What follows is an exact copy of a report written during World War 2 by a SSG Robert A. Wade commemorating the 100th mission of the B-26 bomber “Hell’s Belle.” I have transcribed it exactly as it was written.
The picture above is of the aircraft named in this account.
By S/Sgt Robert A. Wade
AT A 12th AAF BASE IN SARDINIA – Eight months ago a proud crew chief talked “Hell’s Belle II” out of the salvage heap after it collided with a Messerschmitt on its 23rd mission.
With the same crew chief riding on his first raid as a stowaway, Hell’s Belle completed its 100th mission against the Calafuria, Italy, rail viaduct (May 1) to become possibly the fightingest B-26 Marauder in combat anywhere.
(Hell’s Belle II after her 100th Mission)
Hell’s Belle was recommended for grounding after a German pursuit crashed into it during a 35-minute running battle of Salerno Aug. 22. Sixty Nazi fighters jumped the Marauder formation. One Me 109 was shot down and collided with the Belle’s tail, smashing the rudder almost flat and bending the whole tail section. But the B-26 made it home, though it burned out both engines doing it.
“Well, we fixed the tail up,” says the crew chief, Technical Sgt Kenneth L. Smith, 24, Bedford, Pa., “but we couldn’t get it quite back in line, and so it trimmed a little badly.”
Pilots, conscious of the beating the ship had taken, were hypersensitive to the difficult trim, and finally the regular pilot recommended that it be retired from active duty. Smith argued for another chance, and when he was given it, went to work on the plane, tightening, straightening, adjusting. When he finished, the Belle still had some peculiarities— but it went back into combat. “I guess I kinda talked them into it,” Smith admits. “But about that time we got some new pilots who didn’t know anything about the trim being off—and not one of them noticed it. I guess you might call it psychological.”
But even then Smith had no inkling of the record that his plane would roll up. His pleadings for its combat life were due solely to the fact that it was his first ship, and “Well, I like it pretty well,” he says.
Smith denies that he even considered that perhaps his was the B-26 that would be first in the Mediterranean’s oldest medium bomb group to cross the 100 mark, at least not until it had over 75 raids anyway. However, his mechanics have a different version of the story.
“Why, I remember when we hit 50 missions,” says Sgt. Clifford Parks, 25, Littcarr, Ky., assistant crew chief, “and I said, ‘Smitty, let’s see if we can make sixty.’ He went right up in the air and told me we were going to take it up to a hundred at least.”
Smith claims that he didn’t really start sweating the plane out—more than usual—until the score stood around 90. “I kept thinking of that B-26 in another group that went down on its ninety-fourth mission,” he says.
The ground crew and squadron engineering officers believe that Hell’s Belle has more combat missions than any other B-26 in the Mediterranean theater, and oldest combat Marauder in any theater.
Hell’s Belle has been in combat almost continuously since June 7, and has shot down fighters and dodged flak over Pantelleria, Lampedusa, Sicily, Sardinia, Italy and southern France.
Smith gives the bulk of the credit for the record to the plane itself—“You either have a good plane, or you don’t,” is the way he puts it—but squadron engineering officers and other crew chiefs claim that the maintenance on Hell’s Belle has been above average in every respect.
As proof, they point to the fact that Hell’s Belle has returned early only five times in all its hundred missions, and only twice for mechanical trouble. The two mechanical failures were a fault generator and a nose wheel that wouldn’t retract. The other three returns were due twice to gun failure and once to pilot error.
The last 46 missions were flown without an early return, which is an unusual record. And, before that, Hell’s Belle had gone 42 consecutive raids without coming home ahead of time.
The Belle has had only one complete engine change, and Smith believes that it might be flying on its original engines right now if it hadn’t collided with that Messerschmitt. With the exception of one generator, all the original accessories are still in use. This includes carburetors, magnetos, starters, and vacuum, hydraulic and fuel pumps. Also the B-26 has its original radio equipment, and 11 of the 12 machine guns are the ones it started out with.
The Marauder was named by the original pilot, after a previous Belle which had been lost over Tunisia. Bombers with a “II” or “III” after their names are notoriously unlucky, but this one proved the exception to the rule.
Aside from Salerno, Hell’s Belle has been in trouble only once in its career. That was during a January raid on German rail communications above Rome. Flak cut one fuel line and slightly wounded the pilot, but the Belle made it back to an emergency landing in Corsica. But it is no stranger to either flak or fighters. Its gunners have knocked down three Nazi pursuits, and the Marauder’s plexiglass nose and aluminum skin is splotched with patches.
Hell’s Belle has seen all the hot spots the Mediterranean has to offer. Zit has raided Olbia Harbor, Sardinia (where the B-26’s knocked down 10 Me 109’s, with six probables, June 18). Gerbini airdrome, Sicily (19 pursuits downed, July 4). Messina, Naples, Salerno (24 Me’s shot down, with 14 probables, Aug. 22). Anzio, Cassino, Florence, the Abbey di Monte Casino, and has been to Rome eight times, including the first Allied attack, July 19.
The Belle came to Smith on May 20, 1943, just 85 hours out of the Glenn L. Martin plant and the Rome, N.Y., modification center. It now has 724 flying hours, of which 450 to 500 have been combat.
The Armorer who loads the bombs and guns on the B-26, Cpl. Samuel Osgood, 31, 46 Osgood St., North Andover, Mass., figures that the Belle’s average bomb load has been around 2,500 pounds—which should make a rough total of 250,000 pounds or about 125 tons dropped on Axis bridges, railroad yards, airfields, docks, towns, gun positions and troop concentrations.
“It’s been a good ship from an armorer’s point of view,” Osgood says. “Only one gun burnt out in a hundred missions. Besides, I never seem to have to change the load—she usually drops her bombs.”
While Osgood admits that the latter is just luck, it bears out his feeling that the Belle is essentially a good airplane, better than the average.
The five men who have kept the B-26 flying through its hundred missions are tight-knit by their pride in their ship. Every one of them was with the Belle at the beginning of her combat career, and—with one exception—have been with her ever since.
“They’re a damn good crew, every one of them,” Smith declares. A small rather quiet man, Smith was a machine tool operator in a York, Pa., steel mill before entering the AAF in October, 1941. Smith learned his airplane know-how at Keesler Field, Miss., and the Martin plant in Baltimore. He had been overseas 19 months and his chief worry is whether he’ll recognize his three younger brothers when he gets home.
Assistant crew chief Parks was an automobile mechanic employed by the Citizens Motor Co., Vicco, Ky., before the war. Enlisting shortly after Pearl Harbor, he also studied at Keesler Field and the Martin plant, and has been overseas 19 months. A tall, lanky Southerner, Parks is the only crew member who hasn’t been with Hell’s Belle steadily. After about 25 missions, he shirted to another ship and then came back to the Belle when its mission score was 56.
Other mechanic on the crew is Cpl. William L. Howard, 24, 177 15th St., Wheeling, W. Va. A truck driver for the Warwood Armature Co., Warwood, W. Va., Howard entered the AAF in May 1942, and came overseas in January, 1943, where he joined the Marauder group. Small, rather quiet, he takes much good-natured kidding about learning about airplanes at the Rising Sun School of Aeronautics, Phila., Pa., because of the Japanese implications. The other crew members claim that he hasn’t been caught at any sabotage yet, but they’re keeping an eye on him just the same.
Radioman is Staff Sgt. Joseph S. Benak, 33, 1213 Wallgate St., Waterloo, Iowa. His parents live in Raymond, Iowa. Benak was a machine operator for the John Deere Tractor Co., Waterloo, before entering the AAF in March 1942. He was graduated from the Scott Field, Ill., radio school and has been overseas 19 months. Benak takes care of two or three other planes in addition to the Belle.
Osgood, the armorer, is—with Howard—the rookie of the crew, as they both have the least time with the group and overseas. Osgood joined the B-26’s in March, 1943, when they were based in North Africa. He was employed as a wool and textile designer by the M. T. Stevens Co., before entering the AAF in July, 1942. Osgood is a graduate of the Lowry Field, Colo., armament school.
New that Hell’s Belle has 100 missions, what is the next stop?
“Why, two hundred, of course,” Smith says, a little amazed at the question. “Barring German flak or fighters, there shouldn’t be any reason we won’t make it!”
Some planes slow up noticeably after a great number of missions, as rough landings on bad fields throw the ship out of the best flying trim. Smith has noted no signs of old age or circles under the Belle’s eyes.
Smith flew on the Belle’s 100th mission strictly against regulations, but he has no intentions of making it a regular thing. “Too monotonous,” he claims, “You fly for a couple of hours. Then the Germans shoot at you for a few minutes, and you fly back for a couple of hours.” He plans, however, to go on the 200th mission.
The flak the Marauders met at the Calafuria bridge was heavy and accurate, and two pieces punctured the Belle’s tail section, but as usual did no harm. The viaduct was cut with direct hits.
Four combat crew members celebrated their 50 mission anniversaries with the B-26’s 100 mission cake. They were 1st Lt. Elliott Lysko, 1684 Central St., Stoughton, Mass., the pilot: Staff Sgt. Donald E. Miller, Robinson, Pa., engineer-turret gunner; Technical Sgt. Andrew L. Bergman, 4117 Montgomery St., Oakland, Calif., radio operator-waist gunner: and Staff Sgt. Charles E. F. Brinker, 528 N. Spring St., Blairsville, Pa., tail gunner.
Other crew members on the 100th mission were 1st Lt. Elmer L. Masters, 3639 Linden Ave., Seattle Wash., co-pilot on his 46th mission; and 1st Lt. Gustave G Pappetru, 1412 W. Juneau St., Milwaukee, Wis., bombardier on his 35th.
Hell’s Belle II went on to fly a total of 132 missions before the end of the war.
The picture below is of the Hell’s Belle armament section and shows several of the men named in the account.
The picture below is of all the aircraft in the 319th Bomb Group, B-26. A sortie is a mission. Hell’s Belle II is in the 3rd row.