Lucky escape for B-24 Liberator bomber crew

"Ruthless Ruthie" (6X-I -) Consolidated B-24J-155-CO Liberator Serial number 44-40317 854th Bomb Squadron, 491st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force Blew the tire on the left-main landing gear and the right gear collapsed causing the plane to go off the runway while taking off on April 16,1945.

“Ruthless Ruthie” (6X-I -)
Consolidated B-24J-155-CO Liberator
Serial number 44-40317
854th Bomb Squadron, 491st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force
Blew the tire on the left-main landing gear and the right gear collapsed causing the plane to go off the runway while taking off on April 16,1945.

"Shady Lady" (IO-T) Ford B-24J-1-FO Liberator Serial number 42-50759 715th Bomb Squadron, 448th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force Skidded off runway at RAF Station,Lissett,Yorkshire,England on November 16,1944. She was salvaged later that week.

“Shady Lady” (IO-T)
Ford B-24J-1-FO Liberator
Serial number 42-50759
715th Bomb Squadron, 448th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force
Skidded off runway at RAF Station,Lissett,Yorkshire,England on November 16,1944. She was salvaged later that week.

"Don't Cry Baby" (EE Q-) Consolidated B-24J-130-CO Liberator Serial number 42-110084 565th Bomb Squadron, 389th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. Pictured after crash landing at Charing,Kent,England on July 17,1944. Mission to Belfort,France. Note that both inboard engines have the props feathered.

“Don’t Cry Baby” (EE Q-)
Consolidated B-24J-130-CO Liberator
Serial number 42-110084
565th Bomb Squadron, 389th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force.
Pictured after crash landing at Charing,Kent,England on July 17,1944. Mission to Belfort,France.
Note that both inboard engines have the props feathered.

The hazards of flying in wartime were numerous and not all were related to the enemy. The aircraft were often pushed to the limit. In inhospitable conditions on open airfields the maintenance crews struggled to keep them properly serviced, always under pressure to keep a minimum number ready for operations. Aircraft that probably shouldn’t have been allowed to fly were pushed into service to make up the numbers. In such cases it was often a matter of luck whether a crew discovered the faults before they had gone too far … and even more luck might be needed to get back safely.

Oak Mackey, a co-pilot on a B-24, describes just one incident in which the crew were lucky to walk away from a broken aircraft:

The date was January 10, 1945, a bad day for the Jack Clarke crew of the 392nd Bomb Group of the Second Air Division of the Eighth Air Force. I, Oak Mackey, was the copilot; Brad Eaton, navigator; Bob Lowe, bombardier, E.C. Brunette, engineer; J.T. Brown, radio operator, Ralph Heilman, nose gunner; George Peer and John Heckman, waist gunners; and Kevin Killea, tail gunner; perhaps the best crew in the 8th AF.

We were awakened at 02:00 a.m. for briefing at 04:30 a.m. The target was Dasburg in the Bastogne area to support our ground troops there. The weather was absolutely atrocious – through the night there had been a combination of freezing rain, sleet, snow showers and fog. The runways and taxiways were covered with a sheet of slippery ice.

At briefing we learned that our usual B-24 was not available and we were assigned the squadron spare. We were a deputy lead crew and would be flying off the right wing of the lead plane of the leading squadron. Upon reaching our assigned airplane we found it had not been warmed up, the engines were cold and very difficult to start. Only after much cranking, priming and cussing were we able to get them running. We were supposed to be two for takeoff just after the Group lead airplane. By now most of the entire Group had departed.

We made our takeoff, climbed through the overcast to on top of the clouds and had the rest of the Group formation in sight. At this time the #3 engine propeller severely over-speeded, probably because of congealed oil trying to pass through the propeller governor. This is a serious problem – because of the engine over-speed the engine might turn to junk, or the propeller might come off the engine and pass through the fuselage or hit the other engine on that side. Jack told me to shut down the engine and feather the propeller. I reduced power to the engine and pushed the feathering button. It immediately popped out again, for it is its own circuit breaker. Brunette was sitting between Jack and me on the cockpit jump seat, as all good engineers should. He pushed the feathering button in and held it there which caused the secondary circuit breaker to pop open, which he immediately held down with his other hand, a risky procedure as it could cause the feathering oil pump motor or associated wiring to catch fire. Oh-so-slowly the prop blades turned to the feathered position and engine rotation stopped.

With one engine out and a loaded airplane there was no way we could stay with the Group. We were now in the vicinity of Great Yarmouth, so we flew out over the North Sea and dumped our bombs. We left the arming safely wires in place so the bombs could not explode.

As we turned to go back to our base, the #2 propeller ran away, compounding our numerous problems. We got the engine shut down and propeller feathered with less trouble than we had with #3. A B-24 cannot maintain airspeed and altitude with two engines out and full fuel tanks, and we gave careful consideration to bailing out but decided to stay with the airplane for a while and conserve altitude as best we could. The weather at our airfield near Wendling had not improved, but we had little choice but to try to return there.

We were about due south of Norwich ten miles or so when we spotted an airport through a hole in the clouds, our first good luck of the day. We descended through the hole in the clouds and had gone through the before-landing checklists, lowered wing flaps to the landing position, extended the landing gear, and were turning to line up with a runway from west of the airport when the thick bullet-resistant windshield and side windows iced up, a common occurrence when descending through a temperature inversion. We could not pull up and go around with the landing gear and flaps down with only two engines operating – we were committed to landing.

Jack and I could not see through the iced-up windshields and windows. We had to continue our descent to keep air speed above stalling. Through a small clear place on my side window I saw men running at full speed, and I also saw that we were about to touch down. I assumed those men were running from a building of some sort and we were lined up to hit it. Without any thought and perhaps with instinct, I pushed full left rudder that caused the airplane to slew around to the left and we touched down in a sideways attitude. The landing gear snapped off, the two outside engine propellers broke off and went cartwheeling across the airfield. We slid sideways on the fuselage for a long way on the ice and snow; it seemed like forever. The fuselage was broken behind the cockpit area and the nose tilted up, which enlarged the window to my right a bit so that I was able to go through it with my backpack parachute on. Likewise Jack went out the left cockpit window. I ran along the right side of the airplane, stopped at the waist window to look in to see if everyone was out, continued around the tail and there they were, all nine of them and no one had a scratch. We had landed at Seething Airfield, home of the 448th Bomb Group, and we had missed the control tower by only 100 feet or so.

This photo was taken by someone standing on top of the control tower at Seething before the snow melted (but not the day of the crash). #186 had nearly slid into the tower, but came even closer to hitting the latrine which was located no more than 50 feet in front of the tower. A B-24 belonging to the 448th Bomb Group is taxiing by on the far side of #186.

This photo was taken by someone standing on top of the control tower at Seething before the snow melted (but not the day of the crash). #186 had nearly slid into the tower, but came even closer to hitting the latrine which was located no more than 50 feet in front of the tower. A B-24 belonging to the 448th Bomb Group is taxiing by on the far side of #186.

An ambulance pulled up in a few minutes and took us to the base hospital where the doctor looked us over to be certain there were no injuries. For medicinal purposes, someone brought out a bottle of 100-proof rye whisky. We took our medicine like real men. Someone called our base at Wendling and a truck came for us in an hour of so. So ended a bad day for the Clarke crew. It could have been much worse.

Read the whole of this story, and the remarkable sequel for Oak Mackey many years later, at BBC People’s War.

US bomber B-24 Liberator of USAAF 465th Bomber Group  US bomber B-24 Liberator of USAAF 465th Bomber Group after crash landing in the Poltava airfield, Ukraine, Jan 4, 1945. Poltava was the main airfield of Operation Frantic, a USAAF "shuttle bombing" operation sending bombers to hit German targets and then land in locations in the USSR. This system extended the range of US bombing significantly. The operation though fizzled out because of Russian underlying hostility and refusal to protect the Frantic bases adequately.

US bomber B-24 Liberator of USAAF 465th Bomber Group
US bomber B-24 Liberator of USAAF 465th Bomber Group after crash landing in the Poltava airfield, Ukraine, Jan 4, 1945. Poltava was the main airfield of Operation Frantic, a USAAF “shuttle bombing” operation sending bombers to hit German targets and then land in locations in the USSR. This system extended the range of US bombing significantly. The operation though fizzled out because of Russian underlying hostility and refusal to protect the Frantic bases adequately.

B-24 h-10-DT Liberator flown by the Spotted Ass Ape", serial number 41-28697, from 754-458 Squadron 7th bombardment after the landin gear colapsed on the field near the British airfield Horsham St. Faith on the 9th March 1945.

B-24 h-10-DT Liberator flown by the Spotted Ass Ape”, serial number 41-28697, from 754-458 Squadron 7th bombardment after the landin gear collapsed on the field near the British airfield Horsham St. Faith on the 9th March 1945.

Consolidated B-24 Liberator  "468" B-24M-5-FO Liberator s/n 44-50468 740th Bomb Squadron, 455th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force. Crashed on take off from San Giovanni Field,Italy on April 12,1945 killing 6 of the crew.

Consolidated B-24 Liberator
“468”
B-24M-5-FO Liberator
s/n 44-50468
740th Bomb Squadron, 455th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force.
Crashed on take off from San Giovanni Field,Italy on April 12,1945 killing 6 of the crew.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jason M. Pilalas August 29, 2015 at 3:41 pm

The Spotted Ass Ape’s bizarre (and no doubt colorful) paint job likely reveals a role ass an “assembly ship,” a tired aircraft used to guide the group in forming up before setting out on a mission. The sight and sound of hundreds of B-24s and B-17s wheeling and climbing over East Anglia must have been awe-inspiring.

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