Operation Chowhound: The Most Risky, Most Glorious US Bomber Mission of WWII

Operation Chowhound: The Most Risky, Most Glorious US Bomber Mission of WWII

by Stephen Dando-Collins


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The true story of a little-known, yet remarkable World War II operation, which had all the hallmarks of a suicide mission.

Beginning with a crazy plan hatched by a suspect prince, and an even crazier reliance on the word of the Nazis, Operation Chowhound was devised. Between May 1 and May 8, 1945, 2,268 military units flown by the USAAF, dropped food to 3.5 million starving Dutch civilians in German-occupied Holland.

It took raw courage to fly on Operation Chowhound, as American aircrews never knew when the German AAA might open fire on them or if Luftwaffe fighters might jump them. Flying at 400 feet, barely above the tree tops, with guns pointed directly at them, they would have no chance to bail out if their B-17s were hit—and yet, over eight days, 120,000 German troops kept their word, and never fired on the American bombers. As they flew, grateful Dutch civilians spelled out "Thanks Boys" in the tulip fields below. Many Americans who flew in Operation Chowhound would claim it was the best thing they did in the war.

In this gripping narrative, author Stephen Dando-Collins takes the reader into the rooms where Operation Chowhound was born, into the aircraft flying the mission, and onto the ground in the Netherlands with the civilians who so desperately needed help. James Bond creator Ian Fleming, Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn, as well as Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Churchill all play a part in this story, creating a compelling, narrative read.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781137279637
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/24/2015
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Stephen Dando-Collins is an award-winning military historian with numerous highly praised books on ancient history ranging from Imperial Rome to the American west to Australia, some of which include Legions of Rome and Caesar's Legion. Today, Stephen's books appear in many languages and he has an army of loyal readers wherever his books are published around the world, in countries including Australia, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Poland, Albania and Korea.

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Operation Chowhound

The Most Risky, Most Glorious US Bomber Mission of WWII

By Stephen Dando-Collins

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2015 Stephen Dando-Collins
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7915-7



This was madness! Sitting at the navigator's table behind the bombardier in the nose of a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, Major Ellis B. Scripture, or "Scrip" to his fellow members of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF), looked ahead through the Plexiglas nose and shuddered. The flat earth of Holland was flashing by beneath the bomber, uncomfortably close as the B-17 hurtled along at 120 knots just a few hundred feet above the ground. A mistake by the pilot, or a German antiaircraft shell, could spell the end for all on board — they were way too close to the ground to bail out and survive.

B-17s were built to bomb from close to 30,000 feet, not to clip the treetops like this! But here they were, hundreds of mighty American bombers, flitting over German-occupied territory as if out on a sightseeing trip, with nothing more lethal in their bomb bays than Hershey bars, cigarettes, margarine and coffee. Operation Chowhound it was called. This operation in the first week of May 1945 had been touted as a mercy mission. That's why Scrip hadn't hesitated to follow the example of his long-time commander and close friend Lieutenant Colonel Griffin"Grif" Mumford and volunteer for this sortie, leaving the comfort and protection of their offices at 3rd Air Division Headquarters at Elveden Hall in the picturesque English county of Suffolk.

Scrip and Grif had been in the first cadre of the 95th Bombardment Group aircrew to arrive in England in 1943. Grif, a squadron commander with the 95th, and Scrip, his navigator, had flown together on the group's first combat mission over a Nazi target and on plenty of dangerous missions together since. When Grif was promoted to group command pilot, Scrip moved up to group navigator. They'd gone together to air division HQ, where Grif was now director of operations and Scrip was head honcho in the navigation department as division navigator.

Grif Mumford was legendary in the USAAF and famous back home in the States. The stubborn, independent and determined native of West Texas had made his name in March 1944 by leading the first US bombing raid on Berlin, Hitler's capital. Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering, number two in the Nazi hierarchy and chief of the Luftwaffe, the German air force, had been boasting for years that no bombs would ever fall on Berlin. "If an enemy bomber reaches the Ruhr," Goering had declared back in 1939, "my name is not Hermann Goering. You can call me Meier [the German equivalent of Smith]."

Well, Allied bombers had reached the Ruhr. And British aircraft were bombing Berlin, primarily by night because it was less risky, but to negligible effect and with punishing losses. Before the United States entered the war, Dr. Goebbels' Propaganda Ministry had published English-language editions of German military magazines in America that showed pictures of Berlin's monstrous flak towers and boasted of the thousands of antiaircraft guns and hundreds of fighters that protected the city. In February and March of 1944, the US 8th Air Force had set out to prove that mass air raids against Berlin in daylight could succeed despite those daunting defenses. But bad weather had forced the cancellation of one attempt after another. Finally, on March 4, a total of 850 B-17s had taken to the English skies, bound for the "Big B" — Berlin. Midway into the mission, as the weather began to close in, squadron after squadron received a recall message by radio, and hundreds of bombers turned around and went home. But Grif Mumford ignored the recall.

Mumford was flying as group commander in I'll Be Around, as its crew had named the B-17G piloted by Lieutenant Alvin Brown. The airplane's radio operator reported that the recall message had not entirely followed the rules set down for these messages and wondered if the Germans on the ground had sent it in an attempt to break up the attack. Mumford, flying in the copilot's seat for the historic mission, had calculated that they were halfway to the target. He knew that German radar had been tracking them ever since they'd appeared in the skies over the Continent. He also knew that, based on their flight path, Luftwaffe fighter controllers on the ground would be scrambling squadrons of Messerschmitt 109s and Focke-Wulf 190s to meet them before they reached Berlin and to intercept them on their way back — likely anticipating that they would fly the same route out that they had flown coming in.

But the flight plan for this mission against the Big B called for a different return route, going south via heavily defended Frankfurt. Reckoning that it was just as dangerous to turn back and fly into waiting fighters as it was to continue on course, Grif Mumford decided to use his discretion as group commander pilot and fly on. As twenty-eight other B-17s followed his lead, Grif Mumford flew on to Berlin. Short of the target, twenty German Me-109 and Fw-190 fighters had come hurtling down out of the heavens, cannons blazing, knocking one B-17 from the sky on their first pass. But before the German pilots could return for another pass, they were jumped by several squadrons of American P-51 Mustang long-range fighters that had decided to accompany the bombers to the target after also ignoring the recall order.

In the ensuing dogfight, future famed jet test pilot Chuck Yeager bagged his first German aircraft on the way to becoming a fighter ace. Overall, the P-51s had the worst of it on that day, with twenty-one of their number being shot down for fourteen Luftwaffe fighter losses. But the intervention of the P-51s prevented the German fighters from again attacking the bombers. The Mustang pilots had done their job. The bombers reached the target. As they came over Berlin at 29,600 feet, 2,500 radar-controlled heavy antiaircraft guns on the ground opened up on the twenty-nine B-17s above the clouds. Grif Mumford would recall that the black clouds of exploding flak shells were so thick that it looked as if he could walk on them. Four of the bombers were knocked down by the flak. But the remainder had dropped forty tons of bombs on "impregnable" Berlin before turning for home.

Tough, uncompromising commander of the 3rd Air Division Brigadier General Curtis LeMay had been waiting for Mumford and the other survivors of the mission when they landed back at Horham in Suffolk. The general had come to berate Grif for disobeying the recall order, but hordes of reporters had gotten to the air station ahead of the general. Word had leaked out that the USAAF had bombed Berlin, and the press was hungry for heroes. Among the newsmen were a reporter and photographer from Lifemagazine. Three weeks later, Grif Mumford and the crew of I'll Be Around were on the front cover of Life, with Grif hailed as the man who had bombed Berlin. "Old Iron Pants" LeMay hadn't torn strips off Grif. Instead, he gave him the Silver Star and recommended a Presidential Citation for the entire 95th Bombardment Group, which was duly awarded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Everyone wanted to fly with Grif after that, but he was kept out of the skies and at the planning table for much of the rest of the war. When he did get a chance to fly, he always took Scrip with him. Most recently, it had been flying a B-17 to liberated Paris. That had been fun. But this Chowhound flight was different. For a change, the American bomber pilots would be saving lives, not taking them. At least, that was the plan. With Hitler dead on April 30, having committed suicide in his Berlin bunker, and the war in Europe expected to end any day with a German capitulation, Grif was determined to make one last contribution. And he couldn't think of a better way to do it than to fly desperately needed food to 3.5 million starving Dutch civilians in the Nazi-occupied west of Holland, an area that took in all the major cities of the Netherlands, including Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the capital, The Hague.

The problem was that this part of Holland was still in the hands of 120,000 well-armed German troops, including some of the tough Waffen-SS who had stopped the Allied advance into Holland at Arnhem the previous autumn. That bloody rebuff of the push into Holland had fated the bulk of the Dutch people to remain under Nazi control and to fight a battle of their own, against starvation.

As lead navigator in the lead aircraft, Ellis Scripture was looking down at towns and villages and seeing joyous Dutch men, women and children out in the open, waving their hands and Dutch flags at them — risking arrest by the Germans, who had outlawed Holland's flag and national anthem. Scrip saw German troops down there, too — armed, watching the Americans fly over. And quick-firing antiaircraft guns that traversed to follow the bombers' course.

This was worse than bombing Berlin. At least then you knew that the Germans were going to fire at you, and you had the advantage of height and the cover of escorting fighters. Thankfully, there was no longer a threat from German fighters in Holland's skies; not since the Luftwaffe's disastrous Operation Baseplate in January had resulted in the loss of hundreds of Me-109s and Fw-190s over Holland and Belgium. Allied air supremacy was total, and both sides knew it. German soldiers told a black joke about the failure of Hermann Goering's Luftwaffe to protect them in these dying days of the war. "If you see an aircraft with silver wings," they said, "it's the American air force. If it has gray wings, it's the British air force. And if it has no wings, it's the Luftwaffe."

Just the same, when flying at such low altitude, the risk of being brought down by ground fire was acute. And there were tens of thousands of enemy guns down there! The 50-caliber machine guns on B-17s were loaded and ready to return fire should the Germans on the ground open up on them. But if the Germans did open fire, there would be little chance for a lumbering, low-flying bomber. Even a lucky rifle bullet from a German soldier disobeying orders could be enough to down a B-17 flying at this altitude. Would the Nazis keep their word and refrain from firing? Could you trust a Nazi? Could an American take a Hitlerite's word for anything? Was this a giant trap, a cunning and elaborate plan to lure hundreds of American aircraft into a nest of antiaircraft guns that would knock them all out of the sky? Would Operation Chowhound become Operation Turkey Shoot?

Ellis B. Scripture, thinking of his family back home, and thinking how close death might be on this day, remembered words from a Native American prayer.

When I'm dead cry for me a little
Think of me sometimes, but not too much
Think of me now and again as I was in life
At some moment that is pleasant to recall
But not for long
Leave me in peace and I shall leave you in peace
And while you live let your thoughts be with the living.



Adolf Hitler, the fuehrer of Nazi Germany, waited for the prince to cross the room to join him.

Coming to a halt several yards from the fuehrer, and, clicking his heels together, Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld gave the fascist salute. "Heil Hitler!" he cried.

Hitler responded with his usual casual salute, raising his right hand a little, then nodded for the twenty-four-year-old to approach, extending his hand for Bernhard to shake, which he did — in a most fawning manner as far as Hitler was concerned. It was the summer of 1936, and Bernhard was paying the fuehrer a farewell visit before setting off to Holland for the official announcement of his engagement to Princess Juliana of the Netherlands in September. He was going with Hitler's blessing — a German prince marrying into Dutch royalty, becoming the husband of the heir to the throne of the Netherlands, suited the fuehrer's plans for extending German influence.

To Hitler, and to many Germans, the Dutch were almost as good as Germans. Historically, they had come from the same Germanic roots east and north of the Rhine. In fact, Hitler felt that the Dutch would make very good SS men. Six years after this 1936 meeting with Bernhard, Hitler would declare over dinner one evening, "A race like the Dutch, which has shown itself capable of organizing a magnificent Far Eastern air service and which produces a host of first-class seamen, can easily be taught to assimilate the military spirit. One must not lose faith in the essential soundness of the race, for sound it certainly is."

As for the German who was setting off to become prince consort of the future queen of the Netherlands, Hitler was less impressed. At the same 1942 dinner where he extolled the Dutch, Hitler would recall his 1936 meeting with Bernhard. "When, before his marriage, he came to pay me a farewell visit, he cringed and scraped like a gigolo," he would tell his staff.

But Hitler was convinced that manipulating the Dutch would be easy with Bernhard on the throne beside Juliana. In the fuehrer's opinion, the prince was "an absolute imbecile oaf." Hitler was to say that his view of Bernhard would be reinforced when, to his amusement, several days after arriving in the Netherlands, the prince told the Dutch press, "In my heart, I have always felt myself a Dutchman!"

Hitler would have known that Bernhard had been a member of the Nazi Party, and was likely to have known that he'd also been a member of a branch of Heinrich Himmler's SS. To his dying day, Bernhard would deny any links to the Nazi Party or its apparatus. "I was never a Nazi," he was to declare. He was lying. It was the convenient lie of many Germans who had joined the Nazi Party and Nazi organizations to further their careers in the 1930s.

Under the Nazi government, it became compulsory for German boys to join the Hitlerjugend, the Hitler Youth, and for girls to join the female equivalent, the Bund Deutscher Mädel. But it was not compulsory to join either the Nazi Party or the Schutzstaffel, the dreaded and elite SS, which had begun life as Hitler's bodyguard. Documents that did not come to light until more than seventy years later show that, while studying at Berlin's Humboldt University, the former Friedrich-Wilhelm University, in the early 1930s, Bernhard had been a member of the Deutsche Studentenschaft, a Nazi student fraternity; had joined the Nazi Party and its paramilitary wing, the brown-shirted Sturmabteilung, or SA; and been a member of the Reiter-SS, the SS's cavalry corps, spending part-time hours in the SS garage pandering to the love of powerful cars that would come to the fore in later life.

After graduating from Humboldt University with a law degree in December 1934, Bernhard had been employed by the giant German industrial conglomerate IG Farben and sent to the headquarters of its French operations in Paris. IG Farben had been created in 1920 following the First World War via the combination of chemical companies Bayer, BASF, Hoechst and five smaller companies, becoming the largest business concern in Germany, and, by some reckonings, the fourth largest in the world. In Paris, Bernhard took up the appointment of salesman with IG Farben, a role he carried out with considerable success, later becoming secretary to the company's French board, performing these duties until his marriage to Princess Juliana in 1937. A 1976 Americanmagazine report would state that, during the Nuremberg Trial of IG Farben directors in 1947–48, verbal testimony had come out that a special secret Nazi overseas intelligence unit had been set up within IG Farben, and that Prince Bernhard was a member of this unit and undertook spying duties for the German government while working for the company in Paris. No documentary evidence was to come forth to support this claim. However, in December 1945, Colonel Bernard Bernstein, General Eisenhower's chief financial adviser and Director of the US Group Control Commission for Germany's Division of Investigation of Cartels and External Assets, delivered a damning report on IG Farben to US Congress.

According to the report compiled by Bernstein and a large team of US investigators, "Without IG Farben, World War II could not have been possible."Bernstein was referring in part to the company's industrial output, but also to its vast espionage contribution to Germany's war effort. "Farben was a Nazi agency for worldwide military and economic espionage," said Colonel Bernstein. His report detailed how IG Farben set up a secret economic and political intelligence unit known as N.W.7 within the company, with its headquarters at IG Farben's head office in Berlin. Executives at IG Farben offices around the world were required to submit intelligence reports every month to N.W.7 in Berlin about everything ranging from foreign armaments factory locations to shipping movements, local political machinations to foreign economic statistics. N.W.7 fed masses of this information to the German military high command from 1929 until war's end.

N.W.7's field agents were called "IG Verbindungsmanner." The company's sales executives such as Prince Bernhard were able to travel extensively and visit militarily sensitive locations without raising suspicion, and there can be little doubt that Bernhard was among the Verbindungsmanner and was one of the executives required to submit monthly intelligence reports to N.W.7 while he worked for IG Farben. The secret of the company's extensive spying activities was not revealed until interrogation of IG Farben personnel after the war, although no records identifying agents such as the prince were ever unearthed.


Excerpted from Operation Chowhound by Stephen Dando-Collins. Copyright © 2015 Stephen Dando-Collins. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents





CHAPTER 1 - Navigator Ellis B. Scripture's Prayer

CHAPTER 2 - Himmler's Secret Agent

CHAPTER 3 - The Suspect Prince in the World of James Bond

CHAPTER 4 - The Bridge Too Far -the Failure to Liberate Holland

CHAPTER 5 - The Germans Go on the Offensive

CHAPTER 6 - Surviving the Hunger Winter

CHAPTER 7 - An Offer from Nazi Governor Seyss-Inquart

CHAPTER 8 - President ‘Dutch' Roosevelt's Promise

CHAPTER 9 -‘Beetle' Bedell Smith's Plan

CHAPTER 10 - Farley Mowat Goes Behind German Lines

CHAPTER 11 - The Achterveld Agreement

CHAPTER 12 - The First Nervous Test Flight

CHAPTER 13 - Ike's Hatchet Man tells the Nazi Governor Straight

CHAPTER 14 - US Eighth Air Force Prepares for Chowhound

CHAPTER 15 - May 1, 1945 - B-17's Over Holland at 400 Feet

CHAPTER 16 - Germans Open Fire On Chowhound Bombers

CHAPTER 17 - Audrey Hepburn's Birthday Present - the Liberation of Holland

CHAPTER 18 - Grif Mumford's Special Air Delivery to A Dutch Sister

CHAPTER 19 - Bombardier Braidic's Fateful Decision

CHAPTER 20 - The End – For Seyss-Inquart and the War

CHAPTER 21 - The Aftermath

CHAPTER 22 - The Best Thing We Ever Did in the War




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