Lester Deaner (2nd from right), a 640th tunnel gunner now living in Clovis, California, says he flew in “the first successful bombing mission of the 409th.” There was a mission prior to this one, but it did not produce a successful bomb run, as Deaner recalls.
April 10th, 1944, the 409th made a test run. Thirty-six A-20s and their crews made a quick sweep over the English Channel and returned to base.
The next mission was for real and it was officially designated the first mission flown by the 409th over Nazi occupied Europe. This first mission came up empty, however, as the planes failed to locate the target they were supposed to bomb.
“It’s been a long time,” Deaner said, “and my memory isn’t what it used to be. Maybe other 409th vets can fill in some of the details I can’t recall.”
“I flew that very first mission with Col. Maxwell,” said Deaner, “I remember Col. Maxwell and our navigator having an argument over where the target was in France. I don’t know who was right or wrong. I just remember we had a different navigator the next time I went up with Maxwell.”
The next mission came on April 19th, the anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride. Lt. Col. Crabtree flew the lead plane and 1st Lt. Ertler was the navigator-bombardier. “We found the target,” said Deaner, “and took it out with some very accurate bombing.” The target, code-named NoBall, was a V-1 rocket launching installation in France.
Deaner recalls flying tunnel gunner with Lt. Col. Crabtree on that mission. “We stood for a picture (see above) next to our A-20 Havoc,” Deaner said, “after the mission.”
That was the first and the last time Deaner flew with Crabtree. “I’ve often wondered what happened to him,” Deaner said. “Never heard of him again after that mission. Wonder if anyone in the 409th might know what happened to Crabtree? I would like to know.”
Deaner said he flew a few more missions with Col. Maxwell. After that he flew 30 missions with Capt. Gerald Brady and ten or so missions with Capt. Johnny Davis for a total of 56 missions. Davis, as Deaner recalled, survived WWII, but died in combat during the Korean War.
Other 409th veterans may remember the April 1944 preparations and the missions. Family members of veterans are encouraged to ask questions or share the stories they’ve heard. Please tell us what you remember of the preparations leading up to and including the missions that occurred April 13th and 19th. What do you recall? What events impressed you and how?
This is a call for more information. We would like to hear from you!