To:- Patrick Follett From:- Warren S. Follett Date:-
April 1, 1995
All of the crew were assembled at Mitchel Field,
including Ben Picone's replacement, John Karabaik, our new bombardier.
New orders called for us to accept our own new B-24, and
to proceed with same to the Fifteenth Air Force: based in Italy. (I was hoping
for the Eighth in England) I was handed a requisition to sign for the plane;
asking if all crew members were required to sign for it, I was advised that
"only one officer should" I promptly handed the form to Bob
Everything the Army hands out must be accounted for ("signed")
You sign for clothing, guns, shoes, and yes, even tanks and airplanes, and
since the government wasn't paying me enough to ever replace it, I thought Bob
should have the honor- - not that one is apt to misplace something like a B-24.
The next step was to inspect the plane and go for a check
ride before "signing":
A couple of jeeps dropped us off at our brand spanking
new all aluminum (no paint) B-24-"J". (Each engineering change, such
as adding a turret, changed the suffix). The "J" model had four turrets,
and since the war had reached a point whereby there was no longer any need for
camouflage, ours was unpainted..
Bob and I gave the exterior a visual once-over-lightly,
kicked the tires, and climbed in. We ran down the check list, started and
warmed up the engines and rolled down to the end of the runway and Bob took off
while I adjusted flaps, and then raised the landing gear as soon as we were airborne.
We climbed to three thousand feet out over the ocean and took turns getting a
feel for the flight characteristics. I told Bob I would like to do a modified
and very gentle chandelle. Funk & Wagnall's
dictionary describes the maneuver better than I as "an abrupt climbing
turn of an airplane, utilizing momentum to gain altitude while the direction of
flight is changed". This is primarily an evasive maneuver used by fighter
pilots.. If you eliminate the word "abrupt", the definition applies
to what I wanted to do.. Thus far my opinion of the B-24 was that it was an
adequate craft, but I had to admit that the engines on this one were very
I lowered the nose and pushed the throttles forward to
gain speed (and Momentum), then banked the plane to the left, and as the turn
starts, pulling back on the wheel column, we started a tight climbing turn,
when all of a sudden there was a feeling of a double bump, and the sound of an
associated thumping. Lights indicated that both wheels had dropped to the down
(landing) position. Visual examination confirmed that they were down. I asked
Bob to take the controls while I activated the switch several times to raise
and lower the gear. Lights and visual observation confirmed that they were
functioning properly on command. My love for the plane was not enhanced in the
least. After landing, we reported the event to the ground crew for checking and
any required corrective action
Our plane was fully fueled the following morning and we
proceeded as per orders to Florida - - - then Puerto Rico - - - then Trinidad
and on to Natal, Brazil.
At the end of each leg of our journey, the plane would be
pre-flight checked and re-fue1ed for the following morning's flight.
We took off earlier in the morning from Natal to cross the
Atlantic Ocean with our destination Dakar, North Africa. Bob and I flew in
alternate shifts of exactly one hour each, and I thought that we would never
run out of ocean. We flew at an altitude of five thousand feet - - - this
provided a comfortable temperature, and eliminated the need for oxygen
I never saw so much salt water. just water. No birds. No fish.
If you look at a world atlas, you can see where Africa
and South America once fit together when our earth was much younger. You will
also see that Natal, Brazil' is the most eastern part of South America, while
Dakar is about the closest point in Africa to Natal. Dakar had a large and well
equipped field designed specifically as a major debarkation point for the west
to east flight commerce.
All of the above being said, the distance is still
terrifying, since distance prevents any radio contact over much of the route,
and there were no accompanying planes to witness and report problems. I don't
remember seeing even a ship.
J We finally spotted land, and were remarkably close to
our landing destination.
Just a few miles north along the coast and we landed at
Dakar. We all felt a little bit like Columbus, with the exception, which
navigator Schull pointed out "we at least know which I continent we landed
on" Dakar was dry, dirty and hot, but we were one step closer to
"home" in Italy The next day, with new fuel, we flew to the Mediterranean
Sea port of Tripoli, Libya, then one more hop across the Mediterranean to our
home field near the small Italian town of Manduria - - - a few miles from the
shores of the Gulf of Taranto, which forms the instep of the boot which is
At Manduria we were one of many fields in southern Italy
which made up the Fifty-third Bomber Wing of the Fifteenth Air Force. Our field
comprised the 450th Bomb Group in this wing, and the four squadrons which made
up the 450TH included the 720th, 721st, 722nd and 723rd. We were one of the
seven crews that made up the 722nd squadron. In addition to the flight crews,
the base included a ground crew for each flight crew, whose job was to keep the
plane flying with maintenance and repair and replacement of parts.
There were quite a few buildings, all of single story
height construction, including mess hall, barracks, briefing room, dining hall,
quartermaster shack, etc And, oh yes, the latrine. (more on this later)
The field was once probably an orchard, since it was
naturally flat, and the only utilization of the entire area was for farming.
Fields for cattle and fig and olive plantations. It was strictly an
The single landing strip was surfaced with interlocking
heavy gauge sheet metal panels placed directly on top of the ground. It was a
very undeveloped area with no paved roads, and I learned later that the Germans
took all of the cattle with them when they retreated northward. There were no
paved roads, and just under a topsoil was a white chalklike quarryable strata,
of which all of the field's buildings were constructed (walls, at least)
After securing our plane we were given a quick tour - -
the first stop was at our barracks only to find that the door to our four man
room had been boarded shut. Our guide uttered "Oh Shit". It seems
that the previous crew housed in this room had failed to return from the
previous day's mission. SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) was to board up a
room under these circumstances until all personal belongings had been cataloged
I wondered out loud" How many former residents had
lived here?" The guide's answer was that "We were the eighth crew to
be billeted in this room" And the base had only been operating a number of
After this sobering historical account we were shown the
building (while our room was being made ready for us. The
QM provided upon request, and for the necessary signature things like
parachutes, flak vests, helmets, Thompson machine gun, pistol, carbine- - -
even a jeep.
There were a couple of steps leading into the QM shack,
and an item which had been dropped on the ground beside the steps caught my
eye. It was a steel helmet with a hole in one side, and another hole in the
opposite side. I guessed that the QM didn't accept returns of damaged goods,
and that the manual didn't cover applicable instructions, so here it lay
awaiting someone's decision re: its disposition.
I was still thinking about the poor guy who had signed
the helmet out, when I became aware that there was an increasing noise level of
aircraft engines, and shortly we could see B-24s returning to the field. Within
moments a dozen or more were in view, most with wheels down, ready for landing.
There were red and green flares being fired from the, planes. My first stupid
thought was "What could have happened to cause this kind of celebration?"
The flares were signals to other planes and to ground
personnel that there was trouble. Green was to advise that there was damage to
the aircraft (no brakes, no landing gear, running out of fuel, etc.) Red represented
wounded or dead aboard.
Planes which were trouble-free kept in a wide traffic pattern
around the field, allowing priority landing to those in trouble. Ambulances and
fire engines were roaring out along either side of the runway to administer to
whatever problems needed their services..
Whew, this was just the first day at the 450th. Not the
most auspicious welcome to Italy, nor the most conducive to sleeping that first
Am sending a book that everyone should read.
The one thing that you can do that would please me the
most is to get the very best grades at school that you can~ So, the book has to
come after required study work. Good grades is the best thing that can happen
for one Patrick Follett, also.