Thursday, September 27, 2007

Uncle Walt's story

Uncle Walt served, like most of my family, in World War 2. He was a airman in China. This is his story (from his hands). This is a long manuscript, i'll post first part today.

It's a bit difficult to know when to begin the tale of several weeks of rather frantic combat. Craig Field, Alabama may be a good starting place. I graduated there after several successful flights in a well-worn P-40; succussful meaning I took off, flew about, and landed without damaging the Warhawk. Then fighter school for me was at the charming Gulfside resort of Venice, Florida. Here we had P-47s and we liked them. Just when we were getting the hang of flying the old monster, the cadre gave us an unexplained long weekend. When we staggered in on Monday, the place was covered with P-40s. The main compensatino for this apparent retrogression was that they were brand new P-40N-25-CU models with about six hours on each. They were terrific and we later loved them. Then Miami was a P.O.E. on July 4, 1944. We went by C-54 to Borinquin Fld (later Ramey AFB), Puerto Rico, on to Georgetown, British Guiana , then Belem and Natal, Brazil. We hopped the S. Atlantic to Asencion Island, and then to Accra, Gold Coast, Africa. We next stopped in Maidugueri, Nigeria, and on to Kartoum, Anglo Egyptian Sudan. The last two stops before Karachi, India, were at Aden, Arabia, and Mesirah (Misery) Is. At Karachi, we became a bit disillusioned and disappointed by the long lag time before going to China. And Landhi Field, we were supposed to get one final phase of training before combat. This training was to be administered by homeward bound pilots from the 14th AF. The trouble was, there weren't enough of them and Landhi Fld. did not have enough planes. We knocked around Karachi doing odd jobs through July, August, and September. In October, my group got to Landhi. To keep flying, I had taken a job with the Flexible Gunnery School, the principle duty being to make passes at B24s and B25s who shot at us with film. This could have been valuable, but I never saw a real Jap bomber in the air to shoot at.

Finally, in early November, we were each presented with a brand-new Mustang and pointed towards China. We flew unescorted across India, ended up in the Assam Valley at Mohanbari Fld., where we picked up a B25 escort to provide navigation over the Hump. This was S.O.P. (standard operating procedure) but I don't really know why as guys had been fighting over the Hump route for years without a "Big Brother". Well, I landed right at what became my home field, Chengkung. We turned in the new Mustangs, went to Kunming to the 51 Ftr Group HQ, and received our assignments. By supper time I was back at Chengkung and a member of the 16th Fighter Squadron. In some squadrons, the newest pilots may have felt left out, but in the 16th, the atmosphere was different. We all felt welcome. There was an odd occurence which to me was briefly discomforting, but the veteran pilots were quite understand. You see, the 16th was just beginning to equip with the P51 and my small group had to teach the old boys how to fly them. We stood in awe of these 25 to 50 mission men, but in return they seemed to respect us for our Mustang knowledge. We got a bit of training in tactics but it was kept to a bare minimum due to the eternal fuel shortage.

My first real mission was to escort B-24s on a bomb run over Hanoi, a city to become much more famous two wars later. It was rather uneventful, the big boys dumped a fine load of explosives on the Japs, we caught a little flack and one engine on one B-24 went out, probably from fatigue. We had a few more rather ordinary missions, mostly southeasterly target-of-opportunity flights. They were a gentle baptismal for rookies and we did some damage to the Japs.

Finally, my big adventure began on 18 Dec 1944, and it got off to a lousy start. Eleven of us were told to pack the musette bags for a three day TDY to North China to escort B-29s on a big raid. Our radio crystals were changed to the N. China frequency and drop tanks were filled. Radio silence was the rule. If your wingman had trouble and turned back, you had to go with him for safety. A couple of hours into the flight, and my leader pulled up and over me and headed home. I pursued him but took several miles to catch him. When i finally overhauled him, he signalled me back to the flight. I chased the other nine planes for an hour, but never saw them.

As it got dark, I gave up and headed home. The whole of central China was solidly socked in and I was flying on top with no radios or navigational aids, just a compass. By now my fuel situation was deteriorating, I was lost and hungry. My luck improved after a while, when the dense cloud bank ended. I saw a town ahead, and then all the lights in town went out - they thought I was a Jap! Finally, Kunming came into view and they too, blacked out. The big lake was all I needed to navigate by, so I headed to Chengking, but it was totally black. I decided to lower my gear, turn on the landing light, and search for my runway. This was never necessary as, suddenly, the runway lights came on.

(continued later - page 3).

1 comment:

AZGma said...

Thank you for posting that. I am very proud of my family and their service to our country.