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Allen C. Hart
Bombadier
722nd Squadron, 450th BG (H)




This information courtesy of 450th Bomb Group (H) The "Cottontails" of WWII and Turner Publishing Company
450TH BOMB GROUP TRAINING

JUL 1943 - NOV 1943

Those of us who were assigned to Clovis, New Mexico on May 31, 1943 were sent there for the purpose of forming a new bomb group, however, the members of the new group never met there. I was assigned to the 722nd Bombardment Squadron as the Squadron Bombardier. This squadron was a part of the 450th Bomb Group which was soon to be relocated to Alamogordo, New Mexico. My wife, Martha, went along with me to Clovis. We thought that I would be there for my entire training for combat but, as usual, things did not work out according to our plans.

A bomb group being prepared for combat was required to attend the School of Applied Tactics in Orlando, Florida. This course consisted of a flying portion and a water survival phase, and was attended by the squadron and g roup staff. The first portion was conducted at the Orlando Army Air Base and the remainder was conducted at Pine Castle Army Air Field just outside Orlando. The facilities at Orlando were first class, with permanent quarters buildings and a fine Officers Club. I'm sure this was to provide a contrast to the facilities at Pine Castle, where we slept under the wing of our B24 aircraft and stood in its shade to eat our meals. It was late June and early July, and the heat and bugs and sand were unbearable. As is usual in that part of Florida, we had thunderstorms every afternoon but, since tactics required formation flying, we had a daily session of low altitude formation flying and group assembly. All our pilots were new to the B24 and several had only a few hours of multi-engine flying experience, so there were many close calls and near misses. At this time, I was the Squadron Bombardier and flew with the Squadron Operations Officer or the Squadron Commander, both of whom were experienced B24 pilots. I didn't worry about them, but it was the other guys you had to look out for. I must admit that this was not one of my most enjoyable experiences.

To add to the anxiety, we had water survival. For this training, they had a partially submerged fuselage of a B24 that could be lowered into the lake. The fun part was, it was lowered with a crew inside. The objective was for the crew to get out of the aircraft and into the life rafts within a prescribed period of time. I never liked water and I had a particular dislike for being dunked while wearing a sheepskin lined flight suit, a parachute, and a flak vest. You know what a flak vest was? It was a series of metal plates covered with canvas and it weighed about fifty pounds. Overall the equipment was heavier than I was, but they did give me a Mae West (life preserver) to wear. The catch was that it was deflated and had to be blown up by mouth after you were under water. Believe me, I made sure that I passed the survival test on the first try so that I didn't have to go back into the water.

My stay in Orlando was highlighted by Martha and her father coming down for a week-end. I greatly enjoyed the visit, but Martha had morning sickness that lasted all day, so she did not have a great time. I had Sunday off so we rode over to Daytona Beach for the day. On Monday, she and her father returned to Atlanta. At that time, the group had completed the Tactics School so we flew back to Alamogordo.

We got off to a rousing start at Alamagordo. We had a great Squadron Commander named Chadbourne Steward. His name is spelled differently on several sets of official orders, so I don't know if it was Chadbourne Stuart or Chadburn Stewart. Regardless of the difference in the spelling of his name, he could have claimed kin to Gen. J. E. B. Stuart of Civil War fame, and after getting to know him, you would never doubted this lineage. He was a man's man, who could do everything better than anyone else. He flew better, played the piano better, played poker better. He could drink anyone under the table, and could whip any man in the whole outfit. Every man in his squadron looked up to him, and this was probably his undoing.

There were two stories about how Captain Steward came to be relieved of his command. I had never heard the first one until I attended the 450th Bomb Group Reunion which was held in St. Louis on October 17, 1991. The gentleman who was our First Sergeant at Alamogordo was at the reunion and he told me that Captain Steward's wife, who was a model or a movie actress, pulled strings and got him re-assigned to a non-combat unit in the Aleutians where he would be in less danger. I cannot believe that for several reasons and I had first hand knowledge of the events leading up to his being fired as Squadron Commander. The way I remember it was like this. We had a Group Commander named John S. Mills. He was a full colonel and a very prim and proper gentleman. He did not like Steward and their disagreement came to a head on this one Saturday night. He and Chad, along with several other officers were playing poker in the Officers Club. As usual, they were drinking and boasting. The Group CO decided that he had heard enough out of this blow-hard Steward and invited him outside to see who was the better man in a bare knuckle fight. This was a bad mistake. After a couple of punches the CO was KO (knocked out) and the Captain was in the pokey. Even with all the grumbling from those who had watched the entire affair, it was decided that Captain Steward would be better off serving in the Aleutian Islands, flying submarine patrol, so he was shipped out. The 450th Group history says that he was reassigned to the 302nd Bomb Gp in Clovis, New Mexico, however this may have been a temporary stop on his way to the Aleutians. He was replaced by a Major Lewis Orris. When the enlisted men were told about Captain Steward's being fired, the Line Chief, a Master Sergeant named Hatfield, lined them up and marched them o ut the front gate and over the hill. That meant that they were all A.W.O.L.(that's Absent WithOut Leave). I had no knowledge of this until I was rudely awakened by the Military Police and hauled off to the Guardhouse. The charge was "Inciting a Revolution". As soon as the Line Chief heard about my predicament, he immediately came forth and removed me from all blame. After all, I had been in my quarters, in bed, asleep during the time the troops were marched away. However, being the highest ranking officer in the squadron who was available for duty, I was considered to be in command. It didn't take my guardhouse lawyers long to get me off, but the Group Commander never really believed that I had nothing to do with the revolution. I was given several dirty details and bad jobs later on, such as Electric Flying Suit Officer, Mess Officer and Ground Training Officer. Also, as a result of being considered a malcontent, I was relieved as Squadron Bombardier and placed on the misfit crew. I'll tell you more about it later.

I played on the 450th Group softball team as the regular second baseman and the alternate pitcher. I had little opportunity to pitch since our regular pitcher was so good. He was named Cinkowsky and was the squadron photographer. He and I became the best of friends and worked together on several projects later on. The softball team won the base championship and also won several tournaments in El Paso. It was now October, and we were soon to get our brand new B24H airplanes. We spent most of our time in flight and ground training. During this time I was in limbo. I had been relieved as Squadron Bombardier but I had not been assigned to a crew, so I was given all the dirty details to do. The worst of these was Electric Flying Suit Officer. I was required to issue and receive a suit for each crew member scheduled to fly. Since we flew around the clock, I could never get more than a couple of hours sleep at a time. The sergeants who worked with me came up with a sure-fire plan for getting me fired from this job. They would put a straight pin in the Squadron Commanders suit each time he flew. This would insure that the suit would burn out and blow the fuse in the aircraft. After several chilly flights, the C.O. began to get wise to the scheme and called me in to give me a good chewing out. Of course, I knew nothing about his series of bad suits, but he fired me just the same. Now I could get some sleep, the sergeants could do their job the way they were supposed to, and the C.O. could get a flying suit that worked.

We knew that our training was soon to end and that I would be going overseas, so Martha and her mother decided to make the long trip back to New Mexico. They loaded the '38 Ford and drove west. There was no use in looking for a room in Alamogordo, so I rented a cabin in the resort village of Ruidoso. There were plenty of cabins available since this was their off-season. Ruidoso was forty or fifty miles from the base, but it took a couple of hours to make the trip over the mountains. The Squadron Flight Surgeon was also living in Ruidoso with his wife and two young daughters, so we took turns driving. This began a close friendship with Doc Brewer. He and I shared a house in Italy, but I'll tell you more about that later.

Martha celebrated her nineteenth birthday in Ruidoso; or more accurately, Mama and I celebrated for her. Since her appetite was not too good, because of her delicate condition, Mama and I ate enough to make up for it. We consumed a whole skillet of smothered steak with mashed potatoes and a whole lemon pie. We also took care of a full jar of cucumber pickles and a pan of biscuits. That was a birthday dinner that none of us ever forgot. Not just the quantity, but the quality of the food, made it one of the best meals I ever had. On other occasions we entertained several of my buddies from the squadron. Harry Gottfried, Bill King and Willie Glavin were frequent visitors along with Shorty Aubin who was the Squadron Navigator. But Martha's special guest was a small monkey that belonged to our landlord. It would jump up on her shoulder and pick at her hair. This monkey had a special love for onions. It would take a bath with one, rubbing it all over its body. Monkeys smell bad enough without onion flavor. The combination was unbearable and particularly to a very pregnant young lady. In spite of the monkey, we enjoyed the brief time at Ruidoso. Soon after Martha's birthday, she and Mama left on the long drive back to Atlanta.

While we were living in Ruidoso, I had found the Indian Reservation and discovered that the wild turkeys which lived there were easy game. Since we were Federal troops, we had the privileges of Indians on the reservation and were allowed to hunt on the grounds. With Thanksgiving Day coming up, several of us decided to kill wild turkeys for a Thanksgiving dinner. We had been issued carbines and ammo for range practice, so we practiced on turkeys. We killed more than enough for the entire squadron's dinner. Our mess sergeant was a Tennessee hillbilly and knew how to dress and prepare wild turkey with wild rice stuffing, so we had a gourmet dinner. This was the last good meal we had for a long time.

The end of our training was in sight and I still had no job assignment. There were several others in the same boat, people who had incurred the disfavor of the brass. The natural consequence was to form a crew of misfits. The logical choice for aircraft commander was a newly assigned staff sergeant who had shown up the commander by making a two-engine take-off with a B24. The squadron commander and the group commander had made a big point of saying that nobody could get the airplane off the ground if two engines on one side failed at take-off. Sergeant Word disagreed with them; this led to arguments and finally to drastic actions. They laid on a sizeable bet that Word would kill himself, and any other fools who rode with him, if he tried it. They allowed the attempt, provided Word could find two others to accompany him on the flight. I figured if J.C. Word said it could be done, it could be done. I agreed to go along. There was a second lieutenant fresh out of pilot training who had the name of "Sleepy Shain". He did not care with whom he flew, as long as he could get a nap when not at the controls. He went along as co-pilot while I performed the duties of flight engineer. Since I'm still here to tell about it, the flight must have been a success. In fact it was so successful that Word became a living legend and commander of the misfits. They assigned me as the bombardier, even though I was a first lieutenant and out-ranked everyone in the squadron, except the commander. Sleepy became the co-pilot and a navigator named Shanken was selected by virtue of his having a spat with the brass over not being assigned to the same squadron as his twin brother, who was also a navigator. They had been assured that they would not be assigned to different units and they put up a real fight when this was about to take place. It was roumored that they had an uncle who was a colonel in the Air Corps, and threatened to get him into the act if they were not assigned to the same unit. Therefore, Earl Shanken was also considered to be a misfit. The flight engineer was the same fellow who had marched the troops over the hill. Their main excuse for firing him was for drinking on the job (and off the job). Drunk or sober, he knew more about the B24 than anybody else in the entire outfit. The radioman had once talked about requesting grounding for fear of flying, so he made the team. All the gunners had either been court martialed for some minor offense, or done something that made them undesirable to any of the other aircraft commanders and Word had no choice but to take them. A Marine Corps flying unit had already made history as the "Blacksheep Squadron", so did we as the " blacksheep" crew. Since nobody else cared for us, we really cared for each other. We only flew a couple of missions prior to departure for overseas, but we knew we were a crew and were determined to be the best crew in the group. Our later success as a lead crew proved that we made it.

Late in November we went to Harrington, Kansas to pick up our combat equipment and on December 1, 1943 we took off for Florida in our brand new B24-H named the "Down and Go". This name came from the hand in the game of black-jack where the last car d is dealt face down. The ship was painted olive drab, and carried the tail numbers 43-52152. We departed the United States from West Palm Beach, Florida on December 2, 1943 for Puerto Rico. Upon our departure from there, we were officially overseas. Martha knew exactly when we left, because I cashed a check at the Officers Club in West Palm. She knew as much as we did, we were not going to the Pacific. We guessed that we were heading for North Africa and we guessed right.

I have just received a copy of the orders sending us overseas (I received them in July 1991). These came from Harlan Place who was the navigator on Babe Caldwell's crew. The orders list the regular members of the crew and the extra passengers who accompanied us on the flight over. The regular crew members were as follows:

F/O J C (i.o.) Word, Pilot
2nd Lt Layman E. Shain, Co-Pilot
1st Lt Allen C. Hart, Bombardier
2nd Lt Earl Shanken, Navigator
Sgt Gilbert W. Hatfield, Flight Engineer
Sgt Harry M.Beightol, Ass't Engineer
Sgt Morris Spector, Radioman
Sgt James G.Shirley, Ass't Radioman
Sgt Stanley B. West, Gunner
Sgt Loyd Whitley, Ass't Gunner


I do not remember Sgt West and he is not shown in the crew photograph which was taken soon after our arrival in Italy, therefore, I assume he left the crew as soon as we arrived overseas. There were four others who made the trip with us, but Phil Lehman is the only one I remember. As you can see, these orders show a Squadron Navigator but no Squadron Bombardier. I think Lehman was acting Squadron Bombardier but not on orders. This was the crew that departed the U.S. in December 1943 but most of it's members did not live to return.



The route from Florida to Italy is a long one even if one goes by the most direct path, but when you go by way of Puerto Rico, Brazil, Middle Africa, and North Africa it is even longer. Our first stop in Puerto Rico was uneventful as was the flight down. The ship was overloaded with aircraft parts and extra crewmen, but there were no problems. The next leg was from Puerto Rico to Belem, Brazil. A flight of about five hours normally; however, our flight was not normal. Since our plane was new, it had several small maintenance problems plus one large one. The propeller on the right outboard engine was inclined to over speed. This put an unusual strain on the engine, so it had to be shut down. No sweat, we still had three engines running. That was until the others began to overheat. This meant that we had to slow down and let the engines cool, adding nearly another hour of over-water flight, in a sick bird. When we arrived at Belem, we were told that we would have to wait for a new engine and prop. This was expected to take a couple of weeks so our crew was to be split up and each of us would go along with another crew to Africa. The decision maker's had forgotten that our engineer was the best B24 mechanic there was. With a lot of big talk, J.C. Word and I convinced them that we could install the engine, if they could get us one. There happened to be a damaged B24 on the apron. We removed an engine and prop from it and put it on our airplane. Every member of the crew worked night and day to finish the job. I won't say that we did it in record time, because it took six days. However, considering the working conditions and the fact that we had to remove both engines, to unload the aircraft parts, to repair the airplane, to test fly the plane, and then to reload everything, we considered six days as being fast work.

The fact that our next leg was to take more than eleven hours, all over water, caused us some extra concern about the new engine and prop, but our faith in Private Hatfield (who had been a master sergeant up until a couple of months ago) was rewarded. After that long over water flight, we knew that we had the best engineer in the business. We also had a greater respect for Lt. Shanken, our navigator. We hit our estimated time of arrival right on the money. We landed at Dakar, Africa just as the sun was going down. We couldn't see much of Dakar that night, and when we arose the next morning we still didn't see much. It was a most desolate place with an unusual set of living quarters. Huts on stilts is the best description I can give. Fortunately, we were there for only a couple of days. The highlight of our stay in Dakar was a visit by Gen. Hap Arnold, the Air Corps Chief of Staff. He stopped by the club to say hello and to tell us that our destination was to be in Southern Italy. He also told us why there was a rush to get us there. The groups that we were replacing had just finished the Ploiesti Oil Field strikes and were out of action for an indefinite period.

We moved on to Marrakesh in Morroco. While there we learned that one the planes from our group had crashed into the Atlas Mountains. The crew was not from my squadron, so I did not know any of it's members. This was the first aircraft, and the only crew out of the sixty-two which left Alamogordo, that did not arrive in Italy. We lost another aircraft in Agadir, West Africa when a French fighter landed on top of Lt. Wagner's ship. The crew escaped unhurt and arrived in Italy by courtesy of the Air Transport Command. Since we were already known as misfits, the officers on my crew figured we might as well enjoy the benefits of our reputation, so we made an unauthorized visit to the Medina of Marrakesh. This place was off-limits to all American personnel, and rightfully so. The Medina was a walled city of closely packed stone houses, today we call them condos. The streets were narrow alleys, unpaved and running full with sewage. There were no street lights but as each doorway was passed, a gleam of light was cast as each inquisitive resident poked his or her nose out to see who was passing. We were riding in and on top of a horse drawn carriage and the alleys were barely wide enough for it to clear. The purpose of our trip was to go to this fine restaurant for a meal and entertainment. As soon as we arrived at our destination we knew that we had been sold a bill of goods. We were led into one of the stone rooms, which was not much bigger than a phone booth. The only furniture consisted of a bed and one broken chair; but, prominently displayed was a large color picture of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The only other thing that resembled a human being was a dirty little girl of about eleven or twelve years of age, she was the entertainment we had been promised. It's hard to say who was more afraid, the four soldiers or the child. We immediately demanded that we be taken back into Marrakesh, however, our tour guide had other ideas. He wanted another twenty dollars to take us back. He figured we were so lost and so scared that he could demand and get anything, just so we got out of there. His misfortune was that he had no way of knowing about the Texas mentality of J.C. Word. J.C. reached under his jacket and pulled out his great big 45 cal. automatic and as he did so, so did the rest of us. The attitude changed quickly, the guide was now looking down the barrels of four large guns held by four young and unpredictable men. He decided that he would return us to town and did so by the shortest possible route. The trip into the Medina took nearly an hour, the trip out took five minutes. Now we knew why the Medina was off-limits. After a couple of days we moved north from Marrakesh to a small village called Chateaudun. It was somewhere in North Africa, close to Constantine. The air base consisted of a landing strip marked out in the sand along with several parking spaces for the aircraft. There was an operations tent and a headquarters tent. There was no mess hall and no sleeping quarters, so we ate and slept under the wing of the airplane. We had another reason for sleeping with the airplane, theft. The North Africans would steal anything not nailed down and guarded, they even stole an airplane.

An aircraft, which belonged to another group, was taking off for the trip to Italy and lost an engine on take-off. The pilot put the ship down in the desert, just a mile or so from the end of the runway. Then he and the crew walked back to the operations tent. They reported the accident, but by the time somebody had sense enough to organize a recovery party of which I was to be a member, night-time was approaching. No sweat, we would go get the airplane in the morning. Dawn came and the recovery party went into the desert, but could not find an airplane. We returned to base and asked the pilot and navigator just where they had left it. They pin-pointed an exact location on a large scale map, however, that was exactly where we had just looked. We made a

return trip to the area, and found four oily spots on the ground, along with a lot of metal filings. The Arabs had cut the airplane into small pieces, which they hauled away on the backs of donkeys. All we got out of our recovery effort was hot and dirty. We began to search for a bath facility, and were told that the closest bath was in the city of Constantine, some thirty miles away. You may wonder what kind of latrine facility we had on the base. We had a "desert lily", which was a funnel stuck in the sand and a shovel. But, let me tell you about my bathing experience.

We loaded a truck full of grimy airmen on an open six-by-six (that was a large six wheeled vehicle that carried six tons) and headed for Constantine. Remember it was December and it gets cold in North Africa in the winter but, our flying gear was warm enough to keep us from freezing. The trip would have been boring had not someone come up with the game of "knock the Arab off the donkey". Oranges grow in North Africa, so we stopped and armed ourselves with a load of green, hard oranges. As we passed each donkey rider, we would see who could hit the rider or the donkey with an orange. We never found out what the extent of the injuries were, but I would venture to say they were extensive. I'll bet there were some sore Arabs and sore donkeys in Constantine that night. We arrived at the bath, without being arrested, and proceeded to the shower room. Upon opening the door, we were greeted by an array of flesh. Both male and female shared the same facility, but not for long. The native gentlemen herded their ladies out as soon as we arrived. We had to settle for two fully clothed and proper Red Cross girls who handed out coffee and donuts at the door as we emerged fully clothed. This was the first of thousands of cups of coffee and tons of donuts I was to consume and appreciate, that came from the hands of these and other dedicated Red Cross ladies.

It was with great anticipation that we departed North Africa for Italy. The flight was short and uneventful. As we approached the heel of the boot, I recall thinking how rocky and barren the ground was. Then we passed over the Bay of Taranto and the countryside began to change, the rocky ground giving way to olive and grape vineyards, with some pasture land spotted here and there. We arrived over Manduria, Italy on a bright, sunny afternoon of December 20, 1943. Looking down we could not find the airfield, because there was no airfield. There was a nice green cow pasture with a few ruts across it, however, parked along one side were several Italian Air Corps fighters and several German utility aircraft. The Germans had departed only a few days ahead of our arrival, and in their haste had left all their aircraft except their latest operational fighters. The Germans had also left permanent headquarters buildings and wood frame barracks. There was even a mess hall and officers club building. The barracks had bath facilities and steel cots which the Italians and Germans had left behind. Although there was no heat in each room, there was a large common day room with a wood burning stove. We were comfortable and right away we began to fly training missions. We flew our first formation practice on Christmas Day. I well remember the day but not the mission.

We did not have individual squadron mess facilities. All the officers shared a common mess that was provided by the 331st Service Squadron. While standing in line awaiting the filling of my mess kit, I happened to voice my opinion of the food, the cooks, and the jerks who were running the mess hall. This was overheard by the Group Commander, with whom I had had several differences of opinion. To say that he disliked me is a gross under-statement. His first comment was "Lieutenant, do you think you can do any better?" In all truthfulness I said "I could cook better than this with one pot and two rocks." I thereby became the Mess Officer, in addition to my other duties. I had little better than the one pot and two rocks, since our supplies and support people were still on a boat bound for Naples, Italy. We had borrowed two cooks and two field ranges from a service group that had arrived several days ahead of us. These Corps of Engineers troops were there to build us a runway and some parking ramps. Fortunately, they had brought their support along with them. As one might expect, we did not get their better cooks. What we got was two goof-offs they wanted to get rid of, but the goof-offs did know how to light the stoves and how to operate a can opener. Drawing on my vast experience, gained as a Boy Scout, and remembering the cooking lessons my mother and mother-in-law had given me, I was able to fulfill my boast. With Christmas coming up in a couple of days, we knew that the troops would be expecting turkey dinner,

and they were not disappointed. We began two days ahead of Christmas and roasted turkeys around the clock. I made stuffing and gravy, along with peas and mashed potatoes. The only thing missing was mincemeat pie. We made up for that by having canned fruit cocktail. In the middle of my preparation for dinner, I had to fly a practice mission on Christmas morning and hurry through de-briefing in order to serve dinner. For once the Group Commander and my new Squadron Commander, Major Bill Orris, had nothing but praise for me. I got out of the dog house, but I didn't get out of being Mess Officer until our ground support arrived on base. We flew a couple more practice missions during December and began combat operations in January.

We entertained ourselves by burning one of our combat aircraft and by burning down the barracks. The aircraft fire was caused by refueling the aircraft at night, while the auxiliary power unit was running. Gas fumes collected in the bomb bay and ignited when the power unit muffler overheated. It began as a small fire, but our fire fighting capability during non-flying hours was limited, so it quickly got out of hand. I was made aware of the fire in a most dramatic fashion. I had just assumed my position on the throne in the latrine when the aircraft exploded. Since the latrine was a couple of hundred yards from the flight line, I had not yet heard the commotion or seen the flames. My first indication of trouble was when part of an engine and a propeller came through the roof of the latrine. Needless to say, this hurried me through my process and I left the latrine with my pants at half-mast. We had been told that there was little chance of being subjected to German air attacks; however, that was the first thing that came to my mind. We had not prepared bomb shelters and had no plan for evacuation of the base. If we had, I surely would have evacuated. As it was, I just hid in a ditch beside the road until a sergeant came by and said "Boy, didn't that airplane blow sky high." Then I left my bomb shelter ditch and joined the rest of the on-lookers who were watching the airplane burn. Then someone noticed that the fire was endangering the other aircraft. Without thinking, I climbed into one of the closest B24's and started the engines. The ramp was still lighted by the burning airplane, so I had plenty of light by which to taxi to safer ground. You might think I would have gotten a medal for this, but all I got was a chewing-out. Not being a pilot, I was not authorized to taxi an aircraft. How did I know how to start the engines on a B-24? My pilot and engineer had taught me while we were in Belem.

We further entertained ourselves by burning down the barracks. This happened on New Year's Eve night. We never knew how the fire started and no blame was ever placed for letting it happen. This time they couldn't point the finger at me because I was in a hot poker game in my own room. I had just won a big pot and had a pile of money on the table in front of me when the alarm was sounded by someone who lived in the room nearest the stove. He shouted "Fire" only once, and I raked all my money into my hat and put it up on the shelf, where it would be safe. I grabbed my canvas bucket and rushed to the shower room to fill it. When I got back to the hallway, the fire had already consumed my room, my shelf, my hat, and my money. My only remaining personal belongings were a flying jacket, a pair of pants, the underwear I had on, and a pair of Natal Mosquito boots. One reason my tour in Italy is not better documented is because I also lost Martha's 35mm camera in the fire, an act for which I was never really forgiven. Because of the fire, I was not only without personal belongings, but I was also without a place to live.

Before the fire, Doc Brewer and I had on several occasions, talked about building a house and office building. Now necessity brought an end to talk and forced us into action. The bombs we were preparing to drop came in metal lined wooden boxes. Both the wood and the metal could be used in house building. We drew up plans for a three room house to be made of tufa blocks (tufa was a native stone soft enough to cut with a saw) with a wooden roof, which was made waterproof with sheet metal from the bomb cases. We had an Italian contractor cut and haul in the stone, but I did the remainder of the construction. Doc was not the laboring type but, he was a good goffer and hand-me man. In order for Doc to use this as an office, we had to have heat. A stove was made from a 55 gallon oil drum with sand in the bottom. Aviation gasoline dripped into the sand, and when lit, it burned with a roar like a jet engine. Not the safest of devices, but efficient, that is, if you could light it without blowing the house to kingdom come. The house was comfortable and Doc and I got along very well. By now, my only duty was to fly when my crew was scheduled. I flew four missions, and then disaster struck.

On January 16, 1944 we were flying over Osoppo, Italy, when we were hit by both flak (anti-aircraft fire) and fighters. There were many holes in our airplane and one engine was knocked out. We had to leave the formation and proceed down the Adriatic alone. The fighters did not let up and we lost two more engines, but still no one was injured. I was suffering from severe ear troubles, and the sudden decent caused the drums to rupture. I spent a few days in the 26th General Hospital where they treated my ruptured ear drums and grounded me for a couple of weeks.

I returned to flying on February 3, 1944 and completed eight more missions, however, my ear problems continued and Doc Brewer threatened to ground me. Had we not been such close friends and housemates, I'm sure he would have. But, I begged and pleaded and whined, so he let me continue to fly. Those missions which we flew in February of 1944 were the most dangerous and the most memorable to me. I have included a description of the mission to Schwechat, Austria as a separate chapter, even though it is not in chronological order with the rest of my story. I had other worries along with the tough combat missions. Martha had written that our baby was expected early in February and I was worried about her. I didn't know how long it would take for somebody to let me know about her and about the baby. The Red Cross girls assured me that I would be notified, and I was. But I had already been told all about the birth long before I received the Red Cross telegram. While returning from a combat mission to Valmoatane, Italy, I was listening to Axis Sally on the aircraft radio and she made the following announcement "Congratulations to Lt. Allen C. Hart of the 722nd Bomb Squadron. Your son was born on February 8, 1944 at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. Both he and your wife Martha are doing well, don't you wish you could be at home with them?" How the German intelligence knew all these details and passed them on to their propaganda mechanism in such a short time, we'll never know. I did appreciate the information and although it did make me a little homesick, it did not lessen my will to fight. If anything, it made me want to finish off the enemy so I could get back to my wife and son.

I flew one more mission with the 722nd. We were on a mission to Rimini, Italy and we had an engine shot out. We had to make a quick descent and my ears couldn't stand this. We had finished the bomb run, and I had moved back to a waist gunners position. At that time, our ships had open windows in the waist and gunners were held in by straps. I had securely drawn up the straps, this was most fortunate, because when my eardrums popped I went out of the window and banged my head on the outside of the fuselage. The other gunners quickly pulled me back into the airplane but, by this time, my head hurt so badly that I really didn't care whether I was dead or alive. Immediately after landing at Manduria, I was shipped off to Bari to the General Hospital. There they tried even more drastic cures for bad ears, including killing all the tissue in the canals between the nose and the ears and even putting a button-hole in the drums. None of this was any more successful than were the previous cures so I was grounded, or I should say, almost grounded. I was allowed to fly, however , I was not allowed to go higher than four thousand feet. Since all our combat missions were above twenty thousand, effectively I was grounded, and I became a personnel problem. A bombardier who could not fly combat was not in great demand in a bomb group, all I could do was sit on the sidelines and watch.

This was an especially bad time for me. We were losing aircraft and crews at an alarming rate and needed every able-bodied crewman in the air, but Doc Brewer was adamant and I was grounded. Major Orris, who was the Squadron Commander, happened to remember that I had experience as a Mess Officer and decided to put that to use. Since we already had a good Mess Officer and an outstanding Mess Sergeant, he put me in charge of the construction of a new mess hall. Again, I employed the stone-mason who had helped in the building of our house, and he brought along several older Italian gentlemen who were excellent craftsmen and were hard workers. I never knew where the timbers for the roof came from, because I never asked. We completed a large structure which would seat a couple of hundred men at a time. I remember that the sides were made of tufa block and it had a terrazzo floor. It also had a large operational fireplace and a carved mantle. I wonder if that building still stands on the Manduria Air Base? The base was there in 1990 because the 450th Bomb Group held a reunion there, regretfully, I was unable to attend. Now I can answer that question since Martha and I did visit Manduria in 1995. The only buildings remaining are some of the headquarters complex. My house and the mess hall have long since departed.

I must have been a pain in the back to someone, for they decided that I needed a rest cure. The Fifteenth Air Force had a rest camp at Santa Cesara, Italy. This town was not large enough to be found on a map. It was (and is, I suppose) at the very bottom of the heel of the boot. Before the war, it was a resort frequented by the nobility and the other rich. It had been taken over intact by the Americans, including its hotels, restaurants, and bathing facilities. Since I was there in February, the bathing was confined to the tub in the hotel, but the walk along the shore was beautiful. I occupied some of my time making a pencil drawing of the resort. Martha saved it and it's in my scrapbook. The dining rooms in my hotel were most impressive. The waiters wore tuxedos even for breakfast, but the fresh eggs and real bacon impressed me more. As nice as it was, I was chomping at the bit to get back into action. I returned to the 722nd to find that I was still grounded and had no job.

Fortunately, my period of inactivity was relatively short lived. The 47th Bomb wing, which was just across the road, needed someone with Sperry bombsight expertise to be the Bombsight and Auto-pilot Maintenance Inspector, so, I packed up my meager belongings and moved across the road. This was on April 14, 1944. My stay with the 722nd and the 450th was over. Although I was only across the road, there was little desire to visit. Too many memories and not many of them good.

The memories are still there and I would appreciate any comments or corrections to these recollections. My Name is Allen C. Hart Lt. Col USAF (Ret). My e-mail address is: HERE, or HERE. Let me hear from you.





MISSION: AIRDROME - OSOPPO, ITALY

DATE: JAN 16, 1944

UNIT: 722ND BOMB SQUADRON

I have never bothered to keep a journal or diary; and, like so many of my contemporaries, I never thought that what I was doing was worth remembering. This was particularly true of bombing missions. Just live through it, get it over with, and get back on the ground. Now, some fifty years later, I'm trying to reconstruct a particular mission in my mind. Some aspects are vividly clear, others are hazy and clouded. Some very important things will be completely left out. Maybe someone who reads this will have a better memory and will contribute corrections and additions that will enhance the accuracy of this account. I realize that there are too many personal pronouns and that I jump from present to past tense and back, but that's the way I remember it.

As usual, this mission will begin with an early morning briefing. We will complete the briefing long before the first rays of the sun break the Italian sky. I, along with the other crew members, was shaken out of the sack at 0400 hours (that's four o'clock in the morning) and we crowded into the latrine to complete the toilet ritual. You would think that everyone would go unshaven into combat; however, the oxygen mask irritated a stubble covered face even more than it did one that was clean shaved, so everyone has fought his way to the mirror. After finishing in the latrine and donning our flying gear, we trudged our way to the mess hall for our delightful breakfast of fried Spam and green powdered eggs. The food is terrible, but the coffee was well worth the trip to the mess hall. After a couple of canteen cups of that battery acid, I am ready to face the world.

Dressed in the heavy flying suits and dragging the gear necessary for my part of the mission, I have made my way to the Group Briefing Room. There the details of the mission plan are laid out on a large map and will be further explained by use of photographs and charts thrown on the screen by the overhead projector. After the initial shock of hearing the target destination, every eye and ear is tuned in to the briefing officer as he describes the route and altitude to be flown by each box in the formation. The Meteorological Officer has briefed us on the en-route and target area weather. Now comes the bad news about fighters and flak concentrations and the assurance that this was the very best route to avoid most of the flak. This presentation was given by the Intelligence Officer. Then the Staff Bombardier puts up the photo of the turning point and the aiming point for the target. Today we are going for the airdrome at Osoppo, Italy. This is a critical target, for here the Germans have based many of their latest fighters. It is essential that the runway, the base, and all its aircraft be destroyed. The entire 47th Bomb Wing will attack this facility. My assigned aiming point is the large aircraft hangar at the north edge of the field. The bomb load for today is eight five hundred pound general purpose bombs, this is a maximum load for a mission of this length. We will have a max fuel load and max ammo load. The Briefing Officer asks "Any questions? If not the briefing is concluded."

The six-by-six trucks are waiting to take us to our assigned aircraft which is waiting with the engines warmed up and ready to go. The ground crews have also been up for hours loading and pre-flighting the aircraft. We pile out of the trucks and store our gear on-board. When, here come the Red Cross Girls with that last cup of hot coffee and a couple of donuts for each of us. I'm not hungry, but it's a ritual that cannot be ignored. I'll down the scalding brown liquid and the semi-sweet dough balls with great gusto. At least now I'm warm on the inside even though I'm freezing outside.

The first flare goes up telling everyone to start engines, the mission is on. Now all my senses come into play, I see the props on all the planes begin to turn, I hear the engines roar into life, I smell the burning oil as the cylinders fire and blow clouds of black smoke." Starting 3, starting 2, starting 1, starting 4, all engines running and ready to taxi", says the co-pilot.

As bombardier, my position during start and taxi is in the upper hatch. From this position I watch as each aircraft leaves its parking space and joins the stream of aircraft moving toward the end of the runway. The lead ship moves into take-off position, he checks his magnetos and the engines are advanced to full throttle. The B24 strains and bucks against the set brakes, then it begins to slowly move down the runway. We're next to line up for take-off because today, we are the deputy group lead crew. I scramble down out of the hatch as Major Orris lines us up for take-off. Quickly, the engines are checked and the throttles set to full power. The aircraft vibrates and the condensation whirls over the wings as we wait for the engines to reach that certain pitch that means we are getting all the horsepower they can provide. The brakes are released and the plane moves forward. It moves slowly at first then gradually the speed builds. Everyone holds his breath and does his best to lift the plane off the ground, We gain speed and finally the ground and the plane separate. I let the air out and begin to breathe again as the ship climbs out and slows to let the rest of the formation join up. We are flying deputy group lead. It's just light enough to see the other aircraft as they join in the formation. Today we are assembling en-route because the mission will use most of our gas. There is a light cloud cover but we soon fly through it into a bright, cold, February sky.

Our route will take us up the Adriatic Sea, parallel to the coast of Italy until just before Trieste and then east toward the center of northern Italy and to the airport at Osoppo. The early part of the mission has been routine and since I have no duties to perform during this time, I'll try to catch a little nap. For the early part of the war in Italy, the hardest job the bombardier had was fighting boredom. Our job over the target lasted about ten or fifteen minutes, the rest of the time we watched as the gunners and pilots fought the enemy. Today was no exception, there was little flak and no fighters until we got deep into the Italian Alps, but then my nap was rudely interrupted. "FW190's at twelve o'clock" came from the nose turret. "Four more at three o'clock" came back from the right waist gunner. "I've got a bunch of Me 109's in off the tail" shouted the tail gunner. "Oh hell, they just got the number four in the high box." Then, with his usual calm, the pilot said "O.K. lets keep down the interphone chatter and get on flak vests and helmets. How far out are we Shorty?" He answered " About twenty minutes from the Initial Point, then ten minutes to target."

I told the navigator, Shorty Aubin, "That means these fighters will be with us for a while, until the flak gets thick over Osoppo." I was right in this supposition. The FW190's and Me109's stayed with us nearly the whole time. Wave after wave of white and black checkered nosed fighters came in from all directions, but the tight formation, with all its guns concentrated, held them off. We lost one ship out of our squadron and had several others with engines shot-out, but we kept on course. As we approached the turning point, the anti-aircraft fire became as thick as clouds in a thunder storm. Several pieces of flak hit the airplane and rattled around inside it. One chunk of iron penetrated my steel helmet and knocked me flat. I came up fighting with the navigator, I just assumed that he had kicked me in the head. He finally convinced me of his innocence when he showed me the hole in my helmet and handed me the piece of flak. We examined it very closely, but there was no blood on it. My hair was cut but no blood, so I didn't get the Purple Heart. Fortunately none of the other crewmen were hit. We were coming up on the target area, so it was my time to go to work. I had previously turned on the bombsight and checked the disk speed. The trail angle had been calculated and set in and the bomb arming switch turned on. Both the navigator and I agreed that we had the turning point in view and were ready to start the bomb run. For this mission, each bombardier had his own aiming point in the target complex. Later in the war we all dropped when the lead ship dropped his bombs, but this time we were assigned individual targets. I told the pilot "I have the ship, going on PDI (Pilot Directional Indicator). Bombay doors coming open." Now my entire attention is focused on the eye-piece of the bombsight. Flak is bursting all around, but there is only me, the bombsight, and the aircraft hangar. That five or ten minutes, from the start of the bomb run until bombs away, lasts for an eternity. Firmly but very gently the course and rate knobs on the bombsight have to be adjusted to make them track directly on the target. The ups and downs, rights and lefts, that the airplane makes, because of the flak bursts, have to be corrected for immediately. All the while, the two indices on the bombsight creep slowly toward each other. As the indices come together, the bombs are automatically dropped from the bomb bay. This time they are right on target, Our bombs hit the hangar. Before the bombs hit the ground, what's left of the formation makes a steep left turn to avoid flying over Ossopo and all its flak guns. I close the bomb bay doors, shut down the bombsight, grab a walk-around oxygen bottle and head for the back of the airplane. At least I can help the gunners load ammo and see if anybody is hurt. Flak is still popping, but we knew that as soon as it stopped the fighters would return. There was no time for a breather.

Coming off the target we not only turn but we go into a dive to increase the airspeed and to throw off the aim of the anti-aircraft gunners. This makes it even more difficult for the pilots to hold close formation and the looser the formation the easier it is for the German pilots to get between our planes. The loose formation also increases the risk of shooting down our own wingman. Today this is not a problem. We have already lost most of the formation due to the terrible weather and clouds. The five ships still with us quickly re-assemble. However, as was expected, the enemy fighters return even before the flak has quit. This has created a period of great activity. The noise of the ever changing engine speeds, required to maintain formation, along with the sound of the guns and the bursting anti-aircraft shells, is bad enough. Added to that noise is the constant interphone conversation and excited yells of the gunners as they fight off the enemy fighters. For those few minutes there is pandemonium on the airplane. The real test of a crew's capability is the length of time it takes to restore order and discipline. For our crew, all it takes is a few choice words from the aircraft commander and the internal noise stops. He can not control the outside confusion, but he can quickly get rid of it inside.

We proceed back across Italy to the Adriatic. The enemy fighters stay with us until they see the checkered tailed P51's coming up out of Italy; then they high-tailed it back to their bases. We proceed down the coast of Italy, we are now low enough to come off oxygen and to remove the flak vests and steel helmets. We can now eat lunch, even though it has been a little delayed. This flight lunch would never win a Diners Club award for excellence but it will cut down on the hunger pains. Let's see what I have today. Is it spaghetti with meat sauce, ham and eggs, ham without eggs, or maybe roast beef? If I'm real lucky, I'll get fruit cocktail. If not, I'll settle for a chocolate bar. Maybe the engineer put hot coffee in the thermos, anyway, Bettsy will meet us with hot coffee and donuts when we land. I see the runway coming up off the left wing. The pilot makes a steep left turn and lines up with the runway. We touch down and rattle along the PSP (Pierced Steel Planking) until the ship slows enough to turn off. Now we can breathe.

As soon as the aircraft stops rolling in the parking area, the trucks are waiting to take us to debriefing. Here, many questions are asked. "Did you hit your assigned target? How many fighters did you see? How heavy was the flak? Any railroad guns? See any ground movement? Anything else to report? We finish the de-briefing and collect a shot of whiskey at the door on the way out. I head back to the sack hoping for an easier target tomorrow, or maybe the weather will be too bad to fly.

NOTE : For a further description of this mission, see the S-2 Narrative Report and Mission Summary for Mission Number 7 for the 450th Bomb Group. I suffered through some ear trouble on this mission and was grounded for fifteen days. I was sent to the 26th General Hospital at Bari for ten days. My next mission was on February 3,1944. I did not get to lead another mission until March 18, 1944.



Allen C. Hart.




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