On March 1, 1945, ten days after their Belgian adventure where Don had brought a severely crippled B-17 down safely , the Christensen crew flew their fourth mission. It was also the first day for the Don to fly B-17 44-6573, N7-K. This plane had been assigned to the 398th as a replacement aircraft on November 6, 1944, and had seen a lot of action. On January 10, it had been abandoned on the continent due to damage and mechanical failure, then repaired and only recently reassigned to the 398th on February 17. Still they were ready to fly again and get some more missions under their belt.
In early 1945, Allied ground forces were still recovering from the German Ardennes assault known as the Battle of the Bulge, and were not immediately ready to continue their march to the Rhine. Eighth Air Force and RAF planners therefore decided their best course in further weakening Germany was to bomb enemy positions along the Eastern Front in support of the Russian ground offensive since it seemed to have the best chance of ending the war by spring. Selected bombing targets included Berlin, Leipzig, Chemnitz, Dresden, and Bohlen, all major rail centers close to the Eastern Front. Attacks on all of these cities,were made with the full understanding that they were filled with refugees from the east and that the bombings would cause great dislocation, clogged roads and railways, and high human casualties as well.
8th Air Force Commander General Jimmie Doolittle protested. He felt that bombing a population into submission had little chance of success and that it violated “the basic American principle of precision bombing of targets of strictly military significance for which our tactics were designed and our crews trained and indoctrinated.” [Donald L. Miller, Masters Of The Air, p. 419] He was overruled by General Ira Eaker and the attacks proceeded.
|General Jimmie Doolittle|
Even FDR agreed with this decision. “It is of the utmost importance that every person in Germany should realize that this time Germany is a defeated nation. [That fact] collectively and individually, must be so impressed upon them that they will hesitate to start any new war. Too many people here and in England hold to the view that the German people as a whole are not responsible for what has taken place—that only a few Nazi leaders are responsible. That unfortunately is not based on fact. The German people as a whole must have it driven home to them that the whole nation has been engaged in a lawless conspiracy against the decencies of modern civilization.” [ibid. p.416]
So with clearing skies at the end of February, Allied Command and the Eighth Air Force launched Operation Clarion, an all out assault on German communication and transportation, and began putting up over 1000 bombers a day attacking petroleum facilities, aircraft plants, armament works, railroad yards, bridges and canals, and anti-aircraft installations all across Germany. So, by March 1, the 398th BG, including Don and his crew, became part of this strategy.
|Mission Map For March 1.|
The 398th's target that March 1st was a tank factory and the marshalling yards at Neckarsulm, several miles north of Stuttgart. The 398th encountered no fighters and only light flak, but the mission was unusual as the bombers circled or “went around” their target three times on orders from a tag-along general.
No one liked doing a 360-degree, or even a 180-degree turn over a target area, especially when it came suddenly and unexpectedly. It meant a group or squadron formation leader had decided to abandon the run to the target, return the formation back to the original IP (Initial Point) or to the secondary IP, and do it again.
Waist gunner Jim Wilson, speaking of an earlier mission, says, “The group started the bomb run and for some reason had to turn off. The leaders decided to make a 360-degree turn and make a second run. You don’t do things like that with the Germans.” [Astor, p. 384]