Voices of the WW2 Veterans

Fighter pilots, crew chiefs, bombardiers, and factory workers: All had tales to tell.

A B-17 crew in England finishes its last mission. (USAF)
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Richard Leo Smith
303rd Bomb Group and First Scouting Force, European Theater. B-17 and P-51 pilot

(B-17s over England. Photo: USAF)

Every [B-17 bombing] mission we went on, the flak was so heavy you could put your wheels down and taxi on it. It was a black cloud. And out of that came all of these fighters. We went to Wiesbaden on the 15th of August, 1944. My squadron, the 360th, had 36 airplanes in it. And the first time we ever saw any Focke-Wulf 190s was over that target. A hundred of them made one pass, and shot down 12 of those 36 airplanes. Our number-3 engine quit, and we feathered the prop and made it back. The tire was blown on that side, and we ended up in a field.

We were sitting in the officers’ club that night, and the crew chief comes in and says, “I found out why your number-3 engine quit—I dug this out of the supercharger.” And he held up a 20-millimeter shell. He says, “It went through your number-3 main tank, blew the tire on the right side, and stopped in the supercharger. And here’s why you’re still alive.” He pours out a bunch of sand [from the shell] and says, “Some Polish slave laborer had filled it full of sand instead of gunpowder.” That’s why I’m still here. (Source: LOC)

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