B-25 “Old Glory” | Warbirdfactory.com

The 310th Bombardment Group (Medium) 1942/1945
12th Army Air Force
First B-25s in Combat in the MAAF
by George Underwood (310th, 381st)

     Soon after Pearl Harbor 1941, the sneak attack that the late President Franklin D Roosevelt called “A Day of Infamy”, the 310th was organized and was activated in March 1942. The 310th was designated as a medium bomber Group consisting of four squadrons. Each squadron had 6-two engine B-25 Mitchell aircraft. The versatile B-25 was named after General William “Billy” Mitchell one of America’s key architects of air power. The 310th Bomb Group was made up of four squadrons: the 379th, 380th, 381st,and the 428th.

    From the burning sands of Tunisia and Libya to the snow covered Italian Alps the Group flew combat missions. They suffered in desert temperatures of 118 or more with the only shade provided were the wings of their aircraft or the pup tents in which they slept. These U.S. Airmen bivouacked in the cork forests of North Africa, survived the monsoon floods of Cape Bon, the German air raids and the buzzing hordes of malaria- laden mosquitoes of Corsica. It was no vacation haven.

    The group participated in the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, and Southern France. Battle Honors and Battle Stars were repeatedly earned for combat action in the Tunisian, Sicilian, Naples/Foggia, Rome/Arno, Southern France, North Appennines, Central Europe and Po Valley Campaigns as well as two Distinguished Unit Citations for meritorious action. No combat group was involved in more European Theater of Operations invasions than the 310th.

    Some of the heroic stories about low-level missions against enemy shipping by the 379th squadron in North Africa and the Greek Islands were so dramatic that they reached the ears of General James Doolittle… he had to see for himself. Doolittle ‘signed up’ for a low-level sea sweep mission in February 1943, which netted three Seibel Ferries and confirmed his belief in these 75mm cannon toting aircraft.

    That same month the 310th sank an enemy tanker, a heavily armed freighter, one German cruiser, eight Seibel Ferries and knocked down 10 German aircraft. Doolittle had used the versatile B-25s to bomb Tokyo in April 1942 and while they had no squadron or group designation, eight of the Doolittle Raiders would later wind up with the 310th in North Africa, December 1942.

    When the 57th Bomb Wing intelligence learned that an enemy tanker, escorted by a cruiser and two destroyers was bound for Tunisia an attack was ordered. The 310th was assigned the task and flying no higher than 100 feet the B-25s attacked. The first element scored some hits on the tanker while the second element struck the three-escort ships. The tanker was set afire, the cruiser sank stern first and the two destroyers were severely damaged.

    One mission from North Africa to the mainland of Italy called for 36 of the 310th aircraft to bomb a key transportation center near Naples. On their way to the target 50 enemy fighters intercepted and attempted to divert the B-25 formations, it didn’t work. The target, railroad marshalling yards, was destroyed and 18 of the attacking fighters were shot down. But the victory was costly for the 310th. Three of our aircraft were downed, and the remaining ships returned to base riddled with flak and machine gun bullet holes. This mission earned one of the two Distinguished Unit Citations for the 310th. Another thumbs up for victory.

    In March 1943 the 321st. Bomb Group flew its first combat mission while the 340th Bomb Group flew its first mission a months later just as the 310th completed 52 combat missions. These three groups of B-25s were part of the 12th Air Force.

    Eighteen B-25swhile on a routine sea sweep after German shipping, ran into a Luftwaffe aerial convoy off the coast of Cape Bon in North Africa flying at about 200 feet off the ocean. The convoy of 25 German transports and a dozen or so ME 210’s and other assorted aircraft was completely destroyed by the 310th. The B-25s circled and ranged up and down the German convoy utterly devastating the flight. The accompanying P-38 fighters finished the task. On that April 1943 “Turkey Shoot” the 310th claimed 10 JU 52’sand a JU 88 shot down.

    In June 1943 Pantelleria Island surrendered to air power, the first such capitulation to air power ever recorded. Shortly after, the island of Lampedusa also surrenders to air power displayed by the devastating medium bombers of the 12th AAF.

    The group was stationed in such exotic named places as: Mediouna, French Morocco, Masion Blanche, Telergma, and Berteaux, Algeria, Dar el Koudia, Tunisia, Souk el Arba, and Valle (Phillipville), Algeria, Oudna, and Menzel Temime, Tunisia, Gambut, Libya, Ghisonnacia Gare, Corsica, Fano, and Pomiglano, Italy.

    In late 1943 B-25-Gsarrived in the 310th. These awesome planes were the most heavily armed aircraft in the world. They were equipped with a 75mm cannon and fourteen .50 caliber machine guns. The 310th was destined to be the only “gunslinger” group in the theater. These aircraft had been developed and used extensively in the South Pacific with much success and it was felt that they could be used against German shipping just as effectively. The 379th squadron was used to comply with the requirements of Winston Churchill to assist the British defend the Dodecanese, (Greek Islands) against the Germans. Thus, these low-level attacks, in the Greek Islands flown by a squadron of the 310th from Lybia, was the definitive answer.

    When moving operations from North Africa to Corsica at the end of the African Campaign the mission role of the 310th changed from strategic and tactical bombardment to the familiar role of only tactical attacks. While the 379th squadron pursued their low- level sea sweeps in the Greek Islands, the other three squadrons kept up attacks in the destruction of German transportation and communications.

    January 1944 saw the 428th Squadron flying the first of the low-level sea sweeps from the Island of Corsica. These attacks against coastal installations and shipping resulted in high losses from flak and fighters in the group.

The 310th Bomb Group was the first bomb group in the European Theater of Operations to complete 500 combat missions which occurred July 7, 1944.

    An operation called “Strangle”, the choking of German communications, ships, harbors, railroads and their yards, airfields, supply dumps and other targets initiated in 1944 zeroed in on the bridges of Italy. Knocking them down and in that way cut the flow of men, equipment and supplies to the German front lines and eventually lead to the enemy retreating.

    Group strength under the command of Col. Anthony Hunter was 1,319 men and 72 aircraft. While the ground battle continued to move north, the 310th took part in operation “Anvil”, the invasion of Southern France. As battle lines were condensed by the German retreat into the Po Valley and Brenner Pass, anti aircraft fire became more intense and concentrated. Even so we continued to hit our targets. Just as it had been all through Italy the targets were bridges, often pontoon or makeshift crossings constructed overnight by the Germans

    In October 1944, Col. Hunter transferred to Headquarters and Col. Peter H. Remington became commander of the 310th.

    The final mission, number 989, for the group came in May 1945. The 310th would end its World War II activities with the distinction of having flown the greatest number of combat missions of any medium bomber group in the Mediterranean Theater. The mission was a leaflet drop mission announcing the unconditional surrender of the enemy. It was at that time Col. William Bower assumed command of the 310th and initiated preparations for our return to the United States and mom’s home cooking.

    The group was deactivated on September 12, 1945 from their final station at Pomigliano, Italy. Ten days earlier (September 2, 1945) the Japanese signed unconditional surrender aboard the U.S S. Missouri. In addition to the presence of General Douglas MacArthur and other high ranking military officers, was our own General Doolittle.

      “Memories of war are tenacious.. .they never, never let you go” *


     Here’s some of what the 310th accomplished from 1942 through 1945:

  • Destroyed 121 enemy aircraft against a loss of 87 B-25s**
  • Enemy aircraft destroyed on ground from strafing and bombing 208***
  • Sank 206 enemy ships from freighters and destroyers to ciaques****
  • Flew over 6,298,555 miles in combat operations
  • Some 493 personnel were injured or killed in the 310th Bomb Group
  • Flew 989 combat missions
  • Fired 1,998 75mm cannon shells
  • Dropped 23,984 tons of bombs
  • Flew 57,244 combat hours
  • Destroyed 34 enemy aircraft on the ground from strafing and bombing

          * Author unknown.
        ** Not including “probables (23)” or “damaged (25)”
     *** Does not include “probables (72)” or “damaged (61)”
   **** Estimated at 173,000 tons. Figures do not include  “probable” or “damaged” shipping.

               Enemy aircraft destroyed:            Enemy shipping sunk:        
ME 109:     80Freighters:       31
ME 210:      2Tankers:            3
JU52:         18Seibel Ferries:  55
FW19O:      9Cruiser:             1
ME21O:      2Destroyers:        2
ME323:       2“E” Boats:          4
JU88:          4“F” Boats:        14
RE 2001:    1Misc. shipping: 96
MACCHI 200: 2
MACCHI 202: 2
P-40 (hostile):   1
RE 2001:          1
Air Force Assigned to: 12h AF (Oct ’42 – end WWII)
 
Stations flown from: Mediouna, French Morocco (Nov ’42 -Dec ’42) 
Telergma, Algeria (Dec ’42 – Jan ’43)
Berteaux, Algeria (Jan ’43 – June ’43)
Dar el Koudia, Tunisia (June ’43 – Aug ’43)
Menzel Temime, Tunisia (Aug ’43 – Nov ’43)
Philippeville, Algeria (Nov’43 – Dec ’43)
Corsica (Dec ’43 – April ’45)
Fano, Italy (April ’45 – Aug ’45)
Pomigliano, Italy (Aug ’45)
 
 Campaigns:Air Combat, EAME Theater
Tunisia
Sicily
Naples-Foggia
Rome-Arno
Southern France
 North Apennines
Central Euopre
Po Valley
 
Decorations: Distinguished Unit Citation: Italy, 27 Aug ’43
Distinguished Unit Citation: Ora, Italy, 10 March ’45

Old Glory’s Final Ill-fated Flight: New York to Rome in 1927

Transatlantic fever did not die with the successful venture of Charles Lindbergh in Spirit of St. Louis. In fact, his world-acclaimed flight in May 1927 spawned a series of distance-stretching attempts — some successful and others destined to end in tragedy — from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps none was more colorful than the flight of the Fokker F.VIIA Old Glory, with pilots James Dewitt Hill and Lloyd Bertaud and newspaper editor Philip Payne on board, on September 6, 1927. The circumstances leading up to their ill-fated flight were as unusual as their silver-and-gold monoplane that nosed skyward from the airfield at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, on that late summer day.

Hill, the man at Old Glory‘s controls on September 6, was a 45-year-old bachelor who had flown U.S. airmail for three years, a veteran pilot with more than 5,000 hours’ experience. During all that time Hill had never parachuted from a damaged plane, preferring to ride it to the ground. He had, in fact, gained a reputation for landing planes that other pilots might have abandoned in midair.

The pilot had been interested in aviation from an early age. He once told an interviewer that, as a child in Scottdale, Pa., he had borrowed his mother’s best tablecloth to use as a parachute.

In 1900 Hill enrolled at Lafayette College, transferring to Cornell University the following year. But in 1903 health problems forced him to return to his hometown, where he went to work at a local garage owned by A.G. Overholt. He subsequently moved to California and then to Oregon in 1910, at which point he homesteaded for a year and a half. Prior to his time in Oregon, Hill had apparently somehow managed to learn the rudiments of flying. In 1909 he wrote his father from Hot Springs, Ark., ‘I took up my airship today….

Hill soon became determined to find a way to fly for a living. In 1912 he sold everything he owned and traveled to the Glenn Curtiss flying school in San Diego, where he found work. He took formal lessons and earned his license, Aero Club of America Land Plane Certificate No. 234, in 1913. Thereafter, he continued to work for Curtiss at the Hammondsport, N.Y., plant, where he also learned to fly seaplanes.

The Army needed civilian flight instructors in 1916, and Hill became a teacher. After World War I ended, he served a short stint as a test pilot at McCook Field in Ohio before returning to Curtiss as an exhibition pilot.

Both Hill and fellow pilot Lloyd Bertaud participated in the 1919 Toronto-to-New York air races, held to commemorate the Prince of Wales’ trip to Canada. When Hill’s plane, a Curtiss Oriole, stalled on approach to a refueling stop in Albany during that race and crashed, he and his passenger walked away without a scratch. From that time forward, successfully landings in damaged planes became a trademark of sorts for Hill.

Hill soon returned to Oregon to fly for Curtiss’ Northwest branch. He would later describe this time as barnstorming around the Northwest. The work included setting up flying schools and airfields, as well as demonstrating Curtiss aircraft.

By 1924, Hill had taken the test to become a pilot in the U.S. Airmail Service, perhaps influenced by the fact that his friend Lloyd Bertaud had already joined the service. Hill passed the physical and was accepted on July 1, 1924 — at 42, one of the oldest pilots flying the mail.

Hill was assigned first to Hazelhurst on Long Island and later to Hadley Field in New Brunswick, N.J. Flying the New York-to-Cleveland leg of the mail, he routinely crossed the so-called Hell Stretch of the Allegheny Mountains. In 1926 he flew the first night mail run between New York and Chicago.

Instrumentation was rudimentary in the early airmail planes. Hill quickly gained a reputation for developing his own methods of figuring out where he was. For example, he was famed for using his cigars to time his flights between refueling stops across Pennsylvania. He always carried several cigars with him in the cockpit and lit one when he took off. A cigar and a half later, he would drop from the sky over Beaver Field near Bellefonte, Pa., and come in for a landing.

Not all his landings were easy ones. He was forced down numerous times due to bad weather or engine problems. Each time he miraculously walked away from the plane without injury.

The airmail pilots were a close-knit group, so it is no surprise that both Hill and Bertaud heard early on about Lindbergh’s desire to attempt a transatlantic flight. In 1926, while he was still flying airmail, Lindy had dreamed of piloting a Wright-Bellanca — a single-engine, high-wing monoplane that was generally acknowledged to be one of the best aircraft in the world — across the Atlantic Ocean. Piloted by Clarence Chamberlain and Bert Acosta, the Wright-Bellanca Columbia would capture the attention of the media in the spring of 1927, achieving a world record for time aloft: 51 hours and 11 minutes. Lindbergh had tried to buy Columbia for his own attempt at flying the Atlantic, but Charles Levine, Bellanca’s chairman of the board, refused to sell unless he could pick the crew to pilot the plane.

Miffed at Levine’s refusal, Lindbergh instead made arrangements to buy the Ryan that became Spirit of St. Louis. Levine, meanwhile, turned to making Columbia ready for a transatlantic hop. Lloyd Bertaud was initially supposed to accompany him and Clarence Chamberlain to Europe. But Columbia met with a series of mechanical problems that delayed their departure. It was far easier to deal with mechanical problems, however, than to resolve the quarrels that soon erupted between Bertaud and Levine.

Lindbergh’s successful flight to Paris on May 20, 1927, spurred Bertaud’s impatience with his team’s delays — and exacerbated tensions between the aviators. When Levine threatened to remove him from the crew, Bertaud sought an injunction to prevent Columbia from taking off without him. Despite that, Levine finally decided to leave Bertaud behind. On June 7, 1927, Chamberlain and Levine flew the Wright-Bellanca to Germany, breaking the nonstop distance record with a total of 3,911 miles flown.

That move left the distance prize of New York to Rome open for all comers. Bertaud’s friend Hill had been making plans for such a flight before Columbia lifted off from the runway. A series of letters, now part of the archives at the West Overton Museum in Scottdale, Pa., paints a picture of Hill searching for a plane capable of a long-distance flight. The airmail pilot had apparently already located backers to finance a transatlantic attempt. On June 6, 1927, Carl F. Egge, superintendent of the Eastern Division of the Airmail Service, mentioned Hill’s supporters in a telegram to Pratt & Whitney, requesting that the company consider building an engine for an aircraft capable of this kind of flight. With a favorable reply from Pratt & Whitney in hand, Hill met with Giuseppe Bellanca, who told him it would take six to seven months for him to build such an aircraft.

While Hill struggled to find a plane, U.S. Navy Commander William Byrd made a more or less successful transatlantic crossing with his crew in a Fokker C-2 christened America. Unable to locate Paris, he was forced to ditch the plane in the surf near the French shore, but his flight was generally regarded as the third nonstop crossing of the Atlantic. Other pilots were also preparing for transatlantic attempts in Europe, and Hill, who had by now teamed up with Bertaud, became convinced that an attempt at the New York-to-Rome prize could not wait for a Wright-Bellanca. If he and Bertaud wanted to make their mark, they had to leave soon.

As it turned out, Hill and Bertaud gained an aircraft and major backer thanks to Philip Payne, the editor of William Randolph Hearst’s Daily Mirror. Payne convinced Hearst to sponsor the flight as a stunt to boost that New York newspaper’s circulation. Hearst had purchased a Fokker F.VIIA monoplane — similar to the aircraft Byrd had flown — for their use. The Fokker had a steel superstructure covered in canvas and a cantilever wooden wing bolted to the framework. Its 450-hp Jupiter engine was shipped to the United States from England, and the plane assembled in the Fokker factory at Hasbrouck Heights, N.J.

Payne, meanwhile, built up the publicity for the flight, parceling out information to the public in the weeks leading up to their departure. Not happy with merely writing about the flight, the newspaper editor also decided to accompany Bertaud and Hill in Old Glory, as the Fokker had been dubbed.

There was never any doubt that Hill would serve as the co-pilot during the attempt (he was not taken along for the ride, as some authors would later claim). His skills and experience were viewed as essential to the mission’s success. Old Glory‘s first test flight took place on July 30.

Fully loaded and fueled, the Fokker weighed all of 12,700 pounds. Elaborate preparations were made to ensure the safety of the pilots and passenger. The plane was equipped with the latest survival gear and carried a radio station with the call letters WRHP (for William Randolph Hearst). Old Glory also carried a waterproof, wind-powered automatic transmitter, designed to send out the radio call letters in Morse code, allowing ships and stations along its proposed northern route to track their progress.

The original plans called for Old Glory to take off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, N.Y. But the fliers became concerned that they would run out of runway if they took off from Roosevelt fully loaded. They decided to make a change to a location with a longer runway. On September 2, Hill flew the Fokker to the airfield at Old Orchard Beach, in Maine. Hearst had by then begun to have doubts about the trip, and he sent Payne a series of telegrams urging him to call off the flight. But the editor refused to reconsider. The flight would take place as planned, and he would accompany Hill and Bertaud.

Old Glory‘s takeoff on September 6, 1927, was a spectacle — thanks in no small part to the publicity generated by the Daily Mirror. More than a thousand spectators lined the roads near the airfield, and National Guard units had to be brought in to control the crowds. Telegrams offering prayers and best wishes poured in from all over the world. Old Glory would be carrying letters from the U.S. secretary of state, as well as greetings from the mayor of New York to European heads of state.

Hill had won a coin toss to determine who would pilot the plane on the initial leg. Bertaud attended mass at a nearby church on the morning of the flight, and a priest blessed the plane in a final ceremony before they headed down the runway. As the men were about to leave, Payne’s wife raced up to Hill and kissed him, tucking a hastily scribbled letter into his hand. Mrs. Bertaud and Mrs. Payne had decided on this course, since Hill had no female relative to see him off. The note said simply, You are a fine fellow, and we all love you.

It was 12:23 p.m. when Hill got the heavily laden plane airborne. Two chase planes followed Old Glory as she headed north. Bertaud sent his first message at 2:55 p.m., followed by a second at 3:55 p.m. saying all was well, but that the plane seemed heavy.

The sightings confirmed Bertaud’s messages as time went on, for most indicated that Old Glory was flying low. The last reported sighting occurred at 11:57 p.m., when the Fokker flew over the steamship California about 350 miles east of Cape Race, Newfoundland. The plane appeared to be about 300 feet above the water.

Nothing more was heard from the crew until suddenly, at 3:57 a.m. on September 7, Bertaud radioed an SOS message, followed six minutes later by a second distress call. The steamship Transylvania, captained by David Bone, reported both calls and changed course, preparing to rescue the men if possible. But it took Transylvania five hours to reach the spot where Bone calculated that the plane had most likely gone down. Other ships joined Transylvania in a frantic search for the aircraft and its crew. But after 13 hours of fruitless searching — made more difficult by fog-shrouded waves and threatening skies — the rescue ships returned to their scheduled runs. Newspapers screamed worried headlines, and the fliers’ families met to console one another and wait for further word.

Anthony Fokker tried to offer some hope that they might yet be found alive. In a newspaper article he explained that the Fokker’s main tank was equipped with a valve that allowed the crew to jettison the aircraft’s fuel in 45 seconds. He pointed out that the time between SOS signals had been more than sufficient to dump the fuel, which might have given the plane enough buoyancy to keep it afloat until the crew could launch a life raft.

Hearst refused to give up on locating the plane and crew. He chartered SS Kyle to continue the search. Five days later, on September 12, 1927, Kyle‘s crew discovered the wreckage of the aircraft 100 miles northeast of the position that Captain Bone had calculated.

The wreckage included 34 feet of the 40-foot wing, fuel tanks, the undercarriage, parts of the super-structure and the damaged left wheel. But there was no sign of the crew or the large central fuel tank that might have served as a float. Investigators concluded that the plane must have dived into the water and broken apart, allowing no time for the crew to escape.

Stories about the ill-fated flight of Old Glory faded from public view as time went on. Hill, Bertaud and Payne had joined the ranks of other brave or foolhardy souls who had dared to cross the Atlantic — including Noel Davis and Stanton Wooster, whose American Legion crashed on takeoff the previous April, and Charles Nungesser and FranÇois Coli, who disappeared in L’Oiseau Blanc the following month.

In 1929 Charles Carroll changed the name of his airport, Longview Field in Westmoreland County, Pa., to J.D. Hill Field. The name change, marked with an elaborate airshow, was intended to be a permanent memorial, but it lasted only until the city of Latrobe purchased the airport in 1938.

Today the only memorial to Hill’s part in the last flight of Old Glory is a small stone monument erected in his hometown of Scottdale, Pa. James Hill, Lloyd Bertaud, Philip Payne and the gaudy silver-and-gold plane in which they attempted to set a record and win a prize have faded into the pages of history.

How WWII Fighter Planes Worked

“A date that will live in infamy.” That is how U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt described December 7, 1941. On that fateful day, a little before 8:00 a.m., the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in a preemptive strike meant to cripple the United States before they could join the Allied Forces in World War II. The Pearl Harbor raid was successful, resulting in the loss of 2,403 American lives, as well as the destruction or damage of 21 U.S. ships and 347 U.S. aircraft. The key to this successful attack was the Japanese aircraft, particularly the Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 fighter, commonly known as the Zero.

World War II was often a battle of technological advances. Throughout the war, the Allied and Axis forces constantly worked to improve the abilities and features of their equipment. No type of technology showcased this battle for supremacy better than the fighter planes. Every few months saw the introduction of a new or improved fighter plane to combat the latest version developed by the opposing side.

A History of WW2 Airplanes

Combat aircrafts that were everyday companions to airmen in the World War II generation have become extraordinary treasures to many in the next generations. The United States produced more than 300,000 airplanes in WWII.

Museums across the country have preserved and display these airplanes; some are exhibited in public spaces like Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, where a solitary F4F Wildcat honors Navy Medal of Honor winner Butch O’Hare.

This year, the 70th anniversary of Allied victory in World War II, warbirds are flying demonstrations in towns and cities across the country, including a flyover of the National Mall in Washington D.C. on May 8. If you’ve never heard a Merlin engine growl or seen a B-17 fly a stately pass across an airfield, this is the summer to do it.