THE LATE (ALMOST) MR. JONES
ONE AERIAL GUNNER
(AS TOLD TO ANYONE IN PARTICULAR)
Note about the cover In the original copy of the Diary, the cartoon I drew was intended to show myself as a gunner heading off to work, so to speak. The cartoon's headlines, also taken from the original manuscript,
illustrates some of my teen-aged bravado.
15th Air Force
450th Bomb Group
Hugh N. Jones
Photo: S/Sgt. Hugh N. Jones
Preface to the War Diary
War Diary: Written: April 13, 1944 July 19, 1944
Explanatory Notes: Written in 2001
Letter to the Folks, I'm Coming Home
Photos: Crew at Topeka, Ks Airbase Enlisted Crewmates
Addendum: Description of casualties of 15th Air Force by Steven Ambrose
Photo and Explanation: 450th Bomb Group Airbase near Manduria, Italy in 1996
Photo and Inscription of Memorial Plaques at entrance of Airbase.
PREFACE to the WWII Diary MAY 11, 2001
Hugh N. Jones
We are in the new millennium now as this is written, which is a good time to make
a few comments about the aerial combat experiences that are reported by me in
the diary that follows, kept more than a half century ago in the Spring/Summer
said in my combat diary and its descriptions of missions for the 15th
Air Force, 450th Bomb Group Squadron remains unchanged and exactly
as I typed it out after each of my missions. Although I cringe now when I read
the corny attempts at bravado and Hemingway-speak, I haven't altered a word
from those I set down in that wartime year of 1944.
teenage cool sets my teeth on edge at this date, but I thought I was telling it
as it was, as they say. There are also several points I would (and can) make
now that as I look back that I had left out as I set forth each missions'
example, the bravado was exactly that: I was often very frightened during the
missions, particularly during the actual bomb run over the target. At those
times during a mission, the airplanes in formation had to keep their flight
path as level as possible for a better distribution of their bomb drop. The
ball turret, where I was, was usually hydraulically lowered into its firing
position beneath theB-24's fuselage. The two 50 caliber machine guns in the
turret were pointed straight down, however, during the bomb run in order to
contribute to the steadiness of the flight path with a minimum of jarring or
spinning. This meant I was always in a womb-like position during the entirety
of the target-fly over, looking straight down through the turret's window at
all of the action below and around me. I had the best view of where the flak
was coming from as the bomber formation and our plane flew over the target
enemy fighter planes usually attacked our formations during the glide in over
the target. (The Nazis didn't like the heavy flak or anti-aircraft exploding
shells anymore than we did); and after the bombardier shouted, ""bombs away"
there was usually a huge "whoosh" sound in the plane and a large lurch as a
result of the released bombs. The bomb bay doors were open, of course, and this
is what caused the always terrifying whoosh and lurch. The plane would almost
seem to rear up like a horse, as its weight was lightened by the release of the
bomb load. (There were up to 15 five hundred pound bomb s in the bomb bay). The
ball turret, where I was, was riding up and down during that whooshing and
moment after the bombs away call remained a frightening moment because I was
also looking down at the bomb site from the ball turret position, and I could
see not only all the flak around me, but I also could see the parachutes and
damaged planes that had been hit by the flak and were out of control, some
going down in flames, some with parachutes flitting out, one by one; sometimes
with no chutes appearing.
the end of the bomb run, all of the turret guns (in the nose, tail, belly and
tip of the plane, plus the waist positions in the middle fuselage of the B-24)
went back in to action as needed.
in this year of 2001, as this was written, the wife of Bill Bradley, a
Democratic party candidate in the presidential primary against Al Gore, was the
daughter of a Luftwaffe fighter pilot in World War II. It made it harder for me
to vote for Bill Bradley, but I did).
factoid: After the mission to Vienna on May 17, mission number 17, which is
described in the diary, the plane I was in was hit by flak and one of the
engines (we had four) was knocked out. We couldn't keep up with the formation
and had to fall out, which meant we had to make it back to our base alone and
unescorted. We were, of course, prey for the enemy fighters. However, P-51
American fighter planes who escorted formations to and from targets by this
time in the war were very much in control of the skies and we got back safely
if a bit late. Some of our best escorts, we learned later, were the pilots of
the famous Tuskegee Airmen's 99th Fighter Squadron. This squadron
had on Black pilots. The armed services were segregated until President Truman
integrated the services after WWII ended.
report among the other bomber crews who had returned before us was that we had
been shot down because we had dropped out of the formation; and when I finally
arrived later at my barracks, I was surprised to find some of my comrades in
arms going through my footlocker looking for objects (presumed) of value to
"borrow". This probably included by precious typewriter with which I had been
typing my diary of missions and which I had been lugging all around the world
as I made my military travels. I stopped their shopping and, in turn, continued
on with my Royal for the rest of the war and, in fact, had it in hand when I
went off to Northwestern University on the GI Bill.
comment about the diary's contents: Note the dates June 2 and June 10, the days
that preceded then followed the June 6 invasion of Normandy, D-Day. And the
beginning of the end of Nazi Germany---and not a word about it in my diary. I
was certainly aware of it. In fact, I was at a "rest camp" on the Southeast
Adriatic coast of Italy, down around the heel of the boot, in a town called, as
I remember, San Caesare, on that historic day. Combat crew members were given a
"rest camp" vacation, a kind of long weekend in a more civilized environment.
In San Caesare, as I recall, we had beds =with linen in what was once a resort
hotel, eggs for breakfast, and silverware at our plates, for all of our meals.
(Did we eat with our fingers at our base near Manduria during the regular work
days? I don't remember). Then after the three or four days at the rest camp, it
was back to the regular routine of bombing missions fro the 450th BG
and the 721st Squadron.
not to mention that historic invasion date again now underlines for me, some 50
or more years later, ignorance of history and not to mention cultural
deprivation. It was a half century later that Billie, my wife, and I went back
to Omaha Beach in Normandy and paid our respects to those who went ashore on the
site even while I was resting in my wartime rest camp (Billie and I picked up
little packets of sand from Omaha Beach and gave one to each of the children,
Becky, Jeffrey and Scott. I hope they still have them).
final comment about my diary and combat duty: It seems to me that the infantry,
combat soldiers the riflemen on the ground had the grimmest, toughest and
most consistently dreadful jobs that wars provide. The Air Force heavy bomber
crews during World War II could always return to warm barracks, to at least
cots and mattresses, and most of the time, to cooked (if GI) food, after each
mission, however high the causalities and aircraft losses. Each aircraft lost
meant also that 10 men were also lost in those heavy bomber crews.
at the moment of aerial combat, particularly during the earlier part of the
aerial combat over Europe when there was no fighter escort to speak of (the
P-51 longer-range fighters were still not available in any numbers until the
early part of 1944), enemy fighter planes combined with the accurate and heavy
flak caused the B-24 bombers to blow up and flip over with one, two, or three
parachutes popping out of the planes as they plunged in distress: all this in
full sight of the ball turret gunner. Because of his view of the whole action
area nothing was more terrifying in those few moments even including those
terrible moments of chaos confronting he earth bound infantry rifleman.
half century later, I'm still glad it's over.
Sgt. Hugh N. Jones, (me) in an August, 1944 photograph, after landing at the 15th Air Force Base in Manduria, Italy, following completion of my final bombing mission over Munich,
Germany as a ball turret gunner for the 450th Bomb Group, 721st Bomb Squadron. Behind me is one of the Group's B-24 bombers. I am wearing my heated flying suit and boots,
parachute harness and Mae West life preserver. My flying helmet and oxygen mask are in my left hand, and in my right is my parachute that could be hooked on to the harness,
if needed. Nineteen years old, and smiling, I had just finished by final mission (a recorded total of 50) and was eligible to return home to the U.S.A.
NOTE: The names of the flight designations below are
followed by the words "ONE" or "TWO". These words refer to number of missions
for which crew members received credit. Particularly difficult and dangerous
missions were counted as two missions. Regular, run-of-the mill bombing flights
over enemy targets counted as one mission. Credit for a total of 50 missions
was required for each crew member before he was eligible to retire from combat
and return to the United States. Letters in the text refer to end notes that
explain certain specific situations. Nothing else, however, has been changed in
the Diary since it was written in 1944.
(1)APRIL 13, 1944
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (VECES AIRDROME TWO)
No fighters, slight flak, lots of sweat and I am now
officially a combat man and I would prefer an ASTP classification.
Again, no Hitler youth. I'm down to my first knuckle.
(4)APRIL 23, 1944
VIENNA, AUSTRIA (AIRPLANE FACTORY TWO)
Flack a'plenty but the fighters were elsewhere getting fed.
When the shout went up about the black puffs I just turned the turret, crossed
by fingers, and here I am typing again. War is a nasty work, the Red Cross
lassies had left by the time of our arrival at the base.
What with bad weather and general confusion of the immortal
Col. Gideon we were lucky to get back on an early return. Two crews out of the
barracks didn't. Clouds were all over and thick and saved us once from being
jumped by fighters. God bless the clouds. Loss of weight from worrying has me
worried about worry. H'mmmmmmmm, must be getting neurotic.
(6)APRIL 29, 1944
TOULON, FRANCE (SUBMARINE PITS ONE)
We set the fish hatchery industry of France back one
century, but our primary target aim was sub pits so you can see the generals in
power aren't gleeful. Flak was heavy after we went over the target and thank
heaven for that. Some ships went down. It was colder than usual and for one all
of our heated equipment worked.
After a short vacation we repaid this joint a return engagement
to earn our bread and keep. I'd prefer the parasite existence. It was a
milk-run and the Luftwaffe continues to goldbrick making me more nervous. The
target was well plastered we shouldn't have to come back here for almost
(8)MAY 12, 1944
PORTA SAN STEFANO, ITALY (HARBOR INSTALLATIONS ONE)
I might say, in my best air corps vernacular, that Stefano
is among the missing. The target was smothered but good. Three ships didn't
come back the flak was so accurate. One had the right stabilizer completely
shot off; another got a direct hit and blew up in midair; another collided as a
result of shot-away controls. No fighters showed up anyway. I wish this mess
was over, the war I mean, so I could get back to post-war apple selling.
This one was history making Not one burst of flak!In fact we could have gone down and
delivered milk to the Piacenzian housewives. As it was we obliterated the area.
Smoke could be seen rising 10,000 ft. in the air, just like the public
relations releases tell the civilians.
(10)MAY 17, 1944
PORTA SAN STEFANO (HARBOR INSTALLATIONS ONE)
We return to conquer. And with the same result that brought
a commendation from the general on the last visit. With 11 groups over the
target we could hardly miss. Flak was its usual present self, but I'm still
here so why complain. Numerous fish in the harbor lost their parents as a
result of the new bombardiers.
Today was a banner day and this short paragraph should be
read with great solemnity. For the motley nine of Captain W. V. Pitt, [B] me
included, flew with the immortal Col. Gideon. The target was completely covered
with clouds (the intended place was FlacPloesti) so we went over a little and
found the same in Yugo's capital. It seems the radar wouldn't work so home we
came. The first boy to pull 50 missions did the trick today. He is my hero and
would that I could emulate him. Ha emulate, he sez.
Another profitable day spent with the colonel. This place
will never be the same. The 450th plastered the yards in a regular
avenue of 500 pounders. A near miss on a loading ship sent flames 18,000 ft.
(again from public relations) in the air. Still no fighters and inaccurate
flak. Maybe the Luftwaffe is just making me feel good for propaganda purposes.
If so they're succeeding.
(13)MAY 24, 1944
WIENER-NEUSTADT, AUSTRIA (ME FACTORY TWO)
Me and my big mouth. This was the one I was storing up
energy for. The Luftwaffe was out and was gunning for us. We were jumped
without escort by about 100 Jerry fighters. We caught a lot of hell and two
ships out of our element went down. Shorty and his gang were in one of them.
Hollander was in the other. Every ship out caught some kind of shooting up. One
came back with the vertical stabilizer almost completely gone. Another piled up
at the end of the runway; another in on its nose, etc., etc.
Portalonga is no longa. No flak, no fighters, and a clear
day. This topped by the Absence of Fearless Fosdic Gideon made for a pleasant
afternoon. If there were more missions like this, war wouldn't be what Sherman
said it was. But then he never flew a B-24. And then someone reminds me of the
Wiener. Ugh, no bono.
(15)MAY 26, 1944
NICE, FRANCE (MARSHALLING YARDS ONE)
Nice was nice. No fighters, slight flak present. This type
of mission makes for antiquated gunners. And, incidentally, I came of age today
in a combat sense of the word 21 missions.
A burst of flak exploded right underneath the tail turret
and lifted the gunner completely out of his seat with no harm doneto his
physical being I mean. I wouldn't answer for his nerves. There were enemy
fighters around and the Jerrys even threw an old Stuka [C] at us, but the buzz
boys scared them all away. It looked as if these ships were going to attempt to
bomb the formation as they were mostly twin engine. Add to the perfect day,
Col. Gideon was hit by flak (his ship, I mean) and had to land in Corsica. This
means no more of his leadership for almost two days.
(17)MAY 28, 1944
WIENER-NEUSTADT, AUSTRIA (HANGAR INSTALLATIONS TWO)
made one pass and were hopped by our vigilante fighter escort. Viva 'la posse
of P-51s. Few if any of the Hitler youth got back to the fatherland. Our ship
picked up some mean flak holes. One very near the ball gunner. Me, by the way.
And Rigano [D] finished his stretch nearly stir crazy too.
The flak was the heaviest this outfit has run across in a
long time. You could have walked on it had you the desire. We had some enemy
fighters and tail gunner Young got one. Both my guns were out because of the
usual armament job of the intrepid ground crews. Number six in our formation
went down from fighters with all the crew getting out. One pilot in the
squadron was killed. It was a rough mission. Old 390 [E] had lots of holes but
we got back and my how nice this ground is.
No fighters, no flak, no nothin'.Net result: Widespread havoc to the truck farming endeavors of
this Balkan state. The bombardiers didn't have a thing to offset their
concentration and the surrounding pastures were plastered. Luckily the boys to
follow were a little more adept. This type of mission, however, makes me very
"Hey, Al, there's 109's over there ." And that's the crew
I'm on now. [F] They're so dull they couldn't cut the cheese. Luckily I come
back alive and the target was well hit. The ever-lovin' P-51's saved our
posteriors when they jumped the Jerries. This crew will make me sweat em' out.
This one was rough. Three ships shot down and two are safe.
L.B's crew, Smally, Stevey, Nagle, Santescoy, Everitt and all old officers went
down over Germany. Eight chutes got out. Flak was terrible, but luckily no
fighters. The barracks looks empty tonight. The target wasn't too well hit, but
we killed quite a few Jerries.
We hit a suburb of Yugo's capital, but it's unpronounceable
and impossible to spell so Belgrade will have to do. And it will do indeed. No
flak, no fighters, no nothin', molto bono. More like this, please.
(23)JUNE 15, 1944
BRATISLAVA, CZECHOSLOVAKIA (OIL REFINERIES TWO)
Flak: was hit five different times and fighters showed up
after target time. They didn't press attacks on our lead too much. High Right
was a little more busy. The second attack lost one ship. To end a hectic day
the target was plastered.
After a short vacation enforced by weather we were put back
in harness. The flak was light but accurate. Good escort kept away the intrepid
(25)JUNE 25, 1944
TOULON, FRANCE (SUBMARINE PITS ONE)
We got here but didn't drop the bombs. The people of France
would have received most of them. That's no bono. Viva 'la France. Flak was
accurate but you get used to that. Yesterday at Ploesti [G] was the one I'm
happy we missed. Flak and fighters and Salinger's crew is missing.
(26)JUNE 26, 1944
VIENNA, AUSTRIA (AIRCRAFT FACTORY TWO)
This mission had the best formation flying and the best
escort of any I've seen so far. And with all this we were lucky to come back.
After getting through heavy flak who should come in and make a pass at us but
432, a B-24 no less. Not content with just one he made another. Lt. Hot Pilot
White looked as if he was handling a four engine 109. What a jerk. When we
dived to get away from the Piper Cub instructor pilot I was lifted right out of
the ball and on to the catwalk; picked up my chute on the way up; buckled it on
the way down; and headed for the window on the bounce. Coordination, man. The
escorts took care of the fighters dog fights all over the place. Multo Bono.
(27)JUNE 30, 1944
ZAGREB, YUGOSLAVIA (AIRFIELD INSTALLATION ONE)
This is the first time in aeronautical history that B-24's
dive-bombed a target and then we didn't drop our load. It was all a snafu
undertaking. We went across the target at 220 miles an hour at 14,000 feet.
Even the Jerry ack-ack boys were off the ball. The old boys must have been on
furlough and some rookies were taking over. No flak near us anyhow.
(28)JULY 2, 1944
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (VECES AIRDROME TWO)
Another day of good formation flying and better escort
cover. We dropped our bombs after going right underneath another formation
whose bomb-bay doors were open. Dogfights were seen but no passes by the
Luftwaffe. Flak was away from us. Life begins at 40 so they say, and I
certainly hope so. Forty-one missions as of Budapest.
This was a supposed milk run that turned out to be just the
opposite. The flak was accurate and then some. We lost three ships to that
alone. Luckily no enemy fighters. The target was well hit once again. I'm so
tired I don't even thank the Red Cross girls for their doughnuts anymore.
Chivalry must be dead.
The target was near Venice but too small to bother inquiring
as to its proper name. This raid should have been carried out in a white
uniform, a milk wagon, and a big bay horse. It was that easy. Not even one
burst of flak and not a fighter, other than our escort, in the whole wild blue
yonder. With all this the target was missed, Bruner finished his tour today
and joined Crapps in the retirement stable. Both of them can start sleeping
nights too. [H]
(31)JULY 8, 1944
VIENNA, AUSTRIA (AIRPORT INSTALLATIONS TWO)
Another day of good fortune. Our group got a target away
from the city area and away from the flak. All that greeted us was one anemic
burst of glop while the other boys got the usual Vienna hospitality. The target
was missed.Easy as the mission was
there were four ships seen to blow up. One on the group on the Isle of Phis.
(32)JULY 12, 1944
CANNES, FRANCE )RAILWAY BRIDGES ONE)
Col. Wrong War Snaith was spectacular today. He came up to
the target 20 miles off course and then proceeded to do formation lazy 8's all
over southern France. We were picking flak out of our teeth as a result. Only
two ships made it back to Manduria from our formation due to Wrong War's
gasoline consumption methods. The usual snaful job was carried out on the
target. These Victory Through Air Power boys should be sent back to selling
programs at the Cleveland Air Races.
(33)JULY 14, 1944
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (MARSHALLING YARDS ONE)
This was the first mission in the new era of single credit
raids for everything other than Germany and Austria. Budapest today was a milk
run, for us. The B-17 groups that went over the target ahead of us ate flak, we
got only willy nilly bursts. The group in our wing following us over the target
hit fighters, but good. Five 109's went barreling right past our formation but
didn't tarry to go a few rounds. They were too eager to get in with the poor
bunch behind us. We were supposed to pick up enemy interceptors 14 minutes
after the target run but nobody showed up. The Luftwaffe must have Wrong War
Snaiths too only with Von preceding the surname.
The raid today was the clincher to this ever present enigma
according to the intelligence officers. We probably will lay off the place for
a whole week. As usual the flak was heavy and one of the bursts got Col. Snaith
with a direct hit. He went down in flames without any chutes seen to come out.
The fighter escort was beautiful. The ME's that were around couldn't even get
near us. Ship 205 bit the Italian dust too this afternoon. It cracked up coming
in the landing leg. This means five of the old crew are gone.
This is a heck of a place to fly your last mission but I
made it. The flak was bad as usual. One ship went down out of the second attack
over the target. Three ships in our lead box had to feather engines and land
elsewhere than Manduria. Three 109's jumped a straggler in the second attack
and wounded three of the gunners. The ship and crew got home, however.
It's all over now and I can start sleeping again. I wonder
if the Red Cross doughnut girls will miss my happy smiling face. Bon Giorno,
you stinkin' land of Italy.
I FINALLY GET TO WRITE THAT LETTER: (I've Completed My Missions and Am Awaiting my turn to come home.)
Hugh N. Jones
July 19, 1944
Dear Mom and Dad,
four months now I've been choosing and improvising ways to word this letter I'm
writing right now. Now that the actual time has come all my plans have gone for
nothing. All my impressive sentences to inform you that I have completed my
missions and am awaitingmy turn to come home are forgotten. Yes,
that's the big news. Those 50 missions that I thought never were to be gained
have finally come in and I am a member of the ground forces.
I get off the earth now is when I crawl into my upper bunk to sleep. Even then
the height frightens me. I walk around in a stooped position just to be that
much nearer to good old terra firma.
moments during the fifty when I was so darned scared I shook and my knees
knocked together so loud they sounded like a bowling alley. I have a few gray
hairs, no medals, and a very thankful attitude for still being a member of this
think my experiences have made me grim or bitter. You'll find me just about the
same as the youngest son that left Cleveland not too long ago. I'm not quite so
young in many ways, that's to be expected, but I'm not tottering about creaking
and giving advice to new, recently arrived gunners either. Wheat I mean by not
being as young is that some of the things you see make you a little more
serious. That's bound to happen.
me a well-traveled person. Some of the places I've visited Uncle Wilbur hasn't
even seen. Or course my visits were a bit different from his and from a little
different approach but I was there, I was there. I've seen Munich, Vienna,
Venice, Toulon, Marseilles, Budapest, Bucharest, Ploesti and places you
couldn't pronounce with all the available language guides. Every one caused a
lot of sweat.
the big news is divulged I can get onto the trivia. I continue to just sit
around and wait for my trip home. Picking up sun at the beach in the interim.
My wait might be a little long. Don't worry about this, a long rest on the
ground won't worry me in the least. I'll be sent to a larger town soon, further
north and stay there until the boat docks that's taking me back to Fry Ave.
That stature of liberty is going to look good too.
tell everybody I'm through with my missions. It's no military secret. I'll end
now and get my first goodnight's sleep since I entered this forsaken Eyetie
land. If this letter makes you as happy as the 50 missions made me you'll be
cutting capers down the middle of Clifton Blvd.
Lot's of love from
(Written in 2001)
was, of course, a heroic figure, and I felt personally honored to be a member
of his crew, because he would always lead the formations to the targets of the
mission as the group commander of the 450th bomb group. He also
became the base commander, a few years later, at Boca Raton, Florida, where I
was by that time after my missions were over, the editor of the base newspaper,
called the Boca Raton Transmitter. (I made his CO office one of my news
gathering "beats"). He was also helpful in my getting an accurate total of
combat points that were part of the war end procedures that determined the
order of discharge from the military service. The greater time spent in combat
meant the greater amount of points and the quicker departure from military life
and entrance into civilian status.
William Pitt, a Boston wise man to my unsophisticated eyes, was the pilot I was
most often assigned to as a ball gunner and it was with him that I flew most of
my missions. The crew that had trained together and had flown together from the
United States to the 450th Bomb Group in Manduria, Italy, was broken
up as soon as we arrived in the combat zone and we were assigned as needed and
as replacements to what ever crew was in short supply of whatever specialty applied.
(C)The "Stuka" may have been in fact some kind
of scout plane (and it probably was not a "Stuka", which was the name of a
German dive bomber and must have been the equivalent of a plane like an
American Piper Cub). Whatever it was, it seemed to be helping the Germans to
find our formations and try to drop bombs on us. Whatever the strategy, it
never seemed to come to fruition, at least for us.
hyperbole was at work here. Whoever Rigano was (or is) I am glad he finished
safely, but whether he was "crazy" was, and is, subject to considerable doubt.
No question, however, there were some crew members who did not handle well the
tensions and their resulting pressures. However, if there were signs of mental
fatigue (or "Section 8" symptoms, as we calledthem in more of that adolescent bravado), the victims just seemed to be
taken care of in such a sway that one day they were there in the barracks and
the next day they were gone fro presumably some kind of psychiatric treatment.
It was probably this kind of circumstance that contributed to Joseph Heller's
"Catch 22" masterpiece, even though he was writing about a B-25 medium bomber
group that was based in Italy and in which he was a bombardier.
one ball turret gunner whose turret door (in the "down" or exposed position
below the B-24's fuselage) had flapped open and was waving in the wind as we
were flying toward the target. I could see it because I was in my ball turret
in its down position and was looking around as we always did to be sure that
nothing sneaked up and surprised us. In other words, with that turret door
open, the gunner was hanging onto the two gun handles and probably trying his
best to get the turret turned back into the fuselage so that he could get out. However,
given the configurations of the turret and the plane, with the door open, the
ball turret could not be brought to its full and correct position inside the
fuselage. Plus, the turret was so small, we never were able to wear out
parachutes inside it. In short, he was hanging on for dear life, some 35,000
feet above the ground, heading into Germany or some such place, and he couldn't
get back into his plane----but somehow he did apparently, because by the end of
the mission that day and when the crews were back in their respective barracks,
that particular gunner (who was not Rigano) but who occupied my particular
barracks, was a mumbling, incoherent, "basket case", as we used to say, with
all of the kindness and compassion that is distinctively found in a very young
crew member. He, too, quickly disappeared into wherever they send such cases.
airplanes were numbered, and the "390" reference must have been accordingly the
plane in which I flew that particular mission. The plane that our original crew
an I flew over to Italy was B-24 that had not been painted olive drab, as were
all the other B-24s that were in combat at this stage of the war. Needless to
say, our original plane and its silver fuselage aroused a great deal of
interest among the enemy fighters and the ground anti-aircraft batteries, they
reasoned possibly that it was anew, secret weapon. Whatever their thoughts, I
never rode in that silver plane again. I was always assigned to the old OD war
horses. IN the end I also never found out whether the silver plane made it
through or not. I think not, and I vaguely recall it was shot down with its
(F) My reference
here was to the mode of locating by voice where the fighters were approaching
from. It was not right to say "over there", the proper reference was, e.g. "a
fighter at one o'clock". Thus, my disdain for someone so obtuse as to not be
familiar with the proper use of words. This also reminds me of my very first
mission, or at least an early one, which I flew on that occasion with the nose
gunner I had trained with in the States, one Robert Jordan.He was a law student from Iowa and as I
remember a very nice fellow (I don't know what happened to him after the war,
although I do believe he survived his 50 mission requirements). Anyhow, on that
first mission when he saw some enemy fighters, Jordan in his lawyerly fashion
announced that there were fighters "at 10 minutes after 3". We hastily over the
intercoms informed him that he did not have to be that precise, and "half
hours" and "fifteen minutes after" were not needed as identifying references.
(G) The "famous"
Ploesti raid was the low level attack, while the 15th air force was
still based in Africa. They flew at very low levels and the net result was a
disaster because of a series of mistakes and miscalculations. Heavy losses were
sustained by the 450th Bomb Group, as well as by the other
participants. Then as the war progressed, the heavy bombers, the 450th
group among them, moved their operations over to the Italian mainland.
Obviously, this made Ploesti closer as a priority target. My participation was
the first high level mission over the Ploesti oil refineries. Incidentally, the
450th Group received a Presidential Unit citation for the Ploesti
raids and for an earlier raid on Regensburg, Germany, in which I did not
references to these two names was because they were members of my original crew
that trained together, flew the silver plane over to Italy, and then was broken
up and reassembled as crew members for other bomber teams. Brunner was a waist
gunner, from Tennessee, and an engineering student before enlistment. Like many
gunners, me included, he was a washed out pilot applicant. He was also a
somewhat surly person, though very intelligent, and he and I never liked one
another. Crapps, his real name, was the bombardier, and he was also basically
not a very attractive person. He was also the senior member of our original
crew which is to say, he was 24 or 25 years old. We thought that was ancient
and wondered how he could be so active. Elsewhere, I believe I have recounted
what happened to that entire original crew; Pilot Thrasher survived and flew
his 50 missions. Co-pilot Murray, whom I liked very much, did not survive;
another good friend, Ryan, the navigator, did not survive; and the radio
operator, Goodwin, was also killed. The engineer, Fowler, Jordan and Patterson,
the tail gunner, survived. Patterson, however, was shot down and was a POW but
survived that and came home in one piece.
I never kept up contact with any of them, nor they with me.
Despite what has been said about wartime camaraderie, there was not such
lingering friendships among the people I knew. None of the survivors of that
original crew of 10 ever saw one another again after we were through with our
war time experiences. So it goes, as Mr. Vonnegut is wont to say.
Enlisted crewmates, February, 1944, Topeka, KS.
Back Row - Left to Right: S/Sgt Hugh N. Jones
Front Row - Left to Right: S/Sgt Patterson
PUTTING IN CONTEXT THE DIARY SECTION OF THIS MEMOIR:
WHAT THE WAR SITUATION WAS IN EUROPE AND ITALY DURING
THE PRERIOD OF MY COMBAT EXPERIENCE WITH THE FIFTEENTH AIR FORCE.
The following is taken from Steven Ambrose's book about the
15th air force and principally the experiences of George McGovern
(later the Presidential candidate running against President Nixon in 1972) as a
pilot in the 451st Bomb Group, the B-24 unit in the Italian area
where my 450th Bomb Group also was based. Ambrose's commentary is
included here because it presents in stark terms the kind of combat that
confronted our bomber groups in that period in which I flew my missions from
March, 1944 to August, 1944.
I did not realize until August 2000 when I read Ambrose's
description, just how dangerous those skies were in which I was flying.
the Fifteenth Air Force born. Initially it consisted of six heavy bomber groups
and two fighter groups, but it would soon become the second largest air force
in the world, behind only the Eighth in total numbers of planes and personnel. By
April 1944, it had twenty-one heavy bomber and seven fighter groups. (My
underlining. I had arrived in March, 1944).
March, April and May the Fifteenth stayed at it. In that period it received
twenty-five sets of new APS-15 radar, known at 'Mickey', complete with
operators. On April 5, 1944, 230 bombers from the Fifteenth raided Ploesti
the first time it had been hit in eight months. More Ploesti missions were
carried out on April 15 and 24, on the last raid using the Mickey for the first
time. On D-Day in Normandy, June 6, 1944, the Fifteenth raided Ploesti again,
then again on June 23 and 24, and again on July 9 and 15. Losses mounted ten
B-24s on one mission, fourteen on another, twenty on another, forty-six on the
July missions this out of a force of between 200 and 300 bombers. Missions
against other targets in the first half of 1944 were equally costly. Meanwhile
the Eighth Air Force, which had spent much of the time before D-Day bombing
tactical targets such as bridges and railroads in France in preparation for the
assault, did its own strategic bombing and suffered similarly heavy losses.
"Oil was the
critical item. Ploesti remained the principal target. It was attacked by the
Fifteenth Air Force, but following the April attacks the Germans began to
experiment with a new defensive measure, which for at least a time worked well.
When ever their warning system indicated the approach of the Fifteenth's air
fleets over Yugoslavia heading toward Romania, the Germans would use the time
available to them before the bombers were over Ploesti about forty minutes
to light hundreds of smoke pots around the refineries, so that when the bombers
were over the target most of the area would be concealed. As a counter, the
Fifteenth began using more radar-equipped leading planes and raised its level
of accuracy. But the German counter was to move additional antiaircraft
batteries into the around Ploesti, along with fighter aircraft, making it the
third best defended target on the continent. Second was Vienna, also a crude
oil refinery site often struck by the Fifteenth. First was Berlin. The
Fifteenth countered with new techniques, most of all the use of diamond-shaped
formations that gave some additional security to the bombers and greater
precision in its attacks.
1944, the Fifteenth lost 318 heavy bombers in its many missions against
refineries scattered across southern Europe. It was the worst month of the war
fro the Fifteenth, which had a higher ratio of loss than the Eighth. The AAF
thought, however, that it was doing great damage to the refineries, especially
because its use of radar to overcome the smoke screens. The results may not
have been quite as good as hoped, but still they were spectacular. It was the
sustained offensive by the Fifteenth that finally rendered Ploesti all but
useless to the Germans. By September 1944, a total force of 59,834 airmen from
the Fifteenth had flown against Ploesti, dropped a total of 13,469 tons of
bombs, at a cost of 350 heavy bombers. The Fifteenth had flown twenty daylight
missions against Ploesti, Later estimates were that these raids denied the
Germans 1.8 million tons of crude oil. When the Raid Army took Ploesti on
August 30, 1944, the Russians reported that the Ploesti refineries were idle
and ruined. This was the payoff of the Fifteenth's sustained campaign"
Hugh N. Jones in October, 1996 at the remains of the now deteriorated 450th Bomb Group airbase near Manduria, Italy.
It was a return trip for former S/Sgt Jones, accompanied by his wife, Billie, more than 50 years after his final flight from that base during World War II.
The base itself was in ruins but the outlines and remains of some of the former structures were still visible.
Hugh N. Jones reads the plaques now lodged at the entrance of the former airbase that enumerates the 450th Bomb Group's two World War II's Presidential Unit Citations.
Two Plaques at Entrance to Former
American Air Base, 450th Bomb Group,
Between Manduria and Oria, Italy
Discovered by Hugh N. and Billie M. Jones in 1996 during their three-week trip to Italy,
from Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Orieta and Siena in the north, to Rome, to Bari,
Lecce, and Manduria in the South, and to Sicily.
"In honor of those who served in the 450th Bomb
Squadrons 720, 721, 722 and 723 known as the 'Cottontails.'
Distinguished Unit Citations for raids over Regensburg, Feb.
And Ploesti, April 5, 1944. 1,505 men of the 450th
were killed or missing
"From this air base at Manduria, members of the 450th
heavy bombers flew 265 bombing missions against the Axis
January 8, 1944 to Aril 26, 1945. May our comrades who made
Supreme sacrifice rest in eternal peace.
This shows a little about how the old air base between Manduria and Oria in southern Italy looked when Billie and I found it in 1998.
The long bare patches that stretched across the field marked the long-gone landing strips; the barracks were gone but he grass was green an luxuriant over the areas where the old latrines had stood.
Still standing were the olive trees that grew behind the barracks. (In this picture, you can see them in the background). In the early days of Hugh's stay at the base, replacements for crews
lost on flying missions were scarce.
It was the pilot's job to find another crew member to replace a lost one, and he did his own recruiting. Non-commissioned airmen began to dread being drafted to fly with another crew immediately
after completing one with his own crew. So, crews finishing one mission learned that by sleeping amid the olive trees might save them from being tapped on the shoulder very early in the
morning to find themselves flying an extra mission.
Needless to say, army "efficiency" finally reasserted itself, and replacement crews were assigned systematically no matter where they slept.