B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group

 

Remembrances of the B-Dash-Crash & My Experiences with the 320th
by John (Jack) S. Harpster, 442nd Bomb Squadron

 

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Epochal Missions of the 320th B.G.

 

  Operation Strangle

 

 
 

Another span downed as part of Operation Strangle

A tasking to which the B-26 Groups were assigned was that of “Operation Strangle”. In an effort to hamper logistic supply of the German Army fighting the Allies in the middle of the Italian peninsula,  the  B-26’s  were assigned to destroy any means of lines of supplies to the enemy. This meant knocking out as many key bridges as possible, disrupting the rail service, bombing the German Main Supply Routes (MSRs) plus their harbors, and then go back and do it all over again. As you can see by the picture, these bombs seemed to have done the trick on the bridge as shown.

 
 

 

Many times the bombs we dropped were time delayed as to detonation and these explosion times were staggered. The repair crews didn’t know if or when a delayed bomb would ruin their coffee break or even their whole lunch hour. The German supply lines were already stretched quite long and this constant hammering of critical, key bridges, rail lines, and marshaling yards must have played havoc on their capability to feed and supply their own troops.

 
 

 

At first, I used to wonder why we would be given a mission to hit a certain bridge which I knew we had successfully hit before, only to go back and to it again. Later on in the fighter tour I also went, time after time, targeted for an objective which I knew very well we earlier successfully bombed. The reason of course is that the Germans became experts at bomb damage repair. This game of ‘musical chairs’ was all a part of the Strangle Strategy. The harassment that over all must have been a significant deterrent to their war efforts.

 
 

 

I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself, but it ties in with this theme. Later on, while I was assigned to the 86th Fighter Group, fighter sweeps looking for ground transport were the name of the game. Unfortunately, at least for Ox cars, one of our P-47’s hit an Ox car; a two-wheeled cart drawn by one ox and the cart blew sky high. This was the clue that they were so desperate for transportation that they had resorted to moving munitions by this archaic means. It also meant that Oxen longevity had hit a new low. I understand that the above Operation Strangle and this use of air power did in fact play a part in the 5th Army finally being able to take Rome. These pictures of B-26 bombing results gives you but a small sample of why “Strangle” must have helped the war effort.


  The Bombing of Monti Cassino

 

One of our major efforts and large-scale operations was that of bombing Monti Cassino. This heavily fortified town was a key position in the German line of defense stretched across the Liri Valley in Italy called the “Gustav Line”. All of the buildings with a commanding view of the valley were bulging with gun positions and observation posts. This defensive obstacle was very effectively holding up any advance by General Mark Clark’s 5th Army and their Allies. So, the army turned to the air force for help and a massive bombing attack was planned involving most of the air power in the Mediterranean Theater. Many practice missions were flown back at the home bases with emphasis on the critical timing requirements of multiple bomber attacks. Then on March 15, 1944, the attack commenced and the heavy bombers came in first. One group after another dropped tons of bombs and the heavy bombers were followed by the B-25s and the B-26s. Our Group bombed last and as we left, the mission commander called in our departure to the ground units. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the rubble and debris provided yet additional hiding places for guns plus defenses and made just another chore for the engineers to clear while still under enemy fire. The score being tied at “One” for the Air Force and “One” for the bad guys, the game went into over time. It was much later that Casino was finally taken. For our Groups part in this operation a Unit Citation was awarded. (Continued)


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