THE QUEST FOR OLD 378:
"The Best B-24 That I Ever Flew On"
For several years, I have tried to find
information about the B-24 my father bailed out of on August 29, 1944, during a
mission against the Po River railroad bridge.
Every year on the anniversary of that mission I posted a request on the
450th Association website for
information about the mission and the plane—only knowing the last three digits
of its serial number—378, and the pilot's last name—Inglett.
After about five years of posting I
had absolutely nothing to show for my efforts.
Last year I decided to change tactics and placed a notice in Cottontales Continued. Only a couple of days after it was published
I received a phone call from Charlie Black—which goes to show you that modern
technology occasionally takes a backseat to the printed word!
It turns out Charlie was a flight
engineer in the 720th Bomb Squadron and flew a number of missions in #378, even
describing it as "the best B-24 that I ever flew on." And, he had a photograph of the plane and its full serial number:
42-95378. So, with this important
information, I was off and running.
To give a little background, Charlie
Black arrived at Manduria on April 2, 1944 aboard "Destiny Deb" as part of Lt
John Ebert's crew. Later, co-pilot
Victor Todd took over as pilot for the crew.
Charlie's account of his experience is posted on the website so I won't
go into great detail here. Destiny Deb
was soon lost by another crew over Ploesti on April 24th. After that his crew got #378.
Having the full serial number
allowed me to obtain a copy of the Aircraft Record Card from the Air Force
Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. That card provides the basic information
about where the plane was assigned throughout its service life. A B-24H, she was manufactured at the Ford
Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan and flown to Topeka, Kansas on
May 1, 1944. It's unknown what crew
then flew the brand new bomber to Morrison Army Air Field, Florida on May 18th and eventually to
Italy, arriving on May 20th.
It is also unknown who first flew
#378 in the 720th Bomb Squadron, but Charlie
remembers getting her as their primary plane in late May so it's possible his
crew was the first to fly the Liberator in combat. The plane was not given a
name or painted with any nose art. The
first mention of #378 in any official record apparently occurred on May 31st. On that date there are two references
indicating she came under enemy attack.
Both the "Enemy Aircraft Encounter Sheet" and the "S-2 Narrative Report"
report bear this out. According to the
S-2, "Several ME-109's attacked with cannon staying out of range." On this mission twenty 450th aircraft received
damage, including five with serious damage.
One listing shows that 1st Lt Elmer Powell piloted
her on a mission on July 12th. In any
event, Charlie Black finished the majority of his remaining missions flying in
#378. Most of his final missions were
flown with Lt Todd as pilot, and Charlie's last mission was on July 26, 1944.
John Ciborski arrived at Manduria on April 28,
1944 as part of Homer (Bill) Smith's crew flying the "Babe in Arms". After the Babe was lost on June 13th on a mission without
him, Ciborski started flying missions with different crews. He first flew on #378 about a week after
Charlie Black completed his final mission.
Ciborski, a flight engineer like Black, flew this mission with Lt. Todd
on August 3rd. This mission was against the famed Brenner
Pass railroad bridge near Ora, Italy, a seven-hour round-trip flight.
Our elusive #378 then drops off the radar again
until August 20th,
Lt. Edward Gerner's mission list indicates he flew on her as part of Paul Radue's crew.
John Ciborski continued to fly with
various pilots and his second trip on #378 proved far more eventful than the
first. The August 29th mission to
Ferrara was his 41st mission and his first
time flying with Lt.Inglett, a pilot whose name rarely appears in surviving 450th records other than the
S-2 Reports. The first mention of his
name appears on July 12th as the pilot of #284 (probably 42-78284).
On August 29th, the 450th sent 28 B-24s against
Ferrara shortly after 6:00 a.m. The
target was situated in northeast Italy 32 miles west of the Adriatic Sea. All 28 aircraft reached the target and dropped
their bombs, some scoring direct hits on the Po River railroad bridge and
industrial buildings south of the target.
Although the Group encountered no fighter resistance, the S-2 report
described anti-aircraft fire over the target as "moderate to intense, accurate
and heavy…." John Ciborski's diary
echoed this assessment and provides an account of what happened to #378 and the
Flak heavy, intense and very accurate we had #s 1 and 4
engines shot out by flak. #4 lost all
the oil and could not feather. #1
feathered okay. Pilot managed to keep
ship in air for 40 minutes till we bailed out.
We threw all guns and ammo. out.
Also A.P.U. [auxiliary power unit]
was 4th man out. Chute opened
perfect. Harness bruised right
eye. Landed quite hard in hayfield 100
yds. from Polish 8th Army Hdqs. Bailed out from 7,000 feet. Two of the boys got sprained ankles. Pilot landed ship okay after we got out. I
landed about 4 miles inside our lines.
The area had been taken within past 24 hours. – we were in area near
Fano – Polish soldiers picked me up and also the rest of the crew. We had Ship # 378. There were 138 flak holes in it.
A faded newspaper clipping from
Ciborski's hometown newspaper (Allegan, Michigan) contains another brief
description of the mission:
His most vivid recollection however, is … when flak knocked out
two of their motors. "We were all forced to bail out over the battle lines"
said Ciborski "but luckily floated to earth about four miles inside Allied
lines." It was his only parachute jump.
The flight engineer's diary then describes the end of the
ordeal and the crew's return to Manduria: "We slept in a stadium near an R.A.F.
[Royal Air Force] Base. – waited till 4 p.m. for a ship to take us back. –
R.A.F. C-47 took us to Bari where one of our own ships met us. Got back about 9 p.m. [to Manduria]."
Over the years my father had described this mission to me
several times and I always assumed that #378 was non-flyable and scrapped after
Inglett crash-landed it. This was not
the case, however. It turns out the
Liberator was repaired and returned to service. John Ciborski finished his 50 missions on October 7th and returned to the
U.S. The parachute jump when he "landed
quite hard" actually caused a permanent injury to his back, thereafter
providing a constant and painful reminder of the experience.
It is unknown if #378 was returned to the 450th, but it was repaired by
September 11th and apparently remained
in service until being flown back to the States on July 15, 1945. The 450th Bomb Group redeployed back to the U.S.
during this same period, so it is highly probable that the aircraft had been
returned to Manduria after its repair.
The story of #378 still holds plenty of mysteries: Lt
Inglett continued flying missions but did he survive the war? Why did the pilot and one other crewmember
crash land the plane instead of bailing out with the rest of the crew? Who were the other crew members on that
August 29th flight?
For over 60 years Charlie Black never knew what happened
to the B‑24 he considered the best.
It is very ironic that the plane was salvaged on August 8, 1945 in
Albuquerque, New Mexico—only hours from where Charlie lives!
Jim Ciborski, Nov 2009
Son of T/Sgt John
Ciborski, 720 BS