Up-side Down is Not Recommended
This was to have been our 16th Mission and it turned out to be the last Mission we ever flew in C. Charle. Our Group formed over the North Sea or right at the edge of the North Sea in Great Yarmouth and we were going to enter enemy territory over what was known as Louver Lake in the northern part of Germany. We had formed up and climbed to about 22,000 feet and were just a mile or so off of enemy territory when the German flak guns of the Louver Lake area opened up on us.
We were flying in the number two position of our Group and were hit with flak in the number four engine. This caused the engine to run away and that immediately flipped us upside down on our back. The nose went down and we started spinning straight down from that altitude. We had a full bomb load and all the gasoline we had to fly the mission and get back. We spun down to about 14,000 feet before getting the spin stopped and being able to start to pull the airplane out of it. On the way down we lost number one and two engines and the number three engine iced up and quit. So we were going straight down without any engine power at all.
Some of the crew said as we were spinning down that they were thrown down to the floor in the tail section of the airplane and because of us having a very tight spin, centrifugal force kept them pinned to the floor. They were not even able to move enough to get to their parachutes, so they all felt this was going to be it. The tail gunner said he thought, "Well, we are going in and I'm not going to have to get up at 3:00 o'clock in the morning for Mission briefings any more." The navigator was standing up at his navigation desk at the front of the airplane and he says that he stood up all the way down through this.
Every instrument on the airplane was red-lined and it was estimated that we were between 6 and 8 G's when we pulled out of it. As we were able to stop the spin and started to pull out of it, I yelled at Redden, the co-pilot, not to pull too hard because I was afraid we were going to rip the wings right off the airplane. So gradually from about 14,000 feet down to about 6,000 or 7,000 feet, we were pulling it out of the dive. After getting it leveled off, we were able to restart engines one and two and also three. In the meantime we had gotten engine number four feathered. So we were on three engines then, and we still had a full bomb load and three-fourths of our gasoline.
We aborted immediately and headed out over the North Sea for home. We got permission to jettison our bombs in the North Sea and went on in to our base. However they wouldn't let us land at the 446th Group Base. They thought we were going to crack it up on the runway and then they would not be able to get the 446th Group in when they returned from the Mission. So they sent us north to a special type of airfield or landing strip built for airplanes that were in trouble, shot up, no brakes, and would have a hard time getting stopped. These runways were about five miles long and about four times as wide as the normal runway. We set the airplane down and got it taxied into a tie-up spot. Immediately our Group was radioed that we were down and that the crew was all right.
We were ordered to stay there for the night and they would send up the officer in charge of maintenance from our base and our crew chief and all of his mechanics to take a look at our airplane and see what they thought it. They did this the next day as I remember. After going over it quite thoroughly, they decided C. Charle should be scrapped and would not fly again. The rivets in her wings were torn at least a half to three-quarters of an inch, there were cracks in the spars of the wings, and she was pretty well beat up as far as the wings were concerned. So anything that was good on her was stripped off of the airplane for replacement parts for other planes. That was the last time that Hot Shot Charle flew.
The one thing that I always felt was not fair was that we didn't get credit for flying this Mission because it was known as an Abort. We were only a mile or two short of enemy territory. If you didn't get to the target and drop your bombs, or had to return without dropping your bombs on a target of opportunity in Germany, you were not given credit for flying the Mission. Therefore, even though that was probably one of the toughest missions we ever flew, we did not get credit for it. That's why I show in my book that I flew two Missions #16 - the one when we spun Hot Shot Charle and the next one we flew and got credit for. I have been told and heard from many different people that they have never known a B-24 to spin from that altitude and pull out without crashing. The good Lord was riding with us that day and gave us the power to pull that plane out and get back safely. I am very, very thankful.
The author in 2000 with 2 of his crewmates:
L - R: Harwood Wilson, Paul Armentrout, Ted Tate