|LT Charles Everson's account|
It was one hell of a week ! On Thursday, August 12, we flew the first daylight raid on the heavily fortified Ruhr Valley to hit a synthetic petroleum plant at Gelsenkirchen and we drew Halseth's jinx ship to do it in. As we reached 19,000 feet number three engine cut out, just exactly as Halseth maintained the three times he aborted in that dammed plane. Hausenfluck decided to continue on the mission, after all the Ruhr was not deep into Germany. He also decided to let number three windmill instead of feathering it in the hope that the enemy fighters would not detect our "problem". Unfortunately, der Luftwaffe sent up swarms of fighters as soon as our "little friends" had to return base to refuel and we were under heavy attack for what the official report called 80 minutes but which seemed more like hours. As soon as the attack lessened a intercom check resulted in no response from the tail and a quick check revealed that Sgt. Gregori was seriously injured. We left the formation at the Dutch coast and got back to base and Ray in an ambulance by the time the group formation came in to start the landing procedure.
The next day, Friday, August 13, the rest of the crew went to the hospital to see our tail gunner, who was so heavily sedated that he was only vaguely aware, if at all, of our visit.
The next day, Saturday, August 14, the pilots, flight engineer, radio man and I drew the chore of flying the badly damaged jinx plane to the repo depot for salvage. This is when we learned just how damaged it was; after having the tanks filled, we taxied to the end of the runway, cut the engines, had the tanks refilled, and took off. After a five minute flight, we landed with empty tanks - the selfsealant had dried out and was no longer effective.
The next day, Sunday, August 15, we flew the Vertical Shaft on a mission against two fighter bases at Poix and Amiens, France. The next day, Monday, August 16 we flew the Vertical Shaft in a raid on the
The next day, Tuesday, August 17, we were awakened extra early and briefed on the deepest daylight penetration into Germany to date - to Schweinfurt! This was a maximum effort with the first contingent going to Regensburg and the on to North Africa while we were to follow in to Schweinfurt and return to England. After we got to the revetment area, we had a delay which grew to four hours. What we did not know was that the first wave got off on time before we were held. This permitted the Luftwaffe plenty of time to land, refuel, and get ready for us. Again, we were under attack from the moment the escort fighters had to leave us until we were shot down somewhere around the Initial Point. We actually parachuted into an area around St. Goarshausen, Germany.
What finally got us was a head-on attack which knocked out three engines and injured both pilots. At the bailout command, Bob Kennedy, Bombardier, who was better prepared than was I bailed out of the nose hatch first followed by a badly injured Don MacKenzie, Co-pilot, which put me third in line. I remember pushing away from the bottom of the ship to get out of the slip stream and then coming to swinging wildly in my parachute. The most noticeable thing was the complete quiet after the noise in the plane; the roar of the engines, the chatter of the machine guns, the rudder pedals slapping the bulwark right behind my head, and the intercom communications. I could see the air battle almost out of sight but still going on.
Bob Kennedy landed in the Rhine river and was tangled in his chute. A Hitler Jugend swam out and helped him to shore. I landed in a wheat stubble field and was almost immediately surrounded by a bunch of angry farmers, a teenaged home guard and a very officious Nazi Party member complete with arm badge. A very warm welcome!
After my "capture" I was taken to a home guard command post in a hotel on the Rhine in St. Goarshausen. When I asked for a drink of water, several people crowded into the office where I was being "interviewed" and I was given a tall stemmed glass of water which tasted good after the dehydration of altitude flying. I was curious about the crowd; maybe people did not drink water in Germany?
Later, I was "escorted" to the train station and other members of the crew appeared, having spent some time in the local pokey. They had landed closer to town than I did and so got there quicker. When Kennedy arrived, he was soaking wet from his dip in the sewer known as the Rhine, and the mystery of the crowd which witnessed my drinking water was resolved. When Kennedy was in that same office earlier and requested a glass of water, he stunk so bad from the Rhine that he poured it over his head. Apparently, the krauts wanted to see what those crazy Americans did with water!
Both pilots died that day. Lt. Hausenfluck crashed with the Vertical Shaft (I wonder if the krauts ever figured that name out) and we think that Lt. MacKenzie must have died in his parachute. Someone took a postmortem photograph of Don, and he looked like he was only asleep. Of the eight to survived, seven of us were rounded up immediately and only Sgt. John Blaur evaded for several days before being picked up. All eight survived the POW experience, five have since passed away. Today, Jim Traylor, Bob Kennedy, and I have been rejoined by Ray Gregori to meet for crew reunions and recall our experiences. Ray spent a whole year in army hospitals and managed to keep his right arm, although there was serious consideration given to an amputation at the shoulder. We do enjoy each other's company and look forward to getting together about once a year.
James Traylor, ball gunner, wrote me as follows, "I guess that it is my fault that we got shot down. On the morning of August 17, 1943 about 2:30 - 3:00 am, when the CQ drove up to our hut, I woke up. As soon as I sat up, a little voice in my head said, "You are not coming back today". I did not tell the crew what that little voice told me. If I had, maybe we could have figured out a way to have gotten out of going."
That explains why Sgt. Traylor's personal belongings were all packed up and ready for shipment back to the States when the detail arrived to clean out that hut.