The mission was over Messina, on 4/30/43 - one of my very first. Probably my fourth or fifth, something like that, and we had just gone over the target and I think an ME-109 made a head on attack. He came real close to us when he went by and he looked like he really sprayed the cockpit. I was on Swarner's right wing. He was leading an element and Lt. Bley was on his left wing - Swarner made a circle to the right and started down.
Lt. Bley and I stayed with him and we built up a tremendous air speed. I remember that the fighters were following us and about the only thing that saved us was that we were going so fast. They would come in from the back end mostly. I know there were quite a few fighters and they just kept up their attack on us. I know that B-24 I had was #88 and that the air speed got over 300 and to keep it going down I put a lot of forward trim on it. When I tried to pull it out we were going so fast I couldn't budge the controls so I just pulled back on the trim tab a little bit at a time and the wings would go right back.
I can't remember just how low we went but I would say we were down to about 3 or 4000' before we broke off (maybe a little less than that) and we could see Swarner's plane when it hit the water. They hit with a terrific impact. The plane almost exploded. At the time we didn't think that there would be any survivors. We did note that the tail gunner (John Gaffney) was still firing his guns when he hit the water. Lt. Bley and I just kept on going and returned to the base. I was real surprised to learn that there were two people that survived. I was glad to hear that. (Al Romero, Waist gunner and John Gaffney, Tail Gunner were the only survivors.) I didn't personally know the crew too well because like I say, we hadn't been with the group very long and it was one of my earlier missions. If we hadn't followed them down the ME-109's would have finished him off in the air.
I can't tell you how many ME-109's there were but there were quite a few. My Tail Gunner said that he was blacked out so much of the time he had a hard time firing the guns cause there was so much pressure on him in the back end. He couldn't lift his legs he said - he was pulling quite a few G's - I don't know just what time probably when we started to pull it out. I was too busy up there to really know whether the Tail Gunners or Top Turret Gunners got into fighters - we had some damage. I don't remember just what was said in the Sortie report.