For the most part, ship convoys with supplies for Rommel started from a port in Greece. They would make a run to the island of Crete, usually Suda Bay, stay over for a day or so, then try to make the run to Benghasi or Tobruk when it was dark. We, the 98th, and the RAF 159 Squadron would hit them between Greece and Suda Bay; at Suda Bay; between Suda Bay and Benghasi, or Tobruk; then hit whatever was left in which port they made.
At a briefing in July '42, we were told by British Intelligence that a 14 ship convoy was leaving Greece loaded with supplies and troops for Rommel and that it was critical that as few as possible of them get to Benghasi. We, and the RAF 159 Squadron, hit them between Greece and Crete; hit them again in Suda Bay, in Crete, where they laid over for a while before they made the run to Benghasi; then hit them again between Crete and Benghasi, Between us, the 159 Squadron, and the Allied E-Boats in the Med, only one ship made it into Benghasi harbor. Three planes of us were then sent to get him. Again, I think that 'Babe the Big Blue Ox' led the formation.
I think it was mid -morning then we got over Benghasi harbor. There were fighters and the flak was reasonable heavy. We could see the ship tied up to a wharf down there. So we started our run. If I remember rightly, it was just about when the bombs were dropped when our right wing man got hit. I don't know whether it was flak or fighters but he started to smoke and lose altitude in slow spirals. Chutes started to come out of the plane and we counted six. Then the last guy came out. The chute didn't open. I don't know who it was and hope I never find out. I think every guy in the remaining two planes was praying for that chute to open. We watched that figure fall all the way down from high above, and splash in the water. It seemed like time stood still.
(Editor's note: The plane lost was 41-11600 Eager Beaver flown by the C. O. Brown)
Well, we got the ship. Apparently it was either being unloaded at the time, or was still fully loaded, anyhow, it made one helluva sight when it went up. We were told at the de-briefing that probably a lot of Arabs and/or Allied prisoners went with it. The Germans had a habit of using those people for that kind of work.
The British were very happy with what we had done. Fourteen ships started out and not one survived. We got a commendation for the mission but, sometimes you wonder.
It's 38 years later, I know. But once in a while, prompted by I don't know what, I will again see that figure falling, tumbling, and finally splashing down there in the water of Benghasi harbor. Whenever that memory comes back, frankly and unashamedly, I'll say a little prayer for whoever it was. The others whose chutes opened? Haven't heard a word to this day as to what happened to them. And, yes, I have a prayer for them, too. May they also rest in peace.