493rdBG Major Paul Spinnato: The Quiet Man
by Judith Spinnato
The caliber .50 machine gun was supposed to be fired in short round bursts but, in their exuberance, young gunners in-training, who were stationed in Gulfport, Miss. in 1943, fired them in longer bursts. Consequently the cartridge shells often ruptured within the chamber causing the guns to jam.
When planes returned from training flights with inoperable guns, the young group Armament Officer, Paul Spinnato, inspected them and frequently found ruptured cartridges in the chambers and burned out barrels. Lt. Spinnato, one of the first members of the 493rd Bomb Group, realized that in actual combat an inoperable gun would leave men and planes vulnerable to the enemy, so he began to think of possible solutions. Quietly he set about making sketches of an insert which he believed would remove the ruptured cartridge from the gun. Working in the base machine shop Lt. Spinnato developed a model of the insert. By the time his group was sent to Debach, England, he had successfully produced and tested fifty of these inserts, meanwhile, faced with actual combat in England, the former exuberance of the gunners metamorphosed into anxiety and fear and the guns kept jamming – until the next briefing, when the fifty inserts were pressed into service.
Lt. Spinnato demonstrated them to the gunners and showed them how they were to be used. Soon another problem surfaced. During saturation bombing some of the bombs that were dropped by the planes were missing their targets. Bombardiers in the three lead planes of a V-formation fed necessary information into the bomb site and then the plane was put on automatic pilot. Based on that information, smoke bombs were automatically released on the target, as a signal to the following planes to drop their bombs. However, if the toggeliers in those planes could not immediately respond, the bombs would miss the target. Spinnato made a trip to the radio shop where he looked for and found a seventy-five megacycle transmitter and some radio parts.
The enthusiasm he felt for the new project was shared by his assistant, Lt. Parker, who said, “Paul, I’ll do anything to help – I’ll even count the nuts and bolts.” Since there was no need for Lt. Parker to “count the nuts and bolts.” he used his talent for telling spontaneous, humorous stories which kept things jovial while Capt. Spinnato put together a small receiver from the radio parts. The next step was to develop a remote control mechanism. Using two jeeps for his experiment, Capt. Spinnato placed the transmitter in the lead jeep and the receiver in the other. When the receiver got the impulse from the transmitter, it toggled the bomb release system. Used in the planes the system released the bombs at the right instant, greatly increasing the efficiency of saturation bombing. When word of this reached Headquarters in London, Capt. Spinnato was ordered to appear at a meeting before General Jimmy Doolittle and Col. Curtis LeMay.
They praised him for a job well done and suggested that he stay in the Air Force to do field research. It was a very proud moment for the young captain! World War II was won through the efforts of many: the intelligent strategies of the leaders, the heroic bravery of the men and women. Hundreds of thousands of loved ones and those, who in a quiet way, contributed to the saving of many lives. Paul Spinnato was one of those quiet men.
Note: Capt. Spinnato left the service as Major Spinnato; he did not stay on to do field research. Instead, he went home and started his own engineering business.
This article was submitted by Judith Spinnato, wife of Paul Spinnato, 493rd BG, as a tribute to the men of the 8th Air Force who worked behind the scenes to ensure the success of the missions.
8thAFHS News March 2001 pg 48