LUFTWAFFE RAID ON NAPLES BAY
The determined aircrew of a Luftwaffe JU-88 bomber raided Naples Bay, Italy, on the night of March 15, 1944. The attack seriously affected the 40th Bomb Group that was preparing to leave Pratt, Kansas, for Chakulia, India. Once the group was in place at Chakulia, it would begin bombing operations against the Japanese empire. On the night of the raid, aircraft mechanics and ground support personnel of the 40th were aboard the British ship M.M. Champollion, which was anchored in Naples Bay. A freighter, carrying the group's support equipment and supplies, was anchored nearby. The two ships were en route to India.
The Champollion was not hit by a bomb, but some of its port holes were blown out by near misses. None of the 40th personnel on board were injured. The freighter was not as fortunate. A direct hit sunk the ship, and all of the valuable cargo needed for combat operations was lost. The aircrew of the JU-88 bomber could not possibly realize how successful their raid was.
The convoy arrived in Bombay, India, in late March. From there, the contingent traveled by land to the 40th Bomb Group's final destination at Chakulia, India. They arrived on April 15, 1944, to find many aircrews and B-29s already on the base. Fortunately, each B-29 carried a spare engine in its rear bomb bay, and its Crew Chief and four Gunners had their tool kits. For the next three months, the 40th launched cargo missions over the Hump (Himalayas) and combat missions using only these hand tools and a ragtag collection of maintenance equipment left at Chakulia by a B-25 squadron. I believe no bomb group in World War II faced logistical problems as difficult as those faced by the 40th in the summer of 1944.
Dedicated ground crew personnel, assisted by flight crews, tackled these maintenance problems, and recorded a sortie success rate far above what would normally be expected. I vividly remember our Crew Chief's bamboo maintenance stand that provided shade for a work bench. During an engine change, large items were placed on a metal drum or on sandbags.
Veteran Noncommissioned Officers and enlisted mechanics of the 40th Bomb Group overcame tremendous odds by using their experience and ingenuity to find the solution to a problem. They often slept under the wings of their airplane rather than take the time to travel by truck back to their quarters. Combat missions flown by the 40th Bomb Group was possible primarily due to the valiant efforts of these great men.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *