THE NINTH MISSION
About the ninth mission: My regular crew and I had flown the day before, so we were not scheduled to fly the December 31, 1943, mission. Dudley, the pilot of another crew, had lost his navigator and bombardier on a previous mission. Jack Hill, a Bombardier, and I were taken from our crew and jumped up to his crew. His regular plane had been shot up so badly that he was in a substitute planethe "Oklahoma Okie". We were supposed to be bombing the submarine pens at Bordeaux, France. The flight path took us directly over the Brest Peninsula, south of England, to the Spanish border, where we turned north to come back to Bordeaux to hit the sub pens.
We had just crossed the coast of Spain, and turned toward the border of Spain and France at Lesperone, France when it happened. I was looking through the navigator window at the coast below to pick up a checkpoint when the two enemy fighters hit us. They had been cruising, slow-timing their engines, when they caught sight of our formation. The fighters turned and barrel-rolled right through the formation knocking down two B-17s. That is when all hell broke loose on my ship. It was 12:05 hours, December 31, 1943.A 20-mm cannon shell must have exploded within a foot of my right side. It blew out the plastic nose section of the ship. When they hit us, the number three engine and the bomb bay was set on fire. We had 1400 gallons of gasoline left and a full bomb load.
The bombardier said, "Lets get out of here," and ran by me to the escape hatch. I said to myself, "Im hit." I felt like a mule had kicked me in the side. I turned to the right side of the ship where I had my English chest-type parachute hanging. I snapped it on my harness, which I was wearing. I turned to the escape hatch where I can remember seeing the bombardier twirl away from the ship like a marble. I passed out. I was told later that the ship made two 360-degree turns and exploded. A fellow in the prison camp who was in the bomber behind me told me this. They never saw any chutes come out of the plane before it exploded which is why everyone thought all of us were dead.
FROM THE BOOK "THE RAGGED IRREGULARS OF BASSINGBOURN"