On September, 1944, the British 8th Army was scheduled to attack Rimini, Italy, after first crossing the river that flows into the Adriatic Sea just south of the city. Just north of the river and west of the city was a small, tree-covered mountain where British intelligence had determined German troops were being held ready to counter-attack after the British had crossed the river. Our group was assigned the mission of attacking that mountain, our load being fragmentation bombs. We were briefed not to bomb if we arrived at the target after 0900 hours.
As I recall, each of the three squadrons put up nine planes, the 445th being one of them. T.J. Baker, who joined the squadron as co-pilot of Daggett’s crew, had qualified as first pilot and was assigned to fly Outhouse Mouse. We reached our target before 0900 and dropped our bombs, a matter of 20 clusters of frags from each of the 27 planes in the flight.
After the drop, we broke to the right (east) and flew out over Rimini to the Adriatic and turned south. The first flight, strangely, drew no fire, but when the second flight, the 445th, flew over the city, they let us have it. Three ships went down, including the Outhouse Mouse.
When the rest of us got back to our field and landed, we taxied past the Mouse’s hardstand and saw Sid Letz, the Mouse’s crew chief, perched in the branches of a tree that had been cut down by the runway, waiting for his plane to come in. That night in the enlisted men’s club, he demonstrated his sadness.
Meanwhile, back at Rimini, Outhouse Mouse had taken a hit that cut all the control cables on one side of the fuselage, through the bomb bay, I think. With half of his controls shot out, Baker had quite a struggle regaining control of the plane. The crew had spotted a German airfield, hopefully abandoned, and Baker headed for it. With wheels and flaps down, as Baker was making his final approach, the runway began flowing up in front of him. He assumed the Germans had mined the field and were detonating the mines. In reality, there was a flight of B-17s overhead and they were diligently bombing the runway. It seems they hadn’t gotten the word about the 0900 time limit.
Anyway, Baker got her down, worked this way through the bomb craters and off the runway. There the crew stayed, sleeping in and under the plane and subsisting on rations the British crews gave them when they swept across the field. Baker and crew worked on the cables and when they had them as well-spliced as they could manage, they took off and flew back to Corsica.
A couple of weeks later, the British captain who was our liaison with the 8th Army showed up an one of our briefings. He said, “We thought you chaps would like to know the results of your bombing at Rimini. There was no counter-attack. When our troops were over that mountain, they found an estimated 5,000 German casualties.” It seems most of those frags burst in the heavy tree cover, showering the ground with shrapnel.
This would seem to have been a perfect example of the right weapon at the right place at the right time. The Mouse flew on for over 100 missions.
Walter Cummings lives in Grand Lake Stream.