Remarkable stories of war told by those who fought for a proud nation. Their words. Their voices. Our first episodes tell riveting stories from World War II, then we move on to the Vietnam War and other dramatic conflicts.
In this preview, we'll be sharing a clip from tomorrow's interview with Lt Col James Wirth. Make sure to catch our full interview with Wirth when it releases tomorrow.
Lieutenant Colonel James Wirth served in the US Army Air Force during World War II. As a togglier, he flew on bombers and was tasked with arming and dropping bombs as well as manning a turret on board.
I'm Ken Harbaugh, host of Warriors In Their Own Words. In this preview, we'll be sharing a clip from tomorrow's interview with Lt Col James Wirth. If you'd like to hear more previews like this, please let us know at [email protected]
Lt Col James Wirth:
What happened was the target, the briefing, and the specialized briefing were normal. There was no difference. We pre-flighted our airplane got in and started engines and we couldn't get an engine started. So we went to the spare, which was ready with the engines running. We just took all of our equipment, threw it out on the ground, jumped out and grabbed it. Ran to the next airplane, jumped in, taxied out, and got in formation. We had very little difficulty forming up. It was a nice morning, not very many clouds, and the formation formed beautifully. And we started across the channel and coasted in over Holland at 20,000 feet. We were heading for Halberstadt. It was our target. And about 30 minutes in to just clearing the Dutch border into Germany, why, the gunners in the rear called off fighters attacking from the rear. ME-110s, and they seemed to not press the attacks. They would fire from long range.
I saw two or three instances, by looking out to the right, seeing their .20 millimeters busting, exploding out in front of us. We got into the IP, turned IP, headed to the target. Sharky called off 25 fighters level at three o'clock flying parallel to us, opened the bomb doors, released the weapons. We turned off the target, turned west, still at 20,000 feet. And then I noticed that the lead aircraft in the squadron, his bomb bay doors weren't completely closed so that our squadron started drifting slowly back from the group. All at once, I heard the pilot call, "Fighters, 12 o'clock high, coming in." I had my turret pointed at 12 o'clock high. Before I even got the sight on a fighter, I squeezed the trigger and I saw an airplane and I started tracking him and firing, and this other one flew in to my cone of fire and exploded. It appeared to me when I first started hitting him that he released a whole bunch of water, a spray of water came off the airplane. Then it just swelled up. The airplane kind of swelled up, rolled over on its back, and then I noticed that the hole underneath of the airplane was burning and it went under the thing and apparently exploded behind us. But it exploded out in front of us too because we flew into its debris. Within 30 seconds, then we called off another group of fighters coming through. And before I could swing my guns around onto it, my turret went dead and I heard number three engines started screaming, noise, just horrible noise coming out of number three engine and then it exploded. And I looked out before it exploded and all the cowling was solid, scarlet red from heat, fire inside, and then the propeller came off. And just about the time the propeller came off, I felt this impact and I thought I'd been hit in the stomach. I knew I was hit, but I thought I was hit in the stomach. And then I thought, oh, I'm blind in the eye, because this flap of skin had fallen down over my left eye. And I reached out, grabbed my leg and put it back in place. It wasn't separated, bone was broken, so I put it back in place. And then that airplane went into a dive. He dived it to put out the fire, which was burning. And when he dove the airplane, why, my leg just got up and flew around in the air, I couldn't control it. I couldn't understand why I couldn't get back in my seat, but when that shell hit me, it broke the back of my seat right off. You know, one of those spring steel seats, broke it right off and I was actually laying against the navigator's table. We're in a dive, two ME-110s, There was an FW-190, by the way, that were making these attacks. Two ME-110s followed us down. We were in a high-speed dive and no communications at all. All of the electricity was shot out. He hit the alarm bell, but with no electricity, the alarm bell doesn't sound, so that's why nobody bailed out. We leveled off at 1500 feet, immediately went into a climb and stalled out again and dove again. He was having a little trouble controlling the airplane because of the excessive amount of damage to it. He had partial control of the elevators. He had no control of the rudder. In fact, he used the elevator trim tab to fly the airplane coming back.
We got stabilized at 1500 feet and the two ME-110s followed us for a while, but they didn't make serious attempts to attack, mostly because we were going home. We were badly damaged and the waist gunners were still firing whenever they'd come close. And maybe they could be trainees, you never know. In any event, I started hurting and Sharky, the navigator, got two morphine syrettes. They were frozen solid, so I put them in his mouth, cut some cables to the bomb bay door controls and put a tourniquet on my leg. He lifted the flap in my eye and he said, "Your eye is still there." And I could see, all it had done was just cut the skin here and it had fallen down on my eye. This tooth was loose from the piece of shrapnel that had hit my lip and bent this tooth back. And so I pushed it back into position with my tongue, almost fainted from the pain of it, and that bothered me all the way back. For some reason, that tooth loose, I said, "Boy, I'd sure hate to lose a tooth."
Make sure to catch our full interview with Wirth when it releases tomorrow.