It’s a Monday. Worst day of the week. And just the sort of a day to begin the attacks on occupied Europe. The big map had said Meaulte, a place that Capt. Joe Estelle and his crew had never heard of. Briefing said there were factories making Luftwaffe planes there, so it made sense to smash them while they were still parts.
The mission did not begin peacefully. On Rails was in the middle of the squadron, leaving leadership to Horehound Harrier. The Suffragette City was right off the plane’s port wing, serenely untroubled by fighters.
Without the sudden shout of M. Sgt. Harold Hivalle in the top turret, no one would have spotted the 109 in a vertical dive. It slashed down onto the bomber, ignoring the ineffective fire. It slashed rounds through the port wing, shredding the giant wheel of the landing gear. With the shoddy weather back home, it looked like a fun landing.
Over Meaulte proper the Germans were much more aggressive. The first group was chased off by the RAF, much to the relaxation of the crew. The second group, taking advantage of a weakness in the fighter cover, cut in at the On Rails. It roared up from 3 low, into the teeth of the fire from Sgt. Mike Simmons in the ball turret and Sgt. Larry Billings in the waist. Billings’ angle was poor and he only managed to spray rounds near the target. But Sgt. Simmons got a solid track on the fighter and pumped seven rounds into the 109’s canopy. The canopy finally shattered and the whole fighter began to nose down.
One kill for the bomber!
The bomber lined up for the target. The crew watched the flak with apprehension as Lt. Warren pressed his eye to the Norden.
Then three chunks of flak shot through the airplane. One cut through the wing, leaving an oblong lighted hole.
And one punched through the floor, directly below waist gunner Sgt. Kyle Urrens. Urrens, a solid-looking boy from LA with an obsessive need to tuck his pants into his boots, was killed instantly.
The last round shot through the nose, jarring Warren’s hand. He dropped too early, and not a single bomb landed anywhere near the target.
The plane turned around, shielded by the RAF. Only a single fighter got past them, an Me-110 coming in at 9 High. The planes didn’t hit each other, and the 110 abandoned the attack.
Despite the slamming winds and heavy weather, Capt. Estelle managed a soft enough landing that the damaged gear held up. The ground crews quickly braced the plane and readied her for tomorrow’s mission.