To: Patrick C. Follett From: Warren S Follett Date: April
Day number two at the 450th introduced no new
apprehensions. There was a nice breakfast, following which the crew of Schwab,
Fred, Jarmalovitch, et all arrived at Manduria, and we spent some time bringing
each other up to date. The last we had seen each other was at Maxwell Field.
We also that day met our ground crew, who were very
subdued - - almost reluctant to shake hands, or make eye contact; I decided
after some little conversation, that their apparent aloofness was, in fact:, a
reluctance to encourage close relationships with each new flight crew, since
statistically it would not be more that a matter of weeks when the ship which
they tried very hard to keep airworthy would fail to return from a mission
along with the crew of ten.
I don't remember if I told you that Victor Jarmalovitch
was called "murf" for short and that I sti1l don't have a clue as to
On this day there was a meeting of all of the recently
arrived crews for a sort of indoctrination lecture and Q &.A. Except for
the actual bombing missions there were no other schedules except chow times.
I took Murf to the QM and noticed that the defective
helmet had been removed, and proceeded to requisition a jeep, and after a
perfunctory salute at the gate, we hung a right and after about twenty dusty
minutes we were at the beach.
It was just like Aruba except that the sand is silica (like
in New England) rather than the coral of more southern latitudes, and there
were no people - - - anywhere~ There wasn't another soul on the entire beach -
- nor had we seen anyone on the entire trip from the base. In retrospect, I
don't think that I ever saw a car in Italy except for U. S. GI (Government
The Germans probably "requisitioned" them along
with the cattle as they moved (spelled "retreated") northward. -
Murf and I surveyed the entire 360 degrees of horizon,
and still not seeing another person anywhere, stripped, stuck a toe in the ocean,
and jumped in - -- just beautiful - - refreshing - - water quite salty - - and
about 85 degrees and crystal clear. We agreed that this was exactly the way to
fight a war, and that there would be more days at the beach in our future.
Back at the base we found a schedule for the next bombing
ALL CREWS TO REPORT AT 04:00 HOURS IN THE BRIEFING ROOM
THE FOLLOWING MORNING"
The briefing was for the officers only, and began exactly
on time, four AM. We heard first that
the target was Marseille. France, on the south coast, just west of Italy. The
specific target was the marshalling yards, which is the concentration of
railroad tracks, locomotive engines and cars necessary for transporting high tonnage
of materiel, men, tanks, fuel, food, tanks and ammunition - - - all of the
requirements for waging war..
Using a huge map of Europe and surround, the briefing
officer showed us the compass heading we were to take from Manduria to our I.P.
(initial point) The IP was some identifiable ground shape or structure from
which to start our bomb run. We then received the name, precise description and
location of the target itself and how to identify it (weather conditions
permitting). Someone else described why most of our trip would be over water
(no anti-aircraft fire) called AA, or usually simply "flak". We were
told what to expect in the way of defenses over the target - - -probably no
fighters, and some flak. There would certainly be some flak, but most German
fighters were not this far away from Germany itself at this stage of the war,
except for the most critical targets such as oil fields and production
facilities. We were to have fighter cover in any event.
At dismissal, a few names were announced, including mine,
to remain behind for a few minutes of instructions. It seems that the first
mission for new replacement crews always required that both the first and
co-pilots were to fly as co-pilot with an experienced crew with many missions
already to their credit. Bob and I, plus Schwab and Fred were introduced to the
pilots of four other crews. We each flew in the right seats, and the
experienced co-pilots on these four crews got the day off. With this kind of system,
along with all of the new crews arriving almost daily, I could see that I was
to have lots of days off while new pilots and copilots flew with Bob. This was
exactly how it worked out; I was to fly just about half of the missions that
the rest of the crew did.
Then to a nice breakfast - - the Air force ate well.
Jeeps dropped us off at our ship, and at about 5:45 A.M. we started engines and
taxied out in file to take off. After becoming airborne all twenty-eight in our
group made wide climbing turns around the field until all planes were aloft and
formed our four squadron positions.
I don't remember the name or the face, even, of the pilot
I flew with; he was rather quiet and business-like. Gradually, as the engines droned, those craft which took off last
caught up with the rest, and were in loose formation as we flew over Mount
Vesuvius and crossed the Italian coast and out over the Mediterranean Ocean in
a north-westerly direction toward our IP near Marseille.
"Loose" formation describes the six or seven
ships in an individual squadron at about a hundred feet apart, and this is a
rather relaxed type of flying. The lead plane in the squadron doesn't touch the
throttles while maintaining its altitude and direction with precision; as a
result, the following planes have only slight adjustments to make to remain in
Remember that the B-24 wing is one hundred and ten feet
tip to tip.
There are two situations which require "tight"
formation. First, on the actual bombing run (from IP to target), the bombs land
in a tight pattern.
Second, when enemy fighters are in your area, the number
of guns of the combined squadron's planes become a formidable deterring effect
on the "bandits".
The first pilot and I took equal turns at the controls
until we reached the IP, and then he took the controls for the actual run on
the target. There were no enemy fighters, but the flak of exploding AA shells
appeared as small dark grey clouds suddenly appearing in all directions were
enough to get your attention. When they were also close enough to hear over the
engine's roar, and you felt them move the plane - - not unlike turbulence - -
made you wish that you would get rid of the bombs and go home..
P-38 fighters had picked us up at the IP, and since we
were cruising at about 190 mph and them at closer to 300mph, they proceeded in
a serpentine pattern some thousand feet above us, thus closing on the target at
the same rate as us. Adrenalin was making me kind of hyper and at about the
time the bombardier gave out a sort of triumphant "bombs away", there
was an instant release and relief that now things would become a bit less
The squadron started a slow left turn southward out over
I should have mentioned that Marseille is a naval port so
that we were out of flak range and away from shore in a minute or so.
The first pilot asked me to take over, get a heading from
the navigator, to descend to ten thousand feet of altitude at five hundred feet
per minute (there is a rate of climb instrument) at an air speed of two hundred
mph, I broke formation and proceeded to 10,000 feet. We stayed in visual
contact with several of the other planes, but there was no longer any fear of
flak or fighters, and all were able to remove the oxygen masks. You don't want
to fly too low, because the B-24 with engine difficulty glides with the
characteristics of a stone.
The trip home was very relaxed. At one point pilot
"what's-his-name" asked what I thought about my first act of war and
gave me a slight smile when I advised him that " I had now tried it, and,
no offense, but if I didn't have to do it again, it would suit me just
fine." That I would "rather change places with his regular co-pilot
at the beach". The rest of the flight back to base was uneventful, just
the way I like it.
There was a note awaiting me that our ground crew chief
wanted to see Bob or me. I looked him up and found that he wondered what we
wanted for "nose art" painted on our plane and a name. Bob and I had
previously agreed for the name to be "I'LL GET BY", and that the
painting should be of a beautiful woman - something classy, and that we would
leave the details to the artist, thinking that this approach might just inspire
him. Crew chief said "Will do".
I had some thoughts near Marseille which I shared with
him. "How about an additional flak vest mounted on the cabin wall just to
tie right of me, and one just below me on my flight seat?" The
"aluminum skin" covering the B-24could be penetrated with a can
opener; it didn't even slow up flak fragments; if I had to fly through all of
this junk, I would like to bulletproof it to the extent possible. He said he
would take care of it and I thanked him and returned to the barracks.
Bombing schedules on average were about every other day,
giving crew chiefs an opportunity to repair the planes. On the non flight days,
the beach was becoming popular for the Fred and Follett crews. Several times we
signed out a weapon, stood up sea shells in the sand at water's edge and did
some target practice with anyone of the three guns available. The Thompson
machine gun was 45 caliber, and could be fired as semi-automatic (each trigger
depression caused a single shot) or fully automatic, in which case the gun
fired as long as the trigger was depressed, or ran out of ammunition. The colt
pistol was also 45 caliber and semiautomatic, while the 30 caliber carbine
rifle was also semi-automatic. Several of us got rather good in their use, and
followed safety precautions meticulously.
On one evening shortly after dark, the air raid siren
sounded, and the entire base personnel turned out and into the trenches for
about thirty minutes. We heard some rumbles like distant thunder from a very
tentative German bombing somewhere north of us. We never heard of any damage
caused, nor did we have a reoccurrence.
The eastern coast of Italy is on the Adriatic Sea, along
which runs a coastal road, the southern end of which is the town of Lecce
(about thirty miles east of Manduria) The road runs, as does the coast,
northwesterly through two larger cities, Bari, and Foggia, both of which had
major U.S. bomber bases.
We had a few days rest following our first bombing
mission and almost water-logged from swimming, so we volunteered to go on a
couple of errands for plane parts - - one at each of the cities of Bari and
Foggia; it was like a busman's holiday - - a change of pace.
We flew on one more local mission to do a search pattern
for a B-24 which had gone down in the ocean near Italy's west coast and at
about the same latitude as Manduria. We spotted it in shallow water just
beneath the surface apparently intact. The fuel lines had been ruptured over
Marseille, and the plane had run out of fuel; all were rescued and O.K.
We were scheduled to fly a mission the following day - -
the first in our own plane, and with our entire crew intact. I don't even
remember the target except it was in Germany; the briefing I do remember! It
was to be deep in Germany; weather--clear; flak and fighter resistance both
expected to be intense. The target was a Messerschmitt factory. As we neared
our plane, it was obvious that our "nose art" had been completed.- it
was a bust (pardon the expression) of a fair skinned maiden with a gardenia in
her jet black hair - - and tastefully done, while below was printed the plane's
name "I'll Get By"
After pre-flight inspection, and once inside, I was
pleased to see that the extra flak vests had been neatly installed. These, plus
the vest and helmet I wore gave me a feeling of a bit more security.
After take-off and all planes had formed a loose
formation, we headed in a northerly direction over the Adriatic while gaining
altitude to approximately 20,000 feet. All of our missions were flown at this
altitude, plus or minus a couple of thousand feet at least from the I.P. to
The route to Germany required that we cross land at a
point where there would not likely be any flak guns and then proceed to the IP
while avoiding flying over any cities protected by AA. This frequently required
several direction changes in flight. This course was planned and directed by
the navigator in the lead plane, while all other navigators simply observed,
and we followed. This left twenty four of the twenty five navigators in the
Group without anything to do as long as everything went according to schedule.
The bombardier's life was similar. The lead plane in the
group led the rest of us to the target using the Norden bombsight when in
range, and the lead bombardier did the actual aiming and when he released his
bombs, he announced over the radio "bombs away". All of the remaining
twenty-seven bombardiers in the group pushed the bomb release switch on his
verbal signal, or on actually visualizing the lead plane's bombs dropping from
the lead plane's bomb bay.
The military "brass" could have saved millions
of dollars, and hundreds of lives if they had trained some chimpanzees in
The Briefing officers had been right on all counts! Weather was clear; Flak and fighters
numerous and scary!
After turning at the IP, the formations tightened up with
each plane snuggled up to his neighbor for mutual protection, and when the
ME-109's and 2l0's came into range, all guns which could be brought to bear on
the fighters were firing almost continuously.
I witnessed planes blowing apart, others trailing smoke,
others dropping out of formation, some on fire and a few that were still on the
bombing run with parts missing from wing, rudder, etc. When planes fell we
would count the parachutes that opened to see if all ten men had gotten out.
This sort I of information was important to report back at base for notifying
next of kin.
Since the fighter's guns are fixed in position, the
fighter pilot actually aims his plane at a point just ahead of the target. This
interception curve is predictable, the object being for the projectile and the
plane to get to the same point in space at the same time. The amount of
"lead" for this to happen is changing constantly as the fighter gets
continuously closer and the projectile has a shorter distance to travel.
So fighters using this tactic quickly end up right behind
the bomber, and then must break away to avoid at the least six machine guns
firing from -- each plane up ahead of him (two 50 caliber machine guns in each
of the top, ball (bottom) and tail turret positions.
At times the fighters come in at you head on, firing
before breaking off with a "Split S" maneuver; here, he rolls onto
his back and pulls the stick backward bringing his nose downward ( this is like
the second half of a loop starting inverted.) The front on approach is like a
game of "chicken", except that the rate of closure is equal to the
sum of both planes speeds.
The time during which the planes are in range for
effective fire is minimum.
Occasionally the bomber pilot blinks - - loses his
concentration on staying in tight formation just long enough to fall back, or
drop away from tightness, in which case he is a prime target for one or more
fighters to take advantage of the loss of firepower from the other bombers..
Or, say one of the more forward planes in formation,
after blinking, realizes that he is overtaking the plane just in front. He
grabs the throttles and pulls back to slow his plane, and a moment later he is
falling back onto the plane immediately behind him, which has to take evasive
action which in turn makes him the target for the fighters. The guy who finds
himself no longer in the tight formation, and who is vulnerable to attack is
called "Tail End Charlie!
While Bob was flying close formation I kept as low a
profile as I could.
I watched the important instruments, and winced as the
flak came close enough to bounce us, or when I could hear and feel the
vibrations of our own guns being fired. When I was doing the close in formation
flying, only a thin strip of windshield was visible beneath my helmet allowing
me to see just enough to be able to concentrate on keeping in close.
It seemed longer that it actually was but on hearing
"bombs away" , I relaxed a bit, and then someone said over the radio
that the bandits had left the target area and gone home. This was very good
news; flak slowed, and then stopped altogether, and we were on our way home.
After we landed at Manduria I began reflecting on the
fact that of all the groups on this raid, almost all of the German fighter
attacks were, or seemed to be, concentrated on the 450th. Moreover, the
concentration of fighters seemed to be aimed at the 722nd squadron - - mine.
My observations were confirmed a few days later when I
was listening to "the daily short wave broadcast from Germany by
Like her Japanese counterpart, "Tokyo Rose",
Sally spoke perfect English and was part of the office of Joseph Gobels' propaganda
machine. Her broadcasts were an attempt to demoralize Allied soldiers in
several not so subtle ways. First she
suggested that wives and girlfriends back home were being unfaithful, and not
waiting for their loved ones to return to them. Second, she gave accurate statistics
on the number of planes destroyed on each specific mission, along with the
group and squadron numbers of each loss, and did this on the actual day of the
mission. Third, she told of the already scheduled missions for the next several
days, and which groups were to be involved with each, and reminded all that the
ME-109s and 210s and Folk Wolf 190s were fueled, armed and waiting for us.
She said that the "Cotton Tailed Bastards"
would receive special attention.
I learned subsequently that she never missed a chance to
report on the - "Cotton Tails", with special emphasis on the number
of downed B-24s.
My squadron, the 722nd, had white rudders, thus the nick
name she had assigned to us of "cotton tails". So it was me, in fact,
along with my fellow squadron's planes who were being singled out.
Everyone who flew in an airplane on any of these missions
To realize that my squadron's chances for making it home
each trip were not nearly as good as the others, was numbing!
Bob and I decided to enquire as to why the 722nd had been
singled out for all of this attention.
By way of background, you have to understand that even in
a bloody war sometimes people rose above pure animal instincts, and lived by a
few simple rules, not for a moment forgetting that the object of each side was
to destroy the other. The air war, for the most part was relatively less
personal. There was no hand to hand combat. There was little or no eye contact
even. And, I don't know of an incident of one person firing directly at another
individual. You bombed things, and you shot at things. Fighter pilots shot at
enemy planes and bombers and trains. Bomber pilots dropped their loads of bombs
on refineries, factories, and marshalling yards, and fired at enemy fighters in
self defense only.
This impersonality, plus a certain respect for the fact
that your enemy was really doing nothing that you were not also already doing,
led to an unwritten code that was honored by most air personnel - - - Allies
and Axis alike.
Fighter pilots on both sides became aces by the number of
confirmed "kills" - - the number of enemy planes destroyed, and
confirmed by the recorded movie camera mounted in each plane and activated
along with the plane's guns. The' code called for the fighter pilots not to
fire on soldiers who were parachuting after bailing out of their damaged plane.
The code a1so called for the pilot of a bomber, whose
plane was so damaged as to not allow him to return to base, that in this case
he should lower his wheels as a signal to the German fighters that they were
not going to fire, and that they were going to bail out. At this point, the
fighter pilot who had been responsible for the damage to the B-24, would pull
in close behind and wait for all to bailout before re-firing his guns for the
The entire story will never be known I expect, but a
situation similar to that I describe above had taken place sever months before
I had even arrived in Italy. Someone in the 722nd had received enough damage to
his B-24 by two ME-1O9s, that he lowered his wheels. Perhaps the radio contact
between pilot and crew was part of the damage, or perhaps the tail gunner lost
his cool when the wheels came down and two German fighters pulled in close
enough for him to look at the pilot's faces. In any event, the tail gunner shot
both of the enemy fighters down.
This, then, was why the "Cotton Tailed
Bastards" had from that infamous day forward, been receiving so much
attention from the Germans, and part of the reason that we were the eighth crew
to live in our room!
More to follow.
Love, grandps Follett.