It was kind of belief among members of flying crews of my acquaintance that if you lived through seven bombing missions that you would make it for the rest of the time. The theory was that by seven missions, if you were still alive and healthy. you were so tough they couldn’t cut you with a chain saw! This is the story of my “Lucky Number 7.”
This bombing raid is prominently described in a book called: ”The “Magnificent 305th”. The target was anti-aircraft, batteries in the Leipzig area. The 305th bomb group was to be the first group in the bomber stream, leading the 8th Air Force. The 8th.was to bomb the oil facilities in that area. Our primary target was a group of anti-aircraft batteries. We were going to saturate bomb these guns to clear the air for the bombers that came in after us.
It was considered a great honor to be the leader of the 8th Air Force. The lead ship of the lead squadron was full of Majors and Lieutenant Colonels. It even had a Major as a rear tail gunner. My position was in the high squadron. I was either the lead or deputy lead in the high squadron. When we hit the initial point and turned toward the target, bomb bay doors opened, flak suits on, helmets on, goggles on, I did some computation on my hand-held computer. I found that we were bucking a head wind, which resulted in our having a ground speed of eighty-eight knots or approximately one hundred miles per hour. We were at twenty-five thousand. We were going so slow across the ground, that it looks like we would never get anywhere.
When the group hit the IP, we went into our usual maneuver. The squadrons moved right and left and created the interval and altitude difference between them. As I stated, I was in the high squadron, a little bit higher, but directly in back of the lead squadron. The afternoon was clear as a bell; there was not a cloud in the sky and visibility was excellent in all directions. There was no sign of any enemy fire or activity. Just a few moments before we arrived at the “bombs away” position and as I was looking right at the lead squadron, all of a sudden… below the lead squadron the sky literally blew up!
Before we left England, the briefing officer had told us that there would be fifteen hundred, anti-aircraft guns in range when we were over the target. Apparently, all fifteen hundred of these guns fired at one time. The sky blew up!. The explosions were not centered in the formation (the lead squadron), but just a little below it. The force of the explosion from all those shells picked those twelve ships up and bounced them. Not only did it bounce them, but the lead ship, (I learned later, took a direct hit) started climbing, rolled over on its back, and went straight down. The squadron did not drop their bombs! Now, we are next.
We’re the next ones over the target and nothing has been done to silence those fifteen hundred guns! Well. Believe me, the sky continued to blow up! We got hit. We had the bomb bay doors open. We got hit and an explosion tore the bomb doors off. The bombs were hanging in the racks, but nothing happened. They didn’t go off. If they had, I wouldn’t be here. We kept on going. We got hit again and that’s when the plane filled up with smoke. That was a “smeller.” We dropped the bombs. We started down and I think we got hit again. We were in bad shape. I looked around and we were going down and the formation was following us! I thought to myself, “There’s something crazy here. We’re going down and they are following us. They shouldn’t do this.” The battle orders called for the formation to go up two thousand feet to get out of that anti-aircraft fire. After a few minutes, the formation went up. Well, we couldn’t go up. All we could do is try and stay down or go down.
The plane was going down and full of smoke. I was desperate to know if the plane was on fire or if the smoke was from the anti-aircraft shell. I wanted to smell the smoke. I took my oxygen mask off. The bombardier, thinking that I had panicked, pushed the mask back on my face. This was repeated several times until I threatened to kill him! I took the mask off and smelled the smoke. It was anti-aircraft smoke.
We had to come down because our oxygen was out. Our oxygen system got hit, went completely flat. We didn’t have a bit of oxygen. We also had one engine out, one running rough, one set of controls was shot out. In the waist some control cables that had been severed and fell down on the floor. We couldn’t stay up with the formation. We had to come back by ourselves. We were losing altitude-not fast-but enough that we might not be able to make it out of Germany.
Fortunately, no fighters hit us because we again would have been a sitting duck! We had no injured on board even though the plane was badly shot up.
It was a long trip back, losing altitude all the way. Now we were down very low. I don’t suppose we could have been over six hundred feet in altitude. As we were coming across a little woods, I looked down and there was a German soldier shooting at me with a pistol. He didn’t hit us. This indicated to me that we were still behind the Germans lines. Just a few minutes later, there was a German car, what I took to be a staff car, coming toward us on the road below us. He saw us about the same time we saw him. He made a violent turn to the right to get off the road and ran into the ditch. I’m sure he thought we were going to strafe him, but we didn’t have any guns. We’d thrown them all out. We were going down and we wanted to lighten the aircraft. We threw out everything we could get our hands on to lighten the plane.
After what seemed like a lifetime, I finally decided (or realized) that we had crossed the German lines and were now in back of the Allied lines and in France. What gave me this impression of being in safety, was passing a tiny airfield with an American plane on the field. But, I really did not know exactly, where I was. Some of my instruments were shot out and we were so low that you couldn’t establish anything on the ground as a checkpoint. As soon as I was satisfied that we were in France behind the Allied lines, we got on the international frequency and started yelling “May Day, May Day, May Day”. Almost, instantly we got a reply giving a compass heading and distance to a field. We turned on this heading and, sure enough, within just a few moments, we sighted the field. Now, the interesting part begins. Because of the battle damage, we could not get the wheels down. Either they wouldn’t come down or they wouldn’t come down all the way. Therefore, there was no point in landing on the runway. We were going to have to land in the dirt and grass. Not only that, but my recollection is, that when we came over the field, the runway had been bombed or shelled, leaving great big holes in the runway. We could not land on the runway.
Realizing that we were going to go into the dirt, I knew that I could not land in the nose. When the plane hit the ground, the plexi-glass nose would breaks off. The nose would become a gigantic scoop that would dig up dirt. It would, in truth and in fact, bury somebody alive, if they were in the nose! I didn’t intend for this to happen. The only thing to do was to go up on the pilot’s deck and land or crash there. It should be noted that on the back of the pilot and co-pilot’s seats, the ground crew had welded on big pieces of armor plate in order to protect the pilots from shrapnel. This was done to give them some element of protection from the rear. Nothing would do, but that I had to go through this i.e. landing, up on this pilot’s deck. There was no seat belt. The only thing that I could do was sit on the floor, facing backwards and lean against the back of the pilot’s armor plate. To protect my head from hitting the armor plate, I had a cushion. I stuck this cushion behind my head and held it with my hand.
We were coming in, flaps were down; the engineer was calling air speed and we were getting ready to hit. I remember, just before we hit, he called for the pilot to cut all the switches to stop any chance of an explosion. Everything was stopped. When we hit the ground, it was very gentle. There wasn’t anything to it. I thought “Boy. This is great.” I raised up and when I did, the cushion in back of my head fell. The plane had only hit and skipped, then we hit the ground again and dug in! The violent stop smashed my head against the armor plate on the back of the pilot’s seat. I was not completely unconscious, but I couldn’t figure out what was going on or where I was. The engineer, bless his heart, grabbed me and dragged me bodily through the bomb bays into the waist and threw me out of the door.
When I hit the ground, the first thing I thought of was that I had to get away from the airplane because it might blow up. I started half crawling out into the grass away from the plane. I reached about a hundred yards away. The plane didn’t explode. I realized I wasn’t really hurt. There was nothing broken. I wasn’t bleeding. I was knocked a little silly.
While I was sitting there in the grass, two men, who I took to be Frenchmen, suddenly appeared. They were running over to my airplane. I kept yelling at them, “Get away. Get away. Get away.” I didn’t know if the plane might explode. They ran over to the airplane. They were talking among themselves and laughing and sticking their fingers in the flak holes in the side of the plane. Every hole they’d come to, they’d stick their finger in it and laugh and talk. I got tickled. In my “bleary mind” the thing that made it so funny was I thought to myself: “Now isn’t that just like a Frenchman.... He sticks his finger in any hole that he can find!”
Anyway, I wasn’t hurt and finally, my mind cleared. (At this time, I had no knowledge of the condition or whereabouts of the rest of my crew. Later that day, every one checked in and we found that all were safe and uninjured. Shaken-but not injured.)
An American soldier, working on the field, came in a Jeep and picked me up. As we were going back to the control tower, he asked, “Would you like to have a drink?” I replied, “I damned sure would.” He said, “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.” He drove down into this little village and we stopped in front of a house and went in. Inside was a make-shift bar! The “Bar” was two carpenter’s sawhorses with boards laid across them. On the boards were a bottle of Cognac and three glasses. My soldier friend paid for the drinks. After we drank the entire bottle-the “Bar” closed!
I slept in an old building that was about half blown up. The following day, our base sent a plane to take us back to England.
The night I arrived back in England I decided to go into the little town of Rushden and visit my English friends, which consisted of a young lady that I had dated, her mother and her step- father. They lived in this little town of Rushden in North Hamptonshire. Mother was a sweet lady and was very kind to me. I liked her very, very much. The step- father was a crusty old gentleman who worked for the bus company in Rushden and had been an infantryman with the British Army in World War I. Frequently, we talked about places in France and his experiences. On this particular evening, I arrived at their house and the old gentleman was having a cup of tea in front of the fire. He looked up at me said, “Well, hello there. We heard you went down. Uh...you ok?” “Yeah.” “Well, we’re sure glad to see you back.” That was the only thing that was ever said. It was almost like, “Oh, did you catch the bus from Bedford?” or...well...you can imagine! That was it. He didn’t ask any questions. Nothing. He was not remotely interested.... like it happens every day. My family would have been hysterical. But, of course, these people had lived through years of war and bad times; if you’re ok then all’s well that ends well.