Brookline War Memorial
Lawrence A. Bruni

2nd Lt. Lawrence A. Bruni
United States Army Air Corps (1943-1944)

United States Army Air Services (1917-1947)

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 a pilot.

Lawrence A. Bruni

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 fuselage.

B24 - 'Pittsburgh Babe - 1944'

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.

Norden Bombsight

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 members lost.

The crew of Pittsburgh Babe - 1944
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.

B24 Liberator
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.

Flight and ground crew of B24 Pittsburgh Babe
The flight and ground Crew of the B24 Pittsburgh Babe. Lt. Lawrence Bruni is standing second from the left.

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.

Pittsburgh Babe Mission List
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.

Lawrence A. Bruni

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.

Florence American Cemetery and Memorial

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 in action.

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, 1945.

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 crew of Pittsburgh Babe - 1945
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 *

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