High Noon Over Germany

Europe, 1944

Howling Banshee Crewmen

We flew combat missions, practice missions, and sometimes transported fuel.

I kept a Pilot’s Log of all my flight time and related flight data. Our combat missions varied in difficulty. Sometimes it was a “milk-run” and other times we encountered great danger, especially over the heavily antiaircraft areas of industrial Germany.

We also flew many weeks of practice missions to keep us at a high level of readiness. We barely had time to “relax”. We certainly moaned about this but in retrospect it might have saved our lives.

Fortunately, we had a great crew and everyone did an excellent job. Thanks to them for all the backseat driving which saved our lives. All 10 of us from the Howling Banshee came home alive and uninjured from the war.

The closest anyone came to injury was Verle Erickson, the “Swede”, on August 6 during a rough mission to bomb an oil refinery on the edge of Hamburg. All of our planes were shot up pretty bad. Every plane got hit at least 10 times and ours got hit at least 13 times. One piece (about 2″ in diameter) ripped through the waist area, tearing the seat out of Swede’s pants as it went out the other side of the plane. Verle was okay and the plane made back to base in one piece.

Two other missions stand out in my mind: August 24 and November 5.

August 24

My crew claimed in a kidding way that I had bombed an orphanage.

This was a flight where we were all alone over enemy territory. As Don tells it “Target was an oil refinery at Mizburg, near Hanover. On the way across the Channel, we developed trouble in #1 and an oil leak in #4. As we had previous trouble in #1, we decided to turn back as soon as we could dump our bombs. As we approached the coast, we asked permission to bomb a target of opportunity.

They gave us an industrial section of the town of Wesermunde. We caught flak over the coast and peeled off about 20 miles inland. As we opened out bomb bays and began our bomb run, they began laying heavy flak on us, as we were the only flying target in the area. They were very accurate. They almost had us pinpointed when we completed our drop. Piskin peeled off to the right and made a spiraling dive. The flak burst spiraled down after us for 3000 ft.

As we pulled out of the dive, a fighter came right at us. I gave him several short bursts and he broke off. He pulled up to one side and gave us a closer look. It was a P-51 and had instructions never to point his nose at a bomber. He escorted us back to the coast after waggling his wings at us. We had no bombsight on our plane, but managed to hit some of the factories.

At debriefing, the intelligence officer threw up his arms in horror when we told him where we had been. He said they had not sent planes into that area in months because the flak was too great. He said there were 60 stationary guns, all close together. He asked us who had sent us there. It was Maj. O’Neil. Anyway, he said it was a good target-all industrial.”

November 5

We had our only emergency landing on November 5 and luckily it was in friendly territory, Lille, France.

Again, thanks to Don’s journal we have a detail account of the story. “Target was a marshaling yard in the Metz area. There was a lot of flak over the target. On the way home, we were flying against a very stiff wind. Could not understand why we hovered over the same piece of ground for so long. Finally we ran low on gas and looked for a place to land.

We found a grass fighter strip in France and would have landed there except we finally saw a transport plane that flew near and motioned us to follow him. We did and he brought us to a field with a concrete runway, full of bomb craters. We landed, swerving around the craters.

The field was near Lille and held by the British. A truck led us off the runway, where we promptly bogged down. We left the plane and got a lift into Lille, where we got hotel rooms, ate, drank and made merry.

Next morning, we shopped a little before going back to the plane. The French surely like Americans better than the British do. French money is very inflated – approximately 1000 Francs to the British pound. We towed the plane out of the mud, fueled up, and flew back home.

Undoubtedly, the stiff wind we encountered was the Jet Stream, which was largely unknown until after WWII.