Memories of W.W.II
I was on the raid to Rouen on March 8, 1943. I think the 66th was leading. We were supposed to be escorted by nine squadrons of Spitfires -- 5's and 9's. Missed them by about 20 minutes. We were headed into target when we were hit by eight or 12 yellow nose 190s that came in from 12:00, low. I didn't even get a shot. Looked up and saw several Spitfires 1,000-2,000 ft. above us. They got two 24s off the rear squadrons. Didn't know who was hit. Captain Cramer comes to mind, but doesn't sound right. Kelly told me later the RAF had a fierce battle with Jig 26, prior to our appearance and were evidently out of ammo or low on fuel.
Funny how seeing the mention of the March raid in 8-Balls tweaks the memory about the 30 cal. Piece of s--t. Told Kelly to leave it and bring another box of ammo.
Memories as of August 10, 1996
I can't remember the exact dates of the missions. I think the first one was to Abbeyville? I believe the 68th squadron was leading. The mission was recalled and the 66th and 67th squadrons returned, but the 68th leader said he didn't hear it. They were jumped rather heavy. One shot down and many shot up. Lt. Walter Holmes B-24 took a 20mm shell in the cockpit, severely wounding him and the copilot, but they managed to land the plane at Shipdham. Holmes received the British D.F.C. for this mission.
I can't remember any more until December 20 when we went to Romilly Sur Seine, all planes returned safely. One waist gunner in the lead ship flown by Maj. Al Key of the 66th was killed by 20mm fragments. Flew some diversion missions in early January of 1943. Then on the 27th of January, we went to Wilhemshaven, Germany for the first time. We were flying 3V stepped up formation; 68th was leading. One of their planes was hit by a German fighter plane and cut in two. Two men, the bombardier and navigator, managed to bail out. All KIA.
I saw a duck egged blue, FW 190, flying above us, about 400 yards at the same speed as the formation. I put the pipper on the right wing root and pulled the triggers. Saw numerous hits of tracer and incendiary flashes. Copilot Robert Kolliner called two 210's attacking at 2 o'clock, so I broke off the 190 to pick them up. Guns wouldn't fire because of the prop cut-off switch. The 190s right wing came off and was confirmed by a navigator of the 67th flying behind us. Never received credit for the 190.
Nearly all of the missions to the French or Dutch Coasts were spitfire escorted and we didn't see too many enemy fighters, but plenty of flak, especially the sub pens at St. Nazaire, Lorient and Brest.
About my tenth mission, Lt. Kolliner, Abernathy's copilot made first pilot and took over Ab's Crew. Kolly's first command flight was to Brest, France. After dropping bombs, flight policy was to chop throttle and super chargers. Kolly chopped the throttles but forgot the super chargers. We ended up several hundred yards ahead of the formation. We called him lead man from then on. He was a good pilot but couldn't land worth a dam. I would stand behind him calling out air speed, then after the third bounce, tell him that was a good one. One Sunday, he came and told me to go to the flight line. I asked him if he wanted Moe, the radio operator. He said no. He told me to get in the copilot seat and we took off alone. Climbed out, and circled the field. He told me to take over and bring it in. Being right handed, I had a little trouble handling the throttles with my left hand. I flattened out about ten feet high and bounced somewhat. He aid, "You Son of Bitch, don't ever tell me I made a bad landing again." He was a pistol.
Once in the summer of 1943 (May 29th) we took off for Lands End. Landed, refueled, took off and flew out the Bay of Biscayne. Target La Pallice, France. I looked back about a 100 miles from the Coast of France and saw a parachute going down. On returning to Lands End, found out a waist gunner of a 68th plane had snagged his rip cord handle on the opposite 50 cal. And popped his chute. The pilot chute flew out the opposite window dragging him with it. We felt sure he was killed by being dragged over the 50-cal. Gun mount.
We evidently caught the Germans napping because only saw one flak burst. It got an oil line on No. 3 engine, flew back to Lands End with No. 3 prop feathered. No fighters. All planes returned.
The raids on Germany were pretty rough, no fighter escort. Don't think we ever went there without losing planes.
Went to Wilhemshaven the second time. Mission all fouled up. Missed the B-27s and got jumped by 109's, 1i90, 110, and 210. Got my first confirmed kill. He came from 3 o'clock high. Hit him pretty good. He pulled up in a loop and went completely over and dove straight down. Crash was observed by the tunnel gunner. Had used up all my ammo when a 110 came through the formation and picked us out. He had one cannon firing. Hit us twice; once in the nose section severely wounding the bombardier and navigator and once in the waist gunner's section, wounding one gunner. Shot out all electrical and hydraulics; pumped down flaps, cranked down landing gear and landed with brakes out. Took out a wire fence at the end of the runway and some small bushes. Best landing ever made.
Vegeseck was a pretty good mission. Had the B17s in sight all the time. They relieved us of some of the fighter action. Did lots of damage to sub pens.
Kiel was a different story. Capt. Abernathy was leading the group. We missed joining the B17s so he took after them doing 210-220 mph, about 30 mph over cruising speed and caught the B17s short of the target. We were flying right wing on Ab. Lt. Reed, on Ab's left wing, was having difficulty holding formation, so we changed positions. The 68th and 67th were lagging a bit. We started getting hit by 190s, especially the lower squadrons. When two 190s hit Lt. Reed on Ab's right wing. They hit the top turret, mangling the guns and cut off the top half of the left stabilizer. The left main gear dropped and he fell out of formation. We thought he was gone.
I caught a black painted 190 head on and set him on fire, confirmed by the tail gunner. The 67th lost all their planes. In all, eight planes were lost.
Capt. Abernathy received the Silver Star for leading the group.
We were about through with briefing when we heard Lt. Reed was coming in. They had to parachute, all except Sgt. Wygonick, the top turret man. The radioman put a parachute on him and pushed him out the bomb bay over Germany. He was so cut up, he wouldn't survive the trip home. Don't know if he lived or not. The radio operator, can't think of his name, received the Silver Star for tending to Sgt. Wygonick.
We transferred to the 67th and began rebuilding. We pulled one or two more missions before going to Libya. Flew 19 missions over France, the low countries, and Germany. (Nine more in Africa.)
Flew nine more over Sicily and Italy. Never saw a fighter. Didn't have to go to Ploesti because my replacement came in on July 30th. Joy, oh joy! (Last one July 15th...all on Suzy Q with Kollinger and Moore).
We had a radio op, named Cappuano. He looked very Jewish, although Italian. Our tail gunner, "Butch" Shelton, rode "Moe" very much about what Der Fuhrer was going to do to him when they shot us down. Moe told him, "When I cross the Channel, my name is Murphy."
Lt. Reed's crew had a rookie gunner on his first mission. After they bailed out, several jeeps and weapons carriers were sent to pick them up. He came up to the CO, think it was Dex Hodge, dumped his "chute" at his feet and said, "There's your goddam receipt. I quit." They put him in the armory.
I believe Lt. Col. Abernathy was killed in 1956 flying either an F86 or F100. He was the best pilot I ever flew with.
Kolly moved to Texas after the war and was elected mayor of El Paso. I believe he died in office. Wrote Butch until 1950, then heard no more. Sgt. Paliga lives in Montana. Don't know about the others.
While at Shipdham, I would eat fish and chips at Mr. and Mrs. Money's in Hingham and became friends with them. Wrote them until 1950-51. Don't know what happened. They had a son named Neil.