I hastily got into my P51 Mustang’s seat and closed the canopy over me. I checked that the fuel/air mixture knob was set to full and that the flaps were fully extended before starting up the plane’s Rolls Royce engine. The propeller blades turned from black to shades of gray as they turned faster. I released my grip on the parking brake and carefully taxied the Mustang to the runway where I pushed the throttle to the full thrust mark. A deafening roar from the engine filled the cockpit as the P51 lurched forward and picked up speed on the runway. When the speed meter showed that the plane had achieved sixty knots (a knot is about 1.15 miles) an hour, I gently pulled back on the control stick. My P51 rose into the air just as the wheels passed the three-fourth line of the runway, which indicates that a plane is approaching the end of the runway. Overhead I spotted my squadron circling the airfield trying waiting for the B24 bombers to take off.
My name is Frank Brown and I was a squadron leader in the American Air Force until I retired in 1954. I had enlisted in the Air Force during WWII and had spent 1941 training at Wright Airfield. This is my autobiography of a mission that I had flown in during WWII. The year was 1944 and I had flown two missions and downed three Nazi aircraft so far. The plane that I had flown in this mission was the P51 Mustang.
The reason that I flew the P51 was because it was an escort aircraft. These escort aircraft protected Allied bombers from enemy fighters while flying over Europe. Even though the bombers were equipped with multiple gun turrets with machine guns, they were not able to successfully take down attacking aircraft and many bombers were lost due to enemy aircraft. To cover the long round trip of about 2,000 miles that only bombers could cover, engineers designed a simple device for the P-51 to be able to keep up with the bombers. This device was called a fuel drop tank. It was nothing more that a simple metal tank that was attached to the wings of the P51, where fuel is stored. The tank was then filled with fuel and fuel tubes connected it to the engine. When the tank was empty, it could be dropped, which cut off some of the “dead” weight off the plane. Thus, this enabled the P51 to almost have the same range as the large bombers.
That day my mission was to escort five B24 bombers to Germany where they would be bombing important factories and industries in the industrial Bohr region. To help me with my task, two additional squadrons of bombers were assigned to accompany the bombers.
A few minutes after I had taken off the airfield, the B24s taxied onto the runway, took off, and circled the airfield in order to gain altitude. When they were at fifteen hundred feet, they started to head in an east with our squadron following them. The first fifty minutes of the mission passed without incident until we started to approach our target. As soon as the B24s dropped their bombs, anti-aircraft (AA) fire emanated from below. Thankfully, due to our high altitude, most of the shells from the AA equipment missed us, but a few did come within a few feet of our planes. Luckily, none were shot down. Just as we thought the threat was over, I saw a few tiny specks near the horizon that were growing in size.
“Hey Dave. Look west at the horizon”, I radioed to one of my wing mates. “Do you see anything?”.
“Looks like enemy fighters”, he replied back a few seconds later.
“Hey Mark, what do think”, he asked another one of his wing mates over the radio. “
“It definitely looks like enemy aircraft” Mark replied on the same frequency as the rest of us.
“I’m breaking off from the squadron to engage the fighters at the heading of two-seventy degrees”, I replied.
“Mark, Dave, Joe, Tom and Bob follow me. The rest of squadrons one and two will stay in formation and guard the B24s.” I ordered.
I immediately pushed up the throttle and broke away from the squadron. A few seconds later, my wing mates who I had ordered to follow me did the same. As we moved towards the enemy fighters, we could identify them as Me 109s and Me 110s. I felt my heart thumping in my chest as thoughts such as “What if this is my last mission” or “What if I get shot down” raced through my mind. I fired my cannons into the enemy formation with the idea of forcing the enemy fighters to break their formation, making it easy for us to take them down one by one. The enemy planes quickly broke their formation as I had thought, and were followed by our planes. Tom and Dave managed to shoot one down within the first five minutes, while the others took longer. One of the enemy pilots somehow managed to get behind me, but I used another clever trick to take his advantage from him. I pulled back on the control stick and the throttle, which slowed the plane down. The Me 109 behind me overshot me due to his speed. I immediately pushed the throttle up a bit to increase my speed and got behind him. He tried to use the same maneuver on me that I had use against him, but due to my low speed and my plane’s maneuverability, I was able to get behind him again and open my cannons on him. Some of my cannon rounds must have had hit his fuel tank, because something on his plane caught on fire. He immediately opened his canopy and jumped out with a parachute just as the plane exploded. I banked left to avoid the debris from the plane. By now, Mark had just taken another plane down and Joe and Bob were still on their first one. Tom and Dave were on their second one when a Me-112 sneaked behind Bob and fired its cannons, hitting Bob’s right wing. The cannon rounds hit his wing flap, disabling it. Without one of his wing flaps, he would not be able to maneuver very well. I looked to my right and suddenly saw another squadron of enemy planes advancing towards the B24s. The planes guarding the B24s immediately broke formation and intercepted the fighters. Mark quickly was able to take out the plane that had attacked Bob and we all turned around to intercept the attacking enemy planes that were trying to attack the B24s.
Due to the fact that we had strayed far away from the B24 when we had engaged the first group of planes, it took us about a minute get back to the B24s. The planes guarding the B24s were able to take a few down with the assistance of the turret gunners in the B24s, but they were new to the theater and had trouble in air-to-air fighting. Our little group arrived at the scene fire on the enemy fighters.
“I’m all out of AMMO!!!” yelled Tom over the radio.
“Keep away from the action Tom” I ordered. “We are just an hour away from England”.
An enemy fighter tried to get behind me, but a burst of fire from one of the B24’s turrets hit it one of its wing control surfaces, causing it to go in a steep dive and crash. The remaining enemy fighters quickly fled the scene as soon as they realized that they were loosing the dogfight.
I quickly checked the fuel reservoirs to make sure I had enough fuel for the way home. Drop tanks 1,2,3 and 4 were empty and the Left Wing and Right Wing fuel levels were at fifty percent. I opened the cover that protected the Fuel Drop Tank Release button and pressed the button, which dropped the drop tanks.
“This is Alpha-Charlie-Niner-Niner-One. I am currently passing over the central part of France. Requesting distance estimates based on fuel at fifty percent and distance from nearest Allied airfield from my location” I radioed the air control tower back in London. I was hoping that they could use their radar to give us a relative location of where we were and our shortest flight path to the nearest airfield, so that we could repair any damaged planes. I was also concerned that I might not have enough of fuel to last for the hour-long trip back to England.
The fuel-distance estimate turned out to be enough for another two hours if we went incident free for the rest of the trip, but not enough for another dogfight. The rest of the hour passed peacefully as we encountered no more planes. Had it not been for the heavy Allied bombing of Nazi airfields a few months ago, there would have been no chance for us to survive the mission.
When we finally arrived in England, we had to circle the airfield many times so that the damaged planes and the bombers could land before us, and when it was my turn, I carefully approached the airfield, put down the landing gear, and remembered to flare. A flare is a fancy name for a maneuver done when landing that involves lifting the nose of the plane so that the back wheels of the plane touch the runway first and then the front wheels. If a plane does not flare before it lands, the shock from the sudden landing could damage or even destroy the landing gear, which would lead to a very unfavorable situation.
I taxied my plane into its hanger and turned off the engine. I opened the canopy and climbed down the ladder that plane maintenance crews had propped against my plane. The plane maintenance crews quickly attached fuel hoses to my plane, inserted new drop tanks into the pylons, and restocked the plane’s ammo for its guns. I climbed down the ladder and walked to the barracks.