In the business of daylight bombing, there is a distinct advantage over night time bombing under the light of flares. It lies mostly in the fact that you can see outside and generally tell what’s going on. Sometimes, however, you still can’t really know about what’s going on because there’s simply too much going on at the same time! Does that make sense? I’ve tried to let you experience some of what went on in the preparation and roll in to deliver weapons. A lot of stuff.
I forgot to mention that you still have to fly the airplane all the time too. If you forget to fly the airplane, bad things happen. Sometimes when you do the prep, get into the delivery mode and fly the airplane, bad things happen anyway. That was the case for me and my back seater Bill, that early afternoon day in November of ’65.
To digress a bit and set the scene some, there was a lot more going on than just a quick call for some air support or tactical bombing. It seems that intel had received word that a very large shipment of materiel was making its way down the trail to Tchepone (see the entry for September 7th, two blogs back). The area had been under almost constant attack since dawn. This is not good when you are the guys coming for the tenth or twelfth raid on the same target. First, there is no element of surprise left. Second, they are waiting for more folks to come along and bomb them and most importantly, they are really pissed. So there goes Dave and Bill, two first lieutenants, number two in a flight of four, down the slot. We were probably the twentieth group of yankee air pirates to visit that day. They were ready.
The 37mm Anti Aircraft guns and their crews were ready too. The range of that weapon is about 4 kilometers, or about 13,123 feet. In theory, if you stay fifteen thousand feet above the target area, you won’t get hit. Sometimes that doesn’t work, for every now and then, one shell will make it further. The golden BB. The one that got us. (You can click on the pictures to enlarge)
When you get hit by one of these things, an explosive charge goes off and thousands of pieces of lead and steel are propelled in a spherical shaped cloud. The idea behind it is, of course, to rip the airplane apart or in the very least so damage it that it won’t fly. Best of all, for those on the ground, the airplane might disintegrate in a cloud of smoke! Thankfully, the shell that hit us was a partial dud and only the bottom half of the charge went off ("How does he know this?" Sez you, the loyal reader. That's a part of the rest of the story). Even so the noise was very loud (like a cherry bomb at your feet) and the phantom shuddered like nothing I had ever experienced before. We had taken the hit a couple of feet from the leading edge and not far enough back to screw up the left main landing gear. There was a big hole in the left wing. The plane rolled over to the right about 200 degrees and flopped around like it was on the verge of forgetting how to fly. Most of the amber warning lights in the cockpit came on together as if someone had thrown a switch controlling a Christmas decoration you didn’t want to see.
The first thing that came to my mind was to tell Bill, “Don’t Eject!” In a microsecond I also thought, “What if he only hears ‘Eject!’”?