Good evening to all, wherever you are
Like most, I assumed that Joseph Heller's novel, 'Catch-22', was fiction.
For those not familiar, it is the story of Lt. Yossarian, a bombardier in an Italian based air bombardment group flying B-25 'Mitchell' bombers against targets in the Italian campaign of General Markus Clarkus' Army Group, tasked with tying down enough German divisions to assist with "Overlord/Anvil/Dragoon" in the latter stages of the war. Yossarian's commander keeps increasing the number of missions required for rotation back to the U.S., taking more and bigger risks, in Yossarian's view, with the lives of the people in the group.
Yossarian very much wishes to "opt out" and get himself off flying missions on psychological grounds, but encounters something he calls "Catch-22", in that the medical officer refuses to sanction such a move on the grounds that Yossarian has nothing wrong with him, mentally speaking, if his desire to get out of operations exists on such grounds. So, Yossarian must 'soldier' on, as everyone around him takes bigger risks with his life in the name of their own career advancement, while Yossiarian gets more and more anxious and disturbed as the book winds on, going from one crazy situation to another, all the while refusing to countenance such antics as supply officer Milo Minderbinder 'trading' the groups' parachutes away for God knows what, and other unique situations.
Sounds like fiction, right?
excerpts from the 'Flypast' Magazine article....BREACHING THE GOTHIC LINE
(May 2017 Issue)
After the fall of Monte Cassino during the week of the Normandy invasion, Gen. Mark Clark's failure to capture the German 10th Army prolonged the war in Italy. Veteran units were sent to France and replaced by the inexperienced Brazilian Expeditionary Corps and the American 92nd Infantry Division. There were only 18 divisions to confront the Germans' 14 frontline and 7 reserve divisions.
Operation "Olive", the offensive to break the Gothic Line began late August and quickly became the biggest battle fought in Italy with more than 1,200,000 men involved.
The B-25s of the 57th Bombardment wing were closely involved as they went after German transport routes
A previous mission to the Galliate Bridge, the most heavily defended target for Flak in Italy at the time, had involved a straight and level bomb run of 3-4 minutes, at the insistence of lead pilot for the Group at the time, Cpt. Lawrence "Ace" Russell. Of the 12 B-25's from the group that participated in the mission, 2 were shot down entire, another 7 hit by flak and 4 airmen on other aircraft wounded. Described as the "toughest mission the squadron had flown since it's arrival", Russell's aircraft and another veteran crew (Galindo), affected the remainder of the group deeply indeed, as the two 'ships' were the most experienced flyers in the 321st Bomb Group. Back at their base in Solenzara, Corsica, !st Lt Dan Bowling, who had only arrived in late august, counted no less than 64 holes in his 'ship', "Pistol Packin' Mama", so many that she was rechristened 'Patches'.
Bowling because of the losses the group suffered, became the next "lead" pilot and
"deteremined that as long as he was the 445th's lead pilot they would never fly such a bomb run again"
At the end of October, autumn rains turned to snow, heralding the arrival of the coldest European winter in a century. It was clear to the allied armies that they were not strong enough to overcome the well supplied Germans, their needs coming from minich and Augsburg by rail through the Brenner Pass to bologna. A train from Augsburg took 12 hours to make the trip.
Now that large scale offensive operations were impossible until the spring thaw, some way had to be found during the winter months to reduce enemy strength. The target would be the Brenner Pass railway. The 57th Bombardment wing was given the assignment of carrying out what turned out to be Operation 'Bingo'.
The First mission, (Nov 6), saw thw 301th BG hit the transformers at San Ambroglio, while the 340th and 321st BG's hit those at Trento and Ala respectively. The attacks were successful, cutting electrical power to trains as far north as Balzano and forcing the Germans to bring coal fired locomotives from elsewhere in their overstretched transportation system.
The AA fire never let up for these missions, and as the primary method of defence for this theatre, with no airpower of their own....
"Primary defence on November 1st 1944 was provided by IV Flak Korps, with 366 deadly 88mm guns. Every month of the campaign, more guns were added. In March 1945 the number reached 541.
The Flak map Group leader Young's bombardier had in February showed gun positions as red dots. There was a solid red line half an inch wide running from Verona to Innsbruck. At Rovereto, known as the worst Flak trap in Italy, the bombers could only attack from one direction. The Germans put concrete pits halfway up to the mountainsides in the narrow pass to either side of the town, almost at the B-25s altitude."
Group leaders Bowling and Silnutz decided to try practice runs, making turns at regular intervals, that limited their exposure time to 30-40 seconds straight and level for the target. Shortly after, Bowling was made lead pilot and Silnutz lead bombardier
[I]"When I was out front and ahead of everyone else, they had to do what I did, so they followed me. I could look out just after we changed course and see a barrage of flak go right off where we would have been had we continued on. Then we'd turn and there would be another barrage go off where we would have been. When we turned onto the bomb run, the gunners were so confused they didn't have time to put up a last volley before we dropped and broke formation .Silnutz was probably the best bombardier in the 57th, and Bowling was one of the top pilots. Only a few other lead crew pilot/bombardier teams tried to emulate their tactics. Colonel Richard smith, the 321st Group commander, ordered the crews to fly straight and level for four minutes since he was quite open that "I wan't a star when I leave",
and he held bombing accuracy as the key to it.
Bowing told the pilots in his formation to follow him. "I was proud of two things about the missions I led. One was that we had the highest bombing accuracy of anybody in the group, and the other was that I had the lowest losses. We got the target and we didn't lose our friends."
Eventually the 445th's squadron commander, Colonel Cassidy, ceased arguing with Bowling, giving him instead the highest unspoken praise possible: he became the pilot picked to lead every tough mission during the worst period of the Battle for the Brenner.
With replacements to the 57th few and far between as army leadership looked to final victory, the mission total was changed until the men were informed in late February that the tour of duty was now "for the duration".
Some tried to turn in their wings, willing to accept transfer to the infantry as an escape from the repeated 'Charges of the Light Brigade'. into the Brenner Pass, but theses requests were refused.
Paul young commented..."It really was like what was in the novel: you had to be crazy to continue, but if you tried to get out that meant you were sane and you had to stay. It wasn't called 'Catch-22" or anything but the policy was there."
....And you and I both may have thought that "Catch-22" was simply fiction?......