Memorial Day – 2015

Remembering my grandfather this Memorial Day

It’s Monday, 25 May, 2015; Memorial Day here in the United States.
This is the day we remember those who gave their lives in service to our country.

Today, I remember my grandfather, Lt. Herbert David Edelstein.
He was a navigator aboard a B-17 bomber (no known nickname or nose art), 367th Bombardment Squadron – Heavy, 306th Bombardment Group (“The Reich Wreckers”, tail insignia “Triangle H”), 40th Combat Bombardment Wing, Heavy, 1st Bombardment Division, VIII Bomber Command.

367th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) emblem
367th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) emblem

306th Bombardment Group, Heavy
306th Bombardment Group, Heavy

1st Combat Bombardment Wing (Heavy)
1st Combat Bombardment Wing (Heavy)

VIII Bomber Command
VIII Bomber Command

Based at RAF Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, England, the 306th was the longest continuously serving bombardment group of the Eighth Air Force during World War II, and the longest continuously stationed at the same airfield and led the first mission against a target in Germany, attacking U-boat pens in Wilhelmshaven on 27 January 1943. My grandfather would have arrived some time in September of that year.

On 11 Jan, the 1st Bombardment Division (all groups) earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for attacks on aircraft factories in central Germany. On 22 Feb, the 306th earned another DUC for its performance in operation against an aircraft assembly plant in Bernberg, Germany. This is the same operation in which he lost his life.

On 22 Feb, 1944, Tues of “Big Week“, his ship is badly shot up by defending German fighters. The aircraft commander gives the order to bail out, but finds that the autopilot is incapable of keeping the wings level while the crew get out. Being a Jew and not wishing to parachute into Nazi Germany, Grandfather takes the controls and keeps the ship steady while the rest of the crew get out, intending to try to keep her in the air long enough to get out of Germany. As the last man bailed out, the plane exploded. It is his 50th mission.

His ship is one of 38 B-17s of the Eighth or Fifteenth Air Forces lost that day. He is one of 35 men who don’t make it home (Timeline of Operation Argument). 9 other men would survive that day and eventually come home, thanks to him.

That same day, VIII Bomber Command, VIII Fighter Command and VIII Air Support Command are reorganized into the Eighth Air Force.

Later that year, his squadron would receive a new B-17G, which they would name “Rose of York”. The future queen of England, Princess Elizabeth, her father King George VI and mother Queen Elizabeth standing by, would christen the bomber with a bottle of champagne. This aircraft would take part in bombing missions over Germany for almost 7 months, before she, too, fails to return from her 50th mission.

The 918th Bomber Group of the book and film “Twelve O’Clock High” are loosely based on the 306th Bomber Group.

The 306th would be incativated at the end of 1946, then re-activated with B-29s and re-designated 306th Bomber Group, Very Heavy 11 June, 1947. After B-29s are re-classified as “medium bombers”, they would then be the 306th Bomber Group, medium, after 11 Aug, 1948. She would be in-activated again in 1952, after transitioning from B-29s to B-47s. Fifty-two years later she would be re-designated “306th Flying Training Group” on 30 Sept, 2004 and re-activated at the USAF Academy on 4 Oct.