The Last Bombing Run
They survived the mission; would they survive the landing?
- By Tom Murphy
- Air & Space magazine, March 2012
(Page 3 of 3)
4:30 p.m.: We departed in smooth air, heading north. When we neared the target, all the aerodrome lights were still burning. They heard us coming and quickly doused the lights, then lit the blue-white searchlights. Our target, the airfield and hangars, was still some distance ahead. The ship was too much aeroplane cloth, wooden struts, and wire to make any hard moves or quick turns—nothing we could do but fly straight. Couldn’t put it in much of a dive because it would start to tremble, as if to tell me to keep on a level keel or it might shake itself to pieces.
The searchlights were bright enough to read the morning newspaper—if we had one—and the anti-air guns kept up their work. We could hear the swoosh and saw the flash of near-misses. We kept on going, dropped our eggs, and came through on the other side of the field.
7:30 p.m.: Now all clear, we turned 180 degrees for home. My observer told me some of our canisters of bombs hadn’t let go. By this time fog covered the ground. I was not quite lost, but I didn’t know where in hell I was either.
We flew a compass course and timed our flight until we should have been over the Stonehenge field. I couldn’t see the ground. The field heard us coming and placed gasoline flares on the ground to indicate a landing strip wide enough to land on in the night fog.
It was hard to accurately judge ground level; I hit hard, bounced fairly high, and came down. These ships had a bad reputation of winding up on their nose with pilot or observer or both crushed in the wreck. As we bounced, I kept yelling to my observer, “Jump! Jump! Jump!” I ended up standing with both feet on my seat, bending over with my hands on the steering wheel as far back as possible to keep the tail down. It worked. Burst left tire, swung around to the left, and stopped. Total damage: Scraped left wing tip and busted left tire.
The bump and bounce jarred the remaining incendiary magnesium loose, which left a streak of white fire on the ground under the gunlayer. He was out of his cockpit and across the field like a jackrabbit.
Nobody hurt, and the war was over. Terrific binge most of the following day and into the night.
White returned home to Seattle in April 1919. During World War II, he flew as copilot, ferrying B-25s; they were fine airplanes, he said, but for sheer joy, “give me an old Handley-Page.” He died in 1976, in part due to injuries from a car crash.