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The First Bombers To Bomb The Coast Of Normandy

Photo credit: J.K. Havener
A formation of 344th BG B-26s.

A Tailgunner's Story

I was drafted into the Army on September 7,1942, which happened to be Labor Day. Camp Upton, on Long Island, was my first assignment. From there it was Atlantic City, New Jersey for basic training. Close-order drill on the beach was a curse, this was quickly discontinued and the City Dump was our next drill field.

From Atlantic City, the next assignment was Fort Myers Florida - Fort Myers Air Base, for aerial flight training, in what was designated AT-6's. Upon graduation I was assigned to an Armament School, Lowery Field, Denver, Colorado. Having completed the prescribed "Third Air Force Aircraft Armorers (Bombardment)" course, the next assignment was back to Florida.

Lakeland,Florida, AAF MacDill Field, with classification of Staff Sergeant. In those days, all flying personnel were volunteers. MacDill Field, was the training air base for combat duty. The average crew consisted of Pilot, Co-Pilot, Navigator, or Bombardier, Radio Gunner, Mechanic Gunner, Armorer Gunner, all trained in two fields or trades. (this was at the beginning of 1943). At this air base the 344th Bomb Group was formed. It consisted of four squadrons the 494-495-496 497 Bomb Squadrons. I was assigned to the 495th BS.

Keep in mind that as all this transpired, I never volunteered for flying. In fact, while in Atlantic City, I was told that I was color blind to some extent. But as you can see, that was disregarded. The positions, on the bomber for the gunners were as follows: Top turret - Mechanic/Engineer Gunner; Waist - Radio Operator Gunner; Tail- Armorer Gunner.

I was assigned to the tail weighing in at 185 lbs. The sign over my position read 150-lbs. maximum. That is without flak suits and helmets. In May of 1993 I was assigned to Walterboro Army Air Field, Walterboro, South Carolina for "Camouflage" training. Upon completion I returned to MacDill Field.

January of 1944 I was sent to New York City to board the Queen Elizabeth for the trip to Europe, (only Pilots, Co-Pilots, Navigators, Radio Operators and Crew Chiefs flew overseas). After nine days of rough seas, we 15,000 troops arrived in Scotland, then by train continued to our new "home" at Stansted, England. I flew my first mission over France, April 1944. By middle of May had flown 33 missions when the squadron Doctor ordered R&R and I was sent to Aberdeen, Scotland for recuperation.

June 6, 1944 I flew the first mission of the day (it took fifty years to find out that our group was the first bombers to bomb the coast of Normandy, at 6:00 am.) Weather that morning left a lot to be desired. Orders were to fly below the weather; they wanted visual sight of bombing. Our flight flew over the target at approximately 3,000 to 4,000 feet. Not being used to that low level flying did cause some concern, to say the least. Our normal height for bombing was between 12,000 and 15,000 feet. No oxygen was on board our B-26's. The flight was instructed to fly over Normandy (at all costs) and return, flying between the Guernsey and Jersey Islands. Needless to say at that point, the German's were not happy to see us, and showed their anger by the use of their flak.


Our worst enemy was the German Anti-Air 88mm Guns. To put it mildly they were damn good at their trade. September of 1944 the 344th Bomb Group was moved to Pontoise, France, a former German air base. Our fist crew loss happened in September of 1944. Our Radio Operator Gunner was killed in action. Lucky I was not on that flight, but we did loose "Nick's Chick", our B-26.

During my 63rd or 64th mission, we were hit. The plane suffered damage and our Engineer Gunner and our Bombardier were wounded. An emergency landing was made in Reims, France and we all were taken to the hospital in Reims.

Just a side to this story. l was born in Germany and now found myself flying over Germany and possibly dropping bombs on relatives. I was fortunate to have completed my 65 missions before the Battle of the Bulge, in mid-December, 1944. Flew my last mission on December 6th, 1944.

After spending Christmas in Preston, England, I was returned to the United States on a Hospital ship. After a short leave was sent back to Atlantic City for processing to replace crews in the Pacific. The final examination by a Psychiatrist was in our favor. "You guys aren't going, anywhere, you're all Nuts", was his diagnosis, and we were removed from combat duty.

From Atlantic City back to Tyndel Field, Panama City, Florida, assigned as a ships carpenter, repairing, Air Sea Rescue Boats. Didn't know Bow from Stern. Found myself trapped, as this was an emergency outfit. Cooks were being discharged with 50 points, and Otto is down there with 129 points and ready to get out. Finally on September 4th, 1945, I was discharged.

Was awarded the Air Medal with 12 clusters (9 oak leaf), European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign, with 4 bronze stars, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal and World War II Victory medal. Our crew of seven men, when we became a lead crew, has dwindled down to yours truly, and that doesn't make me feel too happy.

Otto Lemke (Armorer-Gunner 495th Bomb Squadron 344th Bomb Group 9th Air Force). A Tailgunner's Story. Bomber Legends. Volume 3 Number 1, 2006.

Joe Chiozza

Joseph P "Joe" Chiozza was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1920. He was the youngest of three baseball-plying brother. His eldest sibling, Lou, had begun a professional career in the Phillies organization in 1934. He played for the Philles from 1934 to 1936 and was with the New York Giants from 1937 to 1939. He was the first man to bat in a major league night game as the leadoff batter for the Phillies when they met the Reds at Cincinnati's Crosley Field in the initial major league arclight contest on May 24, 1935. Dino, two years younger than Lou and eight years older than Joe, joined the Phillies organization in 1934 and made two appearances as a shortstop with the National League team in 1935.

Joe was just 17 years old when he signed as a pitcher with the Memphis Chicks in 1937. "He may be two or three seasons away from the majors," said Memphis manager Billy Southworth at the time, "but I believe he will reach the big show."

Memphis assigned young Chiozza to Paragould of the Northeast Arkansas League his rookie year. He appeared in 22 games and was 3-6 with a 4.83 ERA. He was out of organized baseball in 1938 but returned with Clarksdale of the Cotton States League in 1939 where he posted a 3-3 record.

1939 was to be Chiozza's last year in baseball. He entered military service with the Army Air Force and served in Europe with the 494th Bomb Squadron of the 344th Bomb Group. Lieutenant Chiozza was the bombadier of a Martin B-26 Marauder crew that flew 58 successful missions in the Coral Princess III.

On the morning of November 19, 1944, Chiozza flew a mission to the South of France. The target was the railroad bridge across the Rhine at Colmar. They flew through clouds most of the way, but about 25 miles from the target they broke into the clear blue skies. The Coral Princess made its bomb run and left the bridge in ruins, then returned to base at Pontoise, near Paris. Later that day, Chiozza was informed he was scheduled to fly that afternoon, despite not having been to the briefing, and knowing nothing of the mission or target.

He was taken by jeep to the end of the runway where the Coral Princess was ready to take off. The day was overcast with low clouds at 1500 feet and a second layer at 3000 feet. Chiozza studied the target photo which was the railroad yards at Cologne. The railroad yards were clearly visible about thirty miles ahead and he began to sight the Norden when there was a deafening explosion. Several direct hits severed the vertical stabilizer cable and the gas line, sending the B-26 into a dive. When Chiozza looked back he saw the entire bomb bay was blazing. Co-pilot, Lieutenant Fred Fubel, grabbed a fire extinguisher and finally got the fire out while Captain Allyn, the pilot struggled with the controls and got the plane to level out at 2000 feet.

The right engine had also caught fire during this time and was feathered, the compasses were all wrecked and there were gaping holes throughout the airplanee. Furthermore, it was beginning to snow. Captain Allyn told his crew to make sure that their chutes were on right as he searched for somewhere to ditch the plane. Then the left engine began to sputter and the order was given to bail out. The tail gunner, Staff-Sergeant E K Bozack, and Captain Webster Allyn both failed to jump and were killed when the plane crash landed and exploded. Chiozza and the three other crew members who jumped landed safely and were helped back to their unit by Belgian underground forces. Chiozza left his parachute with a young Belgian girl who wanted to use the material for her wedding gown.

Chiozza was back in the United States in February 1945. While at Miami Beach Army Air Base awaiting redistribution, he announced he would not be returning to professional baseball because he felt he was too old to regain his pitching form. Joe Chiozza passed away in Memphis, Tennessee on March 19, 2000. He was 80 years old.

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