Rubin "Kit" Kichen
BombGp: 397 Squadron: 598
|The type of plane I was flying, the B-26 was called “The Widow Maker,”
“The Flying Coffin,” and other complementary names. The plane carried a
crew of six—three officers up front, and three enlisted men in the rear.
The front and rear were separated by the bomb bays. A very narrow catwalk
separated the front and rear. The plane was considered a medium bomber and
had two peppy engines and a narrow wingspan, which accounted for its
speed. Both front and rear compartments were very tight, leaving little
room for moving around.
July 11, 1944
February 16, 1945
4F flew well and we were in enemy territory. The flak commenced, and the flying became bumpy. Facing backwards, I could not see it coming but I could feel the explosions. Flak was very heavy and accurate and one burst hit our left engine. John Zitnyar, the waist gunner, tried to pull in the right gun mount, but once again, 4F balked so John pulled the left gun mount and 50-caliber gun, naturally on the burning side. Up front, the interior was on fire and turning around I could seeing someone trying to beat out the fire with his flak jacket. The bailout bell was ringing (so that is how it sounds. We never spoke about bailing out). I had to slip the flak jacket off and grab for my chest chute, which I hoped was not cut up by shrapnel. Fire was now shooting out of the left engine back to our exit, and the plane was going down fast, dragging to the left. The three of us barely got out in time. John, being at his station, jumped first and for a second was pinned to the side of the ship. I jumped next, kicking John loose and we were both free falling until our chutes opened. Woody (James Woods, our flight engineer and turret gunner) was the last to get out. At the time, I did not know if he made it, but he did and we met up later on. Had the cameraman stayed on with us in the rear one of us would not have made it. The force of the plane going down too quickly and the pressure made getting free of the plane extremely difficult.
We were burnt by the flames of the burning engine The sheepskin on my boots and jacket collar burnt. I received some burns on my face. There was a terrible smell of burning material and everything else that was aflame. Time came for opening the chest chute. Would it open? I was cautious to stay clear of the emergency harness release. It was quite a sensation dropping clear of the plane. When cleared I pulled the ripcord and the experienced an overall jolt when the chute opened hitting my face. Then all was still and I was suspended in air. The drop to the ground comes up very sudden and it is like jumping off the top of a freight car.
I landed flat on my ass in an open field, and was greeted by a German soldier with a rifle pointed at me. From my angle, the gun looked very big. He took my surrendered gun and fired it to advise the others that he had captured me. Oddly, I had disassembled and cleaned my gun the night before. I was hoping that I did a bad job and that it would explode in his hand. I thought of running, but where to? My clothes were scorched; I had no shoes only flying boots, which were also scorched. My face was messed up from the flames; I also had damage to my face from the parachute. I was hurt upon landing and completely bewildered so I just went along, not knowing if the others made it.
After several days, I was put together with Woody and John Zitnyar. John, who suffered a sprained ankle prior to the mission, had broken it upon landing. It was not set but they used paper bandages in lieu of plaster or cloth bandages, causing great pain and making it impossible for him to walk. We began our move to a stalag covered by two guards. Woody and I were made to carry the large canvas rucksack of our guards so they could carry their weapons. In addition, we had to support John so that we were able to help him move. We boarded a passenger train for our next destination. The passengers were hard to read and we did not know if were surrounded by irate citizens or welcoming locals.
[Some time afterwards]
One day, while walking outside of the compound we noticed small aircraft flying nearby. It was an American observation plane. One of the plane flew so low that we could see the pilot. Shortly thereafter American ground troops entered Stalag VllA. It was Patton’s army. The guards ran off prior to the arrival of the Americans. There was plenty of back slapping, hugging, hand shaking and overall joyous excitement.