Fred's crew pose next to their B-25 Mitchell in Brussels, Belgium, December 11th 1944.
From left to right: Flight Officer F.K. Mitchell (Mitch), Flight Officer Fred Guest, Flight Sergeant Briggs-Jude, A.K. (Art), Flight Officer McDonald, G.D. (Mac).
Fred Guest standing next to a damaged USAAF B-17 Flying Fortress in Brussels, Belgium, 1944.Fred Guest
Fred's B-25 Mitchell parked on the flightline at Melsbroek airfield in Brussels, Belgium, 1944.Fred Guest
Fred Guest in Edmonton, Alberta, December 11, 2009.Fred Guest
"Turned out it was a Canadian Navigator that was in that lead aircraft. So as soon as I saw him bail out, then I left the, left the leader and took violent evasive action to get away from the flack."
Well, the Mitchell [B-25 Bomber] was just an absolutely great airplane. The airplanes that I’d flown previously to that were tail draggers, the tail down and the Mitchell was the first one that I flew with a tricycle carriage. And once we got used to it, it was just an absolutely superb airplane. Took a great deal of damage. It had no bad habits. You had to work at killing yourself in a Mitchell. It was just a great airplane. I saw them come back with, lots of times with engines out, and with all sorts of other major damage to the airplane and no troubles with it. It was great.
I’ve flown in total between the operational time, my instructor time and my time with the Air Reserve here over 1,500 hours and never, ever had an engine fail or had to abort any kind of a trip because of the airplane. It was a great airplane. It was heavy, it handled well. We flew all our operations in six plane formation. There was no power controls, so you had to work at it all the time. When I got to fly jets there, you flew them with your fingertips with power steering. These were like the cars without power steering. They’re good, you have to work, that’s all.
I flew I think 21 trips from Dunsfold, [England], across the [English] Channel to the action in Europe. I started my tour in August of 1944 and then did the 20 odd trips out of Dunsfold. We moved to Brussels in October and then I flew from Brussels Air Field, from then until the, until I finished my tour, Christmas Eve, 1944.
The last few trips that I did were on the Battle of the Bulge in support of the U.S. First Army. And prior to that, it was indirect support. So very seldom did we ever get right close to the front lines, but we were just ahead of them somewhere, and we flew operations in support of the U.S. Army, the Canadian Army.
The one mission that stands out, as I said, we flew in formations, X-Plane formation. And this particular day, I was flying in number four position, which is right behind the leader and just below him. And the target was a bomb dump in a small forest and I can’t remember the name of the place. I think it was Freren [Germany] is the name of it. And as we came off, normally when we bombed, because you’re in formation, you’re concentrating on staying with the other airplanes. So you don’t see any of the damage that has occurred because of your bombing. But in this particular case, as we came off the target, I was able to see the, the bomb dump erupting to flame and smoke and stuff coming up, it was just a tremendous sight. And in that few seconds I had, right from the big blast of bombs, you could see a row of bombs exploding. We’d caught an ammunition train in and there was just this row of explosions going from the main part out to the corner of the forest.
When we left the target, as soon as we dropped our bombs and started back to England, the normal procedure for us was to do an irregular weave, you change course, changed altitude in irregular pattern for every 30 seconds; you wouldn’t go any longer than 30 seconds. And that was to keep away from the flak. Now that, the leader on this particular case was an RAF [Royal Air Force] Squadron Leader who had come to the squadron, had very little experience, but because of his rank, he had to lead. And when we left the target, he carried straight and level. And all of a sudden, there were three bursts of flak inside the formation and I’m fairly close to him. The leader was shot down and the number two was shot down. And because I was sitting right in underneath, I could see the damage to this airplane. So I called him up and told him there was a split in the lower part of the wing, right from the fuselage out to the engine ESO [Engine Storage Oil] and the fuel was pouring out. So I called up and tell him that, and I got no reply. And a few seconds later, it started to smoke. So I called him up and told him that it was smoking. And there was no reply to that either and within seconds - the escape hatch door on the Mitchell, you got into the airplane from the bottom, so when they wanted to get out of it, they pulled the escape hatch and it dropped out and went away - and within seconds, a body came out. And it was the only, he was the only guy to get out of the airplane and the only one of the two crews that survived. Turned out it was a Canadian Navigator that was in that lead aircraft. So as soon as I saw him bail out, then I left the, left the leader and took violent evasive action to get away from the flack.
When we got back, well, at that same time, didn’t realize it at the time, but both my gunners had been wounded. One of them quite minor, he just got stuff in his knee but the other one took a chunk in his arm and he was in hospital for a month or so. Shot out our hydraulics, the air brakes were shot out. So when we came in to land, we had no idea whether, first of all, whether we were going to get the wheels down. When I selected the wheels down, the locks broke, but the wheels wouldn’t come out. They just hung there. So we had the emergency system that our navigator had to pump it down. And we had this guy on the back that was wounded and he wouldn’t let the other gunner talk to him. He wouldn’t even come close to him. He just was in total shock, and so we had no idea how badly he was hurt. So we were in kind of a, in a hurry to get down, but we had no option but to manually pump these wheels down and we got them down.
Then I had no idea whether I was going to get any brakes or I would have flaps for landing. So I didn’t, I didn’t even try the flaps in the Mitchell because it was such a great airplane, it was no problem to land it without flaps. I started to taxi back to the, to the squadron area and the brakes left altogether. So just went out into the infield and I was able to pull the emergency brake on it. But that was one of the exciting ones that I remember.