ROBERT J. STINE|
Memories and Biography of
World War II - Ploesti
Specific Mission Comments
The December 6, 1942 bombing raid on the German airfield near Abbeyville, France, came close to being my final mission.
As we approached the target about 30 German FW190 fighters attacked our flight of six airplanes. The German fighters attacked us head-on in waves of two or three. In one attack, three 20-mm cannon shells hit our plane. Upon hearing the explosion, I looked back through the celestial navigation dome and could see that one of the 20-mm shells had gone through the windshield and that the pilot (Tom Holmes) and copilot (Robert Ager) were slumped over unconscious.
Howard Klekar, the bombardier, hurriedly crawled up to he cockpit to see what he could do while I plotted a course to the nearest air base in England and continued to man the nose guns. The airplane was losing altitude rapidly and out of control. The pilot and copilot had serious head wounds and Sgt. DeBerry was also wounded.
None of us other crewmembers were trained to fly the airplane. However, the bombardier and I agreed that we would try to fly the plane back to the base rather than bail out over enemy territory and leave the unconscious pilot and copilot aboard. After what seemed a very long time, but was probably only several minutes, the pilot regained consciousness and was able to bring the plane under control and fly it back to the base.
The May 14, 1943 raid on the shipyards at Kiel, Germany, was probably my worst combat experience. Upon reaching the German Coast, we came under continued heavy anti-aircraft fire and German fighter attacks. An 88-mm anti-aircraft shell exploded directly under our airplane causing major damage to the bomb bay area so that the bombs could not be dropped. The tail gunner was injured by flak and the radio operator was injure din one of the fighter attacks. On the way back, we became separated from the main formation and joined two other planes as we were laving the German Coast. By this time, we had been under almost continuous attack for an hour or more. Off the coast of Holland, seven German fighters started attacking our three-plane formation. We managed to shoot down or damage five of these fighters, but not before they raked us with gunfire.
Now our concerns were the incendiary bombs still hanging in the bomb bay and the major damage to the airplane. The bombardier walked out on the narrow bomb bay catwalk and with a pry bar, pried the bombs loose so they fell harmlessly into the North Sea. But our troubles were not over as the hydraulic system was shot out and there was considerable difficulty in getting the landing gear manually cranked down and locked.
Upon landing there were no brakes and at the end of the runway we were still doing about 40 mph. Tom Holmes, the pilot, skillfully managed to make a screeching right turn onto the taxiway and the airplane coasted about 150 yards before coming to a stop just a few feet from another airplane. Besides the 88-mm shell damage to the bomb bay and left rudder, the maintenance crew counted 27 20-mm cannon hits besides a large number of flak and bullet holes in the plane. Our luck was with us that day.
Of the 26 bombing missions that I flew, the August 1, 1943 low-level raid on the refineries at Ploesti, Romania was probably the most hazardous. It seemed for a while that the mission was jinxed when one airplane crashed on takeoff and another exploded over the Adriatic Sea.
After six and one-half hours flying, we were nearing the target. As we made our final turn toward the target, we flew over a B24 that had crash-landed and some of the crew were climbing out of the plane and waved to us. The thing that sticks in my mind the most is just how fast that things seem to happen at an altitude of about 100 feet and 200 plus miles per hour.
I could clearly see the enemy shooting at us with everything from large caliber guns to rifles. Our plane was in the lead and it seemed as if all were shooting at us. I can, to this day, see in my mind a soldier standing on the porch of a house shooting at us with a rifle.
As we approached the target, anti-aircraft guns mounted on a tower dead ahead were firing at us and I could see the gunners were zeroing in on our plane from the trajectory of the tracer bullets. The top turret gunner and I managed to silence these guns when we hit the ammunition or some other explosive on the tower and it exploded hurling the gunners form the tower. Immediately after leaving the target, we saw what appeared to be a haystack ahead, which folded down revealing a German anti-aircraft gun battery that started firing at us.
On the other side of the gun battery were some people having a picnic or some kind of social activity. German fighter planes continued to attack us for some time after we left the target area. About this time, someone reported over the intercom that S/Sgt. Williams had been hit in the abdomen and was seriously wounded. I recall that there was a conversation about how we might get immediate medical attention for him considering that we were about six hours flying time from our base or any allied-controlled territory. Sadly, he died before any decision could be reached or action taken. There was something about crossing the Danube River that gave me a feeling that we were going to make it back.
This was my last mission.
P.S. These specific mission comments are recorded on the enclosed tape almost verbatim.