Bomb Caught in Bomb Bay. Nearly Blows Up Fortress
An Eighth Bomber Station, Oct. 18--German fighters and flak got 60 Flying Fortresses in Thursday's raid on Schweinfurt, German. They'll never know just how close they came to getting No. 61.
With a 1,000-pounder caught in the bomb bay mechanism, the bomb bay doors wide open, with an evasive action meaning the big ship probably would be blown to smithereens, the German fighters literally swarming in to make a kill, there was the Fortress Max, winging its way like a great clay pigeon over Schweinfurt, duck soup for the Luftwaffe.
But the Max got back, with a crew to tell the tale.
Piloted by 1/Lt Howard C. Ness on his 25th mission, his plane on its 18th without a mechanical failure.
After making the bomb run, the ship turned to head for home. It was then that the radio gunner, T/Sgt Leonard Ratliff, of Fort Cobb, Okla., noticed the bomb, hanging nose down, caught in the release mechanism, its propellor whirling merrily, a dangerous passenger if there ever was one.
Over the intercom he called the bombardier. 2/Lt John J. Reeder, of Columbia, S.C., who took one look and then san out over the radio to the pilot:
"Please! No evasive action!" It was a prayerful plea, for a slight jarring of the ship either way probably would have exploded the huge tin fish.
Just about that time there came another fervent appeal from the tail gunner, S/Sgt Jeffrey S. Tripp, of Pocatello, Ida.:
"Please! Kick it around!" - meaning that with fighters and flak pounding away he wanted some evasive action, and quickly.
"I was in a helluva fix," Ness recounted. "Reeder had summed up the situation tersely, yet I knew what the gunners wanted."
More that 200 enemy fighters were in the air at the time. Twin-engined fighters laid back, pegging rockets at the helpless Max, whose plight was evident to them all, while others tore in close, their guns singing.
Ness came back and had a try at working the bomb loose. In the 35-below zero temperature, he nearly froze.
Then Reeder, with Ratliff holding a "walkaround" oxygen flask for him, which gave the
bombardiers about two minutes in which to work, went back to the
bomb bay, twisted his legs around the catwalk, and went to work practically hanging out of the ship upside down.
He screwed the propellor up tight, got two pins into the detonator mechanism, and cut the tail fuse. But his.oxygen began to run out and be began to get white. Moreover, at that instant he had to be hauled back up and rushed into the nose of the Max, there to handle a gun to help beat off a terrific horde of Nazi fighters swarming in.
That bunch beaten off, he returned to his job, making the bomb harmless. It than was jettisoned.
"We closed the bomb bay doors then, and over the intercom you
could hear Ratliff holler, 'OK, Skipper, kick it all you want to,'" Reeder said.