ARNOLD L. GRAY|
World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy)
449 Drage Dr.
Apopka, FL 32703
6 September 1988
I would like to submit the enclosed article for possible inclusion in a future issue of The Fighting 44th Logbook. If you see fit to print it, you may edit it to your satisfaction.
Arnold L. Gray
While much has been said and written about the combat experiences within the 44th Bomb Group during World War II, I would like to document another aspect of life in the group.
This is a tale of the agony and frustration encountered by a bomber crew when forced to travel without its own conveyance.
In mid-1943, because the Army Air corps was turning out bomber crews faster than the war industry could produce the machines for them to fly, many who read this can relate to our experiences.
We departed from the Presque Isle, Maine Air Base on 1 August in a plus C-54 bound for England. We enjoyed this luxury only because the principal passengers were a major general and his staff.
Hardly had we arrived in England and begun our orientation training than we received orders to report to the 44th Bomb Group, temporarily based in North Africa. Heavy losses had been sustained by the group in a low-level attack on the Ploesti, Rumania oil fields and replacement crews were urgently needed.
So it was on the Prestwick, Scotland by rail and then to our destination via air transport. This time it was bucket seats and extremely uncomfortable. Three days later on 13 August, we arrived at Benina, Libya, a nondescript air step in the desert surrounded by tents for living quarters. Oppressive heat and blowing sand seemed to prevail 24 hours a day.
Hardly had we settled in and been regaled by the tales of adventure and perils of combat flying, when the outfit was ordered to return to Great Britain. The main contingent left on 25 August. Those of us without transportation were left behind.
Although our wait was to be only a week, it seemed like ages, existing in the unbearable conditions described above. Our principal duty was to "police" the area daily. What could be more absurd than the sight of trained bomber crews scouring the desert to pick up litter?
We left Benina on 1 September once again by transport service (C-47) on to Marrakech by way of Tunis and Algiers, then on to Prestwick, Scotland (C-54). After an overnight rail trip, we arrived at Shipdham on 8 September. At last, we had reached what was believed and hoped was to be our permanent base for the duration of our stay in combat.
However, the changing complexion of the war in the area we had recently departed dictated otherwise. The allied invasion of southern Italy had bogged down. Air power was needed to assist and the 44th was ordered back to North Africa.
This time our crew had its own B24. We left Shipdham on 16 September and flew all night arriving at Marrakech the next day, then proceeding to Tunisia.
Our base here was located at Aundina, 15 miles south of Tunis. It was the desert all over again and life in a tent community.
Within two weeks, the American and British ground troops with the help of our air power improved and consolidated their foothold in Italy. On 2 October, the 44th, under orders, left Tunisia to return to Shipdham. Because our B-24 had been rendered inoperable upon return from a combat mission, our crew was left behind. Once again we were to become passengers.
One week later a C-47 arrived and picked us up for our return, but our troubles were just beginning. A defective engine forced us to land near a British Artillery camp near the town of Bougie, between Tunis and Algiers on the North African Mediterranean cost.
Although the aircraft's engine was temporarily repaired, it had to be returned to Cairo leaving us stranded. Our British hosts were most gracious in taking care of our needs, but the town had little to offer and time was hanging heavy on our hands.
After five days, we managed at hitch a ride to Algiers in a British transport ... . Our hopes, which rose considerably with our arrival here, were quickly dashed when we learned that a severe backlog of air travel to Marrakech had developed and our wait would be indefinite.
Daily visits to the office and incessant pleading proved fruitless and our resignation deepened. The only relief afforded us were the several movie theaters and activities at the Red Cross Club. At this point I became quite firmly convinced that we were doomed to spend the duration of the war here.
Finally, on Sunday 24 October, our persistence paid off and we left Algiers, flying to Prestwich by way of Marrakech and then on to Shipdham by rail. We arrived there most thankfully on 27 October.
At that point in time, although we had been a part of the 44th for 75 days, more than half that time, 42 days to be exact, were spent either in transit or waiting for transportation between bases.
For me, at least, this experience helped prepare for the ultimate in frustration and boredom. On 20 December 1943, we were shot down on a mission to Bremen. I was taken prisoner and spent the final 18 months of the war incarcerated at Stalag Luft I in Germany.