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Home >> The 464th in WWII >> Our War Stories >> Flight to Combat End, Page 1

Our War Stories

Flight to Combat End

by Chester Schmidt, Col. Ret. (779)

Page 1

     With my crew once again intact, we were given our orders to proceed on the 19th of January 1945 to the overseas processing center at Grenier Field near Manchester, New Hampshire.

     During our daylight flight east we lost partial electrical power which included our radio and navigational equipment. By using our maps and observing the ground, we knew generally where we were but could not find Grenier Field, so when we saw a large military runway; I circled the field while my Radio Operator fired red flares indicating that we had an emergency.

     We landed and found that field to be Westover Army Air Corps Base in Massachusetts. It took only about an hour to fix our electrical problem and then we flew up to Grenier.

     We stayed at Grenier for four days processing which included immunization shots required for overseas, making out our wills, etc. We finally got out orders for our destination which was Genoa, Italy. Via the North Atlantic route which included stops at Bermuda; the Azores Islands; Marrakech and Tunis, North Africa, and then to Genoa, Italy. We would not know the combat unit we were to be assigned to until we got to Genoa.

     We departed Grenier on the 24th of January 1945 on a night flight to give our navigator the best opportunity for celestial navigation over water. Since airborne radar only existed for bombing purposes on a few B-24s, our only means of navigation over the ocean was by celestial means. Major stations like Bermuda did have a radio range system and a radio compass system but those were for short range navigation. Our trip took 7 hours and our cruising altitude was 8,000 feet (above 10,000 feet oxygen was required).

     Everything went well until about 2 hours out of Bermuda where we encountered a heavy overcast that prevented Karl from seeing the stars for celestial navigation. Shortly thereafter, we could see lightning flashes ahead of us. With no airborne radar we could not see the thunderstorms ahead of us and could not pick our way through the worst part of the thunderstorm. We plunged right into the storm. Because it was night, the flashes of lightning were blinding so we turned on the thunderstorm lights in the cockpit. The bright lights minimize the lightning flashes.

     Then we hit severe turbulence and it was so violent that it took both Bob, my copilot, and I to control the aircraft. We were, at times, climbing and descending. Our airspeed indicator and vertical speed indicator were going crazy so all we could do was to try to keep a level attitude. I knew we had to descend to get out of the worst part of the storm so I pulled the throttles back and down we went fighting the B-24. Finally, at 2000 feet, we broke out under the storm and into the clear. During our encounter with the thunderstorm, we did not know for sure where we were. I kept the B-24 generally on the last heading Karl had given me. We had the radio compass tuned to the Bermuda station but the electrical storm made our compass needle go crazy.

     When we broke out in the clear, we saw the bright lights of Bermuda at about 10 degrees off our left nose. We were only 10 miles out and we landed at Kinsley field without further problems much to the relief of everyone on board. We had our first encounter with thunderstorm flying and we had survived.

     We spent one day at Bermuda getting our crew rest and refueling. We proceeded on to the Azores the following night. We lay over one day and then went on to Marrakech, North Africa, and then on to Tunis, North Africa and then to our destination to Genoa, Italy. We spent two days there, getting our combat unit assignment which was the 464th Bomb Wing, 779th Bomb Squadron located in the Pantanella valley in central Italy. The area contained other B-24 and B-17 units at different locations. The base had two parallel runways shared by the 464th Bomb Wing. Our housing units and facilities were located on a hill to one side the runways and the 465th facilities were located on the opposite hill.

     Upon landing at our new location on the 8th of February 1945, we were greeted by our new Operations Officer and he soon asked me if we were going to keep our boxes of K-rations (put on every plane that was sent overseas) and the way that he looked at the boxes and the way that he asked about them made me suspicious so I said that we would keep them. Our crew officers and airmen were located in different areas so I split the boxes between us. We were later glad that we kept the rations as the food there was terrible. We had Spam for breakfast, lunch and dinner fixed different ways but it was still Spam. I cannot eat it to this day.

     We were housed in tents that had floors and walls of what they called "tufa block" which was cut with a saw in mines and hauled to the site. It is a soft rock material that our house unit was made of, the roof with a canvas tent.

     The four officers had one tent in the Officers Area and the 6 airmen were in another tent in the Airmen Area. Our heater was an oxygen bottle sitting on a bomb fin and the flame was aviation fuel brought in via a copper tube (with a valve to control the fuel flow). We slept in sleeping bags on Army cots. Each tent had an Italian house boy whom we paid out of our own pockets.

     We had an Officers Club and a Mess Hall. Our booze ration consisted of one bottle of hard liquor and six bottles of beer a week, so many consumed the Italian vermouth which I dislike to this day. I will not touch Spam either.

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