B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group

 

  Never Give Up On A Wounded Comrade
by Ben West, 443rd Bomb Squadron

 

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20 July, 1944
Sardinia's Southern Tip Near Cagliari

 

Messerschmitt Attack

 

In our outfit, crewmembers were interchangeable and not too often did one fly with the same individuals. The exception being the same pilot and bombardier were together because of the coordination needed between them on the bomb run.

I remember Buelow, my bombardier, while Earl Nelson was my top turret gunner, the latter flying with me for the first time. Earl at that time had completed many more missions than I. Before the day was up there would be ample reason never to forget Earl.

As we hoisted ourselves into those B-26 bombers, each of us no doubt wondered how “fate” or the “enemy” or perhaps even “friendlies” might ruin our day. This was my 7th mission. To a man they all hoped the pilot would not screw-up this day; everyone would drink to that (me too). They all knew where my “ass” leadeth, theirs were bound to follow!

It seemed from the start of my missions I was going to experience my share of threatening incidents. None was more unexpected and menacing than that against Piacenza bridge on July 20th. I was flying lead back up off the left wing of the formation lead aircraft. Whenever flying in close formation as was our protective procedure over enemy territory, a pilot’s eyes must be continuously focused on the lead ship and his right hand adjusting the throttle controls to keep his plane in proper relationship with the lead plane, while his left hand adjusts the controls for upward or downward movements and for turns all again as a consequence of changes in positions of the lead aircraft.

We had crossed over Italy’s coastal mountains and proceeded well into the Poe Valley. Then it happened. There was a vibration of our plane. I glanced forward. Without any of us previously seeing it, a German fighter, a ME 109, dove out of a higher cloud level toward me from 11 o’clock high, its wings flashing fire as it’s machine guns sent their deadly projectiles at us. I believe he initially lined up to knock out the lead ship, but miscalculated slightly, causing us to become his primary target. My ship’s vibrations were the result of his armor piercing bullets coming into and passing through our aircraft. Three projectiles penetrated the plane’s side just behind me while two were directly over my head and all exited the aircraft on the right side near the tail gunner’s position.

The enemy fighter, in a frozen moment in time, in my mind, is still there. The pilot’s face with his leather helmet and goggles looked at me, and I at him, as he flashed by some 200 feet outboard of my left wing tip. In a millisecond he was gone with our fighter escort in hot pursuit. Never again was my enemy closer or as recognizable.(Continued)


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