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World War II Honor Roll

Anthony P. Calabrese

Second Lieutenant, 
U.S. Army Air Forces

O-776953

730th Bomber Squadron,
452nd Bomber Group, Heavy

Entered the Service from: New Jersey
Died: October 26, 1944
Buried at: Plot F O 1780
                  Beverly National Cemetery
                  Beverly NJ
Awards: Purple Heart


SECOND LIEUTENANT ANTHONY P. CALABRESE as born January 22, 1921 to Mr. and Mrs. Philip Calabrese, of 21 Cedar Avenue in the Blenheim section of Gloucester Township NJ. A graduate of Haddon Heights (NJ) High school, he worked as a barber in Blackwood prior to entering the service. He was assigned to the730th Bomber Squadron (heavy) based at Deopham Green, U.K. He was killed in a mid-air collision of two B-17G bombers, as described below.


  Stories of the 452nd Bomb Group
 

Our Greatest Fear
(Story of October 26, 1944)

by Louis Correia

(text in italics by Edward Hinrichs)

This story explains why we all fear mid­air collisions. In a matter of minutes the lives of 16 men are taken. We all are aware of the dangers of formation flying, but also know that formation flying is our best defense against the German fighter planes. So, it is a choice between a rock and a hard place.

While the Group was assembling for this mission, plane # 43­37906 and plane # 43­38696 from this Group collided at 1117 hours at 15,000 feet, approximately four miles west of our base, Deopham Green. When the first plane, piloted by 2nd\Lt. Robert Specht, hit prop wash, it wobbled, lost altitude and settled down on the second plane, # 43­38696 piloted by 1st/Lt. Wallace Bragg. Both ships broke up and Specht's plane, # 43­37906, exploded into flames. The tail gunners from both ships managed to bail out and escape. All other crew members were killed. The two survivors were Sgt. Louis Correia and Harry Betts. Correia was retrained as a toggalier and completed 25 missions.

Below is the story of this crash by Louis Correia, the tail gunner on plane # 43­37906. This was given to me in February, 1993.


The facts as I remember them now may or may not differ from the statements that I made later that day after the crash. It was a very trying and tragic time for me, and I rushed through the whole thing. Glad to get it over with.

We were a new crew with a new B­17G (Flying Fortress) heavy bomber and we were assigned to the 730th Squadron. We were immediately thrown into and absorbed into the hectic and steady bombing schedule that we and the English were then trying to maintain: we bombing in the day time and the British bombing in the night.

This bombing pattern was adopted shortly after the Americans flew their first combat mission on August 17, 1942. The English believed that the Americans should carry on their bombing raid the same way that had became a successful pattern. This was all settled on Jan. 21, 1943

An order was issued at Casablanca, Morocco, North Africa, called the Casablanca Directive, by the British and Americans, that had been approved by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill. This settled a long held dispute. The English had from the start insisted that the American Air Force should join up with the R. A. F. and do their bombing at night along with the R.A.F. The Americans insisted that daylight bombing was so much more accurate that the same results could be achieved with one tenth the force the English were employing. The fact that as of this date the Americans had not dropped a single bomb in Germany, almost gave Prime Minister Churchill his way. General Arnold called England for General Eaker to fly to Africa and to see if he could possibly change Churchill's mind, as he was a very persuasive talker. He knew that Churchill liked catchy phrases and made an outline of one single page that listed eight reasons why the Americans should continue daylight bombing and have their own organization. The one reason that Churchill loved was "The English bombing at night, the Americans during the day, the Germans would be bombed around the clock." His argument carried.

It did not take long to get our feet wet, or you might say baptized by fire, because on just our second mission our plane took one hell of a pasting and I found out, just as many another air­man before me, why the B­17 was called a Flying Fortress. It could take a beating and it sure as hell could dish one out.

The tail was riddled by flak, yet no real damage had been done, and I was untouched.

Just a few days later, October 26, 1944, was to be our 4th mission and most memorable of all my 2 missions. We were to take part in the bombing of the tank and locomotive works at Hanover, Germany, but we were involved in a mid­air collision while forming. We were flying plane # 43­37906.

My crew mates on this mission were:

2nd/Lt. Robert G. Specht Pilot KIA
2nd/Lt. Francis F. Naurer Copilot KIA
2nd/Lt. Paul A. Cross Navigator KIA
2nd/Lt. Anthony P.Calabrese Bombardier KIA
Sgt. Benjamin Parchimowicy Engineer KIA
Sgt. Marvin F. Knapp Radioman KIA
Sgt. Wendell B. Moore B. T. Gunner KIA
Sgt. Jackie P. Bishop W.Gunner KIA
Sgt. Louis Correia Tail Gunner RTD

The names of the men abroad the other plane, A/C # 43­37906 (also from Squadron 730) that we collide with were:

1st/Lt. Wallace C. Bragg Pilot KIA
2nd/Lt. Harlan P. Humphrey Copilot KIA
1st/Lt. Ervin Kisenstadt Navigator KIA
1st/Lt. Robert E. Willis Bombardier KIA
T/Sgt. Robert C. Bray Engineer KIA
T/Sgt. Albert L. Halvorsen Radioman KIA
S/Sgt. Melvin J Cecil B. T. Gunner KIA
S/Sgt. Henry F. Calosso W. Gunner KIA
S/Sgt. Harry J. Betts Tail Gunner RTD

The two planes collided in mid­air in a most tragic and spectacular collision while assembling at 15,000 ft. I felt the vibrations as our B­17 got caught in the prop­wash of the preceding planes and it actually stood on its wing just before we dropped. We must have fallen more than a thousand feet before Specht and Naurer, and no doubt the engineer also, could regain control.

But regain control they did, although for just a short time. We were almost back up and in formation, when again we were in the most violent turbulence I had ever known. I can still hear and feel the roar of those four engines as they fought to hold their own. It was not to be.

What ever happened up front in the cockpit I do not know, but we were tossed all over the place and the nose rose a little and we rammed right into the bomb bay section of Bragg's B­17.

This all happened at a reported 15,000 feet while assembling. I have always felt we were a little higher and that may have had a bearing on the crash. I know that if true, it gave me a few more precious seconds to fight my chute while dropping through the sky.

Being in the tail, I was at first facing the rear in my tail gunner position and kneeling. That was until we took that dive.

As we climbed back up and got caught again in the prop­wash, I was now facing the front of the ship and could see most of what was happening.

I may have tried to communicate, but got no reply.

Just then I heard and felt the crunch as both planes became one for one fierce moment amid the explosion (Good or bad?).

Balls of fire rolled by my tail position on both sides of me. And just then there was a loud snap that proved to be lucky for me, as the tail section broke completely free, falling from the rest of the ship before smoke and fire reached me.

It broke just like a match stick right at the structural cross beam, just forward of the escape hatch.

It happened so fast. One moment I and the rest of the guys that I could see in the waist were holding on the best we could and we all got tossed around. The next moment they were in the middle of the awful explosion, and gone forever.

And I was in the tail section swinging, swaying, tumbling toward the ground and even spinning. I tell you it was quite a trip.

How many times did Lady Luck smile on me? Lady Luck was ever at my side. I was again a rubber ball, hanging on as best I could, not hurt, because of the heavy flying gear I had on. I remember saying to myself, "Get the F­­­­ hell out of here". Just for a split second, the tail section seemed to go into a gentle glide and I wondered which way I would have to go; the open jagged end if I could not open the hatch.

But the escape hatch opened easily. At some time I had attached my chute, which was on one of the long riser straps. We had always been told that if you ever had to bail out, make sure you took your shoes with you. I had mine attached by a five foot piece of bailing wire to one ring of the parachute harness, and the strap that held my chute on the other, so that as I knelt in the tail position both items would be away from me (my rear), to the front of the ship. It was not comfortable, but with the heavy flying gear, it was soft.

One habit no doubt saved my life, because my chute was always near me. The other habit almost claimed it, because before I had a chance to pull the rip cord--you guessed it--the chute got tangled with the wire and my shoes. I pulled and tugged and tried to shake things free and I swore more than I prayed. I tried every thing. When I think of those seconds I still almost break into a sweat and I have often wondered just how many of those precious moments I really had left. I know that it could not have been too many. I tugged and pulled and finally the chute seemed to open just a bit; then a bigger jerk and more opened and with one more tug on the line it broke free and that lovely parachute (made by the Irving Co.) opened fully and jerked me almost to a stop. I guess because I had dropped quite a few feet before it opened.

I'll say it forever, "Lady luck worked overtime for me that day." If only some luck had rubbed off to the other men.

I think I'm all set, I am floating to earth in a very pleasing glide when here comes this English fighter plane, a Spitfire, and he seems bent on ramming me head on. I do not know what the hell he is up to until I hit the ground and see the burning wreckage.

He had been trying to push me away from the danger.

There were so many "once in a life time" events that happened to me that day.

But to me the most remarkable was that practically the same things must have happened to the tail gunner and the men on the other plane. The tail broke off and he parachuted to safety as I had, but he told me that he had no trouble with his chute opening. He did not have that damn habit I had of tying the shoes on.

There is one single thing that has been the most painful memory of my life. It is the sight of those six caskets so precisely aligned at the service held in the cemetery at Cambridge.

After the crash I wanted out and did not want to fly again. But with a little time off, I became a togglier (an enlisted man bombardier) and finished my tour of 25 missions. I even got a Lucky Bastard certificate which attests to the fact that you have plastered the Fuehrer's face with 100,000 pounds of bombs and are alive to tell it.

Sometimes when I wear my Caterpillar Club pin, I am asked where I got it. I do not usually explain it fully. Who would believe it! (Caterpillar Club members are those who had made an emergency parachute jump in order to save their life)

Web Content Copyright 1997-2000, WEBovation, Inc. USA
Stories of the 452nd Bomb Group Copyright 1997-2000, Edward T. Hinrichs

 

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