B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group

 

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

 

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"Bomb-bay Doors Open"

 

I pressed my microphone button. "Bomb-bay doors going open. Bomb-bay doors going open."

I pushed the bomb-bay door lever forward and waited for the little red light to flash on when they were completely open. The ship shuddered momentarily, and remotely I could hear a dull roar where the air rushed in through the open belly.

The air speed slowed slightly, and then the little light glowed red, and I pushed the lever forward all the way. Behind me the co-pilot increased the revolutions per minute in the engines; for an instant the propellers whined higher.

Ack was squeezing his throttles forward to increase his manifold pressure. The throb of the propellers quickened, and a kind of intensity came into the sound and into the vibration. The whole ship under the added power seemed to tense and actually to gather all its forces into an immense animal concentration.

Now we were losing altitude at 500 feet minute and coming down to bombing altitude. The weaving had ceased, and the whole formation now was intent on flying straight down the bomb run. Occasionally a ship fluttered an then leveled out quickly, keeping in perfect formation.

And now I could see the target instantly clear and long ahead of us - a brown, straight band in the city.

I pressed the microphone button. "On target, Ack. Coming in good."

I got down upon the bombsight, and instantly clear and nearer than I had imagined it I saw the bottom of the target, familiar from the photo. I saw distinct railroad cars, small like other European railroad cars, just beyond a road. As the ship swung for a moment in formation I saw distinctly in the upper corner of the sight the white spot near the Baptistery. I called to the pilot, "Fifty seconds left."

"Level." Ack was fighting the ship absolutely level.

I synchronized the sight and watched the cross hairs ride on the target for a moment.

"There she is. Level now. Level." The ship was level; we were at bombing altitude.

I went over the sight clutches and pins with my hands while I watched the target grind nearer. The yards looked incredibly narrow. I glanced up at the air-speed indicator. On the money!

I went back into the sight, made a slight correction, and felt the ship swing almost imperceptibly. The target rode slowly nearer toward me under the cross hairs and I could see more railroad cars everywhere on the tracks in the yard.

Sure looks untouched, I thought. I pressed the microphone again.

"Steady. Steady. Looks good. Looks good." I checked the time quickly and called, "Fifteen seconds."

The cars and tracks were very near now under the absolute black cross hairs - all freight cars, I noticed. Then, still watching the judgment of the cross hairs riding evenly, slowly on one car, I felt the ship jump, and pressed the microphone button. "Bombs away! Bombs away! Bomb-bay doors going closed."

I pulled the lever back as the lights on the panel flicked successively off. Then I lunged forward over the sight to watch.

Far ahead and all through the air the bombs were falling in languid, reluctant strings; everywhere under the bellies of the planes the bomb-bay doors slowly closed. Beneath me now the bombs from my own ship fell away slowly, fat and yellowish. Now beside them were the bombs of the other ships in our flight.

All the bombs were flinging along beneath us, twisting slightly, keeping up with us, and then slowly straightening out, dropping away and sliding fast, far down until I lost them. The ship swam slowly across the bottom of the marshaling yard. Ahead in the yard, halfway up, there was already a brown broil of smoke from the first bombs of the planes in the other squadron.

I waited while we came over the bottom of the yard and then suddenly, just inside the yard, there was the instant rip and black spurt of my own bombs down among the railroad cars.

 
 

"I Seen a Railroad Car Come up End over End!" a Gunner Shouted

Repair sheds are unroofed and the roundhouse battered. Freight cars are twisted as though by a tremendous collision. Their cargoes of German munitions will never kill American boys. Here the Florence marshaling yards, bombed in March, 1944, by the author, are seen on a follow-up raid on which he flew in May.

I pressed the microphone button violently. "We hit it! We hit it! We got it dead center!"

Ack called back: "Good. Good deal. That's the stuff!"

The interphone was full of talking now, and I heard Just, still fuzzy but yelling, "I seen a railroad car come up through the smoke end over end".

The target was out of sight beneath us now, and I looked at the city and tried to find the buildings I knew. I found several, but, searching too quickly, missed most of them. I could not find my pension, or even where it was, and then we were gone over the city. I heard only remotely the faint brush of flak. I hoped we would break sharply to the left so that I could see the city again, but we did not.

Later we made a swing south and, looking back, I could see a column of smoke, slow and heavy and brown, above the marshaling yards. Underneath it Florence was still very pale. Suddenly I realized I had felt no emotion whatsoever. It was best that way.


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