DislcaimerAll the names of characters in this short story are coincidental and have zero relation to anyone or any individuals. Prior to publishing, all names will be edited .
This is a first draft from a first sitting without any editing for grammar, spelling or technical accuracy.A P-51 Mustang story: Part 1It was a classic dreary Northwest day. It was raining and overcast, or in aviator’s gibberish 2000 scattered 5000 broken. A man sat silently in the corner of a room, while observing the plugged rain gutter overflow at his corner window. His children had chosen this run down assisted living facility for it’s awesome view of Boeing Field. Their father who was now in the advanced throws of ALS did not even recognize his own children. He was too busy thinking of the B-17s and B-24s taking off at the British airfield down below.The present was gone. All that was left at this stage of the game was the spring and summer of 1945. Each visit from his children was the same. They would say “hello daddy.” He would ask them their names and tell them that he had children their age. He would then talk about his wife and how she must be visiting her mother.Of course he would then ask if they knew what happened to that German farm girl. Each time, the children would say something like, ” we think she is Ok,” or something to distract him from his view of the airfield below. With the regularity of a postman, his next move was to always remove his pair of donated toy binoculars from beneath his blanketed wheelchair and turn to watch the bombers. “That one.” he would say, ” is headed to Germany.”Milton Bufford Jones joined the Army Aircorp in the June 1943 after graduating from highschool. Like many enlisted, he was chosen to be an aviator candidate, because he was fit, smart and had natural air sense. It did help that his father was an engine mechanic at a local airport in a farming community. Once in awhile, after an engine overhaul, a paying customer would ask if Miltie would like a ride in their newly repaired crop duster. Every time, his father would decline. “Not today son,” he would say. You see his father had been working in the aviation field since WW1. He had seen Liberty engines fail in flight and send the flimsy wood and fabric Bi-plane flat spinning back to earth. He was there during the barn storming days when every WW1 aviator was a daredevil. Each with their own surplus WW1 bi-plane. Many met with a tragic end.
He did not trust the aviation skills of most pilots of the era, and would be damned if he sent his son up with any of them. Of course, the shop foreman finally talked the father into letting 10 year old Miltie fly with him on a test flight of a new monoplane he had worked on, so from then on, Miltie had the aviation bug. From then on, it was all about being a pilot. A pilot that had excellent mechanical aptitude.
It was a dreary and rainy day in England. It was 2000 scattered and 5000 broken. Runway visibility was more than a mile. The rain dripped from the trailing edge of P-51 Mustang’s wing. An older mechanic had the engine cowling open and was inspecting the Merlin engine’s turbo system “Ya, I think the supercharger lines may be lose”, Milt told the greasy overalled mechanic, “go ahead and check the torque on all the fittings!” Milt went on and told the mechanic how the last Mustang he flew had a hard time getting to altitude because the boost would not come up. “Here it is sir.” the mechanic declared! “Looks like the intercooler bolts need to be shimmed a bit because they are bottoming out on the threads, it must be leaking under boost,” he added! ” Hmm I think I will go ahead and snug up these vale covers too, it looks like a little oil is getting on the exhaust manifolds,” the mechanic suggested. “OK, then,” Milt uttered, “I am headed back to the Ops briefing room, I will be back at showtime, go ahead and run up the motor and check the boost when you have tightened everything up, oh and top the fuel off too, we are going far into Germany today!” “No shit sir” the seasoned mechanic muttered to himself, You got it sir, see ya in a few!
“Oh, and go ahead and inform the maintenance chief about the loose bolts, I have a feeling he will want to inspect the entire fleet'” Lt. Jones reiterated! “Will do sir,” the mechanic answered, “ya, we have been getting engines that are using different intercoolers with different thread lengths, ” We have found that simply putting two washers under the fastener fixes the problem, but we just received this bird the other day, and this will be it’s first sortie with us, I will go ahead and put a wrench on all the connections and make sure she is tight, safety wired, and air worthy sir, we have got it handled!” “damn, this guy sounds like my dad,” Lt. Jones thought to himself.
A P-51 Mustang Story: Part 2
“Hey Milton, come get some of this fresh coffee before the rest of the fellas get here,” the flight leader suggested. “Heard you and Harper had a good time at Piccadilly Square last night” he added! “Don’t worry chief, I only had a few Guinness beers, and we got back early,” Milton responded! “The guys weren’t snoring too loud last night, and a had my 8 hours of sleep sir, I am good to go!” “Have you been to chow,” the flight leader asked. “Yupp, had me some of that English style shit on a shingle,” Miltie laughingly replied! ” good stuff!”
A few minutes later the briefing room was full of young noisy P-51 Mustang pilots. All one could hear was the shuffling of chairs on wood floors, and the occasional ” Move your feet FNG!” The room became a chorus of smells from cigarettes and burned firewood to the smell of aviation gasoline, exhaust burned oil, and body odor. Milton’s mind wandered and he thought of the night before.
Milt would always sit at the end of a row close to the exit. This way he avoided the other men and was able to get to his plane quicker should anything happen. He learned this from a British veteran aviator that lived through the London Blitz.
The pickings for “Piccadilly Raiders” was slim this evening. None of the British girls suited his fancy. In addition, some of the new guys were in a frenzy and hunting for British babes.They had heard the stories in flight training. They were Yanks, overpaid, oversexed and over there. Let them have their fun Milt thought, especially the bomber crews. Tonight, he was simply having a beer and talking flying.
The English pubs were full of wounded British aviators, and single British chicks, Each talking about their experiences from Dunkirk to Overlord. Milton had the opportunity to drink and chat with a British Hurricane pilot. He had been wounded while attacking a German Heinkel HE 111 medium bomber over London. Two rounds from a German BF109 had ripped through the canvas and seat of his Hurricane aircraft. One shell took his arm at the shoulder socket while the other created tiny bits of seat shrapnel which went into the back of his knee. He doesn’t remember how he was even able to land the aircraft or why he did not bleed out. .
He drank with his left hand until he was shit faced, then the Englishman limped off to the head with a cane. They talked of the new German ME262 and how it bled off airspeed after a dive in order to avoid hitting the ground. If the ME 262 pilot did not start to level off at 450 feet after even a modest dive angle, the aircraft would hit the ground. The higher the angle of attack, the the harder the pilot had to pull back on the yoke, and the more speed was bled off, hence, the slower the aircraft became. Once an ME262 bled off airspeed, it took awhile to regain speed, and this is where it was vulnerable. Unlike the P-51 Mustang with a 1700 horsepower driven propeller that accelerated on a dime, the new jet engine was slow to accelerate. The difference between a good German ME262 pilot and a dead one was how well they managed speed and momentum within every aspect of the flight regime.
after several beers and hours of energetic and intense diatribe, the British ACE passed out. Without missing a lick, a sturdy bar maid dragged him to a corner as she had done dozens of times before. She then retrieved his heavy English wool coat, placed it under his head, and went back to pouring black and tans. She was not new to war, she had been there. She had lived under the streets of London while Hitler’s bombers ranged overhead. She remembers the noise of the V1 rockets as they ran out of fuel, plummeted to earth and took out brick buildings. He was one of the few that so many owed in the words of Winston Churchill. Miltie picked up the tab.
If a pilot could get to his airplane, start it, and take off in a few minutes, chances are that he could catch the slow twin engine German bomber as it high tailed it for Germany. In fact, the radar grid at the white cliffs of Dover gave British pilots a heads up whenever the Germans were coming. By the time the slow German bombers were over London, they had a wasp nest of British fighters to contend with. Light, fast, heavily armed wood and fabric fighters with 1500 horsepower supercharged Merlin engines to contend with. The only caveat, was that the human pilot was only the thickness of canvas away from a 20 mm projectile.
Those days were gone, by May 1944 the German Luftwaffe was all but destroyed. There were no German bombers bombing London. The V2 and it’s 2000 payload had replaced the V1. The once proud corps of seasoned German aviators had been replaced by youngsters that were gettin veru few training sorties and almost zero navigation training. Fuel was hard to come by. The trained competent aviators that saw air battle in Spain, Poland, Holland, London, North Africa, The Steps, and Stalingrad were now dead. replaced by eager boys that had only flown a 1/2 dozen sorties before being sacrificed to air battle. A German Luftwaffe squadron may have had a few ACEs and a small core of experienced flyers, but most were simply youngsters. So, one either faced a German ACE that had survived years of war ,and had flown thousands of sorties or a 19 year old who was on his first combat flight. While the German Luftwaffe was terminally ill from pilot shortages, the German aircraft industry was still producing hundred of aircraft a month of all types.
By May 1944, the American Army Air Corps was a well equipped , and well trained killing machine. A killing machine that could launch over 1000 bombers and 700 fighters during every mission. A flying fortress of 20,000 guns and thousands and thousands of tons of high explosive. The guns of Man-O-Wars during the Battle of Trafalgar were now huge British bombers like the Halifax and Lancaster. An Air Armada that could burn Dresden to the ground in 3 nights of bombing.
“Attention,” an assertive voice from who knows where cried out. Milton was startled out of his day dream. A moment later, the Squadron commander enters the now silent room to give the mission briefing. “Good morning gentlemen, I trust that the English fog has allowed all of you to get much needed rest, today’s mission is a doozie,” the commander began. We will be supporting 450 8th Air Force B-17 bombers from 8 or their 16 Bomb Wings. They will be using their standard 27 aircraft “Box formation”.
The commander continues. ” We have just received a dozen more new air frames. The maintenance chief has been working overtime to ensure that these aircraft are airworthy. He wants good write ups on these aircraft on their first sortie this morning. So, we need to pay particular attention during preflight and engine start activities. If there are any problems, tail swap without delay. lets also welcome our newest squadron members, Lt. Parsons and Lt. Wolford.
OK, General Carl Spatz and Doolitke have decided that we will be expanding our role beyond simply escorting bombers. We will be taking the fight to German airfields. Many of you know that the German ME262 is extremely hard to shoot down, hell we cant even catch the thing, therefore, a number of you will be loitering, and strafing while waiting for the ME262s to land. Intelligence suggests that the ME262 has only 60 to 90 minutes of fuel. So, once the ME262s have attacked the bomber group, they will be looking for some ground. This is their vulnerability. This is how we will kill off the ME262.
Today we will be escorting approximately 450 B-17s and B-24s deep into German territory. ” Munich again” Milty thought to himself. Today’s mission we will be attacking the rail-head at Munich. Once the bomber fleet engages the German 88 Flak guns, half of you will head south and circle Munich to the east circling northward. You will hit every airfield, every train, every convoy and anything that moves of military value. The Bombers will enter the bomb run from the west and make their exit turn to the north. This will be the rally point for joining the bombers again. The other half of you will conduct strafing missions to the west and north of Munich. Then you will continue to strafe to the northwest until the bombers leave the German air space. Fuel is critical, unless a fighter is on your tail or there is a great target of opportunity, I want you fellas to fly straight back to Dover. Fan out over a 10 mile front. Each of you will maintain a wing man and be very vigilant. Weather is telling us that Germany is clear in a million, so happy hunting. The B-17 Mission Navigator will now give his briefing on altitudes, vectors and the bomb run. Good luck men!” My briefing is complete. You have the floor
A P-51 Mustang Story: Part 3
“Crews dismissed report to your flight chiefs and aircraft,” barked the squadron commander.
The once silent and attentive room again erupted into the screeches of chair legs, men chatting, and a few harassing comments here and there. Unlike the B-17 crews, these were all officers. many officers had college degrees, but for the most part, WWII military officers did not have any education beyond high school. Many were selected to be officers based on merit or the needs of the day. Many times those that were selected were excellent officers and pilots, but many simply made it through the cracks of military bureaucracy. The weak and unworthy were weeded out if they made it to England, especially if they were B-17 pilots. The P-51 Mustang pilot only had to manage themselves and do the job without cracking or exposing weakness or lack of character and discipline. They had to play the game.
The B-17 officer had a group of men to manage and could not withdraw from interaction. The B-17 officer actually had to lead men from all walks of life. Men that were raised and worked in different communities all across America. Men from rural farming communities were lumped in with tough guys from the inner cities. A fella from the poor mountain regions of West Virginia would work along side a spoiled kid from Boston. Sons of mechanics in Detroit might have to work with the sons clergy from the Oklahoma pan handle. A Mormon from Utah would have to work with an Italian Catholic from the Bronx. A Southern Baptist from Texas would have to work with an atheist from the streets Hollywood or Methodist from the north woods of New Hampshire. A cowboy from the deserts of Nevada would have to tolerate someone from LA. The list goes on and on. The crew of a B-17 was as diverse as America itself. The B-17 aircraft commander actually had to lead men, while the P-51 Mustang officer could simply keep to himself and kill Germans.
The leadership of a B-17 crew went beyond simply working together on the aircraft during a mission. The B-17 crews slept together in tents of 8 men. They ate together. They partied in London together. They fought. They lost nerve. They cried together. They lost friends together. They saw fellow crewmen take cannon fire and shrapnel and bleed out on the flight deck together. They watched as other crewmen were burned to death as a B-17 crash landed at the airfield. Many men were hated by the crew or became emotional liabilities. Others would succumb to the physiological stress environment of high altitude bombing and become unmanageable. Some went insane or became mentally ill and unstable. These are just some of the things the B-17 leadership had to contend with and manage. For the P-51 Mustang pilot it was just him and a high performance killing machine.
The B-17 Aircraft commander had to contend with a host of enlisted characters from the gunners to radio operator and flight engineer. The most vulnerable and paranoid individual on the crew was usually the tail gunner. He was the fella with only glass in front of him waiting for the German Ace to pay a visit, especially when he was “Tail end charlie” or the last aircraft in a cell.
A seasoned German pilot would come in fast from behind. The first thing the German pilot would do is take out the tail gunner and then the belly turret gunner. At this point, the B-17 cannot direct fire to it’s six o’clock position. When given time, the German would then start walking his fire across the wing of the B-17, puncture the fuel tanks or take out a bank of engines. Once this happened, the B-17 would slow and descend as it lost power or burst into flames. The reality is that only 2% of German fighter ordinance hit the B-17. In fact pilots would basically use up a huge percentage of rounds just to exact a few hits on a bomber. Of course once a bomber was hit and fell out of the group, it became easy pickings for any German fighter of the day.
German fighters equipped with the 30 mm MK108 cannon could down a B-17 outright with 4 hits. One hit from the BK5 cannon or 50mm Panzer III tank cannon would kill a fighter or bomber easily. Otherwise, other German fighters with smaller caliber machine guns took 25 hits to down a B-17. Again the process started with the B-17 gunner being ridden with 20 mm and 7.62 machine gun fire. A B-17 could take a beaten and still fly. The only way to kill it was to inundate it with heavy fire or damage the engines and simply cut the calf from the heard. The process always started with the tail gunner unless the German pilot was attacking the front of the B-17.
During the attack phase, the German ME262 pilot only had a few seconds to make the kill. The ME262 had 4 x 30 mm MK 108 cannons in the nose. The MK108 cannon could fire 650 rounds a minute. The Germans had found the two engine ME410 with MK108 cannons a formittable bomber killer and night fighter. It could fly at 360 MPH to 380 mph, but only 1200 were built. Even at 380 MPH, they were no match for the P-51 Mustang that could fly at over 430 MPH. The ME410 was relegated to night fighting the British Lancaster and Halifax bombers. Alas, the ME262 could attack at no less than 560 MPH. 130 MPH faster than the P-51 and over 360 MPH faster than the bomber group.
The P-51 Mustang pilot only dealt with fellow officers or enlisted maintainers. They did not have to deal with a large crew or a large crew of wounded. All the P-51 Mustang pilot had to deal with was 438 miles and hour, 1700 horses, 6 X .50 caliber machine guns , a stick and rudder, and other pilots. Once the aircraft cleared the white cliffs of Dover, it was 550 miles to Munich. The B-17 on the other hand cruised at 170 MPH. London to Munich and back was about 7 hours of flying. That is s a long time in the seat.
The P-51 Mustang pilot had heated cockpit. The enlisted waste gunners in the back of the B-17 froze their asses off, all the while waiting for German lead to pierce the thin sheet of aluminum of the aircraft skin. At least they could talk with the rest of the crew. Meanwhile, the tail gunner is waiting for the ME262 and its 4 x 30mm cannons to show up. All by his little lonesome.
The crew and squadron interpersonal dynamics between the P-51 and B-17 groups would have been stark. But, once in the air, they were one. The B-17 crews called the P-51 Mustang fellas their “Little Friends!” It was the ultimate bummer when the “Little friends” had to leave when the German 88s started to go off….
When the crew of a B-17 left the briefing room, the scuffling of chairs and the crew interaction had a different sound. These sounds represented and symbolized a completely different meaning than the same sounds made as the P-51 Mustang pilot’s left their briefing rooms before a mission. For the B-17 crew that was on it’s 24th mission, the sound of chair legs screeching on wooden floors may have produced a sickening feeling among the crew, especially the tail gunner……………………………………
A P-51 Mustang Story: Part 4
Milt jumped from the rear of the deuce and a half. A maintenance troop was in the cockpit while the engine was running. The tail of the aircraft was moored securely to the British airfield turf and the brakes were set as the maintenance fella ran the P-51 to full military power.
He was no ordinary aircraft mechanic. He was farm boy from rural Southern Oregon. His family had been farming the Willamette valley since Oregon was a territory in the late 1850s. He was a product of generations of a farming family that struggled to make a living. In fact the farm had been owned an worked by 6 generations of Schroeders. Over the last 100 years, the machinery to plow the land had evolved from oxen and horse drawn plows to tractors and trucks. His father was first to own an American made tractor. It wasn’t a new tractor when they bought it, for it was old but trustworthy. A neighboring farmer had died leaving his wife to tend the farm. She was childless, so she had to sell his equipment to survive. The families had know each other since the 1870’s. The Schroeder family came by Conestoga wagons to Oregon while the Clausens had come by the first transcontinental railroad.
The Schroeder family gave her a good price for the tractor and as part of the deal plowed and planted her land until she herself passed on. Joseph was 5 years old when they bought the tractor. By the time he was 22, he could fix and repair anything on the farm. From combines to Ford flatheads, he could fix anything. It was a 40 mile drive to town on dirt roads. Washed out dirt roads. Even on a good day, it was a task to drive their 1 ton farm truck to town. The roads were so bad that speeds above 15 MPH would stress the truck’s suspension. The 40 mile drive took 4 hours and precious fuel. Even then, one did not know if the local parts store even had the part ordered weeks before. There was no phone and no internet. Joseph learned to take care of the equipment.
Joseph was a champ at double clutching the 1 ton and it’s spur gear transmission. He was totally in tune with it’s mechanical nature. Years of maintaining precious and complex farm equipment on a strict budget had instilled a respect for machinery in Joseph. He remembers when he ran the Oliver to fast and broke the PTO input on the combine when mechanisms hit a fawn hiding in the wheat. This event cost the farm precious time. Weeks in fact. In order to avoid losses the farm had to contract with an outfit to bring in the harvest. This meant the family had to borrow against the farm for the next year seed. From that event on, Joseph was vigilant and careful with everything he did. He was a leader and a good mechanic. He was the line chief’s go to guy on all the complex issues. The city guys were relegated to fueling, chocking and learning…..
With head down, Master Sergeant Schroeder focused on the P-51’s boost gauge, inter cooler temp, and exhaust temp. The boost was still a few pounds low, and all other indications were well within specification. He had run engines on hundreds of P-51s and new the nature of the Merlin Packard engine by heart. He had joined the Army Air Corps in January 1938 and left his brothers to tend the farm. He was the youngest. He had to find his own way. In 1942, Sgt. Schroeder was selected to learn the Merlin Packard engine at the engine factory. He had learned this engine at every point in the manufacturing process. Now the Merlin Packard P-51 engine was as familiar to him as a fathead six.
After killing the P-51’s engine’s ignition, Schroeder jumped from the cockpit and yelled, “I am gonna look at the supercharger boost control rod sir!” A moment later, the engine cowling was open and Schroeder’s head and shoulders was lost behind the prop and in the engine compartment. An instance later, he reemerges and yells, ” it looks like the boost control rod was bent from the factory. I went ahead and gave it a good tug and straightened it. The rod is at the idle stop so, she will get full boost travel now!” “Oh and no leaks were detected, were gonna top her off and then she is all yours sir!”
THURSDAY, 13 JULY 1944
STRATEGIC OPERATIONS (Eighth Air Force): Mission 471: 1,043 bombers and 609 fighters in 3 forces are dispatched to bomb targets in Germany; 10 bombers and 5 fighters are lost:
1. Of 399 B-17s, 356 bomb Munich, 6 bomb the railroad at Munich and 3 hit targets of opportunity; 4 B-17s are lost, 1 is damaged beyond repair and 156 damaged; 8 airmen are KIA, 7 WIA and 36 MIA. Escort is provided by 292 P-38s, P-47s and P-51s; they claim 2-1-2 Luftwaffe aircraft; 1 P-38 and 1 P-47 are lost.
2. Of 278 B-17s, 139 bomb Munich, 100 hit an aircraft engine plant at Munich and 3 hit targets of opportunity; they claim 11-4-8 Luftwaffe aircraft; 5 B-17s are lost, 2 are damaged beyond repair and 129 damaged; 9 airmen are WIA and 50 MIA. Escort is provided by 170 P-38s, P-47s and P-51s; 1 P-51 is lost and 1 P-38 is damaged beyond repair.
3. Of 366 B-24s, 298 hit Saarbrucken marshalling yards and 3 hit targets of opportunity; 1 B-24 is lost, 7 damaged beyond repair and 31 damaged; 23 airmen are KIA, 9 WIA and 19 MIA. Escort is provided by 81 of 85 P-51s; 1 P-51 is lost and 1 damaged beyond repair.
28 B-24s fly CARPETBAGGER missions during the night.
A P-51 Mustang Story: Part 5
1000 B-17 and B-24 bombers stretched end to end, adds up to 189 miles. If they are 3 abreast nose to tail, that is 63 miles. By July 1944, the 8th Air Force had tried several styles of “Combat boxes,” and final settled on the 27 plane combat box. These flying formations would stage aircraft at different flight levels allowing for station keeping or distance between aircraft. A bomber formation could be as high as 30,000 feet and staged vertical for a mile. In some cases, a bomber formation would be stacked vertically from 20,000 feet to 30,000 feet and 200 miles long.
There were dozens and dozens of airfields in England. Unlike today where an airfield is paved and can support an 850,000 pound aircraft, bomber and fighter fields in England were grass fields. This is where “Airfield” comes from. By Mid 1944, a bomber groups may have had 50 aircraft or more. To generate a 1000 bomber formation would take 20 groups working in concert.
The B-17 can cruise at 180 MPH. The climb rate loaded is 900 feet per minute. Climb speed is different than cruise speed. The higher the rate of climb, the slower the aircraft would fly. If the aircraft climbed out at 100 mph, it would travel a horizontal distance of about 2 miles for every 1000 feet of vertical distance. Climbing to 30,000 feet would take at least 30 minutes if not longer and cover 60 miles to 75 miles. The bomber groups would always be at over 18,000 feet by the time they crossed the English Channel and entered the combat zone. The timing of the B-17 launches was crucial. England had over 100 airfields within a small area. 50 aircraft would take off from one airfield followed by 50 more from another airfield only a few miles away, followed by 50 more and so on. By the time the first cell of 50 B-17s climbed to 18,000 feet and cleared the English channel, there were still B-17s and B-24s taking off. It was crucial that every 27 aircraft combat box be in flying formation by the French coastline if not sooner.
The stacking of aircraft was also important. The first cell would be lower and the next would be higher and so on. This way, one B-17 does not drop its payload on a trailing aircraft. The bombers would maintain this style of flying formation until the “Bomb run.” Then, all aircraft that will bomb a specific location would have to form a line in order to drop on target. This is where the bombers were the most vulnerable. This is where the FLAK gunners could set their 88s and 128mm guns at one point and fire away. The FLAK gunners had much better chance at downing a B-17 during the bomb run, especially when 100 aircraft are lined up to hit a rail head or factory etc….In order for an aircraft to hit the bomb target from 20,000 to 30,000 feet, the bombs would have to drop from every aircraft at the same point in space. Of course the mission planners sought to mix up the bombing schedule and altitudes to avoid the obvious, but the FLAK spotter logged all the gun coordinates, and knew what was being bombed and from what point. The FLAK spotter knew at what a altitude a bomber was flying by size recognition. It wasn’t long before the trailing aircraft were getting slaughtered. The British avoided all this by flying at night.
In Berlin for instance, there was a huge complex of FLAK towers that could sustain 8000 rounds of fire a minute. Even if only a 1/4 of the guns were trained on bombers targeting the Berlin marshaling yards, this meant 2000 rounds every minute at one point in space. While the vertical stacking was effective in minimizing losses, a trained FLAK gun spotter and a trained gun crew could change fuse altitudes very very quickly. These realities played hell on bomber crews.
The winds aloft in some respects was the only variable. When the aircraft encountered a head wind, a tail wind or a side wind, it affected the bomb release point. The FLAK gunners had to make adjustments for this if they even new the winds at 25,000 feet. With zero wind, the FLAK gunners knew exactly where a bomber would release it’s bombs to hit specific military targets.
During the bombing of Tokyo, Japan, the B-29 flew so high during the bomb run that it encountered jet stream style head winds. Some head winds approached 200 miles an hour. This slowed the ground speed of the B-29 to a crawl. They even looked as if they were stationary in the sky. Had there been these types of headwinds over Berlin, B-17 and B-24 losses would have been sickening. German FLAK gunners would have ruled the day. But then again, all the mission planners had to do was change the bomb run direction and the ground speed of the B-17 became 350 MPH. I am not certain if the mission planners had head wind information for the drop zone.
At Stalingrad, the Russians had utter thousands of anti aircraft guns firing at slow flying cargo planes attempting to support the 6th Army.
It took a few years of sustaining heavy losses for the the 8th Air Force to devise better tactics. The P-51 Mustang allowed this. It was found that unleashing the P-51 ahead of bomber groups was better than fighter escort at altitude. Air superiority was achieved by killing Germans fighters on the ground and dog fights and not flying in formation with slow bombers. The Germans understood this early on during the “Battle of Britain!” They sought to establish air superiority over England by hitting the airfields over and over again. As a result of the British bombing Berlin, Hitler changed the mission to bombing London. This allowed the air fields to launch fighter strikes and kill the German medium bombers before they could kill off the British fighter force. It took until February of 1943 for the 8th Air Force to learn what the British had learned during the London Blitz. Airfields and aircraft on the ground first, and then the bombing of military infrastructure second. Its called “Air Superiority.”
A P-51 Mustang Story: Part 6
Milton gazed skyward as the hum of hundreds of B-17 engines grew louder and louder. The lead element of the second bombing group had taken off to the north that day along with several other groups.They were joined by more bomb squadrons as the lead element circled to the west and then south all the while climbing at full military power. One after another, aircraft from a dozen fields joined the air assault force. Milt knew he still had several minutes before the P-51 Mustangs took off. The B-17s would take an hour to cross the English channel and climbing out at 100 MPH. The P-51s would take off 4 abreast and make a 400 MPH low altitude mad dash for the coast of Holland. This endeavor would take less than 20 minutes.
The lead element of the second cell of bombers was made up of aircraft from the 452nd Bomb Wing. The aircraft were operated by men from the 728th, 729th, 730th and 731st Bombardment Squadrons. They had been in country since February 5th 1943. They had been performing bombing missions for 18 months and suffered tremendous losses in men and material at the hands of the mighty German Luftwaffe. Every mission was met with hundreds of German fighters. No fighter in the Army Air Corps entire fighter fleet could beat the FW190 or the ME109. While heavily armed, the American fighters were slower and could not climb as fast or high as the German fighters. The older American fighters were relegated to flying escort only. This allowed the Luftwaffe to range overhead and make deadly diving passes at the fighters and B-17s. The 8th Air Force fighters would only react after being attacked, or to keep the Germans away from the bombers if they saw them first. In some cases the American fighters were not allowed to go below 18,000 feet while chasing a German fighter. The B-17 losses were enormous. Young inexperienced American pilots in slower fighters trying to compete with German pilots that had been flying since the Spanish Civil war!
This changed when P-51 showed up.
The overall mission commander of the second B-17 cell was a Col. Bud Walsh the 728th Squadron commander. Unlike many of the pilots who might be 21 years old, Walsh was 43 years old and career military. He had joined the Air Expeditionary Forces in 1918 and worked on bi-planes in France. After serving as an enlisted man for several years, he was able to qualify for officer candidate school and a pilot slot when the Air Service became the Army Air Corps in 1926. He had flown bi-planes for years and walked away from more than a few crashes in his time. In 1938, he was selected to train for the new B-17. During the attack on Pearl harbor he was stationed at Hickham AFB Hawaii. In fact, he was on a B-17 training mission when Pearl was attacked by Japanese Zeros and torpedo bombers.
Walsh was of Irish ancestry and grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His family had come to America in 1890 through Ellis Island. His dad worked on the railroad as an engineer. His mother was 2nd generation German and lived on a farm. She was a beauty with dark auburn hair, full lips, and green eyes. She was fit, strong and healthy from years and years of farm work.
Bud was tall, blonde, lanky, and spoke with a heavy Wisconsin draw. Walsh liked his beer, and loved a brawl. He would look you right in the eyes when he talked to you and would never pull punches. He spoke his mind and stood up for the fellas in his command. He saw the big picture and hated bureaucrats and yes-men officers that would not stand with the enlisted folk. If something was wrong he spoke up. This is why he was still a colonel. A colonel that had 6000 hours in open cockpit bi-planes, monoplanes, and 4 engine bombers. A colonel that could fly a bathtub.
When Walsh came to England in February 1943, he was still a Captain and a check airman. He was the guy you had to fly with in order to become an aircraft commander. He had seen dozens and dozens of pilots killed in action. One week, he would qualify a pilot, and the next mission that pilot would be shot down over Germany. In 18 months of air operations, he had lost close friends, and countless enlisted crewmen. Every week, there would be a tragic event. Every mission men would be lost. Every week the trauma would work at his nerves. Walsh began to drink and drink heavily. Several times he was brought back to the airfield by the military police after a hard night’s drinking in London. When he flew he was competent and balanced. When he drank, he became bipolar and imbalanced. The men covered for him because he covered for them. He could be gone during the next mission.
Within 6 months he was field promoted to Major and then field promoted to lieutenant Colonel just 4 months after that. He then was to put on full Bird Colonel at 18 months in England. This was to be his last observation flight. He was being groomed for a Wing level command. He wasn’t supposed to be flying. He flew his 25th mission months before. Everybody looked the other way, because the squadron needed his expertise. They needed his leadership. They needed him because he had not lost his nerve. They needed him because he told them that if they made him stop flying, he was going home.
A P-51 Mustang story: Part 7
The aircraft of the Army Air Corps were constantly inspected, in fact, over inspected. When a P-51 would land, the pilot would inspect the exterior of the aircraft for battle damage. Then the aircraft crew chief would perform a post-flight and pre-flight Inspection.
A good crew chief would inspect every inch of his aircraft within an hour. Every flight surface was inspected along with hinge points,doors, gear, tires, prop and engine. Panels would be removed exposing hydraulic lines, fuel lines, and gun systems. Cowling would be open and every nook and cranny of the Merlin Packard V-12 would be looked at. Every safety wired nut or bolt would be looked at. Every reservoir serviced. Every pressure checked for proper specification. Every write up found would be logged in the aircraft forms. If the write up did not affect mission capability it wasn’t repaired until a later date.
While the inspection was on going, the aircraft would be fueled, loaded with gun ordinance and readied for flight again.
When the pilot showed for a mission, he would do a walk around inspection and try and catch anything the maintenance folks overlooked. He would check the aircraft for ordinance hits, loose primary flight surfaces, leaks and low tires just to name a few things. These layered inspections from both maintenance and operations enhanced air worthiness.
The most difficult part of the pre-flight activities for a pilot was getting into the P-51 cockpit with a parachute strapped to his body. On cold days, the interior of the cockpit was cold soaked unless the engine was ran. Today the July morning was cool and very very conducive for the pilot. The hot English summer mid day sun could super heat an aircraft cockpit especially within the dark green B-17. In summer months during mid day, a pilot dressed in heavy flight gear would sweat his ass off. The aircraft was stifling and uncomfortable until ram air cooled the cockpit. This particular morning it was nice and cool and perfect temperature for the pilots. After a good breakfast, and briefing, these fellas were ready for the day’s hunt. They were ready to find any German fighter, military vehicle, tank or locomotive and rain down 6 guns each of .50 caliber death.
It was 5:30 am and the tower gave the gun signal to start engines. Within seconds, 25 P-51 Mustangs were started and their props spinning. In unison, the ground crew had pulled chocks and marshaled their aircraft from the spots. Next, the ground crews would render a proud and proper salute to the pilot and give a solid “thumbs up.” These were their aircraft and they poured their hearts, soul, and mechanical talents into keeping these aircraft air worthy. The aircraft mechanic never slacked up on inspection requirements or making the proper repair. It was the mechanic’s creed to always do their level best maintaining the aircraft. A salute symbolized that the mechanic had done everything in his power and the aircraft was safe to fly and ready to conduct a mission. Milton knew this because his father was a mechanic. He had been to his father’s shop a thousand times. He knew the deal. He gave the crew chief a respectful salute in return, maintained a moment of eye contact, and then a solid thumbs up.
Many of the crew chiefs had worked all night fixing their fighters for that day’s flight. One aircraft may have had an engine replaced while another had the rudder or shot up wing flap replaced. Some of the older P-51s may have had a dozen skin patches and a tired engine.
Today’s launch debuted 12 new P-51s. The engines were just broken in from the low speed ferry flight across the Atlantic. They had fresh oil, the engine piston rings, valves, and induction system were tight and created good compression. Every component, bearing or bushing of the the two speed supercharger was factory fresh and within superb tolerance. The crankshaft and rod bearings were within perfect specification and commanded good oil pressure. The cooling system was new and sturdy. Everything was tight, inspected and good to go.
The tower gave the signal for take off and off they went. A race to see whose plane had the shortest take off roll. Half the force of fighters where ridden with patches from battle damage, the other half sported super shiny pristine polished aluminum. Half the fleet taking off had worn engines in need of overhaul. The new Mustangs may have had 20 hours of flying time. Some ran better than others. The older Mustangs were battle tested and a known and massaged quantity by the maintenance crews. The new ones had yet to prove their airworthiness during air battle. Today, Milton had a brand new P-51 that was a hot rod when the throttles were pushed forward. A moment later, 25 P-51s were airborne and heading south for the English Channel.
A P-51 Mustang story: Part 8
“Cruise power is set sir,” the flight engineered declared as the Lead B-17 reached 20,000 feet. His voice muffled from his oxygen mask and the noise of wind and engines. “Thanks” replied the pilot. Number 4 engine seems to be running hotter than the others, “I will go ahead and pull the throttle back a bit to see if the engine’s oil temp comes down,” the engineer yelled to Col. Walsh. He did not know the left seat pilot, for he was on loan and being observed for a squadron command position in the 452nd Bombardment group. This pilot was from another Bomb group and had also requested transfer.
The new pilot in the left seat was named Jeb Parsons .He was a captain in rank. Unlike many of the other pilots, Jeb Parsons had a civil engineering degree from UC Berkeley. He was a short slender man with feminine features and seemed to have a hybrid of Asian and white ancestry. His family was well off and political donors of FDR and local Democrats. His family had deep pockets.
The 728th crew did not know how to take Captain Parsons. Unlike Walsh and other 728th pilots, Parsons barked orders, did not make eye contact and treated the enlisted folks like they were unworthy trash. Early on, the crew noticed that Parsons hated to be interrupted by any enlisted members unless they stood and waited to be recognized. Then when a crew men did say something, it seemed that Parsons would discount the communication and lose interest in listening within seconds. In fact, he had a limited attention span with enlisted while basically kissing the brass’s ass. It wasn’t long before Parsons had isolated himself from the enlisted folks. The officers on the crew were obligated to communicate at a positive level with Parsons but soon grew tired of listening or talking with the class conscious ass kissing captain from another squadron. On the plane, Parsons would sit there and stew.
Jebadia Thomas Parsons was from San Francisco. His family was well off and made their money during the building of the Transcontinental railroad and it’s aftermath. Parsons Asian ancestry came from Ding Wu a Chinese immigrant who came to America to work on the Central Pacific Railroad. Wu was 25 years old when he arrived by ship to San Francisco in January 1867. He went to work on the Transcontinental railroad while rail work was being performed at “Donner Pass” California.
He was a good worker, but was not the normal China-man that simply worked hard and kept his mouth shut. Wu spoke his mind at the camps and constantly bitched about wages etc. In China his folks were well to do, and owned a store. In the U.S. Wu was just a China-man and not respected by the white population. In fact, he was subject to the intense racism of the day.
In the summer of 1868, Wu’s mouth got him into big trouble. It seems that one particular evening, Wu had started a fight with another China-man from a different clan. After about 15 minutes of throwing punches, the white management showed up. By then a dazed and bloodied Wu had pulled a railroad spike, and cold-cocked a white foreman. The railroad spike broke the foreman’s nose and almost poked out an eye. In response, five of the foreman’s crew beat Wu until he was unconscious.
“Well lets take this China-man to the Doc and get him fixed back up,” the white foreman stated. The group then dragged the Chinese immigrant to a wagon , threw him in the back of a buckboard and trotted off in the moonlight. Instead of going to the makeshift hospital, the foreman’s crew took the unconscious China-man a full 30 miles east and north of the railroad and pushed him off onto the Northern Nevada desert. In the morning an intense Nevada sun woke Wu from an unconscious state. He sat up quickly to look around and all he could see for miles and miles, was Nevada sage and desert. He had no water, and no clue where he was. In addition, a rib was broken and he was in tremendous pain.
Following the tracks left by the wagon that dropped him off to die, Ding Wu walked a full day in 115 degree weather. By the time it was dark, Wu was delirious from lack of water. He collapsed under a dark Nevada sky and fell asleep among the sage. The next morning, he made it to the Humboldt river and fell exhausted into it’s brown muddy water. He could go southwest to Reno and run into the railroad, or he could go northeast to Winnemuca and contact the authorities. There he could file a complaint and get transportation to get his things. There he could find shelter and food. Wu chose Winnemucca. Wu walked the wagon ruts along side the Humbolt river. He was walking the California trail. He had water. He was hungry, but he had water.
Another day of walking, he would stumble upon a white woman with a covered wagon, a piano, a dead dog, and a dead husband.
She was from the state of Virginia. Her husband was a Confederate cavalry officer who had deserted Robert E Lee’s army at the battle of Sailor’s creek on April 6,1865. When he returned to his small plantation in Northern southwest Virginia, the house and all the out buildings had been burned to the ground. All of his savings was in worthless Confederate money. Soon all of his neighbors would know that he was a deserter. He became a hated entity. After trying to farm his land and make a living without slaves, he leased the land to share croppers and headed west.
In Winnemucca, he had called a few ex-union enlisted soldiers Yankee bastards at a local saloon. These Union veterans were not soldiers that adhered to common core ethics of the warrior, they were gunmen, thieves and killers from Kansas. They hunted down the Southern veteran pioneer the next night as he made his way to Reno on the California trail and shot him five times with their Lemat and Remington 1958 revolvers. For added measure they dispatched the dog, raped the wife, ransacked the wagon, and took the animals.
As a Confederate cavalryman, the Virginian had been on many raids with Jeb Stuart’s Cavalry Brigade. During a raid on Bristow Station, he had come across a Union paymaster wagon abandoned by Union soldiers as they ran for their lives. In it, he found a small box full of gold coinage and several satchels in Union money. While his fellow Cavalrymen burned and looted several captured train cars at the station, Lt. Carswell took the loot into the woods, broke open the 100 lb. box of coinage , and dumped the contents into a hole he had dug next to an odd looking tree.
In April of 1868, he and his wife Sarah retrieved the gold in the woods at Bristow Station and made their way to the Missouri river via horse and buckboard wagon. There they would buy two healthy mules, a covered wagon, a couple of oxen, supplies, and an old piano. They would stow the gold in the bottom of the piano along with the family’s valuables. Then the top was glued shut.
In previous years, pioneers would join wagon trains for protection and guidance. In 1868, immigrants could take the Transcontinental railroad support roads west. Unlike the 1850s, in 1868, there were ample locations to buy supplies, feed, and all manner of goods. The roads were well traveled. As a cavalryman, Carswell knew how to travel light and fast. He knew what he could get out of his animals and how to keep them fed and healthy. He struck out on his own. He did not know that the surplus Union percussion caps were duds when he pulled the trigger on the thieves that came upon him that evening.
The young woman sat silently on the Nevada desert her back leaning against the wheel of the new Missouri built covered wagon. She had buried her husband. The family dog was bloated while buzzards and coyotes fought over the spoils. The thieves had taken the Oxen, a horse, a couple of mules, and anything light of value. As far as the piano, one of the killers opened the key board and tapped a few keys before they raped Sarah.
From a distance, badly sunburned, shaky and swollen Ding Wu, asked in a sincere but dry and cracking voice, ” do you need help ma’am!”
At first Sarah thought he was an Indian. She had never seen an Indian or a Chinese immigrant before. She was startled and afraid, and screamed “Stay away!” In struggling English and a heavy Mandarin accent, Wu tells her that he wont hurt her and that he is just a worker on the railroad heading for Winnemucca. After a couple hours of sobbing, Sarah asks the China man his name, and where he is from. By this time Wu is stiff and can barely move. His head is throbbing from concussion. Sarah tells him to lay under the Wagon, while she finds some smoked meat and hard bread. She starts a fire, boils the goods and spoon feeds the now weak and reduced railroad worker.
The next day Sarah catches a ride on a 20 mule team wagon headed for Winnemucca and hauling store goods. She leaves the hurting Chinese immigrant at the wagon with food and water. She knows he is not going anywhere. She told the 20 mule team driver of her tragic ordeal and share conversation while enroute. The Mule driver tells her of a shipment of tenting and supplies at a livery that had not been claimed. The buyer had put 50% down on the goods in Sacramento. Word was that the buyer had been Gambling in Virginia City when he was shot after winning a drunk miner’s claim. The driver told her that she could claim the shipment for pennies on the dollar as long as he could get a cut. On arrival to Winnemucca, Sarah surveyed the contents of the shipment. The shipment had filled 2 Conestoga wagons to the brim and covered 200 sqf of the livery building. The guy who ordered the stuff was well established business man and had made his money from 1949 Gold rush and the Nevada Comstock lode. He would set up saloon tents and cater to miners and hired hands. He knew that the Transcontinental railroad would be a windfall and had ordered everything that he needed to conduct business in Winnemucca. The mark up on beer and whiskey was 1000%. Food profit could be enormous. He had everything from commercial pots and pans, to spittoons, and brass railing. The tents were sewn together Union surplus tents. All told, the tent would span 2400 square feet, complete with bar , tables and a BBQ. Sarah gave the driver $500 and a gold coin for the supplies. She then staked a claim to property close to the river.
Sarah hired a few Paiute Indians to help her retrieve the wagon and the wounded Chinaman. From then on, the two would become inseparable. Within days, Sarah and Wu started a small store, and the tent saloon that catered to the railroad workers. The day they opened for business, they took in dozens of customers. By the time the Central Pacific Railroad was built through Winnemucca, she had made a 5000% profit on the supplies. She then did the same thing in Battle Mountain, Elko, Wells, and Wendover Nevada. She even made money at Promontory point when the railroad was completed and the last Golden spike driven into tie.
One particular evening a few months after her raping and the death of her beloved husband, a dirty traveler chanced into the saloon. He looked all too familiar. He wore her husband’s Jeb Stuart cavalier hat, and carried a Lemat revolver. The cavalier hat was adorned with Navajo Indian art and turquoise purchased in from an old begging squaw Northern Utah. Her husband’s cavalry saddle was on his horse. Their mule was loaded with supplies. The oxen had been sold to a meat salesman, butchered and sold to the railroad camps.
He was one of the fellas that had raped Sarah. He did not notice the pregnant woman in the corner or the piano player playing Dixie. He drank a few tall and cold beers, and surveyed the large room for a bar whore. He ordered a shot of whiskey, drank it quickly and ask for another beer.
Sarah Knew the drill.
Sarah knew he would be visiting the outhouse behind the large canvass tent to relieve himself. When the rapist murderer ventured out back to take a piss in the business’s fresh new pine wood four holer, Sarah was waiting. She stood silently with her dead husband’s double barrel cavalry shot gun. This time, the gun had fresh caps, fresh powder, fresh ball, and buckshot. It was hot loaded for bear.
It was a clear Nevada night. A light brush of snow covered the landscape. The air was rich with the smell of Nevada sage. She could see the foothills off in the distance and the sparkle of stars. Sarah was calm and breathed in the freshness of the clean Nevada air with the occasional hint of burning mesquite and pine. She walked the 25 paces to the outhouse quietly. She was careful not to step on the mountain of tin cans, bottles, kegs and garbage that was heaped at the back door of the tent saloon.
She waited until she could hear the sounds of aaaaah, and urine pelting shit. She then placed the barrel of the weapon at chest height at the rear wall of the outhouse. In a low audible soft southern draw, she says, ” you should have killed me too, you Yankee bastard!” In an instance, the rapist recalls the event with clarity, and how good it was to fuck the Southern Belle. He recalls here beautiful auburn hair, and the essence of her lovely womanhood.
The sound of pelting piss suddenly stops, and she pulls both triggers. The ball and buckshot entered the chest of the rapist murderer blowing out his heart and lungs and leaving a 8 inch oval hole in his back and the outhouse door. The wall of the outhouse had muffled the sound and the piano player was quite loud. The steam of exposed and splattered internal organs rose from the blast into the cold Nevada air as the white trash union veteran slumped to the floor and bled out. He was dead before he hit the floor.
The last thing on the Union veteran’s mind before she killed him was how he had raped women for the last 8 years. He had raped dozens of Southern women during the civil war. He and his partner knowing that no men would be around, would forcefully enter the homes of Southerners and rape the women. They would take anything of value. They would then sell the goods to the bands of crooked salesmen that followed the Union army.
Sarah placed the sawed off shotgun under her dress, walked back calmly to the tent, placed the weapon unnoticed behind the bar, served a customer a beer, smiled and said. “What are you fellas up to tonight!” No one would ever suspect a pregnant and proper Southern Belle of killing a murderer in an outhouse.
The store and tent saloon would become wooden structure, which then became a hotel, saloon, and stable. Next, Sarah and Wu would start a cattle shipping company from Winnemucca to
For 50 years, they would ship range fed Nevada beef to the tables of Californians and save every nickel. Along the way, Sarah would have daughter that looked quite Asian. In 1906, Sarah and Wu would invest in land in San Francisco after the great fire. Her daughter and son would be sent to the best schools available. No one ever found out that the daughter was the offspring of a Chinese railroad worker. No one ever found out that Ding Wu died a very happy and rich man. Ding Wu was Parson’s grandfather.
A P-51 Mustang story: Part 9
“Hows that engine temp eng?” Walsh asks the flight engineer. ” The motor is running a bit hotter, but it is well within specifications. I will go ahead and look at the aircraft forms and see how many hours the engine has, and how long it has been since the last oil change. Sometimes, internal parts can wear prematurely and inundate the oil with small metal particles. The added tolerance and dirty contaminated oil can add to engine temps, because the particles retain heat and slow viscosity!” the flight engineer responds. “It seems that reducing the boost via the throttle setting have lowered the temps a bit, so it is not a fuel or timing problem, ” plus the outside air temp is -15 degrees. I think the problem was only during climb out, and she looks fine now.” The flight engineer summarizes. “The engine carries 37 gallons of oil, I don’t think we have contaminated oil, it was just hot as hell during climb out, and the boost control may be a bit sticky. We are good to go, he finishes.
The lead aircraft of the second cell of the massive 1000 bomber air armada had reached the mid point of the English channel. This was point where any aircraft with airworthiness problems would have to turn back. This day, found one B-17 in the lead cell dropping out of the forming up armada. An inboard engine had been shut down for low oil pressure. That aircraft’s flight engineer had done a visual inspection of the aircraft’s engine via the belly turret. It was evident that the #3 engine had a huge oil leak. The under wing area and the aft engine cowling area was coated with fresh black oil. The engine indications were normal until 25 gallons of oil had leaked out leaving just enough oil to lubricate the engine internals. A few more minutes and the Wright engine would has suffered a massive crankshaft failure. In this case, the FE saved the engine for a quick rebuild and or for spare parts. Within a week, the engine would be stripped down and parts canned for engine repairs on the other 10,000 engines in England. In a month , the only left of the engine was the engine case and crank assembly. Everything else had been “canned.”
Moreover, the pilots sensed a little vibration coming from the wing or somewhere. It seems that one of the cylinders or “jug” on the Wright 1820 cubic inch 9 cylinder engine had failed during the climb out. The piston had swelled from too much heat and started to seize in the cylinder bore. It could have been because of marginal tolerance loss during a repair. It could have been because of the metal processing of the piston or even pilot error. This lead to a piston rod failure which poked a hole in the cylinder jug. It was an older engine, and the condition had been going on for several flights, and it finally failed. The engine failure was a legit write up, and could be easily defended when the pilots went to debriefing. The evidence was a dead motor and 30 gallons of oil lost from the engine. If a crew air aborted from paranoia, the Wing Commander would basically freak out.
The flight engineer on Walsh’s crew was from a small town outside of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His father was a steel worker and an alcoholic. He was an abusive father and continually told his boy to shut up during his drunken binges. If the boy spoke up or talked back, he would get the belt and sent to his room. Sometimes his father would simply beat his kid for no reason after a binge on Brodhead street in Bethlehem.
Andrew Easton Forney had learned to be quiet and afraid when his father was home. He learned how to communicate with his mother via the least amount of verbal interaction. One could read Andrew’s eyes easily. You knew what he was thinking by just looking in his eyes.
Andy would not offer up communication unless it pertained to the aircraft. When the crews went to London and got drunk, Andy would not drink. He was a listener. When pressed, he would only say something positive, funny, nurturing or ridden with commonsense. All The crew respected Sgt. Forney for his honest demeanor, knowledge, and ability to disengage with petty dispute.
In 1932, Andrew attended the local community college and studied drafting. After a two year period, he landed a job with Pratt and Whitney in Connecticut. There he learned how to be an engine draftsman. In 1936, he sent a resume to Boeing in Seattle and was offered a job as an engineering draftsman on the Boeing 314 Clipper ship program.
By the time he arrived in Renton, Washington, he knew the relationship between engineers, mechanics and engineering draftsman. In addition, he was quiet , polished an never engaged in extraneous discourse. He was also a quite , reflective and hard working draftsman. It was only a short time before he was promoted to an engineering position at final assembly. There he would see how the entire manufacturing process would come together on the Boeing 314. He knew how the entire aircraft was plumbed. He knew how the flight controls were rigged, and how every flight surface operated. He knew every aspect of how engines were hung and connected. He knew fuel systems, ignition systems, electrical systems and hydraulic systems. He saw the aircraft built from detail parts to final assembly. On occasions, he would see the XB-15 and how it was built. Many times, he had the opportunity to see the new B-17 being built over in Seattle. Andrew never said much, and had a photographic memory. Everything he looked at relating to aviation, he remembered. Moreover, he only spoke up when something was wrong or he had something of value to add.
Andrew wanted to be a flyer, but his eyes would not let him. Unless his vision was corrected, he could not read an engineering drawing, the newspaper, or a book. This precluded him from being a pilot.
On 15, December 1941, Forney joined the Army Air Corps for the specific purpose of becoming a flight engineer on the B-17. He wanted to fly and knew that he could get a flying job at Boeing when he had FE experience. He had seen how his father had worked at Bethlehem steel until he passed away from liver disease. He knew that aviation was the wave of the future and he wanted to be part of it.He was a Boeing man. he was proud to build airplanes. He wanted to fly for his country. He remembers the stories his grandfather would tell about the Spanish American war and San Juan hill. He remembered how the Spanish flu epidemic had taken two of his sisters and both of his grandparents on his father’s side. He understood that life was a gift and the American economy could turn bad at any time. He remembers eating oatmeal three times a day during the “Great Depression.” During the war, he would send 90% of his military paycheck back home to his mother. She would save every penny. She also lived in Seattle and worked as a clerk at the Seattle Boeing plant.
Sgt. Forney was a competent flight engineer, and only spoke when he had to say something that affected flight safety or regular procedures. The pilots knew this and listened to him. Of course Parson’s had no clue.
A P-51 Mustang Story: Part 10
The Memphis Belle
The 10 crew members of a B-17G were as diverse as America itself. The waist gunners were friends from Venice Beach, California. The two both joined the Army Air Corps in November 1943. Sons of well to do families, Eric Wright and Sam Hagel did not have a care in the world during the summer of 1943. Fresh out of high school, They would spend their days on the beach. They both had lived charmed and spoiled Cali cool lives. Eric’s father was film editor, while Sam’s was a screenplay writer.
While the families were quite intelligent, creative, and worked hard, the California economy insulated them from the realities of the day. They only read about the Dust Bowel days!” They were gainfully employed during the “Great Depression.” In fact, there was copious work in Hollywood doing silent movies and then the “talkies!” There was copious work doing post WWI movies and then WWII propaganda and information films. The Hollywood entertainment business was exploding. The movie industry was immune to the collapse of Wall Street. Eric and Sam’s fathers would work 70 hours a week and spend precious little time with the boys. They boys would grow up on the streets and beaches of Los Angeles, California. The most stressful event was leaving the beach when the sun went down over the Pacific.
The tail gunner was named Jack Williams. He hailed from the Smith Valley of East Central Nevada. He was 25 years old, average height, slender with large ears and oddly massive hands and feet. Hands that had worked cattle ranches since he was 10 years old. He had been selected by lottery and drafted into the military.
The Williams family were originally California ranchers. In May 1869, a few members of the family moved to Nevada. They would take 3 Conestoga wagons, 3 dozen horses, 20 Oxen, 10 milk cows, and dozens of calves east to Nevada.
By 1869, the Transcontinental railroad service roads had allowed much quicker travel over the Sierra Nevada mountains. In addition, there were huge swaths of Federal land in Nevada that was excellent for cattle grazing. There was water too. The family homesteaded the Smith valley south of Carson City. Eventually, they would control most of the valley. Overtime, the 10 milk cows and calves would grow to a sizable heard, but never become a huge operation. For the most part, the Williams family would raise cattle every year and drive them to the stockyards of Reno for sale. If it was a good year, the sale of the steer would be enough to feed the family and buy supplies for the winter.
Jack Williams was a Buckaroo. He had never finished high school and was the oldest son of Abigail Williams. Abigail was a Nevada cowgirl and a raving beauty. Her normal dress was, Levi jeans, cotton long sleeves, and Cowboy boots. At 40 and after three boys, she still had the figure of a 20 year old, and could work the range as good as any man. Every time she went to town, she would be hit on by men. They could not help themselves after seeing the raging Nevada beauty with tight faded Levi button down jeans ,and the ass of a female movie star. Her good looks, wholesomeness, and modest dress, were irresistible to the city men.
At night, she would let down her long sandy blonde and gray hair and brush it out, and read to her boys. The cabin had no electricity or indoor plumbing. The bathroom was out back. A trip to the bathroom in winter at 20 below zero was a real treat. The outside well had a hand pump, and the 3 room cabin was heated by a 500 pound cast iron cooking stove that was 30 years old. There was no phone and the Postman was the information life line. A trip to Carson City for supplies was 70 miles by horseback or buckboard.
In 1940, she finally was able to purchase a 1935 1.5 ton Ford truck with a bad engine. A mechanic friend fixed the engine for a side of beef and an old 3030 marlin lever action rifle. She could now haul a couple of 800 pound steer to market, and trade directly for supplies and cash.. The local meat shops knew her to have the best tasting beef on the slopes of the Sierras and always gave here good money. A nice 1000 pound steer could sell for $150. This meant food for the kids and alfalfa for the cows and horses when the snow was a foot deep. The butcher was sweet on Abigail and never missed an opportunity to gaze at Abigail’s awesome ass in those nice fitting Levi 501s. She knew what he was up to and didn’t mind too awful much, especially when there were winter supplies piled high on he stake bed.
Abigail Snodgrass was from a poor family that lived in Virginia City. Her father worked the Comstock lode. Abigail met Henry Williams at a harvest festival in Carson City. They fell in love, eloped, and were married when Abigail was 15 years old. She gave Henry a healthy son, before her husband was sent to fight Germans on the Western front in 1918. He was killed by a German Howitzer shell and his body never recovered.
Abigail never remarried but had a few boyfriends here and there, hence Jack had younger brothers from a different father. She had found that most men could not abide the harsh and remote rancher lifestyle in Nevada. A life style that demanded hard work, discipline, and work ethic. All the men she met wanted to marry her and move her to Carson City or Reno. She found city life to be stuffy and boring and so did her boys. She would be damned if a city slicker took her off her ranch and made her play house in the city.
Wild Nevada Mustangs
Abigail lived to be 92 and died in 1994. When she was 70, she had fallen from a horse as it avoided a cattle loading ditch. The fall had broken her shoulder,and upper back. It took a year to heel. After that, she couldn’t even throw a saddle on her horse. Up until the accident, she road the range and performed the round up with her boys every year. In fact, she had lived at the cabin for 45 years. The boys moved her to a small home on 2nd street in Carson City. A home with electricity, plumbing, and windows that went up and down. There she would live off of her husband’s VA benefits, and a small SS check. The home became the “bunk house” for her 12 grand children and 17 great grand children.
By the time Jack Williams was 11 years old, he could ride a horse, round up cattle, mend fences, and shoot a deer with open sites at 300 yards. He knew how to field dress a mule deer, rope cattle, cutoff bull nuts, and do everything related to keeping a cabin weatherproof, warm and stocked. He was Abigail’s man of the house.
Abigail and the younger sons could handle the yearly round up by themselves. They knew the Smith Valley foothills like the back of their hands. They knew where their herd of 50 cows and 50 calves would be when it was time to steer the calves. Occasionally they would miss a calf in the pines, and it would come back the next year as a 1000 pound bull. By then it took one man, a half dozen little britches buckaroos, and two horses pulling in opposite directions to hold down a young bull before they could cut the testicles off.
At a small cattle operation, rounding up and steering 50 calves might take 2 to 3
days. At a large operation, it would take weeks and several hired hands. Jack Williams would start working ranches as a cowhand when he was 15. By the time he was 25, he had worked ranches from Smith valley to Spring valley, and The Carson Sink to Elko and Ely. He would send most of his money back to Abigail via the mail. The rest he would spend drinking and chasing women in bars. He knew that when he ran out of money, it was a month “broke at the bunkhouse.”
In the field, Jack only required the following: His sturdy well trained 10 year old gelded quarter horse paint mix named “Chipper,” A saddle, rope, a fir lined Levi jacket, rain jacket, gloves, Levi jeans, Texas made cowboy boots, insulated underwear, a few tools, a knife, a Stetson hat, and a 410/.45 over and under single shot rifle. Jack wore a homemade deerskin belt with a Silver dollar buckle.
Jack loved the out doors. He especially loved the Ruby Marshes south of Elko. The Ruby valley was abundant with mule deer, rabbits, quail and Nevada sage hen. The streams were filled with trout. The marsh teaming with bass. Whenever he came across wild game, he would easily dispatch the critter with one shot. He used 410 gauge shot gun shells for quail, and trout, and .45 caliber for deer. Jack could down a deer on the run through the withers at 300 yards off the back of a horse with one shot. One shot and one kill. He would then field dress it, throw it on the back of his horse and walk back to camp with his saddle draped over his shoulder. .
Jack could do everything with deer meat from sausage to hamburger, and steaks. His favorite was fresh deer heart and liver. Some nights at the field house, they would have trout, and the next night sage hen breast. In the mornings it was buckwheat pancakes, eggs and deer sausage. The water was fresh off the Ruby range, pure and tasty. On pay day, the crew would take the 60 mile dirt road ride to Elko in the back of a 1932 Ford cattle truck. Once there, they would get fired up. Some of the men preferred the brothels and the gambling halls. Jack preferred chasing good Nevada women and a cold draft beer.
On one occasion, Jack drank too much, started a fight over a girl and ended up at the sheriff’s hotel. The sheriff knew Jack and let him sleep it off. The next morning, The sheriff and two military fellas woke him up, and the sheriff tells Jack, ” we were gonna run this out to you at Shanty town, but since you was here, we can give it to ya now. I guess the fellas here are gonna take you to the railroad station, and put you on a train for Reno. Seems your headed for the induction center!”
Jack thought about his horse “Chipper,” but realized that the 60 mile trip on dirt roads and then hauling Chip to Reno would take days and cost a fortune and money he did not have. He knew the rancher would take care of Chip, feed him, and ride him, after all, Chip was the best cow pony in Nevada. After the war, the first thing Jack would did was retrieve his horse, guns, and gear. He would then pay a visit to that gal in Elko. He showed up one day in his Army Air Corps uniform after travelling by rail from St. Louis. He told her that he had been saving money for about ten years and that she was all he could think about in England. He told her that he wanted to start a life with with her. She said yes and the rest is history.
In the beer halls of London, Jack would always take his Stetson hat. Inevitably, the “Piccadilly Raiders” would coalesce around him and seek to gain his fancy. He had seen the filthy stinking brothels of Nevada, could not abide, and had no interest in British whores. He was still thinking about a gal in Elko and if his horse was well fed, brushed and shod. He had high standards for women, and never gave the Piccadilly Raiders a second thought. To him, a good women meant love, family, sons, daughters, wealth, and a lifetime of companionship. To him, finding a good Nevada wife was the most important thing a fella could do. Bad horses were a dime a dozen, a good horse and a good woman were worth their weight in gold. Meanwhile, Eric and Sam were arm in arm with two British babes and were headed to the hotel for a good rogering. All Jack could think about was the gal in Elko, the smell of fresh Nevada sage, and his horse Chipper……
1935 Ford 1.5 ton truck
A P-51 Mustang Story: Part 11
The B-17G ball turret was a cramped and foreboding location. The glass confines were spacious for a midget, but claustrophobic for a person of normal height. The smallest person on the crew by design was the ball turret gunner. One could not be afraid of heights either, since the ball turret was glass and looked straight down. in fact, one’s entire body was located outside the aircraft in a class ball.
The Ball Turret gunner was the youngest member of the crew. His name was Pete Contreras and he was a Mexican from Arizona. In fact, his family had lived in Tuscon , Arizona since 1821. The origins of the family came from a Spanish garrison soldier and an Apache squaw. In 1853, during the Gadsden Purchase, the Spanish soldier had died leaving the Apache Squaw with 6 children, land and a modest adobe home. The Spanish Colonel had also traded military supplies to local native Indians for cash and valuables, therefore, he left a sizable fortune to the Apache princess when he died of a heart attack in the 120 degree weather.
The Contreras family battled white homesteaders for control of their own land until Arizona became a state. The deed to the land was a matter of record, but the gun and rifle kept everything legal. If a white settler sought to take the land, they would have to contend with 4 big Mexican boys armed with carbines and swords of Spanish steel and riding white Spanish stallions.
Pete’s father moved to Phoenix in 1905. He would build a small fortune hauling man and materials along the Apache trail during the building of Roosevelt dam. With the money he made, he purchased 10 acres at auction in what is now called central Phoenix.
Pete would be born in 1926 at the family’s Orange grove on a very hot August day. He would be the 6th child in a family of 8 children and a devout Catholic. Pete’s real name was Ricardo Esteban Contreras. His father started calling him Petie for some reason when Ricardo was about 5 years old. The story goes that Ricardo would always try and help his mother in the orange grove and get peat moss all over himself when he dug around with a play shovel. Anyways, the name stuck.
In school, he went by Pete. In school he did very well and was a model student. Most of his peers liked him and responded well to his white broad smile and simple kindness.
Pete was an excellent baseball player. If he wasn’t studying, or helping in the Orange grove, he was at somebody’s dirt lot playing baseball with the kids in the neighborhood. . Pete was honest, smart, hardworking and cantankerous. He loved a good joke, and loved to laugh. Pete would give people a chance to be a friend. Anyone who treated him like folks should be treated, One gained Pete’s respect and receptivity. If you shit on him, it was a done deal, one would lose his respect and friendship. He expected others to treat him with respect, kindness, and honesty. If one could not rise to that level of civility, Pete had no time for you.
The Contreras family raised all their children to be honest, hardworking, kind, clean and respectful. They taught them to take advantage of education and listen to their teachers. Pete’s father was a disciplinarian and would not tolerate any inappropriate behavior from his children. His children would get the belt for lying, hence, Peter was honest to a fault. Pete was 5 foot 4 and 110 pounds soaking wet, but he could hit a baseball over a hanger. In high school, he maintained a 3.8 GPA, and was an all sport athlete. Several universities were interested in the young ball player that could pitch, field and bat .350.
Ricardo’s mother cried when he was drafted. She wanted her son to be the first to graduate college in the family. He had worked so hard and now the war was taking him away. She cried because her brother had served in Germany in 1918 and had come back from the trenches a broken man ridden with issues related to the horror of war and killing.
Jack liked him immediately.
Ricardo Esteban Contreras was drafted by lottery. At the Phoenix induction station, they slated him for ball turret gunner for the B-17.
A P-51 Mustang Story: Part 12
The Bombing Navigator was named Bruce Owens. He hailed from Ruston, Louisiana in Lincoln Parish. His father was a Baptist minister. Bruce had been studying engineering at Louisiana Technical University, and had finished his second year. He joined the Army Air Corps in January 1942.
Being the son of a Baptist minister and a grade school teacher from the South, Bruce was a solid citizen and a likable positive fella. His father had taught him to be kind, honest, considerate of others and a role model in the parish. His mother, a beautiful Southern Belle, had conditioned him to become a polished, mannered, and soft spoken Southern gentleman. As a military officer, Owens was a cut above the fold. When he graduated Bombing Navigation school, the Army Air Corps kept him on as an instructor.
His mother had taught him to listen, learn and be studied and disciplined. She taught him that one can learn a little something from everybody. His parents taught him to always look at the good in people, and give all people human equity, hence, people would always gravitate to Bruce. Just as folks would tell his father their personal stories, many would share their life’s story with the young Owens. He always looked for the good in people, and the crew sought sanctuary in his eyes and presence. He would look for the good in the most heinous of personalities. To him, seeing the bad in people was simply a failure of his own character. He knew that he could see the good in people if he just had a little time to get next to them.
Over the years, his father had been to countless funerals, and while he was strong for his parishioners in public, he would cry after every funeral. His mother would end up teaching for 60 years and positively affect the lives of thousands of children. His family had lived in the back woods of Louisiana forever it seemed.
Everyone knew each other. Everyone lived, worked, raised families and died on the same plots of land that their forefathers had homesteaded. Captain. Owens had developed a wide interaction envelope and understood people. Just as his father and mother, he liked people. He had been to weddings and Baptisms and family get togethers for his entire life. He was a good kid.
Now, he was the guy that lined up the B-17 via the Norden bomb site and unleashed 8000 lbs of bombs on enemy territory. On today’s mission hundreds of B-17s would release their bombs when Owens pushed the button.
Today, when Owens in the lead B-17 cell pushed the bomb release button, 100 B-17 bombers would unleash 800,000 lbs of bombs on the Munich rail head. In fact, the 450 B-17s of the center cell over Munich that day would drop 3,600,000 lbs of ordinance. The entire 1000 aircraft “3 cell” bombing force ,all told, would drop 8 million pounds of high explosives on Munich, Germany.
While they would hit the military target, they would also hit countless civilian structures and kill entire families. They would kill tens of thousands of people, but mostly women and children. This weighed heavily on the family oriented Southerner. So much so, that he developed a nervous tick and stomach problems. In just a few years of military service, Owens had become skinny, nervous and suffered from constant heart burn. His drinks of choice were milk and Pepto-Bismol. Inevitably after every bombing mission, Owens would puke his guts out.
Owens had been on (24) B-17 missions. Every mission was a learning event and trial by fire. One would take off in the morning and return a different person. The physiological aspects of high altitude bombing in a stressful situation would change anyone. The individual would go through ordeals that tested every aspect of their personal being and core. Every personality trait would be analysed , synthesized, or discarded. Every level of a person’s humanity or lack there of would be exorcised. The physiological effects of high altitude bombing would change people’s personalities for the better or the worse. Every mission would be a learning experience and a test of courage. What happened in the field stayed in the field.
For Owens, there were no more learning experiences. He had been tested and rose to the occasion. He had seen countless bombers go down from his glass view. He had seen waist gunners cut in half by Flak. He had seen pilots ridden with bullets from head on Messerschmidt attacks. He had seen German fighters obliterate a B-17 as it lost altitude and lost the protection of B-17 guns. He was the same guy on every mission. A fella that could keep his eye on the target while all manner of Flak ordinance burst around him. A fella that became sickened whenever he sat in the nose of a B-17 or felt the mechanism of the Norden. For him, there was no glamour in flying. It was an ordeal full of death and dying.
He had flown missions in country while in the 728th Airlift squadron since February 1944. He was there when German aces would kill dozens of bombers in one raid. He was there when all one saw was dried blood, spent casings, and wounded gunners huddled together at the radio operator’s bulkhead. He was there when all one heard was the hum of engines and cold wind blowing through shot up air frame and blasted out glass. He was there when the ambulances would haul hundreds of crewmen to the hospitals when the mission was over.
Owens was on autopilot. Once his last mission was complete, he was done. He was going back to Louisiana. He was going back to school. he was going back to loved ones, community, good food, and beautiful Southern women. He was going back to hunting deer in the fields and woods of Northern Louisiana. He was going back to the fishing, the craw fish, and the gumbo. He was going back to his friends that he had known since he became aware. He was going back to the Southern lifestyle of nourishing people and life long friends. “Screw this,” he would utter under his breath. He had been in the service for only two and a half years. Moreover, he had performed 4 bombing missions a month for only six months. The rest of the time was spent thinking about the events of each mission. It felt like a life time. Screw this! I will pay my dues and get the hell out of this. But just as the Robert E. Lee’s army would walk barefoot for 60 miles as they escaped the trenches of Petersburg for Appomattox, Owens would do his duty for honor and country.
During trips to London, Owens and Contreras preferred the sights and churches to British bars and British whores. Owens would wait as Contreras prayed in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Soho Square.
A P-51 Mustang Story: Part 13
Having traveled the world as a military dependent, as well as a C-141B/C Flight Engineer in the United States Air Force Reserves, I understand that America is a melting pot. Every region of America is diverse and has developed it’s own sense of self and culture. From the inner cities of New York to the South Texas, or the coast of Florida to Seattle, Americans across this country have their own unique identities. America is a splendid mosaic of diverse immigrants, people, religion, culture. This diversity is the fabric and strength of America itself. We are a people of common purpose. A people that believe in the ideals of freedom, democracy and opportunity for all. While, the people of America may originate from every spot on the globe, we become one community. One American community. A community that lives , loves, and seeks to raise successful families in a civilized and free society.
The Navigator on the crew was named Paolo Gilbero Giordano. He was a big Sicilian from Little Italy in Manhattan, New York. At 6’3″ and 230 pounds he was the biggest man on the crew. Paolo had black shiny hair, a polished demeanor, and always wore his military clothing in good order. The tall dark and handsome Italian made the Army Air Corps uniform look good.
The Giordanos had immigrated to America in the 1890s. His grandfather was a handyman, and dock worker. “Polly” grew up on the streets of Manhattan where a kid had to be tough and have street smarts. James Braddock the boxer was Polly’s hero. His father had worked with Braddock on the docks.
From the time Giordano was 8 years old, he had a job. From paper boy to bagging groceries or painting tenement apartments, Paolo knew how to hustle and make money. After school, he would train to be a boxer at the same gym James Braddock trained at. In those days, he was a tall and skinny kid. In a family of two parents and 7 children, Paolo never got enough to eat, and was always hungry. During the Great Depression, the family could barely keep oatmeal and pasta on the table. Living in the tenements of “little Italy” on Canal street, Paolo understood the value of a dollar. When selected for navigator school in the Army Air Corps in 1942, Paolo gained 40 pounds on military food.
Paolo was the crews favorite son. A robust and positive fella with a huge laugh, he always livened up the crew when anyone was down. At chow, Paolo would always tell a good joke just to get others to laugh and enjoy the meal. For him, eating chow with the crew was an event in itself. If one was going to eat chow with Paolo, one had to be cheerful and happy. Even while living in the tenements of New York, the Giordano family celebrated life especially at dinner time.
Lt. Giordano would stay in the military for over 30 years. He would be a Navigator on several different aircraft and serve in Korea, and Vietnam. By the time he retired in 1972, he would amass 15,000 flying hours and over 4500 sorties.
During the war, he would send money back to his mother and eventually move her to a little house on Long Island. She would send him care packages with copious Italian treats from sausages to olives, cheeses, and pasta. These goodies he would share with the crew during long missions. If you got a tap on the shoulder, it was Paolo with a piece of cheese or something waiting for you to slide your mask and open your mouth. Paolo was good to everyone on the crew. To him the crew was family.
Whenever the crew went to London, they never worried about getting into fights. They knew that it only took a small punch from Polly to knock out a British drunk or rambunctious enlisted man.
A P-51 Mustang story: Part 14
The B-17G waist gunners had donned their electrically heated suits. The once comfortable fuselage at 10,000 feet had now become a freezer at 20 thousand feet. During certain parts of the year, a flight at 30,000 feet would see outside temperatures of 60 below zero.
A bare sweaty hand accidentally pressed to the aluminum skin of the aircraft would result in the sticking of skin. A hot cup of coffee would be cold within a few short minutes. Sam impatient for his suit to warm, longed for the beaches of California.He gazed at the White cliffs of Dover some 4 miles below. When he looked to the rear via the bubble window at his waist gun, all he could see were B-17s as far as one’s sight could see.
The Owens crew of the 728th Air Bombardment Squadron was the lead aircraft. All 450 trailing B-17 Flying Fortresses would line up on the lead aircraft in combat boxes of 27 aircraft. At the briefing, all crews were given the order and arrangement of aircraft. To the left of Owens were a crew from the 730th. To his right a crew from the 729th. Like parts of a huge puzzle, one by one the B-17s would line up and then close ranks to less than 300 feet. The tighter the formations, and the more protection the B-17 guns could provide. While this was good for protection against fighters, it was bad for FLAK avoidance. In fact, it was like shooting into a flock of starlings with a shotgun.
A few more minutes would pass and the B-17s would cross the coast line of fortress Europe. In just a few minutes, they may see enemy fighters. One thing they knew was coming was FLAK. It would be shoreline FLAK and would pass quickly when compared to the guns of Berlin, Hanover or, Frankfurt. Inevitably, someone would get hit. Someone would go down.
If a B-17 lost an engine here or sustained battle damage, it was just an hour to the field. At 180 miles per hour, it was only 10 minutes after a turn back to England. If the aircraft had flight control authority, it would take 30 minutes or more at a modest descent rate to get below 2000 feet. A crew could either land or bale out over England. With descent rate of 1000 feet per minute, it still took twenty minutes to descend from 20,000 feet. With a healthy airframe and good engines, one good put the B-17 in a powered dive, but that still took time.
Like the trickle of Northwest raindrops on a tin roof, the FLAK started. First it was one lone burst a mile ahead. Then it was a couple more. Then the FLAK became a storm of bursts. Each blast disturbing the airflow on the B-17 and feeling like a bump in a road. Paolo as lead Navigator was seated at the Nav table and plotting courses. Today, he was the man. He would have to do his job and navigate 450 B-17s to the farthest reaches of Southern Germany. Paolo was up to the task and he knew it. He wasn’t intimidated a bit. In his right hand he held a rosary. While he was confidant in his navigation skills, he was scared to death.
A moment later, the 730th crew B-17 to the left of lead would take a direct hit at the wing root as Paolo looks on. Unlike the B-24, the B-17 wing did not fold. The bellie turret would be obliterated, but no one killed. Paolo pisses himself.
The front spar would take the hit with collateral damage to the #3 engine lower engine cylinders and the #4 engine propeller.The lower wing skin would sustain several holes and tears exposing the inspar rib assemblies and lower stringers. The leading edge would be completely blown off from the wing root to the #3 engine pylonexposing hydraulic, electric and fuel lines. Gas was gushing and misting from the wing, while the #3 engine pumped a heavy oil mist from it’s blown engine. The #4 engine propeller was hit so hard that a blade was bent and the propeller drive shaftbent out of wack, hence the engine shook and vibrated violently.
This B-17 was losing gas, but no fires at this point. The flight engineer knew that it was only a matter time before a chaffed electric line on fluttering wing panels would ignite the fuel. If the heat from the exhaust or the turbo did not start the fire, sparks from the #3 engine coming apart would. Meanwhile, the aircraft shuddered violently.
“We need to shut those engines down and take all electrics off that wing,” the FE yelled to the pilot. The pilot and co-pilot were seasoned pilots and had seen how this condition would quickly lead to an aircraft simply exploding in flight. Within seconds, the copilot had shut down both engines and feathered the props. With help from the FE, they shut off all fuel pumps and electrical devise they could think of. The FE backed them up with pulling circuit protection on all components on the right wing. Then he backed that up with looking at the flight manual to see if he missed anything.
With both engines shut down on the right wing, the pilot instinctively added left rudder to counter the yaw effect. He then cranked in left aileron to lower the left wing. At this point, the FE reinspected the right wing and determined that the right front spar had sustained massive damage and was actually bending upward. Was it actually tearing spar material he wondered? How long will this go on?
The B-17 had began a slow descend and made a long easy turn back to England. The crew then opened the bomb bay doors and dropped their load into the channel leaving the doors open.
The flight engineer recommended not extending the flaps and using emergency procedures to lower the gear when they were over England. He then took another look at the wing. It was bending upward slowly. It was time to get out. A few minutes and they would be over England. Screw the flaps, screw the gear, it is time to bail on this aircraft, he told the pilots
For all practical purposes the aircraft was a flying piece of scrap metal. The wing root was barely hanging on, and the wing was damaged beyond repair. Upon closer inspection,the wing was actually bending at an angle. The flaps were useless. It was only a matter of time before the wing snapped off.
The 730th aircraft commander was a coldly realistic leader that only had the live’s of his crew in mind. He was a line flyer, hated politics and did not give a damn about the relatively new B-17. He put the lives of his crew way beyond politics or heroics. He would not attempt tobelly land this beat up bomber with fuel leaking and a messed up main landing gear. he would never try to be some kind of idiot hero at his crews expense. He was on the same page as the FE on this one. At this point, they were simply lucky to be alive. The B-17 was called Busted Betty. The nose art was of Betty Boop with huge tits. The pilot stated” sorry girl, but we gotta go!”
After a small discussion with the co-pilot,and FE, they determined that it was time to go. He was worried that the aircraft would role when he left the controls. He had heard of this situation before. The pilot would stay in the seat and at the controls cranking in full rudder and some aileron while all crew members bailed through the bomb bay doors. Once the pilot released the controls, the aircraft would yaw and roll.This in turn would make it very difficult for anyone to gain access to the bomb bay as the fuselage rotated, twisted and turned. The pilot would be left bouncing around in the fuselage as the aircraft sun into the ground. To avoid this type of situation, the FE and Copilot tied the Yoke and rudder controls with safety wire after turning the aircraft back towards the channel. The autopilot was inoperative and probably could not have worked well with the damaged right wing anyways.They had been over land for the last 5 minutes, and they were ready to go.
The aircraft commander in a calm voice over inter-phone tells everyone on the crew that they are bailing out. He then sounds the bail out horn. Everyone exits the damaged airplane through the bomb bay without incident. When the FE pops his chute, he looks back at the aircraft, and to his amazement, the aircraft is flying straight and level back to Germany with not a soul on board. It will be several hours before Busted Betty the B-17 runs out of fuel. In fact,at 10,000 feet and a reduced throttle setting, the Busted Betty is probably going to fly all the way to Africa, big tits and all, unless it hits the Alps. The FE laughs to himself as he hits the English country side and rolls out.
On the ground, the entire crew is alive and unhurt save a broken ankle. They would live to fight another day, as they take in the fresh air of England. They were alive and well. All of them. The pilot plops a cigarette in his mouth and lights it as the crew makes their way across the manicured fields of England. They quickly stumble across a farm house and are invited in.
“Would you Yanks like some tea,” the housewife asks. “Yer damn right!” the pilot replies with a smile!
The old farmer speaks up and says, ” you know if you flew at night like the Lancaster, you wouldn’t get shot down like ya do!”
“Do you take honey?” the farmer’s wife asks. “You bet I do,” replies the 730th pilot as he gives her a broad smile and kind eyes. Oh my word, it’s fresh too……he continues….Ill be a son of a gun…..
The crew settles down and waits for the British home front volunteers to show up. It’s guaranteed that they saw the crew jump and the chutes etc. The radioman did his job too. He had given a solid position report over the appropriate frequency.
Meanwhile, the tail gunner’s foot is the size of a grape fruit. With a wide grin on his face, the tail gunner chuckles to himself and sips the hot Earl Gray tea. A broken ankle will not allow him to fly for several months. He feels bad for the rest of the crew. With 27 missions under his belt, he had flown as “Tail end Charlie!” He had watched as ME109s would obliterate the tail area of a B-17, killing the gunner. This was his 4th crew. He had been passed from crew to crew. His first crew had pretty much been killed off. His second crew could not get along with him because he would always complain and start fights with others. His third crew could not stand his paranoid negative demeanor and collectively engaged in isolating him from the basic communication of the crew.
The tail gunner’s current crew seemed to be a fit. Dozens of missions, death, living and working in close quarters had changed the interaction envelope. The rest of the crew simply accepted the gunner and paid zero attention to his attitude and gibberish.
The bottom line is this 730th crew was a hodgepodge mix of “Rebels.” They knew their jobs, towed the line, and did not give a damn if the tail gunner had a few issues. They were all products of the “Great Depression!” Each had a story to tell of hardship, hunger, bankruptcy, and mental depression. Each could tell you that they had eaten oatmeal three times a day. Each had a family member that was unemployed or standing in a soup line. Each may have had a father that literally begged for a job. Some had a father that suffered from mental issues stemming from trench warfare. Some had lived in ghettos.
This tail gunner was 18 years old and had lied about his age to join the military. He had grown up in foster homes and orphanages his entire life. He had never been chosen by a family, He had no one to call mom and no one to call dad. His demeanor was a product of years of rejection and conditioning.
“How you doing champ?” the aircraft commander asked the tail gunner. “guess were gonna lose you for awhile,” the pilot adds.
” You did a damn good job for us,” he continues. “Thank You sir,” responds the tail gunner. He then turns away to gaze at the beautiful fields of England as a tear drops from his left eye. This was the closest thing to a family he had ever had. The thought of leaving this crew was dreadful to the young airman.
Somewhere over Holland, a single B-17 was flying at 10,000 feet and 150 miles an hour. “Busted Betty” was heading south. upon closer inspection of “Busted Betty’s nose art found a damaged aircraft skin panel fluttering in the wind. This condition gave one the impression that big titted “Busted Betty” was flashing her ass over Germany.
He had protected their ass on numerous
A P-51 Mustang Story: Part 15
From his navigator’s window, Paolo watched as the sun came up over Germany. This event had become routine. The B-17 and it’s crew would pass the coast of Belgium, Holland or Germany just as the sun peaked from the east. Some times they flew over France. Now that the German Luftwaffe was a tiny fraction of it’s former capability, the mission planners flew directly to target only avoiding heavy FLAK locations. Today, they were over Belgium well south of Brussels. They would continue south to Verdun, France, then the city of Nancy. The bomber group would then turn east and fly towards Munich via Freiburg and south Ulm.
In early 1943, there would have been dozens of German fighters south of Brussels. The Germans had found that the 88mm anti aircraft gun was more deadly and cost effective than a German fighter when it came to downing a Flying Fortress. .
Erwin Rommel had used the 88m and crews with devastating affect against British armor in North Africa. During the early parts of of the North Africa campaign, the Africa Corps became very adapt at killing British tanks with the 88. Rommel had little to work with. At times, his units would have very few Panzers left and had to make up for it with the deadly accuracy of the German 88 crews. Rommel would send in a dozen or so tanks engage British armor, turn tail and run. The British tank units would take the bait and give chase only to run into tactically located and camouflaged 88 guns. The 88 crews would wait until the British tanks were in a kill zone and then cut loose.
The German 88 was all mechanically operated. It utilized a small base turret concept that was operated by turning a wheel. The elevation of the barrel was also accomplish by gears and the turning of a steering wheel style devise. These wheels were operated by a crewman that sat at a seat. A good 88 team could hit a jeep while it was moving. They could also keep up a rate of fire of one shell every 3 seconds. A battery of (3) 88mms could lay down fire on a British tank at a rate of 1 shell every second.All of the ordinance was loaded by hand.
The 88mm had become the weapon of choice for killing B-17s. The Germans poured the gun into the coast line of Europe.
By July 1944, the German Air Force was running out of pilots with no way no replace them. Gas was at a shortage. Pilots were at a shortage. Even then , the Germans were building thousands of ME109s in 1944. Over 16,000 were built in 1944 alone.
Paolo looked at the drift meter of his B-17. The winds aloft were quite brisk that day. The B-17 navigator by July 1944 had the benefit of a massive catalog of aerial photo reconnaissance. Every heading and turn could be visually validated by observing visual cues from the terrain below. Paolo checked his drift and then gave the lead pilot a slight heading change to offset the winds and aircraft drift. According to his maps and visual observations, the bomber force was right on the money. “Yupp” thats the river bend next to the forest area adjacent to a mountainous terrain, we are good.” Paolo utters to himself. The next visual reference and the turn to the east will be at Nancy south of Verdun, France.
About this time, the squadron of P-47 Thunderbolts that had been flying lead escort was running out of gas. It was time for these little friends to bug out as a P-51 Mustang squadron comes into view. It is Miltie. Milts squadron had attacked the FLAK batteris on the coast of Belgium earlier that morning as the Mid cell of B-17s were flying at 20,000 feet over head. It was still dark, so the FLAK guns gave away their positions with every blast of their 88mms. Milt’s squadron had flown 100 feet off the deck across the channel. Their only altitude reference was the sparkling of waves. The FLAK crews did not know they were coming. Many of the P-51s scored several hits on unsuspecting FLAK gunners. Milt had lined up his right wing on a FLAK team and cut lose the .50 caliber machines while strafing from left to the right. All six guns raked across the gun emplacement. he could see the brilliance of the tracer rounds hit the gun emplacement as it fired it’s last round ever.
The tone deaf Germans with cupped ears never heard the P-51 coming when the 6 guns cut loose killing every single German soldier manning the gun. Some were as young as 17 years old. The oldest was a 50 year old that had served in WW1. He had been pressed into service again in June 1944. This fella had survived through 5 years of trench warfare only to be killed instantly by a .50 caliber tracer bullet through the back of the skull.
At the end of WW1, Ernst Vogler would head back to his home in Bavaria. He grew up on the streets of Munich. In 1919 he went back to the streets of Munich. He was there during the Wiemar Republic and massive inflation. He watched as the Brownshirts marched. He looked on as the NAZI cyclone began to spin. After 5 years in the trenches of Western front, Ernst did not believe in anything except unfiltered German cigarettes, beer and schnitzel. He worked as a Gasthaus cook and lived on the 4th floor of an old Munich apartment building.
At one time he had been married and had two sons. Both of his sons had been sent off to die at Stalingrad. Ernst was slender and emaciated looking. His eyes were deep set with perpetual dark rings. By 3 O’clock, he would always sport thick gray razor stubble. His uniform was too big and the German helmet sat low on his head. Ernst smoke one cigarette after the other. Some days he would finish 3 packs in a day. At the end of his shift, he would head to the bar, drink beer and schnapps until he was kicked out. While at the bar, he would say nothing. The only communication was his sad deep set eyes and the facial theatrics and mouth expressions he would engage in during the draw and exhale of stale German cigarettes.
To remain sober meant thinking about his life, the trenches, his dead sons and the demise of the Germany he loved. When sober, he had to think about the grotesque nature of the NAZI party and how it had infected one of the most advanced nations on earth. There wer no prosts to Germany, just cheap Schnapps and a shadow at the dark end of the bar.
The round blew almost his entire head off leaving only his jaw still attached to remnants of skull. His body remained standing with hands cupping ears that no longer existed,. After 2 full seconds he toppled over. Unlike the soldiers that died painful deaths in the trenches of the Western front, this fella existed and then did not exist. It is simple as that. He did not have to deal with lunges filled with puss and pain from mustard gas. He did not have to deal with infection, amputation or the loss of limbs in “No-mans land.” One second he was a live and split second later he was dead. It happened so fast that his brain could not account for anything. Instead of dying an excruciating death at 18 in the trenches of France, he died at 50 with zero physical pain. This paled when compared to the mental pain he had suffered from 1914 to July 1944 . 30 years of PTSD. 30 years!!!!
Once they had cleared the coastal FLAK area via a single gas saving pass, Milt’s fighter squadron had climbed to altitude on a course to intercept the B-17s at Verdun and before the Bombardment group made the turn at Nancy. They had flown east of the B-17 bombardment group over the Ruhr and heavily populated areas in Germany just looking for something to kill. There were some 650 American fighters over Germany this day. Some at 20,000 feet. Some at 30,000 feet. Many on close bomber escort, while many strafed everything of military value at 500 feet or lower. All told, some 50 fighter squadrons were involved. Every mission planned in order to use precious fuel effectively so all could make it back to England. The combat radius of a P-51 Mustang changed dramatically. Fuel consumption on a high speed low altitude strafing mission used much more gas than bomber escort speeds at altitude.
The P-51 Mustang could go close to 400 miles per hour down low and simply suck the gas. At altitude, itcould go over 400 miles per altitude in the thin air. During the escort phase of flight it had to slow to 180 miles an hour to stay with the B-17s. The gas consumption was way less. Every mission had to balance distance, fuel consumption with escort and strafing. After killing the FLAK emplacements Milt’s crew began a slow gas saving climb to 15,000 feet. They would fly a heading intercept course at ferry flight speed until they say the B-17 contrails. The British pilots did not have this luxury as night bombers. An 8th Air Force bombing group would leave 4000 contrails in the sky to and from the target area. It was like a huge highway in the sky. All one had to do is look for it after flying and intercept heading.
Paolo stays on his drift meter lens. He lines up on roads and edges of fields to verify the drift angle. The clear day over France allows him to make out the thousands of bomb craters and the grassed over trenches of the Meuse-Argonne offensive. The B-17 is flying over the WW1 battlefields that signaled the end of the German military in 1918. This is the place of the “Lost battalion.” A place where the Dough-boys gave their lives. Utter thousands of American soldiers had died in the fields and forests of France fighting the German soldier. Paolo visualizes bi-planes in dog fights and the blasts of a thousand infantry guns going off for hours at a time. He visualizes the trenches and mustard gas. He visualizes soldiers going over the top. This is the Western front. “Uh Oh, bogie at at 12 oclock high,” the FE declares over interphone. Paolo is startled from his day dream.
If there was cloud cover, the navigator’s job was much harder. he had to know how fast the aircraft was going, the magnetic heading. head winds, tail winds, cross winds and drift angle. Even slight errors in reckoning, after a few hours flying could put the entire bomber force of course.
All Quiet on the Western Front 1930
My German grand father would fight in the German Cavalry for over 4 years on the Western front…..
A P51 Mustang Story (Part 16)
Behind the leveled aircraft hanger, there was a hole in the fence and small well worn path through the forest. A mile long, the path turned and curved through the dense Bavarian forest. After a few minutes walking, one would be deep into the forest with the smell of flowers, berries, grass, and trees rich to the senses. Occasionally, a small deer would dart across the path and startle the hiker. Here and there, large patches of eatable mushrooms could be seen among brilliant wild flowers and raspberry. In the center of this forest was their meeting place. It was an old wooden bench seat installed high in a tree. The wooden hunter’s bench had been used for decades. Next to the tree was a small hidden meadow with openings n the treetop canopy that let in copious sunshine. Perfect for a picnic on a freshly washed homemade blanket. Complete with the chatter of birds and insects, the warmth of sunlight and the smell of afternoon dew on robust natural grass was kind to the soul.
She was 27 years old and the daughter of a baker. During the day, she could be seen through the large shop window making the dough, and baking the large loaves of bread. At other times, she would load the glass counter case with local jams, milk, butter, and sausages, and stack fresh cases of local beer in the corner.
The large stone built shop had been in business under their family name since Bismarck. Originally, the stone building was a stage stop for travelers between Munich and Salzburg. Travelers could stop, water their horse team, and enjoy a paprika schnitzel or bratwurst. Weary travelers could rent a room for the night. During the time of Bismarck and the Franco Prussian wars, German convoys with thousands of horses and troops would pass by the store. The store owner would be ready ahead of time with copious fresh bread, and sausage. His young daughters dressed in traditional Bavarian cotton dresses would run up and down the columns of marching soldiers and hand out fresh loaves of bread for a few pennies each. The sons would fill the canteens with fresh well water. Hundreds of soldiers would drink from the same stainless steel cup and be thankful. The fresh and pristine well water would momentarily quench the thirst and wash the dust of the march from the throat. The older veterans would ask for the bottled beer and pay the young boys to go and fetch it.
Some loaves were warm and fresh from the oven. The soldiers would pass the loaves around quickly and tear the loaves to pieces. Once the baggage train would arrive at the end of the convoy, the quarter master would buy up anything and everything from the store leaving empty shelves. Soon the sound of marching feet , clapping hooves and squeaky wagon wheels would subside. All was quiet again. The store owner would have bags of German coin, and thousands in German Mark. During the years, the process would repeat time and time again. Young German men marching off to war. Teutonic Knights.
By the spring of 1944, the once little stage stop town of farms and dirt roads was a huge village with a German Luftwaffe Air Base. The bakery now was the center of town. Every day villagers would come to the store and buy the bread and jam. Many of the village folks knew exactly when the loaves were to be removed from the oven and showed up at that precise time every day. This day, it was mid afternoon, and all the fresh bread had been sold. Only a dozen loaves of 1/2 day old bread remained. These would be gone soon. Purchased by the older folks and handicapped veterans that had a different schedule for the day. For them, just the interaction, a warm cup of coffee and some fresh sausage made their day. They came to visit Maria. She would always greet them with a smile and ask them how they were that day. They did not care if the bread was cold, Maria’s beautiful eyes and caring demeanor was their true nourishment for the day. They loved her. If they did not show up, the German girl would send her oldest to check in on them.
Before the rise of Hitler in 1933, Maria was just the young and quiet beautiful daughter. By 1944, her three older brothers had all been killed. The first and oldest brother was taken at the battle of El Alamein. A Panzer 3 tank commander in the Africakorps, he had been killed when his tank ran out of petrol and a dozen British tanks swarmed in. The rest of his tank crew were killed immediately when the tank turret was hit. The initial attack took his leg at the knee, and burned him severely, but he was able to exit the tank and drop to the desert floor. He had raised his hand for help, but the British tanks would not stop for fear of Rommel’s 88s. Herbert would make it through the cool Egyptian night with a tourniquet on his thigh above the knee. The next day he sat in the 120 degree sun, unable to move and without water. By the evening of the next day, the pain from his severely burned back and grotesquely swollen thigh was hell on earth. The stars were out and shining beautifully. He was all alone. Thousands of British troops had passed by during the sun scorched day. He was under the now cold and darkly burned tank to avoid the sun. They did not see him. His throat was burning and he struggled to even make a sound. With all his strength, he pulled the luger 9mm from his side, stuck it to the side of his head and attemptd to pull the trigger. Just then, the warm old hand of an Egyptian scrounger touches his hand and takes the Luger from him. Delusional, Herbert can only here Egyptian gibberish as he is hoisted into a small wooden wheeled cart and jackass.
Maria’s second brother was infantry in the 6th Army. He was a cook. When Field Marshal Von Paulus surrendered in the winter of 1943, Max was marched off to Russia with Hitler’s summer boots and summer clothing. Russia was supposed to fall like Poland,and France. Within hours, when marching in 12 to 24 inches of snow or icy roads at 20 below zero, his boots had become soaked and then frozen. Other soldiers had suffered the same fate. Any German soldier that broke from the forced march because of frost bite, was shot in the head and left at the side of the road. Every day, shots could be heard every couple of minutes as wounded German soldiers collapsed from the march. Four or five abreast, the 90,000 troop prisoner march was miles long and continually left dead bloodied soldiers in it’s wake. At night, it wasn’t as bad, one could not see the hundreds of dead soldiers with the contents of their brains scattered and steaming in the brisk cold air. The unpleasantness of constant executions was replaced with soldiers freezing to death. All one heard was the sound of grown men crying, moaning or going on insane death seeking rampage. Countless soldiers preferred Russian pistol lead to life. By the third day of the march, Max’s feet were frostbit from his toes to the ankle joint. As a cook, He had eaten much better han the infantry troops when the 6th Army was still intact. He had not eaten for 3 days since leaving Stalingrad. Like clock work, one troop after another lost the strength to continue. They could no longer fight the cold and hypothermia set in.
Max became delirious and hallucinated that he was back at the store. His brothers were there. His father was strong and respectful. His mother was there dishing out another heaping spoonful of her tasty blaukraut. They were at the family table eating, laughing, and enjoying a robust beer. Max collapsed tripping the POWs behind him. Most were in this same state of being and could not rise again. Max’s last vision was blurry, but he recognized the leather gloved hand with the Makarov as it came close. He struggled to his feet, while a chorus of pistol shots rang out. Later that night, he would retrieve some stale old bread and sausage from his underwear and eat. The next morning, he volunteered to be a cook and cut down trees.
Maria’s 3rd brother Ludwig was killed at the Warsaw Ghetto. Shot through the chest by a 70 year old pissed off Jewish woman who was being forced from her Ghetto enclave. She had appropriated the pistol from a dead SS troop who had been killed by a ghetto sniper. Once she had shot Ludwig, several troops unloaded their MP40s into her. She went out fighting.
By 1944, Maria’s parents were too old to work and sat together in the back room of the store. Maria not only ran the business by herself, she took care of her parents and many of the older folks in the community. She also took care of her two young boys. Her husband, A Luftwaffe Heinkel HE111 pilot, he had been killed during the Battle of Britain. Downed by a British Hurricane fighter. Maria was 27 years old.
All of her duties finished for the short term, Maria put the “Closed for lunch” sign up and went to meet her lover at their forest meeting place.
His name was Franz and he was a Luftwaffe Ace. Franz was an orphan in his younger days. His father Joseph had died from duty in the trenches of France in 1917. A mustard gas attack went very wrong. The wind had shifted and pushed the gas cloud into the German trench line. The heavier than air mustard gas settled in the trench. Joseph had lost his gas mask in the shuffle leaving him to breath the mustard gas for several minutes. He ended up in a Berlin hospital with lungs badly burned and full of puss. He would eventually die from infection while writhing in agony.
Franz’s mother had known Joseph from childhood. She became grief stricken, went mentally insane, and left the 3 year old Franz at the door step of an orphanage in Berlin. He would remain there until he was 10 years old. In the spring of 1925, he would be adopted by a childless couple. His new father would work as an aircraft designer and pilot, and was from a very rich family in the construction business. By the time Hitler had become chancellor of Germany in 1933, Franz was a very able glider pilot in a Berlin flying club. In 1936, he would become a member of the Condor legion in Spain and fly dozens of sorties in the Heinkel 51. In 1938, he would transfer to the JU87 Stuka Dive Bomber and perform bombing missions in Poland, Rotterdam, and France. In 1941, he was assigned to an Me109G squadron for the Russian campaign. Now he was the lead pilot and test pilot for the ME262 at Nuebiberg Air Base. Unlike many German pilots, Franz had survived. He was an ACE. A German ACE. He was 29 years old.
At an orphanage for 7 years, Franz learned to not speak up for fear of reprisal. This particular Berlin orphanage was known for it’s brutal disciplinary tactics. Franz simply learned to keep is mouth closed and to do what he was told. Of course, many times prospective parents would come to the orphanage and not even consider the shy boy. Meanwhile, Franz witnessed how all of the friends he had made at the orphanage would ultimately leave him behind. The family that finally chose him, were among the Berlin elite, hence, Franz went from one form of institutionalized discipline to another. His new family was very attentive and sought to refine the boy to their expectations. Franz would play the game but refused to come out of the shell he had grown accustomed to. This would change somewhat when Franz’s new father introduced him to model gliders, and then full scale glider flying.
Franz’s father instructed his boy on every aspect of aircraft design, and operations. The quiet shy boy took everything in like a sponge. Soon, and at 14 years old, Franz could perform every aspect of flying a glider from preflight to launch and landing. Years in a glider and navigating the envelope of gravity, thermals, speed, and momentum taught the boy how to fly, and fly well. He may have been quiet and reserve on the ground, but in the air, he was a sound and aggressive aviator. His next challenge was to fly a powered aircraft. He took to this task like it was ordained. By 1934, he was recruited by the Luftwaffe.
The Air Base had been built in early 1933. For over 10 years, Maria and her parents saw pilots come and go. Their store would become a local favorite among aviators, and Maria was the main attraction. During the early days of the German Luftwaffe, Maria would see the same fellas come to the store for a great while. By 1943, pilots came and went like match sticks. One day they would be there, and the next day they would be killed by a Redtail.
Franz also saw fellow aviators come and go. First it was the low time guys that served in Russia. Next it was the formidable guys that flew in Africa and France. Finally, only super high time ACEs or young boys with barely 10 hours and no navigation training became prey for American pilots. Just like his days at the orphanage, he never got close to anyone, because they would be gone in a heart beat. Maria noticed how Franz stuck around month after month while hundreds of pilots were recruited and minimally trained for the slaughter. Maria and Franz would eventually meet in the forest and become good friends.
Franz paced back and forth as he waited for Maria to show. He was supposed to be on alert status. In the forest, he could still hear the warning horn sound, so he did not see a problem with climbing through the fence and being AWOL sort of. Besides, he was a test pilot waiting for the newest ME262 to be checked out. In addition, the command structure had their hands full just corralling the new recruits and attempting to teach tactics. Franz’s lack of communicative abilities was ineffective in the training environment, but he was a lucky ACE and always came back with a kill. His specialty became the B-17 and head on attacks. It seems that his experience enabled him to make a kill in very high speed environments. His days as a glider pilot taught him to always preserve speed. Once you get speed, you attempt to keep it in all flight regimes.
Hi she says, startling Franz. “Why Hello there” he replies. He is happy to see her and seeks a hug. He embraces her. He can smell the sent of her beautiful Dark Auburn hair mixed with the smell of flower and baking. The contact with her feeds his soul. He starts to tear up and then asks, how are you? “Very good” she adds! “I have something for you” and she produces his favorite toasted inch thick sour dough bread with melted butter and Frau Klemmer’s marmalade. He eats it hastily and moans mmmmmmm.
Meanwhile, Maria lays down a homemade quilt and sits down. “come and sit,” she orders. Franz eagerly sits down and engages his girl in pleasant chat. Soon, they are laying down facing each other and gazing into each others eyes. Maria grabs his idle hand and places it on her ample breast. She then tells him that she is carrying his child and that he will be a father. Franz immediately freaks out and storms off. The reality has brought back all the memories of his father’s death and abandonment at an orphanage. He does not know what to say, but stops a few paces away and says” I love you!” Just then, the Airfield warning horn sounds and Franz begins to run towards the hole in the fence.
To be continued…..and edited.
Needs edited and spell checked which takes forever
The Tuskegee Red tails attack ME262 base
Franz ran the half kilometer to the hole in the base perimeter fence. He attempted to light a stale unfiltered German cigarette. His face grimacing as he breathed rapidly with the cigarette between his lips at the side of his mouth. The stainless Steel Luftwaffe lighter he had possessed since Spain was low on fluid, was hard to light . and extinguished with the slightest little breeze. Franz gave up and stashed the lighter in his pocket for the time being. He re-positioned the cigarette between his lips in what looked like a kiss. He would breath awkwardly through his nostrils for the remaining meters to the fence line. Once through the fence hole, Franz pulled the Eckstein cigarette from his mouth, and bent over hacking and short of breath. His heart was racing. He was dizzy. He had been a smoker since he was at the orphanage. Almost every single Luftwaffe pilot he ever served with smoked. During operations close to Stalingrad, the air field Ops building would be filled with smokers. Outside, it would be 30 below zero.
Retrieving his prized Luftwaffe “Condor Legion” lighter once again, he finally lit the crumpled cigarette. He took a long hard draw. The nicotine, like some sort of voodoo medicine, seemed to halt his coughing. Resuming his trot to the airfield, Franz retrieved an old bicycle he had stashed behind a hangar. The ME262 he was to operate sat at a camouflaged area in the tree line, at the west end of the ramp. It was a kilometer away. He was late. He was nervous and embarrassed, but no one in the command structure really cared. Franz attended all the briefings and would always show up, and do his job. In some regards he was a celebrity. The flight line officer would not say a thing. All the once strict and by the book officers had either been killed off or evolved and saw the big picture.
Franz jumped on the light brown sun rotted spring seat of the old bicycle. The tires were old , age cracked and low on air pressure. He began to peddle the heavy steel bike. His body would bob up and down. Slowly, the heavy rusted old steel bike gained speed. He would take another long draw on the Eckstein cigarette which was now half way gone. The wind was in his face. His cigarette was gripped in the center of his stained teeth and pointing skyward. The bike was now at it’s lumbering cruise speed.
He could see the aircraft mechanics standing, searching and waiting for him in the distance. Franz could also see that two ME262s had already left their camouflaged revetment areas and were rolling down the taxi way toward the west end of the runway. Franz recollected that these two were a newbie pilot and Col. Ludwig Vogler, the squadron training officer. It wasn’t long before the inexperienced Luftwaffe pilot was on the runway with throttles advanced. Even though the jet was a half kilometer away Franz could tell take off power was set from the copious black sooty exhaust smoke. A micro second later the booming sound of full military would reach his ears. The Airman was rolling.
A few short moments later, the young pilot at 120 KPH passed by Franz from the opposite direction. Franz, was only 20 meters away from the ME-262 when their eyes met. The newbie cast Franz a thumbs up as he passed. They knew each other and had sat at the same table during chow. They never really exchanged many words, but Franz knew the man or the boy rather.
Franz had heard all the stories. He had shared mess with pilots from Spain to the steppes of the Ukraine. He had seen hundreds of ego driven big mouthed pilots come and go. Some were quiet and reserved. Some preferred to listen. Some were close friends. Many were obnoxious, self absorbed, and extremely competitive. Either way, if a pilot made one little mistake or was incompetent, he would not last long. Franz had seen it time and time again. Sitting down for chow with his fellow airman became a silent event for Franz. To him it seemed like the orphanage all over again. One day he would have a friend that he sat to eat dinner with, and the next day his friend would be chosen by a family and gone. Now, death would choose the pilot. Chow time became a constant reminder of this reality. Instead of making friends, Franz chose to remain quiet, polite and distant. The equation was simple, this new pilot was one of dozens that came, flew and may die. It was best to not make him a friend.
Franz wondered if the boy would make it back to the base without being shot down or killed. Franz postured upright on the bicycle, coasted, pulled the cigarette from his mouth, and threw it to the tarmac. He then turned his body and saluted his fellow airman in a show of respect.
The smell of jet exhaust and the brain rattling noise reminded him of where he was, who he was, and what he was about to do for the Fatherland. He was a Luftwaffe pilot and a Luftwaffe Ace. Above all, he was a German. A German fighting for his country. The familiar smells and sounds of the flight line filled him and strengthened his courage. The juices of aviator competence began to flow. His mind was now saddling up for the journey ahead, and he was ready to fly. He was now fully into his role as an air warrior, and his new jet was chomping at the bit waiting for him. The freshly painted fighter would come straight from the factory. A product of German technology, engineering, quality, craftsmanship and pride.
The engines had been ran up and tuned at the test cell, but the virgin aircraft had never left the ground. Several mechanic would inspect every bolt as soon as the fighter was delivered via rail and hoisted to the ground. It was a German made aircraft, and he could depend on it with his life.
Airplanes, the flight line, all the noises, smells, people and purposeful interaction had become Franz;s only home. It had replaced the orphanage. On this day, he was no longer the quiet and withdrawn boy that nobody wanted, he was a well respected German ACE ,and the pride of the squadron.
Franz had just made love to his gal in the forest. Her scent and juices remained. His first love, however, was sitting on the tarmac and waiting for him under camouflaged vale. The ME262 had never been with a pilot before. This was to be it’s first time. Franz trusted the jet and all the solid German mechanics that massaged her being. The ME262 mechanics were the best that Germany had to offer. Many were older and had wrenched on fighters in every theater. Some may have worked on fighters in two feet of snow at 40 below zero at the airfields outside of Stalingrad, Leningrad and Moscow. Some had worked the 120 degree flight lines of North Africa from Tunis to Benghazi. . On this beautiful July day in 1944, these superb Luftwaffe technicians had made certain that this aircraft was airworthy. A salute from these fellas meant that they had done all they could for the pilot. This air machine was safe to fly.
Suddenly from out of a low hanging cloud bank and over the west end threshold of the airfield, a Red-Tail Mustang appeared, the propeller boring and whisking a hole into the remnants of the mist . He could now hear the 12 cylinder engine as the supercharged Merlin powered P-51 Mustang quickly descended into firing position. He was lined up on the new guy. Franz glared as the Mustang passed the same location that his fellow airman had passed only seconds before. Franz could hear every cylinder firing on the Merlin engine in a flowing combustion chorus of sound. He turned his attention to his friends ME262 as the Doppler effect changed the sound and orchestra of the Mustang’s power plant and propeller. Franz flicked his eyes back to the Mustang and gazed at the first black pilot he had ever seen. The pilot was a black Tuskegee airman and he was occupying the same location his friend had occupied a moment before. Instead of a thumbs up, Franz received the finger as the American airman took a gander at Franz and then turned back to focus on his his prey. Franz had thought the warning horn was for the B-17s that were approaching. How did these Mustangs make it to the airfield without encountering the ME109s and FW190s that were already in the air. Apparently, this fella had flown on instruments through uninterrupted low hanging cloud cover to the field. He did not give himself away until he was making the kill.
Franz had heard of blacks flying planes, and this was his first experience with one. According to German NAZI white supremacists Africans were “Untermenchen” and only good for military slave labor. Even in America, German prisoners of war could use a white man’s bathroom and drink at a public fountain when on work details away from the prisoner camps. White NAZI prisoner’s of war could eat in a public establishment while Black soldiers, pilots and officers could not? In America on this July day 1944, Black American patriots that were fighting and dying for the freedom of all America were subject to Jim Crow laws.
On this gorgeous and green German day in Bavaria, this Tuskegee airman was fighting NAZIs. He was not thinking about sitting in the back of the bus or working his father’s share cropper land in Carolina. He was focused on making a kill.
Unaware, the student Luftwaffe pilot approached rotate velocity and scanned his instruments. This was his 10th flight in an ME262 and he did not have the presence of mind to check his 6. The tower would eventually warn him, but it was too late and would not have mattered anyway.
The Red Tail Mustang pilot was an experienced killer and knew his aircraft. This African American pilot was initial cadre of the Tuskegee airman. He was now part of the 99th fighter squadron and had cut his teeth in North Africa. From the beginning, he had to be better than his white counterpart. He had to dress sharper, conduct and communicate better, be smarter, work harder , and operate an aircraft in superior fashion. Moreover, he had been trained by the best Air Force in the world.
In the field, he was on his own. In many cases, he could not trust the military intelligence from some of the white pilots because the communication was strained and ridden with the underpinnings of conditioned racism. Racism that had been taught and re-enforced for centuries. The only fellas that truly had his back were his fellow Tuskegee airmen. He saw racism at home and racism in the Air Force. Captain Marvin Mitchel would become an ACE during WWII only to return to the racism and segregation of the South. The WWII Tuskegee airman would fight and die for our freedoms, but could not eat in a white owned restaurant and use a public bathroom. The Tuskegee Airman would go on to help defeat segregation and become the catalyst for change.
When he was in the air “Mitch” was one with his flying machine. Like a cowboy on a quarter horse. In fact, he owned the sky and was a fully competent pilot. In 1936, Hitler looked on as Jessie Owens became the fastest black man on the planet. Now the fastest black pilots in the world were killing off Herman fat boy Goering’s prized Luftwaffe. Air superiority does not care what color the warrior is.
Mitch had flown fighter escort from Sicily this day in support of the 8th Air Force. He and his small flight of fighters were strafing targets of opportunity on there way back from the bomb run. The first causality that day was a radar Jadwagen that had been giving radar information. By the time he had lined up on the fresh Luftwaffe pilot he had been flying since mid 1941 and had several hundred combat mission under his belt.
Calmly, the Red Tail Ace lowered his nose and started a descend to approximately 50 feet from the runway surface. He was oblivious to the antiaircraft guns directing fire on his aircraft. All he cared about was bringing the sites of the Mustang onto the tail of the smoke laden ME-262 in front of him. At 400 knots, the entire 1.5 kilometer long runway would be in his rear view in short order He only had a few seconds to make the kill. The Red Tail pilot efficiently adjusted his angle of attack. He pulled the trigger on his yoke. There was no leading this target. It was an easy shot. With the touch of the trigger, the guns blazed on the fully loaded and fully fueled 15,000 pound jet fighter. Hundreds of rounds would hit the ME-262 just as it eclipsed take off speed.
The right engine was hit in the turbine section causing the turbine wheel to unbalance, disintegrate , and explode through the side of the engine case. The gyro effect would sling the turbine blade assembly several meters into the air.. Jet fuel under high pressure gushed forth into obliterated burner cans. Still functioning spark igniters and the red hot void of the tail pipe would create a massive fire plume 5 to 10 meters long. Both wing tanks were penetrated and began to explode . Raw Jet fuel began spewing aft ward igniting on the burning engine. Satiated with the kill, the Red tail Ace pulled back on his yoke, and climbed back into a cloud bank to avoid anti-aircraft fire.
The mortally wounded aircraft rolled to the right, nosed down, struck the ground cartwheeling, burning and leaving a trail of burning debris. When the aircraft came to rest on it’s belly, the cockpit area was undamaged save the loss of the glass canopy. Franz could see the young pilot jumping from the now open cockpit. He too was on fire. Instinctively, the pilot ran several meters from the burning wreckage, dropped to the ground and rolled to extinguish the flames. The fire would burn every part of his body that was not covered. He would go through the rest of his life with goggle like burn rings around his eyes where his goggles once were. His neck and face were badly burned. Shrapnel had also severed the bone and muscle of his left collar. With the fires burning on his uniform extinguished, the adrenalin quickly subsided. He began to feel the excruciating pain of his burns. He laid on his back on the cool grass next to the runway. It was giving no relief. The young man felt cheated. He writhed in excruciating pain. He gazed skyward as the wasp nest of Red Tail killers swarmed over him. The last thing he heard before he passed out was the sound of supercharged Merlin engines moaning and groaning above him and the intermittent burst of guns and AKAK . Unlike the utter thousands of German pilots that would die in air battle, this young fella would finish out the war in the hospitals of Munich. He would not be among the 12 million German soldiers and airman that gave their lives for Hitler. He would live to be an old man and cherish every single day with family and friends. He would become a leader in a New Germany.
About this time, a second Red Tail appeared lined up on the squadron training officer about to take the active, and unloaded it’s guns. It was a raking broadside hit. Two dozen rounds of ordinance hit the right wing. The salvo would then walk it’s way to the on looking, terrified and screaming Col. Ludwig Vogler. The officer was hit with a half dozen 50 cal rounds to the torso and head which bloodied and blew out the cockpit canopy glass and structure. The aircraft exploded into a massive ball of fire.
Franz skidded the old black bike to a stop at his new ME262 that was fresh from the factory. The engines were running as he threw on his chute, goggles and helmet. A moment was spent talking with the mechanic and the flight line officer. Franz only needed a the heading and location of the B-17 cell. He had flown over Germany since the early 1930s and knew every airfield and every landmark. He could navigate Germany like the back of his hand. It did not matter if it was dark, overcast or clear in a million. All he needed to find the B-17s was their latitude, longitude and heading, and he would stalk them for the kill.
For the moment, it seemed the P-51 air assault was over. The tower gave the thumbs up for take off. Franz and his aircraft were exposed and he had no choice but to take off.
Franz advanced the throttles and went across the grassy area between the taxi way and runway. The front tire skidded, skipped and struggled to turned onto to the active runway. Once aligned, Franz fire walled the throttles. He checked the RPM and EGT and vowed to recheck them when he was airborne. He understood the limits of the engine, but for now, he was pouring the coals to it. At best, the the Jumo 004 engine was good for 25 hours of operation. This virgin aircraft was now his bitch and he would ride it hard.
Unlike the ME109 he had flown in Russia, the ME262 took copious runway and was slow to accelerate. Franz inpatient, looked over his shoulder and scanned for another fighter. He then checked his gauges and airspeed . Franz would hold the aircraft on the runway until he could lift off with authority. At 10 knots above rotate, Franz yanked the yoke and left the runway at a 30 degree angle. He again checked his six with a much better view. Franz could see that 3 more P-51 Mustangs were descending on the field and hitting everything in their path. One Mustang pilot had his guns trained on Franz and released a burst of his guns . A dozen rounds dug up the runway behind his aircraft missing the German fighter. Another P-51 moved to the left to support the attacking P-51 . The third P-51 tucked in behind.
Franz was a sitting duck with limited airspeed. Accelerating straight ahead would allow the 3rd P-51 an unimpeded kill shot. He knew he could not go vertical and let the fighters rush past underneath him. He did not have the airspeed. Franz opted to hard bank to the right and head for a tree line that paralleled the runway.
At 400 knots, the first Red tail went vertical when Franz banked. The second Red tail was not in position for firing and continued the runway heading. The third P-51 moved to the rights and lined up on the floundering ME262. This third Tuskegee was able to get a small burst off, before Franz turned behind the column of trees. The P-51 machine guns caught the tail of the ME262 causing damage to the rudder and right elevator skin.
Franz then continued the bank into a a narrow 6 kilometer long access road within the dense forest adjacent to the runway. The belly of the aircraft and the left engine hit the branches of trees at the apex of the turn. The left engine ingested some pine needles and a few soft tiny branches, but avoided any catastrophic failures for the time being. When Franz rolled the aircraft level, the right wing tip struck a tree knocking off a half meter of the wing tip. The heavily loaded Me262 had bled off several knots of airspeed in the turn and was now right above stall speed with full flaps and gear. Franz lowered the nose, threw up the gear handle, retracted the flaps and rechecked his EGT and RPM. Everything was within specification and the ME262 unburdened by the gear and flaps started to acclerate.
Franz leveled the ME262 off at 10 meters from the ground and waited frantically for the airspeed to come up. 130, 170, 200 ….. Franz checked his 6 again. The first P-51 that had gone vertical, went inverted and inside looped. The Tuskegee Ace was now rolling his aircraft to upright and descending to line up on Franz. It was only a matter of seconds before the black man would unload. Franz knew he was caught dead to rights. The access road that had saved him was now his coffin. Franz scanned his 6 and the P-51 was right on his tail 200 meters away. Franz was now accepting his fate. He was done. The sober reality is that he could not climb out of this trench because the entire silhouette of the aircraft would be an easy target. Resolved and sober, Franz waited to be killed. It was over.
At approximately 100 meters, the Tuskegee airman cut lose. Franz , with head turned to the rear, looked on. Franz had anticipated the distance the Mustang pilot would fire at, and yanked the yoke back and forward which porpoised his aircraft. The ME262 was now at 30 meters above the groun The P-51 gun ordinance pattern flew underneath him. He missed. Franz braced for the next shot. About this time, an ME109G from above made a visit. The ME109G could see the entire silhouette of the P-51 on Franz’s ME262. The Tuskegee airman was so focused on the kill that he did not check above for the enemy and thought there were no other German fighters in the area. He was wrong. From an altitude of 5,000 feet, The ME109G was vectored back to the field by German combat controllers when the first P-51 had downed the student pilot. The ME109G pilot saw the second set of Mustangs and began a dive. He also saw the ME262 avoid the hit and turn into the forested area. With a only few adjustments, The ME109G dove at 400 knots, led the nose of the P-51. and salvoed. The fire from the ME109Gs guns strafed from the front to the the back of the unsuspecting P-51. The Tuskegee airman was inundated with fire and 108 cannon ordinance. It wasn’t his day to fly. One of the 108 cannon projectiles hit the cockpit of the P-51 obliterating the pilot and cutting the fighter in half.
250, 300, 325 knots as Franz waited nervously. The once distinguishable individual trees of the 50 meter high tree line became one continuous blur of darkness, blue sky, and blurry motion. . The effect was enchanting and lulled Franz into observing a magic tunnel of color, light and speed. Franz thought of Maria and how he was in love with her. During Spain, France, England and Operation Barbarossa he never had the love of a woman. He wanted to spend his last seconds on earth thinking about the woman he had fallen in love with. He struggled to put her out of his mind and focus on his air speed indicator. He could not believe that he was still alive. The P-51 behind him had to have closed to within 50 meters. He rechecked his 6 for the P-51 only to find it gone. “What the fuck” he muttered to himself. His questions would be answered when the forest behind him erupted into flames, and an ME109G flew overhead rolling and dipping its wings.
At 350 knots, Franz pulled the yoke back and nosed the aircraft upward at a 60 degree angle. The jet exploded from the tree line. Franz scanned the area for the other Red Tails, only to find one at 25 meters below and 150 meters to his left and rear. This was Mitch again. Mitch was the flight leader and had instructed his men to spread out for the kill. The a second P-51 was at a flt level 200 meters and 600 meters away. Still a fourth Tuskegee P-51 was climbing above him at approximately 1000 meters. Mitch instinctively followed the tree line and assumed wing man position. Mitch watched as the ME109G instantaneously appeared from out of no where and killed his associate. Mitch winced with emotional pain at the site of his friend exploding into bits, and waited for the ME262 to climb and show itself. Mitch compartmentalized the death of his friend. He would grieve later. Mitch radioed the fourth P-51 to engage the ME109G. These fellas were not ill prepared aviators, they were more like a team of wolves attempting to run down an elk or deer. They were working as a well oiled killing machine. Mitch had carefully studied the Intelligence and Arial reconnaissance photos relating to this airfield prior to the mission. He vaguely recalled the access road and how it ended a few kilometers beyond the west end of the runway threshold. He knew that the German pilot would have to show himself there and he turned the P-51 to intercept at the top of the tree line. Mitch was on a parallel course to the west end of the runway threshold climbing slightly to intercept and align his guns when the almost vertical ME262 shot out of the tops of the trees. This was a different animal now. According to Mitch’s thought processes, this was supposed to be a point blank range kill. He would catch the ME262 as it rose from the tree line and obliterate it. Instead, Mitch was dealing with a German ACE that had been flying gliders and airplanes since he was a boy. Franz yanked the yoke to his left and banked into and over the Red Tail just as it gave a burst of the of it’s M2 Browning machine guns. The volley completely missed the ME262. Mitch looked above as the now inverted ME262 blasted by him. . Franz then rolled the aircraft upright, banked right, lowered the nose and continued to accelerate. He passed under the third P-51. and lined up on the fourth P-51 that was now crossing his path to engage the ME109G. Franz gave a burst of his 108 cannons striking the propeller of the Mustang and blowing the entire propeller assembly off the aircraft. Too low to parachute out, the Alabaman simply lowered the gear and landed his Mustang on an open Bavarian meadow. He would live out the war in a POW camp.
Mitch banked hard left attempting to bring his guns to bare, but opportunity had passed. Franz was now off to his right, 2 kilometers away and accelerating to 430 knots. Mitch, radioed his airman to give up the chase and his remaining fighters limped back to Sicily. The battle was a two for two fighter exchange while several Air Base buildings burned to the ground
Had Franz simply exited the treeline and continued parallel to the runway, all three Tuskegee fighter pilots had a clear shot at him. Franz had learned how to roll an aircraft and do an inside loop on the JU87, and the ME262 was a piece of cake.
Behind him the airfield buildings were on fire. Several junk and non operational ME262 decoys were burning on the tarmac. A total of 5 ME-262s would leave their tree line camouflaged revetment areas and become air born once the Mustangs left. Crash , fire rescue would retrieve the the burned airman and take him to a Munich hospital close to the Wehrmacht head quarters.
Franz scanned his gauges, cleaned up his checklist items, and headed for the B-17 air armada. The aircraft did not need the right wing tip. and was fully operational. At a safe distance and away from the attack, the emotional sting of losing the squadron training officer enveloped his mind and Franz began to sob. Franz had known this fella for several months and shared more than a few beers with him. Franz remembers the time when he was invited to Vogler’s home to celebrate his son’s one year birthday. He remembered Renate and how she welcomed him to the home. She was a splendid host. He remembered how good the schnitzel was. He had cherished the welcome, and the nourishing conversation. He enjoyed strong coffee and German chocolate cake next to the warmth of the fireplace. Vogler was the first friend he had after Stalingrad and his stay at a hospital in Berlin . Vogler had trained him on the ME262.
Franz had been shot down over a snow covered Russia, and was not rescued from the cold and snow for a few days. In fact, Franz spent two full days walking west until he was picked up by a Panzer division on a tactical assault mission. The only thing that saved him from the 20 below zero night was the confines of a blown up half track, and burning emptied ration boxes in the cab of the vehicle.
The warmth of Maria, the German summer and Vogler family was a stark contrast to two days on the Russian steppes and frost bit feet and hands. The emotional and sensual divide between love and war was hard for Franz to resolve. Franz was fighting for the country he loved under a dictator he despised. Instead of laying in the loving arms of a beautiful woman, he was killing others for Adolf Hitler. Franz had seen the ruins of the 6th Army from 5000 feet. He saw the destruction and the bodies strewn across miles of snow covered barren land. He understood that Germany had lost 10 million German boys to war.
Franz was oblivious to the slight vibration and rise in EGT. He looked at his compass and turned his fighter to a 240 heading and began a climb to 35,000 feet. The German controllers would update him on the B-17 bomber force and its location. Franz’s sorrow quickly turned to the need for revenge. He was now in the hunt for the biggest trophy of all: the lead B-17 of a a massive cell of bombers. Franz had flown over countless cities that had been gutted by American and British air power. He had been to see the massive swaths of destruction in Munich. Franz figured every B-17 he shot down meant hundreds of German men women and children would live. He wasn’t fighting for Hitler, he was fighting for the German people.
An hour had passed and the Tuskegee airmen were flying over the Austrian Alps at 30,000 feet. The sky was clear and the sun was shining . The Austrian alps were bathed in light and the brightness of snow reflecting the sun’s rays. The effect was refreshing to the senses. Not this day. Mitch was now grieving the loss of his fellow airman. I guy he had known since 1940. A fella he had learned with, bunked with, ate with, served in combat with, and shared the joys of life with. His friend was now gone, disintegrated into a million pieces. Mitch attempts to remember his face, his smile, and the laughter. He remembers the good times in Tuskegee, Alabama and how Leon was a good and honest fella. He was hard working an proud to be an American aviator. Together they had served as brothers in arms against NAZI tyranny. Now he was gone. Tears streamed down Mitch’s face. The silence was violated when one of the other airman spoke up on the radio and in a crying voice stated, ” son of a bitch we lost Leon and Howard”! It seems that everyone was on the same page and were crying and grieving for the fellas that they grew to love. Mitch keyed the mike and replies, ” yall no your radio discipline. We will brief the mission on the ground stay alert now!” It seems even when the Tuskegee airman would lose brothers, they maintained the highest levels of conduct, discipline and airman ship….
Maria rises from the homes spun knitted blanket. It was made by her mother during long cold Bavarian nights. She folded the blanket with care and placed it in her cotton shoulder bag. She could hear the familiar sounds coming from the base only a kilometer away. She paid little attention to the airfield noises. Maria began the walk back to the store, but not before she picked some edible mushrooms and wild asparagus at the edge of the meadow. She had been picking these delectable treats since she was a child. She would make a cheese sauce and feed the fresh delights to her boys that evening.
Maria sensed a new sound coming from the airfield and the eruption of gun fire. She turned to listen to munitions fire when an unfamiliar fighter with a Red tail flies right over the top of her. She is startled when she hears a massive explosion and then observes as a black plume of smoke climbing from the top of the treeline before her. On no! Is this Franz she wonders. Maria turns and runs back to the store to check on her boys.
From 40,000 feet, Franz observes the massive Boeing bomber air armada. He counted no less than 12 formations with 36 aircraft each. Each formation was 4 miles from each other making the the cell of B-17s 50 miles long. This was just the center cell of the 3 cell bomber force a thousand in all. The entire length of the air armada was 150 miles long and 500 yards wide.
Franz flew for several minutes at 40,000 feet in the opposite direction of the bomber force. He performed a 180 degree bank and lined up on the tail end of the center cell bomber formation. He then descended at a steep angle of attack and 560 miles per hour. It would only take a little over a minute to negotiate the 10,000 feet that separated him from his prey. Franz descended through the escort Mustangs and behind the aft most bomber formation. He then yanked back on his yoke and positioned his guns on the copious B-17 underbellies that were now above him. Closing within 500 meters , he would execute small bursts of his MK108 cannons to save munitions. Once he had fired upon this formation he would dive a few thousand feet and then ascend onto the next formation. For 50 miles, he would repeat this roller coaster process. By the time he had reached Mugroves lead formation, his guns were empty. In his wake a dozen damaged B-17s . One B-17 exploded. One B-17 fell out of formation, and several more had severe battle damage.
Once he had emptied his guns, he needed to head back to the airfield. He was out of gas. Franz banked the ME262 to the right and started to extract himself from the air battle. Milton Buford Jones envisioned this and was waiting for the turn. he and his wing man Nelson Chattfield had broken away from close fighter escort and positioned themselves a mile south and ahead of the lead B-17 element. Franz did not see them when he yanked the yoke right and came into their line of fire. Jones and Chattfield were able to close to within 1000 feet from the ME262. Both P-51s led the ME262 and let their 50s roar. The tracers showed that the deflection was extreme, but it only took one piece of led to change the odds of battle. Chattfield was able to lob one single 1.71 ounce piece of lead which found it’s mark. The projectile entered the right engine of the ME262 at the ring cowling and then impacted on a compressor blade. The affect was immediate. The once smooth running single stage jet engine was now a shaking liability. Franz could feel the entire aircraft shutter and vibrate as if the engine was ready to destroy the wing and come off the airplane. Franz had no choice but to T-handle the engine and shut it down. He was now down to one engine and slowing. He could maintain speeds in excess of 400 down low if he kept it clean and avoided turns etc.
Suddenly from above him, another P-51 was diving on him at 450 miles an hour. he was 50 miles per hour faster with guns blasting. Franz at this point had lost situation awareness and decided to bank left in order to reduce his silhouette for the diving P-51. By doing so, Milton Buford Jones lined up again and salvo-ed on the ME262. A stream of lead struck the ME262’s aft fuselage section and right elevator and ripping through the delicate skin. Franz again banked right avoiding death only to be hit by Chattfield. His bullets struck the canopy blowing it off. Franz realized that he had to out run them, and fire walled the remaining engine. If he could hit 500 on the deck, he could out run the P-51s. Meanwhile as he accelerated, he made slight banking corrections to throw off the P-51s ordinance and siting. Jones and Chattfield could not fully regain their synergy and were losing the air race. That is until the turbine section of the ME262 over heated, and the blades stretched until they started scraping the turbine section case. Franz could see the RPM drop off as the EGT climbed. He had to put this think on the ground or bail out. At 450 miles per hour, he did not have time to slow. Even if he did, the American Mustang pilots would kill him on the ground or on approach to land.
Franz yanked the yoke on the ME262 and went straight up. Just as the aircraft went vertical, the engine flamed out and seized up. All was quiet except for the rush of wind. Franz could see the airspeed indicator dropping off as the ME262’s momentum eroded. 400. 300, 200, 100 miles an hour. At 100 miles an hour, Franz yanked the yoke all the way back and attempted to loop. At 100 miles an hour the shot up elevator did not have enough authority to loop the the aircraft swiftly. It seemed like forever for the cockpit to go inverted in relation to the ground,
Jones and Chatfield flew right passed. Below him, Franz could see a tiny village with a small road and surrounded by forest. Should he bail now or land the aircraft on an open field. He had heard of American pilots gunning on parachuted German pilots. All he had to do was unbuckle and let gravity drop him out of the cockpit. The gear was not down, so he had no choice. Franz unbuckled his seat harness and pushed himself from the open and inverted cockpit. Franz saw how the ME262 refused to glide away from him. It seemed to take forever for his body to gain separation from the jet. Both were in the same apex momentum zone and were both now speeding to the ground at over 70 miles an hour. Franz kicked his feet out frantically in order to push his body from the jet. Franz could also see the ground that was only 2000 feet away. Finally, Franz gained enough separation to deploy his chute. The chute opened fully at 200 feet. Meanwhile, below, the ME262 impacted the ground and exploded. Franz would descend on to the cobblestone street of the village and then break his leg and lower back landing. A farmer helped him with his chute and then tucked him into an open barn door.
A few seconds later Jones and Chatfield would buzz passed the burning ME262 wreckage. For shits and grins, Jones would shoot at a German girl tending a small herd of milk cows off in another field. It startled him to see her fall to the ground as his 50 caliber bullets seemed to almost hit her. What did I just do, Milton thought to himself. Once the P-51s were gone, the girl got up and went about her business.
Franz was done flying and fighting for the duration of the war. Lost in the large Nazi medical system somewhere in Bavaria.
Forney jumps from the right seat of the aircraft and Col. Walsh takes command of the aircraft. Walsh sits down, grabs the yoke, straps in, puts on his mask and calmly keys the mike. “navigator, aren’t you supposed to be down stairs finding me a heading?” Paulo in the left seat with his head ducked behind the instrument panel to avoid the blast of cold air replies, ” you could say that sir?” “Engineer give me the run down on this air machine!” Walsh politely asks. Forney quickly details the list of emergency procedures that have been done on the aircraft. Nothing more and nothing less. ” Well, we got two engines, so I guess we are in good shape.” Walsh adds. “Excellent work engineer!” he continues.
“Navigator” “Pilot” “Where are we?’ Walsh asks. ” From the looks of the arial reconnaissance photos, we are over Swiefalten ,” Paulo replies.
Painfully and with clenched teeth. Col. Walsh launches into a lengthy briefing on the situation, ” listen up everyone, as I see it, we have several options at this point. Our First option is getting back to England anyway we can. The second option is landing in Switzerland and spending the rest of the war in a Swiss internment camp that is no better than a German POW camp. Third we can bail out over German territory and spend the rest of the war in a German POW camp. It looks like we have about 1000 gallons of fuel left with 200 gallons of transferable fuel behind number 1 engine. That is about 5 hours at 170 mph to dry tanks with 4 engines . With two engines, I am not certain how much fuel we will use given the lower altitude we will have to fly. We are maintaining 15,000 feet at the moment, but I would like to drop the bombs, and see how high we can climb. Any questions?
None on the crew speaks up. “Ok then, bomb doors clear to open?” walsh asks. “Doors clear,” a crewman responds. “Bomb doors open, Bombardier lets get rid of some weight,” Walsh orders! Owens looks through his Norden bomb sight and sees only fields. “Bombs away,” Owens answers.
Walsh then asks the Flight Engineer to work some magic on the rear elevator to see if they could get some altitude gain. Forney and Williams wedge the bar under the elevator, jump up and down on it and move the elevator to an up position. Walsh pushes the throttles up and watches the altitude indicator. The B-17 starts to climb slowly. “Navigator, give me a heading,” Walsh orders. Meanwhile, the last of the entire 1000 B-17 air armada is still flying towards Munich 2 miles above.
Paulo suggests a heading that would put the B-17 through a long cloud bank and goes directly to Metz, France. Paulo had noticed the cloudy area en-route some hours before. Walsh agrees and the aircraft course it set. Within 20 minutes, the B-17 is cruising at 18,000 feet through the camouflage of a cloud bank en-route to Metz. Forney and Williams feather the elevator to neutral position to save gas and the crew crosses their fingers.
At the radio operators bulkhead, Parsons is on his second morphine shot. The crew bandaged his arm and had been loosening the tourniquet on a regular basis. Pete’s leg artery is now choked off with a set of medical hemostats that one of the crewman had in his flight bag. Jack also bandaged up Pete’s wound and gave him a shot of morphine. The crew moved their wounded to points where they could get adequate oxygen lines etc. At 18,000 feet, on this beautiful German day the temperature in the aircraft was 5 to 10 degrees.
The rest of the mission would be uneventful. No German fighters would harass them, and only a little flak was encountered. Walsh landed the aircraft without incident. Parsons and Contreras would spend several months in a British hospital and then be shipped back to the states for separation from the Army Air Corps. Walsh would heel up in a short order. Jack would spend a few weeks in the hospital for his wounds also.
“Navigator!” “Pilot” , Smith declares over the aircraft interphone system. “Yes sir” responds the navigator. “Where are we and how far are we from the bomb run?” Smith continues. The naviagator again keys his mike and states,” Ok see that lake to the south, that is the Bodensee. To the east of us there is a river and then two other lakes. I reckon we are right over the top of Memingen. We are now approximately 70 miles from the target area. At our current air speed, we are about 25 minutes from target and 15 minutes from the IP.Lets go ahead and make a slight heading adjustment of 10 degrees to the north. This will line us up with Untermietingen and then the IP at the Lech river.”
Smith comes up on the master radio and tells the rest of the B-17 cell to turn to a heading that is 10 degrees from current heading.
“OK”, thats good for now the lead navigator tells the pilot.
Meanwhile, the savage attack by German fighters continues. Several German ME109 G and FW190 squadrons had joined the fight. All told between 75 and 100 German fighters were attacking the B-17 cells.
Smith looks out his side window just as a ME109G unloaded it’s MK108 cannon on the B-17 to the left of him. The 40 mm explosive round impacts the wing of this B-17 between the number 3 engine and wing root. The wing folds immediately and stretched flight control cables cutting through aircraft skin wedge the left wing aileron to full up. The B-17 fuselage starts to roll wildly. The pilots struggle to feather the 1 and 2 engines, but the air speed of the aircraft and the intact left wing create a windmill effect. The B-17 then noses down while rolling close to 50 revolutions per minute.
Inside the aircraft, the waist gunners are being flung from fuselage wall to fuselage wall. Any crewmen that was strapped in, remain stationary. Once the aircraft starts to descend vertically the waste gunners fall to the bomb bay racks with the body of the aircraft rotating around them like the tail of a wallowing a fish. By now, they are both unconscious from repeated head impacts to aircraft structure.
The pilots weren’t able to open the bomb bay doors. They just stay strapped in and unable to do anything because of rotational forces.
The flight engineer was hanging on the the 50 caliber at the upper ball turret . His waist was folded and his legs flat against the top of the fuselage.
Below at the bombardiers deck, the nav and bomb nav have unstrapped to exit the crew entrance, but now find themselves entangled between the Norden bomb site and the nose of the canopy. Unable to over come the rotating mass they can only move inches at a time and then have to deal with a changing axis of rotation and g force.
Once the B-17 hits another airspeed regime, it begins to transition from a roll to a combination of a roll, yawing, porpoising and a flat spin. The center of the axis is where the wing used to be. The tail section spins round and round in an oval orbiting pattern. This motion propels the navigators to the opposite end of the Bombardiers deck and then back to the nose again. This ceremony is repeated dozens of times. The flight engineer is flung from the upper ball turret to the aircraft windscreen.
The pilots unstrap from their seats, and soon, they and the flight engineer are wedged between the control column and copilots seat. The G force from rotational acceleration effect pins them to copilot’s side windscreen and their fate is sealed. The radio operators unbelts and attempts to make it to the gunners window, but soon finds himself rolling around the fuselage like a pinball in a pinball machine. By shear luck, he is ejected from the aircraft through a waste gunner window albeit unconscious. During the exit from the gunners window, the radio operators shoot canister is damaged and may not open.
Amazingly, the tail gunner makes it to his escape hatch and exits the aircraft.
Inside the tube, the waste gunners continue to be flung around the fuselage, The navigators are pinned at the nose, and the pilot, copilot and flight engineer are entangled, wedged and impaled at the copilot’s control column.
The Belly turret gunner was left screaming the whole time as the new crew forgot about him. At 10,000 feet, he attempted to get someone’s attention by firing off his guns.
The bombardier remains conscious as the B-17 falls to earth. With his face pressed against the nose canopy glass, the last thing he sees is the green grass of the countryside as the dead B-17 approaches the ground at over 120 miles an hour. The impact crushes the nose of the aircraft to the pilots aft bulkhead. The impact detonates the entire bomb load and the aircraft wing explodes as well.
The radio operator becomes conscious at 5000 feet and pulls his chute to no avail. He impacts the ground. The gunner’s chute opens and he can see the whole event unfold. He would land and roll out only 300 yards from the burning wreckage. Soon a truck load of old German soldiers and adolescent boys find him and take him away.
5 miles above, the fighters have left the fight and the FLAK begins….
“pilot,” “navigator”, signals the navigator. “Go ahead nav,” the aircraft commander replies! ” Okie dokie, set heading marker to 090 degrees and make a 5 degree course adjustment to the right . “Nice, alright see that u bend in the small river ahead of us, that is the Amper river. Just past that point is a pasture between some hills, and that is the beginning of the bomb run. Straight ahead will be the Munich rail head” ,The navigator finishes. “I knew you Navigators were good for something, well done Captain, the aircraft commander responds.
The lead aircraft informs the cell.
“OK it is about time I give control of this air machine to the Bombardier. Bombing fella, it is all yours, and the pilot relinquishes command to the Bombardier.
The Bombardier is on the Norden bomb site. He can see the smoke stacks and the emissions rising from countless buildings. Today, some of the exhaust is rising straight up with zero wind effect. It is a clear day with flak hitting all around the aircraft. The western terminus of the rail head is only minutes away.
“Bomb doors open,” the bombardier declares over inter-phone. Then like clockwork, all 36 aircraft in this combat formation open their doors.
With full control of the autopilot, the bombardier makes a 2 degree course adjustment and he is right on the money. The wind meter aloft indicates a 10 knot tailwind. He makes his adjustments to the Norden. Below, the main rail head of Munich is coming into focus. An added bonus? A massive train is heading into the marshaling yard. In addition, there are literally dozens of trains coming and going on dozens of tracks leading into the center of the city.
The Bombardier states ” This is going to be very accurate!” “Bombs away” as he pushes the bomb release button. The release according to the Norden was right on the boiler stack of an arriving train that was entering the main terminal area.
It will be about 30 to 40 seconds before the bombs will hit the target area. All 35 remaining B-17s in the lead cell drop their bomb loads. Many had to tighten up the station keeping in the formation to be on target. The seconds tick by. To the north, the pilot sees some smoke stacks off in the distance. Un unbeknownst to the pilot, he is looking at the crematorium smoke stacks of Dachau.
Then the bombardier tells the pilot the aircraft is yours, now lets get the hell out of here. The lead bans to the right and exits the target area to the south where the flak batteries are not as formidable.
Several seconds later, the bombs begin to hit. For the next 20 minutes to 30 minutes, B-17 bomb loads will rain down on Munich. Then, the trailing cell will bomb the city for another 30 minutes. The entire B-17 air armada would bomb Munich for 90 minutes.
Today, the lead aircraft will hit the very center of the main Munich Bahnhof. The Bahnhof would have no less than a dozen tracks with 5 trains waiting for passengers and cargo. The marshaling yard would also be full of military trains. After only a few minutes, the entire main Munich Bahnhof is a disaster area.
The view from the last B-17 would find a path of destruction that is 15 miles long and a mile wide. Buildings paralleling the rail road tracks were gutted to their root cellars. Hundreds of building were on fire. Dozens and dozens of locomotives up ended and destroyed. A months worth of BMW fighter engines destroyed or strewn about. Boxcars loaded with troop rations burning to the ground. Tiger tanks bound for France to fight Eisenhower laying on their sides. Thousands of feet of track destroyed and unusable.
Once the the B-17s left the area, the German people began the work to rebuild the Haupt Bahnhof and get the cargo moving. One track would be fixed and then the next. Cranes would hoist the products of war back onto repaired rail cars. Workers would work through the night cutting, and welding. Within weeks it would be up and running and support the German war machine. Then the warning horn would sound as another 1200 American bombers would show up on the horizon. By May 1945, Munich would be a gutted city in ruin.