Wilbur Mayhew Mission November 26, 1942

Ferry mission 26 November 1942

The following morning at about 8:00 A.M. (0800), 26 November 1942 (Thanksgiving Day), we left Malta for Maison Blanche Airport in Algiers, Algeria. At that time Malta was completely surrounded by German 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 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 six gunboats in the harbor that were sailing east, presumably to Tripoli, Libya. We thought they were British, so we did not pay much attention to them. 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 did not 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 three fighters passed us about 1f2 mile to our right, but continued on their way. At the time, we assumed they were P-51 's from General Eisenhower's forces, but we learned later they were Bf- 109's (P-51 's were not operating in that theater yet). Apparently the German pilots assumed the plane was a captured B-17 being flown by a German crew at that altitude. We continued to Algiers at that altitude, landing six hours and fifteen minutes after our take-off at Malta. When our navigator, Captain Lewellyn Daigle, checked in at Maison Blanche, which was 8 miles from Algiers, 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 Mediterranean Sea). Thus, we had been over German territory most of our trip!! Maybe you think we did not do some shaking then!!! We never have been able to figure out why we were not fired upon. That really was a Thanksgiving Day for us.

The Germans missed the opportunity of a lifetime by not shooting us down with all that rank aboard. Sfax was not captured by the British until 10 April 1943. In fact, our Bombardment Group (376th) bombed Sfax 16 December 1942. Even Tripoli was not captured until 23 January 1943.