Because our lives depended on them, I have always had a soft, warm spot in my heart for ground crews and their crew chiefs. I can honestly say.” I never met a crew chief or ground crew that I didn’t like”.
Planes in our group were parked on clover- leaf parking areas, four or five or maybe more planes, to the parking area. And, sometimes, there was a single tent for the use of a single plane. Sometimes there was a tent off the parking area for the use of several ground crews. Our usual habit was that when we were taken to the planes, we would go into the ground crews’ tent and chat with them. They would tell us about the airplane, things to do and things that they had done. We got to be rather friendly with these ground crewmen. Unfortunately, I did not fly the same plane all the time, nor with the same crew and as a result, there were many ground crews that I may have met only once. W e appreciated what they were doing. They did a very good job. I’m going to tell you three instances of my observation and relationship with a crew chief. One of them is rather sad.
The first one, though, I think is kind of humorous. This particular morning when we were delivered to the planes we went into the ground crew’s tent. They had a fire and it was nice, toasty, warm. The crew chief was an old gent who had been over in England many, many years. I think it looked like he was probably in his 50’s. He was telling us how hard they worked on the plane and that the plane was in great shape. We took off and we ran into a whole bunch of problems. We got that plane shot up pretty bad. When we came in and landed, we taxied over to the parking area. The crew chief was standing there, looking. I got out of the plane and walked over to the tent. He stopped me and he said, “Damnit. Look at that pile of junk you brought back. I gave you that good airplane this morning and look at it now. It’s just junk. It’ll take us weeks to get that damn thing flying again.” I looked at him in complete amazement. He was accusing me of tearing up the airplane, as though I had a conspiracy with the Germans to do so. I was injuring his airplane. He was mad and he was blaming the flight crew for getting it all shot up!
The second experience is as follows: I was not principally a gunner or a shooter. My principal job was as navigator. If I had a gun at all, it was usually stuck out the side of the nose. It had a range of fire so limited, that you almost had to stick a plane in front of me before I could even see it or shoot at it. However, on occasions, I did shoot. There’s no question that, in my excitement, I sometimes shot a little too long and burned out the barrel. On this particular instance we came back after having a nominal fire- fight. I took the barrel out of the gun and took it in to the crew chief. He looked at it and said, “Well, you’ve burned out another one, haven’t you? Don’t you know you’re only supposed to hold that trigger down for three seconds?” I said, “Sergeant, the next time you go up there with us and when that fighter plane comes in, you tell me if you can let go of that trigger after three seconds.” That ended that. He never said another word!
Note: To “burn out” a barrel in a machine gun requires heavy or sustained firing. We were taught not to have continuous firing for more than three seconds. After sustained firing, the rifling (grooves and lands) in the barrel would be completely destroyed. Not having rifling, the barrel would not stabilize the bullets. Bullets fired from a “burned out” barrel would be erratic and could not be depended upon to shoot where the gun was aimed.
This final story about crew chiefs occurred when there was a tent that serviced two airplanes. The raid was bad. We had a number of people shot up. Planes damaged, lost. We made it back and landed. Got out of the airplane, went into the ground crews’ tent, but the plane that had been next to us that morning wasn’t there; it had not come back. The old crew chief of the plane that was now missing was standing outside, pacing back and forth, looking up at the sky, and I could hear him saying to himself, “I don’t think she’s coming back today. I don’t think she’s coming back. I feel that she’s gone.” This is the second time that I encountered the love of a human being for a metal monster. This crew chief was in love with his airplane. To him it was “she.” It was a love affair and “she,” the metal monster, was his love. He was greatly disturbed and paced back and forth, looking at the sky, looking at the sky, saying, “I’m afraid she’s gone. I don’t think she’s coming back. I had a feeling for a while that this was going to happen and now it looks like it may have happened. I don’t think she’s coming back.” And she didn’t. He was crying!