I joined the 450th Bomb Group HQ.CO at Alamagordo, New Mexico just before their P.O.M inspection for overseas movement. When I arrived I was a surprise to the Radio Group. I was told that the four squadrons were taking turns weekly covering Radio Operations. They said that I was not going to be put in the schedule to screw up their routine. I went on furlough for 2 weeks, came back and tagged along with Radio Group. I had Radio operator mechanic MOS, grounded after 2nd phase training in B-17's at Dal Hart, Texas.
I went overseas with HQ Sq on S.S. Henry Baldwin. The trip took 28 days from Norfolk, VA to Bari, Italy. Our arrival at Bari is where the war started for us. After spending a few nites in pup tents under some olive trees, six of us took 2 rooms in an Italian barracks used as a guard shack at the main gate. I roomed with Mensul, a truck driver from New York. The other four, Joe Herman (Group Mailman), his helper Steve Zak, an airman named Wiseman (?), and some other (name lost in history), took the other room at the front of the barracks. I woke up to smoke and fire wearing LONG JOHNS. I opened the door, saw heavy smoke, closed the door, and then woke up Mensul. I told him that I was going out the door, to the hall and then outside. I got outside and waited for Mensul to show up, but he didn't come out. I ran around the side of the building, just to see him jump out of the window. He couldn't get out of the door I left from, as fire engulfed it a few seconds after I left it.
We made our way to where the barracks at the gate was, but the only thing that we found was a burnt down building. 1 man was missing, Wiseman from New York. No one had seen him or even knew if he got out of the building. Wiseman worked nights in the HQ making up mission envelopes need by the crews flying the next day. His roommates did not know that mission was canceled and that he had gone back to bed. The building that he returned to……burnt to the ground. We didn't have anything to put that fire out, just a water truck and that couldn't do much. I still remember the medic asking if everyone got out of the fire. Someone said that Wiseman wasn't there. We started to look through the remains of the building, and found Wiseman's body. There was not much left.
Once at Manduria, I teamed up with an airman from 722nd or 723rd Sq to supply electric power to the control tower, message center, S1, S2, S3, S4 offices on the back of the Hanger. Later on to many officers and GI's. We had 2 small generators on the roof of the hanger to supply power and a jeep generator for A.C. power. I had to strip generators on the roof weekly to remove carbon because of lousy red gas. I had to service Sq buildings and shelters to cover the machines on the roofs. We graduated to a 400 pound rectifier, man handled it up the stairway and ladder to the control tower. We then had a A.C. power line to the tower from the jeep generator out of the message center. During winter my partner figured out why our generators would stop at night. He rigged Italian hot plates to the carburetor with a switch for it in the message center. If the machine started to stall out, the switch would be turned on to put head on the engine to melt the ice. Major Wright, Group Communications Officer, got hold of an Italian Diesel Generator soon after. My partner figured out the water feed on it and also the gravity feed systems, acquired a large truck muffler, 2 hand cranks and a spark plug in an engine head. The first time that the engine was started, it started to walk around on the wooden planks that it was mounted to. It was a very rough running engine. We had a power station then built around the jeep engine. 2 Italian diesels used a telephone switch terminal for the panel and a large knife to switch inbetween the 3 engines. My partner built and maintained that power station. He should have got the Bronze Star for his efforts.
I was out doors after this project, working on a speaker system, when a plane buzzed the control tower. I was told that the operators jumped out on the hanger roof. I was also told that the pilot was under house arrest for that incident.
I was at the control tower when I was visiting the Lt. Col. This Lt. Col was a P-38 pilot. He had been at the field a couple of days, but the tower wouldn't let him take off due to the field being in water. He was determined to go up, so the ground control folks made him sign a piece of paper saying that his taking off was all his own doing. He drove the P-38 to the end of the runway like a hot rod, revved up his engines, let his brakes go. In about 50 feet he was airborne. He gained altitude, then dove along the street by the hanger. I looked DOWN at him as he flew by. He just about took out some of the tents as he left the field.
Another incident that I can remember also had me in the tower. Lt Col. Jacoby was leading the formation back from a mission over Yugoslavia. One of his planes had been hit and was loosing altitude, dumping anything they could to clear the Alps. Lt. Col. Jacoby got permission from the tower to let this aircraft come straight in on his approach. He came into view when Lt. Col. Jacoby was on final approach. The tower personel told Lt. Col. Jacoby to pull up and gave him the red light and flares. The two planes passed each other right over the runway!
A short time after Lt. Col. Jacoby was in the weapons carrier watching planes taking off, at a interval of 30 seconds apart. One plane threw a propeller just as they started to roll down the runway. He cut over to the taxi strip with the Lt. Col. chasing them. The Lt. Col. reached them when the plane pulled to the stop, fire blazing. He got the crew to his vehicle and got them away from the aircraft. I was at breakfast at this time, but saw the smoke and was told what had happened with the aircraft. I went back to our house and opened all our windows. When the plane blew up, every window on the street broke, except mine
I was also working on the roof of the tower when a plane testing a new engine made a flyby. He couldn't get his right gear down. Engineering Officers talked to the pilot, trying many things to get his wheel down. Nothing worked. So they finally told the pilot to have the crew jump out and let the aircraft go. Eight men jumped, two at a time, landing near the bomb dump on the other side of the runway. But two remained, the pilot, who wouldn't jump, and the co-pilot. It was evidently decided between the two that they would head to the 376th BG's base, and trying landing there, because they had a cement runway. They brought it down, but with some damage. However, the aircraft was repaired and brought back to Manduria. But it was for not though, as the aircraft was lost on the 2nd or 3rd mission after the repairs.
I also had an experience, while on the roof of the tower, when a plane landed with the #2 engine on fire, before it stopped in the middle of the runway. An airman came running out of the hatch with a fire extinguisher and put the fire out, who got a soldiers medal I believe.
I also happened to see a plane came back from a mission with its hydraulics out. So as you can imagine it was hard to control the aircraft once on the ground. The aircraft spun around at the end of the runway due to the failure. Well….as the aircraft was spinning around, someone in the waist position grabbed the 50 caliber gun to hold onto. And wouldn't you know it, the gun when off, sending a volley of bullets over everyone's head, who were on the ground.
The control tower operator was awaken one night to help land about 56 Lancaster Bombers. One had crashed on their field, blocking the runway. With truck lights at either end of the runway, he brought in all of the aircraft safely. Each and every one of the taxi strips were full when we got up. Quite a sight to see.
I worked in the power station for about a year. I had a problem with a clerk in Communications, who knew nothing about our operation, but tried to boss us around. I think that I embarrassed him when he couldn't put in a loose light bulb in the power station during a night air alert. At this time the Germans were flying over Tarento to get pictures of the Navy ships going to invade Southern France. It cost me a stripe, without prejudice.
After this happened I started to look for another job. I had heard that the link trainer group needed one more man to join their 3 guys. They had to run two shifts total, 10 hours a day. This was precipitated because of a bomber crash that was returning from a mission. The pilot was flying on automatic pilot all the way from Germany, then turned it off for final approach. The controls were shot out as he quickly found out. 10 men jumped out of that aircraft, of which only 8 chutes opened. So because of this incident pilots had to be able to land on automatic pilot. That's where the link trainer came in.
I got a hold of some radio compass equipment from a crashed plane. I rebuilt all the jones plugs, mounted the equipment on a frame, supplied by service squadron. We used our own radio station on the field with the radio compass to bring the planes to a landing pattern at about a 500 foot altitude.
Link operators were Frank Brown (Oil Geologist) from Texas, Peterson, myself, and an airman from Pennsylvania. His family had a road house restaurant and sent him home grown canned chicken.
1st Major Event on the Field: The last bomber from the 98th BG, of which were using our field temporarily, was on take off. The aircraft didn't get enough power or had problems, but the end result was that the aircraft crashed on takeoff. This incident killed the Colonel standing behind the pilots. He was crushed by the upper turret when the rear of the plane stood up straight.
2nd Event: Most of the HQ airman were in bed. Our group was watching a card game in the latrine of the HQ barracks. The table was a piece of cardboard on a small box. The latrine might sound funny for a card game, but this was the only place to play, as it had lights on. Anyway, the card game was going on when the small window of the latrine landed on the table, followed by a terrible outside. We all scrambled to the door, with the door handle staying in my hand was we ran out. As we finally made our way outside we witnessed a large ring of fire on the taxi strip across from the runway. At this time people were running on the field over to the scene. When I got there, I saw a horrific sight, body parts all around. What had happened was that a fire truck was heading over to put out a fire that was in a bomb bay of a B-24. This B-24 was gassed up with 1500 gallons of Hi test fuel and 10 - 500 pound bombs. The fire started from the engine that pulled the bombs up into the plane. It didn't take long for the fire to start to rage, causing the fuel to ignite and blowing up the aircraft and all of the people in or near it. This accident killed 5 fireman, the ground crew loading the plane, and destroyed our fire truck. That's why there was no truck to put out the fire that killed Wiseman.
Our living conditions on the base were pretty basic, living in the tents. So four of us put out to made a house. It was on the first street on the left, after coming through the main gate, in front of the Air Raid shelter.
Bartering with an Italian workmen, we had four walls put up. After a midnight requisition run, we got a telephone pole for the ridge beam. The roof came from various wood that we found around on base. We even “found” tar paper for the roof, of which I hid in the Air Raid shelter until we needed it. We got nails and screws from various locations without having other buildings fall down. For our heater I had the service squadron build a stove out of a 50 gallon drum. For the stack we used copper piping from wrecked aircraft, night visits to the oil pipe dump, and trips to Manduria. With all our parts in place we made our furnace. It worked out very well.
I was eventually assigned to the Link Trainer building. It was a good duty. 5 hour shifts were our working times. We took turns weekly making fire for the heating system. We used small word scraps and then soft coal. Our friend from Pennsylvania thought that he had a better idea on how to make the fire though, and it really shook us up! He loaded the stove just like we normally did, but then he decided to add a small can of Hi test fuel. He stood back near my Link trainer, throwing matches at the stove. Well, one of the matches finally hit and the gas fumes ignited, causing a small explosion, almost hitting the other 2 Link trainers!! The pilots jumped out of those trainers, thinking that it was flak or something.
To wind down many times we would go into town or someplace. Joe Herman and I spent one of these times in Rome. It took us 12 hours by truck from Manduria to get there. It was around Christmas time, and most of us were going to Mass. Joe was jewish, but he went to Mass with us. He said that he did this every Christmas.
Joe and I also went to a rest camp for ten days, down on the heel of Italy.
An airman named Abraham from California, table tennis champion, worked as a bar tender for the 47th Bomb Wing Officers Party. He back to HQ enlisted men and filled coke bottles with scotch. He had to get empties back to fill them up too. We spent many a night going to nightly movies with our scotch.
My last night in Manduria was uneventful, except for the fact that I was put on detail. No one was able to keep the power in the station going, so we didn't have much control over the daily lighting.
Stories by Bill Bishop.
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