On one of the foggiest days that I ever saw in England, we were briefed for a pre-dawn take-off. After the briefing, we went out to the airplane and sat, as was our custom. It felt like the fog would probably lift and that the mission would go as scheduled. But, on this day, it didn’t. The mission was not canceled. We were given the go signal. We moved out of our parking areas and went down to the main runway for take- off. My plane was probably number five or number six for take- off.
The fog was so thick that you could not see much of the runway. You could see, maybe, fifty to one hundred yards. The tower said “Go” and the little man in the trailer gave the green light. The planes ahead of us began take-off. When it came our time, the pilot pulled into the correct position and set the brakes. When we got the green light, the pilot moved the throttles to full power, released the brakes, and we went roaring down the runway.
We traveled less than half way down the runway when a red flare was fired at our plane. The pilot, thinking that something was wrong with our plane, slammed on the brakes, shut back the throttle, and we came to a stop. We didn’t know what was wrong. In a few seconds, the pilot got on the radio and the tower said: “Hold, Hold”. Here we are sitting on the active runway, afraid that a plane might run into us! If a plane was in take-off mode, it could not see us (heavy fog) in time to stop!
While we were sitting there, motionless, with the engines running, all of a sudden the plane bounced and the pilot thought that we had blown a tire. He got on the intercom and called one of the gunners in the back and asked,” Would you get out and see if we’ve blown a tire?” Minutes passed and the gunner came back and reported, “No. Tires are ok. We don’t have a flat. Everything’s fine.” So we sit. The tower kept saying, “Hold-Hold.” After maybe five or ten minutes, the tower called and said, “The mission was “scrubbed”. Return to your parking area”. Well. We had trouble finding an exit off the main runway. In the dense fog, we couldn’t see where we were going. We took an exit that was unfamiliar to us. Believe it or not, we got lost on our own airfield!
After wandering around for fifteen or twenty minutes, in this dense fog and unknown area, we were taxiing up a strange taxi-strip when we looked out the window and along the edge of the field was a man cutting grass. At this time, I was up on the pilot’s deck trying to help the pilots find out where we were on the field. The pilot called back to one of the fellows in the waist and asked, “Go out there and ask that fellow where we are?” We stopped. The gunner got out and we saw him walk over to this man who was cutting grass. All of a sudden, the fellow just turned around and ran off. When the gunner came back, he got on the intercom and he said, “I went out and asked that man if he could tell us where we were?” He said the man looked at him like he had lost his mind-turned around and ran off! So help me, this is a true story. That poor Englishman couldn’t believe, that here was this four-engine bomber coming out of the fog and someone comes out and asked him for directions!
A tremendous explosion caused the bump and bounce that we felt, on the runway when we stopped! A plane, ahead of us, had crashed on take-off, hit a barracks, killing many men in bed-then exploded! An unusual thing that happened in this crash was that the pilot of this plane survived. I knew him quite well. He told me that the only thing that saved his life was that he did not have his seat belt fastened. When the plane hit the ground, the cabin split wide open and threw him right out of the plane, before it exploded. He did suffer bad burns over his face, and there was a great big flap of skin from his forehead down to his nose that had been peeled, but he lived and continued flying.
Now you know why I call this chapter “LOST AND FOUND”
We never did find our parking place. When we came to a place where we could park, we pulled in and parked - then had to walk and find our own way to headquarters. We couldn’t tell anybody where we were located to come get us!