|by Curtis A. Miller
Photographs are file photographs from: Aviation Antiquities service
Editor's Note: The following is based on two unpublished remembrances written by Curtis Miller, who was a B-26 Marauder pilot during World War Two. Sent in to us by his stepson, G. David Germeyer, they were discovered in his mother's papers prior to her moving into a retirement community. He does not know whether these were written as letters home, biographies or simply a way to help remember what happened during the war. David remembers that his stepfather never really talked too much about his war experiences. There was one time, however, when his stepfather did relate the story about long, single engine flight back home across the Mediterranean Sea, after one engine had been knocked out by antiaircraft fire. Curtis Miller received a citation from General James Doolittle for his actions. David also remembers his stepfather telling about the time he was in a club when he overheard another pilot talking about escorting a crippled B-26 across the Mediterranean, which ultimately belly landed in North Africa. Curtis Miller introduced himself to the other pilot and it was indeed the pilot who escorted him home. It truly is a small world. Captain Curtis A. Miller was assigned to the 441st Bombardment Squadron of the 320th Bombardment Group. He passed away in 1982.
When we got to Accra we figured that we had stretched our luck far enough with the worn-out prop parts and that we'd wire home for a new part. They took another part off to replace one on the Colonel's ship so we had to wait for both parts. That explains our spending so much time at Accra. We were there until January 15', during which time we just loafed around and waited. Went swimming in the ocean quite a bit and made a few trips into the interior. Accra I think, was Africa at its best. It was exactly like I had always pictured Africa to be.
Well - to get on with the story - we took off on January 15 `" and landed in Monrovia, Liberia, and stayed there just overnight. The next day we took off and went up the coast to Bathhurst in Gambia. We had a little trouble with the ship there and stayed over two days. We left there on the 18'" of January for the long hop to Marrakech. That was one of the most interesting hops of the whole trip. About three fourths of the trip was over the Great Sahara Desert, the most desolate spots I've ever seen. Right at the end of the hop we climbed to 11,000 feet and flew through a pass in the Atlas mountains. Going thru the pass, we were hemmed in on both sides by snow-covered peaks and right on the other side lay the beautiful green fertile valley with the city of Marrakech right in the center of it. We landed there, and due to some mix-up of orders, stayed there until January 23rd. We got to see a lot of Marrakech and found it to be a very interesting city. I'll try to describe it in detail in a later letter. On the 231 we took off and flew up to La Senia, the airport just about 7 miles south of Oran. That's the day I finally caught up with the rest of the boys and picked up about 75 letters that were waiting there for me. It was really a great feeling - up to that time I hadn't had any letters at all.
The boys had been practicing combat tactics there and were just waiting around for orders to go up to the front. You see, we were practically as safe there as the folks at home. We were 800 miles from the front, although they did come over and bomb the harbor at Oran several times while we were there.
I started working at this combat raining the next day and where I came pretty close to the exit again. There must be different types of malaria, because they told me later on that I had the one type which can prove fatal and that I was just on the verge for two days. Of course, I didn't know anything about it, again proving the old saying that what you don't know won't hurt you. Then I got that spinal meningitis business and didn't get out of the hospital until the 7" of March. In the meantime, the boys had moved to Tafaraoni, about 10 miles south of La Senia and were going on sub-patrol missions in the Mediterranean. That was during the time we were running in such large convoys to North Africa and they had to be protected from the subs. Our outfit got 2 subs, and Carl Lehman was the bombardier that got both of them.
Because of the malaria and the spinal meningitis the medicos never thought I'd fly again - so they assigned Little Joe as Karlowitz's bombardier. After I got back to flying, I got Carl as bombardier and he really is tops. I couldn't ask for a better bombardier and companion, because we work well together and get along just fine in every way.
Well - to get back to the chronological order if events again - we fooled around at Tafaraoni for a long while flying simulated missions and practicing combat tactics so that when we finally got to move up to the front we were a pretty highly trained outfit. We moved up to the front on April 17`". We're still at the same field, so I can't tell you exactly where it is. It'll probably be enough to say that we're within thirty minutes flying time from Bizerte and Tunis. We spent the first few days digging in and making things as safe as possible. Just as a little added note - we've never been bombed so far and we're still keeping our fingers crossed.
I went on my first raid on April 231. We had an 18 ship formation and were supposed to pick up 20 P-38s for escort. The pursuits never showed up but we were pretty eager so we went on without them. We've learned since then that it isn't good policy to go without escort. Anyway we hit the target and did a good job of demolishing it. There was a little bit of flak over the target but it wasn't accurate and just looked as harmless as sofa pillows blossoming out of the sky around us. That wasn't so bad, but about 10 minutes away from the target on the way home we were jumped by a whole peck of Jerry pursuits. They were Messerschmitt 109's. That was our baptism of fire and it was a sure good job. We had a 32 minute running fight with them before they finally turned tail and went on home. That decided me right then and there that those boys were playing for keeps and that it wasn't sofa pillows they were throwing at us. One of the Me's dove right down through the middle of our formation, all guns blazing, and tried to split us apart. You see, our best protection lies in holding a close formation so that we have a concentrated wall of fire power to protect the whole outfit. I don't mind admitting that I was plenty scared - all of us were - but it made us tighten the formation instead of splitting it wide open. I really buck every time the 20 millimeter cannon in his nose went off. You could see all the tracers coming at you, all of them looking like they were headed right at my face. I did the only thing I could do -just pulled in my ears a little bit and kept on going. Luckily we were hit only a few times in the whole fight and none of the hits were in a vulnerable spot. Carl, up in the nose of the ship, swears that when that Jerry went by - the maltese crosses on his wings and the swastika on the tail were so close that they looked as if they were 75 feet high. Our gunners did a marvelous job that day - my tail gunner had 15 rounds left when the fight was over. He started out with 1400 rounds - so you know and can imagine all the fun he had shooting.
We came on home intact and felt awfully lucky. A few of us were shot up pretty badly but only one plane had to crash land and his crew all got out O.K.
To date I have nine raids to my credit. That's a little above average for the crews in our group. We're still raiding and still meeting some pretty stiff opposition, but I can't tell you much about our present targets. At least we're doing some good and I guess that's why we've gone through so much training and spent so much time getting ready for this. The other raids have been much the same, we've seen pursuit over almost every target and have had varying amounts of flak thrown up at us. On one target especially, they threw everything but the dishpan at us. While we were still about 5 minutes away from the target, we could see what looked like an impenetrable wall of flak over the target. The sky was just black with the stuff. I'd have sworn that you couldn't have taken one ship through it without getting shot down. We took 36 ships through and all came back. We all had holes in our ships but again no one was hurt and everyone got home safely. We've been remarkably lucky up till now. Lets just keep on hoping that it will stay that way.
I guess that's about all for this time. I'll probably be adding a little more day by day. One thing I forgot to say anything about - my personal reaction to all this fighting business. Naturally, we're all a bit jumpy right before a raid and maybe even don't sleep too well the night before we're due to go out feuding, but I've found personally that all that feeling vanishes from the minute I give her the gas for take off. Then just as I go in on the target, I get kind of jumpy waiting for them to start shooting. When they once start I find that I concentrate so much on flying a good bombing run for Carl that I don't pay too much attention to what's going on outside. Then after it's all over I get a sort of let down feeling when all the tension you build up inside you kind of breaks down and leaves you. It's a pretty rough life but nothing that I can't easily stand.
My name is Captain Curtis A. Miller. I am an American pilot of a Marauder medium bomber, a flight leader, I have raided nia. I started my flight training in July, 1941, and flew my first mission over enemy lines late in April, 1942.
When our group first started operations from North Africa, we found the German fighter pilots skillful and aggressive. My very first raid over Sardinia a batch of fifteen ME-109s staged a running battle with us for thirty-five minutes. They fearlessly bored into us from head on in a vain attempt to break up out formation. We shot down a couple of them, without losing any of our planes, but they sure shot us full of holes. I know I was plenty scared.
But since the fall of Tunisia the Germans haven't been the same. One day just before the invasion of Sicily we sent waves of bombers over Sicilian airdromes. Our first formation was jumped by about 100 Messershmitts. They outnumbered us, but they weren't much good, thirty-five out of the hundred were shot down for sure, plus some probables. The rest of that day we didn't get a bit of opposition.
The German pilots don't have near as much guts nowadays. They don't try to break up out flights any more. They just wait for stragglers. When the odds are ten to one in their favor, the Jerries will jump you. It happened to me one day. An engine was shot out over Naples on July 17, and we had to drop behind. The Jerries hit us then, but our escort took care of them. That was the last time I saw a Messerschmitt.
Since then we've been bombing railroads and bridges in Southern Italy that are vital for supplying the German in Sicily, but we haven't met with any fighters or flak. We call it a milk run. The other day we went after an airfield near Naples. The fighters had to come up then. But they were scared to get within range of us. They'd make one pass at us from below and get out of there as fast as they could. At that, we shot down seven of them and the Lightnings got some more.
Some friends of mine fly P-40s, a good plane but not our best. A couple of weeks ago they knocked down seventeen out of twenty-five of the best Jerry could put up in Sardinia. Three days later they destroyed twenty-one out of thirty. Not a single P-40 was lost.
If you ask me, the German airforce ain't what it used to be. We've solved everything they've got, and we've shot down many of their best pilots.
Their tactics are not as skillful, their aggressiveness is less, and they steer clear of us unless the odds are definitely in their favor. We've lost much of the respect we had for the Luftwaffe when we started combat operations.
Editor's Note: On 17 July 1943, Captain Miller's Martin B-26 Marauder was hit by anti-aircraft fire while on a mission to strike Naples, Italy. The blast severely damaged the right wing, knocking out both the right engine and the ship's hydraulic system. From an altitude of 11,000 feet, Miller put his the defensive guns. Miller finally managed to maintain level flight at 4,000 feet and turned south towards North Africa. Miller's crew discussed bailing out rather than flying several hours over open water back to Africa. Miller convinced them that trying to get back to their home base was a more viable option as compared to bailing out and almost certain capture.
With no defensive armament the slow flying Marauder was easy prey for German fighters and soon came under attack. However, a group Lockheed P38 Lightnings, which showed up to escort Miller and his crew back home, promptly chased off these aggressors.
It took two and a half hours to get back to North Africa. Due to the B-26's shot up hydraulic system, Miller was unable to lower the landing gear and simply bellied in near Tunis. It should be pointed out that many critics of the B-26 Marauder claimed it would fly for only a short time on one engine. Captin Miller obviously disproved this theory. The following is Captain Miller's citation awarded 12 October 1943.
You have distinguished yourself by displaying heroism and outstanding professional skill as a pilot of a B-26 type aircraft in the North Africa Theatre of Operations. While over Naples on 17 April 1943, the intense anti-aircraft fire badly damaged the right engine and hydraulic system of your plane. Your intrepid confidence prevailed over the desire of the crew to parachute out over enemy waters, and, by superb endurance and heroic determination you skillfully kept your plane aloft for two and a half hours before making a perfect crash landing near Tunis. Your courageous regard for the welfare of your crew and your keen sense of duty have reflected great credit upon yourself and the Armed Forces of the United States.
This citation will become a part of the officer's permanent record.
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