I WAS SHOT DOWN OVER RUMANIA
LT. MARSHALL N. SAMMS
morning of June 24, 1944, the crew of "Shoo Shoo Baby" took off from a USAF
base in southern Italy to bomb the oil refineries at Ploesti, Rumania. I was
navigator of the crew, Vincent Olney of Texas was pilot, Floyd I. Robinson of
Indianapolis co-pilot, Louis Amster of New Jersey bombardier, Armand L'Heureux
of Connecticut, engineer, Richard Hackney of Minnesota radioman, George Dobbs,
of Omaha, was tail gunner and assistant engineer, James Cox of North Carolina,
ball turret gunner, Vernon Tanem waist gunner, and Edward Schwab nose gunner.
Lt. Lewis Shackleford, our regular co-pilot, relinquished his spot to Major
Robinson, our operations officer, who was giving the crew a final checking-out
as a "lead crew."
started out on this same mission the day before, but were forced to turn back
upon encountering bad weather at the coast of Albania. The target was a
familiar one to all of us since we had been trying to knock out the oil refineries
at Ploesti for the past three months by high altitude bombing. The
Romano-Americano refinery furnished a huge part of the fuel for Germany's war
machine, and was the only refinery still working full blast. It was a highly
protected target with the highest concentration of anti-aircraft guns for any
target in Europe.
missions were ever flown to Ploesti without encountering scores of German and
Rumanian fighters. "The hottest target on the face of the earth" fitted
perfectly. The 15th Air Force had already cut the oil production to
a great extent, but excellent camouflage and smoke screens prevented the total
destruction which was necessary. Every man on the crew had been over at least once,
this raid making the fifth time for Olney and Robinson. So we all knew what to
expect – a very rough time!
weather, we made our rendezvous at 12,000 feet, picked up our other group from
the wing, and headed east. We climbed steadily all of the way across Albania,
Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria, reaching our bombing altitude just about the time we
hit the Danube River, south of Bucharest, Rumania. We turned there and started
north. Several planes had dropped out of formation with engine trouble and
four engine was smoking, but not bad enough to warrant turning back. We were
leading the low left box in the second attack group and were therefore on the
inside of the turn into Rumania. Bucharest was now off to the left and I called
Olney up and pointed it out to him. So far we had not seen a single friendly or
enemy fighter. We were the lead group and we could see other groups of B-24's
in back of us. Then we hit the initial point and turned onto our bomb run.
called up from the nose and said that a plane was spinning down at twelve o'clock.
Amster stuck his head up in the astrodome and said, "That's no fighter, that's
a B-24 going down." So far, no flak, no fighters. Louis and I helped each other
put on a flak suit, an apron of steel links, and I handed Schwab his flak
helmet. Then I got up to look for fighters. And I found them. "Fighters coming
in at twelve o'clock level. Get 'em, get 'em." And there they came, eight ME
109's on a head-on pass, puffs of white smoke coming from their wings and
spinners. Our engines whined as Robinson pulled in to the center box. Schwab
and L'Heureux cut loose with the twin fifties in the nose and upper turret.
filled the nose compartment and empty shell casings clattered down the glass
window in front of the bomb-sight. One fighter zoomed over us leaving a trail
of black smoke. Schwab and L'Heureux got him together. Luckily, we had not been
hit seriously by this first pass of fighters.
flak started puffing up like little black mushrooms at one o'clock low and one
o'clock level. None of it was too close. Below, I could see the large white
cloud that I knew was the smoke screen over Ploesti. And then, "Bombs away." I
watched the little yellow lights on the bombardier's instrument panel flicker
off as the bombs left the bomb-bay. As soon as they were all out, I shoved the
bomb release lever to SALVO and closed the bomb-bay doors. We could hear the
flak as it burst close to the plane. Then we started our turn off the target.
No flak was up ahead, and I thought it was over when WHAM! WHAM! and a bright
flash burst a few inches above my head. I looked up and saw a hole about eight
inches in diameter in the side of the fuselage a foot above me.
called out, "What was that?" and I said, "Just a hole up here in the nose."
L'Heureux yelled. "My God!" and Louie, who now had his head up in the astrodome
yelled, "Look at number 3. Oil is pouring out, feather it quick!" Robbie then
said, "Prepare for emergency."
the door to the nose turret, ripped off my flak suit, and buckled on my parachute.
Now Schwab was out of his turret and I handed him his chute. I felt the plane
go into a dive and Dobbs call, "Fighters, a whole slew of them, coming in at
six o'clock, and my damned guns are jammed." Olney called to L'Heureux to shut
off the fuel to number three and number four engines. Down we went and Robbie
cried, "Olney slow down or you will rip the wings off." I looked down at the
air speed meter and it registered 290 M.P.H. altitude about 16,000 feet.
time I had opened the bomb bay doors and crouched down by our emergency exit.
Then I felt Louie kick me and I looked up to see him motioning me to bail out.
I pulled the handle to open the doors but nothing happened. I gave the doors a
kick and they snapped open, letting in a strong blast of cold air. I swung my
feet out and let myself down to my waist. Then I looked back to Louie once more
and saw him motion again. Schwab was standing right behind him. So I shoved off
and was hurled into the air. The shock was terrific and I started tumbling over
I got my
hand on the rip cord and pulled. I pulled again and again, but it would not budge,
I let go of the cord and started to undo the flap that covered the pins. I got
one side unsnapped, but my hands were so numb that I could not get the other
side. I knew that I was not going to get that chute open. My life did not pass
in front of me as is supposed to happen when you know that you are going to
die; I just thought, "This thing is not going to open, damn it." But I pulled
the rip cord once more, and it came out in my hand, I completely relaxed and
for a second nothing happened. Then WHUMPFH, I was jerked to a stop. A sharp
pain caught my right thigh. I tried to pull myself up by the shroud lines so
that I could slip the strap and sit on it, but I did not have the strength. So
I just held on to the right shroud line with both hands to ease the pain, I
could not let go, fearing that I would pass out.
quiet – deathly quiet, save for the distant drone of the bombers as they roared
home, the zoom of the fighters, the staccato machine gun fire, and the
thumpfhing of the flak. Far below I could see the green and brown of the
Rumanian countryside. It seemed as if I was suspended in the air and would
never reach the ground. The sky was a beautiful blue, dobbed with small fluffy
clouds. I counted six other parachutes stringing out above and away from me. I
could not be sure that they were members of my crew. Then I looked down and saw
a column of black smoke rising from the side of a hill. I wondered if that was
the remains of Shoo Shoo Baby. I figured approximately where I would be when I
landed and which way I should attempt to get back to friendly territory.
seemed hours, I watched the ground come rushing up to hit me. I was in hilly,
farming country and I saw that I would land near, or in, a gully or stream bed.
A hill sloped steeply to the gully and a peasant was making his way down the
hill to where I would land. I hit and rolled over backwards, ending up in a
sitting position. My hands were numb from the cold and I had to struggle to
undo the parachute harness. I wasted no time in hiding the chute, but
immediately scrambled down the gully.
the bottom I got to my feet and ran up the gully for about five minutes before
I stopped to take off my heavy flying boots and Mae West. I waited a few more
minutes to catch my breath and was just about to start on when I heard voices.
I crept under some foliage and looked around. On the opposite ridge of the
gully walked peasants armed with clubs. They were looking down into the gully
and I was sure they would see me. But they went past and I began to breathe a
little easier. Their voices died away; then grew louder. The peasants had now
climbed into the gully and were walking along looking up on both sides. One of
them finally saw me and I crawled out with my hands in the air.
them, an old grey fellow smelling of garlic, smiled broadly and said, "Nix,
comarad, comarad." Then he shook my hand warmly and saluted me. There were two
other peasants with him and they did the same.
fallen into friendly hands," I thought. So I shook their hands and smiled back
at them. Then a German private with a Lugar in hand came up. I still did not
realize that the peasants were not going to help me. They would not let the
Jerry come near me and the old peasant kept holding my hand, squeezing it every
once in a while, and smiled at me continuously. He reminded me of a little dog
who had finally found a friend.
WE CLIMBED a hill to a narrow road and were met there
by a large crowd of peasants. They stared and mumbled among themselves, but
none were hostile. Their stares were only stares of curiosity. It seemed as if
they respected and admired me. I had on a summer flying suit over a suit of
O.D's. I had my insignia on my shirt collar and someone evidently recognized my
bar, for they started mumbling, "Offisair, offisair." Little children ran
around me, and I tossled the close shaven head of one of the boys. He rewarded me
with a wide grin, danced off and whispered to his friends, who also smiled at
me. Then, with the German private leading the way, we made our way down the
narrow road. The country was strikingly beautiful A lot of green trees and
grass, with small cultivated patches of land.
The war was
over for me, and it was a strange feeling – one of almost carefree relaxation.
All this time the old peasant held onto my hand. After a walk of several miles
we arrived at the bottom of a hill where a convertible sedan was parked. In it
sat a German major. He looked at me in a nonchalant and casual manner, a touch
of arrogance in his eyes. He turned and spoke to the private, who popped to
attention with a click of the heels. Next he took the name of the old peasant
and gave him a cigarette.
I found out
later that the old boy would get a few acres of land for capturing me.
asked me if I spoke German and I told him that I did not. French? I said that I
spoke a little French. So he called over a peasant girl, a very pretty girl, to
talk to me. She rattled off a spiel of French that I am sure only a Frenchman
could understand. When she finished, I laughed at her and told her that I did
not understand. She laughed and stepped back into the crowd. The major then
asked me, in French, how old I was, I told him that I was twenty, and he showed
surprise that I could be an officer at that age. He then wanted to know how
many men were with me and if they had all bailed out, but I refused to answer
in the car for a half-hour or so; (I imagine for other prisoners to be brought
in). Up until this time I had not been scared or frightened, but I was nervous
and excited. This showed plainly when I started to light a cigarette. My hands
were shaking and I was hardly able to find the end of the cigarette with the
match. The Rumanians had never seen book matches before and this interested
them greatly. The major and the private finally got in the car and we drove
off; I was alone in the back seat. My parachute was taken along, for he Germans
repack these and use them again.
right through the city of Ploesti, It was a shambles, a complete wreck. There
were very few buildings left standing, and there was no business of any kind
other than some workmen fixing a water main that had been broken by bombs. The
streets were full of debris from bombed buildings, and uprooted trees lay everywhere.
The lawns and open fields were pockmarked with bomb craters. I saw a refinery
whose storage tanks were flattened. And I saw the target for the day,
Americano-Romano, going full blast, its storage tanks and buildings untouched.
It was remarkable how the thousands of bombs missed this refinery completely.
Anti-aircraft guns were sprinkled all around; their deadly noses pointed skyward,
waiting for the next raid. These guns explained that black mushroom field up in
into a large airport north of Bucharest, and I was left in the car while the
Germans went in to see the commanding officer. They left no one to watch over
me, but it was easy to see that an attempt at escape was useless.
finally came in and motioned for me to follow him. We went to the main building
where he ushered me into an office where a fairly young first lieutenant sat
behind a large desk. He was tall and thin, had blond hair and cold blue eyes.
He did not smile often, but did not seem too unfriendly. He asked me to have a
seat and offered me a cigarette.
excellent English, English that he had learned in England. He did not waste
much time, but immediately started asking me questions which I could not answer
because they were military information. He fired questions at me rapidly,
trying to catch me up, but I do not think that he got much out of me. He gave
up finally and started to talk about the war. He asked me what I thought of the
robot bombs and I told him that I did not think that they amounted to much. To
this he surprisingly replied, "I don't either."
that the Germans do not hate the Americans and really are not fighting the
Americans. Their enemy is Russia and the Germans are fighting only to keep
Bolshevism out of Germany. They went into Austria and Czechoslovakia only
because those are Germanic countries and wanted to join with the Germans. He
called me over to look out of the window and see one of the six motored
transports which the Germans use. He was very proud of this plane, and I made
him very bitter by saying that our fighters had a field day with them when the
Germans flew troops down to Africa. He was a very decent fellow, though, and I
shook his hand when I left. He returned my handshake warmly and gave me one of
those rare smiles.
I was then
put in a car to be taken to Bucharest and turned over to the Rumanians. The
lieutenant had explained that since I was shot down over Rumania, the Germans
had no control over me and that I was really a prisoner of the Rumanian
short drive we reached the city of Bucharest. It was an interesting sight.
There were a lot of American made cars, and there were street cars and modern
buildings. Quite a difference from the cities of Italy. Most of the people were
dressed the same as the Americans; and from outward appearances it was as if we
were driving through any town in the United States. I was taken first to a
large white building where I was officially turned over to the Rumanians.
building was a garrison for German and Rumanian troops. There I ran into the
first Americans I had seen all day. There were two of them, both with blood on
their shirts. One was a fighter pilot, Carl Osterhans, who was shot down the
day before in his P-51. He had ripped a deep gash in his hand when he bailed
out. The other fellow was a tail gunner of a B-24. He had been hit in the
shoulder by shrapnel from an ME 109's twenty millimeter shell.
o'clock in the afternoon, more prisoners were brought in. Among these was Louie
Amster, my bombardier. He was just as glad to see me as I was to see him. It
seemed like years since we had been together. He did not know a thing about
anybody else on the crew.
We began to
get worried and we talked over the experience of the morning before and we came
to the dreadful conclusion that the ship may have been all right and the rest
of the crew had gotten home. Louie had not heard Robbie give the abandon ship
order, either. He had been in the astrodome and had seen Robbie motion, a
motion which Louie took as a signal to bail out. So he had sent me out, then
taken another look to be sure, and Robbie had waved at him again.
followed me out.
day was a big one, for the rest of the crew, with the exception of Dobbs and
L'Heureux, showed up. Although I did not want to see anyone in prison, it was a
relief to find that Louie and I had not pulled a big boner by bailing out, and
that these other men were safe. Robbie and Olney had been able to hide some
money, and that turned out to be a big help. They immediately saw to it that
all the other members of the crew had a little money. We kept our spirits up by
buying things to eat at the canteen.
out first air raid. The siren blew the next morning at ten o'clock and we
watched the Rumanian soldiers head for the air raid shelters. We jeered at them
and laughed. Then the second siren blew and we heard the drone of the bombers.
By leaning out of the windows, we could see the silver specks of the bombers in
the sky. They were going to bomb Bucharest, and we sincerely hoped that some
bombardier would not have to get rid of his bombs at the wrong time.
anti-aircraft guns opened up and the noise was terrific. We could see the black
puffs of flak bursting around the bombers, and hear the crash of the bombs as
they hit the ground. All was calm for a few minutes, and then another group of bombers
came. This group was making its bomb run almost directly overhead, so we all
hit the floor and crawled under the bunks. Again the flak and the deafening
drone of the engines. Then a terrific explosion and the ground trembled. Some
bombardier had screwed things up and dropped his bombs wrong. We were all thoroughly
scared now. But there were no more close hits from that group.
wave of bombers came over in another few minutes and somebody else dropped his
bombs near us. The ground shook and one of the windows crashed to the floor,
narrowly missing Cox, who scurried back under one of the bunks. One other wave
of bombers came over, but they did not bother us. Then all was quiet for ten or
fifteen minutes before the all-clear siren sounded. It was decided than and
there that it was better to be up in the air with the flak than down on the
ground with the bombs.
that flew around the camp were sensational. These were somewhat cut down by the
addition of a radio, which was smuggled in and hidden, and a camp newspaper.
Only the higher officers in the camp were able to hear the British Broadcasting
Company's news reports on the radio. The paper edited by Carl G. Rosberg of
California, and he did a very fine job. The paper had the latest news from
B.B.C. editorials, a sports section, and a comic strip, "Joe Razbouie," drawn
by Harold Sapinoff. The news, of course, was the most import thing in our day.
We devoured the good news hungrily, and dismissed the bad news as a rumor.
times we jumped the gun on the invasion of Southern France, which we all knew
was coming off. Herky, as Rosberg was fondly called, had also drawn a large map
of Europe on the wall of his room. This map was an excellent job and was the
scene of many discussions. Herky had the battle lines with red string, and
every day we would visit his room to see exactly how we stood. The Russian line
in northern Rumania was of primary interest to all of us, as we expected the
Russians to drive down and set us free. I was not so sure that this would be such
a lucky thing for us if the Russians come down and started to shell the city.
Then, on August 15, came the invasion of Southern France, and only a few days later
the Russians started their drive south. Odds were given that the Russians would
be in Bucharest in a few days. It was an exciting time for everyone. Every day
the Russians came closer. Ploesti was taking a terrific pounding from the 15th
Air Force. Something had to happen.
twenty-third was a big day for us. Our basketball team won its game in the
afternoon. Then right after supper, we were given our first Red Cross food
packages. These contained five packages of American cigarettes, Kraft's cheese,
jam, crackers, chocolate, canned meat, coffee, milk, sugar, fruit extract, and
raisins; the coffee, sugar, milk, and fruit extract were given to the kitchen
to be used with our meals. The cigarettes were the big thing. We were so tired
of smoking the Rumanians at four thousand lei a package. That is equivalent to
$4 or enough to buy about $8 worth of goods, since prices are so low in
We all went
to bed feeling pretty fine. We hadn't had a raid for several days, the Russians
were still driving south, we heard a rumor that landings were made by the
Allies on the Black Sea, and we had some American food and cigarettes. At about
ten-thirty there was a little commotion in the streets. Another fellow and I
went to the window, thinking it was caused by people going to the air raid
shelter just across the street. There was an alert given over the radio if
bombers were heading for Rumania. There were a lot of people in the street but
they were not going into the shelter. Then somebody burst in the door to tell
us that Rumania had capitulated to the Allies and had declared war on Germany.
We all went down to the auditorium where we were told by our C.O., Lt. Col.
Gunn, to stay quiet, to keep the lights off, and to stay away from the windows.
We were all confused by the sudden events. We knew that there were still a lot
of Jerries around and we were afraid that they might try to get us and ship us
to Germany. The guard around the school was doubled and machine guns had been
set up in the streets. These precautions were taken to keep the Jerries from
We were all
dressed now, and had all our belongings ready to go. We were called down to the
auditorium again and a Rumanian from the General Staff gave a speech,
translated to us by the captain who had interrogated us, telling us that
Rumania had finally found the "right side." There was much cheering during his
speech. We were assured that all measures were being taken to protect us. Then
we all went to the mess hall and had our first American coffee. Then breakfast
of scrambled eggs, bread and jam, and more coffee. It was now getting light and
several of us went outside and bought papers from the paper boy in the street.
Rumanian people smiled at us. About seven o'clock the street in front of the
school was packed with civilians giving us watermelons, wine, and other food.
All of us were now as carefree as could be.
We went to
the courtyard and had a flag raising ceremony. The Rumanian, American, and
Russian flags were raised on the flag pole while each group sang their national
anthem. It was quite an impressive ceremony. All this time there were airplanes
flying overhead – ME 109's and Hienkel 111's. They had German markings but they
seemed friendly, so we took them for Rumanians,
o'clock the air raid siren blew and we knew that it was the Germans. Our
happiness vanished as we made our way to the basement. A few minutes later the
second alarm came and then the drone of planes. Some of the fellows were
standing by the doorway and saw the planes coming. They were Heinkel 111's at
about five thousand feet. They came directly over the schoolhouse and dropped
their bombs. The walls really quaked and I was just as scared as I had been on
made three or four passes before leaving for good. We were all determined that
they were after us and that we had better clear out, but fast, and stay out. We
grabbed our belongings and made our way out to the courtyard. Col. Gunn wanted
to know what we wanted to do. The Jerries controlled every road out of the
city. Did we want to try to rush one of these barricades? Nobody seemed to know
exactly what to do. We had no weapons of any kind. Finally the Rumanians opened
the gates and we were on our own. Bob Cress, Louie, and a couple of others and
I started for the south end of town. We were stopped by many people who wanted
to help us, but assured us that the Germans were at the south. Then the siren
blew and we ran back to some shelters across from the school.
next three days the Jerries kept up a constant alert. They came over all the
time – bombers, fighters, and dive-bombers and strafing. The shelters we were
in were just trenches with boards and dirt on top, but it would have taken a
direct hit to get us. It was a lot better than "sweating it out" in the
basement of the school. The Germans had poisoned all of the water, so we had
none for drinking, washing, or cooking.
Rumanians took several huge barrels to a well in the country and filled them
with fresh water, though. At night Cress and I would go into the school and
sleep in the basement. Though planes came over at night, no near hits were
scored. We passed the time by playing bridge, but all of us were ready to duck
at the first sound of an engine. Nobody felt like cooking, so we ate out of the
Red Cross food packages.
We were all
nervous and anxious to get out of town. On the afternoon of August 26th
a couple of trucks were brought to take us to a former Officers Training Camp
about five miles out of town. This suited us to a T. The trouble came when we
tried to load the trucks. No sooner would a truck be loaded than the siren
would blow, and everyone would pile out of the trucks and head for the nearest
shelter. This happened three times, so Cress and I decided that we would get on
the next truckload and stay on, raid or no raid. As soon as all was quiet again,
we piled on the truck and away we went. Through the whole town we rolled,
people on the streets cheering us and giving the V for victory sign. Any minute
I expected to hear a siren or plane. We would have been sitting ducks for some
Jerry out strafing.
But we made
the trip all right. Olney was already at the camp, and so were the enlisted
men. Cress and I grabbed a couple of mattresses and found a place to sleep in
one of the barracks.
afternoon of the 28th we saw three B-17's circle the city and come
in for landings, but that couldn't be. But it was true. We were to be evacuated
by B-17's on the 31st, weather permitting. Now would the weather
please be good? The next day was a long one, but everyone was too happy over
the prospect of getting out of Rumania to care about that. We finally settled
down to our last night of bed bugs and lice.
I woke up
about four o'clock on the morning of the 31st to find an overcast
sky. I knew that it was going to rain. But the sky cleared with the dawn, and
we were all ready to go at seven o'clock. I think every bus in Bucharest was
out at the camp to take us to the airport. Back through the city again, I got
my first look at the marshalling yards the 15th Air Force had
bombed. The Jerries had bombed it in the previous weekend it was a well torn up
place. The hospital where the enlisted men stayed was almost totally destroyed.
The Germans had either had that hospital as a target or they hit that when they
were trying for the railroads yards. We threw American cigarettes to the
Rumanians on the streets. Oh, how they loved us now.
We got to
the airport and waited several hours before the first group of P-51's came
over. They gave us a terrific buzz job, and circled the field as the first
flight of B-17's arrived. What a feeling to see those planes! The Forts circled
the field once, dropped their gears, and came in for a landing. I can imagine
how the men on those planes felt, landing on territory that they used to bomb.
The first several hundred men scrambled aboard, and the planes took off almost
immediately. I held my breath as each one of them climbed into the air.
A HALF HOUR
later the next group of bombers, with their escort of P-38's arrived. I was to
be on one of these, a ship whose bombs painted on the fuselage showed that it
had been on seventy-five missions. I hoped that it would get to make the
seventy-seventh soon. I crawled up to the nose and looked around. Then back
onto the specially built floor of the bomb bay for take off. Yes, I sweated
this takeoff, but not as much as the two fighter pilots with us on their first
ride in a bomber. As we were circling to gain altitude and get in formation, I
crawled back up to the nose, not wanting to miss the last of Rumania.
Then on to
Bulgaria, crossing the Danube River which was as muddy as always. It all looked
familiar and yet so strange. I kept getting up and looking out the astrodome.
The P-38's criss-crossing above us was a beautiful sight. On and on, over the
flat country, and then the mountains of western Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Then,
after what seemed hours, we saw the Adriatic Sea. On the other side was Italy.
The escort had now left us and we were safe from enemy action. Then Italy came
into view. I had never seen it look so nice and peaceful. Back to the bomb-bay
as we circled for a landing. We finally hit the ground and rolled to a stop.
out of the ship to face newsreel cameras and 15th Air Force men who
seemed as happy to see us back as we were to get back. Italian ground felt
mighty good. Then onto trucks where we waited to hear General Nate Twining
welcome us back. A major told us that we would go to get clean clothes and a
bath. We were a sorry looking bunch of men. We were going to be deloused, and
that was the best news of all. The end of the lice would mean the end of
Rumanian prison souvenirs for us. United States, here we come!
- Contributed by
Marshall Samms, July 2007. The story was printed in the September 1945 issue of
the magazine "Sir!". The crew was shot down in "Shoo Shoo Baby", June 24, 1944.