Combat Mission 15

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On September 11, 2010, we heard from Rapid City's Chuck Childs (LTC USAAF-USAF ret), who has just written up his WWII combat misisions (sample below) as a B-17 bomber pilot against the Third Reich, earning two Distinguished Flying Crosses. “Most of the WWII flying crews are gone now,” he laments.  Picture on right is cover of Childs' just-published "A Combat Diary of Thirty-Seven Missions Through Hell".  
      “Flying 5 ½ miles above the earth in bitter cold, at times 60 below zero, with engines icing up, facing terrible flak and having fighters darting in and out like attacking bees--they all put fear into your soul,” he writes.  Childs was later a pilot in the Berlin Airlift as the Cold War started to heat up, then flew against aggressive international Communism in the Korean War. 
     At the same meeting, we heard the second half of Harold "Had" Taylor's story of being a WWII prisoner of war in the German Stalag XVIIB prison camp, as described below.



Chuck Childs (LTC, USAAF-USAF ret)

In spring of 2010, Childs writes that "I am doing all of my 37 missions along with other interesting things that happened, i.e. going to the Isle of Capri. I am now on my 24th mission and Grace, my wife, is looking at them also.  I wanted to have this finished by June so that I can give it to my children.  They are coming up in June for the celebration of our 90th years on this earth and our 68th Wedding Celebration.  That comes on July 4th and Grace will be 90 in June and I in July, so they are coming early.  Most of the missions are not this detailed and a lot shorter, but since that was a Distinguished Flying Cross mission, I thought I would write more about it."
 

December l7th. By 4:30 AM we were up and dressed, and after breakfast we headed to the briefing for Blechhammer.  The group put up thirty-eight aircraft for this mission. Colonel Cullen led the group and I flew on his left wing in the number 3 spot. It seemed that every time Colonel Cullen led the group something different would happen.

     As we approached the target, the flak was intense and heavy, wounding the lead radar-navigator. He was knocked unconscious and unable to complete the bombing mission, so the lead plane pulled the Group off the bomb run and made a slow 360-degree turn. The lead navigator regained consciousness and, although slightly wounded, prepared for the bomb run again.

     The flak knocked out my number 4 engine on the first run. I feathered the prop and applied a lot of power to keep in the deputy lead spot. On the second run, just after dropping our bombs, flak struck the number 3 engine and I feathered that one as well. When this happened, a helpless feeling hit me way down in my stomach. Is this going to be the end? I could not keep up with the formation, so we started to fall behind.  Soon they were just a speck in the sky.

     We were now alone over enemy territory, at 27,000 feet and struggling to keep the plane flying on only two engines. It was a frightening feeling knowing that we were miles behind enemy lines. I told the crew we would stick with the plane and not bailout. I told them to keep a sharp watch for fighters, and Mike and I would do our best to keep the plane flying and get us home.  When planes were left behind a formation, any fighters in the area would attack them and shoot them down. Fortunately, no fighters spotted us while we were flying alone.

     I had a different navigator than the one I usually had, and he gave me a heading for Switzerland. If we had gone to Switzerland, we would have been interned for the remainder of the war.  I had no desire for that. I told the crew that I thought we could make it to friendly territory where it would be safe to bailout and then asked them if they wanted to go to Switzerland or stick with the plane. The answer was unanimous to "Stick with the plane!"

     I established my own heading at 180 degrees south, then Mike and I settled down to keep the plane flying. I knew, because we had only two engines, that we could not maintain altitude to fly over the Alps, so I ordered the crew to throw out all unnecessary equipment to lighten the load. They threw out machine guns, ammunition and ammunition boxes, oxygen bottles, jettisoned the ball turret and anything else that was of no value to us. We were losing altitude. 

     The Alps appeared and I headed for their valleys. We begin to fly between the peaks of the mountains, and I told Don, my engineer, to transfer the fuel from the dead engines to the good engines. We were burning up fuel faster than I was comfortable with. We made it through the Alps and the now Adriatic Sea appeared below us. I now begin to wonder if we could get across without having to ditch the plane in the sea.  Eventually I spotted the shore of Italy and headed for it.  After reaching land, I turned to a heading for the base, which I could see in the distance.  What a relief that was. 

     Now all I had to do was to get the plane on the runway. I was down to about 1000 feet, and we flew right over our tent area.  I could see the crews come out of their tents to gaze up at us. To see a plane come home by itself with two engines feathered was an interesting sight. I made a turn for a long straight-in approach to the runway, put down the gear, then applied more power to get us down. Suddenly the number 2 engine coughed and quit. We had used so much gas flying on two engines that the number 2 engine had run out of fuel. We quickly feathered the engine and “put the throttles to the firewall,” a phrase meaning to use all the power you had left, and set my glide for landing.  The plane came in nicely and we set her down on the runway on the last engine, number 1.

     We shut the engine down at the end of the runway and just sat without saying a word. No one in the crew cheered. There was complete silence. It was now approximately eleven hours since we had started on this mission. A truck and two fire engines came out to meet us, and the plane was towed back to the revetment area. This could have been a different ending, but God was once again taking care of me.

     This statement was taking from a paragraph of the narrative of my Distinguished Flying Cross (my second one) which I received for this mission: "Because of Captain Childs’ superior flying ability, he was able to safely land his aircraft at his home base, thus saving his aircraft and his crew from being interned or bailing out over enemy territory."

     We were now transported to the briefing room to be debriefed. We had been reported shot down so there were some very surprised tower officers when I called in for an emergency landing. Waiting for us and worrying about us was our great ground crew. These boys never received enough credit for what they did to keep our planes in the air. There was no such thing as regular hours for the ground crew. They worked day and night in all kinds of weather until the plane was fit to fly.  They lived in small heated huts on the line and often could only eat and catch a little sleep while they were on a mission. They were dedicated; they knew that our lives depended on how well they did their job. They knew the danger that we faced and saw to it that the plane was in good shape to fly. Three other planes did not make it back from this mission. I received my second Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission.