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S/Sgt. Jesse N. Bradley
721st Squadron








Name painted on the Collings Foundation B-24, Witchcraft



Jesse and Jean Bradley - 2005

This knife was bought by a 721st gunner in Marrakech in December 1943, enroute to Italy.
Although I do not remember his name, the original owner, who slept in our barracks, was shot down and the knife was taken by another gunner.
He, in turn, was also shot down and the knife was taken by a third gunner.
After he, and his crew, were killed in a mid-air collision in March 1944, the knife just lay on top of our radio - nobody wanted it.
When I left for the United States in mid-April 1944, some of the guys asked me to take it. It did not prove to be unlucky for me.
My father used it to cut down the dead cornstalks in his garden for many years, and then it lay almost forgotten until recently, in a workbench drawer.
The handle is layered plexiglass, probably from a wrecked airplane.

















A panel from the parachute Jesse used over Anzio



Spring 1944

Standing Far left - Joseph R Bury - Engineer
Standing Far Right - Lawrence J Hoover - Nose Gunner
Kneeling Far RightAgatino Rigano - Radio Operator

COMBAT CHRONICLE

Written by Jesse N Bradley 2-11-2004

 

            In late December 1943, the 450th Bomb Group (B-24's) arrived at an old Italian air base near Manduria, Italy. The Group, 2,072 men, consisted of four squadrons (720th, 721st, 722nd and 723rd) plus a Group Headquarters staff. This narrative, a partial account of the first 3 ˝ months of operations, is based on material from (1) 450TH Group S-2 Intelligence Reports (herein called Group Report), put out by the Group staff after each mission; and (2) the 721st Squadron War Diary (cited as War Diary).

            I have inserted a few short explanatory comments in brackets in the quoted matter, and have also added additional commentary and details after some entries.

 

January 8, 1944

            Group Report – Target: Airdrome, Mostar, Yugoslavia. "The 721st and 723rd Squadrons participated in this first mission of the 450th Bomb Group. Twenty-four tons of bombs were carried by each squadron and dropped on the target from 19,000 feet. The Group was escorted by P-38's from the 82nd Fighter Group. Cloud cover over the target prevented any accurate bomb strike observations."

            War Diary - "The target was not sighted in time to get a good bomb run on it, and all the bombs fell to the right of the target. No enemy aircraft were encountered, but the flak over the target was accurate and of moderate intensity. All aircraft returned with light damage, but now crew members were injured."

 

January 14, 1944

            Group Report – Target: Mostar, Yugoslavia. "Encountered ME-109's in target area and while returning to the Adriatic coast. No damage reported from fighter attacks. Flak was heavy type, intense and accurate over the target. One bomber lost to flak. Twenty aircraft received flak damage. Two crew members wounded by flak."  

            This was the Group's first plane lost to enemy action. Piloted by Lt. Jack Graham of our 721st Squadron, the B-24 straggled back across the Adriatic and crash landed on the Italian coast near Vieste, east of Foggia. He and co-pilot Harry Feltenstein were trapped in the gasoline-soaked wreckage for several hours until pried out by some Australian troops stationed near the crash site.

            This was Lt. Graham's first and also last mission. His injuries (broken arm and internal injuries) were considered too serious to permit him to continue flying combat, although he stayed in the squadron doing administrative duties for several months. His crew, however, continued to fly with other pilots. On February 17, 1944, when our crew baled out on the beachhead at Anzio, Sergeants Tornillo and Hamric from Graham's crew were flying with us as replacements for our own waist gunners Rigano and Thompson who were in the hospital with frostbite. On February 23, 1944, Hamric, flying with our co-pilot George Stanley, bailed out near Steyr, Austria, lost an arm, and was a prisoner for the rest of the war. On April 5, Tornillo bailed out over Ploesti, Romania.

 

January 16, 1944

            Group Report – Target: Airfield, Ossopo, Italy. "Our crews reported attacks by 35 to 40 ME-109's in the primary target area and over the water along the Adriatic coast, principally from 5-6-7 o'clock form above. The crews claimed 9 ME-109's destroyed and 2 probably destroyed. One B-24 from the element which attacked the primary target was seen going down with 2 engines on fire at 1330 hours. 8 to 11 men seen to bail out."

            War Report – "Planes from this Squadron dropped 27 tons of bombs on the secondary target, the harbor of Zara, Yugoslavia, with excellent results. Direct hits were observed on harbor installations, a ship, and a bridge. None of our (721st Squadron) aircraft were damaged by flak or enemy fighters, nor were any crew members injured." 

 

January 18, 1944

            Group Report – Target: Railroad Yard, Pisa, Italy. "Heavy concentration of hits were seen on target. Intense smoke and flames followed from the yards and immediate area. One bridge crossing river east of target was destroyed….One B-24 failed to return to base. It was seen leaving formation approximately 9 miles from target. One prop feathered but aircraft not out of control."

 

January 21, 1944

            Group Report – Target: Marshalling Yard, Prato, Italy. "Two to three hundred ship convoy headed north with 30 Spitfire escorts and barrage balloons. Observed at 1100 hours from 14,000 feet…an eighty merchant vessel ship convoy going to NW seen at 1410 hours from 20,000 feet."

            This was the Allied invasion fleet headed for Anzio.

 

January 24, 1944

            Group Report – Target: Airdrome, Sofia, Bulgaria. Alternate target: Rail Yard at Skolpje, Yugoslavia. "At 1350 hours, 28 B-24's dropped 84 tons of 500 pound demolition bombs on the alternate target from 20,000 feet. (The primary target was covered with clouds.)…From 10 to 15 ME-109's and FW-190's attacked our lead elements from 11 to 1 o'clock level to high. They made only one pass before the P-38's chased them into the clouds below.  At least six of our aircraft were hit, and one tail gunner died of wounds after landing. Four ME-109's were claimed destroyed by the Group. A ME-109 collided with the tail vertical stabilizer on one of our aircraft, lost a wing and was seen spinning down. (Later, back on the base, this B-24 with half a tail attracted a lot of attention.)…The flak encountered was heavy type, moderate and accurate, probably 8 batteries, 10 miles north of Skolpje. …One aircraft missing. At 1425 hours, it was last seen on a heading of 55 degrees as it disappeared in clouds. Appeared to be in control."

            The dead tail gunner was Sgt Robertson on Lt. Paul's crew. Hit in the leg by a 20mm shell, he was the first man from our 721st Squadron killed in combat operations.

            War Diary -  "Lt. Scott's plane received a 20mm shell in the bomb bay, knocking out the hydraulic system. He also had two engines shot out and had to feather one of them."

            We limped back to our base at Manduria, and Scotty gave us the choice whether to bail out or to land with him and Stanley. Choosing to ride her down, we cranked open the bomb bay doors manually, cranked down the main landing gear, and kicked down (literally) the nose wheel. The rest of the crew gathered in the rear compartment so that our combined weight would make the bottom of the plane drag on the landing strip after we were on the ground. We opened eight parachutes, spread them around the rear compartment for padding, and attached the other two to the waist gun stanchions to act as brakes. We then hunkered down in the nylon just as prescribed in the emergency manual and hoped for the best.

            With no flaps or brakes, we landed much too fast. As the back end hit the ground, the camera hatch in the floor crashed open and a fountain of mud and water gushed up into the plane. We pulled the ripcord on the two braking parachutes and tossed them out the waist windows. Up front, Scotty saw that the runway would not be long enough, and pushed the right brake pedal. There was enough residual pressure in the hydraulic accumulator for only one shot, but that turned the plane off the landing strip into a low area where the engineers were installing drain pipes. The open ditches brought our wild ride to an abrupt halt.

 

January 27, 1944

            War Diary – Target: Airdrom, Istres/Letube, France(near Marseilles). "This squadron dropped 28 tons of bombs on the target, hitting hangars, administration building, and barracks. A group of P-47's went ahead of the bombers to strafe any interceptors before takeoff…Heavy, intense, and accurate flak was encountered over the target. Lt. Waddell's plane was hit by flak over the target and exploded. Six parachutes were seen from the plane near the coast line just south of the target. This was the first plane from our 721st Squadron to go down over enemy territory."

            This was our longest mission to date – over 10 hours in the air.

 

February 5, 1944

            War Diary – "The crews were briefed early this morning for another mission, but it was cancelled before take-off because of bad weather over the target. At about 2100 hours, a number of men started a little celebration by firing their weapons into the air in unison with firing from the other squadron areas."

 

February 6, 1944

            War Diary – "The whole Group had to go out on the ramp and drill for an hour as disciplinary action for the firing incident of last night. A heavy snowfall started at 1300 which added to the discomfort of the officers and men, and to their anger at having to drill in the mud, water and snow. However, after slipping and sliding for an hour everyone's sense of humor began to return because of the comical sight we all presented."

 

February 13, 1944

            War Diary – "Since today's mission was cancelled before takeoff because of the weather, there was a very large attendance at the Protestant Church service, and the combat crews were well represented. Another outdoor movie was held tonight outside of the hangar. It was 'Buckskin Frontier' starring Richard Dix. A large crowd was present and was very enthusiastic during the love scenes."

            Life in Italy for the combat crews was a stark contrast between bloody action in the air on mission-going days and routine peaceful activities at other times.

 

February 14, 1944

            Group Report – Target: Marshalling Yards, Verona, Italy. "Forty-two B-24's took off at 0845. Sixteen returned early. (This was an extraordinarily high number of aborts.) Seventeen dropped 41 tons of 500 lb. G.P. (General Purpose) bombs on the target from 24-25,000 feet. (We had not bombed from this high an altitude before.) The rest dropped their bombs on various targets of opportunity in northern Italy……Twenty to twenty-five ME-109's picked up the formation near the main target but were immediately engaged by our escort. One of our aircraft straggled at this point and was seen to be under attack before out P-38 escorts could interfere, but the results of this encounter was obscured by the clouds."

            That was us. The severe cold (about minus 60 degrees) at 25,000 feet caused numerous equipment malfunctions. None of our guns would fire – the bolt froze solidly in the receiver, and we could not even pull the charging handle. The fuel transfer pump in the bomb bay froze, and our flight engineer could not transfer gasoline from the wing-tip tanks into the main tanks where it could be used. We left the formation, dropped down to a warmer altitude, and flew to Corsica where the Free French had a A-20 base, By the time we reached there, however, we had gotten the pump going again and did not land. We arrived safely at our base about three hours after the rest of the Group. Since it was supper time, we went directly to the mess tent – didn't even take off our flying gear. As we waited in the chow line, I heard someone ahead of us say that Lt. Scott and the crew of Paper Doll were missing. I was happy to correct that assertion. 

            War Diary – "Ten men were treated for frostbite and three of them were sent to the hospital for further treatment,."

            Two of these were our waist gunners Rigano and Thompson. This caused them to miss our Anzio adventure – see next below. I, too, got a minor touch of frostbite on one cheek.

 

February 17, 1944

            Group Report – Target: Storage Dump north of Anzio Beachhead. "…The target area was fairly covered with sixty bursts visible among stores dump buildings. The highway bridge was destroyed as well as many supply buildings. The highway to Rocca Pereora was cut as well as the road between Froccate and Calouna….Flak over the target was heavy intense and very accurate, holing 11 of our aircraft….One aircraft unaccounted for but believed to have gone down over target. An explosion was seen at 1246 hours from 19,000 feet which is believed to be our missing aircraft….Crew bailed out over Anzio Beachhead according to late reports."

            That was us. Our empty plane crashed in a farm yard on the Allied side of the front line. We spent a terrifying night on the beachhead, a night on the British-crewed LST which took us back to Pozzuoli, and three nights in Naples. On February 22, we finally hitched a ride on a B-24 from the 451st Bomb Group which was then based at Gioia del Colle, about 50 miles from our base at Manduria.

 

February 23, 1944

            Group Report – Target: Aero Engine Works, Steyr, Austria. "Thirty-five B-24's took off at 0841 hours. Seven retuned early…..Smoke was observed in the target area, while strike photos show bursts outside the target area, mostly in the workers quarters NW of the target, in the warehouse area across the river, and in buildings in the forks of the river….About 20 minutes form the target, an estimated 50 ME-109's, 25 ME-110's, 15 FW-190's, and 15 JU-88's attacked the Group. They were very aggressive, coming in level from 12 o'clock (front) and 5 and 6 o'clock (rear). All attacks were coordinated. Four of our bombers were destroyed and three are missing. Seven chutes were seen to open. Our gunners claimed 5 enemy fighters destroyed, 11 probably destroyed, and 6 damaged. …Flak in the target area was heavy type, intense and accurate."

            War Diary – "…..These were experienced Luftwaffe fighter pilots which attacked our squadron and cut it to shreds. Lt. Waste, Lt. Haggerton, Lt. Cannon and F.O. Stanley were shot down in this area. This was a drastic loss for our squadron. Lt. Cannon's ship was last seen going down with #2 engine burning furiously and five men were seen to bail out."

            The enlisted men in three (maybe 4) of these crews were from our barracks – that night there were lots of empty cots. Stanley was our co-pilot who had been promoted to pilot yesterday afternoon after we returned from Anzio. His crew was mostly Lt. Jack Graham's crew. Everyone (pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, nose gunner, top turret gunner) in the front end died – three gunners from the rear compartment bailed out. One of these was Sgt Hamric who bailed out with us at Anzio just six days earlier. The plane crashed near Kematen, Austria, before reaching the target, and Stan was buried in the church yard at Steiner Kirchen a short distance away. Incidentally, Otto Haus, the Austrian Luftwaffe pilot who shot down the crew, was also killed in the air battle that bloody day.

 

February 25, 1944

            Group Report – Target: Prufening Aircraft Factory, Regensburg, Germany. "Twenty-nine B-24's took off at 0800 hours; two returned early. Two were shot down by enemy fighters – ten parachutes were counted – two planes are missing, two landed at friendly airdrome. …Rendezvoused with 376th Bomb Group over Noci at 6,000 feet, 0928 hours and proceeded to Bitanto. Thence to Chien, to Rottenberg the I.P.(Initial Point – the place where the formation turned toward the target beginning the bomb run), and to the target, which was attacked on an axis of 10 degrees. Rally (the formation turn after dropping the bombs) was left and proceeded on a reciprocal course by way of Valkermarkt to base…..While still 300 miles from the target, 15 to 20 ME-109's and JU-88's attacked the formation, coming in abreast in twos and threes. Further north in Ljujana more than 25 ME-109's and ME-110's made an aggressive attack and shot down one of our bombers. At the target, approximately 20 ME-109's and a few FW-190's attacked. These later attacks did not seem to be coordinated, but the fighters hung to the formation for over an hour seemingly in wait of stragglers….The density of the smoke from preceding bomb bursts make an analysis of our bomb strikes impractical. (We dropped the bombs in the middle of the smoke below.) However, it is believed that the target was well covered and that the pattern was excellent. A huge column of smoke was visible 30 minutes after leaving the target."

            This was the first time we bombed the same target as the 8th Air Force from England. Since their tour was 25 missions and ours in the 15th Air Force was 50, we got double credit for this one. Our crew flew the lead ship in the high right squadron abreast and above the Group lead squadron. Although this was a long dangerous mission, our pilots maintained a tight formation throughout and our 721st Squadron did not lose any planes – the losses reported in the Group Report were from other squadrons.

            The 450th Group was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation for outstanding performance on this mission.

 

March 3, 1944

            War Diary – Target: Airdrome Satellite No. 2, Viterbo, Italy. "Our bomb load today was forty 120 pound clusters of fragmentation bombs. Because of solid cloud cover, the target could not be located and the mission was cancelled. All the returning planes jettisoned their bombs in Taranto Bay at 1500 hours….. On takeoff, the plane piloted by Lt. Isbell of the 723rd Squadron burst into flames shortly after leaving the ground. The entire crew perished. The cause of the crash has not been determined."

            Fragmentation bombs were a special hazard. Each cluster had 6 small bombs; 40 clusters meant 240 bombs. Each bomb had a cotter pin (safety pin) in the nose and tail fuses, making a total 480 pins which had to be removed after the plane was airborne. On our crew, the bombardier and I had this job. If the mission was aborted, the pins had to be re-inserted in the fuses before landing – an impossible task. Although we sometimes landed with other types of un-dropped bombs, we always jettisoned unused fragmentation bombs.

 

March 4, 1944

            War Diary – "The mission for today was Breslau, Germany. The boys almost fell over when they saw the red string leading to Breslau. The bomb load was eight 500 pound demolition bombs. Col. Mills led the formation, but the entire Group returned to home base about an hour after takeoff."

            Normal load was ten or twelve 500 lb. bombs. We carried only eight today because of the extra long distance to the target. We all felt that this was a one-way suicide mission, and were greatly relieved when the Group turned back.  

 

March 24, 1944

            Group Report – Target: Walzergenswerk Ball Bearing Plant, Steyr, Austria. "forty-two b-24's (in two attack units of 21 planes each) took off at 0800 hours. Five returned early….From base, the Group proceeded via Monopoli where the second unit (including our squadron) turned back in nearly solid overcast. The first (leading) unit continued on course, and was engaged by approximately 45 enemy fighter aircraft near Trieste. Three bombers of this unit we shot down and one is missing; 20 parachutes were counted. Because of heavy clouds over the primary target, this unit turned back near Klagenfourt,

Austria, and bombed Rimini, Italy, the secondary target."

            War Diary – "……A catastrophe occurred while the formation was flying over the Adriatic Sea. Lts. Harman (in Deuces Wild) and Whalen (flying Yankee Fury) collided in mid-air and crashed into the sea. No chutes were seen and it is believed that all on board perished. Lt. Hartman received a telegram just a few days ago stating that he was the father of a 7-pound baby boy. Lt. Whalen was a new replacement flying his first mission."

            The planes from the 721st were in the second attack unit which turned back early; I was flying as a replacement waist gunner on the crew of Lt. L. B. Scott. There were two Scott pilots in our Squadron and I sometimes flew with L.B. when our crew was not scheduled. We were flying in the No. 5 position on the right wing of Lt. Hartman who was in No. 4. Lt. Whalen was in the No. 7 position (Tail-end Charlie) behind and below Lt. Hartman. The No. 7 slot was the most difficult and dangerous position in the formation, and it was invariably assigned to the newest, most inexperienced pilots.

            Since I had no early mission chores, I was sitting on an ammunition box at the left waist gun window, idly watching the formation shuffle around. Lt. Whalen, who seemed to be struggling to maintain the proper cruising speed and separation distance, edged forward until his plane was directly beneath Lt. Hartman. Then he bounced upward a few feet at the same time that Harman dipped a few feet – one or both had made a fatal mistake. I caught a brief glimpse of the nose gunner in No. 7 looking up form his plastic bubble and mouthing unheard screams as he watched the B-24 above settle down on him.

            The planes touched almost gently, separated, than broke into pieces as they spun toward the sea. I saw long belts of ammunition and several green oxygen bottles falling from the debris, and a man tumbling out without a parachute. We flew a circle around the burning oil oh the surface but did not see any life rafts. The sad irony of this incident is that a little later we turned back before dropping any bombs on the target – these two crews died uselessly.

            On June 13, Lt. L. B. Scott, who I flew with today, was shot down over Munich, Germany. It was his 50th and last mission.  

 

March 28, 1944  

            War Diary – Target: Marshalling Yards, Mestre, Italy. "….Capt. Pitts and crew, flying in the famous 721st Paper Doll (the ship our crew took overseas and flew many missions in) was heavily attacked by enemy fighters about five minutes before reaching the target. Late reports say they landed at Foggia (Italy, about 125 miles from our base)."  

            This was the last combat mission four our war weary bomber.

 

March 29, 1944

            Group Report – Target: Marshalling Yards, Bolzano, Italy. "…The target was well covered with a concentration of hit near the bridges and in the yard. Strike photos show 10 direct hits at choke points and 3 bombs on end of bridge…. Several direct hits were recorded on locomotive depot and repair shops and the buildings were seen burning. There were also numerous bursts among cars I the main yards, and 5 bombs hit the rail line leading toward Innsbruck. A direct hit on the flumes to the power station broke the pipes and water was seen gushing out…At 1214 hours, one B-24 was hit by flak and exploded. No chute seen to open. At 1218 hours, 6 chute were seen from a lagging B-24, but later the pilot rejoined the formation., At 1220 hourse,25 miles south of the target, one B-24 was seen heading toward Switzerland.

            This mission took us over some of the most ruggedly beautiful country in Europe, with the Swiss border and safety only a few miles o the north of the target. Our crew flew with Lt. William Clarke as pilot. He was on of the 721st Squadron's original cadre of pilots, and had flown a few missions as co-pilot with us after Stanly was killed. Our Squadron came overseas with 18 first pilots. Two, Lt. Clarke and Lt. Helmberger, completed 50 missions. The other 16 were killed, wounded and sent home, or prisoners of war. Lt. Clarke stayed in the Air Force, retiring in 1972 as a Lt. Colonel. He died in Sarasota in 1998.

            By now, our missions had gotten much harder – no more easy milk runs to lightly defended Italian targets. On March 30, the 450th bombed the rail yards at Sofia, Bulgaria, and lost one aircraft. I flew as a replacement gunner with Lt. Lloyd Bishop. Before becoming a first pilot he had been Bill Clarke's co-pilot and had taken over Clarke's crew. Lt. Bishop and I had been crew mates at Davis-Monthan Field at Tucson in September 1943, and had been transferred involuntarily into the 450th Group at the same time in late October 1943 at Alamogordo, New Mexico.

 

April 1, 1944

            War Diary – "….Life in the squadron continued as usual with the exception of the afternoon mail call. This turned out to the package mail call which only comes once or twice a month. There was a huge pile of packages, but no mail. However, this is one time when there's no moans because of lack of mail – contents of the packages took care of that."   

            Jean Wise (sweetheart then, wife and sweetheart since June 1944) sent a flashlight and several rolls of toilet paper – a scarce commondity in wartime Italy, and Mama sent 6 pairs of heavy wool socks.

            On April 2, we bombed the Daimler-Puch Factory at Steyr, Austria. The Group lost 2 aircraft. I flew with Scotty and my regular drew. On April 3, we bombed the rail yards at Budapest, Hungary. I flew again with Lt. Bishop. Although we encountered heavy flak at the target and were attacked by dozens of fighters, all of our planes returned safely to base.

 

April 4, 1944

            Group Report – Target: Marshalling Yards, Bucharest, Rumania. "…Attack was made on a direct course down the railroad tracks from the NW. Our aiming point was covered by a concentration of hits: 36 direct hits on the northern choke pint, 4 hits on the Prahova Oil Refinery, 24 hits on choke pint SE of locomotive sheds, 24 hits on warehouses and other buildings 3500 feet NW of roundhouse….The Group was attacked by 15 ME-109's and FW-190's, 4 MA-202's (Italian fighter planes), 10 JU-88's, 4 AR-8's, and 1 ME-110 in the target area, and encountered heavy flak at Nis and Skoplje as well as over the target….Five of our planes were damaged and two crew members slightly wounded. No planes were lost."

            Our crew flew with Lt. Clarke again. The War Diary concluded its account for today thusly: "Another successful mission under the belt of this Group and everyone is looking forward to many more like it."

            Obviously, the person who wrote this entry had never flown a combat mission. 

 

April 5, 1944

            Group Report – Target: Rail Yards serving the oil refineries at Ploesti, Rumania. "Forty B-24's took off at 1117 hours. Six returned early, five were shot down, 29 returned to base at 1723 hours…. The target was partially obscured by smoke pots; however, it was well covered by bomb strikes. There were several hits on distillation units, causing a large fire and a huge explosion. More explosions and fires were caused by direct hits on storage tanks, tank car loading stations and tank cars on spur tracks. Forty hits were recorded on installations SE of yard, and 24 hits on the railroad overpass and the north choke point.

            An hour and ten minutes before we reached the target, 2 ME-109's picked up our formation and stayed with us, just out of gun range, until we reached the target. Without doubt, they were radioing in our position and course to attacking units,. About 25 minutes from the target, our Group was jumped by 10-12 ME-109's in a surprise attack from 12 o'clock high…Three of our aircraft were shot out of formation on this first pass.  Somewhat closer to the target, we were attacked by 50-60 ME-109's and FW-190's, 10 ME-110's, and 10-15 JU88's coming in ala all angles singly and in pairs, closing to 50 feet before pulling up or diving under. They also made coordinated attacks form 6 o'clock low in formations of six flying two abreast, closing to 50-100 yards and breaking away on either side in a diving turn followed by a split "S" and then raking the underside of the attacked bomber. JU-88's stood off 600-800 yards and fired rockets at our formation. No break off in intensity of attacks was noted over the target; the fighters flew through the heavy flak to attack our Group. (This was the first time we had seen enemy fighters flying through their own anti-aircraft fire.) The attacks slacked off about 15 minutes after we left the target – the enemy apparently attacking other Groups flying behind us."

            Col. Mills, our Group Commander, led the 450th on this mission, and our Group led the whole 15th Air Force. In spite of our losses, it was a successful mission, and we were awarded our second Unit Citation for it.

 

April 9, 1944 

            War Diary – "There was no mission today due to the threatening weather, so the church services were well attended. The Protestant service was held out on the field with a silver B-24 in the background of the altar. The choir and organ were on one side of the altar and a background of palm fronds on the other. There were 650 bomb stands for the congregation to sit on, but the crowd was estimated at 1300."

            It has been said there are no atheists in a foxhole. There is much truth in the statement.

 

April 12, 1944

            Group Report – Target: Aircraft Assembly Plant, Weiner Neustadt, Austria. "Forty-one B-24's took off at 0811 hours:…..three returned early."

            We, flying with Lt. Scott as pilot again, were one of the early returns. The mission was another hard one; however, we missed most of the action. Our ship was severely damaged by flak near Steyr (where Stan was shot down February 23) and we flew home alone, making another (our second) emergency landing.

            This was my last mission. After landing, I was told by the orderly room that I would be leaving for the States on April 14. I was pleased about that.  

 

April 14, 1944

            War Diary – "No mission today as Old Sol had again become bashful and hid behind the clouds. The movie today was 'Buffalo Bill' starring Joel McCrea and Linda Darnell."

            The War Diary did not mention that S/Sgt Jesse N. Bradley was leaving, but that was a momentous event, nonetheless.

 

April 18, 1944

            War Diary – "…..A catastrophe occurred sometime late this afternoon. Lt. T. A. Scott, accompanied by Lt. Huisking (co-pilot who replaced Stanley in mid-March), Lt. Basamania (bombardier), and S/Sgt Risko (crew chief) went to Foggia to bring back their ship 'Paper Doll' which had been left there several days earlier while retuning from a mission. On the return trip, the plane crashed, killing all occupants. The cause of the crash has not been determined.

 

April 19, 1944

            War Diary – "….The funeral services for Lt. T.A. Scott, Lt. Huisking, t. Basamania, and S/Sgt Risko were held this afternoon at Bari (15th Air Force Headquarters). They were given a full military funeral, and a large number of squadron personnel attended to pay their last respects to these men."

            I was in North Africa hitch-hiking home.

 

In summary for my crew:

            * Co-pilot Stanley was killed over Steyr, Austria, February 23, 1944.

            * Pilot Scott, co-pilot Huisking, and bombardier Basamania were killed in the crash of Paper Doll at Bari, Italy, April 18, 1944. After the crash, our crew was split up and assigned as replacements in other veteran crews.

            * Navigator Robbins was appointed squadron navigator and promoted to Captain. He finished 50 missions in July 1944, and upon returning to the States, was assigned to Chatham Field, Georgia, by happy coincidence where I was stationed. Although hampered somewhat by non-fraternization regulations, he and I and new wife Jean managed to socialize some. After the war he finished law school at Harvard, returned to Hollywood, Florida, and established a very successful law practice. At 83, he still works almost full time. 

            * Waist gunner Thompson bailed out over Varese, Italy, April 23, 194 on his 37th mission – he had two machine gun slugs in his left leg. He was rescued by some friendly Italians, given some crude medical treatment, and then joined a partisan group of Italians, British, and Americans. He was "liberated" when the British Army captured Florence. He died in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in 1997.

            * Top-turret gunner and flight engineer Bury completed 50 missions. After the war, he worked in the Post Office in New York City for many years before retiring to Williston, Florida. I have not heard from him since 1999.

            * Nose gunner Hoover finished 50 missions. In civilian life he worked for a bakery in Arizona until he retired. He died in Camp Verde, Arizona in 1992.

            * Tail gunner Grande finished 50 missions in June 1944 – shooting down an ME-109 on his last mission. I lost touch with him after the war, and believe he is dead.

            * Waist gunner and radio-operator Rigano was among the last of the original 721st Squadron flight crewmen to complete 50 missions. He kept a running tally and later told me that 27 (out of 180) reached that magic number. However, I do not know whether or not that statement is correct. Rigano returned to his home in Mamaroneck, New York, after the war, but I also lost touch with him and do not know if he is still alive.

            * I, ball turret gunner Jesse N Bradley, left the squadron on April 14, 1944, after 35 missions. After the war, I studied electrical engineering at Vanderbilt, and am now retired from NASA.           









Jesse Jr., Jesse Sr. and Jean Bradley - 2009



Jesse, 2009 - Washington Memorial



Bobbi Bires & Jesse, 2009 - Washington Memorial

Link To Crew Pictures




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