|Ramrod to Munster|
Every fighter pilot remembers his first combat mission. Mine is one that will be talked about for a long time.
October 5, 1944. We were awakened early. It was a cold and windy day. Briefing was the usual quick and efficient session. Mission for the day, Ramrod, escorting two boxes of B-17s... a short hop, four hours... Target, Munster, in the Rhur Valley... lot's of Flak* expected... probably no fighter opposition... perhaps a few ME-262s**... Altitude, twenty seven thousand feet... Freezing level at two thousand... Violent up drafts... gale warnings over the English Channel and North Sea... That means that Air Sea Rescue won't be patrolling the flight path... "if you see any baracks in this area don't strafe them. It might be a POW camp, and we would not want to risk shooting our own men".
I was flying Chet Malarz' plane. It was a sleek P-51B. His mechanic told me it was a good airplane and the engine was practically new. Only ten hours flying time since it was installed. We were in white flight. Tom Rich was flight leader and I was flying his wing. take off was at nine forty one...
*Flak: Anti aircraft fire
**ME-262s: German jet propelled fighters. Very fast and very dangerous.
We circled the field in formation while the Group formed up. "Land -fall out"* was at ten twenty-six and we headed out over the North Sea. I could see white caps on the water below us. It looked cold and gray. Just before we hit the Dutch coast we spread out in battle formation. We rendezvoused with the bombers as we made "Land-fall in".**
The route was almost straight in across the Zuider Zee toward Hamburg, then a 90o turn toward the Rhur valley. We had nearly crossed the Zuider Zee, flying over some small islands. Denmark and Sweden were to the North and The Third Reich was straight ahead. All was serene...
It was hard to believe that we were at war and that the enemy was below.
Suddenly BAM! One puff of black smoke with an angry looking orange center, FLAK! My engine quit cold and I lost power. "Upper white leader this is upper white two here, my engine has just cut out! I've been hit!"
Tom's calm voice replied, "Upper white two this is upper white leader. I'll go back with you. Do you know what's wrong?"
I knew I must have been hit but it didn't make sense. One burst of Flak at this altitude could never hit anyone... no smoke... no holes that I could see. I realized that the engine was running but it just didn't have any power. I checked all the instruments... oil temperature O.K. coolant temperature O.K. fuel pressure normal... oil pressure seemed a little low... had plenty of gas in my tanks but switched to fuselage tank just in case... no help there... supercharger highblower is engaged... Or is it???
That's it! Oil pressure is falling off and the supercharger has disengaged. Since the supercharger is engaged with engine oil pressure I must have been hit in an oil line, or in the supercharger itself...
That was bad news. I can't go far without oil... Five minutes if I'm lucky...
I was now at twenty thousand feet over the Zuider Zee, and descending. Bail out here Steve and you're a dead duck! If I'm really lucky I'll be a prisoner of war...
Then again, there was Sweden near by! But I didn't come all this way to become a prisoner of war in Sweden!
On the other hand, I might be able to make it to the North Sea and bail out over the water!
Then I remembered the briefing! Storm warnings over the North Sea. No Air Sea Rescue boats patrolling today! No sense in worrying about that now. First things first.
I called Tom Rich over the Radio. "Let's go home!" Tom's reassuring voice came back, "Good luck Steve, I'm right with you!"
That was the way it started. Two silver mustangs, like knights of old, returning from the crusades wounded, heading back to England. We slowly descended, I, in a flat glide with no power, and Rich "S-ing" back and forth to keep from over shooting me. Protecting my rear from enemy aircraft.
*Land-fall out: Navigation term denoting time crossing the coast outbound.
**Land-fall in: Time crossing coast over mainland