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CHAPTER TEN - Anzio Breakout

We had to try to keep alert at all times. Setting up for a bomb run, most of the time we would echelon right and peel off left. Once, as I rolled over an 88 burst popped off at my exact altitude but about a quarter of a mile away. We talked about it when we got home and decided to vary our altitudes. Next day I came in higher, rolled out left and whammo, the burst was right under my nose -- low, and there was no damage, but close enough to make an impression on me as I popped through the black smoke. It couldn't have been an accident. Next mission, according to plan, I came in faster descending from 11,000 to around 8500 feet. We did our echelon right. I took an extra wing-down look to the left as usual and, according to plan, peeled off right instead of left as I yelled, "Tallyho." That proved our theory. The wiseacre on the ground that set that 88 fuse knew his business. The burst with my name on it went off exactly on altitude but to the left where I would have been if we had not peeled off to the right instead of left. The only habit we had after that was to not do the same thing twice and to cut out that British tallyho crap to announce our lead off roll. Everyone could see, so the radio announcement to the enemy was not necessary. We varied our airspeed, altitude, direction of echelon and roll, angle of attack and angle of approach.

Still, the job seemed to be getting tougher all the time. We brought back so many shot up flak damaged airplanes that for awhile our repair depot set up business right on our base at Cercola. They scoured the African deserts and brought in P-40's that had bellied in there. They did a good job, but we wished they would bring us some of the new P-47's or P-51's we kept hearing about being in Algiers.

The situation was so bad at one point that we had only 13 aircraft in the Squadron; and nobody wanted to fly #13 because it "flew crooked". As Ops Officer it seemed like my duty to fly #13. Sure enough, it flew crooked. On a bomb run, it took almost full rudder trim and a strong leg to get that needle and ball centered after airspeed passed 225 mph. Our most accurate bombing was done at speeds between 250 and 300 mph at release. If the needle and ball were not centered at the point of release, the bombs would go off in all directions. Mc called in one of our sheet metal men and he made us a fair sized aluminum trim strip and riveted it to the trailing edge of the rudder. After a couple test hops and manual adjustments (bending) of our device we managed to fix it so I could handle the bird safely at bomb release speeds without breaking my leg. I began to appreciate the old crate. It had a good engine. After bomb release I could pull up, firewall the throttle, relax on the rudders and she would climb majestically with her nose pointed 15 or 20 degrees off track. I flew that thing a couple of dozen missions and never got a flak or bullet hole. Wish I could remember what happened to it.

The motor transport (MT) claims as reflected in the last issue of our Squadron newspaper, "Hell's Belles Tells," are greatly understated. We shot up more than 500 MT in one day alone -- the day of the Anzio breakout.

Shortly after dawn that morning I had an 8 ship mission to dive bomb a strong point ahead of our troops. On the pull up I looked south and there on a road winding around the base of a mountain was a conglomeration of tanks, vehicles of all kinds, and troops on foot. I asked the second flight to cover while our lead four ships made a strafing pass. There was pandemonium. It was obvious that an attempted retreat during the night was bogged down.

I pulled up and told the second flight to give'em hell; then called Control and told them to vector other fighters over because it looked like a rout of 3000 to 5000 vehicles. We made a couple of extra passes, fires were burning up and down the line for several miles, and there was no more return fire. We could see troops running away from the road in all directions. There was plenty more to shoot, but we were getting low on fuel and another 316th mission had arrived, so we went home.

Our judgment was that the western end if not all of the Hitler Line was being evacuated. Many sorties for our Squadron and Group were laid on the panic evacuation that day. Wing Ops gave the whole gaggle to us. In late afternoon I was up there again -- my estimate of the number of MT and tanks in that evacuation had been low by half. I never knew what the final official count was. There wasn't much left to do by that time. All the vehicles had seemingly been well shot up. They were burning and smoldering over a stretch of more than 5 miles of winding road. The whole Italian phase of the War seemed to have collapsed for the Germans. They fell back almost to the Arno River before making another attempt for a determined stand of any consequence.

The bombing at La Banca, our next flying strip near Anzio, has one lighter side. I had finally been issued a new sleeping bag; modern, lightweight, complete with zipper. The bombs landed smack in the middle of the runway. Our tent was not more than 150 yards away, and I was sound asleep until the blast. I instinctively rolled off the bunk to the ground, but couldn't find the dad-burned zipper on my new sleeping bag. I flopped around for eternity before I managed to get out the top -- never did find the zipper. All I could think of was, "Now they'll strafe and shoot me for a measuring worm."

For some time before we moved to La Banca I had been dickering by phone with an Army Major to swap a case of booze for a beat up L-2 (Piper Cub) which we could fix up for a utility aircraft. His outfit or ours always seemed to move before we could work out the deal. One morning, from La Banc, Mc, Brandt and I drove the 5 or 6 miles to Anzio where I knew a liaison outfit was located. We found a liaison plane depot of sorts; the operational liaison Squadron had moved out. The only one around was a Sergeant. I explained that I had been talking with the Major, whom he knew, and all about the loan I had been trying to arrange -- all except the booze part. I gave the Sergeant my name and outfit designation and he was very cooperative. He showed us around. I had already spotted a bird with only one wing in the yard. As luck would have it, he had a spare that would do as a match up located in his supply storage shed. As a result, we borrowed the bird and spare wing, and he was to ask the Major to call me when he saw him next. (The call never came).

In a short time we had the wing on and control cables hooked up. We set the wing adjustment bolts by measuring the number of threads of the other wing. The short, straight-ahead flight to La Banca was uneventful except that it required almost full aileron to maintain level flight. A few more turns on the wing adjustment bolts fixed the wing dyhedral problem and the next test flight was perfect.

The next morning I flew the Cub up to the area where we had caught the German evacuation. All types of shot up and burned out vehicles and tanks and bloated bodies were scattered around. Several miles of road, to my amazement, had not been cleared up. One pass was all I could stand, so I went back to base and tried to put it out of my mind.

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