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The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, plunged America into World War II. Thousands of volunteers and draftees soon found themselves in the Army Air Force. Rushed through Basic, moved on quickly through Advanced training, by the Spring of '42 they were ready to be molded into effective fighting teams.

      The 320th Bombardment Group (Medium) was activated June 23, 1942, at MacDill Army Air Base, Tampa, Florida, made up of the 441st, 442nd, 443rd, and 444th Bomb Squadrons. First Group Commander was Major John F. Batjer

      To build the 320th to a strength of 1,200 men, personnel arrived from all corners of the Air Force: many from the 17th and 355th Bomb Groups at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. Cadre and instructors came from the 21st Bomb Group.

      B-26 Martin Marauders were assigned and the 320th began First Phase Operational Training. It was given just twelve weeks to become combat-ready.

      The revolutionary new Marauder, rushed into pre-war production, was a most advanced airplane. Its sleek aerodynamic shape, short wings, and big Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engines gave it great speed... but made it "hot" to handle. Critics called it "The Flying Prostitute" (no visible means of support) and the "Wingless Wonder".

      Many technical and mechanical problems cropped up with the B-26... the electrically-operated propellers failed. Hydraulic systems sprung leaks... so did gas tanks. Engine troubles were experienced, particularly on takeoff. As a result crashes--some fatal--occurred. They would coin the phrase "one a day in Tampa Bay"...an ironic reference to the many Marauders that plunged into the water off MacDill.

      Lt. Col. John A. Hilger, who had been second-in command to General Doolittle on the Tokyo Raid, came to the 320th August 1st as Commanding Officer. When their first six weeks of OTU was completed mid-month, the Group moved to Drane Field, Lakeland, for their six-week Second Phase.

      Quartered in tarpaper barracks that sizzled under the sun, the men continued field training into September. Bombs were loaded and practice missions were flown every day. Mid-month it was announced at Squadron meetings that OTU was finished and that the Group would proceed overseas. On the 19th the Flight Echelon took off from Lakeland for Fort Wayne, Indiana, their aerial Port of Embarkation. Three days later the Ground Echelon pulled out by train for Camp Kilmer, Fort Dix, New Jersey, their POE. None of the men or their families or sweethearts had any idea where they were headed.

      The Flight Echelon was to be at Baer Field, Fort Wayne, only long enough to take delivery of modified B-26s from Martin's Omaha factory. Then, so they learned, they were to follow the 319th Bomb Group staging through Baer along the North Atlantic ferry route to England. And the 17th Group was to follow them.

      To speed the departure of the 319th, checked-out Marauders intended for the 320th were given to them and the Group was held up. High-level concern was expressed over the lack of readiness of the 320th.

      Flying did go on with the few Marauders the 320th did receive. Pilots were given instrument training. Navigators studied ferrying procedures. Tail gunners learned to handle the new "twin fifties".

      In AAF parlance of the time, all three B-26 groups were "hot and had to be pushed through the pipeline", regardless of aircraft or equipment shortages or deficiencies, or lack of training. There was a war on and the Maraudermen were needed overseas as fast as they could be gotten there.

      On October 26th Col. Flint Garrison, Jr., assumed command of the 320th.

      B-26s of the 17th came in to Baer November 4th. When bulletins reporting the Allied invasion of North Africa (Operation TORCH) were flashed on the 8th, the men got a pretty good idea of where they were headed. Orders confirming the rumors arrived: both groups were to fly their Marauders across the South Atlantic ferry route to Algeria and join the 319th in action with General Doolittle's Twelfth Air Force. The 17th left, and on the 19th the 320th followed, to Morrison Field, West Palm Beach, Florida, their jumping off point.

      Meanwhile, the 320th's Ground Echelon had left Camp Kilmer September 26th for the Brooklyn Navy Yard. They boarded The Queen Mary and next morning sailed on the former British luxury liner for the United Kingdom.

      After docking at Gouroch Harbor outside Glasgow, Scotland, October 3rd, the men traveled to their temporary stations, the RAF air base at Hethel or its auxiliary Tibbenham. Here they were to wait.

      Billeted in Nissen huts, the men were kept busy throughout October attending training schools run by Eighth Air Force instructors.

      A few days after TORCH, word came that they were to ship out for Oran where they were to prepare a base for the arrival of the 320th's Flight Echelon. On the 9th the Ground Echelon left for ports on the west coast of England where they boarded transports. The ships sailed out to join in a great convoy headed south around the British Isles. Turning east, they passed through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean.

On the evening of November 21st they docked at Oran. Next morning the men marched through the city to the railroad station and were loaded on trains for Tafaraoui, a former French naval airfield south of Oran.

      Delayed while their B-26s were being prepared, flights of Group Marauders finally began leaving Morrison December 1st. Their route took them down South America through Puerto Rico, British Guinea, and Belem and Natal, Brazil. From there the B-26s jumped over water to tiny Ascension Island in the middle of the South Atlantic. Then they went on across to the African Gold Coast. Proceeding north up the coast, they stopped in Liberia, Bathurst, Gambia, and Marrakech, French Morocco. On December 27th the first Group Marauders reached Tafaraoui.[Go to the next base: Tafaraoui, Algeria]

-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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