“We were hit.” An excerpt from a World War II pilot’s history
Richard Junius Petit, a World War II veteran, was captured by the Germans on March 16, 1944. The following excerpt is from History According to Richard Junius Petit: The War Years 1942-1945.
“We were hit by German fighters just after crossing the border of France. Our position had been as the last plane in the lower echelon of the squadron. Trying to hold our position, the co-pilot and I were taking turns at the controls. I happened to glance up and to our right and saw a blazing plane cutting through the formation above that had been set on fire by a German fighter. I reacted quickly, popped the stick to miss him, and put the ship into a sharp dive. The blazing plane just skimmed us on its way to the ground.
Our sudden dive separated us from the rest of the squadron. While it relieved us of the tail-end Charlie whiplash we had been going through, it also left us alone and unprotected from the fighters. Why we didn’t get hit by German fighters, I don’t know. The best chance we had against the fighters was to regain the formation as fast as possible, and all possible power was poured on as we tried to reach our place, but the squadron was miles ahead of us by now, and we anguished over being a lone sitting duck as we tried vainly to overtake them.
As we approached the target, we had nearly regained our position and were sufficiently close to drop our bombs as planned.
Our target that day was Friedric hshafen, situated by a lake between Germany and Switzerland, where reportedly the Germans had been manufacturing ball-bearings. We bombed what we thought was the target. As we pulled off the release point, in very heavy flak, two engines started to act up. At 25,000 feet or so when you see your supercharger gauges showing a failure, you know you’ve got trouble. We were losing power and altitude. The formation was gone, miles ahead of us. We didn’t know whether we’d been hit, or had a malfunction. . . .
Our route home, had we gone as well as we could plan, would have been over ‘flak alley,’ or the Ruhr Valley, the most heavily defended part of Germany, with the exception of Berlin. So there we were–one plane, no navigator, inadequate maps, solid cloud cover below us, insufficent fuel (we had used half of our fuel by the time we had hit the target, even though we had been flying with a tail wind). We were approximately six hundred miles and hour hours, in a straight line, to our base. The island of England was a pretty small chunk of land. I didn’t think we had a chance to get back. It was time for a decision.”
We will post more of Petit’s fascinating tale in the future. For now, if you want to know more, please visit Special Collections.