Life History of Ralph Julius Lauper

Chapter 6a

Pages from a War Journal

A Journal of Combat Flying

As told and experienced by Ralph J. Lauper, 1st Lieutenant, Air Corps Pilot of a B-l7 bomber with the 15th Air Force, based in Italy in the year 1944.

[From a written journal, transcribed and typed initially by Viola Johnson (in the 1970's) and then re-transcribed into electronic form by Lanae Peterson Hooper in 2004 and Michael Lauper in 2006.

This journal generally covers a period from early 1944 to 05 April, 1945 and appears to have been more-or-less written at that time. The journal ends just before the completion of that April, 1945, raid on Zagreb. (see note at end) Much later, in the next chapter, Ralph comes back to provide final comments on that mission, provides general details about his military life and describes several more missions, into May of 1945.]

This account must of necessity begin with the first of the year, 1944, when I was in phase training at Tampa and Lakeland, Florida.

Ralph Lauper USAF, 1944
Lieutenant Ralph Lauper, Pilot, U.S. Air Force, 1944

For four months I had been a rated four-engine pilot and earmarked for my own crew to train for combat. But, due to a mix-up at the assignment pool in Salt Lako City, Utah, in October, many of us were forced to flip coins with other First Pilots to see who would be the Co-pilot. Characteristically enough I lost, but I couldn't have lost to a better man. He was a gent I had flown with in school and later at the Fort Transition School at Hobbs, New Mexico, where we learned a very few things about flying. He hails from Marietta, George and was manager of a Building and Loan Company there before coming into the Army in 1942. ROSS LITTLE! He is my senior in age about a year and I recall many times when we talked about how old we are as compared to many others in our business. Ross is a college man (U. of GA.) and a really shrewd lad, a heady flyer and a pleasureable fellow to work with.

So we arrived in Tampa fresh from Dyersburg, Tennessee ready for Second and Third Phase Training with a lot of enthusiasm and vigor. We stayed there at McDill Field during the month of December, which was high-lighted by a Christmas Dinner prepared and served to my friend STAN DWYER and me at the LITTLE residence in Tampa and more specifically by CORA, ROSS' charming little wife.

At this stage I was in the throes of a kind of love that was killing me off, it seemed and I was becoming increasingly anxious to do something about it. The lady in question was a small girl from St. George, Utah; MISS JANE PACE, who I had met in San Francisco during a Graduation leave in July of that year.

So came the first of the year 1944 and I sent money for Jane to come out to Lakeland, Florida with her mother. We had moved there about a week before to complete our Third Phase Training before going "over". As I recall it, she arrived about ten o'clock on January 10th after I had gone to bed. Stan was in town and ran into her by accident, brought her out to the base, awakened me and surprised my plenty. I hadn't expected her that day. They spent that night at the Lakeland Terrace and the next night we were married by a Methodist Minister, Rev. Rutland, at his home. Mother Pace left for home in three days and the Mrs. and I crowded a lot of living into three or four weeks before I left for combat. Wasn't at our little room much of the time but when I got a day off we had a whole lot of fun just doing nothing, like feeding crackers to the birds on the lake across the street from our room.

On the morning of February 6th I was up before daylight being reasonably certain I wouldn't be back to that room again and fighting against the fear that I might never see my wife again if the fortunes of war so decreed. I kissed her goodbye as she lay in bed smiling at me and fighting back the tears and we tried to carry the thing out as though I'd be home that very night. She's a much better soldier than I so I threw my coat over my arm, picked up my B-r bag, tossed her a grin and a "be seeing ya', Girl Friend" and walked out, just like that... leaving the most happiness I had ever known in that little room.

With the Colonel and his wife standing by the runway, the group taxied out and took off for Hunter Field, Savannah, GA. We stayed at the staging area in Savannah for nine days, getting papers in order, being fitted and outfitted with clothing and equipment. The base personnel checked old 809 over and found her "ready to ride."

On February 15, crew 62 took off for P.O.E. (point of embarkation) at Morrison Field, Palm Beach, Florida. The night before I had talked with JANE, MOTHER, VI and J.R. out in Chicago and so I was ready to go.

For three days we stayed at Morrison Field getting more papers in order, listening to lectures and enjoying the topnotch field and Officers Club. I was appointed Class B. Finance Officer for the crew and was given $500.00 for any emergency that might arise on the trip.

As we rode out to the ship on the night of the 18th, I looked at the sky as pilots always do and noted that it was a wonderful night. A big yellow moon was facig our direction of take-off. Not all the group was taking off that night. A few from several different groups, including l7's, 24's and 26's were on the schedule. I recall having been quite irritated to find that someone had "borrowed" my musette bag with many small and important items of equipment and etc.

We were carrying sealed orders as to our destination. We had been briefed as far as Waller Field, about 1800 miles out in the Carribbean, on the Island of Trinidad. The orders were to be opened, as soon as we were airborne. We were reasonably certain that we were going to South America and then hop over to Dakar rather than go over to the Bahamas, Azores and Casablanca.

We cleared the runway at about midnight with something like 68,000 lbs. overall weight which is lots of poundage. It included all our personal equipment, mail bags, the crew and about 9 tons of gasoline for the four big engines. Ross and I felt extremely fortunate on the crossing. Mostly due to two men we had along of whom I shall write repeatedly in this narrative. One was the crew chief, PAUL BERKVAM, of Baltimore, Md. Berk is in charge of a group of men with the responsibility of keeping 809 flying. At this writing he still has the best ship on the field, due to good care and is the best-liked chief in the Group. It had been decided that the flying engineers should be replaced by the crew chiefs on the overseas flight. The engineers came by boat with the ground personnel. We didn't worry about the plane with Berk along. He loved his baby and fussed over it all the time. We liked his attitude because we took pride in our ships and babied it along on every flight we took.

The other fellow we leaned on heavily and who, to this day, has never let ua down is a 19 year old kid from Scranton, Pa. by the name of JACK EVANS. Jack is a Navigator and to our mind they don't come any better. He is an unusual kid in too many ways to enumerate. On our first mission "Doc" didn't even have a parachute along. I didn't know that until he told me last night. I'll refer to his capability as a combat navigator later on but will write only of the job he did for us on the way over at this point. We were to pass the Island of Martinique and graze the North end of the Island of Cuba just about daybreak, thence to Borinquen and South to Trinidad near the South American Coast. After we gained about 8,000 feet we let "George do it". George is the A.F.C.E. (Automatic Flight Control Equipment) and once he is set up in operation, will fly the plane on a true heading. This done, we settled down for the long vigil, keeping in touch with two or three other planes by radio. We were in the neighborhood of 50 miles apart and contacted each other for security reasons.

We had various Radio Aids but Doc wasn't taking any chances. Off and on during the night, the light in the nose would go out and we'd know the kid was taking a fix on the stars through the astro dome. Came daybreak and there we were along the North end of the coast of Cuba. An hour or two later we droaned directly over the airdrome at Borinquen. He wasn't a hundred yeards off, even. He gave us a new heading south on the last leg of the day's hop...I should write here that the sealed orders carried us only as far as a field in Tunisia, North Africa, so we still didn't know what Air Force we were going to.

We were due at Waller just before noon. Along about 10(00 we ran into some tropical storms with towering Cumulus and dreaded thunderheads that are capable of tearing a bomber in pieces. We didn't worry more than to steer off of the worst ones that reached up to 20,000 feet and even looked mean from the outside.

The REST OF THIS NARRATIVE IS BEING WRITTEN AT SIOUX CITY, IOWA in the winter of 1944 and spring of 1945.

We hit Waller Field on the nose about 11 am and as we taxied to the parking strip, we noticed we were about the first there. My thoughts soon turned to pity for the Yanks stationed at that outpost of civilization. It was hot and when the rain fell, the drops were hot. I remember how Jimmy Hockgeiger, a pilot on one of the ships came up to me as we checked in at the Operations Office and said, "There was a guy who died here not long ago and went to Hell. The reason they know he never went there is because He came back for his blankets."

We got briefed for our next hop which was to be Belem, one of the largest cities in South America and, I think Brazil's largest. Also found out just how badly ice cream can be made to taste, howled a bit with the boys and slept in the Officer’s Quarters till 5 am.

809 was all gassed up and so we took off from Trinidad, thankful that we didn't have to stay there. During the 2,000 mile hop that day we passed over a few big cities after we hit the South America mainland, including the old city of Georgetown, Venezuela. We would radio in at intervals to give our position as we passed certain places. I saw more swamps and impassable jungles as we passed over the Guineas [Guianas] than I’ve seen before or since - and then came the sprawling Amazon down on the Equator. Huge, powerful and muddy it was. Below the Amazon, lies a rich grazing ground which is a cattleman’s paradise. The Pampas of S.A.

By the time we arrived at Belem, there was a squall in progress which limited visibility to zero. The tower radioed that it would pass in an hour or so and that we should continue circling until we were called in. Soon there were some thirty or forty ships circling the area. Ross and I, always eager to use initiative and outguess the other boys, got on a different frequency which we knew the tower was standing by on and asked the operations officer to get us a clearance to Sao Luiz about 400 miles south, assuring him we had four hours of fuel aboard. It worked so we sneaked away and while the Others circled for two more hours we sailed on down the line closer to our destination. Sao Luiz is only an Emergency Stop - when we landed the C.O. met us in a jeep, placed a Brazilian Army Guard on the plane and we were feted and dined in style. We were a bit confused 'till we learned that we were the first to use the Airport since June of '43. Those 250 officers and men were hungry for company.

We slept 'till 9 am in a villa they turned over to us there and leisurely took our breakfast. In Brazil they like to pile huge bowls of grapes, bananas, avocados, pineapples and other fruits on the table at every meal. It was pleasing to us.

From Sao Luiz it was only a two hour hop to Fortaleza, Brazil which was our jumping off spot for Dakar. At Fortaleza, Berk supervised a 100 hour Inspection on the plane and we loafed around there for a couple of days, writing letters, getting a tan, buying silk hose, purses and other things for our wives and ourselves.

On the afternoon of the 23rd we attended a briefing for our water hop. Got the weather, positions of boats that were on the seas at that time, learning their positions in case we were forced down somewhere, studied the winds, etc. I found Don getting particular information on the winds. They told us a German sub was moving South and would be crossing our route at about 3 am and for us to be careful of it so as not to let it get a shot at us as we were without--bombs or ammunition. I asked them why they didn't go out after it. They said their Radar was guarding it, the Navy knew its exact speed and course at all times and would go after it as soon as they felt like it.

About a quarter to twelve that nite we cleared the runway on a Northeast course for Dakar, Africa - just above the Gold Coast in French Senegal, West Africa. We climbed to 10,000 feet, fumed on the automatic pilot and sat back to wait for morning and Africa. Ross and I tuned in on the Dakar radio range about 400 miles off Brazil and were surprised to learn it was so powerful we could pick it up quite clearly. We were in the N quadrant and could hear the welcome (DAA DIT, or dash-dot code coming from Dakar) sound of the radio a good fifteen hundred miles away on the other side of the Atlantic. The German have a habit of sending subs and Merchantmen out in the ocean and by use of various radio devices can bend a beam actually so a man may think he's headed for a radio station, when actually he is going in a wide gas-consuming circle that would use his fuel before he made his destination; so it isn't good policy to rely on a Range Station from such a great distance away.

Doc was down in the nose taking shots on the Stars through the astro-dome and you can't change the stars on a good navigator even if you are a German; so we weren't worrying about a thing. The plane was a bit sluggish from the weight at first but the engines were all running smoothly and cool so we had Sikes, the radio operator, get us some short wave broadcasts from California on the Laisson set to while away the hours as we munch sandwiches and drank hot chocolate waiting for morning.

In Mid-Atlantic some storms forced us to 11,000 feet but we were discriminate about the altitudes we picked because the road out there was heavy with traffic going each way. We saw a good many cargo ships going West, all at 8,000 or thereabouts.

Doc shot a landfall on the African Coast (a Navigational term for a particular type of problem) about 9 am and then gave us a last heading to fly. He then came up to chat with us. His work being all done unless he had made a mistake. It never occurred to us that we should doubt him. He had figured our ground speed, drift, etc and said in about 37 minutes we should be at Dakar. We didn't even bother to turn on the radio, just kidded him about winding up in Spain or someplace. About five minutes before our ETA (estimated time of arrival) had expired we could pick out the Coast through the haze. As our fuel had been used up we had allowed our air speed to increase, thus making a more difficult job for the kid, but about 1/2 minute after our ETA we crossed over a corner of the airport at Dakar, not 500 yards off; which is pretty good navigating for a 2,000 mile hop, me thinks.

We looked over the town from the air, observing all the damage caused by the British when they shelled the French Fleet there, and then went down and landed.

Dakar is a miserable place in February. One of the hottest seasons of the year. Malaria is rampant along with the social diseases. The food tasted terrible and it seemed as though a man would buy a fresh breath of air – at any cost. Wind blows there the year round; but the air is hot, stifling and sand-studded, off of the Sahara to the East.

In Dakar I got my first glimpse of Arabs and the French Senegalese soldiers. Tall, broad-shouldered fellows they are. The tallest men I have ever seen in my life. They are also very fierce looking with their Mohammedan Turbans on, holding a rifle with a large fixed bayonet.

We slept well that night in spite of the heat for we were exhausted, but we were happy to leave early in the morning in spite of the fact there was a snowstorm in the famous Atlas Mountains to the North over which we must pass to get to our next stop, which was to be Marrekech, in French Morracco.

We took off fairly early and enjoyed looking at the dreaded Sahara from the air, not knowing our next three days would be spent in the center of it. It happened this way: We were to check in with various stations along the way, weather posts they were, and rescue stations. When we were within 200 miles of the pass one of those stations contacted us, saying that the pass through the mountains was clogged up with a snowstorm and as we didn't have our oxygen tanks filled, we'd have to land at Tindouf in the middle of the Sahara.

Now the desert looked beautiful and peaceful from the air, but it surely was different on the ground. There was a 60 mph wind down there, making it difficult to even find the runway through the dust. In a couple of hours there were about 100 aircraft at the little way station of Tindouf which was formerly a stopping-off spot for camel caravans coming up from the Gold and Ivory Coasts to Marrakech and Casablanca to the North.

The French had a Fort for their famed Foreign Legion there. It was garrisoned at that time by about 100 officers and men of the Legion. Tindouf had a couple of wells so the caravans used to stop off there, still do I suppose, to rest. It is the function of the Foreign Legion to guard the caravan trails and suppress the wild tribes of Arabs, who as recently as 20 years ago gathered enough strength to wipe out the Garrison, then proceed North to, Marrakech and kill every foreigner in that city of 200,000. The offenders were the "Blue Tops," a tribe of Arabs who wear a blue parka type cape that comes up over their heads.

Besides the French, there were about 300 Yanks at the Field whose function it was to keep the place going: and to repair aircraft if necessary. I learned that the army in Africa spoke of Tindouf as we have always referred to Siberia. If a man does something wrong he runs the risk of going to Tindouf. No one is kept there longer than six months, but most of those I talked to would rather be in solitary confinement for equal time. The food and tent life was so atrocious we slept in our plane, eating only our C-rations of which we had several cases and using our blankets both of which were issued for such an emergency.

There was a crowd of Arab prostitutes up at the Fort. They were very pretty and childish with big black eyes and Hollywood figures. One nite we all were up there and they started an Arab dance. Each time someone would throw a few Franco at them, would come more clothes. You may well imagine how the dances ended without shadow of the Moral League or the Hays Office to interfere.

Each day we tried to take off but the snow in the pass was too bad and we still had no oxygen to fly over the mountains. They are about 18,000 feet high.

Then I saw the Blue Tops. I had seriously considered carrying my 45 pistol but they were friendly enough. Very child-like; but of very fierce nature. They would hang around the planes, not begging, because they are too proud but waiting to see if we’d give them anything. We did give them food and cigarettes. I handed one a piece of chocolate. He examined it gingerly, apparently not having seen it before, but when he tasted it his face showed a wonderfully pleased expression. I thought of how chocolate is a common thing with us from birth but here was a desert man who had never even tasted it before. The old world and the new——

Just the same I'm glad I didn't give him a pepper. He'd never seen one of those either, obviously, but I'd hate to have that bird against me. I'll bet he had five knives under his cape. Incidentally, you don't jolly, jolly an Arab like a slap on the back, or they '11 knife you to death.

After three days of the Sahara Desert we took off for Marrakech and left little Tindouf behind. I understand that Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich went there to film Beau Geste! Arriving at the Atlas Pass, we found it clear, so wound our way in and out through the gorges. SIKES, the radio operator, was busy and the boys were kidding him back there, told him to put his chute on and get ready to jump. Just the same old SIKES of Brunswick, Georgia, was a good operator.

We arrived at Marrakech at about 3 pm. It lies in the middle of a fertile belt of country and boasts a population of 200,000 or thereabouts. The airport is one of the finest anywhere, and the maintenance is superb. We had apparently given our tires a severe time landing and taking off at Tindouf for as we completed our roll on the runway at Marrakech and turned onto the taxi strip one of our tires blew out with a resounding bang. We were glad it didn't happen on the landing. We didn't realize that the time would soon come when a blown out tire on a landing would seem like a skinned nose to us. Within 30 minutes the repair gang had a new tire on so we taxied in and parked our plane for what was to be a week lay-off.

We were billeted in nondescript houses that had been appropriated by the authorities for that purpose. Each day we hoped to get off for Tunisia, but the weather was bad all the way; and there was no field open for us up that way, yet. It was here that Colonel Kurtz caught up with the Group.

There wasn't much to do but go into town, fight off the natives who wanted to sell their things, see shows at the Base Theatre, eat our Candy-rations and play games. My good friend, STAN DWYER, hit Dakar a day after I left and stayed there 'till the pass cleared for Marrakech, so I hadn't seen him since Brazil. Here in Marrakech we settled down a couple of times a day while he tried in vain to beat me at the game of "Strategy" that I had invented. If he were here now I'd gladly let him beat me. (Many of the others, too!)

Finally on March 4th we took off for an airport called Oudua about 20 miles south of the city of Tunis in Tunisia. It was an 8 hour hop by way of Oran, Algiers, Cape Bone and other historic places which we saw as we passed over them. It was my first look at the Mediterranean Sea and there came to my mind a thought of how appropos was the description my sister, Jean, gave of anyone with intensely blue eyes, when she would say they looked like» "two spoonsful of the Mediterranean." It is a beautiful body of water.

Oudua was an airport built under the supervision of Marshall Rommel near the famed Kassarine Pass where Patton got his pants kicked; but made a terrific comeback and drove the Afrika Korps out of the whole area. It was laid out in the middle of farming territory and had one steel mat runway. The whole place had been beat up by the Forts and Libs (B-l7's & B-24's) and we saw Jerry planes in piles of twisted metal all over the country side. Flying low over Tunis and Bizerte on the way in observed that the harbors were a graveyard of ships, Albid and Axis and in Bizerte I didn't see one multiple-storied building left standing. It was awful!

I took a good look at Carthage, one of the oldest relics in the world as we came down for a landing. Our living quarters were tents in which we nearly froze the next few days. It rained every day, the showers were half a mile away, with cold water most of the time. The latrines were a quarter of a mile away, the mess hall was near; but in open air. Candles for light were scarce and heat was nil. By this time I realized I was getting up near the front.

The heating systems we evolved were one of the ironies of war. By placing wing tanks obtained from wrecked-planes outside the tent we could pipe gas through tubing from the same source into a cylinder inside the tent and get good heat that way. The irony is that while the folks back home were allowed 2 gallons of gas per week, we were reduced to the necessity of using high octane aviation fuel of 100 and even 130 octane to keep warm. Who said Africa was hot? It freezes there.

Of course that high powered fuel succeeded in burning down a couple of tents. One nite Doc and I were lighting ours with me on the match and clothed only in my shorts while he turned in the gas. It required split second timing; ours was a bit off.

The upshoot of it all was I got blown through the door of the tent into the mud outside, minus my eyelashes, eyebrows, the four hairs on my chest as well as some off the top of my head, muttering curses against the army and nursing burns on my legs and chest which stayed with me for a month. Doc was out of the line of fire so was able to get things under control and laugh at me while I came bellering out of the mud.

The reason for our long stay of ten days in Tunisia was a question in the minda of the higher-ups as to where we should be sent; India and Italy being the two alternatives. Suddenly it was decided that we should join the 15th Air Force in Italy; but the field we were to use was undergoing repairs and so we'd have to wait in Africa until the runway was lengthened and it was made into a Bomber Base, a P-47 outfit having just moved a bit farther up front.

Consequently from the 5th 'till the 15th of March we had nothing to do but fly a couple of Group practice missions and look around the city of Tunis. We scrupulously avoided the Casbah, or Native Quarter, because it was unsafe. The city itself was alive with German agents and spies but to show the magnanimity of the conquering Yanks, none of us were allowed, to wear our guns.

I oiled up my best French in order to get along there. The Air Force had a mess hall in town that served pretty good army chow for ten cents to transient officers and I can still see the natives staring in the windows at us as we ate good food and some of them were hungry. It made us feel quite peculiar.

For entertainment the army had taken over a nite club of doubtful character. After a few visits we were inclined to agree the impression was correct. Kootch dances were the order of the night. A peeled, boiled egg cost about $.25 and a cookie about that much too.

It was here that I met various flyers on their way home from combat or on leave. The stories they told weren't too encouraging. We learned that the 15th Air Force was nearly as large as the 8th in bombers, but not in fighters, and that it was losing heavily. We heard many stories of all types and soon we found that we were very anxious to get up to the front.

On March l6th we took off from Tunis headed for the Battle. The Group flew a loose formation at 3,000 feet across the Mediterranean to Italy, going in over the Gulf of Taranto, up past Bari, until we came to Foggia, 20 miles from the Adriatic on the San Sevaro Plains, there in the fertile grain-growing, bread-basket section of South Italy.

The whole section was. literally dotted with bomber and fighter bases of the 15th and as our field was not yet ready, each of our four squadrons landed at a different field. The 775th Squadron was assigned to the 2nd Bamb Group, one of the oldest of all.

The next morning I was awakened by a terrible roar. Clambering out of bed I had a chance to see the 15th going out on a raid over the Anzio Beachhead across the way on Tyrrhinian Coast of Italy's West Side. We fussed around our tent for a few hours and about noon they came back. The Groups were proud-looking yet, but vacancies were apparent in many of the majestic formations that had just a few hours earlier gone North. Some of them were still flying good formation despite their deplorable condition. Most of those with three props going were in place but others with only two good engines came in as much as half an hour later.

That night Ross and I went over to the Operations Officer — he was a good, unassuming pilot I had heard., and had recently ditched a B-l7 in the Adriatic without so much as scratching a member of the crew. I was getting eager to be in the fight and asked him if I could fly co-pilot for him the next day. He said he'd like to but they did not have permission to fly us since we didn't belong to the 2nd. That same day, I received my first mall from the States« 20 letters, I believe, about 2/3rds of them from my small wife.

In the next few days some of our Squadron did fly with the 2nd Bomb Group. While I was trying to get on one of the crews for a few days they flew three missions and succeeded in getting about 25 out of our 150 members in the Squadron shot down. STAN didn't fly, but ALLEN KLUTE and CHUCK SWAN, his bombardier and naviyator, respectively, got knocked down over Gyar in Austria and were later reported POW's. CAPTAIN BURRELL our Assistant Operations Officer went down also along with several other officers and quite a few gunners who were sprinkled out through the Squadron of whom we were guests.

COL. KURTZ subsequently got permission to have us refrain from flying with the other Groups so there'd still be someone left to use our field, once it was ready; but before he did Ross got in on a raid up to the Fischomend Markt (Fish Market to us) South of Vienna and came back with some weird tales. Said the German pilots would come up from underneath and bang on their props while pounding away with 20 mm cannon.

That same day another tragedy struck the Group. Our 772nd Squadron was stationed temporarily with the 97th Group. MAJOR BURGESS, rated the best pilot in the Group was leading the 97th that day and by a fluke collided with another ship, destroying 20 men, including his Operations Officer, Squadron Navigator, Squadron Bomber and Sargeant Gunners from his Squadron and himself. What a blow that was!

By that time I was ready to either start flying immediately or go home. And. then came the day! We moved into our new Base and were ready to fly combat and get at the fellows who had caused us so much trouble. March 31st - we were briefed for a short mission over into Yugoslavia to hit the steel and concrete works at Imotski. A breather since we were what is called a freshman group. Ross and I flew Deputy Group-Lead, that is to say, on the right wing of MAJOR ALLYN, who was in the lead. The real purpose of our mission was to draw away the fighters from the Main Force, which was going up near Vienna. We didn’t draw any fighters and we didn’t get much flak. It was my first look at the stuff and I was impressed with the destructive quality of it if it could be used in sufficient force. My calculations were to be proven only too correct at later dates. A couple or three Jerries did make a couple of cautious passes at one of the other Squadrons but the Group returned without battle damage and we now felt ready to try it in the big leagues, but it wasn't to come for a few days yet.

In those days we had plenty of crews (15 in each Squadron) and since each Squadron was putting up six ships per day I had a few days off. My next mission came on April 3rd and since we were still freshmen we drew another diversionary raid over in Yugoslavia at an altitude of about 20,0000 feet. Our target was an airdrome and we plastered it without loss or damage.

On April 5th we bombed the rail yards at Nis, Yugoslavia down near the Danube from 23,000 feet. We hit our target beautifully and as we went home we were sure that Rail Hub would be a damper on German Transportation through the Balkans for a good many days to come. We had some flak but no one was hit badly, so some of the boys were constrained to remark at chow that evening that combat was turning out to be a breeze. /And then the storm broke. . .

The next day we showed up for briefing at the unearthly hour of 3:30an and that told me we were no longer freshmen. We were to be in the Air Force lineup of about 750 bombers, flying about halfway down the line.

MARSHALL TITO was in trouble.. Many of his head men were found to be in Zagreb, the capital of the Croat Province in Yugoslavia, by the Germans who quickly surrounded the city and were systematically conducting a house to house search for them.. The MARSHALL had an idea that if we would bomb the city his men could escape in the ensuing confusion. Our head moguls went along with the plan so we came in to Zagreb at 25,000 with P-38s flying escort and P-47’s flying top cover to prevent the Jerry from getting above and diving on the bombers and their escort.

The enemy fighters hit us before we got even close to Zagreb!

[Note from Viola Johnson: "Ralph never finished this for me. I typed all I could get from him." David Peterson notes: It is unclear, but apparently there was no more of this original journal. Later, in the next chapter, as provided to his daughter Rica, Ralph adds ending comments on this Zagreb mission, plus more details on military life and other missions. He also recounts his final mission in the oral interview.]

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