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484th Bombardment Group (H)

About the 484th

The 484th Bombardment Group (H) was trained in Harvard, Nebraska in 1943 with B-24s and deployed to Italy in March 1944.  The group arrived in Cerignola, Italy where the gently rolling mounds of the Foggia plain awaited them.  In pre-war days the Italian Air force trained near Foggia, too.  The 484th BG took over farmland where wheat was once grown.  Dual North and South runways were laid out and paved with crushed gravel, and later improved with pierced steel planking, a dubious improvement especially when it rained.

The group brought 60 new olive drab B-24s to the airfield at the Torretta crossroads about 12 K southwest of Cerignola, itself 35K south of Foggia.  The group started out with about 3 trained crews of 10 men for every B-24.  This would vary depending on losses and availability of replacements.  In the one year of combat operations over 5,000 soldiers and airmen passed through the group.  Replacements were brought in to fill in the Table of Organization (TO) due to casualties, illness and to replace flight crews who had finished their combat tours.  For a battle area that was expected to offer light resistance tours were set at 50 missions.  However resistance was stiff from both fighter aircraft and flak cannons.  Credit was shortly reduced to 35 Missions, and modified again by giving double credit to long and arduous missions.  Flight crews were given leave to rest camps at the halfway point of 18 sorties.  Ground echelon personnel were given leave also when conditions permitted it.  One such camp was on the Isle of Capri.

USA lineThe B-24 Liberator Bomber

The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was designed and built in such great haste such was the need for a heavy bomber in 1939, when Germany invaded Poland.  By taking the long Davis Wing and empennage from a twin-engine seaplane and installing them on an oval fuselage the B-24 was born.  To improve ground handling visibility, the whole assembly was set on tricycle landing gear.  The design was both good and bad, Good: The Davis Wing in combination with the supercharged Pratt & Whitney R-1830 engines and the Hamilton Standard hydromatic propellers worked well together.  Bad: The nose wheel, built up of welded steel struts was too weak and failed when over stressed due to hard landings, strong cross winds, or rough runways.  The fuel quantity indicators were of a simple boiler gauge style that required level flight for accurate reading, except that the aircraft actually flew slightly nose high to get additional lift from the fuselage.  (The Lockheed Constellation was purposely designed to obtain fuselage lift).  The fuel selector valves could be set for all engines to feed from the crossfeed manifold which held about 60 gallons.  When this was used up all four engines would quit, not handy during the take off roll.  The outboard auxiliary or Tokyo tanks of early model B-24s up to the "H" model did not have any fuel quantity gauges at all.  When the fuel pressure dropped when feeding from these tanks it was time to transfer back to the mains before the engines quit.

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Primitive Repair Facilities

The numbers of serviceable aircraft for each mission varied too, due to the repairs needed to make the planes air worthy after receiving battle damage.  Because of its longer range, the B-24 was needed in many theaters of war, impinging on the number of replacement available to any one group.  Squadron maintenance was undertaken by crew chiefs and helpers who worked without shelter, rain or shine.  It was the rule rather than the exception in the 484th that most of the aircraft would sustain some damage from the dreaded flak both slight and heavy on each mission.  Most engine change tools were hand made or adopted from what was on hand.

Flying in a straight line to maintain formation order, mandated flight routing directly into a flak bursts just ahead or above just prior to and on the bomb run.  The steel fragments (shrapnel) would nick the props, punch holes into the pushrod covers causing oil leakage and lacerate the fuselage bottom with holes and rips.  Spent shrapnel would bounce off the thin aluminum skin sounding like pebbles falling on a tin roof.  All of this required inspection and repair.

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Luftwaffe JU-88s Bomb Bari Harbor

The shortage of supplies and parts for use by the Fifteenth Air Force came about because of a very effective attack on Allied supply ships lying at anchor in the harbor at Bari, Italy on the Adriatic coast by Luftwaffe JU-88s in December of 1943, just two and a half months after the establishment of the Fifteenth Air Force itself.  Many of the supplies intended for the new Air Force ended up at the bottom of the harbor.  They were not easily removed because of the contamination caused by exploding gas shells.  Thus the midnight auto supply came into being.  Mechanics and armorers had to beg, borrow, or steal from outlying sources.  Damaged B-24s uneconomical in time and material to repair were soon cannibalized.  It was known that lesser quality stovebolts were sometimes substituted for high strength A&N hardware, and so it goes.

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Hung Bombs

Documentation of repair procedures of aircraft and components were distributed through "Tech Orders" in the Army Air Corps, but were not usually transmitted from one command to another.  As an example bombs would not always drop when selected to do so.  The shackles that secured the bombs to the aircraft would often freeze depending on the severities of the weather encountered at bombing altitudes.  It was not unusual to encounter -30° temperatures.  The coldest temperatures were encountered nearest the bomb bay doors so the lowest bombs would freeze and the others above would leave their protective arming wire and fall sharply in a heap on top of frozen bombs thus leaving the upper bombs live when only a slight jar would set them off.

Hung bombs were probably first encountered by the English based Eighth Air Force because the Eighth Air Force had been established earlier and had flown many tough missions before the Fifteenth Air Force became operational.  It is not known if a fix was ever found, and if there was, a quick way to pass on this information to other commands was not easy and at best and there was no time to wait for conventional mail.  With the satellite not yet invented this is understandable.  Without the quick transfer of information to both the Eighth Air Force and the Fifteenth Air Force, they were to suffer the same problems.

Freezing of bombs as can be seen from the foregoing was a very dangerous condition with loss of life and/or loss of the aircraft heavily threatened.  To face this problem in the heat of combat with flak bursting all around and without tools or prior instruction required quick thinking.  The idea of course was to get rid of the damn things in any way one could which meant there was no control as to when the bomb would drop and, because of the delay the assigned target was far away by then.  The possibility of other aircraft below was always there.  Casualties caused by falling bombs on other aircraft were not unusual.  Which all brings the story back to what was said earlier, better know your equipment thoroughly.  Comments on hung bombs from other flight crews and armorers are welcomed here too.

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The Dreaded Flak Guns

In the Italian based Fifteenth Air Force, anti-aircraft (flak) accounted for more casualties than fighter planes.  Bomber crews feared the dreaded 88 mms and higher caliber flak cannons with a passion.  When flak jackets became available, extra sets were brought on board not only to wear but to sit or stand on.  The need for protection from below needs no explanation.

Because the enemy needed to protect the oil refineries and installations, flak cannons were mounted on railway flat cars and were moved about as needed but also to fool our intelligence.  The flak trains were often hid in railway tunnels at night for just this purpose.  The next day they would be somewhere else.

Late in the war when the fuel situation was becoming acute for the Axis Powers the more mobile guns such as the versatile 88s were moved from the eastern front and placed aside the oil refineries, such as Brux, Moosbierbaum, Odertal, and Vienna.  The 88 had a high mount that permitted elevation of the gun barrel for use as an flak gun as well as fire against tanks making it a dual purpose weapon.  In the larger cities flak towers were erected so the gunners could have free fields of fire.  On the top of the towers, 88s as well as larger caliber guns were installed behind well protected concrete barriers.  Some of these steel and concrete structures still stand.

The Luftwaffe was also charged with the responsibility of defending German occupied territory from the ground as well as from the air.  In reality the Germans were defending three fronts after June 6,1944, The Western Front, The Eastern Front and the Air Front overhead.  Over 1,000,000 men were assigned to the defense of the Reich.  They were also aided by civilians, including high school students.  The Allied oil campaign began to have effect on fighter activity in mid 1944, and the capture of Ploesti by the Russians at about the same time contributed to the fuel production drop. The fighter attacks on the bomber streams began to weaken sharply.  Anti-aircraft fire was more intense than ever.  In these desperate times the Luftwaffe also sent its Jet fighters into action against the bomber streams with deadly effect.  Fortunately for the USAF, and unfortunately for the Luftwaffe, the jets were few in number and not quite battle proved.

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Aviation Archeology

In England crash sites were evacuated and hard items such as guns, engines, and propellers that would survive a crash, even after decades in the hard ground.  The aircraft parts were lifted out, cleaned up and put in small museums at former USAF airfields in the East Anglian farmland.  When asked why the English wanted to preserve the material of the American Air Forces, their reply was, "It happened here on our land."

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Curiosity about The Air War 1939-1945

There was similar curiosity when one of the 484th aircraft was shot down over Europe and the Balkans where citizens, enemy or friendly, took great interest in the crash site.  They wanted to know all about the mission, how the plane was brought down, and so on.  Citizens and soldiers alike would often care for the wounded and dead by seeking medical aid, and arranging for humane burials.

Now with the cold war over and many citizens of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe enjoying their new freedoms, they are more curious than ever about the air war.  They seek information from the National Archives in Washington, DC, and at Maxwell Field in Alabama.  They seek aircraft numbers, crew lists, bombing missions, and related data.  Regular mail inquiries began about 12 years ago, from men who witnessed the war as children in Germany and Austria, and related to us their experience of dodging bombs while being awe struck from the drama of thousands of bombers awakening the neighborhoods with their thunderous engine roar; of sunlight bouncing off the silver airplanes, and too of fluttering aluminum parts that catch the light like a falling metal leaf.

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The Success Of E-Mail

Since the advent of E-Mail, the number of inquiries from Europe and the USA that are being mailed to this website is growing.  There are interested parties who are trying to fill out their own knowledge of the air war.  Their interest in WWII is the same as with the English, it happened over and on their land.  This new interest is heartening to members because of the need for more information.  This hopefully will bring all peoples of the world closer together.  Also it can awaken need for the preservation of privately held WWII documents and personal histories and result in increasing the pressure for more libraries and archives.

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Europe's Hospitality

We have had inquiries from overseas from interested parties who want to know everything about the bombing missions of the American Air Forces.  Because of the effect the bombing had on their lives, the memories are forever etched in their minds.  They have expressed special interest in the disposition of the flight crews, and the aircraft, serial number, and the aircraft name.  Some members have returned to the spot where they fell.  The citizens of friendly and former enemy countries who witnessed a particular crash have invited the Americans back with their families.  Members who have returned to Europe have reported that these visits were very enjoyable.

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No Tests Given In Training

In training during the war due to the expediency of getting troops into battle quickly, grades were not often given at the end of classes.  If one hoped to survive and return home after the war, the soldier had to pay close attention to what was being taught.  A flyer had to learn his aircraft and weapons like the back of his own hand.  There was no cheating or use of crib sheets in combat.  It was best to get the information stuffed between your ears for instant recall, or your butt and those of your aircrew buddies would be put in doubt.