B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group

 

Loose Cannon-The Final Flight of Lady Lynn
by Charles O'Mahony, 441st Bomb Squadron

 

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On the bomb run. The reflections in the Plexiglas nose are .50-caliber shells for the bombardier's machine gun.

Inside the cockpit was chaos. Bud Barrett's right hand was shattered, and he had a hole in his right thigh. Ramsey's copilot controls had been shot out, and his face was peppered with Plexiglas fragments. Bombardier Russ Allen was on the floor in the nose—no parachute—both arms paralyzed by his wounds. Hurricane winds of 185mph howled in through the nose and filled the cockpit with a bloody mist. Lady Lynn was a loose cannon—ready to blow and take some of us with it!

"Get out of formation," Barrett shouted. Wiping blood from his eyes, Ramsey nodded and eased the throttles back with his left hand while Barrett banked the plane gently to the right. Under our squadron's second flight of three aircraft, they slowly and carefully eased away into the clear. Only seconds later, engineer Dick Balinski and radioman Charlie Mellas came forward, unbuckled Bud's parachute and pulled him out of the pilot's seat while Ramsey leaned across the pedestal; he gripped the yoke to hold the plane steady. As he wormed into the pilot's seat, Ramsey glanced at Barrett's chute—pieces of torn silk gaped from flak holes. Bailing out had just ceased to be an option, at least for him and Barrett. Balinski and Mellas helped the injured pilot into the navigator's chair and then moved to get Allen out of the nose. Allen lay helplessly in the narrow tunnel that led into the nose in front of the copilot's seat.

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After the mission, the Red Cross gave us coffee and doughnuts.

   
  bud.jpg - 2676 Bytes Brothers in battle

Bud Barrett had an identical twin, Joe, and there was a strong rivalry between them. "We were very close," Bud says, "but we were always trying to outdo each other, in sports, in the classroom—everywhere. We were very competitive. In a way, I guess that's what got him killed." Bud went to Duke University on a track scholarship, but he dropped out after two years to join the Air Corps. Joe went to East Stroudsburg State Teachers College in Pennsylvania and stayed through his junior year before enlisting. "He ended up as a sergeant at Ft. Bragg and could have stayed there, safe for the duration," Bud continues. "But when I got my wings, Joe volunteered for OCS, became a platoon leader and shipped out to the Philippines in early 1945."

Lt. Joseph Barrett had been in E Company for only a couple of days when he was ordered to lead a reconnaissance patrol behind Japanese lines. He infiltrated enemy territory and, by radio, adjusted artillery fire against the Japanese while beating back banzai attacks. Barrett and his men and the artillery fire they directed killed more than 40 Japanese, but by nightfall, his platoon had run out of water, and Barrett knew they would have to fight their way back to E Company. Under cover of darkness, 23 of the 26-man squad battled safely through enemy lines, but on May 8, 1945, Lt. Joseph Barrett was fatally wounded by machine-gun fire. In an an eight-page letter to his mother, a fellow officer wrote: "Undoubtedly, your son Joe's superior leadership saved his platoon from annihilation." Lt. Joseph Barrett was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

"Back in Westfield, New Jersey, Mom got the news about Joe only days after I went into the hospital," Bud says. "She was never the same. I think she died of a broken heart." Agnes Barrett was a casualty of the war who would never appear as such in the official records.

   
Balinski—a rugged 180-pounder—knelt and flipped the copilot's rudder pedals back, leaned into the gale, grabbed Allen under the armpits and gently dragged him to the cockpit floor. With Mellas' help, he got Allen onto the floor in the narrow aisle of the navigator's compartment. Mellas pulled open a first-aid kit and poured sulfa powder into Allen's deep wounds. Bob Dietrich, the navigator, had been hit with dozens of shrapnel slivers, but he was on the radio with our navigator, Ray Borden, asking for a heading to the nearest Allied field. "We got three wounded [he ignored his own wounds] and the right engine's smoking. What's our best bet?" In seconds, I heard Borden's voice: "The nearest field is at Luneville, about 160 miles on a heading of 285 degrees." With four injured crewmen and the right engine running rough and belching flame, Lady Lynn was a heartbeat from disaster, and the nearest hope for salvation was an hour away.

The crew stayed calm. Despite intense pain, Bud hobbled forward and had Mellas buckle him into the copilot's seat. He wanted to give Ramsey moral support and any help he could. With his good left hand, Bud pulled his rosary beads from the pocket of his flight suit and hung them over the throttles. Without looking over, Ramsey gave a thumbs up. He pointed to the altimeter and Barrett nodded: "We're not holding our altitude, Charlie," he told Mellas. "Toss everything you can overboard." Mellas relayed the order, and the first thing to go was Sgt. Bob Blue's state-of-the-art K-17 aerial camera. Waist guns, ammo, tools, flak suits and helmets followed. Only one more thing to go—the bomb load—and with the hydraulic system shot out, there was only one way to do it.

Mellas and Balinski balanced on the narrow catwalk in the bomb bay and began to unhook the clusters of fragmentation bombs from their shackles. Six 20-pound "frags" were wired to a pipe on each of the 20 shackles. They uncoupled the 120-pound clusters one by one and passed them through the bulkhead to tail gunner Sgt. Rich Billington and Sgt. Blue. The clusters were bulky, and both teams handled them gingerly. If they accidentally pulled an arming wire loose the sensitive detonator might explode a cluster inside the plane. With strength born of fear, the four crewmen muscled all 20 bombs back to the waist windows and eased them overboard. With the plane stripped to its bare bones, the crew hunkered down in silence, trying not to think of the long haul ahead.

By the time Luneville was in sight, the Marauder was down to 1,800 feet and straining to stay at that altitude. Charlie Mellas managed to rouse the tower operator: "Luneville, we would like a straight-in approach. We have no hydraulics, an engine smoking and four injured crewmen on board." Ramsey and Barrett were stunned when two red flares arched from the tower. "Aircraft on final, you cannot land here. Repeat, do not land. We have a squadron of our fighters due in; can't have a damaged aircraft closing our runway. Our pilots don't have enough fuel to divert." But the news got better. "There's a ‘little friend' coming up behind you, and he'll escort you to a field at Nancy, only 15 miles farther west. Good luck, guys."

The P-47 appeared just off Lady Lynn's left wing, and Ramsey responded with a wave when the pilot waggled his wings. The fighter was flying tail low, hanging on the prop to fly slowly enough to match the B-26's speed—now down to 160mph. Barrett spotted the strip at Nancy and the tempo quickened. Balinski cranked down the wheels, and the main gear seemed to lock into place but the nosewheel bobbed in the wind. The P-47 peeled off when he saw the gear, and the bomber crew braced for a crash landing. Mellas turned the navigator's chair backwards, and Balinski sat in his lap. In the radioman's seat opposite, Billington and Blue did the same. Dietrich pushed two parachutes against the bulkhead, leaned back against them and cradled Allen in his arms.

"We're awful hot," Barrett shouted over the wind noise. "Wanna go around?" Without flaps, the B-26 was screaming in fast and flat on final.

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Paul Ramsey (all 5 feet, 5 inches and 125 pounds of him) next to the plane he managed to bring home. Today, he is a Pentecostal Church minister.

"No can do," Ramsey hollered. "Rudder's not working worth a damn!" He wrestled with the yoke, working with only aileron control to line the plane up with the runway.

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The remains of Lady Lynn at the field in Nancy, France.
 
Ramsey leveled the wings just as they skimmed over the runway threshold, and he chopped the throttles. The bomber hit hard and the gear collapsed. The plane skidded sideways in a nightmare roar of shattering glass and twisting metal. The right wing was ripped off, taking the fire with it and skewing the plane sideways with one last violent shudder. Then, all was still and very, very quiet.

There was no panic—no rush to leave the airplane. Balinski helped the crew through the top hatch, and Mellas, sitting on the wing, eased them to the ground. Once they were all out, they stood and silently surveyed the twisted hulk. When he saw the rudder—what was left of it—Ramsey shook his head. The fabric had been completely burned off (he wondered when), and that's why he had had to "aileron" the plane to line up with the runway. The right wing, from outboard the engine, was far back up the runway. Even a few more seconds in the air would have been fatal, but for one last time, this gallant old warbird had brought its crew safely back to earth.

Epilogue

They had crashed at an abandoned field, but the GI driver of a maintenance truck witnessed the landing and was there to help immediately. Being waved off at Luneville turned out to be a blessing because at Nancy, there was a first-rate hospital.
 
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In September 2001, at the 320th reunion in Albuquerque, New Mexico, copilot Paul Ramsey (left) and pilot Bud Barrett talk over old times.

Bud Barrett and Russ Allen were given blood transfusions and the medical help they desperately needed. The wound in Bud's right thigh was not serious, but he had 19 shattered bones in his right hand. As soon as he could travel, he was shipped back to the States and he spent eight months in Tilton General Hospital at Fort Dix, New Jersey. It took years of therapy to restore the use of his right hand.

Russ had the most life-threatening wounds: jagged chunks of flak lodged deep in his left arm, right shoulder and back. Fortunately, the paralysis in his arms proved temporary, and he made a complete recovery.

Ramsey's and Dietrich's injuries were superficial, but doting nurses had to tweeze out countless bits of Plexiglas and shrapnel from the pair. The next day, I flew to Nancy in a B-26, and, despite their wounds, they were both waiting with the other four crewmen. Our squadron flight surgeon was with me, and on the flight back to Dole, Capt. Randolph and I played "What if?" What if, on that mission, we had been carrying demolition bombs and flying tight formation? What if Lady Lynn's left engine had been hit? Almost surely, with either scenario, a multi-plane midair would have been triggered; and—a big one—what if Ramsey had elected to go around? The right wing would have parted in the air.

But none of the "what ifs" happened. A courageous crew stayed cool under fire. They put all their training into practice, worked together as a team and, with nothing to spare, their battered bomber held up just long enough to take them home. Lady Lynn had the dubious honor of being the last plane in our 320th Bomb Group to be shot down. In less than three weeks, the carnage ended. On May 8, 1945, after almost six years of fighting, the long, bitter struggle in Europe was over.

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  The author and his dog, Short-timer. At 21, he was C.O. of the 441st Bomb Squadron in the 320th Bomb Group—probably the youngest bomber squadron commander in the ETO. He flew 71 missions, 26 as group or squadron lead or mission commander.







 
  Editors' note: This article was originally published in the February 2002 issue of Flight Journal. It is presented here by permission from the author, Charles O'Mahony and the folks at Flight Joural. Back issues are available. Click on the image to link to the Flight Journal website where this issue can be purchased.


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