- Life and Times of the 341st Bomb Group (M) -
"Preserving the memory of their Sacrifices!"
( 490th Bomb Squadron )
We received an email from Ed Schmidheini, armament section, 490th Bm Sq with this picture and notes attached:
This aircraft stuck a pagoda with its left wing during a bombing mission to Rangoon, Burma.
(Courtesy of 'Ed' Schmidheini - 490th Bomb Squadron )
Howard Bell included a narative in his 'The Burma Bridge Busters' and attributes it as "The following are excerpts from an account of the mission written by the squadron's Public Relations department for press release:"
Possibly the finest job of night precision bombing yet recorded in any theatre plus a remarkable feat of flying to safety an all but vitally crippled ship was credited to 21-year old Ist Lieutenant William E. Cook as the Skull and Wings Medium Bombardment squadron made a daring 1200 mile round-trip night attack on Sittang bridge.
Five ships attacked the bridge, Cook's being the second to go in. Although bright moonlight clothed the countryside, a ground haze in the vicinity of the target made accurate damage assessment at time of attack impossible. The squadron's tactics against the bridge were not new for daylight but, as far as is known, seldom have medium bombers in this theatre gone in at 300 feet altitude at night on a structure the size of the Sittang. Ships picked up the railroad at a point from where it extends in a straight line for a distance of five miles to the bridge. Using the glistening rails as a guide, they roared in over the target at speeds up to 280 miles per hour. Although Cook's bombs did most of the damage, knocking out two complete spans, they were not the only ones to hit the target. Photos the next day revealed that several span-lengths of tracks near the center were badly thrown out of line and the super-structure twisted and otherwise distorted.
The remainder of Lieutenant Cook's feat is even more dramatic. After dropping his bomb load, he banked his ship sharply to the left to avoid as much as possible intense enemy ground fire which had picked him up as he streaked down the tracks for the kill. His sudden maneuver confounded the ack-ack batteries but the terrific speed of his plane put it directly in the path of a taper-spired Burmese temple on the opposite shore. In a decision which he later said was more instinctive than prernedited, he banked his ship again, this time to the right and upward.
His quick action saved six lives. There was a sickening thud, a grinding, tearing sound, but the ship was still intact except for more than four feet of the left wing tip which had been sheared off in the crash. The disabled Mitchell began to lose altitude but Cook gave her full rudder and aileron and she began to climb, in accompaniment with the rising joy of the six tense Yanks inside. Cook gunned for altitude as rapidly as possible, instructed his crew to slip on their chutes, and did not level off until the altimeter read 10,000 feet. To conserve gas for the long haul back to Allied territory, he pulled the plane back to high-speed cruise and shortly after, eased up a bit more on the throttle. The plane flew "mushy", but now all felt a new-born confidence in the craft's ability to get them back. With allowances for the compass which was off due to an almost-alaming wing list, Cook, his co-pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Robert D. Knowlton and navigator Ist Lieutenant Lawrence E. Williams eventually guided the limping ship to the Indian ocean near Akyab from whence they followed the coastline to Chittagong and an Allied base.
Landing the ship presented another problem but Cook, although he admitted his heart was in his throat most of the time, brought her down beautifully with a high, fast approach and a full right aileron to keep the clipped wing sufficiently high. He hit the runway at 125 miles an hour, 15 mph faster than normal. Only casualty on the ship was the tail gunner, Sergeant Robert E. Trower, who suffered superficial injuries from a blast of ack-ack in the target area which broke the tail'glass and put out of commission one of his guns. Other members of the crew were Sergeants Timothy J. Brennan and Joe A. Androshie. For his feat, Cook has been recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross.