Breakfast 2014

 

Breakfast ThursdayFor some good time now a flock of pilots, mostly from that greatest generation, but a few hardy souls from the days of bailing wire and chewing gum, meet once a week on Thursday at the Hearth ‘n Kettle Restaurant in Orleans, MA. The birds begin to gather between 7:30 a.m. through 8 a.m and proceed to joke, share memorabilia, eat, and swap stories. Mostly, everyone’s welcome, though in the warmer months attendance can reach forty. There are no rules except good fellowship, no organizing force, except maybe Max Sarazin who keeps an e-mail list to announce the various goings on at the Thursday breakfast for those inconvenienced by time or distance.

There are many stories from the Thursday Breakfast, and with permission we’ll share some. If there’s any common thread among many, when times were tough, they were at their best.

The date is July 16, 1944, the target is Munich, Germany. It's my 3rd mission and I'm flying as co-pilot sitting in the left seat of a B-17. The pilot is Bob Stewart, and it's his 5th mission. We are green as grass. We're flying at 27,000 feet and the target area is clear except for contrails. We're at the back end of the bomb stream, so consequently we have considerable contrails to contend with. The mission so far is uneventful, but as we turn onto the initial point (IP), our bomb bay doors are opened and we tighten our formation to improve our bomb pattern. At this point, we lose the number four engine either from flak or a runaway prop… can't remember which.  The pilot in the right seat starts to feather number four as we slide out of formation in complete overcast (contrails). I take over the controls and start flying the artificial horizon.

Raymond A. Franzino
Raymond A. Franzino
Army Air Corps - 1st Lt.
England (Thurleigh) - 6/44 to 11/44
Combat Missions - 35 - 8th Air Force  350 combat hours (1/2 as co-pilot) in B-17 - 1000 total hours

I remember the first rule in instrument training… trust your instruments… don't fly by the seat of your pants. When I glance at the artificial horizon, it shows the aircraft in a nose down attitude, although it doesn't feel that way. I pull up to confirm the artificial horizon and suddenly feel the airplane shudder. At this point no instrument is going to tell me what is happening… we're approaching a POWER ON STALL in a   B-17 with a full bomb load. Wow! I glance at our airspeed, we're at 90 miles per hour. I almost have a heart attack. I react to what we learned in primary…  kick the rudders, and push the nose forward. The flight engineer in the upper turret behind me taps (bangs) my arm and points to the number two engine, which is windmilling unobserved by me. I reach down to my left and move the vacuum pump lever to the number three engine and cage the gyro just as we break out of the overcast. The B-17 is red lined at 207 mph and we have exceeded that! It takes both of us in the cockpit to pull us out of the dive to straight and level. This whole episode, from feathering number four to straight and level takes only a few seconds but feels like a year. We now have two engines feathered and are flying at 20,000 feet…  we lost 7,000 feet! Our air speed is now at 120 mph and we're hanging on our props. We still have our bombs, and while the crew is throwing out flak suits and any other junk they can find to lighten the airplane, the bombardier finds a target of opportunity and we let the bombs go.

Now let me set the scene, we are still in the Munich area with two dead engines about 500 miles from home. Our prospects of getting home are nil…I've now learned the difference between fear and terror. Fear is when you think you're going to die, and terror is when you know you're going to die. We are all feeling terror. Most of the crew are pleading with the cockpit to head for Switzerland, which would mean internment and the end of the war for us. Bob Stewart looks over at me, and we both shake our heads "NO".

Even though we did make it back, I still wonder if we had the right to decide the fate of the crew without even discussing it with at least the other officers on board. How did we ever think we could go 500 miles from deep inside Germany by ourselves and survive? We must have been blessed.

P-51 MustangSuddenly someone cries out, "Fighters at one o'clock high" (sounds like a movie title). All eyeballs look up and sure enough there's a stack of six fighters up there. We're still deep inside of Germany, and in the state of mind we're in, any single engine airplane looks like an ME-109. If there had been a stack of Stearmans up there, my mind would have registered them as ME-109's. One plane peels off and turns our way, and the crew starts charging their guns, including Max the engineer in the upper turret. His guns are at zero azmuth and when he fires them, the vibration right over the cockpit cracks my windshield and fills the cockpit with dust and the smell of cordite.

When I think about this mission, (about once a week) I ask myself how the heck could we have thought we could engage these fighters and survive? One of two things would have happened… we might be shot down on the first pass, or we might be forced to land in Germany and be interned in a Stalag camp instead of being in Switzerland. As luck would have it, the single engine plane that comes around and hangs on my left wing is a P-51. We are fortunate that all the German fighters are hitting the bomb stream that we have left which gives us a pretty good chance to get to the French coast with the help of our little friend. As we approach the French coast, our number one engine is pulling only half power and it looks like we might have to ditch, but we luck out again and are able to make it across the channel and set down on a P-47 field right on the coast of England.

 

Contact Us