Our plan was to approach from the south at low level, under 300-foot
altitude, so as to stay off the scopes of any Japanese early warning
radar. When we calculated we were ten miles from the bridge, we
planned to bounce up to 7,500 feet just long enough for me to get a
radar fix on the bridge itself Then heading directly for the
bridge, we would dive back down to 200 feet altitude, picking up speed
for just one fast south to north bomb run along the length of the
bridge. We had no equipment for aiming or sighting the bombs in
to specific points on the bridge, but this attack along the length of
the bridge at low latitude would hopefully see all four bombs hit some
part of the target. After dropping the bombs, our plan was to
continue north ten miles, then gradually swing westerly in a big arc to
recross the Yellow River ten miles west of the bridge heading back
south to Laohokow. It was a good plan, and the chance of
encountering radar flak was minimized, but we didn't see the Yellow
River Bridge that night, although we later played a significant
peripheral role in its destruction.
We took off determined to bomb the bridge, but one hour out of Laohokow
we happened to be following a railroad track, one of my navigation
checkpoints, when along came a train. Trains were a high priority
target, ranking right behind a plane destroyed in the air. A
locomotive was not easy to kill, being made out of heavy boilerplate,
machined steel and cast iron. The Chinese P-40s with only
30-caliber machine guns couldn't inflict serious damage on a
locomotive. Our fighters had 50-caliber guns and could do better,
but still had trouble confirming a locomotive as destroyed. But
we had 20-mm cannons with armor-piercing rounds. All in a moment,
the Yellow River Bridge was forgotten and we were nosed down in a long,
low-level strafing run.
Ab opened fire while we were still at maximum range and held the
triggers down continuously until the last split second, zooming
abruptly up and away from the target. When I looked back, the
locomotive was still moving, but it had broken completely in two.
The middle of the engine was down on the tracks, making many
sparks. The cowcatcher was pitched up in the air and the
engineers' cab was pitched down. There was a mountain of steam
that obscured things when the engine bumped to a stop.
We circled back to rake over the boxcars and we ran into sporadic
ground fire. We made altogether three or four runs at the
boxcars, scoring hits all over them, but there were no explosions or
other reactions to our attacks. The locomotive was
destroyed. Most of the boxcars were damaged, but probably not put
permanently out of commission. The ground fire had been accurate
enough to score a few hits on our plane.
This was the first time we had been hit, and Ab's and my reactions were
about the same. The hits were sudden, loud, ripping-crashing
thuds, easily heard over the roar of our engines. We didn't
particularly like it, but it was kind of like lightening and thunder --
if you heard it, it had already missed you. Following standard
procedure, we had dropped our belly tanks, still containing some fuel,
before initiating our first strafing run. This ruled out the
possibility of continuing to the Yellow River. We did have plenty
of fuel, however, to continue looking for targets of opportunity in the
area where we found the train. So we looked and found a road,
then another, and finally an intersection with a large convoy -- maybe
ten trucks, moving through. We attacked and in five or six passes
we had many of the trucks burning. Some were hauling ammunition
that exploded. It was a very good show.
In this attack, we again met some ground fire and sustained hits on our
aircraft. We returned to Laohokow with our bombs unused, but
elated and satisfied with a very productive mission. We counted
twelve or fifteen bullet holes in our plane. I pondered this in
terms of my mortality. I'm sure Ab thought about it, too.
The next day, there was feverish activity at our field. Day
fighters were coming and going at very short intervals, not being
airborne long, indicating that the enemy was close to us. We made
preparations to evacuate, but planned also to fly intruder again that
night. We didn't get much rest during this day, having to rearm
and refuel the plane.
We took off at dusk, looking for any target of opportunity, hoping we'd
find something to attack. We flew three missions that night. I
don't remember specific details, but my recollections include flying
over a darkened village and seeing the moonlight glittering and
reflecting off a thousand glass windows. We circled, wondering at
such a spectacle, only to realize, "Hell, they're firing at us!"
The village was full of a large number of troops -- it seemed like
thousands -- shooting at us, but they were not good shots. We
didn't sustain any hits, but didn't attack, either. There was no
way to identify a specific target. If we attacked the village we
would be attacking friendly Chinese along with the Japanese. A
little later we did strafe a train with good results. The engine
was probably destroyed, and boxcars set on fire. We also strafed
a small truck convoy and several individual trucks. I don't
remember specifics of the other missions that night, but all of our
ammunitions was exhausted on each of the three missions we flew.
We found targets close to the field in one direction, and further away
in other directions we found an abundance of truck and convoy
activity. We generally raised hell.
Flying combat is a stressful undertaking and fatiguing. We were
especially tired, and napped in the cockpit while Blackie saw to the
refueling and rearming while we were on the ground. All three
missions flown that night were productive. We might have
undertaken to fly a fourth, but at 3 a.m. we were exhausted.
The next morning we packed and got our gear down to the field.
Laohokow was to fall -- the Japanese would be there that day. The
day fighters had already gone and the 7th CACW administrative people
were loading trucks and leaving. There was a C-47 on the field
and several hundred weeping Chinese were thronged around it. The
C-47 was there to evacuate a Norwegian missionary and his family.
It was clear that their Chinese flock didn't want to see them
leave. It was an emotional scene. The C-47 left while we
were loading up. Within minutes, we too were in the air on a
heading away from the 426th in Chengtu to Hsian in the north. We
had now flown 19 missions. We had no way of knowing for sure, but
this was maybe twice as many as any of the other crews in the
426th. Twenty-five missions and rotation were in sight.