FLIGHT 26/27 MAY 1944
This crew consisted of 2/Lt Leroy Stratton, pilot; 2/Lt Donald Paumen, copilot; 2/Lt Gilbert O'Neill, bombardier; 2/Lt Ernest Parminter, navigator; S/Sgt Joseph Ruggiero, radio operator; Sgt Ed Bauder, ball turret gunner; Sgt John Seelinger, left waist gunner; Sgt. John Miller, right waist gunner; Sgt Byron Tevyaw, tail gunner; and S/Sgt Victor DeCaria as engineer and top turret gunner.
After completing operational training at Westover Army Air Field, we went to Mitchel Field on Long Island for overseas processing and to pick up a B-24 and ferry it to England.
At Mitchel Field, we were assigned to a new B-24H. Upon landing from a familiarization flight, a bright red flame approximately six feet long was observed to be streaming from the #3 engine turbo supercharger. We had a torching exhaust. Paumen put the #3 mixture control to the cutoff position to stop the fuel flow for a few seconds which put out the fire. This was done without further incident.
Four days later we departed for Bangor, Maine where we were to pick-up additional equipment and further orders. On the landing roll at Bangor, #3 engine exhaust torched again and the flames were controlled as described.
The following day we headed for Goose Bay, Labrador on the next leg of our odyssey and except for a rainsquall en route, had an uneventful flight into Goose Bay. Here for the third time, #3 engine exhaust torched during the landing roll and again the fire was promptly extinguished.
These three incidents of exhaust torching were the only times during the 3 months that we had been together as a crew that we had experienced this phenomenon.
The airfield at Goose Bay appeared to be carved out of the stunted pine forest and rocks near Lake Melville, an arm of water reaching in from the North Atlantic Ocean. We spent three monotonous days and nights there waiting for clearance to continue on the last leg of our flight to the United Kingdom.
Except during the ice-free months, when the bulk of the supplies were brought in by ship, the only way into Goose was by air or on foot. These were also the only ways to get back to civilization. Other than a nearby native village, there were no other human inhabitants. This settlement was off limits to all military personnel.
The only females I saw in three days at Goose Bay were two Red Cross ladies who were there to operate the Red Cross facilities. The soldiers stationed here were so starved for female companionship that wherever these two ladies went, there was an entourage of servicemen following them. This was true, whether they were at the Red Cross facility, the Movie Theater, the mess hall or going to any destination. It brought to mind the picture of male animals following females in estrus. I could not imagine spending any appreciable amount of time in this place.
Three days later we left Goose Bay on the last leg of our flight to Nutts Corner, Northern Ireland. When we took off the sun was shining although my watch indicated 11:15 PM. It was May 26, 1944. Several hours later, as the long sub-arctic day was fading into twilight, we were well out over the North Atlantic Ocean. Below, I could see icebergs floating in the dark sea. The aircraft was on automatic pilot and I had already transferred the fuel from the auxiliary tanks into the main tanks so there was little to do as the plane droned eastward.
Suddenly, a call came from the rear of the airplane that #3 engine exhaust was torching. Everyone was instantly alert. How could this be? The engine fuel mixture controls were in auto lean and all other engine controls were set for cruise power. All engine instruments were indicating normal readings.
We did not want to shut down the engine so Stratton placed the #3 mixture control to auto rich and asked: "How is the exhaust now?" And the reply was, "OK". This was perplexing because in auto rich more fuel was being consumed by the engine but not efficiently. There was still no cause for alarm. So Stratton put the mixture control back to auto lean. Several minutes later #3 engine was again reported as torching. #3 mixture was placed in rich and again the torching was alleviated and the mixture control put back to auto lean.
As the darkness deepened, this chain of events occurred several more times with increasing apprehension on my part as well as with Stratton and Paumen. Then came the electrifying news that #3 & #4 engines were torching. At the same moment the left waist gunner reported #1 & #2 engines were also torching. That got everybody's attention in the cockpit. Stratton and Paumen immediately placed all four mixture controls to auto rich. The news from the rear was that the exhausts were now normal. The pilots placed the mixture controls back to auto lean. Shortly thereafter the waist gunners again reported that all four engines were torching. In the cockpit the mixture controls were quickly placed in auto rich and the word from the rear was that the exhausts were normal.
Stratton placed the mixture controls in auto lean and asked how the exhausts looked? The excited reply was that all four exhausts were torching. Back into auto rich went the mixture controls. This procedure was repeated several more times with the same discouraging news from the rear. The mixtures were then left in the rich position.
Stratton then declared: "With the mixture controls in auto rich, we won't have enough fuel to reach Ireland. We'll have to turn back". I could only agree with Stratton and Paumen that the prudent thing to do was to turn back to Goose Bay. As the plane banked into a 180 degree turn to the west, Stratton asked Parminter for a heading back to Goose Bay. As I sat in the darkened flight deck, I began to muse: "How was it possible for all four engine exhausts to torch with the engines operating at cruise power and all engine instruments indicating normal readings?" "It just could not happen". Furthermore I dreaded the thought of going back to Goose Bay and spending more time at that desolate base carved out of the Labrador wilderness. It might take days for the engines to be repaired. Then the thought struck me: "What if there is nothing wrong with these engines?" "Could the gunners in the rear be seeing something other than torching engine exhausts?" "How would we explain four torching engine exhausts to the maintenance people back at Goose Bay."
Like a man possessed, I bolted from the flight deck and made my way through the bomb bay to the rear of the airplane. There I stared out of the right waist window into the night at the #3 & #4 exhausts, which were a rich incandescent blue in color. Calling Stratton on the interphone, I asked him to put the #3 mixture control into auto lean. As he did so the exhaust gases of #3 engine turned to a reddish color. I continued to study the #3 flame pattern and comparing it with #4. There was a difference in hues but no sign of torching. I then asked that #4 mixture be placed into auto lean and #4 exhaust changed to the same color as #3,but still no sign of a malfunction. I crossed to the left waist window and peered into the darkness at the exhausts of #1 & #2 engines and asked that their mixtures be put into auto lean. Their exhaust emissions went to the same reddish color as #3 & #4 exhausts. Everything was completely normal. I went back to the right waist window and stared at the #3 & #4 exhausts emitting their reddish incandescent gases into the sub arctic darkness. I continued to ponder the glowing gases, then I asked those in the rear if that was what they perceived as torching exhausts. They said; "Yes! See, they are torching now." I said; "Those are normal exhausts." I then called Stratton on the interphone and informed him that there was no problem with the mixtures in auto lean.
After a brief discussion with Stratton, he put the airplane into a bank and made a 180-degree turn to the east and asked Parminter for a heading to Ireland and to calculate the time lost in turning back to Goose Bay. Parminter promptly gave the new course heading and said that we had lost fifteen minutes. To me it seemed like a much longer time had elapsed.
I continued to study the exhausts and then convinced that they were going to stay normal, made my way back through the bomb bay to the darkened flight deck. Stratton and Paumen looked at me questioningly. I shrugged my shoulders in response. There was nothing to be said. I knew that I should have gone to the rear of the airplane at the first report of exhaust torching and confirmed that there was or was not a problem with the engine exhausts. It was my blunder.
I looked at the engine instruments. All readings were normal. I sat in the darkness on the flight deck, leaned back against a bulkhead, closed my eyes and listened to the drone of the engines. I relaxed and dozed for a short while.
We landed at Nutts Corner, Northern Ireland after an 11-hour flight with 450 gallons of fuel remaining in the tanks. Enough for another 4 hours of flying at cruise power in auto lean.
#3 engine exhaust did not torch during the landing roll.
This airplane B-24H serial number 42-51115 was originally assigned to the 492nd Bomb Group then subsequently to the 706th Bomb Squadron. It was lost November 30, 1944 on the mission to Neunkirchen, Germany.