When we arrived at our base at Fayid, Rommel’s Afrika Corps was only about seventy miles from Alexander. His spies must have reported the presence of the large bombers that had just arrived at Fayid. One night just before we left there was an interesting display over the Suez Canal area. Evidently it was a high-flying German observation plane. The sky was lit up with hundreds of searchlights. We never heard what happened to the German plane. Pursuit planes had taken off and the plane flew out of range of the searchlights and disappeared. The Germans never bombed the field while we were there, so I guess we got out before they could get a raid organized.
On the night of June 10, 1942 we all were called in and were briefed on the details of the mission. We were to fly straight across Turkey, a neutral country, at 25000 to 30000 ft. altitude, head northwest for the point where the Danube River meets the Black Sea and from there go directly to Ploesti drop our bombs and try to get back as best we could. Our navigators quickly calculated the round-trip distance to be around 2600 miles. This was the very maximum limit for a B-24’s range. Two days before the scheduled trip to Ploesti we took Hellzapoppin out over the desert on a practice bomb run. After dropping our bombs, we returned to the base. Upon landing our front wheel collapsed and old no.23 skidded along on her nose to the end of the runway. Since the plane could not be repaired in time for the Ploesti trip, we were assigned another plane named Blue Goose. The pilot of this plane was ill and returned back to The States so our crew replaced the crew on Blue Goose.
The night of June 11 was totally dark. There was no moon at all and everything on the ground was blacked out when we began to take off at eleven p.m. We could not fly in formation so everyone was on his own. We climbed to our designated altitude of somewhere near 30000 ft. At this altitude the temperature was minus forty degrees Fahrenheit. Sometime during the night I noticed a searchlight beam piercing the darkness. This I reported to the pilot. We kept on flying as other beams came on. We then noticed flashes of light from the ground. Somebody on board shouted out,” Hey, they’re shooting at us.” I myself was trying to shrink myself up into the smallest ball that I could. The searchlights never found us so we kept flying until finally everything was total blackness again. Some time during the night as we headed west I noticed a dull glow in the east. It appeared that the sun was coming up, but it had a strange reddish hue. We later learned that was the glow from the Russian City of Sevastopol under siege by the Germans.
We approached the Romanian Coast just as the sun was rising. We were ordered to re-check our guns and that is when I discovered that after several hours at minus forty degrees, the hydraulic fluid had become so viscous that the turret would barely creep around. The sun was now up and shining squarely into my eyes. I could see nothing. By looking down I did get a glimpse of a river below us. I assumed it was the Danube. Shortly after this we noticed that there was a low cloud covering everything below. The pilot and bombardier decided we should try to get below the clouds in order to see the target so we made a rapid descent through the clouds. As we did so, our cold airplane entered the moist clouds and everything iced up. The inside of my turret was coated with ice. As we approached what the navigator assumed was the target he called out, “Bombs away!’ I heard some explosions as if there was some sporadic shooting from below but I still could see nothing until looking out my side window I could see smoke pouring out from one of our engines. I reported this to the pilot and he ordered the engine shut down. By this time we had turned and were heading east.
The flight to Ankara was surprisingly uneventful. We had got back above the clouds and no German planes followed us. After leaving Romania, we let down to around eight thousand feet altitude and headed for Ankara. Our number two engine smoked all the way. When we reached the Ankara Airport and landed we were greeted by Turkish soldiers carrying guns with very long bayonets attached. The bayonets were pointed at us. The main thing I noticed was that they were not smiling. They seemed very serious. Finally someone who spoke English approached and our pilot began talking with him. Actually there was not much explaining to do because two B-24’s had landed before us. They, like we, were also out of gas. After a while, the U.S. ambassador showed up and things became more amicable. We were all gathered for a photo shoot and then we were escorted into the terminal restaurant where we ate our first Turkish meal. Later we learned that our government was presented with a bill for this show of hospitality. The end of this flight was the beginning of our stay in Turkey, which for me lasted eleven months.