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
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
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
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
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
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
Billeted in Nissen huts, the men were kept
busy throughout October attending training schools run by Eighth Air Force
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
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]
authored by Victor C. Tannehill, Saga of the 320th