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485th Bomb Group in the 15th Air Force in Italy
485th Bomb Group
485th Bomb Group Association
485th Bomb Group
464th Bomb Group
The 464th Bomb Group also flew B-24 Liberators with the 55th Wing of the 15th Army Air Force. We in the 485th Bomb Group flew the same missions as did they, enjoyed the same results, suffered similar losses. Their site presented by Webmaster Wendy Butler, is an excellent site that will add much to your understanding of that big event, WWII. You can move directly from my site to either 464th or 485th., and back.
What do you know about the U.S. during WWII?
1. In 1939 most americans lived in .......A] Cities.... B] Small towns and Farms ...C] along the East Coast.
2. In 1939 how many farms had electricity? ...........A] 51% ...B] 74% ...C] 11%
3. In 1940 the National Unemployment rate was ... A] 5% ... B] 15% ... C] 25%
4. Hitler started WWII by attacking ........A] England ... B] France .. C] Poland
5. WWII began on ......A] 9/30/39 ... B] 12/7/41 ...C] 6/6/44
6. In 1942 the minimum age of the military draft was ......A] 20 ...... B] 19 ...... C] 18
7. WWII ended on ..........A] December 1941 ... B] May 1945 ... C] August 1945
The StoryTeller's Stories
Reviews and excerpts
Beyond the stories
The Bottom Line
I never knew how our fighter escort was assigned, but usually we were joined by a bunch of P-51s somewhere near the head of the Adriatic. That was welcome, because mission briefing almost always mentioned a Luftwaffe base near Trieste. These fighters were based somewhere further north in Italy, above the spur, so we saw them only in the air. We knew nothing about them, except that we felt reassured when they were at hand. Knowing that for some five minutes over the target approach we must fly straight and level while the bombsight did its thing, just the thought of enemy fighters is pretty nasty.
We didn’t know these were some of the Tuskegee Airmen, black men striving to prove their ability as a race. Heck we had never heard about this whole experiment, but we would not have cared who or what they were, as long as they were ours, and they were there with us at a time of trial.
There were other Groups of P-51s, but we only saw them at a distance. These guys had brightly painted red empennage[tail], and they flew with us. One brave fellow one day actually flew right through a barrage, passing us about 40 feet beyond our wingtips, doing slow rolls as he went by. It was an awful barrage, too. I remember thinking “If he can do that, I guess I can also sit here and take it”. Somebody said “It only hurts for a little while”.
However, the knowledge that we must only endure FLAK, that there would be no Messerschmidts or Folke-Wolfs to bother us, endeared these escort pilots to us.
In these later years, I have met a few of them, and see one often. . .
FLAK is an acronym for some German words I cannot remember, and never could say properly. But 88mm FLAK is ugly stuff. During the winter and spring of 1944-5, we in the 15th Air Force were flying north from Southern Italy to targets in northern Italy, Austria, Germany, and Hungary. On the ground, the defense forces were firing the 88mm cannon that was so versatile, so effective, and so nasty. It shoots projectile a bit less than 31/2 inches in diameter. It is made of steel, and loaded full of high explosive. The inside surface of this container was deeply scored so that it would break up into small fragments, which became tiny projectiles themselves. Each burst flung hundreds of these little devils in all directions. Flying through a barrage, we could hear a veritable hailstorm of fragments falling on us from above. They were they were the result of near misses. The shells had flown right on past us before bursting. The nearest miss I experienced burst just 3 feet below our left aileron, and it put nearly 300 holes in our plane, from nose to tail. This was the notorious “Harms Way” into which so many of us flew regularly.
( As Patton and Bradley pushed forward, the German perimeter became smaller and smaller. But they just pulled their FLAK batteries back too. They in turn became closer to gether, batteries grew exponentially. Years later I learned some of those damn things could fire 6 or 8 rounds a minute. Had we been able to pave over that stuff we might have hauled those bombs in trucks.)
The hull of the airplane was aluminum sheet metal; thin, easily pierced, easily patched. The two pilots were sitting on ¼ inch armor plate. More armor plate ran up one side, arched overhead, and back down the other side. Another sheet covered the back. We were sitting in a shallow cave, protected except from the front. Oh well, nothing’s perfect. I guess they figured that unless the pilots survived, the whole plane would be lost. Of course, all ten aboard were issued FLAK vests. They were in two parts; a front and a back. Quick-release snaps fastened the two together on the shoulders. They were made of either heavy denim, or light canvas. Pieces of armor plate, some 2” x 2”, were sewn into pockets as close together as possible. When fragments struck the vest, they tore the denim, which could be patched and re-sewn. It was not lost on the occupant how much tougher the vest was than his own skin. They were heavy to wear, but had a good reputation. The two waist gunners, aka engineer and radioman, went through the barrage standing at a swivel gun mounted in the open window. Ribald jokes about the danger to their un- protected “nether parts” were standard. Truly, it was scary stuff.
But I had a special problem. My short legs barely reached the rudder pedals. I really needed a cushion behind me. There was not always a cushion at hand. Large pilots had a disinterest in cushions. They were thrown aside, and sometimes disappeared. One long flight with me so handicapped convinced my first Pilot that something must be done. At the supply room they solved the problem, or at least replaced it with another. They issued me a backpack parachute, which also served as a very thick cushion. It was mine to wear, and to keep, store between missions, and bring to the plane. But it was about twice the thickness of the cushions. The result was I was crowded out of my cave. Now there were ribald jokes about the danger to my “forward parts”. Nothing, as I said, is perfect. But it all seems to have been good enough, because here I am, totally unscathed. [I never heard anyone described as “scathed”]
Flying that pig of an aircraft in formation with 27 others was fatiguing. We relieved one another every 15 minutes, but after six hours each of us was pretty much done in. But for me the worst part was the bomb run; about 5 minutes long. The run began as we reached the I P, the initial point. Once our leader found the IP, he knew the course to take to the target. For that distance, about 20 miles, we all had to fly straight and level so the bombsight could work its magic. The lead ship was being controlled by that bombsight; our job was to fly as close together as we could. Rather, that was skipper’s job. Mine was to watch the lead ship carefully. When I saw his bombs dropping, I had a button to push, releasing our load. As we left the IP another Group was over the target, still another was about halfway there. Staring ahead as I was, I couldn’t miss seeing what those gunners were doing to those poor guys in the barrage. And again, as the next Group reached the target, it only confirmed what I’d seen before. In five minutes, that’s where we will be. Oh Boy! Of course, throughout those 5 minutes, I kept my feet on the rudder pedals, and one hand on the wheel, just in case Skipper caught one.
The moment our bombs were clear, the lead plane began “evasive action”. A tight bank right or left, then back the other way, wheeling around to make us all into a more elusive target. Although I never saw a German fighter pointed at us, and we had a wonderfully faithful escort, there was still a chance of fighter attack, so tight formation was worth the effort. One day, when we were in the number 5 position, a shell burst just close enough below our left wing to roll the plane more tightly to the right. Unfortunately, the number 6 plane, opposite us caught one under his right wing. Glen climbed, Max dove, and we missed each other by mere feet. Finally, we left the target area and headed home.
Best Duty of WWII
I have written of my most unpleasant occasions of the War. But in May of '45 I had a great time on a great duty. Flying with the 485th, we returned on April 25th to find that our Group had flown its last mission. For the 15th AAF the strategic air war in Europe was over. Those of us with 15 missions or more were invited to volunteer to join a cadre to return to the States and train as lead crews in a Group of B-29s'
I had learned not to volunteer for anything, so I was among a number who were sent to the 465th Bomb Group, 780th Squadron at Cerignola. Our status there was "attached-unassigned". We had no duties. Soon we were thoroughly bored. You can only play so much cribbage and checkers.
A day or so later, as I walked past the Officer's Club the Squadron C O came out. I was the first person he saw, and he called me to him. He said "Wilder. I have a job for you." It seems they were planning a V E Day Party. They had booze coming in, a Master Sergeant, with ulcers, who was a teetotaler, to run the bar, but no ice ! He appointed me Ice Officer of the 780th Squadron. He assigned to me two Sergeants and a 6x6 truck. He made out passes for all three of us, good anywhere in Southern Italy (south of Rome), and access to any motor pool fuel dump.
Everyone could see that the War was ending. It was planned that when the announcement came, a General would come up from Wing, make a speech for posterity, and throw open the camp for the Party. The Major said, "do what you want, but when he's finished, I want ice in the Club".
None of us had any notion that there was any ice in all of Italy. But you don't argue with a Major at a time like that. We had no road maps or yellow pages. We had no connections, no network. We just started cruising. Next day, a miracle. 5 miles from camp there was an engineering detachment that had been maintaining the roads. They had a really big U S Navy ice machine. The kind that are found on carrier and cruisers. They had never used it. Had never had a customer. I explained it all to the Lieutenant in command. All he said was "I want to come to the party". Nobody had given me a job description for my duties, so I just assumed I had the authority to invite my source.
Now we had a truck, fuel, and passes, and our mission was assured. So we went swimming in the Adriatic at Barletta. We drove over to Naples, and down to Taranto. Being generous souls, we picked up GIs and Officers who needed transportation. Being generous souls, with very little persuasion, they shared with us such things as real Scotch whiskey, wine and other goodies. We had a grand time for over a week. And it was all legal.
However we could see from the Intelligence bulletins that the big day was at hand, so we reduced our radius of exploration. We were on hand when the General came by. After his speech, we took off for the ice. They were waiting for us. We backed our truck up to the machine, and they loaded 3 layers of 50# blocks of ice, over which they poured crushed ice to fill the truck.
Arrived at the O club, I reported to the Major and asked where he wanted the ice. I guess he expected me to deliver a 10# bag, or something, because he told me to “ just put it back of the bar”. When I told him it wouldn't fit there, he came out to see what we had. He expressed his approval in colorful language, and then told the driver to go down to the E M Club, unload half, and bring the rest back
"Wilder, come with me. Give me your ration card" At the bar he called the Sgt over and tore up my ration card. I was wondering what you had to do to please this guy when he said, "Give the Lt. a drink whenever he asks.” Well now! Nothing wrong with that!
The party went on for a couple of days. The word got around that I had supplied the ice. My list of friends soared. Then some idiot mentioned that I had the key to the bar, and things got really crowded.
At last most had worn out, passed out, or whatever. But I had a Major making up to me because I could still order drinks. I don't know what he did when I caved in. But it was fun, and the shooting had stopped. And nobody asked me for my ration card again.
Now, Turn back to the opening paragraph of this story. We were asked to volunteer for duty in B-29s. The offer was baited with a visit to our homes for 30 days, before reassignment to more combat. Suspicious, and following my own principles, I declined. The result was that I frittered my time away in sunny Southern Italy and did not get home until the others had returned to duty. But by that time events in the Pacific War had made the need for more Pilots go away. I went home to stay in June. Some of them had to wait several more months.