Friday, January 14, 2011

Chapter 32

Our common targets were Ploiesti, Romanian oil fields, [which] I visited 5 times, Munich, Germany, the home of Hitler, to which I flew 3 missions, and to Vienna, where I set an Air Force record for returning from Vienna 9 times. I share this record for missions to Vienna with a Col. Campbell, but I came home all nine times. Vienna was our toughest target. There were reported to be 1000 anti-aircraft guns stationed there. When 15th Air Force visited Vienna, they rolled up a black cloud of flak that was so thick it looked like you could walk on it. The guns were arranged in groups of four and would fire in square patterns each bursting far enough away from the others to ensure damage to any aircraft within the box. As you approached the gunners would start to track you on your particular box. At first they would generally be a safe distance away, but on each series of four bursts, they would zero in on you until they made their kill, or you flew out of range. How many times I watched the quads pick up my squadron, one two three four, then a pause. Then 1, 2, 3, 4, coming closer. Then 1, 2, 3, 4, then 1, 2, 3, 4 until they were right ahead of you. Then one to your left, two to your right, three directly ahead and you waited and sometimes four never came. You breathed again and kept fighting to keep in formation and deliver your payload and watching for fighters and calling out “bogey at 1 o’clock high.”

            One mission now ran into another and only a very few remained clean. One day we had bombed Vienna and were returning home peacefully as could be. When we flew, we wore flak vests and helmets for our own protection, but they were very heavy and uncomfortable. On this particular day, I had removed my helmet and placed it down o the floor beside my seat. As we flew back south, we were flying over a heavy cloud deck when all of a sudden the sky started popping with fireworks. When the flak burst is close, you see red from the explosion, and we saw red with the first burst. About the second series of four, I got smacked on the top of my head and the fragment lodged in the frame of the aircraft to the left of my head. It felt like I had been hit with a club. My head dropped down until my chin struck hard against my chest. My first reaction was “Good old flak helmet!” Then I looked down and there it was lying on the floor. We wore a leather helmet under the metal flak helmet and the flak fragment had cut right through the leather seam above the center of my skull, cut a groove through my hair, but never brought blood. That’s about as close as you can come.

            On the 26th of June [1944], I was assigned to lead a mission to Vienna to bomb the Floridsdorf Oil Refinery. We had been to the same target for three days in a row and missed the target every time. How 800 bombers can all miss a target is hard to understand unless you have been there, but miss, we did. On this particular mission we all knew where we were going even before briefing and Germans knew it too. They announced on their propaganda radio that they would be ready for us and they were. They brought the entire Air defense capability that remained in the Luftwaffe into the area to meet us. The entire 15th Air Force with all available aircraft, about 800 B-24s and B-17s with all available fighter cover took off for Vienna on schedule. This looked like the show-down at O.K. Corral. Unknown to everyone, the Air Force had brought to additional groups of F-51 fighters from England down to fly cover for us also.

            We arrived over Vienna in the middle of the long train of American bombers strung out, group after group. As we started our bomb run, a group of yellow noses met us, head on. The yellow noses were the German’s crack outfit. Then flew the best aircraft and used more effective techniques and new their business. I was leading high box in the first wave. In the first pass, the lead box disintegrated so I was left alone, leading the group. Only two of that box finally limped home. The next flight of yellow noses were after us, head on. They would roll just before they struck and fire upside down, then fall away, beneath the target. The bottom of their aircraft was armor-plated so it was impossible to hurt them once they got turned over. As the flight leader came straight at my aircraft, we waited until he just started his roll. Then big Bill opened up with the nose turret and blew him clear out of the sky. The rest of the flight, to avoid his debris, broke off the attack and hit the second wave in full force. This left me unmolested to drop our bombs. We went on until bombs away then started to weave to avoid the flak which had every gun trying to stop us. The bombardier continued to watch his bomb until they struck and reported a direct hit from our six birds carrying 5000 pounds each. We continued to fake and weave to avoid the flak, putting as much distance between us and Vienna as possible. The rest of the group that was still flying rallied around us and we proceeded on home. My squadron had not been touched due to Bill’s pinpoint accuracy.

            As we droned away from the target, we took time to look around at the rest of the battle. Any direction you looked, you could see B-24s or B-17s going down in smoke and flame. Finally, 12 of our original 24 birds reached home and safely landed.

            It was reported a little later than the U.S. Air Force had shot down 376 jerry aircraft that day. It effectively broke the back of the Luftwaffe because I never saw another fighter the rest of my tour.

            One Sunday, I wasn’t flying for the first time and I got my next day mission planned early so a group of us could go to Church up at Foggia where there was a large concentration of Air Force groups. They had started a church group and four of us borrowed a jeep to drive to Church about 50 miles distance. We arrived late and everyone was seated so we slipped in the back and joined them. They were meeting in a large auditorium in the city and had a capacity crowd. During the services, we had to stand up for a song and when we stood up, I thought I had shrunk. Being six feet tall, I was not used to having trouble seeing over people’s heads. This crowd was all so much taller that I was awestruck. I couldn’t believe that a group of L.D.S. men stood so far above the average of the men I was used to working with. A testimony of the Word of Wisdom.

During the summer, we made several missions to southern France to soften up the course for the invasion of southern France. One of the obstacles as a huge 16 inch naval weapon located on a prominent point overlooking one of the harbors. The squadron lead was assigned to bomb the gun implement. As we made our run, the bombardier reported a direct hit on the target but, of course, the target was instantaneously covered with a cloud of smoke so no assessment could be made. One of the men was assigned to take pictures through the bottom of the aircraft for target identification. When we got back and developed the pictures, one showed a bomb exploding immediately behind the big gun causing the gun to be blown forward toward the ocean. The picture snapped just as the muzzle of the gun struck the water causing a spray out from the impact.

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