Norman Malayney wrote:
Find enclosed another brief story from my copyright 25th BG Rcn history manuscript, flying the Mosquito from Watton, England during the war. The following introduces the Graypea mission.
A formation of four Mosquito aircraft flew ahead for the lead Air Division bomber formation, screening these aircraft with chaff (window) to interfere with German radar-controlled antiaircraft defenses, thus protecting the lead bombers. The four Mossies stretched out, one aircraft every 100 yards in line-abreast formation, dropped chaff from special dispenser in the bomb bays.
Mosquito screening flights protecting the bombers were labeled a Graypea
A Wing and Prayer
March 20th proved an event-filled day launching four Mosquitoes on a Graypea screening to Hamburg: Lts. N. Magee/L. Erickson (RF988); C. Finley/R. Balser (RF999); R. Gilbert/R. Spoerl (RF992); and J. Polovick/B. Blaum (RF996).
The Mosquito formation made visual and VHF contact with the bomber formations some distance from the target. At 1554, flying a four-abreast formation, Polovick, Finley, Magee and Gilbert began discharging chaff over Stade, Germany while flying above the bombers at 26,000 feet.
Roger Gilbert: "As I recall, we were not quite line-abreast and I was on the right and a little lower than the lead ship of Lt. Magee to my left. At this time I remember hearing three radio transmissions about Luftwaffe jet aircraft in our area. On the last warning from Magee, the situation was becoming tense. Lt. Spoerl who sat slightly behind me, unbuckled his safety belt, turned around and poked his head up into the observation bubble in the canopy roof to inspect the rear. He reported shortly thereafter that an Me262 appeared coming at our aircraft from six o'clock high. A few seconds later he shouted the jet was firing at us and to break. I immediately broke as hard left as I could to turn inside the jet and get out of his line of fire.
"After turning 45 degrees in the bank, 30 mm shells from the jet ripped into the aircraft. Four rounds struck the instrument panel while others shot out the radio and punctured our dinghy. Another burst tore off four feet from the outer left wing -- I was startled, watching pieces of the wing fly off in the turn. This momentarily jammed the aileron -- I had elevator and rudder control but no ailerons -- they were in full, left-turn position and jammed.
"The damaged wing enabled me to make a tighter left turn. The Me262 flashed by closely on my right. When I initiated the sudden sharp break, Lt. Spoerl was immediately forced to the floor by centrifugal force. The cannon fire punched a hole right through the observation bubble he was peering out to check behind our aircraft. I glanced down at him sprawled on the floor and thought he had been shot. But as the centrifugal force decreased he attempted to recover to his position next to me. He was all right.
"I became greatly concerned with being unable to recover from this very tight spiral with a damaged left wing. We were rapidly descending with 240 indicated air speed and pulling a lot of 'Gs'. Finally, I broke the ailerons loose and they worked partially in one direction only. I then applied differential throttle by retarding the right throttle lever while advancing the left. I was able to recover from the spiral at around 20,000 feet.
"The radio was shot out, eliminating communication with anyone. I turned and banked the Mosquito, returning to England. Both engines operated smoothly and with the higher engine power settings, I maintained aircraft control. Once the Mosquito was trimmed properly I did not experience any further control problems until speed dropped to 170 mph. which caused the aircraft fall off toward the left. As we proceeded towards the North Sea thoughts of having a punctured dinghy worried us."
The remaining three Mosquitoes proceeded over the target area to complete their mission. On return to England, Lts. Finley and Polovick flew a loose formation, with Finley at 24,000 feet and Polovick flying off his left wing. As they approached the North Sea at 1633, Polovick transmitted "Mayday, one engine out, other rough."
There was a strong wind from the west and Polovick's Mosquito was observed turning to a 90 degree heading. With the port engine feathered, Polovick attempted to reach land 25 miles away. Finley flew alongside him calling Mayday and sent their position. Polovick then radioed, "Y-Yoke, both engines out" and went into a constant glide towards Fohr Island off the coast of Germany.
Balser: "I was navigator in Finley's Mosquito. We kept Polovick in view as he started spiraling down as if searching for a place to make a crash landing. We continued radio contact and observed the crew bailout over the island.
One parachute opened over the western edge of the island, and the aircraft crashed and burst into flames midway on the island at 1645."
Meanwhile, Magee/Erickson were forced to feather a prop after the starboard engine ran rough. Both men returned safely to Watton.
Gilbert flew his damaged Mosquito to Watton: "Without a radio, we had to somehow communicate with the control tower at Watton. I decided to fly low past the tower so they could see that part of the wing was shot off for visual confirmation of our present problem. So I made the run across the field at 220 or 230 mph and stuck that damaged wing right in their window so they would not miss seeing it. They alerted the crash and fire equipment.
"I was unable to keep the wings level below 170 mph and forced to land at this speed. Landing hot presented the likelihood of overshooting the end of the runway. To overcome this, upon touchdown I slapped the wheels right on the runway edge, pulled back the power, extend full flaps and the Mosquito safely rolled along. We then taxied into the dispersal area.
"Normally on return only the crew chief met the aircraft along with ground transportation to pick up the crew. But now there were a number of men including the maintenance officer and operations staff waiting to inspect the damaged Mosquito. We returned to operations in a jeep rather than the old weapons carrier normally used.
"Repairing the damaged Mosquito is a story in itself. An English repair party arrived from the de Havilland factory. I visited the hangar and observed the civilians sawing the left wing off with a giant saw --a large lumber saw, similar to those used for cutting down trees. The workmen sawed right through the spar! They brought in a replacement wing, glued it on with splices, covered another piece of plywood over and placed a band around the splice joint with all kinds of screws in it.
"I met Bob Howle, my squadron commander and said, `My God, Major, I'm not going to fly that dam plane. They cut the wing off and all they did was glue another one back on. That thing will fall off. I'm not going to fly it.'
"He asked what I wanted and I told him I wanted a different airplane. He issued me a requisition form. They had a group of new Mosquitoes parked in a storage area to replace the ones we lost. I received a new Mosquito, had it painted in regulation markings and flew it.
"The maintenance officer, Capt. Robert Shoenhair, when he heard my refusal to fly the re-winged Mosquito replied, 'Hell I'll fly it.' And he did--he flew it the rest of the war!"
Polovick and Blaum POW
Meanwhile, Bernard Blaum who flew as Joseph Polovick's navigator recalls the events:
Blaum: "We had just completed discharging our chaff when I heard Magee's voice over the radio shouting, 'There are Me's all over the sky. You're on your own.'
"As we looked around, we could see several jets. We then received another radio message from Lt. Finley. He shouted excitedly, 'Joe - an ME on your tail at 6 o'clock low. Joe broke left and down for several thousand feet. After recovery from the dive, I provided a return heading northwest for the North Sea.
"Once we cleared the target and determined there were no German fighters in the area, Joe climbed to 25,000 feet over northern Germany and crossed the coastline. When we were about 15 or 20 miles north of the coast over the North Sea, we changed our course to due west and flew near parallel to the German coast happy to be heading home.
"Then the unthinkable happened. The wing tanks were about empty, so Joe turned the switch to tap fuel from the main tanks. Nothing happened. Then both engines sputtered and the props stopped. Joe knew immediately what had happened.
`Dam' he said, `an air lock in the fuel line. All that fuel aboard and we cannot use it. Now what do we do?'
"It didn't take us long to realize our plight. We discussed the options: 1. Crash land into the sea--that would be too dangerous because there was too much fuel on board and the plane would burn up fast, 2. Bail out--the sea looked very rough and would be very cold this time of the year; 3. Glide to the nearest land if possible. England was too far away, while Holland and Norway were in German hands. Our best bet seemed to be Sweden.
"At our altitude we could see every country but England. Joe knew the glide ratio for the Mosquito but this did not include a full tank of gas. We lost altitude faster than anticipated and a rapid glide-ratio calculation placed us in the channel between Denmark and Sweden, therefore, we could not reach Sweden.
"We approached Fohr Island near the German coast that was mainly cultivated fields with few buildings. It seemed a good place to bailout. Joe dropped the aircraft down to 1,500 feet, then I jumped and pulled the D-ring upon clearing the plane. As I floated down, I waited and waited for Joe to leave the aircraft.
"Joe trimmed the Mosquito and finally bailed out at 500 feet. The plane hit the ground and burst into flames. Joe safely landed near the crash site.
"Later I learned from Joe that after he trimmed the plane, he could not get out because of the slipstream and the angle the aircraft was flying. He had to re-trim the plane and quickly force his way out the bottom hatch. In so doing he bruised his right leg and had difficulty walking for a several days.
"I hit the ground last. A barbed-wire fence came between me and the parachute canopy. When I attempted to pull in the chute, a gust of wind caught the canopy and dragged me and the barbed wire fence about 100 feet.
"We were both immediately picked up by several local farmers armed with guns. They escorted us to the city hall in a village named Wyk. We were held under guard until the German authorities arrived and transported us to the mainland."
Derived from Norman Malayney's copyright manuscript on the 25th BG
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