NOW PLAYING: Tokio Jokio - Submitted by Phillip Zaragoza (318th Sqn)
"The 88th BG Movie Matinee for Christmas - "Tokio Jokio"."
From the diary of Lt. Yoshikawa after the Athens mission - (submitted by Mark Yoshikawa, 317th Sqn)
December 25, 1943
Well here it is Christmas, family is out in the middle of nowhere, had to send
one guy home, and two guys are still in the butcher
shop. At least they didn't cash in their chips. We got seventy-two since the weather has been like pea soup. It will do the men good to be able to just relax before the next mission. Don't need anyone getting the jitters before the next mission.
I understand that we weren't the only one's that had a problem being tail end-Charlie on the last mission. One was shot to hell like us and the other one didn't make it. Hopefully the next mission will not be like the last. We don't need anymore people populating the butcher shop. From what I saw when I went to see Yano and Sasaki, looks like there have been a lot of casualties from the past three raids. In fact the scuttlebutt is that nobody wants to be tail end-Charlie. It's almost as bad as being in the Purple Heart Corner.
I guess some of the men are starting to get use to use being here. In the
mess hall last week. A lot of them were joking about stuff
from Hawaii, except that most of us are from stateside, so we don't know a lot about things out there. If we keep on showing them that we will keep on going no matter what, things just might be tolerable for the rest of the war.
From the old man I am suppose be a Junior Birdman now. One of the first in our group. Hope I don't have to go through the same thing in order to find out how to get another one. Don't need any more fruit salad on my chest. Talked to the new guy that is replacing Sasaki while he is recovering. He also understands what we are trying to prove to everyone. Since most of us are from stateside instead of Hawaii, he knows what all of us are going through.
Guess after the weather gets better we will find out what the next mission will be. Hope it's not another one of those junior proms. I don't think the old man will be able to tolerate it. But as my father always would say when the executive order was posted in our neighborhood . . . Shigatanai, it can't be helped . . .
TOUGH ASSIGNMENT: Andrews Prepares his crew for Rimini, 26 DECEMBER 1943 - (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)
The men filed out of the briefing room silently. Tail-end Charlie! An assignment that no one wanted, especially not after last mission. Four planes had occupied that slot last mission; two were badly shot up, one didn't come back.
"Well, Frank," said Vinny Fratelli grimly, "good thing we took that extra gunnery practice the last few days. We'll probably need it."
They boarded the truck to take them over to the hangars. Frank looked around at his crew: there was little of the nervous energy that had preceded last mission. Pressure's on, he thought. Time to pick these guys up. He cleared his throat.
"Men," he began. "Today we have a great honor and responsibility. As 'Tail-end Charlie' we are responsible for covering the back door of the group -- it's up to us to keep the Germans from breaking up the bomb run from the rear. By placing us here, Colonel Lamb has shown that he believes in us, that he thinks we're up to the task. We're not going to let him, the squadron, or the group, down. Let's go!"
Hardly the Gettysburg Address thought Frank, as they
jumped down from the truck and began the final preparations for boarding The
Russian Lady. However, Frank was happy to notice that the men looked a
little more upbeat than they had moments ago, and
hoped that he could get them back without incident.
A QUIET WORD . . . - (submitted by Neil Amoore, 317th Sqn)
There was no easy to say this, Al Williams realized.
The Silver Spoon's co-pilot waited for the other crews to leave the briefing room, and asked his pilot, Milton Forrest, to join him for a private chat before take-off. It was helluva bad timing, but in war there was never going to be a good time to discuss this. At least this way was better than going to Capt Montague, skipper of the 317th, and bad-mouthing the guy. Forrest hadn't been in good shape since the death of his closest friend the only guy on base who put up with him, most said it was Spencer Kennedy, over Elesius a few days ago. He'd been roaring drunk in the officers' club a few nights ago, and made a right royal fool of himself. Well, bigger than normal anyway, Williams mused.
"What do you want?" Forrest asked, slightly bleary-eyed, but without his usual sarcasm. That wasn't a good sign.
"We've got a big show today, sir, and I need to know that you can handle it," Williams said, searching the man's face for a sign that he understood how serious this was . The rest of the crew, the six that remained anyway, were close to throwing their pilot out of the plane over their next target. Even the new guys in the crew knew what a pain in the ass their new skipper could be. News traveled fast.
"You calling me a coward?" Forrest spat.
"No sir, just need to know that you're up there for ALL of us not just yourself," Williams said, keeping his eyes locked on Forrests'. He'd be damned if he let the man stare him down. He looked like crap after two days of drinking and lying in his cot, hardly the kind of thing to instill confidence in the men. He'd heard Montague and the Colonel have a word with him about his appearance in the last few days. It hadn't helped much, he still looked and smelled like a rats ball-bag.
"I'm fine, you lousy bastard! Keep out of my way, and worry about flying for a change," Forrest rumbled, turning on his heel and stalking off towards an awaiting jeep.
"What was that all about, Al?" Jim Blackmore, the Silver Spoon's bombardier, asked softly.
Williams had been too deep in thought to notice his mild-mannered friend walk up behind him. "Nothing, Jim. Nothing."
"Didn't look like it, buddy. That snotty prick has been peeved at you ever since the CO put you in for the gong and not him."
It had become a private joke between them, Williams reflected, but they both knew that the bombardier had been equally deserving after the Elesius trip.
"Them's the breaks," Blackmore had aped after the news had come in. Nothing much seemed to bother the man, Williams mused. He'd been embarrassed though, like the rest of the crew, at Forrest's behaviour in the OC that night. Poor old Mark Yoshikawa and Paul O'Connor had borne the brunt of Forrest's ramblings, and he and Blackmore had had to buy them both a round of drinks to smooth the waters.
"Lets get on with it, shall we?" Williams said, straightening his cap and shrugging his chute over his shoulder. "We've got a war to fight!"
"War-monger!" Blackmore grinned, punching him playfully on the arm.
Williams resolved to speak to Montague after they landed. The 317th's skipper was a rough and tumble Irishman, who played hard and fought hard. He was an okay sort, but not the sort of man you crossed too often. Forrest was on thin ice already, and that ice was creaking under the weight of the crap he'd caused.
Sighing, he strolled after Blackmore. 46 to go after this one.
PRE-MISSION - (submitted by Paul Scheepers, 317th Sqn)
Flynn slowly walked around the big war-bird, his hand lightly touching her cold skin . . . Roberto Almeda, the engineer, frowned slightly as Flynn moved past him whispering in the eerie half light. "What was that, sir?" inquired Almeda.
"Oh, nothing!" smiled Flynn coming out of his trance. Roberto had seen this type of thing before although admittedly, it was done with horses and not machines. It had almost seemed as if Flynn was talking soothingly to the B17 like a horse whisperer. Roberto completed the checklist handing the form back to the crew chief, who muttered, "What's up with the Lieutenant, Rob?"
"Dunno!" lied the engineer. "The guy is just very thorough, I suppose."
The two walked back to the hanger, leaving Flynn sitting under the wing waiting for the rest of the crew to arrive.
Colonel Lamb looked out his side window, hoping to catch sight of the other two groups that at this moment should have been already taken their places above and below his group. The irritated group commander looked at his wristwatch again. Five minutes overdue! Where the hell were the others?
"Co-pilot to navigator. Are you sure that WE are where we're supposed to be, son?"
"Navigator to co-pilot. Yes, sir, I am sure. I've checked and double-checked my maps and charts. And the splasher beacon signal confirms this is the place."
Turning his head towards the aircraft commander sitting in the left seat, he sarcastically asked, "Well, Dan, ever been invited to a big party and you were the only one to show up?"
"Can't say that I have, sir." Tanner could tell from the Colonel's frustrated tone that the Colonel was fit to be tied. This was the Colonel's first time in leading an entire wing on a mission and things were already SNAFU. Feeling helpless as Colonel Lamb, Tanner activates his throat mike, trying to feel useful. "Pilot to crew, what's the formation looking like?"
"Tail to pilot. I don't know about the others but we're looking good, sir. All our squadrons are in their positions, ready to go."
"Pilot to tail gunner. Monty, I know we're all here. What about the other groups? Any signs of them?"
"Tail to pilot. Sorry, Captain. Just the 88th is all I can see."
"Top turret to pilot. Still no sign of the 301st, Skipper. Although I do see some Jugs weaving back and forth above us. But where the 38s are, I can't see 'em."
"Ball gunner to pilot. Nothing below me but the tops of the clouds, Captain."
"Radio to Co-pilot. I've received a message from Wing, Colonel."
After a few moments of silence waiting to hear what Wing had to say, Colonel Lamb inquires back. "Co-pilot to radio. Well, speak to me, son! Or is this message so top secret that I have to come back there and read it myself?"
"Radio to co-pilot. Oops, sorry, sir. Wing said one bomb group is up but the other three along with two fighters groups aborted due to fog. Wing said it was your decision to abort. That's all, sir."
Colonel Lamb shook his head, silently cursing. With his initial frustrations over after taking in the news, he turned to Tanner. "Well, Dan, it's not a recall but yet they're leaving it up to me whether to abort or continue with the mission. Now that's a fine situation, Dan. Someone at HQ doesn't want to take the heat for calling off the show and yet, if I do carry out our orders and it goes terribly FUBAR, it's my head. If I abort, then it looks like I took the easy way out, that I'm not fit to command, that I can't make the tough decisions."
Tanner quietly listened as the Colonel vented his thoughts out to him. Tanner had heard rumors that the only reason the 'old man' had gotten command of the 88th was that he was a good organizer but had no combat experience nor was he a West Point man. But the Army at the time was desperate enough for groups to be ready for deployment, that they gave the Colonel the group to get it trained. And once the Colonel showed he couldn't handle the job in combat, he'd be replaced with someone who could. What the Army give-ith, the Army take-ith away or so went the old saying. Well, it seems like the rumors were right. Some higher ups had it in for the Colonel.
"Ball gunner to pilot. Captain, I see coming through the clouds more 17s. I see about 10, no wait a second, make that 16 . . . there's another 6 . . . and 3 more . . . still more coming . . . looks like there's about 30-to-35 in all. They're taking up their positions in the low box. There's the Y inside the diamond on their tails. Yep, it's the Diamondbacks alright, Captain!"
Tanner looked out his window below him to confirm for himself what his gunner had already reported to him. "Well, at least Colonel Settlemire and his boys made it. They're a little late but they're finally here."
"Well, Dan, how do you feel like calling the whole thing off and going back to bed?"
Tanner's eyebrows were raised as he wondered if the Colonel wanted to abort. "If you're asking just for me personally, Colonel, I had enough sack time with the five days we stood down after Athens." And he added, "Besides, it might be bad for group morale, Sir, considering that we're already up here. The men don't like the waiting before a mission. And once you've taken off, only to come back without accomplishing anything, well, it wears on a man's nerves. You abort too many times and they just might go flak happy. It's better to get it over with."
"Thanks, Dan for your opinion," Lamb said. "Those were my thoughts exactly. We still have about 60 heavies carrying 5 tons of HE each. That's plenty enough of a force to plaster the target. Besides, we'd have to jettison the bombs in the sea and we used up all this gas for nothing."
Seeing that the Colonel had made up his mind, Tanner went along with him. "Yes, sir, it'd be a shame to waste government property for nothing. Especially the gas, with rationing situation back home like it is. It's like admitting to the Germans that they can win this war."
"Yes, and we can't let that happen, now can we?" Colonel Lamb slyly asked.
"No, sir!" Tanner replied back enthusiastically.
"Besides, what's the worst that can happen, Dan?" Colonel Lamb asked Tanner.
"That you somehow managed to lose both groups over Rimini, sir?" Tanner joked.
"You're damn right! And if that happens, I wouldn't blame HQ for court-martialing me for being an idiot!" Lamb joked back in return. "Co-pilot to radio. Give me group channel."
"Radio to co-pilot. Ahh, begging the Colonel's pardon but what about the radio silence, sir."
Lamb admired the boy for standing up to him about proper mission protocol but the 99th and 325th needed to know what the situation was. "Co-pilot to radio. Son, the Germans already know we're up here milling around in circles. And they know something is up. They have radar too, you know. But what they don't know is where we're going. By the time they figure out we're only going up the coast a bit, we should have hit Rimini and be back in time for lunch. Now, son, are you going to get me that channel or do I have to find another radioman WHO WILL?"
"No, sir, Colonel, sir . . . You can go ahead now, sir."
"This is Joker Leader, to group. Proceed as briefed without the rest. Follow me. That is all. Joker Leader, out."
As the 55 B-17s of 88th and 99th Bomb Groups and the accompanying single squadron of 16 P-47D fighters of the 325th Fighter Group headed northeast towards the Adriatic Sea, Tanner made a silent note to himself that he needed to have a little talk with his radioman after the mission on why the Colonel was the colonel and why he was only a sergeant.
OVER RIMINI - (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)
Frederick 'Fudge' Johnson felt uncomfortable. First, the tail gunner probably had the second least comfortable spot on the plane beside the ball turret; secondly, as the tail end of 'Tail-End Charlie', Johnson felt horribly exposed.
Lieutenant Hawkins came on over the interphone to announce that they were entering the target zone. "Look sharp, everyone," reminded Lt. Andrews. "We're not likely to get in and out without seeing anything."
Suddenly, Johnson tensed -- was that what he thought it was? Yes! "Bandit, 6 o'clock High!" he called out. Almost immediately, other voices came on the interphone as well: "1 Bandit, 12 o'clock High, 1 at 12 o'clock Level" from Vachon, who sounded irritated that the Germans were going to interfere with his final preparations for the bomb run by making him fire the nose gun. "1:30 Level" called Hawkins.
Johnson took aim at the Me-109 bearing down on him from above. Do it just like in training, he thought to himself as he fired the twin guns. He saw the tracers streaming towards the target. Looking good, he thought, adjusting his aim slightly. The 109 began spewing smoke, then a ball of fire burst from the engine and the fighter began spinning wildly out of control. Ha! thought Johnson, Looks like I'll be collecting the cash tonight!
The other 109s passed by and peeled away, whether they were trying to pick an easier target than The Russian Lady or because they were scared off by the loss of one of their comrades Johnson didn't know. He didn't have much time to think about it, either, as the gunners were soon calling out more attackers. Johnson had two coming in from 6 High. He called out to Meyers in the turret to take the higher, closer fighter, and aimed at the second one. He definitely hit it, he could see some smoke, but it was a 190 and it was coming in too fast for him to keep up with it. Johnson felt the plane shudder as shells tore into it. That's my fault if anyone got hurt! he thought bitterly.
He looked for another target. The plane shuddered again; Johnson felt something tear into his right side. The voices of his crewmates coming through the interphone seemed to blend into an insect-like buzz that reminded him of the summer cicadas back on the farm in North Carolina. For a moment it seemed as if he was there, sitting on the porch on a warm summer evening, and then everything faded out. Port waist gunner Albert Seaton heard the others calling out fighter positions, but nothing had come into his field of fire -- yet. They had just driven off four 109s, and someone, he guessed it was Johnson, had sent one plummeting earthward. Moments later, more were coming in. He heard Johnson calling two on the tail, then he felt rather than heard something slam into the plane nearby. No time to worry what it was, for here, at last, was a bandit of his own, coming fast, from 9 o'clock Level.
Seaton poured fire at the FW-190, but the pilot was good -- he kept jigging just enough to keep Seaton missing. As Seaton shifted to try and keep up with the fighter, he stepped on something that wasn't there before. He absently tried to kick it out of the way, but whatever it was, it wouldn't move. Then the Focke-Wulf let loose with a devastating burst that raked the plane from front to back. The plane lurched sickeningly under the fire, then steadied as Andrews brought it under control. Seaton craned his head to see if there were more fighters; he realized with a start that fuel was pouring out of the wing tank.
"Crew, check in!" demanded Andrews. He sounded as though he were grimacing in pain. One by one, the men started reporting in. "Bombardier, Okay!"
When it was Seaton's turn, he called in. There was nothing from Hickock.
"Sergeant Hickock, report in!"
Seaton turned for a moment to look at his partner in the waist. Hickock was lying face down on the floor, his head lying at an impossible angle relative to his body. It didn't take a doctor to know that he was dead. Seaton's stomach did a flip as he realized the object he had been standing on was Hickock's foot.
"Lieutenant Andrews," said Seaton weakly. "Hickock's . . . dead."
There was a mere second of silence over the interphone, then Andrews called out, "Tailgunner, report!"
Silence. Then, from Richardson in the ball turret, "Bandit, 3 o'clock level! Damn, I can't hit 'em!"
Seaton turned to man Hickock's gun, but the fighter had already closed and fired.
TOWER RADIO RECEPTIONS: MISSION 4
A crackle from the radio could be heard " **Y DAY! MAY DAY! HOOSIER D****** IS GOING DOWN! REPEAT, ***SIER D***Y IS...(static)"
"Russian Lady to tower . . . Russian Lady to tower . . . Request priority on landing, repeat, request priority on landing. Will require ambulance for wounded and fire fighting crew on standby. We're leaking fuel from our port wing and have one seriously wounded crewman on board . . ."