MissMiMissions List and Mission Information
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Raid on Paris, France
By Alvin Neff, RBC Tail Gunner
The scene was quiet as the men slept, some muttering, some dreaming, some awake, knowing or wondering where the raid was going to be today. Maybe the weather would be bad, and it would be scrubbed. No luck, here is the 1st Sergeant hollering, "Up and at 'em; it's 4:00 a.m." He takes a lot of cursing for being so loud, but he is used to it and knows that the outbursts are to rid themselves of the hidden fear in their hearts of what the day would bring.
The men start to get up and yell silly things at each other, "George, how are your long handles standing up?" These have not been washed since his raids started. Some hold their noses and kid him, but he grins and pulls them on anyway. It gets cold in the ball turret, and he needs all the clothes he can wear to keep warm. Sometimes it's fifty degrees below zero up there and no heat in the ball.
As they go to the mess hall together as a crew, the talk is about everything except the raid. Al, the tail gunner, lags behind a little as this is the time he gets goosed. Sometimes he runs all the way to the mess to keep his crew from goosing him.
Well, what do you expect," says George, "dried eggs again and burned toast."
Al says, "Let's bomb Simplot's when we get back; he's the SOB that makes these damnable eggs."
After breakfast, they walk in a group to operations where the briefing will take place. The Rum Boogie Crew sits together and waits for the Colonel to uncover the map. There will be a string from a spot in England (the base) to the target and another one back. Al says, "Let's cut the string and shorten the raid," but the crew vetoes that idea, knowing it won't help.
When the Colonel uncovers the target area, there are a few gasps, as it seems a long way to Paris and back. This will be a rough day. The flak will be thick and accurate, and when that stops, the yellow-nosed German fighters will come. These are the best pilots Hitler has, and they will shoot down some of us. Al says, "I think Hitler must have these guys guarding his wine cellars." These pilots are accurate and fierce.
The crew is jeeped out to the Rum Boogie, and everyone checks out the ammunition and his guns. Al crawls back to the tail and loads up his guns and checks to see that the amount of rounds he requested are there, plus some spares in the waist in case he needs them. He takes his guns apart and squirts some kerosene on the bolts so they won't freeze up at high altitude. The rest of the crew check their positions.
Soon here comes the pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, and navigator. The plane is checked, and the tower radios, "start your engines." We are off to the blue yonder of the unknown future five hours of this raid. As we climb up to our altitude, there is no radio silence, and the monkey chatter is relaxing and supposed to take our minds off of the grim reaper we will soon face.
As we cross the English Channel, the chatter stops, and the seriousness of the raid sinks in. We all test fire our guns and make all adjustments necessary. The pilot interrupts with this message, “men, the fighter escort is turning back, so everyone alert.” We strain our eyes so as not to miss the specks in the sky who turn out to be the yellow-nosed kids of Hitler’s Paris guards.
As soon as we cross the channel, the flak starts to come up, black puffs of smoke which contain metal parts, and when it hits the plane, it sounds like a cup of gravel thrown against tin, and the plane shudders. The flak is so thick, the sky is black. Al says, “It’s so thick, a guy could walk on it.”
George says, “Al, that’s a sick joke.” There is silence on the radio again until, on the intercom, someone says, “Fighters 12:00 high.” The guns start to chatter. Sometimes the fighters come from up above, ahead and below and behind, so as to confuse the gunners. At a distance they think we will waste ammunition, they turn off and maybe the front ones will keep coming. They put their fighters in a barrel snap roll with their guns spewing death and destruction throughout the bombers as they flash through the formation.
As the fighters appear, you hope and pray they don’t come in on your position. All of us are young and have never shot at anything but wild game, nor have we been shot at. We know the deadly destruction twin fifties can do. As they come in on the tail position, Al waits until they are at fifteen hundred yards and gives them some short bursts of the twin fifties in the tail, hoping to discourage them. But sometimes this did not work. The closer they come, the twenty millimeter shells they use explode ever closer, and Al sights and shoots with all of his ability until they either turn off or pieces of the fighter blow off where Al’s bullets hit. Al has to grit his teeth and pretend not to see the human in the cockpit, and tell himself, “this plane is going to shoot you down and the lives of nine other men depend on you; get him or die.”
Bombers on either side are being hit and this tells Al how serious this business is, so the hatred builds up that this guy is killing your buddies. The reality of it all makes you shoot to kill or cripple. This is the hardest part of our lives as gunners. Our lives depend on the accuracy of our shooting, and yet, the human aspect tells you, “don’t hit the pilot; hit the plane.” But at the speed with which they come in, it is almost pure luck to even hit the plane.
They came in on us in droves of three and four so as to shoot us down even if they lost a couple. This made thinking of the human aspect impossible, and the thought of having killed another human didn’t sink in until we were back over the English Channel. Then we wondered what the pilot looked like, and was he about our age, and our hearts ached. Al wondered, “was this really a necessary war? Did he have to kill? Could he have done it differently?” Someone would cry for the downed pilots and crews of both sides tonight. Finally the bombardier calls, “bombs away,” and we turn for home.
The pilot calls Al in the tail to tell him to look where the bombs hit, but the fighters are so fierce that he has very little time. Al glances down and sees smoke and fire from the target and says, “target burning, and it looks like it’s a good drop.”
Soon we are over the English Channel again, and here are our own fighters greeting us with their didos and playful flight patterns. We let down to the altitude where we won’t need any oxygen, and everyone lights up a cigarette and lets out a big sigh. Again we defeated the grim reaper to live until the next raid when the challenge starts all over again.
When we hit the ground, we pass around the bottle to calm our nerves and head for operations to report our version of the raid and report the crews who were shot down and how many parachutes came out before the plane hit the ground or caught on fire. Then we go to the barracks for chow and more liquor. We talk about the raid and what we saw. This helps to get out all the bad feelings.