- Sep 24, 2004
- Southwest Kansas
- 2007 Atomic Orange Coupe
It has been 14 years since my dad passed from this earth, but my memories always go to him during this weekend. In all the years since the war, Dad never talked much about his participation in the war, and as such, I never thought that he experienced much. But in the 1990s his bombing group started having reunions and then he began opening up about his part in the war. After one of his reunions he came home and wrote this story of one of his bombing missions. RIP Dad! You are an American hero!
Albert G. Bachman wrote:
The following story is about a single bombing mission during WW II while I was a member of the 95th Squadron--17th Bomb Group (Grandaddy (sic) of all bomb groups) of the 12th Air Force, and later the 1st Tactical Air Force of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF).
It was Aug.15, 1944 and since over 56 years have passed since it happened, it is possible that a few pertinent details might be omitted or completely forgotten by yours truly, but I will try to recount the events as they happened and as I remember them. I can only remember the name of one crew member, my pilot, Phil Eschbach.
I was a recent addition to the squadron, this being my third mission, and it was a “strike” (bombing raid) against the Praduro, Italy road bridge involving a load of 500 pound bombs aboard a B-26 Martin Maurader medium bomber. We were stationed near Villecidro, Sardinia and had to fly across the Tyrahenian Sea and up through Italy to reach our target.
I was a 19 year old Staff Sergeant, a radio operator-gunner and was in charge of a special radio set called an IFF (Identification-Friend or Foe) transmitter which emitted a signal to other stations to let them know we were a friendly aircraft. On the off chance of being caught behind enemy lines, it was my job to set off an internal charge before it fell into enemy hands. I was also entrusted with a musette bag which contained packets for each crew member containing maps of the area and a small amount of Italian money (Lira) which I was supposed to dole out to the individual crew members, if, by chance, we had to bail out after being shot down. The only trouble was that I was never told to pass the packets out or when to set off the charge, so the complete bag and its contents remained at my radio position. (More about these two objects later.) I never was instructed, even later on, on how to handle these packets.
Our crew for that mission included the pilot, Phil, a co-pilot, a bombardier-togglier (an enlisted man who dropped the bombs on command from the leading aircraft bombardier), an engineer, a photographer (extra man), a tail gunner, and myself. We usually did not fly with a photographer, but had one on this mission. I spent most of my time, especially when in danger of being attacked by enemy aircraft, manning two hand-held 50 caliber machine guns, one on each side window of the waist ports of the plane. The photographer took his position with his camera in the aft bomb bay. We never carried bombs in this compartment but two large containers which held the ammo for my waist guns were stored there and were fed through channels to the waist position. The togglier had to have the co-pilot move his seat back before he could enter his position in the nose where the bomb release switches were located. Since it was a tight squeeze getting into the nose, he would remove his chest parachute and store it behind the co-pilot’s seat. The engineer spent his time in the top turret and the tail gunner was in the tail.
We flew from Sardinia to near the target without any incident, but when we began to make the bombing run we ran into a great deal of anti-aircraft fire (flak). We had just dropped our bomb load and the pilot had banked hard to the right with the remark “Let’s get out of here” when a shell burst right below us. A piece of the shrapnel cut through the main gas line (about an inch or so in diameter) on the lower engine, it stopped almost immediately and we dropped 3000 to 4000 feet, like ”right now”. The bomb bay doors were still open and by the time the pilot had somewhat righted the plane, all of us in the back of the plane were sprayed with 100 octane aviation fuel from the break in the line and carried by the wind gushing from the bomb bay doors back through the plane. The pilot immediately went on the intercom to let us know what he was trying to do and asked me to get the photographer out of the aft bomb bay since he was without an intercom. At about the same time, I heard the bombardier tell the co-pilot to move his seat back since he was getting out of the nose. He had made a remark before the mission that he would never go down with a B-26. I looked up through the aisle toward the front just in time to see him crawl out of the nose, grab and hook on his parachute and without ever gaining his feet, he dove out through the open bomb bay doors. Before I could get around the bulk head to the aft bomb bay to get the photographer, he had seen the bombardier bail out and evidently thought we were all leaving and bailed out also. Both were taken prisoners by the Germans and spent the rest of the war as POWs. The bombardier was later court-martialed (in absentia) for disobeying the pilot and bailing out.
The pilot was having a rough time holding the B-26 in the air on the one engine (it flew like a rock) so he told the crew to lighten the ship of everything we could. I tried to lift my machine guns out of their swivel mounts but one got caught and the engineer and I had to lift on either end to cast them out. The other soon followed. Without thinking about it, flak suits and every other loose thing was thrown out, including the musette bag with the maps and money. I then went to the aft bomb bay where the IFF followed out the window without me blowing it up. Thank Goodness!! for the 100 octane gas fumes were everywhere and would have exploded with any spark. The IFF probably exploded on impact with the ground and some Italian probably got rich when he found the bag with the maps and money!!
Next on my schedule of lightening up the plane was the 50 caliber ammo which was stored in the large metal boxes attached to the fuselage of the plane itself and which were fed from the aft bomb bay to the waist section on tracks riveted to the side of the plane. Since I could not get the boxes loose, I ripped the track loose by pulling the rivets out of the side of the plane. Then I began pulling the shells out of the tract. I would pull and pull and when I let up, the shells would go back in the other direction. After doing this three or four times, I looked around the bulkhead only to find the tail gunner pulling against me. We took the escape hatchet (used to cut your way out of the plane in emergencies) and chopped everything we could out of the plane--radio sets and other equipment. By this time I had plenty of time to look out into nothing and wasn’t at all happy about the prospect of bailing out. We were still losing altitude at a rapid rate but were flying down a valley which had a fairly large river flowing through it. Finally the pilot told us that if we lost another 400 feet of altitude we were free to bail out, but that he was going to try to set it down on the river. The rest of the crew put their chutes on--luckily we had not thrown them out--and I unbuckled mine and buckled myself into the co-pilot’s seat. Just then the pilot spotted a fairly level, but short, open field dead ahead. Once again, the chutes came off and we all buckled into our seats.
When we hit the ground, one tire had blown out, and we rumbled along the field throwing dust everywhere. The plane finally came to a stop a few feet short of a fairly deep ditch. But I didn’t know about this until later, for as soon as we had touched down, I had popped open the top escape hatch, pulled myself up and out and was running down and jumping off the wing by the time the plane had stopped. I was sure the plane would explode and burn up and we would be killed because we were soaked with the gas. When I hit the ground, I kept running until I was so tired I could not run anymore and slowed down to a slow walk. I was shaking like a leaf and thought to myself, “Am I the only one like this?” I looked over to my left and my pilot had finally caught up with me and he was quivering as much, or more than I was!!
We had crash landed about eight miles on the British side of the front lines and were invited up to have tea while we waited for transportation back to our base camp in Sardinia. The other planes had returned to the base and had reported that only two chutes had come out and so we were reported as probably killed in action.
That morning, before the mission, we had been given our weekly rations (beer, candy bars, cigarettes, tooth paste, etc.) and I had dumped them on my cot. When I finally got back to my tent that night, I found in my corner of the tent (there were four of us living there) only a bare army cot. My blanket, rations, clothes, etc. were all gone. My buddies had divided up all of my belongings, having heard that I had been shot down. This was a common thing to do at that time, since the supply sergeant usually ended up with downed airmen’s personal equipment if their buddies did not get there first. Nevertheless, I was so mad that I went down to the mess hall where my tent buddies were eating and invited each of them outside for a fight. They just laughed at me and later returned my stuff.
This was not a typical day of my sixty (60) combat missions from August, 1944 to April, 1945 but some of the other’s turned out to be almost as hair raising as this one. One was where we bombed an ammo dump containing Buzz Bomb Warheads which exploded and huge chunks of concrete from their storage bunkers were blown high enough (12,000 feet) to damage some of aircraft and create a down draft strong enough to suck a couple of the damaged planes back into the inferno and destroy them.
Probably the most notable strike occurred against the town of Scheinfurt, Germany where B-17s and B-24s (heavy bombers) had previously and on many occasions, bombed it with little apparent overall damage, but with a good number of losses of their aircraft. B-26s, en masse hit the town on April 10, 1945 and completely destroyed all semblances of possible factories and with few losses. As a result our unit was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
Oh, for the life of a 19-20 year old VETERAN of WW II.