It was a night take-off. Forget what time. But just about right to make it dawn over the Black Sea upon arrival. Almost certain Wilkie (Wilkinson, Wilcox, Etc.) and I were the last off. Or damn near
The Briefing: The OIC was R.A.F. We were instructed to leave Fayid airport (RAF Station) and fly almost due north to Rosetta Point --- from which we would take a course to the coast of Turkey ( DO wish I had a map available!) ___ and thence - fly west to just beyond the Bosporus -- then north into the Black Sea --- and west again to the coast of Rumannia at Constanta (seaport). From there we would fly UP the Danube, to a point where it split (?) - at which point we would notice a small island at the split. From THAT point, we would assume a heading for Ploesti. Straight on in. We were told that our alternates in the event of emergency would be (damn, I need a map!) Tiflis in Russia, and a Turkish base in S. Turkey. I'm quite certain we had a telephone number W call in Turkey --- and a code expression ---- all designed to allow us to get in, get refu2lLed or whatever - and get out.
Second Briefing: subsequent to the above, Bernie Rang gathered the navigators together and assembled us in one of the base quarters. Forget who's. There Col. Halverson joined us. A map of the Eastern Mediterranean was posted. He very simply repeated the RAF briefing - showing us how we would fly from Rosetta Point to the coast of Turkey (to a lighthouse), and then - his finger resting on the lighthouse, asked "Notice that you'll be flying along this line of Longtitude. Can I help it if the line goes straight across Turkey?" That's about all he said, except in leaving, he turned and said, "I'd recommend a minimum of 14,000'. Those mountains really get UP there." Bernie then took over - in his usual straight-forward way •••••••• in effect: "Horseshit on that land in Turkey, call a telephone number, etc! YOU'll just get your ass interned if you ever land in Turkey. Tiflis - the Russians --- despite the stories of the famous red-haired women so prevalent there --- FORGET IT!"
"If you MUST stop short someplace, get your pilot talked into heading for (?) base in southern Turkey --- at which point, having gotten THAT far, talk him into heading for Aleppo in French-Mandated Syria. Just across the upper end of the Med.”
This was quite a relief to us, for we damn well knew the B-24D wouldn't fly the route laid-out by the RAF. Don't know where they got their HIGH opinion of our range. Of course, you know, the ULTIMATE destination on return from the raid was (God, I'm getting senile) Ramadi? In Iraq? Iran? (Where's that map?) Anyway, an RAF station, way down on the Euphrates River. Believe there were actually bases available.
Forget the actual bomb-loading, except that it consisted of 6 500-lb bombs. Don't recall nose and tail fusing. (Incidental?)
The emphasis on the briefing was the need to hit the Astra Romana refinery ----- the crux of the works. We were told we could end the War ? years early, if we could put that damn thing out of commission - permanently. (Impossible of course). Perhaps - and very likely so ----- the raid has as much political significance as strategic or tactical --- for Stalingrad was under siege at the time. (Do I recall seeing artillery? Guess not).
Can't recall how many of us went on that mission. The number 10 comes to mind.
Take off was routine. The flight north across the Med ditto. Forget our altitude. Perhaps 10,000 or so. Saving oxygen for the big run-in.
We hit the lighthouse on the South Turkish Coast - right on the money - and I gave Wilkie a heading for the north coast of Turkey - to the lighthouse that I'd noticed on the map on that far side of Turkey. My own idea. Don't recall that northern lighthouse having been mentioned by Bernie or Col. Hal. Just spotted it on the map, as I recall. We were probably at 14,000 by then - for I believe the pilots were read-in on the "route alteration" by then.
It was fine weather - and we just flew on now. Don't recall what phase of the moon. (Why don't you look it up?) We were using "Metro wind" at the time --- as briefed to us by the weathermen ---- and amended by our flight to the south coast of Turkey. The metro wind was right-on, as I recall. I don't believe I made any changes. (After all, we DID hit the southern lighthouse on the nose - so the wind had to be right).
Sometime later - as my ETA for the north coast of Turkey approached, I saw a light in the distance --- to the RIGHT. Obviously, to me, the wind had shifted, and we had drifted left --- toward Istanbul. But not knowing EXACTLY where I was - in order to compute the current wind - I merely told Wilkie to head for the light (which I assumed Was the northern lighthouse) --- at which point - with some calculation - I could figure out what wind effect had affected us. And then - from a new POSITIVE point, could redirect him to Constanta.
We flew on --- toward the light.
It was the DAMNDEST light! Never got closer. Just sat out there - bright as hell, no flickering. I became confused. My ETA was shot to hell. I had no idea of our groundspeed. And then - the revelation: the light Was a star or planet Venus, I believe. Damn thing kept RISING as we flew toward it. At which point, dawn came to us and we discovered ourselves OVER the Black Sea! No time for recriminations --- we ALL thought it a light. Same damn problem we'd had off the Coast of Fr. New Guinea in the Carib ------ damn star/planet!
With a sort of left-handed navigational "sense" of time/distance/heading: I gave Wilkie a "heading" for Constanta. Which worked --- for there it came, in the clear - right ahead. Time to check fuel, time in the air, new heading, etc etc --- a new start.
But as we approached Constanta - it was immediately apparent that heavy clouds --- 10/10's -- obscured the land area. Constanta Was noted to have numerous shipping in harbor as we approached --- at 30,000 indicated or nearly-so ----- on oxygen now. I felt such temptation to make a long bomb-run on those vessels! Tried to talk Wilkie into it ---- as bad as the Intercom was at that altitude. Nothing doing. We had been told to bomb nothing BUT Ploesti --- despite all. Wilkie wouldn't budge ---- on we flew. I recall seeing a flash of light from the ground ---- and from all my earlier "Flying Aces" magazines, assumed it was "Archie" fire --- ack-ack ----- antiaircraft. Strange feeling. Had no time for intricate computations, but just assumed it would take perhaps 10 seconds for that shell to reach our altitude. Recall looking at my watch's sweep-second hand and at 10 seconds - sort of a joke to myself as much as being real scared ----- holding my hands over my EARS! (Maybe I hated noise?)
We just drifted over Constanta --- now looking for the division of the Danube and that ISLAND. No go. The Danube was apparently in flood stage ----- just a real Mississippi Delta effect. And that was our last sight of the ground as we sailed over the solid overcast.
"Assuming" a position, I gave Wilkie a heading for Ploesti.
Time passed - and we just flew on. I had taken off my leather flight jacket and wrapped it around the Bombsight - which I had running - to keep it from freezing-up. But I was damn cold. And always remembering the briefing by Major Johnny Payne - our Flt Leader - that at 20,000 feet, you couldn't last long without oxygen. And we were at 30,000! Felt that if I removed that mask for an INSTANT, I would have had it! So just shivered.
Suddenly, a cacaphony on the intercom. Just garbled words. Wilkie, in his usual CALM way, tried to get the "sender" to talk slowly and clearly. We finally learned that the tail gunner was trying to tell us that we had a fighter coming up on our tail. Wilkie merely told him to " ••• keep your eye on him!' I peered thru the astrodome to see another B-24 coming up on us. (We'd been briefed to look for each other, and to "pair-up” if we came together).
The other B-24 came up to us on our right wing --guess Wilkie throttled back. We paired off and flew side-by-side for perhaps 15 minutes. I looked across and recognized Ted Bennett in the nose ----- Mark Mooty's navigator and my best friend.
We exchanged "arms out - palms up" "where the hell ARE we?" signals. But - as briefed - maintained radio silence.
And then I had my greatest moment! (Dumb shit). I looked out ahead - about 20 degrees right - and saw BOMB FLASHES! Having been the last -- or near last - to take-off, I KNEW (thought?) that the flashes came from earlier ships bombing --------- never having dropped anything more than a one-hundred pound practice bomb, I just KNEW those flashes had to be from 500 pound bombs.
Not knowing just where the hell I was ---- atop the overcast - and not having had a chance to check drift and get a wind effect factor --- it seemed the quickest and slickest way out of the situation to just "head-for the bomb flashes". And I instructed Wilkie accordingly.
We didn't exactly "peel-off" - but did swing out and head to the right. Mark Mooty and Ted just flew on. And we lost them shortly.
After about 15 minutes, I got the message. The "flashes" were lightning! A storm. Can't describe my emotions at THAT point. But checking back on WHEN we changed course (for I was "following the compass" -and getting back "onto" the old wind factor I had in crossing the coast, I redirected Wilkie to Ploesti. Hopefully.
The ETA for Ploesti came us fast. Clouds were still 10/10's beneath us --- perhaps at 10,000'. The temptation was to get down and SEE. But the briefing - again--- Was to - under NO circumstances - LET DOWN. The alternative was to bomb on ETA. Which at this point - Was MOST problematical! Nevertheless - I HAD one. For what it was worth. Sooooooo, opening the bomb bay doors, setting the bombs on train (forget what interval) - I just watched the ETA come up on my sweep hand.
At the last moment, I had an impulse. I set the damn bombs on SALVO! All-together. A real DUMP.
We dropped - and peeled right - back toward the Med. (I understand someone got a Mineral Water factory - always hoped it was me! Don’t believe in mineral water!)
As we headed back SE - I checked my maps - and, as I recall, didn't have a very good map of the Eastern Med. Gave Wilkie a heading for the EAST portion of Turkey - toward Tiflis, Toward Aleppo, etc ---- hoping to “skim" the edge of the Med.
Forget our altitude - for we had let-down ------ but the damn mountains were REALLY up there! Took MORE than 14,000 as I recall --- to cross-over.
Taking my compass bearings from this dumb little map I had (SURElY I had been provided with better - must have lost it or some silly thing) -- I awaited Wilkie's asking me for a heading to the "friendly" Turkish airfield --which I was supposed to divert him from ------ talking him into Aleppo, etc --- as briefed by Bernie. But Wilkie never questioned me. GREAT PILOT!
But he DID question me when we ran out of mountains and found ourselves over desert! We had missed the whole goddam Med! I REALLY skimmed it close! We were breezing down the damn Euphrates - as briefed ----- BUT, we were really LOW on gas. Wilkie wanted an alternate. Of course! Aleppo. But where the hell was it?
No stars. Nor could I EVER shoot start. So - just as well. But I COULD shoot the damn sun! Which I did. And got a line of position that showed me south of Aleppo. No way to get an EXACT course back to Aleppo ------ so told Wilkie to fly west until we hit the Med. and then north to Aleppo. And that's what we did. Came in and landed. Can't recall the amount of gas remaining.
DO recall getting out of the nose and finding a few French soldiers accosting me at bayonet point. Mumbled something about "other" American airplanes, and had one guard point over my head. Turning around, I found myself standing right UNDER the tail turret of another B-24! Never saw the damn thing!
Somehow, we ended up in town - at a hotel - quite (relatively speaking) modern.
After that, recall Wilkie and Wilcox, I assume, etc - on some roof garden restaurant ---- facing a big bowl of cherries on ice ------ and falling asleep on the table, head in hand. Having to roust out a chambermaid at the hotel - who had "collapsed". (from overwork?) on one of our beds (she was - maybe -- 70 years old?).
Took off - next day? not sure ---- and back to Fayid.
Took notice of the biblical features of the geography as we flew on. Mt. Arastat? Etc -----
Wilkie for the first time - told me that I had the damndest habit of holding down my Mike button after I'd transmitted - which killed HIS transmission! He also - when I told a “joke" on the intercom - responded by just simply pressing his mike button. I complained at his "cold" reception to a good joke, and he asked me, "What do you want me to do? Say 'Ra ha"? I felt he had a point ----