We were given a job to stop the 95th Panzer Division^ from coming up from the south of France. And we were to go and take out a bridge. And when we were going in, over Caen, the wing commander* was hit with flak, and said he was going down. And I was next in command, so I had to take over and take the boys down to bomb this bridge. So we lined up the bridge, and we made our pass, and, as the leader of the squadron, I thought I had better fly more or less straight — which was a big mistake — to allow the boys to form up in battle formation for coming back out and back to England. And I got hit with flak myself. And I looked around, and here was smoke coming out of both sides. So I immediately thought I was going to blow up, so I switched the engines off and was preparing to bail out. And I looked down and I thought, “Oh, I can land on the beach, down there on the beach.” It was empty. By that time I had fairly good altitude — when you’re dive bombing, you do get a lot of momentum going down, so you can climb up high. And I looked down, and I see the beach, all right, but then I was attracted to a nice strip. And it looked awful inviting. So I circled down, I had no engine, I was dead stick [complete loss of power], circled around and put the wheels down, and landed on this airstrip. And my goodness, the dust. And, of course, the dust just invited German shelling again. And I was wondering what the boys were doing, what they were building, blowing up things. But here it was German shells. And they hollered at me to “Get out of there! Get down here with us!” And they were down in trenches. So I just meandered out of the aircraft. I was so shaky. Got down the hole with the boys, and the shelling stopped, and I …
I had to get back to England, and the only way to get back was to go back by boat. And while I was talking to the CO [commanding officer] of the unit, this army unit, I went back to my aircraft to get some of my belongings, maps and things, and I encountered a guy, come up to me and said, “Sir?” He says, “We’re [RAF] servicing commandos,** and we think we can fix that aircraft of yours, patch it up anyway.” And I said, “Oh,” I says, “Oh, I bet there’s no… It must be empty of gas, and…” “Oh, we’ve got everything we need.” And so all afternoon we patched holes in the rudder and the tail, and the wings, and we cut off the two gas tanks that were, had holes in them, and filled up the two good gas tanks. And about dusk that evening I took off for England, and I wasn’t long getting back. And I didn’t have much time to circle in the circuit. I went straight in, and landed. And very happy to get home. [laughs]
^Could be referring to the 95th Infantry Division (Wehrmacht) or the 95th Infantry Division in the US army.
The wing commander is a commissioned rank between squadron leader and group captain.
** Servicing commandos were Royal Air Force units that accompanied invading Allied forces to make German airfields operational, or to prepare airfields built by the army ready for landings.