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Sgt. Hugh N. Jones
721st Squadron

AERIAL WAR
OR
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.

AERIAL WAR
15th Air Force
450th Bomb Group
Hugh N. Jones

CONTENTS

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 of 1944.

Everything 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.

The 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' report.

For 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 area.

No 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 lurching.

The 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.

With 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.

(Incidentally, 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).

Another 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.

The 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.

Another 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.

Nevertheless, 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).

Another 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.

Still, 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.

A 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.

THE DIARY

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.

(2)  APRIL 15, 1944 – BUCHAREST, RUMANIA (MARSHALLING YARDS – TWO)

Lack of Luftwaffe has me jittery. The chaplain is whom I want to see.

(3)  APRIL 16, 1944 – BRASOV, RUMANIA (MARSHALLING YARDS – TWO)

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.

(5)  APRIL 25, 1944 – FERRARA, ITALY (MARSHALLING YARDS – ONE) {A}

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.

ANON and ANON

(7)  MAY 6, 1944 – BRASOV, RUMANIA (MARSHALLING YARDS – TWO)

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 three days.

(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.

(9)  MAY 13, 1944 – PIACENZA, ITALY (MARSHALLING YARDS – ONE)

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.

(11)  MAY 18, 1944 – BELGRADE, YGOSLAVIA (NO BOMBS – ONE) {B}

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.

(12)  MAY 19, 1944 – LASPEZIA, ITALY (MARSHALLING YARDS – ONE)

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.


MORE YET

(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.

(14)  MAY 25, 1944 – PORTALONGA, ITALY (OIL STORAGES – ONE)

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.

(16)  MAY 27, 1944 – MARSELLE, FRANCE ( MARSHALLING YARDS – ONE)

A burst of flak exploded right underneath the tail turret and lifted the gunner completely out of his seat with no harm done—to 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)

Yet again!  ME-1110's 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.

AND STILL MORE

(18)  MAY 31, 1944 – PLOESTI, RUMANIA (OIL REFINERIES – TWO)

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.

(19)  JUNE 2, 1944 – SIMERIA, RUMANIA (MARSHALLING YARDS – TWO)

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 happy.

(20) JUNE 10, 1944 – TRIESTE, ITALY (OIL REFINERY – ONE)

"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.

(21)  JUNE 13, 1944 – MUNICH, GERMANY (FW ENGINE FACTORY – TWO)

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.

(22)  JUNE 14, 1944 – BELGRADE, RUMANIA (OIL REFINERIES – ONE)

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.

(24)  JUNE 22, 1944 – FERRARA, TIALY (MARSHALLING YARDS – ONE)

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 Luftwaffe.

GO ON

(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.

(29)  JULY 3, 1944 – GIURGIU, RUMANIA (OIL STORAGE FACILITIES – TWO)

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.

Continue, Man, Continue

(30)  JULY 6, 1944 – VENICE, ITALY (KEY RAILWAY BRIDGES – ONE)

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.

(34)  JULY 15, 1944 – PLOESTI, RUMANIA (OIL REFINERIES – ONE)

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.


One More ... And Home

(35)  JULY 19, 1944 – MUNICH, GERMANY (ME 410 WING ASSEMBLY PLANT – TWO)

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,

            For almost 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 awaiting my 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.

            The highest 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.

            There were 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 earth.

            I don't 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.

            It's made 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.

            Now that 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.

            You can 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

                                                                                                    Hughie





EXPLANTORY NOTES
(Written in 2001)


(A)       Colonel Gideon 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.

(B)       Captain 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.

(D)       My adolescent 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 called  them 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.

            I remember 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.

(E)            Individual 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 crew board.

(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 participate.

(H)       The 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
S/Sgt Jordan
S/Sgt Bruner

Front Row - Left to Right:
S/Sgt Patterson
T/Sgt Goodwin
T/Sgt Fowler

ADDENDUM #1

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.

Reported Ambrose:

            "Thus was 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).

            "Through 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.

            "In July 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.


No.1

"In honor of those who served in the 450th Bomb Group, 1943-45,

Squadrons 720, 721, 722 and 723 known as the 'Cottontails.'

Distinguished Unit Citations for raids over Regensburg, Feb. 25, 1944

And Ploesti, April 5, 1944. 1,505 men of the 450th were killed or missing

in action."

No. 2

"From this air base at Manduria, members of the 450th Bomb Group

heavy bombers flew 265 bombing missions against the Axis from

January 8, 1944 to Aril 26, 1945. May our comrades who made the

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.



Link To Crew Picture

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Information courtesy of Hugh Jones




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