the confusion of the fall and evacuation of Laohokow, nobody in our
squadron was going to know where the hell we were. We didn't know
anything about Hsian except that there was a U.S. fighter wing there,
flying P-51s. We planned to hook up with them, if they would have
us, and fly intruder missions in conjunction with the day fighters.
We arrived in Hsian during the afternoon and attracted some attention,
since none of the personnel there had seen a Black Widow before.
Prior to landing we asked the tower for permission to make a "tactical
approach," and showed off a little with a low-fast approach down the
runway, pulling up into a steep chandelle, dropping wheels and flaps
while inverted at the top, and pulling the plane through the rest of
the half-loop to a landing. It loses something in the
description, but the P-61, with its super large control surfaces, could
make this maneuver a real spectacular. Other planes, even our
small fighters, couldn't pull it off with the same oomph.
Col. Coleman was a West Pointer and we were at attention answering his
questions: "Where did you come from?", "Name, rank and serial
number?", "Let me see your orders." He held us at attention, in a
brace, but finally we were put at ease and could explain about
Laohokow, the evacuation, the 7th CACW and the contribution we had been
able to make to the Chinese fighter squadron by flying night intercept
missions and, particularly, night intruder missions.
Col. Coleman bluntly told us that he had heard unsatisfactory reports
about night fighter operations, and he would like to see us refueled
and out of Hsian as soon as this could be done. He said that our
squadron, operating out of Ankang, had been reported to have had
unjustified mission aborts. One night fighter crew reported
firing on an enemy truck convoy when the flight had been plotted by
fighter control all the time, and had never left friendly
territory. The colonel and the 14th Air Force were down on night
fighters. We were dismissed.
We started looking for gas to leave and learned that there wasn't
any. We went back to Col. Coleman to report this fact and, as we
were now stranded, at least for the night, we found ourselves again making our
case for flying intruders. The colonel said, "With the fuel
situation what it is, what could you do if I did agree to one trial
mission? There is no fuel to be had." Ab replied, "There is
some fuel left in those P-51 tanks out there. Could we have it,
if we can siphon off enough to fly just one mission?" I don't
know what persuaded the colonel -- possibly the fact that his own day
fighters hadn't been doing very well -- but he agreed to proceed with
one mission if we could scrounge the gas.
We started refueling early the next morning. Some of the flight
crewmen helped. With siphon hoses, 55-gallon drums and a small
truck, we started down the line of already low or nearly dry
P-52s. We were told not to empty the P-51s' tanks, but leave some
gas behind to prevent condensation. Taking 20 gallons from one
plane, 15 from the next, and so on, and with the help of a hand crank
pump, we managed to fill our tanks. It was exhausting work on a
warm day. I was handling the hose, breathing in the gasoline
fumes, high up on the wing of our plane, and literally passed
out. Luckily, I didn't fall off the wing. Blackie took over
handling the fuel transfer part.
We got some rest during the afternoon, but not before agreeing with
Col. Coleman that we would fly a sweep that would take us first to
Xinxiang, a town near the north end of the Yellow River
Bridge. There was a railroad marshalling yard in this town,
together with primary roads leading in and out to the bridge
itself. Col. Coleman felt that our best chance of making contact
with the enemy was in Xinxiang. It was the first time we had ever
had a real briefing before a mission. We were hopeful we would be
able to show him that intruder tactics could be effective.
An hour after dark, we were airborne and on course to Xinxiang, 300
miles away. The target was easy to find; I picked up the Yellow
River Bridge on radar at about 15 miles range. We headed north
toward Xinxiang and dropped down to 1,000-foot altitude. We
didn't see anything. There were roads and railways all right, but
no traffic of any kind. We found Xinxiang, but it was just a
quiet, dark Chinese town. We found the railroad marshalling yard,
but there was no activity there, except that we saw flak towers, the
first we had seen. We continued northward along the railway
tracks leading out to the northeast for 60 miles or so, and then moved
back south following roads we found until we thought we must be back to
Xinxiang. Still no contact with the enemy. Our briefing
provided that we could spend 45 minutes in the target area and we were
already past that, with nothing to show for all of our effort. We
had to head back without firing our guns. We were
discouraged. Ab had taken a westerly course while I worked out a
true heading back to Hsian, when Ab said, "Smitty, I think I see a
train." The terrain we were flying over was hilly, craggy.
There wasn't supposed to be a railroad track, but there it was, and
with a train moving on it.
After maneuvering into position for a strafing run, Ab again began
firing at maximum range, continuing the attack until almost too late to
pull up and miss hitting the target. The locomotive was lost in a
cloud of steam and the tender was on fire. The train was stopped
by the time we completed a turn and dove again to strafe the
boxcars. The steam had cleared somewhat and I saw the engine was
tilted to one side, like it was off the track or something was broken
to let it lean over that way. Three or four passes at the boxcars
set some of them on fire. All of them, maybe ten, were damaged at
least to some degree. There were no explosions, but we were
satisfied that we had done major damage.
At about 1 a.m. we landed and found Col. Coleman waiting for us to hold
a debriefing (another first). We reported complete details of the
mission. A tanker with gas had arrived during the night, and a
flight of P-51s was scheduled out at first light. They might
confirm the results of our encounter with the train.
Photo: Smith at about the time
of his enlistment, looking forward to service.