By 1945, Allied bombing efforts began concentrating on cutting German transportation and supply lines in northern Italy to slow retreating Germans and to assist the Allied armies slowly advancing against the Germans. The number of antiaircraft guns (flak) defending these areas pointed to the importance of the railroads and bridges to the German war machine. These bombing missions during the last months of the war were extremely hazardous, and many crews continued to be killed or wounded from flak and enemy fighters.
One such mission was led by Col. John D. Ryan, group commander of the 2nd Bomb Group, 15th Air Force, on Feb. 28, 1945. The objective of this particular mission was to destroy the Verona-Perona railroad bridge used to allow German troops and supplies through the Brenner Pass in Northern Italy. Two important railroad yards in northern Italy were also on the target list for this mission.
Intense and accurate antiaircraft fire rocked the group led by Ryan during and after the bomb run. Flak fragments hit Ryan's B-17 as it flew over the target, killing the navigator and the upper turret gunner. Flak also tore off one of Ryan's fingers and wounded the copilot, the bombardier and the radio operator. With assistance from another crew member, Ryan safely landed the stricken bomber at an emergency field near Ancona, Italy. During this mission, six additional B-17s sustained heavy damage, and 18 others received minor damage from flak.
As a result of this and numerous other missions against German transportation lines, enemy units required many weeks to move out of Italy and were forced to leave a significant amount of equipment behind. The bombing of these supply and transportation lines helped to shorten the war.
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