BACK AT THAT ONE TENT IN THE 316th BS - (submitted by Jim Pink, 316th Sqn)
Wilcox drops heavily on his cots edge, sitting there watching his hands shake
uncontrollably. I got to get some quality sleep, he
thought. Ever since his swim in the Adriatic, he has been having the same nightmare about the MG speeding back to the base. Today's mission won't help elevate these episodes. Second time in three trips they had their fuel tank shot up and three for three for the raft. If they had to ditch again without a raft, they may not be as lucky as the first time. The rescue plane was already in the air and picked them up relatively quick. If their stay in the water had been longer, who knows if they could have survived? Wil's thought went to his crew. He was responsible for their safe return to base and it was a bigger burden than he ever thought it would be. Flight training never prepared him for this.
Unlike most Army Air force Cadets, Wil wanted to be a Bomber Pilot. His Father had flown a Hadley-Page in the Great War. His pop had told him that he was able to do great damage to the Huns war effort whenever he placed his load on the target. This is what Wil want to do, great damage to the krauts. Wil had lost two Aunts and an Uncle in the Battle for Britain, and he wanted to make amends. Yet he was going to be good if he couldn't get a handle on these dreams.
Just as Wil fell back on his cot, Thorn burst into the tent bellowing, "Hay Wil, ready for some grub?" As the two men left for dinner he let these thoughts drift away.
BACK AT STERPARONE AIRFIELD - (submitted by Mark Yoshikawa, 317th Sqn)
Being in front of the formation of the 317th Squadron aircraft, the ground crew for Divine Wind realized that they were going in for a long night. One of the props was feathered, multiple holes in the waist area, the tail gun didn't look right, it was at an angle that it couldn't be put at.
Two red flares shot out from the plane and the meat wagons started to stage near the runway to follow the plane. As the wheels touched down, it seemed forever for the plane to come to a stop. Some of the people on the field thought the pilot was just being cautious. The ground crew new better. Somewhere, the hydraulic line was hit and there wasn't any brakes on the plane.
It was going to be a real long night.
ALL THE LEAVES (IN THE FORREST) ARE YELLOW AND THE SKY IS GREY -
(submitted by Neil Amoore, 317th Sqn)
“Welcome back, you lazy sonuvabitch!” Charlie Yablowski, navigator of Silver Spoon, boomed out as he pushed his way through the crush at the bar in the Officer’s Club. The target for Yablowski’s uncharacteristic outburst was Jim Blackmore, bombardier aboard the Spoon. Things must have been rough around here while he was on the Isle of Capri, Blackmore thought. Yabo was generally a quiet, nervous guy. Good navigator cos he paid attention to detail, but not much of a talker. For him to be this ebullient meant he either drunk – unlikely – or relieved to see Blackmore.
Blackmore ordered a beer for his friend while the diminutive Yabo forced his way between two pilots from the 399th. He wasn’t all that unhappy to be back, he mused. He’d felt like a fraud being sent off to sun and chase the babes on Capri. He wasn’t sorry he’d gone, mind, just sorry he hadn’t been able to take some of the boys with him. He especially missed Al Williams, the original co-pilot of the Spoon. He’d gone home minus an arm, and Blackmore found it lonely sometimes.
“Tell me all about it, Jim! Did you get laid? Didya? What are the women like there? I’ve told the skipper I’m going there soon as I get rotated!” Yablowski babbled. It MUST have been a tough coupla days! Blackmore knew the Group had flown a coupla missions while he was gone, but nothing serious had happened to the crew. It could only be one thing, as usual – Forrest.
“Slow down, Yabo! Capri’s everything you think it is, and more. Tell me what’s got you all excited,” he interrupted.
“Nothin’, Jim, nothing, just good to have you back is all!” Yablowski sputtered.
Handing him a beer, Blackmore started the arduous task of getting Yablowski to give him a coherent description of the last week’s events.
Yablowski related how Forrest and Amoore, the new 317th and Spoon skipper had been locked in a war of words. Forrest had tried to get the crew doing basic evacuation drills and weapons inspection, which had infuriated the crew chief. He had gone straight to Amoore, who’d torn strips off Forrest, and an uneasy silence had settled for a week or so. The mission to Prato, though, had seen it flare up again. Forrest had flown the mission with Amoore in the co-pilot seat. No one knew for sure what the two of them had said to each other after debriefing, but Colonel Lamb and Amoore were seen deep in conversation with a white-faced Forrest soon after. The crew of the Spoon had been given a few days breather after that, with Amoore and Forrest doing “LOTS of air-testing of the Spoon”. The crew chief was puzzled, cos the plane was in tip-top shape. Rumor had it that Forrest’s flying had been under serious review after Prato.
What made it worse, was that Forrest was due to fly the Klagenfurt trip too, but had insisted he was too ill to fly the morning of the mission. Amoore had almost kicked his butt onto the hard-stand and into the plane, but had taken the pilot’s seat.
“I’ve never seen him that mad before,” Yablowski grimaced. “What you make of him, Jim?”
Blackmore still wasn’t too sure what to make of their new pilot. He was a good flyer, more instinctively so than Forrest. He tried a bit too hard, though, and the men hadn’t really warmed up to him yet he didn’t think.
“Dunno yet, Yabo, but he can only be a damned sight better than that other bastard.”
“Say, Jim, why you back so early anyhow? Thought you were only due back in a week or so?”
“Didn’t like the idea of you fellas fighting the war without me. Who’s going to look after you Tabo, if I’m off chasing tail?” Blackmore smiled, punching Yablowski’s shoulder playfully. His smile and the lightness in his voice wasn’t convincing, even to him, though. Truth was, he’d felt like a caged lion away from the trappings of war. Strange that. He would speak to Amoore in the morning about getting back on flight duty asap.
THE NIGHT BEFORE MISSION 17 - (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)
August West looked up from his sketch as DeLyon, Watson and Rushmore entered, bringing with them the mingled odors of beer, cigars and cigarettes. West was proud of his men for knowing that, with another mission tomorrow, they'd need to turn in early and not overdo it. The last thing they needed up in the air was a man who was hung-over or, worse yet, still drunk.
West had excused himself early from their new-found card game ritual on the pretense that DeLyon had once again cleaned him out (which was almost true). The real truth of it was that he had found himself struggling to keep his beer intake down to one, and that the best way to fight the temptation for more, even though he really didn't like beer, was to remove himself from the situation. He found that sketching helped clear his head a little bit; the concentration on the paper and pencil drove away (mostly) the thoughts of the bottle.
While his officers got themselves ready to hit the sack, West put the finishing touches on his sketch: an ocean scene based on a photograph of a beach in Maine, where West had spent some months during his nomadic period. Rushmore peaked over his shoulder.
"Hey, that's really good, Gus!" stated the navigator. "Looks like the place where my family used to vacation."
"Thanks," replied West. "I really love the ocean." West had grown up in Illinois, and hadn't seen the ocean until he left what had passed for home at 15. He'd hopped a freight train and ended up in Norfolk, Virginia. He'd been captivated by the sea the first time he'd laid eyes on it.
"So how come you didn't join the Navy?" asked DeLyon. He was stashing the
night's haul in his bag. It looked substantial, the
"Trying to kick me out of the pilot's seat to take it yourself, Billy?" asked West with a laugh. "I had thought about it at one time. But then, a couple of years ago, I was living in San Diego. One night I ran into some Squids off the Navy base there and joined them for drinks. Woke up in an alley with a really bad headache."
"Too much to drink?" asked Watson, the bombardier.
"I wish," replied West, with a rueful chuckle. "It was from getting kicked in the head. I don't remember everything, but those boys had been spoiling for a fight all night, and I guess I ended up obliging them. Anyway, it kind of created an aversion to joining the Navy. I guess I was afraid that I'd run into those guys on a ship and they'd finish the job."
"Well," said Rushmore as he got into bed. "Let's hope for all our sakes that we never have to rely on the Navy to help us out, if you know what I mean."
IN A TENT AT 2:23 AM ON THE 18th OF JANUARY 1944 - (submitted by Jim Pink, 316th Sqn)
Dripping wet, hands shaking and sitting on the end of his cot, Wil couldn't get the image of the MG going over the cliff out of his head. Yet it was a bit different this time, Sgt. Goldie was driving not him!? Had Dennis jumped out?
CAPTAIN O'CONNOR'S THOUGHTS ON THE RUNWAY - (submitted by Paul O'Connor, 317th Sqn)
Damn, I'm flying lead.
Right out front where I can get my ass shot off. First they make me Captain, then then put me out front. They're trying to get me killed. Why did I want to fly in the first place? I should be in the ground crew. Those guys have it made.
I haven't been hit yet. Not a scratch. Every single one of the guys from the old crew has earned a purple heart or a pine box but I haven't been hit at all. I've been on a lucky run but now I'm out front and my luck is going to change. I can feel it.
I don't know half the guys in the crew, now. Who's on bombs? Cecil Highsmith? What kind of name is Cecil Highsmith? And my new navigator is named Robert Dennis. I don't trust a guy with two first names.
Damn, I'm the lead plane. If I screw up, everyone will know it.
My tail gunner, Tieger, told me last night that he's getting married. Guys that are getting married always buy it. More bad luck coming. Lead plane. What are they thinking?
MISSION 17 IS ON!
The lead plane, Darkwatch, with its four engines idling awaits at the edge of runway One-Six. Right behind Darkwatch is another B-17, and it's followed by another, until a total of 24 bombers in all are all lined up at Sterparone Field, home of the 88th Bombardment Group. The three men in the first cockpit are anxiously awaiting for the start of the mission. Today's mission will be different for the front crew. The Darkwatch has already flown thirteen missions but this is the first time the plane and its crew have been designated as the group's lead crew. The crew's combat experience is mixed, from both pilots who have flown all thirteen missions, to none for their new replacement bombardier.
Sitting in the right seat is Lieutenant Christopher Ulm from Los Angeles, California. He is looking at the control tower at the far end of the field, waiting for the green flares that will signal the start the mission. Keeling next to Ulm between both pilots' seats is their flight engineer, Staff Sergeant Adam Poulous from Portland, Maine. He is keeping a watchful eye at the engines' RPM and oil pressure, looking for the slightest drop that might spell trouble. Sitting across from the co-pilot in the left seat is Captain Paul O'Connor from Cambria, California. He is staring straight ahead, lost in his thoughts.
Looking up from the instruments, Poulous notices the Captain is acting strangely today. Normally he would be a ball of energy, always in motion, checking and double-checking the instruments. Must be because we're the lead, Poulous speculates as he glances downward. At his left knee, something catches Poulous' eye and he picks up a shinny religious medallion.
Holding up the medallion by the end of the chain, he announces, “Hey, Skipper. I think you dropped this. You don't want to lose your lucky charm, especially not today, sir.”
Startled out of his trance, O'Connor turns his head towards Poulous. “What? Oh, thanks, Adam.” Smiling, O'Connor takes back his medallion. “Thanks a lot. Yeah, I sure don't want to lose this,” O'Connor said pocketing his medallion.
“Green Flare!” Ulm cried out as he points toward the arching flares coming out from the second floor of the tower. “The mission is ON!”
O'Connor and Poulous silently nods to Ulm indicating 'this is it.' O'Connor activates his throat-microphone. “Pilot to crew . . . Time to go . . . Hang on.”
O'Connor eases the throttles forward and his four Wright-Cyclone engines start to loudly roar. At 2,500 RPM, he releases the brakes and the Darkwatch slowly begins to move forward and it slowly builds up its ground speed as it travels down the runway. As both pilots concentrate looking forward and flying, Poulous is counting off the air speed. Within forty seconds, Darkwatch has reached its take-off speed of 110 MPH and both pilots pull back on their control wheels. As Darkwatch slowly leaves the ground, Ulm applies pressure to the break pedals to stop the rotation of the main landing gear and he flicks the switch to retract the wheels up into the wings, one wheel safely tucked under each of the inboard engines.
Darkwatch flies straight until it can build up enough air speed to climb to the briefed altitude. At 140 MPH, O'Connor reduces the engines' RMP to 2,300 and the Darkwatch begins the climb away.
The second plane, Divine Wind, has already lined up at the edge of the runway and begins the same sequence and starts to revs up its engines. Sixty seconds later its pilot, Mark Yoshikawa from Bakersfield, California, releases the breaks and the Divine Wind rolls down the runway. Sixty seconds later the third B-17, Memphis Gal, goes down the runway. Another sixty seconds, Bewitched takes off. Within 25 minutes, the last of the B-17s, Darla's Bite II, lifts off the ground.
Mission 17 is ON.
Control Tower Reports - Mission 17 - (submitted by Dan King, 316th Sqn)
Just after the Rally Point, leaving Florence:
“Joker Leader . . . This is Joker Six . . . Joker Leader . . . This is Joker Six . . . We have lost engines 1 and 3. Props are feathered, but I can't maintain my position in the flight any longer. I guess we ill have to try and make it home alone. Keep the porch light on. Out.”