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2nd Lt. Warren S.Follett
722nd Squadron

Letters To His Grandson


To:- Patrick Follett From:- Warren S. Follett Date:- April 1, 1995


All of the crew were assembled at Mitchel Field, including Ben Picone's replacement, John Karabaik, our new bombardier.


New orders called for us to accept our own new B-24, and to proceed with same to the Fifteenth Air Force: based in Italy. (I was hoping for the Eighth in England) I was handed a requisition to sign for the plane; asking if all crew members were required to sign for it, I was advised that "only one officer should" I promptly handed the form to Bob Schoeffler.


Everything the Army hands out must be accounted for ("signed") You sign for clothing, guns, shoes, and yes, even tanks and airplanes, and since the government wasn't paying me enough to ever replace it, I thought Bob should have the honor- - not that one is apt to misplace something like a B-24.


The next step was to inspect the plane and go for a check ride before "signing":

A couple of jeeps dropped us off at our brand spanking new all aluminum (no paint) B-24-"J". (Each engineering change, such as adding a turret, changed the suffix). The "J" model had four turrets, and since the war had reached a point whereby there was no longer any need for camouflage, ours was unpainted..

Bob and I gave the exterior a visual once-over-lightly, kicked the tires, and climbed in. We ran down the check list, started and warmed up the engines and rolled down to the end of the runway and Bob took off while I adjusted flaps, and then raised the landing gear as soon as we were airborne. We climbed to three thousand feet out over the ocean and took turns getting a feel for the flight characteristics. I told Bob I would like to do a modified and very gentle chandelle. Funk & Wagnall's dictionary describes the maneuver better than I as "an abrupt climbing turn of an airplane, utilizing momentum to gain altitude while the direction of flight is changed". This is primarily an evasive maneuver used by fighter pilots.. If you eliminate the word "abrupt", the definition applies to what I wanted to do.. Thus far my opinion of the B-24 was that it was an adequate craft, but I had to admit that the engines on this one were very smooth running.


I lowered the nose and pushed the throttles forward to gain speed (and Momentum), then banked the plane to the left, and as the turn starts, pulling back on the wheel column, we started a tight climbing turn, when all of a sudden there was a feeling of a double bump, and the sound of an associated thumping. Lights indicated that both wheels had dropped to the down (landing) position. Visual examination confirmed that they were down. I asked Bob to take the controls while I activated the switch several times to raise and lower the gear. Lights and visual observation confirmed that they were functioning properly on command. My love for the plane was not enhanced in the least. After landing, we reported the event to the ground crew for checking and any required corrective action


Our plane was fully fueled the following morning and we proceeded as per orders to Florida - - - then Puerto Rico - - - then Trinidad and on to Natal, Brazil.

At the end of each leg of our journey, the plane would be pre-flight checked and re-fue1ed for the following morning's flight.


We took off earlier in the morning from Natal to cross the Atlantic Ocean with our destination Dakar, North Africa. Bob and I flew in alternate shifts of exactly one hour each, and I thought that we would never run out of ocean. We flew at an altitude of five thousand feet - - - this provided a comfortable temperature, and eliminated the need for oxygen equipment.


I never saw so much salt water. just water. No birds. No fish. No islands~


If you look at a world atlas, you can see where Africa and South America once fit together when our earth was much younger. You will also see that Natal, Brazil' is the most eastern part of South America, while Dakar is about the closest point in Africa to Natal. Dakar had a large and well equipped field designed specifically as a major debarkation point for the west to east flight commerce.


All of the above being said, the distance is still terrifying, since distance prevents any radio contact over much of the route, and there were no accompanying planes to witness and report problems. I don't remember seeing even a ship.


J We finally spotted land, and were remarkably close to our landing destination.

Just a few miles north along the coast and we landed at Dakar. We all felt a little bit like Columbus, with the exception, which navigator Schull pointed out "we at least know which I continent we landed on" Dakar was dry, dirty and hot, but we were one step closer to "home" in Italy The next day, with new fuel, we flew to the Mediterranean Sea port of Tripoli, Libya, then one more hop across the Mediterranean to our home field near the small Italian town of Manduria - - - a few miles from the shores of the Gulf of Taranto, which forms the instep of the boot which is Italy..


At Manduria we were one of many fields in southern Italy which made up the Fifty-third Bomber Wing of the Fifteenth Air Force. Our field comprised the 450th Bomb Group in this wing, and the four squadrons which made up the 450TH included the 720th, 721st, 722nd and 723rd. We were one of the seven crews that made up the 722nd squadron. In addition to the flight crews, the base included a ground crew for each flight crew, whose job was to keep the plane flying with maintenance and repair and replacement of parts.


There were quite a few buildings, all of single story height construction, including mess hall, barracks, briefing room, dining hall, quartermaster shack, etc And, oh yes, the latrine. (more on this later)


The field was once probably an orchard, since it was naturally flat, and the only utilization of the entire area was for farming. Fields for cattle and fig and olive plantations. It was strictly an agricultural community.

The single landing strip was surfaced with interlocking heavy gauge sheet metal panels placed directly on top of the ground. It was a very undeveloped area with no paved roads, and I learned later that the Germans took all of the cattle with them when they retreated northward. There were no paved roads, and just under a topsoil was a white chalklike quarryable strata, of which all of the field's buildings were constructed (walls, at least)


After securing our plane we were given a quick tour - - the first stop was at our barracks only to find that the door to our four man room had been boarded shut. Our guide uttered "Oh Shit". It seems that the previous crew housed in this room had failed to return from the previous day's mission. SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) was to board up a room under these circumstances until all personal belongings had been cataloged and removed.


I wondered out loud" How many former residents had lived here?" The guide's answer was that "We were the eighth crew to be billeted in this room" And the base had only been operating a number of months.


After this sobering historical account we were shown the quartermaster.

building (while our room was being made ready for us. The QM provided upon request, and for the necessary signature things like parachutes, flak vests, helmets, Thompson machine gun, pistol, carbine- - - even a jeep.


There were a couple of steps leading into the QM shack, and an item which had been dropped on the ground beside the steps caught my eye. It was a steel helmet with a hole in one side, and another hole in the opposite side. I guessed that the QM didn't accept returns of damaged goods, and that the manual didn't cover applicable instructions, so here it lay awaiting someone's decision re: its disposition.


I was still thinking about the poor guy who had signed the helmet out, when I became aware that there was an increasing noise level of aircraft engines, and shortly we could see B-24s returning to the field. Within moments a dozen or more were in view, most with wheels down, ready for landing. There were red and green flares being fired from the, planes. My first stupid thought was "What could have happened to cause this kind of celebration?"


The flares were signals to other planes and to ground personnel that there was trouble. Green was to advise that there was damage to the aircraft (no brakes, no landing gear, running out of fuel, etc.) Red represented wounded or dead aboard.


Planes which were trouble-free kept in a wide traffic pattern around the field, allowing priority landing to those in trouble. Ambulances and fire engines were roaring out along either side of the runway to administer to whatever problems needed their services..


Whew, this was just the first day at the 450th. Not the most auspicious welcome to Italy, nor the most conducive to sleeping that first night.


More soon,


Love, Grandpa..


Post Script:


Am sending a book that everyone should read.


The one thing that you can do that would please me the most is to get the very best grades at school that you can~ So, the book has to come after required study work. Good grades is the best thing that can happen for one Patrick Follett, also.



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