site: About HF Texts Reviews Chrono Checklist Bookstore Bulletin Board Site Search Author Index Title Index
|Blue Heron Press Citizen Tom Paine Freedom Road Last Frontier My Glorious Brothers Spartacus The Children Peekskill Unvanquished Masuto EVC's Women|
Cliff Turner (as Crane called this pilot when he came to write his story for the Consolidated Press) had been in Alaska since the summer of 1942.
He had been at an Aleutian airbase when the Japs bombed Dutch Harbor. He had taken part in the first big bombing of the Jap positions on Kiska Island.
"Maybe you won't believe me, Crane," he said, "but on that raid our big bombers had to fly, in formation, only 75 feet above the sea.
"The fog was as thick as a blanket. The only way we could be sure of not hitting a mountain was to keep low, where we could see the sea."
The weather was always bad in the Aleutians. So Cliff Turner told Crane. One day, he said, he and his crew became separated from their formation, because of the fog. They arrived over Kiska alone.
By that time Cliff Turner knew Kiska so well that he could pick it out by the mountain that rises behind the harbor. When he saw this mountain, pushing up through the clouds, he nosed the big bomber down through the fog-bank.
LOW OVER KISKA HARBOR
"Hitting one of those fogs is like diving into black water," Cliff Turner told Crane. "One moment you're in sunshine. The next moment you're swallowed up in a cloud, with rain beating on the windshield like a Gulf Coast rainstorm.
"We knew the Japs had some supply ships in Kiska harbor, but locating them in that fog was like a game of 'Blind Man's Buff.'
"We glided down the side of Kiska mountain with the motors cut. Then I leveled her out over where I thought the sea must be.
"According to the instruments we were down to 100 feet of altitude. But there was no sign of water. Only fog, below us and all around us. I put the ship down another 50 feet, and turned around to fly over the harbor again.
"We still couldn't see the water. I let her down foot by foot. The altimeter went down to 30 feet, 25 feet, 20 feet...
"Suddenly, two things happened. The bombardier shouted he could see the sea beneath us. Then, almost at once, I found myself running straight at the bow of a Jap ship!"
BOMBING BY THE CLOCK
"We banked to avoid it and went by with a few feet to spare. Then the problem was to find the ship again in the fog and hit it with our bombs.
"The bombardier and I made a bet," Cliff Turner went on. "He bet me a soda I wouldn't find the ship again. I bet him a soda he couldn't hit it if I did."
"I found the ship, so the bombardier lost his bet almost at once. I thought my own bet was safe enough, though. I don't suppose any bombardier ever aimed his bombs under more difficult conditions.
"The fog was so thick that by the time we could see the ship it was too late to drop a bomb. The bombardier decided to do without his bombsight. He told me he was going to try and work it out by timing.
"At his orders, I began flying over the Jap ship by my stop-watch. It went like this: over the boat, fly for 60 seconds, turn around, back over the boat and on for 60 seconds more.
"We flew over those Japs six times. They tried to hit us with their anti-aircraft guns, but the fog was as bad for them as it was for us. Their shots never came anywhere near us."
On each trip the bombardier made a note of how long we should fly before he dropped his bombs. He had it worked out to a fraction of a second.
"I felt the bombs go on our seventh flight over the Japs. As the last one dropped, the bombardier shouted 'Bombs Away!' I pulled the big bomber up and away from the Jap ship.
"We hit it and it blew up. We were still too low. Some fragments hit us.
"We got our plane home, but that's when I was wounded. One piece of the Jap ship burst into the cabin and tore my leg. That's why I'm here in this Hawaiian sunshine."
* * *
They were still sitting on the beach. The pilot turned to Jack Crane with a smile.
"I've only one regret, Crane," he said. "They took me to the hospital so quickly that I never paid that bombardier his soda."