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2nd Lt. Frank W. Molina
720th Squadron



Taken in 1944 while interned in Switzerland

I flew overseas as Co-Pilot with one of the greatest guys of all time, Pilot Dalton W. Smith, who was a bull of a man, an extrovert, a mover and shaker. We arrived in Maduria before Xmas 1943 on a mud landing strip; with no cots or beds to sleep on, and slept in our flight suits (a supply ship had just been blown up in Bari Harbor that had ammunition and supplies thus we had nothing except a drink called Grappa which kept us all quite warm and was responsible for guys in another barrack pulling old wooden siding off their barrack to keep warm but subsequently burned it to the ground on a freezing Xmas night) I was 22 years of age.

 

On January 18, 1944, while flying the "Banana Boat" on some mission, somewhere, (Pisa, Italy), we were in serious trouble; down to two engines; so stripped the plane of anything that could be pried off, and all got into emergency landing positions. The only place available North off the German line on the West of Italy was the Island of Corsica on which was a British Spitfire Aircraft landing field. Smitty was able to land the B-24 on a tiny fighter pilot air strip surrounded by a forest. We stayed several days as the plane was pushed off the strip, and trees cut to make room for a B-24 rescue ship which came with just two pilots (a dynamite friend of Smitty's named Girando who I understand became a General) and we flew back to Manduria.

 

On February 22, 1944, prior to the most important mission of our tour, to the Messerschmitt Assembly Plant, at Regensburg, Germany, which is Northeast of Berlin, the commanding Colonel/General (?) let us know that no one, but no one, was to abort this most important flight and not to return to the field without having dropped bombs over the target. If someone was having a heart attack, simply fulfill the mission and the subject could be discussed later. It was a very serious lecture and nothing like it had ever been expounded.

 

On take off, we could not exercise our bomb bay doors by opening and closing them. They were locked closed and could not be opened manually or electrically. The four officers had a meeting and elected to proceed with the mission and drop the bombs thru the doors. On notification of this decision the enlisted men (6) objected strenuously (in retrospect, they were correct) but we proceeded. At bombs away, all hell seemed to break loose, the roar of the wind deafening, the icy blast of air freezing and we dropped like a rock. For other reasons, all four engines quit and after further altitude loss we settled down to two engines for the long haul to the closest point of land south of the German lines. I don't know how many hours we flew with one door of the bomb bay flailing as we proceeded flying at about 200 to 500 feet above the Adriatic at a heading that the British had given us by radio. We raised our altitude to 500 or 800 feet (?) as we passed one foot over land and started bailing out. I dove out, and Smitty, who was behind me, stepped on the steel walk to jump as the 3rd engine quit he fell hitting his back on the beam and then fell out. Four of us landed in soft terrain, five were sent home with injuries and one flew a mission the next day; bailed out and ended up in a German prison camp. (Years later he asked that I write the Air Corp substantiating his bail out as he needed physical therapy for a serious back injury from the incident).

 

We were picked up by truck, and in the silence of our long trip to the base I kept wondering where they would send us for R & R Capri?? The next day, February 24, 1944, I climbed in a B-24, named Liberal Lady with Bill Cranston who was first pilot and we headed back to Regensburg, Germany. He had been Captain of his plane to Regensburg the previous day, but it was in no condition to fly again. I will never know if we were hit by flak, fighter, or we had a bad engine/engines or what but the Engineer told us we did not have a quarter of a tank of gas left and could not make it back to Allied territory. We had a meeting. Joe Oravec, our Navigator said he could get us to Switzerland, though I don't think he had a map, or a decent one, as we landed 5 to 10 miles inside Switzerland when we bailed from 10,000 feet after we headed the ship toward the mountains on auto-pilot.

 

On September 3, 1944, my birthday, Joe Oravec and I left Switzerland headed south with the French Marquis to meet the U.S. troops. We met them. That's the story.

 

** Footnote**

We were the first 15th Air Force B-24 in Switzerland. Partial crews of British and American bombers were in Adelboden at Camp Moloney. They came from England, the 8th Air Force. There were a total of 9 crews from England and we made the 10th crew in Switzerland at Camp Moloney, Adelboden, Switzerland on February 25, 1944. Of the 10 crews, there were 60 men as the balance (40 men) had been killed in the air or from bailing out, or had landed in Lake Constance or on German soil. We landed near Schaffhausen and were 5 to 10 miles from the German border.



Pictures of the crew who were interned in Switzerland

Submitted by the co-pilot of the Banana Boat, Frank Molina





Link To Crew Picture

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