Bristol Beaufighter Lost Story

Discussion in 'Stories' started by scooterkool, Feb 6, 2012.

  1. scooterkool

    scooterkool New Member

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    I am looking for an online story I read a few years ago, I have lost the link.:rolleyes:
    I hope someone can redirect me to the story.
    The story was written by a USAAF Radar Operator in the Bristol Beaufighter.
    This of course puts him in one of the following squadrons: (414th, 415th, 416th and 417th Night Fighter Squadron)
    He describes harrowing missions over the Mediterranean. Including following a Ju 52 that was repatriating stolen treasures to Germany, shooting them down from behind.
    He his pilot survived the war. However, his pilot took a flight in a captured german fighter, crashed the fighter and died.
    The writer then wondered who had it better; his pilot who died doing what he loved at the height of his adventurous youth, or someone like him who lived out his life watching his friends die and growing old. He pretty much decided the pilot had it better.
    I hope my description jogs someone's memory. :lol:
    I thought it might have been airspacemag.com or Tailspin's Tales but no such luck..
    Thanks for reading this!
     
  2. brickhistory

    brickhistory Member

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    Hi. I'm the author of the story to which you referred.

    It is a work of fiction based upon real-life experiences of a USAAF Beaufighter crew - R/O McCullen and Pilot Campbell.

    All the wartime details described were true, only the philosophical wondering part was fiction (as well as changing the names in my work of fiction).

    It appeared in the Maryland Writers' Associations journal some years back.

    The non-fiction story of the Ju-290 shootdown appeared in Aviation History a while ago as well.

    Also part of a book I wrote on the 417th NFS.

    Hope this helps answer this long-ago posed question.
     
  3. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    #3 vikingBerserker, May 13, 2013
    Last edited: May 13, 2013
    That's pretty cool brick. Do you by chance have a link to the online version?
     
  4. N4521U

    N4521U Well-Known Member

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    Now I am gobsmacked......
    That someone could happen upon this forum, pose a question this obscure, and Bingo, the very author.

    And like the above, is there a way of reading your story? Fiction or not, it sounds very interesting.
     
  5. brickhistory

    brickhistory Member

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    I cannot find it online.

    Here it is from my files:


    Now or Later (Part 1 in this post due to size limitations)

    I’m dying. Not unexpectedly really, but still not the way I wanted to start my day. I guess at age 79 I shouldn’t be surprised however. The big ‘C’ is eating away my liver so I’ll be gone soon.

    When I found out a few days ago, I was shocked of course. By now, the surprise has worn off and I think I’m ready. I had a good life – married a great gal that I really did love for nearly 55 years until she died, we had a couple of good sons, and now I’m a granddad. So far, both my kids and grandchildren have managed to stay out of jail and are making something of themselves, so I’m content on that score. I had the opportunity to live a full life. My former pilot and best friend, Bill Williams didn’t. I sometimes wonder who was more fortunate.

    I was looking at some old scrapbooks including ones that had my World War II photos. Like a lot of guys in my generation, that was probably the most exciting, most defining time of in my life. Everything since then has been pretty good overall, but when you put your own ass on the line for something you believe in, the sweetness of living can’t be described.

    I first met Bill when we ‘crewed up’ at a RAF training base in England in late 1943. I was a radar operator or R/O for the new military science of aircraft nightfighting.

    Science, hell, art. The Brits had pioneered the craft during their dark days of the Blitz on England during the winter of 1940-41. They cobbled together a system of ground-based radar stations providing guidance or ‘vectors’ to a nightfighter carrying its own smaller, less powerful radar until the fighter could pick up the target. Once the searching beams of the fighter detected the bogey, the R/O would then give vectors to the pilot until he could acquire a visual on the target. After identifying the target as a bad guy, the pilot would then maneuver to shoot down the Luftwaffe bomber.

    Sounds pretty basic in theory, but the practical application was a nightmare. If the ground radar or GCI muffed the placing of the nightfighter in relation to the target, the puny fighter radar would never see it. If the R/O couldn’t paint an accurate verbal picture to the pilot using the often-times fuzzy and obscured radar scope display of the ‘blip’ sliding closer to the fighter, and if the pilot couldn’t see the target at night, often times in horrible weather, then the bandit would get away. A not infrequent occurrence, I might add.

    Anyway, when the U.S. joined the war, like in most military areas, it lacked any aerial night fighting capability. The P-61 ‘Black Widow,’ a specifically designed behemoth of a twin-engined fighter was years away from being ready. In a little known aspect of the war, the U.S. approached our English cousins about ‘reverse’ Lend-Lease. So we wound up with 100 Bristol Beaufighters to fly as a nightfighter in the North African and European theaters. I would find myself in the Beaufighter, usually just called the ‘Beau.’ But I’m getting ahead of myself.

    I joined the newly named US Army Air Forces hoping to become a pilot. After making it through about half-way, I washed out. I was crushed but ‘there was a war on’ as we used to say. Suck it up and deal with it. The Air Force then sent me to the new radar school down at Drew Field, Florida. It was there that I learned the arcane methodology of radar interception, trying to use one aircraft to meet and destroy another in the dead of night.

    I made it through this course and sailed to England to undergo what we call ‘type conversion’ in my operational aircraft, the Beau. The Brits gave me a couple of months of training in the Beau and how much different it was compared to the U.S. training aircraft.

    The Beaufighter was a pretty big aircraft with a 57 foot wingspan and a length of more than 41 feet. It carried a crew of two, me the R/O in a raised seat with a cool little bubble canopy about two-thirds of the way back and a pilot in the extreme front end of the hulking aircraft. A big radial engine swinging a 12 foot prop perched on each wing even with the pilot. It carried a helluva wallop, four 20mm cannons in the nose underneath the pilot’s feet and six machine guns in the wing. If we ever did manage to catch a Jerry, those guns would chew him up.

    At the end of conversion training, they brought a bunch of new U.S pilots that had trained on the Beau at another base and all of us R/Os and put us in a room and let us figure out for ourselves who we’d ‘crew up’ with before being shipped to a fighting squadron.

    A shortish, kind of dumpy looking pilot kept staring at me so I finally went over to him. “You looking?” I asked rather stupidly since that was the reason we were there. “Yep,” he answered laconically. After about 30 seconds of staring at each other, we held out our hands and shook. Thus was born a partnership that would see us through the next 18 months of terror and boredom. Some guys have likened crewing up to a marriage because it was usually ‘until death do us part’ and that’s how it was for Bill and me. I never regretted one minute that act of fate.

    After that, we met up with the 417th Night Fighter Squadron (NFS) based at a charming, flyblown spot called Tafaroui in Algeria, North Africa. The 417th was one of four U.S. nightfighter squadrons based in the area. They shared a big-ass dirt runway, actually a huge scrapped out field, with some Free French P-39 day fighters and a squadron of B-25 medium bombers. They lived in big, round six man tents and flew night patrols every single evening and sometimes during the day when the weather was dogshit and the day boys couldn’t get it up without risking driving into the ground.

    Bill and I were fed into the rotation and after a couple of local area orientation flights were declared ‘ops ready.’ That meant that we were considered a fully qualified combat crew and were scheduled for missions. “Ready” is a relative term since we had flown all of 10 hours together and only two in North Africa but ‘there was a war on.’
    At Tafaroui, it was damn hot and wet in the summer and unbelievably cold and wet in the winter. Thunderstorms would build all day until they released their massive stored energy in torrential downfalls that would turn the hard-packed runway into a rutted quagmire. Made for some damn bouncy taxiing and take-offs let me tell you. Landings I never minded, I was always happy to get down in one piece.

    Flying with Bill was always pretty good. He was conscientious if not flashy like some of the guys. We’d spend hours doing cockpit drills on the ground until we knew the location of every knob, switch and handle in the Beau. We practiced our ditching drill religiously as well. Hard-won experience from other Beau crews had shown that if you had to splash down, you had about two minutes to get out before you became a submarine. Bailing out was much easier. Both of us had hatches that swung down beneath our seats and blocked the windblast so that we could drop clean if we ever had to.

    We did a night flying test every evening we were ‘fragged’ or scheduled to fly. We’d take our assigned bird up and check that everything worked – radar, guns, controls, everything. If something wasn’t right, we’d land and get the maintenance guys on it. You wanted a ship you could count on if you were going to be shooting at somebody later that night.

    Bill and I didn’t shoot at anybody our entire time in North Africa. It wasn’t for lack of trying and we weren’t an exception. The plain truth was that most guys never saw an enemy aircraft but we all still provided a valuable service by patrolling and deterring the Luftwaffe from getting too ornery in our sector.

    During our year in North Africa, I became more comfortable with Bill and he with me. We got to know each other’s moods and acquired that almost symbiotic relationship in the air that we didn’t have to speak much to know what the other wanted or expected when flying. I understand that same kind of relationship is common to other partnership jobs – cops, firemen, etc. Whatever it was, we had it.

    Bill was not a risk taker at all. He flew the Beau by the numbers according to the manual, he didn’t try to do crazy aerobatics or see ‘just what this baby’ can do like some of the other stickboys would do. He always said he just wanted to do his bit and go home. By then, I had learned that he was the oldest boy in his family and wanted to go back to his family farm in North Carolina. “My folks didn’t raise no fool,” he’d say when we’d watch somebody else beating up the field returning from a sortie.
    He’d handle the infrequent aircraft emergencies well. We lost an engine once, but were at altitude so it was no big deal. If it had been at take-off, that’s a different story. The Beau was a heavy airplane with a well-deserved reputation for difficult ground handling. It wasn’t a forgiving airplane, but if you treated it with respect, it would get you home except when heavy with fuel during the take-off ground roll. If an engine packed up just after you went airborne, all the skill in the world wouldn’t keep you from settling back down and tumbling into a burning ball of molten metal.

    Sometimes I wished Bill had been more daring, but on the other hand, since my warm, pink bottom depended on his skill and judgment, I didn’t push him too hard. Especially when we’d see some idiot make a smoking hole in the surrounding hills of Tafaroui.
     
  6. brickhistory

    brickhistory Member

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    Part 2

    Anyway, we plugged along doing our small part in the big war. As the bigger picture around us unfolded, we’d move up as the good guys advanced. We moved to a base on Corsica and then Sicily as the Italian campaign progressed. The squadron flew regularly, occasionally scoring a kill on the diminishing Luftwaffe, but Bill and I were never in the right place at the right time. No matter, we did our job and never tried to beg off a mission.

    When the Allies invaded Normandy in June 1944 and then southern France in August, we moved there as well. We based at Lavallon, France, a little north of Marseille until almost the end of the war.

    It was early December of that year when Bill and I finally scored in a mission that showed me just what kind of a man Bill was.

    The whole squadron was briefed on a flight profile the Germans were believed to be using to smuggle gold, artwork and other stolen loot from an area in still-occupied northern Italy to a spot near the neutral Spanish city of Barcelona. This run had become so regular that our intel guy said the bandit had picked up a nickname, “Barcelona Charlie.” The big shots, Eisenhower, etc., were worried that the Nazis would build up a strong presence in Spain and either use it as a base for guerrilla warfare or a staging post for Nazis escaping from Allied justice once we finished kicking their asses. Ike wanted this run stopped and stopped now!

    Bill and I flew our regularly assigned patrols for the next several nights and like all our missions to that point, nothing exciting happened. We had our area to guard and other guys looked for the high profile target.

    Just after Christmas, 1944, the 28th to be exact, Bill and I were fragged to work the patrol line southwest of Marseille. This was astride “Barcelona Charlie’s” escape route so maybe we’d get lucky.

    We took off about 5 p.m. and it was already dark and Jesus, was it cold! Snow squalls were all over the place and we bounced around for nearly two hours, freezing our asses off flying on instruments. Bill did his best to keep us on course and at our assigned altitude while I talked to ground control and scanned my scope.
    Finally, about 7 o’clock, the GCI site, callsign “Starlight,” radioed us that they had ‘trade’ for us. Starlight was a Brit radar station and used the vernacular to indicate that a possible bandit was headed our way.

    We turned onto the northeasterly heading they gave and waited while they refined the ‘picture.’ They would do their damnedest to place us about 1-2 miles back of the target so that we had the best chance to use our on-board radar to take us to a visual range.

    And that’s just how it worked. The only snag was that once I acquired the blip on my scope, I could see that it was way below our 12,000-foot altitude. Quickly I took over control of the intercept from Starlight by using the code word “Judy” which means, “I’ve got it, shut up talking.” (From what I understand, the US Air Force uses that same term with its mega-million dollar jet fighters and high-tech AWACS radar airplanes.)

    I told Bill over the intercom, “Bogey, two five zero, 2 miles, low.” That translated into “the unknown target is just slightly southwest of us at two miles distance and below us.”
    Bill kicked the rudder to line us up on the same course and put the nose down to dump altitude. Simultaneously, he pulled the throttles back and lowered the landing gear to keep us from getting too fast and overshooting the target in our dive. It would be really bad form to pop up in front of the bad guys.

    I continued refining the geometry of the intercept, trying to place us in the best spot for Bill to spot the target and if need be, open fire. That spot is usually just behind and just below the tail of the other aircraft. This gives Bill the best profile to ID the type and nationality of the other aircraft and usually is the best spot to keep the other guy from spotting you.

    While we closed the distance to what we hoped was Barcelona Charlie, we kept descending. Bill finally piped up, “When do you want me to start to level out?” Even though I had a set of flight instruments in my ‘back office,’ I had lost track of our altitude while concentrating on the target. I looked up and saw our altimeter passing through one thousand feet. The scope showed the target still well below us.

    “Keep the descent going, “ I answered. “Bogey, 11 o’clock, half mile, low.”

    “Roger,” Bill answered but I felt the landing gear thump back into the wheelwells as he sucked them back in by flipping the big gear knob up. He didn’t want to risk getting caught with our metaphorical shorts down when we finally did spot the target.

    We kept descending until we hit one hundred feet. Remember, this is at night, in crappy weather, and there is probably a enemy aircraft in front of you ready to squirt machine gun fire at you if he spots you. The tension in our Beau was thick. We both were sweating heavily by this time. Amazing how the thrill of the chase and not a little nervousness can heat you up.

    Finally, Bill called “Judy.” The weight for the intercept lifted from my shoulders onto his. Only if he lost sight of the target would I get back into the fight.
    “I ID one Ju 290,” Bill said formally. Since this was our first enemy sighting, he wanted to stay cool and follow the book. I looked up from my scope and peered out.
    Four in-line engines, a double tail, a long skinny fuselage with ugly gun blisters sprouting from the top and bottom; yep, sure looked like the Luftwaffe’s long range reconnaissance/transport to me. The pilot of that aircraft must have been a master. He was thundering along at about one hundred feet above the cold, angry waves of the Mediterranean and had been for several hours. Of course, the knowledge that if he were spotted, he’d get shot down probably worked wonders to hone his skills, but still it was impressive.

    Now, our problem was to shoot him down. Since we were so low, we were out of radio range with anybody. If we climbed to report our find, we stood a good chance of losing him or crashing ourselves while we descended again.

    Bill let the range creep up a little so that the Ju was in optimum gunsight range. Our cannons and machineguns were calibrated to form a cone or sweet spot about 150 yards ahead of us. If we were too close or too far, we’d probably still hit him, but our fire would be dispersed and he might escape. We wanted to knock him down on the first burst.
    We almost did it. Bill finally was satisfied with the firing solution and squeezed the thumb switch on the yoke. The 20mm cannons barked and the .303 machineguns chattered as he aimed at a spot at the Jerry’s number two or left inside engine. Bill connected and almost immediately the engine spouted flames. Incredibly, the German pilot retained control from a seemingly catastrophic engine failure that low over the sea.

    He dropped even lower and poured the coal to his remaining engines. Bill followed him down. This was a side of Bill I’d never seen, the killer with his fangs bared.
    Having tasted blood, Bill wasn’t about to let this prey escape. He stayed with the Ju as it descended and even began pretty aggressive evasive maneuvers. When I tore my eyes from the spectacle outside and checked our altimeter, I almost **** myself when I saw the needle bouncing around 20 feet!

    Bill stayed with the German, turn for turn, skid for skid, jink for jink. He scored several more bursts into the wonderfully handled German transport, finally taking out the other left hand engine. With a loss of power from both motors on that side, the incredibly brave and skillful pilot finally couldn’t control his ship anymore. The left wingtip dug into the gray, foaming sea and the aircraft cartwheeled in to the ocean. We were mesmerized by the steaming impact and almost joined our fallen prey. At literally, the last second, Bill recognized the approaching water and hauled the yoke into his lap with everything he had.

    We climbed like a scalded cat until we had several thousand feet of safety below us. With the adrenaline ebbing and reality setting in, we were somber as we checked in again with Starlight control. We reported our kill without any embellishment. It was considered poor form back then to brag on yourself.

    After we got back to Lavallon, during the intel debrief we got confirmation that we had bagged Barcelona Charlie. Unknown to us at the time, but revealed by an awe-struck airplane crew chief, our pitot tube, the metal prong that sticks out and measures our altitude had gotten clogged with salt spray. Our altimeters were stuck at the 20-foot mark and exposed our nearness to the hungry Mediterranean Sea.

    Bill and I were later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for that mission and the squadron won a Presidential Unit Citation. We found out later that Air-Sea Rescue aircraft had gone out the next morning to the crash site but all they found was some packing and crating material. No sign of that talented pilot or his crew. Bill and I didn’t think we earned our DFCs anymore than the Ju 290 pilot earned his watery grave but such are the fortunes of war.

    Bill and I resumed our normal flying duties; flying patrol after patrol with no other excitement or enemy contact. All that suited Bill just fine. He wanted to go back to his farm. When the squadron moved to a base near the German border in spring 1945, we moved top.

    Finally, the happiest day of our young lives, VE Day. Victory in Europe meant that we were done risking our necks and wouldn’t have to kill other young men.
    In the celebrations that ensued, Bill partook but a little. He just wanted to go home in time for the summer harvest.
     
  7. brickhistory

    brickhistory Member

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    Part 3 last one

    In one of the few outside activities he did participate, Bill and a few other guys flew to an abandoned Luftwaffe field near Pilsen, Czechlosvakia. There were a bunch of abandoned German aircraft there and the guys wanted to see them up close. I was too hung over and wanted to sleep in so I didn’t go. I wonder what would have happened if I did.

    Once there, they wandered around a veritable museum of Luftwaffe airplanes including a tired old Ju 290. Bill walked around the big transport, running his hand along its aluminum skin lost in thought. I imagine he was reliving our claim to fame.

    After that, for whatever reason that I could never figure out, he walked over to a Me-109, once the hottest fighter in the Luftwaffe. A short, stubby winged single engine fighter, thousands of American and British bombers had felt its sting. Bill looked it over and climbed into the cockpit. Even as small as Bill was, it was a tight squeeze. The 109 was all engine and cannon with little left over for pilot comfort.

    He hit the master switch and the machine came alive. The fuel indicator indicated half full, so he hunted for the magnetos and fired up the big engine. The unexpected sound of the fighter cranking brought the other guys running.

    They tried to yell to Bill about what he was doing. Apparently, he had his fangs out again because he ignored them as he figured out the instrument layout. He tripped the brakes and the fighter rolled forward.

    Swinging the tail back and forth so he could see past the long sloping nose and propeller, Bill taxied to the runway. He shut the canopy and gave the 109 the throttle. They tell me he did a credible job taking off, not veering too far off centerline before he rotated.

    They watched him fly around the pattern several times, each time becoming smoother on the controls of the foreign fighter.

    I guess the fun wore off because Bill finally lined up on final to land. Unfortunately for him, the only other time in his life that he took a real chance, he muffed it. He didn’t know the stall speed for the 109 and ‘best guess’ didn’t work. The guys told me that at about 100 feet, he dropped a wing and went in. The fighter went up in flames with a ‘woof’ and by the time they could get to the crash, it was too late.

    Bill never went home, never went back to his farm. He never married, had kids or worked until he was too old and had to retire. He didn’t have to see his wife age and die, breaking his heart so that it never recovered. He didn’t have to watch his own body deteriorate and fall apart. He didn’t have to sit and wait for death.
    He died a young vital man flush with victory from saving the world.

    I wonder who had the better life.
     
  8. scooterkool

    scooterkool New Member

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    Brickhistory - Wow, thanks so much, I did find the original post on History Friday @baseops that is where I must have seen it first. I REALLY Appreciate your reply your writings.:p

    scooterkool
     
  9. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    Well done, THANKS for posting!
     
  10. Westfield Charlie

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    Well, all this is amazing, isn't it! Nice story Brickhistory. Thanks for sharing it and for responding to Skooterkool's inquiry.
     
  11. Procrastintor

    Procrastintor Member

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    Wow, that was great, thanks for posting it.
     
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