Pierced Steel Planking: the gates of the war

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  • Bombs away, the magazine
    Pasquale Libutti
    The 485th BG published a weekly newsletter: Bombs Away, with news concerning the military operations:
    "831 SHip lands with  275 Holes" or "PW CREW BACK from BulgarIA" or, in general terms, "American First Army 19 miles from Germany". 
    You could find news from U.S.A., comics from other magazines, sport news and results about baseball and volleyball matches between Squadrons of 485th BG, and with other Bomb Groups.
    And the movie column: "Since the success of "Lassie come home" every studio in Hollywood is rushing dog films into production. Among the files will be a sequel titled "Son of Lassie" (motion-picture industry: forever the same) and the list of the coming attractions the Roxy Theatre "Under the Stars". 
    Always available, "the Chaplain corner", with the times of the ceremonies for Catholics, Jewish, and Protestants. Bombs Away gave the schedule of the Venosa University, offering (according the availability of teachers), lessons of algebra, geometry, English grammar, English Bible, but also accounting, journalism, German, etc, and, last but not least, Italian:
    "As we go to press, two more courses are being added to the list: Shorthand and Italian. If you would like to learn how to "parlate" as well as "kapish" Italiano, or if you want to acquire the secret of speedy writing, sign up immediately." 
    The newsletter wrote about the most varied subjects concerning the life at the base, such as the construction of a power line from Venosa, with power generated from the Monticchio lakes on Mt. Vulture, 20 miles away, or the inauguration of the officers mess (and Club) of 831sBG Squadron: "We're really proud of the place and because we feel that it's ours, try to be as careful as possible which everything. To date ---cross fingers--- we haven't broken a single glass; but if we do, we have to pay 70 lire immediately!"
    Or, again: "A real character is Alleybe Dotch, a little 70-years old Italian who, every morning, wanders in tents 67 e 69, unceremoniously announces in a loud but tremulous voice, "Bonjourno", and systematically wakes everyone of the occupants with the call "Laundry!"




    How did the airmen see Italy? During Christmas of 1944 Bombs Away published a letter:
    "All of us agree that Italy isn't a very good place for Christmas... We've got a lot here in the group --- lots of candy, lots of fruit cake, all the good thing our people have sent us from home...That's Christmas...giving... The kids in Venosa aren't going to have much this Christmas... The kids didn't go to war against us. But it's the kids who feel it, walking around on cold stone streets with no shoes, poorly dressed... they feel the war. We've got plenty of candy, more than we can eat...Why let it get mouldy in the tents?..."  
    On Bombs Away (March 12, 1945) an airman who finished his missions on the B-24 published a text about his experience in Italy, talking about the striking contrasts: "the brown and the green", how it seemed to him; the title was Panorama of Italy, a poetry in rhymed verse. Interesting.


    On March 25, 1945, on Bombs Away appeared a long article about the oldest bombers of the Group. A story of combat missions, flak damages, repairs, good luck, pride, through  the unusual point of view of the ground crews.


    One year ago last month, 72 ships were brought to Fairmont, Nebraska, for the 485 Bomb Group. Today, of those original 72, only 8 remain, 6 in the 830th, two in the 831st; and as they all draw nearer and nearer to that coveted 100-sortie mark, the competition grows thicker and faster. That’s why, this week, BOMBS AWAY would like to tip its hat to these 8 ships, and to these men on the ground who, for nearly a year, have adhered to that time worn but always meaningful phrase, “Keep ‘Em Flying!”
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    without written permission of owner, Mr. MIKE ADAMS
    Loading the pack, with 84 sorties -- (as we go to press, that is!)-- is LIFE, symbol ship of the ‘30th, with M/Sgt “Chet” Davis as her crew chief. LIFE has had a pretty colourful and famous career, and adorned the pages of Sortie, Star and Stripes, and, last but not least, Life magazine.
    “I’m crossing my fingers as I say this,” smiled “Chet”, but so for, no one in the ship has ever been even scratched, although one of our tail gunners, T/Sgt Stewart Gansell, did shoot down an ME 109.”
    “On one mission, however,” said Cpl Willard Rose, who has shared the spotlight with Chet since Fairmont days, “a small piece of flak landed in the fuselage right above the nose wheel and cut 82 wires and one of the accumulator brackets; and on another, a piece of flak went thru the co-pilot’s window and knocked F/O John R. Christenson’s oxygen mask off bud didn’t even touch him.”
    The first pilot to boss LIFE around was Capt Glenn Jones, who is now at Tyndall Field, FLa, and he was followed by Lt Simon Baytale, who went home only last week. Right now, the crew is sweating out a new pilot.
    “Our good luck, we attribute to two causes,” exclaimed Cpl Nichola Aita, who completes the trio, “First of all, is a tiny baby shoe, belonging to Rose’s little daughter, and hanging in the tail turret. And secondly, in the nose turret is a picture of Christ, placed there by S/Sgt Clarence “Deacon” Miller, the first one to occupy that spot. Clarence is now stationed at Corpus Christi, Texas, but he wrote that the picture is to remain there until the ship finishes its combat time.


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    Edging LIFE for top honors, however, are “Tailheavy” of the ‘31st, and “Buzz Job” of the ‘30th. Crew chief on Tailheavy is T/Sgt James Houlian, who along with Sgt George Abele, has looked after her since she arrived in the group.
    Sgt John Vavrok completed the trio until he went home on TD after her 54th sortie last January, and was replaced by Sgt Frank Johnson.
    “We’re quite proud of the fact that she flew the gp’s first 13 missions without a let-up, and has gone as many as 20 missions without an carry return or mishap,” stated Jim. “Two of the original engines, # 3 and # 4, lasted 447 hours; and on one mission, both engines failed; but Lt. Homer Disharoon, who was flying her at the time, brought her in despite a terrific crosswind. He was less than 50 yards in back of another plane much of this time, and the two nearly crashed, but luck must have been with them, because he was able to get her in okay.”
    On her 19th mission Tailheavy came back with the right aileron shot away by a direct hit by 20 mm flak gun; and her crew figures that today she has at least 450 flak holes in her sides. However, she has given as much as she’s taken, for on her 25th sortie, the tail gunner, S/Sgt Bruno Placica, shut down two ME 109 as they dove in on the formation.
    Sitting at Tailheavy’s controls, in this order, have been Lt Kenneth Craighead, Lt Disharoon, Lt Sam Kookle, and now Lt Robert Baker.


     photo Antonio Di Vietri: probably, ground crews members.

    “You can bot we ‘re proud” stated M/Sgt Jones Moehan, crew chief on “Buzz Job”, “of the fact that our ship was the first in the 485th to drop its bombs on an enemy target. It was last May 10, and the Group had gone to Knin, Yugoslavia.  Col Richard Griffin, our Co at the time, was flying deputy load in the ship, and when Col Walter Arnold’s ship had a little trouble, Col Griffin took over and dropped his bombs.”
    Sharing the responsibility for “Buzz’s” success aere Sgt Alvin D. Reynolds, and Cpls Frank Wiechowski (formerly known as Adolf) and Jim Howett, who joined the others several months ago.
    Buzz” received her name from her first pilot, Capt W. Boling, whose middle name was Buzz, and who also got a terrific bang out of buzzing the field constantly. On one of these buzz jobs, however, Reynolds, whom they call “Slim”, and who’s  6’6’’ tall, was in the nose turret – (don’t ask us how he ever managed to squeeze in there) – but when the ship started flying so low over haystacks that she was cutting the grass with the props tips, Slim decided that he’d had just about enough, and refused to go up again until Capt Boling had promised to reform.
    “She has been to practically every country in Europe where the 15th AF flies” added Baltimore-born Jim,  “having gone to Vienna 13 times and Ploesti 6 times; took part in the fight for Rome, and has left her mark in France, Austria, (Weiner Neustadt and Linz) and Budapest.”
    “And she’s really been shot up a lot,” joined in Frank. “Over Vienna, so many holes were pumped into her, she looked like a sieve. Her hydraulic and electrical systems were shot out, and her # 2 engine was hit by flak and feathered; and Capt Boling kept # 4 engine running by feathering the  # 4 prop to keep it from running away. For his work on this mission, he received the DFC. And another time, she had to go to a service sqdn for repairs because three main wing spars had been practically cut in half, thus causing a hole a foot an a half in diameter.”
    If you do not believe prayer helps, you might take a look at the crew of “The Character”, the 831st ‘s second entry in the long run sweepstakes. Every morning just before take-off, the ground and combat crews of the ship gather together for a brief reading from Scriptures, with crew chief M/Sgt Lester York conducting the service. “We never miss a mission” stated Les, “and it seems to help the men a lot.”
    With 73 sorties at her credit, The Character is looked after by a crew of three, with Sgt Henry A. Pickett and Cpl Shufford Hall assisting Kentucky-born Les. In her year of combat. She’s experienced just about every kind of trouble and hard luck possible. On her 15th mission, over Vienna, she was shot up badly; and Lt James Ludbetter, her pilot at the time, was forced to fly her to Vis on only two engines.
    She was in Vis for 30 days, for 4 engines and 4 fuel cell changes, was out another month after coming back. On Oct. 1, she had a taxi accident, and her nose was smashed up, forcing her out of commission for another two weeks. Then, in a raid over northern Italy, late in November, she was shot up once more, and the complete tail assembly had to be changed, to say nothing of all wheels.
    “To date, we’ve had 5 pilots” affirmed Les, “and it seems to be bad luck for one of them to leave the ship. First on the list was Lt James C. McNulty, who, on his 12th mission, flew a different ship in a different sqdn, and went down. Then came Lt Ledbetter, who struck to her and finished his 35 sorties the end of September. When Lt David Blood flew a different ship the middle of January, he went down over Yugo, but arrived back here safely, and is now at home. Capt. C.L. Brown has been transferred to a different flight, and at the moment, Lt Homer Mason is at the controls.
    PAUL CANIN, Some World War Memoirs, in http://www.merkki.com/caninpaul.htm .
    As rugged as her name is “Ring Dang Doe,” (536), which has been under the tutelage of S/Sgt Howard Mc Chaffee ever since “the good old days.”  Working with Howard since last September have been Cpl Ralph Schreek and PFC Carl Heimer.
    Ring Dang Doe” has 75 sorties under her belt,” stated Mac “and she’s gone through plenty, having been forced to land once at Joya, once at Bari, and once at Vis. But she’s the kind of ship that has prompted the guys in the sqdn to say that nowadays, they don’t brief the crews, they brief the planes and the planes take the crews to the target without another word.
    Lt Col W. L. Herblin, first deputy Gp Commander, used to fly “Ring” as the lead ship, and others who climbed into that all important cockpit were Lt Col Richard V. Griffin, Maj. John Steddart, and capt Herman Davis. Incidentally, Capt Davis’ crew shot down two ME 109.
    At the moment, RDD is out of commission because of fuel cell leekage, but you can bet, says Howie, that she’ll be back flying (…illegible…) just as soon necessary changes are made!
    The crew on Princess Marie has more than one reason for wanting their ship to score the 19 missions which will give her the 100 record; for, just before leaving for home, Capt Hugh Garnett promised the crew that he would send them a case of whiskey on that memorable day --- and you can bet that M/Sgt Joe Herman, S/sgt George Rookard, Sgt Steve Michotek, and Sgt Grant Loy, aren’t passing up a golden opportunity such as this.
    “Only one man has over been hurt in the ship,” vowed Joe, just turned 43, who claims to be the oldest man in the group (anyone older, please contradict) – “and he was S/Sgt Arthur Housden, the tail gunner on Captain Garnett’s crew. But, since it was only a scratch on the finger, he turned down the Purple Heart. The ship herself has never been shoot up much, and has less than 50 holes in her sides, though she’s flown 804 hours and undergone 10 engine changes.”
    “In fact, the only accident to befall the ship,” said Steve “came about one morning when, just after taxiing down the runway, prior to take off, the nose wheel collapsed. They wanted to junk the ship, but luck was with us, and they changed their minds in time, and it was fixed up once more touch to our relief.”
    While he was pilot, Capt Garnett used to have a tiny wooden man which he kept as a good luck omen and rubbed fervently before each mission; he courted Maria on his first 49 missions: but couldn’t finish her out because she was undergoing an engine change the day he went up for his 50th.
    And after Capt Garnett left, he was replaced by Lt Joseph Cathay. Lt Donald Adams is the pilot assigned to her at the moment.
    One for the books occurred after the Regensburg raid last month when Sgt Albert Hathy, of the crew on 504, found a piece of flak lodged in the # 3 engine and fuel cell bearing the identical number “504” on it: and Hath immediately peecketed it as a good luck charm.
    “So far,” declared her crew chief, M/Sgt Chuck Vrenian, “she’s flown 483 hours, and we’re counting on her to double that score before she finishes. On her 37th mission, over Bucharest she suffered a 20 mm direct hit in the nose; and on the last Regensburg raid, a 20 mm cannon blast from enemy aircraft hit the #  3 engine and fuel cell, narrowly missing the pilots’ cockpit.”
    “So far,” joined in Sgt Bernard Smith, who, like Vrenian and Hathy, has been with the ship since she joined the gp,  “she had made no crash landings, but when an engine went out on one flight, she was forced to land at a fighter group field in Madna, remaining there from Dec. 19 until Jan. 18. All 4 engines have been changed without a single engine failure.”
    “Major Francis Tunstall flew her across the ocean,” added PFC Henry Thomas, who’s been a member of the crew since last October; “and get in his first 25 in it. Capt George Tolsma followed him, and then came Capt Hugh Garnett and Lt Donald Gambrill, who’s piloting her at the moment.”
    Since her crew has given her no name in all these months, one might refer to 504 as “The Illegitimate Child”  or some each thing, but (denoting? illegible) the lack of a (memory? illegible); she’s more than held her own with the (best? illegible) in Venosa field, and as we write this, has rolled up a total of 79 sorties.
    Believing that it’s bad luck to name a ship after she’s once begun her tour of combat, the crew of 498 has never attached a label to her but merely refer to her as “the ship”.
    Keeping her flying month in and month out are N/Sgt Darrell “Stub” Gillespie, of Ind;  Sgt Grant Loy of Pennsylvania; and Chris James Hewlett, hailing from way down ther in Texas and Henry Cannon, North Carolina born,(illegible)suh.
    “She has 60 sorties behind her,” declared Stub, “and right now, is in Bari for repairs. We’re only hoping she’ll be back soon, as we hate to see all the other OD ships pulling away from us so;  but right now, we didn’t know anything definite.”
    Capt Verne Bryson flew her ever, and shortly after that, brought her back with 24 large holes in her sides, And on July 22, Lt Henry Hillyard landed her at Pantanella field with almost everything torn out of her. One engine was out, and to lighter the load, the crew had had to toss practically everything possible.”
    Right now, Lt. Michael is the pilot on “Nameless”.
    Well, there you are --- 8 ships, and behind them lies more drama, colour, and adventure, than Hollywood ever crowled into a dozen scripts. That’s why we say once again to all those guys who (illegible) ‘em out on the ground and (illegible) ‘em out in the air, “You’re doing a great job, we’re all (proud? with you? illegible)!”  
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    Who won the competition?
    Only three bombers in the entire group completed 100 missions: LIFE, Buzz Job and Tail Heavy.
    The last mission of the 485th BG was on Linz, Austria, on April 25, 1945. It was Tail Heavy's 100th  mission. During the same mission LIFE received flak damage and a tail gunner was wounded, therefore the plane landed in Yugoslavia. Buzz Job landed at Zara during another mission, the day before: the crew returned to base, but the plane was left in Zara.
    For that reason, Tail Heavy was the only 100-mission bomber to finish the war at Venosa, his home base.
    (data from I'M OFF TO WAR, MOTHER,BUT I'LL BE BACK, by Jerry W. Whiting and Wayne B. Whiting, Tarnaby Books, Walnut Creek, CA, 2001).


    Pierced Steel Planking: the gates of the war
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    Thanks to the 485th BG Vets First contact Old ties
    Mount Vulture, Old Sawtooth Life at the Venosa Airfield during World War II  The kids of Venosa and the airmen
    Bombs Away, the magazine With the eyes of the children 2008: impressions
    2008: return to the base Bibliography & Links INFO
    Search and texts: Pasquale Libutti   rapacidiurni@gmail.it       Page connected to www.storiedelsud.altervista.org