Learn More About Our Legend Major George Semones
15th Air Force, 97th Bomb Group, 342nd Squadron
Letter submitted by: JoAnn Semones, in memory of my father.
I completed 50 combat missions which took place from May through September 1944 in the Mediterranean Theatre of War. We were based just outside Foggia, Italy. During that period, my group participated in the air offensive over Europe, the Rome-Arno offensive in Italy, and the invasion of southern France. I accumulated 235 hours of combat flying time. By 1944 the Italians said that the landings in southern Italy and successful advance of the Allies had a widespread moral effect in the Balkan countries which were occupied by the Germans.
From Foggia we were able to strike deep into Italy, France, and the Balkans as well as Germany itself. In June 1944 the first shuttle raids from Itailan to Russian bases took place. Massive day strikes were being made against strategic targets such as oil refineries, air drones, and aircraft factories. The Luftwaffe had battled fiercely to protect these targets and the bombers had to fight their way to and from the targets. Flying routes in and out of Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria as well as targets in Hungary, placed bomber formations regularly over Hungary. It was one such mission that I remember well. The date was 24 June 1944 and the target was the Shell Kolatz refineries in Hungary. The altitude was probably 24,000 feet. The flying time to and from the target was in excess of 10 hours. We were to get credit for a double mission because of the penetration into enemy territory. We were always happy to see our own fighter escort, P-38s and/or P-51s, join us for without them, in spite of heavy armor, we were vulnerable to the speed, maneuverability, and fire power of the ME-109s.
As we neared our turning point to make our final straight and level bombing run at the target, multiple dog fights broke out. In the excitement of the moment, it was difficult to tell the P-51s from the ME-109s. I was flying lead bombardier and our B-17 was leading the formation. Suddenly, flying headlong into the formation, an enemy fighter appeared. It’s wings were blazing with machine gun fire.
I had a remotely controlled twin .50 caliber machine gun turret which I tried to bring into firing position, but in a split second the fighter had passed. The number two B-17 flying on my right began to lose altitude and did a slow turn. As it fell away, we saw that it was on fire. Some of our crew members tried to count the number of parachutes that were opening in the sky around us.
Over the target we encountered intense enemy anti-aircraft fire. One more B-17 left the formation with its number two engine in flames. After “Bombs’ Away,” as we were making our turn to rejoin our fighter escort and head for home, the nose of the bombardier’s compartment was shattered by flak. Shards of glass-like plastic showered me, embedding themselves into my hands and clothing. Our B-17 went into a dive. We thought all was lost, but at about 10,000 feet the pilot regained control of the aircraft. The hydraulic system had been damaged. Coming out over the coast of Yugoslavia, we again encountered anti-aircraft fire, but flew through it safely to return to our base. This is but one of the many harrowing experiences in the air over Europe and the Balkans, but it is the best remembered.