2nd Lt. Lawrence A. Bruni
United States Army Air Corps (1943-1944)
Lawrence A. Bruni, was born on September
28, 1922, the third son of Antonio and Mary Bruni. His other siblings were Grace,
Edward, Victor and James. Lawrence Bruni lived in Mount Washington, and graduated
from Saint Mary of the Mount High School. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in
October 1942, following in the footsteps of his brother Edward, hoping to become
He did not qualify as a pilot and, in
November 1943, opted to become a bombardier. After completing his schooling at
Midland Army Air Base in Midland, Texas, in March 1944, Lawrence was commissioned
a Second Lieutenant and assigned to a ten-man B-24 Liberator crew. Lt. Bruni
began making flights at Chatham Field in Savannah, Georgia, a base used for crew
replacement training with bombers and fighter aircraft.
After a few weeks of extensive training
Lt. Bruni's crew was certified. They picked up their new B-24 Liberator bomber at Mitchell Field in New York. The pilot
and co-pilot, Lt. S.W. Siegel and Lt. James Shuster, both also from the Pittsburgh
area, named their gleaming new plane "Pittsburgh Babe." The crew members quickly
gathered some buckets of paint and put their distinctive name and picture on the
From New York they flew their bomber to
Langley Field in Virginia. Then it was on to Maine, then Newfoundland and finally
across the Atlantic to Loggins Field in the Azore Islands. Another flight followed
to Tunisia, where the crew underwent further training, and then it was on to their
permanent base at San Giovanni Field, near Cerignola, Italy. It was early-July
1944 when the arrived.
Lt. Bruni's crew and plane were assigned as
a replacements in the 743rd Bombardment Squadron, 455th Bombardment Group, 15th Air
Force. The 455th consisted of four squadrons (740th, 741st, 742nd, 743rd), each
with sixteen aircraft. The Group had been in operation since February 1944 and had
already flown seventy-five missions. Five months of combat missions had taken a
terrible toll on the the group and combat effectiveness was beginning to suffer.
The arrival of the replacement units was celebrated.
The crew quickly settled into their new home.
They flew their first mission (#76 for the 455th as a whole) on July 12, 1944 to
bomb marshalling yards near Miramas, France. It was a baptism by fire as the flak
was heavy and every one of the twenty-nine group aircraft deployed suffered some
damage. Luckily, they all returned safely. The next day they took to the air again,
this time to bomb targets in Porto Mayhera, Italy. It was an easy mission with little
opposition, what airmen called "a milk run."
On a typical bombing run, Lt. Bruni's duties
as bombardier were as such:
When the aircraft was approaching the target, the
navigator would be looking for the "Initial Point," or IP. When the plane reached the
IP the bombing run started. The pilot would cede control of the plane to the
bombardier, who flies the plane with the Norden bombsite and the
auto pilot system. The whole time the crew would be calling out enemy fighter positions,
the intensity of flak and reporting any aircraft hit or going down.
The verbal exchange between Lt. Siegel and
Lt. Bruni would be:
Lt. Siegel: "Bombardier, your plane."
Lt. Bruni: "My plane."
Once the bombs were dropped, Lt. Bruni would announce: "Bombs Away."
After all of the bombs were released, Lt. Bruni would cede control of the plane back to
the pilot and say: "Pilot, you're plane."
Lt. Siegel would respond: "I got the plane."
On missions where the bombardier's plane was
not the lead aircraft in the formation, Lt. Bruni would act as the front nose
gunner. He also assumed this role any time the plane was not over the target zone,
regardless of which aircraft was first in formation.
The following week they flew three missions
in three days. They bombed the Maybach Aircraft Engine Factory in Fredrichshaffen,
Germany, the Brux Oil Refinery in Czechoslovakia, and the Astro Romano Oil Refinery
in Ploesti, Rumania. These were all difficult missions with heavy concentrations of
flak. Lt. Bruni and the crew witnessed their first casualties from the sqaudron as
two damaged planes collided while returning from Ploesti and went down with all crew
The crew of the "Pittsburgh Babe" - Front:
Lawrence Bruni (bombardier), Ned Paul
(navigator), James Shuster (co-pilot),
S.W. Siegel (pilot). Back: Charles
Fusilear (radio operator), George Kerr,
Claude Raush, Wayne Russell.
Two of the other crew members are missing from the photo.
The third week in Italy saw back-to-back
missions, one over Budapest, Hungary to bomb Wehrmacht marshalling yards and another
flight over Ploesti to hit the refinery again. Disrupting the flow of oil to the
German war machine was a major goal of the 15th Air Force. It was, however, coming at
a steep price in air crews. The raid in Hungary stirred up a beehive of over ninety
Luftwaffe fighters, who engaged in a thirty minute running air battle, resulting in
the loss of five planes and their crews. Fifty men were listed as missing.
The month of July ended with Lt. Bruni and the
crew of "Pittsburgh Babe" completing seven missions and collecting eight of the fifty
sortie points needed to go home. They had hit targets in six different countries and
encountered both dangerous flak and the best fighters the Luftwaffe could muster. So
far they had suffered no more than minor wounds and aircraft damage from flak. The
month of August would be another one rife with danger.
On August 3rd, the "Pittsburgh Babe" returned to
Fredrichshaffen to bomb the Aircraft Engine Factory once more, then on the 6th and 7th
participated in raids on the Port Herriot Oil Storage facilities in Lyons, France and
the Bleckhammer South Synthetic Oil Refinery at Gleiwitz, Germany. Both missions were
successful with little opposition.
A B24 Liberator Bomber, "Dazzlin'
Duchess of the Ten Dukes," part of the 473rd Bombardment Squadron.
The following week, on the 13th, 14th and 15th,
"Pittsburgh Babe" flew missions in support of Operation Dragoon, the
Allied Invasion of Southern France. Targets were a railroad bridge in Avignon and
coastal gun emplacements. On the day of the invasion they hit beach positions. Those
who flew that mission will never forget the sight of all those Allied ships approaching
the coast and the terrific bombardment that hit the coastline. There were also the
frightening explosions of the B17s and B24s of other groups crashing after being hit
by the heavy enemy flak and plummeting to the ground.
After a four day rest, Lt. Bruni and the crew
were back in action over Czechoslovakia, hitting an oil refinery in Dubova. Another
stand down day preceded the group's collective 100th mission. This was a long and
difficult one. The target was once again the Synthetic Oil Refinery at Gleiwitz. This
time the German's were prepared. Flak was accurate, intense and heavy. They also
encountered their first ME-262 jet fighter. One aircraft was lost on what was their
longest mission yet, a seven hours and forty-five minute flight.
The flight and ground Crew of the B24
Pittsburgh Babe. Lt. Lawrence Bruni is standing second from the
The next day they struck a railroad bridge at
Ferrara, Italy, and on August 24th were sent over Kolin, Czechoslovakia to bomb the
Vaccuum Oil Refinery. No flak or enemy fighters were encountered on this rare "milk
run." When they returned to base, Lt. Lawrence A. Bruni and the crew of the "Pittsburgh
Babe" had racked up seventeen missions and twenty-two sortie points. The original crew
was still intact and their plane was still in good running condition. They were almost
halfway through their deployment and their luck was holding strong.
On August 25, 1944, the entire 455th was on
stand down for a jubilee celebration commemorating their 100th Mission. A day of
festivities was planned. There were various locations for picking up Bar-B-Q beef
sandwiches and beer flowed freely. Various inter-squadron sports, including baseball,
tug-of-war across the nearby creek and donkey races were held. Each squadron had
their own sideshow which vied with others for first place with their daring and
risque performances by the "ladies."
The most impressive part of the program was
when the men stood at attention as the band played the Star Spangled Banner and the
heavy anti-aircraft guns of the English boomed for a salute to the crew members of
the Group who were killed in action or failed to return from missions. The party
continued well into the night. It was a truly memorable day.
The next day it was back to business as usual
with a special mission planned over Ploesti to bomb the German barracks at the
Baneasa Airdrome. Many of the men were a bit under the weather from the past day's
festivities. The crew of "Pittsburgh Babe" were on stand down for this mission, but
the lead squadron aircraft, piloted by Deputy Group Commander Colonel Hugh Graff,
needed a bombardier and navigator. Graff asked for the best men available, so Lt.
Lawrence Bruni and Lt. Ned Paul were chosen to fly the mission.
A partial mission list for the crew of
the "Pittsburgh Babe." Lt. Lawrence Bruni
and Lt. Ned Paul flew Mission #103 with another plane on August 26, 1944.
The bombing run went off as planned. Enemy
flak was heavy and their plane took some minor hits. Luftwaffe fighters jumped the
returning aircraft and a running duel began, during which the plane carrying Bruni
and Paul was hit and suffered engine failure. As the B-24 began to loose altitude
reports are that several, but not all, members were seen bailing out. A second plane
also suffered damage, fell back and was pounced on by the Messerschmitts.
When the mission was over twenty-one crew
members were listed as missing in action. Among them were 2nd Lt. Lawrence A. Bruni
and 1st Lt. Ned Paul. As it turned out, Bruni was either already dead or unable to
bail out and went down with the plane. Paul managed to bail out and was taken
prisoner by the Germans.
As for the mission itself, it was a huge
success. The flight was in support of a secret Rumanian government effort to aid
in the escape of a large group of downed allied airmen being sheltered by the
resistance. It was later reported that the bombing resulted in nearly 10,000 German
casualties and numerous enemy aircraft destroyed.
The war went on for the remaining crew members
of the "Pittsburgh Babe." The Group's 142nd mission was the crew's 51st sortie credit.
Eight of the original ten-member crew made it to the end of their commitment and
returned home to their families. Lt. Ned Paul was eventually released from captivity
and came home. The only member of the crew that did not return to the United States
was Brookline's 2nd Lt. Lawrence A. Bruni.
Here in Pittsburgh, the Bruni family learned
of Lawrence's fate in September. They held out hope that he had been taken prisoner
or was alive and hiding out with the resistance. Then, the Defense Department learned
of his true fate and informed the family that Lawrence had been killed in action. His
death was reported in the December 15, 1944 edition of the Pittsburgh Press.
Lawrence's body was eventually recovered and interred in Italy at the Florence
American Cemetery and Memorial, Pot D, Row 8, Grave 43.
By the end of the war, the 455th Bombardment
Group had flown 252 combat missions over France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Hungary,
Austria, and the Balkans. It's planes dropped 13,249 tons of munitions. The Group
lost 118 aircraft, 31 directly to fighters, 36 directly to flak, and 51 from all
other causes combined. Casualties totaled 147 KIA, 268 MIA, 179 POW, and 169 wounded
On the other hand, the Group is credited with
119 enemy aircraft destroyed and another 78 probables. Only about 40% of the original
crews returned. Nicknamed the "Vulgar Vultures," the 455th Bombardment Group's final
mission was flown on April 26, 1945. It was inactivated on September 9,
As for the B-24 Liberator bomber known as
"Pittsburgh Babe," it was assigned a new crew in the 472nd Bombardment Squadron
and continued flying until war's end.
The B24 Liberator Bomber, "Pittsburgh
Babe," part of the 472nd Bombardment Squadron - 1945.
Rear: Lt Donald W. Ammann, Lt James I. Helt, Lt Gerald W. Becker,
F/O Edgar S. Lemmey.
Kneeling: Cpl. David P. Hepler, Cpl. Edward F. Zabovnik, Cpl. Sidney A. Rains,
Cpl. Leon W. Phillips, Cpl. George J. Kruger, Cpl. Italy E. Rowe.
NOTE: In the casualty report printed in the
Pittsburgh Press on December 15, 1944, Lt. Bruni's next of kin was listed as his
uncle, Nicholas A. Capo, of 1221 Berkshire Avenue. For some time we had Lawrence
listed as a Brookline war casualty, but in reality he belongs on the Mount Washington
neighborhood memorial. We have decided, however, to keep his story here on the Brookline
Connection because, like all of these histories, it is compelling and he is an American
hero with ties to our proud neighborhood.
* Written by
Clint Burton: March 30, 2018 *
War Memorial> <> <Brookline