[The following article is a recollection of a harrowing mission flown by Frank Wright’s crew as told by the plane’s navigator, Malcom McIntire. The mission in question is certainly #156 because, as he mentions, it was the last one on which Wright was their pilot.]
“I couldn’t recall the date [of this mission], our target, or the briefed altitude. My best guess is that it was in the last week of August 1943. The mission target was a small town in central Italy. We were always trying to stop troops or supplies coming to southern Italy in preparation for the coming invasion. Our bombing altitude was always between 18,000 and 22,000 feet.
We were over water east of Italy, still climbing, and on a northerly heading, in a very loose formation when we lost number three engine because it was losing oil. Actually, it came out in a solid-looking jet, obviously under pressure. Wright feathered the propeller, which stopped the engine. At this point, Wright tried to continue climbing with three engines. This couldn’t be done. So, after discussing it with [V. Allen Shouse, the bombardier], they decided to drop the bombs. We were still over water.
The bomb load, as it was for almost all our missions, was twelve 500-pound bombs. They dropped eleven and kept one so that it would still be [counted as] a mission. During this time, we fell behind the group and continued to lose position, as we were flying on three engines.
When the group – by this time way ahead of us – turned to a westerly heading toward the target, at my suggestion, we turned also, and flew parallel to the group’s course, and continued on. This heading [was maintained] completely across Italy.
When we reached the sea west of Italy, we turned south on a heading which would take us back to Benghazi. In a short time, the group – on the same course – overtook us. At this time, Wright got into formation in the group and added power to maintain our position. This, of course, was above red-lined power settings. We also came under fighter plane attack, which did not last long, and, to my knowledge, caused no damage to any planes in the group. I don’t know how long we flew at these advanced power settings. I think about an hour.
When the engines began to lose power we fell behind the formation and Wright gradually lost altitude until we were over Sicily. By that time, we were alone and out of sight of the rest of the group.
When Wright saw Gerbini he asked the crew whether they wanted to parachute down or have him land the plane. The enlisted men all voted to parachute, but by that time Wright decided to land, and did so. I didn’t vote.
At that time Sicily had been under Allied control for less than two weeks, and Gerbini was not an airbase. They did, however, have a few soldiers there. There were no buildings. We spent two days there. They must have fed us because I don’t remember starving, but we slept on the ground without blankets. Wright spent most of his time trying to find someone to help us. On the second day, from nowhere, somebody got us a plane, a B-25 – a twin-engine bomber – to fly us back to Africa. Again, I don’t remember any details, but I do remember the flight.
There was not much room in the back part of the B-25, and with nine men it was crowded. We sat on the floor, which was metal, and there are no windows on a bomber, so we couldn’t see out. It is a two and a half hour flight from Sicily to Africa.
That was Wright’s last mission, which I think accounts for his desire to get it done. It was also the most screwed-up mission I remember.”
Probably referring to the same mission, Wright crew member Wayne Sowers
gave the following report to the Cumberland Evening Times on 13 October
We made a forced landing in Sicily one day after two of our engines were shot out. While down we started helping ourselves to some grapes in the vineyard. The owner stopped us, and we offered to pay. He spurned the money, so we offered him some C-ration biscuits. He went for that.
My Dad (Shouse) concurred with Sowers that two engines dropped out on this mission, but Dad always added when he told this story that a third engine quit just as they were landing.