Chapter 73: Running Out of Bombs. Flying to France for Repairs. Too Low for Comfort. Flying Back to Corsica Two Up In Single Seat Fighter!
Sept 3, 1944 Alto, Corsica; We launched three missions this morning. Our ordinance department had to scrounge around the island to find bombs for the third mission, because our bomb dump is completely empty. We had another mission over northern Italy in the afternoon in which we blew up two trains. Two of our planes sustained damage as they flew through the exploding debris caused by our dive bombing and strafing. Before returning home, they strafed a lot of German road transport. Plane No. 71 hit an electric high wire cable and is now over at our maintenance department for repairs.
I got my laundry back this afternoon, and played ping pong then took a dip in the stream.
Sept 4 1944 Alto, Corsica. This morning we had a good report of planes in flying condition, so I was permitted to take over Woody’s plane while he went on sick call, because he has a bad cold. It went on one flight in the morning. I took my atabrine pill lunchtime. I decided that when it turns me yellow I will cut it out.
The next mission was at 4.30 PM and since my plane was not on it, I slept under the wing all afternoon. After dinner I played ping pong at the day room and had a couple of gin drinks. My flight Chief Carl Volter, contacted me at 8.00 PM and said that Capt. Skorpowski wanted to talk with me. The Capt. said that I would be taking off tomorrow morning in our B-25 to go to France and repair my plane (No. 73).
It had made a forced landing at St. Raphael on the French Riviera.The American Service Group in the area was supposed to repair it, but they did not do so. At the same time we will test hop the B-25 because the crew changed a leaky starter gasket on one engine. We got a tool box ready and I asked the guards to wake me up at 6.00 AM tomorrow morning.
Sept 5, 1944. Alto, Corsica. The guard got me up at 6.00 AM this morning, and after breakfast, Carl Volter (my flight chief), Leland Pettis (our First Sgt.) and I drove over to the B-25 and we took off at 7.15 AM (we took along an extra pilot who was to fly the plane back to our airfield).
We reached France at 8.30 AM and I started my examination of the plane. First I checked the oil sump and found that there were no bearing or ring particles there. The oil pressure was too high so I lowered it a few pounds. I checked the water pump and found that it had run out of graphite grease. This made it run slowly which caused the engine to overheat, and that is why the pilot made a forced landing at this emergency airstrip. I forced a lot of graphite grease into the back of the water pump, and proceeded to run the engine up.
I found two 250 pound
bombs nearby, and rolled them to the rear of the plane, tying them to the tail wheel. You see, when running the engine up at full throttle the plane will assume a level flight position. I would then run the risk of nosing over! Sitting on the ground without a nose wheel, the plane is tilted to the rear.
I ran the engine for 15 minutes at full throttle, with the instruments in the green range (not overheating). I then told the pilot (Lt. Davenport) that it was OK to be flown back to our airfield. He was a new pilot, who recently joined our squadron and he did not know me. He asked if I would bet my life on the plane being OK. Of course I replied 'Yes, whereupon he pulled the parachute from the seat, sat down and told me to sit in his lap.
There was no room for both of us and the parachute in the cockpit! I had no alternative but to do so, and we took off immediately. I operated the wing flaps and the landing gear because those controls were on the right side of the cockpit and he could not get at them. When we reached several thousand feet altitude, he dove down towards the field to 'drag it'. As we approached the start of the runway I saw Carl Volter standing on it and I was surprised to see him throw himself on the ground. When I turned around to look I saw a cloud of dust covering the ground over the runway and I realized that it was caused by our plane flying only about 10 feet above the ground.
Due to the pilot’s unusual seated position he miscalculated our height and flew too low. As we turned around and flew past the field at a normal height, I could see Carl Volter shaking his fist at us!
We waited until the B-25 took off and joined us, and we stayed in formation with it on the return trip to Corsica. Every now and then we would fly underneath the bomber and come up on the other side, or attach ourselves close to one of their wingtips, while we waved at them. We flew low enough that we spotted an empty dinghy (raft), a school of porpoises and one of sharks.
We passed over the islands of Monte Crisco and Elba and got back to our airfield at 12.00 Noon. Once again I operated the flaps and landing gear as I did at take off.
After lunch I went right to work, and found that the American Service Group in France had changed the right wingtip, right wheel fairing, right tire and hydraulic accumulator. I bled the right brake but it still did not work right. Tomorrow I will change the master brake cylinder. The oil sumps are so impregnated with carbon that I will have to get new ones. (That is what caused the oil pressure to elevate).
Rumors are floating around like wildfire about where we will go next. After dinner I took a dip in the stream and the water was ice cold!
As I lay in bed before falling asleep I could not help thinking what a long and busy day today has been!
So ends part 73 of my wartime memoirs.