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2nd Lt. Warren S.Follett
722nd Squadron

Letters To His Grandson

 

To: Patrick C. Follett From: Warren S Follett Date: April 8, 1995

 

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 why.

 

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 Issue).

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 mission.

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 position.

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 tense.

 

The squadron started a slow left turn southward out over the sea.

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 target.

 

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 stead.

 

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 "Axis Sally".

 

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 had fear!

 

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 confirmation photos.

 

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.

 



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