|Some drums had fins welded on the ends for stability. Some had no fins but a long
contact fuse into the drum to aid ignition. Others had an incendiary bomb screwed into a
flange that had been tack wielded to the drum end.
The drums had two one-half inch wire rope cables spaced to receive our bomb shackles. These were secured by locking clamp bolts. We were told that a 8-25 had been tested to drop the drums, but its bomb bay doors were too narrow to accept the drum. So a B-26 - ours - was requested to replace the B-25.
Hence we came to Biskra on an "X mission." The bombs were completely experimental. Col. Campbell felt that they would be very effective against shipping, specifically In the Axis supply port of Tunis. The small Sieble ferries the Germans used would be especially vulnerable to fire.
The experimenters were anxious for us to drop the first two drums that were now ready. While they were being loaded into the bomb bay we could see that the homemade contraptions barely cleared the bomb bay doors. This caused much anxiety to the air crew, to say the least. A wedged drum could ignite the plane.
It was a very concealed crew that took off with the first two bombs from Biskra.
Lt. Leigh had no bombing tables for this configuration. They were to be dropped from about 300 feet Into a small take a few miles away. Leigh was interested in the trajectory. Race wanted to know how they would react on contact with a water surface.
The first ore hit with a thud - a dud. The second one went off with a flash and blobs of burning jelly went flying in all directions while the bomb case burned fiercely on the water surface
The next few days we dropped at least a dozen. Some were duds. Some were real infernos.
On one flight, for some reason, we had a delayed drop and the bomb hit the desert floor Instead of the lake. When it hit, the bomb went off and left a spectacular trail of fire as it skidded along the ground.
On one occasion I went to the drop site with Capt. Race as observer and to photograph the hit. We had a K-20 camera with us. But we had a dual abort. The bombs came down with a swooshing, rushing noise and just plunked Into the water. The camera jammed. So we got neither photos nor fire. Later, when we cleared it, all I got was a picture of Capt. Race in the jeep we had come to the lake in.
On about the fifth day of trials, we blew a booster coil in our right engine as we were taxing for takeoff. We had no replacement parts with us, so it was decided to see if one of the French bombers would ferry Lt. Boone and Sgt. Larsen back to Telergma to pick up a replacement part. The French C.O. was agreeable. A French medium bomber took off with Boone and Larson for Telergma. I tried to get on, too. But the French pilot, a veteran of 2,000 hours waved me off. He said the plane was now full.
I went back in some disappointment to our ship. Because Mal Southland said he wanted to change the plugs in the right engine; maybe he would need some help. I could speak some Italian so he sent me over to the French hangar to see if they had some spark plug grease. Somehow the French mechanics understood my Italian -- and we got the grease.
By now 3 hours had passed and the French bomber was overdue on the return flight from Telegma When six hours had passed we all became concerned, including the French C.O.
There was a small operations building on the field so I was sent over to see If I could raise Telergma, somehow, to find out what was happening.
There was only a telephone and a reluctant French noncom do the office. He finally agreed to call Constantine. The code name for Constantine was "nutmeg". The call was transeferred to Telergma post office and then somehow to 37th operations from where a 37th voice said that no French bomber had arrived as yet from Biskra. We then got cut off.
The French bomber from Bistra never reached Telargma. It had crashed kft the nrauntaMs near Batna with no survtvars. A close call for me, a sad accident for our crew mates.
The next day a 37th squadron 8-28 landed at Biskra piloted by a disturbed Major Bowen, our C.O. He brought in a pilot replacement, Lt. Manley, and a Crew Chief replacement, Sgt. Jack Gordon. With a full crew we continued to make drops into the take - some duds, some real live ones.
One day as we were taking off for a drop, we saw a B-26 preparing to land. When we got back we found eminent visftors. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle had arrived to see what progress was being made on the trials. A special nay was made for him. He watched from near tire drop area. Both bombs just plunked Into the lake. Duds.
However, Doolittle expressed conflderrce in the bomb and said, encouragingly, that h would only be a question of time before a reliable fire bomb would be perfected. Fig than deported and left us to go back to the tests.
We must have dropped about 30 of there bombs with about a 50 percent detonation rate over the course of about 13 days.
And then the way we came, we departed. An order WOW up on the board. We packed our Night bags. But two comrades had been lost in that trial time.
Before we left we were Instructed not to discuss our doings at Biskra with anyone. When we arrived at Telwgma i was told my close friend Fred Clive was K.I.A. on March 22. It happened on a sea sweep. An Italian fighter made one fatal pass and the B-25 fell Into the sea near Sicily.
Ben Dodds had fared better. His shot up ship bellied in near Bone. The crew walked away from it but Ben was badly shaken up by it, to say the least.
In May of 1943 - only weeks after our Bis kra tests - the African campaign came to an end with the defeat of the Axis African armies. I had kept a meager diary during the Biskra affair and soon after the war ended I started to put together some order of the events as they occurred using the diary and pictures that were taken at Biskra.
Then the notes took a long slumber. In 19721 tried to locate Capt. Race and others with no success. Then I decided to writs to retired General James Doolittle to ask if he could enlighten me as to the final outcome of the Biskra trials. The attached letter was his reply.
At the Dayton and Colorado Springs reunions of the 17th Group I met Mel Southland and Jack Gordon where we further discussed the events at Biskra.
We never did find out the outcome of our gas and oil bombs. But, recently, while looking through a copy of "The Log of The Liberators," low and behold, there was a picture of a formation of B-24's of the 819th Squadron 30th Bomb Group dropping 55-gallon drums - of what was by then called NAPALM - on Iwo Jim on Feb. 1, 1945. So it would appear that our fickle contraptions in the African campaign were finally perfected and used in combat two years later in the far Pacific war.
Page 11 of 16 next