Excerpts from Clouds Are Always White On Top © Nolan Lewis more details
There’s an explosion in front. Must be coming into the flak. Not very much at this
altitude. Then another off to the right. Walker calls from the top turret with the news.
A flight of Fock Wolfe 190s are above them and dropping time-fused bombs. Not
very accurate, but disconcerting as hell. Like flak, though, not a damn thing you can
do to defend against it. Just sit and hope you’re lucky and the escorts can help, when
there are escorts.
Ted calls Essa and reminds him again about the oxygen check. Midway through
this check he stops with, ‘Oh Shit! They just got the Mirabelle. Her right wing’s half
gone. She’s almost upside down.’
Ted asks, ‘Are there any chutes?’ and catches a brief glimpse of the crippled
bomber as she slides by underneath. The right wing is shredded outboard of the
number three engine. Number four is completely gone.
Cowen is able to follow her progress with the ball turret and starts counting. ‘Three
are out… Four… Two more… Six, that’s all I see. Just six of them. Come on, you
guys, get out of there.’ The plane is falling in a tightening spiral as it drops
out of sight to their rear.
‘Christ! That was our usual position,’ Ted murmurs. ‘I wonder who got out.’ He
isn’t aware he’s speaking his thoughts until the co-pilot turns toward him with
As they cross the border into Germany at Kossfeld, they draw a little flak, but it is
not very heavy at this altitude. He holds in tight to the Major.
Ted watches across the back of the Major’s ship, fascinated, as if he were watching
a pair of Cobras about to strike, as a pair if ME 110s swell up and slide on by. He can
even see the twinkle on their wings as they fire their guns. They are taking advantage
of the opening left when the Mirabelle was torn out of the formation. He can see
patches of aluminum disappear from the waist section of the CO’s plane, torn out by
the exiting slugs from the Jerry’s guns.
The gunners have been watching also. Unable to shoot for fear of hitting the other
bomber, they are ready when the two attackers slide into view. The five fifties that
will turn in their direction sound off almost at the same time. The pair of fighters pull
up and swing right, and disappear to the rear. Ski in the tail gets in the final word with
his two guns. The whole thing has taken perhaps fifteen seconds.
Ted calls the waist gunners and learns the ship’s unscathed, but apparently the
Germans are also.
Glen calls, ‘Two minutes to IP.’
Ted reminds the Bombardier he’s to set up the target just in case, but drop when
the Major drops, unless something happens to the Major.
At Glen’s second call, Ted sets up the auto pilot and hands the ship off to the man
under his feet in the nose. His palms are sweaty inside his gloves as he remembers
this moment on his last mission.
He watches the first light come on as the bomb bay doors open. The sweat is now
tickling as it runs down his ribs. After an eternity he feels the plane buck and the
second light comes on. At Tim’s call of ‘Bombs Away,’ he resumes control. He’s
ready to get out of there, but today it’s different. Very disciplined, the formation
lumbers on and makes a wide circuit of the town to allow the back end of the
formation room to drop their loads before heading back to the west.
Another B-24 from the front of the formation arcs down, trailing a tail of black
smoke. A couple of chutes blossom before it goes out of his sight. No one is sure if
there are others who make it out of the dying bomber.
The flak goes on, heavier than on the way in. As they begin to leave the heaviest
flak concentration, the fighters are waiting. The gunners get a few shots, but they still
have not been hit. There’s the same disjointed, running fight on the way home as they
had on the way in. They are met by their fighter escort as they again approach the
coast, and as most of the Germans are low on fuel or ammo they turn back and look
Back at the base, those low on fuel, the cripples, and those with wounded aboard,
land first. The others circle and watch as the fire trucks and ambulances meet them.
The third Lib to touch down has one engine out. When it hits the runway, the
landing gear under the dead engine collapses. They watch in disbelief as the wing
digs in and the plane veers off the runway and across the field at almost a hundred
miles per hour and slams into a revetment. There is a flash, and a towering pillar of
smoke hides the plane. No one gets out. After making the whole trip, when they are
sure they are safe, they all die.
At debriefing they learn the three groups of the wing have lost eleven planes on the
mission. Four of these, including the one lost in landing, are from their group. One
is from their squadron. This was a short mission. Titled a milk run.
Ted does a little quick math in his head. Most of the squadron has flown seven
missions, and they have lost three planes. That’s three, not counting the Whore, as
most of her crew survived. At this rate, they will lose approximately eleven ships in
twenty-five missions. There are twelve planes assigned to the squadron. Each man on
each of the twelve crews knows that he’s on the one ship that will make it through in
one piece. That’s the only way they can handle it.
Jennifer spreads a blanket on the grass and lays out the food she brought. It’s all so
green and so clean. Everything is dappled by the sunlight through the trees. It’s so
quiet he’s almost afraid to talk for fear he will break the spell.
She says this is a favorite place and he can understand as he lies back and relaxes. In the quiet he can hear a bee working over a patch of clover near by. They chat quietly
and he can feel the tightness going out of him. Couples wander by hand in hand,
paying them no attention. She pulls his head down onto her lap and he promptly goes
He knows when he wakes, some time has passed. He tries to apologize but she only asks if he would like to eat. Noncommittal at first, he’s surprised that he’s really hungry
for a change. She sets out some cheese that’s good and some meat sandwiches that
are mutton. He pretends to like them. Water from the stream is cold and sweet.
Suddenly the spell is broken. A German fighter streaks across, barely clearing the
trees, with a pair of Spitfires hot on his tail. Likely a recon plane sneaking in for a
quick look and being found out. There’s the angry sound of machine guns, and
shortly the sound of an explosion in the distance. The two Spits chase each other back
across the sky. Their wild loops and rolls tell the story as they celebrate the kill, and
work off the adrenalin rush of the attack.
The mood is broken, so without comment they pick up the remains of the picnic and load the bikes for the trip back. Just that quick, the relaxed feeling is gone. At the
town Jennifer asks him if he would like to stop at the pub for a pint. He doesn’t really
want an ale, but in hopes of restoring the mood he agrees.
The date is June 6th, and it’s soon apparent why they are there. The channel’s a
solid mass of ships of every description. The air’s an equally solid mass of allied
planes. They never see a German plane either going or coming. They do see plenty
of flak. Most of the planes are under ten thousand feet and even the light stuff can
reach them. It’s wild. Planes are everywhere. Ted hears later there were over 7500
aircraft sorties flown that day, and he would swear he saw most at one time or other.
He has little time to look at the carnage on the beaches below. The area is clear of
clouds or there would have been planes colliding all over the sky. Partially due to the
lack of briefing, they are making runs in every direction and at every altitude.
Two B-24s are downed by flak within his sight, but he doesn’t know whose outfit
they belong to. Today, at least, if they can make the shore they will fall into friendly
hands, but nor necessarily in a safe location. The narrow stretch of sand is catching
hell from big guns in the cliffs behind.
The next day is a repeat of the first. The runs are more organized so the chance of
collision is less, but the flak is still deadly at the low altitude. Today he has time to
look around. Christ, the guys on the beach must be catching hell. They still only have
about a hundred yards of sand, and the Germans have big guns in all the dunes and
the cliffs behind them, facing the beaches. There are parts of boats strewn up and
down the surf line and burned out landing craft and tanks everywhere. Today he’s
very happy to be where he is instead of on the ground.
Excerpts from Clouds Are Always White On Top © Nolan Lewis more details