Robert Paul Kay|
On our 3rd mission February 25, 1945, we went to Aschaffenburg, Germany and bombed railway yards. We had meager flak at the target.
On our return, we were getting low on gas due to flying high right position, and according to pilot Bill Warner, had to pull a lot of power to keep up with formation. We left formation and were headed for gas at B-53 in France, when the pilot asked how long to fuel and landing? I gave him time and ET A. After he and the engineer looked at our fuel, he asked was there anything closer where we could land? He did not think we had enough fuel to reach B-53. I looked at charts told him a field was closer. He asked for heading. I guessed at heading to turn and told him to tum and I would recalculate and correct. He did and also let down on deck under the clouds. My Gee equipment went out, radioman had been given the wrong frequencies insert for that area that day (he was an excellent radio man). I recalculated our position and heading, and the pilot corrected. About that time we flew over two Piper cubs (1 assume artillery spotters) parked on a small grass runway. Pilot asked me what I thought. I said I believed we are on course to the airfield, straight ahead, but was not 100% sure, because I was doing dead reckoning and low to the ground under overcast.
Bill, our pilot said we could not fly much longer and he wanted to land on small grass field. His decision of course, we agreed, let's do it. I went back to waist with all of the crew except engineer, Billy Grau who insisted he stay up front and count air speed (not much needed as pilot and co-pilot were going to slow the plane down as much as possible). We were all in ditching position in back and (then one gunner called pilot he was afraid to attempt landing wanted to climb back up and bail out) I had just enough time to grab him, push him down against the others and lay flat on the waist deck with feet against small raised step. The plane came in with wheels down as recommended. We landed on grass, ran out of it shortly, and plowed through a farm road into an adjoining field. One landing gear collapsed, the front end scrubbed against the ground, breaking our front turret loose. Catwalk beam in bomb bay dug into the ground. Pilot and co-pilot's feet were lilerally on the dirt, the tail high in the air. Everyone in waist was OK. I did the only forward flip of my life during the crash, but unhurt.
As the navigator, I was scheduled the first man out. I opened the hatch and jumped or dropped 15 feet or so. I thought the plane would explode or burn. After I ran a good distance and heard no explosion, I turned and saw the front of the plane and felt pilot and co-pilot were badly injured. I ran back, climbed up and stood in the pilot's window and lifted the entire canopy area free over their heads. As it was torn loose, they climbed out between my legs, because the bomb bay was blocked. The engineer was the only person hurt (he stayed up front with pilots and Martin Upper Turret broke loose and knocked him against a bulkhead and broke his shoulder). Meanwhile, everyone in the back was dropping through the rear hatch with the man behind holding the hatch open. The last man out was Scorpio the Armament waist gunner. He dropped out and hatch door dropped closed on his hand with two fingers caught between smooth flat surfaces. He was hanging in the air with no support and much higher that we could reach.
An Army Major was driving a jeep along a side road but would not cross the small ditch at roadside. After a few choice words from the crew that didn't show any respect for his rank, he crossed the ditch. We climbed onto the jeep and supported Scorpio who could push up on the hatch with his free hand. He dropped out in our arms. His fmgers swelled to twice their normal size and were very badly bruised, but the skin was not tom or the fingers broken. After about a week they were OK again.
The pilot and I took the engineer to a hospital for care. We spent the night with coarse English blankets on wooden slat beds with no mattress. When returning the next day to the crash site, we found that the co-pilot and crew spent the night in the Prince of Monte Carlo's Chateau and easily located the wine cellar. They also had a deep bathtub and French maids. The engineer was shipped back to the states. They flew us to B-53 in France, in a C-47 .We made two attempts at takeoff with two planes before we flew a war weary B-24 back from the continent to Walton, a base in England. An Army truck took us back to base at Shipdam.
Note: We checked while in Laon, France, and there was an airfield (an A-26 Base) just over the hill. That was what I had calculated, but we may not have had enough gas to reach it.
Robert Paul Kay
March 3, 1945 - Mission # 4
Target-Rothansee Oil Refinery, which we hit with excellent results. When we turned off the target, the sky was black with flak. In this turn we were hit by flak. The No.1 engine was hit and caught fire. The pilot had to feather the engine. We got some pieces in the nose turret and pieces hit beside of me to my left. Our bomb bay doors were hung open and we could not close them. Hydraulic fluid was leaking allover the plane. Our electrical system was knocked out, so no interphone or radio. This happened before we could notify formation and ask for fighter support. At this point, we had no Gee equipment, no radio, and no electric compass. We did have our magnetic compass. We tagged along with each formation that came by until we could not keep up. We were flying an average heading toward the coast. I knew if we headed toward friendly lines we would be low and receive too much flak in the Ruhr Valley and maybe Hanover, so I kept Bill flying the direction we were headed and hoped we had enough gas to make it.
I was doing the pilotage when we came to a hole in the clouds. The pilot and I were passing notes back and forth on my charts. Finally, we hit the Zider Zee and then turned south. That way we missed flak and had a chance of reaching an airfield. They issued each navigator a photo stat (black and white) of their best estimate of where the fighting and lines were that day. There were two rivers and a canal. The fighting was along the middle stream. I told the pilot and he informed the crew. He also told the crew they could jump if they wanted to do so, as we had crashed on the mission before.
I finally let the nose gunner out of his turret, because before that, the wind would have blown all my charts away. He had been in that turret with no communication except, hand signals, since the target. The nose gunner went up to the flight deck and came back, saying the pilot was going to jump. I climbed up to the pilot and told him there was an airfield a few more miles in front of us where we could land. We tried to send nose gunner, Sgt. Bengston to waist to tell the crew we were going to try and land, but he had his chute on and could not get through the up rights on the catwalk in bomb bay and got hung up. With the bomb bay doors open and our hands cold from no heat since target, we were afraid to work with the parachute as it might open. So I told him to just stand there and hold on and wait for us to land.
The five in the waist bailed out. We landed on an RAP Typhoon Fighter Base near Vogel. The pilot and co-pilot who had both been flying with two feet on the rudder pedal since the target got us landed and stopped with no or very little hydraulic pressure. We were near the field when our five started jumping and the Typhoon Base crew had counted chutes. They all had opened.
We went to a hospital to wait for the crew to arrive. Four came after a time. But Bob Swegel, our tail gunner was delayed. He thought he had bailed out in enemy territory .So to escape, he dropped May West (Life Preserver) and other articles as he ran one way, then turned to go the other direction. As he came out of the thicket of small trees he had landed in, he saw a farmer running toward him (he had been pitching hay) with a pitchfork. As we had been told surrender to a civilian as a last resort. Bob ran back into the thicket. Then out the other side. Here he saw another civilian with a pipe he thought was a pistol, and back into the thicket to escape. Finally, a group of English soldiers were able to capture Bob. They brought him to the hospital where we all drank a glass of cognac, and with no food recently, I remember most of us couldn't hit the ground with our hats. It was a very happy time to be together and safe.
When we returned to base, they sent us to the rest home for seven days. Sheets on the beds, a butler with orange juice in the morning, it was great.