Monday, October 4, 2010

Flying on a Wing and a Prayer

(Continuation of Captain Estes's War Memoirs)
"Well, we hadn't been on the bomb run too long
before a big burst of flak hit the left engine number
one outboard, and we had to feather it. John
Congleton was right on the ball; he knew exactly
what was going on and what to do, and so he
did what he had to do and that engine was
feathered and we continued on the bomb run.

And then the bombardier indicated that the
bomb bay doors be open and they were opened,
and shortly after that we dropped our bombs
and rallied to the left. And as we rallied, the
right outboard engine number four was
hit, and John had to feather it, and we were on
two engines and we couldn't continue as the
lead of our formation; so we dropped out of the
formation, and just hoped that we could choose
the right manifold pressure and everything else
to carry our plane as far as we could go. We
were going to continue on the course that we
originally would have flown had all our engines
been running.

And that carried us to the foothills of the Alps,
but we had lost considerable altitude because
we couldn't continue to hold altitude at
altitude with just two engines; we were losing
about 5, 6, 700 feet a minute, and finally we
got to Yugoslavia. As we passed Zagreb we
picked up some flak and they were pretty much
on target. It sounded like hail on a tin roof, and
we were getting shrapnel from the aircraft guns
that were shooting at us.

After we past that point we were at about 8,000
feet and we were approaching the Alps. And I
called to Swain and asked him what was the
highest altitude of any peaks in the Alps on our
course, and he indicated 8,000 feet. Well, the
Alps were covered over with clouds, and I couldn't
see the peaks, but we knew they were there and we
knew they were at the same altitude we were; so
I couldn't afford to try and pick my way through
something that I couldn't even see where I was going.
So I turned left or south towards Sarajevo which was
not even known then hardly because the Olympic
games hadn't been played there, and there was no
airport there or anything else. We turned in that
direction and it became evident that there wasn't
any reason for us to continue going south; we couldn't
go north, that would carry us back into enemy territory,
and we certainly didn't want to turn back to the east
and go back into enemy territory again. We couldn't
go west because that would carry us right into the
Alps, so I told John that I thought that our best
chance was to get everybody ready and bail the
crew out and take our chances on the ground because
our chances in the air were no good."
(To be Continued.)

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