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Group Headquarters was set up in an old Chateau at the Dijon suburb of Longecourt, eight miles from the airport. The 441st and 442nd Squadrons were also there. The 443rd and 444th were nearby at Bessey les Citeaux. Officers were housed in chateaus or homes...EM were in tents.

      Dijon/Longvic Airdrome was crowded, but it had a long concrete runway. Much bomb damage had been done to the field, a former Luftwaffe base. Wreckage was scattered about. The surrounding villages also showed war damage.

      The 320th got organized and put up its first mission from Dijon December 1st--this was its first over Germany. Target: the Rastatt railroad bridge near Karlsruhe east of the Rhine. Severe cold and snowy weather limited Marauder operations during the next two weeks.

      The December weather was terrible. Winter had come to France and it was one of the hardest the civilians had seen in years. Ceilings were miserable low with clouds down to one hundred feet off the ground. The rain and snow made flying difficult most of the time and impossible too much of the time and the Marauders sat immobile on their hard stands. Men fretted as the days went by in a series of standbys and stand-downs.

      But every effort was made every day to put Marauders in the air if at all possible, although they had to be recalled. The only time ships didn't take off was when weather conditions absolutely socked in the base. Even if there was poor visibility over the target, recon flights were dispatched to report any breaks in the weather.

      Dijon was placed "Off Limits" again the night of December 15th when crowds lynched a collaborationist said to be the town's former Mayor under the Nazis. He was taken from the jail by a mob, hanged, and his body was dragged through the streets. The townspeople also took revenge against a number of young women of Dijon who had lived with Germans during the occupation...they caught them and shaved their heads.

      News of the German breakthrough in the Ardennes (the Battle of the Bulge) came December 16th. Belgium was too far away--and the weather was too bad-- for the 320th to be of any help. But a few days later a Panzer breakthrough at Hagenau, near Dijon, caused serious concern. The Group wanted to support Seventh Army, trying to contain this enemy offensive around Colmar and Biche, but snow and fog prevented their B-26s from getting into the air.

      On Christmas Day the weather turned flyable, permitting Marauders of the 320th to bomb the Singen railroad bridge in Southwestern Germany near the Swiss border. Most of the B-26s clobbered it, but unfortunately nine of the attackers dropped on Gettmadingen, in neutral Switzerland. Luckily little damage was done and no one was killed.

      As soon as "The Bulge" started shrinking, the ground action shifted south to the Rhineland. The Germans had been building up their strength around Strasbourg. Field Marshall Model, whose armies had been reinforced by the addition of crack divisions from Norway, conceived a brilliant plan to surprise the thinly-spread Seventh Army and the First French Army in the rugged Vosges Mountains. On New Year's Eve the enemy struck in the Saar-Harot area and shoved troops across the Rhine at Gambsheim. There wasn't too much our few units there could do about it. The Germans then broke out of the Colmar pocket and racked up along the Rhine to Erstein, only ten miles south of Strasbourg. The city sat with German forces on three sides. Our troops were ordered to evacuate. Then that order was reversed because of the psychological importance of Strasbourg to the French. The Allies had to hang on.

      The severe cold with daily temperatures below zero continued into January. After thirteen days of fog and clouds which grounded the Marauders, the crews were able to plow the runway, brush the snow off their B-26s and put up a mission January 16th. French and American troops had cleared the Germans out of the Colmar Pocket and were pushing through the Vosges mountains at the end of the month.

      Due to night intruder raids by the Luftwaffe, alerts had been more frequent at Dijon during January. The sound of enemy planes, the droning uneven growl that distinguished a German aircraft engine from an American, became familiar. Lying on their cots in their newly issued sleeping bags, the men pondered the advisability of venturing into the cold outdoors to take cover. By the time they considered the matter and tested the frigid winter air by sticking an arm out from under, the German aircraft were usually gone.

      "Had It" combat crews (exhausted by too many briefings) and ground crews (tired since Africa) had more glittering rest camps dangled before their eyes than at any other time in the Group's history of twenty-eight months of APO time.

      Most popular was Paris. The French capital entertained ten 320th men at a time on forty-eight hour passes. The Squadrons rotated, each sending men once every eight days. Four officers (three of them combat) and six EM (three of them combat) got to go at a time.

      The winter and war rendered Paris a cold city, short of food and long on paper money. But no GI refused the trip!

      Still in the "unofficial" stage, although it had been announced in "Stars & Stripes," was the new Rest Camp on the French Riviera. Nice had been arranged for EM while Cannes was reserved for Officers. Also in the "unofficial" stage was a planned Rest Camp in England.

      Intermittent snow and below freezing weather limited recreational activity to an occasional snowball fight during January. The shortage of fuel led to a lot of "sack time," of necessity.. .it was either stay in bed or freeze!

      Dijon was still fun when it wasn't "Off Limits." The officers attended the newly opened Allied Officers Club there regularly. Shows at the Familia Theatre were good. Movies were shown nightly on base in "The Barn." Some GIs did get a little bird hunting with carbines.

      Rotation of men between the medium bomber groups and Seventh Army infantry units started during the month. The "fly boys" and the "ground pounders" would swap places for a week. Idea was to give each a better understanding of the other.

      The first Lead Crews from the 320th had left Dijon for the Wing Bomber Training Center at Istres, near Marseilles. There, on the sunny Riviera coast, they were to be taught Shoran radar "blind bombing" techniques (codenamed BAT) and GEE navigation.

      The outfit's performance during January was excellent, considering the horrible weather. The Group Commander and the Deputy Group Commander were two of the most experienced leaders in the AAF. Colonel Ashley B. Woolridge, 28-year-old CO from Clearfield, Penna., had been in combat with Marauders since November, 1942. Lt. Col. Lawrence J. Hayward, 27-year-old Deputy Group CO, from Burlington, Mass., also began combat flying in Africa after serving with the RCAF. Both had fought in the Tunisian, Sicilian, three Italian, the French and two German campaigns. Both held the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster; the Silver Star, and the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Clusters.

      The Group was now authorized sixty-four B-26s--fourteen in each of its four Squadrons. Aircraft had been coming in regularly in recent weeks and the 320th actually had a few more than that on hand. However, ten to fifteen percent were usually non-operational at a given time under First or Second Category repair or Third Category in the Service Squadron.

      As the intensely cold weather lingered on, and many trees disappeared, the local leaders reacted with alarm and had to withdraw the firewood cutting privilege they had granted the units upon their arrival.

Administrative and supply problems persisted...it was difficult to keep all units supplied with warm clothing and needed equipment but some of the new-type jackets and sweaters had been issued. Even bombs and ammo were in short supply!

      Eating was more of a treat now, although it was still powdered eggs for breakfast and C-rations for lunch. Real plates and French waitresses were quite a morale booster for the men in some of the messes as they were served GI chow with a French accent! And Italian POWs took care of KP duties.

      The thirty-minute run into Dijon and a visit to the Red Cross Club, the "Scrub House," the Allied Officers Club, GI Joe's Rendezvous, a movie, or possibly an opera at Municipal Auditorium, provided some relaxation for off-duty men. Dijon, famous for its mustard and its agricultural fairs, was a big modern city, although this ancient capital of Burgundy had its share of narrow, winding streets. There was lots of entertainment, USO shows, a honky-tonk French carnival, etc.

      Having traveled there and back by ''sleeper'' coach train, the first contingent of men returned from the newly opened Paris Rest Camp with fantastic stories of Gay Paree. Everything sounded great except the high cost of living it up!

      The men were picking up the French language fairly well. Classes held by Squadron I and E departments and taught by professors from the University of Dijon soon had the GIs somewhat past "bo cups" and "we we!"

      Missions in early February were mainly against ammo and fuel dumps in Germany. The 320th also flew interdiction raids to cut off the Germans fleeing the Colmar pocket. And the B-26s hit marshalling yards. Some new crews came in on the 7th--first to arrive since the Group came to France--bringing joy to the many combat men "up there" with their mission totals. Aircrewmen who had over sixty-five missions were sent home. They left full of joy and happiness. Those who were staying behind wished them luck and expressed the hope that all buddies could be reunited in the States sometime.

      Rumors persisted that the outfit would be returned to the States, as the 319th had done, to be retrained in Douglas A-26 Invaders and shipped to the Pacific!

      Several Ninth Air Force B-26 groups based in France were converting to A-26s at this time and some of their veteran Marauders were sent to the 320th as replacement aircraft. The black-and-white "invasion stripes" under their wings and fuselage made them stand out in formation, as did their upper-surface-only medium green camouflage paint with natural metal under. Group opened a rest leave camp at Annecy high in the French Alps eight miles from the Swiss border.

      Ground crews continued to fight the snow and cold so that their B-26s could get in the air to help cut off the retreating Germans. The Boomerangs hit the network of rail lines linking Neunkirchen, Kaiserslautern, Ludwigshaven, Stuttgart, and the front.

      In mid-February two spectacular missions were flown by the Group's B-26s against Labach. The Marauders set off huge explosions which flared 10,000 feet in the air and were seen by ground observers thirty miles away. Offenburg, ten miles east of the Rhine below Strasbourg, was also hit hard.

      A strategically important Nahe River railroad bridge at Bad Munster southwest of Mainz, was attacked February 21st by four Group formations. Led by target marker ships, attacking crews reported excellent concentrations of bombs on both the bridge and the yards.

      On Washington's Birthday, the 320th took part in CLARION, a massive one-day effort to completely paralyze the enemy's lines of communication. Marauders swooped low to blast railways and road junctions.

      Up to this time there had been no overall effort by our air forces on the Continent against German transportation targets. Each Air Force had been following its own particular plan, and carrying out individual attacks against their own priority objectives. In order to achieve complete paralysis of the enemy's lines of communication, we needed a concerted bombing effort devoted to the singular task of bringing their transportation to an absolute standstill.

      Despite adverse weather (clouds, fog and haze) the plan was well executed. Western Germany was split into areas. Within those areas each Air Force selected targets to be bombed by small flights. Highly coordinated fighter cover was arranged. Railway bridges were the prime objective.

      CLARION was some punctuation mark! German rail communications suffered the paralysis that comes from "severed arteries as formations of yellow-numbered Marauders rained high explosives on more than half a dozen enemy rail yards and marshalling points. These rail centers served the German military in the square bounded by Strasbourg and Stuttgart, the Rhine on the west and Lake Constance on the south.

      Boomerang formations were escorted by American P-47s and French Spitfires. Because of unfavorable weather, they sometimes bombed from below their normal release altitude. Some flights made two runs over the target to get a good visual fix before releasing. The planes carried 500-pound demolition bombs, a few fitted with delayed-action fuses to further harass German repair crews after the attack.

      With 1st TAF again under General Webster, the method of exercising command over the medium bombardment arm reverted to what it had essentially been before General Saville's brief period of control. General Webster felt, as did General Royce, that the 42nd Bombardment Wing was perfectly capable of working out details if the Air Force provided the necessary intelligence.

      Crews were occasionally briefed on a COCOANUT PLAN mission. Under that Plan, a representative of the Group, Major Cafarello, traveled with the Corps Headquarters attached to Seventh Army. From his position, he (upon orders) contacted 320th formations in the air by radio and passed on to them coordinates of higher priority objectives which were to be immediately bombed instead of the briefed targets.

      During February, Officers and Enlisted Men from the Group went to the United Kingdom on leave under a new ETC plan. Besides London, many personnel got to go to Rest Camps in Paris and to the newly opened ones on the Riviera. Recreationally there were movies, Club parties, and trips to Dijon to give the ladies there (or the nurses from the 36th General Hospital) a treat.

      And congratulations were in order for Lt. Col. Woolridge who was promoted to full Colonel.

      On March 10th eighteen 320th B-26s dropped their loads through 10/10th cloud cover on the Haunenstein, Germany, supply depot, using the new Shoran radar-directed BAT bombing technique. Col. Woolridge flew with the lead crew in a specially-equipped Marauder. This was the Wing's first non-visual bombardment mission and the first such Shoran raid to be flown by medium bombers in the ETD. Recon photos later showed excellent results.

      Intensive pilot-bombardier training for old and new crewmen alike on BAT and GEE continued at Istres. The hard work was paying off... with BAT, it had become almost routine to drop bombs with lOO% accuracy, making for an "Air Medal mission" just about every time out. Some fellows got five Air Medals in eight missions. Some clusters!

      Engineering and armament personnel were being sent to various USAAF technical schools in the United Kingdom to learn the latest about everything from Pratt & Whitney engines to Bell tail turrets.

      A skeet range opened and was busy. It had been set up by the Group Gunnery Officer Capt. Woodward. A different Squadron used the range (located behind Group Operations) each week. Gunners shot three rounds: first, regulation skeet; second, a flexible round of twenty-five; finally, tracking and firing a round using shotguns mounted in a turret.

      The rest camps were going strong during March, with the seven-day deal to Cannes first choice. With Spring coming on, people were swimming there already. Nice was the favorite spot with its neon lights blazing, its modern little nightclubs with real Scotch whiskey and beautiful women dressed in soft silk and hot pianos beating out boogie-woogie. Paris was a close second with the night life being a draw. The ski camp in the French Alps was still favored by some.

      Morale leaped to new highs as replacements started rolling in and kept right on coming!

      From dawn to dusk for five days before the mid-March breakthrough of the Siegfried Line near Zweibrucken, Germany, the Group's Marauders hammered away at defensive positions. Crews often flew two missions a day. An average of nearly 90 percent of all bombs dropped (Norden or BAT hit targets.

      According to reports from the front, the Seventh Army went though the Siegfried Line right where the 320th had bombed. Every man in the Group deserved a share of credit for that accomplishment. When the Siegfried defenses were finally overrun, ground examination of the objectives revealed little actual damage to installations. Occasional direct hits had been scored on gun emplacements and pillboxes, but for the most part of fixed installations were intact. During the bombardment, the Germans did not appear to have occupied their pillboxes nor to have manned their guns, preferring to remain in trenches around them. Presumably the enemy had learned from previous experience that a concentrated air attack, coupled with a swift follow-up by armored forces, made fixed positions untenable. Still, based on prisoner of war interrogations, the air attacks had been successful in disorganizing the Siegfried defenses and had achieved almost complete demoralization of German troops in the area.

      Orders to attack targets were coming fast and furious now. The combat crews scored so many 100% missions that several won two Air Medals in one day. The flyers often stayed right on the line after landing from the morning mission because there wasn't time to return to their Squadron before the after noon mission took off.

      The ground crews worked day and night to wind up with a 9O% maintenance efficiency for the week ending March 17th.

      The 320th's attack March 22nd on the marshalling yards at Heidelberg was timed to coincide with Third Army's Rhine crossing. This Boomerang mission halted rail traffic and denied the Germans badly needed equipment and supplies. Capt. James Carraher, CO of the 442nd, was shot down over the Heilbronn marshalling yards that day: Capt. Carraher, on his second tour of duty with the Group, had been flying in Number 27 piloted by 1st Lt. Goeke.

      The pace of operations accelerated as Sixth Army pushed deeper into the Reich and called for a~ the air support it could get. Ground men worked from morning to night to put up as many B-26s as possible on missions. Veteran planes of the Squadrons--many in action since North Africa--were well covered with mission marks by this time. The ground crews and air crews were proud of the records their B-26s had chalked up.

      On March 26th Lt. Col. Larry Hayward, Deputy Group Commander, flew his 100th Marauder mission...all with the 320th in two combat tours.

      Toward the end of the month the weather warmed. Spring seemed "just around the corner", the birds were chirping, the snow was "parti" and softball made its first appearance of 1945 in Squadron areas.

      March, 1945, went down in Group History as the most active and successful operational month ever for the 320th. The Boomerangs flew a record number of sorties and dropped a record tonnage of bombs. They very likely dropped more bombs in that one month than any medium group in the ETC (if not the World) had ever dropped during a similar period. A total of forty-five missions were flown and 976 sorties were sent out. Thanks to the BAT equipment and slowly improving flying weather, the Group had eighteen operational days in March.

      To get closer to targets, the Group was ordered to move again. On April 1st the Ground Echelon drove fifty miles eastward in convoy to Dole/Tavaux airdrome. The aircrew took off from Dijon, flew a mission, then landed at their new base. [Go to the next base: Dole, France]

-Text authored by Victor C. Tannehill, Saga of the 320th


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