1944 — Italy
"Red Skies at Night"
***** Exerpt from Irving's BOOK "RED SKIES AT NIGHT"
ONE OF THE MOST HEROIC LANDINGS I WITNESSED IN WW 11
Our 321st bomb group moved from Corsica to Falconara, Italy, in early April of 1945. British ground troops had captured this airfield where Mussolini trained his air cadets. It is about fifteen miles west of the city of Ancona, on the west coast of the Adriatic Sea. Our crew was part of a mission that targeted railway bridges on the west coast of Yugoslavia (Matobar).
To reach the target, we flew across the Adriatic Sea. Because the bridges were absolutely vital to the Germans to transport war materials to their troops, the targets were heavily defended from the ground. They knew we were coming and they were ready. Flack filled the sky and was pummeling our entire formation of planes. No matter what, when on a bomb run, you have to stay on course until you reach the designated target and the bombs are dropped; there can be no deviation to avoid flak. And on any mission, it is a bomb run where we lose most of our planes, sustain the most injuries and deaths. So with enemy fire filling the sky all around you, tension intensifies as you get closer and closer to the target, with the enemy firing everything it has.
After we dropped our bombs, our ships dived out of formation to scatter and try to avoid the heavy ack ack ground fire All the planes on this mission was pretty well shot up. Limping home to base, we all heaved exhausted sighs of relief when our plane touched down in one piece. We crawled out and stood with the other crews that had landed safely, and watched the other planes straggle in one by one, wanting to make sure everyone got back, and in one piece. And until we saw a plane, we did not know if that crew had made it out alive or not. Tension was high.
Suddenly an incoming plane sent up a red flare in the distance. We all knew what this meant. They had seriously wounded or dead men on board. We could see the pilot was struggling to bring the plane into some kind of a landing pattern, but he was having trouble. Then we saw his right engine had been shot out and, in fact, the whole plane was shot to pieces.
When a plane is so crippled that the pilot thinks he may crash on landing, he informs the crew and they are given the choice to bail out or stay with the ship. And to their credit, if there are wounded men who can’t bail out, their comrades don’t abandon them. If the crew does bail out, the pilot is left to bring the ship in by himself, at great risk.
This entire crew stayed with the ship. We all waited, holding our breath. We watched him fighting to bring the plane around to line up with the runway, with only one engine. To do so, he had no choice but to bank toward the right, the side with the dead engine. To do so was almost suicide. The plane could go into a tailspin and kill everyone. Tension high and holding our breath, we watched him fight to control the plane. Miraculously the plane leveled off and he made a perfect landing. (The old man upstairs was certainly guiding the pilot.) We yelled and cheered ourselves hoarse to witness a "win" in the midst of so much tragedy.