l did not know it, but this was to be my last combat mission on this combat tour. It was Monday March 1, 1943. The target - for my third time - was to be Naples. We were to bomb the shipping in the harbor with a formation of nine 8-24's from our group and a formation of twelve B-24's from the 98th Bomb Group. We were to bomb Naples at dusk and then return individually under the cover of darkness.
We had an undercast as we approached Italy and Sicily. We usually tried to go up the Messina Straits between the two. Due to the undercast and a navigational error, we flew directly over Messina. We were still climbing for our target altitude and at this point we were at 11/500 feet. Antiaircraft fire was heavy and accurate. A German fighter attacked our formation. Capt. Walsh's plane had an engine shot out. He and two other damaged planes turned back. Our remaining six planes continued on to NapIes.
Much earlier in our combat tour, one of our B-24’s had troubIe over the Messina Straits. Like today, there was an undercast. Capt. Bernie Rang, the Group Navigator had volunteered to fly this mission to instruct a new navigator on his first combat flight. The two navigators had the formation fly over Messina by accident and they drew a lot of anti-aircraft fire. One shell burst very close to Bernie's ship making a lot of noise and shrapnel hit the side of the plane. Bernie apparently thought the plane was doomed and he and the new navigator promptly bailed out. None of the others abandoned the plane and it continued to NapIes, bombed the target, and returned to base without further mishap. To my knowledge, no one ever heard of the two navigators again.
We bombed our target in NapIes, in clear weather and with good results.
Our ship was singled out for special attention by an enemy fighter. It was fortunate that the fighter did not close for the kill but chose to stay well back and “hose” us with his fire laced with tracers. I literally dodged his burst of fire for awhile, pulling up or down depending on whether the burst were below or above us. This thwarted his ability to hose us with his fire. I finally zigged when I should have zagged. He got us with a good burst and shot up our top gun turret and wounded our flight engineer who was also the top turret gunner. He was cut several places in the face as the plexi-glass shattered but was not actually hit by any of the bullets. After the fighter left, he came down from the turret almost frozen and covered with blood. We had several bullet holes in the B-24.
The engineer's name is Kenneth R. DeLong of Brandon, Florida. Ken finished the tour of combat and volunteered for a second tour later in Italy with the 98th Bomb Group (H) as I did with the 93rd in England. Our Halverson Detachment had been formed out of the 98th. It later became a neighboring group in Palestine (now Israel), and Egypt, and Libya (Tobruk and Benghazi) as we concentrated on destroying Rommel's supply lines across the Mediterranean Sea.