Chapter 7

The next day we reported on the events of this mission to our squadron in Chengtu.  There was excitement and congratulations, mention of a decoration and questions -- how did the "gun camera" shots turn out?  Well, there were no pictures.  Our gun camera had been inoperable since we left Chengtu.  There was no question about the first kill -- most of the countryside around Laohokow witnessed it.  Last night's victory, however, occurred 400 miles away, deep in enemy territory.  Confirmation from the underground, the OSS or the Community Chinese would be forthcoming, but we would have to wait.  So would the decoration. 

We were ordered back to headquarters as soon as we could get there, but Laohokow fit into our new plan to get out of the 426th.  We now had flown 12 missions.  With 25 missions we could rotate home.  We had decided to "hog" missions.  Better than that, we would create missions by flying "intruders."  We would ignore the squadron and quietly stay were we were.  We didn't call headquarters again and didn't response to their calls.

We had been trained in intruder technique at Hammer Field, but 14th Air Force turned thumbs down on any night intruder missions.  The 426th didn't impress anybody as being an aggressive outfit and in the squadron that replaced us in Kunming, there had been an instance when one of their night-fighter crews had been dispatched on an intruder mission.  The pilot and the RO never left the vicinity of their airfield, but fired their guns, exhausting their ammunition harmlessly into the air, and later landed to report the mission complete.  GCI radar had them on their scope the whole time.

Intruder missions involved low-level solo sweeps carried out in darkness against enemy ground targets of opportunity.  A mission would be planned for an area where we thought there might be night activity.  The idea was to look for truck convoys, trains, troop movements -- anything we could attack, disrupt, demoralize or set up for a later day fighter attack.  Aggression was required.  The 7th CACW didn't know about the 14th Air Force's ban on intruders and, our immediate success having convinced the Chinese squadron commander that we were a really hot combat team, we were authorized forthwith to initiate intruder missions.  But we had to prove we could be effective.

The weather cleared and the first such mission was the next night.  The day fighters passed on information that made it appear there were signs of activity about 40 miles northeast of the field.  At about 9 p.m. we headed out with our fingers crossed.  If we came back without making contact, we might not get another chance.  We didn't have to worry.  Thirty minutes into the flight we began following a road that suddenly had trucks moving on it.  Recognition and identification procedures were not necessary.  They were a convoy of Japanese army trucks.  We immediately went into a strafing run and made six or seven passes.  Any traffic in that area had to be Japanese.  We encountered small arms fire for the first time, but I don't remember that we were hit.  The convoy, however, was stopped and heavily damaged.  There were explosions, and some of the trucks were burning.  We broke off that attack and continued the mission, hoping to add to the score, but didn't encounter any more of the enemy that night.

The next morning, day fighters confirmed the results of our mission.  The Chinese were almost as elated as we were.  The 7th CACW maintained daylight air superiority, resulting in restricted daytime movement of enemy troops and material.  Their actual encounters with the enemy were infrequent and Chinese day fighters hadn't built up a big score.  The terminology hadn't been invented yet, but with two air-to-air victories and one truck convoy disposed of in less than a week's time, in the 7th CACW we were the "top gun."

We had the enthusiastic cooperation of our Chinese squadron mates, but Chinese ground forces were being beaten and were falling back in disorder.  Time was running out in Laohokow.  In spike of this, Ab came up with the idea of our bombing the Yellow River Bridge.  This bridge was a strategically important target for the 14th Air Force.  There had been day strikes directed against it by both fighters and bombers without success, but with heavy casualties being inflicted on our side.  The Japanese were supposed to be defending the bridge with radar controlled anti-aircraft guns.  They were supposed to be as effective after dark as they were in daylight.  The bridge was near Luoyang, 350 miles north of Laohokow, and Ab wanted to bomb it, but I didn't like the idea from the outset.  I didn't think our one plane with four 500-pound general demolition bombs would be effective, and it seemed super risky against a determined defense -- but Ab was determined, too.  I agreed to the undertaking, not wanting to be "chicken."  Ab and I, from the beginning, had an understanding that if we both didn't agree to a particular undertaking, then we wouldn't do it.  This mission was the only time I wavered, but I didn't tell him.

Chinese ordnance provided us with four 500-pound bombs, which we loaded onto external bomb racks along with extra fuel tanks, also carried externally.  Once we were committed, Ab was busy preparing the plane, checking the bomb releases that hadn't been used before, loading the ordnance, gassing up.  At the same time, I was preflighting the navigation to the target and back and reviewing the actual contemplated attack.  At the bridge, the Yellow River ran west to east.  The bridge ran north and south.


Chapter 8