The Worst of Times

by: RAF_Yank

I have a message to especially the younger of the people who play "Combat Flight Simulator". There is very little glory in war. Sometimes it has seemed to me that when I tell people about who I am what my job was in World War II that they comment by saying "Cool" and "Wow" and " How many did you shoot down.". Not all but some have reacted like this.

My point is this... there is not much glory in watching dear friends die. Nor is there glory in causing the deaths of other people no matter how just the cause .

On one of my first missions after we moved to France, I became acutely aware that I had killed other human beings. My flight leader and I were flying over the "Hedge Row" country of western France in support of our infantry advance. The battle for "St.Lo" was still raging and the Germans were putting up heavy resistance to try the thwart the Allied advance. This "Hedge Row" country was made of farms and orchards with huge thick hedges everywhere. They made it very difficult for our boys to make progress since German tanks and soldiers could hide in them and ambush them at every turn. Our job as ground attack fighter-bombers was to destroy anything of the enemies that was or wasn't nailed down. We would attack trains, trucks, tanks, airfields, warehouses, river barges, troops; anything and everything.

On this beautiful morning our flight of four set off to find targets of opportunity behind enemy lines. We kept low to stay out of the flak when we came across and armored column. It was led by several tanks and armored vehicles in the front and rear, and had troop trucks in between. I was in the rear as wingman for my leader. The two lead planes peeled off to attack the the armored vehicles in front. My leader took off after the tank in the rear. I was left with the troop trucks in the middle. You have to understand that all of this took place in just a few minutes. I opened up with my machine guns on these truck loads of troops to devastating effect. The soldiers were too far from the trees and bushes to escape. I saw as my high velocity .50 caliber Browning machine gun bullets, firing about a 100 rounds per second, literally ripped them to pieces. One bullet hitting a man would send him flying through the air. Try to imagine a man being hit by 50. They leaped out of the trucks, ran hither and thither. Some tried to hide under the trucks. On my second pass I set two perhaps three on fire as men still tried to find safety. The road and fields were littered with dead.In less than five minutes our single four plane flight had almost completely wiped out this motorized unit. We had destroyed or damaged four or five trucks , two tanks, and several other vehicles.

I got back and was very nearly physically ill. I had to keep reminding myself that

We were killing the enemy who were trying to kill our boys. Perhaps we had saved an equal number or more American and Allied lives......

The Lost Flight

On another spectacular autumn day I was still basking in the glow of being promoted to First Lieutenant. I lived in a tent at that time with three guys who had become as close to me as any friends I had ever had. Lt."Skip" Johnson* and I were in the same class in basic flight school. We had lucked out and been assigned to the same bases all the way through training. Lt. Bob Zelinski "Ski" had met up with us about half way through and had stayed with us from Advanced Flight school on. Captain Marty Hastings was our flight leader and was Executive Officer for our squadron. He was one of the nicest and funniest people I have ever met. He was the "Old man" of the group. He was pushing 26.

We went in to our briefing that morning and we found out our target. We were to hit a well defended Luftwaffe base very near the German border. My stomach churned as the CO went over the most recent intelligence reports and some sketchy aerial photographs. This base was defended by many AA guns and had a large concrete flak tower. These were exceptionally deadly as they were specially designed to attack low flying aircraft. They were heavilly armed as well. Our squadron was the second of several units that were assigned to attack the target. The news was getting worse all the time. When you were the second or third wave in, that meant that the enemy gunners were awake, with there guns warm and were just waiting for you. This also meant that any German fighters on CAP were also ready to pounce on you.

We finished our briefing and our coffee and headed for our planes. Of the eight fighters from our squadron 4 were armed with 500lb bomb loads and 4 with 5" rockets. Our group was loaded with rockets. We also had drop tanks attached as this was a long flight. Taking off with a full load was always a little hairy, but we all got off fine. "Wonderful Winnie2" (my plane name) was purring along fine. We leveled off at about 1000' so as not to be to big a target for the flak. When we got As we closed in on the airfield we could see the smoke from the previous attack. I could make out several P-47's from our sister squadron high tailing it out of there. The flight from our group with bombs had climbed to make a dive bombing run. Our flight was assigned to flak supression with our rockets. We came screaming in at just above tree top level. The Germans had cleared the trees from a large area so we were very exposed just the same.Capt. Hastings was in the lead with "Ski" on his wing. Flak was erupting all around us. Before Capt Hastings could fire anything I saw him take a direct hit from a German 88mm. His left wing crumpled and he spun in to the ground and exploded. Before I had time to react I could see that "Ski" was in trouble. He was trailing smoke and desperately trying to gain altitude as if to bail out. By then I was too busy to see him. I let go my rockets into a flak battery and a hanger near the middle of the field. I looked back to see two wrecked P-47's. "Ski" had gone straight in.

I had no time to mourn as there was enemy flak bursting everywhere. I had taken several hits from flak shrapnel but all my instruments showed in the normal range. Skip Johnson was lining up for a pass on some German fighter-bombers (ME-110's I believe) ...........*names have been changed until families are notified

I am not normally an angry person, but rage at what had happened to my friends began to boil over in me. It felt like my head would explode. At the same time I saw things sharper and more clearly than probably I ever had before or have since. I lined up on a row of planes and began firing. I didn't release the trigger until the barrels of my guns overheated. I got credit later for 3 damaged planes.

I looked out to my left and saw that a previously camouflaged 20mm flak battery had opened up on us. These were rapid fire guns in sets of four in each unit. I began to take hits in the fuselage, wings, and rudder. I peeled off to my right to evade the fire. As I did this I saw Skip's plane veer to the left trailing black smoke. I practically went insane at that point. I banked left right over the AA battery oblivious of there fire. I couldn't shoot back even if I wanted to. I pounded on my instruments in anger and frustration. I saw a trail of smoke that was dissipating from where I last saw Skips plane heading. I circled in my damaged aircraft as long as I could. I could not find any evidence of a crash. I could only hope he had cleared the area and was trying to make it home. No one ever saw him again. He was listed as MIA until near the end of the war. He had crashed about two miles away. Some local villagers had seen the crash and had buried his body in secret, so the Germans couldn't find it. They turned in his dog tags to a group of Americans who liberated the area.

My radio had been damaged from shell fragments, so I was unable to contact anyone . I had a several fist size holes in my cockpit. I turned for home in utter disbelief. Ten minutes before our flight of P-47's had been the "Kings of the sky". I can still see our majestic silver planes with fresh nose paint ripping holes in the air. Now I was alone damaged and tears streamed down my face. Again I was "Lucky" (I certainly didn't feel lucky). My engine hadn't taken any serious hits and I still had hydraulic pressure. I had lost a little fuel but with the drop tanks we had carried to get to the target I had enough to get back.

I landed without incident and pulled up to my crew chief. I'll never forget looking out on the three other flight crews of my fallen friends. They had these forlorn expressions of emptiness. Those faces still come to me in dreams. My crew chief later counted over thirty holes in "Wonderful Winnie2". One had passed through my cockpit, taken out the radio and lodged in the other side. How it missed me I have no idea. It seemed physically impossible. I didn't have a scratch on me.

Going back to my tent was another awful experience. In the past when you lost a guy you had your buddies to help go through their belongings. I was alone. There was a deck of cards still sitting on "Ski's" bunk from an unfinished game. Clothes and pictures from home were everywhere. There was a stray cat that had latched onto Skip. It was looking around for him. I completely lost it and cried like a baby. I felt near some kind of breakdown.

We were desperately short of pilots at this point so I couldn't even take R & R. I had one day off and was flying missions again the day after.Not long after this I passed my 75th mission. I was promoted to Captain a month or so later primarily because of the lack of experienced pilots. I was 22 years old and felt like a hundred. I have never gotten over the pain of the loss of my buddies on that mission. I was never able to get very close to the new pilots who joined our squadron. It was like us veterans had built up a sort of shield to protect us from any future losses

I never joined any veterans organizations after the war. Not the P-47 Pilots Association, not even the VFW. I didn't want to be reminded. In retrospect that was probably a mistake. I have really enjoyed playing Combat Flight Simulator these past few months. I have been into computers for a long time but was not into games with the exception of an older version of "Flight Simulator" many years ago. CFS was a gift from my grandson "RAF_Jester". I enjoy the dogfighting but it is the flying and the comaraderie I have found with the RAF 662nd Squadron members that I enjoy the most. It has been a real treat to meet guys from all over the globe who have a love of flying enjoy the competition of simultated battles, and who enjoy each others "Cyber" company.

Here is a salute to my fallen friends S! And another to my new friends in the RAF 662nd Squadron S!

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