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