STORY: THIS IS IT !
Foreword: The attached letters were written to my sons, Richard and Bob, and to two of my grandchildren, Brant and Margaret Jane, now in college. I wrote the first one fifty years from the day I flew across the North Atlantic Ocean, and about the same day Brant started another year at Auburn University. The children and others seem to enjoy the letters, and I enjoy writing them.
All I write is from memory, notes I made at the time of the event, and talking to David Hutchens and Hilbert Braun, the tail gunner who saw a lot from another view. I remember a lot dimly and some vividly. I shall never forget the short interval of time when four Me-110's were on our tail just out of 50 caliber machine gun range. They were firing rockets at us, and had done significant damage to our plane. Another one or two hits would have finished us when Lt. Walker Mahurin, in a P-47, came diving out of the sun and in one pass flamed all four German planes. Or watching the total destruction of another Bomb Group flying next to us, and wondering if the wulfs would turn on us next.
July 28, 1993
About fifty years ago, I was at an Air Force base at Gander, Newfoundland, waiting for favorable weather to fly to England. We had picked up a new B-17 at Salina, Kansas, and had flown it here. We also picked up a Major Fred Key. Key Field in Meridian, Mississippi, is named for him and his brother Al for their aviation exploits. Al was later Mayor of Meridian, and Fred was an outstanding pilot and leader. Salina was a modification center and had the largest hangars I had ever seen. They were installing two forward firing fifty caliber machine guns in the nose of all new B-17's. We picked up a new, modified B-17 here to fly back to Walla-Walla and then to England
Departing Salina and heading for Walla-Walla, Washington, we ran into a front that we could not go by , over, or through, and we had to make an instrument approach and land at Boise, Idaho. This was the first precision instrument approach and landing David had ever made, and we hit the high cone, turned to the outbound leg and descended to 2000 feet above ground level. We made a 180 degree turn and hit the low cone at 1200 feet. with gear and flaps down with power set for takeoff, We descended through the cloud until-There was the runway directly ahead for an easy landing. The next morning David went by himself to Operations to file a flight plan but he had never done one. However, a young lady took his arm and said " Can I help you?" He turned around, and it was a friend who had taught him to fly a Piper Cub before the war and who was now a ferry pilot for the Air Corps. She helped him fill out the forms, and after refueling, we departed for Walla-Walla. After picking up our luggage we departed for Gander, Newfoundland.
Gander was cool after the heat of Kansas. We had no recreation-- this was a place to refuel and wait. We needed a tailwind, no icing in route, and good weather in England. We planned the trip to fly the great circle route, take off at dusk, and land at Prestwick, Scotland, early in the morning. Prestwick was pretty much out of the combat zone, and we didn't want to face combat with German fighter planes at this time in our experience. We departed Gander at dusk with the setting sun behind us on a heading of 60 degrees true. We were near the magnetic pole, and the compass spun erratically. The tailwind was not there as forecast, and we were flying in clouds at 12000 feet. As the night quickly darkened, we began to pick up light icing on the airfoil surfaces and the propellers. It was probably warmer at a higher altitude, and we began a climb to a higher altitude. The icing increased, and the de-icer boots on the wings broke off large chunks of ice which made a loud noise when they hit the tail surfaces. However, the propeller deicing equipment cleaned the props real good. Finally, at 15,000 feet, we flew into warmer air. So much for weather forecasts. We still had a problem, and a serious one. Because of the clouds we had not been able to secure a position fix by the stars- a three star fix. We should have been following a homing beacon, but it was being jammed by the Germans. We flew on. In the cockpit no one was sleeping. The engines droned on. There was an occasional noise which worried everyone. We continued to transfer fuel from the auxiliary tanks to the main tanks. Suddenly, POW! WE WERE IN THE STARS! A quick read of three stars, a plot of the three stars, and we knew where we were. A ten degree course correction right, and we are headed for Donegal Bay.
We made landfall at Donegal Bay, Ireland, just as the first glimmer of dawn began. The day was July 27, 1943. We changed course to head to Prestwick, Scotland, where we would land. As we crossed Northern Ireland, a distance of about 120 miles, the sun rose, and I was astonished by the beauty of the countryside with the deep green of the fields and the deep blue of the many lakes. Ireland and Newfoundland are in the same latitude. Newfoundland is arctic in nature, but Ireland is temperate because of the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. We then crossed the Irish Sea, and hit the downwind leg of the traffic pattern (good navigating).
Prestwick was untouched by war. If we had landed further south, we could have been interdicted by an enemy fighter, and we were not ready for combat at this time of our training and experience. We were 10.5 hours from Gander. We spent the night in a classic English hotel-- red brick, immaculate, chamber maids in uniform, scullery maid (beautiful) scrubbing the front steps, white tablecloths-china-crystal-silver in the dining room. It was cold, and I was cold. The next day we traveled to London by train. The engine was a real chufferbelly, puffing giant clouds of black smoke and small clouds of spewing white steam. A slow train is a wonderful way to see rural and small town England. I think every house and barn had a thatched roof, and half the wagons were pulled by oxen. The passenger cars were divided into rooms, each seating about eight people, with doors for exit from each room to the station.
We stopped many times, and I exited at one station for a cup of hot tea. I was interested in the pastries-called pasties- small round fried pies obviously containing apples or some other fruit. I purchased tea and pie. The tea was wonderful, but when I took a bite of the pie, I could not eat it- it was a kidney pie. Never buy a kidney pie.
The trip to London took twelve hours and we hunted for a hotel room to spend the night but we had no luck so we changed to the subway, then to another train, arriving at Ridgewell at midnight. We were at our home in England, and I had seen many things for the first time.
(this story is and remains the sole property of the author. It is presented here with with his gracious permission. All rights are retained by same)