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340thBG,486thBS, Lt Clair Clark, B-25 Combat Pilot /MTO
1944 | North Africa
Lt Clair Clark was a Pilot with the 340th B-25 Mitchell Medium Bomber Group and the 486thBS in North Africa, 1944.
World War II Memoirs
WORLD WAR II MEMOIRS by Clair J. Clark
B-25 Pilot with 310th BG & the 340th BG 486th BS
I enlisted and was sworn in as a Buck Private in the Army Air Corps on July 2,
1940. On July 4th, amid vast fireworks, our train pulled into San Antonio. A bus picked
up those of us who were scheduled to go to Randolph Field. I went through two weeks of
recruit drill where I got sunburned pretty badly. I started training as an airplane
mechanic on BT-14s. I became a crew chief and a 3rd class specialist, which meant a pay
raise form $21 to $24 a month. After ten months, several of us were selected to open
Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. I switched from an engine mechanic to a radio
technician and was soon promoted to a 2nd class specialist with another $3 raise, to
$27 a month. I became involved in drilling recruits for a couple of months and became a
PFC 2nd class specialist. In September 1941, the Air Corps said anyone with a high
school education who could pass the physical exam could go to flying school and
graduate as a staff sergeant pilot.
I signed up then and there, but it took a while for them to call the men who qualified. Meanwhile, I became a PFC 1st class specialist. In January of 1942, there were several of us who were sent to what was then called “Kelly on the Hill” which later became Lackland Air Base. We went through ground school training and physical training. I received my buck sgt. rating soon after arriving at Lackland. From there we went to Stamford, Texas for primary training in PT-19s. The first three or four times I flew with my instructor, I got sick. My instructor then switched me to the front seat and I did okay. When we started practicing spins, my instructor asked me if I had one short leg. I said, “Maybe,” and he asked me to walk to him, standing straight. He put his hands on my hips and said, “I thought so.” I had broken my right leg in 1926 and the doctor had used an apple box for splints on my leg. I didn?t know until 1939 (when I bought my first suit for graduation) that my right leg was one inch longer than my left. My instructor, Mr. Kent, said, “I?m going to see that you become a pilot.” He switched all of his students--four in number--to the front seat of the PT-19. We were the only ones in 42-H to go through primary in the front seat. My girlfriend came to her aunt?s house in Abilene and I drove my old 1936 Studebaker down there to see her. I gave her an engagement ring that night in the back seat and asked her, “Will you?” and she said, “Yes.” We can always remember the day because Doolittle raided Toyko on April 18, 1942.
From Stamford, we went to Brady for basic training in BT-13s and BT-15s and then on to Kelly Field for advanced training in AT-6s. I graduated on September 6, 1942. My stepmother and dad from Holden, Missouri, my sister from Eugene, Oregon, my kid brother from Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, and my future mother and father in-law came to my graduation. My orders had not come in as to where I was to go from there. My girlfriend, my sister and my brother stayed in San Antonio and the others went to Houston to my future in-laws? house. By Tuesday afternoon, I had not yet received my orders, so we headed for Houston. My wife and I were married at 11:35 that night at Christ Church Cathedral, September 8. We went back to my in-laws? house and the men, including me, slept on the living room floor; the women slept in other rooms. At 5 a.m., we arose and my parents took me back to San Antonio to await my orders. On Friday, I got my orders and hitchhiked to Houston where my bride and I boarded a train for Salt Lake City, Utah. There we got a hotel room and spent eight days; in the daytime, I reported to the base. The first night there, the guards wouldn?t let me off base because they said a staff sgt. wasn?t supposed to be wearing wings. Some of us went to the base commander and he let everyone know we were pilots.
From there, we went to Blythe, California, where we learned to fly the A-20. We trained there unil November and then the whole group moved to Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma. We flew the A-20s while my wife and two other wives rode a train to Oklahoma City. After getting to Oklahoma, I checked out in the B-25 and started giving new (flying school) arrivals training in a plane with a co-pilot and tricycle landing gear. In early January, all of the sgt. pilots were promoted to a newly created rank of flight officer. The title of sgt. pilots didn?t work, as we couldn?t associate with the officers because we were enlisted men, nor could we associate with our crew members because we were aircraft commanders. In mid-January, all of my classmates except one were sent overseas, flying A-20s to Africa. One other pilot and I were kept as 1nstructors in B-25s. In April, myself, four captains and one 1st Lieutenant were sent to Wright Field to test the A-20G when it first came out. I was there for 30 days and my wife went back to Houston. I wrote her to let her know when I would be back, so she came back to Oklahoma City. I had been back only one day when they gave several of us 48 hours notice to ship overseas. I helped my wife pack and sent her back to Houston. They put us on an airliner and flew us to Miami, Florida. After three days there, they sent us to Boca Raton, Florida and completely re-equipped us. We had sent most of our equipment from Will Rogers to Oran, North Africa. After being re-equipped, they sent us to a base at Newport, Virginia. We were there a few days and then loaded on the SS Mariposa to Casablanca, North Africa. In eight days, we arrived there, but only stayed a few days and were sent to Rabat, North Africa, which was a training base. They gave us a choice of which planes we would like to fly in combat. We had a choice of the B-26, B-25, B-24 or B-17. I picked the B-25 and after the second flight, my instructor said I was adept and would need no more training. Shortly thereafter, I was sent to the 310th Bomb Group on Cape Bon, north of Tunis. In November, 1943, a rainstorm washed us out of that base and we moved to a B- 17 base near Tunis. We flew only a few missions from there and the group was put on stand down and sent to Phillipville, North Africa. While there, they sent a few of us to a base near Alexandria, Egypt. We were to fly the B-25G against shipping in the Aegean Sea. We had a 75mm cannon in the nose plus four 20mm cannons and we were to carry torpedoes. After a very few missions--on which I did not fly--they called it off. The Germans started towing what we called “flak barges.” They carried many 88mm cannons on these barges and in one mission of six B-25G?s, none made it back to land.
I was sent back to Phihipville, where I stayed only a few days. Several of us were then sent to Fogia, Italy, to the 340th Bomb Group. I had made 2nd Lieutenant with the 3 10th, so after a few missions with the 340th, I was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. We carried more bombs than I was used to with the 310th, as we were a tactical instead of a strategic group. Besides the bombs in the bomb bay, we carried four 500-lbs. bombs on each wing. On each mission, as we started from our air base, one or two planes flew as spares which filled in the flight if someone dropped out for some malfunction. My first mission with the 340th was as a spare. I was not told that if I didn?t fill in and came back to base, that I should drop my wing bombs at sea. As I made my approach and cut the power back, my plane started to drop almost straight down. I had to put on full power and was able to land without incident. That?s when I found out I should have dropped my wing bombs.
A short time after that, we were called to a briefing at 6:30 p.m., which was unusual. We found out we were to take off before dawn and be over our target at daybreak. We were the first group to bomb the Abbey of Monte Cassino, though several groups bombed it the same day. Not long after that, I was to fly a mission with only two other planes, each trailing each other by several miles, and each taking a slightly different route. The mission was to drop leaflets over the battle lines. After dropping the leaflets, I found my plane was very hard to control. I got back and made a bad landing, though no harm was done. After checking the plane, we found leaflets wedged in some of the control cables. I went to rest camp on the Isle of Capri on December 24, my birthday, and had a good time. When I got back to base, they were in the process of moving from Foggia to Vesuvius Airfield. It was a new field a short way from Mount Vesuvius.
On January 14, we flew a 24 plane mission on a bridge at Ponte Corvo, Italy, which was on the bomb line. As we were about to drop our bombs, I saw my right wingman go down in flames. A few seconds later, my leader was shot down; I had my navigator plot where they bailed out. There was not much time to do so because I was hit in my right eye, though I didn?t know it until I landed. My navigator was hit, and a piece of flak went through his flak jacket, wedging against his skin without drawing blood. My right engine caught fire; the extinguisher didn?t work, so I feathered the engine and dove to put out the flames. I was all alone when I headed back to base on one engine. It was really hazy and I couldn?t see much. I saw darkness ahead of me and realized it was Mt. Vesuvius. I banked sharply to the left, I was below 1500 feet and slowly losing altitude. I told my crew they could bail out and they asked, “What are you going to do, lieutenant?” I told them I was going to try and set it down if I could find a flat place to do so. They answered that they were going to stay with me. In about ten minutes, I spotted a landing strip to my left and realized it was the A-36 base. I immediately headed for it and tried to contact the tower. I had no luck nor did my radioman. I just kept heading for the landing strip. Suddenly, I felt the plane rock and saw an A-36 below and in front of me. In a few seconds, it happened again and then again. Three A-36s passed below me and went in to land. As the third one went under me very close, the tower spotted us and began shooting flares. The A-36 right ahead of me turned, saw my plane, and shifted to land on the far right side of the strip. I shifted to the left, but it was a little too far. As my wheels hit the ground, one wheel was off the strip. My right tire and nose tire were both flat and that pulled me onto the runway. I gunned the motor, kicked rudder and straightened up, cut the motor off and coasted to the end of the runway. We all piled out of the plane as a crew from the shop came out in a truck to check things out and carry us back to the shop. It was then that one of my crew said I had blood running out of my eye and down my chin. I guess with the stress of all that had happened, I didn?t even know it. The tower had called my base and it was just a short time until someone was there to take us back to our base. I was taken to Dr. Wathan?s office, where he removed a small piece of flak from my eye and the back of my neck. Fortunately, neither wound was serious, and two days later, I was back on another mission.
We continued flying missions until March, but then Mt. Vesuvius erupted, and no more missions were flown from Vesuvius Airfield. Most of our planes were damaged, with glass broken and fabric on rudders and ailerons more or less shredded. I still remember the noise of the eruption and getting out of bed in the room where five of us slept. I opened the door and saw flashes of light and heard things hitting the roof of our building. I saw a lump on the doorstep and started to pick it up. I nearly burned my hand, it was so hot. I got a shovel and picked it up and brought it inside; the other guys got up and we all examined the rock. We broke it apart and it was red hot inside. We were able to make it to the mess hall a little later for breakfast. We were informed that a truck would be by to pick us up and we would go to a hotel in Naples. The second night at the hotel, the Germans pulled a bombing raid. Several of us stepped outside the hotel to see what was going on. We saw a bomb hit a building across the street. We found out the next morning it was WAC quarters, but fortunately, they were off in a bomb shelter. After a couple of days, they moved us to Salerno, where the 12th Bomb Group had left for India. They had left a few planes and some of ours had been repaired, and in three days our group flew a mission with twelve planes. I did not fly any missions from Salerno as my feet had become infected with secondary athlete?s foot. After several days there, several of us were decorated with medals. I could barely get my shoes on to stand in the line. I got the Air Medal, the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After a few more missions by the group, they moved us to Corsica. I couldn?t fly yet, so I went by British LST.
Soon after our arrival in Corsica, we began getting new planes and crews from the U.S. The new planes were B-25Js; we had been flying Cs and Ds. We were living in tents and had been eating c-rations for a few days. We all dug trenches near our tents in case of a German air raid. I started flying some, but not on bombing missions. I would fly to Naples to pick up our mail and practice bombs. I did that for a couple of weeks and on May 3, 1944, a couple of officers came to my tent and asked me if I would like to go home.
Naturally, I said, “Yes, indeed,” and asked them when that would be. They answered, “Tomorrow morning, we will send six crews who have over fifty missions to the 3 10th Bomb Group to pick up six B-25Gs and fly them to Rome, New York.” So six crews of six men each went to the 310th Bomb Group, picked up six B-25Gs, and flew to Tunis, North Africa. There they removed our armor plating from the cockpits and installed bomb bay fuel tanks. We flew to Roberts Field, Liberia the next day, by way of Casablanca. We stayed there for a couple of days because we had a six man crew and only five-man life rafts. They called the base at Accra?and had them send us the necessary life rafts. Early in the morning, we took off for Ascension Island We were all flying below 1000 feet as there were heavy clouds above us. We were not flying in any kind of formation and I was several hundred yards behind the rest. All of a sudden, my oil pressure dropped to almost zero on my right engine and I had to feather the propeller very quickly. Of course, I soon lost sight of the other five planes. I asked the navigator if we should turn back or go on to the island. He said we were halfway there, so we might as well go on. I was able to maintain my altitude at 800 feet and finally sighted the island. I called the tower and told them my situation and proceeded in for a landing. On the island, you land uphill, hit the top, and roll down the other side. It wasn?t too bad and a tug came and took me around and uphill to the hanger. I had to stay two days to get the number nine cylinder on the right engine replaced. Early in the morning, we took off for Natal, Brazil, and we had a very good trip. We then flew on to Belem and from there, to Georgetown, Guyana. I had to stay there for a 100 hour inspection. We then we flew on to Puerto Rico and then to Miami, Florida. We had to stay in Miami another day while they inspected everything on board the plane, including our baggage. We took off for Brooks Field, Texas, and as we passed over Houston I dove down to about 1000 feet and pulled the prop pitch back and the throttles forward to make the engines roar. I was right over my in-laws? house--where my wife was living while I was overseas. My wife did not know I was on the way home, as we had left on such short notice, but she told me when I got home that she just knew it was me when she heard and saw the B-25G as it went overhead We delivered the plane to Brooks Field and turned everything over to the authorities there. I spent the night at Brooks Field and the next day I hitchhiked to Houston. I was dropped off in downtown Houston and boarded a bus to my in-laws? house. I knocked on the door and my mother-in-law answered the door. She called to my wife, “Look who?s here!” My wife was changing the diaper on our daughter, who was born October 16, 1943, when I was stationed at a base near Tunis, North Africa. I had received a telegram at the time, informing me of the birth. I stayed at my in-laws? house and it was there where I got word that my kid brother, Clyde, was killed in a B-24 shot down over Germany.
My wife and I left for Miami, Florida, leaving our daughter with her grandparents. We spent two weeks at rest camp in Miami and then caught a train to Greenville, South Carolina, where I spent the next fourteen months as an instrument instructor in B-25s. In September, 1945, my family and I got into our 1937 Ford and headed to Holden, Missouri, where my folks lived. I left my wife and two children there while I wentto Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, and received my discharge from the Air Force. After a few days with my folks, we headed for Houston, Texas, and have been in this area ever since.