Flak Guns In The Brenner Pass
"It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it." - Douglas MacArthur
It was estimated that 24,000 tons of supplies was flowing to the German troops each day. That was five times the minimum daily requirements needed to support the German troops that were locked in a winter stalemate with our Allied forces.
Andrew Lucas - Tail Gunner (right), 340th. Bombardment Group, 488th. Bombardment Squadron
On the 6th. of November 1944, Operation BINGO was put into effect. It's objective was to stop the flow of German goods coming to the fighting front by closing off the Brenner Pass. The four B-25 bomb groups belonging to the 57th. Bomb Wing were to carry the bulk of the load. Fighter bombers of the 12th. Air Force's Tactical Air Command and the Desert Air Force (British) would assist. Some help would come from B-17's and B-24's of the 15th. Air Force.
It was estimated that if electrical power could be denied the electrical driven locomotives that were used on the steeper grades, it would force the Germans to use more inefficient steam locomotives that would require part of the transportation effort to supply coal for these trains and also pull locomotives and rolling stock from their present activities. If this could be accomplished, it was estimated that it could reduce the carrying capacity in the Brenner Pass to around 10,000 tons a day.
"Radio-gunner Quentin Kaiser of the 489th Bombardment Squadron."
Click the picture to visit his page.
On 6 November, the B-25's struck targets in the Brenner; the electrical transformer stations between San Ambrogio - hit by the 310th., through Ala - hit by the 321st., and Trento - hit by the 340th. The targets were all hit and destroyed or damaged to the extent that electrical power was denied to trains as far north as Balzano. The 319th., newly changed from B-26's to B-25's, hit railroad bridges in the lower end of Brenner.
The defense of the pass fell to
the 2nd. Fighter Group of the Italian Facist Republic Air Force. These were Italian pilots
flying Me-109's with German markings. With only about 50 planes these would not be the
most effective deterrent. The primary defense fell to the German 5th. and 127th. Flak
Regiments that manned the 366 heavy, anti-aircraft guns that were stationed from Verona,
in the south, to Innsbruk, in the north. By the end of that day more heavy guns moved in
In addition to the German gunners there were still Italians fighting along with the Germans. However the batteries were manned independently by either Germans or the Italians. The Italian gunners used an Italian cannon coupled with the German Radar.
The German's main defensive weapon was the 8.8cm. Fliegerabwehrkanone, shortened to Flak. The 88 fired a 9.24KG (20.34 pound) shell to over 49,000 feet. It was coupled with the KG 40 gun director and the 41D gun laying radar. The gun director was a mechanical calculator with a stereoscopic height finder incorporated, capable of predicting a rectilinear or curvilinear course. The radar was capable of furnishing present azimuth, angular height and radar range to the gun director. Usually the gun batteries used radar tracking for range and optical tracking for direction. In cases where clouds or smoke obscured the bomb formations, radar controlled or barrage firing was used although it was not considered as effective as visual sighting.
Other guns were used also. The Italians made 90mm cannon, with a range of 26,000 feet and their 102mm cannon that reached to 40,000 feet were used to guard the Brenner Pass targets. While the larger guns were require to reach high flying B-17's and B-24's, lighter guns such the German and Italian 37mm cannon would reach up to 15,000 feet and the Italian 75mm ranged to 27,000 feet, were all effective against our B-25 Bombers who rarely flew above 13,000 feet. This meant any gun from a 37mm up could reach the medium bombers altitude. From the reports of the combat crews - they all did.
As the attacks increase on the Brenner Pass, targets of rail and road bridges, tracks and fills, the amount of flak guns increased. Batteries were added as far north as Bressanone. On the 11th. of November a flight of B-25's had 18 aircraft holed and one crash due to flak damage. Of the 16 attacks made during November, 11 had drawn flak. Of 300 sorties 20 B-25's were holed and one B-25 crashed.
In December 69 more guns were moved into the Brenner Pass by the Germans, making a total of 435. Anti-flak operations became standard practice by the 57th. Fighter bombers dropping general purpose bombs and the bombers dropping 20 pound fragmentation bombs and twisted pieces of tin foil called Chaff or Window (to confuse the radar) were tried.
At the end of December the 319th. Bomb Group flew it's last mission, over Italy, and returned to the U.S. in January of 1945. This left the 310th., the 321st., and the 340th. Groups the only medium bombers in the theater.
(Bombed out German 88mm)
In January, 1945, flak batteries continued to increase. More guns moved into Bressanone and Verona. There were now 475 heavy guns guarding the Brenner. Some were stationed in the mountains as high as 3000 feet above sea level. One battery, west of Ala, was reported at the 4100 foot level. Anti-flak operations continued with a new twist, with a formation of three B-25 anti-flak planes leading the bombing formation, dropping chaff and white phosphorous bombs to burn the gunners and hide the formation with the smoke. Despite these efforts, of the 48 missions flown over the Brenner, 1250 sorties, that month, 39 drew flak, Two hundred and twenty four aircraft were holed and 5 lost.
In February, 1945, as our bomber pushed further into the Breeder the gun batteries shifted from the south to north. Guns increased at Trenton and Bressanone. New batteries appeared at Laves, and Breeder. The gun total in the Breeder rose to 482. It was rare now when a mission did not draw flak. This was due in part, to the refinement of the German early warning system. When the formations were within 200 kilometers of a defended area the gun batteries were alerted. When the formation was within 80 kilometers the guns were manned. Approximate course and altitude of the formation was given to the battery commander who waited for the formation to appear. There were practically no surprise attacks. In February 82 missions were flown over the Brenner (1771 sorties). Sixty two missions drew flak. Fourteen aircraft were lost and 305 were holed and damaged, despite our ant-flak operations.
March, 1945 and the flak batteries increased, especially in the north Brenner. Forty three new guns are added to the Brenner Pass defenses and the total of guns climbs to 525. Ninety six missions are flown over the Brenner Pass. Fifty eight draw flak. Fourteen aircraft were lost and 207 holed and damaged. However much of the Brenner was made impassable to the Germans during most of the month.
In April, 1945 the final assault on GOTHIC LINE began. The attack on the Brenner is reduced in order to give ground support for the ground offensive. Many guns are removed from the Brenner to protect other vital targets.
The 57th. Bomb Wing moved, with its three bomb groups, from Corsica to northeast Italy in order to be closer to it's targets. During April there were only 64 missions flown against targets in the Brenner Pass. However 25 drew flak that holed 87 aircraft and downed five. These missions effectively kept the Brenner Pass lines cut.
During the offensive the B-25's of the 57th. spent much of their time bombing troops, guns, pontoon bridges, ferries and staging areas in an effort to prevent the Germans from crossing the Po River, and smashing rail lines and bridges that would offer an escape route back to Germany.
The blocking of the Brenner Pass and the slow strangulation of needed supplies only became apparent as the Germans tried to retreat to safety. Retreating troops were not able to use railroad lines, due to bridge spans missing. Shortage of ammunition and gasoline restricted motor transportation and reduced their fighting ability and effectiveness.
On the 26th. of April, 1945 the 340th. Group flew the last combat mission for the 57th. Bomb Wing. Bad weather grounded the medium bombers until the German forces signed surrender papers on the 29th. of April, 1945, to become effective the 2nd. of May, 1945.
340th Bomb Group, 488th Bombardment Squadron
From 6 November, 1944 to 25 April, 1945 the B-25's of the 57th. Bomb Wing had fought the "Battle of the Brenner". They flew over 6,849 sorties over enemy targets in the Brenner Pass. They had dropped 10,267 tons of bombs on the following targets - (south to north) Verona, Domagliara, San Ambrogio, Bolargne, Cerano, Dolce, Peri, Ossenigo, Vo Sinistro, Ala, San Margherita, Mori, Rovereto, Galliano, Aldeno, Terento, San Felice, San Michele, Lavis, Solorno, Ora, Brozolo, Ponte, All'Isarco, Bressanone, La Cave, Campo, Vipieno, Colle, Isarco, and Brennero. The B-25's ranged past these Italian targets and bombed Austrian bridges at Steinach and Matrei.The battle had not been without cost. During this shot period, 46 B-25's had been lost (2 to fighters). Flak had damaged 532 more. From 2 January, 1945, ten men had been killed and 131 were missing in action. Ninety two men had been wounded, 12 critically. The casualty count was 223 men from the 57th. If the B-25 had not been the exceptionally sturdy aircraft it was, the losses would have been far higher.
There had been the great inclusive war that everyone was aware of. There were smaller wars within the larger one, that generated a lot of killing but little publicity, And still smaller wars, unknown except by those who fought it.
One of these was "The Battle of the Brenner", fought between American Combat crews in the sky flying B-25 Bombers and German / Italian anti-aircraft crews on the ground. It was little noted or long remembered except by those who fought there. It had been mean and brutal while it lasted.
In the end, those who survived would return home, some are missing and some would return from prison camps. The wounded would carry their scars or disfigurement. The dead would remain dead, mourned only by those who knew them. Then as time passed there would be a time for remembering, even if time had dulled the memory and the log books lost. Then someone would search the scanty record and try to write enough to stir some old doormat memories.
This is one such story, written for those who flew in twin-tailed bombers and saw the red or black bursts of flak over the Brenner Pass in late 1944 and early 1945.
From my Mother's
sleep I fell into the state,
Randall Jerrell- 1945