B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group

 

Return to Florence
by Benjamin C. McCartney, 443rd Bomb Squadron

 

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The Start of a Deadly Mission

 

 
 

"The 443rd plane piloted by Lt. Ackerman with Lt. McCartney as bombardioer on the mission to Florence March 11th was #62 (288) Noseart was pretty classy!

"Boy, have them new engines ever got the power!" Just yelled to me. He was intensely proud of the ship. We all were. On the side, by the nose, it had a very good painting of a supine girl, which had been put on before we got the ship.

Whoever had put it there had run out of imagination after the effort, and the ship had never had a name. I always thought of the ship as "Manon"; a B-26 has certain of the fascinations of a Manon, and certain of the infidelities, too.

At last we taxied out and swung into position. When the four ships were lined up side by side and all running up their engines, we got the signal to go. I felt the brakes ease off and we started down the runway.

The ship rocked back off the nose wheel and the air-speed indicator began jumping: 80,100,120. At 130 miles an hour, nearly a mile down the runway, we bumped slightly once and were airborne. In twenty minutes all the flights had joined, and we were on course heading north-northeast.

In an hour we picked up fighter escort, and, when we had gone three-quarters of the way up the coast, Callahan called in to say the Spitfires were coming up. We swung to the right and headed for our landfall. I crawled out of the nose, where I had been running through my bombsight and studying the map and photos, and went back into the navigator's compartment.

Just had the bomb pins pulled. I counted them, and then he helped me into my parachute harness.

I put my parachute on top of the navigator's table and said to Just, "See that the hat-check girl is back here. I may want to get that chute in a hurry."

Then I tapped Bob Cooke on the shoulder and he slid his seat back to let me by. By the time I was back in the nose, I could see the smoky blue of the Italian mainland ahead of us. Coming in over the coast I went through everything once again and made a practice run on a farmhouse on a hill far below. I noticed that we were climbing a little to get above bombing altitude. The sight was working perfectly, and I checked my data again. I was ready.

I called Ack on the interphone: "O.K. We're at bombing altitude. Weather looks good."

"O.K. I'll give you another level in a minute when we finish climbing."

I got the other level and then, with the map, concentrated on following the swimming ground and hills and valleys and little villages and rivers beneath us. Ahead the weather was perfect and the visibility unlimited. I was surprised to find there was no haze at that time of day. Finally, looking ahead, I could see the dim hills above Florence. I could not see the city itself.

Sergeant Just got on the interphone and I could hear him, remote and fuzzy, telling me about a truck convoy. I marked the position on the map and went back to watching the ground. The formation began to weave slightly, hunting and swinging over the ground. I knew that the lead navigator and lead bombardier in the first squadron were looking for the precise villages over which we were to pass to be on our true course in. The faint jockeying and weaving ceased, and we were coming in. Off to the left now I could see Pontedera and the airstrip and I knew where we were. (Continued)


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