We reached the Group IP…turned in squadron single file and dropped our bombs on the squadron leader’s salvo. We were attempting to rally into group formation when all hell broke loose. Our tail gunner, Ruben Montanez, yelled, “I see fighters, I see flak.” Then the entire plane began to shudder and shake with the guns in the rear of the plane firing simultaneously, and from the impact of 20mm and 30mm enemy shells.
As our plane continued to shake, my co-pilot Bill Boykin, pointed out his side window at B-24’s in the other squadrons going down on fire, and enemy fighters exploding. Our intercom went out to the waist and tail within seconds. Our top turret gunner, Charley Craig, reported that there were five enemy fighters on our tail for a few moments. I could see the tail gunner in our squadron and element lead motioning for us to tuck in closer so he could get better shots at the 109’s and 190’s.
Then, as suddenly as it all started, it was all over – maybe three to five minutes in all. Only seven planes remained at that moment to form on the 1 surviving PFF plane so our squadron leader became the group leader. Our nose gunner, Les Medlock, reported more fighters coming at us from 11 o’clock low!
Thank God, they were ours.
Since the intercom was out, I sent the co-pilot back to the waste to report on damage. When he came back, Boykin, a tough ex-football player and former cavalryman, was shaken. The tail turret had caught fire from direct hits by 20mm canon. Bot waist gunners and the tail gunner were wounded and bloody. There was a huge hole in the right waist ahead of the window and the left waist window was shattered. Control cables to the tail were partially damaged and the twin vertical rudders were frayed and appeared to be disintegrating. Looking out the co-pilots window, we could see a three foot hole in the upper surface of the wing behind the #3 engine, where 100 octane gasoline was splashing out.
The hydraulic fluid fire in the tail turret was quickly extinguished. There was no Oxygen and the electric flying suits were inoperative at the waist positions. The navigator, Herb Bailey, took over the nose turret while Medlock made numerous trips, carrying portable oxygen bottles, from the front of the ship to the two wounded waist gunners and slightly wounded tail gunner. He covered them with his jacket and applied first aid.
Fortunately our VHF radio performed perfectly. I made several calls to the new group leader, asking him to slow down to 160 mph, because our ship was shaking and shuddering like it was about to break apart.
It finally became apparent that we’d have to drop out of formation and slow down. Also we had to drop down to a level where we wouldn’t need our depleted oxygen supply. I made the decision to risk ditching in the channel in order to get the wounded to a hospital sooner. We switched to the Air-Sea rescue channel and called “Colgate”. After we identified our plane and described the problem, Colgate had me give a long count so they could get a RDF fix on us. He gave me a heading and ordered me to report back every ten minutes.
About an hour later, we dropped through the clouds to see the white cliffs of Dover and the super long runways of Manston directly ahead. One question remained. With the direct bombardment by up to seven enemy planes (one exhausted his guns on us – our gunners reported that one ME109 flew below us for several minutes waiting for us to go down), would our gear and flaps go down? What about the landing gear and tires?
Divine Providence was indeed with us. The landing gear went down and locked perfectly. The flaps went down all the way and the tires were fully inflated. The landing was one of the best I ever made in a B-24 – like we were on feathers.
A day we will never forget – 27 September 1944!
Courtesy: 8th AF News, April 1989 (15-2)