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F/O Francis S. Rzatkowski
722nd Squadron
The following four video clips were recorded in Westland, Michigan on 20 July 2014

The “Chiquita Mia” was named after a fair Mexican maiden the Pilot, F/O Francis S. Rzatkowski , met while training in New Mexico.

Training in New Mexico

A total of 23 crews were transferred from the Clovis and Alamogordo Army Air Fields in New Mexico where they were assigned to the 450th. In late September 1943. They began their combat group training, required prior to being assigned to overseas duty.
Accelerated crew training in Alamogordo, New Mexico was divided into four phases, with flying and ground school mixed in each phase.
The first phase was designed to increase individual job proficiency, develop team work and to become familiar with equipment. Pilots were getting their first experience with the B-24. Only the essential crew flew, while the remainder attended schools in their specialty to hone skills.
In the second phase the complete crew practiced bombing, extensive air to ground gunnery and air to air gunnery on towed targets. Some simulated bomb runs covered long distances at altitudes as high as 20,000 feet, while on oxygen.
The third phase consisted of navigational skills at all altitudes, over long distances. The final phase was mainly close formation flying combined with navigation, simulated bomb runs, and flying at different altitudes, with phases two through four being conducted both day and night.
Special Orders No. 58 dated 21 September 1943, assigned Frank and his crew to one of the four squadrons in the 450th Bombardment Group - the 722nd Bombardment Squadron (H). This group of squadrons contained 60 plus planes and crews.
On 19 November 1943, Special Orders No. 309 were issued to move the 450th to Herington Army Airfield, a Kansas-based staging area used for overseas movement. The move would be in phases - 10 crews per day for six days - and would start on 20 November. This was a movement by aircraft with only personal luggage.
The original orders stated that Crew No. 302-9-59 were assigned for travel on B-24H Serial No. 41-28603, the "Chiquita Mia", to depart on 23 November 1943. The destination of Herington was not stated in the orders.
The group had previously been training with older B-24D Liberator models, but during the first part of November new B-24H models started arriving. They were issued to the crews in preparation for movement overseas. The new planes had to be serviced and checked out prior to acceptance by the U.S. Government. These new B-24s had been built in the Ford factory at Willow Run, Michigan, and then sent to a modification center in Birmingham, Alabama.
After modification, the new B-24H's arrived at Alamogordo in early November 1943.
After the Chiquita Mia crew arrived in Herington, the first order of the day was to settle in and prepare paperwork for allotments sent home, war bonds, wills, and power of attorney.
Frank and his crew left Herington around 6 December 1943, for Morrison Field at West Palm Beach, Florida - their port of embarkation.

Crew No. 302-9-59 then spent as much time as possible outfitting their Liberator for overseas duty. The plane was checked and double checked for possible problems. Some of the overseas legs such as crossing the Atlantic were very long and everything had to work perfect prior to leaving.
Issuing flight clothing and equipment was part of the next phase of processing for movement. The crews were issued a sheepskin coat and leg zippered pants, fur lined helmet, steel helmet, boots, and goggles. A .45 Caliber pistol with shoulder holster was issued for personal protection. Electrically heated under suits were issued with gloves and felt shoes to wear inside of fur lined boots. Other miscellaneous gear was issued, such as oxygen masks, flak vests, and life vests. New parachutes were issued as two types - chest and seat. Most pilots were issued “seat packs” that were worn all of the time. The remaining crew wore the “chest packs,” which were only used during emergency. A specially designed harness was worn which allowed the chute to be snapped on with two buckles. This system permitted freedom of movement during flight.
Frank and his crew left Herington around 6 December 1943, for Morrison Field at West Palm Beach, Florida - their port of embarkation. Crews were now assigned to the Caribbean wing of the Air Transport Command (ATC). The ATC operated bases along the route to the war zone to transport men and supplies, and to assist bomber crews. The Caribbean wing operated bases on the southern route down the Caribbean coast. At this point, the air crews had no knowledge of where they were going and were only given a heading. The sealed orders were given to the crews just before take off for each leg of the journey. The orders were marked “Secret” and could not be opened until they had been in the air for two hours, at which time the navigator would be passed the orders to plot a course to each airfield.
Crew No. 302-9-59 left on the first leg of their long journey to the combat zone around 7 December 1943, flying to Borenquin Field, Puerto Rico. Here, ground crews were alert and the planes were serviced before the arrivals boarded the trucks that would transport them to the registering office. Two crew members from each Liberator were usually left behind for guard duty. Minor repairs were made when necessary. Restriction was enforced as far as the transit crews were concerned. Besides, fatigue weighed down any desire of any one man to go visiting in the nearby town. Special briefings were held for pilots, navigators and radio operators the evening before departing for the next leg of the flight. The average stay at Borenquin Field for each ship was one day.
The next flight was approximately 1,700 miles to Waller Field on Trinidad. Trinidad is a small island in the West Indies, just off the coast of Venezuela. This leg took ten and one-half hours. Then, an additional 1,200 miles to Belem, Brazil. This flight took seven and one half hours.
Instructions were to keep in contact the departed station for half the trip, then keep in contact with Belem. Two auxiliary air fields were en route, to be used in case of emergency. Some ships made use of one of these fields at Amapa, Brazil. The personnel at these fields consisted of about 250, 50 U.S. soldiers and two officers. Facilities at this field were very crude and primitive. This part of the journey took them over jungle and across the mouth of the Amazon River. Several B-24s went down in the Amazon jungle due to bad weather or mistakes in navigation. As late as 1995, a Liberator was found in the Brazilian jungle and the remains recovered.
The next station - Natal, Brazil - was over 1,000 miles away. This took approximately six hours and was also over the jungle, where there was no place to land if trouble developed. Natal was one of two jumping off places for the long over-water flight to Africa. All equipment had to be in perfect working order. Crews were involved in special meetings for pilots, navigators, and radio operators. All fuel tanks were topped off to the maximum capacity while on the runway. Natal was a better base than others, with adequate facilities and food.
The final leg from South America was approximately 2,200 miles, all over water. It took over eleven and one-half hours to arrive at Dakar, Senegal, Africa. If there were problems with the planes on this leg, the crew would have to ditch their plane in the Atlantic Ocean, with little hope of survival. The B-24 was known to break in half upon ditching and would sink within seconds. Crew members could be severely injured or trapped in the tangle of the wreckage. The bomber was equipped with survival gear such as life rafts, first-aid kits, flares, emergency rations, life preservers, etc.
The navigator did the initial navigation, with the radio operator locating a radio beam to follow approximately 200 miles from Dakar. Most crews landed with less than a half hour of fuel remaining, leaving a very little margin of safety. Some planes ran out of fuel on the runway just as they touched down. Dakar, being the western most point of Africa and just north of the equator, was very hot and humid. The sleeping quarters and mess facilities were all in tents. Men had to sleep under mosquito nets for peace from the insects. The local natives were notorious for stealing, and everything had to be guarded, including the plane.
Here crews were shown the importance of malaria prevention. Before they were allowed off the ships, the planes were sprayed with insecticide internally. Crew members had to stay on their Liberator for at least an extra ten minutes.
Frank Rzatkowski shared an amusing story about this incident. This pilot was not generally a drinker of alcohol. However, as a celebration for surviving the harrowing journey to Dakar, the leader of the “Chiquita Mia” broke open a case of whiskey he had stored on the ship for such a special occasion. As the crew were all sharing a glass, military personnel came on board and started spraying them with insecticide mid-drink, without any thought of their current consumption.
The next journey, across the Sahara Desert was a seven hour flight of approximately 1,400 miles to Marrakech, Morocco. This flight required a difficult crossing of the Atlas Mountains. The mountains were 14,000 feet high and the crew could not fly over 12,000 feet without oxygen, which was not supplied for the flight overseas. The only way through the mountains was a narrow pass at 8,000 feet. A sigh of relief would have been heaved by all when this was successfully passed, because Marrakech was just beyond.
During this period, several planes crashed into the mountains. Fortunately, only one plane from the 450th was lost in the mountains.
Like all other stations before, the pilots, navigators and radio operators were briefed on that particular leg. This leg was comparable to the trip over the ocean due to the endless sea of sand. Nothing could be seen for miles and miles around.
Before their off-duty visit to town, Rzatkowski gave his crew a stern warning: Marrakech was dangerous; he told them not to stare at or touch the women, and not to smoke anything offered, especially out of a pipe. His concern was reinforced by a recent story of another AAF pilot accepting a shoe shine from a local, followed by having a hand grenade shoved up the officer's pant leg, killing him instantly.
The briefing for the final leg informed them that the actual destination for the unit would be Italy, not England.
The journey from Marrakech to Tunis, Tunisia, was approximately 1,000 miles and six hours flying time. Tunis was the crew's real introduction to the war. The ground was littered with burned out and shot-up trucks and all other types of military equipment, which was primarily German. The final battle in Africa that led to the defeat of Field Marshall Rommel in Africa was in the area of Tunis. The field was covered with bomb craters, and most of the hangars no longer had roofs. Crashed and burned out aircraft littered the airfield.
The flight from Tunis to Manduria, Italy was 500 miles and approximately four hours flying time over the colorful Mediterranean Sea.
Their home was an old Italian fighter base with a 7,000 foot dirt strip constructed in an olive grove.
The field initially had one runway made of oiled clay and dirt with revetments on the sides for parking aircraft. Some areas had perforated steel planking (PSP), which is an ingenuous set of light weight interlocking panels that were put together on the ground, providing a hard surface for air strips or parking.
During the rainy season there were very few high areas free from mud. The only living quarters available were old Italian barracks with no beds or cots. The crews only had what personal gear they brought in their duffle bags. The dirty barracks leaked when it rained, and had no heat or lights. Those who came in first found space in the barracks, and those following had to pitch tents in the mud.
The first plane of the 450th touched down at the Manduria Airfield in the rain on 20 December 1943. Frank's crew arrived on 3 January 1944. The ground crew, equipment and supplies came by ship, arriving the first part of January 1944. The first ship arrived at the Port of Bari on New Years Eve. Another ship arrived at Naples and the final ship docked in Sicily on 15 January.

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