321st BG,447th BS, Lt Ernie Rice and Lt Fred Smith
" NEITHER DID I"
Off the Island of Corsica in early 1945, I was a B-25 co-pilot on a practice mission testing out the new Norad radar vector bombing system and we were zeroing in on a practice target in Northern Italy. It was a dark night but as I (447th BS, Lt Frederick Smith) glanced out my window of the cockpit I saw a black B-25 flying on our right wing. I grabbed the controls and took us on a steep bank to the left and told Ernie Rice the pilot what I saw and he mumbled something about my combat fatigue and put us back on course. In about 5 minutes he glanced out his left window and saw the plane on the left wing and took us into steep bank to the right and went on IFF to make the plane identify itself, as we were dead ducks and he could have shot us down. I climbed up into the top turret gun to shoot it down if I had too. When I got set in the turret the black B 25 was moving up again to a right wing position and when I swung my turret around to take aim. He banked down and away and we didn't see him again. Good thing as I didn't have any ammunition. Sometime later after the war in Europe was over and I was back in the States on rest leave. I read a story about the Germans having rebuilt a downed B-25 . Painted it black and did spying on our missions and the pilot was interviewed and said one night he almost got shot down trying to find out why we were flying a single plane night mission. I went to the trouble of locating that pilot and dropped him a line introducing myself and advising him that we didn't have any ammunition and he wrote back and said" Neither did I" ( 9-28-08) "Hi Barbie lot of hearsay in those war stories. yes I was Co pilot for Ernie on that confidential night practice mission and when we reported spotting the black B-25 ,our intelligence officer told us to forget about it.
The black B 25 had been seen on some day missions and it was kept quite for some counter intelligence reason. FRED SMITH -- (Frederick H Smith and Ernest C Rice)
"Fred has quite a story and is a dedicated leader in making "We Remember" sites for the 57th Bomb Wing as well as a major contributor to the AWARDS sites; DFC, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Air Medal and others. Fred was a perceptive Leader and flew in some of the most dangerous and difficult Missions of the war in the MTO. God Bless our brave men."
They don't make planes like this anymore, but we still have the same dedicated air crews.
Although the tail actually bounced and swayed in the wind and twisted when the plane turned and all the control cables were severed, except one single elevator cable still worked, and the aircraft still miraculously flew ! The tail gunner was trapped because there was no floor connecting the tail to the rest of the plane. The waist and tail gunners used parts of the German fighter and their own parachute harnesses in an attempt to keep the tail from ripping off and the two sides of the fuselage from splitting apart. While the crew was trying to keep the bomber from coming apart, the pilot continued on his bomb run and released his bombs over the target.
When the bomb bay doors were opened, the wind turbulence was so great that it blew one of the waist gunners into the broken tail section. It took several minutes and four crew members to pass him ropes from parachutes and haul him back into the forward part of the plane. When they tried to do the same for the tail gunner, the tail began flapping so hard that it began to break off. The weight of the gunner was adding some stability to the tail section, so he went back to his position.
The turn back toward England had to be very slow to keep the tail from twisting off. They actually covered almost 70 miles to make the turn home. The bomber was so badly damaged that it was losing altitude and speed and was soon alone in the sky. For a brief time, two more Me-109 German fighters attacked theAll American. Despite the extensive damage, all of the machine gunners were able to respond to these attacks and soon drove off the fighters. The two waist gunners stood up with their heads sticking out through the hole in the top of the fuselage to aim and fire their machine guns. The tail gunner had to shoot in short bursts because the recoil was actually causing the plane to turn.
Allied P-51 fighters intercepted the All American as it crossed over the Channel and took one of the pictures shown. They also radioed to the base describing that the appendage was waving like a fish tail and that the plane would not make it and to send out boats to rescue the crew when they bailed out. The fighters stayed with the Fortress taking hand signals from Lt. Bragg and relaying them to the base. Lt. Bragg signaled that 5 parachutes and the spare had been "used" so five of the crew could not bail out. He made the decision that if they could not bail out safely, then he would stay with the plane to land it.
Two and a half hours after being hit, the aircraft made its final turn to line up with the runway while it was still over 40 miles away. It descended into an emergency landing and a normal roll-out on its landing gear.
When the ambulance pulled alongside, it was waved off because not a single member of the crew had been injured. No one could believe that the aircraft could still fly in such a condition. The Fortress sat placidly until the crew all exited through the door in the fuselage and the tail gunner had climbed down a ladder, at which time the entire rear section of the aircraft collapsed .
This old bird had done its job and brought the crew home and all in one piece.
The author of this old war story, really loves the ones with a happy ending !