It just saturates the whole sky. I still have memories of that yet, you know, because the fright is something awful.
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At the beginning of my first tour, you had a 20 percent chance of completing 30 trips, which was not too great odds. The only enjoyable part is when you’re not flying on operations. On operations, there is tension from the time that you leave the aerodrome [airfield] until you get rid of your bombs at the target, and then you sort of relax after, but not that much. But it’s sort of, you’re under tension from the time that you leave until the time you arrive back at your aerodrome.
On this particular trip, we were going to Aachen in Germany and the pilot was new, the air gunner was new, and the navigator was inexperienced. On our way back, we were attacked by a Junkers [Ju] 88 [German multi-faceted combat aircraft] and received about 100 to 75 bullet holes in our aircraft. The undercarriage was shot up. Our rear gunner was wounded; I also was wounded. All this attack was made from underneath, so we didn’t know what was shooting at us until finally a Junkers 88 come out of our port quarter, so I could see and identify the aircraft, which in turn went out to 1,000 yards and started coming back in. Our guns were harmonized at 400 feet, so when he got within range, I knew where the crew was, everything, and so I had 400 rounds to do my best. Which when I opened up, I killed the pilot and the navigator, which was in what we called the greenhouse [glass canopy-like structure giving the pilot an expansive view]… and they broke off and went down into the water.
I pulled the wounded gunner up between my legs and saw that he was alright; and we preceded home, crash landed, but nobody got hurt and we survived the trip. And for that action, I received the Distinguished Flying Medal.
I don’t know if you have any feeling of what I’ve been telling you, but I tried to tell you the experience that you face when you’re going to a target, when it’s a solid wall of flame for about 5,000 feet to 34,000 feet; and that’s all flack [anti-aircraft fire]. It just saturates the whole sky. I still have memories of that yet, you know, because the fright is something awful. I can remember tears just coming down my eyes, just hanging on, let’s get out of here. Once you got into the target, dropped your bombs, then you felt a lot better. But you still had to face this getting out of this flack area. I spent two weeks recovering and I never did see our tin gunner again. He remained in hospital. Well, they were a great bunch of guys, closer than brothers would be.