The Military Record of Max Poteete


Private Poteete

The entrance of the United States into World War II officially began with a declaration of war by President Roosevelt immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Max had enlisted in the Army of the United States on October 12, 1941 in Los Angeles, at the age of 22, and before long he found himself on a troop ship headed for Hawaii. (We do not know where Max took his basic training before shipping off to Hawaii.) This was no pleasure cruise to the Islands: troops were packed in below decks like sardines and it was not uncommon for men to have to sleep in shifts, not to mention the long lines for chow and for the latrine, and overall discomfort so common to military life.

Max's first year was spent in an anti-aircraft battery at the end of a runway at Hilo Airport. With no end of the war in sight, Max realized that there must be something better to occupy his time and talents and so applied for a transfer to the Air Corps. Recognizing his potential, higher authorities approved the transfer and by January of 1943 he was learning how to fly airplanes. Little did he know what lay ahead as a pilot in the European Theater.

Aviation Cadet Poteete

Second Page of Letter from Max in Hawaii to Tim & Reinette

April 24, 1942

In November of '43, at the Yuma Army Air Base in Arizona, Max earned the much coveted Pilot Wings and his 2nd Lieutenant bars. With this basic pilot's training behind him, he was sent to Sacramento to learn to fly the B-25. The B-25 medium bomber was one of America's most famous airplanes of WW II. North American Aviation in Inglewood, California had the contract to build the prototype. Various modifications were made on the aircraft over the course of the war, with designations from B-25A to B-25J, and over 9,800 were produced. The B-25B (Mitchell I) was the type used by General Doolittle for the Tokyo Raid on April 18, 1942. Subsequently the B-25 saw duty in every combat area being flown by the Dutch, British, Chinese, Russians and Australians in addition to our own U.S. forces.


Time off in North Carolina

By July of '44 he had mastered the aircraft and was assigned his own airplane and a crew and received orders to fly to North Africa. A crew on a B-25 was composed of a pilot, co-pilot, bombardier-navigator, radio operator, and one, two, or in some modifications, three gunners.

A visit to Bakersfield while still in training

Whereas with today's aircraft, crossing the Atlantic is commonplace, during WW II it was an 8,000 mile trip. Max described it as "a superb adventure!" The departure point from the U.S. was Morrison Field, West Palm Beach, Florida. The entire deployment to North Africa took about 15 days, including stops along the way. These stops included Boriquen Field, San Juan, Puerto Rico; Atkinson Field, Georgetown, British Guinea; across the mouth of the Amazon to Val de Cas Field, Belem, Brazil; thence to Parnamarim Field, Natal, Brazil. This was the jumping off point to cross the South Atlantic to Wideawake Field, Ascension Island. The 1428 mile flight from Natal to Ascension Island was the leg that caused the most concern because of fuel consumption for such a long distance and reports that German submarines had been shooting at airplanes and jamming the beacons on the island.

Max spent many hours in this position

From Ascension Island they flew to Roberts Field in Monrovia, Liberia; up the west coast of West Africa to Rufisque Field, in Dakar, French West Africa; then across the Sahara to Marrakech, French Morocco; on to Oujda, French Morocco and finally to Oran, French Morocco.

From North Africa, Max was sent to the Island of Corsica and was assigned to the 445th Squadron, a part of the 321st Bombardment Group, which was a part of the 57th Bombardment Wing in the 12th Air Force. The 321st was based near Solenzara, about one-third the way up the east coast of the island. Missions flown in 1945 were often composed of 18 to 20 aircraft and were engaged in "bridge busting", a very successful way of halting enemy reinforcements and preventing orderly withdrawal. On many of these missions the Group was using newly arrived B-25Js. This model of the B-25 was armed with twelve .50 caliber machine guns: two in the tail, two in the waist, two in the nose, two in the upper turret, and four in forward firing gun packages located near each wing root.

Max described their job as interdicting "the German supply lines to their operation in North Italy. The main objectives were the rail bridges in the Brenner Pass and the river and road bridges in the Po Valley of North Italy." The Group achieved more than 90 percent in bombing accuracy in 96 consecutive attacks over some of the most heavily defended communication targets in Northern Italy. As Max put it, "the German anti-aircraft fire was fierce."

By the end of the war in Europe, Max had flown 68 combat missions, many of which Max was mission leader. The original rotation policy for all B-25 crews in the 12th Air Force was the completion of 50 missions, but this was later raised to between 60 and 65 missions, and Max even stayed beyond that. By this time, Max had been promoted to Captain, in April of 1945. He had been awarded the Air Medal with nine Oak Leaf Clusters, the Distinguished Unit Badge, the European Theatre Ribbon with one Battle Star, and most notably, the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded him for extraordinary achievements in attacking a bridge at Galliate, Italy (Galliate is due west of Milano). In the face of intense anti-aircraft fire, he maintained his plane on course, thereby enabling his bombardier to release his bombs with precision accuracy on a vital enemy target.

Requirements for being awarded this medal is as follows: "The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the Armed Forces of the United States, distinguishes himself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight. The performance of the act of heroism must be evidenced by voluntary action above and beyond the call of duty. The extraordinary achievement must have resulted in an accomplishment so exceptional and outstanding as to clearly set the individual apart from his comrades or from other persons in similar circumstances. Awards will be made only to recognize single acts of heroism or extraordinary achievement and will not be made in recognition of sustained operational activities against an armed enemy."

It seems in character with how we perceive Max, that when writing his autobiography for the family history, he failed to mention any of these awards! Untold numbers of combat veterans took their experiences and resulting emotions with them to their graves. Upon returning home, Max debriefed himself in the many hours of solitude and shade of Lowery's spreading white fig tree.


(Editor's note: Information in this account of Max Poteete's military record was gleaned from a number of sources: his own autobiography written for the family history book in 1992, letters and photographs from Reinette's storehouse of memorabilia, conversations with Max's siblings, and from two books by Fred Lawrence, Untold & Unsung . . The Unknown and Mediterranean Mitchells. The editors take responsibility for any errors found herein, and corrections will be appreciated.-WDL & JLL, June 2, 2006)

Combat Record

(Selected records from the Outline History, 445th Bomb Sqdn, Solenzara Airfield, Corsica as documented in Untold & Unsung . . The Unknown edited by Frederick H. Lawrence)

February 22 - - Group Mission #744; Squadron Mission #476
Lt. Poteete led 9 ships sent out to attack the Lavis rail diversion bridges, Italy. 1000 pound and 500 pound bombs were dropped from 11,500 ft to 13,000 ft. Area cover was provided. Flak was heavy, moderate and accurate, directed mainly at chaff element. Total of 8 ships were holed but none lost. A Focke Wulf 190 and M109 were seen in the area, but the P-47 escort chased them away.
RESULT: Main weight of bombs fell across the dike just west of target but flash photos show a small concentration of bombs squarely on the north bridge.

February 22 - - (Monthly report)
The squadron helped attack the Lavis rail diversion bridges, Italy and the group bombing accuracy was put at 89.5%. Sgt. Berman's ship 534 today completed its 100th combat mission. Fresh frankfurters was a rare treat for supper. A good supply which arrived just before supper made them taste even better. A Corsican girl gave a lecture to the enlisted men at the club in the evening. She spoke about her native island, its customs and traditions and afterward answered popped to her by interested squadron personnel. They were chiefly interested in learning her comparison of the German and American soldiers. Her answers were favorably received.

February 23 - - Group Mission #746; Squadron Mission #478
Lt. Poteete led 9 ships from this squadron in a formation of 18 ships sent out to attack Campo north railroad bridge, Italy. 1000 pound bombs were dropped from 12,000 to 13,000 feet. P-47s flew as escort. Flax was heavy, moderate to intense and accurate, concentrating on the second flight made up of ships from the 445th Squadron. Lt. Harvel bombardier, was killed on this raid. Five ships were holed.
RESULT: One pattern short and west of bridge. Others concentrated on north end and approach. Good coverage reported.

February 23 - - (Monthly Report)
The Campo north railroad bridge was attacked and hit with 100% bombing accuracy. Rum-runner 535 was back from Catania following her engine change there and was slow-timed upon her return. Lt. Curry, Bucham, and W.H. Jackson were promoted to 1st Lieutenant today. In today's mission, 2nd Lt. Lonnie Harvel was killed by flak. He was a bombardier and was fatally wounded when a big piece of shrapnel ripped open the nose of his ship and struck him in the head. Capt. Robson flew his 70th mission today and called it quits. It was a rough one to finish on. Luxury rations were distributed for the first time in quite awhile.

April 1 - - Group Mission 823; Squadron Mission 519
Capt. Webb and Lt. Poteete led 24 planes, 18 from the 445th, in attack upon Mantua North R.R. Bridge, the alternate target. 1000# bombs dropped from 10,500/11,000 ft. Some planes returned due to poor visibility. Flak was heavy, scant, inaccurate on run at alternate from known positions.
RESULTS: Good concentration in target area. Bridge believed hit.

April 10 - - Group Mission 844; Squadron Mission 526
Capt. Poteete led 19 445th planes in a 36 A/C attack upon gun positions (south half) at Long-strine. 500# dropped from 10/11,000 ft. No flak.
RESULTS: Excellent concentration on all aiming points. No wild bombs.

April 18 - - Group Mission 869; Squadron Mission 544
Capt. Poteete led 18 planes, nine from the 445th, in an attack upon San Ambrogio Rail Bridge. 1000# bombs dropped from 12,500/13,000 ft. No Flak.
RESULTS: Bombs generally in target area; bridge believed to be hit.

April 20 - - Group Mission 875; Squadron Mission 548
Capt. Poteete led 18 ships, nine from the 445th, in an attack upon Poggio Rosco Rail Bridge, alternate target. 1000# bombs dropped from 12,500/13,000 ft. No flak.

April 25 - - Group Mission 897; Squadron Mission 562
Capt. Poteete led nine 445th ships in 21 plane raid on Cavarzere Road Bridge. 500# G.P. and 100# W.P. bombs dropped from 12/13,000 ft. Two ships holed by 15/20 sec. of flak on run.
RESULTS: Excellent concentration on bridge. Anti-flak claims hits.
Note: This was the 321st bomb group's 897th mission - - and the last of the war.