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1st Lt Nicholas P. Kordich
720th Squadron


As members of the original compliment t of the 720th ground and flight crews knew each other well. Later as replacement crews arrived, those of us who remained really didn't have the opportunity to know them. Thus when we arrived at Air Force Base #28, a base numbered I suppose to prevent the Germans from knowing our location, or Lake Manduria as we were to fondly call it, we were to find that Nick and his crew had crashed into the Atlas Mountains in North Africa as they approached Marrakech.

 

In late December, 1943, 62 planes of the 450th left Alamogordo and headed we knew not where. But after leaving the USA we were permitted to open our secret destination instructions it was Sunny Italy.

 

Of the 62 planes two were lost Nick's and another in which a fighter landed on top of it on its approach to the field in Marrakech but miraculously none were killed or even injured but the plane was lost. Thus of the expensive B-24's only 60 made it to enter into combat.

I had known Nick well and his particular concern was the threat of malaria, not the enemy or crashing into a mountain. He was of Bulgarian descent, and proud of it, and was eager to drive the Germans from the land of his ancestors. His death was a shock to all of us. 1

 

The reason for his crash is not part of the official records. But I suspect I can offer the proper explanation from our experience as our crew, as did Nick, flew over the Altas Mountains to Marrakech.

 

Marrakech lies in a plain about 15 miles north of the highest peaks of the Atlas Mountains. To the southwest is a pass allowing one to approach at an altitude not requiring the need to climb over the mountains at their highest point and then immediately descending. Despite the ability of our navigator, we missed the pass and found ourselves in a cul-de-sac formed by high peaks. Fortunately the weather was clear and we were able to circle in tight turns and with full power, climb, with mountains on all sides of us, often very close, to an altitude of 20,000 feet or so and clear the peaks. It was the next day with cloudy conditions that Nick's plane crashed. I feel certain he was attempting to do what we had accomplished successfully, although with considerable concern on my part, in clear weather. Interestingly, but unrelated to the tragedy of Nick's death, was more excitement in store for us. As we were about to make our landing at Marrakech, a fighter plane made a sharp turn in the air in front of us and touched down on the runway a few hundred yards in front of us. We should have gone around again but Captain Wicks was furious at this lack of flying discipline, although perhaps the offending fighter had not seen us, and continued our approach. By then, if not before, the fighter pilot did see us, a giant on his tail, and spun his plane off the runway, apparently without damage.

 

The control at the field must have been lacking. The next day Lieutenant Donald L. Wagner of our Squadron had the surprise of a Frenchman landing his fighter on top of his B-24 as Wagner made his landing. Both planes were severely damaged, but miraculously there were no injuries.

 

1 Miraculously Soloman E. Lubin, tail gunner, survived the crash suffering only a broken jaw; he was hospitalized in Tunis. As I recall the story, and this could refer to another crash, Lubin was in his tail turret which somehow broke loose, and in it he was spared. It would be interesting if Lubin, after these many years, could give an accurate version of the crash.





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