"Thanks For A Swell Ride"

  • Published
  • By Richard O. Joyce
  • Doolittle Raider
As soon as Watson's plane blasted off the deck, I lined up and took off about five minutes later. I had been slightly delayed due to the continued misfiring of the right engine which finally smoothed out. The take-off was easy although I sweated out that right engine during those critical moments of the roll down the deck. 

I circled the carrier once and flew parallel to it's course and set my gyro compass and compared it with the magnetic compass. We picked up a true course of 270 degrees about 500 feet off the water. About an hour and a half out Sergeant Horton, on watch in the upper turret, shouted over the interphone. 

"Gunner to pilot. Twin engine plane, twelve o'clock!" 

Directly ahead and above us was a Japanese patrol plane and it must have seen us at the same time because it immediately dove out of the clouds directly at us. I increased the power on both engines and swept underneath it. We quickly outdistanced it and didn't attempt to fire on it because it never really got within range. After that incident, I decided to fly the rest of the distance at altitudes ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 feet in order to avoid detection. We hit Inubo Saki right on the nose, thanks to our navigator, "Sally" Crouch. I turned south for about ten miles and then turned west across the neck of land to Tokyo Bay, then northwest as 3,500 feet in and out of scattered clouds. When I sighted my target, I dove out of the clouds, and lined up with the target at 2,400 feet and 210 mph speed. I opened the bomb bay doors and just as I did, an aircraft carrier steaming toward the Yokosuka Naval Base opened up on us with their ack-ack of presumably small caliber. Fortunately, their fire was ineffective and inaccurate. However, since we were toward the last of the bomber string, they were waiting for us and I knew it would be no picnic the rest of the way in. 

We lined up on our primary target, the Japan Special Steel Company and dropped two 500-lb demos and got direct hits. One bomb hit directly in the middle of a big building and the other landed between two buildings, destroying the end sections of both. The third demo and the incendiary cluster were dropped in the heavy industrial section in the Shiba Ward. 

The ack-ack fire became intense and since I had taken a long straight run on the target, by the time the bombs were out we found ourselves bracketed with the black puffs of smoke and shrapnel coming very close, generally behind but catching up fast. 

Just as the last bomb went out, a formation of nine Zeros came in above us and a little to our right. I jammed the throttles forward and and went into a steep diving turn to the left to escape both the ack-ack fire and the fighters. The fighters had definitely seen us and peeled off at us but I dove under them and eluded them for the moment. We were doing 330 mph which was right on the red line. I leveled out right on the ground and hedge-hopped all the way back out to the bay. Three Nakajima 97's came out of nowhere ahead and to our left. They tried to catch us but couldn't keep up. The Zeros, however, had not been shaken. They had an altitude advantage but didn't seen too eager to come in close. I could hear Horton firing at them from the turret from time to time to discourage them. We finally shook them as I turned west across the mountains. Shortly after, a single fighter appeared alongside and above us, just as I turned south again. We fired at him with both nose and turret guns and we think we hit him but none of us was sure we knocked him down. At any rate, he got extremely discouraged which was OK with us. 

Just as we thought we had made it and I had begun to throttle back when three more enemy fighters bored in toward us. I pushed the throttles forward and climbed up into the clouds to elude them. I decided to turn out to sea for about thirty miles since it looked like they were really after us. Fortunately, that was the last enemy plane we ever saw.
When we passed through the Oshima Strait and headed west, I took inventory of our damage. We had sustained one anti-aircraft hit in the rear fuselage just ahead of the horizontal stabilizer. The hole was about 7 inches in diameter; luckily no vital structural part was hit and about all it did was create quite a draft. We were also hit on the left wingtip by machine gun bullets but, again, the damage was slight. A few feet closer to the fuselage, however, and we would probably have lost gas to say the least. 

As soon as we estimated we were nearing the China coast, the weather became foggy and rainy. I was forced to go on instruments about 100 miles out and stayed on them until we all bailed out. Our automatic pilot was inoperative so I had to "hand-fly" it all the way. Stork, of course, relieved me and shared the flying chore. 

About the time Crouch estimated we should begin to climb to avoid the mountains along the coast we spotted an island and got a few glimpses of land as we came in over the coast. Those few glimpses gave us assurance that at least we were over land. It was now getting dark, still foggy and rainy and getting worse. 

There was an overcast above us so I climbed up into it and continued on course. As we neared our ETA at Chuchow (China) I realized positively that we could never expect to make a landing in that weather so I told the crew to get ready to bail out. I climbed to 9,000 feet with about 15 minutes of gas left. I had flown deliberately past Chuchow to be sure that we would come down in Chinese territory. 

I had been talking back and fourth to my crew from time to time and when I figured we had only about ten minutes of gas left, I asked Crouch to show us on the map where we were. I then gave them their instructions. 

"Horton, you go first out the rear hatch," I said. "Then Larkin, then "Sally" and Stork out the front. Larkin, you wait until Horton is gone before you release the forward escape door - you might hit him. OK, fellas, that's it. I'll see you in Chuchow. Let me know when your ready back there, Ed, and good luck to you." 

"OK Lieutenant," Horton answered over the interphone. 

"Here I go and thanks for a swell ride." 

I couldn't help but laugh at that and it made me feel good. Here we had been flying for about 14 hours, had been in combat and hit, and now had to bail out and he thanked me for the ride! Horton's spirit of discipline was typical of my whole crew and I was thankful.
I was busy keeping the plane's speed at 120 mph on instruments and felt them go one by one. They were fine men. Not one was afraid but bitterly disappointed that we had to abandon our plane. It takes men like them to win a war and that's what we were trying to do. 

When the last man was gone, I rolled the stabilizer back to keep the plane from gaining too much speed and then worked myself around to get out of the cockpit. I had some trouble squeezing in between the armor plate on the backs of the two seats and had to keep pushing the wheel forward to keep the plane from stalling. I had little time to do anything once I got to the escape hatch but I did manage to grab some food and equipment before I jumped. 

I dropped clear of the ship and pulled the rip cord. The chute opened nicely but just as it did the metal on one of the leg straps broke and almost dropped me out of the chute harness. I slid down and the chest buckle socked me in the chin so hard I was stunned. At the same time my pistol was jerked out of its holster and flew into space. I swung wildly for about a minute and then straightened out. Just as I did, I heard the plane hit below me and explode. A few seconds later, I hit the ground which was quite a surprise.  Luckily, I was uninjured even though I had landed on the side of a steep slope. 

It was raining and foggy and I couldn't see a thing. I felt I had no choice but to wrap myself up in my parachute and try to stay dry and get some sleep. 

The next morning it was still foggy but the rain had stopped. When it was clear enough for me to see, I started to look for our plane. When I saw how steep the hill was that I had landed on and saw how sharp the boulders were, I don't see how I missed getting badly hurt - or worse. 

The plane turned out to be only a mile away but it took me four hours to get there over the rocks and cliffs. When I got to the site of the crash there were a number of Chinese there picking in the charred wreckage. I hailed them and made them understand that I was a friend. 

There wasn't a single thing I could salvage out of the wreck; it was a total loss. There was nothing to do but start walking. The Chinese farmers took me to a town where I stayed that night. The next day I met some Chinese soldiers who escorted me to Tunki, Anhwei and, a week later, Chuhsien. My crew was safe and had no serious injuries. We had a lot to be thankful for.