The biggest air battle I ever witnessed is one of the strangest. How this could have happened the way it did is impossible for me to guess. It is so strange, that I’m afraid nobody will believe it. Here’s what happened:
Mission: Bombing HAMBURG in Northern Germany. Weather: clear, practically no clouds. Bombing altitude: Twenty-five thousand feet.
The initial point was to the east of Hamburg. When we hit the initial point, we turned toward the west to make our bomb run. Going down the bomb run, we took a hit from ground fire. Looking out my left-hand window at #2 engine, I saw that there was a stream of oil, about as big as a man’s arm, coming out of the engine. I called the pilot. I told him, “Look at #2. We’re losing oil bad.” He said, “Well I’m gonna hold it till we get over the target and then we’ll deal with it.” About that time the engineer came in on the intercom and says, “You better feather that damn thing or we’re gonna be on fire in about a minute.” Bang! She feathered. Well, that’s one engine out and then we had another one that wasn’t running too good. We held on and dropped the bombs with the formation, then we had to fall out. Not only did we fall out, but the formation went up another thousand feet or so and we went down two or three thousand feet. We couldn’t stay with them. We were having trouble maintaining any altitude.
To “Feather” an engine is to stop the engine and the turning of the blades of the propellers. The blades are then rotated to a position that is parallel to the axis of the plane-reducing drag and wind resistance.
After we fell out of formation, the bomber stream was stacked up on our right, several miles above and to the right of us. Now here came the fighters! I mean a bunch of them! They were attacking the formation above and to our right. As they would complete their run, they were coming down right into us. We were flying all by our lonesome selves! There wasn’t another plane around us. We were all alone. For a long period of time, German fighters kept coming. They would fly right across our nose. Three ME-109’s flew under our nose. The pilots, all turned, and looked at me! I could see their faces-they were that close! These three fighters went to my left, turned around, and headed smack at me! So, what did I do in my anxiety and fright? I had on my flak suit, helmet, and my goggles --- I laid down on my armor plate! I figured, if I’m sitting up, I’m so big and if I’m laying down, so big, ... I also put on my parachute.... and boy, they were coming… straight at me! I laid down and I waited, and I waited ...here it comes...I know it’s coming. Nothing happened. Well. I get up and they were gone. For a long period of time these planes are coming down, going around us, going under us, going over us---nobody did a thing! One fellow in the back of my plane says, “Let’s fire a flare and get some fighters over here.” And somebody said, “Yeah. You do that and you’ll damn sure get fighters, but they won’t be ours.”
We were heading west, going toward the coast. Looking down in front of us there were about twelve or maybe a few more, airplanes lower than our altitude. We decided to go into a dive, (we couldn’t climb) and snuggle into this formation for protection. That’s exactly what the pilot did. He put our plane in a shallow dive and we went down toward this formation. Before we reached the formation, German fighters hit them and knocked down two airplanes. We didn’t want in that bunch. Not only that, but as we approached this formation, every gun turned and aimed at us. I’m blinking a bright light “SOS” “SOS”. They could see we had engines out, but I was looking down the barrels of many fifty-caliber, machine guns. I didn’t know, but what some damned fool’s going to open up and kill me.
Why didn’t the enemy fighters attack us? I do not know! It was so strange-we could have been INVISIBLE!
We made it to the coast. The fighters were still jumping on the other formations. It was the biggest air battle I have ever been in or seen. And except, for the initial anti-aircraft shots, we never fired a shot and nobody fired a shot at us! We were all by our lonesome- selves. Just sitting there like a duck.
When we got to the coast, we knew, or felt like, we were going to hit in the Channel. We were going to have to swim. We got on the emergency radio and yelled, “May Day”. The British Air Sea Rescue picked up our signal and replied, “Tell the navigator to give us a report every five minutes and tell the radio operator to lock his key down.” (Locking the key down would send a constant radio signal).
The water in the Channel was real choppy, with big waves. The RAF Air Rescue came on and said that they had us locked on radar. A station was tracking our descent and speed and knew exactly where we were going to hit. A flying boat was on the way. We wouldn’t be in the water over five minutes. Strangely enough, the name for this Royal Air Force Air Rescue was “Bloater”.
We did as they ordered. We did not end up in the Channel. Fortunately, we made it to England and landed on an auxiliary field. Nobody was hurt, the plane wasn’t too badly damaged. We had just been though one of the most exciting and dangerous episodes that a human being could ever experience. The threat of annihilation was ever present. You think the Good Lord wasn’t with us that day?