April - May 1944

      One of our pilots learned the hard lesson of why you bail out of a P-40 (or other single engine, piston powered airplane) on the right side. The prop corkscrews the air behind it in a way that if you bail out to the left, it supports you so the tail can hit you. If you bail out on the right it throws you down out of the way. I am not sure of the name, maybe it will come to me later but I think his first name was Jesse. (I finally remembered, Jesse Harris.) He was hit while strafing a truck and had to get out of his plane right NOW! Unfortunately he went out the left side and his back was broken by hitting the tail. The first thing he knew, he was lying on the ground surrounded by angry Germans. He was put in a hospital. When the Germans retreated he was left behind with a skeleton staff as he could not be moved. He made it and probably lived a good life afterward.

      Another pilot, Ernie Weidenhammer, beat the odds. He was up by Rome when a 20 mm shell exploded in the cockpit, right in front of him. It hit a nerve in his right arm and he could not use it. He, of course, was bleeding all over but managed to fly the plane for forty five minutes with his left hand. I suspect he couldn't touch the throttle so he belly-landed under power on the grass and passed out. The meat wagon gathered him up and rushed him to the nearest military hospital. They cut him open all the way down the front and across the middle, picked out 58 pieces of steel and stitched him back together. Some time later he came back to the outfit because they had a faster way of rotating him back to the States. I rushed up and said, "Hello Dutch, good to see you". He hoisted his right arm a little and shook hands. He was rotated back to the States. He has attended a number of the reunions of the group and enjoys golf. He had to have both knees replaced a couple years ago. I've always wondered if it was an aftereffect of the shrapnel damage. (This event may have happened at Santa Maria.)

      Here is a typical picture of our planes at Castel Volturno. The one on the right named "Devil Dog" was flown by Charles Waddell. Mine, lettered "Q", is not in the picture.

      Before the D-day invasion, it was recognized that a tactical air force was going to have to be trained in the methods that had been developed in Italy. To accomplish this, they sent a number of pilots from the Ninth AF down to fly with us. And we got one of them. I have always felt he was pretty useless, he wouldn't listen and learn.
      When it came time for him to go on a mission, they assigned him to my airplane as I was grounded with aerotitus media, an inflamation of the eardruns due to inadequate pressure adjustment during a dive. Knowing my plane's peculiarities I told him that when he got ready to dive, to hit the aileron trim tab UP while he said, "Jack Robinson".
      He went on the mission and when he came into interrogation he was holding his head to one side and seemed in some pain. I asked what was wrong. He said that when he pulled out of the dive the plane did a weird kind of snap roll and he wound up with the left side of his head on the stick and the airplane was going up in a kind of barrel roll. He said he had adjusted it the way I described.
      A couple days later he was to go again and again they put him in my plane. This time I went out to the plane and adjusted the tab and said, "Make it look like that and you won't have any trouble." The tab was clearly visible when the pilot was seated iin the cockpit.
      He went on the mission, returned and walked into interrogation with his head cocked on one side and said it had done the same thing.
      I got to wondering if something had really happened. I had been returned to flying status while they were on the mission so I decided to "test hop" it. It acted as it always had. Finally I decided to give it a real test!
      I leveled off at 16,000 feet and set it at 40 inches Hg. Cruising was about 28 in.Hg. When it achieved its speed, I rolled over and pulled it straight down without throttling back and pulled out at about 5000 feet.
      The last I saw the airspeed indicator it read 490 at about 10,000 feet. I must have been around 600 mph. STUPID, in retrospect.
      When I pulled out the plane had a tense feeling. I felt that if I touched the wrong thing it would fly apart. I let it slow down for thirty miles before I dared turn or anything. I was told later that when I pulled out I made a terrific howl and everybody poured out the the ready shack, thinking it was a P-47!

      What didn't occur to me till I started writing this up was that I must have subjected the engine to an overspeed. As I remember, takeoff full throttle RPM was 3000. If one exceeded that by a narrow margin, 3150 as I remember, you could do serious damage to the engine which might cause it to fail a number of flying hours later. I was lucky that I didn't stick a piston out the side of the engine sometime in the next several missions. I would have had to bail out or belly in if that happened and becoming a prisoner of war would have been a very possible scenario.

      On my 76th mission, 24 May 1944, Squadron Commander Major Emil Tanassy was leading Red flight and I was leading White flight. We were to bomb the town of Cori. We taxied out and parked at an angle off the side of the runway like the feathers on an arrow. We shut off the engines and waited for our takeoff time.
      Suddenly a jeep came roaring out to the Major's plane and a guy jumped out and up on the wing and said something to him. Our time came and we took off. I think our mission was to bomb a target and then look for targets of opportunity. But I'll never forget what happened. The Major got a 20 mm(?) shell in his engine. The engine didn't stop but there was oil all over the place. He couldn't see because there was oil on his goggles. I went up on his wing and talked to him to keep him straight and level while he cleaned off the oil so he could see. He jettisoned the canopy and we headed for the Anzio beachead and the emergency strip. He went in and belly landed. He landed long and if he had not touched down there he probably would have cleared the edge of a gully and hit the other side head on.! I don't remember him going on another mission. That was too close!

      I re-formed the squadron of seven planes and took over the lead. We were finished anyway so I headed back home. We went down in the directon of Gaeta Point. The main coastal highway to Rome came west out onto the Pontine Marsh area then turned north toward Rome. Lo and Behold! there was a big truck convoy, out in the open, closepacked and about fifty miles beyond the bomb safe line. But I was suspicious because the Germans would not have allowed themselves to be caught out in the open and exposed like that so I took a chance. We buzzed them and saw that they were ours! So we went home. During the de-briefing we found out that that was what they told the Major before we took off, that there had been a breakout and to be careful. The only one that knew had been shot down!

      Somewhere in mid-April I was on a mission and the flak was going pretty good. All of a sudden there was loud noise and large hole appeared in the left (?) wing. The torn edges were sticking up above the wing at least six inches. I was worried about a possible damaged spar which might cause the wing to fold up. I had heard that the wing could fold back over the cockpit and prevent one from getting out but it seemed OK so I kept heading back home. When I arrived at Castel Volturno, I flew down the runway waggling my wings indicating I was in trouble. I then set up for a landing and came in fast because I knew the left wing would stall out before the right one. I almost had a problem because the wing stalled out sooner than I had guessed it would but I was close enough to the ground to land safely.

      Somewhere about this time one of our pilots came back to us. I think his name was Al Price. He had been shot down about six months before when the bomb line was moving pretty well. Then it stopped around Cassino for a long time. He was expecting his area to be overrun soon but it didn't happen. Finally the troops got where he was and he came walking out of the vineyard where he had been working, posing as an Italian and saying, "Where have you been?" or something like that.
      Well, when he came walking in we closed down and opened the bar. We had a whingding!. By midnight we were throwing ice and by two we were throwing the glasses. My friend, Dave Johnson, had a need to relieve his kidneys. I joined him out back at a small irrigation ditch with a small flow of water. We were both weaving a bit as we relieved ourselves, then Dave lost his balance and fell forward. He wound up with his feet on one side of the ditch and his hands on the other side, his back arched over the water. We both started to laugh and he finally collapsed into the ditch. His legs started to churn and he sped out into the field on the other side on his hands and knees and collapsed in the dirt, still laughing.

      24 May 2008: I just got this message from an Italian, searching for information about Al Price.
"Hi , I'm mailing from France but I'm Italian.

      I enjoyed really reading your history.
      I m searching since 6 years , a pilot who fall in the area around Isola di liri He was flying with Truman Forbis , and the MACR says that he could see the parchute of ALBERT PRICE S. (1stlt 522th FG) and the crash of the plane in the Mountain.
      In this mountain there were, my mother, father and grandfather (mother side) My grandfather saved the pilot and installed him in stone house in the mountain . The secret has been well maintain. He remained 7 months until the US army passed over Montecassino. Each night he came at home to eat and wash, the 4 kids (including my mother) had to go to bed early. They recall they heard talking strange but they didn't know who he was.
      I identified the motor, then the plane, then the squadron and today, you are the only way for me to get information about this pilot.
      Is anybody able to give informations , photos, or pilot remembering story about 1st Lt Albert Price S. Reading you, I know you flew with Truman Forbis, the pilot who write the MIA report :
      A-36A-1-NA       42-84124       12th       27FBG/522FBS       Gaudo       Ops, Rhubarb, west of Subiaco       11/11/1943       Hit by flak, pilot bailed out       Last seen Isola del Liri, 3 miles west of       Italy       1st Lt. Price, Albert S.       MACR 1196

      One day we were out straffing after a bombing run and I saw a truck. I went down to strafe it, thinking my 500 pound bomb and six 20 pound fragmentation bombs had already been released. These frag bombs were very touchy and resembled large hand grenades, only much worse. They had a large (1/2'?) square piece of spring steel wound around as the outer casing. When the bomb exploded it broke this spring, which was under tension, into vicious chunks of ragged steel which had the spring tension release and the explosive to send them in all directions. It was a devastating anti-personnel weapon. We had three under each wing. I thought I had dropped them and my wingman said there weren't any on my left side. So one or more on the right side had hung up on the arming wire when I went in to strafe the truck. I was very low, let off a burst and went over the truck at probably no more than fifty feet. And a blast occurred just as I went over the truck. We think one or more of these bombs shook off as the guns fired. I must have destroyed the truck but I didn't even look. I was too busy trying to figure out if I was flying. I was hit by a number of bomb fragments, the closest came in under the seat and went out the window on the right side. There was a bundle of useless wire along the floor on the left side of the cockpit which was one of the sets of cables to the rudder and elevator. Fortunately they had two sets or I would have decorated the landscape right there!
      The airplane was flying all right so I headed back to base. I didn't know what damage had taken place. So I touched down gingerly and then found out that my left tire was flat. I brought the mixture control back to idle cut-off to kill the engine. The plane rolled along but was bound and determined to go to the left, rolling on two odd sized wheels. I controlled it as best I could and the plane finally stopped off the left side of the runway pointing about 30 degrees from the direction of the runway. Apparently one can land on a flat tire if it is already flat. But if it blows after you touch ground or on a takeoff run it will cause a crash, usually a groundloop. I was told that they patched over 70 holes in it! And yet another helping of luck!

      One day they decided to oil the taxiways to keep down the dust. The taxiway was a zigzag path that made it a little easier for us to see in front. The engine blocked the forward view. We used to zigzag as we taxied because the various parts of the taxiway were too long to just go straight forward, as I found out one day. When the strips were oiled, they became very slippery so we taxied one length, cleared the next length and then taxied straight down the middle, without zigzagging. I was taxiing and cleared the next length, then went right straight down the middle. When I approached the next bend and started to turn into the next leg, I saw that some Brit had pulled his truck out and parked it right in front of me at the curve. There was no way I could miss him. I tried my best but I wound up sliding sidewise, very slowly, but surely and stuck my left wingtip through his windshield. Nothing was said to anybody that I remember. I of course missed this mission.

      My plane seemd a bit slower than the others and I had to use a bit more throttle to keep up so I used more gas. I had an idea that I took up with the engineering officer, Joe Glover. I suggested that we remove the big round wingtip and replace with a wood one shaped like the P-51/A-36 wingtip. He didn't think it would be a problem. I got permission from the squadron commander, Major Joe Kelly and went back with Joe Glover to the plane. We removed one wingtip and were discussing the next step when Major Kelly drove up and told us to stop and not do it. He said he would't know how to explain it if I had an accident!

      There was a kind of invisible line down the middle of Italy. The 15th AF, the bombers, were on the east side and the 12th Tactical AF was on the west and almost never the twain did meet. However, one day we saw a B-17 at about 1500' passing our field, making a gentle turn to the left, obviously intending to land. Then we saw parachutes as he came around, gently, lower and lower. He finally made a very gentle, very smooth landing and brought it slowly to a stop at the end of the runway on the parking ramp. We ran over to meet the pilots and find out what was going on. The little hatch under the cockpit flopped open and the pilot and co-pilot dropped to the ground, running at top speed. As they passed us they pointed up at the left wing. We could see a bomb sticking out of their wing and nobody knew whether the little safety spinner had come off or not!

      Some Italian women would come around once in awhile and take our dirty clothes. They would wash them for nothing if they could keep the extra soap!
      One week they came on a Tuesday and asked if we wanted anything washed before we moved to Castel Volturno on Thursday. We laughed and said we couldn't move to Castel Volturno on Thursday because we hadn't heard about a move and besides Castel Volturno was a hot malaria spot and was off limits!
      On Thursday we moved to Castel Volturno. ??

Castel Volturno

      Castel Volturno was a dirt strip fairly close to the Mediterranean. It had a metal mat runway which was parallel to the coast so we always had a strong crosswind. I think the construction engineers were all born in Kansas! Pyramidal tents as usual. A somewhat larger one for the bar!

      The Flight Surgeon would stand at the exit of the mess tent after supper and pass out the atebrine, a drug that was supposed to help hold off malaria. I tried to miss this but one night he caught me. The next day I was up by Rome when an extreme and undeniable need to urinate overtook me. It was so urgent that I ignored flying the plane, looked frantically for the pilot relief tube which was non-existent. I finally took a package of Edgeworth tobacco out of my jacket pocket, emptied it out the window, pee-ed into it and tossed it out the window. I think the rest of the mission thought I was hit or something because I was completely out of formation and gyrating all over!
      Some time later I got to thinking that it was absurd to believe that the atebrine was responsible so as I left supper, I relented and took another pill.
      Sure enough, as I was pulling out of a divebombing run the next morning it happened again. This time I didn't look for anything, I simply got it out and pee-ed all over the floor. When I got back to the base I told the crewchief and tried to explain about the pill. He just laughed and said, "Anytime, just met me know." And with that he emptied a five gallon can of gasoline into the cockpit to wash it out!

      We had no cleaning facilites so if I wanted to "dry-clean" my gabardines, I would wear them down to the line, take them off and "wash" them in a can of gas and hang them on the wing of my plane to dry, then dress and walked away!

      One weekend we were to "stand down" for about three days while they put metal mat on the runway. As Operations Officer I had finished all the chores except one. I had to see that the B-25 got to a neighboring field so we could use it during the standdown. Glen Maltby was our B-25 pilot. I looked all over for him and spent considerable time in the bar tent hoping he would come in. Of course I partook of a number of libations while I waited. The liquor had its usual effect and the last memory I have of that evening was me sitting out in the center of the quadrangle of tents, wailing to the moon, "Malt-b-e-e-e" over and over.
      I regret to say that some months later he flew it into the top of a hill, killing all aboard.

      Time does things to memory. I don't remember when I was transferred to Group Operations. I have an order transferring me as of 26 May. But my overseas flight log says we were at Santa Maria a that time. And I well remember being in Operations at Santa Maria. But I have an equally firm memory of the Maltby incident I just told that happened at Castel Volturno. I have little explanation for this apparent conflict. The Maltby incident must have taken place at Santa Maria.
      I would like to explain how I got into Group Operations. Major Kelly had been transferred to Group in some capacity. We had slots for a Group Operations Officer, an Assistant Group Operations Officer, a Group Weather Officer and a Group Radar Officer. An opening appeared for a #4, the Group Radar Officer. As I remember, Major Kelly asked me if I would take the job. It sounded like a cushy job, a kind of flunky in Operations because we had no Radar! We also had no weather equipment so he was #3 and I was #4 in Group Operations.
      The problem was that the Group Operations Officer was back in the US on a 30 day leave and when he returned he went straight to Wing Headquarters. So he was on the TO (Table of Organization) but was never present. That left three of us.
      Then the Assistant Group Operations Officer and the Group Weather Officer were out, one got a squadron and the other got shot down as I remember. And there I was, all by my lonesome.
      I handled it all by myself for probably six weeks. I was up probably 20 hours a day. I had to set the routes for the missions and contact the Squadron Operations Officers. I had to tell the Armament Officers what the loads were to be, bombs, etc. I had to get the next day's missions from Wing and several times this meant driving to HQ to get them. I remember them being ensconced on a mountain which made the driving a bit problematic in a Jeep. I had to keep on top of the Intelligence briefings in case flak started to appear at which point I would have to change the route on subsequent missions. There was a lot of stress but I don't remember appreciating it at the time. I was doing what had to be done. And it was getting done so no one apparently realized that I was alone and doing the job of four people! I believe this is what took a terrible toll on my health as evidenced by my physical at Miami Beach when I was about to be reassigned in the States. I weighed 119#, had a 24 inch waist and was 1 3/4 inches shorter than when I went overseas. I got almost no missions in during this time.
      About the 4th of July I was told they had appointed someone else as Operations Officer and I was supposed to train him. I didn't have respect for this candidate and felt betrayed, that they had bumped someone I didn't respect in front of me. I had been doing a good job and thought I should have it. So I asked to be transferred back to the Squadron as a pilot and I finished my tour there. I was promoted to Captain in early August after five and half months in grade as a 1st Lt. I have always considered that battlefield promotion because you weren't supposed to be recommended until you were six months in grade. Or so I was told.

      One day we saw a B-24 at low altitude aiming at our field. He crossed the end of the runway, downwind, at probably 150' and 150 mph. He passed midfield, still in the air. He finally touched down in the last several hundred feet of our dirt runway and went out into the next field. The right gear collapsed and it slewed around to the right and finally stopped.
      Later they told us why they were so happy. That plane had never come back with all four engines and they were all afraid of it and glad that they had destroyed it without hurting anybody.

P-40 Crash

      The engineers had dug a trench along the left side of the runway, I have no idea why. The dirt was piled up along the other side of the trench into a mile long triangular mound of dirt, several feet high.
      I was scheduled for a mission in my P-40 loaded with full gas, ammuniton and a 500 lb bomb. We taxied to the runway ready for takeoff. We had a strong 90 degree crosswind, probably around 25 mph, since the engineers had made the field parallel to the coast. They apparently knew nothing about on and off-shore breezes. The wind also had occasional very strong gusts.
      As I was gaining speed down the runway, the plane got light around 70 mph. about this time I was hit with a heavy gust from the right which was trying to blow me into the trench. I gave the engine the last little bit of "emergency" power and got it off the ground before going into the ditch. But I was barely flying. I might have made it since the main wheels cleared the dirt pile, but my tailwheel dragged through it. This took just enough speed away so that I was no longer flying, I was a ballistic missile. Without enough speed for the controls to be effective, the plane started to roll to the left. I had full rudder and aileron but it continued to roll. It's amazing how quickly you think in an emergency like this. I remember thinking, "If my left wingtip clears the ground I'll land on my back. If it doesn't I'll cartwheel." Either of these seemed a sure death. So I pulled back the mixture control and killed the engine. The plane straightened up and slammed to the ground, wiping out the landing gear. From this point on I was a passenger.
      The right wing dug in the ground and tore off 5-10 feet of it. This slewed me around to the right and I slid sideways, peeling off the six 20 lb fragmentation bombs and the 500 lb bomb. I slid sideways until the left wingtip slipped under the metal mat taxi strip at the other end of the runway. The metal mat bowed up and the fuselage slammed against it so hard that the entire rear end, from the radio compartment back, bent around till it was 90 degrees from the rest of the fuselage. If the metal mat had penetrated the cockpit it probably would have cut off my head. Again, I was absolutely furious. I swore as I turned off all the switches. I had a little scratch at the outside base of my left thumb. Everybody thought I'd bought the farm and they took their time getting there. Again, no fire. In my experience, fire was rare, not common like it is in the movies!
      The next day I went down to watch them try to get the plane out from under the taxiway. They put a chain around the nose just behind the propellor and tugged with a cletrack. They couldn't budge it. After a period of trying to pull it out, the cletrack backed until it was touching the plane, then let it out full throttle and jerked it out, leaving 5 to 10 feet of the wing under the mat. They just tacked down the mat and left the wing under it. They hoisted the rest of the plane onto a flatbed truck and hauled it away. The wing stubs barely stuck out the side of the truck bed and the tail was dragging on the ground.

      There is an entry in Hi Sherman's diary that reads "4-23-44 Charlie Dills cracked up on take-off today. What a mess. One of the wings went under the taxi strip steel mat, which damn near cut the plane in two. Dills walked away - uninjured - another miracle."

      Then they made a bad move. They sent me to rest camp on the Isle of Capri for a week. I stayed at the Hotel Morgano, slept a lot and rarely left the hotel. I saw nothing of Capri!

      A violin and piano entertained us at the evening meal. They had to play Lili Marlene over and over by request!
      One of the flak-happy pilots came down one day with his wings pinned on is forehead. He would throw one of his shoulders out of joint and then play the piano. I suspect they sent him home!

      When I got back to the group I found they had changed planes to P-47D's. So I did the usual ground work and then it came time for me to take it up. I taxied to the end of the runway, ran up the engine to check it, and then straightened up with runway. I could look down the runway and see where I had crashed a week before. Pushing the throttle forward and taking off was probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It would have been so easy to taxi back, park it and quit flying. I found out why a horseman gets back on the horse immediately after being thrown.
      I always hated the P-47. I would rather have a P-40 for the work we were doing. When you pulled out of a dive it mushed terribly. That is, it kept going down before it would start coming up. The first week we had them, as I remember, at least eight planes came back with telephone wires, fence wires and grapevines due to the unexpected sinking when one pulled back the stick. It had a terribly variable fuel consumption rate. At cruise it used about 120 gallons per hour. But in a combat situaton the rate could go up to 370 gallons per hour (from the tech orders!). Your reserve could disappear in a few minutes. We had a mission where none of the eight planes made it back to our field. They had to land at other fields and gas up. And as I remember three of them bellied in, fortunately on our side of the lines. Our entire mode of attack had to be changed. We couldn't cruise at 200' and then strafe, We would probably hit the ground when we tried to pull up. We no longer did vertical dive bombing so our accuracy suffered. We were constantly easily visible so we had to fly over ten thousand feet and then dive on a target, very visible, all the way down! While it had an engine that was excellent in most respects, it had a Hamilton Standard oil operated propellor. If one got a rock through the spinner, you would lose the oil, the propellor would go flat and you would go down. One of our people had it happen and he finally bailed out at about 4500 feet rather than go into the clouds with mountains below.
      I've heard P-47 pilots bragging about how much punishment it could take. So what! You had to fly it in a way that it took a lot of punishment. The last thing it was, was invisible. The A-36 and even the P-40 could sneak around at low level and strafe and they wouldn't even see you till you were gone. The P-47 always had altitude and was brazenly visible to anyone holding even a peashooter. Sure it absorbed punishment. It was always an obvious and flagrant target!
      Ugh! It was designed to fly at high altitudes and we had to use it at low altitudes! And so on!!

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