Chapter 87: Desperate Measures After The Flood. Huge Allied Losses on Gothic Line. Dived Bombing to Protect Our Forces. Flying in Foul Weather
Nov 4,1944 Grosetto, Italy The water in the camp area on the beach receded somewhat and we were able to go there. Our foot lockers, which we had saved by hoisting them high up in trees were still there. Just about everything else was washed out to sea by the tidal wave.
After lunch half of 'A' Flight, half of 'B' Flight and Armament loaded on the trucks and moved to the mainland, using a detoured back road. The trip took four hours because the bridge had been washed away. We moved into a hangar on an abandoned bombed out Italian artillery field and ate dinner with an Ordinance outfit that was stationed there.
I played ping pong with their commanding officer for an hour, on one of their mess tables. What a mess we are in! We haven’t even got soap, towels, clothes, shaving equipment, mess kits, etc. We are supposed to go to go to the airfield and resume operations now. The 64th and 65th squadrons, and Group Headquarters 'A' Party are all here too, but they have clothing, toilet articles, etc. We, the 66th squadron, are the refugee’s !
We hired an Italian boy to sweep out the rubble from the hangar. For lighting we used 5-gallon cans of gas. This of course filled the hangar with smoke but we had no other alternative. I won $30.00 playing Blackjack. We cannot even take a shower yet in town because the machinery that operates them is filled with water.
Nov 5,1944. Grosetto, Italy. Our group headquarters had set up a mess for the whole 57th Group, so we were able to have a decent breakfast of dehydrated eggs, pork sausages, coffee, and bread. We went right down to the airfield to check the airplanes over. Our area (the 66th) is fairly dry now so we pre-flighted the planes and launched a 12 ship mission at 9.00 AM.
They dive bombed a bridge in the Po Valley and hit it several times. Lt. Louis Pernicka flew my plane and he said it was OK.
I ate lunch at the transient camp and had to pay a dollar deposit to borrow a mess kit. We flew another bridge-busting mission in the afternoon. I washed my airplane with gasoline. Lt. Colonel Benedict put on a fine display of acrobatics over our airfield, flying Col. Leaf’s Spitfire.
We returned to our camp at 5.30 for dinner. We are all filthy because we have no change of clothes now or in sight. I was able to scrounge some soap, towels, toothpaste and toothbrush from men in the 64th squadron, which is located across from us on the field. The 65th squadron is behind us and their 'A' Party is due here shortly. Nobody knows how long we will stay here and speculation is until the bridges are rebuilt. I washed-up and won a few dollars playing blackjack until 12 PM. This hangar we are now living in is as cold as the Dickens and we probably will not stay here long enough to build stoves. The 64th and 65th had their mail sent up to them already- We the orphans of the 66th got nothing!
Nov 6, 1944. Grosetto, Italy. We arose at 6.00 AM and almost froze before we could get into our clothes. Wow, this hangar is one cold spot! We flew two missions before lunch providing ground support for the Infantry. My plane was on both
of them without complaint from the pilots.
After lunch we went right back to work. The towns people of Grosetto are all cleaning out their houses and hanging their muddy clothes and bedding out to dry. The high-water mark on the walls and houses is plainly visible as 14 feet! All the bridges in the surrounding countryside have been washed away. We flew one more mission in the afternoon and were released early at 3.30 PM. Back to camp we went to wash up, etc. I played blackjack for about 5 hours and came out a few dollars ahead. There was some mail and I got a package from Mother.
said that we would probably move back to the beach tomorrow. The Group is rebuilding the washed away bridges leading to and from our camp. Carl Volter told me that details of men have moved all our personal equipment, tents and everything else to the beach. Our new homes are the houses that our officers used to occupy before the deluge.
I heard that we are losing 5 ground troops to every one the Germans lose!
The Army ground command has been unable to drive the Germans from their heavily fortified Gothic Line positions. They have now called upon the Tactical Air Force to isolate the enemy battlefield by cutting every rail line and motor truck artery north of the front lines.
Our fighter-bombers, the Thunderbolts, are perfectly suited for this work given their heavy armament and long range of flight. To start this task, the Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force launched an operation called Bingo on Nov 6th to knock out the electrified Brenner rail line transformer stations at several key points. This is intended to put the enemy to the inconvenience of converting to steam power.
Our squadron participated in the attack sending 16 aircraft to Trento, where the flack was the most intense that our pilots had ever encountered. Our squadron’s dive-bombers were subsequently used to attack pin point targets unidentifiable from high altitude. These deadly strafing and rocket attacks carried out in conjunction with every bombing raid, added to the total of destroyed locomotives and rolling stock.
In addition, it achieved a major degree of traffic interdiction by wrecking moving trains at numerous points on the main lines. Thus the plan was carried out, the over-all objective being to prevent the enemy’s men, weapons and supplies from reaching the front. Not withstanding the winter weather, the 66th squadron’s planes flew through foul weather which grounded the medium and heavy bombers, and we kept the rail arteries assigned to us cut!
So ends part 87 of my wartime memoirs