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2nd Lt. Harley W. Rhodehamel
720th Squadron




A Historical Narrative by Harley Rhodehamel

720th BOMB SQUADRON HISTORY

 

The 720th Bomb Squadron in which I served from its founding until it's reclassification was one of the four Squadron (721st, 722nd and 723rd ) of the Mighty 450th Bomb Group which was part of the 15th Air Force. The 450th was the first group to reach Italy from the United States after Italy's surrender. We had originally been destined to head for England.

 

What follows is and unsorted, unorganized collection of pictures, Army Air Force orders to tell me what to do, when to go and more, letters and other items. It is a history, sort of, concerning my Air Force activities. I have saved all of this stuff for 60 years and I am now reluctant just to discard it although perhaps that would be a suitable option. I have assembled the material and placed it in five books, one for each of you. It is possible the material will rate a quick look and then be filed on a high unreachable shelf.

 

I tried to better organize the accumulation but I decided it might not make any difference in the end product whether or not it is so organized. My many Army Air Force orders are, however, at least arranged by years. 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

What follows I've enjoyed putting together and it has kept me from TV. I recognize that this is probably of interest only to me and that it will probably never be exposed to more than a quick scan. What is it? The Army seemed to operate by orders for every thing and we were issued a folder in which to keep all the orders we received. This, of course, suited me since I am a great collector who throws anything away with difficulty.

 

But now after many years, almost 60, I realize that my pile of orders, pictures, and more related to my Air Force days should be discarded. But does all the stuff relate to history? Maybe not but I felt it might be worthwhile, and something for me to do, to go over my accumulation and copy and preserve parts of it in book form. Thus this is what I've done. But this is not my first attempt to document my Air Force days – please see, if by chance there is a spark of interest, Book 4.

 

What can be found in these books (there's enough material for the plural) I'm proposing to produce, entitled – 450th History – pictures I took (I had for part of my time overseas a camera but in retrospect I neither took enough pictures nor the right ones) and others, copies from Book 4, copies of orders and more.

 

When this is complete I will discard my aging collection of orders. I think the present day Air Force (I was, of course, in the Army Air Force) will not criticize this action.

 

THE 450TH BOMBARDMENT GROUP (H) 

 

The 450th Bomb Group was activated in May, 1943, and ended its fighting career July, 1945, when it was predesignated as a Very Heavy Bomb Group; its B-24's which we proudly viewed as large and fearsome were to be replaced with the even mightier B-29's, a plane none of us had seen until our return to the United States from Italy.

 

ITALY APRIL 1945

 

As suitable targets vanished for its awesome powers of destruction our group possessed, the 450th Bomb Group was declared superfluous; we had performed all that was needed to defeat Hitler. Another objective was in store for the 450th. The group was inactivated as a fighting unit in late April, 1945, just weeks before the German collapse that appeared inevitable followed by Hitler's suicide. Colonel Jacoby announced the decision that the Group had been selected to return to the United States, to trained with B-29, and then fly out again to complete the task of defeating the Japanese.

 

In the next few days, our pilots flew their combat weary planes, and even some that had just arrived as replacements, to a collection point near Naples, parking them where thousands would soon join them, bombers and fighters, few if any to ever fly again. The rest of us collected our squadron equipment, boxed it up for shipment to the United States and, some innocent souls, including me, naively added personal items, in the mistaken belief that we would see those boxes again in our next assignment. Of course, we never did. My personal items of notes, books and a few mementoes were irretrievable and forever lost. But maybe some day as a long dormant Air Force warehouse is scheduled for abandonment my stuff will turn up. I shall not indeed await such a day but I will perpetually wonder what happened to all that stuff or whether it even left Italy!

 

Then too there were other naοve souls, again I was one, who assumed the 450th was forever and that as a group and squadrons, our seasoned veterans would train together and together seek battle against Japan. But forgotten that by now our men, with 18 months overseas, two Unit Citations and battle stars galore had amassed points defined in a new system that dictated that without our consent we could not be ordered to again leave the country. Indeed, as events were to prove the 450th Bombardment Group (H) and its four squadrons was renamed as a Very Heavy Group and with but a few exceptions the old 450th personnel were otherwise assigned.

 

450th BOMB GROUP

 

When I was separated, with sadness and even regret from the group and squadron to which I had been attached for so long, my instructions were to report to Tucson.1 As that hardened veteran I was, full of experience and ready to fight the world, I reported to my new commanding officer. He looked at my papers, threw up his hands and exclaimed: "My God another high ranking armament officer." 2  How others of our Squadron fared I have never heard; but probably greeted by a new commanding officer with a similar exclamation!

 

But back to the dissolution of the 450th. From Manduria, that privileged class of the air echelon was flown in B-17's to Naples with our worldly personal effects in over stuffed duffel bags. Presumably the lowly ground crews came in less speedy, but perhaps equally comfortable army trucks. Indeed the B-17 had not been designed as a transport plane and I felt decidedly uncomfortable seated over the bomb bays.

 

At Naples we spent several days billeted at the University of Naples, not in session nor indeed had it been for some time, sleeping on wooden bunks without the benefit of blanket or mattress. But the Red Cross girls were there, as they seemed to be ubiquitously, supplying us with essentials and a taste of home. Then we marched in a group, I hadn't let a formation since Alamogordo, and my file was anything but an inspiring display of army pride, to trucks which conveyed up the short distance to the docks, long since repaired from the devastation of our earlier bombing attacks and now fully operational. There we were efficiently directed, still carrying our burdensome equipment, aboard the USS West Point, which promptly sailed May 15, 1945, accompanied at least part of the way by balloon to ward off possible submarine attacks by crews as yet unconvinced or unaware that the war was over. Then with our speed and in a zig-zagged course we headed hoe unescorted to the United States, docking at Hampton Roads, Virginia, arriving May 24, 1945. The USS West Point was the first of many troop ships to return from Europe after the end of the war and as the first we were to receive a royal welcome. From the docks to Camp Patrick was by train a distance of some few miles. The tracks were lined with thousands of people waving flags, cheering and throwing flowers as our train preceded slowly. Once at the Camp we were again treated as the heroes we were. Beautiful girls assisted us in the forgotten technique of completing long distant, and free, calls to family and friends wherever in the United States they might be, a bountiful meal was produced with long forgotten fresh milk and butter, steak and the best of whatever we desired. And then we were forgotten, who are you, as others arrived from combat but they were not the first and they received a less fulsome welcome. 

 

Back to Naples. As we were guided aboard, we were given a card identifying our accommodation, copied below:

                                   

                                    Cabin U-7, CABIN U-7, UPPER DECK

                                    NAME: CAPT. H. W. RHODEHAMEL

 

This vessel permits smoking in Officers' Cabins from 0800 to 2100, and unfortunately our cabins were smoky! Instructions:

 

            To prevent fire, extinguish all cigarettes in containers and keep rooms clean.

            Do not smoke while lying in bunk. 

            Do not smoke during embarkation or debarkation.

            Read your copy of "Passenger Regulations"

            Draw your linen at Locker U-51, Upper Deck, starboard side, amidships.

 

Obviously, of more concern than enemy submarines, was fire aboard the ship, and the smoking regulations were emphasized and endorsed. This had been but was not now a ship conduction a luxury cruise. But everything was well organized and the food adequate. But with the numbers aboard we stayed most of the time in our cabins, our cabin designed for three and we were eight. There was a lounge area where we ate in shifts at designed ties and where we could listen to news and see more of the ocean that we could from our cabin; but the area was generally crowded and cabins seemed almost spacious. Our cabins were assigned by rank, and as one declined in his rank, facilities were even more sparse. Our group of eight were 720th Squadron Captains. As some one observed in an article in Molto Buono, captains are as numerous as flees. In our group was our squadron flight sergeant, Lew Ostrove. For much of the trip he regaled us with medical lore, some of which may have been true.  

 

Except for 36 uncomfortable hours as we skirted a violent storm which rolled the ship in a manner that even alarmed seasoned combat pilots, it was not an unpleasant ten days, just long with the anticipation of home, and as we finally picked up New York City's radio stations as we approached the United States we were all satisfied that the trip was nearing an end.

 

From Camp Patrick Henry, our group members headed for a 30-day home leave but each carrying with him orders of where and when to report for his next assignments. I was appointed train commander of the train headed for INDIANA. Our train had three or four cars with several hundred men, all heading for Camp Atterburg, and from there to fan out to various spots. One of the four cars was equipped with kitchen facilities. At intervals we would pass through that car and pick up food. Our train no longer carried the heroes we had been lead, briefly, to think we were. Our trains stopped at every siding from Virginia to Camp Atterburg to let a more important group or cargo to pass. But in three days, somewhat travel worn, we all reached Fort Atterburg. As train commander, I was proud not to have lost a single man. Who would desert when on his way home?

 

My reunion with my parents was a wonderful experience I had not been home nor seen them for over two years. I came home laden with welcomed gas and food coupons. My father had jacked up my 1940 convertible Buick and stored it in the next door neighbor's unused and heated garage. It was fun to again drive something besides and ancient Jeep. In the hierarch of rank, I was qualified as a squadron officer to command a Jeep but somehow mine always seemed to have been a veteran of the African wars. It is another story or army life perhaps worth recounting. I had two of "my" Jeeps stolen by; I am sure and convinced, the American Navy. That is another story. Perhaps feeling I was careless my squadron commander replaced them with even older, less reliable Jeeps. If nothing else these replacements had character and probably a worthy untold story of real combat connected with them.

 

But back to my home leave. It was glorious. No army details or discipline. Friends were returning as I did. It was good to be home and with my parents and the comforts of home. Strangely, to me at least, my parents seemed to have little interest in my exploits and adventures. It was a remote experience to them; more they would like to explain to me their activities while I was gone. My mother had amassed an incredible number of hours in Red Cross service and had more medals than I to prove it. My father, an executive with Eli Lily, had returned to the work hours of his youth: ten hour days including Saturdays. They churned milk for butter, went without meat (now we know probably a healthful act) and lived in a cold house but with never a complaint. Their butter and other food stuffs had come to us and they were glad to have contributed in their way, perhaps more demanding and less dramatic than mine, to the war effort.

 

With the splendid 30 days over, I headed, still thinking my next assignment would end up in Japan, for Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as my orders required. On my last day, as I drove my well cared for Buick to a friend's house, the concerns my father had expended in assuring that his soldier son's car would be there to greet his return son came to naught. As I drove home on that last day, all, not one, but all tires went flat. Four years had exhibited their toll. Even stored on jacks, the tires had decayed. I never did find out how it was possible to repair those four tires.

 

I arrived at Sioux Falls to find the mighty 720th other officers and men. There too I finally became aware of the number system, and its significance, numbers awarded for months overseas, medals, unit citations, battle stars with the total determining one's options: to stay in the USA or not.

 

With the changes in the 450th I elected to stay in the USA. Should anybody be interested, I was in my new assignment until late September. The atomic bomb had finally convinced Japanese to surrender. Whether it would have taken so much force shall always remain a questions. I think not; I would have handled the use of the bomb in a different fashion. But I was not asked. I well remember VJ Day standing proudly at attention as at sun down the flag was lowered on that first day of peace and the end of World War II.

 

Soon I was faced with the decision: stay or leave the army. I elected without much hesitancy to leave, 3 to go home and resume the life I had left some four years before. I did join the inactive reserves which I left in 1953.

 

And thus the 450th, a great group, and as its history should reveal, one that contributed much to the down fall of Hitler and all he represented. The group lost over 1000 young men, 250 B-24's and consumed large quantities of the valuable and irreplaceable resources of America. When will nations become intelligent?

 

            1 I went by train from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Tucson, Arizona, a trip that required several days. I remember little about how we were fed but I clearly remember the cars on which we road. They were of wood construction, certainly vintage of the 1880's, equipped still, I think, with gas burning light fixtures, modernized for electricity. Of course, we had uncomfortable sears, windows wide open to ring in dust and smoke. During the war, any piece of equipment that could be put in operating condition, more or less, was pressed into service. I was on one of the old ones!

 

            2 An assignment was found for me. I was placed in charge of a bomb sights repair unit. It was a large facility, beautifully equipped, air conditioned and securely controlled. The bomb sight was still held in reverence. I had a half dozen bomb sights experts repairing, cleaning, reconditioning both Norden and Sperry sights. They were then carefully grated and stored. Almost certainly none of those laboriously reconditioned sights ever again so use.

            It was indeed a pleasant assignment. I had a desk and my crew needed no supervision. I could read, take long lunch breaks and often visit Tucson.   

 

                3 I did elect to join the inactive reserve which I left in 1952. Thus I served on active duty for a few months less than four years and with reserve time, more than ten years.

            I did not understand during the Korean War why I was not recalled, as were several of my friends, to active duty. My training as an armament and bombsight officer was a much needed commodity. There was one exciting event. Evie called me at work in the dark days of the war: there is an official envelop from the war department in the mail! I rushed home, still in my white laboratory uniform, prepared to chance into my old khakis. With some trepidation, I tore open the large envelop. It was to inform me that my reserve papers had been transferred from one location to another. It was indeed a false alarm! 

 

MYSTERY VACATION TOUR BY AIR

Exotic Places; All Expenses Paid

 

This introductory title was not exactly the way this tour was touted and, indeed, some of those included saw flying into the dangers of combat, which was our purpose, less than the desirable end of a vacation jaunt, no matter how attractive the tour might be.

 

And the tour was an exciting adventure nonetheless, particularly in a time when air travel was more of a novelty. It was a tour offered to thousands of your Army Air Force men and was offered not only free of change but with pay.

 

There were almost daily rumors of some kind: pay would be increase, everyone would get a leave, or make up your own. Then without a rumor to forewarn us, on December 1st, 1943, our Group received its movement orders, and now we were to enter combat for which our long training of about 15 months had presumably equipped us. As a member of the flight echelon1 in our Squadron's Table of Organization, I was scheduled to fly to our overseas destination and was assigned as a crew member, a waist gunner, 2 on B-24, 41-28612, Captain Cark Wicks, Commander.  Clark Wicks had been a pilot on a submarine parole duty in the Caribbean for over a year before he joined our Squadron as Commanding Officer and because of that assignment our flight overseas was much more enjoyable and pleasant than it might have been.

 

The ten member crew were all 720th squadron men. Thorpe, Wagner and Weber were Flight Surgeons and flew as so-called passengers. S/Sgt Frank Grgurich was a crew chief; he knew every part of our plane. In the long flight, he explained much of the different functions to me; it was a liberal education.

 

Brown was a competent navigator and ended up as the group navigator. Carr was small, called Shorty, and apparently fearless. He became the group bombardier and lead the Wing on one raid to Ploesti. I was indeed fortunate to fly with such a crew, even with three doctors.

 

As mentioned earlier, we flew in B-24 number 41-28612.

            B-24H             4128612                    2558-GZ52

            Cpt Clark J Wicks  0406434                                (P)

            1st Lt Monroe Sachs  0796441                                (CP)

            1st Lt Robert L Brown  0798738                                (N)

            1st Lt Rolland R Carr  0734425                                (B)

            M/Sgt William M Board  35276380                  (E)

            2nd Lt Jack W Ryne  0861711                                (R)

            2nd Lt Max L Williams Jr  0511689                                (AG)

            1st Lt Harley W Rholdehamel Jr  0856621            (CG)

            M/Sgt Norman V Huber  35285980                  (CG)

            Sgt Solomon Wassermen  12182533                  (CG)

 

                        Passengers

 

            Major George L Thorpe  0369206                    (3160)

            Cpt Alfred W Wagner  0471088                    (3160)

            Cpt Verne A Weber  0902772                    (9301)

            S/Sgt Frank Grgurich  35426225                    (750)

 

I'm not sure exactly when or why I recorded the following list but presumably I did so, perhaps after returning to the United States, in order to recall names; Captain Wicks was dead; Sachs had returned home; Carr and Brown were group officers. But these were the officers who started out in the 720th Squadron and with whom I was particularly close. Capt. Wicks was our first Commanding Officer and was killed on an early mission. Carr was one of the outstanding bombardier and ended up in a Group position as did Brown, an excellent navigator. The Engineering, Armament and Communications offices (a euphemistic description of our calyces quarters) were together so that I knew those men well and Malcolm and Ebert were with me in the house we constructed. I include this list to retain the names.

 

            Cpt C J Wicks, Squadron Commander

            Cpt Morris Sachs, Co-Pilot and Operations Officer

            Major R R Carr (Shorty) Bombardier

            Major R L Brown, Navigator

            Cpt James E Phebus, Engineering Officer

            1st Lt Max L Williams, Engineering Officer

            Cpt Jack Ryne, Commumications Officer

 

            Cpt Walter T Malcolm, S-2

            Cpt Verne Weber, S-2

            1st Lt John C Ebert, Asst S-2

            Cpt George T Ready, Armament Officer

            Major D G North, Executive

 

 

            1Echelon is a military word time honored and of long estate. And it has lots of meanings; such as a rear echelon, safe from the enemy as opposed to the front echelon, those on the lines up front and ready for action. Then there are ground echelons (in our case, those who would travel to combat by sea) and flight echelons (and those lucky few to head for combat by air). Echelon comes from a French word meaning ladder which gives its use some meaning. In the infantry, echelon could signify the order of march, or advance.

 

Then there were four echelons of maintenance and supply in the air forces as defined by AAF Regulation 65-1, dated August 14, 1942.

 

1) 1st echelon: Supply facilities of the air echelon on the combat squadron. This consists of a 3-day supply level carried in the crew chief's kit and is transported by air.

 

2) 2nd echelon: Supply facilities of the ground echelon of the tactical squadron. This consists of a 10-day supply level provided in the Squadron Engineering Set. 

3) 3rd echelon: Supply facilities of the service group or sub-depot. In the case of the service group, this consists of a 30-day supply level.

 

4) 4th echelon. Supply facilities of the Zone of Interior air depots and air depot groups. In the case of the air depot group this will normally consist of a 90 to 150-day supply level.

 

This above supply levels will, of course, vary with the particular situation depending upon distances involved, availability of supplies, and whether situation is static or mobile.

 

We decided early we were distance, mobile and were a particular situation. We aimed for the 150-day level of everything. And I suppose all groups did!

 

            2 I was the squadron armament and bombsight officer so I should have been qualified as a gunner. I had indeed fired the 50-caliber guns at moving targets that I would command as a waist gunner. But were I faced with enemy action, I might well have shot off one of our wings. I had been scheduled to go to gunnery school in Florida but at the last minutes, for reasons never explained, my orders were cancelled.

           

I gave lectures to gunners. I well remember warning against prolonged burst, suggesting that the barrel might well overheat and distort and rupture. Often guns would return from a mission with barrels in that very state. But I was stumped when a gunner experienced after many missions, asked: Lieutenant, if I'm firing at an approaching ME-109 should I stop firing to save the gun? I allow as how I would suggest continued fire.

 

ALAMOGORDO TO MANDURIA

 

Our movement orders from Alamogordo directed us first to Herrington, Kansas and then to Morrison Field, near Palm Beach, Florida, but did not offer a hint as to our ultimate destination, a manner, of course, of great interest and gnawing curiosity to all of the members of the Group. That final destination was only to be revealed to us after we had left the Continental United States. We all expected we would end up in the Eighth Air Force in England. 3

 

After a rough, bumpy inauspicious flight with sleet and icing conditions, from Alamogordo we reached Herrington, Kansas, a supply base. I well remember that fight. The B-24 was neither designed for comfort nor beauty. On that flight it leaked gallons of water, it was cold and the sleet on the thin aluminum shell made a racket that made any conversation impossible. It was difficult under the best of weather conditions to talk in a B-24.

 

At Herrington our plane was equipped with bomb-bay tanks each carrying some 400 gallons of high octane gas to extend our range and the plane properly loaded to give a balance most suitable for fuel economy. We were issued personal equipment to serve us either in the tropics or in cold climes, and emergency items. Our flight gear, parachutes and so forth, we had brought with us. After a few days at Herrington, we headed for Morrison Field, near West Palm Beach, Florida, where we were placed on combat status and confined to the base and our movements and whereabouts were supposed to be secret. On arriving at Morrison Field we were placed under the jurisdiction of the Caribbean Wing of the Air Transport Command, ATC. I'm not sure why our scheduled plans were considered of potential value to any enemy, since we didn't know where we were going or when.

 

The ATC was an extremely important factor in the operations of the world wide Army Air Forces. One of its responsibilities was getting planes, crews, personnel and equipment where each might be needed, if from factories to modification depots or planes as replacement for combat theaters. To accomplish the latter, the ATC had established many routes for crews ferrying planes or crews flying their own plane into combat, as we were, to reach where ever the planes or personnel were needed. Early on, the combat crews themselves flew their own planes to the needed points. Later planes might go with a crew or be delivered by ATC non-combat personnel. We were, of course, a crew taking our own plane to its destination.

 

On December 7th, 1943, two years after Pearl Harbor, I left the United States as a crew member of a B-24 heavy bomber for combat.

 

From Morrison Field with sealed orders to be opened only after leaving the Continental United States, we headed out over the Atlantic. The orders, eagerly opened shortly after take off, disclosed Borinquen Field in Puerto Rico as our first destination and the route by which we were to follow in order to reach our final target, Base 28, Manduria, Italy. Finally we knew with certainty that it was Italy and the Fifteenth Air Force was our destination and not England and the Eighth Air Force.

 

So it was Italy towards which we were headed and we all knew where Italy was but what about this Manduria; Manduria meant nothing to any of us and little knowing that it was to be home for an year and a half. Obviously our orders included maps to help us locate Manduria but still meant little. Even today, one does not find Manduria highlighted in tour books, if in fact it is mentioned at all. 

 

Four our first stop, we found Puerto Rico a delight, warm and sunny after Alamogordo and Herrington. Captain Wicks, knowledgeable about this stop as well as future ones, and wishing his crew to enjoy our various stopovers, would complain about the performance of an engine or some other part of the plane, and with the delay required as it was checked, we would spend several days at each landing as we headed for Italy. Later we found that other crews were equally resourceful about stops in enchanted places along the route to combat and took even longer than us to reach our future home. Did these other crews have more ingenious ways to cause delay? From Puerto Rico we flew to Trinidad and Waller Field for a short stay with an interesting afternoon and evening in nearby Port of Spain. Then Atkinson Field, British Guiana where my army career was jeopardized by my overly conscientious devotion to duty. At each stop it was my responsibility to provide for the safety of our top-secret Norden bombsight by removing it from the plane and securing it in the base's vault. Eager to do my duty, I strapped on my loaded 45-automatic and headed for the vault with the bombsight in my arms as I had at other stops. Part way to the vault, I was sopped by a general officer, the only one who ever spoke directly to me, and I did speak to him but only responses being several yes sirs. With harsh unfriendly words, he demanded to know why I was wearing a loaded weapon, how he knew it was loaded I didn't ask; he continued still in most bellicose tones and in no uncertain terms demanded that I unload the offending weapon immediately and not to be seen with it again, loaded or not. I did feel free, however, to load it when we arrived in Italy. Later it occurred to me that the general had been placed in such an unlikely spot for an officer of his rank for a reason and perhaps meeting inexperienced bombsight officers was his main occupation.

 

Incidentally, both at Clovis and Alamogordo our bombsight building was like a bank vault surrounded with high, barbed wire fences and guarded night and day by armed sentries with the area well lighted. Later, in the combat area we stored spare bombsights in an unguarded tent and did not remove them from the planes unless some maintenance was required. As far as I know, none of our bombsights were stolen and it was reported that the Germans' had a comparable sight.

 

While on the subject of a jeopardized army career, I recall another incident on the trip of a somewhat different manner. As we sat in our quarters, some where along the way to Italy, and incidentally all were very adequate at each stop and along with food of high quality and in abundant amount, one of the crew members was cleaning his gun and in the operation he discharged it with the bullet missing me by inches. I had yet another not associated with combat experience that occurred while I was standing on the flight deck of a B-24 during a low-level gunnery exercise. 4 The nose and top turret gunners were firing at ground targets and as I leaned over to get a better view of their marksmanship, the top escape hatch in front of the top turret blew open and swung down powered by the great pressure exerted by the speed of the airplane. There was a tremendous roar and turbulence created by the rushing air and the strident cacophony from the discharge of the two 50-caliber guns of the top turret just above the opening of the escape hatch. The escape hatch itself was partially torn from its hinges. Had I not leaned forward I would have been hit on the head; as it was, the hatch lightly scraped by back, drawing blood. I suppose had we been in a combat area I would have qualified for a Purple Heart. Then one other, and actually in a combat situations at our base in Italy our Group was threatened on several occasions by enemy bombings. After months of no threat from air attacks, we felt no concern, and yet, a few weeks before our arrival there had been a devastating raid less than seventy miles north of us. Otherwise, the dangers, other than irate Generals, escape hatches, and accidentally fired guns, I faced during the war were from falling flak from anti-aircraft guns surrounding our field and discharged in practice but, probably the greatest risk, on the ground, was riding in Jeeps. We often visited the friendly British crews, a visit they appreciated at their lonely positions at the four corners of our field.   

 

Again, back to our journey to Italy: our next destination was the Army Air Force base at Belem, Brazil, a long flight over desolate but fascinating county crossing over the great Amazon River so my miles wide at the point of our crossing it that even from the air one could see neither shores; and then past the Equator. At our relatively slow cruising speed, and with beautiful, clear weather and an altitude of perhaps 10,000 feet we were able to see much.

 

From Belem, we flew to Fortaleza, one of several jumping off fields for the ocean crossing. The others were Natal and Recite, We were several days at Fortaleza where we were given last minute briefings and instructions and were shown a film on how to survive a ditching of a B-17, along with the cheerful news that there was no such film for the B-24 because B-24's just couldn't be successfully nor safely ditched. A year or so later I watched a B-24 ditch in the sea off the beautiful beaches south of Manduria; it broke up and sank almost immediately.

 

We spent our free time in the town of Fortaleza where we heard ubiquitous rumors about how German submarines posted on our route would give out false radio signals, directing planes to enter a landing pattern miles from land with the sub-positioned to shoot down any plane whose navigator may have followed the false instructions.

 

One exciting new experience was the first landing, somewhere in South America, and without a warning or explanation from Captain Wicks, either to offer a little exhilaration or because it was old hat to him, on the pierced-steel planking or square mesh tracked that served as a runway surface. As we would touch down on such a surface the noise generated convinced the neophyte that the plane was shaking apart.

 

One day a group of us were able to secure a small army plane and visit Rio de Janeiro, a pleasant one day visit. I'm not sure this was a recreational opportunity offered to all crews but only to those that might have friends permanently stationed at the ATC Brazilian headquarters.

 

From Fortaleza on our hop across the Atlantic we headed for Dakar, French West Africa, taking off with many mother planes at midnight 6 in order to make landfall in daylight. Almost immediately we ran into rough weather and despite the fact that Navigator Bob Brown had few opportunities to determine our position by star sightings we made our landfall when and where expected after some 14 hours. At the Dakar Army Air Base our plane was guarded day and night by tall, black Senegalese soldiers.

 

The long flight from Fortelaza to Dakar emphasized with more discomfort than shorter flights certain of the inconvenience of travel by B-24's. The B-24 is equipped with no toilet, only a relief tube; and the plane is far from air tight and can be cold and drafty and in rain there are many leaks that seem to find every spot where one is sitting. Other than at crew stations there are no seats although there are lots of comfortable places to sit or stretch our and of course nothing like a safety belt is provided except for the flight crew. But for the lack of a proper toilet, a voyage on a B-24, at least for the young, is a very pleasant means of transportation.  

 

As we started our take-off fro Dakar we experienced our first mechanical difficulty in that our hydraulic system developed a system developed a serious leak. Caught in time, the loss of brakes and certain controls operated by hydraulic pressure created no problem. Repairs offered another day at Dakar but unfortunately this was a stop with little to see or do although the facilities were, as usual, excellent.

 

From Dakar we headed across the deserts of Africa for Marrakech, Morocco, flying east of a direct route in order to avoid flying over neutral or unfriendly territory. Again we flew at low altitude and at cruising speed making it possible to see desert forts and a few sparse settlements but little else. It was an interesting flight across the desert and with an exciting ending.

 

Marrakech lies in a plane about 15 miles north of the high peaks of the Atlas Mountains. To the southwest of Marrakech 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 descend. Despite the ability of our navigator which had been demonstrated on our entire flight but particularly from Fortaleza to Dakar, we missed the pass and found ourselves in a cul-de-sac formed by high peaks, in front and on both sides. 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. Later we were to discover that earlier, in could covered conditions, a plane of our group crashed in the mountains attempting to do what we had been able to din in clear weather. 7  But the excitement was not over. As we were about to make our landing at Marrakech, a fighter plane made a sharp turn in the air in fornt 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 his landing. By then, if not before, the fighter pilot must have seen us, a giant on his tail , and spun his plane off the runway, apparently without damage. The next day Lieutenant Wagner of our Squadron had the surprise of a Frenchman landing his fighter on top of his B-24 as he made his landing, severely damaging both planes, but miraculously injuring no one.

 

Marrakech was a treat. Founded n about 1060 and the largest city in Morocco, it ranked in its early centuries as one of the greatest cities of Islam. Now, although in a state of decay, it was and I hope still is a beautiful city with luxurious groves of palm and orange trees and extensive gardens and fountains. We spent several days in glorious weather exploring the city and its old native quarters or casbah. An added attraction was our access to the Officers' Club in the Hotel La Mamounia, a grand and famous hotel, then at least, of the world. Interestingly, as we only later discovered, Churchill was in Marrakech at this same time discussing planes for Overland, the code word, of course, for the invasion of Europe. Churchill had been in North Africa for some time following the Teheran Conference during which time he developed pneumonia and as a result a flight plan from Carthage to Marrakech was designed for his flight so as not to fly over 6000 feet. The weather was supposed to be clear but as black clouds gathered it became apparent that flying an intricate pattern to keep under 6000 feet was dangerous. Churchill ordered his plane to fly over the mountains and donned an oxygen mask. All went well but an escort plane not informed of Churchill's change in plans adhered to the original flight plan and had a very severe and dangerous flight through the various gorges and passes, reminiscent of our approach to Marrakech. And yet another attraction of Marrakech was my spending there my 25th birthday with no acknowledgement of it nor celebration.

 

On Christmas Day, 1943, we flew from Marrakech to Tunis again at an altitude and speed and with clear weather we could see the ravages of the fighting in the desert of not too many months before. Our Christmas meal I remember well – C-rations of cheese, hard bread and chocolate – eaten not in great comfort at 10,000 feet in the air. After several days of sightseeing in Tunis where we were billeted in a many star hotel and a conducted tour of Carthage planned as I recall by the Red Cross, we headed for our final destination, a captured German and Italian airfield in southern Italy between the two small towns of Manduria and Oria. But before we took off, we were supplied with ammunition for our ten fifty-caliber machine guns, checked the operation of the turrets, and headed in a formation of three planes for the combat zone prepared to meet the enemy eager to contest our safe arrival.

 

Our melodramatic preparations for entering the combat area and meeting the enemy were frustrated by a no show German Air Force and our arrival at our new home on December 28th, 1943, was uneventful. It was probably lucky for although I was rated an expert marksman with the fifty-caliber machine gun, after all I was the armament officer in charge of the various ranges during training and decided who was qualified, I could well have damaged our plane, or shot us down from my waist gun position, rather than German fight had I been called upon to take defensive action.

 

We were far from impressed from what we saw from the air as we circled our new field nor were we impressed after we landed, not realizing either that this was to be our home for a year and an half. There was no reception committee and I can't remember how e found out where we were to go or do. The runway was mud, short and offering but one direction to attempt a landing. I recall Captain Wicks circling and looking down at the runway and its condition and thoughtfully, if not considerately, signaling his wing man to make the first landing. The field had a large hanger and workshop buildings and in a nearby olive grove of ancient vintage was a number of unheated wooden barracks with no facilities other than a few hanging electric light bulbs. A short distance away was a wash house equipped with squat-type toilets and cold, contaminated running water. The field was short on basic supplies for minimum comfort and we were drastically lacking in supplies because of an event unknown to us that had taken place a few weeks before. This of course was the bombing of Bari Harbor, a devastating raid and a closely guarded secret, about which more later. That raid only a few miles north of our new home readily suggested that the German Air Force was still capable of creating havoc. But as far as I know, they never attacked planes coming into Italy from Africa and thus our uneventful flight. 

 

On the night of December 7, 1943, the Germans attacked by air in force the Harbor of Bari about 60 miles northeast of our field, sinking 28 ships. These ships, still unloaded, carried the supplies for our group as well as others that were to arrive later and it was months before we could be resupplied. This event was played down but was known as the Little Pearl Harbor. It was the first bombing raid in which "window" or aluminum foil strips was used. The "window" confused the radar signals controlling the anti-aircraft guns and as the anti-aircraft guns fired ineffectively they succeeded only in lighting up the harbor area making the ships easier to see and bomb. No German bombers were lost. Not until 1988 did I find reference to this raid and when I did I find that it was actually carried out on December 2nd, and that fewer ships than I had recalled were lost. But I had forgotten that one of the ships carried mustard gas which was released resulting in the only such occurrence in World War II; and that over 1000 people were killed.   

 

Again back to our impression of the field, we deemed it adequate, if barely, and were informed that the field had been greatly improved from its condition as a German and Italian field by the excellent efforts of the Air Force Engineers who had been working on the field only a short time before our arrival. I am sure the pilots, however, who were faced with the task of getting a B-24 heavily laden with fuel and bombs would have opted for a runway of more length and a surface that wasn't either mud or dust. And all of us wondered as to what we might have found had it not been greatly improved. There were still several wrecks of German fighter planes ot explore after we were assured they were free of booby traps left by the recent residents.

 

Gradually all of the flight crews arrived except the one that missed the pass approaching near Marrakech and each crew had stories to tell of its experiences. Some had collected pets, monkeys and dogs. One crew with a not very skillful navigator while heading for Manduria ended up over an enemy held field in Yugoslavia. Recognizing an error and it was a serious one, the navigator discharged a red flare; the enemy apparently was equally confused about the arrival of a B-24 attempting to land and the flare further baffled them. The B-24 crew turned tail and ran, or flew at full power, and safely returned to friendly territory.

 

On our flight to Italy another amusing but potential serious incident occurred, demonstrating perhaps a lack of training of navigator and crew. The incident also confirmed our good fortune in the expertise of our navigator. From Morrison Field, our first hop in our long flight to Italy, we took off behind another squadron crew. Since we were not flying in formation we soon lost track of the other plane. But there was concern when the plane which should have arrived shortly before our touch down did not show up. Later we found the reason. Immediately after take off, the navigator gave the course to the pilot who headed in the direction indicated; and then pilot, crew and navigator relaxed for the four hour or so flight. A little over due, for the distance fortunately was nearly equivalent, and still with plenty of fuel, the squadron plane landed in Bermuda almost ninety degrees off course. On the proper course the sun would have come in on the other side of the plane and a number of the islands of the Bahamas Chain should have been readily visible on that beautiful, clear December day.

 

At the time and perhaps not sufficiently afterward the efforts of and support given by the Air Force support groups was adequately recognized. The Air Transport Command had laid out the various bases and designed our route from Florida to Italy. The Engineers gave tremendous support before we landed and afterwards.

 

While we were enjoying the relative comfort of travel by B-24 and the excitement of the many stops on the way from Alamogordo to Manduria, we thought only occasionally about the ground echelon on its slow way by ship. But when the members of the ground echelon did arrive a few days after we had reached muddy, rainy Manduria, we indeed heard all about travel in convoy on a Liberty ship.

 

------------------------------------------------

 

            3 Our group had been destined for the 8th Air Force. The surrender of Italy, however, altered the direction we took. The Fifteenth Air Force was created and based in Italy with the assumption that better weather offer more days for action. Unpredicted, 1944 had almost as bad weather in Sunny Italy as did England. One of the names for our field was Lake Manduria.

The second reason, and an important on of course, was that location in Italy offered the ability to attack targets outside the range of the 8th Air Force.

            4 It was not clear to a novice air force officer that I was as to why the might high flying B-24 bomber would practice low level gunnery. The now legendary low-level raid on Ploesti of August 1, 1943, had not yet occurred but it was in the planning stages. Maybe our group was ordered to see whether such tactics were possible.

 

            5 There were other dangers as I think back in retrospect. All army fighting in foreign lands are faced with disease. In the past, there was more casualties from disease then from enemy action. Even in World War II, this was often true. In the Sicilian campaign there were far more soldiers laid low by malaria than by the Germans.

 Then I was flying over Taranto Harbor when we were fired at by anti-aircraft friends as our pilot had forgotten to engage his IFF (a radio device that indicated a friend, thus IFF, Identifying Friend or Foe).

 

6 A flight line at night is a noisy dangerous place. Lighting is indifferent. Planes are reviving up with deafening noise and packed closely together. The spinning propeller are painted at tip point in yellow and that single visible color circle warns one of danger. But is is a confusing mixture of light and noise and I still remember with horror a man running through a whirling propeller.

 

7 On December 19, 1943, 1st Lt. Nicholas P. Kordich and his crew crashed in the Atlas Mountains. I had known Nick well during training in the United States. He was of Yugoslavia descent, perhaps had been born there, and was eager to join the fight to liberate it. Ironically his fear was not of combat or flying but of contracting malaria. He went to extremes to avoid mosquitoes and faithfully downed his atabrine.  



NICHOLAS P. KORDICH

 

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. I also recall that he was either asleep or had been drinking and remembered nothing of the crash.

THE 450TH'S SECOND COMBAT LOSS

 

The first loss of the 450th under combat was on a raid of the Mostar Airdrome, Yugoslavia, January 14th, 1944, in which a B-24 of our group was lost to flak. The second combat loss of the 450th was on a raid of the Ossopo Airdrome in Italy on January 16th, 1944, in which another B-24 succumbed to flak over the target and 8 to 11 men were seen to bail out of the stricken plane. Of particular interest is that one of those eleven men was certainly Richard C. Davis, our group's armament officer and thus not required to enter combat. There were mixed reports on his loss. One version suggests his plane was attacked by ME-109's and that Davis was last seen from a nearby plane firing from a waist gun and that flames were observed in the rear of the plane. It was also thought that he or someone from the doomed plane parachuted into the water over the north end of the Adriatic Sea. In January and indeed later in the year survival in the cold of the Adriatic is short.

 

I knew Davis well and we were friends and I suppose as group armament officer he was my boss. Why was he on a mission? I've always reasoned that he was a frustrated pilot who perhaps failed for some reason and thus ended up not in the air but on the ground. Yet he must have liked to fly! He had flown over with our commanding officer, John S. Mills, in a 720th plane.

 

There was a positive factor for us from the loss, which I'm sure Davis would not appreciate. With Davis's loss as the group armament officer, Mills dictated that ground officers in the future were not to go on missions – they were needed on the ground to keep the planes and equipment operating properly. Although with special permission some ground officers did go on missions, but seldom. Those who didn't wish to subject themselves to unnecessary danger and as a passenger actually useless to the efforts of a mission might well have been under the inducement of peer pressure to go. But we could respond – our good commanding officer says we should not!

NOTES - - 450TH BOMB GROUP

April 15, 1988

 

I kept a number of notes and records from my years in the Air Force. Whether these are of any value to anyone or whether they should be preserved I am not sure. Yet I have them and perhaps someone, someday will want some of this information. The records are now, of course, over 40 years old and I would hazard the opinion that what I am now transferring from notes on faded paper to computer diskettes are the only records existing.

Some of my notes contain to me unknown acronyms and numbers in parenthesis which I think represent army job classification. But, unknown to me or not, I transcribe everything in my notes.

 

BOMBSIGHT MAINTENANCE  (683)

 

Capt. Morris Shane

450th Group

 

720th Bomb Squadron

 

Cpt H W Rhodehamel

T/Sgt Bruce A Selby

S/Sgt M. E. Anderson

Cpt G C Getz

 

721st Bomb Squadron

 

Cpt Verne Nelson

T/Sgt Leo Neier

 

722nd Bomb Squadron

 

Cpt M Shane

T/Sgt ? Macy

 

723rd Bomb Squadron

 

Cpt George T Ready

T/Sgt ? Johnson

 

[This is the only listing of the members from squadrons other than the 720th. Since the Bombsight maintenance groups were small and interrelated in their activities to a considerable extent, I apparently felt closer to them and thus listed them in my notes. George Ready started out as my assistance in the 720th, later transferring to the 723rd. Perhaps this is the place to outline my responsibilities. I think my title was: squadron officer in charge of aircraft armament and bombsights. This included: turrets, guns, bomb shackles, loading and unloading bombs, maintenance of chemical warfare control for which a few planes were supplied, bombsights, automatic pilots and superchargers. ]

 

Turrets  (678)

 

T/Sgt Vincent P Stretch

T/Sgt Harrison A Batel

S/Sgt Norman C Fenske

S/Sgt Thomas E Jones

Sgt William A Jelly

Sgt Francis M Buftum (ZI)

Sgt Jean R Arcard (transferred to Aerial gunnery and MIA)

Sgt James L Cangiano

Sgt James M Critcher

Cpt Vernon Bucher

 

CWS  (809)

 

Sgt Donald E Vaile

Pfc Ernest Brewer

 

Armament  (911)

 

M/Sgt Ralph J Mason

S/Sgt Douglas Bernard

S/Sgt Donald Adle

S/Sgt William A Sanders

S/Sgt Fred Buckmann

Sgt Mario P Alfonso (see note below)

Sgt Irvin F Russell (baker)

Sgt Woodrow W Alldrege

Cpl Carleton McCobb

Cpl Don A Brown

Cpl Ronald C Crawford

Cpl Clarence E Johanknecht

Cpl Percy Darrow

Cpl Gerald Bland

Cpl Marquis Cedeno

Cpl Romeo C Bertrand

Cpl Leo Bonsall (ZI)

Cpl Harry M Carr (Aerial Photo)  

Pfc Andrew M Karpinski

Pfc Walter Bogden

Pfc Donald A Caplicki

Pfc Robert J Collinson

Pfc Edward C Doyle

?    E J Chomer  

 

Replacements  (911)

 

Pfc Neil Payton

Cpl Ernest Monk

S/Sgt ? (former aerial gunner)

Pfc John Reardon (590; Girando's tail gunner)

 

Note on Mario P Alfonso: Among my regular duties, I was assigned many more (as were all of the ground officers), one of which was Squadron Safety Officer. One of the duties of that assignment was investigating civilian complaints. Mario was a young (in 1944) pleasant agreeable man of Italian descent who was completely fluent in Italian and he served on many occasions as my interpreter. As I transfer these names from my notes I can "see" almost all of these people with whom I was associated closely, on a daily basis so many years ago. Particularly, however, I can see Mario as he served as my interpreter and chauffeur as we would go in our Jeep to various small, nearby Italian towns.

 

ORIGINAL 720TH SQUADRON PLANES

 

Plane Number                                   Pilot                            Name of Plane

 

41-28612                                           Dewey                        Jeanne

            (This was the plane in which I flew to Italy as a member of with Captain Clark Wicks, 720th Squadron Commander. Wicks "borrowed" the plane from Harley C Dewey who went as an extra pilot with Frank Marpe. On reaching Manduria, the plane was returned to Dewey although on several missions, Captain Wicks again "borrowed" the plane and Dewey's crew; he was flying it on the mission to Udine, Italy, where he was mortally wounded. Dewey's co-pilot Eugene Williams brought the plane home.)

 

42-7728                                             John                            Miss Fortune

    42-7743                                             Whitehead                 Shady Lady

    52148                                             French                        Liberal Lady

42-64458                                           Stebbing                  Miss Carriage

      7742                                             Smith                          Banana Boat

    52142                                             Varvil                         

    52119                                             Ley                              Ten Fighting Cocks

    52162                                             Edwards                     The Joker

      42-7748                                             Marpe                         Piqua Bandoleer

41-29247                                           Cranston

   42-64443                                              Giraudo

42-52124                                           Cantrell                       Pistol Packin' Mama

41-28598                                           Wagner

       7735                                            Kordich

42-7697                                             McCraw                     

 

These were the Squadrons first pilots and many o them I knew quite well since we went through training together in our new squadron, flew overseas together and then lived in Italy as a close group until they completed their missions and returned to the United States, or, unfortunately, in some cases did not return from missions. One pilot, Nick Kordich, and his crew, crashed in the Atlas Mountains and another I do not recall his name, died when his parachute failed to open as he left his damaged plane over Yugoslavia. Nick was always afraid of catching malaria. Stebbings completed his 50 missions only to die as a B-29 instructor after he returned to the United States. Frank Marps died late in the war, perhaps in February, 1945, over I believe Ploesti, and had it been later in our group's activities I always felt he would have received the Congressional Medal for his feat. His plane was disabled by enemy action and he gave the order to bail out. One of his gunners called over the intercom that he had inadvertently not carried his parachute aboard the plane as they were leaving our base. Marps gave the gunner, whose name I don't recall, his parachute and attempted unsuccessfully to crash land the damaged plane and lost his life. Then too we had a skillful lawyer,

Tom Malcolm, as S-2 who would have, and maybe did, write-up the recommendation for the award for Marps's act of great bravery.   

 

Adjutant

 

Cpt John H Wells, Jr

Cpt K S Ogazolek









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