B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group


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


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The flight back really is beautiful with the moonlight reflection on the sea below which now seems serene and peaceful. We pass the Italian island of Elba well off our port side where we see a few lights. We wonder what our enemy there is doing or thinking if awake. Have they heard our distant engines?

Our worries are not entirely behind us. We still have to get the plane safely back down on the ground on our poorly lighted field. Night flying and landings aren’t practiced because we so infrequently fly at night. We know that our ship sustained some damage because we had felt metal flak fragments penetrate our aircraft. Has our landing gear sustained damage? Have the rubber tires been punctured? In the darkness there is no way of knowing. We just have to land the aircraft and see what develops.

Our landing gear and the pilot’s skill both hold up. We are safely on the ground once again. We are given a free shot of combat whiskey and then we are debriefed about the mission. Finally after a long day and very long night we are released to hit the sack in our four person 14’ x 14’ tent being both emotionally and physically drained. Had we earned our meager pay or what?

No, I didn’t “rock the boat” about what had transpired nor could they castigate you for what you’ve been thinking. Henceforth I flew my remaining 64 missions as pilot or acting command pilot. I think command as well as myself profited by our experience that night.

The official line on mission results were that it was carried out successfully like any daylight one and without incident. Wrong on all counts. We sure gave it our best shot! Frankly, what command thought would be our best chance of obliterating the oil storage facility after the fact, appeared in my view, at least, to provide the German gun positions the best chance of shooting us down. Coming in separately gave them six opportunities to concentrate their fire on our forces with breaks in the action to let their gun barrels cool; have a quick cup of coffee or take a piss. After all, what more could we have done coming in at intervals all from the same IP point7 all stretched out like a shooting gallery that it was I tell you it was a God forsaken gauntlet. Perhaps the Germans had camouflaged the oil supply area with false sets of lights to lead us elsewhere.

Being among the last in line didn’t help! Even the moonlight didn’t aid us that much while I swear the German’s had no problem tracking us visually with the flak explosions all around us. Get the picture.

At times I half envied England’s RAF who always bombed at night when the enemy had more difficulty in tracking planes with antiaircraft fire and in making fighter intercepts. I suspect in time one gets used to “flaming red balls of flak explosions”, but I sure hadn’t.

Sure, I know GP. CO wished to put the best possible spin on bomb results considering all our risks, and expenditures in ordinance, fuel, repair of ventilated aircraft. We did cause them to diminish their supply of 88 antiaircraft shells, but bomb results? I give the CO credit nonetheless. We never again endeavored to bomb at night with the “Norden” nor to my knowledge ever again employ such strung out mini attack tactics against well defended targets.

If the truth be known, I suspect some poor Italian farmer met his creator or otherwise paid the price with the loss of his olive grove or the like. Se la vie - Se la Guerre.

Lesson learned: a lead pilot has to be almost fearless and possess great tenacity in attacking targets irrespective of threatening enemy counter measures. (Continued)

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