Planning a Mission

The following story is based on a other mission but apart for some details the procedure for Dec24th should be the same.

Planning of a typical heavy bombardment mission, division level

This is a story of the planning of a typical heavy bombardment mission as seen from divisional level. (the author viewed the entire procedure in the control room, headquarters 2 AD 18 March 1945 for the mission to be flown 19 march 1945.

Before embarking upon this narrative it will be necessary to briefly review the operational organization of this headquarters. Under de deputy chief of staff for operations are several distinct sections each charged with specialized tasks concerning the planning and carrying out of an operation. These are the controller, weather, flying control,watch officer and signal sections. Throughout the planning phase the intelligence department works in close coorperation with operations.
The controller section is composed of a senior controller and three controller teams, each consisting of a duty controller and assistant controller (both pilots), a duty navigator and a duty bombardier. These men are all combat officers who have usually completed a tour of operations and are fully conversant with what flying a mission entails. The teams are charged with coordination of all phases of the planning and with maintaining close surveillance of the progress of the operation. They work a complete mission in turn, commencing a twenty-four hour duty shift at 1700 hours every third night. At the beginning of each shift the relieving team is thoroughly briefed by the retiring one and the controllers ascertain what force is available for the following day’s operations, check the ordnance listing of available bomb loads, decides upon the best order of flight for the combat wings and calls upon the duty weather officer for a complete description of weather conditions over all western Europe. This is all done before the alert comes.

The alert always comes from 8th Air Force, usually in the late afternoon, between 1700 and 1800 hours. On this particular day 8th Air Force, which we shall call Pinetree, alerted the three divisions (1st, 2nd and 3rd) shortly before 1800 Hours. At once a four-way conference, using secret telephone was immediately established. This conference consists of a 8th AF controller and an assistant controller of each division all connected on one line and in a normal telephonic converstation. At division this conversation is relayed through a speaker so that all in the room may listen.
The 8th AF controller usually takes each division in turn, passing along the target assignments, force requirements and bomb loads. He then gives the zero hour (reference time), reference altitude, time control for each division, routes and any other pertinent data available at the time. All this data is recorded on a planning sheet by the assistant controller. The first item on 18 march telephone conference was the naming of the targets. This was given by a code name referred to a target list, which is always kept in the safe in the intelligence section. Sometimes this target data is telephoned over a scrambler phone from the 8th AF intelligence to the division intelligence about the same time that the controller receives it. On this particular night this information did not come down that way.

In the meantime the duty bombardier was making notes of all the divisions assigned targets and their MPI’s and while the remainder of the conference is continuing he goes to the intelligence section and enlists the aid of the duty intelligence officer in quickly obtaining the target coordinates, which he immediately posts upon the large planning map back in the control room. The bombardier then returns to the intelligence to obtain all available target material (Maps, charts, diagrams and photos) not only for the 2nd division but also for the other two divisions. All this material is brought into the control room and posted on the target board. It goes without saying, that all these targets are referred to in a very carefully guarded code, known only to a handful of people.

in the meantime all the other individuals concerned with the mission, who have been listening to the telephone conversation will now begin to go to work. The navigator, for example, is beginning to record the routes and to post them on the huge planning map where he uses brightly colored yarns, a different color for each division.
At the conclusion of the conference the assistant controller officially tells the watch officer (WAC) of the alert and she in turn notifies all personnel concerned, including the commanding general and the combat wings. The assistant controller now begins the actual writing of the field order from wat information is now available to him, assigning various code words, designating the time for base weather scouts to take to the air, determing the general direction of take off, and listing the proposed activities for the other divisions. He will continue this task as the planning progresses and solidifies until the field order is complete.

As soon as the target coordinates are posted the duty controller calls the weather officer in to confer again, this time as to the forecast, any possible changes in it, from the base area and throughout the route to the targets and back, in every detail. The bases and tops of every cloud layer and the general amount of its coverage, the visibilities on the surface and aloft, icing conditions and the area and altitudes where contrails might be expected are all discussed. This forecast has been based upon reports and observations from many sources, including weather stations, reconnaissance aircraft and ships at sea, and decided upon at a telephone conference of the 8th AF and all three divisions. Another group of weather specialists has also forecast the wind direction and velocity and the air temperatures of all levels from the ground to 35000 feet throughout western Europe. Throughout the night reports will keep coming in and any late changes in the weather picture will be made if needed. The diagrammatic charts of base and route conditions are also maintained in the control room as an added aid to the planners.

The controller then turns his attention to the route and consults the intelligence department flak experts as to the best means of penetrating the enemy’s anti-aircraft defenses. With this factor in mind, and considering the forecast wind conditions at both flight and surface levels (attacks cannot be made against strong cross-winds without seriously complicating the task of the bombardier and risking the success of the operation), the position and altitude of the sun at target time, the target terrain conditions, the possible effects of smoke screens if such are known to exist, the general routes of the other two divisions, the possibilities of and need for mutual support of other forces, and possibly most important , the need to eliminate inherent possibilities of conflict between any of the many units involved, the controller decides upon any modifications of the route.

thus the work went on – it was fascinating to note how complete with data by 2000 hours the huge planning map was becoming. A map pregnant with data affecting the lives and destinies of thousands of combat crews who were sleeping, or eating or playing cards or going to movies on this particular night. The next consideration was at what altitude and in what general area it will be best to assemble the large heavy bomber formations. On this particular mission a continental assembly was decided upon, which meant that the bombers would take off from all divisions bases and fly individually climbing to designated altitude enroute across the English channel to prescribes points in Belgium and Northern France. The weather officer said that a front of nasty character would be moving in over the English bases during the morning of 19 March and that the bombers would have to leave England below 7000ft. but once over the continent the weather “mirable dictu” would be excellent. In fact, the weather officer was highly optimistic that it would be a beautiful day over the hapless German target. He spoke of flash weather reports confirming these had just come in from air force weather reconnaissance aircraft which had been flying over the English channel, the atlantic ocean, northern Ireland, Northern England and the north sea.

The next problem was the DAL (division assembly line). The weather officer was asked to concur with the setting up to this line so that a desirable DAL for all combat wings could be made without weather difficulty, and also that no conflict would occur with the 1st and 3rd divisions assemblies. With the weather picture in mind and using the advice of the flak experts, route and bombing altitudes were determined.
Then the controller and bombardier studied the target illustrations discussing the assigned MPI’s and the forces and bomb loads delegated to each. The relative positions of the targets were considered and the direction and strength of the surface wind noted for determination of the order for attacking targets and MPI’s. using these considerations plus desired order if wing rotation, the size of the force available, and the best order for maintenance of wing integrity, the final battle order of combat wings and assignment was selected.

During the planning process various other specialists are called for advice. The ORS representative comes in to confer and advise as to the desirability of the assigned bomb loads. If the forecast weather conditions and planned method of attack warrant it, an H2X navigator is called in to advise in overcast bombing techniques.
As soon as route and assembly problems are solved and the force assignments decided upon the deputy chief of staff or his director of operations are notified and one or both come in to review the planning, suggest changes or additions, and finally to approve the operation. All phases of the mission, targets, force, bomb load, routes, second and third priority targets, length of flight, altitudes, weather, activities of other divisions, flak defenses, potential enemy fighter opposition, and any unique or special tactical considerations are carefully checked.

Immediately upon receipt of this approval the changes in routes are telephoned by the navigator to Eighth Air Force for their approval and coordination, he then works out the flight plan (timings) for all forces. And on another telephone the assistant controller is already requesting the operator to set up another telephone conference, this time between the division and the four combat wings. It is frequently urgently necessary that this planning procedure be accomplished with a minimum of delay and passed immediately upon completion in order to allow the combat wings sufficient time to accomplish their planning. The groups require the total information quickly enough to facilitate the loading of the aircraft, to enable the lead crews to achieve ample study of the target and the operational problems involved, and to allow briefing officers time to prepare the material for presentation to the crews.

Meanwhile, the fighter controller has posted the routes on his map, and, in a conference of Air Force and division fighter controllers, receives the assignment of the fighter escort to each division, the point of rendezvous, reference points and fighter callsigns. The duty signals officer has obtained control points, and written up that part of the field order delegated to radio data. With anticipated poor weather conditions over England for the time of return, the question of diversion bases for use if necessary arose. Weather conditions in France were expected to be favorable and the flying control officer was asked to obtain clearance for a sufficient number of suitable fields in the appropriate area. The watch officer receives information regarding the routes and the number of aircraft involved in order to clear the operation with the English defense system. She also has the task of synchronizing the master watches of all the groups by means of another telephone conference.
As the field order is written it is passed, sometimes in sections to speed the dissemination of formation, by teletype to the combat wings, groups, fighter wings, 8th AF, and 1st and 3rd divisions. But always the information is first telephoned on a scrambler to the combat wings.

With the planning completed it would seem that there is little left to do but answer an occasional question from the combat wing planning personel and check the 8th AF and combat wing field orders against the division’s for errors in either direction. But it must be remembered that these plans are never iron-clad. There are frequently last minute changes – new target data, new tactical ideas, particularly new weather deviations – all conspire to change the picture.
At about 2300 hours 8th AF holds another conference to pass the word as to whether the operation will go as planned, whether it will be slightly or completely changed, whether an alternate plan will be set up, or whether the entire operation is cancelled. Again between 0300 and 0500 a conference will be held to discuss the final weather picture and pass a decision. If the weather is very doubtful an operation may be carried in effect right up to take off time before a final decision is made, and occasionally late information on continental weather might require the recall of formations already enroute to the target.

Operations Organistation

2nd Division

Planning , Executing and debriefing of a typical 8th AF mission

"Target for Today"