Catch-22 tells the story of Yossarian, a bombardier with the US Army Air Corps during WWII. Yossarian becomes convinced that the military will never let him go home as they keep raising the required number of missions – so he seeks another way out. In 2011, we finally found my grandfather’s war diary; this was the diary my father always said I should compare to Catch-22. What followed was years of research and a realization that Papa Julie’s World War II story was known by millions, but somehow eluded those of us closest to him.
After the missions to Avignon (see last post), Yossarian was ever more determined to not get killed in combat. Bologna was a strategic location serving as a hub of transportation facilities for the Germans. Like the other members of the squadron, Yossarian knew Bologna to be a very dangerous target and given these risks he was ready to do whatever he could to not go there.
Yossarian had extra time to mire in the risks that would be faced over Bologna, as rain in Bologna delayed the mission to the following day.
Clevinger points out to Yossarian that if only the bomb line on the map in the intelligence tent were moved to indicate that Bologna was in control of the Allied troops, the mission would have to be cancelled to avoid hitting friendly troops. Yossarian does just that. As noted in Catch-22,
“In the middle of the night Yossarian knocked on wood, crossed his fingers, and tiptoed out of his tent to move the bomb line up over Bologna.”Catch-22, Ch. 12, page 123
To avoid subsequent missions to Bologna, Yossarian employs tactics including sabotaging his own plane’s intercom to create a reason to turn back and puts soap in the mashed potatoes to poison the crews so they would be unable to fly.
With only seven missions to go to hit the 60 mission limit, Lt. Fish was determined to keep himself out of harms way.
Due to its importance, the troops knew Bologna would be heavily guarded. As was said in the 487th Bomb Squadron’s September 1944 War Diary,
“… Crews were happy to have this target behind them as they had anticipated heavy flak”
The 488th Bomb Squadron’s diary reflected a similar sentiment:
The missions to the Rimini Fuel and Ammo dump in Bologna took place between September 14th and 18th, 1944. The first mission scheduled on September 14th was Lt. Fish’s 54th mission and Lt. Heller’s 48th mission.
Like Yossarian, Lt. Fish noted in his mission diary that he couldn’t drop his bombs due to bad weather. The bad weather provided a reprieve for the soldiers. As noted in the War Diary of the 488th Bomb Squadron,
“(the planes from the first mission) returned with their bombs due to bad weather over the target. Had second mission scheduled to Bologna called off. Everyone felt better.”
As luck would have it, Lt. Fish had a trip planned that week. We may never know if he was actively working to avoid Bologna, but instead of flying on the ensuing missions there, he was checking out the sights described in his ‘Soldier’s Guide to Rome’. The book’s forward discussed the importance of Rome,
“Let us remember that Rome is the first capital city to be entered by us in our task of liberating Europe. Rome is the heritage of all the world and not only Italy – Rome is the fountain of civilization. The eyes of all the world are upon our actions in the “Eternal City”, and we will show the world by our example the high standard of conduct and bearing of our victorious Allied Armies.”
To summarize the main missions in Catch-22:
- La Spezia and Ferrara were during the time when “Yossarian was brave” and Lt. Fish received was awarded a unit citation for the La Spezia mission and like Yossarian, received the Distinguished Flying Cross for the mission targeting Ferrara.
- Avignon is the “mission on which Yossarian lost his nerve”, and was indeed a very rough mission for both Lt. Heller and Lt. Fish, their 37th and 40th missions respectively.
- Bologna (as discussed in this post) is the first instance where Yossarian actively seeks to avoid participating on a mission. Like Yossarian, Lt. Fish found a way to avoid these dangerous missions.
Simply avoiding missions would not be enough to get Yossarian or Lt. Fish home, additional measures would soon be necessary.