WORLD WAR II COMBAT: MISSIONS 1 THROUGH 72
Samuel Warren Cochran
Installed as a webpage on Shade Tree Physics on 11 Sep 2016.
Latest update 12 Oct 2016.
For about a year (June 16, 1943 to July 10, 1944), I was based in England and flew
aerial combat missions in B-26s over Europe. During this period, I flew 72
missions, an average of 6 missions a month, for a total of 204 combat hours. I don't
know why I stopped flying combat with my 72nd mission--but, yet I really do.
The B-26 has two engines, each of which produced 2,000 horsepower (HP); they burned
a high grade of aviation fuel, 100-130 octane. Its empty weight was 24,000 pounds;
and for that weight, the wingspan was short, 74 feet. The airplane appeared to be
made of a fuselage and two engines--but no wings. Depending on the company you were
in, the B-26 was referred to as a flying cigar, a bumblebee, or a flying prostitute
(no visible means of support). When the crews were in training, and for the first
couple of combat missions over Europe, it was referred to as the "widow maker." The
Martin Marauder cruised at 230 miles per hour, and its final approach speed was well
over 100 miles per hour, an unthinkable speed in the early 1940s. It had a service
ceiling of 21,500 feet, a combat radius of 575 miles, and normally carried 4,000
pounds of bombs. I joined the 386th Bomb Group as a co-pilot when the group was
almost ready for combat. Since our energy was devoted to the pursuit of the enemy,
there was scant time to upgrade co-pilots to pilots. Before joining the outfit, I
had accumulated considerable flying time, mostly in twin-engine airplanes (AT-9,
AT-11, B-18, and B34); and from the beginning, I fell in love with the B-26. Soon
after arriving in England, I checked out as pilot and flew some of my combat missions
as co-pilot, others as pilot. However, I never had my own airplane or crew.
Combat was brutally impersonal. We never touched bodies or saw blood; we never heard
tender voices or groans of agony; there was never a whiff of roses or the stench of
death--we simply destroyed targets. In the early days, one mission was about like
another. During briefing, our primary and secondary targets were announced, take-off
and rendezvous times established, initial point (IP) and bomb run pointed out,
bombload specified, and as much information as was known about enemy resistance--
flak and fighters--was given. We flew missions as briefed; the clock was king. We
started engines at precise times. We also took off, joined formation, rendezvoused
with fighter escort, arrived at the IP, made the bomb run, and released bombs on
schedule. Occasionally, we encountered enemy fighters, and most of the time we were
shot at by flak. Usually, some of the airplanes received battle damage; most returned
home, others did not. Except for our muted phrases, knowing glances, and an evening
meal that was more somber than usual, we never mourned our fallen comrades--there
were no memorial services; no flags were flown at half mast.
We started to fly combat in mid-summer, and now we were well into the fall--I had
completed nearly 20 missions. It was late in the day, and we were waiting near the
living quarters with our eyes glued on the east. We wanted to see who would be first
to spot the returning formation. "There they are!" We shouted. Six airplanes from our
squadron, the 555th, had gone on the mission--they were the high flight. We counted,
"one, two, three, four. Four airplanes!" "Only four!?" We could not believe our eyes.
We counted again and scanned the sky for stragglers. There were no stragglers, not
even one! We stood as still and as mute as stones--my mind was blank. After a bit, my
first thought was, "Shucks, more clothes to pack." As quick as a wink, I cast this
wretched thought from my mind, but as soon as I relaxed even a wee bit it popped
back in. Horrors! My personality became even more strange--try as I might, I could
not feel sorrow! There was only the cold impersonal thought that two of our airplanes
had not returned and that my routine was interrupted. Then I came to myself.
The same person was not living in my body that was there a few months ago. I had
become a barbarian and never knew I was changing! My new role as a savage was
comfortable--it helped me to be an efficient member of a crack combat crew and got
me through the days and nights. I was surviving; but whatever the price, I wanted to
be a human being again. "I don't know how to think like a human being," I mumbled,
"but I do know how to act like one--and will start this instant!" Immediately, I
returned to my quonset hut, tidied up my things, walked across the way and took a
shower, put on a Class A uniform, and went to the evening meal. From that day, I
kept my living area neat, always slept between clean sheets, and dressed each day
in Class A's for at least one hot meal. Wow--soon my mind followed my body! Gradually,
I became able to laugh and to cry again, to love and to hate, to feel happy or to
feel sad, and to be content or apprehensive. Hurrah, I was becoming more human by the
day! The danger of losing the human touch was my greatest fear in combat.
Missions 1-72, Page 2 of 5
At that time, we were members of the Eighth Air Force, and our assumption was that
our combat tour was 25 missions then home. Less than a month after this incident,
all B-26s were transferred to the Ninth Air Force, and we learned that there were
different rules for completing a combat tour. Some days we believed the tour was
35 combat missions; at other times, we thought it was 50--but we never knew for
sure. Now that I was back in charge of myself, I was determined not to let this
ambivalence get me down. I set my personal combat tour: 75 missions.
Imperceptibly, fall became winter, accompanied by relentless low clouds, poor
visiblity, and darkness. We believed that somewhere in this glob of oppressive
weather there must be cracks of clear weather that were large enough to allow
airplanes to take off and assemble in formation, see enough of the ground to navigate,
view the target long enough to aim and drop bombs, and then find our way back home
before dark. We were constantly on the lookout for these cracks. We did not use
radar--all of our flying, navigation, and bombing were done visually.
Attempting a landing was more delicate than taking off. Landing with a 500-foot
ceiling and a mile visibility was tricky. However, landing when the ceiling was 1000
feet and the visibility was a couple of miles was reasonable. Meteorological
instruments were not sensitive enough to predict such narrow margins--yet the
weather officer had to recommend to the commander whether or not the weather was
suitable to fly a mission. It was during these days that I started thinking about
probabilities. I wondered, "Could a weather officer make as many correct weather
decisions by shooting craps as he could when using his instruments?" I never answered
this question but, while pondering it, encountered thoughts that proved even more
interesting. When I observed that some of the weathermen were consistently better
forecasters than others, a new set of questions came to my mind, "Did some of the
meteorologists have better training than others? Were some just luckier with their
forecast? Did some of them have a feeling way down inside that more often than not
led them to a more accurate forecast?" I was surprised that this last question
entered my mind and was even more surprised that each time I cast it aside, the
question popped back in.
Everyone wanted to fly combat. Flight crews did everything possible to stay ready
for the next mission. It was common for ground-crew members to cross-train to become
gunners or toggleers (bombardiers). Flight surgeons, armorers, mechanics, and other
ground-support personnel forever were attempting to finagle a position on a crew and
fly a combat mission. They said that knowing what we went through helped them to
perform their jobs more effectively. But I knew better--combat had a pull!
It was as though a person were standing near a forest and heard contradictory voices.
One voice explained that the forest was dangerous and told him to go away. Cleverly,
the other voice never mentioned the characteristics of the forest; rather, it cast a
calm and mysterious aura and pulled him--gently, ever so gently--nearer and nearer
to the forest. This was a sinister game! The relentless voice, as soft as a puff of
cotton and as strong as a powerful magnet, enticed the person to enter the forest.
Combat was addictive!
The person learned that the forest was filled with hidden steel traps, cocked and
ready to snap. Horrors! Now the persuasive voice became a guide and confidant. The
voice spoke, "Come with me and I will show you the way out of this forest." "I can't
possibly make it past all those traps," the person protested. "But you can," the
voice replied, "You have been trained--you know how to detect steel traps, how to
maneuver, and where to step." The person argued back, "But, there is always the
unanticipated step that could prove fatal." "True," the voice agreed, "you may make
a misstep, but your chances of getting through are better than even." "They are!"
the person cried. "Yes. About 80% of traversing the forest depends on your skill,
and the remaining 20% on luck--you supply the skill, and I will supply the luck."
My favorie targets were marshalling (railroad) yards. Marshalling yards were easy
to find and, compared to bridges, were not difficult to tear up. Often, there was
something in the yard, perhaps a railroad locomotive with a boiler of steam or
boxcars containing explosives, that triggered secondary explosions--there was never
any doubt whether the bombs had found their mark. Fires that were set by the bombing
often sent billows of smoke thousands of feet into the sky. It was the Fourth of July
ten times over. However, most of the excitement of strikes was vicarious. Bombs hit
the ground slightly behind the
Missions 1-72, Page 3 of 5
airplane, blocking the view of the pilots. What was going on down below was described
to the pilots by the bombardier and gunners. Their description of events, coupled
with strike photos that we saw the next day, supplied vivid pictures for my mind.
There was another consideration. After the bombs were released we made haste to get
out of the hornet's next. Fighters were more reluctant to attack a formation than
stragglers, so the pilot had his hands full maintaining position in formation--the
safest spot in the sky.
My least favorite targets were coastal guns and shore defenses. Try as I might, I
can't think of one good thing to say about these targets! Well, maybe one thing,
these missions were shorter than inland targets. But this plus was outweighed by
the relentless flak and the massive concrete fortifications that housed guns and
shore defenses. Besides, our 2,000-pound bombs scarcely made a scratch when they
struck the bunkers--it was like attempting to demolish an anvil with toothpicks.
In the fall of 1944, strange objects started to pound Britain. They were flying
bombs. This was a new weapon
. . . we were baffled. The bomb had stubby wings and
was powered by an engine with a strange sound. The bomb flew about a thousand feet
above the ground and went so fast that airplanes and flak guns had difficulty
destroying it. We soon learned that as long as we could hear the whine of the
engine we were safe--the bomb had not reached its destination and continued to fly.
When the engine stopped, look out! A few seconds later, the bomb would hit the
ground and explode. We learned that the bombs originated from the Continent and
that, prior to launch, the Germans progammed a heading and supplied enough fuel
for the weapon to reach its intended destination. We called this the V-1 bomb.
No sooner had we learned to live with the V-1 than the Germans launched a more
lethal weapon. A powerful bomb would appear out of nowhere and explode without
warning. We learned that these bombs also came from the Continent and were
carried on a rocket shot high into the sky, then made a noiseless free fall to
their intended target in Britain. We called this the V-2 bomb.
Since it was nearly impossible to destroy these bombs in the air, a decision was
made by higher command to immobilize them before launch, and the B-26s were
selected for the task. We spent months bombing the launch sites of the flying
bombs. The code name for these missions was "noball." Bombing a noball was about
like eating unseasoned hominy grits--there was not much zip to it. Noball sites
were tucked away in wooded areas, and about as much as I could say about the
target was, "Today we bombed a set of coordinates near a certain bend in the
road." "Did you hit the noball?" the interrogating officer would ask in his
debriefing. "I don't know; I really don't know," I would mumble. "The gunners
told me they saw some dust when the bombs hit. Ask them, maybe they can give you
a better answer." But over the long haul, maybe we did destroy many of the
noballs, as the war wore on, V-1 and V-2 bombs appeared over Britain less often.
Did you know that the distance between the rails of a railroad track is less than
5 feet? When railroad trusses and arches are added to make a bridge, we are still
talking about a structure that is not very wide--maybe 30 or 40 feet. Now, imagine
a bridge for a highway. This is still a skinny piece of architecture--maybe a
couple of hundred feet wide. Visualize an airplane flying 2.5 miles above the
bridge at 230 miles per hour and attempting to hit a bridge with a bomb. Flying
parallel to the bridge a few feet off-course, to the right or left, meant that we
would return tomorrow. When we flew perpendicular to the bridge, our bombs were
likely to fall short or long--leaving the bridge untouched. Eventually, I learned
to like to bomb bridges--mostly for the challenge of it.
I had to change my mind about the proper technique to destroy an airfield with
bombs. My original idea was to bomb the airplanes while they were on the ground,
but I soon learned that they were seldom on the ground--they were up in the sky
with us. Then I said, "Aha, I have it. Let's destroy their runways!" However,
that also proved ineffective. The fighters could land in the grass as easily as
on a runway. Soon I realized my mind was caught in its own trap. "Why," I
recalled, "I had many hours of flying time before I ever landed on a runway."
We pulled ourselves out of this dilemma by bombing the fighters' fuel-storage
sites and maintenance areas. This was my introduction to the distinction
between strategic and tactical bombing. I enjoyed bombing airfields. "What was
it that fascinated me about destroying airfields?" I wondered. I ruled out
secondary explosions, as I never saw our bombs hit the ground. Airfields
provided a big target and, as often as not, had meager defenses--maybe that
was the key.
Missions 1-72, Page 4 of 5
Supply depots and fuel-storgage areas were more difficult to locate than were many
of the other targets, but I liked these missions.
I did not enjoy destroying defended villages. Now and then I became apprehensive and
would ask myself unanswerable questions: "Who are the enemy?" "Did all of the enemy
wear uniforms?" "Where are the battle lines?" I believed that somebody had a plan for
the war, and I wondered how far into the future the plan extended. "Did the plan
identify the structures that should be destroyed to enhance the current campaign and
identify the buildings that should be kept to ensure that civilization did not take
too many steps backward?"
Bombing troop concentrations gave me no pleasure.
We changed our combat strategy several times. In the beginning, we flew evasive
action "by the numbers." With the first encounter of flak, we turned a predetermined
number of degrees to the right or left, held our heading for a specified number of
seconds, then executed another turn to the right or left--all the time making our way
to the IP. Soon the Germans caught on and anticipated our maneuvers. Rather than
aiming directly at us, they aimed where they calculated we would be after
our turn. Wow, that was a shock! Not to be outdone, we devised countermeasures. In
areas where flak was expected, gunners threw flimsy strips of metal (chaff) from
airplanes--chaff looked like icicles for a Christmas tree. Each tiny piece of chaff
became a target on the enemy's radar, effectively hiding our formation of bombers.
We flew in comparative safety--for a while. Then came the barrages! Flak gunners
anticipated our course to the target and, at a point where they believed we must fly,
kept the sky saturated with flak. The first time I saw a flak barrage, my thought
was, "My, what an ingenious idea!" My second thought was "What a waste of ammunition."
Then I saw it clear as day: I was an actor in a microcosm. This is what war really
is--technicians implementing a strategy that wastes resources. Almost immediately, I
returned to reality. Up ahead we could see the sky black with flak. The Germans had
guessed right! It would only be a matter of minutes before we would be in the middle
of their barrage. I did sneak in another thought before we got there: I wondered what
were the probabilities that we would make it through. Then I remembered mathematical
probabilities did not apply here--luck was on my side.
I never treated flak casually. On a 10-point scale of threat, it rated an 8; fighters
came in about 3, and mechanical problems with our airplanes rated a scant 1. In
addition to the smoke, noise, and destruction created by flak, it had a putrid odor.
Was it sour, or rancid, or did it smell sweet? I never knew. Flak fumes seemed to
stick to me--they penetrated my clothes, my hair, and my body; it took vigorous
washing to remove the odor. After a mission and debriefing, my first stop was the
During my 72 missions, our crew never aborted an airplane and no one was hurt--the
enemy never drew one drop of blood. We had many close calls; and when I first started
to fly combat I found myself exclaiming, "But what if . . . !" "Look at that hole--
if my head had been up just two inches, the bullet would have gone right through my
skull!" A gunner would report, "Number five airplane just fell out of formation, and
his number two engine is smoking like crazy." I would ponder the thought, "If we had
been a few more feet to the right that would have been us." Then I remembered Uncle
Frank's admonition: "Warren, if frogs had wings, they would not bump their behinds so
much." My mother prettied it up a little when she insisted: "Son, if wishes were
horses, all beggars would ride." The facts were: My head had not been up two inches,
and our airplane had not been a few feet to the right.
My belief was that since the beginning, war has changed little. War always has been
characterized by danger, waste, confusion, and grief. I have no idea how many flak
holes our airplane received. I had little interest in such things and never kept
count; my interest was in keeping my skills sharp and destroying targets. Come to
think of it, I do recall that at least one time we returned from a mission on a
single engine. Also, on one occasion, perhaps others, we could not lower all of our
landing gears and had to crash-land. However, none of our crash landings were
unanticipated or uncontrolled.
Missions 1-72, Page 5 of 5
Conversation when on a mission was to the point. We conducted routine internal
commands, reports, and procedures--ready the guns, fighters at nine o'clock low, that
flak is tracking us, open bomb-bay doors, bombs away--by using the radio within our
airplane (intercom). We also used the intercom to keep ourselves informed of the
condition of other airplanes in the formation. Messages were acknowledged by, "Roger."
The pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, and top gunner could see each other fairly well, and
we kept in touch with body language. A slight nod of the head meant, "Man, look at
that flak barrage up ahead!" Pointing to the sky meant, "Keep your eyes on those
contrails--could be ME-109s are out today!" A slight wave of the hand accompanied by
a friendly face meant, "Look at that sunrise! Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?"
Hand signals or facial expressions revealed bombing accuracy. We could communicate
with other airplanes in the formation by radio, but most of the time there was little
need to do so.
One of my minds kept reminding me that on this mission or the next, I may be shot down,
injured, or killed. But I never paid much attention to this mind--it had little influence
on my behavior. Early on, I learned a couple of valuable lessons: Making a
bomb run into the sun was futile, and making a second pass at a target was insane. I
suppose flying combat missions frightened me. During a mission, my mouth would get so
dry that I had difficulty talking. No matter what the temperature, I did a lot of
sweating; and at the conclusion of a mission, my legs and knees shook.
On Monday, July 10, 1944, there was nothing unusual about my 72nd mission. However, at
the conclusion of the mission, I heard a voice down inside of me say, "Sam, you have had
enough; it is time to stop."
"No, no," I protested. "Last fall I set my goal for 75 missions, and I have only three to
go. The enemy is wearing down--missions are becoming easier."
"Sam, you were the one who set the goal for your combat tour; you can be the one who
changes it," the voice argued. "Your skill is still there, but your luck is not. It takes
both skill and luck to survive--it's time for you to stop."
I said, "O.K." But, I can't believe I said O.K.! A year earlier, I would not have heard the
voice, much less followed its suggeston.
After debriefing and a shower, I went directly to the orderly room and saw the executive
officer, Capt. Herbert Lowe.
"Hi, Herb, I'm about ready to go home."
"Fine, Sam. I was wondering when you would drop by. I will start immediately processing your
paperwork. You will be on your way home in a few days." He continued, "What are your plans
after you return to the States?"
"I don't know for sure, Herb. I love to fly, but I need more education. My long-range plans
are a little vague."
"Do you have any immediate plans, Sam?"
"Yes, Herb, I do," I said with a smile. "The first thing that I am going to do when I get
back to the States is ask Polly Wingo to marry me!"
San Antonio, Texas 78245-3535
April 17, 1989
The following information is copied from:
Comments: I looking for the names of the crew of a 555bs, 386th BG Marauder shot down
on the 18/6/44 over Caen. The only survivors were Bob Perkins and Sam Cochran both 555BS.
Who were the other members of the crew who were KIA? Pete Oliver, B26 fan.
Capt. Perkins, Lt. Cochran crew.
Email: BombGp: 386th Squadron: 555th Comments:
The Perkins crew was shot down on July 18, 1944. It was the 69th mission for Captain
Robert Perkins. His co-pilot was Lt. Samuel Cochran, on this particular mission Cochran
was flying in the left seat. Perkins was serving as co-pilot. It was Group mission
number 232. The target was in the Caen, France area. "MISS X" was the name of their
plane, tail number 296324. The crew listing: Capt. Perkins pilot, Lt. Cochran co-pilot.
T/Sgt. Adolpho Lopez radioman, S/Sgt. Leo Kirk tail gunner,
S/Sgt.Ted Coyle engineer,
and S/Sgt. Edward Murray bombardier. All of the enlisted men were killed when their
plane exploded in the air. If you would care to learn more about the 386th B.G.
operations check out my web page listed below. At present there are 86 stories and 79
bomber formation diagrams, plus 10 pages of photos.
Chester P. Klier--Historian, 386th Bomb Group Group
Samuel Warren Cochran, Lt. Col USAF Ret, PhD, age 81, passed away on June 5, 2003.
Life Legacy Page, courtesy of Porter Loring Mortuaries, San Antonio Texas.
The Life Legacy includes a copy of a San Antonio Express and News article
with details of his capture and survival after his crew's plane had been brought down.