General Dwight Eisenhower landed the "Torch" troops in North Africa on November the 8th, 1942. The Germans in North Africa now were caught between the Yanks to the west in Algeria and the British to the east in Libya. In our sector, Major Max Fennell's crew was selected to take nearly all the high-ranking Air Force officers from Cairo, Egypt to Algiers, Algeria to confer with General Eisenhower and his staff. (We had been flying bombing missions in support of the British 8th Army from Palestine and Egypt since July 1942.)
Our crew consisted of Major Fennell - pilot, Capt. William (Jumbo) Stewart - copilot, Capt. Lewellyn Daigle - navigator, Master Sgt. Joseph (Joe) Taulbee - bombardier, Master Sgt. Joseph (Joe) Rose - engineer and upper turret gunner, Tech. Sgts. Keith (Mac) McJunkins - radio operator and waist gunner, Augustus (Pat) Patrick - armorer and tail gunner, and Wilbur (Bill) Mayhew - armorer and ball turret gunner. Needless to say, we felt rather honored.
We left Cairo (Landing Field 224) about 1 AM on 25 November 1942 in #9, our B- 17E ("Fennell vs. Rommel"), headed for the island of Malta. Besides our crew, those aboard consisted of Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, commander of all Air Forces in the Middle East (later General Eisenhower's Deputy Commander for the Normandy invasion); Major General Lewis Brereton, Commander of the U.S. Ninth Air Force; Brig. General Patrick Timberlake, commander of the Ninth Bomber Command; Brig. General Airey (British 8th Army); Colonel Uzal Ent (later Brig. General Ent of Ploesti "Tidal Wave" fame); Lieut. Colonel Louis Hobbs (General Brereton's aide); and 3 R.A.F. officers (ranks unknown). There was so much rank aboard, Colonel Ent sat in the back of the plane with Pat and I. We reached Malta about 6 hours later. The above ranking officers then spent the day conferring with Lord Gort, Governor General of Malta.
The following morning – 26/November/1942 (Thanksgiving) - we left Malta for Maison Blanche Airport, Algiers, Algeria. At that time Malta was completely surrounded by German forces and German occupied territory, so we had to be rather careful in our flight. We were supposed to have a fighter escort for this flight, but it never showed up (we never had a fighter escort during our entire combat tour). We were directed (by radio) to cross the African coast at Sfax, Tunisia, then proceed to Algiers. The radio message advised us that the British 8th Army had just captured Sfax, so we should cross the coast there in our usual manner for returning to Allied lines. Therefore, we crossed the coast there in our usual manner for returning to Allied lines. Therefore, we crossed the coast at 2,500 feet altitude (we always crossed below 3,000 feet upon return). I was in the ball turret of our plane, so I had a ring-side seat to the proceedings. I practiced tracking one of the six gunboats in the harbor that were sailing east, presumably to Tripoli, Libya. When we crossed the coast, Major Fennell was supposed to fire flares, indicating the colors of the day (which changed every 24 hours). However, we were so low, and our shiny B-17 was so well marked, he decided he didn't need to do so (which probably saved our lives). From my position, I could see people plowing fields, riding bicycles down roads, etc. At that altitude I could almost see the expressions on their faces as they watched us fly over. We flew unmolested over Tunisia on our way to Algiers. Once, 3 fighters passed about 112 mile to our right, but they continued on. At the time, we assumed they were P-5l's from General Eisenhower's forces, but we learned later they were BF-109's (P-51's were not operating in that location yet). Apparently the German pilots assumed our plane was a captured B-17 being flown by a German crew at that altitude. We continued to Algiers at that altitude, landing 6 1/4 hours after take-off in Malta. When our navigator, Capt. Daigle, checked in at Maison Blanche, he learned that Sfax was still held by the Germans, and we had just flown over more than 300 miles of German territory below 3,000 feet (plus a couple of hundred miles of enemy controlled Mediterranean Sea). Thus, we had been over German territory most of our trip!!!
The Germans missed the opportunity of a life-time by not shooting us down with all that rank aboard. Sfax was not captured by the British until 10 April 1943 . In fact, our Bomb Group (376th) bombed Sfax on the 16th of December, 1942. Even Tripoli was not captured until the 23rd of January, 1943.
We returned to Cairo at night at a much higher altitude (above 10,000 feet). The next time we took Air Marshal Tedder and General Brereton to Algiers on the 11th of December, 1942, we flew a B-24D deep into the Sahara, south of all German activity.
This possible catastrophic event was not mentioned in the autobiographies of either Air marshal Tedder ("With Prejudice") or General Brereton ("The Brereton Diaries"), so I doubt it has ever been recorded. In fact, they may never have known it happened. They were busy talking in the interior of the plane, and so far as they were concerned "nothing happened on the flight."