William R. Davis
by William M. Davis
The worst was about to come; we were all scared and no one said a word. The navigator was busy working on his log and I was busy making the last few computations for my bombsight in case I had to take over. I asked the navigator to put my suit on for me – they weigh a ton it seems like – but he said he was too busy; so I didn’t get it on – and neither did he. I pulled it up in front of me as best I could and made myself small trying to hide behind it. Only my head was sticking out but I could see everything in the area out of the bombardier’s window. In fact I could see too much - flak I mean. I felt the slight bank to the right and I knew we were turning in for the big show. – Tickets were already sold out and the aerial theatre would be jammed with flak and planes! I opened the bomb bay doors we started on the long run – 61 miles – every second seemed like a lifetime. I was scared; the navigator was too because he began crouching down behind me. He had an idea that if flak hit us in the nose that my body will slow it up quite a bit before it hits him! Nice pal – I love him. He always gets cute ideas on the bomb run to cheer me up. He pushed his mike button, showed me his watch and said “Hey, look, Davis, 15 more minutes to live old boy.” Lovely characters – these navigators!
At last the worst came closer. Down the bomb run we plowed still an undercast beneath us. But there was something radically wrong – we both sensed it. We hadn’t gotten a bit of flak the usual killer-diller puff-puff! The navigator looked at me and I looked at him – something was amiss, or was it? Our hopes soon faded. About two minutes from bombs away we broke out into the clear; right over the heart of the town; the whole area was clear as a bell; we were just so many clay pigeons for target practice; I knew immediately why we had not met the usual barrage. They had been quietly and very cunningly tracking us thru the undercast; we were their prey; they were coming in for the kill; the break in the clouds was the slaughterhouse! Here it comes I thought.
It did come – the whole damn works! The first thing I saw was the target dead ahead, right in town. I looked to the right a split second later and below me I saw the guns at Vosendorf Oil Refinery start barking. “Yipe” yelled the navigator, “Did you see what I saw?” I did, much to my sorrow. They had rockets mixed in with the ack-ack. Something new at Vosendorf. I saw four of them fire, watched the white trail of smoke they left behind, counted a slow fifteen or sixteen and puff-puff. They broke right outside our window. I stood up to look out the left window and see how the lead ship was doing. Our wingtips were almost interlocked. Then the flak came in. Not a shot was wasted; they had our altitude, course and speed to the foot and our bombs were hanging in the open bomb bays waiting to be hit. The first and last shots were right in there for perfect strikes. I never saw such a heavy concentration of flak in all my previous 30 missions like that which was tracking us at that moment. There was a close one right under my front window; we could hear the shrapnel tinkling off the metal fuselage. The flak was thick enough to walk on. It was all over the sky like a wet blanket; gave me the impression of flying through a snow storm only it was black. Over the intercom I could hear other pilots in the area that had gone ahead of us yelling that they were hit: some hit badly, some already going down, some with half a wing shot away, some with fires in the bomb bays, some with engines out or on fire, some with the pilots hit, some with rudders, ailerons, elevators, or all controls shot away, some in uncontrollable spins; all yelling for help or telling us goodbye – and we were helpless to give them any aid. That was combat at its best, or should I say worst! Just then I saw the lead ship next to us get a direct hit in its No.3 engine. It knocked the engine cold. He warbled a little, then settled down, feathered the prop and continued on. Bombs away! A sort of relief to me – but it was short lived. The next hit was scheduled for us. We got it; I jumped! It hit us directly between the No. 1 and No. 2 engines. I was sure both engines went out. Fear gripped us all! But we didn’t wobble. Two engines on the same side – dead – over the center of Vienna! What makes us so lucky? Just then a whole four gun battery must have gotten us. Four almost direct hits came in succession right up under our bomb bays – we counted them as they hit. The navigator tapped me on the head with each hit – one, two, three, four! I waited for something more to happen No. 1 engine was out I was sure it couldn’t be feathered and it was wind milling, wonder about No. 2.
We went on, straight ahead, instead of the usual rally; there was still more to come. I thought for a moment we had gotten out of the flak, but no – wham bang! Right back in there again it came. One of the gunners who had priority on us probably stopped for a
half second to change a hot barrel! Another hit went into our right wing near the No. 4 engine but the engine seemed not to be affected. Then about three more were called out by the men in the waist, very close, they had torn up the rudders and air conditioned the rear fuselage. Another one came up thru the nose wheel doors with a loud crash that caused a draft around my rear anatomy! They were still trying desperately to knock us down, but that old B-24 was still in there fighting and was taking their all. The gunner’s accuracy was uncanny; every shot was counting. Every second pulled us farther away from them, but they were determined not to let us go. I think they were really mad at us! Would we never get out of the range of their guns; seconds were eternity! Seemed as though they had their batteries lined up right along our course – out of the range of one – another one took up just where it left off. Some more hits – again in the rear; then one came thru the nose, right above our heads – Wow! A piece of shrapnel ricocheted off of something, missed both of us by a hair, then broke thru the bombardier’s windshield, and went back down to ground from which it had come!
end Part 1b