Life During Wartime: 4


Start slideshow at right. As any cook or radioman will tell you, heroes don't win wars. The boys on the ground do their part as well. And no ground-bound soldier knows this better than the armaments crew. Though the #1000 pound bombs are rendered inert by safety pins, accidents indeed happen and lives are lost. Extreme safety is the rule and though the photos at the right show a bomb rolling off a carrier and the men reacting comically, it is was staged as a cautionary tale and used in training films. In reality, these men move slowly and deliberately, fully aware that any mistake will take not only their life, but the lives of the men around them. 


After the armaments crew install and check the payload, the bombardier checks it again before the mission. And while the armaments crew deliver the ammo for the ten .50 caliber machine guns to the ship, the gunners meticulously go over the belts and their guns again before a flight. Now is the time to leisurely look over one's arms... when the flak and fighters struck, time is not an option.



The Mission

Start slideshow at right. The plane is armed, the guns checked, and it waits silently on the crunchy coral of the ramp as darkness gathers. S-2 plans the mission, pouring over maps and recon photos. The officers meet late for their briefing, then head to their tents for a few hours sleep, if sleep will come. 


Rising at 4:00am, the crew has a quick breakfast of coffee and buttered bread, then heads to the ramp where the last walk-around happens, checking the plane and armaments one last time. Taking off at dawn a minute apart, there is no time to group up. Stragglers must catch up with the diamond formations on their way to distant targets. 


Navigators consult their charts, radiomen check frequencies, and enlisted men keep a watch out for Jap fighters. The edge of the morning slowly ebbs and the drone of the four Pratt & Whitney 1830R engines lulls the crew into languor. But over the horizon is the target and though it is hours away, it never leaves their minds.



The Target

Start slideshow at right. Eventually the target appears ahead. Gunners man their stations and the bombardier goes aft to arm his bombs. The pilot lines upon the target then turns control over to the bombardier, who will fly the plane for the next five minutes sighting through his Norden bombsight. Strangely, at this moment, the pilot in command is a mere spectator to the bombing run.


The crosshairs line up and the bombardier shouts, "Bombs away!" Once again the pilot has control of the aircraft, veering sharply away. Everyone heaves a sigh of relief and the navigator shouts out the heading for home. Thermoses are opened out and sandwiches are gulped into empty stomachs. Out of danger, letters are written and even an impromptu song is rendered over the intercom. 


Eventually, they arrive back home, greeted with cheers by the ground crew, which carefully scans the landing plane for damage, which they will have to repair before tomorrow's mission. They have all lived one more day, but tomorrow will come.



the gist

THE goods