Takeoff at 0600 hours went smoothly, group formed up at 4000 feet and proceeded to climb to 20,000 feet to meet up with the 301st and 463rd. Our target for today was an aircraft parts factory in Munich. Only our second mission with the group and we pulled a flight over the Alps.
As we flew up the Adriatic and crossed over Italy, we only met sporadic enemy fighter attacks and our fighter cover took care of any Jerries that tallied us. As the group climbed to altitude to fly over the Alps we encountered the first of many determined enemy fighter contacts. Our fighter cover did their best, but from each wave of enemy fighters one or two would press home the attack and make runs on the squadron. It was during one of these attacks that our navigator, Lieutenant David Evans was hit by shellfire and seriously wounded. My co-pilot, Lieutenant Daniels, reported a slight drop in oil pressure on #4 engine but that it had stablized. Lieutenant Williams and Sergeant Stevens reported damaging two 190's in this engagement. Our P-38s left us at this point due to fuel concerns. We were due to meet up with P-51s for the remainder of the mission.
And on we flew.
Passing the Alps the group descended back to our assigned bombing elevation of 20,000 feet. As we crossed into Germany, the enemy renewed their attacks with 190s. My crew reported two large waves were lining up to attack our position. The first wave of 190s began their attack run and luckily none of them directly targeted us. The first wave was eventually driven off by the squadron. Those P-51s were noticeably unavailable at this point. The second wave then began their attack. The crew began calling out contacts as the enemy fighters pressed forward. Suddenly Sergeant Gordon called over the comm, "Little Friends 12 o'clock!" Those P-51s appeared hot in pursuit and forced many of the enemy fighters to disengage. One enemy fighter did manage to slice though the squadron from 12 o'clock firing as it went. But it appeared that it was unable to hit anything of significance.
And on we flew.
Reaching the run-in point the groups turned on to our target. Flak was so thick you could walk on it. Several nearby bursts rocked the ship, but the crew reported no more casualties or major damage. The LUCKY LADY did have a few more holes in her though. My flight suit was sweat drenched. No one can ever train enough for the hell that is a flak barrage. You just have to sit there, take it and pray. Lieutenant Williams called out "Bombs Away" and we banked away from the flak with the group.
Once we cleared the flak barrage over the target, the enemy fighters were right back at us with a vengeance. Enemy fighters were coming from all directions and from above and below us. The P-51s were kept busy driving off the enemy and combined with the firepower of the squadron guns only a few enemy planes got through to make runs on us. One, a ME-110, tried to attack from below, but Sergeant Stewart in the ball turret claimed LUCKY LADY's first kill. Sergeant Sims in the tail claimed a piece of a FW-190 as well.
And on we flew.
Again we had to cross the Alps. As we climbed a small group of FW-190s made a half hearted run at us and then broke away, but not before Sergeant Gordon in the top turret made claim to the LUCKY LADY's second kill. As the group dropped back down in altitude and was crossing over Italy we were hit by a group of ME-109s. We received no damage in the attack and Lieutenant Williams made claim to LUCKY LADY's third kill.
And on we flew.
The rest of the flight was uneventful. Our landing however would be problematic. Our port landing gear would not set down. Manual efforts by Sergeant Gordon also failed to drop the gear. I radioed our situation and then informed the crew that I was going to climb enough for them to jump. Sergeant Gordon came on the comm and asked "Is that an order Sir?" I replied back that "No, it isn't an order Sergeant, but it would be the prudent thing to do. They don't give you much practice at belly flop landings in flight school." First silence, then Sergeant Gordon appeared in his jump seat between Lieutenant Daniels and I. He spoke through the comm even though Daniels and I could clearly hear him speak. "Sir, if it's all the same with you, I'd prefer to ride down with you, after all I trust you more than some Pfc who packed my chute." Soon over the comm the rest of the crew reported that their guns were secure and that they had assumed landing positions. Lieutenant Williams reported that Lieutenant Evans was in really bad shape and one way or another we needed to get down now. I radioed the tower that I was bringing the plane down with crew aboard.
And on we flew.
We once again made our downwind leg and turned for final approach. Sergeant Gordon was right there calling out altitudes while Lieutenant Daniels and I focused on bringing the LADY down smoothly. The final approach went well. As we touched I told Lieutenant Daniels to cut the engines and close the fuel valves. LUCKY LADY skidded straight down the runway, a shower of sparks spewing from her damaged bottom. When she finally came to a rest, the emergency crews and medical teams were right on us. They got Lieutenant Evans off the plane quickly and into an ambulance.
The enlisted men, while shaken up a bit over the landing, nonetheless walked back to the fuselage and again tapped the smaller paint job of our name sake on the fuselage. The officers walked over to do the same but were stopped by Sergeant Gordon. "No sirs, this isn't for you. It's not that we don't want to share her, it just that Lieutenant Evan's tapped her after last mission and well....." he voice trailed off momentarily. "Sirs, its just that we'd like you stay around for a while longer that's all." I looked at Greg and then Al, they both nodded and we turned away.
Later that evening our Ground crew chief Master Sergeant Brown appeared at my tent. In a somber voice he said "Sir, I just wanted to let you know you did a good job setting her down. We should have her repaired and retrofitted for your next mission". He paused before continuing. "Sir, we just heard the report about Lieutenant Evans. I'm sorry sir, but he died while being operated on for his wounds."
After the shock wore off I noticed Sergeant Brown was still there. "Is there anything else Sergeant?"
"No Sir" he replied.
I stood up "Thank-you for bring me the news, both good and bad. Now Sergeant one request please, can you get me a pot of coffee and some of that rot gut whiskey you got stashed away. I need to write a letter with a clear head but then I think I'm gonna get drunk after."
Lieutenant Charles Gibson, Pilot, LUCKY LADY, 318th Bomber Squadron, 88th Bomber Group (H)