on the Dutch coast, then inland following canals and railways to the target at IJmuiden.
The target would be hit at 11 a.m. While no fighter support was available, Eighth Air Force B-17s and B-24s would be operating in the area at the same time, providing diversionary cover.
Both squadrons of the 322nd Bomb Group, the 450th and 452nd, were to participate in the raid. Winning a coin toss, Captain Roland Scott was to fly as the lead pilot. At the same time, Colonel Stillman and Brig. Gen. Francis Brady, the new 3rd Bomb Wing Commander, also elected to fly the mission.
At 9:50 a.m. on the 14th, Captain Scott took off, leading two flights of six aircraft each at 250 feet east towards the Channel; once over water the 12 planes descended to 50 feet. The bombers made landfall near Noordwijk and, as they swept inland, antiaircraft gun emplacements opened fire.
Skimming over the countryside at treetop level, the pilots began aggressive evasive action while the navigators worked to keep the aircraft on course. Shortly after encountering 20mm anti-aircraft fire, Lt.
Robert Fry’s aircraft took hits in the rudder and left engine, requiring him to break off the mission and turn back.
As the bombers neared Amsterdam, they turned northwest toward the target area, then veered slightly off course, flying east of the planned route. They had picked up and followed a railroad track about eight miles from the coast, with a canal running along beside it. They did not make a course correction until the leader recognized the Noord Zee Canal. At that point, Captain Scott headed the formation towards the target.
But taking evasive action to avoid ground fire made it difficult to navigate. Crews were instructed not to fire on churches or other civilian buildings while en route, but they found that some church spires were being used as flak towers. As the bombers flew down “on the deck” they maneuvered to avoid tall structures. Some crews reported people on rooftops shooting down at them. As the formation approached the target, heavy flak and machine-gun fire began to fill the sky.
Lieutenant J.R. Ryan, co-pilot of the “Chickasaw Chief,” said that, when they got to the target, “We were flying so low we damn near hit a chimney in the plant.” Ryan’s tail gunner, S/Sgt. R.E. Miller, described shooting at gun emplacements with his .50- caliber machine guns: “I saw about 30 or 40 enemy soldiers running toward their guns and I started firing at them about the same time they began shooting at us. I saw my tracers going right into them.”
As the tall smokestacks of the generating station appeared ahead, the Marauders began a climb to 250 feet to clear the stacks and release their bombs. The formation jockeyed for position in order to fly squarely over the target. As each aircraft flew over the target, the co-pilots, using their modified gunsight/bombsight, released the bombs within 15 seconds of their scheduled time over the target—5:48 a.m.
Suddenly, just after Captain Scott’s aircraft had released its bomb load, a 20mm cannon shell impacted above the pilot’s windshield. The explosion scattered shrapnel throughout the cockpit and practically blew off the right side of Scott’s face. Captain Turner, in the co-pilot’s seat, was slightly injured.
Despite his injuries, Scott flew on. He later described events: “I thought my face had been shot away, but I could see just enough with one eye to hold the aircraft. We struck the ground [in a grazing pass] with the camera hatch area of the aircraft [lower back portion of the fuselage], but we were able to regain control of the aircraft. I later had to get out of the pilot’s seat and lie down on the radio compartment floor, as I was concerned I might pass out and endanger the crew and aircraft.”
Several other aircraft in the formation received damage over the target, but none were shot down. In addition, light anti-aircraft fire was thrown up by a few coastal vessels, but no serious damage was done.
As the returning formation reached the English coast, a few of the severely damaged aircraft trailed the formation. Lieutenant John Howell’s aircraft was having problems with a damaged aileron and severed hydraulic lines, causing difficulty with control.
Howell’s ship had to remain aloft as the crew desperately attempted to get the landing gear down; however, only the nose gear would extend. After orbiting for half an hour, the decision was made to abandon the aircraft. As Howell held the aircraft steady, the crew bailed out. Then the aircraft suddenly went into a spin, crashed and burned; Howell did not escape. It was thought that the bomber went out of control as he attempted to leave the cockpit. In the post-mission assessment, all but one aircraft had received battle damage, seven crewmembers were wounded, one seriously, and one was dead.
During debriefings, crews voiced concern over the heavy flak encountered over the target, which was much more than what they had expected. But the crews were also very optimistic as to the bombing results in that many, including Colonel Stillman, reported seeing bombs impact the target. The photographic reconnaissance to be done by the RAF the next day was eagerly awaited.
General Brady, riding as an observer in one of the bombers, described the mission as, “very well planned and very well done.” But photo-reconnaissance analysts determined the strike had failed. The bombs had been fuzed with 30-minute delays. Some speculated that the Germans had sent in bomb-disposal teams to deactivate the bombs.
Major Gove C. Celio, 452nd Squadron, recalled, “We had counted on the element of surprise. It didn’t work, even though we were almost under the level of the German flak towers. They were ready for us and firing at us as we came in.
“Every one of our ships received damage. Looking down, I saw our bombs directed at the target, but the pictures taken later showed the power house still standing. Yet, every bombardier will swear the he hit the target. The Jerries must have Dutch slave labor carry those bombs off to a safe place before they went off.”
On the 16th, Colonel Stillman was ordered to report to the 3rd Bomb Wing Headquarters. When he got there, Stillman was told by General Brady that the Group had missed the IJmuiden power plant and they were to go back and hit it again the next day.
Stillman was mystified, arguing that Brady had been present, having been along on the mission and seen the bombs go in. But Brady insisted that they had missed the target, that the power house was still operating.
Stillman believed that poor results were due to the 30-minute British-provided, delay-fuzed bombs. Also, the British had been broadcasting to the Dutch that, when and if Allied bombers had to hit targets in Holland, they would use delay fuzes so that the Dutch people could get out of the target area before the bombs detonated. It was likely that the Germans were aware of this as well.
Stillman called the idea of going back to the target with the same bomb fuzes “stupid.” Brady agreed, as did the others present—Colonel Russell L. Maughan, chief of staff, Colonel Harold Huglin, and Colonel Millard Lewis, the wing’s A-4.
Colonel Lewis, in charge of materiel and engineering, probably knew more about the B-26 than anyone else then concerned with medium bombardment, having flown and evaluated the aircraft in September 1941, feeling that it was a possible answer to tactical bombardment.
After the first IJmuiden mission, he tested bomb fuzes like those that had been used, dropping some of the fuzes from a small liaison plane—finding they all worked. He was convinced that the principal trouble was not in the weapon, but with its employment— that they were trying to adapt the aircraft to operations for which it was not designed.
Brady responded to Stillman, “We’ve got to do what we’re ordered to do.”
Stillman asked if they couldn’t run a low-level photo mission on the target. That it would delay the mission just 24 hours. While Stillman was present, Brady called Brig. Gen. Newton Longfellow, commanding the Eighth Air Force Bomber Command, and told him that the second mission should not be conducted, and that if it was going to be run it should be made without delayfuzed bombs. Longfellow’s replied that the mission fitted in with plans for many other missions to be conducted that day and could not be delayed. The other missions included bombing of the port and U-boat base at Lorient, France, by 118 B-17s, while another 39 B-17s were dispatched to hit the docks and submarine pens at Bordeaux, France.
But these targets were hundreds of miles away and had nothing to do with the anti-aircraft defenses in Holland.
Stillman did not object to the low-level bombing tactic, only with going back to the same target using the same delay-fuzed bombs. Somewhat exasperated, Stillman said, “Sir, I won’t send them out.” But he quickly realized that he might have been coming across as brash and not as respectful as he should have been. After a moment of silence, Brady responded, “ You will, or the next Group Commander will.”
There was another pause in the room.
Then, reflecting on the responsibility he had to his men, Stillman responded, “All right, sir, we’ll go.”
As Stillman departed, Lewis and Huglin left with him. They encouraged him to fly the mission and if it didn’t work out, that tactics would be changed.
Stillman informed his Intelligence people of the decision, and to get preparations for the mission underway. Considering that he had already been to the target, he indicated that he would fly the second strike as well.
Crews were not informed of the targets until the morning’s mission briefing. The field order that came through to the 322nd Bombardment Group for the morning of May 17, called for 12 aircraft to be loaded as before. The plan and route would be identical to that flown on the 14th, with the exception that six of the B26s would break off and bomb the generating station and gas works at Haarlem as well as IJmuiden. The power plant at Haarlem was about seven miles south of IJmuiden. The two stations produced an output of over 100,000 KW each.
Because many aircraft were still being repaired as a result of flak damage from the previous mission, the 322nd could only muster 11 serviceable B-26s. The crews to fly the mission that day had, with the exception of four men, no combat experience. Colonel Stillman was to lead the formation aboard Lieutenant E.J.
Resweber’s Marauder, informing Resweber’s co-pilot that he would not be going along. Stillman’s deputy, Lt. Col. W.R. Purinton, was to lead the second flight of B-26s to Haarlem.
Despite the confidence of the crews that they could succeed in hitting the target, they expected to meet stiff opposition and many were convinced they would not return. An air of hopelessness prevailed in the briefing room. As Stillman left the briefing, Major Alfred von Kolnitz said, “Cheerio.” Stillman responded. “No, it’s good-bye.” Ignoring this strange response, Kolnitz said, “I’ll see you at one o’clock.” “It’s good-bye,” repeated Stillman.
The weather was reported as clear with a slight haze over the North Sea. The Marauders took-off at 10:56 a.m, formed up on Colonel Stillman, organizing themselves into a ‘javelin’ formation, in two-ship elements, and headed east at 250 feet.
As they reached the English Channel, the B-26s dropped down to just 50 feet above the waves in an effort to get under German radar, and took up a heading that would guide them to their Noordwijk landfall checkpoint.
Some 30 miles from the Dutch coast, Captain Raymond D. Stephen’s aircraft, flying on Lt. Col. Purinton’s right wing, began to experience electrical problems, so Stephens elected to abort the mission.
Since the crews were maintaining radio silence, Stephens didn’t alert the others of his situation. Without any standard procedure for aborting, the aircraft turned 180 degrees and climbed to 1,000 feet.
Stillman learned later that in pulling up the aborting plane was picked up on British radar, so it was likely that German radar stations detected the aircraft as well, since the aircraft were close to the Dutch coast. Stillman recalled later that if he had been aware that the aborting bomber had pulled up and exposed itself, he might have made the decision to abandon the mission.
As the aircraft crossed the North Sea, several small vessels appeared ahead of the formation. Rather than climbing over them, Colonel Stillman turned the formation south. Once past the ships, a course correction was made. Due to the deviation around the ships, crews figured they would now be making landfall five to eight miles south of Noordwijk.
In fact, the formation was some 25 miles from their intended checkpoint and heading toward some of the most heavily defended areas in Holland.
As the raiders approached the Dutch coast at 210 mph, Stillman recalled, “Through the haze I could see flashes of light on the coast. They kept winking. I was new to combat and I remember thinking that they looked like signal lights. I didn’t think much about it. I was intent on making the landfall and picking up [a] railroad track inland and getting to the target.”
Suddenly, spouts of water appeared ahead of the formation. Stillman now realized that the flashes of light were gunfire from German coastal batteries. He dipped a wing, communicating that the formation should spread out in flights abreast so as to present a more difficult set of targets.
In an effort to pick up speed, Stillman opened manifold pressure to 40 inches and increased engine rpm’s to 2,400 revolutions. As he took evasion action, his instruments indicated 235 mph and just 15 to 25 feet above the water. Stillman estimated their present position along the coast was just five miles northeast of The Hague.
As they were about to cross the coast, Stillman’s aircraft encountered machine-gun fire. Situated among rolling dunes, dug-in and camouflaged, were machine-gun positions intended to deal with low-flying aircraft.
Stillman said, “Our planes were equipped with five fixed .50-caliber machine guns in the nose under the control of the pilot. I saw tracer fire coming from three different points in front of me, within an arc that I could cover with my guns. So I let loose on the places where the tracers were coming from. It was easy to aim my guns by using the rudder and elevator controls. The tracers stopped coming up from two emplacements after I had given each of them a long burst.
“Then the third gun started firing at me. It was at about an eleven-o’clock position with relation to my nose. I had just swung my nose over to him and was about to com mence firing when it happened.”
Stillman lost consciousness for a second or two. When he came to, he found his aircraft was out of control. The rudders did not respond, the wheel was sloppy, and the elevator was out. He saw Lieutenant Resweber slumped in his seat, but couldn’t tell if he was dead or alive. Then the ship started to snap-roll or corkscrew through the air.
Stillman said, “I wasn’t scared. I didn’t have time to be. But I knew this was curtains.
I suppose I was still half groggy from having been knocked out.”
The plane was knocked out of the formation. One wing of the Marauder went down. Stillman looked out the cockpit window and saw the ground coming up. He shut his eyes and stopped worrying.
The plane hit the ground upside down.
Within a few miles of Colonel Stillman’s crash, Lieutenant V. Garrambone’s aircraft was shot down, crashing into the Maas River estuary leading to Rotterdam—he and three of his crew survived.
With the leader gone, Captain N. Converse, who had been Stillman’s wingman, moved forward to take the lead; however, during evasive maneuvering, he collided with 1st Lt. R.C. Wolf’s aircraft, then just off his right wing. Both B-26s went down in flames with only two gunners surviving from each aircraft.
First Lieutenant D.V. Wurst, who was also taking evasive action, was directly behind the two colliding aircraft and so was forced to fly through the debris. Lt. Wurst, finding his aircraft now unmanageable, belly-landed in a field near Meiji, Holland, his crew surviving.
Only five aircraft now remained out of the 10 that penetrated enemy territory. Believing that they should have been approaching the target area, the pilots and navigators looked for landmarks, but they were several miles from their respective targets.
Lieutenants F.H. Matthew and E.R. Norton, the only remaining crews from Stillman’s flight, were hopelessly lost and seeking to salvage something out of the mission, elected to form up with Lt. Col. Purinton’s flight and bomb his target. However, Purinton and his flight were also lost and desperately trying to find a landmark that would help them locate their target.
After flying for over 10 minutes without recognizing a single landmark, Purinton had decided to abort the mission and return to base when 1st Lt. E.F. Jefferies, Purinton’s navigator, spotted what he thought was the target, causing Purinton to direct the aircraft at what was actually a gas holder or storage facility on the west side of Amsterdam. The other aircraft attempted to bomb the same target, but all bombs fell short and caused no damage.
Unknown to the crews, their heading was taking them directly over the heavily defended port area near IJmuiden. Flak damaged Purinton’s B-26 as well as that of Lt. Norton and Lt. J.A. Jones, all of which crashed once over water. The only remaining aircraft were those of Captain J. Crane and Lieutenant Matthew, speeding for the English coast.
The two remaining Marauders had gone about 50 miles when they were attacked by two German Focke-Wulf 190A fighters. The Fw 190As had taken off with 26 others from Woendsdretch, Holland, after receiving an alert. Captain Crane’s aircraft, already in trouble from flak damage, was hit first. After crashing in the water, two crewmembers in the tail section were able to escape before it sank and were later rescued by a British destroyer. Six minutes later Lieutenant Matthew’s aircraft was shot down by the German fighters—there were no survivors.
Stillman’s saga continued. He concluded later that his Marauder was probably doing better than 200 mph when it hit the ground. Regaining consciousness, the colonel found he was being carried on a stretcher. He passed out again, waking later in a hospital room along with nine other prisoners. There were seven officers and enlisted men, all survivors of the group. Two others were British.
One of the wounded men had been Stillman’s tail gunner. Of the men from the 322nd, one had a broken leg, another had two bullet holes through an arm and shoulder, another had a shattered elbow and shoulder, and one was badly burned and in a good deal of pain. Near by was Lieutenant Tony Alaimo, a fellow pilot from the 322nd. They were in Wilhelmina Gasthaus, a Luftwaffe hospital in Amsterdam.
Stillman’s injuries included three broken ribs, two black eyes, his left cheekbone had been knocked in, his left hand was broken, and there was a hole in his right leg. From what he was able to piece together, all five aircraft of his flight had been shot down.
During five days at the hospital, Stillman learned from others some of the details of what had happened to his aircraft just before it crashed. They told him that after one snap-roll the plane seemed to recover momentarily. Then it began to yaw, completed half of another snap-roll and then hit the ground.
During their time in the hospital, they received a daily visit from a German doctor. Stillman considered them to have been decently treated and fed. From there, Stillman was transferred with the other POWs to Dulag Luft, a German interrogation center for shot-down airmen, and put in a hospital in nearby Hohemark, not far from Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany.
Placed in solitary confinement, he underwent interrogation, but was not mistreated. One of his interrogators had been a professor at Rice Institute in Houston, Texas. They talked football, but Stillman didn’t disclose any military information.
They were next moved to Stalag Luft III at Sagan, Germany (present day Zagan, Poland). Arriving at the camp Stillman was greeted by Lt. Col. Purinton. Purinton could hardly believe that Stillman was alive, having witnessed the crash of Stillman’s B-26. Stillman arrived at the camp in the company of Lt. W.C. Kinney, Purinton’s co-pilot.
He found there nine others officers who had been part of the mission. The surviving enlisted men had been sent to another camp in Austria.
Miraculously, three of Stillman’s crewmembers had also survived the crash, but would spend the rest of the war in German prisoner-of-war camps.
As General Brady and Colonel Nye awaited the return of the B-26s at Bury St. Edmunds, an RAF listening post reported interception of a German fighter radio transmission that indicated that two Allied bombers had been shot down over the sea. By the time the bombers were 40 minutes overdue, it was obvious that the aircraft could no longer be airborne and the realization that all 10 aircraft had been lost.
The next day General Ira C. Eaker, Eighth U.S. Army Air Force commander, ordered his inspector general to conduct an inquiry. However, the results of this investigation drew no conclusions as to a primary cause of this fiasco; no party was found negligent and no effort was made to ascertain why.
The raid had resulted in the death of 37 crewmen and the imprisonment of 21 others in German POW camps.
The mission had seemed destined for disaster even before it began.
The target selection by the Eighth Air Force was made as a result of heavy pressure from the RAF to use the B-26s against the same type of installations the British light bombers were attacking, as well as the importance of IJmuiden as a target. The Eighth Air Force chose the target as the 322nd Bomb Group’s first combat mission rather than an enemy airfield that was lightly defended and requiring only shallow penetration.
In addition, on October 29, 1942, the Eighth Air Force had received a directive regulating missions against targets in German-occupied countries. The directive, an agreement between the exiled governments of the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and the Allied powers, called for greater sensitivity to the civilian population in the occupied territory, and therefore required greater precision bombing.
Using the B-26 bombers in a low-level environment was thought of as a possible solution. Yet, the B-26s did not perform well at low altitude and the targets that the B-26s had been attacking in the Pacific were not as heavily defended as those that would be encountered in the ETO.
There were other factors which contributed to the failure of the second IJmuiden raid, as well. Both missions were heavily dependent on the element of surprise. Due to an agreement with the Dutch government, selected targets had to be approved by the Dutch Embassy. In addition, the embassy was allowed to warn its civilian workers of the impending raid through BBC radio. Undoubtedly, as stated earlier, the Germans had heard the broadcast and were ready and waiting for the bombers.
In addition, early in the war, the RAF found that daylight bombing missions without fighter escort were nearly suicidal. The 322nd Bomb Group operations plan indicated that: “Fighter protection is considered essential the same as with other types of bombardment. It is more essential than for heavy bombardment because of inferior armament.”
However, Eighth Bomber Command would not supply the fighter coverage even after repeated requests from both Colonel Stillman and Major Von Kolnitz before the second raid. Also, a British reconnaissance mission was executed along the Dutch coast at the same general time and place as the Marauders’ penetration, the reconnaissance aircraft possibly alerting enemy fighters.
Despite the losses incurred, senior Air Force commanders continued to support low-level bombing with the medium bombers. On May 20, 1943, General Brady called Colonel Nye into a conference and directed him to take over the 322nd Bomb Group. He also said that a decision had been reached that they were going to run more missions at low level, and that the next time it would be “done right.”
Colonel Nye, while continuing to believe in low-level bombing tactics, thought that the mistake made on May 17 had been in going back to the same target at the same time of day.
Despite the beliefs in low-level bombing, beginning in July 1943, the B-26s began operating at medium altitude. That November, the B-26s were transferred to the Ninth Air Force, to carry out tactical and interdiction missions.
Stillman remained a POW for nearly two years. After the war, he directed training for the Third Air Force and later was Deputy Chief of Staff of Tactical Air Command. In 1954, he became the first Commandant of Cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy on Colorado. In 1959, Sports Illustrated magazine named him to its Silver Anniversary All-American football team. He retired from the service as a major general in 1965. He died on May 22, 1991, at the age of 79.
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