STORY: THIS IS IT !
October 31, 1993:
Ridgewell was a disappointment. Barracks were Quonset huts-- buildings made of corrugated sheet metal with no insulation or covering on the inside, and a small coal stove in the middle of the building for heat. It was about fifty yards to the latrine (bathroom), and about three hundred yards to the showers with lots of red mud and no sidewalks. For about four weeks there was no heat or hot water because of a coal strike. This made keeping clean very difficult. A B-17 swallows most gunsmoke to inside the plane- lots of it- and gunsmoke leaves a lot of greasy black all over every one's faces, and you feel dirty all the time. I showered once in this period. I took all my fur lined clothes with me, got under the shower, and pulled the chain. Cold water came out, and I stood it until ice began to form on the floor. This was the last shower I took until we got warm water. After arriving at Ridgewell, we had two weeks of training that included formation flying, escaping if shot down, and radio procedures. Formation flying meant flying in a 'box' of 54 B-17's. This box was designed to interdict a bogie with two or more 50 caliber machine guns from every B-17. This formation was devised by General Jimmy Doolittle, who earlier made a B25 raid on Tokyo.
To escape if we were shot down, we were given a packet of French money for bribery, a compass, some rations, a first aid kit containing morphine, and I was given a French passport with my picture in civilian clothes. The instructions were to walk to Spain and the U.S. Air Force would get us out . This led to an unusual situation. Lt. Jones, a pilot, was shot down, parachuted, landed in the woods and was not hurt. He started walking toward Spain and came upon a German airfield. There were about 24 parked Me 109's- a super fast fighter, and Lt Jones climbed into one with the intent to start it and fly home. But the airplane would have to start quickly or he would be caught by the guards. He sat in the plane for two hours, and found all the gauges, instruments, and controls except the primer. The primer really helps in starting. Not finding the primer, he climbed out and walked to Spain. The walk took two months of being cold, hungry, and fearful at every turn. Had he but known, the Me-109 has an excellent automatic primer. If he had turned on the ignition and hit the starter button the engine would have started. He would have been airborne and wheels up in thirty seconds, and home in Ridgewell in twenty minutes. There is a moral here, but I don't know what. It could be: trust a 1150 horsepower Daimler-Benz engine to start.
Radio was simple- the only thing new was DARKY (code word). Anywhere in England you could call DARKY properly, and he (or she) would tell you anything you wanted to know- nearest airfield, weather, winds, what time the movie starts-anything. We had no precision instrument approach radio which was badly needed.
November 30, 1993:
We also had a familiarization flight conducted by a Lt. George Darrow. He had flown a number of combat missions, and was an excellent pilot and instructor. On the flight, he stood between the seats and pointed out the landmarks that would help us get in position to land. These landmarks were quite distinctive. For instance, we could find a certain church steeple (I think it was Catholic), and a heading of 270 degrees from this steeple would place us at the end of the runway in 85 seconds. Something else new to us was a glide slope indicator. This was a light at the end of the runway that was yellow if the plane were too high, red if too low, and green if "just right." I loved those "just right."
I was impressed with Lt. Darrow. He knew what to do perfectly. The field was very well hidden, and later, without his advice, I am sure we would have been lost many times. At the end, we flew a normal pattern, and landed on runway 27. We always departed and landed on runway 27. After we had landed and were slowing down, POW!- a tire had blown. In an instant Lt. Darrow was gone. He had jumped out of the plane through the front emergency door. I did not see him leave, but David said he saw him running through some parked B-17s. We did not see him for about three months, but he returned and assumed wake-up duties.
I did not know it at the time, but during the day before, his plane had taken a severe beating by a swarm of German fighters, and he had crashed in the English Channel. His plane was fifty feet under water when he managed to get out of the sinking B-17.
Lt. Darrow was a tough little redhead. He later went back to flying missions and completed his tour. After the War, I sent him a Christmas card thanking him for not shining the light in my face when he woke me up. I also asked him if he remembered the episode. His reply was one word: "YES." However, George was never close to us afterwards. David noticed his coolness also, and said perhaps it was because we had witnessed his breakdown. However, I understood completely- combat is tough. I never did anything like this, but I had some strong feelings. For example: After my tour of duty and I returned to the United States I attended some classes, and I noticed ALL of the class were watching me to see me jump when the retreat cannon was fired. I did jump.
December 31, 1993:
We had finished all of our training: flight school, transition, the flight to England, and four weeks of combat- type training at Ridgewell.
On August 8, 1943, we prepared for our first combat mission- a search for the Schornhorst in the North Sea. The Schornhorst, a German battleship, had been docked in a deep fiord in Norway protected by land- based fighter planes, ship and shore- based anti-aircraft guns as well as the adjoining mountains. England and Russia were entirely dependent on the convoys of merchant ships which were helpless in the face of a modern battleship. The Schornhorst was prowling in the North Sea, scanning with radar, a wolf searching for lambs to devour.
Briefing gave us the last seen location of the Schornhorst, and each crew was given an area to search. The cloud cover was total, the ceiling was 500 feet, and visibility was one mile. We had no radar. Our Group-- eighteen planes-- departed individually at two minute intervals, and we were last. It was a fantastic sight; flying at low level over England and Scotland. The boundary of England and Scotland was marked by Hadrian's Wall stretching into the distance east and west -- still there. From the air, Scotland was dark green pastures of sheep with many deep fiords. The cottages all seemed to have a thatch roof and a smoking chimney. It looked cold but it should - parts are within the Arctic Circle.
The Romans had conquered England in about 5BC, and in about 5AD there was a thriving city called Londonium on the banks of the Thames River. The chief export was lead which was mined and sent to Rome to manufacture water pipes. The Governor was Julius Caesar who left about this time to attend an appointment with a friend named Brutus in the Senate in Rome. He was never able to subdue the Scots, so he built the wall to keep the Scots out. The English did no better, but finally England and Scotland were joined by some efforts of Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
We crossed the coastline, and reaching our assigned area of search, began our search. I was really concerned - our mission was to find and bomb the Schornhorst. With the limited visibility, we had about twenty seconds to turn toward the target, zero the Norden bombsight on the ship, lock on the target, and get the bomb bay doors open. The Scharnhorst had excellent radar and would have us in their gunsights ready to shoot when we appeared. There was no way we could survive if we found the ship. Butch O'Hare crashed a B-17 on the deck of a Japanese battleship and was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously and had the airport at Chicago named after him. I could see the sign on the Cincinnati airport: "Hutchens Field- named for Lt. Hutchens who crashed a B-17 on the battleship Scharnhorst and was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. All the crew were killed."
We searched for six hours, used 1500 gallons of avgas and never saw the Shornhorst. A small twin engine airplane equipped with radar could have found the ship easily in a couple of hours at no risk. This was an example of grossly incompetent leadership and we never questioned it, but followed our orders as in Lord Cardigan's time. Look it up. We also did not get credit for a mission.
January 31, 1994:
Our next two flights were to impact significantly the course of the total war, and together with the third flight end a threat that few knew about, or have since recognized.
Albert Einstein was a poor student, and after graduating became a teacher of mathematics. One day while waiting for his train at the train station, he pulled a piece of blackboard chalk from his coat pocket and wrote on the side of a stopped train car "E=MC squared." This postulated that matter and energy were interchangeable. Thus, the energy from one pound of matter is (5280*186000) squared, or 98,500,000,000 foot pounds per second, or the yield of one hydrogen atom is one billion electron volts.
In 1938 two German scientists produced nuclear fission(a small atomic bomb) and assembled a team of scientists with one objective - to produce atomic bombs and thus win the war. They had learned that neutrons spilled from the triggering sustained the explosion, and heavy water is rich in neutrons.
Hydrogen contains one proton; deuterium, a form of hydrogen, contains one proton and one neutron (makes heavy water); and tritium, also a form of hydrogen, contains one proton and two neutrons (makes heavy heavy water). The neutrons are essential to the triggering of the bomb.
In the meantime, Einstein, a Jew, was expelled from Germany, moved to the United States, and began teaching at Princeton. He was concerned about what Hitler would do with the bomb, and persuaded a Jewish friend of his ( I wish I knew the name of the friend) to personally carry a detailing letter to Roosevelt. The letter was to the effect that Germany was building a bomb of unprecedented power, and could deliver the bomb to the United States by long range four engine bombers and by submarines, and likely targets were New York and Washington D.C.
With this as a background, the entire 8th Air Force (small at this time) departed for Knaben, Norway, to destroy the heavy water plant located there. The British had made commando raids and bombed at night with zero success.
After breakfast and briefing, engine start was 0530, taxi at 0545,take off at 0600. Our bomb load was twelve 500 pound and two 2000 pound bombs. Because of the long flight over the North Sea, there would be no fighter support, and we could expect both heavy flak over the target and Luftwaffe fighter planes as we neared the target.
The day was clear and cold . We assembled at 10,000 feet over Bury St. Edmunds, and began our long climb to 31,000 feet over the North Sea. We were glad to see the British Navy strung out along our path to pick up anyone who had to ditch in the sea. However, they really seldom helped in that in this area the water was so cold a downed flyer would only last about thirty minutes in the sea.
We met enemy fighters who really did not press their attacks with the determination they did over their Homeland. I think they did not realize the importance of the heavy water plant. I didn't. I thought the flight was of no value. Who knew of heavy water in 1943 ? At our altitude, the flak did not bother us, and without deadly flak, all made nice bombing runs in real stable air. We returned with no planes downed, and no casualties.
The next day, we were able to review pictures taken by photo reconnaissance, and the heavy water plant had been totally destroyed - so badly it could not be repaired. If rebuilt, we would destroy it again.
One unusual thing happened. We were flying on Captain Baltrusitis' wing, and casually noticed the ball turret gunner was getting into the turret - the guns were pointing down. When the guns rotated rearward, the door swung open and blew off. The gunner almost fell out, but struggled desperately in the cold wind to get back in the turret, and finally succeeded. He had forgotten to put on the safety belt and lock the door. In 1992, I chanced to meet him again at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and we talked about this. He remembered it well !
Captain Baltrusitis was flying lead at this time. Once he stacked the formation so we did not have a slot for our airplane We were completely exposed and by ourselves; David was so angry that if he could have gotten to Baldy, he would have killed him. Fortunately, while we took a real beating by the German fighters, we survived with no one hurt, and David had changed his mind, but told Baldy if he ever failed to slot us again, we would take such dramatic steps that Baldy would never do it again.
(this story is and remains the sole property of the author, Bill Goodman. It is presented here with with his gracious permission. All rights are retained by same)
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