In loving memory of my father Alfred Caughy Edwards
After Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, the United States declared war on the Empire of Japan. Four days later on December 11, 1941, Congress declared war upon Germany.
In response to the war, Alfred Caughy Edwards joined the U.S. Army Air Corps.1
This is his story about World War II. I think you will enjoy it.
“Sergeant Pilot” isn’t a very good title for this, but since that is the rating I held, I guess it is as good as any.
My story begins on November 30, 1942, because that was the day— or should I say night— that I left Hunter Field, Savannah, Georgia, for Africa.
It was exactly 11:00 P.M. when our big B-24 Liberator Bomber taxied out to the runway to begin its long 5,034 mile jaunt to Africa. I was sitting in the co-pilot’s seat when the big craft lifted off from the ground, and pointed its nose skyward into the inky blackness of the night. As we passed over the coast line, I looked down for a moment at the wonderful country we were leaving behind, and for the first time in my life I realized what a really wonderful place it is. Shaking these thoughts from my brain, I began to concentrate on my job of helping the navigator. After working with him for an hour or more, we took a break and smoked a cigarette. Then the pilot, Lt. Franken, suggested that I try to get a few hours of sleep, after which I could take a try at the controls.
I tried to sleep but I had too much on my mind. I was wondering: What kind of a place is Africa? Would I do a good job of helping to wipe out the Jerries? What does it feel like to kill a man? What does it feel like to be shot? Yes, these and many more questions passed through my mind, and I was to find the answers to them all in a few days—with the exception of the last.
Twenty-three hours, eighteen minutes after leaving Hunter Field, Georgia, we taxied to a halt on my new home-field in Tunisia. My God! I thought: What kind of hell-hole is this? Just after climbing from the plane, the crew and I were greeted by a Captain, whom I later learned to know as my Commanding Officer. I gave the field a quick once-over, and then went to my quarters to get cleaned up.
After taking a “Jewish shower2” I reported to my new C.O. for duty. He assigned a mechanic to me, and me to a plane. My mechanic was Bob (Kid) Anderson, hailing from a small town in South Carolina. He was a likeable fellow, and one who knew his “stuff” about airplanes. I was then introduced to the other pilots, and each one of them had something nice to say to me. Gosh, what a swell bunch of guys they were! They would laugh in the face of death, yet, when things were quiet and peaceful, they always looked sad. I guess war can make you that way after a while. The afternoon of my arrival, twelve planes took off for a raid on Tunis, but I staid behind, awaiting my turn which would come the next day. Just before darkness covered the field, they came back. The raid had been successful, so, before landing, each pilot buzzed the field. When they landed, I ran out to meet them. Every one came back safe and sound, so that night we had a celebration by eating some candy bars and playing a victrola which had belonged to a pilot who had been shot down a few weeks before.
The next morning, I went into combat for the first time. Since I was new at the game, the Squadron leader told me to stick close to him. And this I did very well. We were about 45 minutes away from our field, flying at 23,000 feet, when we spotted eighteen “Red-nosed M.E. 109’s” flying in the direction of our field at approximately 15,000 feet. I heard my Squadron leader utter one word over the radio. It was “clip”, which meant for us to peel-off in two’s, and dive on the Jerries. My heart was pounding so hard and fast that it seemed I could hear it above the roar of my engine. And I must admit I was scared “stiff”.
I saw my Squadron leader peel-off, so I did the same, sticking as close to him as I possibly could. At 16,000 feet, I pressed my thumb down on the trigger, and all eight of my 50 calibers began to throw lead in all directions. I had one M.E. directly in my gun sight and I poured lead into it—“Til hell froze over,” but he wouldn’t go down.
When the Jerries felt our first blast, they immediately broke formation and came after us. I had just pulled out of my dive, and was “breaking” around at 10,000 feet, when I saw the “drip” in a M.E. coming straight toward me from above. I could see him hailing me with his “tracers,” and for the moment I thought my goose was cooked. When he was about two hundred yards from me, I made a sharp banking turn to the left; it was a 360 degree turn, and when I came back around, I found that the Jerry had gone past me.
In the meantime, the guys had been scrapping above, and had knocked down three enemy planes at the cost of one P-40. However, our loss was to be expected because we were outnumbered by six planes. I was just about ready to go after the Jerry who had been giving me hell when I heard the Squadron leader say, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” Immediately the rest of us answered in turn by saying “Roger,” which meant that we were receipting for his message. I climbed back up-stairs to join the rest of the Squadron and, after getting into formation, it was full throttle for us almost all the way home. However, this time we didn’t buzz the field, because one of our planes had been shot down.
When we landed, I got out of my ship and felt like kissing the ground. With Bob, my mechanic, we counted the bullet holes in my ship— total 31. Then we patched them up, and “Nita” was as good as new. (Nita was the name I gave my P-40).
The next two or three trips into combat were much like the first, but after that I lost the fear of being shot down, and almost began to like it “over there.” It was hot, and the food wasn’t as good as they dish out at Godman; the water was rationed, and we had to sleep in our clothes so that we would be ready for an emergency. But still, it was a swell place to come back to after a “dog fight.”
On December 6, I shot down my first enemy plane in a fight over Tunis. Somehow, I managed to get on his tail and give him a few blasts with my 50’s. He rolled over on his back when the smoke began to pour from his engine, and went into a dive which he never pulled out of. The same night, we pulled another surprise raid on Tunis, and I think I shot down another one, but I didn’t see him crash, so I can only count it as a “probable.”
December 11 was another good day for hunting, because I shot down my second plane. Gosh, what a fight that was! Twelve of us were strafing German and Italian ground troops, fifteen miles east of Tunis. We made it there O.K. and, after strafing until our ammunition was almost exhausted, we were attacked by a Squadron of M.E. 109’s. They pounced on us before we could turn around. None of us saw them coming, because they had the sun at their backs. I noticed them only when I could feel my plane shake from the impact of bullets.
In a second I turned a couple of “snap rolls,” then climbed a few thousand feet more, making as much of a “zig-zag”” course as possible. I leveled off, thinking that I was free of them for a moment, but I was wrong, because there was a Jerry on my tail, throwing hot lead in my direction. I wanted to dive, but I didn’t have enough altitude to do any good. So I pulled up into a loop, only I didn’t complete it, because at the top of my loop I snapped the plane over right side up, and leveled off. The Jerry must have been confused, because it ended up by my trailing him all over the sky. I waited until I was about two hundred yards from him, then I let him have it. I made each shot count, because my ammunition was very low. My tracers found their mark, and he went down in flames. I didn’t have enough ammunition left to risk another try at a Jerry, so I turned tail and headed for home. I hated to run out on the other fellows, but I couldn’t have done good hanging around when my guns were practically empty. I landed back at the field and, as usual I counted the holes in my “crate.” This time the wings and tail were not only full of holes, but my fuselage as well, and some of them were darn close to the cockpit. The under side of my right wing-tip was almost shot away, and again I felt like kissing “Old Mother Earth,” thankful that I had come out of it alive and unhurt.
December 15th was my last day of actual combat, and I’ll never forget it if I live to be a “gray haired wonder.”
Thirteen of us were flying our P-40’s at 23,000 feet, about half way between Tunis and our field, when suddenly we were attacked by a flock of M.E. 109’s. I saw them coming, but there wasn’t a thing to do except to stay in formation and wait. There wasn’t even a cloud around to take cover in. As soon as they opened fire on us, we broke formation and it was every man for himself. One of the Jerries gave me a burst that tore through my left wing and damaged my landing-gear. His next blast almost knocked off my wing-flaps, and a few more blasts from a second Jerry ripped into my fuselage between me and the engine. I thought my time had come for sure, but I wasn’t going to run out and leave it up to the other fellows to do the fighting. It was difficult to tell who I was firing at, because there were so many planes in the air at one time. So I just took a shot at any plane that crossed my sights. I only hope that I didn’t shoot any of our own planes.
A few seconds later, I saw a Jerry on my tail and, God knows, I tried everything I knew of to get him off, but he still clung to me. I could only think of one thing that might scare him away, and that was a terminal velocity dive with a delayed pull-out. I pushed the stick forward and gave Nita full throttle. After falling a few thousand feet, she reached her terminal velocity. The engine was screaming and the pressure had me pinned to the seat. I glanced in the mirror and could still see the Jerry behind me. Then, a few thousand feet more and he pulled out of his dive. I waited for him to make a complete pull-out before I started mine, because I didn’t want him to pounce on me again. I tried to lower my wing-flaps, but they had been shot to pieces and wouldn’t work. I then tried to lower my landing-gear to create a drag, but it wouldn’t come down either. By now, I was down to 1800 feet, and I had to do something to keep from hitting the ground. I cut down my throttle, and a second later I heaved back on the stick with my right hand, at the same time giving it full throttle again with the left hand. The nose began to rise slowly, and I felt as thought I was being crushed to death in a vise. My instrument panel was just a blur, and I knew I was going to black-out. I could feel cold sweat dripping from my face and I could hear the sound of the wind tearing at the wings of my plane as she came out of the dive, but my eyes were closed and, during the last part of the pull-out, I couldn’t see a thing; yet I knew exactly what I was doing. When I opened my eyes I felt a deep pain inside my chest.
At first, I thought I had been shot, but not finding any blood made me realize that I must have hurt myself pulling out of the dive. I leveled off, and contacted my Squadron leader over the radio. I kept repeating “May-day” over and over. He answered by saying “Roger Base.” And I in turn came back with “Roger Wilco.” (May-day is a short way of telling the Squadron leader that I was in trouble. Roger Base meant that he was receipting for my message, and he wanted me to report back to the base. Roger Wilco meant that I was receipting for his message and would comply with his request or order to report back to base).
After getting back to the field, I didn’t bother to count the holes, because I was feeling like hell, and I had to make a belly-landing because my landing gear wouldn’t come down, and that just about tore the bottom out of the plane, so there wasn’t much of the plane left to find any holes in.
I went to the hospital tent and reported my condition. They gave me medicine of some sort, put me to bed, and rubbed some kind of stuff on my stomach twice a day. And, to top it off— I was grounded.
The rest of my days over there were spent either in bed or in a chair, waiting for a plane to carry me back to the states.
In the last fight I was in, we lost seven planes and seven darn swell pilots, but the enemy lost eleven, even though we were outnumbered more than two to one.
When I left there, believe it or not, my plane had been fixed up so that it could carry some other pilot into combat to do the job that I didn’t finish. Yes, the parting with “Nita” was like parting with the best girl a fellow could have.
Sergeant Alfred Caughy Edwards
U.S. Army Air Corps
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