Chapter 31: Bombing Greece. Downing 6 Stukas. Red Benedict's 1000 Thieves. Scrounging Everywhere. Bombing Vienna
Oct 20, 1943 Foggia, Italy
It has been quiet the last few days. Percy Gruen went out scrounging (looking for something to appropriate) and came back with 6 scrawny chickens. We made 5 gallons of soup with them by first boiling them, rolled them in flour and fried them in bacon grease. We also made French fried
potatoes, then we put parsley, celery, peppers, onions and the potatoes in the soup, and cooked it. It was better than anything we ever ate at the mess hall!
Today, we put the propeller spinner from a Messerschmidt 109 on top of our tent, to reduce the fire hazard from the red hot stove pope touching the tent canvas.
A flight of 10 of our planes went to the harbors of Greece to bomb German shipping.
Oct 21st. Our pilots shot down 6 Stuka dive bombers this morning. As of now, our total of destroyed enemy planes is 57! Today, we received a congratulatory citation from the Yugoslavian government in exile, for having destroyed those 6 Stukas. It seems they had been harassing the Yugoslavian guerrillas!
Lt. Benedict had an interesting bet with Lt. Bell today for $50.00 that he couldn’t do 18 slow rolls. Well he did it, but Lt .Bell chickened out and withdrew his bet!! Lt. Benedict came to us from the RAF when we first arrived at the Egyptian El Alamein front in September 1942. He was already a well experienced combat pilot, and he and Lt. Charles Leaf were instrumental in teaching our pilots air combat maneuvers.
The consensus of opinion in our squadron was that Benny was the very best! He also taught us how to scrounge everything from Gasoline powered generators to Airplanes. Every time an airplane was stolen in North Africa, Italy, or Corsica, the RAF came around to see Lt. Benedict of the 57th Fighter Group.
They called us 'Red Benedict and his thousand thieves'. To list the details surrounding the airplanes he stole from the RAF would consume an entire file. Just to list some here, however:
While we were in Southern Italy, he went to the RAF airfield in Tunis, found a Fiesler Storch (German spotter plane), and flew it off in the middle of the night.
On another occasion he stole a 2-engine seaplane with a damaged pontoon. He and some of our mechanics repaired the pontoon and flew it to our airfield.
He stole a 4-engine bomber from the Goia de Colle Italian airdrome in southern Italy, when they let him taxi it on the ground! He flew it to our airfield at Foggia where he hid it under a large haystack. Sure enough some Italian general came around, claiming that according to the RAF, Benny was the only one in this theater of war that was capable of doing something like that. They couldn’t find it, and we flew it around for a month before the landing gear collapsed on landing one day. So we partially dismantled it and junked it.
He recently became our squadron commander, and to give you an idea how he took care of the enlisted men, his first act was to change a rule that prevented enlisted men from having alcoholic beverages in the camp area.
We then traded an old tired P-40 to a B-25 Squadron for one of their 2 engine medium Mitchell bombers (B-25), and our pilots flew it all over North Africa and Italy in search of whiskey, chocolates, etc. We often trade our goodies for them when money alone wasn’t acceptable. (Similar to how this was done in the book 'Catch 22' which was published after the war).
From then on we had an Enlisted Men’s Bar, and were on par with the officers in that regard. Our devotion to duty was without limit because of the way Benny obtained every possible benefit for us.
Oct 23rd. An interesting thing happened today, when 48 P-38s arrived at our airfield to operate with us for a day or two. I was assigned one, and serviced it with 600 gallons of gasoline. This is a large amount of gasoline for a fighter plane, but it has two inline Allison engines and consumes double the amount of gas that our P-40-Fs do. British Intelligence tells us that we will be bombed the next few days and probably at night.
Oct 24th: I worked on a P-38 this morning. Then 48 of them escorted Flying Forts (B-17) to Vienna, where they will bomb the Messerschmidt factory. They returned late in the afternoon.
Oct 25th. We were ordered to move this morning, so we packed up the tent, and loaded it and our personal stuff in the truck, and took off. Our new airfield was only 12 miles away, but we had to evacuate our old field so the medium bombers could operate from there. We arrived at 3.30 PM, and set up camp, and dug our slit trenches around the tent. We are told that on the first mission by the bombers, 190 of them had to drop their bombs in the sea because the target area was covered by clouds!
Carl Volter just came down with yellow jaundice (infectious hepatitis) and left for the hospital.
We now have only 13 Airplanes due to normal attrition and combat losses, and we cannot get any replacements right now! Our B-25 just returned from a scrounging trip loaded with champagne. We all got a bottle (for $2.00) and sat around in our tents after dinner, getting tipsy.
So ends part 31 of my wartime memoirs.