The B-24 was built for one purpose and that was to drop bombs on the enemy. It had a Spartan interior and lacked the creature comforts which we associate with planes today. If you were the pilot, copilot, or radio operator you had a seat and the only ones with seat belts were the pilot and copilot. The gunners sat in their turrets while in battle position and if the radio operator was at his waist gun, the navigator had a chance to sit down. The plane had a smell all its own. It was a combination of oil, gas, and stale urine. The oxygen mask solved that problem. At bombing altitude you could freeze solid when the temperature ranged from minus 40 to minus 60 degrees if your heated suit and gloves failed. There were no steps into the plane. You had to pull yourself up through one of the hatches in the bottom of the plane. You usually placed your equipment bag in the opening before you pulled yourself up.
And last but not least, we couldn't walk upright in all sections of the plane. To get to the nose (navigator, bombardier, and gunner positions) we had to get down on hands and knees and crawl there. Most of the time the navigator stayed on the flight deck because there wasn't much room there when the bombardier occupied his duty position.
The bomber had the Davis wing and it worked great, but when they added turret gun positions and other necessary changes which increased its gross weight it changed its operating capabilities. We had to settle for a ceiling of around 26,000 feet and when one engine was out the pilot had to work to keep us at altitude and when the second one went, it was a time to get down or get out
The bomber took us to the targets, but didn't always bring us back to our airfield. We left one on Vis Island and I guess that was used for parts.
We landed at Vis Island on 11 Dec 1944 after a bombing mission to a target in Vienna. (see 11 Dec 1944 story, Rough Mission). As soon as the plane stopped rolling, we abandoned it as if it was about to explode. That caused panic because others were trying to get in. In short order the plane was moved out of the way.
This was our safe area. It was off the coast of Yugoslavia, in the Dalmatian Group. The mainland was occupied by the Germans in the latter part of 1944, but the Partisans controlled the Island. There was a 3500 foot crash strip. It was constructed of interlocking steel matting. There were about 10 or so Americans there. They were under a Captain Kader and he had a Sgt Zak as his noncom. Their purpose was to look after the crews; dead, injured, or healthy who sought refuge there. You had to cross the Adriatic Sea to get back to your home base in southern Italy if the target was in SE Europe. If the plane was damaged, the pilot had to assess the situation, and if there was the possibility of going down in the sea, you would head for Vis Island. Once there you had the choice of landing, if possible, or bailing out over the island or within sight of it. There were also some British troops there. Once there they tried to get you back to Italy as soon as possible.
That evening the Sergeant took some of us into a farmhouse they called home. We sat in the kitchen and the wine flowed freely. There was more wine than water there because their water supply had to be collected from rain water. The group was composed of a couple of the American cadre, some of our crew, and the partisans. Included was a woman with two bandoleers of ammo, complete with grenades. Zak cautioned me about getting friendly with the woman. He said she would disappear if she became friendly with me. The Partisans didn't like intermingling and would punish her.
The following day Zak asked me if I would like some eggs for breakfast. I don't believe I had eaten a fresh egg since I left the ship that had brought me to Italy, so my answer was "Yes". He had a gasoline operated squad stove and he proceeded to fry me a dozen eggs, which went down without any problem. Zak had broken his wrist watch, so I gave him my government wrist watch, which I knew I could replace upon return. That was a mistaken thought and the only way I was to get it replaced was to get scheduled as a navigator and that was how I got a watch again.
We were moved to a coastal town. There we heard about some of the other happenings the day we arrived. In one instance a P-51 pilot had the throttle linkage locked, so he couldn't maintain altitude. He found the Island, landed half way down the strip, continued off the strip, thru a vineyard, hit a British truck, killing the driver and stopped short of going into the reservoir. I never saw a guy suffer so much. He continually blamed himself for the death. That night he kept us awake by his screams brought on by nightmares.
The weather had been bad for a couple of days and it became apparent that there were no missions due to the lack of activity. The ground crew, from Italy, worked to salvage bombers and one was ready for us to fly. A day or so later the weather cleared and we were alerted for departure, so we returned to the airstrip. The plane we were to use, had an ugly skull and cross-bones on the side and I wondered if it was an omen. There had been a mission that day and it was apparent it was rough. Someone said, "Look out, here comes one" and with that a bomber touched down about half way down the strip. The pilot locked the brakes, the left gear collapsed, in front of us, the left prop came off, and the plane skidded sideways off the runway, into a vineyard. We hurried to get the crew out (did you ever try to run thru a vineyard) after a lot of effort and a detour around, we arrived as the pale crew exited.
At that time someone yelled that there was a plane coming in again. Well, they never lined up with the airstrip, but went into a field with boulders as big as a one-story house. Another one came in downwind and ran off the runway on the far end. At this point the runway was blocked. A truck and other people arrived and they actually started to cut the bombers, with axes, so they could push the pieces clear of the strip. I cleared out, because I didn't know where the next one would hit. I will never forget that day.
A day or so later we cleared the air strip and started across the Adriatic at a lower than usual altitude. We had been in the air for some time when I looked out of my observation window and noticed a bright colored object on the water. I asked the pilot what the altitude was and then I realized it must have been an emergency raft. About that time I noticed a rescue craft and I told the pilot to turn back on course to spot the object again. We never spotted the raft, but the rescue craft might have located it. We finally landed at our home base six days after our mission.
The island is located 17 nautical miles west of Naples, Italy, in the bay of Naples. . Its highest elevation is 1932 feet. Boats dock inside the breakwater called Grande Marina. The island has been occupied since the beginning of time and has been in the possession of the Greeks, Romans, French, Normans, English, and the Italians. It is composed of two villages, Capri (950 acres) and Ana Capri (1500 acres).
Our bomber crew had completed 6 or 8 combat missions when we were told we were a jinxed crew and we would have to be better than the rest or we weren't going to make it. We would get shot-up and be late returning, as long as 6 days one time (Vis Island). Can you imagine anyone telling someone today that they were jinxed. The ACLU would be dragging you to court for saying it. I guess in those days everyone was a realist and today they are dreamers. Anyway, one of our officers decided to send us to Rest Camp to give us a new start.
Our first class ticket placed us in our reserved seating for the move across Italy to the Port of Naples. That happened to be the back of a canvas covered 6X6 army truck. It was cold, but the farther west we went, the farther we were from our Bomb Group and combat. We spent the night in Naples and my impression was that it was a dirty city. Maybe it was that way because of the war.
The next morning we boarded a small passenger ferry boat for the 19 1/2 mile trip to Capri. It was an uneventful trip, but a long one. Upon arrival we were assigned to various high class hotels which had been taken over by the US Army. I was assigned to the Morganno and it was first class.
For seven days we were free of the war. A bomber would fly over once in a while to buzz the troops and jar us back into the real world. We met crews from other Bomb Groups and did some hanger flying. The guys from the only B-17 Group in Italy would pat us on the back and tell us how they liked to follow us over the target because their possibility of getting a hit was reduced. The B-24 service ceiling, with bomb load, turned out to be around 26,000 feet and the B-17 around 35,000 feet. As a result the anti-aircraft gunners aimed at the lower groups while the higher ones came in using our cover so to speak.
There was many places of interest for a tourist to see, but we were in our early, early, twenties and ancient ruins, etc wasn't our cup of tea. We did get much needed rest by not having to be awakened in the early hours for a combat mission. We divorced ourselves from unwanted mental anxieties, such as: Do you think the mission today will be one of the hot spots? What are our chances today? Will we clear the ground OK? How is the weather ahead? Will we run into uncharted flak? Will our fighters meet us as scheduled? Will they clear the sky of enemy fighters? Will the target be cloud covered so we can drop by radar thereby cutting flak losses? If I get hit, will it be a slow death? Is today the day we take the big hit? Will I get my chute on in time? If the plane blows will I survive? Will I get free of the plane as it falls? Will the chute open? Will I be captured as I land? Will my captors be the good guys or the bad guys? If the plane is crippled will we be able to bring it home or can we land in a safe area? Once on the ground in enemy territory what will be our escape chances?
We ate good meals, even fresh eggs for breakfast and the food was great. The waiters would slip us extra eggs if our appetite dictated. When the bar was closed, in the day time, we had a case of beer delivered to the patio. We enjoyed the beer on the sun drenched patio in the company of volunteer hostesses. We talked and talked, after all we had a seven day reprieve on our possible death sentence. One of the hostesses was a girl named Adrianna and she was a beauty by anyone standards, but no one could turn on her switch. I'm sure she was the nightly companion of one of the officers stationed there.
This picture was taken on the Patio of the Morgano Hotel when I was on Capri. The Italian girls were hostesses. The officer in the middle I do not recall, but the officer on the left is Lt Walter Golba, who was a bombardier in the 745th at that time (later transferred to the 746th). I am the hotshot on the right.
One of the girls was an American by birth. She lived in Ana Capri which was located on the top of the island. She lived there with her sister and mother. Their father worked for the New York City Port and claimed they had been stranded there when the war started. Anyway, she took me to their villa. We ascended by bus on a winding road that didn't seem to have any type of good protection to keep you from going into the sea if you lost control. In fact she told me about a bus full of Italian soldiers who did just that. At their villa I met mom, had cookies and tea and was escorted back to Capri.
There was a US Army captain in charge of the hotel and he was from Milwaukee as was our pilot. They hit it off and that made it better for us. We sat at his table for the evening meals and at the table was usually Count Bojanno and Countess Toy. The count had written a book called, "In The Wake of the Goosestep" and as a result had to go in hiding until the allies came. The countess was a beautiful tall red-head who lived in a villa which had 500 plus steps to the beach and I know not one of the officers who wouldn't have given his eye teeth to be able to crawl those steps if he knew she would be waiting at the top.
Time went fast and we visited some of the shops. Most of us bought the little "Bell of Saint Michele". It was rumored to keep the bearer from harm and we thought we could put it to good use. Who knows? Maybe it worked. We did visit one of the musical bars as the guest of our radio operator. He had heard a catchy tune there, located the song writer and thought it would go over big in the States.
The ferry would arrive once a day and then leave until the next day. Our pilot had arranged with the hotel captain to forget to put us on the departure list for a day or two and that way we could get a couple of extra days. It worked, but the time had arrived to leave. The pilot rounded up the officers, the night before departure, and told them to meet us at the dock in the morning.
The ferry was on time and as it departed the pilot realized the other two officers weren't on board. He flagged an Italian fisherman to come alongside. The pilot placed his foot over the rail and said he was going ashore. As he dropped into the boat I told him he hadn't gone on a mission without me and this wouldn't be the exception. With that I went over the rail to join him in the boat. We found the other two officers lying in bed enjoying life. We would have to wait until the next day to catch the ferry. The pilot contacted his captain friend and we had lodging for the night. We had a problem as our luggage with our class A uniforms was on the way to Naples. The hotel captain made an exception and we enjoyed the formal dinner that evening at his table wearing our OD sweaters.
We got back to the Squadron expecting a slap on the wrist for being several days late, but it was overlooked and the "Jinxed Crew" was back flying combat missions as scheduled.
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