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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My Transfer to a Fighter Group

 

  My request for transfer to a fighter group

 

Late in the spring of 1944 my B-26 tour was winding down. Initially we were required to fly 40 missions, and this was later expanded to 45 missions, and then to an indefinite number depending on the “Shrinks” observations of your obviously weird behavior. I was nearing fifty missions and I still desperately wanted to get into fighters.  Approaching the Squadron Commander with the question as to:

“Would it be possible, now that my tour is nearly over, for me to transfer to a fighter group?"

resulted in my rapidly finding the exit door, hat in hand. I got an even less optimistic reply when I went to Group and subsequently Division Headquarters. In fact, I recall the reply at those locations was something to the effect of “You are out of your mind - it will never happen”. In those days of headstrong youth, “never” was not in my vocabulary so I devised a back door approach. Fortunately, there was a cross-country trip required for administrative purposes back to the Italian mainland with a landing at Naples Air Base. This was the base where the 86th Fighter Group was presently located. On my best behavior and dressed with a neatly pressed uniform, I visited one of the Squadrons and asked the CO the following question;

“If I could manage to swing a transfer, would you take me in your Squadron?"

He said, “Yes” and that was the much-needed foot in the door. I next went to the 86th Fighter Group’s Headquarters and told them of the Squadron CO’s affirmative position. The answer from Fighter Group Headquarters was;

“If it’s OK with him, then we will approve it”.

Ditto at Tactical Fighter Command Headquarters. Back at Sardinia, and armed with said verbal approvals, I worked back down the line from Division to Group to Squadron whereby they gave up and begrudgingly and eventually started the transfer order procedure. Eureka, I had made it. A dream come true!

There might have been a catalyst involved with this final approval and I can only attest to a certain part of this story as being true. In the time frame of awaiting orders, there was an inter-island baseball game going on and I was later told that the Division Commander was in attendance. During the game a certain B-26 came screaming across the diamond at an indicated air speed higher than the indicated altitude and which pulled up into a chandelle while rapidly climbing away. Of this part I’m not sure, but I imagine that the Division CO probably said something to the effect of:

“Who is that Idiot”?

When the reply came back that said idiot was;

“The pilot who was trying to get to fighters”, the General quite possibly said;

“Lets get him out of here before he kills himself or someone else”.

Don’t know that for a fact, but somehow I got my orders to join the 86th Fighter Group.


  My last missions with the 320th

 

While awaiting orders, there were of course still missions to fly. During the later part of the B-26 tour I was getting a lot of lead time. For example, on my last seven missions I was fortunate to lead the Squadron three times and to lead the 320th Group for a total of four missions. My final B-26 mission was that of a 32 ship Group, lead by said extremely young, immature, 1st Lieutenant during the first day of the invasion of Southern France.

So much for the B-26 tour, which was very very interesting: lots of memories both good and bad, plus lots of friends, many of whom are still alive and well. So... it was on to P-47 fighter plane action and the only chore remaining at this point was to replace the 442nd Bomb Squadron patch on my jacket for that of the 525th Fighter Squadron as shown below.

442nd Bomb Squadron

525th Fighter Squadron


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