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david leigh-smith
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On This Day...March 6th

March 6, 2019 · in Photo Collections · · 8 · 2K

Croydon Aerodrome, England, March 6th, 1940.

Wildcat aboard Long Island (CVE-1) ready for launching, off Viti Levu, Fiji Islands, 6th March, 1943.

Great modeler’s photo of Covenanter tanks on the side of a road during Exercise Spartan (D-Day tests and practise), Britain, March 6th, 1943.

Gunner's Mate (Carrick N. Thomas) passee a clip of four 40mm rounds through a hatch in a munitions handling room of USS Alaska (CB-1) off Iwo Jima on the 6th March, 1945.

Crew of USS Oriskany (CV-34) fighting a fire caused by a F4U-4 Corsair landing accident, off Korea, March 6th, 1953.

The figures are just horrific. The Eighth Air Force lost over 26,000 men to WWII and the ‘Bloody 100th’ (the 100th Bomb Group, based in Thorpe Abbots, East England) bore a staggering 785 of those losses. And on 6th March, 1945, the ‘Bloody 100’ was to have it’s worst day.

On ‘Black Monday’ the Eighth Air Force sent just about every available aircraft in the east of England to Berlin. In total, 814 heavy bombers and 944 fighters took to the air on that March day.

The attacking formation was made up of three distinct groups, the First and Third Air Divisions in the lead (flying B-17s) followed by the Second Air Division in B-24s. Due to weather conditions, navigational errors, and communication problems, the organisation of the group, typical for these huge formations, was chaotic.

Due to the lead navigator in the First Division not correcting for cross winds, both First and Third Divisions drifted ever south of target while Second Division were headed for Berlin (and around a thousand now alerted Luftwaffe fighters) with the ‘Bloody 100th’ in the vanguard.

There had been some talk (then and after) that the Luftwaffe had a vendetta against the 100th because of a “wheels down” (signalling surrender) incident involving a crippled B-17 in enemy territory that subsequently started firing at it’s German fighter escorts. This story gained the level of myth where crews started to feel marked. Not surprising when you see the statistics.

All told, the 100th lost 15 of their 16 aircraft that day, a catastrophic blow to the group and one that nearly saw their end. One can only imagine the crews in Thorpe Abbots waiting for colleagues and friends to return but facing nothing but empty skies.

To this day, however, the 100th is the only air group in existence that still used their WWII tail sign designation on their aircraft, the ‘Square D’.

A heartfelt salute not only to those on March 6th, but all 8th Air Force crews who did not return...

“Red Bow”

“Wee Willie”

“Silver Dollar”

“Little Warrior”

“Stevenovich II”


“Miss Donna Mae II”



“Jaunty Jo”

Reader reactions:
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8 responses

  1. Staggering losses indeed. A debt we are unable to repay.

  2. What a horrific day for losses... Unfortunately mankind has learned how not to be so "kind" over the years and has perfected killing one another.

    While researching some things for my Sherman build I ran across yet another war story that "Happened on this day".

    I'll start out with an introduction that was written by the man who filmed the events... Yes it was filmed.

    Be warned as some of this stuff is graphic. I'll post up some pictures to give you an idea as to what actually happened. You can search for more on this should you desire.

    Here Goes:

    "On This Day, March 6th, 1945 Cologne Germany"

    The following is a copy of an article written by Sergeant Jim Bates, the frontline photographer that filmed this epic tank battle.

    Sergeant Bates won the Bronze Star during the fighting in Cologne. The account follows:

    ”The greatest part of my life was in Cologne, Germany. It was my finest moments at Combat Photography when I joined the Third Armored Division in its capture of Cologne, Germany. It was this action that earned me a Bronze Star Medal to go with my Purple Heart. It was the tanks backed by the 36th. Armored Infantry Regiment that did the house to house fighting and clearing the area. In the center square in front of the Cathedral was a German Tank that a Sherman tank thought was disabled but the tank put a shell through the Sherman and killed three men in it. A Tank Commander named Robert Early from E Company 32nd. Armored Regiment went on foot to investigate. I asked to go along and we went on the mezzanine of a building and saw the German tank. Sergeant Early told me to stay there and he would come back in his tank and try to put the German tank out of commission. He told me that I could photograph it. He had one of the new M-26 Pershing tanks with a 90mm gun. Sgt. Early said he would turn into the square under me, stop and fire at the German tank. When his tank came into the square, the German tank began to traverse its gun. Cpl. Clarence Smoyer, the gunner, did not wait for his tank to stop but fired before the Mark V’s gun was aimed at him. His first shot hit the German tank in the bottom and cut off the tank commander’s legs. After the next shot, three of the crew bailed out but the shrapnel had got them. My pictures show the tank commander burned up with the tank, which was still smoldering the next morning. The driver got to the back of the building where he fell dead. The assistant gunner fell over a bicycle and lay there dead. The gunner went down nearby. All had been killed.”

    The German Panther tank had just opened fire on this Sherman tank. Here's the Sherman tank commander bailing out mortally injured, minus his lower leg. He's rolling off the rear engine deck and would die moments later.

    A M-26 Pershing that was new to the ETO was involved in this fight. The crew of the Pershing was able to hit the Panther tank 3 times setting it ablaze.

    The following day the fire had almost stopped burning on the Panther tank. All of this happened right next to the Cologne Cathedral.

    Clarence Smoyer, who was the gunner in the M-26, is alive and still with us today. In fact one of our Imodeler members, Gary Sausmikat, @gwskat

    Was able to have Mr. Smoyer sign an autographed copy of the book that details some of the events that happened in the ETO. Then Corporal Clarence Smoyer was serving with the 36th Armored Infantry Battalion during this tank on tank engagement.

    The book is called "Spearhead" and is written by Adam Makos.

    Here's a link to the book signing posted by Gary ... Thanks Gary !

    What makes this even more personal for me is that almost 8 years later my Dad would be serving in the 36th Armored Infantry Battalion... The exact same unit that Clarence Smoyer was in at the time of the event. Here's part of a photo I found in my Dad's closet after he passed away several years ago.

    This photo is dated as "February 1953".

    Dad had just returned from his second tour in Korea. He was assigned to "Second Platoon"

    Here's Private L. P. Gardner...He's on the bottom row, third from the right.

    He had formerly been an E-7 which is the rank of Sergeant First Class, but had been busted down to a Private E-1 by the time this picture was taken. Fighting and the associated boozing cost him his stripes several times during his Army career.

    Dad often joked with me that his rank should have been held on his uniform with Velcro. He made the rank of E-7 several times in his career. The first time Dad was promoted to E-7, was in Korea when all of the senior NCO's had been killed in his unit.

    Back then it was commonplace for things like this to happen in the Military. These men often suffered from what is now called PTSD. They didn't have any counseling available for them back then. The "counselors" they often sought out were often contained in a glass bottle.

    My Dad joined the Army at the tender age of 18. Here is his enlistment photo.

    Look how young he was... and how much he had aged after his tours in Korea.

    Lest we forget.

    Freedom is not free.

    Thank you David for continuing to write these amazing articles for our reading enjoyment.

    Hand Salute to you Sir !

  3. Thanks for sharing this great post, Louis. As time goes on, I think it’s important to keep these memories, photos, and stories out there. The sacrifices made deserve a place in our collective conscience and identity.

    I especially appreciate you sharing about your father. I can imagine how difficult it would be to try and fit back into a society that has no frame of reference for the horrors that veterans witnessed. Hopefully, we’ve seen the last of this, what a legacy that would be.

    Thanks, Louis.

    • David, I sincerely thank you for writing this daily article. I don't always get to post a response, but you can bet your last "Pound" that I read it every day...

      That would be a fantastic legacy to leave behind wouldn't it ? Imagine a World living in Peace and Harmony ... John Lennon even wrote a song about it.

      But you and I both know that the World is an evil place, and this will most likely never happen as long as Man is still living here on the planet. It's just not in our nature to get along.

      Sad but true.

      Thanks again my friend...

  4. Interestingly enough, nearly all those photos of losses are from flak hits.

  5. I was wondering how long it’d take before someone pointed that out - and I’d have good money on it being you, Tom.

  6. An amazing post ,David. An amazing story ,Louis.

  7. Amazing pictures and stories and so dramatic and horrifying, too! Thank you David!

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