CHAPTER SIXAs the formation passed Hamburg, the German fighters backed away. The time had come for the flak batteries on the ground to get in on the action. Rosen could see them, on the south bank, over which they were flying, and on the north, he could see the target. He also looked ahead and could see the woods over which they would pass before turning on the target.
“Bombardier to Pilot, do you see the woods ahead?”
“Pilot to Bombardier, I see them.”
“Bombardier to Pilot, after we make that turn is when I take over. Are you set on the autopilot?”
“Pilot to Bombardier, roger. After the turn over the trees, the ship is yours.”
That turn would come in a minute. Rosen knew he would need the navigator to help. “Bombardier to Navigator, I need you up here.”
“Navigator to Bombardier, I’m coming.” Rosen had made calculations as to the course he would need on the bomb run. The navigator would help make sure he was right. Sweeney showed up presently and plugged into the intercom and oxygen again.
“Navigator to Pilot, do you see the Initial Point?”
“Pilot to Navigator, I see it.” This was the woods Rosen had asked about a moment earlier. “Navigator to Pilot, I need you right over the I.P.”
“Pilot to Navigator, roger.”
Sweeney gave Rosen the pre-set drift, which they had worked out just after finding Helgoland Island. Sweeney pointed out the target as it came into view with the finish of the turn. Rosen set the gyro knob on top of the bombsight, and worked the other knobs he had to in order to get the crosshairs where they would have to be to meet with a pointer, then the bombs would automatically drop.
Rosen threw the switch to open the bomb bay doors. “Bombardier to Pilot, bomb bay doors open.”
“Pilot to Bombardier, roger.”
“Bombardier to crew, we are starting our run. Only the pilot, navigator, and myself are allowed to use the intercom until the bombs are released.”
It looked like it would take one minute to get to the factory from their position over the woods, so Rosen said, “Bombardier to Pilot, one minute to target.” “Pilot to Bombardier, autopilot is on, the ship is yours.”
As he looked down into the bombsight, Rosen could see the flak shells blossoming below them. The closer the explosion, the darker the bloom. Shells were going off around them as the Germans tried to zero in on the formation.
“Bombardier to Pilot, thirty seconds to target.”
The crosshairs crept slowly forward, working their way to the center of Rosen’s vision, and the release of the bombs.
“Bombardier to Pilot, fifteen seconds to target.”
More flak bursting closer. The bomber shook. “Bombardier to Pilot, ten seconds to target …five seconds, four, three, two, one.”
The crosshairs met with the pointer, the button was pushed, and the bombs dropped.
No sooner had Rosen said this than the airplane shuddered and a loud explosion could be heard, followed by screaming on the intercom. The explosion had gone off right behind Sweeney, in the cockpit. Sweeney himself fell forward into Rosen. Rosen jumped up and looked down at Sweeney. A jagged piece of metal was stuck in Sweeney’s neck, just at the base of the skull. I hope he didn’t feel it, Rosen thought.
There was fire and smoke just aft of his compartment, and Rosen could hear more screaming as men were on fire. Ammo and oxygen bottles were going off, and Rosen knew he was trapped. He looked at the bombsight. The oath said to destroy the sight if it could fall into enemy hands, but how? Rosen forgot about his pistol, from which one or two shots would do the job. In his panic, he moved to the greenhouse nose and worked to unhitch the .50-caliber machine gun. With the adrenaline pumping in him, he found the 84 pound weapon as light as a feather. With one swift blow, Rosen smashed the bombsight with the big gun, and dropped it onto the glass below him. The glass didn’t budge. Rosen could still hear the screaming on the intercom. Oh God, how do I get out, he thought. God proved that He did move in mysterious ways with another explosion. That blast tore the nose off of the B-24 and sent Rosen hurtling away. As he tumbled through the air, Rosen flattened out on his back for a moment, looking up to see Bloody Rude breaking up before his eyes. He also looked at the rest of the formation dropping their bombs, and the flak bursts going off amongst them. He gasped for air. They were bombing from 20,000 feet, and it was at 12,000 feet when there would be air thick enough for normal breathing. Rosen closed his eyes and tumbled through the air. He thought if he could look dead, he might keep some stray German fighter from shooting him in the air. Soon, he found he could breathe normally and looked around below him. The factory they were supposed to hit was burning, and the formation was turning for home. Rosen looked down to see the Elbe River fast coming up to meet him, and the woods where they had turned were just a few yards from the bank. Rosen decided it was time to open the chute.
He pulled the ripcord, and the canopy blossomed above him. The ride going down would last another minute. Rosen tried to remember what they told him in jump school. When I hit the ground, he remembered, it’s “feet, butt, head.” Try to sit down, as it were, when your feet hit the ground. He tugged on the lines, trying to head for the shore. It looked like he’d just make it.
Yes! Rosen landed about eight feet from the shore. He got up and undid the chute. He tried at first to roll it up, but decided that was nonsense, and just let it go. It would float away to sea. Rosen now scrambled into the trees.