Ralph P. Thompson was a pilot. He and his crew were in the 515 squadron.
Ralph wrote the following about the Dec. 28, 1943 mission:
This is an account of my experience in leading Mission #206 of the 376th Bombardment Group (H). The date was 28 December 1943, the target was the railroad repair facility at Vicenza, Italy, about 500 miles northwest of our base at San Pancrazio, in the "heel” of Italy. I was in the pilot’s (left) seat and Lt Colone1 Ted Graff, the Group Commander was in the right seat. Colonel Graff and I were friends. I was the 515th Squadron commander, so he was also my boss.
The conduct of the mission was hampered by cloud decks and haze. We opted to climb to cruise altitude over our base, since there was a hole in the 9 to 10 thousand ft overcast. This delayed us, but we knew the 98th Group would also be delayed. Arriving about 8 minutes late at our rendezvous, we did not see the 98th. From then until we arrived in the target area we felt that the 98th was ahead of us. Later at the 82nd Fighter Group (P-38s) rendezvous we failed to see them. Again we felt that the other groups were ahead of us. The 98th had been designated the lead group. En route we saw a formation of aircraft to our left. We turned toward them but soon determined that they were B-17s, so resumed our heading to our target. We saw no other aircraft, heard no radio comments. We flew between decks at about 11 thousand feet and were in the clear at the head of the Adriatic, as briefed. As we approached the Initial Point we saw a formation ahead of us. We thought they were the 98th Gp until we quickly realized they were enemy fighters.
By that time Jerry was attacking and destroying the 5l2th Squadron. We dropped our bombs on the target and turned toward Base. We had lost ten of the seventeen B-24s that had started the mission.
Clifford Wendell wrote eloquently of his misfortune of being shot down, losing members of his crew, being a prisoner of war. He wrote further that I broke radio silence to try to find the 98th and the 82nd, that other air commanders tried to persuade us to abort the mission, that "ordinarily" we had instructions to abort if a rendezvous was missed, all inaccurate.
I did not know that it was my "last mission" and I wonder how Wendell knew it. The furor after the mission resulted in me being "stood down" and thus my tour was ended. Wendell erroneously assumed that my thought processes regarding turn-backs, finishing my tour, etc., coincided with his. Not true. We had different perspectives, it appears.
We were not used to having fighter cover: we had confidence in the weather forecast. Col Graff was on his 13th mission, I on my 39th. We discussed the weather, the inability to rendezvous with either the 98th or the 82nd, so we agreed to proceed, still thinking the other 2 groups were ahead.
What else? We were fighting a war, we had orders to bomb a target, we had seventeen bombers and crews. We were combat crews doing our thing. It would have been a dereliction to turn back. The mission was conducted professionally. We got clobbered.