Heretofore I have explained that on several occasions I flew night weather reporting missions over Germany in a B17 Bomber, unescorted, unarmed, no lights and carrying only a four-man crew - pilot, co-pilot, engineer and navigator. We would take off in the dark from England and enter the continent, usually in Holland. You can imagine taking off and going up to eight or nine thousand feet over England. Then across the Channel, reaching an altitude of about eighteen thousand feet. In looking around there was not a light on in the entire world. The whole area was blacked out. It was as though what was below us didnít even exist.
On this particular evening, it was about 9:00 or 10:00 oíclock at night. We were approaching the shoreline of Holland, when, to my surprise, I looked down and probably thirty miles ahead of me was this tiny light. Being the only light visible in hundreds of square miles, it was hard not to look at it and try to determine what in the world this thing was. It was that unusual. As we approached the coast, we passed very close over this tiny light. It suddenly occurred to me that some Dutchman was down there fishing. This was his little coal oil lantern. It was weird. It was the only light in the world that we could see. And here was this little man, probably, down there just fishing.
On another one of my night flights, we were approaching an area south of Hamburg and we had been without lights so long that our eyes were probably dilated as much as possible under any circumstances. We were flying along, at about eight thousand feet, when all of a sudden the plane just lit up, brilliantly, like somebody had shot a flare inside the plane. The light was blinding. Search lights, down on the ground near Hamburg, had picked us up and they didnít fish around the sky looking for us, they hit us. Right on the money! It was blinding!
Immediately the pilot threw the plane, violently, into a wingover to the right and dropped about two- thousand feet real quick. We had to get out of there. The anti-aircraft was soon to follow. If they shot at us, I donít know-we didnít hang around long enough to find out. It was a spooky sensation to suddenly have this blinding light in your face. Even at an altitude of eight thousand feet, it was really bright. I can certainly sympathize with flyers that got caught by those search- lights.
Another thing that I never could understand was why the German night fighters never came up to attack us? If they did, we never knew it. We never had anybody attack us or in any way indicate that they were there! Iím sure they must have been there. Maybe they couldnít find us.
One morning after one of this nighttime flights we were coming out of Holland. We were not very high, probably five thousand feet. In looking at the ground, I saw this big field and it was purple. Beautiful. I thought to myself: ďHey those are tulipsĒ.
I called the pilot and said, ďLook down there. Do you see that purple field? It must be tulips. Letís go down there and take a look.Ē He said, ďOk.Ē So, he put the plane in a dive and went down to an altitude of not more than five- hundred feet. We came to this field and guess what it was? Tulips? No. It was purple cabbage!
One of the most beautiful and spectacular sights that I have ever seen occurred on one of these night flights.
We had been up all night, crossing almost to Berlin; we turned south and were somewhere north of the Munich area. I was looking out the nose of the plane. There wasnít anything that I could see; everything was dark and black. I was looking south. All of a sudden, like an explosion, the sunshine hit the top of the Alps with a blinding, blazing, band of orange, red, and gold. It was magnificent. It was the kind of sight that stuns your senses. Everything else seems to vanish and you have no thoughts, other than the appreciation of seeing this magnificent, natural sight. I hoped that I might see it again on another night mission.
Sometime later, we had a similar flight -- at about the same time of the morning, at about the same place. I found it hard to do anything, but look to the south. I waited, and I waited, nothing happened. I thought, maybe itís cloudy in the east and the sunlight canít break through, or maybe the Alps is under clouds and I canít see them. And I waited. I was afraid I wasnít going to see anything-- then Flash! There it was. The same as before. Fabulous!
Well, I soon had to come to my senses. With the breaking of dawn, we could be seen and the fighters could find us. So. Back to reality, lay your course; letís get out of Germany. Cross France, cross the Channel, come around south of London, then north to base, to food and sleep. Another day.