About two days before the mission the navigators were briefed and were told we were going to bomb the Ploesti oil fields in Romania and would be the first U.S. aircraft to bomb Europe. They were also told to chart the flight over Turkey. He also said if we had a problem to try to land in Turkey because Colonel Craw (who had been in Turkey) told him if we had to land there we would be able to gas up and be out in 24 hours.
The next day we had a general briefing - the British were there and we were given escape equipment and so on. The navigators were not to tell the pilots or anyone else about their briefing. At chow, about 6:00 PM, the pilots were call to Colonel Halverson's private room. He closed the door and on the inside was a map. He said you were told at the briefing you were going to fly around Turkey. He said you are going to fly over it and the navigators have already been instructed.
About 9:00 pm on June 11, 1942, the 13 operational airplanes were taking off to go to Ploesti. I think I got off the ground around 9: 15 to 9: 30. I had a little problem with #2 engine--- had a little fire coming out of it, but soon extinguished and we continued on. since we did not fly in formation it was sort of a dog-eat-dog situation and each individual could fly the altitude he wanted to go into the target with, but stay as high as he could.
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I think at this point I'm going to clarify a couple of things. When I left the states my airplane was called Hellzapoppin and after we got over to Fayid Egypt we went out about three days before the mission for a run in the desert. When we came back to land my nose wheel collapsed on landing. I had no indication that anything was wrong. It took the flexible gun up front and just turned it up and made a skid out of it busting the front of the glass out of the Navigator's observation window. So we put the wing jacks under it and threw the nose wheel out and taxied it over to the ramp and had to take another airplane on the mission, which was called the Blue Goose. That's when I had to take the Engineer that was on the Blue Goose instead of taking the one I had on the original airplane. That should clear that up.
I believe we went over Turkey that night about 10,000 feet since I know we used some oxygen at the time. Early morning on the 12th of June, we were over the Black Sea and began to climb to high altitudes and look for a horseshoe bend in the Danube River, which would take us into the target. Ploesti is about 80 air miles north and slightly west of Bucharest.
We went in at about 25,00 feet to the target, but could not see a thing due to a heavy overcast so we dropped down to about 8500 feet (after thinking about it we were probably lucky we didn't get hit with bombs dropped above us). We had no radio contact with any of the other planes and no idea where they were since we did not fly in formation.
When we dropped down to make the run on the target, I got the plane all squared away and called Wicklund on the intercom and told him to get the bomb sight set and take over for the run. The rear bomb bay doors were open and I kept waiting for the plane to lift as the bombs dropped out. About that time #2 engine was smoking and running real bad, so I had to use the fire extinguisher and feather the engine. Of course I didn't know what was wrong or what caused the problem, but later found the #9 cylinder head on the front engine bank had been blown off. I called Wick again and asked why he had not dropped the bombs. He replied that he saw a little bit better target. I said, "Man, we just lost an engine and if you don't drop the bombs I'm going to salvo the rack. After a few minutes I felt the plane lift and knew he was making his drop. We were heading in the direction of the Black Sea and I called the stations to see if anyone had gotten hit. Thank goodness there were no casualties.