The skies blazed with fury, in that spring of 1945. As the snow gave way to the relentless beating of the summer sun, so too did the German offensive give way to the relentless determination of the Allied campaign. I was all full of piss and vinegar when I taxied my P-51 to the runway and took off to escort the massive bombing raids, but every time we crossed the channel it scared the piss out of me, leaving me only with vinegar.
I had thought the buzz bombs were horrific. Then I helped escort the mission to Dresden. An entire city, filled with tens of thousands of people, gone. The sight of all those explosives going off every second was one which frightened and fascinated me, and it was this fascination that, in the bloody spring of Ô45, almost got me killed.
We were bombing Berlin. This had happened with such regularity that it almost felt routine. Well, as routine as death and destruction could ever feel, anyway. Over Berlin, things were pretty clear. The new Komet had scared the bejeezus out of us, streaking through our formations at over six hundred miles per hour. When we realized how few of our planes it was killing, though, we relaxed. It was still an awesome sight, to watch these small triangular airplanes come up almost faster than the eye could follow, its tail streaming yellow fire.
As was usual, I rolled my plane so I could see the city as the bombing began. Long chains of explosions rocked Berlin, tearing through rail yards and ball-bearing factories and apartment buildings and playgrounds. We tried to avoid the non-military targets, but itÕs like trying to perform an appendectomy with an axe. The bombing was still going on when I saw tracers fly by my canopy and heard thumping on my plane. I reflexively rolled and pulled, anything to get my plane out of the murderous path of the bullets. Safe, at least for the moment, I glanced behind me, and saw the menacing shape of a Focke-Wulf lining up for another shot.
I realized that I had unconsciously pulled back on the throttle during my observation of the bombing run, and that left me low and slow, and far behind the main formation. None of my buddies were going to swoop down and save me.
We engaged. We twisted and turned in the skies above Berlin. Ever so slowly, by virtue of driving the better plane, I edged into a position of advantage. Finally, after an eternity of stomach-wrenching maneuvers, I was on his six, and my gunsight pointed right up his tailpipe. I yelled and raged and fired, long streams of hot metal reaching out. He dodged, I followed, and I kept the pressure on. His plane seemed invincible, absorbing what bullets it did not dodge as if they were pinpricks. It began to belch smoke, then stream it in ever-thickening clouds. I pulled the trigger to finish him off, but nothing came out. Had my gun jammed?
No matter, he was finished. I pulled away, pointed my plane toward England, and let myself relax.
When I landed, I talked over the problem with maintenance. Some enlisted man
whose name I never got lead me to my plane and pulled out bundles of spent
ammunition. Twenty-seven feet of belted ammunition was the standard issue, and
twenty-seven feet of empty, spent ammunition was what he pulled out of my
airplane. My gun had not jammed: I had simply gone the whole nine yards, and won.
This page is copyright (C) 1999 by Michael Ash