John Droz, Sr., May 1945
Toward the end of his long life, John Droz, Sr., a B-24 navigator during World War II, recalled a mysterious special one-plane bombing run to Hitler's hometown on a day history says he was there. John and his fellow crew members weren't told at the time about Hitler or what the flight was expected to accomplish beyond a successful and accurate bombing of the objective. The Air Force continues to be mum on this particular flight.
by John Droz, Sr., September 3, 1917 - April 9, 2009
It was an early morning call. I was to personally visit with my base commander. Worried that it was bad news from home, I dressed quickly but carefully and actually ran to headquarters, which was past our olive grove at the end of a long runway.
The command office of the 449th Bomb Group was a place I had visited infrequently. It was in a repaired part of a dirigible hangar that had served the Italian Air Force until it had been bombed to partial destruction by our air group who had been stationed in Northern Africa until about 10 months ago. Then the 449th group took over this base and remodeled some of the buildings.
When I was put “at ease” by my commanding officer, he explained the reason I was summoned. “We are about to fly a special mission. We would like you to be the navigator! However, because of the nature of this enterprise, there is great danger. The circumstances pose a special risk. We are asking you to volunteer. You can refuse if you desire, but I believe you are the navigator we want. Before you accept, I want to share more details of the flight:
- #1. This is a secret mission and no others must know about it.
- #2 The entire crew will officially be volunteers.
- #3. You will fly alone, one B-24, no fighter escort, no other planes.
- #4. You will fly without radar or radio directions.
- #5. You will fly at approximately 3000’ (rather than 25-30,000) adjusting for mountains. You will be underneath German radar.
- #6. This will count for 2 regular missions towards your total need of 50 to complete your tour of duty.”
Being young and eager, I, of course, said, “Yes, Sir.”
The mission was to leave the next morning at daybreak. The entire crew would be handpicked — selected as the best — then asked to volunteer.
As I arrived for the early morning briefing, I met my crew for the first time. Amazingly, the pilot was the base commander!
My instructions were to get the plane to a railyard at Linz, Austria. There was no usual alternate target. The bombardier would take over at that point and direct the bombs to the train cars on the main track. We would be very low so dropping the bombs would be dangerous to us if not done exactly right.
We prepared the plane for take-off in heavy, low-cloud cover. We were to fly north up the Adriatic Sea, directly over Venice and to approach our target, which was a small town, from the north.
The hand of God was with me so that we arrived at the target with little problem even though the sky was heavily clouded the entire trip. As we approached the target, the clouds cleared and we had a direct hit of which we took pictures.
The work completed with no trouble, we headed back to the base.
We were in solid low clouds the entire way. I directed the pilot due south and because of our low level, we received little or no flack. I had to basically guess our position as to when we should turn directly west. When the time arrived to make this 90-degree turn I was scanning the clouds very nervously. Suddenly, the clouds cleared and I recognized where we were by sighting a familiar river and bay on the Czechoslovakian coastline.
I conveyed the correction to the pilot and in about 15 minutes we were over our home air base.
We were greeted by a huge welcoming party of the rest of our comrades. My commander had me stand on a table and all raised their glasses as he introduced me as the “best navigator in the 15th Air Force.”
It was a moment I shall never forget or expect to repeat. Although the compliment was fine, it was far from true.
One week later, the commanding general of our Air Force presented the Distinguished Flying Cross to me and the bombardier for our work on this special mysterious flight.
It was not until about 60 years later that I began to puzzle about this episode. I am a slow thinker — sometimes. Why was it so special? Low level, picked crew, secret, mysterious target? Why was I given a special award — as I had completed many more difficult and scary flights in my career. I asked the Air Force these questions, searched the records that they allowed me to see. They showed no record of this flight. If I had not been honored with this award — which stated the date of the flight, April 19, 1944, I would have thought I was dreaming.
My own research has produced what I discern to be the truth:
Adolph Hitler had planned on conquering the world. In his mind, he had decided to have three great cities — reasonably close to each other — Berlin, Vienna and Linz.
Tiny Linz was closeby his birthplace. According to Mein Kampf, he considered it his birthplace. He had a desire to memorialize this town and make it world famous. He also wanted to increase its size to that of Berlin. He had commanded an outstanding architect to design this new great city. This man had been building a scale model for several years. Now it was finished, and ready to start building.
He and Hitler were to meet in Linz on April 19, 1944, according to historical accounts. Both were to arrive by train at the Linz railyard. I believe that was the secret purpose of our flight – "to kill the Fuehrer." However, history says Hitler died in a bunker in Berlin in 1944. Did he fail to show up the day of our mission? Did we miss with our bombs? Did he really die in Berlin?
Why the Air Corps refuses to report the flight record, we will never know. It is astounding that the Air Force will not reveal the facts 64 years later! Was it a case of an agreement between the U.S. and Russia? I do not expect that I will ever have an answer. Who really cares? At that time, the world was in a terrible state. Today veterans from that era are dying at about 1,000 per day in our country alone.
Let those of us who were alive then give thanks that we won — “whatever we won” — because a different ending could have been much worse. So many gave their limbs or lives. May God forgive us all!