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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On The Island of Sardinia

 

After surviving the Casablanca experience sans Humphrey Bogart and Loren, three days later we boarded a C-47 for the north bound trip over the Mediterranean Sea to the island of Sardinia.  This was the home of 3 B-26 Bomb Groups and a Squadron of P-39’s (Island Defense). Arriving there I now understood the value of the good training we endured at Preflight School in “Mud Survival”. What a mess it was at Decimomannu, our new home. The tents were set, or I should better say anchored or moored, in pools of sticky mud and to make matters much worse, my baggage was elsewhere. Thinking of the poor Infantry Soldiers sleeping in foxholes over on the Italian mainland, made going to bed and sleeping on the floor a little less miserable. The next day was only slightly better as is described once again, verbatim, via my personal diary.

November 25

 

Our Thanksgiving day and what a place to be in. We put up a tent in the shallowest pool we could find and went scavenging . We found some metal tops which ought to pave our floor a little. We have lots to do to our tent . First problem no cots or lights or anything. Anyhow we had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. The best meal I've had since leaving the States. Real turkey, and seconds! Slept in our new tent by myself and nearly got trampled over by the rats and mice. Full of them. The tent is full of holes and cold. Ought to be exciting. I sure miss my baggage.
 

  My Mechanical Engineering Backgournd Comes in Handy

 

Our swampland residence was bordered by rows and rows of cacti that was also home to hordes of mice and rats who liked our home better than theirs. Nothing was safe. Proof that my misspent youth at Cornell University was not a total loss, I devised an ingenious mousetrap. The bombs sent to us for use in combat came with the nose and tail fuses separately packed in 12 or 14 inch cans much like the Potato Chip cans of today. Reaching back to Mechanical Engineering training at the University, I learned to tie a string to the can and attach it to the top of a table so that it would not quite reach the floor when hanging free. Next, balancing it delicately with bait inside, it was ready for customers. The weight of the rodent going down to the end of the can for the bait would tip the can over and trap him in the vertical prison as the can would almost, but not quite, reach the floor. The only problem, however, was that said prisoner would then spend the rest of the night constantly jumping in endless attempts to escape. The concert of the “Ker Chunk,  Ker Chunk” noise would make sleep very difficult.  Going back to Cornell University Hydraulics 101, I next cut some small holes in the cans and then placed water buckets under the trajectory of each one. As the rodent filled can slowly “Sank into the West”, the Ker Chunks faded into “Ker Splats” and then - blissful silence.


  Eureka-Wooden Floors

 

On my second morning in the tent, I awoke to see my nearly new officers hat, my prized 50 mission hot pilot dress-hat, floating upside down in the mud. This catastrophe leads to the next story. We had a Squadron Commander who must have majored in Child Psychology. As mentioned, the parquet floored surfacing of our tents was Prehistoric Mud. If the CO had ordered us to “Search, procure, and utilize proper substances for flooring” it would have taken a month of Sundays before happening. Instead, one day a pile of lumber appeared in camp with a sign next to it saying in essence “Don’t touch this damn lumber”. As if by a miracle, wooden floors were visible in most of the tents in minimum time.


Tent Heaters

 

 
 

Our tent heater

A source of heat was another creature comfort requirement. Most crews devised and built their own tent heaters.  These consisted of 55-gallon cans with a hole in front for a door.  Inside was a sand covered flat plate down onto which dripped, get this, high-octane aviation gas. The gas was stored outside and led in via copper tubing, controlled by a screw type valve.   A temporary solution for the stovepipes initially consisted of the above mentioned bomb fuse cans (AKA Rat-Traps). The cans were linked together and run up through the top of the tent, which as you can imagine, got very hot. Every once in a while we would hear a “Poof" or “Whoosh”. Some one would leisurely and casually stroll to the door and look out saying, “There goes Joe Doakes tent” or “What’s his names tent just blew it’s top”. The high octane gas was a great source of heat and a provider of spectacular fireworks. OSHA inspectors would have unquestionably expired of coronary arrest.

The flooring and heating problems were now solved, but our tent leaked like the proverbial sieve in the current Sardinian rainy season. Even a heavy coat of candle wax applied to both sides of the tent didn’t solve the drenching. Since the “Hands Off” woodpile was getting low and before some ‘scoundrel’ made off with too much of it, I rescued enough to make a provincial 17th century four poster bed complete with overhead shingles and a pull down curtain on the side. Because of this curtain my tent mates suspected me of running a brothel, but in truth it was only for the purpose of shutting off the light from the perpetual overnight card games. Another part of camp life a tad hard to get used to was that of the outdoor lavatory rest rooms. These fine facilities consisted of an elongated box set down on the ground, right out in the open air. The toilet had three or four holes on top and had no sides at all, wide open to the public. Many were the times that I was enthroned there and contemplating my navel or newspaper and a Sardinian family would wander close by. I can still see a mother dragging along and holding the hand of a little one while the youngster hangs back watching me over his shoulder as I sat there totally embarrassed and exposed to the world.


Casa Building Boom

 

 
 

Casa on Sardinia

Life and living conditions in camp improved drastically over time. Some of the troops found a source of tile and adobe bricks that made for wonderful bungalows. Local labor was available for little, and I mean very little money and cottages sprang up all over the camp. I can take no credit for this as I was away on temporary duty, but upon my arrival back home, my familiar tent in the quagmire and beloved four-poster bed were long gone. My tent mates had negotiated a genuine home away from home via this construction boom. (Continued)


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