"you’ve come to this place to learn how to fly and he said, if you look around, every third man here is going to die."
We had a squadron leader who was the commanding officer of the elementary training place that we were going through. So actually, one of the first things he said was, you’ve come to this place to learn how to fly and he said, if you look around, every third man here is going to die. And that kind of shook us up of course. But I guess that’s what he had in mind, was to make sure that we, we weren’t having a, just a lot of fun learning how to fly airplanes.
When I got to England, they said, no, we need bombers, bomber pilots, and you’ll have to learn how to fly multi-engine aircraft. That’s what happened there.
I think possibly the one memory that is still outstanding is the one where I was flying over the North Sea and I was attacked by a German night fighter. Well, we were flying and this was in a Wellington bomber and I was not on operations, so we were flying out over the North Sea because they had sent us on a course that would take us a couple of hundred miles out into the North Sea. And I was teaching my bomb aimer how to fly the airplane. And at that time, I noticed what looked like flares coming up and I thought it was possibly someone in difficulty. But as I told Sandy, my bomb aimer, to turn over that way, he started to turn, and at that moment, I realized that it wasn’t flares, it was a, it was flak that was coming up. And the flak was coming from a German flak ship that was stationed out there to get the aircraft either on the approach to bomb or on the way home. So I noticed that there was, it wasn’t a flare, it was flak coming up from the flak ship.
So next thing I noticed was off to my left or the port side of the ship, of the aircraft, I saw two streams of tracers [ammunition with pyrotechnic charges] coming right at me. So I grabbed the wheel and whipped the aircraft away to the right and down. And the poor bomber didn’t have a chance to do anything, he wondered what was happening. Then I said to the crew, he missed me. And at that point, we sort of escaped and came home.
When I arrived at the base, and made my approach to land, I found that I had no hydraulics. So possibly, one bullet had come through and cut off my hydraulics and I couldn’t get my flaps down. So when I called the tower and told them, they said, oh, orbit and we’ll tell you what to do. So I said to the crew, you know what they want us to do is to point this thing towards France and bail out over England. And I said to the crew, I don’t want to bail out at night over England, so I’m going to land it and I came in and came down on the end of the farthest end of the runway and once I got the wheels on the ground, I started putting on the brakes. Well, of course, I was going very fast because I had no flaps down and the little guy who has two flashlights and tells you where to go at the end of the runway, he saw me coming and he could tell I was going much too fast. So he ran off to the side, fortunately, because I would have had no choice, if he had stayed there, I would probably have killed him with the props.
So anyway, I landed successfully and then the RAF was very displeased with me and they said, you disobeyed an order. And I said, yes, I did, because I was running out of gas. So they said, well, you’re a very lucky man. And I thought to myself, I didn’t think I was that lucky, I thought maybe it was a, it was a pretty good thing to do because I saved the aircraft instead of letting it crash in France. And I saved my crew and as far as I was concerned, I thought I had done the right thing. I never did get onto operations. In other words, I was still in training when they sent us out over the North Sea.