I’m going to tell you about my last raid. Purposely, I have not explained too many of these raids because some of them get a little gruesome. I don’t think unpleasant matters are worth remembering. This last raid that I went on was to Munich. Munich was a dreaded target. The bombers could be guaranteed heavy, accurate anti-aircraft fire. The first time I bombed Munich, my plane lost six feet of its tail due to anti-aircraft explosions!
Imagine the 4:00 a.m. briefing in the Quonset hut and the intelligence officer comes in as usual, walks up to the podium, pulls back the curtain and there is the route of the raid to Munich. He says, “Gentlemen, this morning we are going to Munich.” Some clown in the back stood up and said, “What’s this ‘we’ business? You know damned good and well you’re not going anywhere. You won’t get one foot off the ground.” Everybody laughed and that kind of broke the tension. He proceeded with the briefing. We were told how many guns were in range. There was going to be fighters and what kind we could expect-weather, times, etc. Then it was out to the trucks and on to the planes and load up. Take off.
The trip to Munich had a bad beginning. As we were going and paralleling the Alps in southern Germany there was a lone flak gunner in the mountains. It fired three shots at my squadron- and hit my right-hand wing man-put a shell through his wing. It did not explode! The crew on this plane was my original pilot and the others. My pilot called me and said, “Lee, there’s somebody on command wants to talk to you.” I got on the radio and the voice said, “Lee, look out your right window. We’ve got a shell through the wing. Do you see the gasoline streaming out of that wing?” I looked and, sure enough, boy, there was gas shooting out of that hole. The voice said “We’re afraid we’re gonna blow up-so we’re gonna go to Switzerland and we’ll see you after the war.” The plane peeled off and that was the last time I saw it. They did not go to Switzerland. They made it back into France-safe and sound!
My squadron reached the initial point and turned on the bomb run. There were many, many squadrons, attacking Munich. It was a big raid! Our position was one-half to two-thirds of the way back in the bomber stream. Over Munich, our target was covered with smoke. The commander called “abort! “ We went around and flew over Munich-through that murderous anti-aircraft fire-AGAIN! For the second time the target was hidden by smoke and the bombardier would not release the bombs. Headquarters in London was contacted and London authorized the bombing of a target of opportunity. We found some little city and bombed the railroad station.
We now had a long journey back. The journey back took us just south of the German city of Frankfurt. Frankfurt at this time was being bombed by a number of B-24 bombers. We were coming south of Frankfurt and nobody was bothering us. There weren’t any fighters or anti-aircraft fire. We had what you would call a ringside seat watching this group bombing Frankfurt. They would come in squadron formation of twelve planes. You would see the smoke bombs dropping. I was watching these B24's with intense interest. A squadron was on the bomb run. I just happened to be looking closely at the top three planes in this squadron-being the element leader and his two wing men. All of a sudden, there was a big, orange flash! A great big ball of fire! Where there had been three airplanes, nothing came out! Apparently, the lead ship got hit and blew up – and took his two wingmen with him! Not a pleasant sight.
The remainder of the trip back to Chelveston was uneventful. We were all mentally and physically exhausted. We landed and went into the control building to be debriefed. Some local ladies were serving corned beef sandwiches and coffee. I had my usual three or four ounces of straight whiskey. One funny thing happened, I walked up to this lady that was dispensing sandwiches and she looked at me and she said, “How was it today? Rough?” Well, in that mental condition, I thought the first thing I ought to do is kill her (just kidding, of course). I realized that she was just trying to be nice and make conversation. I was the one who was worn out and disagreeable. After my whiskey, I got my corned beef sandwich and my coffee and stood around until the debriefing officer was ready for us. Going into debriefing, I noticed that there was another person present. It was the doctor for my squadron.
The Doctor, during the debriefing, was watching me. He said, ”After you finish this debriefing, come to the squadron clinic- I want to talk to you.” We completed the briefing and I proceeded to go to the clinic. When I got there I sat down and the Doctor asked, “You want a drink?” and I said, “Yeah,” so he poured me another three or four ounces of straight whiskey. We sat there making small talk. Finally, he asked, “How many missions you got now?” I said, “twenty-eight.” He said, “Well, I’ve got some bad news for you.” I said, “Ok, then, what is it.” He said, “You’re through.” I said, “THANK YOU.” He said, “As of right now, you’re through, you’re grounded, you’re not going to fly any more.” “Ok.” We ended that session. I went to my barracks, but I was not in too good a shape because the next I knew it was morning. I was awake, but I still had my clothes on! Which is all right, because it didn’t make any difference; I was completely at ease – Now! They didn’t give me any medication or do anything for me- just left me alone.
After a period of weeks or months, I was ordered to report to the squadron commander. My squadron commander sat me down and asked, “Do you want to go home?” I said, “Not really. I’m not in love or anything like that. Why? What’s the deal?” He said, “Well, I want you to stay over for a year. When this war is over, we’re going into a photo reconnaissance operation. I need you to train navigators to do this work. If you stay over, you and I will fly and we’ll have a ball. We’ll go everywhere; there won’t be any pressure or anything like that. We’ll see a lot of country and we’ll see a lot of interesting things and I’d like for you to stay over, to help set up this photo project and fly with me” I said, “All right. That’s fine. I’ll do that.” The name of the project was “Casey Jones”.
In order to do this project our bombers were modified by putting three large cameras in the waist of the plane. These cameras were aimed to photograph the ground. Two of the cameras were installed in an oblique position; one pointing out the right and one pointing out of the left side of the plane. The third camera was positioned straight down.
The method for taking photos was that the photo Director would draw a line on a map. We would go to twenty-five thousand feet altitude. Using the cross hairs in the bombsight, we would try to fly this line with an error of no more than a mile on either side. Once over this line, the cameras would be started and continued for the distance of this line. The photo negatives were taken for development. Prints were made and technicians took the prints and put them in a machine that made maps. We were told that it was maps for WORLD WAR THREE!
I remained with my squadron, but did not fly any missions. After a while, I did fly a few hours, each month, to earn my flying pay. I did no photo work until after the war.
The war is over (May 1945) and I resumed flying. We went into this photo project at an educational level. We had to learn how to do this map making system. I did a lot of photographic training and work over Scotland, England, Wales, Denmark, Norway, West Germany, Belgium, Holland, Spain, France and Italy. My principal pleasure was photographing the Alps and the Pyrenees Mountains. For many days, I would start in Albania or near Biarritz on the Bay of Biscay and fly back and forth taking pictures of the Pyrenees and the Alps. It was very interesting. I got to know many cities in Switzerland, Northern Italy, Spain and France almost like the back of my hand.
After training navigators and doing photo work, I would fly with my squadron commander. We would take oxygen and food and supplies to the different outposts that we had in Africa and other places. I stayed with the Group a year and moved with the Group to St. Trond, Belgium in the fall of 1945, and later to Lager Lechfeld (Bavaria) in Germany.