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CHAPTER EIGHT - My Landing at Anzio

The AF History does not cover our part in the Anzio Beachhead operations, which were the most concentrated and intense of any during the war. The Germans had been led to believe a landing would be made north of Rome. The location of the assault on Anzio beaches surprised them and the invasion was a tremendous success. We provided air cover from first light on D-Day. Penetration inland was rapid. We never knew why, but the Allied invading force pulled back to consolidate its positions into such a small perimeter that the Germans, reacting quickly, were able to establish defenses that placed the entire beachhead within artillery range.

Our ground forces suffered heavy losses for a long time before the breakout came. Our Squadron and all others available were called on for a max effort. Every available pilot flew two or three bombing and strafing sorties a day.

It must have been the second or third day; we clobbered a target in front of the beachhead. My red engine overheat warning light came on, which told me I wouldn't have flying time left for the overwater trip back to Cercola. There was an L-2 (piper cub) strip on Anzio, which had been designated an emergency strip for us, so my mind was not too bothered until I realized how short it was. It was like making an emergency landing in a weed field. I put it down short because the ground appeared level and walked the brakes, tail high, to a stop. It was then I noticed a steep gully ahead and with a fire burning in it. When I taxied back to where an L-2 was parked the guys said they didn't expect me to make it because the Spitfire just ahead of me had gone into the gully.

There wasn't time to chat -- incoming artillery drove us into dugouts, and started me thinking about ways and means of getting out of there. I borrowed a pair of pliers and a screwdriver from an L-2 mechanic and ran out to check for coolant leaks. Mc and Brandt had shown me a packing cap that sometimes leaked, so I opened the inspection flap and tightened it a turn or two. The guys started hollering so I scooted back to the dugout while another artillery barrage splattered all over the place. The L-2 was riddled, but "Habeaus Corpus II" looked intact. I ran out again, and climbed up on top of the engine to the nose, opened the coolant filler port and cap, happily to see that though not full there was still a lot of fluid in the tank. There were no signs of leaks that I could find so I tossed the tools back to the guys (they were smart enough to stay in the dugout), jumped in the cockpit and cranked that sucker up. I did a fast taxi beyond the runway and as far as I dared into the taller grass and spun her around. Holding the brakes (like a McCormick run-up in the revetment) until the engine wound up to full RPM and let go. I didn't even need to pop the boost. The bird got light on its wheel with runway to spare so take off was no sweat.

The yellow coolant caution light went on so I throttled back and did a slow climb out to sea and home. There was a Group PR type, whose name I won't mention, who decided to tell the world that I was a hero for being the first to make a successful emergency landing on Anzio, etc. My fame lasted until the return mail came in from Wilmington, N. C., enclosing a hometown newspaper clipping with headlines, "Yankee Pilot is first, etc." I thanked our PR man for having me ostracized and disowned by my own hometown. I must have made him mad because the world never heard of my exploits again.

One day we dive bombed a set of coordinates on the map which was the corner of a heavily wooded area 20 or 25 miles inland from our Anzio bombline. Heavy explosions resulted and a big cloud of black smoke billowed up. On our pull up we received a lot of light flak (20 to 60 MM). As we joined up I located the general area of the source and noticed a couple of large tents with red cross hospital markings. I wasn't really analyzing, just making mental notes from force of habit, when a tank kicking up a lot of dust drove right into the hospital. That and all the tracks around the tents made it a dead giveaway.

Bob Wynne and Group Ops cleared a mission for us and pretty soon we were headed back up there to bomb the only hospital target I ever had. Our guys loaded us up with 500 lb demos with 20 lb frag racks strapped on them. Under the wings we had a mix of larger frag bombs and 100 lb phosphorus. With that load we obviously wanted to blow'em up, cut'em up, and then burn'em up. Our Kittyhawks staggered off with this heavy load and, according to plan, went in higher than usual to release a little higher than usual to get more dispersal of the bomb pattern. I set up the peel off so that as we pulled our noses through to the target we would be raking the flak batteries with gunfire. Men were running in all directions as my nose passed through the target and I released all bombs. Four large hospital tents comprised that tank repair shop. Every ship's bombs hit in the compound. There were fires, black and white smoke, and explosions in addition to our bomb blasts. All this was visible from some distance as we joined up and headed home.

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