On this particular mission over the target was a railroad bridge over the Yonne River near the town of joigny in north central France, approximately 75 miles southeast of Paris.
Capt. H--, the squadron bombardier, was flying with us on this mission as he usually did because we were a lead crew.
We led the high right squadron of 11 B-24s. Each plane carried 8 one thousand pond bombs. We were flying in a new B-24H, serial number 42-51216. This airplane was later named "Hot Shot Charlie".
The mission itself was relatively uneventful but at "bombs away"one bomb failed to release. We now had a minor problem with a one thousand pound bomb hung up in the left forward bomb bay. The standing orders were that when bombing targets in France, bombs were to be released only in the immediate target area. This meant that we would manually jettison the bomb into the English Channel on the way home. That is what we expected to do. However, Capt H-- went into the bomb bay and did something with the affected bomb shackle and announced that he had made the shackle safe. He also reinstalled the safety pins in the nose and tail fuses of the bomb. A brief argument ensued when several of the crew countered that once an electrical release had been attempted, the shackle could not be made safe and that we should manually jettison the bomb when we crossed the English Channel.
Capt. H-- was adamant that he had made the shackle safe to land. Captain Stratton, the pilot, then asked H-- "Is it safe to land with the bomb on board?" To which the squadron bombardier replied: "Yes." Stratton then said: "OK." There were a few more attempts to convince Stratton and H-- that the bomb should be jettisoned into the English Channel. These arguments fell on deaf ears. As we crossed the channel, Stratton again asked H-- if it was safe to land with the bomb on board. H-- emphatically replied "Yes, I have made the shackle safe to land." STratton then said, "OK, we'll land with it."
The return to base was without incident and we made preparations to land. After visually checking that the nose landing gear was down and locked and getting the signal from "Scratch" Miller that the main landing gears were also down and locked, I glanced apprehensively at the bomb but shook off the thought that it might fall out when we touched down. I then climbed onto the flight deck and took my station between the two pilots and reported "gear down and locked." As we turned on the final approach, I began to call out the airspeed so that the pilots could concentrate on landing the airplane. As we lost altitude and airspeed, I called out "140, 135, 130, 125." As I called out 120, the main wheels gently touched the runway and I heard a loud "crack." I turned and saw the bomb falling through the closed left forward bomb bay door tearing it loose from it's attachments and both fall to the runway. The forward 1/3 of the bomb was visible underneath the plane as it bounced and swayed from side to side. There were sparks flying from the friction as it grated on the pavement. Finally, it rolled to the left side and disappeared from view. We continued to the end of the runway and on to the perimeter track.
We taxied onto the hardstand and shut down the engines. With a gaping hole where the left forward bomb bay door had been, and the left rear bomb bay door bent, the airplane looked as though it had sustained major battle damage. The ground crew stared in disbelief at the airplane and said nothing. This was a new airplane and the first combat mission it had been on. Finally, one of them comments, "It looked as though towing the bomb down the runway."
On the way to debriefing, we were a silent group not fully comprehending what could have happened had the bomb exploded from the heat of friction or the sudden jar as it hit the runway at 120 miles an hour. The expression on Capt. H--'s face was one of bewilderment. He seemed to not understand why the bomb had dropped out of the airplane. He really believed that he had made the bomb shackle safe. But he said nothing.
It was later that I realized the great danger that we had been in. What was truly a milk run could have ended in disaster.