B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group

 

  Eight Months of Human Contact in a POW Camp
by Joseph R. Armstrong, 442nd Bomb Squadron

 

Home 
Editor's Message 
History 
Missions 
Photo Archive 
Film Clips 
Stories 
320th Aircraft 
Reunion Assoc. 
Memorials 
POWs 
Books/Art 
Bulletin Board 
Roster 
Remembrances 
Memorabilia 
Links 
Search 
Contact me 

 

Low Point

 

I landed in Casa Blanca, North Africa, in 1943.  My job in the Air Force was medium bomber pilot assigned to fly Martin B-26 airplanes.  I was assigned to a B-26 base on the Island of Sardinia, across from the Mediterranean side of Italy. I was flying with the 320th Bomb Group, 442nd Squadron.  

Our principal job was to bomb marshalling yards, road bridges, train bridges and axis airfields.  As we were assigned such targets as the marshalling yards in Rome and Florence. Our normal bombing altitude was between eight and ten thousand feet in order to insure accuracy and prevent damage by a misplaced bomb that might damage the antiquities, both secular and religious, of these ancient cities.

When I first arrived in combat, the normal tour of duty was twenty-five missions.  However, as the fighting in southern Italy intensified, and the Allies were in stalemate, the number of required missions was increased to thirty, to thirty-five, to fifty and finally we received official word that sixty four was to be the magic return home number.  By dent of intensified missions in support of the Anzio, Italy invasion, I reached the number of sixty-two.

On August 21, 1944, I was scheduled to bomb the German submarine pens in southern France, this being my next to last mission. On this sixty-third mission we took off at seven a.m. and directed our course to southern France. The day was clear, beautiful and cloudless. As we approached the submarine pen area, German flack began reaching for us and became very intense and accurate.  Almost immediately after releasing our bombs, we were perfectly bracketed by four exploding shells, the windshield shattered, and noticing blood trickling down my left forearm, I realized that glass and metal fragments were in my left hand and forearm.

We landed at Sardinia without further problems. The surgeon cleaned and dressed the minor wounds in my arm, and I awoke to the fact that my next mission was the sixty-fourth and final. I really expected several days rest before my last mission and return home. The next day, however, our operations officer told me that there was a milk run scheduled for the evening at five o'clock, no flack or fighters expected, and I could make my last mission in comparative ease and safety. I promptly agreed.

At briefing I learned that the target was a railroad bridge north of Florence, and it was to be knocked out in order that the Germans be restricted from evacuating to the Po Valley in northern Italy.

We found the target, made one run, but due to the mountains, the bombardier did not have sufficient time to align his sights before we were past the bridge and topping the mountain on the other side of the valley. We repeated our run with the same result, meanwhile encountering no flack or resistance. It was then decided that we fly down the length of the valley permitting a longer time for the bombardier to work. We again expected no enemy counter measures, and I flew relaxed that this final mission was almost over, and mentally thanked the operations officer for this milk run. We turned into the valley, straight and level, and German gun implacements that could not sight on us before, began firing as we dropped bombs. We made a short right turn to clear the mountain top and escaped the accurate fire we were getting.

We began a climb to eight thousand feet, and checking the gas gauges for the return trip to Sardinia, I noticed that the right main gas tank was exceedingly low. I called the engineer for a visual inspection, and he reported a jagged hole in the right wing, and one hundred octane gasoline pouring immediately at the engine. We were in immediate danger of exploding, so I shut down the right engine, feathered the prop, and continued on the remaining engine by increasing power and reducing air speed.

I could not proceed to the home base at Sardinia as the Apennine Mountains were too high to cross on one engine, so I took a course for the Adriatic side of Italy, intending to reach the sea and parallel the coast until we had crossed the front lines, and then worry about a suitable landing field.

Flying on one engine, we had reduced our altitude to three thousand feet, and as we approached the front lines we experienced light and heavy flack. After several close bursts, our remaining engine quit and the propeller windmilled. I tried to restart the engine with no success, and pulled the emergency bomb bay lever which opened the bomb bay doors. This was the cue for the crew to leave, and after the last had jumped, I trimmed the plane in a slightly nose down attitude in order to retain flying speed as I made my way to the bay and jumped.


Drawing on a brown paper bag by a fellow kreige at Nurnburg.
This was my ship drawn from description
-Artist now unknown

In the articles of warfare, as promulgated by the Geneva Convention, unarmed crew members, parachuting from a disabled plane, are not considered fair game. The Germans upon whom I was descending evidently never heard of Geneva. Small arms ground fire was directed at me, and when I was about one hundred feet I felt a shocking, searing pain in my right hand. A rifle bullet had entered between my thumb and index finger and exited from the back of my hand, leaving a hole about the size of a half dollar. The second joint of the thumb was pulverized, the index finger broken, and the thumb tendon was severed.

I landed in an open field and two German soldiers, rifles at the ready ran from a grove of trees toward me. One of the German soldiers in front of me, and proudly pointed to himself, his rifle, and then my bleeding hand.(Continued)


Articles Index Page


Copyright(c) 2003 320th History Preservation. All rights reserved.

 

affordable hostingBest Website Builder