So Near Heaven and Surrounded By Hell.
Gen. Frank Armstrong’s story and diary.
Given by his mother.
There is no prelude to this story. There is none necessary. The story has no beginning nor end. It has been re-enacted thousands of times by American fighting men all over the world. It will continue in all its glory for ages. However, hearts will never be braver nor wills stronger than those encompassed in the breasts of "Fortress" Crews, who do combat five and six miles high over enemy territory - So near Heaven and surrounded by Hell.
This is not a story of one or a dozen heroes. All the youngsters I have met in the European Theatre are heroes, fighters, lovers of life and liberty. They willingly lay down their lives daily as their contribution to a new world that will be free - and that you may pursue happiness forever.
It is hoped that some mother somewhere will find among these pages solace and comfort. These stories are about her son - anyone's son - heroes all, whom I am certain, even during the fiercest of battles whispered one word, "Mother"- So I dedicate this story to the mothers of all soldiers who fight for liberty and a lasting peace. God Bless Them.
February 19th. - I returned from Great Britain and that hell hole of bombs only to learn that my roommate Major (now General) Bob Williams had lost one of his eyes during an enemy raid over London. My part of the apartment was blasted away and Bob's English doppers - a brass vase full - were strewn to the main entrance eight floors below. After a brief "honeymoon" (and it seems that each time I see my charming wife I am returning from an extended trip of from three to eighteen months. Some day our fox terrier is going to bite me as a strange man) - I began a seemingly endless chain of assignments. Having been in England as a combat observer for light bombardment, I was immediately assigned to the Interceptor Command (single seater fighters working in conjunction with radio AC detectors). Little did I think that I was learning many things that were to be of so much value to me later as a Fortress Pilot. From the way I fussed and fumed about the assignment at first, one would have thought that I had been "cast away" for eternity. For the life of me I could not become reconciled to the fact that I was to be mixed up with an outfit of fighters. - (There had always been a feud between fighter pilots and bomber pilots before this war came along. We, bomber pilots, referred to fighter pilots as "quick thinkers" - given fifteen or twenty minutes they could figure out most anything. Today all of that has changed and if it were not for the superb work done by the "Thunderbolt" and "Lightning" boys in England, the Fortresses would have a rugged time). It is a comforting sight to watch a formation of fighters weaving over the top of a bomber formation as it cruises over enemy territory. Somehow one has a sense of security as long as those little rascals are around and it is certainly satisfying when you see six fifties spewing lead into a Focke Wulf 190. I nearly love
those fighter boys now.
While in the Interceptor Command, regardless of where I was to fly to, I used an old B-18 bomber. For long hours I toured the Atlantic and Gulf coast, spotting positions where detectors could be placed so they would pick up enemy aircraft should they attempt to attack us. Rolling and rocking along the coast line, sometimes across the Gulf of Mexico and through tropical storms, gave me lots of time to think of possible tactics to be used if I were the enemy and wished to bomb America. I played war with myself and the Government detector system we were trying to set up - little did I realize that I would be in the reverse position, and not playing, within a few short months. Just about the time I had settled down as a bomber-fighter pilot the worse thing in the world, so I thought, happened to me - I was ordered to Washington to Staff duty - my face was so long I couldn't walk for stepping on it. That was the last straw - nothing else could happen to me. I reported for duty and was assigned a desk and a revolving chair, in the Operations section. Once or twice each day for the next few months I spun out of that chair. My legs were black and blue from hitting the corner of the desk. I tried hard, but to save me I couldn't make that desk fit me. Everything was wrong with me - I couldn't write a memorandum that was passable. My wife threatened to get a room for me at St. Elizabeth's - insane asylum. To tell the truth I would have traded; "deskitis" was slowly killing me. The crowning blow came one Sunday in December. I was on duty that day and was out for lunch when the news came over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. I nearly choked on my hamburger.
Monday I spent the entire day writing "personal memorandums" requesting a transfer. Everyone I saw I buttonholed and pro¬ceeded to explain in great detail what a poor desk man I was. If proof was needed, I did not hesitate to pull my trouser leg up and display my bruises made by colliding with not only my desk, but with those being occupied by other Officers. No one would listen to me. In despair I bought a very small American flag to be waved by me from one of the windows of the Munitions Building when the boys returned from the War.
One sad day as I sat in my revolving chair resting after some violent maneuvers, I had been scooting across the room doing a 180 turn at the door, Colonel Eaker (Lieutenant General now) walked in. I looked so dejected he figured a good brisk killing wouldn't do me any harm so told me that I was going to England with him. No one on earth could have been reborn as rapidly as I was. I had flown a night run through Brice Canyon for Lieutenant General (Captain then) Eaker during the U. S. Air Mail so I knew that he meant action. Papers meant nothing to me. I tossed them at random and then proceeded to kick that damn revolving chair from one end of the room to the other. Washington was beautiful as I drove home from work - door steps were too close together as I bounded for the entrance to our apartment to break the news to my wife and son. I met my youngster first and told him that I was leaving for a combat zone. He asked whether I was going to be in light bombers or fighters. When I told him that I was going to be with the Fortress he merely said, ''Fooey", and walked away. My wife, hearing the commotion, came in and asked, "Is it true?". I said, "Yes". Tears came to her eyes. She could see into the future - Death, Destruction and Suffering - Total War. My eyes could see only the present, - What a fool I was.
SO LONG MISS LIBERTY
When the Commanding General assembled his staff of six Officers in Washington, I must say that I was mystified at the conglamoration of personalities present. It does not behoove me to state their names at this time because historians will give them due credit when this war has been won. They were ex¬ceptional and efficient men. They not only assisted in setting up the Eight Bomber Command in Great Britain but four out of the six flew in combat in the European Theatre as combat commanders. The wheels of progress began to turn - slowly at first, maybe that was because none of us knew what was ahead of us. Could we have seen into the future-the hard days and long nights of work; the obstacles, disappointments and uncertain decisions that impeded the progress so much desired, all of us would have thrown up our hands in disgust no doubt,- maybe.
There were a countless number of things to be done by all members of the staff, - map study, conferences, Tables of Organization, supply systems and the medicos. I have never been “shot" so many times with such dull needles. After fourteen "shots" in the arms I began to pull up my trouser leg and dis¬play new fields of operation for the nurses. Eventually and regardless of plans not accomplished, we moved out to our departure points, New York City -
For some time I had been floating on a cloud and had not given much, if any, serious thought to the hour of separation from my family, that was inevitable - In fact, I always dismissed the thought when it came to my mind by saying, - "Maybe something will happen and the trip will be called off”-
The hour of departure did arrive - and caught me off guard. Parting was not sweet to me regardless of what has been written to prove it so. Full realization of my plight came to me at the last minute as my small family stood by awaiting my zero hour. - My wife’s eyes were filled with tears. She held my hand tightly - I could feel her heart beat through her finger tips.
My heart was pounding but I could not afford to be emotional - our youngster, to shied his eyes, hid behind a nearby post. I felt alone and lonesome. I, because of a personal selfish desire, had brought so much grief to those who loved me. I would have succumbed to my emotions had I not thought of one word, -"Avenge"- Many months before, as I stood in the midst of German bombs and saw them destroy women and children in London, I made a pledge that I would return someday. The time to fulfill that pledge had arrived, I could not fal¬ter.
The Pan-American Clipper lifted off the water lightly, climbed and turned on course, - we threw kisses to the Statue of Liberty as she majestically tilt¬ed behind the horizon. A tear dropped on my hand and I blew that to the other brave lady, whom I had left behind.
A few hours out of New York and a few minutes out of Bermuda the steward blacked out the side windows of the Clipper so that Hamilton Harbor could not be seen by the passengers. All of us realized then that a landing at Bermuda was about to be made. The sign inside the huge compartment of the airplane flashed, - “remain seated, - fasten safety belts”.
Reaching Bermuda was one thing but getting through the customs there was another. Dressed in civilian clothes as we were, placed us in the same category with any ordinary civilian, - or spy for that matter, if he were unlucky enough to be aboard, so consequently we were herded with the other passengers into a small waiting room. Traveling in civilian clothes was done to fool the enemy and too we were going through a neutral country enroute. We only fooled ourselves in the end. The German news agency flashed our air progress to the United States papers before we had completed half our journey. Our class room lecture by the custom officials, one in particular who insisted upon repeating every sentence, came to a lingering close some two hours after the beginning.
I can't remember to this day the topic of the lecture except that we were in a combat zone. Well, that is where we were headed and the sooner the better, so what? I feel certain now that every word uttered there was necessary and was supposed to impress us greatly. However, I could have told the official then and there that he was expounding unnecessarily so far as our group was concerned. We were interested in getting over the quickest way possible and nothing else mattered.
The storms came and the wind blew for the better part of the following two weeks. None of us had been bottled up in Bermuda before for any length of time and the hours of delay began to bring unrest to everyone. At first the only manifestation of deviltry brewing was slight but as hours dragged into days the bounds were broken. That was bad, yet it was good, good for the morale of six youngsters who were eager and anxious to get their assigned job started. Jokes were of the light variety at first but they increased in tempo rapidly. To aid and abet us, there were twelve or fourteen Ferry Command pilots stranded also and in the hotel with us. There were among the group a few, who played golf during the day and talked a better game at meal time. The rest of us made our best “shots” on the "nineteenth hole" at the hotel bar. I recall that I made my best end around a “Statue of Liberty” play, one evening during a birthday party. To celebrate a birthday in Bermuda was quite an occasion for one young man and the source of great anxiety for those of us who were to forage for the food, especially the cake. To gather together the ingredients necessary to make a cake was no mean task in a zone where eggs were as scarce as the hen's teeth. However, one ingenious person rose to the occasion in brilliant form. The guests were seated, drinks were served and everyone eager¬ly awaited the grand finale,-The birthday cake,- After a dozen or so spasmo¬dic bursts of "Happy Birthday to you" the cake arrived and was placed in the center of the table. It was a beautiful cake, large and round, covered with
thick white icing. Hilarity sprang up anew and more verses of the same tune, "Happy Birthday to you" drowned the conversations of the other occupants of the room. At last the time came when we could no longer restrain the "Birthday Boy" from dividing his delicious cake with his friends, who had been so thoughtful of him and had sacrificed so much to prepare the delicacy. Cut the cake he must, - we all stood for the ceremony. The knife was raised momentarily amid cheers and laughter and then plunged into the cake. Unfortunately the cake was merely a round tin flour container covered with icing made of starch. The boys hand slid down the knife blade and scattered icing from his head to his feet. He stood motionless, dumb-founded, angry. Across the table someone snickered, old "Birthday Boy" could stand it no longer, a joke was a joke but this was the end. He reached over, snatched the "tin" cake off the table, cocked his arm for a short pass straight to the face of his laughing friend. Seeing that disaster was in the making, I sprinted around the table lifted the cake out of the boys hand and dove for the goal line behind the bar for safety. The birthday game ended, seven to zero. The extra point was made by booting the young fellow over a couple of nearby chairs and back to his sense of hu¬mor. Later, to even the count the Officer, who had "cut his cake" broke the one who had laughed at his misfortune as he danced with a young lady - Unfortunately, instead of dancing away with the lady as is customary at most dances, he danced away with the Officer much to his surprise and disgust. The young lady was taken care of by another Officer who immediately danced her to his table. The "two way break" works among friends but is not recommended for use at a public dance. The next leg of our journey was across the Atlantic to Lisbon, Portugal and was completed in sixteen hours. We did not need the customs official at Bermuda to remind us that we had landed in a country strange to us. The Government Officials were courteous and considerate but
there was a feeling of suspicion. Strange eyes stared at us from every corner. Not ghost eyes expressionless, but eyes of hate that flashed, - "What the Hell are you doing here?", Nazi eyes. They followed us every place, to and from the hotel, out to eat and on to the airdrome where we were to board a land plane for the trip across the Bay of Biscay and on to England.
Our group scrambled out of bed the following morning after four hours of sleep and congregated in the lobby of the hotel where departure instructions were issued. None of us were too wide awake at that time of the morning - even while driving over the rough cobble stone streets of Lisbon. A sudden jerk brought us face to face with one of the oddest sights I have ever witnessed,. There before our eyes were parked airplanes, transports, some with Britain Ro¬yal Air Force markings, others with German Air Force insignia. Two nations at war yet on the same airdrome. The aircraft of the same two enemies were parked, loaded and operated along trade routes from one central point. I stood for a time looking first at one airplane and then at the other. I had never seen a German aircraft intact before. Hate within me began to clutch at my throat. I was to see many German airplanes later, fighters, and I was destin¬ed to experience the same internal feeling.
The incident that followed a few hours later added to my new born desire to eliminate all swastikas from the face of the earth. We were cruising at about five thousand feet altitude some one hundred miles west of>f< the French coast when out of the west came a German two-engine fighter-bomber. No doubt he had a reconnaissance mission, I want to think that anyway. Surely the aircraft was not scheduled to intercept and shoot down a defenseless transport in cold blood. A transport that had been parked only a short time before on the same field with German aircraft. To shoot us down at sea would be a dastardly trick - even though we were go¬ing to England to set up the Bomber Command. The German came in fast from
quartering astern. The transport pilot jockeyed slightly from one side to the other in an effort to throw off the aim of the German if he opened up on us. At the opportune time Lady Luck took a hand in the affair. One engine in the German plane belched a blob of smoke cutting off and on the pilots power swinging him off course. The fighter bomber passed under us at about 800 yards and headed for land and place of safety. Our pilot came out of his compartment, turned his coat collar up high under his eyes and peeped at the passengers. For the next few seconds everyone was silent – silent in prayer of thanksgiving. Some hours later we landed in England. The air-craft leg of the day read, "Arrived at destination; flight uneventful".
Our party was met by four Air Corps Officers and we were flown to London. Up to this time the Commanding General had not experienced much trouble keeping the gang together. However, we began to wonder just like country-boys in town for the first time. I was not averse to wondering myself, although I had seen London before. The City had changed so much it was new to me. Streets were clean, debris had been carted away and bomb craters filled with people were everywhere. To avoid confusion and tardiness we were all billeted in one hole. That made it possible for the "Old man" to put his finger on us. Naturally everyone was anxious to see the bomb damage, London had suffered, however, the sight seeing tours were postponed to a later date. We had some immediate plans of our own to get bombs on the other fellow where and when they would hurt most.
Two days later our crew of six were introduced to the staff of the R.A.F. Bomber Command. We were assigned one set of quarters. Instructions were issued by the Air Vice Marshall to keep the place warm for the Americans. That was a lucky break for me. No one can realize how much I suffered from the cold the first winter I visited that country while the natives were seemingly comfortable.
Work and study began in >earnest< ernest the second day. There was so much to learn and such a short time alloted to accomplish it. Rome wasn't built in a day- even though it was nearly bombed down during the same space of time, but we made a concentrated effort to lay the groundwork for the superstructure of the American Bomber Command. United States Officers were paired off with their opposite numbers in the R.A.F. Looking back >Reviewing< some of the questions we asked I am convinced they thought us crazy. Looking back >Remembering< the way they looked at us when we seriously mentioned daylight bombing, I am certain now they will admit that they were crazy >misinformed<. We were just crazy enough to believe we could do daylight bombing and we did.
I was assigned to operations. That word did not mean much to others but to me it carried the weight of the entire war effort. My office was underground near the British Operations Room. Each morning would find me hurry¬ing to find my desk and begin work. Something had to be accomplished immediately. Each evening would close with no seeming progress made. To cheer my spirits I would go over to the British Operations Block and watch the Of¬ficers there operate silently and efficiently. My mind would seemingly come and go as I stood there before all the boards, charts, telephones, and wea¬ther maps of that elaborate room. How could I ever even be a small part of such a huge undertaking, much less be one of the main cogs in setting up a duplicate organization. I forgot or did not realize that it had taken the British three years to complete what they had - seven months later with the help of the British our operations room was directing raids.
As >No< one in the outfit got fat because of the lack of exercise of too much food, - our living quarters and the R.A.F. Officers Mess were about six hundred yards apart and the two were three quarters of a mile from where we worked. Twice each day, seven days every week, we walked that distance rain or shine.
The WAFFS loved it. They enjoyed watching us struggle up and down the hills through the rain and when they could meet us at a narrow place in the path they would literally try to knock one’s hat off with a snappy salute. I would have welcomed a by-pass each day at five. We were returning from work at that time, tired and disgusted, while many of the WAFFS were going on duty, rested and full of pep. Each WAFF we'd meet would salute in tarn and each one would come closer and closer to the visor of my cap. Finally I would find myself saluting and ducking, puffing and blowing, climbing that damn long hill. They were saluting and laughing going down to do a ground >grand< job.
Three months after the arrival of the original six officers our "family” had increased to twenty-nine and we had moved out to our own site,- American Bomber Command Headquarters began to take form. Dreams began to materialize, we could see some results of our hard work. Some day some one will write in detail the hardships and heartbreaks endured during the early period of setting up the Command.
A message came across my desk stating that our troops were on the move. For days we had been waiting for that signal. We had worked, planned and dreamed of that very thing, - Air Corps troops on the move towards the United Kingdom. The Operations Block was ready and the boys were anxious for test run -my enthusiasm was well beyond safety limits. After work a few of us assembled in my quarters and drank to the U.S. Bomber Command and to the ar¬rival date of the C combat C crews. None of us realized then, that our most heart breaking and trying days were ahead of us. We were too carried away with what we had accomplished to even think of the future much less of what was to be done. Had we been sane and sensible someone would have advanced the query. What is combat and who is going to do it? God knows we could not give the answer. We had erected a machine to operate but knew nothing of the product
it was to work with. Later in the evening I began to take inventory of the whole affair. We had crossed the Atlantic, we had studied and worked for months to complete the ground structure necessary to bomb the enemy. We were ready to go into combat against the enemy - to win in aerial warfare. Who were we to say what the correct technique would be? Some one would decide that all important question, soon. The following day found me debating the question of the day before. A week passed and I had no answer. Troops were to arrive soon, - my section was to issue final instructions, - some had gone out. I didn't know, no one knew, whether they were correct or not. Daylight, high altitude bombing had not been proven in that theatre. Many said it could not be done>;That we would be on a suicide raid - none of us would return to write a report. The following day I was no better mentally. All my interest in memorandums and orders faded completely. I lapsed into the old feeling I had in Washington. I hated the office, the chairs, the whole damn place. The Commanding General called me to his office - (guess I had been seen tear¬ing up papers or had been heard raising hell). I saluted and sat down. His words were few and to the point, " 'Army' I know your trouble, you want to go out with the combat units when they arrive. I too would like to go with them, however, there is work to be done by us for them if they are to be successful." I protested loud and long by saying, "Yessir". Next morning with renewed vigor I assumed the role of Operations Officer of Bomber Command. After all I had entered the theatre to do all I could, anyway I could, regardless of position or circumstances. (I was too old to do combat, so they said). Orders placing me on detached service came through a few days later. I was to go to a reception base and set up a headquarters for the purpose of receiv¬ing incoming units and dispatching them to their proper station. The assignment was an important one and I began my journey with the final curt words of the Commanding General ringing in my ears; "You make or break yourself as
an Operations Officer on this mission”. I too realized the importance of the successful operation of the plan. Hadn't we all spent hours dreaming of the arrival of the units. We had planned, mapped out routes and conferred with everyone who had any knowledge of the movement or information we desired. We had already lived a life time waiting for those "rascals" to take-off, - realizing full well that the fore->Ru winners of all combat crest to enter the United Kingdom were on the move. I set out with a light heart full of determination to see them successfully settled on a combat station. At that pe¬riod I became resigned to my fate to fly a desk through the war and to be an excellent "non-combat" pilot. I was excited but not happy.
The following five days I flew from one base to another, out to sea and back again checking radio ranges and blind approaches. Offices were set up and personnel installed. The 4th of July came and we celebrated. The following day we celebrated for Kegleman, whom I had served with in the U. S. at a low altitude bombardment station. He learned low flying at Barksdale and Savannah. 'Tis well that he had "hopped" the banks of the Red River; that he had flown with my outfit of B-18 bombers hedge-hopping over the hills of Minnesota, playing war. The 4th of July "Keg" and a handful of U. S. medium bomber pilots flew with the R. A. F. on a low altitude mission. Everyone has read the account of that flight. Keg crossed the English Channel with a Squadron of R. A. F. pilots at zero feet altitude, -pulled up to an altitude that made it possible for him to locate his target and went in. Guns and throttles were wide open when he hit the objective — so were the German AA guns. The German ground defense threw up a sheet of fire ahead of the bomber, "Keg" turned, twisted and came back on the target. The hail of bullets from the ground caught the airplane
and covered it momentarily. One engine was shot completely out of the mounts - Kegleman's aircraft, minus one engine hit the ground and skidded across the enemy airdrome. A sargeant gunner in the rear of the A-20 called through the inter-communication set, "Give 'em Hell Major". Keg lifted his A-20 off the ground turned on his good engine towards the flack post, shot it up and came home. Don't ask how he did it, - I do not know - neither does "Keg". He is one of a thousand American boys who have done and are still doing the seemingly impossible. Kegleman was ordered out of our theatre to Africa where he continued to "Give 'em Hell for a long time".
My assistant operations officer, a youngster, who was acting as liaison between the R. A. F. and the Americans, located me in the operations hut. He was breathless - from the time entered the door until he reached me he was yelling, "They are flying, - They are Flying". I said to him, "So what! They have been flying in this country for years". He said, "Yes sir, but we are flying into this country today, now". "Our boys will begin to land this afternoon". He was correct. Within a few minutes of the estimated time of arrival the first Fortress landed and taxied to the position we had assigned it.
I walked out to the airplane to greet the captain. I expected him to at least enthused over being with us, to have completed the flight with the first combat crew of a heavy bombardment group in the European Theatre. We were excited, didn't he know that from the very second of his arrival the war would take on a different aspect? Didn't he know that he would be a member of a band of youngsters who would conduct an experiment the whole world was waiting for - the outcome of which would lengthen or shorten the war? He didn't even care - seemingly - as he circled his aircraft, pulled at her here and there, finally slapping her on the belly as he walked in direction. When he came near enough he saluted and said, "Colonel I didn't see a damn German along the route – my gunners, were anxious to get a work out, -
they were certainly disappointed. Where do we eat? and sir, when do we start fighting the square-head, I'm ready". I looked at him as he stood there in all his simplicity, eagerness and enthusiasm. He was a typical American Bomber-pilot, - young, anxious and unafraid. He was ready, more than willing, but there were so many things for him to learn. I saw and fought him a few months later, he was a grown man, a veteran of many raids. His enthusiasm had not been dimmed and he was still ready. He had changed, he had seen combat, fierce aerial combat to the bitter end. He had seen his friends go down from a wing position high over enemy territory, He had limped home, with the Fortress whose belly he patted each day. He was a seasoned veteran, wise in the ways of killing and ways of not to be killed. To his mother who had not seen him for months he was her little boy. To me he was a man, fighting for all the sacred things in life, - the Captain of a Fortress, - an American.
Most of the Fortresses arrived as scheduled. Some were not so fortunate. I recall one crew that lost one engine when they had passed the point of no return. (That is a distance along the over-water route where it is better to continue towards the destination than to try a return flight). The crew shifted their equipment to compensate for the loss of power. A few hours later the second motor failed. The crew again shifted the equipment but the Fortress con¬tinued to lose altitude. The Captain gave the command to throw out all pieces that were not bolted; down to include personal baggage. That served to be only temporary relief. The two remaining engines began to heat up under the heavy load, drastic action was necessary, the Atlantic Ocean was below, Flying that route at night with a crippled airplane is anything but comfortable. The final command came, "Throw out everything, - guns, ammunition, radio,- hurry we are settling fast. In less time than it takes for me to tell it, the interior of the B-17 resembled the inside of a well scraped coconut shell. One of the
sergeants told me later that as the last piece went out he could see the reflection of the exhaust flames on the forty foot swell below. He didn't move for an hour for fear the Captain would say, "Throw out all sergeants". Needless to say, the crew brought their ship in, - minus all equipment and with a full crew.
About the third day of ferry operations fighters began to arrive. At the "jump off" point a Fortress would be assigned a number of long range pursuit. The navigator held the bomber on course while the fighters flew formation with her. Simple? Yes, except when thick weather was encountered. The going got to be tough then. No visibility, no emergency landing field to go to, no one except the mother ship to help the fighters. When weather like that was flown through, the fighter pilots nearly came inside the cabin with the Fortress pilots. The solution was for the pursuit leader to fly with his wing tip inside the wing span of the bomber. Each following pursuiter over-lapped his wing with the boy ahead of him. All running lights were turned on even though they did fade on and off as the formation flew in and out of thick weather. There was nothing else to do, once out of formation the boy was lost with not a ghost of a chance of regaining his position. Luck and the R. A. F. were on our side in one particular incident. I had Okehed the clearance for a flight of seven, “one mother (B-17) and a brood of six", Tthe weather forecast had given an hours safety margin, - then the field would be closed in. As we had anticipated, the time of arri¬val of the flight and the weather held steady. We had not reckoned with a wind shift that was not plotted on the weather map. Weather forecasts are funny that way. Five minutes before arrival time I walked out to the ramp. Across the field low hanging clouds were working towards the main runway. The boys could get it now I muttered to myself but not a minute later. A fine mist
hit me in the face. That meant only one thing - visibility approximately five hundred yards. I returned to the operations hut and, waited for a telephone call it came, "A flight of seven aircraft on top the overcast twenty miles at sea", the controller informed me. The gasoline consumption chart showed that the Fortress could remain aloft for two more hours - the fighters forty five minutes. I got up and looked at the weather, it was terrible. During the following five minutes I must have been up and down fifteen times. On the last down or up I don't remember which, an airplane came across the building so close the window rattled. I ran outside expecting to see one of my boys crashing in to the hills, at that point I evidently yelled at one of the ground crew, "What was that aircraft?" Aall the natives looked at me as though I had gone mad, he replied, "A night fighter”. A night fighter I thought, Lord I am saved, he can bring those boys in. R.A.F. operations was contacted. They'd be charmed to be of assistance. From that time on I watched the young English night fighter perform. A few mi¬nutes later he came out of the mist with one of our fighters flying in a wing position. They circled in and out of the low mist until they were headed straight for the runway. The night fighter boy pilot lowered his landing gear, the Air Force American boy did the same thing. As the runway came into view the R.A.F. pilot gave a landing signal by zooming up and down,-then pulled away into the clouds. The American boy landed - one down. During the next thirty minutes the R.A.F. pilot brought in the flight of seven. As the night fighters disappeared into the "soup" his ground radio station began directing him towards the U. S. formation that continued to circle above the overcast. Upon “breaking out" in the vicini¬ty of the formation, the R.A.F. pilot would fly up to the formation and “pinch off" the tail-end aircraft. The same procedure was used for all the American fighters. The Captain of the Fortress watched with amazement as the friendly fighter made trip after trip, like a mother cat moving her kittens until the last of his brood had been taken away,- Not to be outdone by some young English
"Whipper-snapper", who had stolen his formation. The Fortress pilot non-chalantly called the control tower for landing instructions. Instructions were relayed to the R.A.F. boy to "stand by" and the Fortress was cleared to land. The weather closed in tighter and the real fun started. The "Fort" came in on the radio beam and squared away for the approach to the landing strip, - visibility was poor. The pilot ran out of runway before he could get his wheels to remain on on it. He disappeared into the mist, a few minutes later he was over the field with wheels and one fourth of his flaps down trying a close in approach, trying to slip upon on the field so to speak. On that pass he nearly ran out of altitude, speed and knowledge. We contributed much to his confusion by trying to "talk him down". The R.A.F. boy was out in the clear listening to the conversation and laughing. After two more hair raising attempts with fuel running low, the Fortress radio came through with a message, "Send that smart aleck out to lead me in". In a short period we heard five engines off the edge of the airdrome. Out of the low hanging clouds came a night fighter with a Fortress flying a wing position. When the Bomber Boy came to a stop at his dispersal point the fighter boys were there in force as a reception committee. The brow beating that took place the insuing few minutes was pathetic, all because a fighter pilot brought a Fortress in for a landing.
The first Group of heavy bombers had arrived and were in place. I was in my headquarters completing final plans for the receiption of additional aircraft when a teletype message was delivered to me, - the heading was, that of the Bomber Command, the signature Commanding General. I have had never been afraid of the of the "Old Man" but he had "slapped" me down so hard on the combat question and had sent me away with such curt orders I couldn't be certain of anything at that time. My skin began to crawl around and butterflies flitted in the cavity of my stomach. The PX merely said, "Report to Headquarters immediately". I would
have sold my interest in Bomber Command for a six pence. I packed and caught the first airplane out. During the flight I sat on a box in the rear and reviewed the mission assigned me from beginning to end. I had done many things wrong in the past, - not intentional but because of ignorance. The past was not the present and I was "supposed" to be grown-up, efficient. The trip was agony. I had been refused combat duty, - the combat unit had arrived, no need to be brought to headquarters because of that. The mission I was on was being executed properly, I thought, Oh Hell, maybe some of my past work had not been up to standard, - it just wasn't right to worry a fellow that way. Everything from my conscience to my stomach hurt me. Those damn butter-flies began to do pylon eights in formation. The airplane came to a stop and I got out, my knees were rubbery and small drops of water ran down my face. England is not a warm country, - I don't remember much of the trip from the airfield to headquarters, I passed the Chief of Staff without speaking and reached the Commanding Generals door. Momentarily, I stopped to collect my wits, knocked and walked in. I shall never forget the "Old Man" as he sat at his desk writing a letter¬-looking to me as large as a house. He continued to write and I stood after a brief period, “hours to me", he looked up at me and said, "Army what's wrong with you? Are you ill?" I didn't realize I looked so badly. I remained motionless waiting for the worse. The General looked straight at me for at least thirty seconds then said, - "I have a job for you". I thought to myself, that’s nothing new, you and I have had jobs together since we flew the U.S. night mail through Brice Canyon. He continued, - "I have asked you to do many things for me, this time I am putting a real load on you, can you do it?" Come what may I would try it, - my reply was, "I'll do my best". The "Old Man" got up, walked around his desk until he stood squarely in front of me and said, "You are going to complete the training of our new heavy bomb group and fight them within sixteen days." I
thought I would die. I am not certain whether I saluted or not, before I realized what had happened I was outside running down the hallway, yelling and whooping. The Chief of Staff spring to his feet as I bolted by his desk and asked, "What in the Hell is wrong"? I replied, "I'm going to combat". With that he shot at me one word, "Fool" and sat down. If I could have gazed into that well known crystal ball and seen what the future held in store for me, I would have walked out in reverence and with a prayer upon my lips. Packing a bag when one is taking a pleasure or business trip is not a complicated procedure. I never had encountered any difficulty packing a cross country bag for a flight across the United States, even when I was packing to leave for the United Kingdom the second time it was routine. Packing when one is going into combat is different. During the past five months I had accumulated many articles; some with value others mementos. That is the category I had them in when it was possible for me to see them each day. However, when the time arrived for me to make a de¬cision between the good and bad, valuable and valueless articles, they all suddenly became dear to my heart. I assembled everything I owned in the middle of my room in one big pile. I had before me all my worldly possessions, what was I to take with me to my new station, my newly assigned quarters would be small, space would be at a premium. What does one take to combat I thought. There is not a degree of certainty that your new career will be a long one — who knows whether you will "stub your toe" on the first trip or not? Those and many other related thoughts ran through my mind. I might have remained in that state of undecision had not a couple of friends entered the room with a loud cry, "Army you must not take those new shoes," (I had just recently bought a pair of jodphurs in London) "Why"? I asked. Sheepishly they told me how they had stolen in and tried on the shoes as soon as they learned that I was to leave, - and how well, the shoes fit the two of them, - "You dirty skunks," I said, "you, count me out already and bargain for my shoes before I am even cold. You have made up
my mind for me, I am taking everything I possess with me just to inconvenience you a little if I do "buy a package" - and I am going to wear those new shoes on every trip" I have had the shoes whole-soled once and they need it again.
I arrived at my new station late in the afternoon, no one knew that I was to assume command so quickly, - orders were enroute but had not arrived. The guard at the gate doubted my verbosity veracity when I informed him that I was the new Group Commander and called the Officer of the Day to take care of me. I was told by the OD, that there was to be a dance in the evening at the Officers Mess – “Would the Colonel be present"? "Later", I said - and later I realized why he had inquired.
To walk into a Heavy Bombardment Group, a total stranger with the reputation of being a firm believer in low altitude bombardment, is not a plea¬sant ordeal. If your feelings are on your sleeve do not try it. The most God forsaken feeling I have ever experienced came over me when I entered the Officers Mess while the dance was in progress. Before getting inside the blackout curtains I could hear laughter and familiar strains of American music. As I came into full view, the whirling couples caught sight of me and began to slow down, laughter and merriment ceased, -the dancing continued, mechanical like, - stags around the floor began to whisper, - the young ladies looked in my direction and quick¬ly turned away, - nearby a Fortress Captain with his officer crew around him said, "The Butcher", he is an expert in low altitude flying - (The Fortress that led the first raid on Rouen was named "The Butcher" and the Captain, who unknowingly named it flew as one of my wing men).
The next day, Sunday, my Executive Officer assembled the combat crews in the briefing room. That was to be a formal greeting by the Group Commander but it ended by being one of the most glorious days of my life. The boys I had seen at the dance the night before were present, they were fun-loving youngsters all of them the evening before, today they were serious minded men, - combat
crews who had never been in combat. As I looked at them I wondered if they realized that they would make history in World War II; that they would revolu¬tionize high altitude day bombing. I was supposed to make a speech, so I told them all those things. That we were to open the aerial warfare for the United States, -that eyes of the world would be focused on them, - that the outcome of the war depended upon their success or failure. I told them a lot of other things; that I did not come to them to die but to fight and live and let live, - that I would go in at high level or low level, depending entirely upon the or¬ders from headquarters, - that I could go in alone if necessary, that if there was any one present who was not willing to follow me I would be thankful if he would stand. I knew that not a man in the house would leave his seat, - I was exhausted as I turned to leave. The crews ran as one man and their cheers fol¬lowed me down the long corridor to my office. I thanked God then for Victory that would be ours. I had seen America through the sons she had sent away to battle; truly great Americans. Never in the history of mankind will more va¬liant men be assembled than those few who revolutionized aerial warfare high above enemy territory against overwhelming odds.
The following fifteen days were Hell. The Group had occupied two airdromes for safety and other pertinent reasons. Transportation was scarce, in fact some of the most essential pieces were not available, - lines of com¬munication were not much better than the "con and string" variety young boys swing from wood-shed to wood-shed. Often we were forced to use courier service. Jockeying a motorcycle around curves in a much too narrow road during a black out is a feat for one experienced in both phases. For our boys it was an experience never to be forgotten. We suffered many minor casualties before we developed black-out technique. When tired eyes strain to see into the inky blackness grotesque figures loom up so near, one ducks automatically; queer
figures and obstacles block the day no matter which direction is taken. Unexpected ruts are invariably tank traps in a black-out. An osteopath could not possibly crack more joints in the back than a two inch incline does.
Weather did not look favorably upon us often. The rains came and remained with us, - low clouds dropped tenacles into the valleys and cut off exits by air from the airdromes. Mud rolled up on the runways and clutched at the ground crews from every conceivable angle as they labored tirelessly day and night to prepare "Their Baby" for work she was to do.
Military guards for the airplanes could have been dispensed with. Crew Chiefs lived with their aircraft day and night. During black-out hours they could be seen crawling in and out of the rear door shielding a dim light attempting to do "just one more thing" before falling asleep on the floor of the Fortress.
Spirits could not have been lighter nor morale higher. Mechanics, cursed to high Heaven as they crawled on hands and knees through the mud and oil at their dispersal point. Bomb loaders sweated, cursed and cried as they dragged bombs through muck and mud, no one complained. The dead line for the first raid had been set. Each day found the ground crews working more feverishly, - each crew had sworn by the stars that their airplane would fly the first raid. Rain and cold, mud and slime could not hold them back. They would not be denied even when "Jerry" came over to pay us a visit. Ground crews silhouetted against their Fortress during night raids by enemy when he dropped a "crying flare" near our base. The men stood under the wings cursed, "You son-of-a-bitch, - you square-headed bastard, I’ll come up there and get you myself if you harm my ship" - Fools they were, protecting their Fortress by their presence only - Guardian angels willing to die with a thing they loved so well.
Training in every phase had taken on a different aspect. Ground school was no longer a routine duty, - all class rooms were packed with eager faces. Machine gun butts smoked dirt as 50 calibres dug deep into the bask stop. Tension was growing, - the final day was approaching rapidly, - who would go on the first raid? - no one knew. I didn't know and could not decide how to draw lots equitably, - personally I was going to fly the entire group and laid my plans accordingly. Bomber Command Headquarters settled the issue for me later.
Flight Training at first was done at low altitude, - not above 300 feet, - not lower than 50 feet. "Hedge-hopping" with an A-20 and with a B-17 is as dif¬ferent in technique as chalk and cheese. An A-20 has two-engines, one pilot and is fast on the controls. It can be "jinked" around with comparative ease; last but not least the wing span of an A-20 is much less. That feature might not be of prime consideration to a beginner; later it is very important. With a small low altitude airplane, approaches to the target can be made between trees, - "Get aways" can be flown nearer the ground, down ravines and river beds, - not true with a fortress, she is big and clumsy, slow on the controls, and hard to change direction with suddenly. It is necessary to fly above mi¬nor obstructions instead of around or under them. Turns in formation cannot be made rapidly. The pilot cannot see out the right side and to the rear. Two pilots are essential when "Chimney peeping” with a "Fort". The pilot operates the controls when a left turn is made and the co-pilot flies when a right turn is made. Wing men are in a Hell of a fix.
We had been ordered to train the Group at low altitude; fly at that altitude; we did. It was fun. Everyone enjoyed it. We played a game of "Pull up to land" - I stood in the control tower and took the number of any aircraft I could see above the hangars as they approached on the down wind leg of the
landing pattern. We raced across our assigned area so near the ground young trees laid their branches back, jack rabbit style. We lost all the Fortresses we had, according to the "natives", each day a dozen calls would come to our operations office, "American Bomber crashed", the boys were sailing up one side of a hill and down the other. One lady called me and raised the devil on the telephone. She complained that we were disturbing her baby's rest, - loosening the plaster in her house so that it was falling into her food, - and we were all a bloody bunch of crazy fools flying too damn low. One pilot specialized in keeping workmen on an airdrome in a horizontal position. Even when they were standing they were too busy watching to see from what direction he would ap¬proach to do any work. That maneuver got to be a mania with the pilot. I called him in, after a dozen or so complaints, and gave him the devil for being a nui¬sance, retarding the progress of the much needed construction on the airdrome. His only reply was, "make those guys stop hitting my Fort's wing with wrenches before I really dust 'em off”. I fined him $50.00 the next day; just because he blew a workman off a ten foot scaffold. The same youngster fought ten Germans off a crippled Fortress and led it to our Base. He went on to Africa where he was shot through the chest; lost two engines, continued to fight and fly his crippled airplane and wounded crew to safety in what is reputed to be one of the most outstanding flying feats of the African campaign.
During the fourth day of our training the ground radio called "down to me; I was flying below the poles of the radio tower with a message, "Take them upstairs" - The message directing me to bomb from high altitude changed the complexion of aerial warfare for the American Eight Air Force in Great Britain. Even though we were practicing for low altitude approaches to enemy targets the outcome was not looked upon favorably by a majority of the military autho¬rities. The main draw back was the size of our aircraft. The "Fort" was designed to carry a heavy load at great heights. Near the ground she was clumsy,
whereas at 25,000 feet she was in her element.
The enemy coast-line was matted with small calibre, fast action weapons. Aimed fire from enemy installations was not necessary. "Squealer boots", some distance off shore flashed messages to gun controllers inland, that a formation or even a single ship was approaching. - All the Hun had to do was wait until the aircraft came in view and then open up with his barrage. A barrage, as the Hun throws it up at low altitude, is simply a sheet of metal. Pilots have flown into some of the areas where the small ack, ack was so intense they could see it moving across the area similar to a summer rain squall. One pilot played "hide and seek" with the batteries on an enemy airdrome. He feinted in from one approach but turned quickly and ducked below a wooded area, came into view and feinted again. The third run up was to be final. As he came in at top speed headed for the target, a group of hangars, the sheet moved out to meet him. Fortunately the ground fire was coming at him from an angle. Flying at an extremely low altitude enabled him to slip under the "sheet" for a few se¬conds. However, the "sheet" lowered just as the pilot turned; the upper wing of his airplane was in the cloud of metal, - the lower wing dig into the ground momentarily. Back at the airdrome the ground crew changed one wing and reported enemy action; the other Wing change was reported as pilot error. There were many red faces on the hangar line when they learned the true story.
When I think of what would have happened to us had we attempted low attacks, my hot Southern blood turns to skimmed milk. For days the entire group had been doing training essential to a specific type of flying and now we were confronted with a complete change of technique. When flying at low altitude very little equipment is required. High altitude flying is entirely different. Low attacks are made in shirt sleeves and summer helmets. There is no oxygen mask to adjust, no electric suit to get into, - no guns to freeze. There are no long hours in the cockpit. High altitude bombardment flying is a combination
of all other types and then some. When bomber crews are operating five miles or more above the earth they are not actually in man's element. They are far beyond the space they were created for consequently they of necessity must car¬ry with them the equipment necessary to lower the high altitude to the level they are accustomed to. Men cannot live at 25,000 feet without oxygen and heat. - a broken oxygen line is the immediate fore-runner of death unless an emergency bottle can be reached. I have known gunners to "bail out" over enemy territory at high altitude when their oxygen was shot away. Their decision was made quickly, - seconds are precious when there is absolutely nothing to breathe. Cold is fierce and deadly at 44 below. Gunners, especially waist-gunners standing before an open hatch, are subject to malfunction of their equipment (Things happen in the near stratosphere that cannot be explained) In the heat of combat at high altitude when a gun jams, gunners have a tendency>read< [written sideways in margin] to eliminate their gloves for "just a second" in an effort to make an adjustment. Before the gunner realizes what he is doing and replaces his hands inside the heated gloves frost-bite has done its dirt work. Long, weary days in a hospi¬tal is the reward. Gunners are aware of the penalty they will surely pay if they do not keep warm. On the other hand I have seen youngsters, who would use their frozen hands as hammers to maul a jammed gun back to life. The human element is not the only worry one has at high altitude. Propellers "run away" and turbos go out, - Motors "rock" in their mounts if the propeller cannot be feathered, - and eventually fall out of the wing. All of those things were to confront us in rapid succession throughout the remaining days of training. Generals Spaat and Eaker accompanied by Group Captain Broadhurst, R.A.F. Fighter Command arrived at my headquarters. I was as nervous as a cat, not the "scared" way but a state of anticipation. There was no mistaking the seriousness of the
of the "occasion". I had conversed with many R.A.F. fighter pilots during my first visit to Great Britain as a combat observer during the tail end of the German Air Blitz. I had listened to them tell of their experiences during the Battle of Britain, - I had seen one of them shoot down a JU-88 as he shot up an airdrome we were on. However, I had never been associated with one, who impressed as "Broody" did. He was to my mind, a seasoned product, a veteran of the fighting in France, - Battle of Britain and countless sweeps over enemy territory. His thirty-seven years sat lightly upon his slightly droop¬ing shoulders. He did not run true to "book form" as the dashing young avia¬tor, who flew "Hell bent for election into anything," his eyes were cool, each movement of his body deliberate, carrying an air of confidence as to his ability. From the very first I said to myself, '"He is a damn good fighter". Guess I just liked his "style", - he had been "stood down" from combat flying but requested the "job" of escorting the Fortresses on their first raid and was allowed to do so. Someday I am going to find out from him whether he "actually" had any idea we would make it or not. He was not satisfied to go on just the first raid, so he gave me close support when we raided Abbeville; returned to his base for fuel, flew back to Dieppe and shot down two Huns.
The conference ended by setting a potential date for the "curtain raiser”.
The Generals circled our base and headed for home, "Broody" "beat up" the hangar line - then rolled his Spitfire high into the heaven and disappeared.
In a way I was lonesome, - deep down inside I was happy, happy because the long days of waiting and planning were to be climaxed by action. Come what may I was ready to pit our "Forts" against the Hun.
The day the message was received to go to high altitude training I called the group together. The boys who inwardly censored me at the beginning, because of low altitude tactics I was to teach them made it plain that they wanted to
remain at low altitude by saying, "Oh Hell, why did they do that"? Only a few precious days were left. Bad weather rolled in and we "sweated" it out, - ground crews stumbled through the darkness and mud, - bombs were loaded and unloaded during the hours of darkness as routine training in an effort to be proficient when the critical hour arrived. The ground crews worked like slaves and never whimpered.
All the "junk" I had carted down from Bomber Command was piled high in my small room. I had lots of room to turn around in and that was all. One fairly size clothes closet occupied far too much space in my twenty by twenty place of abode. A small coke stove required more attention than a June bride and gave out far less warmth. Friendly mice, two or three families played a continuous game of "squeak and run". They were experts at both. Some were too damn friendly, especially so when they made parties on my sweet ration. I came to know the bold ones eventually, in fact they were lots of company at night. During the hours of darkness I amused myself by going on long "map" cross country flights, not being aware of the location of the first target I cruised far and wide. Each raid made on the map, my Intelligence Section had placed on my wall, was successful, - no fighters, - no flack, - I can't say as much for those that followed in daylight. Heat and inside plumbing has never came into its own on most bomber airdromes in Great Britain. 'Tis well one appreciates London much more when a twenty-four hour leave comes up. Some say that a forty-eight hour leave would not be long enough to take away the sting of a period spent in the torture "chamber". Intestinal fortitude and the actual necessity of a bath are required before one venture to expose his anatomy to the cold gusts of balmy English weather. I have heard more vile epithets heaped upon a cold water pipe than was hurled at German fighter pilots over Wilhelmshaven. "War is hell", however, I am not a firm believer that one should be constantly reminded of the fact both in the air and on the ground.
I shudder now when I recall some of the absolutely necessary trips I made "outside"; they have not been erased from my mind by time sufficiently enough to cause the faintest smile. In fact I have a very lovable aunt, who will never be molested by my presence during the winter months. Shades of a combat station in United Kingdom.
The airdromes we worked from were situated in strategic spots. They were typical of all other airdromes and followed the same general construction. At first I was afraid to fly any distance away from home, in fact I reminded myself of "Red Riding Hood" lost all the time. I am not surprised that the Germans are confused as to the exact location of an airdrome in Great Britain. They automatically evaporate. When a low haze comes in, - well, an aerial Easter egg hunt is in the making. All of that comes in handy at times. I watched a confused German cruise around at low altitude in an attempt to locate an airdrome, he had a "calling card" for us I could have pointed the exact spot out to him if he had not been in a hurry; and if a Hurrican fighter had not appeared suddenly out of "nowhere" and shot the German down. Thereafter I was content to "search" for any airdrome I wanted to land on without one word of complaint. A few days later I saw the twenty year old R.A.F. fighter pilot and asked if he heard the British news broadcast, that announced his victory? His reply was, >(< "Sir, I do not listen to the news, I make it". >)< That was, to say the least, a "cocky" answer. I could believe that he really had that inside >read< [written sideways in margin] feeling of confidence in his ability. When the black days of 1940 hung over Britain and the R.A.F. was straining every fiber to repulse the Huns in the air, I watched England's young fighters display their wares high above the Dover coast. I marveled at the tell-tale vapor trail as they lattice-worked the sky, - pencil like at first then fanning out in ribbon form. An etching
in the sky always reminding those of us far below that death and destruction was on the Wing. - That the Germans would not pass. That night I returned to my room, O sleep would not come to me. I began to relive the three months of 1940, I had spent in England during the Blitz. I vowed then that someday somehow, I would return. The night of December 8, 1940 paraded vividly before my minds eyes. Hell was on the Wing that night. The London sky dripped blood and screamed thunder. I was frightened, - Women gave utterances, - low groans, and covered their drawn faces in response to the ever increasing tempo of Ger¬man bomb explosions. Strong men cursed and cried as they walked deep in the valley and shadow of death, searching for the maimed and the dead. Sweaty drops found their escape down the back of my ears, - I was exhausted. I knew then that I had returned to keep a vow made to myself in a war stricken city many months before. >Read< [written sideways in margin]
A well blacked out room cloaks one in the shades of night no matter what the watch ticks off or where the sun may be. Confusion can reign in ones mind when awakened suddenly inside a blackout even under ordinary circumstances. To be awakened as I was, following a night of restless sleep, by the unsteady exhausts of dozens of airplane engines nearly threw me into a panic. I sat up in bed and stared into the darkness searching for a solution to my tangled dilema. I remained in that awkward position until an orderly opened my door and announced, "Six O'clock Colonel. Take-off seven fifteen".
A twenty-four (24) ship formation had been set up for our first "Dry run" A dry run" is a flight that is flown exactly as the real mission will be. - Bombs and ammunition are not loaded.
Somewhere in the past a strain of human being was conceived that knew no meaning for the word "defeat" - Whether the conception was a thousand or two thousand years ago, I do not know, - I do not care, - I was not present
>Read< [written at top of page] when the conception was made but I was "mid-wife" at the birth. Per-chance our forefathers who crossed the Rockies to satisfy their irresistible desire to be free, - to breathe the pure air of the rolling plains or sun-kissed valleys, planted seeds of courage in the breast of their unborn great and great-great grandsons. - Perhaps those gentlemen of the North and South, who crossed swords and fought to the bloody end-brother against brother, cousin against cousin, laid the cornerstone of a truly great American Race. I am convinced of one thing. Somewhere, hidden away from the eyes of glamour, these are mothers, who through a mothers undying influence, unknowingly, steadied the hands and strengthened the hearts of the greatest pioneers of all times. Yes, I was present when those men were born. I saw them fly into the jaws of Hell and fly out again. - I flew beside some, who fought by courage alone, - fought on when overwhelming odds were against them and came out of battle, victorious. Some mortally wounded and bloody remained by their blazing guns, crippling their adversary while their injured part escorted them to a watery grave in the North Sea. Yes, I saw them reborn high in the Heavens, where their deeds of valor were inscribed for all to read in eternal gold by the angels.
The twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth of August were dark days for us. They were black days for me - I had been informed that we would "blow the lid off", the sixteenth.
Each day the formation took off, assembled and climbed to altitude. That is not ordinarily a complicated assignment but for us it was next to impossible. We had no idea what the climbing speed should be, I did know, that a defensive formation was absolutely necessary if we were to fight off the Hun. One day we would climb too fast, - propellers would run away, - turbos could not stand the strain, we put on them. The next day the climb was too slow. Fortresses floundered around in the sky, like Barrage Baloons. - Up and Down we flew. Try¬ing all conceivable formations and speeds. Men and machines grew tired, - there
was no rest. We would be given a schedule and a specific time to make it in. Friendly fighters would rendezvous with us before we departed the English Coast. The Forts could not be more than forty-five (45) seconds late over a point on the ground. Their altitude would be twenty-five thousand feet. There isn't a living member of that first heavy group who will ever forget the desperately anxious hours the ground crews lived through. Crew Chiefs slept at their dispersal points when the formation was "upstairs" on a"dry-run". Eagerly they climbed aboard after the aircraft had landed inquiring about their "Baby”. I do not believe that my crew chief undressed over a period of ten days.
If we could have slept at night some of the day strain would have been eliminated. However, the Hun had different ideas, - and too, we were situated in an active area. Night after Night the operations Officer on duty would call on the phone with the message, "Yellow Morning". (The Hun had crossed the coast and was approaching our locality. That warning was merely an alert and the station was not warned). You could always rest assured that within a short period another phone call would come through. - "Red warning", - and that the Hun would be over the Airdrome shortly thereafter. Unless the signal to abandon the Barracks was given no one moved. The greatest display of enthusiasm I saw was during a poker game one night. The yellow warning followed by the red came through the barracks. Two of the officers made an inspection of the blackout shades and returned to the game. The German passed over and was gone for a few minutes. A second red warning came over the loud-speaker - "Prepare to abandon barracks" one of the boys said, Maybe he has located us for a change". Another peeped at his bottom card and mumbled something about the dirty so and so had better go home and get some sleep. The dealer placed the cards on the table for a cut, - put his steel helmet on his head and said, "deal coming up gentlemen".
Invariably two things happened each night a dance was scheduled, - a raid warning order came in and closed the dance at twelve sharp or a German raider came over and dropped flares around us. Raid orders were to be ex¬pected and were accepted as a matter of fact. Flares from German Aircraft were looked upon as somewhat of a "high-light". Something to add zest to the party. In many cases it was a contributing factor as a means to an end.
When the enemy approached the Airdrome the main lighting system switch was pulled, extinguishing all lights. Dancing in the dark presented a problem. Couples remained on the floor standing, waiting for the "all clear" and lights. Eventually the youngsters drifted to seats, and made themselves comfortable. Tiny candle lights would appear from the mess hall. Some one would yell, "Put out those lights the German will shoot you", - and, "let my girl go or I will shoot you", - many couples would go outside and watch the show of "crying flares". "Crying flares" drift down slowly emiting drops of fire. About fifteen feet off the ground they stop and remain suspended in mid-air. A few of us were returning from a nearby town by automobile one night while "Jerry" was working in our area. A "crying flare" had been released and was drifting across our road about 500 yards ahead of us. The driver decided to overtake the flare so away we went. Mach to our surprise the flare came to a standstill while we were about 50 yards from it. There we were, out in the open surrounded by flare light. I have never experienced a more helpless feeling. The ditch nearest me was not as deep as I would have had it be. The German "upstairs" was looking straight into my eyes. I was positive of that. From that time on I refrained from flare chasing.
"That day" was vaulting towards us with increasing speed. Tension on the Airdrome was reaching a new high. A lull before the storm. - I sat
in my office and watched the combat crews pass back and forth to the briefing rooms. Groups of ten youngsters walked together, - a combat crew, - twenty or thirty bicycle riders formed up for "formation flying", Cross over turns bicycles do not always have a happy ending. Once in a while glances with a "when do we go" question would be directed at my window. I was standing before the map on my wall one evening when the message came. Operations line cut in a personal message from Headquarters. "Colonel Armstrong?" "Yes, pull the string". "Pull the string". The phrase sounded far away, hollow, meaningless at first. Suddenly it boomed against my brain, "That Day" was dawning. Tomorrow we would be off on the first real run. Tomorrow we would go into combat. Tomorrow we would unleash daylight aerial warfare against our enemies. All of our training faded into the far distant post, - unreal in a sense, - not satisfactory certainly, - insignificant at a time when death was lurking behind a cloud bank. I didn’t realize that I was excited until moisture soaked hand released the pencil, I was holding. A letter had been written to my wife. I had filed it with the Adjutant and he was to mail it if I had an "accident". Writing that letter was an excellent idea at the time. I spent hours on it. >Describe< [written sideways in margin] Attempting to write a loved one of the so-many important things in life is complicated in its simplest form. To pen thoughts on paper by a mind that is spotted with the possibility of death is beyond my capabilities. I have re-read that letter, it could have been interpreted as meaning anything. It did not convey my real thoughts, - I was positive it did. That night I was "all set", my affairs were in order as they say. Affairs are never in order when there is a possibility of a letter of that nature being delivered.
I can’t recall whether I slept much the remainder of the night. There wasn't much time to sleep. Briefing began before daylight came. - None of us were
experts in briefing; we learned of its importance later. We did know that we had a target, where it was and that we were going to reach it with our bombs come what may.
The crews were assembled early. They were excited, who wasn't? We gave them time to settle down somewhat before opening the session. - Nervous coughs interrupted the operations Officer as he attempted to point out the route across enemy territory. Gunners stood on their seats in an attempt to see the exact location on the map where enemy fighters were to be expected. A co-pilot seated in the rear of the room vomited.
There was no "pep talk" by the Group Commander. None was needed that day. Beads of sweat stood out on the faces of Captains. - Backs of hands stroked dry lips as the final words, "Men this is the day we were born for" were uttered, by the Intelligence Officer.
The briefing came to a cease when the RAF Airdrome control Officer said, "Pilots, take off today will be on the North-South runway. I will be in the tower watching for your return; don't keep me waiting-God Bless"-
I recall the short forty-five minutes left to me before engine starting time. Waiting for the referee to blow the kick-off whistle; the sound of leather covered toes against a foot ball; the sprint down the field, human contact, is a long, long time even though in actual seconds it is very short. Forty-five minutes of waiting and thinking before that first bombing raid got underway was agony. I had read of criminals sentenced to die reading the bible, praying, preparing themselves for eternity, - Also of those, who, after long days of suffering were faced with deliverance, - a new lease on life-my emotions were torn between the two trends of thought, - one equally as dominant as the other. Physical pain would have been a relief to me. I could have corrected that. The mental suffering could be eliminated by one thing only. - Take off.
I remember walking by two photographers, who took a "pot shot" at me. I thought to myself, "you'd better wait until I get back from this raid to use your film - and I will return."
A jeep came along side with my flying equipment aboard, Paul Tibbetts, my co-pilot, was dressed in his flying suit and sitting on his parachute. It wasn't necessary for us to exchange salutations. We each knew what the other was thinking. The driver saluted and said, "Nice day for flying Colonel" -
Bombs loaded in bomb racks are enlarged to twice their normal size each time I look at them. The ones we carried that day were the largest I have ever seen before or since. In reality they were small "doses". Squeezing along the cat-walk between the bomb-bay racks is an ordeal for me. My clothing catches on the metal bars and retards my progress. It is necessary for me to drag the parachute harness behind me to the forward compartment where an acrobatic maneuver is executed before I can hook the straps. Unfortunately I entered the Bomber that first day along that tedious route. Each entrance thereafter was made the very same ways amid some profanity, for being so dumb, and disgust because I was superstitious.
The bomb loaders had painted "love" messages on the bomb cases. Some of the words were not nice to say the least. However, they are expressions of disgust intended for those, who had wrought havoc in so many peace loving countries.
I was in my seat, safety belt >to end of chap. Dan< [written on top of page] fastened and gloves on fifteen minutes before take off time. Why the gloves I do not know. They were on and off my hands a dozen times before I realized I was wearing myself and the gloves out, before the flight started.
The co-pilot eased himself into his seat and adjusted the radio,
The two of us sat there in silence watching the ground activity. Men were running from one truck to another. Automobiles streaked around the perimeter track dispatching men here and there - everywhere. I broke the silence by asking, "What in the Hell is going on out there"? The reply was, "You are flying only half the Group today - Everyone wants to go". "Those are" passengers" trying to thumb a ride"- Silly fools; but what would I have done if someone had told me at the last minute I was not to accompany the formation? Five minutes to go. The top turret gunner came forward and reported that all gunners were in place.
The sweep hand on the clock before me slowed down drawn out jumps. Why did time drag at a time like this? We were ready; - time should be ready also.
A slight tug at my right leg caused me to look down through the opening between the pilot and co-pilot seat. A sweaty, grease streaked face looked up at me. The crew chief lifted his two hundred pounds lightly through the hatch and stood beside me. His eyes roamed across the instrument panel and came to rest with a steady gaze into mine. Words were not necessary to express his emotions - - his eyes were living lights radiating the very soul of a great soldier, who loved an equally great airplane. "Is there anything wrong Sergeant"? - I asked. "No sir! -No sir! - I just wanted to say good luck and tell, you ‘she's’ a wonderful airplane". A drop of grease must have gotten in his eye, which caused him to pull the brim of his cap down on his brows as he laid his big hand gently on my shoulder. I reached for the battery switches as he slid through the escape hatch.
Rapidly the check list of instruments was gone through by the co-pilot-number one engine came to life with a rifle-like explosion. - Number two, three, and four began a steady hum. The whole airplane began to throb. A deadly monster came to life and vibrated with anticipation of what the next three hours would bring about.
We watched the airplanes across the airdrome as they too came to life and began to move slowly out of their dispersal points wobbling over the rough spots on the perimeter trunk like huge birds not accustomed to locomotion. Forming up one behind the other until the column faded from view behind the large tail section of our own aircraft. The radio signal for taxi-out came to us suddenly. The sweep hand on the clock suddenly increased speed. A few minutes before I was pleading for time to hurry, hurry and now I was afraid of time. Afraid l would not be on time at the fighter rendezvous point. - We were to actually fly against time from now on. Time was to us, life or death, - Success or failure.
Slowly we picked our way around water-filled holes in the track leading to the runway. The few minutes required to do that afforded me ample time to review many years of my life. Queer thoughts of remote happenings >Spraggms?< [written sideways in margin] which had been dormant many years raced through my mind. I remembered when I raced home from church on Sunday to turn the handle of an old ice cream freezer for my mother. My initial payment was the dasher with its paddles covered with an abundant coating of vanilla cream. The summer breeze that blew through the cool colonnade of our home in a small country town in North Carolina as I lay on my back in a home-made hammock, came back to me through the cabin window of the Fortress. A soldiers dog crossed the flying field ahead of the airplane. I remembered the day I brought my pet fox-terrier home in my shirt blouse, shielding her from the cold as I walked across a huge cottonfield. A freight train killed her a few years later. All the
kids in the neighborhood came to my home for the funeral. We buried her in t he shade under a large fig bush, in the back yard. - I cried.
We turned on to the runway and stopped momentarily for the final run-up of the engines. Dozens of grid crews had lined up near the runway. Their caps were held high above their heads as they cheered frantically. The big ship was swung into take-off position. The green signal light from the control tower flashed the take-off signal. I thought of the officer, who was handling the light and what he had said at the briefing a few hours before. "I will be in the tower watching for your return; don't keep me waiting”.
The co-pilot called out "Time". That was the signal that the second hand on the clock had reached the predetermined minute when the first Fortress would begin to roll down the runway. I was not the only excited person in the formation. Each hand that held four throttle bars that day, experienced a tingle strange to its owner as his big ship began to move off. I talked to "Fort" as it picked up speed. “Come on ‘Baby’, you are Just going on a practice run today". Under my breath I did say, "And it better be a good one". Before I know it we were airborne. The first raid had actually begun. My co-pilot clapped his hands and laughed. I glanced at the time: - >Important< [written sideways in margin] started a turn and began counting off the airplanes as they gracefully fell into position. I could not help but compare their grace in the air to their clumsy movement on the ground.
We assembled in a defensive formation before passing over the airdrome. A parting review was flown for those unfortunate members on the ground, who could not go with us. Those, who had come to say "goodbye" were saying, "There they go the silly fools". We dipped our wings in salute and headed on course for enemy territory.
All of our anxious training hours faded into nothingness as we began our climb. The hard days of training paid us one hundred fold before altitude was reached. Each Fortress was in the exact position assigned it. Waist guns were outside pointing menacingly to the rear. Top turrets were spinning through 360 degrees. Ball turret gunners were doing acrobatics with their bubbles. They had all waited long hours for this day. Each time I glanced across the formation the name "fortress" came to my mind. I was glad that I was on our side. We were a foreign formation to the Englishmen on the ground as we seemingly sat still in the sky at our altitude we appeared to them as specks high overhead, placed at measured intervals in the form of "V's". The long drawn out drone of the engines reminded them of many bees returning to their hives. The Battle of Britain was remembered but not for long. Our noses were pointed towards the enemy coast.
There were more casualties at our Bomber Command Headquarters that day, than were suffered by us. When the sound of the motors in formation reached the ears of our friends on the ground there was a mad rush by everyone to gain an advantageous position from which we could be observed. Locating a formation that is flying at 26 or 27 thousand feet by sight and sound is very difficult. The sound apparently comes from all directions except from below. Some of the ground officers tried to follow the beats of the motors turning in circles while their eyes were glued to the sky. Consequently after three or four fast turns in that position many "spun in". Result, three sprained ankles, - two wrenched necks. We had no casualties.
We were two minutes early when our prescribed altitude was reached. The beautiful country below had become dwarfed in size. Seemingly under
our left wing the English Channel had changed to a narrow river. Dover and Dunkirque were back fence neighbors from our point of view. Lands End was just point of England not very far to our right from which could have gone home. - if more urgent business had not have been at hand. The great City of London had shortened the hundreds of streets that originated around Picadilly Square. Ahead of us was the enemy.
The formation tightened up as we flew across the rendezvous point.
My two wing men eased their huge wings in between sty stabilizer and wing. I could nearly hear them say, "where you go l will go". The remainder of the Group came forward to where I could see them.
The sweep hand on the clock said "go". We were four minutes early for our friendly fighter rendezvous. Not a spitfire came up to us. Should I on without fighter cover? Should I circle and lose time? Were our fighters to join us midway, the Channel? Just what should do? The second I had feared for so many days had arrived. I could feel cold sweat on my face beneath the oxygen mask. The tell-tale on my oxygen system that opens and closes with each breath began to increase rapidly. I was panting. Thoughts raced through mind so rapidly none of them could be collected. I could continue on course, eventually arriving over enemy territory without our fighter cover and be shot down. Perhaps none of us would return. I could return to Base. That thought did not remain with me long. He had reached the "no return" point in my mind. There was no course on the compass but the one that would lead us to our objective. The English coast line disappeared under our wings.
I do not know what fighter pilots think when they engage the enemy for the first time. Neither do I know what my boys were thinking when we
looked down at the French Coast the first time, I do not think that anyone can into combat, either the first or last time, without some foreboding I had flown to the English Coast many times before. Once or twice I had pointed the nose of my Fortress across the Channel in a "playful" sort of way. Always before I could return at will. Not true now. Today we were playing for "keeps". - Today within a few minutes we would test strength. The French Coast had appearance of being barren and cold. Somewhere below the enemy was watching us waiting. We were invading the land of the Hun.
The top turret of my airplane quivered violently the gunner swung his guns through a 360 degree turn. The tail gunner spoke on the inner-phone, "Fighters high at seven o'clock." The top turret boys in the Wing Fortresses were spinning tops searching for enemy attackers. The co-pilot held up his left thumb and gave the command to our gunners "Don't shoot, they are Spitfires." Our covering force had arrived. My heart slowed down a little.
Just off the French Coast a battery of anti-aircraft guns opened up the formation. Black puffs of smoke spread out and hung in the sky. Another group of six puffs came up ahead of the formation. The ball-turret boy said, "The dirty bastards are shooting at us.”I asked him later if he had not expected that?” He apologized and said he thought his inner-phone was “off" so he was talking, to himself.
My bombardier, Lt. Beagle began to sing. There was no-tune to his song. The one line was short so he repeated it over and over again. "I see the target, - I see the target". That continued until the big ship vibrated she spewed her load of destruction from her belly. The sing-song ended with "Bombs Away". Those were the sweetest two words any Bombardier ever sang.
Before our departure from the home Base, Captain Rhudy Flack, who was leading the second squadron, and I had made up a radio signal to be passed on to me when his bombs had been released. Upon receipt of the signal I was to turn right allowing him to catch me on the turn. We wanted all of our aircraft in a defensive formation immediately after bombing. We expected the Huns to attack us heavily on that course. I continued to hold course after my bombs were released and waited for Flack's radio signal. No signal came. The seat of my pants were literally on fire. The Hun was certain to throw a load of "stuff" at me if I flew straight very long. "Why in the Hell didn't Flack signal me". I thought. Tibbetts punched me and pointed out to our right. Flack was off to one side jockeying for position. The sky had been clear visibility unlimited up to that time. Suddenly the air was black with smoke. Flack's formation was obscured from view. We shifted our position rapidly and reformed on a course for home. The Germans had figured our turn. They opened up with their batteries to catch us grouped together. It Flack's radio had not gone out of commission l would have been exactly where the heavy flock bursts were. The German ground gunners must have thought us very dumb or exceptionally smart. We were lucky----------
Brigadier now Lieutenant General Ira Eaker was watching the bomb bursts from a window in Captain Flacks airplane. The General picked the pilot with the appropriate name for that trip. Thereafter we nicknamed Rhudy, "Flak Happy Flack".
After a few changes of course to avoid gound guns we straightened out for our home-bound flight. Invariably the wind at high altitude blows from West to East. Going in to the target we covered the distance rapidly but returning the formation appeared to be standing still. Each moment was lived in a state of expectancy. Where were the German fighters? All the bad German Gremlins were holding us back as best they could until the enemy could locate us. One brave squarehead came out of the sun at the last element of the formation. Three top turret boys caught him in a cross fire The German failed to report the type of formation we were flying to his Commanding Officer. After the first unsuccessful fighter attack our area was quite hostile, enemy aircraft circled the formation, well out of range of our guns, up to the French Coast.
Lt. Beadle could not contain himself longer. At first I thought that another ditty was in the making. Not true, we were on the receiving end of a conversation between Beadle and "Pappy", Ray my navigator. Beadle was bemoaning the fact that his girl in the States could not see him as he sat there high in the sky, - about as near heaven as he would ever be. "She is real pretty Pappy and she thinks I am cute". - Puffs of smoke came by the cockpit window. The "Fort" bounced up about one hundred feet and tipped over on her right wing. Beadle screamed, as he picked himself off of the floor, "Who done that"? I told him that a flak boat I had warned him to be on the look-out for, had shot us, and that he wasn't so damn cute afterall. Approximately three (3) hours after take-off we flew across our home base in a show formation at low altitude. Captain Flack pulled out of
formation and landed General Eaker. The remaining eleven aircraft came in, turn and taxied slowly to their positions.
Ground crews swarmed around their "Baby". The combat crews were literally torn apart before they could get out of their positions. There was no show of bravado or egotism on the part of the men, who had flown. A genuine hug or casual pat on the shoulder conveyed more to the crew chiefs than an oration a mile long could have done. Mingled emotions were in evidence but well concealed. The crews were tired, cold and hungry. The first raid had been successfully accomplished, - well done.
Reporters and photographers were as thick as fleas on a rabbit dog. Questions, questions, questions, - everywhere and everybody. One gunner refused to answer any questions on the ground that he bailed out over, stains reservoir where he waited until we returned and picked him up. The truth of the matter was, none of us realized what we had done. Everyone else did. I feel that if the Germans could recall that one flight, they would knock us down if it cost half the German Air Force. From that day to this not single U.S. heavy bomber formation has been turned back by German fighters, nor have the bombers jettisoned their bomb load before reaching their objective. I would hate to be a German fighter pilot. There isn't much future in this profession.
I returned to my quarters after the raid. I sat there and gazed at the map on my wall and reflew the trip we had completed. My friends, the mice, came out and welcomed me home. My eyes rested on the target area we had bombed. At the interrogation after the raid, I stated that I saw no activity. From the cockpit of the lead airplane bombing results cannot be observed, - but I could see many things as I sat alone. Twisted steel rails; - locomotives on their sides gushing live steam, exploding. Good trains wrecked, some demolished completely. -Food stuffs strewn up and down the railway yards.
Belched-up debris falling back to earth through drifting smoke. Hitlers' doom.
We raided the following five days.
The British staged a Commando raid on Dieppe and requested that we "touch" the area around Abbeville Airdrome. German fighter aircraft activity in the Abberville-Dieppe zone was controlled from a station at Abbeville. The field was also used as a refueling point. Our mission was to "pin the place down" during part of the period covering the British withdrawal from Dieppe.
We were briefed and took off. None of us knew about the Commando raid. Friendly fighters covered as saws crossed the Channel. When the French Coast vas reached my ball turret gunner called and said," We are on a 'Sunday ride' but someone is catching hell around Dieppe." (A "Sunday ride" is the term used when there is neither flak or fighters around).
The formation "snaked" through a flak infested area and started the bombing run. The Germans failed to observe us. Our bombs exploded on them before they were alerted by their radio. The ground radio station directing the German fighters in combat over Dieppe was busily engaged. One of our boys "kicked" off a load of bombs that hit the radio station squarely. Three hours later a new station came on the air manned by a "new" voice.
The German ground guns decided they'd better do something about us. Puffs began to break high and wide to our right. We made a left turn and watched the following formation run across the target. Six German fighters moved out to position and started a take-off in formation. They cleared the ground just as a load of our bombs exploded directly in front of them and threw up a cloud of smoke. The formation disappeared in the smoke but failed to come out.
I had been sitting up there doing nothing but watching a few Germans be killed when the tail-gunner began talking to me, calmly at first, "Colonel Flak is coming up behind us on our level, - it is getting closer, - it is close," and with each word "close his voice would go higher. He finally hit high "C" as we turned the formation and dove. After we landed I thanked him for saving the formation and accused him of having the"ganslings".
Group Captain Broodhurst, R.A.F. led the Spitfires that gave us close cover that day. He returned to his Base, refueled and flew back to Dieppe where he destroyed two enemy fighters.
I had promised the Group that they could have a dance after five raids had been made. I nearly regretted that promise. Not far from our airdrome there lived a group of Royal Air Force fighter boys. We had seen them sitting in their fighters as they weaved above and around the Fortresses over enemy terrain. Naturally we wanted to show our appreciation. They were flown to our Base in a Fortress. I have never met a nicer group of youngsters. The evening progressed rapidly one way or another. The Germans came over as usual. Evidentally saw that we were having a grand time, dropped his bombs in an open field and returned to France. A Canadian fighter pilot and a bomber pilot from Alabama decided that the boys who had dates were enjoying the dance too much. A two-man raid was staged in the middle of the dance floor. The two entered on bicycles and began a series of circles. The bomber pilot carried a sack of Irish potatoes which were used as bombs on the dance floor. The fighter pilot was armed with a sack of flour. Anyone, who attempted to intercept the "potato bomber" was met with a long burst of flour >Important< [written sideways in margin] thrown by the fighter boy. Before the target was completely destroyed, six big boys built a human pyramid in the center of the room. The two culprits were passed up to the top where they were tied together by their shirt-tails and hung across a steel rafter. From that lofty position they "hung the dance
out" the remainder of the evening. Our rest and relaxation was short-lived. The white-hot heat was turned on. We had been raiding enemy territory at will. The Germans got mad; we got madder. Flights were no longer raids, - raids had developed into air battles. Fighters that gave us close support were engaged by enemy fighters, leaving the Fortresses "on their own". We began cutting our teeth so to speak on F.W. 190's and M.E. 109 G - German fighters refused to stand by and watch us unmolested on our way to and from the target. They began to bear into the formation, often holding their fire until they were within two hundred yards or less. It was not unusual for them to fly through our formation rolling and shooting all the while. Attacks were made with such speed and ferocity often the Wing of the Fighter would cog-wheel with the Fortress Wing. Some attempts were made to ram our big ships - intentional or was otherwise the maneuvers were hair raising. The gun fire from both sides was brilliant. Tracer bullets streaking the sky criss-crossed forming lattice work patterns.
Puffs of smoke from 20 mm guns shot at the formation from the rear, floated by the cabin window harmlessly; - their damage had been done. Quartering and head on attacks exposed the muzzle flash of enemy wing guns; - long red tongues pointing at you. Fortress gunners opening up with their guns in retaliation - vibrating the big ship as she plowed ahead through a Hell of steel. The top turret bay flattening two 50 calibres on the cabin roof, filling the compartment with smoke and your ears with thunder. Enemy fighters disintegrating in thin air. Others veritable balls of fire streaming long tails of black smoke falling vertically earthward. Fortresses, hard hit, struggling with every ounce of power to hold formation; to defend and be defended. Gunners working their 50's to the maximum, warding off the attacks
concentrated on a crippled Queen. Fighting to the death, for victory.
We had made numerous trips, short thrusts into enemy territory. Each fight returned to report "all aircraft safe". Not true for personnel. Killed and wounded were flown home sometimes huddled together, clutching each other trying to sap the last ounce of warmth from a body rapidly growing cold. The Germans killed or wounded a few crew members each trip. They paid a dear price in exchange.
The Luftwaffe commanders wanted a Fortress. They must have one with the guns in place before their fighter tactics against us could be perfected. We had no intention of dropping a bomber for them. Instructions were issued to all pilots to destroy a doomed "Fort" either in the air or on the ground. Defeat the Germans at all cost.
Attacks against us changed daily. We sat up nights working out model defensive formations to meet the situation.
Returning from one raid the Spitfires were weaving above us and to the rear. A couple of frisky boys were slow rolling just for the Hell of it. The tail-gunner called, asking if the R.A.F. and Huns had formed a truce. The co-pilot laughed and asked why such a silly question. "Well", said the gunner, "a 190 is flying a tail end position with our fighters." The fighter leader spotted the Hun in his rear view mirror about the same time. Exciting events happened the following few seconds. Not knowing whether the "square-head" was going to shoot the tail-end fighter down or not the R.A.F. leader dove his outfit across our formation using us as a flak post to shoot the enemy down. The German boy had other ideas and had doped out what the reaction would be. He followed the English up to and behind the last bomber. There he fell out of formation and began rolling and shooting. Three of his buddies who had been watching from a safe altitude in the sun cams in fast and nearly finished Lt. Lipsky off.
Lipsky called me from an auxiliary field after we had landed at our Base to give the following information: "Was forced out of formation near the enemy coast. Number one engine caught fire and was feathered. Rudder controls severed on right side. Right aileron damaged by 20 mm shells. Left flipper shot away. Number four engine hit by 20 mm and feathered. Enemy attacks continued to twenty miles off French Coast. Nine hundred small calibre holes in the fuselage of the airplane. Two dead, two wounded".
I learned later that Lipsky crossed the English Coast on two engines and flew across an airdrome with his crippled "Fort". After looking at the length of the runway he decided not to land there for fear he would hurt some of his crew members. Twenty miles inland he sat "her" down without further damage.
It was not Lipsky's lot to make more raids. He was flying on left wing when we went after an airplane factory north of Paris. Fifteen miles off LeHavre, two 190's came down on the head of the formation out of the sun. One passed the nose of our ship so fast I would not have seen him if my eyes had been winking at that instant. His speed and the slight evasive action we were doing made him miss. One always drifts up or down, right or left when over enemy territory. To sit still is a very definite indication that one is tired of living. The second German was more successful. One of his 20 mm shells exploded in number two engine of the second element leader, who wobbled around momentarily before regaining his position. The two attacks were a signal for the curtain to be raised. The feature show was in the making. Off to the side 190's were breaking through the haze, noses held high, like mushroons through thin top sail. I thought of the expression, "climbing out of a silo" - I watched them continue their
climb far out in front of our formation. They really didn't worry me unduly knowing that we had friendly fighter cover near by. That is what I thought. The formation tightened up. The co-pilot made hand signs that the captain on three engines was holding his own. Gunners were cluttering the inner comm with short crisp sentences spoken in high tones. One's voice is invariably pitched higher than is normal when combat is about to start. Mine never settled down I fear. Had I known then what I learned later that our fighter cover had been engaged by the enemy and drawn away from us; that we were on our own; I would have been more excited than usual. I was not long in being convinced that all Hell had broken loose. Every part of the sky was filled with those little pests. They were having a field day. Terriors maneuvering for positions from which they could dart in and nick us. My top-turret boy gave a short burst in the direction of three, who were forming up on our right. The leader ducked away momentarily, rocked his wings as a signal to reform and return. Luckily an extra bombardier, Lt. Mansell was in the nose of my ship. He was on the tip to "gain experience" as he put it. He was actually there because he could not remain on the ground when the formation took off. Mansell swung his right nose gun into position and threw a short burst at the Hun leader maneuvering for range. The top turret boy got excited and held his trigger down on a long burst. Tracers passing over the Hun gave him the opportunity he had been waiting for to duck under the tracers and come in. Unfortunately for him he had not reckoned with the few shots Mansell had fired. I had turned my head to see what was going on outside the left window, - plenty. Over the inner comm the co-pilot said, "Here they come". The enemy fighters began firing at about 800 yards. Mansell released a one second burst as they settled in the dive and watched tracers bounce off the front armor plate of the flight leaders airplane.
At about 500 yards both Mansell and the top turret "sat down" on him. Small pieces of wing structure flew off the 109 and trickled behind. The pilot in an attempt to right his aircraft or to make a left turn brought his right wing up just a second. The three 50's sawed it off close to the cockpit. The pilot pinned in his part of the airplane followed by one wing passed over the motion and disappeared. Before I could catch my breath Mansell called on the inner-comm, "Pardon Colonel, didn't mean to shoot him down in your lap”. What became of the other two enemy fighters I do not know. They pulled up over the formation where twelve guns were working. Reports came in from the tail-gunner that combat was being staged from all quarters on the following elements. A play by play description of rear action is given to the leader of the formation by the tail-gunner. That is if the leader has time to listen. Sometimes you don't hear anything and often you have landed before you realize that you have been told something. Suddenly there was a lull in the fighting. That is never a good sign you can always bet your bottom dollar that soon thereafter everything will be thrown at you to include Hermans Medals. Gunners get nervous, impetuous. The atmosphere even at 25000feet is sulky. Waiting and waiting for some unseen object to fall on you. Walking through high grass at night bare-footed expecting a rattler to strike each time a step is taken is not a favorable comparison. My reaction was to stop the formation still in the sky, wait for the devils to come out in the open and then fight our way to the target. Fortress formations stop for no man friend or foe when the objective is ahead, and too, we were doing a good 240 miles per hour.
Suspense was suddenly cured. The initial point had been reached. The formation was maneuvered for the bombing run. Bomb bay doors were lowered, ahead of us was the target. Between us and the target were swarms of German
fighters, dozens and dozens. Seventy-five in all. The truth suddenly dawned upon me. The breathing spell we enjoyed was not a gift from, the Luftwaffe Commander. While we were worrying about him he was consolidating his force. Everything he commanded was in position to hit us full in the face. Thank God the fighting slackened off just enough for us to make "S" turns and get the crippled Fortresses in close. Jerry did not have a "Fort" and I had no idea of persecuting him with one. He had other plans unfortunately.
The storm broke suddenly. As though by a pre-arranged signal enemy fighters came at us from every figure on the clock. We were concerned primarily with those attacking from the eleven, twelve and one o'clock positions. Two, three and six, 109's came at us from above and below, simultaneously, - followed closely by others. Gun flashes were blinding. A German bailed out high and above the formation. We nearly ran him down. His airplane spun down before we reached it. Every space was filled with tracers. Turrets cross-firing reminded one of serachlight beams. We were a veritable flak post. The Germans continued to bear in. We steadily moved forward. Three miniature dark clouds exploded near my window followed by two on the co-pilot's side. The Hun was skidding when he fired that bursts at the lead ship. Otherwise the five shots would have ripped our innards out. I could hear friendly fighters talking to each other. “Break away right Red two” - "look out Red three he's on your tail". “Close up”! - "What are you trying to do, get me killed"? "Where are the bombers"? "There is a Hell of a fight to the left of us". "That's the target". A Polish fighter pilot nearly knocked my head set off. He was shooting and cursing in broken English. My gunners had settled down to the business of killing. It was kill or be killed. They were doing a commendable job. The tempo increased, if such were possible. A long burst from the top turret blew the signal pistol
out of its position in the top of the cabin. Powder smoke filled the compartment. I just knew that a 20mm had exploded in the cockpit. For an instant I looked to see how badly the co-pilot was hurt. He was seated well forward with his nose flattened against the shatter-proof glass. Each time a fighter came in he buried his nose deeper. It's Hell sitting there with nothing to do but wait to be hit.
I opened my mouth attempting to call our fighters and give our position. No sound came out. My voice had left me. I tried again. Water, - I wanted water badly. My tongue was parched, - dry lips, - water seeped through my gloves - ran down my wrist, - drops of cold sweat slowly emerged from beneath my helmet.
After three attempts I gave my call sign to our fighters. Why I cannot say. I knew that they were fighting for every inch of sky around them. It is apparent to me now that I wanted to talk to someone. I was not prepared nor ready to die. I wanted help and was not ashamed of it. The message I sent out was in sheer desperation. "Come over here if you want to have some fun".
I switched the radio back to inner comm to close off all outside communication. We were two minutes from the target. Beadle's voice drifted through my head-set, slow methodical business-like. "Turn left, - left, - left." Steady - steady". "On course". My eyes were glued to the direction instruments. Soon we would be in the position we'd been fighting for. The tail-gunner reported the outfit as being, "Mighty Nifty".
For some unknown reason I looked up. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Headed straight for the lead airplane was a 109. At first I thought that he was on fire, - a halo of smoke dimmed the outline of the fighters yellow nose. Seconds later I learned that the smoke was the aftermath of all forward guns firing at maximum speed. I stood the Fortress on her tail then settled back on
the bombing run. The German skidded, raked Lipsky across the nose with a long burst and dove. Lipsky's number three engine began to burn, - number four engine puffed small ringlets of smoke. The crippled Fortress slowed down. Beadle requested a three degree turn right. The ball-turret boy and tail-gunner were chattering like monkeys. When our nose was raised to avoid a collision with the 109 it brought the German face to face with the "bubble" guns. Parts were falling off the enemy fighter when last seen by the rear gunner. That was the second enemy fighter shot down by our gunners that day.
Beadle continued his sing-song, "steady, steady," - "bombs away", followed by, "Now, get away from that gun Mansell so I can shoot one down". "Who do you think you are, Buffalo Bill"?
I turned from that bombing run with a heavy heart. I had lost a bomber on the seventh raid.
Lipsky radioed a message to me, "Am hit hard must go down now, - see you in a couple of weeks". My tail-gunner gave me a detailed account of the fight that followed between the "Fort" and three Hun fighters before the airplane crash landed near the mouth of the Somme. We heard from that crew later. They are "sweating it out in a German Prison Camp".
Many times we had returned to base and circled the airdrome while the pilots with wounded aboard shot an emergency flare and landed. That ordeal was common practice, - wing flaps remained in the down position as a signal to the ambulance driver to report immediately, was given. Always the airplanes had returned, - today was different. A feeling of nausea came over me as I eased the four throttles back for our let down across the Channel. I looked out at what had been an empty space on my left wing. Sometime during the returning flight one of the youngsters from the rear had moved into position beside me, shielding me from flanking attacks. His vertical fin
had shell hole in it you could throw a wash tub through. My spirits were lifted.
After we landed I got out near the control tower to dispatch a message, "One airplane and crew failed to return" - the words looked - foreign to me. I re-read it twice before signing it.
From the top of the tower the airplanes could be seen as they limped into their dispersal points. Far off to one edge of the field there was an empty space. A small tent swayed back and forth as men in soiled coveralls extracted tools and kits from the inside and placed them in piles to be loaded in a truck later. The movements of the men were slow, tired like. Occasionally the crew chief would shield his eyes with a pair of greasy gloves and gaze into the sky towards the East, hopefully. He had been told that his "Baby" would not return, ever. He had heard that before, yet she came staggering home. This time it was true. She had gone, - forever. He lowered his hand and silently motioned to the others. Five weary and heartsick soldiers walked slowly across the flying field towards their barracks. A funeral procession and tribute to a great Queen of the Sky.
I knew then as never before what an airplane was to the men, who had cared for her, but most of all, what those men accomplished and sacrificed so that the great air battles could continue.
The following day I sent them the following message: -
"To the Officers and Enlisted Men ______th Bombardment Group: -
It is my privilege to express my gratitude to you for the services you have rendered. I cannot meet you all personally, as much as I would like to, so I am taking this manner of expressing my personal gratitude to you individually and collectively.
>Important< [written on top of page] Our combat crews go into action, bomb the enemy, shoot down their planes then successfully return to our stations. For that they are acclaimed Heroes and decorated by our government. All this is well deserved. However to me and the entire Group, you men on the line, are the unsung heroes of all our successful engagements. I, as Group Commander, and the combat crews of this organization fully realize and appreciate all that you have done. Without your cooperation, the_______th would not have accomplished what it has. Continue your good work and no more could be asked of any man.
It is my desire that every soldier under my command feel that he had a personal interest in having placed the______th Bombardment Group among the foremost fighting organizations the United States Air Force has ever produced. You no doubt fully realize that during our few days of day operation in this theater we have revolutionized day bombardment. The whole world has been astounded and amazed by our accomplishments. After our first day-light raid, the traffic in New York City was blocked when the news was flashed by electrical signs on Broadway. The British Bomber Command and R.A.F. Fighter Command has acclaimed the bombing of Abbeville as one of the outstanding accomplishments of the successful withdrawal of British troops from Dieppe.
The _____th has made history. We shall continue to accomplish the seemingly impossible. On the last raid the ____th was attacked by 75 enemy fighters when it had no friendly pursuit protection. The Hun paid for that with twelve enemy aircraft confirmed and 12 probable aircraft shot down. That makes a total of one entire enemy fighter squadron.
So I give you a toast, "Here's to the Hun - a splendid fighter. and here's to the ____th, his Master!" All because of you men and your untiring efforts. God Bless You".
Generals Spaatz and Eaker came to our airdrome to decorate the first twenty-five officers and men who had distinguished themselves in combat against the enemy. The Group, with the exception of the necessary guard, was present - two squadrons faced the reviewing stand flanked by one squadron on each side forming a square cornered "U".
Thousands of feet above our ground formation friendly fighters searched the sky for enemy inturders. We were not taking any chances of being on the receiving end of a surprise attack from the air. When we were dispersed the fighter leader brought his outfit down and gave us an exhibition of formation and acrobatic flying none of us shall forget.
The men to be decorated were lined abreast facing the Generals. One, attended by a Nurse, was in a wheel chair. Others were dressed with bandages across their faces covering flak or bullet creases. A few arms were lashed closely to the body: Most of the boys stood erect - eyes straight ahead - proud of the part they were playing in the grim game of war. As I looked at them I thought-they should be proud and justly so. I had been near most of them when they were wounded. I had watched the Medics efficiently extract them from crippled airplanes. Some underwent emergency operations as they lay on the floor of their Fortress. Others walked away from their ship, only to fall before reaching transportation - too full of pride to admit the need of assistance. None complained. Each always solicitous of the welfare of other wounded crew members. Greater love hath no man than that.
I well remember how excited the Group was the day our first wounded returned from combat. We were to see much of that later. The boys had not really been angry up to that time. From then on every man was out for blood. 'Tis not a nice statement to make but that one incident did more to raise the fighting spirit of the outfit to a
level that was most costly to the Germans than any other save one. The Fortress that gave the distress signal - dead aboard - was so thickly surrounded by combat crews the Medicos resorted to requesting the M. P.'s to clear the area before they could get the ambulance in place. That demonstration was not the direct outcome of mere curiosity. Everyone was desirous of being helpful. They couldn't believe that the damn Germans had killed one of our crew members. After that tragedy, no one would remain on the ground when the formation took off. The mute reminder of that fateful day, a knapsack marked with the officers name and filled with his toilet articles remained in the mens washroom until I had it taken away - the space from which it was removed remained empty many days thereafter.
As each officer and enlisted man stepped forward one pace, saluted and stood at attention while the medal, in some cases two, was pinned on I recalled some of the acts of heroism. (Some are so fantastic even Hollywood would refuse to believe them.)
Among those present none were more elated than I, yet deep down inside I was sad. I had been told that the Group would move out without me. At first I couldn't convince myself that anyone else could
lead the outfit as well as I could. Naturally that was a false conception - selfishness on my part. I had grown to actually love everyone - fighting side by side with men affects the soul someway. Together we had bragged that "we would cut a bloody streak around the world five miles deep and five miles wide". The Group has already gone a long way towards accomplishing what we set out to do - without me.
The first three men to be decorated were members of the same combat crew - Pilot, bombardier and engineer gunner. They were returning information when a 20 mm exploded in one engine. Fighting was brisk and enemy fighters were numerous but not too eager. A second shell exploded in the cockpit, killing the co-pilot and severely injuring the pilot's right side - later it became useless. The big ship reeled out of formation momentarily - just long enough to be hit once more. The young pilot, by sheer willpower and superhuman endurance, lifted the dead copilot off the control column where he had fallen and regained his position. The strain and effort sapped every ounce of vitality from the youngster and he began to lose consciousness - the Fortress began to drift out of formation. The
bombardier had heard the explosion. Sensing there was trouble in the cabin he began to crawl on his hands and knees in that direction - a position between the pilot and copilot was reached just as the pilot collapsed. The bombardier had flown as pilot in a small airplane, but never as the pilot of a Fortress. Unhesitatingly he wedged his body between the two boys in the cockpit seats, resting their heads on his shoulder, and began maneuvering the airplane by the aileron control - the rudder couldn't be reached. Fortunately for all a wing man who saw what was taking place shifted his position enough to cover his crippled pal and drive off the fighter attacks. The top turret gunner came out of his position as soon as the sky was clear and administered first aid to the pilot who regained consciousness. How, no one knows, the two inexperienced boys lifted their dead friend from his seat and carried him to the "greenhouse" (Navigators Compartment), at the same time continuing on course and on an even keel. To add to all the past confusion, a second engine began to miss and smoke. The North Sea was not far below. Certain disaster lay ahead. A landing had to be made at the earliest possible moment once land was reached. The Navigator gave the gunners a detailed account over
the inner communication of what had happened up forward. Each man was given the privilege of jumping before the landing was to be attempted. As for himself, he would remain with the dead copilot. The tail gunner replied "We came up together and we will go down together". Three other voices chimed in simultaneously, "Me too". That settled the question that weighed heavily on the bombardier-pilot's mind. It would be necessary for him to attempt a landing. For him to land a Fortress that was in one piece would have been a miracle. To successfully negotiate the landing of a crippled airplane carrying dead and wounded personnel taxed his nerve beyond end.
A hurried conference was held. The pilot could talk to the bombardier-pilot who he would coach him around the turns and the final approach - the engineer gunner would handle the throttles. It sounds easy.
Near the English coast a field was sighted by the Navigator who had been instructed to locate a landing strip at the earliest possible moment once the crew had reached land. The bombardier tightened his grip on the big control wheel - his feet were forced against the rudder - glued in one position. Altitude fifteen hundred feet directly
above the airdrome. The wounded pilot nodded to the engineer and said, "Twenty inches of mercury; twenty-five hundred R.P.M".
The final teat had started. Life or Death waited with open arms at the completion of this one maneuver. White spots showed at each knuckle joint on the Bombardier's hands. Hot and cold gusts raced through his body leaving a thin coating of water on his upper lip. One thousand feet and the ground was coming. up fast, The young pilot began "Taking her down" . "Easy on the controls" - "Dont hold 'em too tight" - "Turn left" - "Use more Aileron" - "Hold her nose up". The engineer was singing out the airspeed - "One hundred and fifty" - "One Forty". They were on the base leg when the controls began to wobble. "Buck fever” was extracting its fall from the Bombardier - his knees were vibrating the rudder pedals. "Easy on the turn" came from the pilot - "Hold her nose up for God ' s Sake". "Airspeed one thirty"- Flaps down" - "Leave the wheels up" - "Final approach" - "Altitude five hundred feet"- "Air speed one twenty". The Navigator began screaming on the inner communication, "Tractor dead ahead we must go around" "We are going to crash!" "Hurry!" - "Altitude one hundred feet" - "Air speed one ten" slowly announced the engineer. "Too late"
came the reply from the cockpit as the Bombardier straightened his right leg on the rudder, "Cut switches" - "We have arrived".
Clouds of dust settled over the broken airplane. Her right wing was twisted and broken. Number four engine hung loosely in its mount. No one was injured in the crash.
The R.A.F. ambulance appeared out of nowhere and came to a squeaking stop. The Bombardier-pilot remained seated in the dead copilots seat and prayed.
Near the far end of the line stood a big two hundred and twenty pound Staff Sergeant. Two medals were being presented to him. The following week he received another as a reward for shooting down five German fighters from his top turret position. Captain Hughes, who was kidded by the boys so much because of his youthful face he tried to grow a mustache, flew the sergeant as top turret gunner over Rotterdam. Everything went wrong at once just as the enemy coast was crossed. Two turbos failed at the same time. Shortly after they were brought under control a propeller ran away. Hughes hung on to the target. Enemy fighters engaged the formation as it turned for some. Flak along the coast line of Holland was intense and accurate. The tail end ship flown by Hughes was whipped off during some violent evasive action, at the same time blowing a
cylinder in one engine. His position was precarious to say the least - sticking out like a sore thumb with Fokker Wulfs working the Fortress leader over. There was not a chance to overtake the formation and there wasn't much future ahead of him if he remained where he was. He pushed the nose of his Fortress down and started for the deck. Fighting enemy attackers at fifty feet above the water allowed a Bomber to exploit its guns to an advantage as well as shield its belly from attacks.
The first fifteen thousand feet down were eventless. Hughes thought he would get away unmolested. Unfortunately twelve German fighters were returning from a medium altitude sweep and their path brought them face to face with the Fort on its downward plunge to safety. Twelve Huns and one crippled Fortress. That was a hunters paradise. To them it was not a question of whether they would shoot the Fort down, but who would get it firts. The attack developed rapidly. Each Hun fighter was over anxious for the "kill". Hughes and the crew were not exactally in the morel, to be "finished off" so quickly.
Hughes radioed a request for assistance from friendly fighters who had been in the vicinity.
Help was not forth coming. The friendly "top cover" had been engaged early and were running dangerously low on fuel. They were at that time returning to their bases. Only one thing remained to be done - fight it out with the odds twelve to one.
Gunners were cautioned to conserve ammunition and to hold their fire to close range.
Without undue delay and very little precaution the Hun leader of the first nix 109's made his attack in formation from straight astern on the level. The young sergeant handling the two tail guns on the Fortress reported six bandits, six o'clock level. The copilot acknowledged by saying "Steady boy", "Get the leader". Those instructions were not necessary. Two big, brown eyes were leveled steadily down the stubby sighting bar above the "Stinger guns" pointing directly at the Hun's windshield. Either over confidence or utter disregard brought disaster to the German.
At eight hundred yards the attacking fighters jockeyed for a better position and a sure kill. The closing speed of approximately two hundred miles an hour filled the Fort gunners sight with the Germans' aircraft rapidly six hundred yards, five hundred yards, four hundred yards. Both men waited. Each intent upon killing the other. The hunter and the hunted. Three hundred yards -
The enemy airplane filled the sight on the 50°. The young sergeant pressed his triggers down. He was on target. Steel slugs crashed through the propeller disc and found their mark. The 109 nosed down. The muzzles of the 50 calibres, like tow fingers of scorn, followed the fighters cockpit. The sergeant's curled ringers had frozen on the triggers. Heat and smoke from the overworked gun barrells filled his eyes. The canopy over the Huns cockpit flew off and fluttered crazily away to one side. Fifty yards - no return fire. Tiny red flames showed around the engine mount. The German pilots head rolled down the top of the fuselage and disappeared in the slip stream. The red hot barrens of the 50's drooped and went out of commission. The Sergeant looked down at his cramped fingers clutched to the dead guns and said, “I be damn".
Fighting on the top side had not been so easy. Attacks were coming from nine and three o'clock low. The ball turret gunner had not answered to three calls from the copilot. The Fort's belly and sides were pounded continously. Hughes and the copilot were flying together now - wringing and twisting – cork- screwing down to minimum altitude. The big sergeant's turret was spinning like a top. A short burst from his guns sawed the wing tip of a fighter off.
The Germans did acrobatics before hitting the water.
A twenty MM exploded in the radio compartment. Copilot to radio operatio, "Report". " Sir, I have been hit". Tail gunner to copilot, "My guns are out". Copilot to tail gunner, "Keep 'em swinging, they don't know you can't shoot".
Hughes leveled off at twenty feet. Three persistent fighters held on delivering spasmodic attacks, hopeful that the delapidated Fortress would eventually go down into the sea. The top turret stood still momentarily. Drops of blood ran down the sergeants leg and formed a pool on the steel flooring. A burst of three shots was thrown at a fighter as it dove past - then a single shot - ammunition expended.
The big boy leaned against the pilots bullet proof back plate, lifted the head set from Hughes' right ear, and said, "No more lead" - as he adjusted the manifold pressure levers. "Better slow down Captain if you want to make land" came over his shoulder as he crawled through the forward bom bay door.
I was in the control tower at our airdrome waiting for Hughes to come in. We had a radio fix on his airplane and had plotted it continually from the coast line to our station. The formation, those who had returned, was in place. Mechanics were repairing the "sore spots" on their "Babies", preparing them for the next raid.
The RAF Officer in charge of Airdrome Control came out on top where I was standing and handed me a pair of field glasses saying, "Colonel, look to the North East just above the trees". I scanned the tree tops some seconds before the camouflaged "Fort" came in line with my vision. "That's her" I said to the controller. "Yes Sir, and she's going to make it in" was his reply.
My heart swelled with pride as I watched "her" struggle for each yard. There was on burst of speed to break the tape after a long run. On the other hand, I was reminded of a swimmer who had battled a rip tide for hours slowly, nearly exhausted, approaching the haven of a calm harbor.
One engine was dead. Pieces of frayed fabric from the flippers trailed behind like pennants ripped to shreds by small calibre gun fire. Daylight showed through the radio compartment where a 20 mm had exploded, tearing the metal from both sides. One wheel had fallen out of its position in the nacelle. It swayed back and forth like the pendelum on an old clock.
The copilot contacted the tower. We all listened to the tired voice "Straight in approach"- "Stand by for crash landing" - "Have an ambulance handy and you'd better call the Chaplain"- "We have one dead boy aboard".
The Fortress touched down about one third of the way down the runway, throwing the damaged wheel in our direction. We had driven out near the estimated spot.
where she would come to a stop. Sparks flew from the metal belly as it scraped against the concrete runway. The ball turret took refuge inside the damaged bomb bay.
No one inside made any attempt to get out. For a short time I thought that a ghost ship had arrived. An ambulance driver opened the read door and stood still. I walked over and looked over his shoulder, then crawled inside.
Two youngsters were lying on the floor. One's face had been covered with a flying jacket - he was the ball turret boy who would not answer the copilot's call on the inner communication - Dead.
The other gunner on the floor looked up at me, tried to smile and said, "Colonel, we are back". My right foot slipped in a pool of blood and I nearly fell. The big sergeant was sitting cross legged, Indian style, near the bomb bay door holding two ends of a bloody handkerchief - an improvised tourniquet for his leg.
I tried to smile when I said "Hurt much Sergeant?" “Not much" -"Just resting, Sir" - "But those fellows there", nodding towards the dead and dying, "are in a bad way". "You should have seen them clip those Jerrys".
In the mess that night the true story was told by Hughes.
After the top turret gunner was hit in the leg with a small calibre bullet that came out the opposite side he ran out of ammunition and reported it to the pilot. Crawling to the radio compartment he found the operator wounded and administered first aid. The ball turret gunner failed to answer his call so he cranked the turret manually into position - pulled the dead boy out and covered his face .- Working his way to the waste gun position where that gunner was engaging one of the two remaining hues, he shot one down into the sea.
An engine began to miss, vibrating the airplane from nose to tail, so he crawled forward to the cockpit, helped to adjust the mixture controls and returned to the radio compartment.
The one remaining German fighter had exhausted his ammunition, so had everyone in the Fortress except Lt. Marsell who was in the bombardiers compartment. How the German knew that Marsell never did find out. The fighter would fly formation with the Fortress and Marsell would beckon him forward to a position where his nose gun would bear on him. The Hun continued to ease forward then fall back, always careful of that one forward gun.
The big sergeant completed his emergency treatment of the radio gunner just in time to see the 109 crossing and recorssing the top of the Fortress, evidentally
looking it over - wondering why it did not go down. Having no ammunition for the gun but a compartment full of empty shells, he began throwing empty cases at the Hun's propeller each time he crossed the open hatch.
When the English coast was reached and the lone German fighter had returned to his base to report "No kill”, if he was truthful, the big boy once again visited the cockpit. After checking the instruments to his satisfaction, he turned to Captain Hughes and said, "I think that I will sit down".
That is where he was when I first saw him. That was the big sergeant the Generals were decorating that day.
Two-thirty in the morning, behind black out shades, a conference that had lasted five hours came to an abrupt end - too abrupt for me.
Higher command had decided that my group would move out to another theatre of war. We liked that. As my Operations Officer put it - "That's like cutting a piece of cake", "We opened this front and we can open another" - "In fact, we should be the official front opener".
Pandemonia reigned within us. Our feet were itching to be on the move. I was laughing and bragging about what the group would do the very first day it
arrived at its newly assigned station when Colonel Claude Duncan said "I forgot to tell you Army but you are not going with the Group". I thought I would die -
I visited the boys once before they pulled out. We had a farewell party and I was presented with the slogan that hung over our bar - "Here's to the Hun a splendid fighter - and here's to the ____th, His Master". Many pen points were urined >ruined< inscribing names on the face of that memento. After the war I am going to hand it over my private bar for all to look at. All of the boys have been invited to come and drink a toast with me - and reminisce. Some will not make the round trip. We will toast them - and remember always.
The following three months I occupied a grandstand seat in the U.K. From my position I watched the VIII Bomber Command grow from twelve Fortresses on the first raid to hundreds. New groups arrived and I flew with them trying to show and tell them all we had learned on the initial raids. I saw them struggle, stagger and fall as we had done. We labored day and night as they regained their footing stronger than ever before. Through it all one man's compelling personality and guiding influence watched over us all the way - without which we would have been lost. I saw him gaunt of face, worried and tired, battling to the end for his own - Lieutenant General Ira Eaker.
Christmas 1942 was spent with Colonel Jim Wallace who was commanding a heavy group in the U.K. Someone said it was Christmas otherwise we would not have known the difference.
All day we had floundered through ankle deep mud inspecting equipment and runways. Darkness, which came early in December, ran us inside to Jim's quarters. Mud and a complete blackout are not congenial running mates. The knees of my slacks gave evidence of how completely one could ruin a uniform by slipping down. Jim and I intended discussing a new formation that night - we never got around to it.
A Squadron Commander whom we both had known for a long time came by. He was dressed true Texas style high heel boots and a ten gallon hat - in the place of two six shooters he was armed with a gallon jug. Jim and I disarmed him. The jug was bounced from one to the other a few times and before we realized it the three of us were on a cross country flying at ten thousand feet over El Paso, Texas.
Wallace had saved his Christmas packages and was intending to open them the next morning. That's what he thought. After mild persuasion by twisting Jim's arm up his back, he agreed to show us what he had. The first two packages were fine and full of ture to form Christmas presents, to include a bright colored civilian tie. Who and where in the Hell did they think we were fighting
anyway? The next package was about eight inches square with lots of stickers and ribbon around it. That was certain to be really something. It broke up the party. Just to keep Santa from slipping down a six inch flue and surprising us I stationed myself near the stove (I could have sat on it for all the heat it was giving out) holding a pair of pincher tongs.
Wallace got set for the grand opening. To make it legal we bounced the jug again. Clem W, the cowboy, took one more swallow than we did so we did it over again. Jim kissed the beautiful little box, spoke a few sweet nothings about his wife, and pulled out the contents - a lovely pair of knitted ear muffs lay gently in his hand. I laughed, which was a mistake. Clem gave a rebel yell and disappeared in the darkness trailing "Yoo hoo! Wallace" "Yoo hoo!" I shall never repeat what Wallace said - I do not like divorces.
I saw Wallace and Clem two days later. They were both old men. Jim had lost his two wing men, shot down by fighters, over an enemy submarine base. Clem's squadron had been mauled considerably but had returned in good shape. I did not mention the ear muffs or say "Yoo hoo!"
The first day of January I received orders to report to Bomber Command Headquarters. I had received a similar order some six months before and was frightened out of my boots. This time I merely said to myself "Hold your hats boys, here we go again".
Much to my surprise General Eaker greeted me with "Army, I have recommended you for promotion to Brigadier General". He had surprised me so many times before I was positive nothing was new until that moment. My tongue got tied up in the roof of my mouth and I didn't get to say "I thank you". The General brought me back to reality with, "But I want you to do one more little job for me". Where had I heard that before. I knew him too well to discount what he intimated when he said "little job".
The following day I packed the second time for combat duty with a Fortress group.
I checked in at the guard gate and reported to the Adjutant that I had as assumed command.
My quarters were located and I moved in enmasse, one cross country bag of clothes and my shoes. I couldn't leave that pair of shoes behind even though Colonel Grey made a better proposition than he did when I was assigned to combat the first time.
My quarters were not different from those I had lived in August. My friends the mice were not there. On the other hand there was a different atmosphere around
the place. Where we groped around and wasted time seemingly accomplishing nothing these fellows had the answers. There was no hurry and bustle or lost motion. Each man had a job to do and he did it with machine like precision. Over my door hung a painted sign which read - "Never tell your troubles to others. Half of those you tell do not care - the other half are damn glad of it".
I had arrived in the "Big League". Two days before I had been an interested spectator - not even a substitute on the team. Now I was lead off man in the World Series.
I inspected a few quarters and the hangar line - and there in a vain way I was insulted. Nearly all Fortresses are covered with names. Through mere curiosity I was reading all I came to - "Big Boy" - "My Gal Sal" - "Berlin Buster II" - "Berlin Buster I" had been salvaged - too many bullet holes in it. I eventually came to one Fortress that was literally covered with either names or "warnings". Outside one waste gun position was "Shoot you're faded". A pair of dice showing a total of seven points served as a background. The other gunner was more conservative - all he had up was "Danger! Men at Work". Over the top of the tail guns was simply one word - "Boo!". As I passed the small door that serves as an entrance to that position I read - "A sergeants sanctuary where Generals
fear to trod". That's when I was insulted. I thought to myself - as soon as I am promoted I will disprove that theary. Walking stiff legged away from the airplane I glanced back in contempt at the radio gunners position and read - "If you can read this, you're too damn close". I Couldn't help but laugh.
Lt. Col. J. W. Wilson, Operations Officer of the Group, met me with one of the finest greetings one man can give another at a time like that - "Colonel, we have heard lots about you. The boys are ready to go any place". A few minutes later as we entered the officers mess a young Bombardier came up to me and without catching his breath said, "You're Colonel Armstrong arent you?". "You have come here to lead us to Happy Valley, haven't you" - "Well, the day you go you can count me out". "Happy Valley" is the name the boys gave the Rhur. The little fellow did go to Happy Valley but failed to return.
When one mentions "Officers' Mess" there is a natural tendency to connect that place with food only. In reality serving meals there is only a minor function. Nearly everything and certainly anything can happen in an officers' mess. There the officers write home, play games, listen to the radio, drink and dance. The one where I was was also a "Score Board" for raids accomplished - good or bad.
After each raid the leader was forced to - if necessary - stand on the shoulders of three officers who had also been on the raid and "smoke" the name of the objective on the ceiling of the club room. The smoke used came from a long candle held high above the head. Naturally the hot tallow dripping from the candle ran down the sleeve - more often into the face. The word must be spelled correctly and written legibly. Wilhelmshaven is not easy I assure you. When the word has been completed to the satisfaction of all concerned, three youngsters who have been circling the room, at top speed imitating a Focke Wulf fighter dive at the knees of the boys supporting the "Ceiling Writer". Gravity completes the job.
I noticed some half moon splotches on the far wall - they were about two feet from the floor. When I started in their direction a Bombardier volunteered to explain them to me. It seemed that each time a target was not reached because of bad weather - or for any other reason as a matter of fact - the operations officer was caught and brought in. After a mock trial, which automatically carried a conviction and penalty, the poor operations officer was relieved of his pants and shorts. He was allowed to walk around the room and pray off his sin, which added to his embarrassment, before he was blacked with candle smoke. Amid loud cheers and chanting the official "Blacker" would solemnly apply the smoke and release the victim to the executioners. With much
precision but very little accuracy two officers would swing the victim by his hands and feet preparatory to smacking his black spot against the wall. Thus originated the "Ops Spot". I looked around for the Operations Officer who came in with me - he had gone.
Clock time in the UK is not the dominating criterion. That is, concerning the VIII Bomber Command. Neither is tea time. However, its mighty easy to acquire the custom of “eating a snack” between meals. The all important issue is - how many raids can be made each thirty days. Sleet or snow, rain or shine, the big question is- When re do we raid?
Unless one can actually see a raiding force as it assembles and departs the English Coast it is impossible to even imagine what it looks like; - what form it takes after the leader points the nose of his aircraft towards the objective. Many can recall having seen three or thirty airplanes in formation at one time or another during peace time to be a spectator as three, four or six hundred Fortresses pass overhead is awly inspiring to say the least. To be beneath them when our Bombardiers sing "Bombs Away" must be Hell.
I have often wondered what the German people think when their alert is sounded in the day time. No one knows where the Forts will strike. They do know that bombs will rain down on one city or another; they always do. One of our boys who was shot down in a target area reported that he was walking along a highway ten miles from the target hit by the Forts the following day. When the bombs exploded on the target he was bounced off the ground approximately eight inches.
Fortress Crews do not casually walk out to their airplanes, fly away, bomb and return home. When they push the throttles forward for the take off they are performing their alloted duty which is only one of many necessary to achieve the results desired.
Long before the bombs are dropped men have worked long hard hours preparing the ground essentials. All targets are "Cased". Enemy ground gun installations are studied and their fire power computed. For instance, if one route to the bomb release line carries the formation within range of two hundred guns and another route over only one hundred guns, the latter is chosen. Combat Crews fly the course they are directed to fly.
Bomb loadings are not the result of guess work. The type of bomb capable of penetrating the buildings and producing maximum results on a particular target are ordered after hours of deliberate study by ground personnel.
Bombing missions are by no stretch of the imagination cross country flights. Prescribed routes are flown only after a minute study of many routes has been made. The timing of the flight is as accurately planned as a quick opening play off tackle on a football field. The Combat Crews complete the mission; fighting to and from the target and return to base. Hidden from view are those who slave to make the missions successful. They ask for no recognition,
complain very little, swell with pride when the Bomber Crews return - a job well done - unsung heroes all.
Combat crew members are not as superstitious as one might be led to believe after listening to the many peculiarities they indulge in. They do have the conviction that if a "Charm" works once it will work again.
I recall one Captain who required all personnel aboard his airplane to join in the sing-song indulged in by >His< crew members after the fighting subsided. On one trip he had a General officer with him who made the flight as an observer. Halfway across the Channel >ON THE RETURN TRIP< the "singing bee" started. The B. C. nodded his head in approval but did not participate. The Captain called a halt to the singing and announced to the crew that their passenger was not in the mood to join in. Over the inner communication which was connected to the ranking officer's head set came the demand from the tail gunner, "Throw hi>m< n overboard". The Bombardier sanctioned the suggestion and replie>d< e, "Bomb bay doors going down". The high ranking officer was singing at the top of his voice when the Bomber landed at Base.
I had one Squadron Commander who would not lead a mission unless a certain WAA>FJ officer who was stationed on our Post had perched her cap on his too large head. All the way around the perimeter track and especially in front of the Control Tower the youngster doffed the female R.A.F. cap at ground personnel. At high altitude after the oxygen mask had been adjusted the WAAC's cap sat serenely on his head
through flak and fighter attacks. On close in attacks the Germans must have questioned whether they were fighting man or woman, or both.
The first person to complete twenty-five missions for us was an American with a Russian name. Everyone was deeply interested in the return landing of the "Fort" he was completing his combat tour in. A reception committee had formed and waited at the dispersal point for the Sergeant Gunner. Red paint and a bicycle had been transported across the airdrome in a truck. Before the propeller blast had cleared the triumphant sergeant was pulled from the airplane and relieved of all his clothing except shorts, which were too short for the balmy weather we were experiencing at that time. The numeral "25" was painted in red on his chest and back, after which he was placed on the bicycle and told to ride to the barracks. He ran the gauntlet of ground crews who showered him with soft mud without becoming a casualty. To him that run was more dangerous than the last one completed over enemy territory. The rascal "sneaked" two more raids before we caught up with him with an official order eliminating him from combat duty.
I couldn't cast disparaging remarks at the others. All the crews were will informed of the Baby Shoe I carried with me as a good luck charm. They knew that the thirteen year old piece of foot wear had seen rough service before its original owner discarded it because his big toe became
exposed - and that I left a practice formation once to return for it. From that day on it was a certainty that I had that shoe with me if I had my shirt on. Its getting so old now, - "fourteen", - I carry it in a special case - always.
The Group I commanded was a veteran. It had been in the Theatre many months and had bombed every place of importance along the French and Dutch coast, as well as important installations inland. So many trips were made to the Lorient the crews casually spoke of them as "milk runs". No one goes to Lorient anymore - who wants to bomb a ghost city.
The boys were interested in any raid ordered by Bomber Command but they were growing restless. In their mind was a feeling that Germany proper should feel the shook of their bombs. As one boy mildly expressed himself by saying, "Those German fighter boys shoot at us each time we cross the Channel so let's go over and blow his house down".
We had never been to Germany proper. The crews were on edge and eager to carry the fight to the Hun.- all the way to his front door steps. They were anxious to "test" him in his own back yard - and “make him like it".
There was a unanimous feeling among the crews that they were Germany bound the day I arrived. Some embarrassing questions were put to me which I could not afford to answer. After all there are some secrets attached to a military operations that cannot be discussed even with the crews.
One night about nine o'clock the phone that was a direct connection to my Operations office rang. The voice mechanically said, "Something cooking Colonel".
Personally I didn't feel that there was any need for me to hurry down to be informed of the mission. I was certain that it was "the mission">.< – >W< we had been waiting for it - expecting it daily. Now that orders had come through we would brief it and fly it as routine.
After I had shaved and shined my shoes; two things I always did before going on a raid, I walked into the Ops Block. Ordinarily the place is as quiet as a tomb and the personnel there working equally as quietly. Not ture this time. Two officers were rangling with many profane words which were directed at each other. I was ten feet inside the office before they realized my presence and quieted down long enough for me to inquire as to the unnecessary noise. Both youngsters began talking at the same time. They were told to be quiet while the Assistant Operations Officer explained that they were arguing the question of which one of the two could go on the mission - only one could be away from the station when a raid was flown - and each was accusing the other of cheating him out of a ride, especially this one. Why this particular raid I asked. Both antagonists answered simultaneously Its over Germany.;
Up to that instant I had not attached any exceptional significance to the raid. Suddenly the full realization what we were about to accomplish caused me to tingle inside. The two boys were told that both could go on the raid if they'd "Kiss and make up". With broad grins on their faces they shook hands and all went to work frantically.
When a combat order is received by a Combat Group, day or night, things really begin to happen. Everyone does what is expressed in a short phrase, "Cook on two burners". On the other hand if for any reason progress is retarded they say, "We are chopping but no chips are flying". Most of the time they "Cook on two burners".
Telephones ring and short crisp messages are delivered. Each aircraft is checked. Bomb loadings are issued, briefing time is set, the Charge of quarters is given a time to call all crews. Transportation is notified when and where to be. The whole problem is reviewed from beginning to end. Taxi and take off times are worked out. Assembly places for Squadrons, Groups, and Wings are designated. The target is studied.- >C< courses plotted to and from the target. Guns are loaded and checked. Coordination plans with other participating units are reviewed. Errors are corrected. Plans are sometimes changed on a moments notice. Those and a few dozen other problems are routine.
Four A.M., briefing time, found us working hurriedly. What had been origionally anticipated as a calm evening - a routine mission - developed into a cyclone. Everyone was excited. I couldn't stand still. The boys had me doing it too - Singing, Hail! Hail, the Gangs all here. What the Hell do we care now.
Our briefing room which was none too large was over flowing with crew members. Everyone was there - those who were scheduled for the raid and those who were not. Those members not scheduled were trying to bribe those who were to remain at home. The offers were fantastic varying from perfume to silk hose.
The tension was so great at the time I entered the room the atmosphere could be cut with a knife. All of the crews knew where they were going, but none dared breathe it before briefing. Something had to be done as an attempt to relieve conditions before briefing could begin. I stepped out on the platform and said, "Wilhelmshaven". The roof of the building nearly blew off after a few seconds there was quiet.
As is customary, the Intelligence Officer opened the briefing, "Gentlemen, the target for today is an important installation in Germany proper". Following the description of the target, its importance to the enemy and why we were bombing it at that particular hour of the day, the course to be flown was uncovered. Sighs came from all quarters of the room. On all previous raids altitude had been gained over England. The course laid out on the screen projected far into the North Sea before it turned towards the target. We were faking a long end run at low altitude before cutting back across tackle at high altitude.
After briefing, the crews disappeared in the dark. Take off was at daylight. Far down the hangar line laughing
voices could be heard. "Cat Calls" were made for the benefit of some who were not lucky enough to get a ride.
There was the usual bumping of heads against metal inside the dark airplane. As usual I struggled through the Bomb Bay and swore a little. Stomach muscles were drawn tight - they did it every time and from all past indications they will continue to do it.
Daylight and taxi time found us in the cockpit adjusting oxygen masks.
The "All clear to taxi!" signal had been given and we were moving out slowly when a running figure appeared near my left wing. Parachute harness, oxygen mask, coveralls and a small tool kit were suspended in mid air behind the apparition.
The airplane was stopped. One of the waist gunners opened the side door and yanked the man in. A few seconds later as we were turning on to the take off strip a panting voice said, "I just did make it, Army". "I brought my tool kit and will work on the turrets if they go out". I thought to myself, "What the Hell do I have with me now - a crazy man?". After the take off I looked around to find one of my best friends from London smiling at me.
One turn at the assembly point brought the other groups behind us.
We headed out to sea at minimum altitude.
'Twas a beautiful spectacle to watch. All around us
formations were jockeying for positions. Those in the low position were casting large, fast moving shadows on the sea. Reflections from the high outfits resembled small round balls skipping across the lazy swell. The sea was calm and green. Bewildered fishermen lay down their tools and gazed at the huge birds of war gracefully dipping their wings in response to the gentle gusts of wind.
Many sea miles were flown in a tight defensive formation. God help the Hun who attacked the formation at that altitude. There was no air space between the formation and the sea to which he could dive for safety after an attack. Thousands of bullets were awaiting anyone who hesitated above.
When the point of climb-was reached the Navigator pressed his throat "Mike" button and said, "Going Up". Lieutenant Colonel Claude Putnam, my Copilot, warned the crew that we were going to altitude. Everyone reached for his oxygen mask. The altimeter hand was gradually winding around the dial reading off ten, eleven, twelve thousand feet. Our bombing altitude was twenty-five.
There was a sudden commotion behind me. I looked around - "Hank" B., my passenger, was trying to squeeze through the opening under the top turret. His hair was disheavled - one arm was in his flying suit jacket and one was free - the flying boots he wore were not fastened, All in all he was a worried man. I couldn't help but laugh at him - momentarily. Finally l said, "Hank, what is your trouble"?
His reply was, "I can't find my oxygen mask". "Hell man you have got to find it, we are on our way to altitude" - "You can't live up there without oxygen". From a dry throat came, "Don't you think that I know that" - "It's beginning to worry me". Putnam who had been listening to the conversation leaned over near enough for Hank hear him say to me, "Let's pitch him out the side door now he's going to die anyway".
From our altitude Germany was a peaceful country. The beaches and terrain could have been transplanted from a dozen other places we had flown over before. Yet, there was a feeling inside us that everything below was from another world. Strange lands and strange people. One thing was certain – we were over Germany.
At the briefing we had been told of the ground defense around Wilhelmshaven. The R.A.F. had returned from night raids over the city with reports of intense and accurate flak.
The lead airplane methodically drifting from one side of the course to the other in slight evasive action, the huge formation snaked across the coast line between heavy A.A. gun installations and headed for the German city. A few fighters came up and made two half hearted attacks. One fighter went down. The others withdrew to a safe range and watched us. The Germans couldn't believe what they saw. They had been told that bombs would not devastate their homeland.
Long since the R.A.F. had disproved that theary. They had been promised faithfully that Americans would not bomb them in daylight.
High to the North East an invading force approached their city. Fifteen minutes later that force invaded, soaked a part of the waterfront and withdrew.
The huge formation, flying the course as briefed, straightened out for the bombing run. Drifting cloud banks and the Fortresses raced each other for the target. The clouds won - the city was saved momentarily. The safest run up for us was lost.
Slowly the formation began an encircling maneuver. Small black clouds formed to the left of us. Ground guns were defying our entry. Two bright colored flares exploded near us signalling our corrected altitude to batteries below. Evasive action was started - none too soon. A barrage broke near our low group - too close for comfort.
A break in the cloud layer widened. The Navigator spoke on the inner communication, "This is the heavily defended run but we'll have to take it" - "Turn left-left" - "On course". We had been waiting for an opportunity to strike quickly. The bomb bay doors had been opened minutes before. Apparently the enemy anti aircraft crews did not anticipate our maneuver. Lazily we floated around the city watching and waiting. Suddenly the formation came to life, turned quickly and darted in. Not a shot was fired at the lead group before the familiar voice sang out, "Bombs Away".
Putnam and I were basking in ease, chuckling to ourselves how we had fooled the "squareheads", when suddenly we both left our seats and strained against the safety belt. A salvo had exploded beneath us. Fifty feet higher and we would have been blown out of the sky. Captain MacKay, leading our high squadron, disappeared behind black smoke.
Acrobats in the middle ring of a three ring circus could not have done better than our group did. The "Fort" we had gracefully stood on end and turned. Every pilot went into his pet "flak dance". Never before had I seen Bombers do acrobatics in formation.
I looked around expecting to find my friend "Hank" inspecting a gun turret. Much to my surprise he was busily engages in shaking his fist at flak bursts that had come up ahead of us.
I began to breathe again, must have been holding my breath a long time, when as the sky cleared - not for long – >We had lost three thousand feet in a dive getting away from the target and had unconsciously levelled off above an ENEMY convoy accompanied by gun boats. I couldn't tell who was soared worse. We began to climb and turn; they began to zig and zag. A couple of "poops" came up from one boat as we turned for the open sea and eventually home,
The first U.S. daylight raid over Germany was history.
My promotion orders came through shortly after the Wilhelmshaven raid. Two of my officers, Coleman and Putnam, changed my rank for me. Personally, I think they were more interested in the insignia they took from me than they were in my promotion. Anyway they matched for the pair of eagles - both needed them badly.
Awakening the next morning I ventured a "one eye peep" around my room before attempting to tackle the cold floor with my warm feet.
The >first< thing I saw was a blouse with a star on the shoulder hanging on a hook. My head disappeared under the cover where it remained while I figured out why "that guy" was hanging "his" clothes in my room. I hadn't been told that one of "those fellows">Read< [written sideways in margin] was to visit my Base. One of "those fellows" lived there - the blouse was my own.
Then and there two very important realizations became clear to me. One, that I had been promoted to greater responsibility carrying with it unending hours of hard work, and that my government expected and would receive my every effort directed efficiently towards ending the war. Two, that I had been detached forever from my Combat Group as its commander. That stung a little. My consolation was>:< >If< I could not command them as a group I could lead them into Combat as a unit.
I did not locate the tail gunner who had painted something insinuative about a General being afraid to sit in his seat. Perhaps its best - I would have been scared. Instead a raid to Breast was scheduled and I led it.
Being convinced after that trip that the Germans Couldn't shoot me down any faster as a General than they did as A Colonel, I scheduled myself for a raid on Antwerp. That was nearly a mistake on my part - nearly but not quite.
The raid to Antwerp was scheduled and I rode as observer. The nature of my mission was to check the pilot, Lt. Col. J. W. Wilson, and copilot, Captain Regan, as Wing leaders.
Spitfires covered the formation to Ghent. Far ahead German fighters could be seen gaining altitude for the attack. As the RAF fighters were forced to leave us because of fuel shortage, the Huns moved in. The following twenty five minutes was concentrated Hell.
Approximately twenty-five head-on attacks were made on the lead Fortress. Her number four engine was hit. The main spar in each wing was shot up. At least two 20 mm shells ripped through the nose and cabin, damaging the hydraulic and oxygen systems.
Wilson crash landed on our airdrome - one more 20 mm would have forced us down in Belgium.
The notes that follow were made as time and events would allow.
BY BRIGADIER GENERAL FRANK ARMSTRONG
A United States Bomber Station in England - (Delayed) (AP)
Stood behind pilot while he took off...
Moved to Navigator-bombardier compartment and rode with them until we gained considerable altitude, when I returned to a position behind the pilot and copilot...
Adjusted oxygen mask and arranged parachute so top-turret mechanism would not knock it down---
Placed the pilot's parachute in a better position for him to get if an emergency arose...
Made sign language to pilot to be on alert for enemy attackers through thin overcast in early stages of the attack...
Pointed out two smoke trails coming out of France high to our left...
Checked time of turn as we left the English Coast...
Checked on the formation by looking through the side window...
Looked at Belgium as we crossed the coast line, wondering how those people were doing down there...
Cursed a Focke-Wulf 190 as it came in to our right.
Watched the first enemy attack develop ahead of the formation.
Pointed out the attackers to the pilot as they became more ferocious and concentrated.
Pressed the control column forward as a FW-190 met us head on. Back seat driving and I was sorry about it. FW-190 rolled under wing, missing a collision by a few feet.
Watched fire from cannons as Germans increased their attack. (Only one cannon was firing from a few of the enemy aircraft - out of ammunition, maybe)
Flinched as shell exploded the oxygen and hydraulic systems.
Looked at pilot and copilot to see how badly they were wounded.
Began to feel queer---checked oxygen supply --- pressure was down to 100.
Tried to attach oxygen lead to emergency supply bottle. Couldn't get it to fasten, so tore up mask.
Copilot reached for emergency oxygen bottle. Gave it to him and asked for a whiff and he gave it to me.
Pilot told me that captain Robert J. Salitrnik, Navigator, had been hit and wanted some assistance. Got another whiff of oxygen from copilot and started to forward compartment.
Crawled through hydraulic fluid on hands and knees to navigator. (Editor’s note: The Navigator had received a severe sharpnel wound in the leg and was bleeding badly) Used oxygen mask connecting hose as tourniquet on navigator's leg.
Helped to take navigator's parachute off and stretch him out. Rearranged tourniquet and gave it to bombardier to hold (Had my own thumb >i< on it.)..
Took navigation data out of navigator's pocket a tried to locate our position on the map. Couldn't get maps straight...
Crawled back to pilot's compartment to give him compass course on the paper... lost information on the floor and crawled back for it...
Rearranged tourniquet and continued to nose of aircraft. Put on throat mike and head set. Called pilot to inform him we would be forced to land at the first RAF station because the navigator was seriously wounded - gave pilot course to fly.
Could not locate any field on the ground.
Crawled over to navigator and slapped his face. Looked at his eyes. Requested pilot to get down as rapidly as possible as all oxygen for navigator had been used...
Sat by navigator feeling his head. Rearranged tourniquet. Held navigator's arm while bombardier tried to give him a hypo. (Fluid ran out before needle got in)
Pilot called to report a fire had started in the cockpit. Remained seated. Just sat until lower altitude was reached...
Crawled back to pilot's compartment and notified him I would stand by rear door with fire extinguisher ready. Sat behind ammunition box for crash landing...
Opened door and ran around to front of airplane after it had stopped - no fires …
Placed $400 in the back seat of an automobile and walked away and left it ... Forgot what driver's name was. Tried to get the pilot to go over for a cup of coffee …
Money was handed to me later...
Drank coffee and ate doughnuts...
Began to function normally.
My combat career ended suddenly, by orders from higher command. I had been assigned other duties. There would be no more leaving the office for hours just to go on a bombing raid.
My Headquarters were situated near the flying line. Fortresses going out or returning from raids blew dust against the office window. The familiar sound of squeaking brakes seeped beneath the crack under the door. Often day dreams wrapped me in a shroud of fantastic desires. I could not convince my inner self that I was an "old man" -- Too old for combat. That youngsters, with their courage and skill, had doomed me forever to watch from the sideline as they flew on to victory. Deep down in my heart I was proud of them - proud to be counted as a member of their clan.
A grape vine rumor brought news to our Base that I was returning to the States. Two emotions simultaneously began to tug at my heart strings. The unabated desire to be with family once again - nineteen months away from them was a long time in any language.
The other force was equally as strong. Living on the same base with Combat crews; sleeping near and eating in their mess hall; flying in the same sky where they fought and lived and died, saturated ones blood with bonds that were hard to sever.
As the day of departure drew nearer I realized more keenly what the final day >hour<-would mean to me. Casually
I walked the perimeter track each day filling my innermost being with the wonder and glory displayed by the youngsters who flew the Fortresses.
One day my tour brought me to a dispersal point where many soldiers were working. Some were busily engaged in making a few final adjustments on the motors. Others were “piddling” around doing nothing is particular. The Crew Chief reminded me of a young mother fussing around her new baby just before sending it off to see its grandparents.
One of the Engineering Officers rode up on his bicycle. He must have reached the ripe old age of twenty-four. We joined in conversation. I learned that the Fortress was being groomed for her last flight. She had completed twenty-seven trips across the target. Her crew was proud of the record she had made. No wonder they were fondly caressing her that day. Soon she would be replaced by a new airplane. The two of us had one thing in common.
The Engineering Officer excused himself and rode away.
I stood where he left me and allowed my thoughts to ramble.
There I stood before a mighty aircraft - a >“< omen >Queen< of the Sky.” She was majestic even in her last days. Along her sleek sides small metal plates had been riveted in irregular lines. Small calibre gun fire had at some time or other ripped into her innards. 20 calibres had torn away one side of the flippers. That happened a long time ago. The replaced fabric had faded
and now nearly corresponded to the origional color worn by the rudder. Small holes beneath the pilot's seat and replaced plexiglass in the navigator's compartment were mute evidence of head on attacks through which she had battled and returned to Base victorious.
The Engineering Officer returned carrying an armful of flying equipment. I could see my name on the flying jacket as he came near me and stopped. Silently he laid the jacket across my arm. I asked, 'Why this?”. He replied that the Group Commander thought that I would like to fly "her" to "Fortress Heaven" where she would be retired from combat.
My heart pounded with pride as l climbed to the cockpit. We flew away together - the Queen and I - she to her haven of rest and me to my home in the States.
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