Starting early New Year’s eve and lasting through the day, Dan’s base in Italy had a heavy wet snow. To bring in the New Year, the guys in all the shacks “put up a small barrage” outside with their .45s. Danny had several tracers in his clip which made long continuous streaks in the dark.
New Years day, he and one of his “shackmates” went on a hike, shooting at rocks and clods in the snow. “Was certainly O.K. to walk around in the snow, even if it wasn’t back there in Iowa where there’s a little game along with it.” He said that they didn’t have time for an interesting all day hike like they used to take back in Iowa.
Two of the men in his shack were from Iowa and one from Oklahoma. “The Okie can’t make out worth hell in arguments in this hut. ha. All are a bunch of damn swell buddies.” He said they had the best looking hut, inside and out, in the squadron.
He often looked over the pictures his folks had sent of their new place near Perry. “It sure looks keen, and they were taken even before ‘the Wilsons’ took over. Yes, it’s even on the best land; in the best State; in the best damn country in the world. That’s for damn sure.”
The target on Danny’s ninth mission was the Doboj railroad bridge in Yugoslavia on January 5. His was one of eighteen fighters that rendezvoused with bombers of the British Royal Air Force over Brac Island in the Adriatic Sea. There was flak in the bridge area and also at Doboj. They could see the bomb hits on the bridge and on the road at both ends of it.
Later that day Danny wrote home. He’d just gotten three letters and a package from them and a letter from Donald. He said he’d read the letters over two and three times.
His mother Leora had included a Des Moines newspaper. Danny said it showed a farmer in Italy using donkeys, like the ones where he was. In other areas they used mostly oxen.
On January 8 Danny’s Lightning, along with forty-one others, rendezvoused with B-17 Flying Fortresses and escorted them to Linz South Main Marshalling Yard in Austria. The fighters dropped chaff and closely escorted the bombers at the target. They were over the marshalling yard ten long minutes, buffeted by bursts of flak. They landed safely, although two were low on fuel and landed at friendly fields.
Danny was on the list for the January 20 mission to Austria. Over forty Lightnings escorted B-24s of the 49th Wing over the Linz North Main Marshalling Yard. They were met by flak during the seventeen minutes they were over the yard. One of the bombers exploded. No parachutes were seen. A minute later, another bomber was hit by flak and went down on fire. No chutes.
Eleven of the fighters also strafed in the Graz area on the way back to their field. They damaged a locomotive and a boxcar were destroyed, three boxcars and three freight cars damaged. The other P-38s escorted the surviving bombers to the Austria-Yugoslav border. They dodged more flack at Triest and Treviso, Italy. When they got back, two Lightnings had been lost. One of the caught fire, rolled over, and crashed. The other turned back with an escort but was lost in the overcast.
Danny’s January 21st mission was to again escort bombers and drop chaff, along with thirty-nine others. The bombers were B-17s of the 5th Wing. The target was the Vienna Lobau Oil Blending Plant. One was hit by flak at Klagenfurt, Austria. Another fighter was lost, last seen in the target area. Two crash landed at their home field.
“I just received the jackpot on mail,” Danny wrote home. They’d waited several days for the mail to get to their squadron, but he got two letters from home, and one each from Darlene, Junior, and Doris. He said the picture of his folks when Junior was there were sure swell, but I couldn’t find the photo he referred to.
Yes, he said, he could see Spats running around with a mitten. “Wonder what Spats would do if he saw Dale. Or, I should say, the other way around. I wouldn’t know who would be most tickled.” Dale had been missing in action for over a year.
Italy’s weather was hindering what they pilots were there for, with snow and half an inch of ice over the puddles. During bad weather, they had classes anyway, and practiced in the Link trainer.
The 14th Fighter Group only flew twenty-nine missions during the month of January, 1945, six of them bomber escort. The rest were photo reconnaissance or supply dropping escort. The weather had been miserable–rain and snowstorms. Italian Alpine troops assisted the engineers with better drainage to reduce the mud and flooding at the base.
The Group had lost seven planes and five pilots that month, which made the war that much more real.
According to Air Force Combat Units of World War II: The Concise Official Military Record, the 14th Fighter Group consisted of four squadrons. I couldn’t ascertain how many P-38 Lightnings were in each squadron.
Its testament to good human spirit, to try to have a little fun, even under dreadful circumstance.
Very well written!
As always, great history and telling of same. Thanks, Joy.
Interesting slice of wartime life. On our recent Europe trip, we visited Brac Island, Croatia as well as Linz and Graz, Austria. Hard to visualize what they looked like with all the bombing.
Graz is where the Wehrmacht turned in Danny Wilson’s dogtags, 75 years ago next month. No one in the family knew about that until I asked for his casualty files.
There is such a contrast between the horrendous danger the pilots and crews faced in the skies and being just regular fellows on the ground, having some fun with each other and enjoying news from home.
Helped break the stress of combat and monotony of waiting between missions.
I could see that the stress and the monotony of waiting would have been close to unbearable otherwise.