Within the many World War II combat units of the USAAF, within the 14th Air Force the 122nd Observation Squadron was activated and assigned to the Louisiana National Guard on 30 July 1940. The squadron came to active service only on 1 October 1941; it was later re-designated as the 122nd Liaison Squadron on 31 May 1943 and was transferred to Europe on 25 December 1943, when it arrived to the Manduria airbase near Taranto, Italy.
Transformed on 18 March 1944 into the 122nd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), the unit was attached to the 15th Air Force for administration, supply and maintenance, and was subsequently transferred to Blida, Algeria, arriving there on 12 April 1944 .
Map of the Algiers area with the location of Blida airfield
On May, 12 the unit was re-designated again as the 885th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) (Special) or, briefly, 885th BS (H) (Sp) and was devoted to secret special operations (Special Duty). It would have been the only USAAF heavy bomber squadron in the Mediterranean Theatre which, despite its name and the fulfillment of almost 3,000 sorties, during its entire existence would never have dropped a single bomb .
In fact, the operating conditions of these Special Duty flights were often much more uncertain and risky than normal bombing missions. Some of the men of the 885th were volunteers who had requested to be transferred from other squadrons because they felt uncomfortable at the idea of taking part in the bombing of European cities where, they knew, many unarmed civilians would have died. The commander of the 885th BS, Colonel Monro MacCloskey, remembers:
«As a commander of a special group of pilots and air crews, I had one of the strangest units in the old Army Air Forces. Some of my men were volunteers, but others were rejects from the heavy bomb squadrons. We didn’t know as much about the physical problems of high altitude flying then as we do now. Some of these men had even been tagged yellow by they comrades who were flying their dangerous combat missions despite flak and enemy fighters. In time, they were transferred out of their units and a number of them ended up in my outfit.
These ‘cowards’, who were simply unable to tolerate the high altitudes required for conventional bombing, more than proved their mettle along with the others at our more hazardous, but low altitude, night flying. They turned out to be pilots, copilots, navigators, and bombardiers who were just as brave, if not more so, than many of the men in the bomb squadrons they had left. In fact, it took a very special kind of courage to fly secret missions in all types of weather in the dark of night and under conditions which most bomber crews couldn’t stomach» .
The men of the 885th were well aware of the high risks they were taking and of the fact that many of them would never have come back from their missions. Nevertheless, according to General Ira C. Eaker, commander of the Mediterranean Allied Air Force (MAAF), the men of the squadron were enthusiastic about their work  and the morale was high .
Map of Italy showing some of the main routes followed by secret missions of the 885th BS departing from Brindisi .
The 885th BS was not framed into a Bombardment Wing and it was not assigned to any Bombardment Group, reporting directly to the staff of the 15th Air Force.
The unit was initially equipped with eight new Consolidated B-24 Liberators, complete with their crews, assisted by three Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses . Later, more aircraft were added, which often came directly from the United States and passed through the USAAF depot of El Aouina, near Tunis, to undergo the modifications required in order to fly special missions .
At the beginning, the targets of the unit were exclusively French locations. When the liberation of southern France began on 15 August 1944 with operation ANVIL, the 885th BS became available for other assignments. The French Resistance (called Maquis) in fact no longer needed supplies coming by air from the Mediterranean. The squadron was then moved from Blida to Maison Blanche, just outside Algiers, on 25 August 1944 and flew its first mission to North Italy during the night between 9 and 10 September 1944 .
Between 23 September and 2 October 1944 the squadron was transferred to Brindisi to approach the new targets of the missions, which were now set in North Italy and in the Balkans. The 334 Wing RAF, already stationed in Brindisi and skilled in Special Duties, assumed the command of all the operations of the Anglo-American special air units, which from then onwards operated in close coordination.
Brindisi, Italy, 15 February 1945. Navigators of the 885th BS trace the routes for their next mission .
The very bad weather conditions that characterized the entire month of October 1944 heavily reduced the success of special missions and deliveries in northern Italy, which at the time were carried out almost exclusively at night. Unfortunately for Italian partisans, this period of bad weather coincided with the most intense efforts by the Germans to crush the guerrilla activity, especially in the Udine area, in the northeast, and in the Ossola Valley in the northwest. The 885th BS tried however eighty-five sorties in the only seven nights of October in which operations were possible, but only thirty-three of them were successful, and two B-24 Liberators with their crews were lost .
One of them, carrying a ten men crew and three Italian OSS agents, crashed on 4 October on the slopes of Menna Peak, in the Brembana Valley, within the Bergamo area . The second one, which numbered nine airmen on board, crashed on the Mount Canin massif, in the Udine area, in the night between 16 and 17 October . It is to these men that this website is dedicated.
In mid-December of 1944 the 859th Bomb Squadron, belonging to the 492nd Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force, moved to Brindisi from operation ‘Carpetbagger’ to join special operations already entrusted to the 885th.
The 15th Air Force had then two special squadrons of bombers operating from Italy. In order to unify their command, the 885th BS and the 859th BS on 15 January 1945 were joined into the 15th Special Group (Provisional). The base for their missions was moved northwards from Brindisi to Rosignano Marittimo, in the province of Leghorn, and on 17 March 1945 the unit was re-designated as the 2641st Special Group (Provisional) and was put under the command of the 12th Air Force. Transfer to Rosignano, where it stationed until the end of the war, was completed on 20 March 1945. The unit was finally inactivated on 4 Oct 1945 .
From September 1944 to April 1945 the 885th BS flew 1,268 missions in Italy, dropping 4,000,000 lb (1,814 metric tons) of materials and weapons, 246 men and a very high number of propaganda leaflets (or ‘nickels’).
Losses of men and aircrafts were heavy. The crews had to complete 50 operating missions, lasting at least four hours each, in order to be relieved and to be exempted from combat operations, returning to the Zone of Interior, that is, to the United States mainland . After the completion of the first 25 missions, a break was provided; to this rule, however, there were frequent exceptions, dictated by the tactic needs of the 15th Air Force .
 MacCloskey (1945), Unit History, April 1944; Maurer [ed.] (1982), p. 797.
 MacCloskey (1966), p. 29; Peterson (1963), p. 1.
 MacCloskey (1966), p. 38.
 Warren (1947), p. 24.
 Ivi, p. 41.
 MacCloskey (1945).
 MacCloskey (1945), War Diary, April 1944.
 MacCloskey (1966), p. 29.
 MacCloskey (1945), Unit History, August 1944.
 NARA, RG 18, E 342 FH, B 99, image #3A-24097.
 McCloskey (1945), Losses Report, October 1944.
 Feilner (1944), USAAF Missing Air Crew Report No. 9444.
 Hanson (1944), USAAF Missing Air Crew Report No. 9679; MacCloskey (1966), p. 111; Merrick (1989), p. 220.
 Maurer [ed.] (1982), p. 797.
 Simpson (1968), p. 21; Collier (2003).
 Collier (2003).
Im not sure if anyone still checks this, as the last replies were from 2019. I am the grandson of sgt(?) David M Jack, who was a top turret gunner in the b-24, and am hoping that anyone has any information/stories involving him. We have some, but not very much as he did not speak much of his time in the war. I am currently walking through the park where the 885 was stationed in Rosignano, and would love to learn whatever I can about his time in the war
My name is Steve Dahlen. I am the great nephew of James J. Ferguson who flew as a Dispatcher on the Lady Irene (S/N 42-40697) the fateful night of October 4, 1944, which crashed on Mountain Menna in northern Italy. I only recently found out about the fate of my uncle. My mother just knew what the military stated to the family at the time of his death, that he was simply on a positioning flight. They had no idea what the truth was until I started researching it a few days ago. This site has been immensely helpful to me in my research. Thank you! Well done!
Dear All !
Bonjour from South of France.
I am looking for additional information regarding 2 missions conducted by the 885th Heavy Bomb Sqn to South of France in August 1944.
– 10th August 1944 – Close to Seillons-Source-d’Argens (Var-France), perhaps on DZ Fantome – dropping OSS Paul Belgodere (alias Bellanger) – No more info.
– 13th August 1944 – 1 km S Brue Auriac, 30 km NW Brignolles, DZ Fantome (N 43 31 09 – E 05 56 43), Var – France – Team SOE Jedburgh Cinnamon (Cpt Robert Harcourt – conducted by 885th Heavy Bomb Sqn from Blida (Mission Massingham).
Do you have any references regarding those missions ? Type of planes, serial numbers and nick names, crew members, reports, etc…
Many thanks for your help and incredible work !
Sorry, I didn’t arrive until December 1, 1944 at Brindisi.
Many thanks Ralph for your kind reply, perhaps Enrico will have some more info.
I am sorry, but I do not have the detailed logs of the 885th BS missions before September 1, 1944. I am still looking for them. Should I succeed in finding them, I will more than glad to help you.
I think it was not all tea and cake at the base. According to my father,Travis Venters, he was put upon by a desk officer for checking with his engineer that all was well with the em quarters.Other 885ers took dime view of MacCloskey, who had his own P-38 to zip about in. He was on the mission that LOST over a million in gold somewhere in southern France. Why he was not then transferred is a mystery. All of this is to say it was a very human base and squadron.
I meant December 10. And, yes, Cedric, I’m sure Enrico will fill you in.
Great ! Many thanks again for your help and support, Ralph and Enrico
As for “Losing” the gold, I personally think the French lied about the drop. They probably took it and ran, blaming MacCloskey for the faux pas. Also, I don’t remember the Colonel zipping about in his “Private”, P-38. I know he was not well liked, only because he wanted things done then and there. He may have been arrogant, but who in the higher echelon wasn’t ? The Brass with whom he came in contact didn’t like to be bucked. And they couldn’t get rid of him. No one was good enough to replace him. AND…My crew also fell victim to the partisans’ penchant for stealing the gold… We were blamed for that incident toward the end of the war and we, the whole crew, was up for court-martial for, “Dropping $100,000.00 to the Germans”. I found this out after the war at one of my crew’s reunion. We were found blameless. I wonder why? The partisans were always fighting with each other for the drops. There were the communists and the Catholic elements and then, Tito’s Serbians against the Chetniks. Churchill favored Tito whom he felt was more powerful and left the Chetniks to their deaths. (Moe Berg, a baseball player, was one agent who worked flor the OSS. I don’t remember what side he took. as far as the Yugos were concerned)…
I wasn’t there. MacCloskey’s book seems to me to be self-serving. Whatever the gold issue, very little was done about it that we know about.
The P-38 story comes from a crew member of 885 that I talked with. Me, I think every crew that went up were brave men all. I have talked with a flight engineer from 148 RAF who believes that the 885 was detailed to the October missions, in spite of the horrible weather, because the 148 was hit very hard while trying to get supplies to the Warsaw uprising. Records are still under seal in Britan. Lots can be found in the files at Suitland, Maryland
Hello, I am looking for information about my Grandfather Raymond Feilner, who was a pilot. His plane was the Lady Irene B-24, which was lost with another crew flying it. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre for some of his missions flown with this unit. I also have a picture of him in a P-38 while he was in the unit.
Dear Travis….Since, “Nothing was done about it”, therefore, my statement carries weight. The Colonel also flew over 50 missions in his B-17,” The Colonel’s Lady” He didn’t sit behind the safety of his desk…He also took care of me personally, when I had asked for the Christmas week-end pass to see my family in Calabria. He gave me 2 passes totaling 5 days realizing I needed it to stay 3 days with them. (What was left of my family). He had also asked for a crew with an Italian born crewman and we were selected because I was that crewman We were interviewed by him on our likes and dislikes when we arrived at Brindisi and when my turn came to speak, I dropped a hint I was born nearby. The only, “Crime”, I see him committing was he wanted things done, and quickly and….on his terms. I remember a member of his staff who refused to help him on a book he was writing, but I can’t remember the reason why. But if I did, I would not divulge it.
je travaille sur la R2
merci de me contacter PM at email@example.com
My dad, Cpl. Eugene S. Kolupski was also ground crewman with the 885th Heavy Bomber Squadron. He served with the squadron from October. of 1943 to Nov. of 1945. Stationed both in Blida and Brindisi. He is 94, living in Encino, California and still going strong, but in somewhat failing health, although he still drives. He would never talk about his service experience much other than he served in Africa and Italy, working on B24’s. I just last week after I visited him in California, got a hold of his service records, along with the numerous medals, that both he and the unit received. Absolutely amazing to know that this unit was such an elite group. My hats go off to all of the 885th and the job they did. Thank you all for your service.
Dear Mr. Baumann….I regret I never met your Dad and I don’t remember him. I knew of only 2 ground-crewman personally, Gus Mandala and a Sgt. Francesco Di Natale, from Boston. If your father worked on our aircraft, my Officers would have known him, especially my pilot, Lt. Henry Loser, who forever had a long list of repairs for our B-24, but, alas, they are all gone and I believe, I’m the only one left of my crew. Those ground crews worked diligently on our aircraft and obviously, on all the others, but the flights took their toll on the aircraft. Ours was a B-24 H, 42-91919Q; christened, SMOKEY, but we called her Queenie because of her call letter, “Q”. She had flown over 90 missions, (63 with the 8th Air Force, out of England), when one of her engines finally gave out on her 4th. pass and she crashed into the Alpine mountainside in April of 1945. (She was riddled with shrapnel and bullet holes and was all patched up when she was assigned to my crew). You mentioned Foggia…Thanks to Enrico Barbina’s records given me by him, it seems he was one of the original 885th. personnel, stationed in North Africa until October, ’44. He may never have been assigned to another outfit, other than the aforementioned one, thus we have him stationed at Brindisi from October of 1944, with a change of station to the Rosignano Air Base in March of 1945, till the beginning of June, after V-E Day. He could never have been stationed around Foggia, about 150 miles north of Brindisi. He must have come directly from Algeria to his new station in the heel of Italy. I had arrived there from the 464th BG, (near Foggia), in early December. His records show only his name rank and serial number…Nothing else, which leads me to believe he was always with the 885th…Although earlier in the North African Campaign, the 885th was designated the 122nd Squadron and was flying secret air missions, including agents, to Southern France until they were no longer needed there…Hence, the transfer to Italy, with the Balkans, Central Europe and Northern Italy being the new target zones, or more correctly, drop zones. Even though your Dad’s records were lost in the fire at St. Louis, they still can be retrieved. Mine were also destroyed and I wrote to my Congressman of my Assembly District and he got them for me….There was, and is… no fee for this.
Good hearing from you, Baumann, but please accept my condolences, however late, for your father, S/Sgt. Jerome Judge Kingsbury. We loved those men. They kept our B-24s flying! It’s sad that he didn’t talk much about it. The world must know what we were all about …And so, I talk to whomever wants to listen…This is a part of History which should be told by those who made History……We certainly did, and thanks to Enrico Barbina, who so graciously made available this site for all of us to tell our tales.
Thank you so very much for your kind reply, Mr. Cavaliere. I had written my congressman about obtaining the records and they said they could not, but now I will ask them again. I have a timeline that I have reconstructed of my dad’s service, where and when, but it probably has holes and I would love to send it to you to peruse. I see no way to attach it here, so I would need your email address to do that, if you don’t mind. All of this is reconstructed from the few documents I found in his trunk when he died in 1988. I am trying to fill in the blanks.
You say that you are able to look my father up in records from Enrico Barbina. Is there anyway I could pay for copies of those records or have them emailed to me at Baumann@rockisland.com? I would love to see what you are referencing. I have no record of him being in North Africa until Oct ’44. Could that be before he was sent to Foggia in April ’44? I thought he was at San Giovanni near Foggia. Nor have I records about Brindisi or Rosignano in March ’45. Is there any way I can get copies of those records? I will be happy to pay for time or copying for snail mail.
All Daddy’s notes say he was at San Giovanni field, south of Foggia. He arrived in Europe on 12 January 1944. His flight status with 454th Bomb, 736th Sqd., dates from April 1, 1944. On May 7, 1944 he received an Air Medal with clusters from Gen. Twining for the bombing of a Messerschmidt factory in Bad Voslau, Austria on April 12th. I also wonder if his 885th assignment was with the “Carpetbaggers” who dropped OSS and materials behind the lines, but I have no documentation for that. He got conduct note on June 8, 1944 from the 122nd Bomb Sqd. He was still in the 885th on Dec 1, 1944 because he got a good conduct medal from them. Between that date and his leaving Europe on Aug. 24, 1945, I have no records.
Well, let me know if this gives you any ideas as to where he was assigned and what he was doing between mid-1944 and mid-1945. He did mention Brindisi as a place once in a while. Maybe you’re right and he was based there after San Giovanni. Daddy said that he brought his 1917 Colt 45 pistol with him during the war. Was that allowed? Seems hard to imagine in today’s climate. But he was a Texas boy and that gun had been carried by his father in WWI, so it meant a lot to him.
Thanks so much for taking your time for this. I’m sorry to impose. But I’d love to know more and hear about what the conditions and flights were like from you. I don’t know why Daddy never talked about it. He never told me anything. So glad you are still here to fill in some of the blanks.
Joanruth Kingsbury Baumann
daughter of Jerome J. Kingsbury, #18025544
I’m sorry to be a thread-crasher but I am doing research on several of the planes lost in the ocean nearby Brindisi, in particular, B-24 #44-48958.
I understand the plane crashed in the sea east of the runway but I was wondering if anyone was aware if it was ever salvaged or if it remained in the sea.
The base in North Africa was at or near Maison Blanche where my father’screw was sent to retrain for the new mission. His first pilot and bombadier didn’t come back from a mission where they were on the plane as observers.
Hi Ms Plambeck,
My name is Don Crum and I am from Connersville, Indiana. My great Uncle, Edward Ervin was a gunner on your Grandfathers plane the night of their last mission. Here is what we have been able to find out in regards to that mission and his history to date. I understand pilots and gunners took a different path in training, but eventually they did come together to train as a crew. I wonder if your grandfather and my great uncle were part of a regular crew before or after being assigned to the 885th? I hope this info is of some help to you.
On Nov. 26, 1944 Sgt Ervin was re-assigned to the 855th BS from the 781st BS; the only special operations group in the Mediterranean theater. His group’s tasking was insertion and support of clandestine night operations, such as delivering personnel and supplies. According to research, the 885th BS did not belong to a bomb group, but reported directly to 15th air force HQ. At the time he was assigned to the 855th bomb sqn, the 2641st special operations group (P) did not exist yet. On Jan 15, the 859th BS joined the 855th to become the 15th Special Group (P). Then they were re-designated the 2641st on March 17, 1945 and came under the authority of the 12th AAF. This was 10 days after he had been killed. He died short of Brindisi AAF field off the Adriatic coast. I’d be curious to know how and why he ended up with this BS? Did he have much or any combat time with the 781st sqn before transfer to the 855st? From April of 1944 through March of 1945, the 855st sustained 77 KIA/MIA flight crew casualties (roster of 783).
Sgt. Edward P. Ervin, 33805730, B-24 #44-48958, 885th Bomb Squadron (Heavy) (Special), 2641 Special Group (Provisional), 15th Air Force. Killed in Action on 7 March 1945 near Brandisi, Italy, when his aircraft crashed into the Adriatic Sea returning from a “Secret Combat” mission supporting the O.S.S. Born on 3 October 1917, he entered the service on 18 November 1943 from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Sgt. Ervin belonged to a unit that supported clandestine operations behind enemy lines. The 2641st Special Group (P) used modified B-24 and B-17 bombers for night operations to insert operatives and drop supplies to partisans in support of the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S), the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency. Their aircraft were painted black with the ball turret removed for an access door and front turret removed to provide extra visibility to spot drop zones at night.
On 7 March 1945, Sgt. Ervin’s aircraft, piloted by 1st Lt. Edward McKeon, was returning from night mission when it crashed into the sea near their airfield in Brandisi, Italy. At about 2345 Hours, the Control Tower acknowledged giving the pilot instructions to land, but soon realized that the aircraft was approaching the field in the opposite traffic pattern in use that night. They fired a red flare into the air to instruct the pilot not to land. Witnesses heard the aircraft strike the water about 300 yards from the east end of the runway. A launch from the Brandisi Harbor was launched immediately but there were no survivors from the crash.
Sgt. Ervin is buried at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, Nettuno, Italy. He was 27 years old and married.
Dear Don Crum…
I don’t know why others crews were chosen to fly for the 885th. Bomb. Squadron. They may have been random choices, but I can speak why my crew was chosen. In fact, we were interviewed by Col. MacCloskey upon arrival the night of December 10, 1944. (I don’t know of any other crews being met by our CO). The squadron needed a crew with an Italian airman who was knowledgeable with the Italian language and if he were a native born Italian, it would be a plus. I was born in Italy about 150 miles to the southwest, (Calabria), of Brindisi and spoke, wrote and read Italian. Our letters home were censored and it was found I wrote to my mother and some family friends in the Italian. And so, our crew, led by Lt. Henry Loser, our pilot, was selected to fly for the OSS. With a change of station to Rosignano on March 20, 1945, I was summoned to Castle HQ a few days later to have a passport photo taken of me in civvies for the purpose of using me as an agent, admonishing me not to lose the photos and that they would get back to me. It was one of the highlights of my Air Corps experiences. I went into town in civilian clothes and spent the afternoon as an Italian citizen! When I returned to Headquarters, and changed back into my uniform, no questions were asked about my little adventure. I might have been tailed. In any case, nothing came of it since the spring offensive had started and the German Army was in full retreat and they had no further use to recruit new agents….But, before I was called to the Castle, I had already been summoned there to write a “Safe Conduct Note”, in Italian…naturally, and I imagine they were satisfied with my effort that they called me back to have the aforementioned pictures taken. (I still have the 2 photos). I believe Enrico Barbina, this web-site owner, might be able to fill you in on the how and the wherefore of the terrible tragedy at Brindisi. I may have a copy, but I have to search for it. I think McKeon was told to take a different approach to the runway and there may have been a misunderstanding and he undershot the runway coming in from the sea. The night might have been hazy and visibility almost nil, even with landing lights. But, I’m only surmising. Signor Barbina may be privy to the reasons leading up to the tragic crash. By the bye, to complete this little narrative, I flew tail-gunner for my crew of 9. Some of our aircraft were modified somewhat, but with the nose -turret still in place. And I also think we still had the ball-turret on my B-24 94919Q, “Smokey”, which also met her demise on April 13, 1945 in the Italian Alps, near Livigno. 14 men were on board, including 5 Italo-American agents, (Air Corps Personnel). Only 2 survived because they parachuted prematurely. The aircraft was flying too low for a safe parachute jump and never cleared the mountain peak for another pass. This was Lt. Hebinger’s crew. I hope this answers some of your questions…And welcome aboard……
Dear Mr Crum,
Years ago I searched for remaining family members of my Grandfather’s crew with very little success so I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to finally be able to put another puzzle piece in the picture! Thank you so much for the information. I didn’t realize your Uncle and my Grandfather were the same age and they are both buried in Nettuno. You said he was married – did he have any children? Your Great Uncle and my Grandfather, and the Gunner, Louie Campbell were the only ones who were recovered, the rest were lost at sea in the crash.
I apologize to Mr. Cavaliere and Mr. Barbina for my long absence. My mother in law passed away in June after a long battle with cancer and we were trying to help take care of her and my father in law and make arrangements after her passing, as well as babysit for my 1-1/2 year old grandson while my daughter works – My daughter had another baby 4 weeks ago so I’m on ‘maternity leave’ trying to catch up! I am so thankful that Mr. Barbina developed this wonderful tribute to the Solomon Crew and the men who served in the 885th. I am also so thankful to Mr. Cavaliere for his heartfelt descriptions of life there. What a treasure they are.
Years ago I was in touch with John Mattison, the squadron historian, who put me in touch with a friend of Eugene Poplawski, Radio Operator for their plane. The friend was an eye witness to the crash and described it to me in an email. It was just as you described.
I do have a copy of their transfer orders from the 465th group, 781st Squadron to 885th, and your great uncle is on the list with 7 of the crew. Poplawski and one of the gunners, L.B Campbell, were not on the list, so they must have been added to the crew after the others joined the 885th. The date of transfer was November 23, 1944 and I do have some flight records for my Grandfather while he was still with the 465th. His first flight was Nov 1st and last was Nov 20th. They flew missions to Austria, Yugoslavia, Italy and Germany. I can scan it and send you a copy if you like since your uncle may have participated in the same missions. In short, since they were transferred all together as a group, I do believe they may have flown together with the 465th AND the 885th. I can’t be certain of that, but the information may be in one of your Uncle’s files. I did see a picture of your Uncle with another crew in 1943, I believe, that one of your family members posted from Arizona, I believe. I haven’t been able to find any other pictures of any of the other crew, unfortunately. It would be nice to put faces to the names.
Thank you again for sharing your information!
Dear Martha….(I hope you don’t mind the familiarity). You mentioned a Nov. 20, 1944 mission. I have my take on that mission on this web-site. My Group, the 464th. usually flew together with the 465th., since we shared the same parallel runways at Canosa di Puglia. We were stationed on opposite hills overlooking the runways. This was the mission to Blechammer I had mentioned previously where we made a complete circle to return to the target as the cloud cover disappeared by the time we came back to bomb the oil refineries. The lead plane was shot down and the pilot was killed trying to escape his German captors. The story is placed elsewhere on this page. The 332nd. Fighter Group was our escort that day. They were the Tuskegee Airmen. The only time they flew with us while my crew and I were with the 464th.,
from late October to December 6th…..Our last mission before the “Change of Station”.
Dear Martha. I have Steve Carlson’s address for you. You both share the same tragedies of war and life. Steve Carlson: firstname.lastname@example.org….and If I may also give him yours. He was always in touch with Ken Mattison, more than I. He had made annual
trips to the crash site in the Italian Alps in the past, meeting up with the partisans who found the wreckage and the remains of the 12 airmen of our “Queenie”. There is a Memorial Chapel with the names of the fallen forever inscribed on the wall at the mountainside crash site. Warm regards, dear Lady.
Of course you may call me Martha! I am so excited to learn about the missions to bomb the oil fields. I had suspected that might be part of the two squadrons’ mission before you all were transferred to the 885th. I have a picture of both air strips somehow. I think Ken Mattison may have sent it to me. A cousin gave me a book called “The Oilfields of Polesti” and told me he thought my grandfather was part of that campaign. So maybe he was right! My Grandfather mentions in a couple of his letters that the weather was bad while he was there in November which I’m sure limited some of the flights.
I am also thrilled to hear the Tuskegee Airmen flew with you on a mission! My husband and I saw a movie just a few years ago called “The Red Tails”. I wondered if they ever crossed paths with the two squadrons! Did you see the movie?
I was so sad to lose touch with Audrey and Kenny Mattison. My children and I met them in Colorado about 15 or so years ago, while I was visiting my sister in Denver and they were such a nice couple. He gave me many pictures and information and sent me many of his squadron newsletters, one which contains your lovely poem. 🙂 I have tried to relocate them with no luck. I am so thankful to have found this wonderful site Mr. Barbina’s has developed and connected with you – it’s like a little window into my Grandfather’s life. God bless you and Mr. Barbina! 🙂
My father, Jerome Judge Kingsbury, was in the 885th from April 1944 until VE Day. He was a tall, skinny Texan Crew Chief on B-24s out of Foggia. He never told me anything about his service and his records were burned in a VA fire. Can you recall him or tell me anything about their work. Was it all clandestine? I had heard that, after fixing the planes, he also flew along to photograph the target. That sounded like bombing to me but apparently the 885th didn’t bomb. Any info on him? Many thanks.
I would like to mention also about the mystery of “carrying 2”, bombardiers. By the good graces of Enrico Barbina, he was able to solve this “mystery”. We had arrived at Pantanella with a 10 man crew, with Lt. Andrew Caldwell as our bombardier. From the time we arrived at the end of October, ’44 to December 10,1944, we had flown 9 bombing missions, (5 sorties), with the 464th. Bomb. Group. After our last mission with this group on December 6, we transferred out further south to Brindisi. Our nose gunner and Lt. Caldwell were left behind and Lt. Loser was given a new bombardier; Lt. Jim, (Harvey), L’Hommedieu to replace Lt. Caldwell. He would do double duty as nose-gunner, making the nose-gunner, Jim Malcom, expedient. Lt. Caldwell was later promoted to Captain, leaving the 779th. Squadron and given command of the 778th. of the 464th. BG. Lt. L’Hommedieu had just returned to the Group after being shot down and wounded on a mission to Vienna and was rescued by Yugoslav and Chetnik partisans. He finally made it back to Pantanella, evading the German Army while heading for his home base, and after healing, was reassigned to our crew. Lt. Loser must have been an outstanding officer and pilot. Consider this. After Flight Training, I was re-assigned to his crew and here, Lt. L’Hommedieu was reassigned to him, after Lt. Caldwell was being groomed for promotions. Lt. L’Hommedieu never mentioned about his “adventure”. It must be noted, we had exceptional officers to lead us. Flying at night, alone, without fighter cover, was a little different from flying formation in daylight. Different skills, but just as difficult.
Dear Mr. Cavaliere,
I am Martha Plambeck, from Lincoln, Nebraska and my grandfather, Jay M Riley flew with 885th from Nov/Dec 1944 as a co-pilot with Edward McKeon, and was on the missions of Feb. 17/18, 1945. Unfortunately he was killed March 7th after a mission, on a missed landing when they crashed into the Adriatic sea just off shore. I just want to thank you so much for all the information here. I have been searching for information for many years and was so excited to find this site! If you knew any of my grandfather’s crew I would love to hear. My Grandfather had one daughter, my mother, and she is still living and would love any information you might have about them. Thank you again so much!
Dear Martha…..I can only remember Lt. McKeon in passing. (I didn’t meet Lt. Riley, nor the other members of the crew). I saw him once after we arrived at Brindisi on December 10th. Lt. McKeon and his crew were already there since the end of November of ’44. I do know they were with the 465th. Bomb. Group across the hill from ours before they transferred to the 885th. Bomb. Squadron. We must have flown together with the 465th because we shared the twin parallel runways on the Plains of Cannae, (Pantanella, Canosa di Puglia). I was with the 464th….With the OSS 885th, I’m sure my Officers would have known them….I’m sorry about your grandfather, Lt. Riley and all the crew, KIA. It’s vague to me now,, but at the time, I know we felt the loss, but there were other missions and so we carried on. Our runways at Brindisi ran right over the Adriatic Sea and at night, It’s not hard to miss the landings. There was a Church right off our hard stand and the runways were right by it. I regret I didn’t know any of the crewmembers, but there may be others who are reading this column who might have known Lt. McKeon and his crew. Lt. Billings, (now a Captain), would probably have met him and Lt. Riley. He has his own web-site, called “Wings across America”, flying a Cessna all over the Country…And he is now 93 years old. I flew with him once as a sub, (tail-gunner). I’m honored to hear from you and we’ll keep in touch. Whatever I can find, I’ll get back to you….Maybe Enrico Barbina, our 885th. Historian may be of help. He certainly helped me on many an occasion about the 885th. Bomb. Squadron. As for the Feb. 17/18 mission, we flew that night to the same target in the Italian Alps. I would guess you know about the 2641st Group’s Presidential Unit Citation we received for that mission. How that mission was pulled off, still never ceases to amaze me…Accolades to the pilots, the bombardiers and especially, to the navigators, who made this sortie such a success without any fatalities. There were 26 aircraft in operations that might/morning with 3 of our crews, the other being, Lt. Haug, flying to code name; Loganberry & Watermelon. 14 flying for the 885th. and 12 flying for the 859th. Bomb. Squadron, which had arrived from the 8th AF out of England in December, about the same time my crew and I arrived there. Thank you for asking, Martha……Warm regards, Ralph.
Dear Mr. Barbina & Mr. Cavaliere,
I am terribly sorry but when I searched for the 885th bomber group online, I came to this page and in my excitement, assumed Mr. Cavaliere was the author since he seemed to be answering the blog questions. I continued reading through the whole website and then realized that Mr. Barbina is the actual Author! I apologize to both of you! Thank you so much Mr. Barbina for creating this touching and informative tribute to Lt. Solomon and his crew. Thank you for helping me better understand what my Grandfather was a part of! Sincerely, Martha Plambeck
Meant to add, Martha, I knew S/Sgt. John K. Mattison. (I called him Kenny). We exchanged many correspondences. He was the ground, (Tower), radio man and knew exactly what was happening and what had happened while he was on duty. He had sent me a part of the airbase wind-socket from Brindisi as a souvenir. (Still have it). He also was the historian, publishing a monthly edition of “Target for Tonight” of which I have many. I lost contact with him a few years ago due to his age. He was about only 3 years older than me, which would make him around 94 or 95. I’ll be 92 in November.
Martha….I neglected to tell you that the 465th. was our sister group across the other hill. The twin hills were separated by a gully which became a road to the twin parallel runways. We always flew together and of course, the 332nd. Fighter Group also escorted the 465th. that day. As for Kenny Mattison, I don’t know what became of him. He simply stopped writing, but not before he introduced me, via post, to S/Sgt. Armand Terracciano, one of the 2 agents who survived that mountain crash of my B24 H 42-94919Q on April 13, 1945. I miss him terribly. He was so kind and helpful to me….He certainly would have had the paperwork on McKeon and his crew of that tragic event. He was the ground/tower radio operator. It’s very possible Enrico Barbina may have that information and mayhap, Steve Carlson, who was the younger brother of Victor Carlson, navigator, who flew on the late, B-24 H 42-94919Q. Although she was christened SMOKEY, we affectionately called her QUEENIE because of her call letter, “Q”. On my next letter too you, I’ll give you his e-mail address. He will be only too glad to hear from you. We correspond from time to time. Regards and all the best, dear Martha and please accept my deepest condolences on the passing of your mother-in-law. It’s a hurtful time and apologies are not necessary. God upstairs decides on who should inhabit His Domain and I like to think our loved ones are in a better place. I don’t feel He’s ready for me just yet….I look at it this way…..God may not want me because I may be a bad influence on the denizens of the Top Floor…And Satan doesn’t want me in the basement either, because I may cramp his style. What to do? I guess I’ll have to wait it out until they both agree on what to do with me….Fine with me. In the meantime, I’m making new friends as I go around the Sun for the 92nd. time…Friends I would never have dreamed of in my time. Except for Leonard Schiller, Clarence Block, Jim Malcom and Andy Caldwell, my flight engineer, ball turret gunner, nose gunner and our original bombardier, in that order, I’ve met the family of my crew and of other crews with whom I was associated, and let’s not forget, Enrico Barbina and Gabriele Milani and, at that time, (1944/1945), my 15 year old, Italian friends, 72 years later in early October of last year via Skype, thanks to the 2 gentlemen mentioned above. I’ve been blessed a thousand-fold…..I mentioned “Queenie” because she was our aircraft and on that fateful day, she flew with another crew only because we had flown consecutive nights before this day mission. Lt. Hebiinger had the cards stacked against him. His own plane was given to another crew, TO THE SAME TARGET. The power of destiny at work.
Smokey”, aka, “Queenie”, was a B-24 H-20; #42-94919Q, built at the Ford Motor Company’s Willow Run Plant in 1942. Not “J” as written…
Hello Ralph, well done in part of your chronicles. You are a living history, one who must heed to with no distractions at all. As we correspond daily the more I am getting an idea of what my father did not talk about. I thank you Ralph for this. If you please, explain the meaning of “call letters” and the meaning of the “colors”… black, white, and red for example. Years ago I went aboard the B-24 “Diamond Lil”, B-17″ Nine-O-Nine”, was not able to go aboard but did touch B-24 “The Dragon and His Tail” and the B-24 “Memphis Belle”. I’m not sure how to explain my feelings about it, I think I wanted to get closer to my father. Corresponding with you Ralph, one who flew with my father, one who shared with my father, is a gift I will cherish forever. I can pass on to my son who’s name is in fact Paul E. LeSieur. Best regards Ralph, and again I thank you for your time. Julien.
Ciao, Julien. I’m very grateful for your kind comments. With the help of your Father’s log you so graciously sent me, and that of my own and Montgomery’s, it’s not hard to piece together the events as I remember them. Thank God for my faculties… Call letters are used by squadrons as identification when radioing in, and also, visually, while in flight. Serial numbers are not as discernible. They are used also for identification, but for “record & book-keeping” purposes. Groups have identifying ‘Graphics” on the tails/fins of the aircraft, but in order to identify the squadrons, they use color for their letters. For example, the 464th. Group had a wide yellow vertical bar against a black background on the lower part of the B-24’s twin fins. On the upper half, it showed the Wing graphics as a large, Black Square painted on a Yellow background. Now for the squadron colors, Red letters denoted the 776th. Squadron; Yellow would be the 777th; White on a black square background was the 778th; and the 779th. carried only the black letter… We were assigned to the 55th. Wing, recognized by the large Black square on the Yellow background, just mentioned… As for the 885th. Squadron, there were no tail markings. The reason being, we were a clandestine operation. We did have serial numbers on the fins, for record keeping only, and our letter color was Yellow. Our “Smokey”, therefore, was a Yellow Q. (A dull yellow.) Hence, we called her “Queenie” when referring to her. She was hardly ever called “Smokey.” Call letters only, were used in air to ground/ground to air communications, but never during missions… February was a busy month for all the crews, including mine and the narratives will be written up soon… Until Later, Julien. Keep well.
I also was in a B-24 last Memorial Day, but I can’t remember the name. I think it was “Witchcraft.” It was a strange feeling, but it was modified and it looked a little different to me. Had a tough time keeping my balance. The docent allowed me to sit in the tail- turret and it gave me a strange feeling. It brought back memories of my crew… My time, Julien, is for anyone who cares to listen… I feel I want to write about the B-24 and her experiences… I’ll keep in touch.
To Julien LeSieur; son of my Co-Pilot, Lt. Paul LeSieur… Beatrice Moore; nee’ Loser, daughter of my Pilot, Lt. Henry Loser… Suzanne Bowman; nee’ Montgomery, daughter of my waist-gunner, Sgt. Ben Montgomery, Lt. John Billings ~ and other family members of my crew who fought with the 885th Bomb. Squadron in Italy during WW II, I would like to pen these narratives in memory of these gallant heroes who died in line of duty, including, Lt. Solomon and his crew to whom this page is dedicated, and Lt. Hebinger with his crew and, the OSS Agents who shared their fate.
Hello Ralph, I have copy of my Dad’s flight log, where do I send them to you?… Julien
Hello Ralph, thank you for explaining the oak clusters and stars. On the same family gathering I mentioned before I do remember my Dad mentioning about a game called “Pig”… something about high altitude flying without oxygen till the “Pig”passes out. This came to mind with you writing me about when you almost died because lack of oxygen on the high altitude bombing mission. I’ve been in contact with my sister who has e-mailed my Dads pilot log to me along with his portrait, however I am not computer savvy so it will take time for me to send this information to you. She will be going to Seaford to visit inlaws, not sure of the date, however would it be OK for her to visit you when she and her husband make it to L.I.? She would very much want to meet you as I. Thank you again Ralph… Julien.
Good Morning Julien… I don’t recall the game called “Pig”, but I do remember l was in a “Decompression Air Chamber”, as it was called, during flight training. It was a test of endurance to see for how long one could withstand the lack of oxygen. It simulated a plane climbing to high altitudes. I was the last one, (out of a few volunteers), to pass out, at about 31,000 feet. I don’t remember how long I was unconscious, but I do know the pencil with which I was supposed to write, on a pad, became very heavy and I could hardly pick it up. My reflexes also slowed down. I could hardly lift my arms, either…
Yes, Julien, I will be only too happy to meet your sister and her husband and you too, at my home. Seaford is North. Massapequa’s neighboring town and it’s only a skip and a jump away from my house. Let me know when. I would like to meet all of you… There is so much to reminisce. I never could have imagined I would be “talking” to the son of my Co_Pilot… I also want to express my gratitude to Beatrice Moore, Nee’ Loser, for being able to write her. I’ll call her anon. I also found, through the efforts of Enrico Barbina, Lt. Billings, with whom I flew as a substitute tail-gunner on one mission while with the 885th… I’m really flying high! Regards, dear Julien, until the next time… Ralph
Dear Julien… Before we continue to the 885th I think I should clarify a couple of items..
1. MTO–This was the “Mediterranean Theatre of Operations”, for 12th. and 15th. Air Forces. Part of the overall Command of the EAME, “European-African-Middle-Eastern Theatre of Operations.”
2. ETO–was the “European Theatre of Operations.” also part of the overall EAME, but it consisted of the 8th. and 9th. Air Forces in Northern Europe.
3. The WASPs–were the “Women Airforce Service Pilots”, created by Jacqueline Cochran and Nancy Love, at the behest of Gen. “Hap” Arnold of the US Army Air Forces…
4. There was another “Axis Sally”, who broadcast the same type of program, but this one was from Milan, Italy. Same format. She was born in New York City and renounced her citizenship after she re-located to Italy before the war. Her father owned a restaurant in Mid-town Manhattan. The other “Axis Sally”, was born in… Get this! Portland, Maine. After her stint in prison, (she was still an American Citizen), she came back to live in Ohio. Her name was Mildred Gillars. I think we’re up to date; and now, on to the 885th. Squadron… But for the nonce, my dear friend, I’ll bid you, ciao. Regards, Ralph
Good Morning, Julien… I’ve read your latest and response, (Keep ’em coming), and I’ll try to help clarify some of the questions you’ve asked about your Dad and our missions…
We flew many sorties into Yugoslavia and the Po Valley, but most of our missions with the 885th were in the Italian Alps. (We also flew into Austria and Czechoslovakia, When the 859th joined us in December, it was assigned to Yugoslavia, while we concentrated on Northern Italy. Those were the standing orders, but there were exceptions because of weather consideration. There was one mission where both Squadrons flew together in Northwestern Italy on the night of Feb. 17/18, where the 885th and the 859th (The CARPETBAGGERS; which had come from England in December), joined forces supplying the partisans in the NW Alpine Valleys with supplies, equipment and Agents; to disrupt and destroy German entrenchments. There were 14, 885th aircraft and 12 859th… all 26 having successful drops under fire… Most of the crews had 2 separate drop zones… (We did.) The 2 Squadrons, operating as the 2641st Bomb. Group, received the Presidential Unit Citation for this action. Your Father should have this Citation… It is a “Blue Ribbon” only, framed in Gold, the size of which may be 1 3/4″ by 5/8.” I have mine in a shadow box on the wall in my den and I’m looking at it now. I also have a photo, (which I took), of our beloved, Queenie, aka “Smokey”, next to it. She didn’t fly with us that night, nor did she participate in the mission. We had flown her the night before, a 9 1/2 hour flight to the same area, and might have been laid up for repairs… (We did fly her on Feb. 13th also, but on the return home, we had an emergency landing at Foggia after a 10 hour sortie, again, in Northwestern Italy.)
Col. MacCloskey has this commendation listed, with all the crews involved, in his book, “Secret Air Missions.” I have this book… Many of us collected foreign currencies and if we had enough of them, we used to scotch tape them together, in my case, it would have been about 3′ worth, and they were called “Short Snorts, (sp?), a phrase made popular by “Hot Shot Charlie”, a character in the “Terry and the Pirates” comic strip at that time…
Now then, the parachutes. Yes, they were silk and were inspected, prepared and folded by Italian girls who were taught the process. These young girls, mostly seamstresses, were given these ‘chutes as wedding gifts by the Airmen. They made beautiful wedding gowns, and, beautiful brides. As for the oil fields in Africa we were not there at the time of the invasion called, “Torch.” And after North Africa was in Allied hands, the 12th Air Force was broken up, as it were, into 2 separate Air Forces. At the end of 1943, the 15th Air Force, operating out of Italy, became a separate entity. The 12th thus became the Tactical Air Arm of MTO and the 15th was the Strategic Air Command. On December 10, 1944, we had what was called, “Change of Station”, meaning, we transferred to another Base. Brindisi… Before we leave our base at Pantanella, I would like to mention, “Axis Sally.” She would broadcast every night at 10 PM into the early morning hours. We preferred listening to her, rather that our own broadcasts. She had a much better collection of Big Band music and singers. In between songs, she would “chat” with us in a beautiful sultry voice, telling us, “…You boys are getting killed, while your wives and girl friends are out having a good time back home…” We all knew better and we laughed it off, but her music was great! There were nights when she knew the targets before we did, “We know where you’re going tomorrow, and she’d mention the outfits.. .We’ll be waiting for you…” And the Germans did!… Uncanny… And, by the bye… We never called her, “Axis Sally.” The Press did that, to make it more palatable for home consumption…
We had open air movies at night, weather permitting, and sometime in November, we had a visit from Martha Raye and her USO Troupe. What a great Lady!! After her performance, (which now is only a blur for me), she invited both Groups, the 464th and the 465th across the other hill, to chat with her in her tent over coffee. The line was too long for me and I didn’t wait, but our Radioman, S/Sgt. Andrew Babich did, and he didn’t get back till the early morning hours. He could get in only a few words, he said, but it was well worth the wait.
The nights were mild for the most part on the Hill. (I never wore my overcoat in Italy.) It rained a lot; chilly nights here and there, but we never saw snow. Plenty of strong winds, which made it difficult for take-offs and landings….The Hill was one of many which were flanking the plains below. (It created sort of a wind tunnel.) In Antiquity, these plains was the site of a battle between the Roman Legions and Hannibal’s Carthaginian Army, where the Legions were destroyed. We walked on plenty of History in Italy… It was a great “school”, in more ways than one. Until next time, Julien, keep well… Ralph
Hello Ralph, yes my Dad has the citation you mentioned and other ribbons on his uniform, some with oak clusters and some with stars. His air medal is still in box with the ribbon and what looks like a lapel pin. On the ribbon attached to the medal is a #2 pin.
What I gathered was that Dad earned 3 air medals, the oak clusters and stars I’m not sure just yet, maybe you can fill me in on what it means. My father continued flying as a civilian after the war. I do remember him taking me up several times in a piper J2 from a lake, skis in the winter and pontoons during the summer. My mother also became a pilot later on, she flew a piper tomahawk. Mom told me she grew up liking airplanes, as a child she had built models and hung them from her bedroom ceiling. In her young teens she would watch airplanes practice low level flying in the valley which she grew up. She said that you could hear the planes coming and the children would dash for the highest viewpoint and actually look down onto the planes as they flew by at a low altitude. That time there was an airbase in Limestone, Maine, supposedly secret.
Found Dads “Short Snort” years ago, the tape came all undone so I placed it all in a box, dates are written on the tape. Thank you once again Ralph, I am soon to send information to this site as well to you my friend, truly Julien.
Dear Julien, The 3 Oak Leaf Clusters to the Air Medal meant your Dad received the Air Medal an additional 3 times. (4 in all.)The 5 stars are called Battle Stars, meaning he fought in 5 campaigns. The Ribbon to which these stars are attached, is the EAME, (European-African-Middle Eastern), Campaign Ribbon, with the Medal attached. The battle stars are for the, North Apennines, Rhineland, Air Combat-Balkans, Rome-Arno and Po Valley Campaigns. (I don’t know what your “#2” stands for……)
Odd. As a youngster, your Mom watched the airplanes flying in the valleys below… at low altitudes! How ironic. A portent of things to come. It looks like flying is in your family’s blood. I tried going into aviation at NYU after the war under the GI Bill, but all classes were closed with a waiting list, a few years long. After a year of classes and waiting for an opening, I was told to change courses or leave. Colleges were expensive, even in those days and I couldn’t afford it. And so, I remained in retail.
The same work I did as a teenager when I enlisted… I’ll get my thoughts together and continue with my chronicles. I believe I’m the “Last of the Mohicans” and I feel compelled to write about the deeds of our great 885th. Squadron…. With luck, I’ll be done before the time comes… I give your Mother credit for taking up flying. Good for her! I was in awe of the WW II WASPS. The beautiful ladies who flew aerial gunnery training for us and ferried all types of aircraft, including bombers, overseas. I love them, but today, they’re almost forgotten. They never got the recognition they deserved; they were indeed heroines!! I truly believe they should be considered War Veterans, on a par with the rest of us… Ciao for now Julien. You can count on me to give you more stories, (unembellished). We want the world to know about us. We are forever in Mr. Barbina’s debt for giving us the chance to speak. Our “Smokey”, aka, “Queenie”, suffered the same fate as Lt Solomon and his crew, to whom this web-site is dedicated. And therefore, we are kindred spirits… All the best to everyone.
Mr Cavaliere, it is a privilege for me to host your memories, so now it’s my turn to thank you! I am very happy that the aim of this website is being reached: not only to remember Lt. Solomon and his crewmates, but all the men of 885th BS who helped so much our effort for freedom.
I deeply appreciate your on the 885th. My father, Travis Venters, was co pilot on one of the 2 crews that went down on 10/1944. Dad wrote to my mother, after one tough regular bombing mission. He wasn’t afraid of combat but he said I don’t feel right dropping bombs on women and children.
While still at Maison Blanche the original first pilot and bombadier went out on an orientation real mission experience and didn’t come back. I was born 4/13/45, and mother was never sure he knew he a father. In August of 1985 I went to the original burial site. I will the warmth that people gave me. I had the honor of declassifying the records of the 885th, as 40 years had passed. These were brave men. If you have more questions, please contact me at email@example.com. God bless.
I would like to thank Enrico Barbina for giving us the chance to tell all those interested, in our stories. We have much, much more to say when we were with the 885th… In my book, the best AAAF Squadron and the greatest of all Commanding Officer and his Staff. Our morale was high, with no exception! Thank you, Mr. Barbina… All the best…
Julien… I still have my A2 Flight Jacket and it’s a size 36… Your Dad’s Jacket shows the Squadron number of our 464th BG. We used black call letters for the 779th. For the 885th we used yellow and there were no other identifying markers, such as Wing, Group and Squadron on our B-24s; only the serial number of the aircraft on the twin fins. The planes were painted olive drab with a sort of pinkish grey undercarriage.
(We flew almost exclusively at night.) We became a Group, (15th Special Group) when the 859th joined us from England in December, and re-designated the 2641st (H) (Sp.) (Prov) in the Winter of ’45. We were under the Command of the OSS and not attached to any Wing. For the Bomb. Groups, the aircraft were in their original bright aluminum metal skin, which were beautiful to watch in flight… As for Lt. LeSieur’s last mission, I’m may not be much help here. I know we flew together for the last time on April 26, which was one of only 2 day missions we made. (I did, anyway.) According to my log, we flew to the Parma area to supply the Italian partisans, not far from the American 5th Army front lines. (I could be wrong on the reception. Maybe they weren’t partisans.) It was a clear day with scattered clouds, the drop was successful and it was a short flight, (2 1/4 hour flight both ways.) If we flew together on this last mission, (and I’m sure we did), I would think your Father’s log would be the correct one. Especially for the fact that the 5th Army would have been in the area and had already liberated the compound.. We had some interesting missions, I can tell you that… Blechammer, Bratislava, the first 2 at Vienna, one on April 14 near Carrara. Did he ever mention to what happened to our Black X which brought us to Italy? When we first joined our Group, the first thing the Command did was assign the B-24 to a veteran crew. (Protocol, you know.) And we flew our missions, flying whatever was available. (That changed with the 885th.) On her very first mission, we received the bad news she went missing. It seems she disappeared in a cloud cover and when the planes emerged from these dense clouds, “X-Ray” was nowhere to be seen. If she had deserted and went for the Swiss border, the authorities there would have notified the 15th. AF Command or Washington… She could have developed aircraft difficulties and spiraled down into the Alps. There can be no other explanation. Maybe some day, a mountain climber will discover her remains… I don’ t want to end this letter on a sad note, so I’ll just mention to you that I had bought a mandolin and guitar in the Town Square in Cerignola. (That was a fun day. The seller and I played to the crowd that afternoon before I paid for them, even switching instruments, and among the music we played, I threw in a few Fascist numbers on the mandolin. No one in the crowd moved away, and I could tell they were enjoying it. So was the seller.) All the best Julien, to you and your family. I was never a traveler, but if only I could have visited Maine. It was and still is, my favorite State. When we flew over in Autumn on our way North, I could see all that beautiful orange and golden foliage of the Autumn Season. I fell in love with Maine right then! I guess I was a creature of habit and never left Long Island… We still have a few trees left down here and plenty of vineyards.
Dear Ralph, thank you for your for your sympathy about my father, yes he was young (55). All of his children are now older than that point in age. My dad never spoke to me about the war, my mom told me some, however there was one day during a family gathering when I overheard my dad telling a story to a cousin who was also a WW2 veteran. He spoke of an ME-109 that came in from the nose and shot it up, when they landed he went down below to check damage and remembers seeing a kidney and a finger, not sure who’s, mom said it was the navigator. Another story is how they had to belly land. My mom told me the underground would use flash lights to guide the planes flying over the alps. Thank you once again for your correspondence, truly Julien LeSieur, son of Paul.
Dear Julien…..Your Dad was involved in another skirmish when he subbed as a Pilot for another crew. I don’t know the details, and as you have mentioned, he didn’t talk about the missions to any of us, either. Actually, we didn’t among ourselves, except in passing. This other skirmish, to Bratislava, was another encounter with German fighters. The days of these bombing raids started at 2 AM when we were awakened in our tent by an orderly- messenger, with his flashlight shining in our eyes, telling the 6 of us enlisted men we were to fly. (We already knew from the night before by always checking the outdoor bulletin board and a visit from our Pilot, Lt. Loser.) After washing and partly dressing up for the mission, we went to mess. ( I never did, I felt it better to fly on an empty stomach and no coffee. Missions were long, from 7 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours and I would be more alert without food.) By 6 AM there was a briefing session in a large Quonset hut, with a stage at the far end of the building, where a drawn stage curtain hid a 10’x10′ map of Europe with the target for the day shown in a red exclamation point and dot…The route had a red string with tacks at different check points. As we filed in, we sat on rows of benches behind the Officers, with talks going around as to the target for the day. This day were the marshaling yards in Bratislava, Hungary, by the Danube River….As the curtain opened, we saw the target and after the planning Officers finished their assessments and instructions about the weather, routes and targets, (there were 2 alternate targets in case the first was closed in, by bad weather), we were warned to positively avoid hitting civilian and residential areas. When the briefing was over, one of the Chaplains, (it didn’t matter whether he was a Catholic Priest, a Jewish Rabbi or Protestant Minister), offered a prayer, and after blessing us, we filed out and were driven to the flight line where we finished dressing for the mission….By now it was around 7:30 AM and we were in our aircraft, to pre-flight our stations. By 8 AM, the planes were ready to roll and one by one, took turns coming up the taxi strip unto the runway in the order of position by boxes, which were being formed around 10,000′. We shared the airbase with the 465th. on the other hill next to ours and we had twin parallel runways to accommodate the 2 Groups….It was some sight seeing the Squadron boxes forming into one larger box of Groups from other airbases. The logistics putting 300 aircraft in the air, in position, with perfect timing, was unbelievable. At this altitude, we were ready to go to our target, climbing to 20,000′ and, to 26,000′, each Group being assigned a different altitude to make it harder for the Flak guns below to hit the formation. We had, what is called, a closed formation to better protect it from enemy fighters, should they attempt to attack. We were met at a rendezvous point by our own fighters and that would add more protection. It would be suicide for any German fighters to try their luck against this firepower…Our machine guns were checked at around 10,000′, and our bomb bay doors also, at intervals to prevent them from freezing….We had a substitute Bombardier that day. It was his first flight since being shot down over Yugoslavia. He was rescued by partisans and made his way home, and after a time in re-hab, (he might have been wounded), he was assigned to us. Bad move!…..All went well and as we reached our IP, (Initial Point), we turned into our target area in an open formation and we flew the gauntlet flying toward the marshaling yards. The Bomb Bay doors were opened to prepare the release of the 12, 500lb. bombs, which were armed before the run,. Except…Our Bomb Bay doors didn’t open…They were frozen shut. (The sub Bombardier forgot to test them at the prescribed intervals.) And so, we flew over the target area with the ready to explode bombs latched on in our bomb bays….It was about a 4 minute run with the 88s and 75s firing at us, plus another minute over the target itself…..Our fighters waited outside the perimeter before they picked us up to fly us home. As for my aircraft, we couldn’t keep up with the formation and kept lagging behind as 4 other aircraft did for various reasons.. Lt. Loser and Lt. LeSieur did their best , but the load bogged the airplane down and finally, our “comrades-in-arms” arrived to do battle with us. Here, we must interrupt the proceedings to mention about the cardinal rule as applied to combat….”No aircraft, whether a bomber or a fighter, shall leave the formation to the aid of a stricken aircraft.
They cannot and, will not compromise the integrity of the formation.” There you have it, we were left to our own devices. The Germans’ only chance of an even fight was to look for stragglers and they found 5 of us. Me109s, Fw190s and one Me210 joined in the fracas, and our aircraft , and the 4 others were attacked repeatedly by them. We fought them off eventually, but at a cost of 3, B-24s going down.** I saw one of them get hit and her starboard engine catching fire.** The plane had no chance and she went down with only 3 ‘chutes opening up. When the fighters left, the Flight Engineer went to work to see if he could release the bomb bay doors. At about 4,000’, we were able to get them opened. We took turns trying to steady the Flight Engineer on the very narrow catwalk so he could work the mechanism that would free the doors…He had no parachute and neither did any of us. (We used chest ‘chutes at all times and they were useless. They had to be put on the floor near our stations and if a plane is in trouble, there is very little time to get to them. Both, the Pilot and Co-Pilot would have had the worst of it.) At this point, Lt. Loser directed the Bombardier to jettison the bombs over the Adriatic Sea, which was only a few minutes away. Instead, he dropped the bombs over land and hit a farm house and some small outer buildings. From my tail-turret, I saw this unfolding and reported the incident to Lt. Loser. He was furious, threating him with a court-marshal. On landing, we looked over the damage to our aircraft. It was full of holes from shrapnel and machinegun fire, but the B-24 sustained no vital damages….I remember your Dad and Lt. Loser scratching their heads. (I think we all did.) At de-briefing, we made our report.** Lt. Loser was asked to re-consider his decision about the Bombardier, citing his being shot down and his efforts getting back to the base, which in some way was bravery on his part. The Lieutenant relented, but I believe the Bombardier never flew again…We found out later, after all the reports were analyzed by intelligence, that we lost 3 bombers in the encounter and I think there were 5 bombers lost to anti-aircraft guns. The Germans lost 5 aircraft from the 15 which fought us…(We shot no one down, I thought I had one. I saw black smoke coming from underneath his undercarriage, but he fooled me. He came back and I recognized his markings. (Can you believe I started yelling at him for pulling a stunt like that? He would never know, obviously. It was reflex action on my part and I often wondered if he knew I recognized him?)
To me, this was the light-hearted side of warfare. I felt for those guys. They were like us. Except they were the enemy and there was a job to do.
**That B-24 which I saw go down, was in my gun-sight as I was shooting at the last fighter who attacked us. I also reported this to Lt. Loser and the Intelligence Officer at de-briefing, in which I claimed, “I shot my own plane down.” I could tell by the tracer bullets, which were reaching the airplane, (she was a few hundred yards away but the right engine was in my sights for a second. (I had to continue shooting until the fighter disappeared from my gun-sight.) Both men disagreed with me, stating tracer bullets are deceiving. They are meant only as a guide to firing at a target, especially at night…The B-24 must have been hit before she came into view, so they said. In any case, I was absolved of any wrong doing. That unfortunate airplane was in the wrong place at the wrong time….And to this day, I still believe them to be wrong. I hope this did not bore you, Julien; but since your father didn’t talk about his missions, I thought I would clue you in on one of them. Come to think of it, I don’t believe I told this to my son or any other in my family or friends, either……One more thing…At landing, we left only our Mae-Wests and chest-chutes at the line and were driven up the hill to a fine cup of coffee and doughnuts from the Red Cross Girls, who always had that beguiling smile on them, but we weren’t allowed to spend any time with them. They had a job to do and no fraternization was permitted….Only after coffee, did we decide to go to de-briefing. Those Officers had some patience, waiting until we were good and ready to make our report….Such was the life of the Air-Crews.
(It was different with the 885th.! More on this later, if you like.) I have to add; what a beautiful picture those wonderful B-24s made when flying in formation. They looked mighty and majestic in their shining “armor.” We looked, (and we were), invincible! What an aircraft……!!
It was a better airplane than the more popular B-17….It could fly faster, higher, farther and carried a heavier bomb load. The prime requisites of a bomber. But, her rate of climb was bad in comparison and had 10 guns against 14, plus it was a harder plane to fly. Our Pilots and Co-Pilots were exceptional. She was unforgiving, but lovable!!! (I used to hang a teething-ring in the waist as a good luck charm. It worked.)
Dear Ralph, your stories how sad they be are yet still amazing, I can’t thank you enough for giving me insight into what my dad went through while flying in the war. About the bombs landing on the Italian houses was to be my next question, an uncle once told me about how bombs were accidentally dropped on a village and my father feeling bad about it. What information you can share with me I will document and save and share with family. My sisters father-in-law was a pilot in the 8th and he once said to me that many WW2 vets died before telling their stories, in fact I think he was in your neighborhood, Long Island NY? He lived and died in Seaford. My brother-in-law introduced me to the area, had a great time at Jones Beach! Lt. Losers daughter has information she wants to share with me also, she told me she met Harvey L’Hommedieu, isn’t that just fantastic? Harvey’s son continued on after his passing. When you mentioned about your good luck charm it reminded of the good luck charm scenes in the movie “Memphis Belle”. Oh by the way I remember someone at that family gathering I mentioned in a previous letter to you, asked my dad why the plane was named Smokey, in your same words to me “the engines smoked a lot”! Ralph, thank you very much, truly, Julien LeSieur.
Hi, Dear Julien… There are so many more things to write about, but let me first answer a few of your questions in your next to last response to me. The houses your Father thought were bombed accidentally were the ones I just described to you. It was no accident. The subbing Bombardier was a little trigger happy because of his ordeal getting shot down and then finding his way back to the base through enemy held territory. I imagine he was a little shell shocked and would not have comprehended the consequences of his actions. Your Dad may have given him the benefit of the doubt when he told the story. But the small village was in Yugoslavia, not, in Italy, and not far from the Adriatic Sea, right on our flight path to the Airbase at Pantanella, about 100 miles to the West.** I forgot to mention the date of the Bratislava mission in my previous letter. It was on December 6, 1944, a few days before we transferred out on December 10th to Brindisi. We have no record of any civilian casualties, nor the “bombing.” It never made the newspaper accounts and I don’t believe Intelligence ever released the incident. I still remember the sub- Bombardier’s name… As for you sister’s father-in-law, I came from Crescent Street and Broadway in Astoria, which some may consider, Long Island City… A mile up from the QueensBorough Bridge. Does that ring a bell? Now, I live in No. Massapequa, which is right next door to Seaford. What a small world! I wish I had known. And I’m still here… I believe my whole crew is gone by now. Lt. L’Hommedieu, our real Bombardier, lived in Great Neck Estates, not far from the Sound and the “Gold Coast”and the Gatsby Mansion. What a beautiful home he had. He was married at the time and we visited him around 1947. He liked to be called by his middle name, Jim, although his first name was Harvey… I still can’t believe that the off-springs of my Officers are in touch with their crew! After all these years! God has been good to us…
Smokey was our aircraft in Brindisi, but was flown by other crews when we weren’t scheduled. She was always in repairs and her last flight was when she came back from extensive work. (She was laid up for about 5 weeks.) A Lt. Hebinger took her up and she never made it back home. Everything went wrong and the odds were all against her. She was overloaded. She had to make a third pass to drop the Agents, which failed because, she was flying too low, making it mandatory to make still another pass. A fourth one. And on this pass an engine caught fire. This was the end for her. One can’t buck those mountains over and over again without paying for it. And she did. She missed going over the peak by only a 100 feet. All perished except for 2 Agents who jumped in error. How ironic. After 65 years, I finally had gotten the full details through the ground tower radio/man I had just contacted, and who gave me the address of the Agent who jumped, along with the Navigator’s younger brother. We had flown in 5 or 6 of the previous 8 nights and since this was a day mission, we were given the day off, but then flew for another 5 consecutive nights. ” On our day off is when “Smokey” died”, along with the 9 crewman and 3 Agents, who were Italo/American GIs…We always called her “Queenie”, because of her call letter, “Q.” Also, she was christened “Smokey” by the Ground Crew Chief when she first flew with the 8th AF in England. Except in a few instances, the Ground Crew Chief was the Godfather who named the aircraft. It was his prerogative. In our case, the name stayed because it “reflected her character.” All of us remarked how smoky her engines were… I think we can say she died by fire… I’ll be answering your last e-mail after I “hang up.” Thanks for listening, Juien and all the best to you, your family and your father. When you visit your Dad, please tell him I never forgot him… I’m sure none of us did…
Dear Ralph, thank you for the details on that particular Yugoslavia mission. There is an entry in my Dads flight log… test hop for “Queenie”. My sister has the log ,when I visit her I’ll copy it, that way I can see the dates and missions on one page so to speak. You mentioned a book you wrote, is it still available on the market? Thank you once again Ralph… Julien.
Dear Julien… Your Dad mentions, “Queenie” had 2 test hops. My log shows 2 takeoffs on April 24, a night mission, and we had to return because of bad weather. The mission therefore, was unsuccessful. The flight was short, (not quite 4 hours.) But this may not be the test hops your Dad mentioned. If your sister has the dates, we’ll know if this, in fact, was the same entry. I’m sorry to have mis-lead you, but I never wrote a book. When I said, “In my book…”, it was a figure of speech, meaning, “As far as I’m concerned…” I apologize for this faux pas, but the only writing I did were only for articles like these… I wish I were capable of such a task, but it would have been beyond me… I’ll have another “chapter” for you next time around, and then… on to Brindisi and Castiglioncello/Rosignano… Ciao for now, Julien. But, I’ll give you Blechammer next!
Julien, I made a more thorough reading of my log and found that the mission in question with the 2 takeoffs were to have been flown to the Pilsen area, Czekoslovakia, with supplies, about a 9 hour round trip flight, and we made an emergency landing on the way, at Udine, Italy, because of the weather.
According to the map above, it would have been a 1,400 mission. Ralph
Ralph I’m sure my Dad knows he’s in your thoughts as yours in his, however next time I go visit his grave which will be soon, I will mention you just in case. Another story my uncle told me (the same uncle )was when my father was at an airport in Rome, he shot a german officer trying to escape. Thank you Ralph… Julien
Hi, Julian… First, allow me to thank you for your thoughts in my behalf to your Father… Secondly, I messed up my proofing-reading for incorrectly writing, 1,400. (I inadvertently left out “miles.”… And now, to work…!
I didn’t know about this incident with the German soldier shot by your Dad while trying to escape. I left Italy a month later than Lt. LeSieur and my crew, after being released from a Rome hospital in June, from infection of both hands. I had gone row-boating with Andrew Babich and a girl he knew in Castiglioncello, and my hands were raw, bloodied and blistered from the continuous rowing. (I could hardly lift the gallon of wine the girl brought for us to drink. (We had no glasses….) It was a beautiful outing. I was the translator for both of them as they spoke to each other… In Rome, my hands became worse, finally ending up staying in Italy after my crew had already left for home…
While still with the 464th there was a mission to Blechammer, German Silesia, which today forms part of Poland. I’m mentioning this flight because of the unusual circumstances surrounding this raid. The bombing was on November 20, 1944 and it was what we called a maximum effort, meaning all 4 B-24 Wings were flying that day with over 500 bombers in the assault. (There were 4 Wings of 4 Groups each, with 4 Squadrons and 7 to 9 aircraft for each Squadron. As we filed in the briefing room, rumors were circulating among the men on the target for that day. Almost all of us knew, (it was supposed to be secret.) It was Blechammer…(.As far as the B-24 could fly.) It meant an 1,800 mile distance to the target and back, probably more if we take into account the zig-zag route which is always flown to a target. The lead plane was flown by the Colonel of our Group. (I forgot his name, but he also had his own crew to fly with him.) By the bye, we have to hand to our Brass. Besides planning the missions, they also flew them. They never shirked their duties. They were always in the thick of battles, so to speak… I loved them all! … But, on this day, The Colonel was a little overzealous. When we got to the oil refineries complexes, it was closed in by a heavy cloud cover and he had the choice to go to the secondary target, but he elected to try again. Try to imagine 500 aircraft, at over 20,000 feet, to fly in a 360 degree arc. This would mean a formation of bombers, covering about 150 square miles of sky, taking at least a 1/2 hour to complete the turn and then, be aligned, at various altitudes, as planned, at the IP, to start its bomb run. It has never ceased to amaze me. And by now, the AA guns were ready for us. The sky was literally dark because of the puffs of smoke from the bursting shells. Again, the mental toughness of the Pilots and Co-Pilots got us through the bomb run. (The Colonel had seen an opening in the distance in the cloud cover over the oil refineries moving away from them and decided to go for it.) His plane was shot down among 2 others, and our fighters kept the Luftwaffe at a distance. It would have been a no contest against them. We had the 332nd. Fighter Group escorting us on this mission. They were P-51 Mustangs, (with wing fuel tanks), better known as, the “Tuskegee Airmen.” The only Black Outfit in existence. We knew who they were by their markings, but to this day, I always thought their rudders were yellow. Only recently, did I discover they were red. We lost no bombers that day to fighters, but we had flying missions down to a science. We learned from the early crews’ mistakes and put what they learned the hard way, into practice. I can’t say the same for the RAF Bombers who flew at night. I personally feel they were mis-lead. (It’s not my call, but I can’t help feeling that way.) Our Colonel, who was shot down, was presumed killed. At least, that was what I had thought. Only recently did I find out he had parachuted safely, but when he tried to escape, he was shot and killed by the Germans. His bravery cost him. Making this very important mission his priority, meant the oil refineries’ output was heavily compromised….And he died for it..(.I’ll have his name soon…).
Another mission to Udine was one which hurt. I saw the Italian Air Base bombed by us that day in November, the 18th. (No losses of fighters or bombers), and it was a 5 hour run, with little damage to the air base. Only a few aircraft were on the ground. It was what we would call, a “Milk Run”, and it had brought to mind one of the questions asked of me by one, Capt. Armstrong, at the Enlistment Center at Grand Central Palace in New York City. Since it was known I was born in Italy, I was asked, as a final question in my interview, “What I thought about bombing Italy?” My answer was as honest as I could muster and still not be excused from the Air Corps.) I told him, “I would not like it, but there was a job to do and it had to be done.” I was accepted and the question and the answer, later came to pass… And I reacted exactly as I had said…
And now Julien, thanks again for listening and I hope these little essays of mine helped fill the gap you needed in knowing what your Dad and the others went through. As for me, I was on an adventure. I was in my element. “I was in the Army Air Corps!! I always wanted to fly, get to my homeland and visit my hometowns, (there were 2 of them), in Italy. All my wishes came through, thanks to the Officers of the Air Corps. And thanks also to God, Who got me home mentally and physically, unscathed… The 885th. beckons and, with it, a continuation of our missions, but as Col. MacCloskey had mentioned in his interview with us the night we arrived, “We don’t drop bombs here, we drop supplies, equipment and Agents instead.” (On one of our missions, we also dropped currency.) I hope you’ll find these stories interesting. At least, I hope my dissertations will keep you looking for more. I still have all my faculties, although time has diminished my memory somewhat. And thank you also, Mr. Barbina.
Hello Ralph, thank you once again many times over for your input. I actually read your letters over and over again just so I do not miss any details. I have asked my sister for the information I need, she has not replied yet, I’ll remind her. I do remember that my Dad had flown 43 missions, in his log they’re clearly dated and numbered, many missions were to Yugoslavia and Po Valley. My mom mentioned to me years ago that my Dad bombed north African oil fields, however it is not documented in his log so I don’t know what that’s all about. He did return with paper currency from Morocco, I do remember finding in the attic among his gear he brought back after the war. Another story from my mom was my Dad giving his parachute to a niece for material (silk… is that correct) to make her wedding dress. I still have his harness, it is very heavy, as his goose down sleeping bag. Looking forward to chat with you more, sincerely Julien LeSieur.
Julien… An Addendum to today’s latest material to you… The name of the lead Commander of the mission to Blechammer on Nov. 20, 1944, was
Lt. Col. Clarence Lokke, Squadron Commander of the 781st BS of the 465th BG; our Sister Bomb. Group across the other hill at Pantanella Air Base, about 2 miles south from Canosa di Puglie by the Ofanto River. His plane took a direct hit at the starboard wing… According to our Waist-gunner’s log, (a copy of which was sent to me by his daughter a few years ago), only 4 ‘chutes opened while the B-24 was spinning downward. This would mean we were the second box, (at a different altitude), to follow the lead group. I didn’t see it happening since I was facing the rear toward the other Groups following us. 3 planes downed meant 30 casualties in a matter of minutes… Coming home was something to behold.
We saw the beginnings of a Sunset far over the horizon to the West. A glorious sight.
Dear Ralph, I thank you so much for sharing information about my Dad, again you give me more insight of what your crew went through,and you mentioning about members flying with other crews, I had no idea. Your description of a mission with so much detail is remarkable. I respect you for sharing what I call horror, shear fright. You are far from boring me, I eagerly await for news about my Dad’s experience in WW2 ,I’ve been searching on and off for about 15 yrs now. Thanks again Ralph, truly, Julien LeSieur.
I’m back, Julien… And we’re still with the 464th… I have to tell you this because of the importance in training for combat. The Air Corps covered every eventuality! Our first 2 missions, (this one was on Nov. 5th so says my log), were to the Vienna Florisdorf oil refineries; both 7 hour missions. It is protocol to have either the Pilot or Co-Pilot to call every 15 minutes or so to see how the crew is doing in flight. We were all ready with the machine guns loaded and fired to be sure they weren’t jammed. After a few hours into the mission, it was my turn again to answer, all was fine. This time, there was no answer from me. (I got the story when we landed back at our Air base.) It seems that I had passed out for lack of oxygen and was found against the turret doors unconscious. My oxygen mask, as well as any thing else I wore were too big for me. A size A was too large. (I had a 27″ waist, 36″ chest, a size 13″ neck and weighing about 123 lbs with my uniform and boots! I was also 5′ 7″ tall, (or short), as the case may be! (The Perfect Tail-gunner.) Our Radioman, S/Sgt. Andrew Babich, who was also our Starboard Waist-gunner, was dispatched to see what was wrong and he acted quickly, opened the turret doors which were on a track and put the mask back on me. It fitted loose and had become unhooked. I might have been out, maybe 10/12 minutes, no one knows. Our next mission was on the 17th and the same thing happened, only this time, we were on our way home. Babich again came to see and this time, he found me under the horseshoe bar that connects the machine guns with the attached guns sight on the center of the bar. The bar is moved up and down to fire the guns, using the “wheel” to activate it, with the gun sight moving with the horseshoe shaped bar which was extended across. The turret is turned to either right or left on a track underneath, which was attached to the rear of the fuselage, and which extends beyond the twin rudders of the B-24, again using this wheel. It so happened that I was found underneath this horseshoe bar with the guns sight arm, pressing down on my neck. Another minute, if that long, and I wouldn’t be telling this story. As Babich put my oxygen mask back on, I found myself punching him so violently that he had a hard time restraining me. I knew what I was doing but didn’t know why. (Lack of oxygen does this to a person.) I must have been out, at least the 15 minutes. Anyway, when we got back on the ground, your Dad and Babich tightened the hooks, but it meant I always had a hard time un-hooking them. My story is only to tell you of the great teamwork we had going among us. Lt. Loser and Lt. Le Sieur saved my life on those 2 missions. Except for the bomb run over the target where we lost a few planes, (it can’t be helped), we were safe from fighters going and coming. The AA guns were accurate and there was no way a bomber can evade the shrapnel. The Pilots and Co-Pilots had to go through the bursting shells with steel nerves. With all this going on, the Bombardiers also kept their cool and took care of the business at hand. Our bombing missions were all successful. The Air Corps did some job on those industrial complexes. It certainly slowed down Germany’s war effort… I would like to add kudus to our Flight Engineer on that December 6, Bratislava, mission, when our bomb bay doors would not open, with the bombs already primed… He deserves the Silver Star for that action on his part. We have to remember he was not wearing a ‘chute and the plane could not land with those bombs ready to explode on impact. He was on the very narrow, no more than 9″, catwalk, with no means of support, except those with which we gave him by holding on to him, and any false move on his part, he could have lost his balance and dropped through the doors. (They were, by that time, partially opened, just partially. He had to use his hands to crank open the doors which were on rollers, much like a folding desk-top. And the cold made that crank shaft stiff and hard to turn. Let’s not forget Loser and LeSieur at the controls. They kept the plane steady and gave Schiller, (the Flight Engineer), a chance to do his job and save the plane, and by extension, the crew… He risked his life, and your Dad and Beatrice’s Dad got us home… He never got the medal, but in our book, he did!
My grandfather 2nd Lt. James (jim) W Bryant 885th BS (H) (Sp) was the navigator the Dallas Lady Mia Kia 12 Sept 1944.
Ralph Cavaliere, Thank you, you described my dad to a T! Yes he was slim at 6’1.5″ wearing a size 38 jacket, I know the size because I have his flight jacket. Round patch on front left side under name “wolf with red and black top hat holding bomb in right hand as left hand is on cloud tops, two flak bursts, a quarter moon on top with 779 STINKIE to the left of moon and what looks like the beams of search lights. On the front right is a patch in the shape of a bomb with 43 on top and 43 little bombs carved into the patch, both these patches and jacket as you know are leather”. My sister has dads pilot log, his last drop was on a POW camp, do you have info on this?.. and yes both of my parents are french. About his mustache Ralph it came and gone throughout the years, last time I remember my mom complaining it made him look like hitler and that was the last time. My turn now, not so trimmed. lol…
Julien, I’m sorry I duplicated my comments…The first one didn’t come up fast enough after I clicked on “Post Comment”, ( it would seem.) But, while I’m at it, I would like to “introduce” the other crewmen from Lt. Henry Loser’s crew. I have a photograph of them, but I’m not in it. I was allowed to visit my family from my hometown nearby for Christmas, thanks to our Commanding Officer, Col. Monro MacCloskey and his Operations Officer, Capt. Robert Stone. ( Hence, my absence…) Lt. Jim L’Homme’dieu, Bombardier, from Great Neck, Long Island; Lt. Thomas Bonna, Navigator, Brooklyn: S/Sgt.Leonard Schiller, Flight Engineer/Top-Turret, Chicago; S/Sgt. Andrew Babich, Radio/Operator/Starboard Waist-Gunner, Boundbrook, New Jersey; S/Sgt. Clarence Block, Ball-Gunner, Windom, Minnesota and Sgt. Benjamin Montgomery, Port Waist-Gunner, Fayette, Mississippi…At this time, we were at Brindisi. Our original Nose-Gunner, Malcolm, from Michigan; was left behind with the 464th. Bomb. Group when we transferred to our new Squadron. The Bombardier would do double duty……Did your father ever tell you why we were transferred to this OSS Squadron? It was because the 885th. wanted a crew with a crewman aboard who understood Italian and if he was born in Italy, this would be a plus….(It got both.) Our spy network included American GIs with Italian background.
My Goodness… I’ve heard of the son of my Co-Pilot, Paul Le Sieur! Can’t believe it! This is great news. I’m very happy to hear from you, sir.
Your Dad was a great Pilot in his own right. I believe he also flew as Pilot on a few missions with the 885th although, with other crews… Yes, we flew together on both, the 464th Bomb Group and the 885th Squadron in B-24s… On a night off, he had invited me (an enlisted man), to the Officers’ Club in Brindisi. I went with him into town, but didn’t want to go in… The Officers’ club was for Officers only (we had our own Enlisted Men’s Club). It wasn’t protocol but it made no difference to him. I waited for him in a photography shop nearby and we came back to camp after he left the Club. He was a kind and considerate Officer and a Gentleman. I was proud to have served under him… I believe your Dad mentioned he was from Maine. Am I correct? We had a great crew and were a close-knit “family”! Hope to hear from you again…
Ralph Cavaliere (Tail-Gunner).
Thank you so much for your response, yes Paul was from Saco, Maine, after the 464th he joined the 885th in the 2641st SG. If you have more information about my dad would appreciate very much as he never spoke to me about the war. Sadly Paul passed away in 1972, and his remains are interred in Saco overlooking the Saco river, one of the many places he enjoyed fishing.
Dear Julien… Please accept my condolences, however late, for your Father. He was awfully young! I’m sorry… Terribly sorry. Lt. Paul Le Sieur, (that’s how I remember spelling his name; as 2 words). The Officers were kind, considerate, understanding but reticent. Your Dad was such an Officer. And, he had a bearing that bordered on nobility… He was very slim and tall. (By the bye, He also had a mustache. Did he keep it?) I believe he told me he was French-Canadian and now, you helped me recall the city, Saco. (I knew it then, but you reminded me of it.) He carried himself well, straight as a rod.. I checked further and he did fly as Pilot for at least another crew, but I’m sure he had more missions as a Pilot. There were times when crewmen had to sub for others. I did (twice). Your Father might have hit the 50 mission quota. I didn’t make it. I had my 46th written in, but we suddenly stopped flying because the drop zones were already reconquered by the Italian partisans and they were chasing after the Fascists instead fighting Germans. We finished flying on April 26, 1945. There was no point in endangering any more of the crews.
Mine, including your Father, went to Rome on May 5th and were there when VE Day was proclaimed on May 8th. Unfortunately, that was the last time I ever saw Lt. Paul Le Sieur.
Ralph Cavaliere, my father was Paul LeSieur, flew with Henry Loser as copilot in the 464th and then 885th. Pleased to know you.
(I wrote a few minutes ago, but I guess I “pushed the wrong buttons.) It’s quite a surprise to hear from the son of my Co-Pilot. A wonderful surprise to say the least. May I have news of your Dad? It’s been 70 years, at least…. He also flew as Pilot with other crews while with the 885th. He was a good one in his own right. Flying a B-24 was no easy task. She was a temperamental aircraft, but we all loved her….On a night off in Brindisi, he invited me, (an enlisted man), to the Officers’ Club in town. I didn’t want to go in since it wasn’t protocol, but it made no difference to your Father…I waited for him in a photography shop nearby which I often frequented….As a crew, we were a close-knit “family.” He was soft-spoken and kind. ~ An Officer and a Gentleman. God bless him. If I remember correctly, he was from Maine. Am I correct? All the best, Julien, and good to know you also. Keep well.
After the war dad returned to college and became a lawyer. On a winter night in 1954 he was repairing a flat tire and was hit by a car sustaining a broken leg. In the Webber Hospital, Biddeford, Maine, he took a shining to one of his nurses, Delia Daigle, my mom to be. She now is 86 with family at her side. Soon after their wedding they moved to Battlecreek, Michigan where my father worked with the Department of Civil Defense. When the DCD was moving into Washington DC he, mom, three children with one on the way (me), moved back to Maine ,mom says he didn’t want to raise a family in DC. In Maine he continued his private practice and also did law for the Maine department of transportation. You mentioned my dad being a gentleman, he was at that. He became good friends with the fellow (Oscar Roy) who hit him that winter night, another example was on the turnpike way up northern Maine, pulled over to help someone on the side of the road who ran out of gas, not too long after that fellow and his family are at our house eating a steam clam dinner with us, oh dad loved his lobster too. He and Oscar had 10 lobster traps in Saco bay, I remember eating lobsters for breakfast, lol. Paul provided his family very well,being the avid outdoorsman he was, he also dug his own clams, he put venison, duck,partridge, pheasant and fish on the table. Sounds like I’m bragging now but those are fond memories that my father shared with us, we were always outside doing something and now I share with my son. Hope this helps Ralph, God bless, truly Julien LeSieur.
What a beautiful letter about your Dad. (He made a dashing figure, I’ll tell you that). I’m not surprised on his way of life. When we went overseas to Italy, we flew in a brand new, shiny B-24 L. Her call letter was Black X. Our flight took us to Bangor, Maine, and on to Gander, Newfoundland. I’m sure he was thinking of Saco , (so was I), but I couldn’t tell if we flew close to the city. I believe it was somewhere in the southwestern corner of the State. Not sure anymore, and the route to Bangor was more by the Eastern Seaboard… Sometimes difficulties become blessings. He met your mother because of the accident… It was meant to be… And you, Julien, will be carrying on in his tradition. I enjoyed your missal very much. It was not bragging. It was your memories of him that you shared with me. I thank you deeply for this… Keep well; you and your family. I’ll go through my log and such. I have a lot of papers about our Squadron and I’ll come up with more vignettes about your Dad. I have the complete personnel roster of the 885th including the ground crew and your Father is listed, as we all are. We had about 400 crewmen and about the same in the ground crew and other personnel.
Regarding the USAAF DZ targets, I flew 36 of my 45 missions with the 885th. from January, 1945 to April 26th. but I see no April missions. (We arrived in December, 1944, which was a bad weather month and only a handful of flights were flown). I hope they will be available at a later date. I have my mission log with the specific dates for each month, but without the co-ordinates, only the general area, and I found it most interesting… And to Mr. Bob Oles. Thank you for your kind thoughts and taking the time to answer my comments… I firmly believe the medics had the most dangerous job in any outfit. Carrying and caring for the wounded and the fallen in the thick of battle without being able to defend themselves was more heroic than any soldier, in any combat… They are the unsung heroes of all the wars, friend or foe. We’re the ones who should thank these bravest of men, who also died in their line of duty without being able to defend themselves… The Germans were gallant toward our captured airmen, unless they tried to escape. We were kindred spirits, (no matter what the movies claim), and I think they would have treated the medics with the utmost respect, also. At least, I would hope so… God Bless your grandfather!
I was proud to have served under the then, Col. Monro MacClosky and the 885th Bomb. Squadron… I was a tail-gunner with Lt. Henry Loser’s crew on B-24s. After a short tour of duty with the 464th Bomb. Group near Cerignola, we were transferred to Brindisi, flying for the OSS… The Squadron needed a crew with an Italian born crewman who knew the language (Enter yours truly). Besides supplies and equipment, we parachuted Agents, including women, to Occupied Northern Italy and the Balkans from December, 1944 to the end of April, 1945… Some of these Agents were GIs of Italian ancestry… Camaraderie, discipline and morale was very high but protocol was almost non-existent… Our Officers were the greatest… They were one of us; even those with desk jobs, who flew as many missions as we did. The Colonel himself flew over 50… When we were introduced and interviewed by him, he made it a point to tell us he was a “West Point Man.” He was very proud of that ~ and so were we. I have a special place for our navigators who guided us to our drop-zones at night in mountain valleys with pinpoint accuracy ~ and our pilots, who’s sure hands at the controls, flew unerringly between the Alpine Peaks, and then, flying only 900′ above the ground, at almost stalling speeds, to parachute the equipment and the spies. This entailed making more than one pass at the partisans’ base of operations… We owe our lives to these exceptional Air Corps men… God Bless Them… The photo of the Intelligence personnel at work with the map hanging on the wall brings back more memories. I was summoned there, (Castello Pasquini, Castiglioncello), in late March to have my picture taken in civilian clothes for passport purposes. Needless to say, I left my uniform behind on one of those tables, (there were more), and walked out into town in my “new clothes”… Not to worry,
I returned a few hours later and got back into my uniform and no one at the castle asked any questions. I still have those 2 passport photos they had given me…
Thank you very much for your sacrifice and those of your fellow airmen during those most trying years. My grandfather served in WW2 as a medic with an infantry battalion and was eventually captured at the Battle of the Bulge and spent the remainder of the war as a POW. God bless you all, I will never forget the sacrifice of your generation. Bob Oles, Brooklyn, NY
Bob thank you for your post, upon reading and you mentioning the battle of the bulge, I took care of a gentleman about 20 yrs ago in Biddeford, Maine who was there ,his name is Armand Neault. God bless him, he was in the 101st airborn and he once said to me “I remember seeing my dead buddies frozen in the snow”. I will not ever forget that moment Bob. Thank you for sharing, truly Julien LeSieur.
Mr. Cavaliere, My dad was Henry Loser. I have been searching for information and I have been communicating
with Julien LeSieur just recently. I hope that you are doing well sir.
Sincerely, Beatrice Moore (Loser)
My dear Beatrice. Over the years, I’ve lost track of my entire crew, but these last few days, has brought me much joy in hearing from family members of the men with whom I’ve flown. It’s a great start, with both you and Paul LeSieur’s son writing me. As you have gathered, I was your Father’s Tail-Gunner in Italy. I met him for the first time at the Charleston AAF Base in the Summer of ’44, when I was transferred from another crew to join Lt. Loser’s, since he was minus the tail-gunner. I had already completed our flight training with Lt. Wimbley and were about to be processed to go overseas. Then word came to report to your Dad. He had just arrived to begin flight training after his crew was assembled. He was a truly great pilot; he knew his B-24 and its idiosyncrasies and often had to cajole the Ground-Crew Chief to correct the flying defects of his aircraft. He was a most particular Pilot. Flying in and out between mountain peaks took nerve and remarkable ability and he was at his best, especially flying into mountain valleys, at almost stalling speed to parachute spies and other pay loads, 900 feet above the valley floor). Men of his crew and I were invited to his home in Haverton, Pennsylvania, on Thanksgiving Day in 1946 or ’47 and we met your grandparents. I was very proud of him and my whole crew. Whatever you want to know, I’m sure I’ll be able to help. My memory is still sharp, even at 90. (At 19, I was the youngest member of the crew). I know he had re-enlisted in the USAF, but I lost track of him when he was stationed in California.
Dear Beatrice, I’ve been writing to Lt. LeSieur’s son, Julien about our life and missions with our Bomb. Groups in Italy. I didn’t forget you. I hope you’re both sharing my stories… I just found out from Julien, Lt. Jim (Harvey), L’Hommedieu, also passed away. All my Officers are now gone.
Lt. Thomas Bonna died a few years ago, but I don’t remember how I found out… While with the 464th I had gone into Cerignola to look for a guitar and mandolin. (I took violin lessons for about 8 years before joining up and playing those instruments was a natural. (I played them at home.) Anyway, a Sunday in Cerignola, I saw what we call here a “Flea Market”, where all the stalls, carts, and wagons were lined up in a horseshoe shape in the town square around and fronting the Church. It was here where I saw a wagon full of musical instruments, and there they were. A couple of guitars and mandolins. After trying to barter with the seller, I gave up arguing the price because he asked me to try them out and hear for myself they were worth the price. I took him up on it and we started playing, with him accompanying me on the guitar. I knew Italian songs and dance music by heart and there we were, playing to the crowd who gathered around us.
We even played the hit songs of the day back in the States. “Blueberry Hill, South of the Border, The Isle of Capri, When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano, Red River Valley…” You get the picture… But I couldn’t resist throwing in a few, (quite a few), Fascist numbers. They enjoyed those melodies and lo and behold, no one walked away. They seemed to wait for more. We then switched instruments and after about 2 hours of this, I bought the instruments at his price. 30 Dollars for the guitar and $20 for the mandolin. I couldn’t resist telling your father about this little adventure and then he asked me if I could go back and get him a mandolin. He gave me the money, (it was 2,000 lire in Italian currency; a lire being a penny), and off I went. When I got back, he was so thrilled, he couldn’t wait to tune it and play. I was surprised he knew how. I’m sure he had many a moment to enjoy his mandolin. Did he play it at home? I wonder if the instrument did make it home? (I didn’t come home with my crew.)
He was very kind to me, even when rumors were circulating we were to be transferred out of Italy. He came to me asking how I felt about it? Imagine! I answered, “I wasn’t going anywhere, I came here to see my family.” He just smiled and walked away. This was the day after our latest mission on December 6th. The mission to Bratislava. (I wrote Julien about this flight.) A few days later, he came with the news we were moving and he teased me by waiting for my reaction. After what seemed like he didn’t have the heart to tell me, he finally said, “But, you’ll be nearer your home town.” He was as happy as I was. It was going to be Brindisi. And I got my wish. With his influence and the efforts of Col. Monro MacCloskey, CO, and Capt. Robert Stone, COO, I was given 2 passes for 5 days total, (a 5 day pass was not permitted and a 3 day pass was frowned upon, so they all hit on 2 passes and making sure they were shown with the proper dates at the proper time if I were to be stopped. And, the passes were for the Christmas Week-End. I was home for the Christmas Holidays in Italy, thanks to 3 Officers, including your Dad.
He watched over us. In fact, they all did. Luckily, the weather was terrible, (rains and high winds), and we weren’t able to fly until after New Year’s.
Officers were quartered in a different part of the camp, but often visited us. We shared the same mess, but we ate at separate times. We still fraternized! Thank you for listening. I wanted to show a part of Air Crew life that would never be known otherwise. There’s more, of course… Your Dad used to call us “Henry’s Boys.” Ciao for now and regards, Beatrice… Ralph