Col. Charles Mueth
To crash-land in the Bay of Bengal was dangerous at night (we were apprehensive) but of more concern to me was the wounded on board. The Bay of Bengal was full of man-eating barracudas and they were attracted to blood, which we had a lot of. Before I left the cockpit to make the radio call, I instructed the co-pilot to contact each crewmember and inform them that there would be no smoking the rest the way. I turned the aircraft over to him while I went to the radio station to make my call.
Even though I had been rather proficient in sending messages by Morse code while in training, I discovered that I had become quite rusty. Fortunately, the fella on the receiving end knew my dilemma and helped me considerably by slowing down his transmissions. He got the message that we were low on fuel, and that we had wounded on board and that we wanted a DUCK (a rescue airplane that lands on water) to meet us. Congratulating myself for a job well done, I went back to the cockpit.
Lo and behold the co-pilot was puffing on a cigarette. I blew my stack – I chewed him up one side and down the other (which I was told I was pretty good at doing). Embarrassed, he put out his cigarette and swore he didn’t realize he lit it. To this day I haven’t figured out why we weren’t blown to kingdom come, because several crewmembers were drenched with gas and gas fumes were all over the place.
It was nick and tuck the rest of the way. We pulled the power back to save fuel – dumped everything overboard that we didn’t need, to lighten the load. After several hours we recomputed and determined that we might make land fall. That was encouraging because it is better to bail out, at night, over land than to ditch in the Bay of Bengal and let barracudas eat us for dinner.
In India, on another mission over the famous Hump, we had on board a Catholic Priest by the name of O’Reilly. We took off from India, climbed to 29,000 feet, leveled off, and settled back for a long boring flight to Chungking, China. We were in the soup and the weather was deteriorating. We were experiencing strong and gusty winds and rain was beating on us something fierce. About that time I experienced a vibration on the control column, which steadily got worse. I had the tail-gunner check and he informed me that the trim tab on the rudder had broken loose and was flapping in the wind.
I slowed the aircraft and this seemed to help a little. The vibration still continued and the situation was real severe – it felt as if the tail section was going to drop off. We had been told that there was no need to bail out over the Hump because even if you survived the landing, the dense underbrush made survival almost impossible. I informed the crew of the problem and the possible consequences. I told the crew that I was going to remain with the aircraft.
I turned around to father O’Reilly, who was sitting behind me in the jump seat, and saw him praying his rosary. I assured him, with his help, we would make it to our destination. Finally, we were out of the weather and started a gradual let down to Kunming, where we landed safely. After the landing I turned to Father O’Reilly and said, “I’m sure glad you and HIM were flying with us today.” He replied, “I’m glad we were, too.”
On another mission over the hump, hauling gas from India to China, we had a series of mishaps. We took off from India with a heavy load of gasoline. On board this flight was a newspaper man by the name of Dale Allen. He was assigned to our crew because we were well-qualified and we had a B-24 that had just been overhauled.
Almost an hour after reaching an altitude of 29,000 feet, the number 3 engine (right in-board) caught fire. We had only one generator and it was on number 3 engine. We feathered that engine and turned on the fire extinguisher, but to no avail. It had to burn itself out.
Now on two engines, and not daring to dump the gasoline because of the engine fire, we were in precarious shape. I alerted the crew for possible bail-out and warned them that survival in the mountains of the Himalayas was almost impossible.
At that time I received a call from one of the gunners that Dale Allen was having trouble putting on his parachute. Even though he had been instructed prior to take off, he had put his parachute on upside down. In the meantime, the Bombadier was putting any and all survival items into his pockets that he could find.
To make a long story short, we landed successfully at our home Base. After the flight, the Bombadier looked about the size of an elephant. He had shoved 15 items into his pockets, including candy bars, tooth brush, hunting knives, and a copy of the Reader’s Digest.