15th AIR FORCE
450TH BOMB GROUP 721ST BOMB SQUADRON
MANDURIA SOUTHERN ITALY
25 APRIL 1944 33RD MISSION
by Tilman J. Thompson
Time 0400 hrs.
Breakfast & Briefing
Weather closed in clouds
ACFT, parking area. Flying with a new crew as the old crew disbanded. Pilot,
bombardier, crew chief, and co-pilot killed while landing crippled B-24 (Paper
Doll) in pasture. They were attempting to bring plane back to base after
maintenance at other airfield.
clears enough for take-off. We wanted to be grounded for the day because
Marlene Dietrich was to perform as part of USO troupe. Tail gunner Brown, from
Iowa, was the only one with cigarettes while we were waiting. We all had one on
was for ball bearing plant in northern Italy. I was flying lower ball turret.
After take-off ACFT in formation. Weather very closed in. Time of flight
11:44 hrs. Alps & Switzerland in sight. German fighters all around.
Formation spread out in clouds to keep from colliding. Saw lead plane shot
down. No chutes visible. Our turn German ME 109s (Messerschmitt) coming in
form 12 o'clock high. Took out leading edge of wing, cockpit, etc. Came in from
sides & tail. Waist gunner remarked, "This is the end." Waist in flames. Oxygen bottles punctured and
explode. Can't see from the flames. Look for chest chute. Tell others to
follow. Plane going down. Find chute. Leave via waist hatch (lower camera
hatch). Altitude approximately 20,000 ft. Don't remember pulling rip cord, as I
must have passed out due to lack of oxygen. Seem suspended in air. Remove glove
to see if it drops ahead of me. Look down. See plane on ground in flames.
"Lucked out!" Landed very hard on back.
Thought my leg was broken. My boot was full of blood. I saw two people cutting
wood, and I offered them one dollar from escape kit. I asked them, "Where's
Rome?" They pointed south. I asked, "Where and how far?" They didn't respond.
No speak English! More scared than I.
two people with uniforms and binoculars calling out, "Hey, Joe." I hid under a
bush after hiding parachute. Didn't trust them because I was in German
territory. Bad pains. Must trust someone or bleed to death. I waved to them.
They picked me up and carried me down mountain. I tried to escape from them as
I was sure they were enemy. Took me to farmhouse. Very nice lady stripped me
and put pail of lard on face. Very badly burned. Washed blood off. Thirty-seven
fragment wounds. Had to leave before daylight as Gestapo were in area. Would
eliminate the people I stayed with if they were caught harboring Allies. I
couldn't walk. Provided me with mule. Not too cozy to ride on. Had two 20mm
cannon shells one lodged in leg, other exited.
time, I was taken to party of underground, consisting of English, New Zealanders,
South Africans, etc. In the meantime the navigator was brought in uninjured,
but very weak mentally. We had to carry his gear. Moving everyday. Germans
everywhere. Partisans raided the Fascists. Food, wine, etc. Captain in charge
Ian McCodell of Johannesburg, South Africa of tank corps, was captured in
Tobruk. Beautiful man, but tough! Pills in escape kit to be used in emergency.
Many rough days. Hardly any food. Italians provided bread and goats milk.
Enough to service. So much walking. People in group very nice. Ask about
American girls! 4th of July sitting in woods. German re-con
spotted. We ran like crazy. Watched while they destroyed our camp, medical
supplies, etc. Very mad!
escape kit. Shared it with all the other partisans. Built shelters from the
woods. Large enough to lay down in for protection from rain. Flight suit full
of holes. Cut off legs and sleeves. Partisans gave me a pair of heavy mountain climbing
shoes ankle length. Steel cleats in soles. Need haircut! Sneaked into
village. Ten year old boy barber. Clothes full of lice. Feel like a monkey
picking them out of hair and clothes. No soap or tooth paste. Received blue
slacks and blue shirt. Capt. McCodell nicknamed me "little boy blue." Rumors
flying to be rescued by submarine soon. Bunk!
of May I wonder how Nanian is doing? See lots of Jerry Aircraft Stukka dive
bomber flew right over us. Wish I had a cannon! Allied Aircraft, flying south.
Soon they will be back at their base how I wish I were on board. A pilot and
gunner from shot-down B-25 joined us also Polish officer deserted German
doctor (trained in Brooklyn, NY) brought in to remove shells from thigh.
Turning green very painful. Had very little medical equipment. No Novocain.
Used scissors to enlarge hole to remove shell from leg! Ouch! Prayed to die.
Hurt very much! Forgot a lot that happened.
to be alive. Thought about home and relatives a lot. Finally had to make
a break for Allied lines. No food. Lots of Germans. Formed formation single
file hundreds! Made for Florence. German gun position killed 25 in front of
line. Everyone panicked. I made it over 20 ft. fence into cornfield. Stayed
until daylight. Rained very hard. I looked awful! Heard Italian ladies talking very
loud. Knew they were alone. Took a chance and advanced. Asked if there were
Germans around. They said, "No, come in." Stayed in home while town being
shelled by both Germans and Allies. German soldiers at front door. I went out
the back door to olive orchard. They left and I returned to house. I and an 80
year old man slept upstairs. All women and children were so scared they slept
in cellar. Shells landing all over neighborhood. No memory of how long I stayed
at this house. Finally man took me on bike down town through all kinds of
military over bridge to Canadian guard. What a relief. The first thing I knew
what to ask for was Lucky Strike.
They had one. Received new uniform. Was transported to
Naples by jeep. After arriving in Naples, hopped an English C47 to Bari than to
home base at Manduria. Sqd. Commander Stevens glad to see me. Gave me $20.00 to
spend at PX. Then on to Naples for Boat trip home. Was told there by military,
"You're going home." Stayed in Naples for a few days, waiting for ship transport.
Thirteen days on ocean (sick thirteen days). Arrived New York City. Moved to
New Jersey for the debriefing and furlough (approx. 30 days).
Miami Beach. President Madison Hotel for rest and recuperation., While in Miami
Beach, met the nose gunner in Mess Hall. Had not seen him since we left on
mission. Had it made there. Train to Eau Claire. Then to North Dakota. How
beautiful that farm looked! Mom and Dad and all glad to see me. My family gave
me a Gold Gruen watch. Everyone here so nice. Had a big party at Kellers!
Everybody was there. Also had a party at Coopers "White House"! To Truax Field
Madison, Wisconsin. Then to Chanute
Field, Rantoul, Illinois. Worked on flight line. Crew chief on AT6. Discharged
in August 1945, Ft. Sheradan, Ill.
some of 32 ½
Numerous targets in Northern Italy
Railroad yards Ball Bearing plants
Ploesti, Rumania oil refineries (3
center Fort Sheridan, Ill. 14 Apr 1942
training Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Mo
maintenance and flight line mechanic AT6 aircraft Macon, Ga
School Panama City, Fla
practice Apalachicola, Fla
training Alamogordo, NM
ACFT clothing, etc
takeoff point - West Palm Beach, Fla. Dec. 6, 1943
Rico, Belem, Brazil, Natal Brazil, Dakar West Africa, Senagal, Marrakech,
Morocco to base at Manduria,