“My other embarrassing landing was under much different circumstances. As you remember, we were returning from another bombing mission to Naples. This was December 12, 1942, the first anniversary of my graduation from flying school. We had dropped all our bombs and had very little gas left. The bird was very light.
"It was a dimly lit moonlight night. Fortunately, we had a horizon. I could see nothing on the ground. This was the same but earlier version of the airstrip (LG 139) that was made by scraping the desert sand. This dry African soil could have supported a battle ship it was so hard.
"At this time, the forward strip was well within range of German night fighters. There was no control tower. We couldn't use our landing lights for fear of attracting the Germans. Goose-neck flare pots marked the strip. These were kerosene flares like we used to mar k hazards on our roads back home. These flares had hoods on them so they could be seen from the landing direction only. In fact, they could not be seen until you were almost on top of them. They were difficult for enemy planes to see as well.
"Our first pass at the runway revealed that we had a strong cross wind. The first attempt to land gave even a better indication. It was directly across the runway at some 30 to 40 mph. We had to land. We did not have enough gas to go elsewhere.
"To land in a cross wind, one has to crab the plane into the wind so the plane is angling into the wind but the track of the bird makes a straight line down the runway. You can't land a plane sideways so just before you touch down you kick rudder to line the plane up with the runway. The momentum keeps the plane going straight down the runway for a few seconds.
"I found on the first try that when I crabbed into the wind the angle had to be so great that the big B-24 nose blanked out the runway flares. The cross wind seemed to be getting stronger. There is another way to land in a cross wind - not usually recommended for you could dig a wing tip into the ground. You lower the wing into the wind. I soon found out that I couldn't lower the wing enough to kill the drift across the landing strip.
"l decided that a combination of the two methods was my only chance. I thought I was doing pretty well but at the last minute I lost the flares again and was forced to go around once more. I poured on full throttle to regain altitude. As I did I felt the landing gear touch the ground. I chopped the throttles and braked as hard as I could to make the shortest roll possible.
"Whether making a touch and go or making a short landing, you don't know what is out there in the darkness. Once on the ground I stayed there. It was a rough ride over the little piles of sand that collected around the clumps of bushes in the desert. We were well to the right of the airstrip. It was too dark to see much but everyone including the aircraft seemed to be in good shape. We decided to leave it there until next morning so we could see what we were doing. We were too far from the runway to be blocking it. A truck pulled up and took us somewhere. I don't know where we slept that night but it probably was in a tent somewhere using our sleeping bags. Some may have slept in the plane as was often the case.
"The next morning I went out to the plane and was startled to see just how far from the runway we were. I was even more startled to see a crashed B-24 between our bird and the runway. Lt. Whitlock had crashed his B-24 the night before. He was not as lucky as we were but no one was injured seriously.
"Landing this far away from the runway is understandable when one realizes that once you decide to go around there is no need to stay lined up with the strip. We were getting a lot of help from the cross wind.
"l taxied the plane to wherever it should have taken the night before. After we were gassed up, we flew back to our home base at Abu Sueir. I think we are the only ones who remember the incident but I will never forget lt.