LT. JOHN R. (DICK) HUDDLE|
Attica Airman Hero of Ploesti Raid
World War II Memories
As told to Mrs. Cleta Williams
Ploesti was the nearest thing to Dante's Inferno I ever saw." That was the succinct comment of Col. Leon W. Johnson, commander of one group of the 200 Liberators (B-24s) which punished the Nazi-held Ploesti oil fields in Rumania August 1 last year. Lt. John Richard (Dick) Huddle, 25, son of Mr. and Mrs. Winfield Huddle, living a mile south of Attica corroborates that statement.
Lt. Huddle was a bombardier in Col. John's group on a plane piloted by Capt. Charles Henderson of Dallas, Texas, with Robert C. Pimentel, Berkley, Calif. As copilot. When the wounded Liberator made a forced landing at Malta, Lieutenant Huddle got out of the ship and walked to a waiting ambulance where he collapsed and was whisked away to the Forty-Fifth United Kingdom Hospital at Malta.
Numerous Injuries - his left leg, side and arm and his right arm and hand were full of flak. The little finger and about a third of the palm of one hand was blown off. Eventually, he was sent to the Army's Ashford General Hospital, White Sulphur Springs, W.V., for treatment and convalescence. Recently, he returned home on a 21-day leave, but has since entered Phoenixville Valley Forge General Hospital for further treatment, although he is restless and feels perfectly capable of doing combat duty gain.
Lt. Huddle remembers the Ploesti raid as the highlight of his combat career. For weeks the pilots and crews had been briefed. They make raids on a mock-up of the Ploesti fields laid out in the desert. They knew the location of every distillation plant, _______ tower, boiler house, and storage tank with their eyes closed.
There could be no slip-up. There was a mission over the coup de grace to _______ (variously estimated between a third and one half) of _____ for Hitler's war machine.
Early on the morning of August ____, the big birds lumbered off to their targets, noses into the wind and were off. They crossed the Danube. "The muddy stream was the big disappointment of my life," laughed Lt. Huddle. "I had always thought of it as 'The Beautiful Blue Danube.' It looked like the Wabash after a heavy rain."
As they flew low toward their target, people waved to them from fields and villages. They seemed glad to see the Big American planes.
Below them they saw what looked like a lot of fields full of haystacks. The haystacks opened up and 20-mm and machineguns blazed at them. What looked like tool sheds beside a railroad spun around to follow the planes and anti-aircraft blasted away at them.
When they hit the target, they snapped off numerous arrange balloon cables. "It was like a heavy burst of flak under the wing," recalls the bombardier. "One cable tore a chunk out of our wing."
They dropped their bombs smack on the target from low altitude. Delayed action bombs from an earlier flight were still going off. The big planes roared away only five to ten feet off the ground; a swarm of fighters came up after them.
"It looked like somebody had kicked over a beehive," said Lt. Huddle.
JU-88s, ME-110s, ME210s, ME109s, and FW190s attacked the bombers. Apparently the fighter planes had been caught napping, or perhaps they were gassing up after attacking an earlier wave of bombers.
They were too late to break up the attack, but they came in viciously, angrily eager to knock down the American raiders. Lt. Huddle's ship was putting out plenty of lead. It knocked down 12 German planes that day. Huddle himself blasted three of them to bits.
Bitter Battle - The plane roared off the target through a cluster of telephone wires. It swooped so low that cornstalks and tree limbs were carried dangling on the bomb bay. It shot German fighter planes full of holes before they could get into action.
Lt. Huddle was wounded five minutes off target, after the mission was completed. The navigator, Robert S. Schimke, of North Hadley Falls, Mass., and James M. Porter of Kansas, assistant radio operator were also injured, but not as seriously.
"If it hadn't been for Captain Henderson, our pilot, we would all be at the bottom of the ocean," says Huddle, paying tribute to his pilot's skill in getting the crippled bomber to a friendly base safely. But that was only after the engineer, Harold E. Cooper of Denver, Colorado, had patched the elevator cable in flight, with cable from the tail turret.
Later, they counted 365 holes in the sturdy bomber. The tip of one wing was shot off, one rudder was shot away, elevator cables were shot through, one aileron was half shot off, and the nose was blasted.
Ranks Fade - All except Huddle returned to combat duty later and all except Schemke were killed in later assignments. Together they had seen action over Rome, Naples, and Sicily before Ploesti.
Before entering the service, Lt. Huddle led a not exciting, not dull life to be found on an average mid-western farm. He was born and reared on his parent's farm a mile south of Altica on the Riverside Cemetery Road. He graduated from Attica High School in 1936 and won a degree in agricultural engineering at Michigan State College, East Lansing, Mich., in June 1941. He enlisted in January 1942 at Baer Field, Fort Wayne.
Huddle now holds many decorations including the Purple Heart, the Silver Star, the Air Medal with four clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross. His brother, Lt. Marvin Huddle was lost April 21, 1943 on a routine flight over Florida en route from his Drew Field base to Tampa. Neither the plane nor the crew have been heard from since.
Ready to Fight - After completing his training at ten different air fields or bases in the United States, he spent two weeks on patrol duty at Gander Lake, Newfoundland, before taking off for Scotland where he landed May 28, 1943. From there he went to England and then Africa.
When he was asked if he didn't think he had done his bit, he studied for a moment and said, "I don't feel that way about it. No one's work is finished until the war is all over. I must go back into the thick of things again."
Of such mettle, America's heroes are made!