- Phil DaviesUnited Kingdom
Date as postmark
It seems as though our time together in the sea seems to have brought Joe/ ‘Tiny’ and me a bit closer. Comradeship in adversity I suppose or something similar. I spoke to Joe about us leaving Benny behind on the Jennie when she went down. He explained that even if we had somehow got him off the plane there was no way he would have survived in the sea. The water was so rough that even those of us who weren’t injured when they bailed, died. I’ve chosen not to tell Joe about the dreams I keep having about Benny.
As we lost so many of our crew HQ gave us replacements. These were mostly untried recruits (crikey was it really so long ago that I was one of these ‘untried recruits’ myself!). Our new bombardier is a guy called John Southerton. He seems a lot more serious than Benny was, certainly he didn’t laugh at any of Gonny’s wisecracks. The Navigator is a young guy called Jimmy Stevens, eager to please and sucking up around Gillie and Mac. Walter Jenkins, the new Engineer. Walt is an older guy like Sammy Whelan i.. WAS. And finally the new tail gunner- another young guy called Mike Peterson. He was hanging around me before that first flight together. ‘Have you shot any Nazis?’ He asks ‘Seen much action?’ I try my best to shrug him off, I just don’t need the hassle.
What worried me the most was when Mac announced we were to attack Rouen, Jimmy asked me if I had any idea where that was! This guy is supposed to be our navigator and clearly has no idea how to read a map. I don’t know if anyone else heard.
As we walked over to our plane I gritted my teeth in anticipation of the tell-tale scream forgetting that the Wailin' Jennie was now rusting on the bottom of the English Channel. The Valiant Heart is the name of our new crate. Fortunately Jimmy had nothing to do with our take-off and Mac and Gillie kept us comfortably within the squadron so that Jimmy’s map reading skills would, hopefully, not be needed.
I felt a small tightness in my chest as we flew over the channel and two enemy planes flew toward us. Our fighter screen was providing a good level of cover and when they saw them off my breathing became easier.
It wasn’t until we were properly over France that Fritz made it through our fighter screen. Three 110s came at us from all directions, two heading toward us and one approaching from the rear of the Valiant Heart. Both Gonny in the ball turret and Southerton in the nose fired at one of the enemy planes.
‘Yeah, I’ll let ya have that one’ Gonny muttered.
‘Looks as though he’s gonna be a great member of the team!’ Said Joe next to me.
Mac radioed through:' Ok, Keep focused. There's still two more out there.’
‘Hold on guys! I’ll get ‘im!’ Jimmy whooped firing from the MG in the port cheek. ‘Darn it! I missed! Hey this ain’t as easy as it looks.’
‘J____ kid! This ain’t no game!’ Said Hampson in the radio room as enemy shells rattled around him.
‘Only winged mine!’ Peterson in the tail gun position reported after firing at the final 110 behind us. ‘Brace yaselves now, Fritz is shooting back!’
After the bullets had stopped flying we all reported into Mac
Southerton: ‘Took a hit, but I’m ok. Navigator looks to have bought it though.’ I wish I could say I felt something for Jimmy, but honestly, so soon after Meaulte I was still feeling numb and it wasn’t like I knew the kid anyway.
Peterson coughed into the intercom.‘J____. I’m hit bad.’
‘You’re going to have to hold it together.’ Mac said. ‘We still got a way to go.’
‘And maybe it’ll teach ya to be a better shot...’ I heard Gonny mutter quietly under his breath.
The pair of 110s tore around for a second pass, one approaching from the starboard side received the attentions of Joe stood next to me. He roared as the enemy plane flew below us trailing smoke from a damaged engine. The other plane approached from our blind side as Southerton, still checking over Jimmy for vital signs, was unable to fire back. Fortunately the enemy plane missed and flew on past.
After what seemed an eternity we were nearing Rouen. Without a navigator we were relying on the rest of the squadron for guidance. As usual the Krauts were looking to see us off. Due to the poor level of cover we were getting from our ‘little buddies’ only one of the four enemy planes was driven away. Two of the 109s were flying directly toward us. Gonny shot one down with a cheer, Southerton was unable to repeat his early success and bullets peppered the port wing but didn’t look to hit anything important.
Having bullets flying at you puts your aim off a little and both me and Walt in the top turret missed the 109 flying in from the 9.00 position. Fortunately for us he also missed and took off. Walt span the turret around and along with Joe next to me recommenced firing at the remaining 109 which was now approaching from the starboard side. They missed the target and the 109 raked the side of the plane. Sparks flew around Joe’s firing position but he appeared ok. He checked over his MG and gave me a thumbs up then radioed through to Mac:
‘Starboard wing not looking too good here Mac. Wing root taken a few hits and is looking a bit...loose’
‘OK, noted’ Replied Mac ‘Hampson, radio through to the squadron inform them of our condition. Gillifroy, you take the cheek MG and try and see off that 109’. Co-pilot, Gillie took his position and fired. Once again the enemy pilot found his way through our gunfire and this time strafed the portside wing. I watched as our first engine died. Our skilled pilot crew managed to feather the engine which meant we wouldn’t lose too much airspeed.
Some good news was that it seemed Hampson’s radioed request hadn’t fallen on deaf ears as our little friends, the fighter escort flying with us, drew around looking to protect us from the further attention of the Krauts.
These fighters are unable to protect us from the flak which bursting around us and it hit the tail end of the plane.
‘Mac.’ Peterson croaked from the ruins of the tail of the plane. ‘I think I’m losing O2 here. Control cables are shot too...’ He clicked off breathing heavily.
‘You think I should check on him?’ Joe asked me. I shrugged a reply.
Despite flying without a navigator we were in a good position over target and Southerton got some good hits in. Job done Mac turned the Valiant Heart back toward London. As he did so Gonny shot down a further 110 flying directly up toward us.
‘Fritz may have given us a mauling this outing but we’re giving as good as we’re getting’ Joe said to me.
Despite having our little buddies around us Fritz was still giving us headaches as we passed over France. The loses we’d taken seemed to have given us all steel in our veins and Walt in the top turret sent a 109 packing with a firey tail. A second 109 shot up the starboard wing some more.
‘Mac. The wing here is shaking around all over the place’ Joe told our pilot.
‘What do you want me to do about it Joe?’ Mac barked ‘Send Walter out to fix it? You’re the gunner, you should be keeping those fighters off our back!’ Tensions were running high. Now manning the MG in the starboard cheek, Southerton was able to unnerve the enemy fighter and it flew away.
A second wave was upon us. This time it was two 190s, agile planes capable of dealing a lot of punishment. With this in mind we all opened fire with everything we had. Walt: miss, Southerton: miss, me: hit and kill! Gonny hit the second plane but it pushed on with its attack, firing at the last minute and continuing to do so as it turned meant the entire fuselage was raked with gunfire.
The odd thing with being shot is you don’t immediately notice it. I felt as though someone had punched me hard in the arm. I looked at Joe wondering why he had lashed out at me and noticed the bloodstain spreading out on my flight suit. Panic set in as I thought I may be badly hit but a quick check over by me and Joe revealed it to be a flesh wound. Now I noticed the wound it started to throb. Mac’s tones cut through my thoughts.
‘...be extra vigilant therefore. Following the loss of our Bombardier, we have now have very limited defensive cover at the front of the plane.’
‘Wha..?’ I turned to Joe.
‘S____ this, and S____ Mac. We’re not gonna lose another man’ Joe stomped off to the back of the plane to help out the severely injured tailgunner.
The Valiant Heartcontinued to limp back to England. Maybe they sensed we’d had enough, or most likely they were engaged elsewhere but Fritz left us alone for the rest of our flight and despite bad weather during our landing we touched down with no further incident.
Later in the mess Joe told us how that although Peterson had survived the mission he was too badly wounded to fly with us again.
‘J_____ what a blood bath! Seemed like they were gonna be swell bunch of guys too. Still easy come, easy go eh?’ It was all I could do to hold back from punching Gonny in his stupid face.
Your loving son,
Roll of Honor
Charles ‘Tailend Charlie’ Trent R.I.P.
Benny ‘The Bomb’ Jackson – R.I.P.
Teddy ‘Ginger’ Thompson – R.I.P.
Sammy Whelan – R.I.P.
Bill Williams – R.I.P.
Jimmy Stevens – R.I.P.
John Southerton – R.I.P.
Michael Peterson – W.I.A.
Wailin' Jennie – Lost at sea
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