The Longest Mission Crew is a story told by John Rucigay about a mission he and his fellow crewmen participated in during WWII. My father, Merle Otto Weik was one of the crewmen and I am dedicating this story to him and all the other servicemen and women that fought for our freedom or is fighting for our freedom at this time. As we are approaching Veteran’s Day let us not forget any of these men or women who put their own lives in danger so we could have a better life here in the United States.
The Longest Mission
By John Rucigay
(This is a biography of one US Army Air Force flight crew’s experience with the Yugoslav Partisans during WWII)
- Pilot – Tom MacDonald
- Copilot – John Rucigay
- Bombardier – Bob Denison
- Navigator – Joe Lidiak
- Flight Engineer – Bob Garin
- Radio Man – Guy Howard
- Nose Gunner – Bob Marcum
- Top Turret Gunner – Merle Weik
- Ball Turret Gunner – Charles Cartmille
- Tail Turret Gunner – John Lewis
Aircraft B-24G Liberator, 4-engined bomber, 15th Air Force
Nickname – “Little One”
It started as a typical bombing missing into occupied Europe on July 19, 1944, by the 464th Heavy Bomb Group based in Southern Italy near Cerignola. Little did we realize it at the time that one of the statements at the early morning briefing would play an important role later that day. “There are reports of Partisan activity in the Istrian Peninsula should any of you be forced to land there and seek assistance.
We had arisen at 5:00 am and had our usual breakfast of powdered eggs and a canteen (one quart) of strong black coffee. Entering the briefing tent with the rest of the crews we learned that the selected target for the day was the Allach Aircraft Engine factory in Munich, Germany. This was the first time that we would actually bomb Germany and we looked forward to it with some trepidation. The usual information on flight routes, target landmarks, anti-aircraft and fighter strength, weather at the target site and en route were provided before we finally synchronized our watches. It was 6:00 am.
We keenly noted wherein the 39-ship formation our aircraft was scheduled, since this influenced the risk from enemy fighters and, for the pilots, indicated the degree of work required to fly formation to and from the target. Our position that day was Charlie Box. At least we were not the last aircraft in the box.
The flight information for the group consisted of two V-shaped echelons of three boxes each. Each box in the forward echelon consisted of seven aircraft: a V of three, followed by a diamond of four aircraft. The Group command pilot flew the lead aircraft, with the right box slightly lower and behind. The second echelon was situated behind and below the first echelon except that each box consisted of only six aircraft, the diamond of four being replaced by a V of three aircraft. We all received our parachutes and “Escape” kits which consisted of:
$42.00 in US Currency, bullion soup cubes, matches, needle, and thread, compass, maps of Southern France, Northern Italy, Yugoslavia, made of water-proof silk.
After ground inspection of the aircraft and crew equipment, the engines were started, and we taxied into the line of B-24’s directed towards the twin, steel-matted runways that rand parallel to the valley. Take-offs were timed at twenty-second intervals on alternate runways (or 40 seconds behind the previous B-24 on that runway.
Each box leader delayed his first turn after take-off such that the last aircraft would be in a position immediately after leaving the field boundary and turning 180 degrees. It required only a few more climbing turns before the entire Group was loosely assembled over the Adriatic Sea. Contact with the remainder of the 15th Air Force was established at rendezvous points over the Adriatic after which the entire Air Force proceeded through the friendly skies over the Sea, climbing all the while to the target area.
Trouble started before we got to Munich – the navigator had gotten a new “G” box (radar navigation equipment). A fire broke out in this unit halfway to the target. Although it was eventually extinguished, it seemed to precipitate our troubles. The propeller on #3 engine ran away and had to be feathered. We could only maintain 16,000 feet of altitude while the Group continued to climb to 22,000 feet. However, we managed to maintain our relationship with the Group, albeit 6,000 feet below, thus arriving at the IP (Initial Point of Attack) together.
Bombs were released after selecting a target in Munich. Flack was heavy and “Little One” received a few scratches, as did the crew. As a result of the anti-aircraft barrage, the electrical system failed. We made a left turn and headed for home independent of the Group.
Eventually, #4 engine failed as a result of flack, as did the electrical system. Consequently, we had no power-operated turrets, radio or intercommunication, no instruments except for the airspeed, altimeter, “needle and ball”, and the magnetic compass (which was not reliable since level flight could not be attained due to the asymmetric engine thrust).
As we headed the aircraft back through the Alps at 16,000 feet, #4 engine kept windmilling, thus creating additional drag. Heading for a pass we noticed a formation of German fighters coming directly towards us. Luckily, they were intercepted by American fighters and in the ensuing dogfight, the Germans were scattered. We continued south for another hour—our only defense were two .50 caliber machine guns in the waist windows. Eventually reaching northern Italy and not knowing exactly where we were, we aimed at a course that, unbeknownst to us, would take us over Udine.
To be continued —————————-
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