39th Bomb Group (VH)

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Gifu Urban Area
Part II

Mission Date: 09 July 1945
Group Mission Number: 37

There was a safety switch in the rear bomb bay in the back left hand corner. This switch is always in the safe position when the plane is on the ground so that there could not be an accident while the armament guys were loading our bombs in the racks. The last thing that is done before we close the bomb bay doors and taxi out of our revetment is to turn this switch to the activate position. Either the bombardier does this or he gets one of the gunners to do it, but it is his responsibility to see that it is done. Well, he forgot about it. Russ says that he will take care of it. So he opens the bomb bay door and crawls out onto a little ledge about eighteen inches wide and crawls along until he gets to the switch which he activates. He has to stand up to turn around and crawl back to the door. All of this he is doing while we are still over the target with the bomb bay doors open, search lights on us and a night fighter shooting us up real bad. Any sudden movement of the airplane and Russ would have fallen right out of the bomb bay.

He advises the bombardier that the switch is on and the shackles should be live. The bombardier hits the salvo switch again and says, "Salvo". He did not have to tell us that the bombs fell free because when you dump a full load of bombs, about fifteen thousand pounds, the airplane will jump about eight hundred feet straight up. The pilot really has to be on his toes when this happens so as not to loose control. By now we were a few miles from the target and some Japanese rice farmer was probably wondering why the Americans were bombing his rice farm. We got back out over the ocean as quickly as possible and plugged up all of the bullet holes that we could find and checked to see that everyone was OK. I noticed Willie, Flight Engineer, tapping on one of his gauges and he calls Kozik and says that it looks like we used up about seven hundred gallons of gas on that bomb run. They discuss this and finally decide that there may be a glitch in the gauge, but if we did actually use up that much gas we still had plenty to get home on. So we all sat back and relaxed a little bit.

It wasn't long before daylight began to break and Russ calls Willie and says that it looks like smoke coming out of No.2 engine. Like a shot Willie crawls through the tunnel to the rear and looks out at No. 2. Just like another shot he crawls back through the tunnel back to the front and starts throwing switches. He calls Kozik, and tells him that it is not smoke that is coming out of No. 2 it is raw gasoline. He says that there is a big hole in our left wing and we are losing gas out of the left wing tank. Also, this hole is only about twenty-four inches from the exhaust stack and if one stray spark gets into that hole we would probably blow up.

Willie gets all of the gas transferred out of the wing tank and nothing has happened yet. The possibility of a loose spark getting in there and us getting blown out of the sky still exists. Kozik thinks that we should bail out. I get a fix real quick and Monk sends it in to the Wing Ground Station so someone will know where we are.

The bailout procedure for the front end was for the Navigator to be first out through the nose wheel well. Kozik had slowed the plane down and lowered the landing gear so I got up and opened the hatch to the nose wheel well. I looked down at that water and I paused for a little bit. I turned around and tapped Kozik on the shoulder and said, "Harry, we are four hundred miles from the nearest land, which is a very small island east of us, we are eight thousand feet above the ocean and some of us might drown when we hit the water, the sharks will probably get some of us and if some of us do make into our one man rafts, the Air Sea Rescue people will have a hell of a time finding us if the weather turns bad which it is supposed to do. I think that our chances of staying alive are better by staying with the airplane. We have been flying this thing in this condition for about two and a half hours now and I believe it can make it on in."

Harry calls to Willie and they discuss the situation and Willie says that we have enough gas to get home on, so we have a little meeting there on the flight deck and we all finally agree that we would be better off staying with it.

As we taxied into our revetment we could tell by the looks on our ground crew's faces that we had big trouble. We all got out and went over to see all of the holes in the left wing. It was shot up pretty bad. Besides the one big hole, all told we had thirty something holes in the plane. Monk and I went over and ducked under the open bomb bay doors to see if we could find out what that explosion was. We looked up and the whole rear part of the front bomb bay was covered with what looked like bloody cotton. We were discussing this when the Group Armament Officer came by and stuck his head in the bomb bay and says, "My God what happened?" We told him our story and he starts looking under the airplane and shows us where a 20 mm explosive shell had come up from below, gone through our radar dome, entered the rear wall of the front bomb bay, just missed our oxygen tanks by about ten inches and struck the rear end of one of the bombs that we couldn't get rid of and exploded. He said that the bloody looking cotton stuff that was all over the place came out of the insides of the bomb. Although the bombs are not actually armed until they fall from the racks and the arming wire is pulled out of the fuse, it is possible for the bomb to explode anyway. This guy just couldn't explain why the bomb did not explode. Well, our knees just got real weak when it sunk in just how close we came to getting blown out of the sky.

I think we used up all of our luck that night. First, we should have blown up when that 20 mm exploded in out left wing tank. With all of the bullets that went through our plane, at least one of us should have been killed. If that other 20 mm that went through the bomb bay had been about ten inches to the left it would have hit our oxygen tanks and blown us up. And of course having the rear end of a bomb blown off without the bomb detonating - that used up all of our luck.

At interrogation we checked and no other plane over the target received any opposition at all. We were the only one. We were never sure whether the same night fighter made two passes at us or whether there was a second fighter involved. I tend to think that it was the same guy making two passes at us.

After we got back to our hut, we had a hard time getting to sleep. We talked about the events of the mission and just could not explain to ourselves why we were still alive.

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Source: Rowland E. Ball, Navigator, P-03
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This page was revised on 31 July 2001
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