The Norwegian Odyssey of Bill Dunlop
By Merle Olmsted
As the 357th FG Historian, the name of William Dunlop was familiar to me because of a brief note in the group records for September 1944. An added paragraph to the mission report for 15 September has to say: "Lt. W.R. Dunlop, spare on mission separated from group on West Frisian Islands. With his gyro out, Lt. Dunlop got lost in the clouds and when he finally found his bearings, he was over Christiansand harbor in Norway. He strafed three seaplanes at 1045 anchored in the harbor, damaged a DO 24. He then took heading for nearest land and landed at Crail, Scotland at 1630."
I had often wished I could ask him about that adventure but Dunlop was listed as a lost sheep. In mid 1972, by a stroke of luck, I found him, now a Psychiatrist living nearby in the San Francisco Bay area. Subsequently, he and his sons and later he and his wife, came to visit us and they also attended the Long Beach Reunion. During these visits, I asked Bill about the long ride to Norway and asked him to write it up for the newsletter. Following is the story of Bill Dunlop's Scandinavian adventure on the 15th of Sept, 1944. Merle Olmsted
I did preplan going to Norway. For the trip, I could only procure maps of the nearest Norwegian coast. The night before, I asked to be put on spare. The next morning we were briefed for a mission to the Stettin area via the Frisian Chain and Denmark. We took off as low squadron, me with the second spare on my wing. After a non-eventful takeoff and assembly, we began the long climb to the enemy coast. Five to ten minutes from the first of the Frisians, we suddenly ran into a solid front. Trying to get through, the entire squadron split up. Just before entering the soup, I told my wingman to return to base. He had lost one of his drop tanks and had insufficient fuel to make the long trip ahead. Once in and split up, I was alone and spotting one of the islands thru a temporary break, I felt my responsibilities to the mission were over. A spare is only requited to accompany to the coast. I began a tight spiral in an attempt to stay in the hole. At 3000 ft., I had built up 300-350 mph airspeed and couldn't keep it tight enough with a full gas load. Entering the stuff half ready to spin, I barely gained straight and level at 500 ft. still on instruments edging down to 200 ft., I broke out in a driving rain storm and over a high running sea. Turning to my heading and setting the airspeed and mentally noting the time so as to make a bend into the Skatterak, I snuggled down to 50 ft. over the North Sea. I switched to channel B, Air Sea Rescue and hoped I was low enough and far enough away from the Danish coast to elude the radar sweep. I had computed an 1 hr steady course prior to the turn. As the first hr. passed, it was only with great concentration that I kept from hitting the wave tops. The water had a disillusioning effect on depth perception and it seemed to draw me like a magnet. Somewhere enroute I passed over a drifting mine. From my low altitude it looked huge and it's protrusions very deadly. I contemplated exploding it with the 50s, but thought better and let it alone. After approximately one and three quarters hrs. of this mist flying, I had the surprise of my life. The mist and rain ended suddenly in a wall just as it had begun. Bathed in sunlight and framed by pearl-like clouds, the mountains of Norway rose straight out of the sea. For a moment, it took my breath away. I almost went into the water again. There was no doubt I had overshot and come upon the south coast somewhere in the vicinity of Lister. I decided to parallel the coastline hoping to pick up a plane or a transport a few minutes after climbing up over the mountains from the sea. The country is wild and rugged in terrain almost beyond imagination. The mountain ridges and ranges run into the North Sea to make contact perpendicularly, the dividing valleys with rushing rivers, hurdled cliffs to form water falls of great violence. The only agriculture seemed to lie along the narrow space between the river bank and the valley walls. There was however an abundance of lumbering. The streams were choked with logs and great floats lined the edges of the Fiords. Still attempting to elude German Radar, I would dive down into the valleys and zoom up the other side flat on the deck in a porpoising motion. Perhaps due to the kick I was getting out of it or the maps, I never did locate myself. Off the coast several miles, there was considerable shipping. In each of the larger Fiords, there seemed to be at least one fair sized town usually one half on the mountain side. The houses were always wood, generally white, sometimes red or unpainted. Everything seemed extremely neat and gave the impression of a hardy civilization below.
At first I contented myself staying away from built-up areas, but attracted by a wood church, beautifully and massively built and receiving no flak, I flew over everything from then on. I never tired of flipping over a ridge and diving down the next valley. Each time there was a new and awesome sight. Finally I came on a Fiord which dwarfed the others with a lush green, well planned countryside, extending 5 to 10 miles along either side. I later learned this was Oslo Fiord. Here I notice my first railroad and partly looking for something German to shoot at, but also just curious, I followed it flying about 50 ft. above the tracks. I had been over Norway for one hour and was about to retrace my flight when I stumbled across the German Seaplane Base at Horten, just south of Oslo. It was in a cavity in the Fiord with bordering hills and an Island in the harbor, making it an ideal spot to defend and providing smooth water for takeoff and landings. On the island, a half-moon affair, stood a powerhouse and I was soon to learn 20 or 40 mm flak guns. In the town of Horten due south, several ocean going vessels were docked, perhaps transporting aircraft parts that a factory nearby produced to Germany. What particularly interested me and had me excited were a HE 115 and two large Dornier Flying Boats floating serenely in the center of the bay. (Journal lost, from this point on, the rest from memory 48 yrs later.)
I remember popping over hills on the west side of the small harbor, firing at one of the Dorniers most of the fire missing, kicking rudder to bring the fire back, but getting only a few hits on one wing. Later I found all the guns on the left side had not fired. I could not let the fat target go, circled low and made another pass from the west. All hell broke loose with AAA from a number of locations around the harbor. I can't remember if I fired again, but I do remember the AAA was heavy and I took off south down the Fiord full throttle, little balls of fire floating by on all sides. I remember feeling amazed that nothing had hit me. Out of range, I briefly considered going to Sweden, which was in plain view to my left. I knew I had used too much gas and could not get back to England. I decided I might be able to make it to Scotland. I remember thinning the mixture, lowering the RPMs and climbing back into the clouds to approximately 10,000 ft. I set a course for what I thought was the nearest part of Scotland. Now that radar could pick me up, I wondered if the Germans would send up fighters? I flew instruments all the way west. I tried to make some kind of radio contact but couldn't. As the gas gauge became near empty, I descended gradually wondering if I could make it to the coast. I had it in my mind that the Scottish coastal range was 1000-2000 ft. high. As I got down to that altitude, the visibility was still zero. I thought about bailing out at the end of the gas, but that was an unattractive option at best. Finally, I decided to inch down hoping to come out over the sea near land. I broke out at no more that 100 ft., not over the sea, but miraculously over an airfield. I dumped it in without ground contact, I couldn't wait and taxied to an apron. A British officer, probably the C.O., met me in a jeep. He seemed irritated by my unexpected arrival. I don't think he believed my story, that I had been lost in Norway, more like I was another crazy Yank. Finally he became a little more friendly, promised to put me up and service my airplane. We did have a momentary run-in. He wanted me to give him my gun camera film. I refused saying it was US property. Later I hid it under the cockpit seat. The airfield was the British Naval Airbase at Crail, Scotland. I was shown to the mess and later to the Officers Club. It was a scene hard to believe. Not a sober citizen to be found, everyone was smashed, singing and shouting. It seemed they had sunk the German pocket battleship Tirpitz earlier that day, of all places in a Norwegian Fiord. I remember talking to a flying officer from Ceylon. The pilots were from countries all over the world. The next day I checked my airplane, it had been serviced as promised. The line mechanic told me I had landed with 4 gallons of gas. I made a hot takeoff wanting to show the British what a P51 could do, pulling it off quickly and as straight up as it would go. At something like 500ft. over the end of the runway, it started to fall off in a stall, but I was able to get the nose down and steady it with the rudder and regain flying speed. I remember thinking how foolish I was, but also happy that the British could see what our plane could do. The trip south was uneventful except for some Spits and Hurricanes that wanted to dogfight. I left them behind. The hills in southern Scotland and northern England were rose colored and quite beautiful at that time of year.
Further Note by Merle Olmsted:
Although Bill remembers that the escapade caused him to be grounded for a week, the grounding did not "take", as two days later, he was aloft with the rest of the group over the airborne landing at Arnhem. Here he shot down an ME 109 and another the next day. He scored a total of four victories before he was shot down on "The Big Day" - 14 January, 1945, and spent the remaining few months of the war in a Stalag Luft.
Notes from conversation with Bill about his aircraft. Bill says he flew P-51D, 44-15370, named Sally Anne III, Red Letters with Yellow trim just below the exhaust stacks. As best he recalls, his code letters were B6-X. Jim Anderson