OVERSEAS

Now it was getting close.  We were shipped to Tallahassee, Florida for more training in survival and more ground school.  Another two weeks went by and I was ready for combat.  I was anxious to test the training and get to wherever the combat was and do my thing to end the war.  We had no idea which theater of operations we would be sent to.  One thing for sure, we would be shooting at the Japanese or the Germans.  In retrospect, I am embarrassed realizing  now how naive and immature I was.  I had no idea of what war was all about.  Until now the only fatalities were due to accidents.  No one was shooting at us, except with gun cameras.  I felt invincible.  How young and how foolish.

From Tallahassee we were shipped north to Camp Miles Standish in Massachusetts, and from there to a port where we boarded a ship and were soon out in the Atlantic dodging submarines, apparently heading for England.  The voyage took seven days, which was longer than usual because the ship had to zigzag every seven minutes.  They figured that it took about eight or nine minutes for a submarine to get into position to fire a torpedo at us.

Once on board the ship we were assigned to staterooms which were large, but we shared them with about five other pilots.  We were assigned a table in the main dining salon with four of us at a table.  Each table had a waiter and a busboy.  The food was delicious and we sort of felt that they were fattening us up for the slaughter.  The trip was as though we were on a cruise with the thrill of getting to see England and whatever adventure that would bring.  The weather wasn’t too great and so I spent a good part of the trip reading.

We sailed past Ireland and into the port of Liverpool.  We left the ship dressed in field clothes so that any spies at the port would think that we were in the infantry.  There were fifty of us and I don't think that we fooled anyone.

Oh yes!  While on board the ship we were given our 201 files.  These contained all of the information about what we had done up until then.  It contained all of our grades and evaluations.  I was surprised to find that only one other pilot and I had received  "superior" efficiency ratings.  All of the others had received "excellent".

From Liverpool we were transported to a pilot pool in the center of England.  We remained here for a few days and were then sent to Grimsby, a small town in northern England on the Humber River.  Here we were to be checked out in a combat airplane.  When the  truck transporting me arrived at the base I could see only two types of aircraft on the apron, P38's and P51's.  I wondered to which one I would be assigned.  Since I was trained as a single engine pilot I assumed that it would be the P51, and I was correct.

Again we began ground school to learn about the idiosyncrasies of the P‑51 Mustang.  There were some very old Mustangs on the field, and these were used for the checkouts.  Again there were no two-seaters, so the checkouts were on the ground first, and from the beginning I was alone in the aircraft for my first flight.  I was worried about getting airsick again after not flying for about a month, and I started to make some very shallow turns, and flew around for a while just getting acclimated.  I did not get sick and that was a huge step forward for me.  After two weeks of flying around in the Mustang I felt comfortable in it.

The only days that we didn't fly was when the weather was crummy, and even the birds wouldn't fly.  We waited around the operations room waiting for a break in the weather.  On one of these days we were asked to censor the enlisted men's outgoing mail.  They piled a huge stack of mail on a round table and we began reading and then sending off these letters.  I decided to do some mischief and when no one was paying attention I wrote a letter that I knew would cause a problem.  I threw the letter into the pile and waited for someone to read it.  Sure enough one of the pilots picked it up and began to read it.  Suddenly he let out a yell as though he had caught a bank robber and began waving the letter in the air and screaming that he had caught a bad one.  Everyone stopped reading and looked over at him.  They all were wondering what to do when I reached over, grabbed the letter and began to tear it up.  They were all yelling at me that it was illegal for me to destroy evidence and to tamper with private mail.  I continued to tear up the letter when the Colonel walked in to see what the commotion was all about.  He looked over at me and joined in with the fun.  He looked at me sternly and said that I would be up for a court martial for destroying the letter.  When the fun was over the sun came out and we were able to continue flying and leave the censoring to someone else.

One rainy day we were sent across the Humber River to the city of Hull.  Here there was a huge Olympic sized swimming pool where we had to practice jumping into the water from a high board with a full pack on our backs and swim to the side of the pool.  It was cold outside, but it felt good to be swimming around with our clothes on.  That was about the only change that we had from our daily flying schedule, except for the accidents.

We were on a four ship, minimum altitude practice mission, when my friend Willie who was flying at one end of the formation was so low that about a bushel of wheat from a field that we were flying over was caught in the air scoop that all Mustangs have on their belly.  The wheat blocked the coolant radiator and his engine overheated and quit.  He was too low to bail out and he tried to belly it in and ran into a hill.  The airplane exploded and burned.  We flew over the scene several times trying to see if there was a chance that the pilot was alive.  It looked impossible for anyone to have survived the crash and so we flew back to base and reported the accident.  I was very sad to have witnessed the terrible mishap and I couldn't eat dinner that evening.

The following afternoon when we were all brooding about the event Willie walked in with his clothes all torn up, with no shoes, and with most of his body blackened from the fire.  He was only superficially hurt and really in a very happy mood for having survived the crash.

It seems that when he hit the ground the seat parted company with the airplane, and he found himself sliding along the ground on the seat.  His shoes came off as he was trying to stop the sliding.  All that was lost was an old $58'000 Mustang, a flying suit, and a pair of shoes, and oh yes, some skin.

We all celebrated that evening.  However, my friend almost lost his young life about a month later while he was doing a prohibited maneuver in a Mustang.  He was doing a slow roll when the tail of his plane came off and he went into a flat spin and apparently had to bail out.  Some time later while in a dog fight with a Jerry,  He shot the German down and lost his life doing it.  

These early Mustangs had a weak tail and if a slow roll (an acrobatic maneuver where the airplane is made to roll around a point) was performed, the tail could, and in this case did come off, leaving the airplane spinning around with no way to control it. This defect in the airframe was in the process of being corrected when this accident happened.  A dorsal fin was added to the tail to strengthen it, and all of the Mustang's were being retrofitted.

The hours that we spent getting acclimated to the mustang were used to practice tight vertical turns, high speed stalls, and other maneuvers that we would be using in combat.  We were also encouraged to dog fight with any friendly fighter that we came across.

I was out practicing late one afternoon when I noticed a Spitfire just below me and I decided to jump it.  The pilot saw me on his tail and began evasive maneuvers.  I knew that the Spitfire had a reputation for being extremely maneuverable, but I decided to hang on for as long as possible.  He went into a dive, followed by a vertical turn coming out of the dive.  I was still in there on his tail, pulling streamers from my wing tips, and having a ball.  We were fairly close to the ground when he again went into a vertical dive.  But this time I decided that we were under the critical altitude for this maneuver and I gave up the chase, satisfied that I had the opportunity to engage a Spitfire and that I could at least keep up with it in a tight turn.  Of course it helped to not have but a but a relatively small amount of fuel on board.   

One afternoon I was practicing dog fighting with one of the other pilots in our group and when we came in for our approach to land he called me on the radio and asked me if I were married.  When I told him that I wasn't, he told me to remind him to talk to me about a  situation when we landed.

After we landed, he came over to me and told me that he had been to town a couple of nights before, and that he had met a very attractive girl.  They were going to spend the night together, but decided to go to a pub for a couple of drinks in order to wait for her sister to go to bed before returning and going to her room.  However, they had too much to drink and when they finally went to her room they both passed out and he had to leave early to return to the base on time.  They decided to take a rain check and do their thing a couple of nights later, which was to be this evening.

He told me that he was married and decided that he had changed his mind and would not keep the date.  He did not want to disappoint the girl and asked me if I would take his place.  I had not left the base since we arrived and I felt that this might be a good adventure.  I also realized that the girl would probably not go along with these arrangements, but what did I have to lose?  I decided to go, but also felt that I had the option of backing out at the last minute if the girl was not to my liking.

I arrived at the address that he had given me and found that I was in a very nice part of Grimsby.  I rang the door bell and a very lovely girl with beautiful skin came to the door.  She was the girl that my friend had the date with and I told her that he couldn't keep the date and that he had sent me in his place.  She first looked me up and down, and then asked if I knew what their plans were, and when I answered affirmatively she asked me in and introduced me to her sister, who was equally attractive.  We sat for awhile and when her sister left the room she told me that we had better go to the pub and wait for her sister to go to bed before returning, but that I must not allow her to drink more than one beer and that she would make me do the same.

We went to the pub and became better acquainted.  After about twenty minutes she said that she was getting turned on and that we should go back to her home and take the chance that her sister was asleep early.  We went back to the house, took off our shoes and went to her room.  A series of events began that lasted from about ten P.M. until about two A.M. when I decided that I had better get back to the base since I was scheduled to fly the next day.  She begged me to stay until morning, but for health reasons I decided to leave at once.  As I was walking through the hall a door opened and her sister asked me to come into her room.  I told her that I would be right back and I went downstairs, put my shoes on and raced out into the night.  I wonder if I have any relatives in Grimsby.

I was able to get back to the base and as quickly as possible got into bed and almost immediately fell asleep.  I could not get up in the morning and I decided to report to sick call.  I did not fly that day, which was lucky for those who were to fly with me, and for all of the people on the ground.

PART TWO

 COMBAT

Six of us left Grimsby together.  We were transported to Leiston, a small town on the east coast of England in an area called East Anglia.  This was an Eighth Air Force combat fighter base.  This finally was where we were to put into practice what we had been taught all of these past months.  This was where we would live or die.  It was an eerie feeling looking at the aircraft and the men who probably that very day had been over enemy territory getting shot at.  This was where the fun stopped and the deadly business of combat was carried out.  I felt in awe of these brave men who had already been exposed to all of the dangers of aerial combat.  These men were survivors and I was anxious to become one of them.  I was ready for the initiation so that I could become part of this way of life. 

There were three squadrons of Mustangs at this base.  The three squadrons made up a group.  Each squadron was made up of four flights of four aircraft.  Each flight was made up of two elements, each element was composed of two aircraft.                                                            

Two of us were dropped off at each squadron.  My squadron was the 364th.  My buddy, Matthew Martin was assigned to the 362nd squadron.  This was the same squadron that Chuck Yeager was in.  My friend Ozzie Howes was also assigned to the 364th squadron with me.  We could not become roommates since we were assigned beds in huts where pilots had not returned from a mission, and there were no two beds together. 

It was close to dinner time and I was brought to the mess hall for food and then to a Nisson Hut for my quarters.    

There were eight men in my hut, four pilots and four ground officers.  The four ground officers were the squadron radio officer, the squadron engineering officer, the squadron flight surgeon, and the squadron cryptography officer.

One of the pilots in the hut was my flight leader.  He was about five years older than I was, and he was asleep when I was introduced to him.  Apparently he spent much time in bed and I later found out why.  I was summoned to the squadron commander’s office to be introduced and for him to give me a schedule for a training flight for the next day.  They were wasting no time!

We were awakened early the next morning and assembled in the mess hall for breakfast.  After breakfast we went to the briefing room and although I was not to fly a combat mission that day I witnessed my first briefing.  It was a tense moment until the curtain was pulled back revealing the route of the mission.  It apparently was an easy mission (milk run) and immediately everyone was in a good mood.  When the pilots left the room and were driven to the flight line I remained behind and one of the senior pilots sat down with me and informally chatted with me about combat flying to which I would be exposed the next day.  We then drove to the flight line and watched the group taxi out to the runway and take off, two at a time. 

The takeoff was spectacular!  As the two aircraft picked up speed and the engines came to higher power, the sound made my spine tingle.  It was a low pitched growl that became more distinctive as they picked up speed.  I will always remember the sound of those Rolls Royce Merlin engines, and I believe that anyone who has ever heard one has had the same feelings. 

The two aircraft would circle and pick up two more aircraft and so on until the entire group was assembled.  They would then head out over the channel and into combat.

After we watched the takeoff, we each then climbed into an airplane and taxied out together in formation, took off and did some air work.  He had me fly very close formation doing some tight turns and then some dog fighting.  We landed, he shook my hand and announced that I was now a certified combat pilot and that I was to report to the flight line after briefing the next day.  He also introduced me to the ready room sergeant who assigned a locker to me and gave me a nylon scarf.  When he saw how puzzled I was about the scarf, he laughed and told me to wait until tomorrow and I would know why he issued it to me.             

The next day I saw my name on the flight schedule.  I would be on a combat mission to France.  It was about a two‑hour mission to escort some medium bombers someplace south of Paris.  It was a beautiful day and I was ready.  My code name was Greenhouse Red four.  Greenhouse was the name for the squadron, Red was the name for the flight, and Four was my position in the flight.

I neglected to wear the nylon scarf, feeling that since I was a novice I should not do anything as flamboyant as wearing a white scarf on my first mission.  When we arrived over enemy territory I became very tense and kept my eyes peeled searching for enemy aircraft.  My head spun around from one side to the other continuously.  Every spec in the sky was suspect!  I would not even use my tinted goggles for fear of missing something. 

When we arrived safely back in England, I became more relaxed and sat down to eat some lunch.  I noticed that the skin around my neck was sore.  It was from looking around so much that the skin was raw.  I decided that from now on this almost experienced combat pilot would wear a nylon scarf on every mission.

When I saw the equipment sergeant the next day, I made it a point to go over to him to thank him for the scarf.

I also found out why the cryptography officer in our hut spent so much time in bed.  It seems that this airbase did not have a cryptography setup, and the commanding officer didn't know that we had a cryptography officer on the base.  Therefore my roommate made himself scarce during the day and spent most of the night with his girlfriend in Leiston. 

I was told that when the Group first came to England and arrived at this base that all of the pilots were issued jeeps.  However, since there was such a high accident rate, all of the jeeps were replaced with bicycles.  It was necessary to have transportation because the barracks and the mess hall were somewhat removed from the flight line.  Also, the English drove on the wrong side of the road [although the English would never accept this] and that was the reason for so many accidents. 

Eventually the bicycles were taken away for the same reason that the jeeps were removed.  It was then necessary to call the motor pool for transportation.  However, we were allowed to purchase bicycles.  I decided to do this, and found that it was necessary to travel to the next town, Saxmunden, in order to find a bicycle shop. 

Saxmunden was a larger town and I could easily get a ride there in one of the trucks that was used as a bus to shuttle off duty ground crew back and forth.  On one of the days that I was not scheduled to fly I did go into Saxmunden and found a used bicycle which I purchased for a few pounds.

I was riding from the shop when I noticed a very attractive female window shopping.  I stopped and asked her for instructions to where the bus was supposed to pick me up that evening.  She began to give me instructions when I stopped her and asked if she would like to have a beer with me in the pub just down the street where she could better give me the instructions.

As we sipped our beers, she told me that she was a school teacher and that at present she was staying with her sister until she could get her own flat.  Her sister lived about three miles from where we were, so I asked if she would accept a ride on my bicycle to her sister's place.  She accepted the invitation, and so after we finished our beers, we left the pub, pointed the bicycle in the correct  direction, and climbed aboard. I sat her on the frame and away we went.  The route took us up a long hill lined on both sides by two and three story attached houses. 

In order to climb the hill I had to stand up to pedal.  This brought me in contact with my passenger, and the pedaling motion apparently was enough to make us both feel very stimulated.  When we reached the summit she suggested that perhaps I should rest for awhile since I was breathing so heavily.  I explained that it wasn't the pedaling that made me breath so hard.  She looked at me and without a word slid off the bicycle and sat down on the grass of a triangular island that was used to mark a fork in the road.  I parked the bicycle and sat down next to her.

We both stretched out on the grass, looking around to see if there were any witnesses.  Finding none, we began to touch each other and then to touch our lips, and ended up doing what apparently we both wanted to do.  I was amazed that no one interrupted us, which would have probably led to our arrest since we had to remove enough of our clothes to be able to do what we were doing.

Afterwards we dressed and continued on our way.  When we were close to her sister's apartment she thought it appropriate to disembark and continue alone.  I was in a trance and watched her walk down the street, turn a corner and disappear before I realized that I had not found out her name nor how to contact her.

I looked, but could not find where she had vanished, so I could not continue what could have been a very interesting friendship.

I wonder if I have any relatives in Saxmunden.

 

  

P-51 MUSTANG

During our training back in the states we all fell in love with whatever airplane we were flying, but the airplane that was the ultimate and was almost like a pin‑up girl was the P‑51 Mustang.  Whenever one of them landed at a field out of which we were flying, a group of us would surround the airplane and wish that we could climb in and take it for a ride.

When we were checked out in the airplane at Grimsby we were using the old B or C model, but that made no difference, it was still the best airplane in the world as far as we were concerned.

After we arrived at Leiston for combat, there were three models on the flight line.  Most were B or C models, but there were also a few D models.  The big difference was the canopy.  The D had the teardrop canopy which improved visibility tremendously, particularly on the ground.  Of course the instrument panel and the controls and everything else in the cockpit in the D model looked new and worked.  The guns were the same.  There were six 50 caliber machine guns, three in each wing.  The engines and props were the same, and the speed apparently was the same, but the improved visibility was great!

Now I was a replacement pilot, which meant that I was not assigned to one airplane.  I would be scheduled to fly any of the airplanes whose pilot was either sick or on leave, and it made no difference to me which model I flew.  As far as I was concerned they were all great.  When I was assigned to fly a D model, it was like borrowing someone's Cadillac.

My first flight in a D model came a couple of weeks after I arrived at the base.  Some brand new Mustangs were assigned to our squadron and it was necessary for six pilots to be ferried to the field where they were located, and fly them back to our base.  Fortunately I was one of the pilots selected.  We were ferried over in a B‑17 bomber one evening and each of us climbed into one of the Mustangs.   

It was a short flight back to the base, but I enjoyed every minute of it.  The visibility from the cockpit was great, and taxiing was so much easier with the increased visibility.  What a pleasure!

Some of the older models were equipped with a bubble canopy.  An Englishman named Malcolm developed a canopy that looked like a bubble and was fitted to some of the old models after the original fold‑over canopies were removed. The bubble canopy was an improvement, but not nearly as good as the D model tear‑drop canopy.

The landings were done in the same manner as when we were at Grimsby, but naturally much crisper and with much more finesse.   Since we were flying in much larger formations, it was important to get on the ground quickly to give the others room to land, particularly when we were all returning short on fuel.

In order to do this the landings were not only made as quickly as possible, but also when we touched down we kept the tail and our speed up until we reached a spot on the runway where a red flag was posted.  At this point we cut the power, let the tail wheel drop and turned off at the next intersection.  The first airplane in the flight touched down on the left side of the runway, the next one touched down on the right side, the third one on the left side again, and the fourth one on the right.  There would be four airplanes on the runway at once, and using the method mentioned above they were off the runway as quickly as possible so that the next flight could land.

The ground crew would be waiting and watching along the sides of the runway to see if the guns had been fired on their airplane.  They could tell if they were fired by looking at the leading edge of the wings where the gun barrels were located, and if the covers were missing, they knew that the guns had been used.  Now they were anxious to hear the story of what had happened.  On occasion they were disappointed to find that the guns had been fired just to make sure that they were working, or that they had been fired in order to loosen up a stuck wing tank that wouldn't jettison.

Usually there was a jeep waiting to pick up the pilot and bring him to the operations room so that he could be debriefed and made comfortable.  There was always a two ounce shot of whiskey if the pilot wanted it.  After the debriefing I almost always went back to my hut and went to sleep.  The reason for this was to get rid of the ringing in my ears from the continuous loud noise that the engine made.

Once in a while the air raid siren would wail and an announcement over the loud speaker informed us what the condition was.  Purple meant that there was a buzz bomb or an enemy aircraft in the area.  Condition red meant that it was directly over us and it was recommended that we go to a bomb shelter, which none of the pilots would do.  If it was a buzz bomb, which it usually was, then we would listen to the engine, and when it would become silent we knew that it was on its way down.  That was the time to get worried.  When it hit the ground and exploded, we could tell approximately how far it was from us.  Luckily, we were never hit by one.

At one time before I arrived at the base, it was attacked by a German fighter and the field was strafed.


 

                                                 ROLLS ROYCE MERLIN ENGINE

The heart or the Mustang of course was the engine.  The very early models came with an Allison V12 liquid cooled engine which was okay for low altitude work, but was not very good for high altitude escort work, since it had only a single stage supercharger.

The B, C, and D models came with a Rolls Royce Merlin engine which was also a V-12 liquid cooled engine with a two stage super charger.  The first stage was for low altitude work up to nineteen thousand feet, when the supercharger automatically shifted to the second stage for high altitude work.  There was a manual override switch to prevent shifting into high stage.  This would prevent the shifting back and forth between  the first and second stages if the aircraft was being maneuvered at the nineteen thousand foot level with small changes in altitude.

The engine had to be sturdy enough to withstand the high manifold pressures of the supercharger without coming apart.  The engine itself was dependable and powerful.  If there were engine failures it was usually not due to the engine, but to one of the systems that controlled the various situations that the engine was put through.  One of the most common failures was the automatic control for the radiator opening and closing. 

This control was to keep the engine operating at the best temperature.  It controlled the opening to the radiator by energizing a small electric motor that turned a screw jack.  At high altitude the oil or grease on the screw jack would solidify due to the extreme cold at high altitude, since the screw jack was outside of the aircraft.  If it locked in the wrong position, then the engine would overheat and lock up.

In later years when these Mustangs were used for racing, the engine was usually run at much higher power settings then what we had used; even with the “war boost” that could increase the manifold pressure up to 85".  Since we were usually over enemy territory the “war boost” was rarely used, since there was a greater chance of over boosting the engine and losing all power.  That can be a rather bad situation in a single engine aircraft behind enemy lines.  It could spoil your whole day.

Of course the Merlin engine was developed by the British for use in some of their aircraft, such as the Mosquito light bomber, the Spitfire, the Hurricane fighter, the Lancaster bomber, and others.  The American Packard Automobile Company was licensed by the British to manufacture this wonderful engine for use in the P-51.  Probably all of the Mustangs had the Packard Merlin Engine except the early models which had the Allison Engine.

These Merlin Engines were designated V1650-7.  They had 1490 H.P., had double overhead camshafts, with 4 valves in each of the twelve cylinders. 

There were over 150,000 Merlin Engines built during the war.  In the postwar days it was cheaper to buy a surplus Merlin Engine than to do a major repair on one.

                                                                        G-SUIT

"G" stands for gravity.  1 G is the force of gravity that we all feel when we are on the ground either sitting, standing, or falling.  This is the force which keeps all of us and our belongings on the ground. 

In an airplane we can change the quantity of the G forces by centripetal action.  That is, we can make the airplane turn at various rates causing centrifugal forces to increase or decrease simulating the natural G forces that we feel on earth, but having the ability to vary the intensity.  This can also be done when pulling out of a dive or doing a loop.  If the loop is done inverted, then we induce negative G forces, which can make us weightless or increase the forces toward our brain.  This is called red-out and can cause a blood vessel in the brain to rupture leading to a stroke which can be fatal, particularly if there is only one pilot in the aircraft. 

This is the same concept that we use in centrifuges.  It also is what makes our autos skid outward in a sharp turn.

A pilot making a turn in an airplane feels the increased G forces depending on the intensity of the turn.  The more speed and the tighter the turn, then the more positive forces are felt.  The forces are measured in multiples of one.  At about 4 Gs the pilot begins to black out.  This is caused by the blood being pulled away from the brain and into the abdomen and legs.  Actually the blood is caused to become heavier, and since it is liquid it ends up in the legs and cannot flow toward the heart and be pumped to the brain.

Blackout is exactly what the pilot experiences.  The pilot can hear, feel, and think, but cannot see.  If the positive G forces keep increasing past this point, then loss of all of the other sensations can occur.  This loss of consciousness can progress to death if the positive G force is intensive enough, and the duration is long enough.  When the pilot experiences the blackout he will release some of the pressure of the turn allowing him to see again.  In a tight turn, particularly in a combat situation, it was common to stay on the verge of the blackout, in an almost gray area to accomplish a tighter turn than the enemy.

The aircraft during the WWII period could not withstand G forces past the 9 G point, when wings, tail components, or other parts would separate and the aircraft would disintegrate.  This saved the pilots from reaching the fatal amount of positive G force.  However, there was a point past the 4 G mark where a pilot would want to go in order to out-turn an enemy aircraft in order to shoot it down.  This brought on an invention called the "G-suit”.

The first G-suits were really a pair of pants covering the legs all the way to just above the waist.  There were rubber tubes or bladders circling the inside of the pants.  The outer covering was nylon with enough strength to contain the tubes when the pressure inside the tubes was raised.  Water was used inside the tubes and one end of the tube was attached to a variable pressure source.  As the G forces increased, the pressure was raised.  This increased the pressure around the lower part of the body, which prevented the blood from being forced from the brain down to the lower body.

Later models of the G-suit used air pressure instead of water pressure.  These were lighter and were really the first ones that were acceptable to the pilots.  These suits enabled the pilots to reach about 9 Gs before blackout occurred.  This was the type of G-suit that I was issued and flew with on most of my missions.

At first it was strange having something grab your legs and squeeze, and tighten more as the G forces increased, but it was not an uncomfortable feeling.

The only problem was that in order to empty your bladder it was necessary to go all through those layers of clothes to reach the necessary equipment to do it.  There was a funnel under the seat attached to a tube leading out of the airplane.  The funnel could be detached from the seat for the pilot to empty his bladder.  I never was able to complete the process, and I always had to wait until we returned from the mission.                  

FORMATION FLYING

Most of the flying was done in formation.  There were several types of formation; close, echelon, spread, etc.

We would take off two at a time in close formation and join up with another two to form a flight of four.  This was done by the first two making a climbing turn and the second two doing the same thing, but making the turn a little tighter to catch up. 

The four would then join another four and so on until a sixteen‑aircraft squadron was formed.  Three squadrons made up a group, and this is how we went into the war zone.  Once over enemy territory we stretched out and flew a loose formation covering a large piece of sky.

This loose formation was relatively more difficult to fly since it was difficult to judge distances.  When the lead plane made a turn the airplanes on the outer stretches of the formation had to either slow down to almost a stall if they were on the inside of the turn or use much power to keep abreast if they were on the outside circumference of the turn.  If the turn was a tight one, then we did a cross-over, or a cross-under.  With this maneuver the inboard aircraft would slide under the formation and end up on the opposite side while the outboard aircraft would slide over and end up on the contra‑lateral side.  It was necessary to pay attention at all times during this procedure to prevent a midair collision, which could spoil your entire day.

The only time to leave the formation was when enemy aircraft were in sight and we would engage them.  We would still try to maintain a four‑ship formation until the last minute.  When this was no longer possible, then, if possible at least two aircraft stayed together to protect each other.  Again, this broke up if two or more enemy planes were engaged.

Coming home we would break up into the four ship flights and form an echelon formation as we approached the runway.  The four aircraft would peel off in turn and do a 360 degree approach as described elsewhere.

The most fun was flying a two‑ship formation.  The lead ship could do anything and the second ship would stick to him like glue.  In a tight turn the second pilot would be looking up at the belly of the other airplane and if the turn was reversed the position wouldn't change.  It became automatic to fly this way, but it took some training to become proficient.

The pilot of the number two aircraft in the squadron formation had his radio switched to the bomber channel in order to keep in touch with the bomber formation.  The procedure was to contact the bombers when we approached their formation and identified the proper box group that we were to escort to the target.

The pilot of the number two fighter would initiate the contact by calling the bombers with the following message: “Hello big friend this is little friend, are you on time, on course, and happy?”  The bomber group would answer: “Hello little friend, this is big friend.  We are on time, on course, but we ain’t happy.”

Occasionally the number two would be ordered to leave the formation and get closer to the bombers in order to better identify the box that we were to escort.  That would cause the bombers to open fire at the number two fighter mistaking the mustang for a German fighter.

 

OXYGEN=LIFE

 Oxygen is required for human life to be sustained.  At sea level the air that we breathe contains a sufficient percentage of oxygen.  This percentage is approximately 20%.  As the altitude increases, the air becomes thinner and the atmospheric pressure decreases so that not only is the amount of oxygen decreased, but the pressure that is necessary to push the oxygen into the blood stream also decreases.

At an altitude of 12,000 ft. it is necessary to use supplemental oxygen in order to maintain normal brain function.  As the altitude increases, the oxygen supplement must also be increased.  When the altitude reaches beyond 40,000 ft. even with 100% oxygen, the pressure of the atmosphere is insufficient to push the oxygen into the blood stream, and brain function cannot be maintained.  If this condition persists, permanent brain damage may occur, and death will occur.  At higher altitudes this threat becomes more of a certainty.

I was on my first combat mission over the European continent.  We were over occupied France at 25,000 feet, about an hour into the mission when I noticed that my oxygen regulator was stuck in the open position and my oxygen had completely run out.

I called the squadron leader and told him about the problem.  He told me to continue in formation until I began to see black spots in front of me, and at that point I was to descend quickly and head back to England.

The mission continued for another hour, and although I noticed an increase in my rate of breathing, I did not see any black spots, and so I continued on with the mission until it was completed and we returned together to England.

The reason that I was not sent back earlier was because there was great danger in traveling over enemy territory alone.

When we landed my aircraft was examined and I truly was totally out of oxygen.

I believe that my brain never did recover completely and that is the reason that I cannot remember names or shopping lists.

                                                         ANOTHER CLOSE ONE

The Mustang was designed with an internal fuel tank in each wing.  These tanks held 90 gallons each.  There was a gauge for each of these tanks in the cockpit.  There was also an 85‑gallon tank behind the pilot in the fuselage, with no gauge*.

To further increase the range, a 105‑gallon tank was slung beneath each wing where ordinarily a 500‑pound bomb could be carried.  These tanks were constructed of either metal or pressed cardboard.  They were released by pressing the bomb release button with the thumb.  They also had no gauges.  To better understand the size of these external tanks it must be remembered that the average home hot water heating tank is only 30 gallons.  Also, a gallon of fuel weighs about 6 pounds, and therefore these external tanks with fuel weighed over 600 pounds each. 

The weight of all this fuel along with the guns and ammunition was enough to cause a static charge of electricity to build up during takeoff power settings and travel from the propeller to the runway as the airplane raced down the runway during takeoff.

On a bright, sunny day we were leaving on a mission to Germany when I almost bought** it before becoming airborne.  I was on the right wing of the element leader when we started down the runway picking up speed for takeoff.  We had almost reached takeoff speed at over 100 MPH when suddenly the right wing tank dropped from the element leader's wing and rolled directly across the path of my aircraft, spewing fuel as it rolled.  It must have passed between my wheels without touching my airplane.

The interesting thing was that I had no time to become frightened and was only interested in contacting the element leader by radio to let him know what had happened before he left the ground, so that he would expect the airplane to handle differently on liftoff.  The tower was also trying to contact him and we were blocking each other and neither of us did get to speak to him.  However, he took off quite well and was able to fly the mission without the missing fuel.

I, of course had a rough time overcoming the shakes when it fully dawned on me what had almost happened to me.

How did we know how much fuel was left in each of these tanks?  Good question!  The procedure was that after takeoff we would switch to the rear fuselage tank until the fuel was used up and the engine would quit.  Then, switch to one of the external wing tanks for one hour and then switch to the other external wing tank for two hours.  Before the two hours were up usually the fuel in that tank was used up and we would switch to the other external wing tank until all of the fuel in this tank was used up, and the engine would quit again.  At this time we would switch to one of the internal wing tanks and jettison the external wing tanks.

These episodes when the engine would abruptly quit due to fuel starvation that was extremely nerve wracking, particularly when this happened over enemy territory.  The quietness was overwhelming.

* The reason that there were no gauges for these tanks was because they were added to these airplanes as an afterthought to increase their range.

** Bought the farm refers to an old rule during early aviation that if a pilot crashed on a farm, if he survived, he would be required to buy the farm if there was damage to it.

                                                                         FLAK

Flak is the general term used to describe all forms of anti‑aircraft gun fire.  There are several forms: high altitude, low altitude, and now of course missiles.  The low altitude flak was usually light blue while the high altitude flak was black.  The smoke was the result of the exploding projectile that was shot into the sky as close as possible to the enemy aircraft.  The exploding projectile would spew out variable sized pieces of sharp metal in all directions.  If the explosion was close enough, then it could down the aircraft by causing structural damage such as tearing off a wing.  If the airplane survived then the pieces of metal could penetrate the skin of the plane and would cause casualties among the crew, or start a fire, or put some of the equipment out of commission.

Flak was shot into the sky using different methods.  It could be visually aimed using lead so that the projectile would be geographically at the same place as the aircraft, but might not be at the same altitude when it exploded.  Therefore, the flak was shot up in patterns, covering a portion of the sky.  It also could be aimed using radar.  This method could be used when the aircraft could not be seen or obscured by clouds or darkness.

Most of the high altitude flak was shot up at the bombers.  They made a better target since they were larger, slower, and not darting all over the sky.  There also were about ten men in each plane while the fighters only had one man.

I remember escorting the bombers over Berlin.  We would circle Berlin as the bombers would fly straight and steady over the target and drop their bombs.  The first formation would fly over and a few black bursts would appear, and then the second formation would fly over and there were many more bursts.  The third formation would enter the black cloud and there were explosions and we could see pieces of airplanes dropping out of the sky.  After that, as the formations flew over and entered the cloud fewer and fewer of the bombers would come out of it.

We were looking for enemy fighter aircraft which were more deadly than the flak.  I didn't envy those brave souls who were in those bombers enduring those terrible minutes of heavy fire, and then if they survived, to still get shot at on their way home.

The wounded bombers were more in jeopardy than the others, since they were limping home alone and were usually much slower than the others and therefore were sitting ducks.  Some of them were on fire and wouldn't make it home without still more attacks.  Leaking fuel and mechanical problems took a heavy toll also.  It was no picnic!

The only experience that I had with flak was when we had left the bombers and were looking for an airport to strafe.  Out of nowhere some flak came up.  I thought that I had been hit when my airplane almost jumped out of the sky and flipped over on its back.  However, when I returned home no damage could be found.

The Mustang did have a vulnerable spot, the engine.  If a rifle bullet or a piece of flak hit the engine it could knock it out, since the engine was liquid cooled and if the coolant leaked out the engine would overheat and stop.  Since we only had one engine that would be the end.

The German airports were very well protected by low altitude flak, and the stakes were high.  If there were aircraft on the field it was easy to shoot them up and score several kills without dog fighting and figuring out lead.  We were not encouraged to attack airports, but the temptation was there.  After the experience that I had with the flak I wasn't too unhappy that I was never again on a mission that found an enemy airport. 

Every afternoon when I returned from a mission I would walk over to the mess hall for some lunch.  Then I would go to my hut for a nap that I knew would cure the ringing in my ears caused by the engine noise.  The officer's club was just off the hallway leading to the mess hall.  At the entrance to the club was a sixpence one armed bandit, and I routinely would put a sixpence in and pull the handle down and head for the mess hall.

On one occasion I put the coin in the slot and when I pulled down on the lever I found that it was stuck.  I hit the machine on the side to make sure that the coin was digested, and when I did, some coins spilled out.  I hit it again and more coins came out, and I continued to hit it and suddenly the Jack Pot let loose pouring coins all over the floor.  I picked up all of the coins and decided that I would quit before I emptied the entire machine, but I hit it one more time and the other Jack Pot came out.  I walked away with my pockets full of coins.

That evening I was walking into the club when one of the ground officers who was half loaded came up to me and asked to borrow some money for a drink.  Instead of giving him some money I took him over to the machine and showed him how to get some coins.  He thought that was great, but he decided to speed up the process.  He picked up the machine and dropped it on the floor, splitting it open.  The coins all came out at once.

I was really impressed!

Bob Sweeney, who was the radio officer for our squadron, was one of my roommates and good friend.  He was always complaining about the fact that only the pilots received medals.  He felt that since he had been overseas for such a long while, there should be a medal for being away from home.  I offered to make room in my aircraft for him to fly a combat mission with me so that he could possibly become eligible for a medal.  He smiled and said that he did not want a medal that badly. 

One day we ordered a jeep from the motor pool with a fifty caliber machine gun mounted on it.  We each took along our Colt 45 semi-automatic pistols, and had the driver take us to a deserted spot on the English Channel.  There was an abandoned concrete pill box(gun emplacement) on the shoreline which we used as a target. 

We took turns firing the fifty caliber gun and found that the recoil was so great that you couldn't fire off more that two rounds and still keep the gun aimed.  Sweeney was a great shot with the Colt.  He bet that he could hit a bird in flight, which I told him  would be impossible to do.  Sure enough he hit the next bird that flew by.  I wouldn't bet him again.  I felt sorry for the bird!  Now I wondered how I would feel shooting at a human being, which was the reason that I had trained so arduously for so long, and had come all this way to England to do.  I dismissed this thought with the excuse that I would be shooting at the enemy, not at another human.

Sweeney then asked if I had ever been on the jeep obstacle course which was nearby.  When I told him that I had never been on one, he ordered the driver to take us there.  The driver seemed reluctant to do so, but he complied with the order and away we went.

The fifty caliber gun took up so much room, that Sweeney and I had to sit on the steel rear fenders of the jeep, instead of the regular seat.  This was a mistake!  The obstacle course was designed to keep the jeep airborne for most of the ride.  Every time that it landed my fanny took a beating.  Holding on for dear life, I couldn't believe that Sweeney had done this before, and had chosen to do it again.  We spent most of the time suspended in the air, and when we came down on the steel fender, the fender was already on it's way up to meet us.  I came close to getting bounced out of the jeep several times.  I was sore for a week.  I was also worried about the condition of any offspring that I might have in the future.

                                                                       ABORT

We were going to Germany today, on a routine escort mission.  I was to fly the number 4 slot in our flight, which made me tail end Charlie.

As usual I had to make one last dash to the latrine since this was to be one of those long missions.  I ran back to the airplane where the ground crew was waiting for me and jumped into the cockpit getting everything connected and ready to start engines.  I just about made it when the time was up and I began the startup procedure.  First do a cockpit check, then make sure the prop pitch control was full forward, then crack[slightly open] the throttle, then prime the engine using the hand pump, then switch on the magnetos, then turn the starter switch and as the huge prop was turning wait for the engine to start.  As soon as the explosions began, push the mixture control from the idle cut‑off position to the automatic rich position and grab the throttle handle to adjust the engine speed.

As soon as the engine was idling smoothly, unlock the brakes, turn on the radio, and wait for your flight to taxi past and take up your position on the taxi‑way and taxi to the runway.

Line up on the right wing of your element leader, and as soon as he starts down the runway pour the throttle to it in order to keep in formation with him as we pick up speed for takeoff.  With the extra tanks on, the take‑off run was fairly long, and at lift‑off the runway was almost used up before we were airborne.

As I lifted off on this mission, the control tower called me to tell me that there was black smoke pouring from my engine.  This was a bad time to have engine problems since we were just off the ground and just beginning to pick up speed.  I acknowledged the call and asked for advice.  I was told to drop my external fuel tanks over the water {English Channel} which was now underneath, and return to the field for a landing.  I was to abort the mission, which was the only abort that I had while I was with the group.

I landed and taxied to the revetment where the airplane was parked, and shut down the engine.

The crew chief ran out to the airplane and asked me what I thought the trouble might be.  I had no idea of what the problem was, and turned the airplane over to him for a checkup.  He and his crew began an immediate inspection to check all systems for the problem.  About an hour or two later I returned to the airplane to see if they had found the difficulty.  I was told that nothing had turned up to explain the black smoke.

Later in the day when the group had returned to the airfield and I was discussing the problem with my flight leader and some of the other pilots I recalled that I was nervous about getting back from the latrine on time and was rushing to start my engine and could have done something wrong.  We walked over to one of the aircraft and I sat in the cockpit and went over the starting procedure.  When I pushed the mixture control to the automatic rich position I saw that if I pushed too hard on the handle that it could easily be pushed into the full rich position instead of the automatic rich position. 

I checked with the crew chief and some of the other mechanics and it was their opinion that taking off with the mixture control in the full rich position could cause the problem.  It was decided to try a take‑off in full rich to see what would happen and when this was done the black smoke appeared and when the control was returned to the normal automatic rich position the smoke stopped

 I was upset with myself, but when we flew a tough mission the next day I had forgotten all about my stupidity.

 STRAFING

On occasion, after an escort mission, we were allowed to descend to ground level for some strafing.  As long as we were in Germany we were encouraged to shoot at anything that moved, particularly if it was a train.

Almost all airports were military, and all aircraft were considered military.  However, the airports were well protected.  The Mustang was vulnerable to anything fired at it, even rifle fire.  Therefore we were not urged to look for airports, but if we did come across one we could strafe it, and get credit for any aircraft that we destroyed.

I was only on one mission when we did find a target on the ground.  This was a military truck on a single lane road.  We were a flight of four, and we clobbered that truck.  We made about three passes at it and that poor truck was junk when we left.

Strafing also had another problem.  Since we were basically  escort fighters, our missions were at high altitude, somewhere at about thirty five to about thirty six thousand feet.  If we were to do any strafing, then we must by definition get down to ground level in a hurry.  This was tough on both pilots and aircraft.  The engines would cool down too much during this fast descent causing increased wear on the engines.  The pilots would need to keep clearing their ears all the way to ground level, and then find a target to shoot at.

The fuel that could have been used to get us home during a long descent, when gravity would assist the engine in pulling us toward England, would be wasted on a fast descent.  Also, after a long mission the pilots would also be tired and really not ready for more action, particularly if a target could not be found quickly.

The ninth air force pilots were actually the people who did most of the strafing.   

So much for strafing!

                                                               RELEASE TANKS

On most escort missions the external wing tanks, one under each wing, were used to extend the range of the Mustang.  These tanks held 105 gallons of fuel in each one. 

When the tanks were fully loaded, the airplane was not very maneuverable.  Therefore, if enemy aircraft were in the area, the order was given to drop tanks.  Usually this order was given when the squadron or group was in a spread formation with a great deal of distance between aircraft.  The tanks were controlled by the bomb release button on the top of the control stick.

On this day we were on a mission that took us over the North Sea eastward to a position north of Berlin and to then turn south to Berlin.  We entered a cloud early in the mission and flew in tight formation on our course.  The mission continued, still in the cloud for what seemed about an hour, but was probably much less, when the recall signal came to cancel the mission.  At this point we were probably over enemy territory, possibly the island of Heligoland.  This spot was famous for very intense and very accurate radar controlled flak.

The group leader ordered us to drop tanks and head back to base.  We were still in tight formation when the order was given.  However, at this signal the lead ship made a quick left turn to head back to base and the formation came apart.  No one knew if there was someone above or below when almost simultaneously everyone pushed the tank release button and all of the almost full fuel tanks came tumbling down.

This caused a few moments of sheer terror as sphincters tightened and everyone expected one of the tanks to come through his canopy.

When nothing did come through, it was now necessary to worry about a midair collision.

I completed the 180‑degree turn and headed down.  The altimeter showed about 15,000 ft. and was winding down.  We were all still in the cloud and keeping eyes peeled for anyone coming from above or the sides.  Of course we were also worried about the flak from the enemy.  I was in a sweat and couldn't wait for the minutes to go by so that I would be out of this bad situation.

At last someone announced that he had broken out of the clouds at 500 ft.  The tension decreased somewhat and it was a relief when I reached the 500 ft. mark, and sure enough broke out of the clouds.  There now was no danger of a midair collision, but we were still in enemy country, so back to normal alertness, which was about 50% of what we were experiencing before.

Before long I saw two aircraft ahead of me in the distance.  It was possible that they were enemy, but when I caught up with them and found that they were from my squadron I tacked on to them and we flew back to England together

The weather was still crummy and we found that our field was temporarily closed, so the flight leader located an English fighter base that was in the clear.  We decided to land there and wait for our field to reopen.  It was a grass field and it was a novelty landing on the soft grass.  It was almost impossible to feel the touchdown.  When we taxied up to the flight line I saw that the individual who was directing my plane was a female, and a pretty one.  She guided me to park and then signaled me to shut down the engine and immediately climbed up on the wing and proceeded to undo my safety belt and my parachute and then to help me out of the airplane.  I was amazed!

I saw that the others in the flight were being treated the same way.  We were then escorted to the officer's club and offered drinks and sandwiches.  The girls were extremely pleasant  and I asked my escort if the English pilots were also treated this nicely.  She looked surprised and replied affirmatively. 

We were asked if we intended to stay the night and I was hoping that it would be necessary for us to do that, but when we checked the weather we found that it would now be possible to continue to our own field.  Bad news!

The girls escorted us to our aircraft and of course helped us into the cockpit and adjusted our safety belts and parachute harnesses and invited us to return any time.  

I began to wonder if I should ask for a transfer to the RAF. 

Upon returning from a mission one day, one of my friends in our squadron asked me to sit down and talk to him.  He was sweating and it was not warm out so I anticipated a problem.

He was on the verge of tears when he told me that he had shot down an aircraft.  I congratulated him and wondered why he was so upset.  He told me that he thought that he had shot down a Folke‑Wolfe 190 but now he wasn't sure.  He felt that it could have been a P‑47.

I asked him if he had seen any of the aircraft markings,  and he said that he had not.

That was only half of the story.  The other half was that a couple of weeks before he had definitely shot down a British Mosquito that he thought was a twin engine Messerschmitt.  He had been reprimanded and told to make sure of the identity the next time.  Now he was worried that his combat film would come back and show that he had done it again.

I never did find out what his combat film showed, since the following week I was shot down.

                                                                     The Turpitz

The German navy after WWI was limited in size, both in number, and in the size of any warship.  Because of this, when Hitler came to power, in order to build battleships that could compete with the world class powers, the Germans built five major ships of limited tonnage, but with superior armor and armament.  These ships were called "pocket battleships", and they were deadly.

The names of these ships were, the Bismarck, the Gneisenau, the Graf Spee, the Scharnhorst, and the Turpitz.  Each one of these ships had the power to change the course of WWII by patrolling the North Atlantic and attacking the large armadas of cargo and troop ships that were delivering goods and men to fight the war when the United States entered it in December of 1941.              

The destroyers and other patrol ships assigned to protect the convoys were incapable of doing any harm to a ship as powerful and as heavily armored as these ships were.  They could destroy an entire convoy of hundreds of freighters and their escorts in an hour or two.

The only strategy that the allies could use to protect themselves was to track down and engage each of these ships one at a time with enough of their own battleships to destroy them.  This was not easy, since they were scattered around the world and when found were powerful fighters.

In September of 1944, when I was flying combat missions out of England, the allies had already sunk four of the five pocket battleships and we were told to keep our eyes open for the remaining one, the Turpitz.  It had been damaged during a battle, and was somewhere in a safe harbor being repaired.  It was felt that the repairs were probably complete, and that it would be ready to enter the North Atlantic at any time.

We were on a mission one day in mid‑September flying from our base on the east coast of England eastbound over the North Sea to a point north of Berlin, and then heading southbound to Berlin to meet and then protect the bombers.  This diversion was supposed to throw the Germans off our track so that they would not identify the target.

We were in a tight formation climbing through two layers of clouds. We had broken out into bright sunlight and were approaching the turning point when I happened to glance down.  There I could see the coast of Norway through a hole in each of the cloud layers that had lined up to give me a glimpse of the ground.  What I saw in that instant was the coast with the famous fjords and a large ship in one of them.  I automatically called in over the radio, "Greenhouse red four, battleship at nine o'clock low".

The group leader swung around with everyone following and began looking for a battleship, but all that we could see now were the clouds below us, the top layer, or the bottom layer, but no one was able to see the two holes lined up, including myself.

We continued on our way and joined up with the bombers and watched them bomb Berlin, losing a good number of bombers to the flak.

When we returned to England, and were debriefed as usual, I had some explaining to do when my turn came.  Two debriefing officers had me alone in a small room challenging my claim to have spotted a battleship.  They insisted that it would have been impossible for me to see a ship from the altitude that we were at, particularly since we were on top of two layers of clouds. I answered that I had excellent vision, did not smoke nor drink, and that I had paid attention when we were being trained to spot aircraft and naval vessels.

They told me that if I insisted on sticking to my story that they would be committed to report the questionable sighting to higher echelon. A reconnaissance plane, probably a British Mosquito would be sent out that afternoon to take photos, and that if the pilot were killed it would be on my head.

I did stick with the report and two days later after a mission, when we were all relaxing in the officers club, reading the "Stars & Stripes", when I read out loud that the battleship TURPITZ had been sighted and photographed in a Norwegian fiord.             

I was shot down a couple of days later, but after the war I researched the incident and found that later that month the British sent 26 Lancaster bombers to bomb the Turpitz, and that they did get one hit on the bow which disabled it.  In November they sent another 26 Lancasters, but were unable to hit it.  Again in December they sent the Lancasters and this time they did sink it. 

The ship sank, rolled over on its back, and is still lying in one of the Norwegian fjords.  I read somewhere that the Norwegians had built a platform where visitors can see the ship's bottom in the clear water.

Dr. Soila, a radiologist at the hospital where I presently work, was on a trip to Norway recently.  He discovered the Tirpitz Museum in a small town near where the Tirpitz had been sunk.  Dr. Soila is from Finland, and he asked me to accompany him on his next trip to his home, so that he could show me the museum.   

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