The capitulation of Romania altered the picture
considerably for Liberator crews. No longer would they carry bombs to Bucharest
and Ploesti. But liberator missions were in the air for 20 days in September,
mostly against other targets in the Balkans.
The following month, deteriorating weather meant that B-24 crews could
fly only half the days on the calendar, although this included difficult visits
to Munich and Vienna.
On 7 October, Liberators of the 450th BG flew Mission 151 against
Winterhofen, in Austria. Bombardier 1st Lt. Everett Frank of the
721st BS/450th BG remembered;
"Just like on many other days in southern Italy, we were
awakened at about 0500 for briefing. The night before, crew rosters were posted
and we knew it was a maximum effort because 55 crews were listed to fly and our
normal was 28 aeroplanes (four squadrons of seven aeroplanes each).
sat in the briefing room with a din of noise, everyone talking and
wondering where we were going. Silence fell over the room as the briefing
officer walked up to the wall map covered with a huge window shade. As he
hooked the pointer to the ring on the shade and slowly raised it, we could see
the red tape, which showed the route to the target, going up and up and finally
ending at Vienna. You could hear the faint groans from the men. The target was
Winterhofen Oil Depot on the Danube, and we were to attack from 23,000 ft - kind of high, as we usually flew about 21,500 ft.
Take-off was to begin at 0841, and we would rendezvous with the 98th BG at 1014 at San Vito. We picked up 30 P-51 escorts at turning point Buc
at 1200 and proceeded to turning point Kotoriba, where rendezvous was made with
55 P-38s at 23,000 ft. We continued on to the Initial Point. The bomb run was
made on an Axis of 248 degrees. The gunners in the waist started to dispense
chaff. This was bundles of foil-covered paper similar to the tinsel you hang on
Christmas trees. It didn't help you, but it confused the German radar and
helped the aeroplanes in groups following you.
Usually, 1 kept my heated suit turned up to a reading of 10 at about
15,000 ft. I would gradually turn it down until by the time we reached the I.
P. I would have it unplugged and my shirt collar opened. This day we
were toggling on the leader and I didn't have much to do. Under these
circumstances I would usually watch the ground for the AA guns to start firing.
They looked like little clusters of sparklers going of in groups of five or
six. At that time the sphincter switch really tightened up and I would call out
to the crew, "Be ready! It's coming!" It took about 30 seconds for the
shells to reach our altitude. The first few burst usually gave you a good
indication of how accurate the flak was going to be. That was a long 30
The first burst
this day told us we were in for a rough 20 or 30 minutes. It burst off our right a couple of hundred
feet and right at our altitude. I
was the bombardier and didn't have much to do except to watch for the leader to drop and hit the toggle switch, as
I had already set up the intervalometer. What was I doing? Hiding between the
nose guns ammo boxes and trying to get my knees inside my helmet.
The mission report later said, "Flak over the target, intense, very
accurate and heavy flak of undetermined variety was encountered resulting in
damage to 27 aircraft. Black bursts were predominate and a few white bursts
were observed". I can assure you, they didn't overstate the situation.
When I yelled Bombs Away! Let's get the hell out of here!" the pilot, 1st
Lt. Charles "Andy" Andrew, called on the intercom. Then there was a pause.
A very unnatural and scary pause.
Then Andy cried out. "Frank get the hell up here Rhea is
hit!" He meant Charles Rhea. the co-pilot. I grabbed my parachute and
headed for the flight deck. I got on oxygen and stood behind the console. Andy
was in the process of feathering an engine and Rhea was slumped over the yoke.
The radio operator, Ron Argust, helped me pull Rhea back off the yoke so Andy
could pull the nose back up. Rhea regained semi-consciousness and we got his
leg over the console and we finally got him onto the bench on the flight deck
and hooked him up to oxygen He was relatively comfortable, but was in a highly
emotional state. He thought we might bail out and leave him. We finally got him
hooked up to the intercom and that relieved a lot of his anxiety. He then asked
a simple question that I will never forget. He" said, "Andy are you going to get me home?" His voice had a pathetic ring to
'Andy replied, "What the hell you worrying about we aren't
in any serious trouble". After we got Rhea on the bench I took my side
cutter pliers and cut through his heated suit and pulled away his clothing.
There was a big ugly hole in his right side. A piece of flak had penetrated the
co-pilot's fuse box and entered his side. The co-pilot wore a backpack
parachute and had the habit of just draping his flak suit over his shoulders
without fastening the sides. The flak entered his side where he didn't have it
fastened. Andy used to sit on his and pull it up between his legs as he had
gotten married just a few weeks before we left the States.
When I got most of Rhea's clothing cut away I poured Sulphamilinide and
dusted it into the wound on his side. I was amazed because
there was hardly any bleeding,
but of course it was way below zero and blood coagulated pretty fast. I then re-examined his chest and saw a
big ugly wound just bellow his heart. It looked like a big clot of blood in the
wound. I touched it with my finger - it was very hard, and
I took it between two fingers and wiggled it until it came loose. I pulled on
it and it came out. It was a piece of shrapnel about an inch-and a-half long
and approximately a half-inch square. I put it in my jacket pocket and
I poured more Sulpha in the wound. Remember, this was before penicillin
and antibiotics. We tried to give him a shot of Morphine, but he wouldn't let
us. He was still afraid we would bail out and leave him.
We hadn't admitted it to the wounded co-pilot but
this was an emergency. We had lost a lot of altitude and we were alone. We
didn't think there were a lot of Luftwaffe fighters lurking out in the
distance. We had another worry, for
Andy's first concern was getting us over the Alps.
Don't think for a minute that flying that B-24 is easy. It's hard to
keep that aeroplane on course and harder still to maintain an exact altitude. I
slipped into the co-pilot's seat to try to help. By the time we got settled
down, we had lost considerable altitude. The engineer, Joe Hornyak, had pretty
well determined the extent of the damage - nose wheel tyre flat,
one engine feathered, only partial throttle control on another engine, hydraulic system knocked out, tail damage
resulting in partial control plus
multiple holes. I took over the co-pilot's seat, and performed his duties to
the best of my ability.
'We decided to attempt to make Bari where the 25th General Hospital was
located. The trip to the Bari area was rather uneventful. Our plan was to
hand-crank the gear down and lower the nose wheel manually We called the Bari
tower and asked for permission to make a straight in approach. The engineer
hand-cranked the gear down and lowered the nose wheel manually. The engineer
notified the pilot that he wasn't sure if the left gear was locked down.
Our plan was as
follows - I would pump the flaps down with the hand pump to the right of the co-pilot's seat on
the approach using the hand pump. Andy said he would slip the aeroplane in
against the left wheel and try to lock it, and when he hit the ground, he would
signal me and I was to cut all the main engine switches to reduce and
possibility of fire if the gear collapsed.
We were coming along fine on a straight in approach at about 4000 ft
when all of a sudden we saw a B-17 flying the pattern on the down wind leg. It
was the only time in my 35 missions that I ever saw Andy get excited. He was in
contact with the tower and he yelled, "Get that SOB out of there or I'll
land on top of him! I can't go around! Get that SOB out of there!" The tower
was shooting red flares and the B-17 pulled up and went around. Andy slipped
the aeroplane in against the wheel and apparently the gear locked. I hit the
switches and cut all power. He held the nose off as long as he could and braked
to a stop. He had enough pressure in the accumulator for one application of
'As we rolled to a stop at the end of the runway an ambulance met us
and rook Rhea to the hospital. He recovered in several months and went home. No
internal organs were perforated, the shrapnel following the flak suit on the
inside of the muscles. During the landing Andy told the crew it might be rough,
but unselfishly, radio operator Ron Argust, laid across Rhea so he wouldn't be
thrown around in case of a crash.
They towed the aeroplane of the runway and the rest of us sat under the
wing until they called our base, who sent a two-and-a-half ton truck up for us.
I think we got home about midnight. That aeroplane never came back to our
Pilot Andrew and Bombardier-cum-co-pilot Frank were both awarded the
Distinguished Flying Cross for the mission.