Fortress Combat Tales

by Jerry Osadnick
Sitting Pretty Mission No. 25
13 April, 1944, Framlingham, England

I'm wide awake, just lying in my sack thinking of today's mission. Off in the distance, I can hear the occasional roar of an engine being run up on the flight line. Our ground crews have been working through the cold, wet night getting our planes ready for another maximum effort. I wonder if Burt got our generators realigned?

I light a cigarette. It is 0135 hours. Another one of those nights, difficult to get to sleep. The potbelly stove in the middle of the hut was glowing red when we got to bed. Now, it's black and cold, the fire long dead, but the hut is too cold for us to get up to stoke it. It seems as if I have just closed my eyes, when I hear the door of another hut slam shut. Now the clink, clink of someone coming along the squadron walk with his boot hasps unbuckled. I take another look at my hack watch, it is 0445 hours. The door opens, the light is turned on. I don't even look to see who it is. An unwelcome voice says, "Osadnick, Wagner, Corn, Morris: briefing at 0530!"

We stand on our beds to get dressed - too cold to stand on the floor. There is little conversation. Our thoughts are persona, thousands of miles away. At the mess hall, we line up for our "fresh eggs". The coffee has a bluish cast because of the powdered milk. Fried Spam today and crumbly white bread. But better stock up, it may be a long one.

I was right. At briefing we find out our target will be the Messerschmitt factory at Augsburg, Germany. No milk run today! Our climb-out and assembly go well. As we depart the English coast, I turn the controls over to my copilot, Lloyd Corn. We each fly 15-minute stints whenever conditions permit. While over the Channel, I get sleepy and I grab a 15-minute snooze. This will be my last one until we get back to England.

En route to the target area, the crew reports occasional bursts of flak, most of them far off. Now, as we approach the IP (initial point), the flak bursts come nearer, and they are very intense and accurate. Left waist Ed Allen reports that a B-17 off to one side - looks like one of the 94th BG planes - has been hit and is in trouble. Three chutes are seen to open, but the pilot appears to have regained control and seems to be headed for Switzerland. If they make it, their war may be over!

As we drop our bombs, several bursts of flak go off, almost overhead. I hear shrapnel hitting the plane. The window behind Lloyd is shattered; a piece of razor-sharp flak continues on and hits top-turret gunner Riley's flying-suit leg zipper. It does not penetrate through to his leg, but he feels the heat. I call for a crew check. All report they are OK. A few seconds later, tail gunner Ken Vantries calls back to report. "I think I'm hurt"! I ask if he needs help; he says, "I think so". I call radio operator Jim Tschudy and ask him to go back and advise me of Ken's condition. Several minutes pass and then Jim exclaims, "This guy says he thinks he is hurt; hell! I can put my fist in the hole in his thigh!" I instruct Jim to get Ken up to the radio compartment and take care of his wound. Jim now reports that Ken is beginning to feel severe pain, but there is little bleeding, and Jim says he is going to give him a shot of morphine. No one else has been injured, nor is there any apparent serious damage to Sitting Pretty.

I monitor channel C - the fighter-escort channel - and get a report of a few bandits in the area. Ball-turret operator Don Oviatt says three Me 109s are attacking a straggling B-17 and adds that a flight of P-47s have just appeared on the scene and is driving them off. Small wonder we in the bombers call the fighter jocks "little friends". They actually go out looking for a fight.

Jerry Osadnick Wedding Photo
Jerry Osadnick Wedding Photo

I look out of my window; the cloud cover below has changed from scattered to 10/10 covered. We are approaching the Brussels area and I make a 10-degree correction to the left. But too late! Suddenly, the sky is filled with huge, red-and-orange flak bursts. They're on the money! I feel the plane lurch and hear the flak burst. As it hits the plane, the shrapnel sounds like rattling pebbles in an empty tin can. Almost immediately, I see the oil pressure on no. 3 start to drop. I call to Lloyd to feather no. 3, but it does not respond and continues to windmill. Thick, black smoke pours out of the nacelle. Lemaster, right waist, reports the smoke, but says there are no flames. Be thankful for small favors. Riley, now standing between the pilot and copilot seats, excitedly points to the oil-pressure gauge on no. 4 engine. It is falling. I call to feather no. 4. It responds properly and soon slows to a complete stop, blades turned into the slipstream.

I increase prop pitch on 1 and 2 to high rpm and add full throttle; no. 1 responds, but no. 2 does not. We are unable to maintain our position in the formation and have to drop out, losing altitude at about 700 feet per minute. I try to trim up the plane as well as I can, but it wants to yaw toward the right. I find it difficult to keep the dead engines high and avoid flipping over into a split-S. Riley begins to transfer feul to the left-side tanks, and this helps the trim a bit. Lloyd calls for a crew check. No one else is hurt! Meanwhile, I'm on the Air Sea Rescue channel, calling "Mayday! Mayday!" I get an immediate response to key their frequency so they can get a fix on us.

Navigator Joey Wagner comes up to the cockpit with his estimated position. There's no chance of making it back to Framlingham. Air Sea Rescue calls and gives us a heading for Manston, the RAF base at Dover, and says it will dispatch Air Sea Rescue boats to pick us up in the Channel. Lloyd tells the crew to put two Mae Wests on Ken; everyone else is to put one on, move to the radio compartment and get set to ditch. When we ditch, two crew members are to climb out of the radio compartment, secure the rafts and assist Ken into one.

Jim Tschudy cannot release the ammo box from his gun, so he fires off all of the ammo. He burns both hands severely as he tries to remove the hot barrel from his gun. Now we are slowly approaching the coast. I look out my side window and see two P-47s sliding alongside of us; they cannot slow down to our speed, but give us a salute, wag their wings and sart to climb. Having them so near helps to ease the tension; it means there are no enemy fighters hereabouts.

Our course will take us out over the Channel between Oostende and Dunkerque. We are now at about 8,200 feet. Lightening the plane has helped slow our descent and improve the trim, but engines 1 and 2 are running at two different sppeds and out of synch. This causes them to vibrate violently, and I'm afraid one of them may tear loose.

As we near the Channel, more ground fire, but there is little I can do in the way of evasive action. I'm afraid to turn into the dead engines, but I do dive a bit and bank to the left, then climb slightly, aided by the increase in speed gained in the dive. Again we hear the shrapnel pepper the plane and see the automatic-weapon tracers around us. It lasts only about a half minute, but seems like forever. I just pray the good Lord gives us the ability, strength and wisdom to hold out a little longer. Lloyd again checks on the crew. No new injuries. Now we are over the Channel. We have low, scattered clouds, and in some of the breaks, I can see the white cliffs of Dover. Joe Morris, the bombardier says he sees the wake of two boats coming from shore and approaching our line of flight.

I get an immense feeling of relief at this news. However, we are now down to 1,400 feet and I am trying to maintain altitude. The cliffs loom before us. It's going to be close. Turbulence is picking up, and I am trying to keep up the airspeed to avoid stalling out. We're down to 800 feet, but I think we can make it over the cliffs.

Bomber Sitting Pretty
Bomber, Sitting Pretty

Lloyd calls Air Sea Rescue and advises them we will not ditch. He also tells them we owe them a drink! We stay on course and barely skip over a few trees, then just ahead of us I see the biggest most beautiful runway in all the world. I don't even remember calling the tower, but as I was about to throttle back a bit, no. 2 engine coughed and died! A few seconds later, we touched down. I felt the plane veer to the right but was able to keep it from ground looping. The right tire had been hit by flak and was in shreds! When we came to a stop, no. 3 prop, which had been windmilling for more than an hour, gave a grinding curnch and fell off the engine. At this stage, she may have been overdoing the drama, but Sitting Pretty had brought us back to England.

John Riley fires off a red flare to alert the medics we have injured men aboard. The ambulances arrive in seconds and rush Ken and Jim to the station hospital. Several RAF officers and enlisted men arrive in two lorries to survey the damage. Ed Allen and John Lemaster start to count the holes in the bottom of the right wing. They get to 157 before we are loaded into the lorries and taken to base operations.

We were interrogated by two RAF intelligence officers and then taken to the base hospital to check on Ken and Jim. Ken was under sedation and ready to be wheeled to surgery. His hands were folded on his chest. Left waist gunner John Lemaster stepped out of the door, picked some flowers out of a small garden and placed the little bouquet in Ken's folded hands. Our guys still hadn't lost their sens of humor!

Jim is released with bandages the size of boxing gloves on each hand. As we leave the hospital, another ambulance pulls up and the medics rush a wounded P-38 pilot into the receiving room. He has been wounded in both thighs and has a broken arm. We are told he was found by the Air Sea Rescue boat, hanging on to his life raft in the spot where we were supposed to ditch. The ASR team had no prior knowledge of his having gone down. Call it an act of God!

After being assigned rooms for the night and getting cleaned up, we headed for the officers' club and bar for the recover and repair that can only be found in bottles from the good people of Scotland.

The next day, one of our other ships comes down to pick up up, and we take off for Framlingham. As we pass the control tower I say goodbye to Sitting Pretty. She was a great plane, she got us home from a great many raids. Eventually, she was returned to the 569th. Then on 29 May 1944, she was assigned to Wallace Shymanski and crew for a mission to Leipzig, Germany. They were forced to crash land safely in the Belgian Ardennes, and that was the final chapter for Sitting Pretty.

Over these many years, I've often thought of the P-38 pilot and wondered what happend to him. I decided to look him up. I wrote to the archivist at the RAF base at Manston who confirmed a P-38 pilot was rescued on April 13, 1944. He was a member of the 55th Fighter Group. His name was Melvin Hawes. Then I contacted Social Security. They had a listing of a Melvin A. Hawes and a Melvin Jr.; Melvin Sr. died in 1991. I had waited a year too long to locate him. What he had successfully eluded in combat had finally caught up with him, as it will with all of us.

Submitted by son, John Osadnick