Charles Everard Dills

Part Six

Courier Service

      Several weeks later. in May 1944, it came time for our squadron to furnish a pilot for a week to fly courier service from Naples to the Anzio beachhead for a week.
      Since I had almost seventy missions at that time it did not seem likely that some brass hat would pick me as a potential bomber co-pilot so twin-engine time would probably not hurt me. We had all heard that when co-pilots were needed, they would go through the logs of pilots in the area, looking for someone with multi-engine time. Boom, he would be transferred to the 15th AF to finish his tour there. No fighter pilot wanted that to happen so we studiously avoided getting any. Unlike the one pictured here, ours were painted yellow.
      But it seemed like it might be a bit of a lark and it was only for a week. So I volunteered.
      Capodochino airfield was a long and very wide grass field with a quarry on one end that had a number of planes in it!
      I arrived about mid afternoon. The pilot I was replacing was eager to get back to his base. I threw my bag into the engineering tent and went out to the waiting UC-78. The engines were already started and as I settled in the co-pilot's seat, the pilot taxied rapidly out to the runway. He quickly ran up the engine, checked the mags etc and then took off. About five minutes later he landed at his field, taxied to a parking area, shut off the engines, threw his bag out, climbed out and started to walk away!
      I hollered at him, "Hey, how do I start the engines?" And he replied, "Put the energizer switch to the right to start the right engine and left for the left engine". I then hollered, "How do I prime them?" And he replied, "Twist the primer to the right for the right engine and to the left for the left engine!" He sounded a little disgusted that I had to ask. I got them started, taxied out, ran up the engines and checked them to my satisfaction, took off, flew back and landed at Capodochino.
      I went into the engineering tent and got out Part IV of the Pilot Operating Instructions and proceeded to try to learn a little about the airplane. One new thing was the "crossfeed valve". This arranged it so the two engines could get gas from both tanks.
      It was approaching sunset so I thought I better shoot a few landings. I asked the mechanic to come along in case I needed information and he agreed. I did shoot landings for about an hour and then went to my quarters. I was due to fly to the beachhead the next morning.
      When the other pilot and I got there in the morning we were told we would both be taking off at 8 AM to go to Georgia Advance and pick up some VIPs. There were two pilots and two planes. One normally went up to Anzio and back in the morning, the other after lunch. Both going at once was unusual.
      We took off and flew north. The field was near the coast and very close to the front. It was there but nothing was operating from it, it was deserted. I went in and landed first. Nobody seemed to be there. I turned on the perimeter strip and started taxiing around to see if I could find someone. When I got about halfway around I looked back and saw the other plane parked off the end of the runway with a jeep alongside. So I turned around and taxied back and parked beside him. There were only two passengers so I didn't even shut off my engines. They were already in his plane and he was trying to start his engines. He got one going but couldn't start the other. I started to smile, wondering how long they would wait before getting out and coming to my plane that had both engines going! Sure enough, the door opened and they got out. Wow, now I was going up to Anzio!
      I was checking everything, the crossfeed valve included, and trying to remember everything I should be doing. I didn't dare throttle down too much for fear of killing the engines and they climbed in against a fairly stiff propellor blast. I didn't even look at them.

      A lean brown hand came down over my shoulder to shake hands and a voice said, "My name's Clark." It was General Mark Clark, Commander in the Theater! I looked up, put out my hand and kind of stuttered, "How do you do, sir, my name's Dills!" I was a First Lieutenant at the time. He sat in the co-pilot's seat and his aide, a colonel, sat in back.
      I took off and headed toward the Ponziane Islands. Lo and behold, we had an escort of 4 Spitfires. I flew just above the water to avoid radar. I knew that General Clark flew L-5's so I asked him if he would like to fly for awhile. He agreed and I let him fly it to the Islands. When we got there, I took over and headed as I remember on a course of about 330 degrees, just west of north. I was to fly for a certain number of minutes (30 as I remember) and then make a right angle turn into the coast, hoping to cross the coast at the beachhead. We hit it just fine and I proceeded to look around to find the dirt strip. He saw me looking around and pointed, saying, "It's right over there!" He must of known that I had never been there before but he probably didn't know that I only had about an hour in the plane when he got in! We landed, I took on some stuff to go back to Naples and probably a couple passengers, I don't remember, and flew back to Naples alone!

Bad Day
at Castel Volturno

      One day I stopped at Castel Volturno on the way back from the beachhead. I had gotten permission so I could check my mail. I had three passengers this time, a small man with black curly hair who was a war correspondent, a South African ground Captain and a British Squadron Leader with a rank equivalent to our Major. This was a full load considering the other baggage and the five man life raft.
      I pulled into a parking space and went off to get the mail.
      When I returned, they were out of the plane with their baggage. I asked what was wrong and they pointed to the flat tire!
      I said, "No problem. Be back soon." And I went to my P-40 which was nearby, flew to Naples, got the equipment needed and one of the mechanics and we flew the second UC-78 back to Castel Volturno. We left him with the flat tire and loaded this plane with the passengers and gear. Simple solution to the problem. I needed to do this because our P-40 mechanics didn't have the right equipment for the UC-78. Besides it wasn't their responsibility.
      So I got out on the runway and took off. After I got into the air with no real altitude yet, the right(?) engine almost quit. It went down to about 1200 rpm. It wasn't harming us but it was no help. This airplane is not supposed to fly with one engine with this load. But there was nothing but trees under us and I was barely above them. We were close to stalling, perhaps 60 mph and it was 30 miles to Naples and the ground was rising slightly in front of us. I was doing everything I could to get one more mph out of the plane. I was so busy trying to keep it in the air that I didn't even dare to wipe a drop of sweat from the tip of my nose which was very annoying.
      The war correspondent was in the copilot's seat and my memory pictures him leaning forward, anxiously watching the trees flick under our wing. I believe he was scared to death! If I could have found a postage stamp of open ground I would have put it in but there was nothing but trees.
      For thirty miles I fought and wrestled to keep it in the air and out of the trees. I remember flicking a few degrees of flap to get over a tall tree and then nursing it while it shuddered as I put the flaps up. I didn't dare turn because I would have lost altitude and been in the trees. I'm sure we would all have gotten out alive even if we had gone into the trees, but I didn't want to do it! So I kept going, straight ahead and just above of the trees.
      I was heading for the east end of the runway. After all, I had just taken off in my P-40 and hour before. When one gets to Naples, one crosses a ridge and breaks out just over the field but now with some altitude. Good grief, when I crossed the ridge I saw that they had changed traffic and they were taking off toward me. I called in for an Emergency Landing. As I said before the field was grass and very wide so there should have been plenty of room. There was a C-47 taking off on the far side of the field and a P-39 was waiting on the near side. The tower told the P-39 that an emergency was coming in on his side and not to move. But after I had committed myself to the landing, the P-39 started to take off. I did not want to wind up in the quarry, noted for containing the parts of the airplanes that had ot made it, at the other end of the runway so I headed for the field at an angle and landed in front of the P-39 and in back of the C-47. When I finally stopped the plane we were off the active part of the runway. I just shut off the engines and then looked at my passengers. The South African ground Captain was petrified. He probably never flew again! Then I noticed the British pilot didn't have a seat belt and I asked him what he would have done. He seemed slightly bemused by the whole situation and said that he just would have thrown himself on the floor if we had a problem. I have no recollection of the war correspondent and what he did, but I've always wondered if he ever wrote it up. I have a probably erroneus remembrance of one of them getting down on his hands and knees and kissing the ground. The ground Captain would be a good candidate for this.
      Well, I then flew the P-40 back to Castel Volturno, got in the other recently fixed C-78 with the crew chief and we flew back to Naples.

      About halfway through my tour(?) I was sent to the 5th Army advance field as a pilot to be ready to go anywhere, anytime General Clark wanted. So for a couple days, I was his personal pilot.
      Wow, that was a field!! It was only 2200 feet long, had a forest on one end of the runway and a railroad and high tension line on the other. It was tricky to get into and tricky to get out of.
      To take off one had to use all the runway, run the engine up as far as possible before releasing the brake, then get it off the ground and over the power lines.
      But landing was even more tricky. One had to come down the final approach at minimum speed, lift the right wing over a tall tree, almost stall it at the end of the runway, then dump it down on the runway and get on the brakes. It would still use almost all of the runway.
      I made several trips to the beachhead from here, but the most memorable was the one with Colonel Lee. One morning he came down with permission from General Clark to go to Anzio. He said he was an old Cessna pilot and climbed into the pilot seat leaving me in the copilot seat.
      He taxied out to the runway and I was a bit concerned because of the trickiness of the takeoff. But he started out right. He parked way back with the tail almost in the woods, ran up the engine and after it checked out OK, he advanced the throttles a bit more before releasing the brake. Then with full throttle he ran down the runway and lifted off. But then, like a true bomber pilot he fastened his eyes on the instrument panel, adjusting the throttles.
      I was watching the approaching high tension lines and at the last minute, I grabbed the wheel and yanked it back giving him a belt in the chest. He looked at me and I pointed to the high tension wires sliding under the wing. He didn't say a word.
      When we got to Anzio he dropped it in about four feet. I was afraid we were going to have to swim back.
      He got out of the plane with no word about when he was going to be back. It was about 10 AM and I didn't dare leave the plane. Noon came and I was interested in lunch. There was some British ground troops nearby with their dugout. They invited me to have lunch which I did. It consisted of a hunk of bully beef, called Desert Chicken and resembled a cross between corned beef and Spam. I also had a half a canteen cup of weak tea.
      I waited
      And waited. All the time I was trying to think of a way of telling him that I wouldn't go back if he was flying the plane because I was sure he would not be able to get into the field without wrecking the plane.
      Finally, about 3 PM he came back. He never inquired about my welfare or my lunch. But he told me to fly it back and I was able to breathe easily. I figured that I had narrowly missed a court martial.

      I made eight trips to the beachhead. It should have been seven but one day I came back around noon. And as I parked, Lt. Pine came running out to my plane and said very agitatedly, "I didn't think there was anything for the afternoon flight so I let the other pilot go into Naples. And then a Major General showed up and wanted to go to the beachhead. Will you take him?" So I said I would but I wanted to rest a little before I went up again.
      I went over to the other plane and the general was already in the co-pilot's seat. I told him that I had just gotten back from there and that I wanted to finish my cigarette before I went back up. He smiled and agreed. So I did two trips that day.

      I feel obligated to record certain incidents that I was not a party to. These are the kind of events that never wind up in reports and therefore will never be found in histories by latter day writers that were not participants in the events.
      I don't remember how we met but I first met a man from the First Armored Division when he was recovering from his fourth purple heart. I met him again later when he was recovering from is fifth! I remember two stories he told and I have every confidence these events actually took place.

      He was on the Anzio beachhead, in a tank with the First Armored. Apparently there was a kind of no man's land surrounding the beachhead and on occasion a number of tanks would go out into this area on a kind of reconnaisance. This particular day on a foray they ran across a most peculiar group of people, dressed very peculiarly. It was a very motley group.
      The tank people didn't know what they were. But they really had no business being there so they were just going to shoot them. One of the guys in one of the tanks told the rest to hold up while he tried to make contact. He popped the hatch of his tank, poked his head out and started to holler at the people. He tried several languages and got no response. Then one of the group raised a gun and shot hm. He fell back in the tank. Everybody went crazy. They opened up on the group with everything they had, shot them all to pieces and then ran up and down over the bodies with their tanks. I believe this story but I'm sure you won't find it reported anywhere but here!
      They had rather elaborate "holes" to sleep in on the beachhead. The beachhead was quite exposed and subject to a lot of shelling. His hole was edged with stout angle iron to protect the edge and help keep it from collapsing. One night a shell lit rather close by. One of the angle irons was flipped ninety degrees and driven into the opposite wall and the hole collapsed on him. He was buried alive with one hand sticking out. A buddy of his ran over, grabbed his hand and proceeded to dig him out. He got out alive but couldn't go to sleep in a hole after that and had to sleep in his tank! I wish I knew what happened to hm.
      And I would be most surprised if either of these incidents was reported anywhere.

Santa Maria

      We moved to Santa Maria and I'm drawing almost a total blank on this, although we were there for a month. I suspect some of the events that happened at Ciampino probably actually happened here.
      Towards the end of my tour, about June and July, I spent a couple months as Acting Group Operations Officer. It was an odd circumstance. The group Operations Officer went back to the states on a 30 day leave and went right to Wing Headwuarters when he returned. But he was still carried on our TO (Table of Organization). There were three others, the Assistant Operations Officer, the Weather Officer (we had no weather equipment) and the Group Radar Officer (we had no radar!) Lt. Col. Kelly, my former squadron commander was now in Group Headquarters. He apparently had some respect for the way I accepted the Airdrome Officer punishment at Castel Volturno and gave me the assignemnt of Group Radar Officer. I was fourth on the roster in operations, a flunky!
      But then the two ahead of me disappeared. One became a Squadron Commander and the other was shot down. So there I was, alone! The job called for a Lt. Col. but I was only a 1st Lieutenant.

      I'm not sure what field we were on but it had to be when I was Acting Group Operations Officer. One of the very new pilots got lost. He panicked and flew SE down Italy until he ran out of gas and bellied in, still pointing southeast. He called me on the field telephone and told me he was all right. His voice was very faint because of the great distance. He was clear down by the toe of Italy, probably at least 200 miles south of the front!

      One thing I believe happened at Santa Maria involved the Colonel's pet 38 revolver. He kept it in the bottom, right hand drawer of my desk, broken open so one could see that it was loaded. I was busy doing something, probably working on the next day's missions. We were in a somewhat damaged building, probably one that was a bit better than the average one. Our only light came from a single bulb hung by the electric cord from the center of the ceiling. It was probably early evening and it was quiet. Our G-4, the Group Maintenance Officer, came in the room. I'm sure he was bored and looking for something to do. He reached down and took the revolver out of the drawer. He was standing behind me when this terrible blast came, right behind my head. He had fired the revolver right behind my head and shot out the only light in the room. I looked around at him. He had an amazed stupid look on his face and said, " I would have sworn it wasn't loaded, I checked it!"


      We went for a few days to a coastal airfield called Voltone. I can't find it on my map but must have been somewhere west of Rome. We were there for about a week before moving to Corsica.
      In retropect I know that I was beginning to be too tired to continue flying missions but I was not grounded by the Flight Surgeon. I don't remember anybody being grounded this way although that was what they were really for. I do remember a day when the Flight Surgeon sat down by Dave Johnson and asked, "How do you feel, Dave?" To which Dave replied, "I feel OK, Doc." At which point the Flight Surgeon said, "Good. You've just had your 50 mission physical." Perhaps he was joking but that's the most I remember anyone ever doing about a physical.

      I was promoted to Captain in the first week of August. I have always considered it a "battlefield" promotion because I was only 5 1/2 months in grade and you are supposed to be six months in grade before you are even recommended. I was very flattered when one of the enlisted men came up to me and said, "I'm glad to see someone get it that really deserved it!" Then he handed me a set of captain's bars he had cut out of sheet aluminum! I wish I still had them!. My first set of real bars were a gift from someone else. They were so old the silver had worn off! And I wish I still had those!

      I remember trees and leftover dugouts that must have been part of the Anzio beachhead. They were dug into the ground and had plank and dirt roofs.
      One night we had the only air raid we encountered. I was sleeping on my cot in a pyramidal tent with the sides rolled up. I heard some explosions and woke briefly. I remember seeing a visiting ground Captain, somewhat overweight, lumbering over to one of these dugouts in his skivvies. When he came to the entrance that sloped down into the pit, his feet went out from under him, he sat down and slid out of sight.
      I just went back to sleep.
      This picture is courtesy of a fellow pilot, James Nims. Thank you Jim for letting me use it. It is copyrighted.

Ciampino, Rome

      This was the pre-war airport of Rome, probably about 7 miles southeast. There was more than one group on the field. Our colonel, Stephen B. Mack, was the ranking officer so he was the field commander. This made me the base operations officer.
      One day I got a call from the tower, telling me that the rock picking truck was parked too close to the runway. When P-47's rolled on the runway, they would occasionally turn up rocks from the dirt. It was a very heavy airplane, 14,500 pounds when empty, and would often be carrying two 1000# bombs. It was felt that the rocks could cause a blown tire which would probably wipe out several other airplanes as well by careening through the parking area, to say nothing of the affected plane and pilot!
      So we had a rock picking detail that patrolled the runway continually when planes were not using it. They threw the rocks in the back of a truck.
      I went down to the line in my jeep and found one of the rock-pickers and his truck. I explained what was wrong and told him to move the truck immediately and to never bring it out in front of the parked airplanes, that if it was safe, we would park airplanes there. And then I went back to my office.
      I don't think it was more than a half hour later that I got another call from the tower. There had been an accident. I rushed down to the line and there was a P-47, upside down, on fire. The emergency truck was throwing a line with a hook on it, trying to break through the skin of the plane, hoping to hook onto something that would allow them to lift it so the medics could get to the pilot.
      They finally managed to break through and lift it. The pilot's arms dropped down and he was hanging from the seatbelt, burned to death! The man hadn't moved the truck more than 50 feet.
      I completely lost it. I was wearing my 45 and I went looking for the guy I had talked to. Fortunately I didn't find him. I honestly think I would have shot him if I had. After about a half hour I had calmed down below the boiling point and I told the people to never let me see him again because I wasn't sure what I would do.
      When most of the planes of the time took off, the nose was high and you couldn't see straight ahead of you. You learned, very early, even in Primary flying Stearmans, how to judge things by looking out the side of the engine to the ground.
      This was particularly true with the P-47. That day there was a crosswind from the right and when this kid (probably less than ten missions) took off, he drifted to the left, off the runway. He hit the truck, flipped over on his back, hit the ground and caught fire. I still get a tear when I remember this.

      Somewhere along here I got a chance at a special rest camp. For some reason we were allowed a rest at the infantry hotel in Rome. I believe it was called the Hotel Excelsior, the Air Force one was the Hotel Regina. I remember seeing the Coliseum on the way in from the jeep but that's about all I saw. In any case I got probably about a day and a half in Rome. I was so tired at this time that I spent the first four hours in a warm tub. Later I went out to eat and the I got a chance to see a show. It was special!! "This Is the Army!" and Irving Berlin made an apearance in his WWI uniform and sang the title song! I spent a long night sleeping between sheets on a mattress!! In the morning I spent a couple more hours in the tub.
      I received the next day's orders from Wing and then scheduled them for the three squadrons. (A group consisted of three squadrons and the group headquarters.)
      I had a desk and phone in a tent. I had a flak map on a stand in front of my desk and a map of Italy on my desk with a sheet of thick plexiglas over it so I could plan the day's missions with grease pencil.
      One day I had the missions all planned when I got a telephone call from a Major in Wing Headquarters.
      The major said "Have all your missions buzz Cecina today." I looked at my map of the day's missions and replied that we could do that easily for all but one of the missions. It would introduce a large risk. There was a very bad flak area in the way and we didn't have enough gas to go around it.
      The major replied, "You will buzz Cecina today." I took this as a Direct Order!! So I said OK and hung up. I called the Group Commander, Colonel Mack, and he came over and I explained the problem. We cut the mission from twelve ships to eight and he said he would lead it. I suggested that when they came to this flak area, they should break formation and just get across it as fast as possible, zigzagging all the way so the 88mm antiaircraft guns would have a tough time setting their fuses, etc.
      The mission returned with seven of the eight ships. The Colonel's plane got hit in the turbo supercharger, but he made it back but his plane was never to fly again. Three more planes were damaged.
      I got really mad and called the Major at Wing Headquarters. "We buzzed Cecina. It cost us one pilot and two planes with three more damaged. What the hell are you running up there, a circus?"
      A Lieutenant doesn't talk to a Major that way but I was mad and I just didn't care. He sensed this and quietly replied, "I'm sorry but the orders came from higher than the General" (the Commander of the 12th Tactical Air Force.)
      Three days later I read in the Stars and Stripes that Secretary of War Stimson had been in Cecina that day. I'm positive he did not order this. But some sycophantic general probably said to an aide, "Have all of today's missions buzz Cecina today." He wanted to impress Stimson!
      Colonel Mack buzzed Cecina from 5000 feet. His plane had received a mortal wound and he didn't dare lose any extra altitude. He just made it back to the base as it was.
      All Important People have sycophants around them and they are not always easy to recognize. I'm sure both Gore and Bush have them! The candidate cannot be aware of all facets of the swirl around them. They will be blamed for many things of which they were unaware.

      About this time I was told that Capt. **** was coming up to headquarters to take over as Operations Officer. I was hurt and offended by this. I think I had done a stellar job, was also a Captain, and I thought I deserved the job. I was supposed to "teach" him the job. I asked to be transferred back to the 522nd Squadron as a pilot instead, which they did.

      Somewhere about this time we were given an "Official Election War Ballot - via Air Mail" postcard. How I managed to have this sixty years later, I have no idea! Either this was an extra or I did not vote.
      The address side above is at the original size but the text side has been enlarged because of the small print.

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