Blackie's Story

Blackie combat bathing, North Africa, 1943.
This is a picture of 447th Bombardier Lt. Donald Black combat bathing in North Africa in 1943.

Blackie's Story
by Lt. Daniel McDuff from his diary

"Blackie" was Lt. Donald Black, a navigator in the 447th Squadron of the 321st Bomb Group. He was a farm boy from Cherokee, Kansas, and was of French extraction. He was quiet, soft spoken, a litlle shy, and very good at his job.

On one of our early missions, Blackie was riding in the nose of an airplane on the right wing of the lead ship of a formation of 24 airplanes. He was riding as a bombardier and would do his bombing as the lead ship did. He did not have to use the bomb sight.

The mission on this day was to bomb an enemy air field in northern Tunisia. The bombs to be dropped were fragmentation (Frag) bombs. They were small bombs carried in the bomb bay in clusters. When dropped out of the bomb bay, the cluster would break apart and the small bombs would scatter and would fall almost, but not quite, straight down. On impact with the ground, the bombs would explode and send fragments in all directions. These bombs were used to damage or destroy airplanes and vehicles on the ground. They also kill or wound people.

As they got into Tunisia, Blackie's attention was drawn to a large green olive orchard, and among the trees he could see the bright muzzle flashes of anti-aircraft guns shooting at him and the formation behind him. There were a lot of them, and doubtless they would hit somebody if allowed to continue.

Blackie noted that his ship would carry him directly over the olive grove, and he thought--"This might be a 'target of opportunity' that they tell us to hit if we can." And Blackie thought he could. So...without saying a word to his pilot, Blackie opened the bomb bay doors and, at what he thought was the proper time, began to slowly drop his bombs using a toggle switch.

When all his bombs were away, he closed the bomb bay doors and began to think. "Boy, am I in trouble!!" Here we are on our way to bomb an airfield and now I don't have any bombs. I'm really going to catch it when we get back.

Blackie could not see his bombs hit the ground. But the men in the formation behind could. And what they saw was huge clouds of black smoke boiling from the orchard! Blackie's bombs had hit an ammunition dump!!!

At the critique after the mission, the officer conducting it asked: "Who bombed the olive orchard?" Blackie squirmed in his seat, but did not get up. But, at the urging of the men on each side of him, he finally and reluctantly rose to his feet to admit that he did it.

I think that Blackie got a letter of commendation from our Group Commander, but, as far as I know, he never got a medal or any further recognition for his act. And I certainly think he should have, for it is my opinion that the loss of all that ammunition made it impossible for
Rommel to mount a defense for the evacuation of his troops to Sicily and Italy. the pursuing American forces arrived in Northern Tunisia only to accept the surrender of several thousand Axis soldiers. Shortly afterwards, large groups of prisoners were seen on the roads marching west to be shipped to P.O.W. camps in the U.S.

There is no way of knowing how many lives, both Axis and Allied, were saved when the big battle Rommel surely expected, could not take place..several thousand, I'm sure.

And so...Blackie's "Target of Opportunity" turned out to be a most important and unheralded factor of the war in North Africa.

by 447th Pilot Lt. Daniel McDuff from his diary

Lt. Daniel McDuff.
This is a picture of 447th Pilot Lt. Daniel McDuff on a mission in October, 1943.

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