The unique and revealing story of a modest man who made a major contribution.

Ditching & Gibraltar - page 97

Ditching & Gibraltar - page 97

During their ferry flight of a Beaufighter January 14, 1944, Dad's log entry simply states "encountered starboard engine trouble - had to ditch off Cape Trafalgar at 15:15 hrs."

Earlier, during the story about training the Americans in preparation for leading them to Tunisia, he mentioned being "shot up once and losing an engine" as the cause for them having to 'ditch'.

His neglecting to mention this cause for the engine trouble when he first made the original log entry and yet again a second time during the telling of the 'ditching' story for our taping session, shows how in his mind, being shot at as a cause, paled in comparison to the formidable task successfully 'ditching' (safely landing a Beaufighter in the sea) presented at the time. Amazingly, it also shows he had already grown accustomed to being shot at months prior to their entering the really intense battle action still awaiting them!

'I ditched the Beaufighter in the Gulf of Cadiz just off Cape Trafalgar. this was the second one to be ditched successfully. Ours floated for 90 seconds before taking the deep dive to the bottom.

'When we ditched both John and I landed out on the port wing together having not seen each other emerge from the aircraft's hatches.

'The first thing John did and said was - he shook my hand and exclaimed, "What a wizzo ditching! I'll never be frightened to ditch with you again!"

'I said, "Thank you, John. Why? Were you fightened?"

"Well," he said, "I did have my moments."

'Meanwhile, the dinghy was becoming inflated and lying upside down out on the wing with the attached lanyard cutting down half way through it, screeching as the dinghy inflated more and more.

' "Hell," I thought, "It's going to cut the dinghy in half!"

'So I dived into the water and swam down the rope to try to reach the quick release on it. Just as I reached the quick release I felt it give on the line above me. I found out later the rope was made to withstand a sixty to ninety pound pull or stretch.
'So back up to the surface.
'I found poor John hanging onto the upside down dinghy for real life. I flipped the dinghy over and climbed aboard and then pulled John aboard.

'John then said, "Boy! Did I have a few moments there!"

'Because the lanyard was wrapped around one of his legs and was pulling him down as the aircraft went on its way to the bottom to join some of Admiral Nelson's fleet.
'Having got the dinghy and John straightened out aboard, I looked off to the shore, which was about two miles distant by this time, to a nice big lighthouse.

'I then asked John, "Well, are you ready to swim to shore?"

'Was I surprised when he informed me he "couldn't possibly swim that far."

'"But you passed all the dinghy drills?" I said.

"Yes, I can tread water but I can't swim" was his reply.
' I tried for an hour or so pulling him along in the dinghy. But I realized I wasn't making any headway against the twenty foot waves as there was a strong offshore wind blowing directly against us.

' With the first few mouthfuls of salt water I'd lost my breakfast and whatever when I up-chucked.

I climbed back into the dinghy to save my strength and hoped for a change in wind direction; but no luck. The wind seemed to get stronger as we were blown further offshore. We were being blown further and further out to sea.

It was just getting to be sunset when I heard engines and I looked up and at about 10,000 feet there was an aircraft flying over - just in the sunset. I had a couple of distress signals I kept in my Mae West all the time. I fired off the two rocket flares but again no luck . The aircraft just kept on going and soon disappeared out of sight. It was heading to North Africa.

So, it was rather a bit of a let down when you hear the motors of an aircraft like that.

Soon it became dark and one hell of a storm came up. Rain and thunder and lightening with waves, some of them thirty feet high, tossing us up and down. Every sixth wave a big crest would just cover us like swimming into a waterfall, filling the dinghy to overflowing.

Just before dawn in the murky gloom, the rain had quit, but it was still very dark. You could see a little. We suddenly realized a large freighter was heading straight for us! And he just missed us. The fellow walking back and forth up in the wheelhouse - if I'd had a 22 rifle - I could have shot him.

I was flashing with a floating torch we had. I carried that in my May West too. I signalled S.O.S.'s with the flashlight and poor old John was blowing with a whistle S.O.S.'s. I can still hear the di-di-di, da-da-da, di-di-di, when I listen. Poor old John with a whistle.

But the ship just kept straight on going. They'd figure it was maybe somebody trying to decoy them with a submarine nearby to knock them off. They kept on going.

When it got daylight on the Saturday morning, way off on the top of the waves, I noticed something was floating. I realized the ship had dumped their garbage like they do at sea. It looked like an orange crate or something. So I swam off about a mile or so, retrieved it, got back to the dinghy and we fashioned a couple of paddles.

We paddled then.

It would be about 10 o'clock when we got the paddles made and by about 3:00 in the afternoon we could just barely see the tops of the mountains in Spain off in the distance. I realized we had been really drifting well out to sea.

Then John, he said, "You know Howard, we are not gaining anything. We're getting further out to sea."

And I thought to myself how right he is. But if we don't keep paddling we're going to be that much further out to sea.

So anyway, finally I gave it up about 4:00-5:00 on the Saturday. I figured we'd better save our strength. We were just using up our energy - nothing to eat or drink in all this time.

Then it got dark.

And when we were at the top of the waves, riding the crest of the wave, about twenty-five miles off in the distance we could see the beautiful lights of the City of Cadiz.

...to be continued....