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Mission #383, December 15, 1944. Innsbruck, Austria Marshalling Yard

According to the mission summary, Mission #383 resulted in superior bombing results. 76% of the bombs hit squarely in the Marshalling Yard. Much rolling stock and tracks were destroyed.

One aircraft was listed as missing during this mission, #78 42-51142, of the 514th Squadron. The plane was piloted by Lt. George A. Kremer. The B-24 aircraft was hit by flak and it crashed near Visgo, Austria.

On April 7, 1945, the bombardier and mickey operator of Kremer's Crew returned. The navigator suffered a broken leg by landing on a roof and was in a Partisan hospital. The Kremer brothers and the Engineer were captured by the Germans. All the rest of the crew got back to the base.

The following account, by M.R. Gerszewski, bombardier of Kremer's Crew , was delivered to the 376th HBGVA on September 29, 1996.

"September 29, 1996 I am here to fill in P441 & 442 0f the wonderful history book of the 376th.

First, it is fitting that we honor the non-flying people who did not get to go home after 35 missions - the cooks, armorers, mechanics, drivers, clerks and many others.

Two B-24's were badly damaged over Innsbruck on December 15, 1944. You all know about Boomerang because she did get back, especially because of the extraordinary efforts of her crew notably Sgt. De Lary.

I was not supposed to fly that day. Our crew was to stay down because our pilot, Bill Kremer, was to be checked out as a lead pilot by flying as co-pilot for his younger brother George, or G. A.

The night before, a runner came to our tent and asked if I could operate a Sperry bomb sight. I answered "yes" and was told "you are flying in place of the "Greek". He cannot operate a Sperry. "

The forecast called for clouds above Innsbruck hence the use of a Mickey ship for lead. At the I.P. clouds thinned and it appeared that the target would be clear. The plan called for 20,500 of altitude. I asked if we could go in higher because of no clouds. I was told we would follow orders. The target was clear, visibility as good as I had ever seen.

On the bomb run, Bill and G. A, did a beautiful job. I could easily keep the cross hairs on the railroad yard. Then flak hit and it seemed as if I was looking into a bottle of milk. I raised my head and a blast of cold air hit my face, I looked at the indices and they were not closing. I turned the knob quickly estimating how much time had passed since the sight was hit, and then moved it slowly as in normal operation. I was hoping electrical power to cause bomb release had not failed. Someone said "Bombs away" and I moved to the waist. Then I learned we had severe damage and was told to throw out everything not essential. We did and even tried to figure out how we could drop 1600lbs of ball turret.

As we lost altitude, our pilots and navigator did a great job of avoiding mountain peaks, and then a feeling of elation! We·just might make it to Vis! However, over the city of Udine in northern Italy, more flak appeared and some struck. I was in the tail turret looking for more items that might be pried loose and ejected. As I looked forward little points of light appeared, such as stars in a clear night sky. Flak holes.

The bail out order was given. Every one in the waist left. I was last. One chute remained, and it showed patches of white! I buckled it on and left. As the chute opened I felt great, knowing the chute worked, and then a feeling of fear as I drifted toward a river. I thought I might drown. In the next moment fear left as I cleared the river.

I landed on stones on the river bank with great pain in my right ankle, My foot was pointed to the right. I sat on the stones with half a dozen or so men pointing rifles at me, and speaking Italian which I could not understand, I said I was an American and then understood the word pistole. I reached inside my jacket and slowly pulled out my 45 holding the barrel. As one man reached for the 45, all the rifles went down.

The leader gave orders and four men picked me up and began to carry me to the river bank and a pier. I screamed with pain as my right foot jerked up and down, The leader said "rota gamba" and more care was taken with my right foot. They carried me to the end of the pier, laid me down and removed their shoes and socks. They carried me and waded across the river which was no more than 18" deep! As they proceeded up the opposite bank among large boulders and piles of gravel we heard rifle fire from the opposite side which we had just left. I cannot remember how long it took for a horse and two wheeled cart to appear, nor can I remember how long it took to reach a stone farm house on a hilltop. I laid in an upstairs room and later Albano, our radar operator, was carried up. He had a severe sprain of an ankle. Albano is of Neapolitan heritage and could understand Italian. Of course this helped immensely. Then five more of our crew appeared, but unfortunately not the Kremers, navigator or engineer.

We learned a German SS soldier had been captured and was downstairs. I could hear him crying. Apparently he wandered too far from his patrol. Two well dressed young women came up and into our room. After some discussion, Albano determined the Partisan leader had arranged for the women to come and offer "comfort". Of course, we declined.

Later the Partisan leader came up and Albano had a discussion with him. After some language difficulties it become clear the leader was offering to me the honor of executing the German in the morning. His reasoning was that I was the ranking American, the most severely injured and they owed Americans a great amount of gratitude for our bombing of Germans.

My reaction was I could not do this. It would amount to murder, but how could I refuse and insult these people who were saving us? And then I replied the Partisans had suffered much more than we had and consequently they clearly should have the honor of executing the German. The next morning he was executed with a shot to the head. I requested and was given his SS uniform insignia and coins from his pocket.

My five uninjured crewmen came upstairs and informed us the leader decided none could remain in the farmhouse. Danger of capture was too great. However, they would be with Albano and me to assist with setting my ankle. The next day we all left. Albano and I were transported by ox cart to a place where a doctor would tend to me. Some of the five assisted the doctor in pulling on my right foot and a cast was applied. My escape kit provided morphine and twenty dollars for the doctor.

Then the five had difficulty in telling Albano and me they would have to leave. They with guides would have to start the long hike to safety. I assured them, Albano also, that we did not consider their leaving as desertion. We did not see them again, but later learned they reached Allied control only a few days before we did.

An ox cart provided a long ride up into the mountains to a safe Partisan "hospital". This hospital consisted of a building built of brush, branches and similar items, and was about 60' long and about 16' wide. Straw and blankets provided beds along each long wall. A cast iron stove provided heat, though most of the building was cold. Snow lay on the ground though I do not think the temperature was any lower than 150 degrees F. These Partisans were Slovenian whereas those previously encountered were Italian. All were loyal to Tito, There were about a dozen wounded Partisans in the hospital tended by a doctor and nurse, a cook and helper.

Christmas came, and each received as gifts a small notebook and two razor blades. About a month later, I really wanted to get out of there and offered $10.00 for a pair of shoes. A week or so later, two shoes arrived without laces. One was too small, the other smaller. They had no lining and were hard from repeated wetting and drying.

In the next six or seven weeks, Albano and I walked up and down mountains, about 200 niles, with guides. Noteworthy in this period was the pain of poor shoes that were too small. The skin above right toe joints wore off, as well as skin above the Achilles tendon. In stops with friendly peasants I would ask for alcohol and bandages. I received grappa if they had, and possibly some to put in the offered tea. The wires from my electric flying suit were admired, so I stripped wires off and gave them. The peasants were happy to use them as shoe laces! During one stop, in gratitude for the grappa brought by a young girl, I gave her the lambs wool scarf I used. I was pleased to see the smile on her face, but then I was not pleased to see the envy on faces of the others! I had nothing else to give.

During one long march all day, I asked when we would stop to rest and eat. I was told in an hour or two, we would stop in a small village. We reached it after dark and entered quietly and slowly. Our guide stopped and checked at a number of gate posts. When we passed through the village and beyond, I questioned why we had not stopped. The answer was "Germans". We then marched another agonizing six hours or so.

After a few weeks of this with my shoes in shreds, sore and bleeding feet, we encountered an OSS mission. I did not see any of the members, but they provided U. S. Ranger boots for me (too large), socks, a British uniform and food. Not knowing how many more weeks of hiking up and down mountains, I decided the boots should be protected with hob nails. When we came on a village famous for their boot making abilities I had hob nails added to the boots as our guides wore. They cost 10 cents each.

About 80 were fastened to each boot. At the end of our march over half the nails were worn off. I still have the boots. I used parachute cord from air drops made to the Partisans as laces.

When we reached a Partisan base quite free of Germans, they offered to boil our clothes to free us from body lice. It did not work. Later I could sense we were reaching the end of our journey when the land was relatively flat and we could see staff cars with high ranking Partisans in splendid uniforms riding in them.

After 105 days, we reached an airfield where a British C-47 flew us to Bari. A three day stay in a General Hospital with steaks, chops, vegetables, good bread, many kinds of fruit juices did much to add to the 125 pounds I weighed when I entered.

Then back to the 376th for a few days, and I displayed a sour attitude especially when asked about the British uniform and why I was not in proper uniform. (All my belongings had been shipped home to my family.) One officer was very nice and brought to me cast off uniform items so I could again be proud of the United States uniform!"

M. R. Gerszewski

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