The 450th Bomb Group, 720th Bomb Squadron of the Fifteenth Air Force was based in Manduria, Italy. They arrive in Manduria in December 1943 and were nicknamed “The Cottontails.” 2nd Lt. C.H. Lee was the pilot of the B-24G Marauder 42-78156 nicknamed “Hard to Get.” On 29 December 1944, their mission was to bomb the railroad loop at the Brenner Pass. This was to be the third day in a row for that target. There was faulty navigation by the lead ship from the 723rd Bomb Squadron which had severe consequences.
At about 13:00 hours, the aircraft was hit by flak. From Missing Air Crew Report 10935, Flight Officer William R. Clark gave this eyewitness account of the events that day:
On 29 December 1944, our group was on a mission to bomb the target at Brenner Pass, Italy. I was flying at co-pilot in ship number 231 in the number six (6) position of the first (1) box in the second (2nd) attack unit. Lieutenant Lee was flying ship number 42-78156 B-24G in number (5) position in the same box. When the formation flew over the first (1st) flak area, Lieutenant Lee’s aircraft was damaged by flak. He reported over the radio that one of his engines was knocked out, his gasoline tanks were leaking and he was going to have to feather another engine. Then he salvoed his bombs. He left the formation on a southern heading and reported that he was planning to fly a course that would enable him to meet the formation of the return trip. After the formation had completed the bomb run, I hear Lieutenant Lee over the radio saying that his aircraft was flying low in the mountains and was going to try to make northern Italy.
All of the crew successfully bailed out and landed on the ground. The pilot, co-pilot and gunner evaded capture until the end of the war. The navigator managed to evade capture for eleven weeks, was then captured for forty days and escaped again. Thompson, who was the radio operator along with the engineer and another gunner, were captured in the afternoon near Belluno, Italy. Thompson received injuries in his left hip from flak splinters and was sent to the Army Hospital at Cortina D’Amprese. German reports stated that it would be 4 or 5 weeks before he was transportable and that he knew two crew members by name but did not know what happened to them. Thompson was in the hospital for five or six weeks until he recovered enough to be sent to Dulag Luft – Oberursel, Stalag XIIId – Nuremberg and finally forced marched to Stalag VIIa – Moosburg.