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