When one thinks about how battleships were sunk during World War II, tremendous endeavors and heroic feats come to mind: the maximum ef-fort put forth by the British in tracking and destroying the Bismarck, the audacious attack by the Japanese Row at Pearl Harbor, the death of Yamato under merciless aerial attack by US Navy aircraft off Okinawa in April 1945.
I was assigned to the 321st Bom-bardment Group, 57th Bombardment Wing, Twelfth Air Force, stationed at Solenzara, Corsica, at the time, and took part in the raid.
The group had had flown more than 500 missions and was also highly regarded for its excellent formation fly-ing. The 321st was frequently chosen to demonstrate these skills for visiting dignitaries. But it was the accuracy of our pinpoint bombing—the bridge-busting, the command-post hits, the runways cratered, the railroad yards leveled, and the close support of ground troops in Italy—that won the praise of those who inspected the aerial photos of our raids.
On August 17, the third day of the invasion of Southern France, aerial re-connaissance revealed that the French battleship Strasbourg, the cruiser La Gallisoniere, a Le Hardi-class de-stroyer, and a submarined had been respositioned within Toulon harbor. Their firepower constituted a threat to Allied forces operating nearby.
On the evening of August 17, 1944, we saw 1,000-pound armor-piercing and 1,000-pound general-purpose bombs being trundled to the airfield. We knew that the next day’s mission would be an interesting one.
We took off at 1053 hours, assem-bled at 1126, and began our flight to the target at 13,000 feet. At that alti-tude, the force of thirty-six B-25s was extremely vulnerable to the heavy AAA guns defending the harbor. Although “window” was used on the bomb run to mislead defensive radar, the flak was extremely intense—both barrage and tracking on the bomb run and on the breakaway. By the time we had cleared the target, eleven men had been wounded and twenty-seven of the B-25s had some damage.
On our return from the target, we were required to pass over the Allied invasion fleet. Heavy squalls forced us to descent below 1,000 feet, with the risk of being fired on by mistake, so we fired our Very flare guns and used emergency radio channels to inform the fleet of our predicament.
The mission was later rated as one of the most destructive ever carried out by a group of medium bombers. The 321st Group was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for what was de-scribed as the “extraordinary heroism and proficiency that was demonstrated throughout the attack.”
The next day, we were back out bridge-busting for the Seventh Army moving inland from the beaches and up the Rhone Valley.
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