B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group

 

 Another Day in the Army Air Corp. & The Makings of a Mission
by Alexander Brast, 442nd Bomb Squadron

 

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Alexander Brast
442nd Bomb Squadron

September 13, 1943

Dear mother and Dad,

I thought you might be interested in hearing about how our missions are planned and executed.  We get news of an alert the day before a mission. A schedule is made up of about ten crews from each squadron. Our preparation for the mission is called “briefing” - which comes one hour before the raid. The evening before, our intelligence men go into a huddle and in the planning room formulate all the information and data.  One is delegated to location of antiaircraft fire (flack), another to enemy fighter activity, another to weather conditions. Prisoner of war lectures are given, plus escape kits containing emergency rations and some Italian money. All this is done the evening before the raid.

On the morning of the mission, the officers and enlisted men are awakened and driven to the group briefing room. Here all the information gathered and formulated the evening before is presented in systematic order.  The objective is discussed, the target shown on a screen, the axis of attack pointed out, and the various other details worked out.  The most important job is timing, and everything is worked out to a split second. The weather report, a brief discussion of the strategic advantage of hitting our particular target, and finally we are ready.

We eat a hurried breakfast and go out to our planes.  We check them over quickly, see if the bombs are loaded correctly, test the engines for mag drop, and get ourselves set and then start out to the line-up at our scheduled time. We have two runways and after lining up quickly, we are flagged off at thirty-second intervals. The join-up into formation after we are airborne is another ticklish proposition, but that is soon over and we are on our way to the target.

Our target lies roughly four hundred miles away and we must hit a pinpoint island exactly two hours and ten minutes later, where we make our turn into the bombing run.  The critical moment is now at hand - hands tense on the throttles, sweat filters out and we are now only five minutes from the actual dropping point. Suddenly our ship is thrown sideways by a burst of flack and pieces of shrapnel miss us by inches.  Quickly we ease back into close formation, open our bomb-bays and wait for the signal to drop our bombs.

Below us we can see the warm, lazy Italian countryside and it is bard to realize that war could be raging so terrifically down there.  We know that further down the coast our troops are fighting savagely to consolidate a bridgehead. We also know that the road junction we are bombing is one of the last open supply lines furnishing troops and supplies to the enemy.  If our bombs are accurate, the road will be blocked.  It will be filled with craters and covered with debris.

At last we are ready, the lead bombardier has set up his bombing angle, cranked in his bombsight and corrected for deflection.  The target slowly comes up to the hair-line - an instant which seems a year - and he flicks his toggle switch. The wing men drop simultaneously and in the rear, other flight leaders are dropping their bombs. A few bursts of flack again come uncomfortably close and we start a sharp breakaway.  Turning and losing altitude at the same time (this is called evasive action) and is the only thing besides luck that saves us. Already we can feel the concussion of our 500 and 1,000 pound bombs. Our gunners are alert watching the skies for enemy pursuit.

At last our bombardier reports direct hits on the road junction and surrounding buildings.  A car was observed turning into the junction a second before the bombs hit. Smoke billows up a few thousand feet and debris are seen falling over an area a couple of miles wide. But then, suddenly, our interphone crackles, "enemy pursuit coming in at three o’clock high!" A split second later a silver shape flashes by, missing our nose by a few hundred feet. Some of his shells have hit the plane ahead us, but not in a vital spot. Our escort of P-38’s engage the fifty or seventy enemy ships fiercely and many planes are observed to be spinning down trailing smoke.  I spot a German ME-1O9 which filtered through the outnumbered fighters covering us. He was coming in at nine o’clock high.  Our turret gunner opens up and streaking red tracers seem to go right into the ship.  Suddenly the German pilot feels that perhaps he would rather not attack a ship with the possible sacrifice of his own life. He turns off and our tracers follow him.

Meanwhile, four more ships are attacking our formation they dive, turn, and climb in fast devilish circles. More ships go down smoking. Finally, after about twenty or thirty minutes, the enemy fighters turn off to leave us. They only have a limited amount of gas left and must return to their bases. We give a huge sigh of relief and check our ship for bullet or flack holes. Our engineer reports, "all O.K., Sir!", and he then transfers the rest of our fuel and we have to decide quickly if we have enough gas to return to Africa, or to drop off at Sicily for refueling.

A ship in front of us is in trouble his right engine is smoking and then suddenly it catches fire. He drops back from the formation, cutting off the bad engine and feathering the prop. We drop back also and cover him. He loses altitude and knows he cannot get back to land, so he has decided to ditch at sea. We cover him all the way down and he makes a crash landing on the water.  The ship sinks almost immediately, about forty-five seconds after it hits the water. These forty-five seconds are sufficient for all the crew members to crawl out. They release the single emergency three-man raft, but leave three pairs of hands still holding on in the water. We already have reported their position to Air Sea Rescue, and they are sending a cutter out as soon as they can. We circle low about fifty feet and drop them our three-man life raft plus an emergency radio. As our gas supply is getting low, we wave the survivors au revoir and head for home.

An hour later we are safely back to our airfield and go immediately up to Group for interrogation. Here all the things observed are reported - transports on the roads, weather conditions encountered, and ships and trains sighted. Our bomb hits are also related, plus the intensity and accuracy of the flack, plus number and technique of opposing fighters.

After that, two Red Gross girls give us coffee and doughnuts and we talk over the more exciting moments among ourselves. Our gunners have put in claims for three planes and we all call it a day and hit the sack (bed).

I hope I don’t sound too dramatic, but lately this is what we are running into. The raid actually happened a few days ago and I hope it gives you as much of a thrill as it gave me.


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