Then we moved into a neighborhood with an established book club, and the first thing I did was join. It was great until I decided to write a book. Honestly, if you had told me one year ago that I would be reading a book named Shot at and Missed … and enjoying it and finishing it in two days, I never would have believed you.
Jack Myers was 18 years old when he joined the Army Air Corps. In preflight he was one inch too short to be a pilot, so they sent him to bombardier school. Just when he had almost completed the 50 missions he needed in order to go home, he was told that he had to have flown over the target 35 times. So he flew 54 missions in all. His story gives a great visual of the day to day life of the B air crews.
It was easy to read. The German fighter planes would not attack during a bomb run because they too would have to survive the anti-aircraft fire. So they would circle the target and wait on the other side for you. During the bomb run you were a sitting duck. You could not attempt evasive action because the plane had to be a stable platform so the bombardier could do his job properly. That was the weakness of the Norden bombsight.
Shot At and Missed: Recollections of a World War II Bombardier
The Germans firing the flak guns could predict your speed and flight direction and could then aim their In the company of an armed guard, two student bombardiers left head for their plane toting a canvas-covered section of a topsecret Norden bombsight. Photo of secret Norden bombsight and description. But it lost some of its accuracy the higher you were, so we flew as low as possible, depending upon the number of guns predicted at the target.
On this day we were not at 30, feet, but at 22, feet, and at this low altitude the Germans could reach us with their extremely accurate mm guns. Soon the sky was filled with black puffs from exploding shells, each fragmenting into hundreds of small pieces, each piece hoping to reach a vital engine part or a warm body. They were tracking us across the sky and their shells were exploding inside our formation, causing great damage.
Bender, the pilot, was screaming for the co-pilot to pull the fire extinguisher for number two, but the fire kept burning. As soon as the bomb run was over the bombardier would call for an oxygen check to make sure all were okay. These World War II bombers were not pressurized, so oxygen masks were worn above 10, feet. The waist gunners reported their oxygen lines were shot out, but we were losing altitude fast, which would help matters.
Bender told me to go see what was going on. I grabbed a walk-around oxygen bottle and went back to the waist. The two waist gunners were getting woozy from lack of oxygen, so I found some bottles for them and hooked them up. By this time we were down to about 15, feet, so the oxygen problem was not so critical. The ball turret gunner was getting excited.
His turret had been hit and was not operating. He knew we were in trouble because we had an engine out and were losing altitude fast. We finally cranked him up manually and pulled him out, much to his relief. We thought maybe he was hit and we started checking him for wounds, but he finally settled down and let us know he was okay. He admitted later that he had wet his pants, which we could all understand.
He had no oxygen, 12 shot at and missed and in his excitement, I am sure he was hyperventilating. He said he was afraid we would all bail out and leave him trapped in his ball turret. Meanwhile, with an engine out and the plane still losing altitude, the pilot and co-pilot were arguing over whether we should bail out or try to make it back to our base in Italy.
A B could fly on three engines, but could it fly high enough to make it over the Alps that were ahead of us? It was quite a relief when we finally reached the Adriatic Sea and dropped down to get under the clouds. We were soon skimming along just above the water. Now our big worry was what to do when we reached the Italian coast and had to contend with the Italian mountains. Bender decided that when we reached the shore we would ditch in the surf and try to beach the plane. He ordered all the gunners into the radio room and told the navigator and I to advise him when we saw land. Just as the shoreline came into view, the weather cleared and we were soon over Italy.
Our base was just inside the spur of the Italian boot. Our group had split up and when we flew in over our base it was mass confusion. Planes were down short of the airfield, and all over the base emergencies were being dealt with. One plane was landing with an engine burning, with a fire engine racing down the runway alongside of it, and we had to circle the field while they pulled him away.
When we finally landed we counted fifteen large holes and numerous small holes in our plane. After the mission the crews gathered at operations and were debriefed by intelligence officers, who questioned every one of us about the results of our bombing, attacks by fighters, anti-aircraft, etc. Afterwards, all flyers were offered a shot of whiskey. This time no one refused, and several asked for seconds. The main advance for the Allies was being made from Normandy in northern Europe, going through France and Belgium and invading Germany from west to east.
To invade Germany from the south going up through Italy prologue: like a dream 13 1st Lt. Myers, U. To fight through the Alps would be a treacherous task because there were only a few passes through the mountains. The Brenner Pass was the main one, and because it was so narrow it would be easy for the Germans to defend.
When the Americans took over the Foggia plains in Italy, they secured air bases that could reach the Balkan countries and southern Europe. The Balkan countries were strategic because the Russians 14 shot at and missed were coming west through this area. We were often called the Russian air force because so many of our missions were in close support of them. These were the countries the Eighth Air Force, stationed in England, could not reach.
When the Fifth Army got about miles north of the Foggia plains they dug in and fought the Germans for almost a year without much movement. Now the Allies could bomb anywhere in Europe from both England and Italy with strategic bombers. Each group normally put up four squadrons made up of seven planes each, for a total of twenty-eight planes per group. A normal day meant approximately heavy bombers going to targets from Italy along with about fighter escort Ps and P38s to protect them.
These forces used tactical bombers, twin-engine, short-range Bs, Bs, and A dive-bombers that supported the troops at the front lines. When coming back to the Foggia area from targets deep in Europe, the heavy bombers would cross the Alps and get over the Adriatic Sea as soon as possible. Once over the water we were safe from the German flak guns. Often the bombers would be short of fuel or would be damaged by enemy fire.
The Americans and the British maintained naval forces out of Ancona and other ports in Italy for the purpose of picking up bomber crews that ditched in the sea. Crews whose average age was about twenty-two years flew the bombers. As they came limping down the Adriatic Sea after completing a mission, it could get pretty exciting.
The runways were short but workable since by then the plane was much lighter. You had no gas and no bombs and had thrown everything out of the plane, including guns, ammo, radio equipment, and anything you could move or unbolt. All you would keep was your chute and Mae West life jacket. Dropping the lower turret left a big hole in the belly of the plane and we found out if you ditched in the water this hole scooped up water by the ton.
It would come into the plane with tremendous force and volume and drown everyone like rats. The worst times were those we spent flying over targets in Germany when the anti-aircraft fire was so thick it appeared we could walk on it. These were the times when enemy aircraft would bear down on us so suddenly that we would hardly have time to react before they were gone. Unlike the ground war, which was a slow, plodding monster eating away at you, the air war was like a terrible bolt of lightning that struck and then disappeared.
At those times all the bravado was gone. We were absolutely terrified, and we prayed to God to deliver us from this unbelievable horror. They said there were no atheists in the skies over Germany those days. They were correct. The U. Instead it had the Air Corps cadet program to train flying officers. The requirements were such that the average young lad with no political stroke could not qualify. You needed two years of college and a letter of recommendation from your congressman even to be considered. In the summer of the country was neck-deep in the war and in dire need of flyers to build up the Air Corps.
So the requirements were changed. If you had a high school diploma and could pass all the mental, physical, and psychological tests, you could qualify. I was eighteen but had not completed high school, so I was short on education, but when I heard they were testing for the cadet program in Peoria, Illinois, I caught the first bus from my home in Quincy. They pummeled me with four days of intensive tests, and much to the sheer astonishment of my family and friends, I received a letter of acceptance soon after my arrival back home.
No one checked for a high school diploma and I sure was not going to volunteer the information. Soon I was on my way to basic training at Shepherd Field in Texas. After three months of basic training I was sent to college at Fort Hays State College in Kansas for six months of intensive courses in physics, algebra, meteorology, and a myriad of other subjects. It was soon apparent that I was in way over my head, and my lack of education almost caught up with me.
My first day in physics class the college professor announced that this was an accelerated program to brush up on the college courses he assumed we already had taken. He might as well have been 18 shot at and missed speaking in Mandarin Chinese because he completely lost me in the first five minutes. The other students were mostly college graduates or at least had some college, but I had no idea what he was talking about.
I can still remember the first statement he made. All I had going for me was pride and desire. I was determined to succeed. My buddies could not believe my ignorance and took it upon themselves to tutor me. At lights out I would head for the latrine with one of my tutors, and we would toil until the wee hours. Every month when the list of the washouts was posted, we would all gather around to see who had failed and would be sent to the infantry.
Surprisingly, I never made the list and graduated in the top quarter of my class. We were given mental, physical, and psychomotor tests, and we also were tested by a psychiatrist to see whether we had any hang-ups. Again approximately 30 percent were washed out. I passed with flying colors and was chosen to go to bombardier school. I was then sent to pre-flight school at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. After graduating there I went to bombardier school at San Angelo, Texas, where after months of training I received my wings and was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
After graduation from bombardier school I was given a leave home and I then went to Drew Field in Tampa, Florida, where I was assigned to a B crew for overseas training. These three would become my family for the most exciting period of my life. We would live together, fly together, party together, and hopefully survive together. A few days later I met the six enlisted gunners, all sergeants.
We would train together as a crew for three months and then be sent whatever happened to charlie? Upon arriving at Drew I was assigned quarters and told to go meet my new crewmates. As I walked in the door I noticed a blond-haired guy lying on a cot staring at the ceiling. His hands were clasped behind his head and he seemed to be lost in thought. The only thing that moved were his eyes as he looked me up and down with a disdainful expression on his face. Are you lost? I had been stopped twice in the past month by the MPs, who had checked my ID.
I was proud of it. Glad to meet you. There was instant rapport between us; in many ways we were kindred spirits and in some ways we were exact opposites. Earl thought of himself as a man of the world, and he put on superior airs that many resented. He affected an East Coast accent more like a Boston accent than one from his home in Maine. Ed Bender, our pilot, could hardly stand him and many of the other pilots felt the same way. A real rebel, Ruhlin was a frustrated fighter pilot as most co-pilots were.
He was a rugged individualist, not a team player. Ruhlin was a daredevil. He was either the most courageous man I ever knew or he was crazy. We all believed the latter, although it was probably 20 shot at and missed some of both, but mostly the latter. Ruhlin knew how much I wanted to be a pilot and took it upon himself to teach me to fly. Bender warned me about him. These planes were used mostly by pilots who were not assigned to crews but still had to get their necessary four hours per month of flight time.
In the Air Corps you received 50 percent extra base pay for flying, but you had to fly at least four hours per month. Bomber pilots were not allowed to fly the light aircraft because it was thought that they would develop bad habits. Ruhlin, however, was born to break the rules. Ruhlin had a girlfriend named Liz who worked the tower at Peter O. Knight, a small civilian airfield at Davis Island in Tampa, so we had a friendly base to work out of. Having a wife and two kids in Bangor, Maine, never seemed to cramp his style.
Knight and shoot landings. I had ten hours in an Aeronica when I was stationed at Fort Hays, Kansas, as part of the cadet program, so I was not a complete novice. One particular afternoon we had checked out a Cub, and our lieutenant friend reminded us that a storm was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico and that if we encountered any bad weather we should come on back. Ruhlin was showing me how James Cagney landed a plane in the movie Wings. You come in over the fence at the end of the field, a little high, then you give it right rudder and left aileron, and the plane would slip sideways and drop very fast.
Just before hitting the ground you would reverse the controls, the plane would line up with the runway, and you would land. It was a very flashy way to land a plane and it really impressed Liz up in the tower. I tried several landings, but about the time I thought I was getting good, I came in too low. Before I could straighten out, we hit at whatever happened to charlie? Now we were in a mess. We talked a mechanic into running us into town and vulcanizing the tire. By the time we finally flew back to Drew Field, the lieutenant was about to call out the search patrol.
Needless to say, that was the last of my pilot training for a while. She was from Savannah, Georgia, and she had come to Tampa with her sister, who was married to a gunner stationed at MacDill Field, another air base near Tampa. He was also in an overseas training unit, so they knew they would be heading back to Savannah when he shipped out. They made the greatest Singapore Sling this side of Singapore. It was run by an Italian we called Tony the Dago, and we had great times there. One night after I had had too many Singapore Slings, Charlie brought up the subject of marriage to me. During those times you never looked too far in the future.
You lived for the present. You have known that gal three months and you want to marry her? Listen kid, when you get home, if you get home, you can get to know her before you make a decision like that. That afternoon they told us we were shipping out the next day for overseas and to pack our bags and be ready. For the rest of us, it was no phone calls and no letters home until we arrived at our destination, which we knew could be anywhere in the world.
I was frantic. How could I get in touch with Charlie? And when the war is over you can go home and make your decision then. In those days, everything was top secret, as if German and Japanese spies were everywhere. She had no idea that Earl was anywhere near home. She thought he was still in Tampa. What a thrill. In the nose he had an unrestricted view and was able to pick out his house from the air.
So he decided to contact her the best way he knew how: by air. He wrote several notes to her and placed them in the pants pockets and shirt pockets of some old clothes he had. The cottage was on a lake. We came over the water at treetop level and dropped the clothes out as we went over the house. The plane made a hell of a noise and at that low altitude should have shaken shingles off the roof. Probably years later a pair of his pants showed up leaving all sorts of unanswered questions. We were at Dow Field for several days and Ruhlin was finally able to talk them into letting him call his wife.
Her father was obviously a whatever happened to charlie? He pulled some political strings and they allowed Eleanor on the base. When we finally met Eleanor, it was apparent she and Earl were a matched pair. She wore a mink jacket and dressed as if she were going to a Hollywood premiere. It appeared he had followed it. When Ruhlin gave her the guided tour of our plane, we were all there to meet her. We all walked under the nose of the bomber and left Ruhlin and Eleanor alone to say their good-byes.
It would be a long time before they would get together again, if they ever did. Two days later we were given orders to fly to Gander Field, Newfoundland. We were at Gander almost two weeks waiting for clear weather before flying over the ocean. We had to fly at night since the only way the navigator could navigate over the ocean was by the stars; there were no radio beams at that time that would reach that far.
I was itching to get going. I also wanted a permanent address so I could write Charlie. I lay awake nights thinking about her and wondering what must have been going through her mind. It was a boring two weeks in Newfoundland, but I did accomplish one thing. I broke myself of my gambling habit. All I did for two weeks was gamble, and I lost every cent I had saved up to that time. Jay, the navigator, did likewise. It was a sobering experience but a valuable one. Finally the weather cleared and word got out that we would be leaving that night.
I had come down with the flu and felt terrible. I was afraid to go on sick call because they would put me in the hospital and my crew would go on without me. This 24 shot at and missed meant that I would be stuck on a plane later with a bunch of strangers and end up God knows where. Jay wanted me to help him navigate. He was scared to death he would get lost somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.
Bombardiers were cross-trained as navigators but were not taught celestial navigation, or navigating by the stars. Just after midnight they told us to come in for briefing and prepare to take off. Our destination was to be the Azores Islands, about miles off the coast of Portugal. We knew then that we were going to Italy to be part of the Fifteenth Air Force. There were about twenty other heavy bombers, Bs and Bs, also flying out that night.
They would stagger their departures so no one would run into each other. At briefing they told us we would be on our own. The only navigational aid would be a British automatic direction finder at the Azores that had originally belonged to the Germans, who had based their Atlantic submarine fleet at the Azores until the British invaded the islands.
The ADF homer radio had a range of only sixty miles, so Jay would have to be on the ball or we would have a long swim. I was so sick that Jay told me to go to sleep, that he would be all right. I crawled back into the waist of the B and went to sleep in my sleeping bag. At about 4 a. Jess White, the radioman, woke me up and told me Bender, the pilot, wanted me.
When I got up to the cockpit I could see Bender was having one of his usual nervous tizzies. We were in a thunderstorm and the aircraft was bucking like a Brahma bull. They had told us at Gander that we could expect this about miles out, but that we could climb to 30, feet and be above the storm. At that altitude Jay would be in the clear for his sextant shots. There was a blueish-green light dancing all over the wings and then it would appear on the props of the aircraft. It was really scary. As a streak of lightning would light up the sky, I could see the angry waves below us.
I could feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Was it from fear or from the static electricity? I had heard of St. It is a natural phenomenon seen during thunderstorms when the ground below is electrically charged and there is a high voltage in the air between the clouds and the ground. I was feverish from the flu, which added to the feeling of surrealism. Was I dreaming this or was it really happening?
I glanced at the altimeter and could see we were at 14, feet. Go down in the nose and help Jay. I need some moral support and some good advice. By his calculations, we were approaching the point of no return. We were at the halfway mark. We could continue our course to the Azores, or we could turn around and go back to Newfoundland. At briefing they had predicted we may run into this front but should be out of it in less than an hour.
I would rather go into the drink and take my chances ditching in the Atlantic. I had never seen Jay this serious before. He now looked like a little kid who was ready to cry. You want me to kick your ass? I thought Jay was going to punch me. He looked at me as if I had lost my mind.
Finally he gave out a little chuckle, then 26 shot at and missed another, and then, seeing the absurdity of the situation, he also started laughing. As the lightning and the St. Myers and I vote to go on to the Azores. Jay could see the stars again and checked that we were on course. Now we had to sweat it out to see just how good a navigator he was. Just then I could see land on the horizon. It could only be the Azores. The Azores was an exciting place. The civilians who lived within yards of the air base actually had oxen pulling wooden-wheeled carts down the road next to the landing strip.
It was like something out of National Geographic. That afternoon we explored the rocky island. There were stone fences everywhere and they warned us to stay clear of them. The fences were infested with rats, and the rats were infested with fleas, and the fleas were infested with typhus fever. This was a reminder that there were other dangers in store for us in the months ahead in addition to flying combat missions. It was like a page out of the novel Beau Geste; to say we were excited would be an understatement. The next morning we had our first experience with a bidet.
The following day we flew to Tunis, which is on the northern coast of Tunisia, across the Mediterranean Sea from Italy. The mountains of junked German aircraft, tanks, and equipment, piled everywhere, impressed me. This was a reminder that Tunis was where the North Africa campaign had ended. The Allied troops, which were made up of English, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and American forces, had fought the Germans and Italians all whatever happened to charlie?
The final battles were fought when the Germans and Italians retreated north through Tunisia, climaxing at Cape Bon, a peninsula jutting out into the Mediterranean just east of the city of Tunis. The famous General Erwin Rommel the Desert Fox , who commanded the German forces, was called home by Hitler in the last days of the campaign to prepare for the anticipated attack on mainland Europe by the Allies.
The Axis troops surrendered , men at Tunis. When we landed at the Tunis airfield and walked across the landing strip, we were greeted by shouts from the Italian POWs who were imprisoned there. Only a seven-foot-tall chain-link fence separated them from us. They had made rings and other jewelry out of aluminum, obviously from the hundreds of junked aircraft next to their quarters.
For six cigarettes I received a well-designed aluminum ring with a blue stone of some sort, probably glass. I wore it for several days before the stone fell out. The German prisoners in the other stockade were a sullen bunch, and they turned away from us as we approached. In contrast, the Italians seemed relieved that they were no longer in combat, and they were enjoying the American hospitality.
I was reminded that we were told that the Italians were great at one thing: surrendering! I had the feeling we were getting closer to our great adventure. The very next day we were sent on our way to a staging area at Gioa, Italy. The landing strip was grass and it was surprising that we were able to land a heavy bomber on such a primitive field.
We were used to the concrete strips back in the states. I was sure this was just a temporary base because living quarters were non-existent. They gave us boxes of K-rations for our evening meal. We were to sleep on the ground under the wings of our plane that night. That evening the four of us hitched a ride into the little town of Gioa.
They had a rudimentary officers club there, and we proceeded to get smashed on the local vino. Our crew the day we landed in Gioa, Italy, August 27, Back row: Sgt. Gailey, left waist gunner; Sgt. John Melendez, ball turret gunner; Sgt. Bob Taylor, right waist gunner; Sgt. Jess White, radio gunner; 2nd Lt. Jack Myers, bombardier; Sgt. Eddie Camp, engineer gunner. Front row: Sgt. Charles Summerfield, tail gunner; 2nd Lt. Earl Ruhlin, co-pilot; 2nd Lt. Ed Bender, pilot; 2nd Lt. Burke W. Jay, navigator.
No natives were about and the streets were deserted. We seemed to be the only ones in that small town until someone unloaded the contents of his chamber pot on our unsuspecting heads. We soon learned to be careful walking the streets at night; the smiling Italian faces we saw in the daytime became the unseen enemy at night.
We had forgotten that just a few months earlier these people had been our enemy. Many of them hated our guts. That night as I lay in my sleeping bag, I wondered what was in store for me in the months ahead. I was just twenty years old, unlike some of my older buddies, and I thought I was bulletproof. I hoped I would be able to do my duty as I had been trained to do and not be a coward when the time came for me to face combat. I thought of what my father told me when I left for the Army. My last night at home my Dad wanted to have a man-to-man talk. I always knew there was a deep, dark secret in his family that he was ashamed of.
My father would never talk about his younger brother. He was a pariah. In later years I found out from other members of the family that his brother had been stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey. This must have really shamed my father, because that night he went into great detail in explaining to me that I should never under any conditions desert. This all seemed strange to me. Why was he so concerned that I would do such a thing? If it had been my son I would have been more concerned for his safety than for his bravery. But that was my old man. I never really understood him.
I soon learned that there was no danger that I would desert. Where would you desert to? When you started a mission, you were committed to finishing it. There was no place to hide. My thoughts drifted to Charlie.
- Shot at and Missed: Recollections of a World War II Bombardier by Jack R. Myers?
- Incorrigibly Plural: Louis MacNeice and His Legacy;
- Peter Plymleys Letters, and selected essays.
- Shop with confidence.
- Everyone Served Recollections of World War II Colonel Thomas Hughart NS Dar | eBay!
Would she understand when she finally received word from me? As soon as I got to my permanent station I would write, but a month had gone by since I last saw her. She could have gone home to Savannah by now. Any number of things could have happened. I realized I had more important things to worry about. As I lay there on the ground under the wing of our B, I wondered what was going through the minds of my crewmates. I could hear Ruhlin snore so I knew his mind was at ease. I had no doubts about him; he had no fear of the future.
I could hear Bender, the pilot, tossing and turning. I knew what was going through his mind. I whispered to Bender. I knew that with Ed, my chances of survival would be a hell of a lot better than if Ruhlin was my first pilot. With this in mind I soon fell asleep. Tortorella was home for the 99th Bomb Group, our new assignment. Combat at last! Twenty months of training, study, and anticipation were coming to fruition. Soon I would be flying over Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, peering through my Norden bombsight and blasting the hell out of enemy fortifications.
I was brimming with confidence. I could feel the excitement in the air. I could hardly wait to get off the aircraft and talk to pilots and bombardiers returning from their missions. Where did they go today? Did they run into any trouble? Did they encounter much flak over the target? How many planes did they lose? Before the day was out, however, that confidence was shattered and I got a foretaste of just how hazardous our work would be. Reality reached up and slapped me in the face.
Unbeknownst to us, events were unfolding to the north that would change our assignment While we were in the air on the way to Tortorella, the 2nd Bombardment Group, with its four squadrons of seven planes each, was winging its way toward the Privoser oil refinery in Moravska Ostrava, Czechoslovakia. Several B groups also were involved. Some planes were assigned to bomb the marshalling yard at Moravska Ostrava, while others were to bomb the Fanto oil refinery near Ostrava, and still others were to bomb various targets in Hungary.
Takeoff was at a. The 20th Bombardment Squadron was the last squadron in the last group in the bomber stream. Their leader was Lt. The Germans had a practice of attacking from the rear and picking off the last planes in formation. That was bad news. For maximum protection, it was important that planes keep a tight formation and stay close to the other squadrons.
The problem was compounded when no fighter planes showed up to provide escort. The 2nd Bomb Group was alone and completely at the mercy of attacking German fighter aircraft. This was a prescription for disaster. The Luftwaffe was known to have an interceptor fleet of sixty-five MEs and twenty-four armor-plated FWs along the target path. Both were stellar fighter aircraft. In addition, the Germans typically used a pair of FWs as spotter planes to keep the battle commander informed.
All were under the command of Colonel Gottard Hardick, a superb air tactician. The weak link in the formation was the 20th Squadron. Three other planes fell in with the lagging 20th, two slower-moving Bs from up ahead and one B with engine problems. Now ten planes were in a vulnerable position. The Germans attacked. Half the force attacked from the rear, and almost immediately the second force burst out of the clouds from the sides. The fighters came swooping down on their startled victims and converged on the hapless bombers, four to ten abreast, shooting rockets at long range and then mm cannons and machine guns as they got closer.
They brazenly blew through the formation as they completed their passes. Once the bombers were separated, they were individually set upon by a pack of fighters. The bombers fired back and inflicted much damage on the enemy. But the numbers were overwhelming, eight or nine fighters to each bomber. Pandemonium reigned as the confused bomber crews fought to save their lives. John Fitzpatrick. This was one of the Bs that dropped back from the formation ahead. Fowler McCullough 2 96th Sq.
The 20th Squadron, lagging the group and out of position, was attacked by German fighters. Nine planes from the group were shot down along with a B that was seeking refuge with them. Robert McCloskey. Everything happened all at once with tracers flying by, shells exploding, and engines catching fire. The bombardier tried to salvo the bombs but the electrical system was out and the bomb bay was on fire.
Four officers in the front of the plane managed to bail out, but the six gunners in the rear never left the plane. Either they were killed during the attack or they were unable to get out of the spinning bomber. The orphaned B was next to go.
Love and the Machinery of War
It crashed in the forest at Didovia, Slovakia. It was hit immediately with terrible damage. The aircraft fell out of control and began to spin wildly. Only the navigator made it out safely. The fifth plane to go down was that of 2nd Lt. James Weiler and crew. There was only one survivor, co-pilot Flight Officer Irving Thompson. The crippled plane crashed and exploded near Krhov. Thayne Thomas. The cockpit was ablaze when the plane exploded. The force of the explosion must have blown Thomas clear of the aircraft. It received hits on its left wing, and the number two engine exploded in a great ball of flame.
The bombardier, Lt. Russell Mayrick, was killed immediately. The pilot, co-pilot, navigator, and three gunners managed to bail out just before the aircraft crashed. William Bullock Jr. Bullock and Sgt. Joseph Larratta, the tail gunner, perished in the attack. Nelson, the waist gunner, bailed out but fell to his death when his parachute failed to open. For the navigator, Lt. Albert Smith, this was the second time in eleven days he was forced to bail out. On August 18, he had gone down over the Adriatic and had been picked up by a navy patrol plane.
In seconds, there was a large hole between engines one and two, and flames from burning gas tanks were shooting eight feet into the air. All ten crew members bailed out successfully, but as they parachuted down they received fire from the attacking planes and also from the ground. The last plane to be knocked out of the formation was Lt. William Garland and crew. They survived longer than any of the others, only to go down just short of the target. They could see their leader, Lt. Tune, on fire and going down.
The two tucked together for protection. Then Bullock disappeared and Garland was alone. The aluminum wing was almost burned through and the wing tanks started exploding. They jettisoned the bombs and the crew bailed out.
Shot At and Missed: Recollections of a World War II Bombardier - PDF Free Download
Eight parachutes opened. Two did not. The battle lasted twenty minutes. The entire 20th Squadron was shot down that day along with three straggler planes that had joined their formation. The surviving planes of the 2nd Bomb Group limped back at in the afternoon, bringing with them an unbelievable tale of horror for a stunned audience.
Hearing the reports was a sobering experience. The group left nine aircraft on Czechoslovakian soil along with the B that was shot down with them. Forty-two men were killed, fifty-five were POWs, and four evaded capture. The only thing we knew was that the tower told us to taxi down to the end of the runway and await further instructions. Bender revved up the engines and we lumbered down the steel mesh strip past a motley cluster of tents and into a dusty field scattered with parked Bs.
Not a very auspicious welcome. That turned out to be Amendola, the home of the 2nd Bomb Group. There we received the same low-key greeting and were told to stand by our aircraft. I was beginning to get the idea we were not long-awaited heroes. Rather, we were just another crew in a constant stream of replacement crews trained in the states, given brand-new bombers, and sent over here to replace those crews lost in combat.
Or maybe a fortunate crew that had finished its required number of missions. Pretty soon a jeep arrived. The driver introduced himself as Major Charles Shepherd, commanding officer of the 20th Squadron of the 2nd Bomb Group. That was how we learned our assignment had been changed. Shepherd took us four officers in his jeep and sent the six enlisted men in another vehicle to their quarters. He drove us several miles down the road before we came to an array of tents, shanties, and assorted other buildings nestled in a grove of olive trees.
Shepherd was a pleasant individual but spoke very little on the way. He seemed to have other things on his mind. He deposited us at the officers club, a stone building on the edge of the encampment, and asked to have us fed. By then, it was after 8 p. The cook had gone home. The waiters rustled up some bread and jam, and we made a meal of it.
Shepherd then drove us to a cluster of tents and small huts with stone walls and canvas tops. He told us we could stay in any of them. I went inside one and could see that someone lived there. The abode contained four canvas cots, a table, footlockers, and a pair of homemade chairs.
Clothes and personal items were scattered everywhere. I called out to Major Shepherd. Four startled, shocked, and frightened flyboys stared at each other. I looked around for someone who might be able to tell us about the 20th. The only activity I saw in our vicinity the lost squadron 37 was two soldiers in their GI undershorts fiddling with a Lister bag of water, which they were trying to hang on an olive tree.
The two men went into great detail about how the entire 20th Squadron had been shot down over Czechoslovakia. If we lost two out of seven planes each week, our chances of lasting the full thirty-five missions were virtually nonexistent. I lay awake for hours talking it over with my buddies. What a terrible mess we were in. How could we possibly survive these insurmountable odds? Also, I had an eerie feeling about sleeping in the bed of someone who had just died that day. It was like sleeping in a funeral home.
Morning came and with daylight my fears abated somewhat. I also found out that the two men we talked to the previous night were not flyers but ground officers, one the engineering officer and the other the armament officer. I overheard Captain Weiss, the engineering officer, regale his friends about how he put the fear of God into four greenhorns last night. I resolved someday to get even. Ours was the first of the new crews to be assigned to the 20th Squadron. Over the next few days, others would follow. The good thing about our being first was that the later arrivals tended to look upon us as veterans.
I was unable to take much comfort from what a veteran bombardier told me on our second day with the 20th. We went up with an experienced crew on a practice mission. The bombardier instructor gave me a candid appraisal of what was in store. I was concerned about sitting in an exposed position in the glass nose cone, so I asked how strong the Plexiglas was.
In the winter of , the chilly nights were warmed by our homemade gasoline stoves. There was always the danger of fire, and it was not unusual to have a shanty or tent catch fire during the night. When this happened, men would come running from all directions to watch the excitement. Well, one night at the officers club, while we were in our cups, so to speak, one of our friends arrived to tell us that Captain Weiss was entertaining an Italian girl in his quarters, which were a small hut that he and his friend, the armament officer, had made of wooden ammunition boxes.
I remembered how he had scared us with his war stories the night of our arrival, so I saw a chance to exact my revenge. We picked up a couple of five-gallon cans of aviation gas and proceeded to his quarters, and we poured the gas in a circle around his hut. We then set fire to the gas, which completely encircled the hut. The captain soon came running from his quarters, tearing the door off in his haste. He was buck naked, and on his heels came the poor innocent Italian lass, who was left to her own devices to reach safety.
To say that the captain was mortified would be an understatement. Anyway, it made me feel much better. In a POW camp in the city were 1, Allied prisoners of war, mostly American air crews who had previously been shot down over Rumania. When the Russians neared, pandemonium reigned. The Rumanian prison guards, unsure of their fate, opened the gates and the prisoners scattered throughout the city, hiding until the fighting quieted down. The American prisoners were fearful of the Germans and Rumanians, as well as of the Russians.
There was mass confusion. The Rumanians had been allies of the Germans. He then accepted an armistice with the Russians and declared war on Germany. The Germans held an airdrome on the other side of Bucharest and they proceeded to bomb the city with their Stuka dive-bombers. The American prisoners were in a precarious situation. They were all airmen who had been shot down over Rumania on previous bombing missions. The Fifteenth Air Force in Italy, where they had originally been based, was miles away across German-occupied Yugoslavia.
They were afraid the Germans would evacuate them to Germany, or if the Russians took control, they could be detained for some time. James Gunn, who devised an unusual plan to secure their evacuation. The plan was fraught with danger. Could Cantacuzino be trusted? Only a few days before he had been the enemy shooting down American planes as they bombed his country. The small ME was not designed to carry passengers.
There were no maps of Italy immediately available. He also made a map of the anti-aircraft positions, barrage balloon dispositions, and other landmarks. Gunn wanted to fly low so they could come in under the American radar screens. Cantacuzino insisted they fly at 19, feet over Germanoccupied Yugoslavia, in full view, and if seen he would lower the landing gear, a sign of surrender. This created another problem.