Wednesday, January 8, 2014
The Last Lightning
I probably flew the last P-38 Lightning over Britain. We were desperate for anything that could fly and me mates Ben and Malcolm located two halves and a third of a P-38L and put it together. They did a bang-on job I will say. Originally most of the plane was a drop-nose recon job but they found enough parts to make it a real L model. The RAF took it over after they got it running and didn't quite know what to do with it. Malcolm mentioned me and how I was a qualified P-38 driver. I had spent a few months flying the big twin on a kind of exchange program and loved the bird. So they gave me Ben, Malcolm and my main love Edna, my girl, my Lightning. God I love that plane. She got me out of many a scrape and yes I did say love. I still got her. They sold here to me after the ruckus. Can't afford to fly her much and my arm ain't working so well but we'll reach for the sky again soon.
We had kind of a pirate or clandestine operation going on in the backwaters of Edwinstowe right near Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood fame. There was a canopy of trees over quite a large area and we squeezed a Mossie, a Hawker Fury in there along with all the trimmings. We would gas up, taxi between the great oaks and fly way out of the way and come in from different points of the compass so they could never pinpoint where we had come from. When it came time to head for the barn we would make sure we had plenty of petrol and just outran anyone on our tail and when they gave up we would go to our little hideout in the woods. We even painted pirate flags and skull and crossbones on the planes. Probably not a great idea but when you always flew with a Mossie, Fury and a Lightning they will pretty much know who you are. Besides the Reds were painting their planes with all sorts of markings and colors. It was like the old Kraut flying circus for World War One.
I was very familiar with the Lightning because I was sent to gunnery school in the US at the same time that Dick Bong was there. Bong was America's leading ace even then. A mug named McGuire was hot on his tail but never did catch him. I had dabbled with the Forked Tailed Devil when the RAF was evaluating them and got quite a few hours in the earlier models. Because of the turbo charger flap the RAF decided not to buy the big bugger. I fell in love at first sight myself and never missed a chance to fly one. As you may know all the guns are in the nose and there is no convergence to worry about. Everything shoots where you are pointed. Dick had just gotten his 28th kill and was home on rotation taking well deserved bows and meeting starlets, selling war bonds, getting engaged and learning how to shoot properly.
Amazing as it seems he was a terrible shot according to his own standards. He could just fly so well that he would out maneuver the best planes in the world and in his words "put his guns in the cockpit" of the enemy plane. He didn't need to be a good shot. He could do things in that Lightning using those twin engines that would make your hair stand on end. He was the best flyer of any kind I ever saw and that was how he got his first 28 kills at that point. He took a liking to me and showed me some very amazing things that have saved my bacon many a time. When he left that gunnery school he was not only the best flyer in the world but the best shot as well. He never again had to put his guns in the cockpit of the enemy and was a master at deflection shots while spinning that Lightning like a top to get a shot off. Just truly one of the greatest aces of the war.
The model L that me mates put together was much better than the H model I flew earlier. The addition of dive flaps eliminated most of the compressibility problems and we could now dive with the best of them. In fact the P-38 was the only plane flown by Americans to actually mix it up with the Soviets before this latest war and it was by accident over Siberia. It seems the Yanks strafed a command car column and killed a Soviet general. The Reds didn't much like that and a fight ensued between two squadrons of Yak 3s and P-38s. It's still hush, hush as to who won that one. Up until May 2nd, 1946 it was the only fight between Russian and American pilots. My girl Edna seemed to understand that and took great pride in sawing old Ivan in half.
We concentrated mainly on the twin engine bombers, those Tu 2 Bats. The Mossie could handle them and going after Yak and Mig fighters took too much time and setup. We would just get vectored by Fighter Command into a gaggle of Bats and let the Mossie break em up and then we would pick off the weak ones and then hightail it before the fighters came. All of our planes were faster than what the Reds were flying at the time. Hit and run to fight another day and back to Sherwood Forest. We did all right for that last month but we knew we weren't making a dent in the big picture. The Mossie would get maybe one every four sorties, I would get one every three and the Fury would average one in five flights. We must have made 60 flights so my score was around 20, The Mossie 15 and the Fury 12. Not too shabby but not a war winning effort.
The Mossie got caught near the end. They had some souped up La 7 with a lot of red paint on it, who just was in the right position and the right angle to take our friends down. We got some bad petrol that day as well so it might have been that. We were so used to just running away it never occurred to us that the Mossie might get tagged like that. Man she was fast. We were thick as thieves and we raised a toast to Bob and Randy that night with 15 kills, I'm sure they were the leading aces in the Mosquito. It might have been part of a trap as well. So we cooled our heals and then the Yanks decided to really join the war.