Friday, August 2, 2013

Random thoughts about the Kassel Mission

George Collar in his "war room"

   There's no question that the Kassel Mission was a spectacular battle, one of the most dramatic aerial battles in World War II. But there were many spectacular aerial battles in World War II, some of those -- such as the first daylight raid on Berlin, Ploesti -- involved a lot more planes and a lot more press. Just about anybody who survived even a few missions, much less 25 to 35, could write a book, and multitudes of Air Corps veterans have done just that.
   Statistically, the Kassel Mission was the worst one-day beating suffered by a single bomb group in a single day in 8th Air Force history. But those two qualifiers -- single this and single that -- help explain why the battle has been little more than a footnote in the vast continuum of air war stories.
   No one asked me, but in emphasizing the drama of the battle -- and don't get me wrong, dramatic it was -- the people trying to elevate the Kassel Mission into its proper place in history have got it wrong.
   The Kassel Mission is not about drama. It's not about spectacle. It's not about statistics.
   The Kassel Mission is about closure. It's about turning tragedy into triumph. And it's about documentation. Thanks to George Collar and Bill Dewey, who spent the last decades of their lives writing letters, making telephone calls, looking up survivors, putting together notebooks, drawing charts, the Kassel Mission is incredibly well documented. Better than incredibly well documented. The Kassel Mission Historical Society has a treasure trove of accounts, articles, crew pictures, records, etc., for future historians and descendants of those who took part in the battle to access. And thanks to the incredible research and efforts of Walter Hassenpflug and Gunter Lemke, that documentation extends to the German side of the battle as well.
   The Kassel Mission was tragic, no doubt about it. But when a monument recognizes the sacrifice of the men on both sides of the battle, when a Jima Schaen Sparks, whose father died on the Kassel Mission shortly before she was born, meets a Martin Brunotte, who was in his mother's womb when his German fighter pilot father was killed in the battle, when a great-nephew or a grandson learns of his ancestor's heroism, when a devastated bomb group rallies and sends ten planes to the same target the following day, these are triumphs.
   Ultimately, though, the Kassel Mission is about closure.
   I once saw a segment on "60 Minutes" about an American veteran of the Battle of the Bulge who returned to Luxembourg, or maybe it was Belgium, and met a German veteran who was fighting in the same area at about the same time. Maybe they shot at each other. Hel-lo. This is closure? Closure is 600 people, American veterans of the 445th Bomb Group and their grown children, German fighter pilots -- although few of them had their families with them -- converging in the village of Friedlos, Germany, in 1991 for the dedication of a monument with the names of all the Americans and all the Germans killed in the battle.
   The Kassel Mission was a mistake, a battle that never should have happened, that's why it's been denied its place in history, some people seem to think. Exercise Tiger was a mistake, a tragedy that never should have happened, when German e-boats infiltrated a practice landing for D-Day and sank two fully-loaded LSTs, and apparently there were also "friendly" live-fire casualties on the beach, another screw-up. That was a mistake, a failure to communicate between the British and American ships that were supposed to be guarding the convoy. And yet Exercise Tiger, or Slapton Sands as it's often called, is celebrated with monuments and ceremonies and documentaries.
   As I see it, the Kassel Mission has more in common with Exercise Tiger than it does Ploesti or Schweinfurt or Berlin. That's just my opinion.

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1 comment:

  1. Aaron,

    I've just finished your interviews with Crandall and Ogilvie. Wonderful first-hand stuff! I taught Floyd Ogilvie's grandson in high school. Dad had some good conversations with Floyd also.

    Your blog is fascinating as is all of your oral history material. Thanks for all you have done for the Kassel Mission and for preserving the memories of the greatest generation.

    Doug Collar