Most of you have heard of the famous B-26, "Flak Bait". It is the plane that hangs in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. It became the B-26 that had the most missions flown. It so happens that Flak Bait was flying out of the same air field in France where Dad was stationed. As it was common for someone from one crew to fly with members of another crew from time to time, Dad believes that he did make one mission in Flak Bait. At that time, this was just another plane and had not gained special status.
Dad told me that he kept himself in good physical shape. He knew that if he were to ever be shot down over enemy territory and if he survived, he would have to put considerable distance between him and where he came down within a very short period of time. If not able to do that, capture or worse was almost a certainty. He felt like he could run a few miles in the first half hour and then trot all day long. If an airman were to make it back to France, he could attempt to contact the French underground who would work to return you to American forces. He said that this process could take months but that the French were very good at this job.
He said that when a plane would be shot down, the crews that returned to base would never hear what happened to anyone one that missing crew. They would not know if they died, were captured, escaped or were wounded. If they made it back to friendly territory, they were not sent back to their base, but were usually sent home. In thinking about this, my only conclusion as to why this was policy would be that if the crews never heard, they could always imagine the best for their missing buddies.
When flying missions, only the pilot could communicate with other planes and this they did on a very limited basis. When using the radios to talk back and forth, the Germans could pick up the transmissions. To communicate within the plane, an intercom system was used with the crew using throat microphones. These fit against the front/sides of the throat and picked up vibrations. It was too loud in the plane to use regular microphones.
On a B-26, the tail gunner sat on a small bench to operate his two 50-Cal. guns. There was one waist gunner who could use guns on either side of the plane as needed. The waist gunner would sit between the two guns. Dad said that the waist gunner on his plane had a serious fear of being hit through the bottom of the plane. So, he got an extra flak vest and sat on it. Each member of the crew wore flak vests which consisted of small bars of steel held together so that it would be flexible. As you can see in some of the photos I have posted, they wore a parachute harness, but not the parachute. The chutes were to bulky to wear all the time. They were kept nearby and each man was supposed to grab it and clip it onto the harness in case they were going down.
And, as a teaser, stay tuned to the blog as there are some amazing days in Pappys Pram coming up during the rest of this month.