Dive Bombers / A-36 Invaders – 12th Air Support command

Turn the clock back to 1943…

“The Mediterranean Allied Air Force, under the command of Lieutenant General Ira Eaker. covered everything in the whole Mediterranean Theater from Casablanca on the Atlantic, almost to Cairo at the edge of Asia…

“The main geographical objective of our push into Italy was to get heavy-bomber bases near enough to start pounding Germany from the south…

Our heavy bomber force was still being built up, and had not yet really begun on its program of blasting Germany proper, but planes had been flowing across the South Atlantic all winter…

Meantime, the 12th Air Support command bore the burden of the close-in fighting there in Italy.  The 12th was composed of fighters, dive bombers, and light bombers, which worked over the front line, helping our ground troops, bombing supply dumps, and strafing roads just back of the enemy lines…

I spent some time with a dive bomber squadron of the 12th Air Support Command.  There were about fifty officers, and two hundred fifty enlisted men in a squadron…

The dive bomber has never been fully accepted by the Allied armies.  The British have always been against it -they call the German Stuka a vastly overrated instrument of war- and America has more or less followed suit.  Our Navy used the dive bomber to good effect in the Pacific.  But in the Mediterranean it didn’t show up until the beginning of the Sicilian Operation, and it was never built up in great numbers….

Their function was to work in extremely close support of our infantry.  For instance, suppose there was a German gun position just over a hill which was holding us up because our troops couldn’t get at it with their guns.  They called on the dive bombers and gave them the location.  Within an hour, and sometimes much quicker, they would come screaming out of the sky right on top of that gun and blow it up.

They could do the same to bunched enemy troops, bridges, tank columns, convoys, or ammunition dumps.  Because of their great accuracy they could bomb much closer to our own troops than other kinds of planes would dare.  Most of the time they worked less than a thousand yards ahead of our front lines  -and sometimes even closer than that…

The group I was with had been in combat six months.  During that time they had flown ten thousand sorties, fired more than a million rounds of 50-caliber ammunition, and dropped three million pounds of bombs.  That’s more than the entire Eighth Air Force in England dropped in its first year of operation.

Our dive bombers were known as A-36 Invaders.  Actually, they were nothing more than the famous P-51 Mustang equipped with diving brakes.  For a long time they didn’t have any name at all, and then one day in Sicily, one of the pilots of the squadron said “Why don’t we call them Invaders, since we are Invading?”…

The dive bombers approached their target in formation.  When the leader made sure he had spotted he target, he wiggled his wings, raised his diving brakes, rolled on his back, nosed over, an down he went.  The next man behind followed almost instantly, then the next, and the next, not more than a hundred fifty feet apart…

If you ever heard a dive bombing by our A-36 Invader planes, you’d never forget it.  Even in normal flight that plane made a sort of screaming noise; when this was multiplied manifold by the velocity of the dive the wail could be heard for miles.  From the ground it sounded as though they were coming directly down on us.  It was a horrifying thing.

The German Stuka could never touch the A-36 for sheer frightfulness of sound.  Also, the Stuka always dived at an angle.  But those Invaders literally came straight down.  If a man looked up and saw one a mile above him, he couldn’t tell where it was headed.  It could strike anywhere within a mile on any side of him.  That’s the reason it spread its terror so wide.”

Try to get that  “you are right there” impression from Wikipedia, or other web source.  You will look in vain.

There is no direct reference to this group, only the Italian campaign, and other groups which used a variety of aircraft; only a few references to A-36’s, and none from the 12th group in Italy.

The words are those of Ernie Pyle; excerpts taken from his book Brave Men, a chapter entitled simply “Dive Bombers”.  From Wikipedia:

Ernie Pyle in 1945

Ernest Taylor Pyle (August 3, 1900 – April 18, 1945) was a Pulitzer Prize–winning American journalist. As a roving correspondent for the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, he earned wide acclaim for his accounts of ordinary people in rural America, and later, of ordinary American soldiers during World War II. His syndicated column ran in more than 300 newspapers nationwide.

From 1935 through 1941 he traveled throughout the United States, writing about rural towns and their inhabitants. After the U.S. entered World War II he lent the same distinctive, folksy style to his war-time reports, first from the home front, and later from the European and Pacific theatres. He was killed by enemy fire on Iejima during the Battle of Okinawa.

At the time of his death he was among the best-known American war correspondents. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for his spare, poignant accounts of “dogfaceinfantry soldiers from a first-person perspective. “No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told,” wrote Harry Truman. “He deserves the gratitude of all his countrymen.”[1]

I was fortunate to find two videos on the A-36:

USAAF A-36 Apache dive bombers attack near Rome -1944- Restored

 

Published on Jan 5, 2013

This film shows the A-36 (a P-51 Mustang variant) being used as a ground support and strike aircraft on the Italian front in WWII. The North American A-36 Apache (listed in some sources as “Invader”, but also called Mustang) was the ground-attack/dive bomber version of the North American Aviation P-51 Mustang, from which it could be distinguished by the presence of rectangular, slatted dive brakes above and below the wings. A total of 500 A-36 dive bombers served in North Africa, the Mediterranean, Italy and the China-Burma-India theater during World War II before being withdrawn from operational use in 1944.

This film is part of the Periscope Film LLC archive, one of the largest historic military, transportation, and aviation stock footage collections in the USA. Entirely film backed, this material is available for licensing in 24p HD. For more information visit http://www.PeriscopeFilm.com

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