Nothing much happened on the flight from Lincoln to Grenier and as a matter of fact, nothing much happened after we got to Grenier. This was our last stop before our jump off to England. We were issued survival kits, which consisted of rifles, ammunition, fishing tackle, etc., for use in case we were forced down in the wilds of the north, country over which we were going to fly.
Taking off from Grenier one early morning in bright sunlight, our course took us over the State of Maine and to the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River. My recollection is, at this point the St. Lawrence is more than fifty miles wide. Crossing the river, I looked to the west. There, in the river were many, many small islands. Checking my map I discovered that the islands were described as “The Thousand Islands”. For years, I wondered if the salad dressing known as “Thousand Island” originated in this area. But, I never found out.
After crossing the St. Lawrence River we entered the desolate area of New Brunswick. For many miles, maybe hundreds, I saw no roads, no cities, nothing. The entire landscape was covered in heavy snow and seemed to be barren of any human life. This condition continued until we made our approach to...
GOOSE BAY, LABRADOR: JUMP OFF POINT TO ICELAND
Since we were not carrying a bombardier, I had the entire nose area of the bomber to myself. I enjoyed the privilege of being able to sit in the bombardier’s seat and look out this huge plexi-glass nose at the scenery. On final approach to the runway at Goose Bay we were down to only a few hundred feet off the ground. It appeared to me that the trees were small. The thought that I had was that it was so cold, a tree’s growth was retarded. The truth was, the snow was so deep that I was only seeing the tops of the trees.
When the plane finally touched the runway, we could see nothing, neither to the right nor to the left - only forward. The snow was so deep and the snow- plows had piled it up on the sides so high, that it was like landing in a white tunnel with no roof. Taxiing around to our parking area and disembarking, we got our first taste of what cold weather really was. The temperature at this time was in the neighborhood of forty-five degrees, Fahrenheit below zero. Everything was snow and ice. The runways, taxi ways and parking areas had been cleared of snow but there was a heavy coating of slick ice all over all the concrete areas and made walking, driving and taxiing airplanes rather hazardous. This condition will be made clearer as you continue, with this report of what I saw one night.
The barracks were comfortable and well heated, even with the cold temperature outside. The food was terrible and I got my first taste of powdered milk and powdered eggs. Powdered milk tastes like crushed or pulverized blackboard chalk in water. Powdered eggs did not taste any better. There was no Officers’ Club or bar on the field because the American organization that operated the field had closed them. For all the time that I was in Goose Bay, we never had any access to any alcoholic beverages. This shows that they really loved us even though we were on the same team.
Goose Bay was a divided airfield, one-part of the field, was controlled by the Canadians. The other part-where we were-was controlled by the American forces. The only recreation we had during the daylight hours was ice-skating. The Canadians had flooded a small field with water that quickly froze and formed a skating rink. This is where I learned to ice skate - but not well.
We had very little activities during the daylight hours because they were so short. The sun rose about 11:00 in the morning and set about 2:00 in the afternoon. The rest of the time it was pitch black.
On days that we were scheduled to fly to Iceland we would go to a briefing, which in all the important details, was identical to every other pre-flight briefing that I had at Goose Bay. The briefing went something like this: An officer would stand before the group and say, “Gentlemen, if the weather is clear in Iceland today, we are going to get you off for your flight there. However, if the weather is bad, we may have to cancel you before takeoff or even recall you, if you are on your way. Be advised that the temperature outside is now fifty degrees below zero. Between Goose Bay and Meeks Field Iceland we have only one emergency field and that is on Greenland. This field adjoins a huge glacier. Getting into this field in daylight is treacherous, and at night, it is almost impossible. If anything goes wrong with your airplane, and you cannot return to base, and crash in the sea, you will probably be able to live only five minutes in a raft and less than thirty seconds in the water. If you cannot make it back, we recommend that you stick the nose down, dive into the ocean and get it over with as quickly as possible. We cannot help you in any way!” He would ask if there were any questions? Invariably, there was some clown who would stand up and ask, “Sir, is this trip necessary?” Naturally, there was a slight laugh from the group, but not very happy ones. At every briefing we had this same question was raised by some comedian. This was a World War II question that was submitted to the civilian population about driving their cars unnecessarily, and saving the fuel for the war effort.
After this lovely discussion of our fate, we were given the weather data, conditions and information that would aid us in navigating to Iceland. Then the briefing was dismissed and we were put on trucks and taken to our airplanes to await the take- off instructions. This included refrigerating our feet. For some reason, we never were issued electrically heated shoes that would hook into our electrically heated suit to keep our feet warm. We were issued fleece-lined boots, but in fifty degrees below zero weather, they did no keep your feet warm particularly, if you are sitting inside of an airplane with no heaters. True, our bodies were warm, but my feet always got terribly cold. In fact, one night I actually got them frost bitten. This happened when I had been sitting in an airplane for quite sometime, with no heated shoes. My feet started to really bother me and the flight was cancelled. I immediately went into the control tower, took off my boots and shoes and noticed that the edges of my toes had turned a milky white. I was not in any pain, but they felt like ice cubes. For years afterwards, I had problems with my toes where the skin would rub off on my socks. Wearing dark socks for a period of time, I would find they were covered with a fine white dust of my own skin when I took them off. This condition lasted for several years, but finally went away and no more problem. I never did suffer any discomfort from frostbite.
The night of my first take off to Iceland was bitter cold. The temperature was around forty five-fifty degrees below zero and there was a raging snow- storm. We had been put, on hold, for well over an hour before we got the word to take off. Finally, the word was given and a jeep drove in front of our plane. The runways and taxi strips were very slick. The jeep was slowly driving in front of us to keep the pilot from taxiing too fast. As we approached the exit from the taxi strip to the active runway, the pilot stepped on the brakes and stopped. After stopping, the plane would not move. The brakes had frozen tight and had locked the wheels. We were stranded on the exit ramp in this blinding snow- storm, until they got big heaters that would attach onto the brakes, heat the brakes and free them. Finally, the brakes let go, but then we had to wait again, because the snow was so heavy that we could not see fifty to one hundred yards down the runway. It cleared. The signal was given and away we went.
As we took off from the field, I knew that we were not very far from the coast. I was interested in determining the exact time I crossed the coast of Labrador for my navigational purposes. We were climbing and going eastward. It seemed like a long time that we were still over land. Finally, it dawned on me that the ocean was frozen for many miles and was covered with snow. That was why I could not see the dark area of the ocean against the ice area of the shore. It was cold.
The distance from Goose Bay Labrador to the western coast of Greenland is about seven hundred and fifty miles. Flying over the ocean, I could see nothing below me. The only thing that I could think of, to check my progress, would be to get my sextant and take a series of star observations. Taking my sextant out of its case, I climbed into the astrodome to take some star observations when, to my surprise, there were no stars! Northern Lights were so thick that no stars were visible. No moon – nothing! My hopes of taking celestial readings were shattered. This was not to be a problem. Within a few moments, we received a radio message from Labrador to turn around and come back to Goose Bay. Iceland was socked in and we could not land. We were off the southern tip of Greenland, near the city of Godthaab. We turned around 180 degrees and returned to Goose Bay.
At this time, I think it would be helpful to explain certain terms that I have used and will be using in the next segment of this journey for the reader’s better understanding of what is going on and happening. These terms are Dead Reckoning (DR); astrodome; bomb window in the nose; celestial navigation; and radio compass.
Dead Reckoning: this is the basic form of aerial navigation. The system is a computed flight plan, based upon facts that are known, usually, at the beginning of the flight. These facts are the location of your starting point and the location of your destination. Example: to go from point A to point B. To arrive at point B from point A, you establish a course line from a map. The other facts are that you have to know, are your altitude and the temperature at your altitude, the wind direction and velocity plus, your air speed. The basic formula for figuring a navigational problem is distance = rate (speed) x time. Using your hand-held Navigator’s computer, you can determine your drift from course, the true airspeed of your plane and your ground speed (actual movement over the ground). Dividing the distance to your destination by your ground speed, you arrive at the time of flight for this distance. Knowing when you leave from Point A, you add this flight time and you arrive at your estimated time of arrival at point B. This is known as “ETA” or estimated time of arrival.
During a flight, the wind direction and velocity can change. When this happens, it changes your ground speed, drift, time to Point B, etc. These changes can be calculated, if you are able to determine your location, by seeing recognizable objects on the ground, such as lakes, rivers, railroads, cities, etc. Or, it is possible on long flights to determine an approximate location by taking visual bearings of the altitude or angles of stars and in some instances, even the sun. If you are lucky enough to have radar, either in the plane or on the ground, you can get a ground positions from radar information. Unfortunately, on this trip across the Atlantic Ocean, we did not have radar of any kind.
The last example of determining your ground location would be the use of a radio compass. However, I will explain what the radio compass does in a following paragraph.
Astrodome: An astrodome is a plastic bubble-shaped bowl that is located on the top of the nose of the bomber. Its use is for the navigator to sight his sextant when taking star readings. Occasionally, I would stand up and look out the astrodome. I could get a full three hundred sixty, degree look at what as going on rather than just the view from the nose. The astrodome is clear and it had been treated in some way to cause a minimum of distortion when looking through the dome.
Bomb Nose Window: On the bottom of the Plexiglas nose cone, of a B17 Bomber, a special window was installed to provide the bombsight a clear and distortion free view. A hole, about two feet long and one foot wide was cut in the Plexiglas. Installed in this hole were two glass or Plexiglas plates. These plates were bolted onto the nose by means of eight or ten metal screws. These screws followed the contours of this window to hold it in place. Between these two pieces of glass or Plexiglas was a vacuum, to prevent fogging or other interference, with the clear view of the bombsight through this window.
Celestial navigation: This is a very complicated subject and I will only make reference to a superficial examination and explanation. It involves a lot of computations. Generally, celestial navigation is using a sextant to take taking the elevation of stars. With the aid of star tables, you are then able to compute a position on the ground. It is very slow and was not used in combat. I never used it, other than in training. I attempted to use it on the Atlantic crossing, but because of the Northern Lights and clouds, I could see no stars or sun and was unable to use any form of celestial navigation.
Radio Compass: This unique instrument was primarily the result of a loop antenna that was attached to the airplane. The antenna was hooked by electrical wires to a repeater compass that was attached to the navigator’s desk in a vertical position. The dial of the radio compass is approximately five or six inches in diameter and had all of the degrees of a compass around its edge. The number 0 and the number 180 were aligned so that they were parallel to the central axis of the airplane. The dial was black with white numbers that would glow under a black light. In the center of the black dial was a white pointer that had an arrowhead point on one end and was about five-six inches long. This too was painted white, with luminous paint.
When you tune in a radio station the first thing that you do is identify the station by its “call letters”. Second, from your maps, determine the exact location of the station. Third, turn on the radio compass. The loop antenna will swing and point to the signal-causing the needle on the radio compass to indicate the position of the station, in compass degrees, in relation to the axis of the plane. If the station were directly ahead, it would read 0. If the station were to the rear of the plane, it would read 180 degrees. Any other relation of a station to the axis of the plane would be indicated as a compass bearing in degrees. A feature of the radio compass is if you passed over the subject station, the needle would swing 180 degrees. The arrowhead pointer would be pointing at 180. This is important and will be explained later.
Return with me now to Goose Bay. Coming in from Greenland, we again found that Goose Bay was in a snowstorm. We parked the airplane and returned to our living quarters. Just to give you an example of how cold it was, if you walked across the street from one building to the next, the water in your nose would freeze and you could feel it crunch. That’s cold. At this point, one of the most amazing things that I have ever seen was about to occur.
The night was black as the ace of spades and bitter cold. However, in my living quarters, it was quite comfortable and my bed was near a window that faced to the north. Lying there about half-asleep and dozing, I suddenly was jerked awake by noticing, out the window, that the sky seemed to be on fire. Hastily gathering what clothes I could get on, I raced out the door-stood on the porch of the building and was flooded with this brilliant light. As I looked, what seemed to be no more than two-three hundred feet above me and just a little ways in front of me, was this huge band of fire all across the sky. It looked like a gigantic illuminated ribbon. Through this ribbon was running all these colors - blues, reds, greens, gold, orange. This band of fire was moving. It was moving not only toward me, but moving toward the northwest. Quite often, it would jump and a color would run through it. First, there would be a blue, then there would be a green, then an orange, and all the colors of the rainbow, but predominantly, it was gold-orange-reddish color. There was no sound! It appeared that, if I could pick up a snowball, I could throw it and probably hit the band of colors. It was that close. Within just a few minutes, it passed completely overhead and moved off to the northwest and disappeared. I never saw it again in any form. Later, I was told by one of the weather people at the base, that this was form of Northern Lights. They saw it quite often. It was not uncommon. There was no danger. There was no feeling of electricity or anything happening to me. It was completely quiet. For the rest of the night, there were great big milky streamers that seemed to go, from the ground to infinity, over an area that I took to be the location of Iceland.
Another day, another briefing. Another sitting in the airplane, refrigerating my feet, waiting for the signal to take off. The temperature again is about fifty degrees below zero. It was pitch dark nighttime and nothing was happening at this particular time. To describe the scene, we were sitting in a B-17 Bomber in a parking area that resembled a cloverleaf. Contained in this cloverleaf were other bombers that were positioned so that there was a small distance between wing tips in order to get the maximum number of planes in one parking area. Big lights made the area as bright as day. The plane next to us on my left had the tip of its right wing almost touching the tip of our left wing. I had a very good view of most of the plane from the waist window forward and, particularly, a very close view of the two engines that were nearest to me. Picture yourself sitting in the pilot’s seat with the co-pilot to your right. Looking out the pilot’s window to his left, the engine farthest out on the wing would be engine #1, nearer to him and closest to the fuselage would be engine #2. Over on the other side to the right of the co-pilot, the nearest engine to the fuselage would be engine #3 and farther out on the wing would be engine #4. These two engines, #3 and # 4, were directly in my line of sight and quite visible under the bright lights. I could see almost every rivet on the aluminum skin. The plane on my left started its engines and after running them up for a few moments, the pilot throttled them down to an idle speed with the props still swinging fast. At this time, I saw a vehicle coming toward us with its headlights on. As it entered the parking area, it pulled up about one hundred feet in front of the nose of the plane on my left. The driver got out and started running to the nose of the bomber, as though he were going to say something to the co-pilot. When he got under the window of the co-pilot, he stopped running, but due to the ice he didn’t stop moving! As quick as I can explain this, he slid through the propeller of #3 engine on that aircraft. It never touched him! I had just witnessed a miracle. After he realized what had happened and he was back of the whirling propeller, he sat down on the ice for maybe thirty or forty seconds. He then got up, very slowly made his way around #4 engine, went back to the jeep, got in and left. He never said anything to anybody. What he was going to do was completely unknown to me. I saw this with my own eyes. I was never told nor do I know whatever happened to him, but to my knowledge he was not hit by the prop nor injured in any way.
If my memory serves me, on this same evening while we were sitting in the airplanes waiting for our take off instructions, we had a bad crash. Some B-24 Liberator Bombers had arrived for the trip to England. On this particular night, the B-24's had been given the signal to depart. While I was sitting in the airplane, doing nothing, all of a sudden the sky lit up as though dawn had broken. It was bright. I did not hear the explosion, but the flash in the sky consumed the entire area. Evidently, a B-24 had taken off, but had trouble getting its flaps or wheels or something up; it crashed on the ice in the bay and exploded. From that time on, the B-24's were re- routed to fly the southern route. They all left!
Another briefing, another refrigerating of my feet, another anxious waiting for the signal to go. But today is the day!
At long last, the signal came for take off. We roared down the runway, lifted off beautifully, and crossed the frozen bay on our way to Greenland. We were not to stop at Greenland; this was a checkpoint, an intermediate location between Goose Bay and Iceland.
On this flight, we were given a flight plan to go across the ice cap of Greenland, rather than skirt the southern tip. Our flight plan was to enter the coastline of Greenland at a fjord that had a name - Tunulliarfik - or something like that. As we approached Greenland, I found that I had hit this fjord right on the nose, on time, on course. At the mouth of this fjord was a barren rock, barren except for the fact that it had an American radio station on it. As we passed over the rock, we communicated with the personnel at the station. They said that they spend, approximately, six months on the rock; then are given a leave in England. Why they were sent to England is anybody’s guess?
We proceeded up this fjord and sure enough, there was this airfield, pushed up against this tremendous glacier. Remember that it is nighttime and very dark. I was sitting in the bombardier’s seat and as we approached this airfield at the end of this fjord, I looked down through the bomb window (that I have described, heretofore). To my surprise, there was an electric spark making a journey all the way around these screws, from one to the other, going pop, pop, pop, pop. It went from one to the other making a circuit around all these screws. It wasn’t affecting anything. I took the time, when I left this airfield, as my navigational point and headed out over the ice cap of Greenland.
The ice cap and two heart- stopping surprises.
As before, the Northern Lights covered the entire sky and obliterated any stars. Celestial navigation was impossible. Proceeding out over the ice, the Northern Lights cast a bluish green light, an unearthly- looking light on this desolate terrain below me. You could see big black crags sticking up out of this ice and the ice seemed to be split in many ways over the entire surface, which I’m sure were great black crevasses. Seen in this blue, greenish, eerie light, it was an unworldly sight. The back- side of the moon doesn’t look any worse than this. It is probably the most inhospitable place that I have ever viewed and I was so grateful that I never ended, down on it. Needless to say, there were no lights, no evidence of human life whatsoever on this barren wasteland. We were flying at an approximate altitude of seven thousand feet and I remember that I looked at my thermometer indicating the outside temperature. It was about sixty or seventy degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. I was sitting in the bombardier’s seat looking out the nose, when something attracted my attention to my left rear. When I turned around, I almost wet my pants! Each of the four engines looked like they were on fire! The four propellers were covered in fire...orange and red and glowing and whipping as if they were being whipped around by the propellers. The immediate thought was “We’re on fire! Good Lord, over the ice cap of Greenland and we’re on fire!” Then when I looked again, I realized that it wasn’t fire but some strange electrical situation that was occurring. I stood up and looked out my astrodome at the pilots. I could look back at them and see their windshield. Strangely, all the way around their windshield was this band of light like a red neon tube in a sign. It was awesome! I got on the intercom and I called the pilot - I was looking right at him - and asked, “What in the Hell in this?” He said, “I don’t know. The controls and everything are working fine. There’s no problem.” In a few minutes it left. Later, I was told that this was St. Elmo’s fire. It is the result of solar radiation that accumulates near the North Pole. It is not dangerous, and did nothing to injure our instruments or the plane. Whew! Well! Gasp! So much for St. Elmo’s fire.
Continuing on over the icecap, I was not particularly enjoying the view when my pilot called and asked, “Lee, look at your altimeter and tell me what you see?” I looked over at the altimeter, called him and I said, “We’re going down at 500 feet per minute.” He said, “That’s what mine shows.” A few minutes passed. Pilot called, “Lee, What does your altimeter show?” I look. I said, “We’re going down at 500 feet per minute.” He said, “That’s what mine shows.” I could feel he was putting power on and trying to maintain altitude. The engines were throbbing by now. Next, “Lee. What does your altimeter show?” Me, “500 feet a minute, going down.” More power. By this time the engines were almost on full emergency power and we were still going down 500 feet per minute. Well. This is a bad situation because 500 feet a minute, if it’s continued to ground level, would produce one bad crash. Particularly, on the ice cap of Greenland. Nobody, within days, could reach us – if we survived the crash! After a few minutes the pilot called me and asked, “What are you reading?” I said, “We are going up 400 to 500 feet per minute”. From that point, we had no more altitude problems. What caused it, I have absolutely no idea other than it must have been a terrible downdraft in that God-forsaken place that was pushing the airplane down. Luckily, it did not continue and we had no more trouble.
But, I still had a worse surprise coming up.
Finally, we had passed over the ice cap and all of that God-forsaken country was in back of us. Looking ahead, under the blue-green light of the Northern Lights, I could see the “black snake” outline of the shore of the eastern coast of Greenland. Checking my maps I found that I was on course, pretty much on time, and everything was going smoothly. Once we got past the coastline, I established my new course to Iceland and notified the pilot. Conditions at this time were complete blackness except for the Northern Lights that covered the entire sky. There were no stars visible. Temperature was probably minus forty five-fifty degrees below zero and our altitude approximately seven thousand feet.
After leaving Greenland and being again over water, I was still plagued by the fact that there were no checkpoints that I could identify until I got to Iceland. The Northern Lights were so thick I could not use any celestial navigation. This plane had no radar or any electronic- type location instruments. The only instrument that I could rely on in this situation was my radio compass. The only item that I could use for navigation was the radio station at Meeks Field on Iceland. However, at this time we were approximately six hundred miles from Iceland and the radio signal from Iceland would be weak and of little value. You could not depend on the needle of the radio compass pointing exactly to the station. It would oscillate back and forth, but at least you felt comfortable knowing you were headed in the right direction. It would not in any way give me a position on the ground or tell me exactly where I was.
Now, we are about four hundred miles out of Iceland and for my own peace of mind and comfort, I turn on my radio to pick up the radio station in Iceland. The signal and call letters came in clear, but weak. I punched in the radio compass to see what would happen, and it swung up to the zero position to show that I was basically headed in the correct direction, but it did oscillate back and forth across the compass numbers. The signal was weak. This was very comforting to know that it was working and that I was receiving a fairly good signal.
When we were about three hundred miles from Iceland, I again turned on the radio and the radio compass to see that it was working properly. For probably twenty or thirty minutes I watched the compass. The arrowhead pointer was, generally, holding steady on zero. All of a sudden, to my horror, the compass needle swung 180 degrees as though we had passed over the station! I looked at this instrument in utter disbelief! There is no way I could have missed Iceland three hundred miles. Here is the one thing that I could depend on and now it’s either lying to me, or I had made the greatest mistake of my life! Under these conditions what do you do? Do you call the pilot and tell him what’s happened and maybe create a panic? Do you start circling around and going down in altitude to see if you can find Iceland? This was a condition that I had never encountered before. It is probably a condition that no one could ever be prepared to accept. The skin on my scalp began to creep, my hands were starting to shake, and the big question now arose, “What do you do?” My heart must have been beating one hundred and fifty beats a minute. It felt like it was going to pound out of my chest. Looking down out of the nose, I tried to determine if I could see a light of any kind. If we were over the field in Iceland, they would have runway lights or something that could be seen from the air. Nothing! Again, What to Do? Realizing, that the only thing to do was to do nothing, I cut off my radio and radio compass and sat. No person has ever experienced such agony as I went through for the next ten or twenty minutes. Time passed in an eternity and I was all alone. There was nobody I could talk to. Nobody I could counsel with or get any advice of any kind. This had to be on my own. After, approximately twenty minutes of the worst time I ever spent in my life; with trembling hands, I turned on the radio, picked up Meeks Field, Iceland; heard the identifying signal and punched in the radio compass. Thankfully, it swung right back up to 0. I was, again headed for the station!
Within a short time, dawn was arriving and although there was nothing to see, we knew we were headed in the right direction. Radio compass was working fine. It wouldn’t be long before Iceland should come into view. Sure enough, within a short time, way up ahead in the gloom of early dawn, there was the western coast of Iceland.
The wind had come up. As we came in for a landing, it looked like we were a kite on a string -our movement was so slow.
When we landed, and arrived at our parking area the ground crew came out, en masse, and started tying great big cables around the wheels to the iron rings in the Concrete. Another group got up on the wings and started putting sacks of something (I thought it was lead shot) all over them. Another group came inside the airplane and lined the waist with these same big bags.
One of the crewmen came by me and I asked him what was going on. He replied that they were expecting one hundred- mile an hour wind and the last time that happened, it blew two bombers out into the harbor.
Soon the truck arrived and took us to the control tower for debriefing. In this debriefing, the officer-in-charge was interested in the details of our flight from Goose Bay, anything that might help future crews in their crossing. We told him about the propellers looking like they were on fire and also about the plane losing several hundred feet in altitude over the ice cap. His explanation was that the propeller fire episode was probably the result of St. Elmo’s fire. The loss of altitude he could not explain and said that our interpretation of it was about as good as any. Finally, it was my turn. For the first time, my crew heard my story about the radio compass turning 180 degrees, as though we had gone over the station. Plus, I told of the agony that I had experienced in trying to figure out what was going on and what to do. The debriefing officer smiled and said that there was a German submarine about three hundred miles off the coast of Iceland. It would broadcast on Iceland’s frequency. Apparently, we had gone right over it! I have always thought it sure would have been nice if they had warned us in Goose Bay that such a situation might exist.
The reason for the submarine broadcasting on that frequency was a trick. If an air crew gets confused, when their radio compass shows that they have gone over the station, it’s possible that they will start circling to try and find Iceland, run out of gas and end up in the sea. Result: one plane and crew that can’t be used against Germany. It’s a diabolical trick. Fortunately, it did not work on me.
Iceland was a dreary place. The wind was severe. Blowing almost twenty- four hours a day. It was cold, but there was no snow on the ground around Meeks Field or as far we could see up toward Reykjavik(capital of Iceland). The bar was open and we could get a drink, which was different from what we had experienced in Goose Bay.
Within a few days, we were briefed for the final leg of our flight to the British Isles. This course would begin in Iceland and continue to the first check point at a place called Stornaway, in the Isle of Harris. This isle is one of the northern Hebrides Islands off the west- coast of Scotland. From Stornaway we would turn south, skirting the coast of Scotland and reaching North Ireland. Entering North Ireland, we would cut south of Belfast, and proceed across the Irish Sea to terminate our flight in Valley, Wales.
After another briefing, we took off from Iceland and headed for the British Isles. Fortunately, we took off in daylight, and it was a pleasure to see sunshine and daylight rather than total darkness and the Northern Lights. However, this did not last very long. When we cleared the southwestern coast of Iceland, I looked down and there was a big rock a few hundred yards off the coast of Iceland. On this big rock were houses. It occurred to me: “How would you like to live on top of a big rock just a few hundred yards off the coast of Iceland?”
Climbing to altitude we again ran into weather. There were low clouds and there were high clouds. It felt as if we were sandwiched in between two big white clouds. We could not see the sun, therefore, my celestial navigation was useless. We could not see anything in the sea, even if there was anything there. The clouds were between us and the sea. It was impossible to see through them in any event. The navigational instruments that I had were even more meager than the trip from Goose Bay to Iceland. On that trip, at least I had a radio compass. On this leg of the trip, there was no radio station in Stornaway, or anywhere that I could use. The only things I had were pre-computed course line, speed, etc. from weather information that had been given me in Iceland. Once you set your course under these conditions, there’s nothing you can do but sit back and wait. This I did, not willingly, but I did. Approximately twenty minutes out of Stornaway (or when my estimated time of arrival would indicate that I was at Stornaway), I contacted my radio operator and asked him if he could contact Stornaway by voice or by his key in Morse code. I wanted to find out if I could get a radar fix to establish my true location. To the east were the mountains of Scotland and farther east would be Norway, if we weren’t where we were supposed to be. The radio operator, finally, reported to me after about ten minutes of trying, that he was unable to raise anybody by any method. We were going to have to do it by ourselves. I didn’t want to run into a mountain in Scotland or end up in Norway. I got the pilot on the intercom and I told him that my estimated time of arrival was at a certain time and that at that particular time, we should start letting down and reducing our altitude. However, I did not want to go below five thousand feet, to avoid the mountains in Scotland. In the event that we did not break out at five thousand feet then I was going to suggest that we turn due west and go one hundred miles. We could then let down over the ocean where there we no mountains. We would turn around and come back and hip-hop over the Hebrides, to Northern Ireland. The pilot agreed, wholeheartedly!
My estimated time of arrival has arrived. Calling the pilot, I gave him a new course heading for North Ireland. He turned and started letting down. My computations were that if I was correct and my navigation was right, I would break out over the Isle of Skye. As we were letting down and coming through the clouds, the wings and propellers started accumulating ice. Ice was building up to the extent that we had to turn on the de-icing boots on the wings and the de-icing fluids on the propellers. You could see great big chunks of ice breaking off. I was sitting in the nose and looking for anything. The clouds started getting a little thin and then thinner and, finally, we broke through the bottom of the clouds and right below me- so help me- was the Isle of Skye.
We proceeded on over North Ireland, cut south of Belfast and started to cross the Irish Sea. About this time, I looked up and, what do you know? We had two British Spitfire fighters, one on each wing, riding us across the Irish Sea. I could see their faces. They were waving at us and we were waving back. There was no danger. They flew with us until we got to the coast of Wales. As quickly as they had appeared-they vanished.
Arriving in Wales was uneventful, except for the fact that everything was so green. Where we had come from, everything was white with snow and here everything was green. It was beautiful. This is what you remember of the English Isles.
It was at this station that we left our airplane. Our job was to take this plane across the ocean. Wales was the final destination; as far as we were concerned.
Leaving this beloved airplane was an emotional situation. It is true that men have romances and love affairs with their mechanical creations. This is particularly true of cars and airplanes. Two instances of this affection are within my knowledge. One is this situation, involving me, the other is an episode involving an old crew chief in a story I will relate later on. You might compare this airplane to a mother hen and her chicks. She had protected us as a mother hen would protect her babies. Because men associate their mechanical creations with a love affair, the reference to this thing as “she” is not unreasonable.
The last day we saw her, we removed all of our personal belongings, turned everything off, closed it up, and walked away. As I was walking away from the plane, across the taxi strip and parking area, and without realizing what I was doing, I turned around, looked at this plane and waved goodbye, thinking that she would understand and appreciate it. Under my breath I said, “ Goodbye old girl and thank you. Farewell”.
I would like to think that she survived the war and maybe ended up in somebody’s museum - displayed proudly. Maybe people come to view her beauty? I certainly hope so.
Leaving Valley, Wales we proceeded by train to a base called Stone, England located near Stoke- on-Trent. This was a replacement depot and our stay here was very short.
Leaving Stone by train we proceeded to the area of England known as Northamptonshire and disembarked from the train at a little town called Wellingborough. Here in Wellingborough, we had to wait for trucks to come pick us up and take us to our permanent destination. Across the landing from the train, there was a park and children were playing soccer (football). Nothing about this scene could convey the idea that a war was going on. Suddenly, there was a low, rumbling thunder coming to our ears. It grew louder and louder and louder. Finally, almost overhead, there was this group of
B-17 Bombers in formation, flying probably, not more than fifteen hundred feet above us. We realized that we were about to go into a war.
The trucks arrived and we set off for our base, which would be known as Chelveston, located in Northamptonshire, England. On the way to the base, we noticed two strange, contrary visions. On the left-hand side of our truck we passed a truck pulling a flatbed trailer full of big bombs, probably five hundred- pound bombs. On the right we could see the open fields, and one time, there were children, on a frozen lake, ice-skating. What a contrast! The peacefulness of the whole scene would never give the idea of anything bad or horrible going on in the world. It was so serene.
Arriving at the gate to Chelveston, we were taken to the base theater and seated. The briefing officer entered, called everybody to attention, then ordered at ease, and we settled back for, what we thought, was going to be a long lecture. Were we surprised? The officer welcomed us to Chelveston and told us that we would be taken to our respective squadrons after this meeting. He said, “Gentlemen, we have three rules here. 1. When you are scheduled to fly, you fly. 2. Don’t break furniture. It’s hard to get. 3. Have the women out of your rooms by Monday morning”. He then asked,” Are there any questions?” Everybody was shocked. I don’t think there were any questions. He said, “Dismissed.” That was the end of that meeting
Several of the flyers, including me, were assigned to the 422nd Squadron, of the 305th Bomb Group. The 305th Bomb Group was made up of four squadrons, 364th, 365th, 366th, and 422nd. The usual formation for bombing purposes was thirty-six ships; which were three squadrons of twelve ships each.
Our officers’ quarters were comfortable. The heating was a little pot bellied stove that sat in one corner and the fuel was not raw coal, but coke. Coke is a partially burned coal that gives off very little smoke, but quite a lot of heat. There were two beds in each room, one above the other, but as luck would have it, I was very often without a roommate and had the room all to myself. Naturally, it was lighted electrically and there were toilets nearby. The showers were some distance away- but we didn’t take many showers.