Before Ultra lights #6
One day of flying a mission became just like another. A flashlight in your eyes, mess hall (mostly for the coffee), the briefing room, pre-flight in the dark, ground crew conversations about the plane, daybreak, whinning start ups, the crawl to the runway, take off, rendezvous, then on our way.
I must say more about the briefing routine. We file in, sit on the benches and stare at the big brightly lit covered black board. The grim briefers, from 2nd Lts., to Colonels file onto the stage. All chit chat in the audience stops. The first speaker throws back the cover revealing the first mission map. Always a big groan - part of the drama. Except once. The big heading says D-DAY, and a big cheer comes forth - until we see Normandy , and 12,00 feet . Then a low groan and silence again. Back to that day later.
The briefers had it all there, the route in, the flak areas, the fighter stuff, (ours and theirs), the approach route, the target run, bombs away off of the lead plane and the break away route. Page after page, turned by the particular experts with the explanations. Thats it. We shuffle out, the Catholics crossing themselves, the Protestants praying silently, and the uncommitted cursing loudly.
THE HEAVENLY BODY brought home German lead about half the time. A 2-inch chunk was dug out of my seat once. A larger chunk out o the left wing (or was it the left stabilizer). Some day Ill have to find the pictures we took of HEAVENLY BODYS wounds. By the way, I had a small Brownie camera that I used on occasion, but ran out of film. Talk about American brashness. I found out where the British Air Photography Unit was located in London, and presented myself there on one of my visits. The receptionist was so surprised that after establishing my credentials and swearing me to secrecy, he laughed me back to a supply room and gave me some large sheets of undeveloped film. I had to build a dark room and cut it up to fit. But it worked!
On one occasion the hydraulic system line was severed without our knowledge on a brand new silver substitute plane and like a well trained pilot I pumped the brakes before touching down. Seemed o.k., but on the runway no response. I had pumped all of the fluid out. Seeing all of the parked planes, knowing that ground crews were nearby and coming in too fast kept me from doing an intentional ground loop. So we left the tail wheel locked and rode it out off the end of the runway. Unfortunately the runway ended into a big, I mean BIG ditch. No explosion. All switches off and abandon ship.
No one was injured, unless you count the chief ground crew officer who actually was near tears, and probably apoplexy. One of his babies destroyed and we werent getting that many replacements. No reprimand of course, since they couldnt find a teen-age pilot to blame.
We experienced a few other unusual events worth telling, I think. An extra plane was always sent to the rendezvous in case one had to drop out. On one occasion we were it, and no one dropped out. Rather than waste the effort, we saw an empty place in another group and took it. The only problem was they were B-24s. Being unsmart sic at 19 it didnt occur to me that they may be carrying a different pay load, such as supplies for Tito or some other underground organization. Luckily they carried bombs also. We got away with it, but I can imagine the laughing of their crews, or the swearing of their Commander, Anyway, I never heard anything.
One mission we flew was quite unusual and experimental. The armament crews rigged up bomb carriers under the wings outside the bomb bays, one under each wing. They were 1,00 pounders equipped with stubby wings and gyro guidance systems. No power! We flew in loose formation with Cologne as the target. Math folks had calculated the altitude, speed, glide angle and distance from the target at which we were to release the glide bombs . The lead pilot released 20 miles from Cologne with us releasing on him. I estimate about half of the bombs either spun in or did not hold their course. Some did however, and I never heard about that quite secret mission again. I believe it to have led eventually to our guided missiles of today. I heard years later that our Group received a Unit Citation for that but never investigated.
Thats it for today. I have several articles left, including D-DAY and my tour as Airplane Commander of a B-29, 20th Air Force, bombing Japan from Tinian Island. Think Enola Gay.