Our War Stories
Flight to Combat End
by Chester Schmidt, Col. Ret. (779)
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,
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
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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