WWII: A Most Dangerous Flight

Posted: August 11, 2020 12:30:00 PM CDT

Going back in time to the very beginning of combat service in 1943, Arturo P. Martinez and his flight crew arrived at their home base in Gioia, Italy. They received a warm welcome by the Squadron Commander on the first day. The Commander gave the new flight crew a pep talk. He reassured them that combat missions were not too bad, at least not as dangerous as soldiers in foxholes.

The next day, Arturo’s crew was split up, and they flew in different Bombers to receive training with more experienced crews. Sadly, the Bombers that carried the Squadron Commander and the navigator from Arturo’s crew were shot down. Naturally, it was a shock to all. With this news upon their first mission, Arturo and his crew understood that such a loss of life could happen to any of them. Nonetheless, they had an obligation to continue carrying out missions.

My father, Arturo P. Martinez, was a flight engineer and a gunner on a four-engine B-24 (Liberator) Bomber during World War II. He flew over Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Northern Italy.  Some designated targets were heavily defended. 

The Linz, Austria mission that took place on April 25, 1945 was extremely dangerous.  The numerous, anti-aircraft guns on the enemy side could and did bring down our B24’s with direct hits. Other B-24’s were damaged, and some crew members were killed or severely injured with the flak.

Arturo

Imagine you are there in Arturo’s combat mission in Linz, Austria at this particular time.  Right now, you are inside the plane, by the right waist window. [Note: Waist window refers to the waist of the Bomber].  The following is based on Arturo’s memory of events as they occurred in real time.

As a flight engineer, Arturo’s job was to check for any damage to the plane during the sortie (flight in combat mission) and help keep the Bomber flying.  During the Linz operation, Arturo’s location at the right waist window included a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on the plane. Fortunately, he did not have to use it. But in mid-flight, his Bomber was suddenly hit with a lot of flak.  It sounded like gravel was being thrown against the plane. In the blink of an eye, there was a perfectly round hole, the size of a grapefruit made by a direct hit.  Fortunately, the projectile did not explode.  Instead, it went through the trailing edge of the wing, near the fuselage. The number four engine was hit, and it quit running. Additionally, the number three fuel tank was also hit, and a great deal of the fuel was leaking. Arturo went to the front of the plane to try and save the remaining fuel from the leaking number three tank, transferring it to another tank. Here is how he did it:

He removed his personal, electrical connection that kept his flight suit warm.  Next, he removed his oxygen connection. He then grabbed his parachute and headed to the flight deck where the fuel controls were.  To get to the flight deck, he had to walk through the bomb bay on a catwalk that was less than twelve inches wide. Upon arriving at the flight deck, he immediately reconnected himself to the oxygen supply and electrical suit warmer.

He proceeded to the location where the fuel controls were and began to remove the fuel from the leaking tank, to save the remaining fuel. The pilot then communicated to Arturo that the number three engine had quit running at that point, as a direct result from lack of fuel. Instantly, Arturo connected the engine to another fuel tank, and the wind milling propeller started the engine running again.  All of these events happened in a matter of a few seconds.  The crew members on board could hear Arturo and the pilot exchanging information, and everyone remained calm under extraordinary pressure.  There were three working engines left, and everyone was glad to be going home.

Following this mission, they all flew back home to their base in Gioia, Italy.  In Arturo’s own words: “My last combat mission was Linz, Austria. Two B-24’s were shot down, and there were twenty-four casualties.  I had been assigned ten more combat missions to fulfill, but the war ended in 1945.”  This is a brief description of one combat mission. There were a total of twenty-five missions in my Dad’s WWII experience.

Most of the combat missions were referred to as “milk-runs”, because in these cases, either no flak was encountered, or else the flak missed the Bomber as an intended target.  At times, the flak would land close by the plane, and Arturo could see puffs of smoke from the window.  Of course, a “milk-run” was not determined as such until after the mission was carried out. There was always a conscious knowledge among the crew members that the Bomber could be blown out of the sky.

Arturo P. Martinez was selected to serve as a flight engineer and gunner, because he had attended the Spartan School of Aeronautics Mechanical School, and he had also been a cadet with training to be a flyer. He served in the U.S. Military from 1943-1945. At the age of 98, he was honored with a special medal presented to him by members of the Student Veterans Organization at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. The medal has the following words: Integrity, Service, Pride, Courage, Scholarship, Community. He was very proud to meet them and share veteran stories.  

arturo then  arturo now with medal

 

 

By: Laura Martinez

Category: Today’s Special, Library Randomness