|An 88mm shell exploded between the
right engine and the fuselage of Flossie's Fury on August 20, 1944, over
Toulon, France. Of the eight crewmen aboard the B-26 Martin Marauder,
miraculously, two survived (photo by S/Sgt. Peter Holmes courtesy of Charles
It was taken by S/Sgt. Peter Holmes, who was flying
his first mission as a combat photographer. But even more remarkable than the
photograph is the story of one of the stricken plane's crew, George Moscovis,
who was born and raised and is still living in Opelousas,
During the summer of 1944, three medium bomb groups of the
12th Air Force operated as the 42nd Wing and flew from two airfields on the
island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea. The 319th and 320th Bomb Groups
flew from Decimomannu air base on the southern end of the island. The 17th Bomb
Group was based 15 miles to the northwest near the town of Villacidro. Each
group consisted of four squadrons with 25 operational B-26 Martin Marauders in
each squadron. Twenty-year-old T/Sgt. George Moscovis was an engineer/gunner in
the 95th Squadron of the 17th Bomb Group.
Sgts. George Moscovis and Bob
McCluskey (fourth and fifth from left) with their original crew at the Barksdale
Field in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1944.
Lt. Joseph Albury was the pilot of the ill-fated Five-Zero on August 20; Lt.
Edgar Hawthorne (third from left) was the bombardier.
Sunday, August 20, was "Organization Day"—a very special day for the men of the 95th. On that date in 1917 during WW I, the 95th Squadron was formed. To celebrate its proud heritage, a party was planned for that evening in the base theater—good food, lots of beer and Sardinian girls to dance with. But first, there was a mission to fly, and today's targets were the heavy gun emplacements that guarded Toulon harbor on France's south coast.
All three Bomb Groups had pounded these gun positions before, during and after the invasion of Southern France on August 15, and the planes had taken a pounding in return. Their primary targets were three 340mm gun batteries mounted in turrets on a peninsula in the harbor. From the Marauder's bombing altitude, the gun targets were small and hard to spot, and the bombardiers had difficulty synchronizing the cross-hairs in their Norden bombsights for an effective hit. They needed a longer than usual bomb run—bad news on this heavily defended target. The Germans considered these gun batteries critical and had heavy concentrations of 88mm and 105mm flak batteries strung along the nearby coast—all manned by the Luftwaffe's best. "The old-timers say Toulon is the toughest target the 17th has hit since the early days in North Africa," Moscovis wrote in his diary.
It was a rough target, and the men who were scheduled to fly on that Sunday were apprehensive. The previous evening, the 17th Squadron's operations officers had posted six mission lineups; each consisted of six-plane formations that would fly a variety of strikes: one decoy flight would fly first over the target at a lower altitude, at a higher speed and on a different heading from the main force. This decoy would drop fragmentation bombs on the antiaircraft batteries. Another formation would follow to drop chaff—bundles of tinfoil strips that would disperse and confuse the Germans' radar screens. In the rest of the flights, the Marauders' bomb loads would consist of two 2,000-pound demolition bombs—the biggest the B-26 bomb racks could hold.
Sgt. George Moscovis and his friend Sgt. Bob McCluskey were together on Flossie's Fury—a plane with battle number five-zero on its tail—that would carry the 1-ton demo bombs. Moscovis, the flight engineer, would man the twin .50-
caliber machine guns in the top turret, while McCluskey flew as radioman and handled a .50-caliber at one of the waist windows.
When the Luftwaffe was driven out of Sardinia, its battered Ju-87 Stukas were left behind.
The two sergeants would not be flying with their regular crew. Piloted by Lt. Joseph Albury with Lt. Joseph Casey in the right seat, Flossie's Fury would be the lead ship in their formation. Lt. Edgar Hawthorne was the bombardier, and Sgt. Francis Pesta manned the twin .50s in the tail. Five-Zero also had navigator Lt. Paul Marshall and cameraman Sgt. Herman Frieden on board. Instead of the usual six-man crew, eight men were crammed in. Like many of the other combat crew that day, McCluskey had had bad vibes at the briefing, and when they drew their flight equipment, he had opted to take extra flak jackets; heavily leaded front and back, each weighed almost 20 pounds. A jacket usually hung from the shoulders like an umpire's chest protector, but the crew often took extras and strategically placed them under or over whichever other parts of their anatomy they most wanted to protect.
The 88mm shell exploded between the 2,000hp Pratt & Whitney engine and the fuselage—a distance of only three or four feet.
This was mission number 29 for McCluskey and Moscovis. At 1257 hours, a green flare arced from the control tower at Villacidro, and the first of the 17th's planes revved its 2,000hp Pratt & Whitney engines up to full power and thundered down the runway. The others followed at 30-second intervals. It was a hot day, and the heavily loaded Marauders needed the entire runway to get airborne. When the precision join-up had been completed over the field, the formation took a 330-degree heading for the 300-mile flight to the target. Bombing altitude for the main force was 12,400 feet, so the planes climbed steadily on course. By the time they reached the initial point (IP) for the bomb run, they were at 14,000 feet. The extra altitude would be bled off erratically during the bomb run to make it more difficult for the gunners in the flak batteries below to accurately time-fuse the shells. They hoped that only the final minute of the bomb run would be straight and level.
Leaving the IP, Lt. Albury rolled Flossie's Fury onto the target heading at 1427 hours. In the nose, Lt. Hawthorne crouched over his Norden bombsight and got the cross-hairs centered on the target. The bomber was now being "flown" by Hawthorne. Each of his slight course corrections to stay on target moved the needle of the pilot's directional indicator on Albury's instrument panel. Smoothly working the throttles and controls, Albury kept the needle centered and maintained an airspeed of 185mph. (Continued)