Wings and Barbed Wire
By Gerald A. Duval
This issue features an excerpt from Wings and Barbed Wire, by Gerald A. Duval. Mr. Duval served as Radio Operator and Left Waist Gunner on a B-24 bomber in the 459th bomb group. After being shot down over Steyre, Austria, Mr. Duval was confined to German prison camps throughout the rest of the war. He now lives with his wife, Thelma, in Panama City Beach, Florida.
Chapter 28: The Mission
The day was beautiful. The sun shone brightly as it cast its reflection off the Adriatic. It was not long before all the squadrons were formed and the group rendezvoused. Thirty-seven B-24â€™s joined other units of the 15th Air Force. The B-24â€™s were the last to take off. We were a little faster than the B-17â€™s gathering. It wasnâ€™t long before we were nearing the coast of Yugoslavia, home of the Partisans. These people were responsible for helping many downed American Airmen to return to their organizations. It seemed like no time after flying over the coast of Yugoslavia before we encountered our first fighters. They seemed to be all over the sky. Thanks to our aircraft recognition classes we were able to spot many varieties of German aircraft, ME-109â€™s, FW190â€™s, JU 88â€™s, F110â€™s, and others. They expected us and were waiting just as we had discussed the day before and at briefing. A sinking feeling came over us when we realized that in our tail end position we were very vulnerable. If an aircraft was in this position he stood alone. For some reason if you were tucked away in the box you felt more secure. The reason for this was you had more fire power in the box. Here we stood out like a sore thumb. If we dared straggle we had no hope. The fighters enjoyed a bomber that was known as â€œTail End Charlie.â€ The B-17â€™s, as I mentioned a little slower, now fell prey to the many fighters. They were getting hit hard. It was reported that around this target there were more airplanes per cubic meter than any of us had ever seen. It was also reported that FW-200â€™s were above us at about 30,000 feet or higher, calling down information to the flak batteries on the ground. This was attested to by the accuracy of their concentration as we went into the target.
On some previous missions we had thrown chaff to distract the flak gunners. Perhaps I should explain about chaff. These were strips of foil like we hang on a Christmas tree. As we came into the target and in range of the deadly 88â€™s we would throw this material out the waist windows, camera hatch, or wherever. The main purpose was to spread many of it to throw off the radar used to track us. It was always a good feeling for us to watch the black puffs break in the center of the chaff way behind us.