Chapter 55: Our Pioneering War Making. Early Dawn Attacks On German. Those Citations. Our Scrounge B-25 Loads Up Liquor.
May 3, 1944 Alto, Corsica. This morning 18 Free French P-47 Planes arrived, and we had to service them. They are the Lafayette Escadrille which became famous during World War I in France. They are going to operate from this airfield.
I had mentioned previously that we were in line for some Presidential Unit Citations. Well, General Cannon had written them out and sent them to the War Department for signature. Today all three citations came through.
One for being the forward airdrome of the Desert Air Force from El Alamein to War’s end in North Africa, and for providing close support to the British 8th Army ground forces. The 57th group maintained a Piper Cub spotter plane at the front, which obtained the information from the ground commanders and passed it on to each of our flights as they arrived. This was an entirely new concept of RAF close ground support for fighter bombers, and one which the U.S.Army had not previously used!
This permitted our pilots to attack specific targets at the front, which were causing problems for the British ground troops. It was not unusual for our pilots to be rewarded with the words 'Good show Yanks!' from the ground commander below.
One for our having shot down 75 German Airplanes over Cape Bon, Tunisia in one engagement, which hastened the surrender of the German Afrika Corps. Of the total of 75, 58 were JU-52 Transports carrying gasoline and ammunition, and 17 were their escorts, Messerschmidts ME-109 Fighters. Many more transports were damaged and must have crash landed elsewhere. There were 100 German Transports in the flight, with 36 fighters as top cover, when our 36 P-40s with 10 RAF Spitfires as top cover attacked them. The citation reads in part 'This outstanding victory of the North African Campaign crippled the Axis air transport system AND HASTENED THE COLLAPSE OF ENEMY RESISTANCE IN TUNISIA.'!
The third Presidential Citation was for our operations over Northern Italy which effectively prevented German troops and supplies to move down from Austria to the Italian front. We had been sent to Corsica in March, 1944 for that express purpose, and we accomplished that by destroying the Railroad tunnels and bridges in Northern Italy. We pioneered in skip-bombing the tunnels with delayed action 500 and 1000 pound bombs. This was accomplished by approaching the tunnel entrance dangerously low to the ground and releasing the bomb so it could skip along the ground and into the mouth of the tunnel.
We were told by RAF intelligence that the German troops and supplies were coming through to the Front, even though we destroyed practically everything that moved during daylight hours. Apparently the Germans were moving troops and equipment during the night to avoid attack by us. Our squadron commander, Major Bill Benedict reasoned that as daylight approached, the Germans moved all rail and motor transport into tunnels, and only resumed their movement the next night.
How to prove this? We are on an airfield that had been carved out of a wheat field, with no lights. He had us cut off the tops from empty Gasoline and oil drums, put used engine oil mixed with gasoline in them, and lined them up on both sides of the runway. The next morning, leading a flight of 4 planes, he took off in the pre-dawn darkness, and as dawn broke they were over the Po Valley in Northern Italy.
They spotted trains and motor transport, which had not yet entered tunnels. They skip bombed the tunnels and strafed the trains and trucks. This then was our modus operandi from then on and it had devastating effects on the German Army.
The 57th Fighter Group’s operation in Corsica was remarkable for another reason however. The War department Citation reads in part 'Pioneering in the adaption of the high altitude P-47 as a low level strafing and dive-bombing aircraft, the 57th fighter Group perfected these techniques to such a high degree of effectiveness, that on March 30,1944 the organization was moved from the Italian mainland to Corsica TO OPERATE AS A SEPARATE TASK FORCE !'
A task force is actually a small sea armada or land force, and we were operating by ourselves on Corsica, which was considerably north of the Italian front, with only a small British army force to hold the island! In plain view on a clear day was the Island of Elba, which was held by the Germans and had active airfields! (Not a very reassuring thought!).
Evidence of our position’s vulnerability can be found in my last Memoir, in which German Commandos landed nearby, dismantled a British radar station and carried it away!
We mounted two dive-bombing missions over Northern Italy today hitting bridges and factories.
Our B-25 was used today to obtain a large supply of liquor for our day room. We sent it first to Alexandria, Egypt, and then to Catania, Sicily.
So ends part 55 of my wartime memoirs.