("Decimo") Air Base, close to Cagliari on the southern tip of
Sardinia, was the new home of the 320th and the 319th, while the 17th was
stationed at nearby Villacidro Field. By the first of November the men had
settled into Squadron "tent cities." They got the field ready to
receive the Flight Echelon, which arrived the 10th. The Group flew its first
mission from Sardinia--Number 100 for the 320th--the 12th, pounding an old
favorite, the Montalto di Castro railroad bridge.
On November 16th the Marauders got over
France for the first time. Planes of the 319th and 320th bombed the airdrome at
Salon de Provence north of Marseilles in this initial daylight raid on Southern
France by mediums. Rain and clouds then set in over base and over targets
wiping out mission after mission for the rest of November. Winter was coming on
and Allied troops remained bogged down in the marshes and mud in front of the
enemy's Gustav Line which stretched across the lower third of Italy.
Early in December the bad weather lifted
enough for a few attacks to get off...mostly "milk runs". Then
operations had to be canceled for a week mid-month because of more rain...and
mud...and cold. Towards the end of the month weather improved and missions
could be flown on nine straight days...a Group record. Targets were generally
railways and bridges in Central Italy. Quite a few of the 320th airmen got
their forty missions in and departed for home.
During the first part of January, 1944,
the Group hit German lines of communication, particularly marshalling yards
south of the Pisa-Rimini Line. Col. Fletcher, Capt. Hayward and Capt. Brewer
took off in the dark the 10th to fly the first night bombing mission in Marauder
history. With a full moon lighting the target, the three dropped on the
Piombino steel works. A key blow in neutralizing the enemy's airfields came the
13th when 320th B-26s joined in attacking five German fighter bases around
The Group bombed Orte marshalling yards
and railroad January 16th. Accurate, heavy anti-aircraft fire on approach to
target brought down two ships and fighters knocked down another. That same day
Fifth Army captured Mount Trocchio and reached the east bank of the Rapido
River two miles from Cassino, halfway along the road between Naples and Rome.
But the Germans continued to hold the Allies in check.
On January 17th the 320th went back to
Orte. Over the target a piece of shrapnel hit Col. Fletcher in the head. On
return he was rushed to the hospital with a skull fracture. Maj. Marble was
Acting CO for the next five weeks. The Marauder groups supported the 45th
Infantry Division's bloody assault over the Rapido the 21st by knocking out the
heavily-defended Orvieto railroad bridges. This time flak cost the 320th four
B-26s. It was the roughest day the Group had had in six months.
To outflank the Gustav Line, on January
22nd the Allies landed at Anzio-Nettuno just south of Rome without opposition.
The area had been cut off by the Marauder's interdiction program and the
Germans were unable to move in. The Americans and British pushed out, but then
were stopped. Group Marauders caught a German train "stalled" on Oriveto
North bridge the 28th. Tragically,
is was discovered afterwards that allied POWs where
amongst those on the unmarked train.
the 29th over Manziana railroad bridge flak and Me-109s downed three
yellow-number Marauders. The month had been a busy and expensive one for the
Bad weather shut down operations early in
February. The combat crews learned that "forty and home" was a thing
of the past. Depending on a man's physical and mental condition, a Squadron
Board would decide how many missions he had to fly before rotation. This was
the original "Catch 22".
The bombing of the Abbey of Monte Cassino
February 15th did not allow the Allies to break through the Gustav Line in
their first offensive there. On the 16th the Germans launched an all-out
counterattack against the Anzio beachhead. The Army sent and urgent request for
help and the 320th sent Marauders from Decimo on frag-and-demo missions close
to our lines.
Another German attack at Anzio was beaten
off February 17th, but it cost the Group two B-26s. Rain and clouds then
prevented operations for most of the rest of February.
In preparation for the Allied spring
offensive, a series of air attacks were mounted against marshalling yards in
Central Italy. Rome was hit again March 3rd. Group bombed Ostiense terminal
with great precision. In a "first ever" raid the 11th, the Florence
rail yards were accurately hammered. Post-strike photos showed no bombs fell
outside targets, justifying the High Command's faith in the Maraudermen's
ability to pinpoint military objectives within Italy's historic,
The "Yellow Number" B-26s participated
in the mass bombardment of the town of Cassino March 15th. Allied infantry and
tanks advanced but could not drive the Germans out of the rubble and the Second
Cassino offensive, aimed at linking up with the Anzio beachhead, had to be
Operation STRANGLE began--a classic aerial
interdiction campaign to break the stalemate at the front by cutting off the
enemy's supplies from the rear. For their part, the Marauders were to block the
north-south Florence-Rome railway which runs along the western slopes of the
mountains down the spine of Italy. STRANGLE would go on for nearly two months.
During April bridge after bridge was
knocked out by the Group's Marauders... at places like Arezzo, Incisa, Mantua,
Cancello, and Albenga. The 320th's bridge-busting work went well, and soon the
trains didn't run on time in Italy. The Germans were unable to move supplies or
reinforcements south from Florence by rail, because there were no bridges at
Montalto di Castro, Staz de Ficulle, Orvietto, Albina, and Narni.
In late April the building boom began at
Decimo with native-built adobe "casas" going up in all the Squadron
areas, ranging from one-man huts to homes for eight. Impressive Officer and EM
Clubs were built.. .and enjoyed. The outdoor Chapel opened.
Early in May, as rolling stock backed up
in Italy, Group formations switched to attacking packed marshalling
yards...with devastating results. The final Allied offensive to take Rome
started the 12th. That day the 320th flew a very effective attack on German
reserves at Fondi, dropping parafrags on a Panzer Grenadier regiment. This was
their 200th mission.
The 320th threw the book at German supply
lines--rails, road and sea--as their part in Operation DIADEM, which began in
May. The mounting pressure from ground and air finally cracked the enemy's
defenses. Fifth Army was able to break out at Anzio. Eighth Army took Cassino
the 20th. Both advanced northward.
The 320th started calling itself "The
Boomerangs" because its planes kept coming back; the Group had the lowest
loss-per-sortie record in the Wing. Good tactics...good training...good
leadership...and some good luck were responsible.
Marauder power helped clear the way for
the Allies to enter Rome June 4th in hot pursuit of the fleeing Germans. The
320th harassed the enemy's retreat towards his Gothic Line, which stretched
coast-to-coast from Pisa on the west to Rimini on the east, 150 miles north of
Rome. As Allied ground forces pushed the Germans back, the B-26s knocked out
the bridges behind them. Ports were also struck as the enemy tried to move
supplies by sea.
The Group played an important part in
Operation MALLORY July 3rd which destroyed vital rail bridges across the Po in
Northern Italy. It ran a perfect "Air Medal" mission that day...all
bombs on target. On the 10th over Marzabotto railroad bridges one flak battery
fired one salvo which unluckily hit and sheared the wing off a 441st Marauder.
It spiraled down and crashed. No chutes.
MALLORY MAJOR in mid-July was a 72-hour
operation to knock out all the bridges across the Po River. The 320th did its
part by flattening several spans. For the rest of the month the Group hit key
railroad lines to the north in the Apennine Mountains where roads were few and
the Germans found it hard to move supplies by truck.
Missions during the first half of August
were preparatory to the invasion of Southern France (Operation DRAGOON). Crews
took off daily to strike at roads and railways along the French Riviera,
knocked out coastal defenses and gun positions--some in flak-ringed--Toulon
Harbor and bombed bridges along the lower Rhone River.
August 15, 1944...Southern France D-Day!
After a night briefing, Group Marauders took off before dawn to be over the
beaches of Baie de Cavalaire near St. Tropez as the first waves of French and
American Seventh Army assault troops prepared to go. They blanketed German
defensive positions with fragmentation bombs. After return to Decimo and a
quick turn-around, they came back for bridge-busting missions that afternoon.
The waiting ground men watched all Marauders return...although three had
crashed taking off in the dark that morning.
For the next two weeks the Boomerangs flew
support for Seventh Army. But by August 30th no further missions could be
scheduled to Southern France; ground forces had advanced beyond the range of
the B-26s flying from Sardinia.
September 1st General Webster relinquished
42nd Wing to his second-in-command, Col. John P. Doyle. In a special ceremony
on the Decimo runway September 6th the 320th and its brother groups in the Wing
were awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French for their support of the French
Army in its Gustav Line breakthrough in May. The parade was impressive as the
Brass looked on. Individual awards were presented to Col. Fletcher and others.
September 11th Fifth Army launched its
offensive to crack the Gothic Line. Group B-26s flew frag-and-demo missions to
blast the enemy from his strong defensive positions in the Apennine Mountains
north of Florence and clear the way for infantry. The Group flew all the way
east across Italy to the Adriatic Sea on the 15th and 16th to bomb Rimini in
support of the British Eighth Army advance there.
These attacks on targets in Northern Italy
were straining the range of the B-26s. Sardinia's usefulness as "an
unsinkable aircraft carrier was over.
The Wing had to move closer to the action. [Go
to the next base: Alto,
authored by Victor C. Tannehill, Saga of the 320th