John F. Koplitz, Pilot, RCAF, RAF and AAF
The 340th Second Anniversary.
Fray Livesey, Fighter Pilot
R. Franklin, USN.
of the 57th. Bomb Wing
Guns in the Brenner Pass
From the 57th. Bomb Wing.
of the 340th. Bombardment Group
13 1944, Alensa Airfield, Corsica
Benjamin Marino, M.D.
Pictures from Dr. Marino
S/Sgt. Jack Washleski, Tail Gunner
S/Sgt. Brendon J. Murphy, ROM Gunner
The 340th Bests Cyclones,
Vesuvius, and Hitler.
One of the toughest, happiest,
outfits I have ever hitched hiked a ride from is the 340th. Bombardment Group, commanded
by Colonel Willis F. Chapman. They have no doubt that they are the best outfit on earth,
and after studying some of their targets they go after, it is possible they would reach
the finals in an elimination match. They fly Mitchell's, which they assert are the direct
linear descendants of the sweet chariot.
Up to here the same idea prevails in every Group but
from here on the story is entirely different, for the 340th rejoices in the name of the
"Unlucky 340th." What this out fit has survived and surmounted has become the
foundation of such a confidence as amounts to fanaticism. Black cats, graveyards, three on
a match and such normal tokens of ill omen are powerless with the 340th.
Back in the dark ages after Pearl
Harbor, this outfit was formed for training. just as they were going well, a cyclone
struck their field and stripped them of airplanes. They moved from the wreckage to set up
at another base and the same thing happened again. Finally re-equipped, they started for
the war and hit the worst weather the South Atlantic had produced in years. Some were lost
but most of them straggled into Africa and finally made their bedraggled way to
Montgomery's Army. When finally they got set for action and went on their first raid, the
Germans were waiting for them as they do for every new outfit.
The Group Commander, Navigation Officer, Bombing
Officer and one Squadron Commander were lost on the first raid. The Group received a new
top echelon and dug into its job. From Tunisia up through Pantelleria and Sicily into
Italy they bombed and strafed with fierce determination to lick their jinx. They ranged
into Greece and Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria making accuracy a fetish. Then another
commanding officer was shot down to become a prisoner of war.
One of their missions from Tunisia had been to bomb a
famous country club sort of airport in Sicily. It had a swimming pool and luxurious
hangers and crew quarters. Gleefully they took the place apart and drove the Germans out.
next week they were ordered forward to occupy the field themselves and had to rebuild what
they had destroyed. Cussing their own accuracy, they put the place in order and
immediately afterward were sent forward into Italy.
Here they took on a new type of
work with strange instruments and different procedures. Just as the 340th was getting good
at the fresh assignment, VESUVIUS erupted and cleared the works. Ashes and brimstone did
for airplanes, tents, equipment and trucks. The Squadrons escaped with the shirts on their
backs and nothing else. But were they licked? Not they!
Four days later and from another base with borrowed
airplanes the "Unlucky 340th" was out against the Germans in full strength. They
went through the long months before Cassino and when that show came off put every bomb
into the target area. From Cassino into Rome they hammered bridges and transports and
finally moved to Corsica to participate in the coming invasion of Southern France. The
night they moved to Corsica the Luftwaffe
made its one effective counter-attack and of course, the 340th. had to be underneath
when it came off.
Once again the were re-outfitted and went back at the
Nazis without losing more than a day of combat. Acting on a long target mission their luck
started to change and Gods smiled very broadly. Many of the group made dead stick landing
at the home base, so narrow had been the gas margin. But no ship was lost.
Luck Changes at
Since that day the 340th. has been
hot as a firecracker and nothing seems to go wrong, and like good polo players, the group
is pushing its new found fortune. Bombardiers are racking up hits with monotonous
regularity and nobody around the place seems the least bit war weary.
But there is something behind this conquest of fate and
new found fortune that is solid. It is the percentage of sweat. I saw a dozen home-made
gadgets which crewmen were busy perfecting to improve bombing, shooting and navigation.
They are never content. The chart shows they pass two hours practicing for every three of
actual mission time. The Chaplain and Flight Surgeon are like roosters at he big game.
Colonel Chapman is the coach and everybody gets in the game at one time or other.
With sweat and tears and the sand of character for
mortar, Out of the stepping stones of misfortune the 340th. has built itself a great
foundation. Nothing can happen to it anymore -- Both Vesuvius and Hitler have become
incidental. - 1944