B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group

 

  "Balls of Fire!!!" Alias "Fletcher's Folly!!!"
by Ben West, 443rd Bomb Squadron

 

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5 July, 1944
Decimomannu, Sardinia 

Trying Something New - A Night Mission to Bomb the Savona Oil Storage Area.

 

It is worth a try: Colonel Fletcher, our 32Oth Bomb Group Commanding Officer, decides to try something new by bombing Savonaís oil Storage area on the Italian coast near Genoa from 12,000 feet on a clear moonlit night. I am to be lead copilot1 of a three ship formation, the last of five such elements to go over the target at ten minute intervals. Our element holds 500 pound demolition bombs while the first elements carry incendiary bombs to start fires. The target initially is to be observed through the Norden bomb sight by the reflection of moonlight on a bend in a river and other topographic characteristics they think will reveal themselves from the night sky.

Beware of the night, is a primitive instinct. Such feelings were reinforced in the early 1920ís when as a child, I slept on a porch without a night light in the country where I was often awakened by the yelps and howls of the many coyotes then about.

The anticipation of facing the enemy at night seems more threatening. Can we keep our B-26 bombers in the assigned strips during the three ship formation night takeoffís?2 Can we get airborne in our darkened surroundings without mishap? Shall we see a ship falter on take off, crash and burn just off the field while awaiting our turn to go?3

Now it is our turn to push the throttles up to fifty inches of mercury and try to change our earth loving bird into a real flying machine. We sort of stagger uncertainly into the air with our heavy bomb and fuel load. We pull up our wheels to gain speed and hope we wonít settle back.4 Our formation gets off okay.

As we head out over the Mediterranean Sea, our gunners are given clearance to fire-check their weapons. The ship vibrates with eight-fifty caliber machine guns tattooing the night sky with an ear-splitting chatter of explosions as tracer ammunition streak across the night sky like a shower of red shooting stars. Somehow, this is not as reassuring as it should be. Itís an unsettling remembrance that this is no sight-seeing flight over 380 miles of turbulent sea before a friendly land side reception. No way!

Rather it is more like a pack of wolves trying to sneak into the farmers hen house in the dead of night without discovery. We look across the darkened ships in our formation. Itís ghostly. Even their engine exhaust vents have been covered with a device to help obscure our presence from those below. We maintain strict radio silence. Hopefully the enemy will not become alerted to our sea-side attack too soon. Maybe we are like sharks that prey on a sleeping countryside from a darkened sea of air.

We all have our private thoughts of our loved ones stateside. On the west coast there is ten hours difference. They may be sitting down for lunch about now. Mail from home has not as of yet caught up with me since leaving the states six weeks ago, or any other private communication which was typical for new personnel. The stability of my life had completely collapsed. How are my wife Marty and baby daughter Karen? The loneliness cuts like a knife within me.

I pray and worry as to what will happen this night on my fifth mission. What will it be like? Will I react with valor? Thereís a knot in my stomach. Then far ahead I see search lights coming on in the defenses of Genoa. They extend their fingers of light up to a higher cloud cover like a giant octopus sweeping the sky as they grope for any invaders. Then up ahead over Savona flashing balls of fire light up the sky at our elevation as the German 88-caliber antiaircraft batteries go into action on the preceding formations. I sweat with anticipation as it is almost worse than action. Did they know we were coming? With German intelligence being what it was they maybe knew even before we took off.5 (Continued)


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