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They called El Bathan "The Dust Bowl." The men pitched their tents and--despite the usual hot dry wind--continued operations. On August 13th a second large-scale raid was carried out against Rome. The Group sent a formation to bomb the Littono marshalling yards. Sicily fell the 17th. The Maraudermen went on paving the way for the invasion of Italy.

      B-26s of the 320th and 319th dealt a smashing blow to the rail yards at Villa Literno, Italy, August 21st, but the Group paid the price. As their Marauders began their bomb run, some seventy-five Messerschmitts pounced on them and downed four ships of the 441st Squadron. Twenty-five of the attacking Me-109s were claimed by 320th gunners.

      "Mission whiskey" after interrogation helped keyed-up crewmen unwind and get some sleep after rough days like this...but it didn't help them forget that the number of missions required for rotation home had been upped from thirty to forty.

      On August 22nd Salerno marshalling yards were the target for a combined 319th and 320th formation. On approach some sixty Germans dove on the B-26s. A running fire fight developed as the bombers pressed on. Despite heavy flak over the yards the Marauders completed a successful run. The two groups of B-26s claimed 26 enemy fighters shot down. One 320th Marauder was lost. During August, 1943, the 320th encountered the most enemy fighter opposition it was to experience in World War II.

      At the end of August the 2686th Wing was redesigned the 42nd Medium Bombardment Wing. General Webster, with General Doolittle, paid the Group a visit and both flew on missions.

      The British Eighth Army under General Montgomery landed on the Italian "toe" September 3rd. In a series of frag-and-demo attacks the 5th and 6th against enemy airfields in the Naples-Foggia area, the Group destroyed many planes on the ground. Italy surrendered on the 8th.

      The morning of September 9th Fifth Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark, went ashore at Salerno just south of Naples. The Germans were not surprised. They brought up strong Panzer units to push the Americans back into the sea. For the next six days Group Marauders flew many missions over Salerno in close support of the hard pressed GIs. Their bombing was instrumental in helping to secure the beachhead.

      During the rest of September the Maraudermen bombed bridges across the Volturno River north of Naples to hamper the Germans who were now withdrawing as the Allied armies pushed up from the south. Lt. Col. Gregory, with the Group since its beginning, took command of the 320th on the 25th.

Naples fell October 1st. Now the entire lower "boot" of Italy was in Allied hands. The dust storms at El Bathan gave way to rain storms...and the camp and field turned into quagmire. The men bailed out their tents and dug out their Marauders. Flying from the muddy field became impossible so the Group moved its planes--but not its men--to the hard surfaced runway at Djedeida six miles away.

      Many missions had to be scrubbed during October because of the continuing bad weather. The few that could be flown were aimed at cutting off the Germans retreating behind Salerno. Lt. Col. Eugene B. Fletcher became CO of the 320th on the 25th. Replacement crews arrived from the States and the first of the Group's original airmen got to go home. The Allies were pressing on towards Rome.

      By late October the front had advanced to the point where the 42nd Wing found itself almost out of range of targets. Its three B-26 groups were ordered to move to bases on Sardinia. The 320th's Ground Echelon packed up and drove trucks to Bizerte Harbor where they and their equipment were loaded onto LSTs for the crossing to Sardinia. For the time being the Group's Marauders continued operating from Djedeida. [Go to the next base: Decimomannu, Sardinia]

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


[Mac Dill/Drane, Florida][Tafaraoui, Algeria][Montesquieu, Algeria][Massicault, Tunisia][El Bathan/Djedeida, Tunisia][Decimomannu, Sardinia][Alto, Corsica][Dijon, France][Dole, France][Germany]

 

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