Account of Crash of Coral Princess by Bomb/Nav Joseph R. Chiozza:

By Lieutenant Joseph R. Chiozza Memphis, Tennessee(Bombardier-Navigator) 495TH and 496TH Bomb Squadron 344 Bomb Group:

“The morning of November 19th, 1944 I flew a mission to the South of France. The target was the railroad bridge across the Rhine at Colmar. We flew through clouds most of the way, but about twenty five miles from the target we broke into the clear blue skies. The sight I saw before me left me spellbound as well as the entire crew. We were looking up at the Alps. Although we were flying above 10,000 feet. The awesome beauty and grandeur of the snow capped Alps was truly a picture no artist could paint. We made our bomb run and left the bridge in ruins. Returning to our base at Pontoise outside of Paris, the crew was debriefed. I returned to my tent hoping to get a nap, since I had not felt very well for several days and dysentery was running me to the latrine which was the outside tent type. That was my location when a jeep came to a screeching halt and I heard my name yelled “Lt. Chiozza, Lt. Chiozza…..” to say the least my reply was not very Officer like. The Master Sergeant climbed down and informed me that I was scheduled to fly that afternoon. I informed him that I had not been to the briefing, knew nothing of the mission much less the target etc…. He replied that he was ordered by the Colonel to bring me to the end of the runway where the “Coral Princess” was ready to take off, and that photos of the target and all necessary equipment including my bombardier case was on the plane. The trip to the runway was rather short and was punctuated by several remarks by this over stripped enlisted man including “as a court martial may direct”. I informed him that he was out ranked, and to shut up. I boarded the plane and took much ribbing from my crew. The day was overcast and I was wondering why the mission was scheduled so late. Low clouds were at 1500 feet, the second layer was at 3000 feet. Captain Webster Stokes Allyn had us at 2000 feet when the mission was canceled by flares. I was in the nose when I noticed ice was forming on the wings. I informed Webb of this and he said it was “Rime Ice” and was sliding off. It was during this time that the mission was called off the second time. The radio communication was garbled and we flew on hoping to catch up with some more of our unit. We eventually did. Apparently they also missed the cancellations. I studied the target pictures which was the railroad yards at Cologne…..I took the pins out of the bombs and returned to the nose. The snow covered ground looked so peaceful one would hardly think that World War II was in progress. The railroad yards were clearly visible about thirty miles ahead although high clouds were at 20,000 feet…..We reached the I.P. and I told Webb that I was starting to sight on the Norden. This was my 59th mission, I had heard flax on most of them, most of the time it sounded like “Ruff, Ruff”. Half way through the bomb run there was a deafening explosion…..Several direct hits severed the vertical stabilizer cable and the gas line…..We were in a dive, gravity plus my flax suit had me pinned down. I looked back and the entire bomb bay was blazing. The co-pilot, Lt. Fred Fubel grabbed a fire extinguisher and finally got the fire out. A truly amazing feat on his part. Captain Allyn using the trim tabs got the plane to level out at 2000 feet. The right engine had caught fire and was feathered. We took stock of the damage, the plane was a disaster. The compasses were all totaled, gaping holes were everywhere. To make the situation worse, it was beginning to snow and sleet. Captain Allyn told everyone to make sure that their chutes were on right. I could not find mine, but thank god the navigator who flew the morning mission had left his in the plane. I wasted no time putting it on. We were about 1500 feet when we crossed the German front lines, they opened fire with their machine guns and small arms. Due to the darkness we could see the tracers, to say the least it was an eerie feeling. When the “Coral Princess” was out of their range, we came in range of our troops. Because we were coming from the east and due to the fact that the Germans had assembled a few B–26’s from planes shot down, their orders were to fire at almost anything. Thank God their marksmanship was no better than the Germans. Once away from the front lines we considered our options. Captain Allyn wanted us to bail out, to the man the entire crew elected to ride it down with him. I had already put the pins back in the bombs and told Webb that I could salvo them in an open field. NO, no was his quick reply “we might kill some innocent people”. The snow was rain now and the skies seemed less dark. The gas was getting dangerously low, the entire crew were scanning the ground looking for a place to belly land. I thought I saw an open field but on closer inspection, it was quite hilly. Webb had lost a little altitude and was trying to regain it when the left engine began to sputter. He immediately hit the horn to abandon the “Coral Princess”. Fred Fubel, the co-pilot went out the nose wheel hatch, as he fell, his hat came off and he quickly reached up and pulled it back on. He later explained “a sixty mission crush hat was not easy to come by. I was kneeling besides Webb, and told him in no uncertain terms “Webb lets go”. When I jumped our altitude was very low, about 750 feet, I fell for a few seconds and went crashing into a very tall tree, when I was falling I glanced back and saw another chute exit the plane, I just knew it was Webb. Later when the four of us got together we realized what happened. The tail gunner “frozen with fear” although he had his chute on he refused to jump, turret gunner Master Sergeant Marion Kasprxykowski wrestled with him trying to push him out the rear hatch but did not succeed, had he stayed any longer, Marion would not have had time to jump. The plane went to the right and nosed down behind a small knoll. I was still in my chute hung from a high limb. Try as I could the buckle of my chest chute would not release. I could see a dense black smoke cloud rising from the area where the “Coral Princess” crashed. A crowd of people were now at the base of the tree and were talking to each other. I had no idea who they were. I decided to give them a “V” for victory sign. This brought on a round of cheers—–I knew I was in safe hands. Once my buckle released I went crashing through the tree and came to a stop in a fork about ten feet from terra firma. Once on the ground I started running towards the crash site. The Belgians were trying to pull me the other way. Finally one who spoke English told me that the small stream ahead was flooded and I would have to go through the town to get to the crash. I broke into a run with a stream if Belgians trailing. Suddenly there was a terrific explosion which flattened us to the ground and for several minutes small fragments of the plane fell around us. The acrid smell of the bombs was very heavy. When it was safe the other members of the crew who bailed out joined me. We were running through the town and a man came running from the crash and stopped us. He said that one bomb did not detonate and there was fire around it. A man in a small car drove up and told us to get in. We did not hesitate. He told us that Victor Mouchette, the Burgermeister was boar hunting and due to the commotion would return shortly. Victor Mouchette was a rather handsome man in his early fifties. He immediately took control of the situation and drove us down the road about two miles to his hotel type house. Victor led the way, once inside to a small bar and proceeded to pour us a round of Apple Jack or Cal Vados, we needed it badly. After he had gained our confidence he explained that the German Army would advance within two miles of the town at sundown and would pull back at sun rise when our troops would advance within two miles of the town. He explained the situation was very fluid but the two commanding Officers had agreed to it. I did not quite understand, but I did not question it. After the third round of Cal Vados, he led us upstairs to our rooms and gave us some civilian clothes, telling us if we were ever stopped while there to act dumb and left him do the talking. He also confided that he was the head man of the underground in that region. My co-pilot was very fond of his “booze” and he was having a tough time comprehending what had happened. I asked Victor if a doctor could give him a shot to calm him. He took care of it in short order. I asked victor when we could go to the crash site. He told us it would not be very pleasant, but to try to get some sleep and he would take us in the morning. Needless to say no one slept very much. True to his word the next morning we piled into his Belgian made Ford and brought us to the site. The first view of the crash was awful. The bombs had made a twelve foot crater. What was left of the motors were at least a hundred yards apart. Members of the grave registration team were probing the crater….. After several moments I heard one of them say he found a boot…..On several trips to London Webb had purchased a pair of English fur lined boots. After some wear, the zipper broke and he wrapped a thin piece of wire around it to make it secure. The piece of wire was still around the boot. Tears were swelling in my eyes and I walked over to a small thicket to compose myself. I glanced around and what I saw completely unnerved me, an arm was hanging from a limb…..I broke down. Victor came over and told me we had better leave, the rest of the crew were having the same trouble…..After dinner that night he told us he wanted the crew to meet a friend of his. We drove a short distance to the outskirts of town stopping in front of a small house. Yevette Mimeux was a slight built woman in her early sixties with fair skin and piercing blue eyes. After the introductions she invited us to sit in the parlor. Victor explained that she was in charge of supplying “slave labor” for the Germans. She recruited the elderly, sick and lame, much to the chagrin of the Nazi Colonel. Upon further questions from Victor, she said if I could not do any better she would be shot. She brushed it aside with a wave of her hand saying I’m not afraid of him. She told us that her son was in the signal corp in North Africa, and that she had not heard from him in several weeks. We all assured her that the mail was very slow. She arose and went to the center of the room pulled back the rug, lifted a small trap door and produced a bottle of “Mumm’s” champagne saying she had no idea if she would see him again. We drank a toast for her sons safe return. When we left she embraced each of us with a smile and a kiss. What a wonderful lady. Victor had gotten a message to the 344 bomb group explaining our situation. We were to be picked up in two days by a truck from our outfit. That night we were to be the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Deveraux. They welcomed us warmly. I had asked Victor why we were moving around so much. He looked at me and said that it was for the best. The entire crew thought the same as myself, the underground knew best. The Deveraux had a twenty year old daughter who was going to get married at Christmas. Before we left the crash site two Belgians brought me my chute. I tried to re-pack it as best I could, however some of the nylon was exposed. The young girl could not keep her eyes off of it. I knew the answer before I asked her, Oh yes she would like to have my chute for her wedding gown…..Two days later we returned to our outfit…..During the ensuing years I have often thought what was to be a simply bombing mission…..Turned out to be a very sad one at that…..I never thought that I would meet the gracious Victor Mouchette, as a member of the Belgian underground…..There’s no telling how many times he saved our skin…..Or the gracious lady who laughed at death and the Germans supplying them with the worst “slave labor.” Not to mention the beautiful Belgian girl who would be married in a gown made from the chute that saved my life…..There were many hero’s on that last mission. Lt. Fred Fubel who single handed doused the fire in the bomb bay by his quick action….. Not to mention Captain Webb Allyn who pulled us out of that dive even though the cable to the vertical stabilizer was severed and keeping the “Coral Princess” flying under the most trying conditions. Then there was Master Sergeant Marion Kasprzkowski who tried valiantly to save his fellow crew man at the risk of his own life…..But the real heroes are the members of the crew that did not survive, but are immortalized by the survivors…..GOD BLESS THEM.”


Joe Chiozza

Joseph P “Joe” Chiozza was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1920. He was the youngest of three baseball-playing brothers. His eldest sibling, Lou, had begun a professional career in the Phillies organization in 1934. He played for the Phillies from 1934 to 1936 and was with the New York Giants from 1937 to 1939. He was the first man to bat in a major league night game as the leadoff batter for the Phillies when they met the Reds at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field in the initial major league arclight contest on May 24, 1935. Dino, two years younger than Lou and eight years older than Joe, joined the Phillies organization in 1934 and made two appearances as a shortstop with the National League team in 1935.

Joe was just 17 years old when he signed as a pitcher with the Memphis Chicks in 1937. “He may be two or three seasons away from the majors,” said Memphis manager Billy Southworth at the time, “but I believe he will reach the big show.”

Memphis assigned young Chiozza to the Paragould Rebels of the Northeast Arkansas League his rookie year. He appeared in 22 games and was 3-6 with a 4.83 ERA. He was out of organized baseball in 1938 but returned with the Clarksdale Red Sox of the Cotton States League in 1939 where he posted a 3-3 record.

1939 was to be Chiozza’s  last year in baseball. He entered military service with the Army Air Force and served in Europe with the 494th Bomb Squadron of the 344th Bomb Group. Lieutenant Chiozza was the bombadier of a Martin B-26 Marauder crew that flew 58 successful missions in the Coral Princess III.