Voices of Veterans

Albert S. Porter, Jr., Rutgers-Newark '48, Army Air Forces, World War II

-On a harrowing mission over Hamburg when he served as a turret gunner on a B-17:
… We flew our first and on our second, … the second mission is our co-pilot's first mission, because, the first mission, they always sent an experienced co-pilot along with you. They want to make sure that our pilot knew what he was doing after all the training, and so, this was his first mission and we were over Hamburg and we got hit with flak, a major hit, and it just so happened, I had the turret in such a position, luckily, that I saw it happen.

All of a sudden, there's a gigantic hole between number one and two engines in the wing and a shell had gone right straight through the wing and did not explode. If it [had] exploded, I wouldn't be here. Anyway, it knocked down one and two engines and all the oil came out, hit the turret, and the plane started straight down, straight down. Now, I have never experienced anything like this in my life, but the vibration caused by the two engines that were knocked out, had what they called runaway props, were spinning and causing such a vibration, it felt like the plane's going to tear itself apart, with no exaggeration. I thought that [it] was going to go any minute.

Through the intercom, the pilot is screaming, "Prepare to bail out, prepare to bail out." Now, I came out of that turret like I was shot out of a cannon and I forgot all about the oxygen connections, the electrical connections. All I knew was, "Hey, we're going down," you know, and, now, … I didn't have room in the turret for a parachute. So, I put the parachute alongside the turret, so [that] when I come out, I could grab it [and] put it on. Well, when the plane started straight down, the chutes took off. So, when I came out of the turret, the chute wasn't there. I didn't have sense enough to try to tie it to the turret in some way.

Right now, we're supposed to be a well-trained, well-disciplined crew; forget it. It was absolute [chaos] and, I mean, seriously, it was chaotic. We thought we were gone and our radio operator got so excited, he came out of the radio room and forgot his chute and saw this chute lying on the floor and grabbed it. It was mine. [laughter] The waist gunner; we had what we called chest chutes that hooked on the front, and they said to make sure that the ripcord handle is on the right-hand side, because, if it's on the left-hand side, when it opens, it will get all tangled up and wrap around you. He's on the floor. He's got it on wrong and he's trying to get it off and you've got to remember, we're in twenty-five, thirty below zero temperatures, gloves, you know.

So, we dropped straight down fifteen thousand feet and you have no idea the pressure that a dive like that causes against the controls of the plane and … it's awful to try to get [strength] enough to try to pull this doggone airplane out of its dive and, as Lonnie, our pilot, said, if it hadn't been for Bob Cochran, who was a big guy and strong, if he had been as small as I was, we couldn't have pulled the plane out and, finally, [they] pulled it out of the dive, got it leveled.

Now, we only have two engines and we can't maintain altitude and, of course, we're out of the formation and you're always afraid; the Germans always looked for stragglers to knock off, and so, we were afraid of that and we couldn't stay in the air. So, he said, "Get me," to the navigator, "get me the nearest safe spot." It happened to be Brussels. Belgium was reoccupied at that time.

So, we came down in Brussels, in a half-baked landing, but made it okay. Now, we're all out of the airplane, thanking our lucky stars that we made it, and our bombardier had forgotten to lock his nose guns, which were supposed to be in [the] locked position, pointing up to the sky. Now, we're all around the nose with these .50-caliber machine guns over our heads. He got in the nose and lost his balance, fell up against the trigger switches and these two .50s took off and we hit the ground, like we thought we're going to get wiped out, and so, he came out of the plane. He thought he wiped out the whole crew. So, then, when things got calmed down, I said, "Okay, who took my parachute?" and the radio operator said, "Oh, my God, Bud, I'm sorry, I did." … [laughter]