Above and Beyond (Chapters One - Five)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
During a mission to bomb Hamburg, General Savage's plane is badly shot up and Savage severely wounded. Now a 'straggler', Savage and his crew fight to stay in the air, avoid the fighters, and make their way home.

Submitted: October 11, 2015

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Submitted: October 11, 2015

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This is an original story based on the characters created by Sy Bartlett and Beirnie Lay, Jr., in their 1948 book "Twelve O'clock High," (Harper & Brothers) and the 1965 Quinn Martin Productions Television Series of the same name.]

 

ABOVE AND BEYOND

 

Chapter One

At 0730, twenty-one B-17s, three squadrons of the 918th Bomb Group, 1st Bombardment Wing, 8th Air Force, took off from Archbury, England, heading for Hamburg, Germany.  The lead plane was piloted by the Group’s Commander, Brigadier General Frank Savage.  His call sign was 'Ramrod', and the lead, high, and low squadrons were his ‘Flankers’.
General Savage’s plane, 'Piccadilly Lily', was out of commission, so Savage was flying Captain Herb Phillips' plane, 'Lucky Lady', with Phillips' crew.  He had picked Captain Phillips' plane primarily because the crewmen were experienced - this would be their fifteenth mission - and because their bombardier, Lieutenant Jack Walker, had a very high bombing accuracy rate.  Another factor was that Phillips' regular co-pilot was in the hospital recovering from a burst appendix.
'Crewmen'.  Savage thought, shaking his head.  ‘The average age of this crew was twenty; they were still boys.  But the Air Force calls them men....and they had been proving it.’

* * * *

The target today was to be the Shipyards at Hamburg.  Their flight plan would take them diagonally across England, over the North Sea to a point south of Denmark and then southeast down the Elbe River to Hamburg. 

After takeoff, the squadrons assembled over the field, then the formation flew at very low level, to keep German radar from detecting them, to Margate on the southeastern tip of England.  At Margate they joined up with their P-47 fighter escort.  They would provide protection for them most of the way across the North Sea, then due to fuel constraints, they would have to return home.... from that point on the bombers were on their own. 

 

Once they had departed the English coast and headed into the North Sea, they began the climb to their operational altitude of 29,000 feet, and the gunners were given permission to test fire their guns.  As they climbed above 10,000, Savage got on the interphone,  “Pilot to crew.  Ten Thousand feet.  Go on oxygen.”  then put on his own mask and continued to climb.  Once they attained altitude, the crews donned their electrically heated suits and heavy gloves to provided some protection against the cold, which could go as low as 60 degrees below zero.

With the help of strong tail winds, they made good time crossing the North Sea.  As they approached Denmark, they turned south to follow the coast toward Germany, and Savage heard the call he had been dreading, “Radio operator to pilot.  Sky Cap is on channel 3."

Switching to the designated channel, “Ramrod to Sky Cap Leader. Go ahead."

“Sky Cap Leader to Ramrod.  Sorry, sir.  We have to leave you here.  We are bingo fuel.  Good luck.”

“Understood, Sky Cap Leader. Sorry to see you go, but appreciated your company.  Ramrod out.”

Switching back to channel one, Savage radioed, "Ramrod to all Flankers. Keep alert.  We lose our fighter escort here, and we’ll be within range of their fighters in a few minutes.  Gunners keep alert, and everyone keep the radio chatter down. We don’t want to tell them any more than we have to.”

On the interphone again, Savage called, “Pilot to navigator.  Check in.”

“Navigator to pilot.  Approaching Cuxhaven. On course, on time, sir.  Three minutes to next heading.”

The Luftwaffe was also aware of the range limitations of the P-47s, and fighters would delay their attacks until the escort turned back.  As the formation made their course change at Cuxhaven and headed inland along the Elbe River, they found the fighters - Me-109’s - waiting.

 

'Lucky Lady's' interphone immediately came alive as gunners called out 'bandits', first at 12 o'clock, then at every position on the clock - high and low.  Although it wasn’t necessary, the other gunners had eyes too, Savage passed the warning on to the Group.  “Ramrod to all Flankers.  On your toes, here they come.  Fighters all over the clock.  Fighters all over the clock.  Keep it tight.  Don’t let'em split you.”

The fighters came in swarms like angry bees, darting in and out at top speed.  They liked to attack the Forts head-on, where they had the least firepower and were most vulnerable.  But other favorite targets were the ‘tail-end charlies’, the last planes in the high and low squadrons, because they had the least protection; and the lead plane, because if they could knock it out, there would be a few minutes of confusion while the Group reformed on a new leader, and they were more vulnerable to attack. 

It was unnerving to sit there and watch a fighter come straight at you, guns blazing.  Every fifth bullet was a tracer so the enemy pilot could watch the bullets leaving the plane and adjust his aim.  Even in the daylight you could see the line of bullets that seemed to be coming right at you, and though it would do no good, you’d instinctively duck.  The 'Flying Fortress' , or 'Forts', as they were called, positively bristled with their own machine guns - thirteen .50-caliber Browning machine guns - and generally gave as good as they got; if not, better. But it was always an uneven trade: one fighter plane and one  pilot in exchange for a B-17 with a crew of ten.

The 109’s continued to press the attack for over 30 minutes before they finally turned away.  They had been bloodied and left with fewer fighters than they had arrived with.

But the Group had been hurt, too.  Several planes had been damaged and had taken wounded, including 'Lucky Lady', whose right waist gunner, Sergeant ‘Johnny’ Johnston, had been hit when bullets from the ME-109’s 7.9mm machine guns ripped into the fuselage along the waist.  One of the bullets creased Johnston’s skull, and he collapsed in a heap unconscious. 

They had also lost a Fort from the low ‘Green Flanker’ squadron.  As they continued up the Elbe River toward their target, crews watched as Green Flanker Four, plummeted down in flames, and they counted nine chutes as the crew bailed out.... and were glad that it hadn’t been them. 

“Ramrod to Green Flanker One.  Close it up.  Fill in the gaps.”

With the fighters gone, the squadrons reassembled into a tight formation and cared for their wounded.  Some of the inexperienced crews congratulated themselves, thinking that they had beaten the fighters back, but that was short lived. 

Up ahead they could see the real reason.....  'flak', a several thousand foot barrier of deadly little black puffs laid out ahead of them as far as they could see, a barrier through which the bombers had to fly, and they were still over fifteen minutes from the target. 
'Flak' was the result of the detonation of anti-aircraft shells, their fuses set to explode at different altitudes.  The little black puffs marked the shells' detonation, which then spewed thousands of metal splinters in every direction; splinters which when they hit, destroyed engines, blew up fuel tanks, and cut through a B-17s unarmored aluminum skin... and human flesh... like it was paper.  Everyone hated and feared 'flak'.

 

You could do something about the fighters, take some evasive action, defend yourself, but with flak you had to just sit there and take it.  The Forts had to maintain their positions to ensure bombing accuracy - because you didn't want to have to come back and do it again -  but also to be able to provide the most effective defensive fire should fighters attack through their own flak.... it was rare, but it did happen if the target was important enough.  The experienced crews knew few airplanes could make it through these flak barrages without some kind of damage.

As expected, the flak was thick, brutal and appeared endless.  'Lucky Lady' shuddered and shook as the flak burst all around them.  It was all Savage could do to maintain his coarse and altitude as they bounced around.  Checking the formation, Savage looked up at the high ‘Blue Flanker’ squadron just as Blue Flanker One, piloted by Major Peterson, the Squadron Commander, blew up and fell from the sky, and there was nothing he could do but radio Blue Flanker Two to take over as squadron lead.... and close it up.  For the next few minutes the formation flew through not only the shrapnel of bursting flak, but pieces of airplane....  and other things they didn’t want to think about.

 

Then Savage’s tail gunner, Sergeant Tom Williams, reported over the interphone that Green Flanker Three of the low squadron had dropped out of formation and was trailing below and behind. 

Looking out through his side window, Savage located the damaged 'Fort' and radioed, “Ramrod to Green Flanker Three.  You’ve left the formation.  State your trouble.  Over.”

“Green Flanker Three to Ramrod.  I’ve lost my number one engine, and my number three is running hot.  Losing speed and altitude.  Will try to stay with the Group as long as possible. Over.”
“Ramrod to Green Flanker Three.  OK.  If you can’t keep up, try to find some clouds to hide in and make your way home as best you can.  If you have to bail out, or crash land, your radio operator has the code to contact the Resistance.  They’ll be able to tell you where it’ll be safest for you to jump, or set down.  Be sure to destroy your bomb site and code books.  Good Luck.  Ramrod out.”

Savage knew they would try to make the bomb run, and stay with the formation as long as they could for protection, but as he watched, they fell further behind.  Their chances weren’t good; if the flak didn’t get them, the fighters would be waiting outside the flak area to pick off any stragglers.

 

Ahead in the distance, Savage could see the outline of Hanskalbsand Island, the final turning point before the start of the bomb run. 

“Pilot to navigator.  How long to the IP, Gardiner?”

“Navigator to pilot.  Initial Point in two minutes, sir.”

“Pilot to bombardier.  Coming on the IP, Walker.  Center your PDI.”

After a minute, “PDI centered, sir.”

“All....right.  You've got it.”  Savage said as he engaged the autopilot, and released control of the airplane to the bombardier.

The Pilot's Directional Indicator, or PDI, was part of the Norden Bombsite System.  When the PDI was centered and the autopilot engaged, as the Bombardier set his sight on the target, the autopilot would automatically make the necessary course corrections. In essence, the Bombardier was flying the plane.

Savage could feel the bomb bay doors open, then shortly, “Bombs away!”  and he felt the airplane lift as the string of thousand-pounders left the bomb bay and fell earthward toward the target. 

“It’s your airplane, sir”said Walker as he released control back to the pilot.

 

When the other bombardiers saw bombs drop from the lead plane, they immediately toggled their own bombs.  As the bombs began to strike their targets, Hamburg’s shipyards erupted in explosions and flames, and the ships in the harbor, and those tied up at the piers, began to explode and to sink. 

Savage closed the bomb bay doors and pulled back slightly on the yoke. “Pilot to navigator. How’s it look?”he said into the interphone.

Lieutenant Gardiner, whose job it was to record where the bombs struck for Intelligence, reported back,  “Navigator to pilot.  Looks good, skipper.  Nothing down there but fire, explosions and sinking ships.  We got some good pictures; they’ll tell the story.” 

* * * *

The group had made their run over the target and got their bombs away; they’d done their job.  Now it was time to go home.  Their return flight plan called for them to angle over Germany, on a southwesterly course, then out over Holland, across the Channel, and home.

“Ramrod leader to all Flankers.  Starting a ninety degree turn to the right.  I say again, a niner-zero degree turn to the right.  Close it up.  Let’s go ho.....”

Suddenly the plane was rocked by violent explosions. Two flak bursts detonated almost on top of them: one near the nose and the other just in front of the left waist.  Shrapnel riddled the cockpit, and its occupants.  Both left engines were on fire, and the right inboard propeller was windmilling.Most of the Plexiglas nose was missing, and all that remained was a smashed tangle of metal and melted plastic.  The ball turret was gone too, along with its gunner, and the tail was severely damaged.  The plane should not still be flying, but it was.... at least for a moment, then it began to dive.

 

The top turret gunner in Red Flanker One, the Group’s alternate lead, and the plane to the right and slightly behind 'Lucky Lady' in the lead squadron, saw Savage’s plane get hit and reported on the interphone, “Top turret to pilot.  Top turret to pilot.  Lucky Lady's  been hit.  She’s on fire and going down.”

The pilot, Major Joe Cobb, responded, “See any chutes?”

“Just one. The ball turret gunner.”  the gunner replied.  "The turret just seemed to explode, and blew him out, but I think his chute opened."He paused, then whispered, mostly to himself, “Come on, you guys, get out of there!  Bail out!”

Major Cobb knew there was nothing he could do to help the General; he would either make it, or he wouldn’t.  That’s just the way it was.  “Pilot to crew.  Everybody keep looking and report any chutes."

Then switching from interphone to radio, “Red Flanker One to all Flankers.  Red Flanker One to all Flankers.  Ramrod has been hit.  Keep your eyes open for chutes.  I am continuing a niner-zero degree turn to the right.  All Flankers rally on me.... and close it up.  The fighters will be waiting as soon as we lose the flak.”

 

As the Group turned away for home, Cobb saw Red Flanker Two off his left wing trailing smoke.  She  seemed to stagger for a moment, then plunged downward with one of her wings breaking off.  As he watched, the plane, barely missing Green Flanker One of the low squadron, spiraled earthward in a ball of flame.  There hadn’t been a chance for anyone to get out. 

“Red Flanker One to Red Flankers.  Close it up.  Close it up.  Let’s get out of here.” 

Cobb hoped they’d done a good job today; hoped the mission had been worth it.  It had been a costly trip.  They’d lost four airplanes, so far, and he didn’t know how many killed and wounded......and they’d lost Ramrod.

 

Chapter Two

'Lucky Lady' was out of control.  Savage had been badly hit, and had lost consciousness for a few moments.  As he came around, he found the plane on fire and in a steep dive.  He tried to pull back on the control column, but he couldn’t move his right arm.  There was no pain; his arm just wouldn’t work.  He pulled back on the yoke with his left hand, but didn’t have enough strength with just the one arm.  He looked over to his co-pilot for help, but one glance told him Phillips was dead.  Then his top turret gunner, Technical Sergeant Wells, was in the cockpit, pulling Phillips back out of the way and hauling back on the co-pilot’s yoke.

Savage had lost his oxygen mask and headset when he was hit, so he yelled over the noise in the cockpit,  “Help me pull her out of this!”They both struggled to pull the plane out of the dive, but they continued to rapidly lose altitude.  After what seemed an eternity, the dive slowed, and they were finally able to level her off just below 18,000 feet.  In those few endless minutes, they had dropped over 11,000 feet.  The dive had put out the fire in the wing, but they were still flying with only one engine, and Number three, was still windmilling, creating a considerable drag on the airplane.

“Fuel shut-off and Fire Bottles on one and two."  Savage ordered.  "Feather one, two and three.” 

“One and two, Fuel Switches OFF; Fire bottles ON. One and three feathered. Two not responding.”  replied Wells.

For the moment, the emergency had passed.  They were flying, albeit with only one engine, but they were flying.  They were also well below the flak and heading out of range.  Savage’s major concern now was fighters, and seeing a large bank of clouds off to the right, banked the plane and headed into it to hide.  Then he passed out.

 

Savage came to with Wells shaking him.  “General!  General Savage!  General!  Are you alright, sir?”

“What......?”

“You passed out, sir.”

“How long?”

“Not very long.  A few minutes..... but you scared the hell out of me.  Please don’t do that again.”

“I’ll try not to.”  Savage said with a weak smile, as Wells helped him on with his oxygen mask and headset.  "I’m hit."  he said painfully. “Chest and right shoulder, and I can’t use my right arm.” 

 

As Wells went to retrieve the cockpit First Aid Kit, Savage tried to assess their situation.  The plane shook and vibrated more than usual, but seemed to be flying straight and level and responded to the controls.  Checking his instruments, however, he could see they were slowly losing airspeed, and consequently, altitude.  As he looked ahead out the windscreen, he saw the Plexiglas nose of the plane was gone, replaced by a mass of crumpled aluminum fuselage with the navigator’s cheek-mounted .50-caliber machine gun pointing up and back at the cockpit.  ‘God!’  he thought, ‘No wonder we’re losing airspeed with the drag that hole is creating.”

Wells had returned with the First Aid Kit and was about to start on the General’s wounds, when Savage stopped him.  “That can wait.”  he said.  Then nodding toward the windscreen said, “We’re not going to stay in the air very long with just one engine, Wells, not with the drag that hole in the nose is creating.  See what you can do with number three.”

Seeing the nose for the first time, Wells opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out as he stared at the empty space where the nose had been..... then, “Yes, sir.”

Wells was the flight engineer, as well as the top turret gunner, and he knew his engines.  He un-feathered Number Three's prop, then ran through the restart procedures; at first with no success.  Checking the gages again, he adjusted the throttle and mixture controls, then cranked the engine over again, and this time, it roared to life and with a little tweaking, came back to full power. 

 

“All right!“  Savage exclaimed. “All right!“They had two engines again.  They were still losing airspeed, and altitude, but not as fast.  Now he needed to find out how badly they’d been hurt.

“Pilot to crew. Check in and report damage.”he called over the interphone.

“It’s no go, sir.”  Wells said, shaking his head.  “Smitty’s dead and the radio and interphone are both out.”

“OK.  Take an oxygen bottle and go check on the crew and the damage.”

“I want to patch you up first, sir.  If you pass out again, it won’t matter what shape we’re in.”

Recognizing the truth to what Wells had said, Savage nodded ‘OK’.

Helping Savage out of his flight jacket, Wells opened his flight coveralls and shirt to get at his wounds.  Savage’s chest, right shoulder and neck had been peppered with flak.  Some of them looked pretty deep, and they were all bleeding freely. 

"God!"  said Wells, his face reflecting the damage he saw.

"Just do what you can to stop the bleeding."

Wells tried to wipe away the blood, but a lot of it came back as fast as he wiped, so he sprinkled Sulfur powder over the wounds, then bandaged them as best he could.  Savage’s right arm was still numb and virtually useless, but he couldn’t find any wound to explain it.  The best he could do was immobilize it in a tight bandage across his chest to keep it out of the way and to put pressure on Savage’s other wounds to help stop the bleeding.  Then he helped Savage back into his jacket, zipped it, and raised his collar to keep him warm.  Although the B-17 had a heating system that provided warm air to the cockpit, at their altitude the temperature was still well below zero. 

“That’s better, thanks.  Now go check on the crew and see how bad we were hit.”

 

As Wells made his way back through the cabin, 'Lucky Lady' shuddered and shook from the air turbulence rushing through the nose.  The thrust of the two right engines, without a balancing thrust from the left engines, tried to push the Fort to the right, and it took everything Savage had to compensate with the yoke and rudder pedals to keep her flying straight, if not level.  Despite his efforts to keep the nose up, 'Lucky Lady' maintained a slightly nose down attitude and continued to gradually lose airspeed and altitude.  He didn’t have the horsepower he needed to stop, or slow down, their descent.  He needed another engine.

Looking out his cockpit window to see what shape the left engines were in, Savage could see there was no hope for the inboard engine; it was a blackened twisted lump....'and that explains why the prop wouldn’t feather’,  he thought. 'There’s no prop'.

The number one outboard engine, however, looked promising.  It was black from the fire, but he couldn’t see any actual penetrating or fire damage to the cowling or engine.  He wondered if the engine had cooled off enough to try a restart, and if he had the strength to try it. 

The lack of pain that came with the initial shock of being hit was fading, and Savage was starting to hurt like hell.  He was cold, and tired, and was having a hard time staying conscious.  He didn’t know how much longer he could keep going, but he knew one thing for certain.....  he was going to need some help in the cockpit.

Then Wells was back.

* * * *

“General, I have no idea why we are still in the air.  We have more flak holes than fuselage.  With the nose gone, besides the drag, that cold wind howling back through the fuselage makes it almost impossible to hear or stand up back there. 

Lieutenants Walker and Gardiner are OK.  When the nose exploded, Gardiner was blown back out of the compartment, and knocked cold.  He was just coming around when I got to him.  He has a piece of shrapnel in his arm... and I think it’s broken.  But believe it or not, sir,”  he said shaking his head with disbelief, “he stuffed his arm in his coveralls, then went back into the nose, grabbed whatever maps and instruments that hadn’t been blown or sucked out, and has set up shop in the radio compartment....  said he had to get a fix on our position and get you a heading for home.

Walker is OK, too.  He wasn’t in the nose when it was hit.....  If you remember, sir, Johnston, the right waist, was wounded during the fighter attack.  Sergeant Ballard, the left waist, fixed him up the best he could, but Johnston’s still unconscious..... Anyway, after Lieutenant Walker pickled his bombs, he went back to take over Johnston’s guns.  But when we caught that flak burst, he was hit in the leg.  He got a bandage on it, then.....”

Wells was talking fast, trying to get it all out as quick as he could, but he was working himself into a panic.

“Wells!”  Savage said cutting him off, “Stop. Take a breath...... Now take your time.  What else?” 

“Yes, sir.’  he said, then gathered himself, and started again. “That flak burst threw some hot shrapnel into the waist, and it landed in one of the ammunition lockers and started a fire. Ballard tried putting it out with his hands, but the fire was so hot it burned right through his gloves; he got burned bad.  Sergeant Williams heard him screaming and came out of the tail to help just as the ammo starting cooking off.  He and Lieutenant Walker threw a flak jacket over the locker and pushed the whole thing out the hole where the ball turret had been.  Walker gave Ballard some morphine for the pain and is trying to patch up his burns now.  Williams is manning both waist guns.

"Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  What do you mean ‘where the ball turret had been'?” asked Savage.

“I was just getting to that, sir. The ball turret is gone.”

“What do you mean ‘gone’?”

“Gone.  Flak must have sheared it off. There’s nothing there but a big hole in the floor.  Michaels must have been blown out with it, anyway William’s said he thought he saw a chute open.

“The tail took a hit, too.  The top of the vertical stabilizer and a piece of the rudder are gone.”

“Well,”  said Savage, tiredly wiping his left hand over his face, “that explains why the rudder pedals are so stiff and seem to have little effect.”

“That burst took a big bite out of the top of it, sir.  But there’s enough left that it should still function.  The problem could be a control cable, I’ll check it out as soon as I can.”

Wells paused a moment to gather his thoughts again, then continued, “As I said, Smith’s dead and the radio compartment is a wreck with a hole the size of a basketball on the left side.  The radio is trashed, but I think I can get the interphone working.  Also, shrapnel in the bomb bay severed the hydraulic lines for the landing gear, and the hand crank was sheared off, too, so whatever landing we make, it will be wheels up."

“Is that all of it?”  Savage asked.

“All that I’ve found, so far, sir.  As far as casualties go: Captain Phillips, Smith, and maybe Michaels, are dead.  Walker, Gardiner, Johnson, and Ballard are wounded.  Williams and I appear to be the only ones OK.... so far.

Savage took a moment to let all that sink in and to prioritize in his mind the things that needed to be done, then, “OK.  Here’s what I need you to do.As soon as you can, take a look at the left outboard engine; see if you can get it restarted. We need more horsepower to compensate for that drag in the nose.  And get that interphone working so we can communicate." 

“Also, we need that rudder, so trace the rudder cables back and see what the problem is.  Last, make sure the gun positions are covered and have sufficient ammo. You’ll still man the top turret if we’re attacked, and with Gardiner, Ballard, Johnston wounded, Williams will have to alternate between both waist guns.  Have you got all that?”

“I think so, sir.... Yes.  What about Lieutenant Walker?”

“I have other plans for Walker.”

"Yes, sir."

“Alright.  Now get on it, and send Walker to me.”Savage thought for a second, then said, “Wells, wait.  Before you go, get some help and move Phillips and Smith back to the bomb bay."

Wells disappeared, then returned with Lieutenant Gardiner, his left arm in a sling, and somehow the two of them managed to pull Phillips from his seat and half-carry half-drag him through the narrow aisle between the seats, back through the cockpit door and into the bomb bay.  As they left, Gardiner said, “General, as soon as we come out of the clouds, I’ll try to get a position and heading for you.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.”

Savage was feeling more and more drained, and though he was almost numb with the cold, he found he was sweating.  He was also beginning to feel light-headed.  He knew it was just a matter of time before he passed out again.  He wondered, would the autopilot engage with just two engines?  He’d never tried it before, but there was no time like the present.  Flipping the autopilot switch to the ON position, he continued to grip the yoke while he waited to see what would happen.  After a few minutes without the plane making any erratic movements, or trying to go into a dive, he carefully took his hands from the control column.  The autopilot held.‘Thank God’,  he thought.

 

Chapter Three

Savage had lost track of time; he thought it had been at least thirty minutes, maybe forty-five, since they’d been hit.  They had flown from cloud bank to cloud bank, hiding from any fighters that might still be looking for stragglers. That tactic had worked so far, but he’d lost his directional awareness and didn’t know where they were.  Before they’d been hit, he had started a ninety degree turn to the south, but he didn’t know where they had ended up.  Sooner or later they would have to come out of the clouds, if for no other reason than to find out where they were. 

Savage’s chest and shoulder had become very painful, and every breath was an effort.  He still felt light-headed and leaned back in his seat to rest; he quickly drifted off.  A few minutes later, Lieutenant Walker appeared behind Savage’s seat. 

 

“You wanted to see me, sir?”

Savage jerked awake. “Yes, Lieutenant. Take a seat.”  indicating the co-pilot’s seat.  Walker had seen Phillips’ body laid out in the bomb bay, with Smith, and saw the blood and gore on the back of what had been Phillips’ seat; he hesitated a second, then sat down.

Savage got right to it, “Your records indicated that you’ve had some flight training, Lieutenant.”

“Yes, sir.  I made it almost all the way through Pilot Training before I washed out. Then they sent me to Bombardier School.”

“Did you have any multi-engine time?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Landings?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How much do you remember?”

“Quite a bit, actually, General.  Herb.., that is, Captain Phillips used to let me fly right seat whenever he could.  He even let me try a landing on a training day a few months ago.  It was a terrible landing.... But Herb... Captain Phillips, said it was OK, any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.”

“I remember that landing; he bounced all the way down the runway,”  Savage said shaking his head. “I had him on the carpet for that.  That was you?  He never said a word.” 

“No, sir, I mean, Yes, sir.  He knew it was against regulations, General, but said he wanted me to keep my hand in.....  just in case there was ever an emergency, and he needed help.” 

Savage leaned back against his seat, and shook his head to clear it.  He was having a hard time concentrating......

“Well, this is certainly an emergency, Walker,”  he said finally with a weak smile.... "and I definitely need some help.  Do you think you’re up to it?”

“Yes, sir. I think I am.  Anyway, I’d like to try.”

“OK.  Strap in. You’ll fly right seat.  I’ll bring you up to speed, then take a little time to familiarize yourself with the controls.  When you’re ready, you can take over.  I’ll be right here to help.”

While Walker got the feel of the controls and checked the instruments, Savage filled him in on the damage they had sustained.  He was about to disengage the autopilot and turn the controls over to Walker, when his headset came alive, “Engineer to pilot.  I’ve got the interphone working again, sir, on all locations.  And I found the problem with the rudder cable.  A piece of flak had wedged itself between the cable and one of the fuselage ribs.  It’s clear now.”

Touching his throat mike, Savage replied, “Good work, Wells.  Now come back to the cockpit.  I want to get number one back on line.”

“On my way.”

“Walker do you remember your engine restart procedures?”

“Yes, sir, pretty much.” 

“OK.  Help Wells. We need that engine.”

Wells came back into the cockpit and stood between the seats, and as Walker called off the procedures for restart, Wells responded as they completed each item.  Then came the moment of truth, and out of the corner of his eye, Savage saw Walker cross his fingers as he selected the START switch, then primed the engine until it fired.  After a few coughs the engine restarted, and they felt a surge of power as the 'Lucky Lady' suddenly lived up to its name. 

"Good job, you two."

 

They were flying with three engines, had a functioning rudder, the interphone was working, and he had a co-pilot.Their situation had greatly improved, Savage thought.  They just might actually make it.... if they had enough fuel, that is.

"Wells."  Savage said. "With the drag from the nose, we have to be consuming a lot more fuel.  Check the tanks. Let me know how much we have left, and your best guess, with our current rate of consumption, how long before we go dry." 

"Yes, sir."

After Wells left, Savage turned to Walker, “All right, Lieutenant.  Are you ready to take over?”

“Yes, sir.”  Walker replied, a little nervously.

“OK.  Disengage the Autopilot.”

Walker flipped the bank of switches off, and replied, “Autopilot Disengaged, sir.”

The plane jerked slightly, then droned on as before. Walker had the controls and was gripping the yoke tightly with both hands. 

“Gently, Walker.  Relax a little.  You want to have a firm grip on the yoke, but don’t over control it.Now, what’s your air speed and altitude?”

“Air Speed one-five-five.  Altitude fifteen thousand.”

“Check your trim, Walker.  Remember, with the nose gone, that hole down there is a big air scoop slowing us down.  It’ll affect trim, speed and altitude. So pay attention....

OK. Let’s try a little maneuvering. What’s your heading?”

“Heading is one-five-zero, sir.”

“South-southeast.”  Savage thought aloud. “If we stay on this heading we’ll come too close to Hanover and its flak batteries. We need to get out of these clouds and see where we are.  Come right to two-zero-five.”

“Coming right to two-zero-five, sir.......  Open sky ahead.”

“Alright.  Let see if we can figure out where we are.” 

“Pilot to Navigator.  We’re out of the clouds, Gardiner.  See if you can get a fix on our position.  Current heading is two-zero-five; airspeed, one-five-five. Altitude, one-five-thousand.” 

“Navigator to Pilot.  I’m on it, sir.  Give me a few minutes to find a landmark.”

“We’ll stay on this heading, Walker, until Gardiner get us a position.”Looking at the blood soaked bandage on Walker’s left leg, he said,  "How’s your leg doing?”

“It’ll be ‘OK’. Hurts a little, but the bleeding has stopped."  he replied.  Then glancing over at the General with concern, "How are YOU doing, sir?"

“I’ve been better, but I can still fly.....  for the moment, anyway.” 

 

In truth, he wasn’t doing very well at all... and he knew it.His head was splitting, his heart pounding, and even though he had increased his oxygen flow, he felt short of breath.  And he still couldn't feel anything in his right arm.  He was having a hard time focusing, his mind wandered, and he was becoming more and more concerned about the arm.  What if he lost it?  With only one arm, he'd never be able to fly again......

Savage was struggling to stay alert, when Gardiner came back on the interphone. “Navigator to Pilot. I’ve got a fix on our position, sir. 

“Go ahead, Lieutenant.”

“I’ve been following the terrain below, sir, comparing it with my maps and looking for landmarks, and I'm pretty sure I've found one.....  There are only two good sized lakes in this part of Germany, General, Lake Dümmer and Lake Steinhuder.  We just passed between both of them, one east of us, the other west.

“Get to the point, Lieutenant.”Savage said tiredly.

“Yes, sir.  Sorry, sir.  I believe that’s the city of Lubbecke below us now.  If I'm right, and I'm pretty confident I am, we're about a hundred miles southwest of Hamburg...... south of both Bremen and Hannover.  We must have slipped right between them while we were in the clouds.  I calculate we’re about three hundred and fifty miles from the Channel.

Recommend a course change to heading two-four-zero. That’ll take us across the rest of Germany without passing over any known heavily-defended cities.  Then over Holland, south of Rotterdam, across the low-lying areas - shouldn’t run into too many Flak batteries there... too wet.  But there's a good chance we'll come close to a couple of fighter bases in that area.  We should pass between them, but we could run into some Focke-Wulf fighters. 

If we can get past them and over to the coast, then it’s across the Channel to Dover, and home.  At our current air speed and altitude, I estimate another two and a half hours flight time; three max should our speed and altitude appreciably change.”

“Good work, Lieutenant.  Plot it out, and let me know when we are out of Germany, and as we pass other major checkpoints until we make the Channel.”

“Yes, sir"

“Walker, come to a new heading, two-four-zero.”

“Two-four-zero. Yes, sir.”

“Pilot to Engineer.  Have you figured our fuel status, Wells?  Lieutenant Gardiner estimates we have about three hundred fifty to miles to go; two to three hours flight time.  Do we have enough fuel to make it?”

“Engineer to Pilot.  Working on it, sir.  I just transferred the fuel from number two to the other tanks, and I’m calculating the fuel remaining in all tanks now.  Give me ten minutes.”

Ten minutes later,  Wells was back on the interphone.  “Best I can figure with the Tokyo Tanks, sir, we have a little under 1,200 gallons left.  With our current rate of consumption - adding a little for the engineer, and the unforeseen - I estimate we need about 1,250 gallons to make it back.  There’s a little slop in there, sir, but not much. It’s going to be real tight.”

“Well, we'll just have to hope it's enough.  If we can at least make it to the Channel, there's a chance Air Sea Rescue will pick us up." 

"OK, check to see that the waist guns are covered, then come on back up and take the top turret.  We need to keep alert for fighters.”

“Yes, sir.”

 

As the 'Lucky Lady' flew on, Savage continued to fade in and out, but somehow maintained a semi-conscious awareness of what was going on.  He thought it had been a couple of hours since Walker took over, and he could see he had loosened up and was more comfortable with the controls.  He seemed to be a natural flyer, and didn’t appear to be having any trouble with the instruments. 

In one of his more lucid periods, he'd had Walker drop down to 5,000 feet.  The warmer, lower altitude helped make the air rushing through the fuselage more tolerable in the waist. However, it didn’t seem to help him, as he felt colder, and the pounding in his head continued relentlessly.  He just wanted to let go, but he kept being dragged back to a painful consciousness by someone calling him on the interphone. 

This time it had been Gardiner informing him that they had left German air space and were in Holland.  Savage breathed a little easier.  Now, if they can just slip past those fighter bases. 

 

Chapter Four

Savage woke suddenly, disoriented, to the sound of cannon fire.  He had passed out again.  It was all he could do to lift his head, and as he looked around, he saw Walker fighting for control of the airplane as it shuddered from repeated hits.  Scanning the sky, he saw two Focke-Wulf 190s diving at them from eleven o’clock high.  The FWs split, one going wide to their right, then coming back around to attack the waist; the other breaking off to their left and going high. 

Williams, on the right waist, had charged his twin .50-caliber Brownings and was waiting as the first fighter, thinking the crippled B-17 an easy kill, flew straight at him, firing as he came on.  Williams had opened fire, too.  As the fighter’s 20mm shells tore through the Fort’s skin to the right of his gun port, he kept firing, and the FW continued recklessly on until it suddenly burst into flames and exploded. 

The second FW had circled high and around and was coming back at them again from the right side. Walker banked left and put the Fort in a dive for the deck so the FW couldn’t get under them. But over his shoulder, he could see the bright streaks of tracers as the pilot opened fire.  He felt the plane shudder as the shells ripped into the underside of the right wing and fuselage, sending shrapnel into their number three engine and the cockpit.  Suddenly, Walker felt a sharp pain in his hip.  He knew he had been hit, but doggedly held on.

The damaged right engine began to stream oil and smoke and the engine began to run away, the propeller turning about three times faster than it should, causing the plane to shake violently.

Savage called out hoarsely, "Feather three..... Fuel shut-off on three."

But Walker was already on it. He had pulled the throttle back and shut off the fuel to the engine, but when he pushed the feather button, nothing happened, and the propeller continued to runaway.  He pushed it again... and again... finally, on the fourth try, the propeller blades finally rotated parallel to the airflow and stopped.  Walker leveled off below 600 feet and was trying to take evasive action keep out of the FW’s line of fire.  But they only had two engines again, and the plane was slow to respond. 

The FW was still after them, determined to bring them down, and on this pass Walker was pretty sure he’d do it.  Then unexpectedly, the fighter broke off the attack and headed away a full speed.  They barely had time to breathe a sigh of relief, before they heard over the interphone, “Bandits, four FWs at twelve o’clock high."

‘That should just about do it.’  Savage thought, knowing they had no chance against four fighters.  As Savage strained to see the attackers that would finish them off, Wells rotated the top turret to the front, elevating the barrels as far as he could, and began to fire.  Then Savage’s vision came into focus, and with all the strength he had left, he called into the interphone, “Cease fire!  Cease fire!  They’re ours. They’re P-47s.”

The P-47s screamed past, chasing the fleeing FW and, with four against one, made short work of him.  Coming back,  they circled the 'Lucky Lady', looking her over.  Then the leader came along side and motioned to his headset, obviously wanting to communicate.  Savage pointed to his headset and shook his head, indicating his radio was out.  The pilot gave him an ‘OK’  sign, then the P-47s took up positions on either side and slightly behind to escort them home.

Turning to Walker, Savage said,  "You did good, Lieutenant."

* * * *

As the crippled Fort flew over the Channel, the P-47 leader radioed the 918th control tower.  “Groundhog Leader to Archbury Control.  Groundhog Leader to Archbury Control.”

“Archbury to Groundhog Leader.  What is your traffic?  Over. ”

“Groundhog Leader to Archbury.  We are a flight of P-47s heading home and are escorting a crippled B-17 over the Channel.  By the 'Triangle-A' markings on her tail, she's one of yours.  Over.”

“Groundhog Leader, do you have a tail number? Over.”

“Archbury, tail number is 30137.  Over.”

“Groundhog Leader, that's one of ours alright.  What's her condition?  Over.”

“Archbury, she's on two engines and has been shot to pieces.  She low and slow, but if she can get enough altitude to get over the cliffs, I think she can make it home.  I've notified Air Sea Rescue, just in case.  We will continue to escort.  Over.”

“Thank you, Groundhog Leader.  Do you have an ETA?  Over."

“I estimate 30 minutes, Archbury. I'll call again when we get closer.  Groundhog Leader, Out.”

 

The flight over the Channel was uneventful until they approached the cliffs at Dover.  'Lucky Lady' was flying only 250 feet above the water now, and Walker knew they needed at least another hundred feet to make it over the cliffs,  “Walker to crew.  We’re too low.  Strip your stations; throw out everything we don’t need to stay in the air.” 

The P-47s watched as the injured B-17 tried to lighten ship.... guns, ammo boxes, life rafts, anything and everything of any weight was thrown out, and slowly the Fort began to gain altitude.  They were close enough to the cliffs now to see seagulls roosting in the rocks.  Walker pulled back on the control column with everything he had to bring the nose up and held his breath as they skimmed over the top of the cliffs and continued to gain altitude.  As they sped across the English countryside heading for home, Walker let out the breath he had been holding and looked over at Savage, who was conscious again.  Savage met his eyes, nodded his head slightly and smiled.

 

They were just under 800 feet now, and while they were still marginally high enough, Savage ordered everyone who was able to bail out.  A few minutes later, Wells came on the interphone, "General, the only ones that can pull a ripcord are Williams and myself.  We’d like to stay to help you and look after the wounded."

"Negative. I gave you an order, Wells.”  Savage said. “Both of you get going.... and don't wait to pull those ripcords.”

“No, sir.  I'm sorry.  You can’t land this thing in your condition, and Lieutenant Walker isn’t in much better shape.  He'll need help, and somebody needs to get the wounded out as soon as we land.  We’re staying.”

“Disobeying a direct order, Sergeant, is a serious breach of Air Discipline.” 

“Yes, sir, we know, but we’re staying.  You can court martial us later....  if we make it.”

Too tired and without the strength to argue further, Savage relented, "Alright, Wells.  Get the wounded into their crash positions in the radio compartment, then come forward and help Lieutenant Walker.”

“Yes, sir!”

 

Amazed that the cripple B-17 had made it over the cliff, the lead P-47 pilot radioed the base again.  "Groundhog Leader to Archbury. Over."

"Groundhog, this is Archbury. Go ahead. Over."

"Archbury, your straggler made it over the cliffs and is heading your way.  You should be able to see him in about ten minutes.  I don't know who that pilot is, but he's good.  Over."

"Thank you, Groundhog.  Pilot is niner-one-eight Actual, and you're right; he's very good. Over."

"Copy that, Archbury.  We'll follow him until he touches down, then head home. Over."

"Roger, Groundhog.  Thank you again for your assistance.  Archbury, out."

 

'Lucky Lady' was only a few minutes from the base now, but looking at the fuel gauges, Walker wasn't sure they had a few minutes.... the needles had fallen past their red lines, and the warning lights were blinking.  They had to be flying on fumes. 

He pressed his hand against his wounded hip; it felt like it was on fire.  He could still fly.  He had to; there was no one else.But he was worried about the landing; he didn't know if he could do it.

Savage could see uncertainty and fear growing in Walker's face and knew he was in trouble.  Then Walker said, "General, I don't think I can do this."

"Yes, you can."  Savage said weakly, wondering how to give the boy enough confidence.  He certainly didn’t want to tell him that a crash landing wasn't just a wheels-up landing.  If it isn’t done right, you could flip over, break up, or catch fire... or all of the above.

"Listen to me, Jack."  Savage said, his voice was little more than a whisper now, and Walker had to strain to hear him. "You’ve got a good feel for the controls, and you've got us this far; you CAN do this.....

Start your approach early.  Go straight in.  Then flaps down and gradually reduce your airspeed to 120 until you’re ready to touch down.  Wells will call out airspeed and altitude for you.  You just need to concentrate on landing as straight and level as possible.  Just before you touch, pull all the throttles back to idle and cut the engine and master switches, then let the plane do the rest.”

The field was in sight. "Walker to crew.  We're coming in.  Brace for impact.  As soon as we stop, open all emergency doors and get out and away from the plane as fast as you can."

As if from far away, Savage could hear Wells calling out, "...... airspeed 1-3-5, altitude 100;  ...airspeed 1-2-0, altitude 75;  ...airspeed 9-0, altitude 50....." 

Then, "Take your crash position with the others, Wells." 

Then he heard no more.

 

Chapter Five

"THERE THEY ARE!"  shouted someone on the Control Tower and pointing, and everyone turned to look in that direction.  Major General Wiley Crowe, 1st Bombardment Wing Commander, Savage's superior officer and long time friend, focused his glasses past the end of the runaway at the black speck coming toward the field in a shallow glide.  As it got closer, he could see they were flying on only two engines and their landing gear wasn't down.  The Fort had been badly shot up and was coming in for a crash landing.  Leaning over the top rail of the Control Tower, Crowe yelled to the emergency vehicles waiting below. "They're going to crash land!  Go!  Go!  Go!"

Crowe continued to watch for a moment, unable to tear himself away, as the mangled B-17 glided by. Then he grabbed Major Stovall, Savage's adjutant, by the arm and said, "Come on, Harvey; let's get down there."  They ran down the stairs, and made for Crowe's staff car, just as 'Lucky Lady' was about to touch down. Then they piled into the car and joined the other emergency vehicles chasing the crippled airplane down the runway.

Just before 'Lucky Lady' passed the tower, the left engine had coughed and sputtered for a moment then quit, quickly followed by the right engine.  They had run out of fuel, but Walker followed Savage's instructions anyway and pulled the throttles to IDLE and cut all switches.  As they made contact with the runway, there was a bone-jarring impact.  Savage, unconscious and limp in his seat, was thrown forward, his head slamming against the control column.  Walker was also thrown forward, his seat belt cutting into his hip, but was able to maintain his grip on the yoke and his feet stood on the rudder pedals to keep her straight.  The plane skidded along the runway, the tips of her propellers curling under as they impacted the tarmac.  Ambulances, fire trucks, and crash vehicles chased 'Lucky Lady' as she kept going past the end of the runway and out into the field beyond, where it gradually came to a stop.

The plane had finally stopped moving, and Walker unbuckled his seat belt.  He stood up, his hip complaining, and tried to pull Savage back away from the control column and out of his seat.  But the effort was too much, his legs wouldn't hold him, and he collapsed unconscious between the seats.

 

Even before the plane had fully stopped moving, Sergeant Williams had jettisoned the crew door. Wells was helping Gardiner towards the rear of the plane, with Ballard following right behind, his bandaged hands in the air.  There could not have been much fuel left, if any, but there was always the fear of fire, and Wells wanted to get everyone out and away from the wreckage as soon as possible.  As soon as Gardiner was out, he went back to help Williams with Johnston. 

By then the ambulances and other vehicles had arrived.  The firemen in protective gear began to spray foam on the smoking engines, and corpsmen rushed in to help the crew.  Wells and Williams were carrying Johnston toward the door, when the corpsmen asked, “Any others in here?”

“In the cockpit."  answered Wells, as the corpsmen made their way forward.  "Lieutenant. Walker and the General.  Everyone else is either already out.... or dead.”

 

The corpsmen performed their duties quickly.  Those with minor or no wounds - Ballard, Wells and Williams - were already on their way to the hospital in one of the ambulances. 

As the first ambulance sped away, corpsmen carried Walker out and placed him on the ground.  Savage was brought out next and placed on the grass next to Walker to await the attention of the corpsmen. 

Johnston, still unconscious, had already been examined by Doc Kaiser and was being loaded into another ambulance.  Kaiser was examining Gardiner’s shoulder, when he heard one of the corpsmen calling him, almost in a panic.  He looked up and frowned, then said, “Let's get you in the ambulance, Lieutenant.”He called to another corpsman to help Gardiner, then grabbed his bag and ran over to the corpsman who had called.

"It's General Savage, Doctor.  I can’t get a pulse."

Kaiser looked at the unconscious figure on the ground.  Pushing past the corpsman, he knelt and tried to find a pulse... but if there was one there, he couldn’t detect it either.  He took his stethoscope and was about to check for a heartbeat, when he noticed a trickle of blood seeping from a wound on Savage’s forehead.

“Dead men don’t bleed, Harris!"  he said to the corpsman, relieved.  Then he stood and shouted to no one in particular, “Plasma, STAT!.... and get a stretcher over here!”

Kneeling down again, he could see the General’s face was almost drained of color, and his skin felt clammy to his touch.  He found a pulse through his carotid artery, but it was very weak and thready, and his breathing was rapid and shallow.... the man was barely alive.  Removing Savage’s jacket so they could start the Plasma, he found his chest, bandages, clothes, everything soaked in blood, and his jacket was so saturated, it dripped.  As Kaiser cut away the blood-soaked bandages so he could locate the source of the bleeding, Savage weakly opened his eyes and in an almost inaudible whisper asked, ".... my crew....."Then he was gone again.

“Hurry up with that stretcher."  Kaiser shouted, and began to clean the blood from Savage’s wounds.  Most had stopped bleeding; only one, the one on the side of his neck, continued to drip blood.  Kaiser was applying pressure to his neck, when a corpsman finally appeared with a stretcher.

“OK.  Let’s get him on the stretcher and into the ambulance."Kaiser walked beside the stretcher, keeping pressure on Savage's neck wound, and as they slid the stretcher onto one of the benches, Kaiser climbed in with it, then turned to one of the corpsman and said,  "I'm going with the General.  Have Nurse Kelly take over.”

* * * *

General Crowe's staff car had arrived at the scene just as Savage was being carried out.  He had started to get out, but Major Stovall stopped him, "There's nothing you can do to help, General, and you might get in the way." 

"You're right, of course, Major."  Crowe said and had sat back in his seat.  They had continued to watch as Doc Kaiser worked on Savage, then saw him loaded into an ambulance.  When the ambulance sped off, Crowe told his driver to follow.

 

General Crowe rushed through the hospital door just as a gurney bearing Savage was being pushed through the double doors leading to Surgery.  Kaiser was about to follow when Crowe called out, "Doctor!"

Seeing the General, Kaiser said, "I don't have time, General."  He turned to go after the gurney, then hesitated and turned back, "He's alive, that's all I can say right now.... I'll send word when I know more."  Then followed after his patient.

 

TO BE CONTINUED


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