In Sept 14, 1943, we were assigned to the same plane that we had used the night before. The ground crew assured us that the electrical problem had been fixed and we should have no problems with releasing the bombs.
When we bombed the German troop convoy on the road near Baptiste, again we were carrying eighteen 250-pound bombs. Part way across the Mediterranean Sea we ran into a very heavy electrical storm. Most of the planes dropped their bombs in the sea and returned to base. However, we took a more westerly course and succeeded in finding the target. The storm had passed and in the target area we could see the target clearly. We made two bombing runs over the target and, except for the usual fireworks, everything went well.
After the second run, the bomb aimer reported that we still had one bomb on board. It was hung up, same as before. We would have to carry it home with us.
On the way home, again, we ran into a storm which seemed to have travelled south east and completely blocked our route. We tried to climb above the clouds but found they were too high. The lightning and air turbulence was too hard on the plane. While over the sea we could fly below the clouds, although the visibility was zero.
When we reached the African coast we had to climb up into the storm in order to get over the mountains which lay between our aerodrome and us. At 14 000 feet we did get above most of the clouds and the navigator was able to get some star shots which enabled us to locate our position. We had no instruments back then; we were forced to use the stars.
When the navigator said we should be over the aerodrome, I tried to make radio contact. There was no response. We tried the wireless set and again there was no response. Below us was a solid cloud and no way down without the risk of hitting a mountain. For nearly an hour we circled and continually called on the radio. It seemed our only choice was to circle until we ran out of fuel and then jump.
I gave the order to prepare to abandon the aircraft. The bomber handed me my parachute and I snapped it on the harness. It was the first and only time I ever put it on.
As if by magic, a small hole opened up in the cloud and I could see one bright light on the ground. I closed the throttle and I dived through that hole. The plane was in a steep dive. Suddenly, the hole disappeared and we had to revert to instrument flying. Almost simultaneously the base radio operator made contact with us. We were still over the aerodrome and they were able to direct us down.
When we broke out of the clouds we were less than five hundred feet from the ground. As soon as I saw the runway I decided to land and completely forgot our hang up in the bomb bay. Wheels down, flaps down, straight in, the navigator’s log showed we had been airborne for seven hours and twenty minutes to do a trip which should have taken six hours.
When we taxied to our parking place both the CO and the padre were there. The padre had a cigarette and a shot of rum for each of us. I think they were about to write us off. Later he told me that “We were either gonna drink with you or to you.” But that miraculous hole in the clouds saved our lives.
– adapted from Mayor George Bridge’s recitation of his father’s memoirs at the Treasures of Minto Story Telling Event (May 24, 2013)