TOWER RECEPTIONS: MISSION 49
Over the Adriatic (zone-3 inbound):
The 399th watched as two groups of enemy fighter savaged the squadrons lead aircraft, Lucy Quipment. The crew was giving as good as they got and at least two German fighters were lost during the attacks. As the Jerries came around for another pass the aircraft slowly fell out of formation under heavy attack. The 399th closed formation with the Lauralee taking the lead.
Radio Transmission From Civic Duty II to the Control Tower
“Buckeye Three to tower, Buckeye Three to tower . . . be advised we are coming over the field for a pass. Our landing gear won’t lower, our bomb bay doors are jammed and we still have our bombs aboard, and we're leaking fuel from our port wing tank. I will be dropping 9 chutes over the field, and then heading out to ditch if I can reach water. Buckeye Three out.”
At Sterparone Field - The Bombers Return:
It was about 30 minutes pass 12 noon as the unmistakable rumble of Wright-Cyclone engines were heard overhead above the farmlands of the Sterparone valley. The Double-Eight group was returning from their latest mission to northern Italy, one of six B-17 groups assigned on today’s mission.
The ground crews and aircrew who were not assigned on the mission stopped whatever activity they were involved with at the time; maintenance on planes, playing baseball, taking naps, all were peering upward, watching for familiar planes bringing back friends and comrades-in-arms. Ground crew chiefs like Elias Presley from the 399th squadron, Tommy Oyama of the 317th squadron, and Martin 'Pappy' Fen and Sam Rupert of the 316th squadron were particular interested if their particular charges were flying overhead. Oyama, Presley and Rupert were certainly no strangers when 'their' planes didn't return. It would be a sad and depressing evening with no planes to work that night since each plane not safely parked at the hardstand meant there’d be ten empty spaces at tonight’s chow and the crew’s personal belonging would have to be cleaned out before the replacement crews arrived.
Standing at the ground entrance to the control tower was one of the pilots not assigned to today’s mission. He was wishing he was up there with his friends. Captain Paul Griffin used his high-powered binoculars searching for a unique and distinctive identifier; the all blue-colored rudder paint scheme used by his squadron. Griffin could make out only four; he couldn’t see the other two 316th planes. They might be up there getting ready to enter the landing pattern but he couldn’t tell for certain. He’d hoped the entire squadron made it back today; their CO mentioned they’d be having another one of their 'senior pilot staff meetings' tomorrow night to relax and blow off some steam playing cards since the weather was predicted to be bad for the next four days.
Nearby the veteran pilot stood a newly assigned Lieutenant who was eagerly watching and he stared in awe at the sight of the returning bombers. He too wished he was assigned on today’s mission but for a different reason. Ralph Henderson’s first combat mission assignment two days ago when the group flew to Nis was not how he imagined he’d start his tour; his plane developed engine difficulties during the engine start-ups and his bomber had to be scrubbed.
On the observation deck of the base’s control tower stood the Ground Operations Officer, Captain James Jefferson, and some of the control tower staff. Soon portions of the mighty aerial armada appeared overhead from the northwest and they began to circle the field forming up into the landing pattern. The first to land would be bombers firing red flares indicating that they had seriously wounded men aboard. Jefferson noted the direction and speed of the wind, A slight breeze, 5 miles from the west, east-west runway today, were his initial thoughts. He then raised his binocular and silently began to count the planes. Nearby, Sergeant Walter Davis checked his watch and recorded the arrival time and he would note the times when each plane had finally touched down.
Appearing from the door way was the group’s CO, Lieutenant Colonel Lamb, and he took his usual spot on the deck next to Jefferson. “How many so far, Jimmy?” he asked in a-matter-of-fact tone.
Replying in his familiar southern drawl, “Ten so far, Colonel.” Now lowering his binoculars, Jefferson gave a quick salute to the Colonel. “But don’t worry, Colonel, I’m sure there’s more still out there,” Jefferson said optimistically. “They’re just taking their sweet old time gettin’ home, Colonel.”
Quickly returning his salute, the Colonel smiled at Jefferson’s viewpoint on looking for the silver-lining in any potentially bad situations. “Any word on stragglers?”
“Only two so far called in; Short and Bertolino’s planes, Colonel,” answered Jefferson. With a worried look, Jefferson continued. “The Civic Duty is in bad shape. 'Shorty' reports his bombs are still aboard and he can’t lower his gear. He plans to let his crew bail out before heading east to ditch the plane in the sea, Colonel.” Anticipating the Colonel’s next question, he added, “And we’ve alerted Air-Sea to be lookin’ out for him.” After thinking for a moment more, Jefferson spoke up again. “And I told that boy don’t be the hero. I told him, once he reaches the sea, set her on auto and bailout. Air-Sea will come and fetch him. Sure hoped he listened, Colonel.”
Civic Duty II Approaches The Coastline (zone 1):
“Buckeye Three to tower . . . looks like I made it to the water . . . auto-pilot set and functioning normally, I'm going to try to bail out prior to crossing out over the coast . . .”