Some words of clarification may be in order regarding the
following 55+ year old records of events that transpired during the hot, sweaty
summer of 1944. Some may recall or have
heard that there was a war going on then and in the European theatre the Allied
forces had advanced from initial landings on Sicily and now occupied the lower
1/3 of the Italian peninsula. Within
this area were located more than a dozen air bases from which the U.S. 15th
Air Force operated heavy bombers in all directions from N.W. through S.E.,
targeting German occupied aircraft factories, oil facilities, rail lines,
etc. One such base was located at
Manduria in the heel of the Italian boot.
This was the destination of the crew whose adventures are described in
the pages to follow. When my navigator
W.J. Christian began keeping a personal record of activities, I asked him to
make a duplicate copy for me, and that is how I ended up with the hand written
account which I still have.
The transcribing was done in 1999 with great care by Amy
Peterson, making sure that it is verbatim transcript, warts and all. When reading this diary keep in mind that
the words are not mine but those of a 21or 22 year old member of my B-24 crew.
Following the pages constituting this diary is a copy of a
letter received from this same crew member written after we had separately
returned from overseas. You'll find a
few warts here too, but I value it far more than any formal or official
recognition of our contribution to the war effort.
Andrew R. Peterson
Lieutenant, Air Corps
Army of the United States
A FOREWARD TO THE FORWARD:
As indicated, the accompanied pages attached to transcript
of Bill Christian's diary were prepared by me at the time (1999) to be
distributed to my 3 children and their families.
Included in the package is some follow-up correspondence
The VHS tapes also were made in 1999, primarily for
This little book contains the experiences of Crew 579
from 1st April 1944 to ?
A.R. Peterson "Pete" Pilot
W.F. McNeff "Mac" Co-Pilot
W. J. Christian "Chris" Navigator
M.L. Schirmacher "Marv" Bombardier
C.E. Smith "Smitty" Aerial Engineer
P.W. Crawford Radio
W.T. Rankin Nose Gunner
E.W. Evans Waist Gunner
H.R. Billadeau Ball
W.E. Shrum Tail Gunner
April 1 - We left Topeka, Kansas on our first leg to combat. We passed over Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta,
Macon, Jacksonville, and landed our P.O.E. at Morrison Fields, West Palm Beach,
Fla. We were confined to post, and Mac
couldn't even get out to see his wife who just lived 40 miles away.
April 2 - We fooled around all day at Morrison, getting our
final processing for overseas duty.
Marvin's brother, who was in Sarasota, somehow got on the post, and
Marvin was very glad to see him. We
briefed 7:00 p.m. for our next hop to Trinidad.
April 3 - Took off in wee hours of morning for our first overwater
hop. Everything went O.K. and we passed
Cuba, Puerto Rico and other islands, and landed at Trinidad in afternoon. Got our first taste of tropics. Food was strictly G.I. Briefed that night for next leg to
Belem. Also Mac, Pete and I made the
acquaintance of a post officer, and he took us up to his little house. It was nicely furnished with all modern
equipment. We had a few drinks and all
bought some liquor off him. We slept
that night for the first time under mosquito nets.
April 4 - Took off in a rainstorm for Belem. Weather was rough and navigation tough. We crossed the equator and landed on a
short runway at Belem. Overran the end
of it, but no damage done. Had seen a
lot of jungle that day, some of it from very low altitude due to weather. The base at Belem is nice and food looked
good, but tasted terrible. Briefed for
next hop to Natal. Had a few drinks at
officers club and then to bed.
April 5 - Supposed to leave for Natal, but Smitty was sick,
so we spent the day at Belem. Pulled a
100 hour inspection on plane and everything seems to be O.K. We all bought leather boots for protection
April 6 - Left Belem for Natal. Had more bad weather and flew as low as 1000 ft. to get under
it. Landed at Natal O.K. Base was nicest one yet. Food was good for a change and quarters were
good. Went to outdoor movie and saw "Buffalo
Bill." Had a few drinks at club.
April 7th to 13th - Briefed at 10:00
am for long overwater hop to Dakar, Africa.
However, Pete and I went on sick call so we wouldn't have to leave that
day. Discovered we both had fevers and
were grounded. Ended up that Pete's
fever got worse and he was put in the hospital. So we laid around for 7 days playing cards, drinking at the club,
reading and going to shows at night. On
April 13th we drew our per diem and all got between 70 and 80
dollars apiece. We all got a big kick
out of the natives, even Crawford and McNeff - but didn't manage to get to
town. Marvin and I got a little tipsy
on daiquiris one night. Marvin got bit
all over by bed bugs and he looked real cute.
Briefed again for Dakar.
April 14 - Took off for Dakar in the wee hours of the
morning, heavily loaded with baggage, mail and gas, and boy, we figured we
needed every gallon of the latter. This
was the big test for me, and I was really sweating it out. In fact the whole crew was; Smitty was even
making fishing tackle. However, I was
lucky and in the afternoon we came in right over Dakar, after 11 hours over
water. Dakar was a miserable field, food
was rotten and so were living conditions.
We briefed that night for Marrakech, our next stop.
April 15 and 16 - Took off in the morning and flew all day
over desert and mountains, managing to hit a tricky pass in the mountains in
spite of low clouds. Arrived in the
afternoon and stayed 2 days. We lived
in tents and had no lights. Food was
strictly G.I. We got into the town of
Marrakech. The natives want to buy and
sell you everything. Chris had bought a
watch in Brazil for $5 and sold it to some native for a Parker fountain pen and
then sold the pen for $12. We looked
the town over by riding a little cart towed by a 2 seated bicycle pumped by 2
April 17 - Briefed this morning for our next stop at
Tunis. Took off at 8:00. Had undercast 1/3 of the way. We flew over Oran and close to Algiers. Flew over Mediterranean ½ of way. Saw a large convoy. Landed in Djedinea in afternoon. Living conditions here were really
rough. Slept in old tents and ate food
cooked by Italian prisoners. Seen a
U.S.O. show that could have stunk in the states, but white women looked good to
April 18th - Briefed for next hop to Manduria,
Italy. Took off around 9:00. Crossed the Mediterranean into Sicily and
then along the coast of Sicily to Italy.
We got within 40 miles of destination when a freak wind hit us, and
before I caught it, it had blown us off course and over territory of which we
had no map. To make a long story short,
we flew in over coast of Yugoslavia at 3,000 ft., and got the hell shot out of
us. Well we headed back out to sea and
I plotted a sun shot I had taken, and it showed us north of our
destination. So we headed south and
finally landed with Billadeau, Smitty, and Crawford slightly wounded and 17
flak holes in the ship. Naturally we
were interrogated right away, and we found out that of the 14 ships that
started out that morning from Tunis, that only 8 of us were in. Later we found out that the freak wind had
caught them too. Final outcome was that
landed someplace else
were shot down by Germans over Yugoslavia
We Were Lucky
That night we were assigned to 450 Bomb Group and
722nd Squadron, and we were now in combat "In a Big Way." Due to the fact that Commander Smith was
sweating us out, we opened a qt. of liquor.
April 19 - Straightened up our tent a little. In afternoon signed pay voucher and then
went to Taranto. Pete, Mac, and I
really had a joy ride. We had a tea in
British officers' club. Looked at
April 20 through 28 - During these 9 days, Pete went on 4
missions, Mac on 1, and Crawford on 1.
went to Varese
Mac went to
The rest of us laid around and done nothing but sweat the
We went to Lecce one day.
Clean town and we even had ice cream at Red Cross. Seen a statue in Lecce of a boy having
sexual intercourse with a duck. We four officers moved to another tent after
building a floor in it. We also built
some tables and benches. Billadeau got out of the hospital and is ready for
April 29 - Pete, Crawford, and Shrum flew today on mission
to bomb sub pens at Toulon. Pete and
Crawford came back, but ship Shrum was flying in was shot down. 10 chutes were seen and we hope to assume
that he was a prisoner of war.
We all feel bad because we considered Shrum our best gunner
and a swell fellow. Major Orris, the
squadron leader, and the squadron navigator and bombardier also were shot
down. Smith's crew had to land in
Corsica or Naples; he is assumed to be safe, as he was escorted by nothing.
April 30 - Today we flew our first mission as a crew in our
own ship. We went up into northern
Italy and bombed Allessandra marshalling yards (M/Y) that had 2500 R R
cars. Marvin's bombs were the best of
the whole group. We encountered no
enemy fighters or flak, and we all considered it an easy mission.
May 1st and 4th - Practice missions -
Billadeau, Smitty, and Crawford received Purple Heart today. Reason being "Flying over enemy territory
due to my navigator error." Brunner
ship #760 cracked up on take off. Only
one man slightly hurt.
May 5th - Briefed at 9 AM for raid on Ploesti at
2 PM and dropped 10/500# bombs on refinery.
Smoke was seen to rise to 12,000 ft.
Jumped by fighters as soon as left flak area. No damage by fighters
3 holes caused by flak.
May 6-11 - Practice Missions -- went to Bari.
May 12 - Today was a rough one. Big Push started in Italy and we were supposed to fly 2 missions
to northern Italy. We took off at 5:30
and flew towards our target via front lines to boost morale of Ground
Troops. We arrived over our target of
Porto San Stefano at 0900, dropped our bombs, and then flak let loose. Word's ship had its tail blown off by a
direct hit, and started down out of control.
7 chutes were seen. At same
time, Chriestia veered out of Word's way and hit Smith's plane, knocking entire
tail off. Smith went straight down and
no one got out. While all this was
happening we got flak hit in #3 engine, leaving a hole in the prop hub. Were losing oil fast, so feathered #3 and
came home without further difficulty on 3 engines. Were about to take off on a second mission in the afternoon, but
it was cancelled - just in time. We
sure will miss Smith, Craven, Corneluis, and Farrar. Only yesterday we all went to Bari together. Only consolation is that we sure plastered
May 13 - Back up in northern Italy for a raid on Piacenza
M/Y. Went over at 21,000 ft. and for
once encountered no flak. Target
completely destroyed. No trouble on way
May 14 - No mission.
Fooled around and wrote letters etc. all day.
May 15 - Practice bombing and gunnery mission for whole crew
today. Had a lot of fun for once in an
airplane. No flak to sweat out.
May 16 - No flying today.
Marvin and Mac went to Oria, and Pete and I built a clothes closet.
May 17 - Briefed for our second raid on Porto San
Stefano. We went over this time at
22,000 ft. and flak wasn't as accurate as the day we lost Smith. Hit target successfully and left big fires. Hope we somewhat avenged Smith.
May 18 - Briefed at 6:30 for Ploesti raid. On course at 0800 over Adriatic. Struck bad weather over Yugo and couldn't
get though to Ploesti. We then tried to
bomb Belgrade through overcast, but radar ship was screwed up. So we came back with bombs. Sure got a lot of flak over Belgrade for
May 19 - Up at 3:30 am and briefed for raid on LaSpezia at
4:30. Took off 06:14 and
rendezvoused. Paraded the front lines
for morale effect. On way to target
hellish weather and formation got split up a couple times. Finally got to target and made our bomb run
through intense flak to smash target which was a M/Y. On way back struck more weather and had to descend to 5,000
ft. One of our gun boats opened fire on
us, but stopped after we strafed him back.
Shain had to ditch his ship in Bay of Naples, and he and navigator were
killed. Back to field and landed at
May 20 - Day off - rested.
May 21 - Day off.
Spent all day making sides for tent.
All tired that night.
May 22 - Up at 7:30 and briefed for RR bridge at Latisana,
Italy. Struck bad weather and couldn't
get through to target. Bombed alternate
at Pescara. Didn't do too good and flak
was awfully accurate. However, didn't lose
any ships. Back 12:00.
May 23 - Up at 6:30 and briefed for raid on German troop
concentration below Rome. On course ran
into bad weather. Went in over coast
and through lot of flak over target, but couldn't bomb because of clouds over
target. Piece of flak came through
pilot's windshield. Went back out over
sea and waited for weather to clear over target, at which time we went over
again, dropped bombs (frags) hitting motor pool and doing considerable
damage. Very accurate flak, but no
May 24 - Up at 3:30 and briefed for aerodrome at Weiner
Neustadt. 20 miles north of Graz, 50 ME-109's attacked our group, which was
without escort. Had a rough time but shot down 18 of them, losing 8 B-24's.
After being under attack for 16 minutes, some P-38's showed up and the 109's
took off for home. Remainder of group continued on and bombed, but not too good
results. No further trouble on the way home, but 4 ships cracked up on the
runway. Our Sqdn. had lost Chrestia and crew, and 984 had a 20mm hole in the
nose wheel doors. Also flak holes from the worst flak we had ever flown though.
We were lucky.
May 25 Pulled raid on oil storage and refinery at Venice,
Italy. Bombs hit right on target and it was demolished. Smoke & fire up to
18,000 ft. Enemy shot rockets and considerable flak at us, but it was quite
inaccurate and we were undamaged.
May 26 Up at 3:30 to brief for Nice, France raid. Over
target and bombed at 10:33. One of the best jobs we have done target
demolished. Flak was moderate and not too accurate. No ships lost, but we are
all dead tired from 5 straight days flying.
May 27 Day off at last. Group hit Marseilles, France.
Doing a good job in spite of intense flak. We went to Manduria and got our
rations. Feeling good not to have flown, even though no ships were lost today.
May 28 Group day off. Air alert at night - no bombs
dropped, but we spent some time in very uncomfortable air raid shelter.
May 29 Didn't fly again today. Group bombed Weiner
Neustadt with good results and good luck. No planes lost.
May 30 - Up at 4:30 and briefed for another raid on Weiner
Neustadt. No fighter opposition to target. Over target and through heavy flak,
but didn't drop any bombs. Turned around and went back over target and dropped
bombs. Made a left turn right over Weiner Neustadt, and boy, was the flak
thick. On way back fighters hit us and the group lost 2 planes, including
Brunner from our squadron on his 48th mission. 10 chutes were seen
and we hope they landed in partisan territory. (Three of the members of this
crew got back to the base a few weeks later, after some very narrow escapes.
Others were murdered by the Eustachi, and some of them were dead when they hit
the ground. Don't know what happened to Brunner a good pilot.)
We got one flak hole through nose turret, but Rankin's flak
suit stopped it right over his heart. Crawford damaged one enemy 109. Another
air raid alert we took to the orchards this time, but no bombs were dropped.
May 31 Pete was grounded today and so we didn't fly. Group
went to Ploesti, losing 3 or 4 planes, two from our squadron. Shaefer turned
back before target with feathered engine, and fighters must have got him coming
back. Barrett went down due to flak over target. He had 45 missions 10 chutes
were seen. Major McWhorter flew our ship today and it came back with more holes
in it. 6 new crews have come in to replace our boys that have gone down.
Jerries came over again, but dropped no bombs.
June 1 Group stand down, went to beach.
June 2 Up at 03:00 and briefed at 4:00 for raid on
Simeria, Romania. No interception on way to target and only one burst of flak.
Nice mission. Black-out again tonight enemy planes believed taking pictures
at Taranto. We could hear 2 JU-88's go over.
June 3 Scheduled for early briefing this morning. Everyone
except Mac flying. Stinchfield replacing him. Mission cancelled because of
weather. Marv & I went to beach this afternoon for a swim.
June 4 Mission to Genoa M/Y. Hit target with 40 hundred
pounders. Moderate and heavy flak over target, but we just got a couple of
June 5 Mission to Castel Maggiore M/Y 5 miles above
Bologna. Dropped 500 pounders at 13:40, but didn't hit target too good. Hardly
any flak. At 13:11, 10 miles S.W. of Bologna, we ran into a hornet's nest of 30
flak guns. They really had us boxed, and never have seen flak so close or so
accurate. They split our formation up badly, and several ships were damaged.
One had 6 ft. of the right wing blown off, but still had aileron control, so it
made it back O.K. All ships landed safely. We just picked up a few more holes
June 6 Up at 2:45 for another Ploesti raid. Lead navigator
screwed up and we got off course to catch considerable flak at Belgrade. 2
ships hit and had to return to base. Dropped on the target at 09:17 with a
group right above us dropping bombs through our formation. Tried to use evasive
action, but some of them seemed to miss us by inches. Target was obscured by
smoke screen, so we dropped bombs on the pathfinder ship. Flak was heavy,
intense, and accurate. Evans stopped a piece of flak with his parachute. Had
good escort and saw no enemy fighters. Hard about French invasion over radio
coming back over Yugoslavia.
June 7 No mission. Went to beach.
June 8 No mission. Everybody wondering why. Had close
order drill in morning.
June 9 Up at 2:45 to be briefed on 264 heavy flak guns,
etc. at Oberfaffenhofen aircraft factory near Munich, Germany. Target was
undercast, so we bombed Munich on pathfinder. Lots of flak anyway, and we got
one big piece through the tail, which set a box of flares on fire. Evans and
Crawford grabbed the flares and threw them out the waist window. Nobody on our
ship hurt Group lost one ship which exploded over target. Keller had a rough
time (Lombard co-pilot).
June 10 Got up early again and started out for Trieste,
Italy oil refinery. Pretty good hits on target and shipping. Large fires and
smoke seen up to 12,000 ft. One naval vessel sunk. ME-109's attacked 2nd
wave, but were driven off (1 shot down) by P-51's. Moderate and inaccurate
flak. No ships lost.
June 11 Went on a long one today way over to Constanta on
the Black Sea to hit oil refinery. Smoke and fires seen after bombs hit, but
raid was not too successful. Flak was heavy but inaccurate. We had good escort
of P-38's and lost no ships. Smith didn't fly with us today. Has a case of the
nerves and is grounded for awhile.
June 12 No mission today.
June 13 The group attempted to bomb F.W. 190 plant at
Munich today, but failed amid very intense flak. Lost 2 planes. We didn't fly,
but our ship came back with a lot more holes in it.
June 14 Briefed at 04:30 for raid on Osiejek, Yugoslavia,
which we completely destroyed. No flak and no fighters! Wish they were all like
June 15 We were not scheduled to fly today, and the
mission was called off on account of weather. We are sweating out going to rest
June 16 to 21 The whole crew spent these 5 days at rest
camp, enjoying good food, drinks, recreation, and plenty of rest. During this
period the group flew about 1 mission without losses.
June 22 The group went to Ferrara, Italy, and successfully
bombed a M/Y without losing any ships. We didn't fly.
June 23 Boys briefed for Ploesti. Returned early because
June 24 All of crew except Marvin, Smith (still grounded)
and I went to Ploesti. Encountered the same usual heavy flak, and off the
target were jumped repeatedly by 40 enemy fighters. Six ships went down
including Murphy, Johnson, & Van Popering from our squadron. Murphy went
down with old 984, the Flak Magnet having met her end as a result of fighters
rather than flak. She had 30 sorties without an early return, all praises be to
an excellent ground crew. Hope our next ship is as good.
June 25 Up at 2:45 and were slated for raid on submarine
pens at Toulon, France. Had a new airplane, but she developed a bad fuel leak
in the transfer pump. Also could not transfer fuel so we turned back after
sweating it out as far as Naples. First early return Pete has made in 35 missions.
Rest of group flew over target, but didn't drop bombs because of weather.
June 26 Up at 03:00 and briefed for airplane factory at Vienna.
Over target 09:52 and encountered damn heavy and intense flak. Top of nose
turret was blown off, but luckily Rankin had flak helmet on, saving him from
more serious injury than bits of glass in his eye. Had good P-38 & 51
escort all the way, so were not attacked, but we saw a lot of dog fights. Group
lost 2 ships. Frink went down in flames (in "Toni Gayle") just before target.
Schoeffler went down in a spin over target. We flew another new ship, "Queen
Anne" today (modified "H" also), and like it very well. Hope we can keep her.
June 27 Were scheduled for a/c factory job at Budapest,
but struck bad wx in Danube Basin and had to bomb alternate of Brod,
Yugoslavia. Missed M/Y but hit installations. Moderate flak and only 4 enemy
fighters seen. No group losses today.
June 28 & 29 No mission these 2 days. Rested and wrote
June 30 Arose at 3 for an a/c factory job at Zagreb,
Yugoslavia. I had to fly with Captain Dawkins in the attack lead ship, while
Pete and the rest of the crew were flying deputy lead. Had bad wx all the way,
and climbed to 24,000 ft. to get over it. Target was undercast, so leader tried
to dive through it. Came down 2,000 ft. per minute and got separated from the
rest of the group. Couldn't bomb because of wx and had to jettison bombs
(frags) for fear of fighter attack. I navigated our 13 ships home O.K., but did
a lot of sweating when 11 enemy fighters came sailing by. They didn't even
attack though, and everybody got back all right.
July 1 & 2 No Missions.
July 3 Today we took off to bomb oil installations at
Guirgio, Romania. Encountered no opposition until target. Over target flak was
awfully accurate and got two of our ships. Wilson blew up over target, but 8
chutes were seen before the ship exploded. 3 chutes were on fire. Walrath went
down 30 miles from target. 2 chutes were seen.
July 4 Led the high right box today with Captain D. C.
Dawkins as co-pilot to finish his 50 missions. Long mission but encountered no
fighters. Target was hit excellently and we have received a commendation for
it. Target was a R.R bridge at Pitesti main line between Ploesti &
Belgrade. Volk made an early return deep in enemy territory and never did get
back. Assumed to have been shot down.
July 5 Today Marvin and I flew with Major McWhorter in
lead ship 2nd attack, to bomb submarine pens at Toulon, France. Hit
the target in spite of smoke screening, but flak was intense and several ships
were damaged. 6 of them had to land at Corsica. It was an 8 hour trip and very
July 6 Today we led the group as lead ship. Pete was
co-pilot for Col. Snaith, and Marv and I were lead navigator and bombardier.
Target was 2700 ft. RR bridge at Cesaro, Italy. We all did a good job knocked
out a 70 ft. span and 2 other spans are sagging on the river bed. No flak, no
fighters. Multo buona!!
Juyly 7 Had today off. Group bombed Zagreb M/Y with no
losses. Marvin went swimming while I went to ____, and Pete and Mac went to
Gioia to bring back a radar ship.
July 8 Mission to Markersdorf A/D 30 miles S.W. of Vienna. We led the squadron formation, but
were crowded off the bomb run by the 449th. Missed the briefed
target (so did everybody else), but hit a railroad yard with tank cars in it
and started some good fires. No flak at target and had good escort, so we saw
only 9 enemy fighters. Saw 2 B-17's and one B-24 blow up in mid-air today.
July 9 We had O.D. duty today and did not fly. Group
unsuccessfully bombed Ploesti without losing any ships.
July 10 11 Standdown.
July 12 Today we led the 2nd attack wave on a
raid into southern France. Target was RR bridge at Cannes, which was not hit
too good, though the bombs from our formation went right in the target area.
Met heavy flak over the target and on our turn out to sea, caught some from
Nice. No ships lost, but we hit lousy weather on the way back and arrived home
with a 2 ship formation. Almost rammed a formation of P-51's.
July 13 Group had a milk run to northern Italy today, but
we didn't fly.
July 14 Led the squadron again to bomb M/Y at Budapest.
Hit the target and no fighters hit us, but we caught plenty of flak and got
some big holes. Queen Anne got the purple heart.
July 15 - Today the group raided Ploesti again. Crawford,
Reid, and Evans and Allen flew with Col. Snaith in the lead ship, which caught
a direct hit over the target, exploded just at Bomb's Away. No chutes were
reported. The rest of us who didn't fly today lost 4 of our dearest friends. A
man can't say in words how he feels. Crawford had 47 missions, Allen 49, Evans
and Reid had 43. This was the only plane lost over the target one ship cracked
up while approaching the field, seriously injuring several men.
July 16-17 Standdown.
July 18 Briefed for Friedrichshafen, but had to turn back
on account of the weather. Were leading an attack unit, but came back with 3
ships. The rest of them were scattered all over and came in later.
July 19 Today we went up to Munich. We led the squadron
through heavy intense and accurate flak for 6 minutes. One group ship went
down. Attacked by several 109's on the way back that wounded several men in
another squadron. Collette crash landed at Foggia, killing 5 enlisted men. Felt
good to get through that raid.
July 20 The four of us sent to Bari today to see the stage
show This is the Army , which we all enjoyed very much. Pete and I
hitchhiked back, via Brindisi. Group did a good job on Freiedrichshafen today,
losing Furrow and crew out of our squadron,
who are probably in Switzerland.
July 21 - I was the only one of the crew that flew today,
but didn't get to target on account of wx. Caught flak at Pola and fighters attacked,
so got credit for a mission. No ships lost.
July 22 Today we went to our old favorite Ploesti. We led
the 3rd attack unit consisting of 12 ships. At the I.P., upon seeing
the barrage of flak ahead and a group of 17's coming over the same target from
a slightly different direction, the 1st and 2nd attack
units turned off the bomb run, though the 2nd attack unit did drop
their bombs. We kept on going and made a good bomb run before we turned out of
the flak, which didn't give us too much trouble because the Jerries were
shooting at the 17's that were above us. Target was smoke obscured as usual,
but think we got a few bombs in by radar pathfinder. The 1st and 2nd
attack units had taken off and left us so we just slowed down in order to
protect stragglers and came home by ourselves. Found out our compasses were all
haywire, and it was pretty rough navigating on the way back to avoid the flak
area. Got back with the formation intact though, and without being attacked by
fighters, which we had seen. Piece of flak missed Marvin and me by inches. C.O.
wants to put us all 4 in for the D.F.C. Group lost 2 planes.
July 23 This morning we briefed for a very short raid on
an oil refinery at Betal Kryzova, Albania. Left the field at 12:06 and dropped
bombs at 12:31. Flak intense and accurate. Rankin wounded in eye by broken
glass from his turret. Target hit, no losses. Pete finished his 50 missions.
July 24 & 25 Standdown.
July 26 Group prevented from hitting Vienna aerodrome by
July 27 Marv and I flew lead ship to Arm. Wks at Budapest,
but had sight malfunction. 1 sqdn. ship lost - - blew up with 7 chutes seen.
July 28 Stand down.
July 29 Group went to Markersdorf with poor results. Mac
& I flew to Naples.
July 30 Stand down. Flew Mac to rest camp & flew
practical mission at night.
July 31 Group flew to near Ploesti. Pete, Marvin & I
went to Bari and saw Rankin. Zelznik blew up on take-off, killing 7 men and
getting us out of bed but quick.
August 1 Briefed for Ploesti. Got off but mission
cancelled, so we had to fly around 3 hours to lighten load before landing.
August 2- Stand down.
August 3 Barbecue & beach party. Huge success with
6,000 cans of beer. Group milk run to northern Italy.
August 4 & 5 Stand down.
August 6 Marv & I led the group to Toulon.
August 10 I finished up on raid to Ploesti. Pete left this
morning for Naples, to return to the U. S.
Friday Oct. 27, 1944
it is about time you wrote me, I thought maybe they had taken both your eyes
hear about your eyes Pete but if it isn't serious, maybe it will keep you out
of further combat from now on. I have had my physical and outside of the usual
nerves only thing they found wrong with me was an infected prostate. Thanks for
the pictures, I didn't have any pictures except combat pictures, so I got
something to show my grandchildren.
heard from Mac (Co-Pilot) or Marvin (Bombardier) except a short letter from
Marvin saying they had finished and were on their way to walking their orders
through. If Marvin is Group Bombardier it is news to me, I didn't think they
would have a non-flying Group Bombardier but I don't know.
time this letter gets to you, Mac will be home and give you the news but I will
give it to your anyway as much as I know.
As you know
my last mission was over Ploesti. Well same thing happened that day that
happened to us at Ploesti. 1st attack SNAFUed and the good old 722nd
went in on its own. I practically had to order Keller to turn where I said but
he did and we hit the target and 1st attack dropped 4,000 feet off
target. Well, the flak was worse than I ever saw it. Fitz broke formation and
unluckily got a direct hit and went down. He later came back when they
liberated Ploesti but his Navigator and Bombardier were killed by the direct
hit. Fitz himself got blown out of plane by gas explosion just as he was on
catwalk and has a big scar on face.
got back that day and I sure was glad to be finished. After that Gennette went
in Hospital and I took over the job of Sqd navigator and it had a lot of
headaches. The next mission we led I put Lazort in with Marvin. McWhorter
(Sqdn. Commander) and Fahnstock were the pilots. The mission was to Ploesti and
over Ploesti they got a flak hit on Co-Pilots side and Fahnstock and Mcwhorter
were wounded. Fahnstock had his arm almost torn off and Mcwhorter got a junk in
his A_ _. Coming back from Ploesti, Lazort got screwed up and led the whole
damn group over Berat, Albania at 8,000 feet and the 720th lost two
ships. To make a long story short Mcwhorter and Fahnstock both ended up in
hospital and Lazort got a hell of a lashing by Gideon (Group Commander). Fahnstock will never fly again. The
(Colonel) Mcwhorter was in about 3 weeks and is out now.
excitement was when group went to Vienna and Stinchfield's Copilot Clauser was
killed by piece of flak going through his head. Stinchfield was bodily wounded
in leg and barely landed at Foggia before he passed out.
excitement was the next day when they went to Vienna again. I never seen so
many feathered props. One guy landed with 2 feathered on one side. One crew
bailed out over field because they couldn't get wheels down. To climax it all
Mac came in last after cruising around the field shaking his wings to get his
wheels down. Then he landed with no brakes and everybody in tail He sure looked
funny coming down runway with his nose all the way up in the air. Anyway he
looked darn good to us. His ship was shot all to hell but no one hurt. I damn
near cried sweating him in. Mac wasn't cold that day he was sweated right
through his flying clothing.
about all the news I know except when they liberated Ploesti. Colonel Snaith
came back and he was only one to get out. I had hopes Pete, but he told me that
rest were reported dead. I haven't written Mrs. Crawford or any of them but I
may see Mrs. Crawford as I suspect I will be sent to Monroe, Louisiana to a
refresher course in Navigation. Barretts crew came back from Ploesti entire 10
men. 7 of Walraths crew including Walrath cam back. Part of VanPoperings crew
and part of Johnsons crew but I don't know what part. All of Volks crew and all
of Schaeffers crew (except Schaeffer) came back from Yugo. Sam Houston came
back from southern France where he had been hiding out. I met Charlie White and
his crew in Naples back from Ploesti. Seemed good to see them. If only Smith,
Carmel and VanDykes crew were OK and our boys it wouldn't have been so bad.
Think how lucky we are Pete.
I met one
of the crews here that went to England, that we knew, and he said every crew
that went from our gang to England made their missions and didn't lose a man.
They say England is tougher, that's one for the books.
(nose guns) and Billadeau (Ball turret) came back with me. I had a lot of
trouble getting Rankins orders through but I went to Bari myself and got them
through on 48 missions. It was worth the trouble in order to make sure somebody
didn't screw him up. Rankins eye is O.K. now.
(engineer) is still sweating them out but I guess we don't have to worry about
him. He is a swell guy and I know we both think he is a darn good engineer and
our eccentric navigator I think you had a damn good crew, Pete but then the
crew had a damn good pilot. I know I thanked God many a time that I had you for
a pilot. I wish we could get back together again but knowing the army we
probably won't see each other until war is over but by golly sometime we shall
get together over a Grapefruit Juice and spin tall tales.
ever hear anything from your D.F.C. I never did and probably won't It makes me
burn to see these guys from the 8th wearing it. Keller's crew got it
just before they left. Incidentally Keller and Hobart both made Captain. You
certainly deserved it but the army way is always the wrong way.
I was 7
days at Naples and the couple weeks almost coming across sleeping in a stinking
hold next to some German prisoners. Boy did they stink. Couple of them were ack
ack boys from Toulon and were very unpopular.
Had a good
time at Furlough but it went to fast and now I am here. I have my car with me
and hope they don't send me too far. I haven't been classified yet but they are
sending 99% of the navigators to Monroe, Louisiana so I more or less expect to
go there. Would like to get in intelligence school but probably no chance.
Probably leave here in 3 or 4 days and will write you my new address. Now look
Joe, write me letters, damn it, I want to keep in touch with you. Good luck on
your eyes, maybe you are constipated and they are treating you for the G.I.'s.
It has been known to happen.
to Bess and both of you write and take care of the stone ache. If you see Mac give him my regards. I must
write him in a couple of days. Lots of Luck, Pete.
P.S. Yes C. S. I did get the 45 home right in my bag. What
happened to your secret compartment box.
P.S.S. Queen Anne was there when I left.
Bill Christian (Chris), my former navigator, wrote this
letter to me at Miami Beach in Oct 1944 where I was hospitalized with an eye
problem following my return from overseas. He had also finished his missions,
though somewhat later than I, and was reporting to me the "excitement" that he
and others had experienced after I left Italy.
McNeff had about 5 missions to go when I finished up and was
given his own crew when I left. He was a qualified P-38 pilot but had no formal
training or left seat time in B-24's.
Col. Snaith was operations officer of 450th group
when on a Ploesti mission a direct hit destroyed his airplane. Among those
killed were my radioman and 3 gunners. I had flown a mission as co-pilot with
Col. Snaith 9 days earlier.
Grounded and assigned to maintenance with a severe case of
combat fatigue after about 30 missions.
Queen Ann our second airplane which was a replacement for
the one we brought over (another crew lost it to fighters). Queen Ann had been
owned by a less fortunate crew.
June 13, 2008