STORY: THIS IS IT !
Now that we were almost certain that the problem of the Atomic Bomb had been done away with, our priorities changed. The United States was committed to invading the Continent and destroying Hitler and all he stood for, and it was necessary that the invasion not be subject to attacks by enemy aircraft, especially during the initial phase of the invasion. Ground troops cannot survive with enemy airplanes roaming the skies.
The Germans knew this, and were trying to destroy the Royal Air Force. A popular song of the Germans was "We Are Marching On England", and it was played often on their radio stations- played with band music, drums and trumpets. ( We listened to their radio stations). But the Germans knew they must destroy the Royal Air Force, and their 109's and 190's methodically roamed the skies looking for targets of opportunity while their bombers methodically bombed English airfields and parked airplanes. Then the German fighter planes were destroying RAAF fighter planes on the ground and those that rose to attack the bombers. The higher plane always has the advantage, and the 109's came at tremendous speeds out of the sun. Often the Spitfires never saw what hit them. At this time , the Germans had 4500 operational combat planes in this effort, and the RAF had 1200 operational combat planes.
The Royal Air Force was on its knees, with only one partial runway on one airfield operational in all of England when a Group of Lancaster bombers, flying singly at night with a pathfinder to mark the target, bombed Berlin, and did significant damage. I think the Germans were feasting and drinking while listening as a band played "We Are Marching On England." Hitler was in a fury, lost all reason, and ordered bombing attacks on London.
The fire bomb attacks devastated London. During several raids the fires were so widespread that all water pressure was lost, and all the fire fighters could do was watch the city of London burn. The English first line of defense for the fire bombs was to equip each fire warden with a small hand- held water pump about the size of a tire pump. This had a long hose attached to stick in a bucket of water and pump. This would send a stream of water the size of a pencil about ten feet on a fire of fifty pounds of jellied gasoline. The fire bombing continued for several days and nights, but the airfields were restored, and the restoration of the airfields made the air defense of England possible and the invasion of England impossible. Hitler's furious stroke at London had now lost the war for him.
With the fine English radar system and the now flying fighters radar directed and interdicting the German bombers, things got a little better, but blocks and blocks of buildings in downtown London had been destroyed. The rubble was bulldozed, and block after block of antiaircraft guns and brilliant searchlights were installed. Balloons with explosives attached were run up on steel cables. There were so many balloons in the sky the joke was that if the cables were cut , England would sink.
We went to London probably twice a week. Once I stayed out and watched the searchlights defining the German planes in the night sky, and the antiaircraft cannon fired at them with thunder greater than any noise that you could imagine. They were getting good hits, too. This was a fantastic experience- bombs falling all around, planes being hit, burning and falling, exploding and falling, spent shrapnel falling. Occasionally a Spitfire would appear in the lighted area in pursuit of a bomber and would flame or explode a bomber. I never saw a parachute, and always a falling plane. This was the turning point of the air war over London. I never watched again, but went to a bomb shelter. Of this, Winston Churchill said of these fighter pilots "Never have so many owed so much to so few."
The readily available bomb shelters were the underground subway stations, or the "tube", as it was called. They were usually packed with all sorts of people waiting for the all clear. The main lights were usually off due to the bombing, and the emergency lights were dim and flickering. If you were lucky, you sat on the floor next to a pleasant person and talked. There was a joke that went like this: Girls voice" Take your hand off my knee. Not you-you!."
If you were in an apartment in London, and the air raid sirens sounded, the place to go was under the dining room table. The dining room tables were made of steel and would hold up the roof in the event of a bomb hitting the building. This happened often, and the rescue units would dig you out. The dig- out time was measured in hours and days, and the diggers were tops in bravery because the Germans would fuse one bomb for one- tenth second and another bomb would be fused for four hours. When the diggers were digging and came to an unexploded bomb, they knew it was going to explode, but they would continue digging. Many were killed by the delayed fuse bombs, but I assure you they came out a lot faster than they went in.
Fun under the dining room table- the whole family got under the table- kids, mom, pop, sisters, girl friend. It was real snuggly. I often wondered how many marriages resulted from an air raid siren and a steel dining room table.
It was not clear at this time what the original architects of the strategic bombing offensive against thought they might accomplish. Up to now, almost all of our missions had not been against Germany, but had been more against specific and necessary targets. As events unfolded , it seemed to me that there were no goals of a sustained strategic bombing offense. However, over time, the proper goals were reached- the destruction of the Luftwaffe, ie, the German Air Force.
The techniques of engagements were also significantly changed: combat would no longer be by gentlemen's rules. The strategy was real simple- break the back of German fighter defenses by relentless pressure from Allied combat aircraft.
The German fighter pilots were reluctant to close with us as long as we did not bomb Germany itself. The Luftwaffe, headed by Goering, had promised Hitler there would be no bombing of Germany, and when we began to bomb military targets such as ball bearing factories the Luftwaffe fought us diligently and fought at a very high level. Some fighter pilots made as much as seventy kills. However , when we began to bomb the center of large cities as we did on October 10, 1942, air combat was brought to a very high level. This was their families we were bombing. This was the strategy to destroy all their fighter planes.
Our missions now began at 6:00 AM and we did not try to get back in time for afternoon tea. Takeoff would start at seven. The first airplane would be first in line with all engines at max and the tail wheel locked. Promptly at seven , the pilot would release the brakes, and he was committed to take off. There was no go stop decision because the runway, 27 was too short. After takeoff and wheels up he would fly a big oval at 140 MPH and climb at 200 feet per minute to allow the rest of the planes to join the formation. A pilot would be in the tail gunners position and would advise the Mission Commander when the formation was formed. There would be three planes flying spare who would turn back at the enemy coast, usually Belgian, if no one in the formation aborted. Speed was increased to 140 MPH and the rate of climb to 400 feet per minute and we headed for Germany by a very crooked course. We would not turn toward the target until we were about seven minutes away. We had been on pure oxygen since takeoff, the guns had been loaded ,auxiliary fuel tanks had been transferred to the main tanks, and we were flying at 40000 feet at an indicated airspeed of 160MPH and a true airspeed of about 300 MPH.
The p-47'swould would be zig-zagging over us at 45000 feet leaving contrails, and shortly after crossing the coastline we picked up German fighter planes, Me-109's and Me 190's. The P-47's quickly dropped their auxiliary fuel tanks and spilled avgas all over the world. Usually a few P-47's had forgotten to transfer all the gas in the auxiliary tank to the main tanks, and would head for home immediately but those which had full mains would go for the German fighters and attack vigorously. But , in a dogfight there was only fuel for about five minutes, and the P 47's quickly left us and headed for England, and we had just started. On one of these dogfights Mahurin lost supercharger boost and went to ground level with a 109 hot on his tail. Walker had an armor seat back and the German used all his ammunition on Mahurin, but the P-47 kept on flying. He told me about thirty cannon shells hit the back of his chair which knocked about fifteen rivets into his back. The German pulled alongside Walker and waved to him but Walker did not wave back. Those rivets in his back hurt.
As soon as the P-47's were gone, the Luftwaffe planes came after us like a swarm of bees. The twin engine 210's were loaded with rockets, and would park about 7000 feet behind the formation just out of fifty caliber range and would lob rockets into the formation. They got a lot of hits. Hilbert could tell where a rocket was going and would tell David how to dodge. He would say"UP" and David would respond but we still got a lot of hits.
While the rocket firing Me210's were getting in position slowly, the 109's and the 110's were be on a parallel course on our right trying to get about two miles in front of us. As soon as they as they did get in position, by five at a time they would execute a 180 degree turn and with a speed of closure of 600 MPH would fly through our B-17 formation firing cannon at us. They would always come in rows of five and aim for the lead B-17 . I could tell when they began firing- the shell cases and the gunsmoke came out of the bottom of the wing.
Some German fighters would make 90 degree approaches and these planes were hard to hit at first because the gunner needed to aim behind instead of leading the oncoming fighter. But a Dr.Hewitt visited us and told the gunners how to aim- behind. We then began to get good hits and the Germans quit this route. Incidentally, I think our crew destroyed twelve enemy fighters. On one of these side attacks a German fighter rammed the B-17 flying next to us and almost cut it into. It made the trip home ( We flew close to him to offer some gun support ) but broke apart on landing. However, most of the attacks were head-on's and destroyed a lot of B-17's.For instance on one flight, the entire squadron of B-17's were destroyed. We were next in line but we were left alone probably because the Germans were out of gas.
The ball turret gunner was Sgt Purdy and he fired a lot of shells and he handled his position well. However, one B-17 was shot up badly, and the gunner could not get out. When the plane came in to land the wheels would not come down. The pilot circled desperately , had no success and finally had to land.
Over time, due to the way the bombing offense actually played out over Germany and occupied Europe, the actual focus of the campaign became the destruction of the German fighter force. At first, through most of 1943, the idea was to destroy the German fighter planes arrayed along the bomber (B-17's) routes as they attacked the bombers. The Germans were up and waiting for us on the way to our targets. But the targets quickly became the components of the German aircraft industry. Airframes, engines, and ball bearings assembly plants became the targets. Schweinfurt with their ball bearing plant, quickly became THE target on October 14,1943. I did not fly this mission and let me tell you about this. I was in the hospital with ruptured ear drums as the result of a dive from 36,000 feet to 200 feet. Our aircraft was on fire- a gasoline fire. We needed to blow out a gasoline fire, and to blow out this gasoline fire, we reached speeds in excess of 450 knots in the dive. David pulled about ten G's (from G meter on panel) and almost did not level out in time, but he leveled out at 200 feet and we flew home at about the same level on three engines. We were so low the German fighters could not make a good run on us, and we had all of our stingers so they had to be very cautious. It was interesting flying across Germany so low. At that level, often we were down to ten feet above the wheat fields to hide. In flight school, I had to complete ten hours of low flying- below two hundred feet with a mean instructor flying overhead- but this was different- we were being shot at. The hospital was nothing great- a Quonset hut with sixteen cots and a PFC orderly to fuel the stove and read a comic book.
There were sixty B-17's shot down on this mission to wipe out ball bearing production for airplanes. Braun told me that he could see the 305th Bomb Group from his tail gunner position, and all planes in the 305th Bomb Group were shot down. He thought they would come for us next. Old "THIS IS IT' did not make it back all the way, but because of battle damage, landed at the first airfield they came to. I was really upset . I thought they had been shot down.
May 31, 1994
The new strategy to destroy the Luftwaffe by air battles between the U S Air Force and the Luftwaffe initialized quickly with a bombing mission to one of their key cities- Stuttgart . The Luftwaffe had not diligently attacked us when we bombed outside of Germany. The target was a factory producing electrical parts probably for airplanes. David and I were the last to get on the plane, and we stood together and talked. I told David "We do not have enough gas to get there and back in formation. You get to decide if we cancel here and now. There is no point in flying halfway and then aborting. We must fly not in formation from the target home, and you know what our chances of survival are. It's a maximum effort." He thought a minute and said "Let's go." What follows was mostly written August 7, 1943.
Bomb load was 42 incendiary bombs. We flew old 4725 (THIS IS IT). The target was a factory at Stuttgart which produced electrical components for airplanes. There was no escort. P-47's were flying, but were of no help. The trip to the target was relatively uneventful. We flew at an indicated airspeed of 160 MPH, but the wing ahead flew at an indicated 155 MPH, requiring our wing to "S" to maintain the proper distance. B-17's covered the sky. I never saw so many B-17s in my life.
The target was hidden by low clouds, so we bombed the alternate target which was the railroad marshaling yards at Offenburg (near Strausbourg). As you may recall, old 4725 only carried about 1560 gallons of gas, while the later models had another 1400 gallons of gas in the wing tips, or a total of 2960 gallons of gas. As we approached the target the lead bombardier acquired the target, and opened his bomb bay doors. With this signal, all planes opened their doors and the pilots closed up the formation. There was little or no flak, nor were the German fighter planes active. Suddenly, with no warning, the lead plane made a sharp turn to the left, and we slid under the plane on our right. It was that or a mid- air collision, and a mid-air collision will ruin your whole day. Wheels down, cowl flaps open, anything to stop this bird and get out from under this plane who is going to drop his bombs any second. Slowly we oozed out from under, the Norden bombsight comtacts closed , and the bombs were falling. Then, with bombs away, the formation began a turn to the right and increased speed to 170 MPH indicated. With this, David reached to the console and pulled the props all the way back to 1200 RPM , the mixture to automatic lean, and the boost to 30 inches of mercury. We began to lose speed, and the formation slowly and then faster left us as our speed slowed to about 100 MPH indicated while the formation probably was indicating 170 MPH. David never said a word when he did this. In one of our meetings after the war, I asked why he did this. He said "You told me to." I think he had his mind made up because he reduced the power setting as the bomb bay doors were closing.
Coming back we didn't have enough gas to fly back in formation, so we conserved gas and straggled. Naturally, the fighters jumped us-109's, 110's, and 190's-approximate total of about 150. Again they did not press their attacks, and we learned why on the next mission- they had developed a new weapon which would soon be used on us. Only one plane got close- the plane looked like a Spit and the pilot flew like a Spitfire pilot. The top turret gunner advised all "Don't shoot, that's a Spitfire." I thought a minute and realized it could not be a Spit then said " A Spit doesn't have this range. Shoot him!" Top turret fired a short burst over his head. I wanted him to destroy this plane and he could not miss at this range. However, the plane peeled off and disappeared. I can understand his reluctance- the intruder. had English markings, and he cosied up to us like a friend. He was only about fifty feet from us but was directly behind the plane on our right wing. I am sure he had his gun switches on, and his guns were cannon. He would have exploded the other Fort if we had not clearly indicated to him that he was not welcome.
For a while I didn't think we would make the channel. The yellow low fuel lights had been on since we dropped our bombs at. Before we reached Paris, we feathered the prop on number three engine as we ran out of gas in that tank. When would the next tank run out was the unspoken thought. Usually all tanks on a plane will run out within five minutes of each other. We were now flying on engines one, two, and four converting altitude into distance. All the while fighters were attacking from six and seven o'clock low, and I am sure Hilbert Braun was up to his knees in spent fifty caliber cartridge shells.
Before we reached the coast, engine number two ran dry and was feathered. We now had symmetrical thrust, and the plane was flying better. Everyone thinks we will ditch in the Channel, and the entire crew is preparing for ditching. The radio operator, Eddie Knauth, was trying to contact air-sea rescue, but was unable to due to the crowded MF/DF. Eddie was a great radio operator and in addition to the radios he had another duty-he looked in the bomb bay and made sure all bombs had fallen. If some had stuck he would get Mike Jasinsky to help him clear the stuck bombs, and Mike was the strongest man on the crew. I say this because once in a basketball game I made an illegal block on Mike (stuck out my hip). I don't remember the details, but I lay on the floor a while wondering where the truck came from. Eddie did something I thought strange- He would stick his head out his window and yell to the German fighter planes "I'm German- don't shoot me-I'm on your side." I had some bad thoughts too. I wanted to divert to Switzerland -we were only about twenty miles away, things were looking very iffy, and I needed a new watch. We could make Switzerland easily, but we had been told by American Intelligence that Swiss were turning over all airmen landing in Switzerland to the Germans. As we reached the channel we began to jettison cargo. Everything loose went overboard.
Eventually we saw Beachy Head. At this time a British Spitfire flew close alongside and pointed to the camaflouaged air strip, then flew toward the airstrip. I was absolutely sure we would not make it. We were low, and I thought we would crash into the white cliffs of Dover. I really wanted to ditch close to the shore. But the Wright R-1850 engines kept turning. About this time we called for Darky, who fired a Red-Red flare,and we saw a small grass field that other planes were using. Darky insisted we make a normal traffic pattern, but we did not have the gas to circle the field. Engine number one chose this time to run out of gas, and we were flying on engine four. We landed down wind with other planes landing the other way. We were going too fast- we crossed the fence at 120 MPH instead of 90 MPH. There were no brakes. Number four then lost all fuel pressure, and was losing power. We touched down, and David pinned the plane to the ground as a plane landing the other way zipped by us. As we slowed, the tail wheel touched the ground, and David did a ground loop to the left. We went sliding down the airport sideways making all sorts of scraping and sliding noises. The right wing dropped almost to the ground, and we slid sideways to a stop. We sat there for a long time, and did not say a word. After refueling, we flew back to Ridgewell.
This trip back from Stuttgart to England had been particularly difficult. Bombing in the heart of Germany was like kicking over a hive of bees. The bees don't like a bit and neither did the German fighters, and they swarmed around us like bees.
(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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