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Veterans Stories

William Olmsted, Flight Engineer, 846th

This story was published in A History of the 489th Bomb Group written by Charles Freudenthal and is subject to copyright.

How I Learned to Love the B-24 by Bill Olmsted

Our crew was in the 846th squadron. We’d been formed at Gowen Field and gone through the phases at Wendover. Captain John Elliott was our pilot; Lt. Doug Strong the co-pilot; Lt. Rubin Kaplan, navigator, and Lt. Hughey Smith the bombardier. Sergeant Ace Green was the waist gunner, Bill Burcham, nose turret, John Foster, radio operator; Marvin Glassman, tail turret; Sgt. Bruno, ball turret, and me, Bill Olmsted, engineer. We named our ship “Cover Girl” after the movie of the same name.

On this particular mission we were to bomb an airfield somewhere near Orleans, France. On the bomb run we ran into intense flak, which had our flight dead to rights. I remember the “Whomp, Whomp, Whomp” sound of shells bursting much too close for comfort. There were sounds like hail on a tin roof; then came a BIG bang. Foster was standing at the front of the bomb bay, hollering, “Purple Flash! Purple Flash! Bomb bay fluid – bomb bay fluid!” over the interphone. Pilot Pappy Elliott said, “Olmsted, get down there and see what’s going on”. Foster got back up to his radio table and I discovered damage to the right side of the bomb bay, in the hysraulic system. Fluid was all over the bay, and worse, there was gasoline streaming out of the booster pump housing. We had taken a good hit in one of our tanks. That was extremely bad news; no way could the doors be shut now, and that meant considerable extra drag on the ship. I reported my findings to Pappy, and he wasn’t too thrilled. The sight glasses showed the leak to be in #2 tank. Checking with Rubin Kaplan, it looked like the rate of leak might allow us to make England before we lost #2 engine. We couldn’t transfer fuel for fear of sparks.

As we cleared the French coast and started letting down, the formation began to open up. It seemed like nobody wanted to fly near us. Later, other crews told us they thought we were on fire. The gas vaporizing in the slipstream looked like smoke.

It was nearing sundown when we approached Halesworth. We still showed accumulator pressure for brakes, and so long as number three engine gave us no trouble we had electric and hydraulic power for gear, flaps, and instruments. We didn’t dare use the booster pump, APU, fuel boosters, or any electrical stuff, such as running lights, etc. Finally we were at the field, circling and waiting to land. It was getting darker and darker. Normally, when the gear came down, I went to the waist to visually check the main gear lock but as I started toward the waist the wind was howling at about 150mph and the catwalk was like greased lightning. I got as far as the last bomb stanchion and chickened out.

Back on the flight deck, I said we would have to hope that the gear light wasn’t lying. It was ever darker as we turned on final, when suddenly a set of blue lights slid right out from under our noses! Another B-24 on final hadn’t seen us. There was nothing to do but pull up and go around; and now there was the worry that ’2 would quit and we’d be turning into a dead engine. I was looking at an empty fuel glass, but the cylinder temperature said the engine was still running.

As we came on to final again, I shouted to the two pilots that we might very well have two flats. It was too dark to see any reflection, and we didn’t dare to use the Aldis lamp. As we got close to landing, it looked as though we were dropping into a black hole. I don’t see how Pappy and Doug could tell ground from no ground. Here again I chickened out and hit the landing light switch. My thought was that we might as well blow as dive into the ground. But the lights came on OK, and right then we touched the runway. Then came the fun.

The right tire was flat, so both Pappy and Doug had to get on full left rudder and brake. I ran up #3 and #4 to help against drag, and we were slowly coming back to a straight heading when the left’s tire suddenly blew. Now we headed left. I pulled back on #3 and #4 and hit #1 and #2, watching the rpm change accordingly, not realizing until later that the #2 must have sucked fumes from somewhere. About this time, Pappy hit my hands, pulling the throttles to idle, as he knew we were down to a survivable ground speed. We were drifting out of control however, and gradually turning broadside to the runway. It was darker than the inside of a barrel, and there was a mad scramble by all to get out; everybody still thinking we were going to blow up.

We all finally got together in the middle of a hay field. The main switches having been pulled, “Cover Girl” was totally dark. Then, out of the darkness came a jeep tearing down the runway, with a voice hollering, “Get that damn ship off the runway!” Doug Strong called back and told whoever it was where to go. That incident was never mentioned the next morning.

I think we were the last ship to land. Looking back on things the next day, we figured that the go-around used enough fuel so that the leak had stopped by the time we laid a shower of sparks under us. I’ve always wondered why we didn’t blow up in the air, there were so many things to touch it off. Anyway, I suddenly had a healthy respect for the B-24. Here she slid – all 16 tons – sideways, and the gear held up. And that was on two rims.

Our hard working ground crew changed tanks, which was a hell of a job, put on new wheels, fixed the hydraulic system, patched a whole lot of holes, and had us back in the air in a couple of days.

We left “Cover Girl” after 15 missions. She went down near Hamburg on 6 August, with all *crew members surviving as POWs.

Bill Olmsted.

(*see story from John Robert (Jack) Kennedy)

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