Under Air Force General Order No. 78, dated 29 May 1943, the 465th Bombardment Group (H) was activated on 1 August 1943 at the Army Air Base, Alamogordo, New Mexico. It consisted of Headquarters and four Squadrons: the 780th, 781st, 782nd, and 783rd.
This is the history of the 783rd Bombardment Squadron which begins in August 1943, when Capt. Burton C. Andrus, Jr. was assigned to the 783rd Bombardment Squadron (H) as its Commanding Officer.
Many of the flight crews were formed in late August and September, 1943. Some of the Squadrons of the 465th Bomb Group were sent to Kearns, Utah, for basic flight crew training. Most of the 783rd remained at Tucson for this training. During September and October the crews were busy completing the basic flight training (as a crew) and becoming more familiar with the B24 airplane. During this phase of training, most of the airplanes were B24D's. The planes were not in very good mechanical condition because of the heavy flight schedule each day plus the many hours they had flown.
Under Special Order No. 4, dated 4 October 1943, the 465th Bombardment Group (H) was ordered to the Army Air Base, McCook, Nebraska, to begin its three phases of combat training. Five of the 783rd combat crews, assigned to the 39th Bomb Group (H), Tucson, Arizona, were transferred from Tucson to McCook under Special Order Number 39, dated 12 October 1943, with instructions to report no later than 27 October. Six other combat crews were transferred to McCook under Special Order Number 334 dated 30 November 1943.
The 465th Heavy Bombardment Group arrived at the base on October 7 and the training of this group was rigidly governed by War Department requirements, the 2nd Air Force, and 16th Bombardment Operational Training Wing policies. Training of the ground echelon proceeded in a normal and satisfactory manner. Initial lack of ground firing ranges impeded progress but the qualifications of the personnel met the minimum requirements of the War Department. The group maintained the best bombing score of any group in the 2nd Air Force.
Much of October was devoted to ground school training and basic flight training, such as shooting landings and some night flying. About the middle of November, the Group Commander, Col. Rogers, acquired on loan a few B24J aircraft to aid in this phase of training. These airplanes were later returned to the Army Air Base, Lincoln, Nebraska. During November, the pilots received comprehensive instrument and night flight training. This heavy flight schedule kept the maintenance personnel busy both day and night. They put in long hours keeping the planes in the air. First-phase ground school training was completed on 30 November 1943.
There were eighteen combat crews assigned to the Squadron by the first of December. Lt Russell's crew was later redistributed to provide the replacements for the losses in the remaining seventeen crews which were to go overseas.
The weather at McCook was bad for flying during December. Some of the crews were sent to Tucson on TDY so they could get more flying time. First-phase flying training was completed on 5 December 1943. Second-phase flying training was impeded by cold weather and difficulty in obtaining parts and supplies to keep the planes in the air.
During January, 1944, training activity was maintained at a high level. Inspections were numerous. High-altitude formation flying was featured and the POM inspection flight demonstrated that the Squadron and Group were ready for actual combat duty. All equipment was crated, packed, and labeled for overseas shipment, and with completion of final phase training, the Squadron was near the end of its stay at McCook.
FROM THE McCOOK DAILY GAZETTE
Said Claude A. Addams of the McCook City Council, "When the cities near army camps heard that we were going to have a base here, they wrote in and warned us to increase our police force. We decided to wait and see what would happen. We have not added one policeman to our force."
On 5 February 1944, the ground echelon and two combat crews, plus other flight crew members who were replaced by key Squadron personnel on the airplanes, boarded a train at McCook, Nebraska their destination the staging area at Topeka, Kansas. They arrived there on 6 February 1944 and stayed a few days during which time they completed final processing, physical examinations, and clothing and equipment checks.
The Squadron was given orders for shipment to Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia. After a short stay they were then sent to the Port of Embarkation, Newport News, Virginia, for the trip across the Atlantic Ocean. The 783rd personnel, except the fifteen flight crews, were assigned to Liberty ship "Walter Ranger" for the trip to Oran, Algeria. The Walter Ranger departed from Newport News on 15 February 1944, joining the convoy of some eighty odd vessels for final departure the following day. It took twenty-two days to zigzag across to Oran. The journey overseas was not entirely uneventful, one vessel was torpedoed near Bizerte, Tunisia, and another struck a mine in the same area. The torpedoed ship sank shortly after being struck, but the other was able to make port.
After a lengthy stay in Oran, sleeping in tents near the edge of the desert, the 783rd personnel boarded the "SS Lyons" for the trip to Naples, Italy. After a long delay at Naples they were loaded in old railroad cattle cars for the trip to Pantanella, Italy, where the Group Airfield was located. There was neither food nor water on the train for the men. However, the train stopped about every twenty or thirty minutes along the way. The stops brought out the Yankee ingenuity in the men. At one stop near a U.S. Army Depot some of the men created a diversion for the Army guards while others made a raid on the canned food stored. At other stops the troops scrounged any food or water they could find. There were approximately 350 men crammed in the cattle cars for the two day trip to Pantanella where they arrived in late April 1944. The first job for these men was to set up all the tents, messhall, and burn the hay out of the flight briefing room which was located in an old barn. They also helped to lay the steel matting that formed the runway and parking ramps for the B24s.
THE FLYING ECHELON
The flying echelon (less the two crews that had accompanied the ground echelon) left the air base at McCook on 5 February 1944 for the staging area, at Lincoln, Nebraska. There the crews were processed, clothing checked, and new equipment issued. The planes were given hundred-hour inspections and some had minor modifications made. The crews left Lincoln on 13 February 1944 for Morrison Field, West Palm Beach, Florida. The crews spent two or three days at Morrison. They spent this time getting last-minute lectures, doing some processing, and making wills and allotments or last-minute changes in the many papers filled out prior to overseas departure. Also final checks were made on the airplanes and clothing, mainly flying gear. The crews were given briefings for the next legs of the trip to Trinidad and then Belem, Fortaleza, and Natal, Brazil. The navigators were issued a complete set of maps for the trip to Brazil. Each of the crews filed a flight plan for Waller Field, Trinidad, which was the first stop. The crews left Morrison Field for Waller Field on 16 February 1944. Takeoff time started at about 0330 hours local time, which gave the navigators a couple of hours for celestial work in preparation for the long flight over the Atlantic. Some crews made a stop at San Juan, Puerto Rico, to get additional fuel and a few cases of Puerto Rican rum. The crews spent one night at Waller Field.
The next stop on the trip was Belem, Brazil. The crews started the takeoffs from Waller Field on the morning of 17 February 1944 and arrived at Belem in the afternoon after flying over jungle and some expanse of water along the coastline. The field at Belem was used extensively and the sleeping quarters were comfortable. On 18 February 1944, the crews left Belem for Fortaleza and Natal, Brazil, a flight that was also primarily over water and jungle.
After the crews had rested overnight, they began the flight across the Atlantic to Dakar, Africa and all made the ocean crossing without any trouble. After an overnight stay in Dakar, the crews filed their flight plans for Marrakech, Morocco. On this flight some of the planes were forced to land at Tindouf, Algeria, because of the weather. This was an emergency landing field on the edge of the Sahara Desert with no overnight accommodations. Some of the crews had to spend several days and nights there sleeping in the planes. The wind blew all of the time and the nights were cold. The crews were glad when the weather cleared so they could continue the flight to Marrakech. After a short stay in Marrakech, they continued to Oudna Air Base, North Africa. The stay at Oudna was to last for some two months while waiting for the completion of the base at Pantanella, Italy.
On 11 March, the 465th participated with another group in a practice mission. Lts. Murphy and Melody, from another squadron, with a total of seventeen men aboard collided and burned in midair.
On 20 March 1944, Maj. Andrus went to Italy to check on the progress of construction at Pantanella. The squadron continued to fly practice missions and drop practice bombs. Maj. Andrus returned from Pantanella on 26 March and reported the living conditions would be better there than at Oudna. By 29 March 1944, there were three groups at Oudna: the 464th, 465th, and 485th.
On 30 March 1944, Maj. Andrus assigned a few men to design a squadron insignia. Frank Kara was on this committee and he designed the Squadron Escutcheon.
On 12 April 1944, the 464th and 465th flew a two-group practice mission. The 464th Group lost a plane in the formation; it disintegrated in midair.
On 20 April 1944, the 783rd Squadron left Oudna for Pantanella.
The first combat mission was flown on May 5, 1944. The target was a German Army Headquarters at Podgorica, Yugoslavia. Ground reports showed 500 Germans were killed during this raid. The mission proved so successful Gen. Twining, Commander, 15th Air Force, issued these words of commendation: "It was the finest freshman mission ever flown in the 15th Air Force."
Beginning in July of 1944, replacement flight crews began arriving at Pantenella. Some flew over from the states bringing new aircraft while others came across the Atlantic in a variety of vessels and finished the trip by truck. During this time some 37 new crews were to join the Squadron to finish off the work begun by the original 17 crews.
The last combat mission (# 191) on April 26, 1945, was “ineffective”. The plan was to bomb a bridge in Austria and an ammunition dump in Italy. Due to heavy cloud cover the planes returned to Pantanella with their bombs.
The 465th Bombardment Group (H), which included the 783rd Bombardment Squadron (H), was inactivated effective 31 July 1945.
Planes lost as a result of combat operations 31
Killed in Action 82
POWs Approximately 180
The above material was gleaned from the book, History of 783rd Bomb Squadron (H), 465 Bombardment Group (H) published in 1989 by Floyd E. Gregory, Squadron Historian.