“Icky and Me”

By Jack Payne

 

This story is true - the names of the people have been changed but not enough so that any of them reading this would not know themselves.  The dates, times, places and action were taken directly from notes made by the pilot who flew the mission and from the briefing slip and maps for this mission.  As for the other details which were recorded only in the pilots memory, they, too, are real, I know.  I was the pilot.

 

It was August, the 9th, 1945.  I had just been awakened by the O.D. and was trying to pull myself out of the musty, but warm, sleeping bag which had been dragged all over the South Pacific.  It was dark on Ie Shima, not yet 04:30.  Briefing was at 06:00.  I sat on the edge of my cot now, looking for my socks.  "Oh yeah," I thought, "I washed them last night, they're out on the tent rope."  Slipping the wooden shower clogs on my feet I stepped out of the tent.  The morning was clear, each star as bright and shiny as a speck of blue white diamond. Off to the north I could see the "Witches Tit" silhouetted against the starlit sky.  Up there on the rise of ground behind our tent area were the runways, Birch and Plum, and the revetments, where now I could hear the deep-throated rumble of the big Pratt and Whitney R-2800C Wasp engines being started and warmed up by the ground crews.  Now the crews would be climbing all over each "Jug", poking their heads in inspection openings and preflighting each plane for its day's work. The ordnance men would be carefully laying about 3,300 rounds of .50 caliber ammo in the eight feed bins and hooking ten five-inch rockets under the wings of two Jugs in each squadron.  My old “Bucket of Bolts,” 02, more affectionately called "Icky & Me", which was painted on the cowl, would be getting ten rockets hung under her wings plus external tanks or bombs, depending on the mission we would be partners on today.  I found my socks and groped my way back to my cot.  As I was pulling on my socks, boots and flying suit my thoughts wandered back to the many other mornings in the past year, I had followed this same routine - always, it seemed, it was dark; always, even in the Pacific, it was cool.  Then there were always the same noises - the rumble of the engines being warmed up, or sometimes, a while back, it would be a different sounding engine, maybe a Packard or Allison in a P-40 or P-38, but it always meant the same thing, the fighters were being made ready for their day's business.

I zipped up my flying suit, put a pen and pencil in the breast pocket, and slipped the belt through my hunting knife sheath and buckled it.  I picked up the .45 in its shoulder holster from the tent floor, where it laid every night within easy reach from my cot, slipped it on and snapped it fast.  As I picked up my helmet and goggles, I looked around at my stuff. It was all there, handy in case one of my buddies had to pack my bags this time.

"Hell, nobody's gonna pack my stuff.  I'll carry it home with me when I go!" I thought, as I went outside and turned toward the mess tent. I went into the mess tent and picked up my tray, got two eggs over light and a pile of bacon, some toast and butter, went over to a table and put the tray down.  Lt. Brummer put his down next to mine, and we went over to get coffee, took it back to the table and ate.

"I wonder where in hell we're going today," Brummer said, not looking at anyone in particular.

"I don't know," someone replied, "But I bet we get our ass shot off again."

"Yeah, they aren't putting up many fighters these days but they're  sure throwing the flak around."

"Well, with none of their own pea shooters in the air they can shoot like hell without aimin'."

"Yeah, well, if we don't get more Jugs in the air today than we did yesterday, they'll have to aim damn good, cause there won't be but only a couple of targets to shoot at!"

"Crap!" exclaimed Brummer, "I ain't goin' up there alone! All them guns will be shootin' at me then, an' my luck's gettin' pretty thin!" So went the conversations around the table at breakfast. When I finished I went over and filled my canteen with water, then put salt in it and shook it up.  That salt water tastes like sugar water after a few hours in the air.  The temperature in the cockpit gets up to around 120°, and you sweat out a lot of salt.

We all walked over to the briefing tent and sat down.  The C.O. with his trailing assortment of aides and intelligence people walked in and, we all popped to, at the first sound of ten-hut!

"As you were," the Colonel said, "We've got a bitch today boys. we're running a little late, so let's get at it.  Captain, you give 'em the 'poop'!"

"Your target is Matsuyama West," said the Captain, "it's a large airfield off the northwest side of Shikoku, reported as being a medium bomber base."


Above left: Target map locating the Matsuya sector.
Right: Detailed map of the Kure-Okayama area, with Matsuyama airfield boxed in pencil just below center.
Click to enlarge.


Someone handed me a mimeographed mission sheet with a map of Japan on it and places for all the specific information required for this mission.  As the Captain read the information, his voice became a monotone in this now silent tent.  Every pilot was getting this information on his sheet.  A slip here could mean your neck!  As the words came, I wrote - Target - Matsuyama West; Man Planes - 07:50;  Start Engines - 07:55; Takeoff - 08:13; call signs are: Group Leader - Tycoon; Squadron Leader - Vampire One; Communications are; Primary - A; Secondary - B; Air-Sea rescue - D; IFF - 6; Recognition Lights – Red and amber. The squadron will assemble over Oboe at 08:35; the group over Yoke, at 08:45; route out 25°; weather CAVU.

"Your air-sea rescue units will be at these points," the Captain said. "Playmate 16 and Sub 593 off the southern tip of Kyushu at Cape Sata — their code name today is ‘Blowhole.’ Playmate 15, Jukebox 33 and Sub 539 will be here off the Tozaki Point. This is where you'll need them if you get clobbered. Their code name for today is 'Giltedge'."

"One or two last items you may like to Know before you guys strap on your airplanes," the Captain went on. "Our intelligence reports this field is protected by 83 automatic weapons and six heavies. We expect you'll run into a lot or fighters, your going in pretty deep, and there's a railroad down the west shore and a small refinery just southwest of the airfield, that's it men - good luck and good hunting!"

We checked our watches and piled outside. The jeeps and weapons carriers were waiting to take us up to the parachute room and then to the flight line. The stars had faded now and the sky was getting light. Dawn came fast here in the Ryukyus, so by the time I had put on my "Mae West" and slipped into my chute harness, it was quite light. I tucked my chute pack up over my butt and went over to the jeep that had three other pilots from the 333rd in it, and we bounced off to the line. Lt. Brummer was flight leader with Lt. Holly on his wing. I was number 3 with Lt. Dombray on my wing. Capt. Cary, our squadron commanding officer, was leading the squadron today. If everytning went right tne 333rd would put twelve planes in the air, the 73rd and the 19th squadron the same. This meant tne 318tn group would have 36 P47Ns over the target today.

The jeep dropped Brummer off by "Miss Vivian", Holly by "760" and I jumped off by "02" - "Icky and Me".  "02" was a veteran of forty-one missions and an uncounted number of sorties, she was a good airplane, not always flown by me, as I shared her with other pilots on the days I wasn’t assigned to missions. "02" flew every day she wasn't "Red A'd" and that wasn't too often.  Icky's crew was a good one; they hovered over her like a hen over her chick.

I started my preflight inspection; this I made a habit of. The crew knew "Icky" better than I, but it was my ass that would be sittin' in this beast for the next few hours, and I wanted to be sure it was all there.  As I ran my hand along the leading edge of the stabilizer I remembered my first meeting with "02" back at Hickam Field on Oahu.  Several pilots from the 3l8th were flown back to Hawaii to pick up new planes and fly them back here to Ie Shima.

I picked "02". She was brand new, shiny and clean, but was parked right smack in the middle of a big mud puddle at the edge of the taxi strip.

"What a mess this thing's going to be when I give her enough power to move out of this mud," I said to the crewman who was helping me up on the wing.

"Yeah," he replied, "My nice pollish job will be all icky with mud."

And icky she still was when I sat her down on Ie Shima, some 14 flying hours later, and "Icky" she still is.  She couldn't fly alone however, and I felt that she belonged to me, so her full name became "Icky and Me".

The people at Republic Avaition, way back on Long Island, U.S.A., had built her.  She sailed to the island of Oahu on a Victory Ship and put in combat readiness at Hickam Field.  Now I was going to take her into the deep blue Pacific sky and fly her straight into war; that is what this P47N was made for.  The "N" was bigger than the old "D" which we had all through the Marshalls and Marianas and the boys in Europe were using.  The "N" was built specifically for our war over the vast, trackless waters of the Pacific, it was a VLR (Very Long Range) fighter.  Longer wings with squared off tips, a bigger engine, more internal fuel capacity, tail warning radar, auto pilot and many other innovations and improvements just for our type of war.  And how well it did it is a matter of record.  The first five days of the Ryukyus-Kyushu Campaign the 318th's Thunderbolts had knocked down 54 enemy planes and lost not one of its own and against 17 to 1 odds.

"This is an airplane to fight with," I thought as I continued my inspection.  The holes that "Icky" picked up from ground fire yesterday were neatly patched, and a new bottom section was on the engine cowl, She looked good to me, so I climbed the wing and lowered myself into the cockpit.

Everything looked good; the form A and 1A were good. There was a red mark on the generator, "I'll watch that," I thought. I settled my chute in the bucket and reached for the safety belt, the crewman laid the shoulder straps over my shoulders and handed the ends to me as I slipped them through the belt and locked it.

My airplane was strapped on!

I ran through the cockpit check, automatically unlocking the controls, setting the fuel selector on "Main" tank for starting and take off.  As I went over the cockpit's controls and instruments from left to right, I plugged in my mike, earphones and oxygen mask, turned on the master switch and pushed the "A" channel on the VHF transceiver. The radio came on just as "Vampire 1" was calling for a radio check.  I held the mike button on the throttle handle down, and called, "hello, Vampire one, this is Vampire three, over."

"Roger, Vampire three, I read you, R5-S5 out," came the reply. Then it was time to start the engines.  I cracked the throttle, shoved the prop pitch full forward, all switches on, mags on both, and leaned on the energizer.  As the pitch of the starter reached its peak, I threw it to engage.  The Pratt and Whitney turned over, each prop blade came over the top, then it fired, rumbled and took hold. Smoke poured out the short stacks and out around the cowl flaps as I pushed the mixture to "auto rich", the jug rocked gently, now, as I brought the engine to 800 RPM's.  The crewmen were out on the wings. "Icky and Me" were ready.

Brummer went taxing by, then "760".  I saw my wing man in "Por-Lil-Fuzzy" coming, slowing down to let me in.  I released the brakes and kicked "Icky" around to take my place in the line of taxing fighters.


Dombray in Por Lil' Fuzzy. Click to enlarge

The tension was building up in me now.  The take-off was the first obstacle to overcome, and most any take-off is a bit tense.  It is a very critical point,—the airplane is heavy, the engine untried under full load, and the runway is too short.  An engine failure on take-off is no bed of roses anywhere, in any airplane, but on Plum strip, with a fully loaded P-47N, every take-off is Hairy!  Plum strip was only 4,820 feet long, one third the length of any stateside runway, and here the air temperature was around 80°, so there was less lift and less air for the prop to bite into.

Take-off's on Plum were life or death!  One of Republic's test pilots was killed taking off on Plum.  His wheels never left the ground till he was at the very end of the runway, and then the "N" tried to fly.  God, how it tried!  We all watched as, with its nose up and 2,800 horses screaming, it sank slowly toward the rocks on the edge of the cliff.  It looked for a moment as if he were going to make it. Then the tail of the fuselage hit, with a sickening grinding noise. Eleven tons of airplane went down over the edge of the coral to eternity - a loud puff as it blew into flames and put a smoky period to it's pilot's life.

Brummer was going down the runway now; I could see him leaning into his shoulder harness as though he were trying to help "Miss Vivian" get rolling faster.  His tail was up, the runway was running out—he was off — mushing along — his gear was up — he disappeared below the edge of the runway.  I watched and waited.  I thought he was out of sight too long — I waited for the smoke, but no — "he made it," I yelled. There, out over the China Sea was "Miss Vivian" - low, but flying.

Lt. Holly rolled out on the runway;  I moved up and slewed "Icky's" tail around so that, as I ran the engine up to check mags and prop, I wouldn't blow coral all over Dombray, who was behind me.

Being busy with cockpit and mag checks, I didn't see Holly go off; but I knew he made it all right, my wing men would have let me know if he hadn't.  By wing men in this case I refer to the ground crewmen who ride laying on each wing with their toes on the aileron.  While taxiing, the pilot cannot see over the nose of a Thunderbolt so the crewmen signal him by kicking the aileron, which the pilot can feel in the stick. Everything checked okay, and I was signalled out onto the runway.  I rolled around as close to the end as I dared, held my right brake, and eased the Jug around till it pointed straight down the runway.  I then let it roll a few feet, locked the tail wheel and then the brakes.  The wing man on the right wing came to the cockpit and I throttled the Wasp back to idle.  He told me that my right tire was soft. "Christ no! not now," I thought.  "That will keep me on the ground for this mission.  "I know," I yelled at him, "it was soft yesterday, too.  why in hell didn't you guys put air in it."  He shook his head.  The Sergeant knew damn well that tire wasn't soft when we started to taxi out this morning, and he knew full well it wasn't soft yesterday either.  He hit me on the shoulder and yelled, "Give 'em hell for us, Lieutenant," and jumped down.

The signal officer was winding me up.  We took off of this island just as though it was a carrier.  With brakes locked we would wind up our engines, then the signal officer would give the go signal.  I eased the throttle all the way up—prop pitch full forward.  The engine came to full roaring life, twenty five hundred RPM — 50 inches of mercury on the manifold pressure gauge.  I cut in the turbo super charger, and the manifold pressure went up to 55, 60, 65 inches of mercury.  I flipped on the water injection switch on the throttle - 72 inches of marcury!  The Wasp had it all now!  "Icky" was screaming; the stick was hard to hold back against the pressure, the noise with my canopy open was a violent ear-splitting thing.  The tires were dragging on the white coral surface of the runway.  "Jesus, let us go! Before this bucket blows up!", I screamed into the blast of air.  The signal officer's hand dropped, and I kicked off the brakes and shoved the stick up to the panel to get my tail up as fast as I could and get rid of the drag of the tail wheel.  I, too, leaned into my shoulder harness. "Come on, Baby, let's go," I said aloud.  I had to put in left rudder to hold it straight.  "That damn right tire," I though, "it's slowing me down."  I released the landing gear lock with my left hand, then pushed a little harder on the throttle—the runway was being used up fast now - I could see the end!  There was a blur of a red cross as I careened by the meat wagon.  There was the end of the runway!  "Now, Baby, now!", I yelled, as if it might help.  I pulled the gear out from under me and at the same time put back pressure on the stick.  I was sinking.  I could feel this lousy hunk of iron sinking.  "She won't fly," I thought.  "This pile of tin will never fly.  Come on Icky, up! up!" We sank, belly first, nose up just a little, toward those lousey rocks on the end of the cliff.  "Why in hell hadn't the engineers or the Seabees gotten rid of them?  I'll move then myself, when I get back," I thought.  My hand wanted to bring the stick back more, to pull the ship up a little higher.  "No! You'll hang it on the prop, then she'll drop right out from under you," flashed through my mind.  I was pushing up against the belt as if to lift her that extra inch or two by myself.  "Come on Baby, up!  Maybe a little more air speed will do it," I thought.  I eased the nose down just a little, now those rocks were in my sights, but the Jug was starting to feel a bit lighter in my hand now!  I added a little back pressure on the stick, the nose came up, and so did "Icky", not much but the rocks went under her belly and we were over the water, she was still mushing, but if that Pratt and Whitney just holds on a few seconds more we'll have it made—and hold on it did.  Then, with 180 MPH on the clock and climbing, I took back all the bad things I had called "Icky".  She was still the best in the air for my money.

The 333rd rendezvoused over Oboe.  My wing man had to abort with a generator failure and some of the other planes didn't make the rendezvous for one reason or another.  The squadron, instead of 12 planes had 8 - our flight had 3 planes.  We picked up the rest of the group at Yoke and picked up our heading.  Every so often a plane would slide out of formation and test its guns.  I took my turn, slid out and away, flipped the switch to guns only, and squeezed off a short burst.  I could feel the eight .50s recoil in the wings as the tracers arced out over the China Sea.

The flight up was routine, each pilot busy with his own thoughts and airplane.

Amami-0-Shima passed 10,000 feet beneath us, then Yaku-Shima came in view on the left, ahead of us. Tycoon leader signaled for combat formation — there was Kyushu. We flew east of the Island over the Hyuga Sea. Right below us, under the ocean's surface lay Sub 539, one of the Air-sea Rescue team today.  Playmate and Jukebox would be here soon.  They would stay around until all the aircraft were accounted for and all the pilots were safe or beyond their help.  The group flew on, everyone on the alert, watching for enemy aircraft. As we bored through the clear morning skies over the very shores of the Land of The Rising Sun, Bungo Channel was slipping by way under "Icky's" belly now.  There was the long finger of land with Sada-Misaki Light House on its tip.  The group swung around to the east more now, out over the lyn-Nada - we were at 14,000 feet - Tycoon leader let his belly tank go, and I watched it tumble, end over end, down, down, till it went out of sight,  I held onto mine because I wanted every drop of gas I could get for that big engine.  I'd let my tank go just before I started my target run, and then I'd have plenty of reserve. Tycoon leader with the two other squadrons had moved up and were starting to turn to the southwest now.  There they go, looking like silver fish in a clear blue ocean.  First Tycoon leader nosed over, ever so slowly, then his wing man, then Number 3, then 4, and as the leader picked up speed in the long dive the spacing grew between him and his wing man, between the wing man and Number 3, and so on.  It was a long line of airplanes, spaced evenly all the way down.  I watched Vampire One — I saw he was going to take us in short — A different angle than the rest of the flight went.  "Good boy," I thought.  "All the ground fire will be firing at the wrong angle when we come in."

Brummer gave the peel-off signal. We were going down the chute. Over went "Miss Vivian", the sun glistened on her silver belly for a moment, then the black and yellow zebra stripes of her tail slipped behind Holly's Jug as Holly went up and over. "He's too close!", I said into my oxygen mask, but I was alone at 14,000 feet now, no time to worry about Holly and Brummer.  I checked the 360° of sky above me and pulled "Icky's" nose up a little as I rolled her to the left and over, a little back pressure and the nose came through, then we were in the chute.  Way down ahead of me I could see airplanes, smoke and tracers.  "Icky" was really going down now.  "The Belly tank" I yelled at myself.  I released it and reset my switches for the rockets, flicked the gun switch to "Guns and Camera" and looked for a target.  "There", I thought, "There is a row of 'Zekes' parked along the edge of the field."  My mind was racing now.  Reality was in slow motion.  The tracers floated up toward us, the bursts of flak opened slowly like sooty puff balls in the azure sky.  The air speed showed 550 MPH, yet we seemed to close on the first Zero at but a snail's pace!  I eased the Jug over, brought my optical sight dead on the first plane, and waited for the range to close. Now!  I squeezed the trigger and the eight .50s started spitting steel - I brought the Pipper up through the line of parked fighters. The eight fifties barked their song of destruction. I could see pieces fly off the Zeros as my slugs tore them apart.  A lot of automatic weapon fire was coming my way.  I could see the tracers knifing through the air past the ship, a huge orange ball appeared right in front of my face, then the world seemed to blow up — I ducked to the side instinctively, and hit my head, hard, on the side of the bubble.  I was dizzy and I couldn't see, everything a white haze.  Just then my engine died.  "This is it, 'Icky'," I said.  "You and I are going to part company now."  I pulled the nose up to use my excess speed to gain altitude, so I could bail out, then changed my mind and pointed the nose out to the sea.  I reached down and switched the gas tank selector to main and hit the emergency full boost switch, more routinely than hopefully.  The engine caught.  "Hey, chalk one up for you, 'Icky', I gleefully yelled.  My head was clearing now and I could see what had happened.  A 20 MM had hit square on the thick wind screen, and the heavy 2-inch glass had taken the full impact and explosion of that shell.  It was in real bad shape, but still there. I turned in toward shore.  There was a small refinery of some type there, the cracking tower was my target.  I couldn't use my gun sight because of the shattered windshield, so I leaned to the left and watched my tracers until they started hitting, then the tower blew up in my face!  I pulled up and slammed the Jug over on one wing. The blast hurled us up to fifteen hundred feet like a stick, but we were still flyin'.  I looked around for a target, out on the Iyn-Nada. I saw two or three airplanes buzzing around a Jap destroyer.  I still had my rockets, and here was a worthy target for those ten 5" warheads.  I banked around and let "Icky" down to the wave tops, set my nose on the stern of the DD, and opened the throttle to the stop.  As we closed on the ship, I could feel "Icky" buck and stagger. We were being clobbered!  I started firing at the destroyer, the tracers arched into the water, still out of range, but closing fast.  I set the panel to salvo the rockets — Now!  I hit the button on top of the stick with my thumb, ten rockets went streaking for their target.  I raised the nose and held the trigger down, the tracers whipped into the gun- positions until I roared up and over the DD.  I saw the rockets hit the stern, low, near the water line, before I pulled over the ship and as I went over I saw the gun crews lying twisted, by their guns, dead.

"Icky" was hit—and hit bad!  That big faithful Wasp was only giving out with 27 inches of mercury, the oil pressure was down and oil capacity was down from 40 gallons to 20, the engine was running very rough. I could see holes in the leading edge of the wings and there were some in the bubble over my head.

I started a long shallow climb as I looked for the rest of the squadron, but there was not a plane to be seen. "Oh boy 'Icky', it's you and I alone again," I said, "and baby, you're hurt." I moved in close to shore and flew southwest toward the Hohyo Strait trying to get some altitude, by the time I reached Hasedo-Hana I had 600 feet under us, so I turned south and crossed the point of land and headed out toward the Bungo Channel. "Icky" was clawing for each foot of altitude she put under her oil-smeared belly now, she had managed to get 800 feet under her, "Boy, what a piece of machinery this gal is, she's shot to hell and still flying — and climbing at that!" Coming in from my right was an airplane, "Oh no! not now," I said, "I don't even dare turn this Bucket of Bolts, let alone fire those eight guns." I only had 160 MPH on the clock. That's practically over the fence speed for landing. The distant plane became a B-24 as it grew closer, I saw we were flying courses that would bring us together in a short while, so I saved "Icky" the trouble of turning to intercept my Mother Hen, for surely that is just what that B-24 was going to be. I would tuck "Icky and Me" right under her big wing and we would fly home together.

As the B-24 and "Icky" came close together I could see the waist Gunner’s grinning face at the port, he waved and I waved, we were like happy little kids who just met outside the dentist office, after the tooth was out!

"Icky and Me" tucked in under the wing and away we went for home. I studied this big bomber next to me with new interest now.  She was shot-up pretty bad, the waist gunner's head and arm were wrapped in red-stained bandage, he would go from one side of the Liberator to the other scanning the sky.  I dropped a little, in order to see the cockpit, there was only one pilot sitting there.  For the first time I noticed the left outboard engine was hanging in its mounts at a crazy angle with feathered prop, these boys were in bad shape too.  My Mother Hen was hurt real bad!

"What a set-up for an enemy aircraft," I thought, "A real turkey shoot for any pilot, all the bastard would need to do would be to come up under us from my side of the 24, I would blank out the waist gun’s fire and the Jap could pour all he had into us both."

We were over air-sea rescue "Giltedge" now, "This is it!  Should I call 'May Day' and sit 'Icky and Me' in the water now?" I thought. If I ditched here and now my chances of survival were good, "Giltedge" was right under me, "Icky" was still flying, I still had power to set her down right where I wanted her.  I could set her so close to Sub 539 that I could walk out on the wing and step over to the sub, but that would be the end of "Icky".

We'd been through a lot together and she was trying, so why condemn her to the ocean to sink?  The people at Republic built her to fly and fight and this she was doing! Oil streaked the canopy now and wisps of smoke were coming out around the cowling.  That beautiful big Wasp up front was vibrating badly and making odd noises, but it was still running.

My attention was attracted by the waist gunners waving.  I turned  and looked up in the direction he pointed, and there, about 4 o'clock high were Bogies, not one or two, but at least 30.  They were Japs all right, not "Zeros", but a mixed flight of "Tonys", "Jacks", "Tojos", "Vals", and others.  "There goes my nice landing alongside Sub 539," I said to myself.  "I'd never survive on the water now, because those Jap fighters would blast ‘Icky and Me’ to hell the moment we touched the sea, and if 539 surfaced for me the fighters woul clobber her too.  No, we'll stay and fight in our own element."

A sleek "Jack" with a big red meat ball on its side slid out of the formation and started down the chute toward us. I saw the waist gun on the B-24 following the fighter down. I dropped "Icky" down a little and fired a short burst from her eight .50s to give the Jap the impression I was ready and just testing my guns.  The "Jack" wasn't pushing us.  He turned to fly parallel with us.  I started to roll "Icky" toward him when off in the west there was a bright flash.  The whole world seemed to light up, then there was a column of smoke rushing skyward.  The Jap fighters all swung to the west toward the flash and the smoke which was perhaps one hundred and forty miles away.  I watched the fighters disappear to the west as the large cloud of smoke climbed to 40,000 feet and boiled out into a huge mushroom shape at the top — "Nagasaki," I said, "Now I know why we were told not to approach within 100 miles of that city today."  I looked at my watch, it was jujt 10:40 A.M., August 8, 1945. "I'll remember this," I thought.

My attention was yanked back to the B-24 above me as the other left engine burst violently into flame.  I saw the prop slow down and feather as the pilot tried to keep the big ship on an even keel.  The B-24 was losing altitude fast now, and I could do nothing to help.  I watched as the pilot turned into his two good engines and let down toward "Giltedge's" position.  For the first time I noticed there was no voice on the radio!  Was my radio out too?  I punched the buttom for "Dog" channel on my VHF transceiver, and there was no sound,  I called into my oxygen mask mike, "Hello Giltedge, hello Giltedge, this is Vampire 3 - over."  I pressed the earphone against my ear, but no reply came from air-sea rescue.  "Hello Giltedge, hello Giltedge, this is Vampire 3 - over," I called again.  Then, loud and clear, like a voice from heaven came the reply.

"Vampire 3 this is Giltedge - over."

"Giltedge from Vampire 3, I’m following a B-24 down toward you from the south, he's in bad shape, wounded aboard-over."

"Roger, Vampire 3, we see you, turn west 5 degrees - over."

"Roger, Wilco, Giltedge, Vampire 3 standing by - out."

I eased up along side the B-24 cockpit and signaled the pilot to

bear left a little and tapped my ear phones, he shook his head, indicating his radio was out.  The big bomber went around to the heading I had indicated and there directly ahead of us I saw Sub 539. The B-24 let down now, the pilot gave me the high sign with the thumb and first finger forming a circle the other fingers sticking up straight, the universal sign of O.K., thanks, everythings under control, we've got it made.

I watched as the Liberator hit the water, splashed along for a way then settled, yellow life rafts appeared along side the fuselage and the sub came over, they were alright now.

"Vampire 3, this is Giltedge - over."

"Giltedge, this is Vampire 3 - over."

"Vampire 3, aren't you going to ditch that thing? - over"

"Negative, Giltedge, negative," I replied.

"Vampite 3, you're pulling a lot of smoke and your bottom cowl is hanging loose, you don't sound too good - over."

"Roger Giltedge, but she flies and I'm not losing any more power, we'll go home.  Well done Giltedge - out."

I turned "Icky" to the south again and started the long climb for Ie Shima.

My oil capacity had dropped to fifteen gallons, fuel was down to about one hundred and seventy five gallons.  We had four hundred feet under us now and at least holding it.

My butt was sore.  I couldn't sit very comfortably.  The sores on my can, from sitting in my own sweat, we're raw again.  I loosened my safety belt and chute harness and did a few "in flight" exercises to loosen up my stiff arms and legs, then took a long pull from the canteen of salt water.  The water was hot now, but boy, was it good! I cracked the canopy a little to suck out some of the hot air and fumes in the cockpit, took out a cigarette and lit up, then settled back as comfortably as possible.

I couldn't trust "Icky" to the auto pilot, not in the near stalled position we had to maintain to stay in the air.  "Icky" had to be gently hand flown, by feel, all the way back to le-Shima.

I bent my course around the southern tip of Kyushu and out over Osumi, the Pratt and Whitney raggedly ran on, why I don't know, no engine ever should have to keep running in that condition.  The fuel was getting lower fast, there would be no safety factor today!

Amami-0-Shima appeared on the sea ahead of me, so we were two thirds of the way home now.  "Icky" was vibrating bad. We were holding 800 feet of altitude, now we weren't gaining any more.  The engine was only giving me 26 inches of mercury, I had the turbo in and the throttle through the war emergency stop, the Wasp had everything I could give her but it didn't have enough left to use it!

Amami-0-Shima slipped by under our belly as the other islands in the Ryukyu chain came into view, we were losing some of our hard won altitude now, the rate of climb showed below the "0" on the dial, not much, but then we didn't have much to waist! I fastened my chute harness and safety belt again. Iheya-Mae-Shima came over the horizon, next one would be le-Shima, home! When "Icky and Me" were over Iheya-Mae, I called the tower on Plum strip.

"Hello Plum tower, hello Plum tower, this is Vampire 3. One duckbill, requesting emergency landing instructions please - over." Duckbill was the code word for P47Ns in the area.

"Vampire 3" came the reply, "Land to the northwest, if possible, on Plum strip, you are clear all the way to pancake - over."

"Roger Plum, I'm in sight of Ie now. I don't have enough altitude to go around to land to the northwest, will have to land southwest - over."

"Roger Vampire 3, wind is ten from 310 degrees. We have you in sight, good luck - over."

"Roger Plum, wind is ten from 310 degrees, I'm coming straight in - out." Plum was right in from of me. "Icky" was smoking badly now and air speed was off to one hundred and fifty five MPH. Oil capacity was almost empty, I was afraid to put my gear down because of the drag, but I didn't want to belly in with all that oil on the Jug's belly either. I pulled the lock on the gear handle, put down a few degrees of flaps, "Icky" staggered in the air, she was near stalling. The runway was rushing up to meet us, I pulled the nose up a little, still full throttle, "Icky" started to sink faster now, I knocked the gear leaver to down position, then the bottom fell out. "Icky" stalled out! I pulled the throttle closed, brought the stick back in my lap and waited, "That tire! That God damn right tire! Was it flat? Was that tire going to pull 'Icky' around in an uncontrolled ground loop after all this?"

Whump!  The gear hit the runway, bounced and came to earth again, "Icky" tried to slew around to the right, I put left rudder in hard, then a little left brake, blue smoke curled from the tortured tires as the full force of the violent landing shook the whole plane.  We rolled straight, the Curtiss blades ticked over the top a few times then with a weak flump! the Wasp billowed out a cloud of smoke and quit.  I rode "Icky" to a stop near the center of the runway, fire trucks, jeeps and the meat wagon were screaming out to meet us.  I switched off all of "Icky's" power, "we made it baby!" I said to my airplane.  "Thanks to your guts, you and I will always come Home!!!"


Back to Dad's Planes Back to In Payne