Dec. 25, 1944--Christmas Day. Back to Hall marshaling yards. Scant flak. We lost engine. Poor pattern. No escort.
The following piece was written by Bill Roberts and appeared in the December 25, 1963 edition of The Nashville Banner.
Roberts served in the Army and Army Air Corps from November 1940 until May 1945. Initially he served in many places stateside, but joined the 376th Heavy Bombardment Group in October 1944. He was a radio operator-top turret gunner in the 513th Squadron, flying in B-24s.
The 376th was formed in North Africa in 1942 and became one of the most heavily decorated groups in World War II. By the time Bill arrived at its base in San Pancrazio. Italy, the group had flown nearly 400 missions and received three Distinguished Unit Citations: North Africa and Sicily Campaigns; the low-level mission to Ploesti Oil Refineries in Romania; and a long mission to Bratislava in Czechoslovakia.
Bill completed a full tour of 50 missions and as luck would have it, his last
mission was the last mission the group flew. He noted, "'The squadron and group suffered many losses over the years. but his crew completed the tour by returning home each time. A few times we struggled in on three engines and heavy flak damage, but we never had to crash land or bailout."
After World War 11. Bill became a writer for The Nashville Banner staying there for 49 years.
(On January 29 the 1964 Winter Olympic Games will begin at Innsbruck, a
picturesque resort high in the Austrian Alps. Skiers, ski-jumpers, ice skaters, bobsledders, and hockey teams from most of the major countries of the world will compete and will prove once again that the friendly strife of the Olympics is the one international common denominator. On Christmas Day, 1944, things were different in Innsbruck.)
IT WAS DARK at 4 a.m., and cold even in Southern Italy, when a shivering corporal
from operations awoke a sleeping B-24 radio operator with the words, "Merry Christmas, Rob. Let's go."
(Outside of actually sweating through a bombing run, getting out of a warm bed in the middle of the night to fly on a mission, not knowing whether or not you would return to that bed the same night, was the toughest part of flying combat in World War II).
“What's merry about it?” you grumbled to yourself as you struggled into your flight gear. “Today of all days, we ought a get a day off. Wonder where we're going?
Please not Vienna or Munich with all those guns. Please let it be a baksheesh (easy) mission."
the group radio operators' briefing you found out. And it didn't sound
too bad: We were going to hit the railroad yards at a little town named
Hall, a few miles east of Innsbruck with only six or eight guns. But
there was a warning:
“The bomb run would be east to west and a sharp left turn was necessary after "bombs away" to avoid the heavy flak at Innsbruck. The three other groups of the wing (the 47th, 15th Air force) would be hitting the latter's rail yards - a Tough target.
THE BRIEFING ended just as dawn was
breaking and you joined your crew inside one of your favorite planes -
No. 51, "Rugged Rosie." Old Rosie was a veteran - and plenty tough. She
insisted on staying in the air no matter how many holes they shot into
her, and she nibbled daintily on gasoline so that she always made it
home without a refueling stop_
With eight 500-pounders in her belly and Lt. Don Sawyer of Houston, Texas, at the wheel, Rosie rose lugubriously into the air carrying you on Mission No. 20. For her it was Mission No. 100-plus and for the group close to Mission No. 400.
You were a part of the 513th Squadron in one of the most famous groups of the war - the 376th known as the Liberandos. The enemy knew it well, for the 376th carried its distinctive tail markings into the North African campaign, the invasion of Sicily, Italy, and Southern France - and on the celebrated strike against Ploesti!
AS RADIO operator you got a break this
Christmas morning. While still in friendly territory you didn’t have to
remain on the intercom within the plane. On the way north, while in a
slow climb to 22,500 feet, you tuned in on the BBC. On most days you
listened to popular dance music. but today; of course, familiar
Christmas hymns came through the earphones.
But when the announcer
said, "Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men," you could only give a
humorless smirk. Too many men would face death; too many men would die
You thought of the freezing infantrymen fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. No heated suites for them. You were thankful your war was relatively clean. THEY were fighting the dirty war.
ALL TOO SOON you entered enemy territory and you climbed into Rosie's upper gun turret. Just ahead was one of the most gorgeous sights ever seen: the magnificent Alps, shimmering in bright sunlight under the cloudless sky. It had snowed in the mountains on Christmas Eve and their virginal whiteness was broken only by occasional wisps of smoke rising out of the chimneys of snug homes nestled in the valleys.
If only you were a Santa Claus carrying toys to those chimneys ... but you weren't a Santa Claus - and you weren't carrying toys. “Dive for the cellar” Go to the shelter. everyone! We don't want to hurt you - just your railroad. Our toys are bombs! GET A WAY FROM THOSE TRACKS!”
YOU WERE on the bomb run now and the briefing officer was right. Scant flak,
inaccurate. But up ahead a solid curtain of bursts aimed at the groups hitting Innsbruck.
After "bombs away" your pilot needed no urging to make that sharp left turn. Sawyer stood old Rosie straight up on her left wing and she peeled off out of danger, seemingly as happy as you were to get that bomb load out of her belly.
It was a happy crew high-tailing it home, But, there was a sobering note. The
bombing pattern was poor which meant that too many bombs missed the target. You could imagine where they landed, but you tried not to think: about it. You could only thank God you didn't take a swan dive down amidst the rubble, and you couldn’t help thinking:
What a way to spend Christmas.