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A miracle we didn’t go down

Interview with Mr. Forrest S. Clark

Interview with Mr. Forrest S. Clark on September 11, 2001, with Shaun Illingworth in Orlando, Florida.


SI: Can you tell me about your fifteen missions? Do you remember where you were sent?


FC: ... I was on ... one of the Berlin missions. I was on Zwickau, Berlin, Bernburg, Brunswick, Gotha, Pas-de-Calais, Oslo, Kjeller, Norway, and ... a couple of the rocket sites over on the French coast, Pas-de-Calais and Lechfeld.


SI: Which mission was the most harrowing?


FC: Well, the one, of course, that I remember [laughter] was the one that I think it was a miracle we didn't ... go down and that was the 18 November, 1943, [mission] to Kjeller Air Base, the Luftwaffe base in Lillestrom, ... you know where Lillestrom is?


SI: In Norway?


FC: Yeah, about twenty miles from the City of Oslo. We've got a memorial over there to the Second Air Division, Eighth Air Force. ... The crews that were on that mission, ... we just went over there in '93 and dedicated it on the same anniversary date of the mission, and the Eighth Air Force and the Second Air Division put it there, and the Royal Norwegian Air Force is the custodian of it, because it's on their base. That base is still being used by the Royal ... Norwegian Air Force. ... 


We'd gone to Rjukan, ... the heavy water plant, Norsk Hydro, where ... Hitler was making the [heavy water for an atomic bomb]. 


They'd gone there a couple of days before, and they bombed that, but, they didn't experience any opposition. So, this was a base, on the 18th, I think they went there on the 16th or 17th, but, on the 18th, it's an interesting story about Rjukan, but, we went to Kjeller, because it was ... one of the leading bases in ... Scandinavia [being used] by the Luftwaffe, and they were refitting planes to ship to the Russian Front, and so, it was a major maintenance base. They also had a BMW factory there that was making engines, BMW engines, and so, we went there. ...


It was a long mission. I guess, next to Ploesti or, probably, Berlin, it was a very long mission and a cold one, very cold. I remember how cold it was. ... November in the North Sea was cold, ... about forty degrees or thirty-five degrees [below zero], something like that, and it was a cold mission and a long one, because we had to go about 700 miles up, make a big turn, and come back again, through the Skagerrak. 


The Germans had Luftwaffe squadrons in Northern Denmark and in very close; there's a narrow place there, you know, if you look at the map. 


So, I was ... flying with my ... whole crew, ... the whole crew was there, and so, we were going in, and we saw these German fighters off there, like they were parallel with us. They were just flying along when they were, apparently, radioing down positions, but, I don't know whatever happened about that, because the German High Command was having a maneuver ... that day at the base, and they had given all the civilian employees, the Norwegians, a day off, off the base. 


So, there was a whole cadre of German troops there and they were having a defense maneuver. They were practicing antiaircraft defense, and they were running around there, having a ground deployment of troops, and the leading general of the Germans, General Von Falkenhorst. You ever hear of him? He was the leading German Luftwaffe commander in Scandinavia, actually, at that time, and he was there reviewing the troops, reviewing the maneuvers, and we came over, and ... 


I don't know how, but, we caught the Germans totally by surprise, because the story is, I learned this later, when I talked to some people over there, when we went back over there, about seven years ago, eight, ten years ago, that General Von Falkenhorst was up on this hill, looking down ... at the base, and, here, he saw these [planes], we had about 110 bombers in our force coming, and he said, "(Vas dis?)?" [laughter] and his aide said, "Oh, I can assure you, Commandant, those are ours," and then, when the bombs started to fall, why, they had to run for their lives, you know. They had to hide in this bunker. So, we almost got ... the German general. 


We dropped 836 500-pounders in about twelve minutes over that base. It wiped out eighty-five percent of it. Mosquitoes came back, a couple of months later, the RAF, and wiped out the rest of it, but, ... some of us made two turns over that target, and the funny thing was that nothing got off. 


I mean, here, they had all these aircraft, they didn't get off. They were taken totally by surprise, I don't know why, because some of their reconnaissance planes had seen our formations coming in over the North Sea, so, I don't know. 


I remember going up the Oslo Fjord, we were at about 15,000 feet or so, and I could see the flak batteries on the ships down there in the fjord. They weren't firing and we could see the whole [thing]. ... 


It just had snowed that day, or the night before, and the whole City of Oslo [was] just outlined in the snow, you know, and I could see the mountains of Norway going up to North Cape, and then, ... we came out over that base, and, years later, I met a sixteen-year-old boy who was hiding, a school boy, ... in one of the shelters that day, and he remembered it. We met, and I met him through some kind of a miracle, but, I met him because I put an ad [out] ... and asked if there were anybody who remembered that mission from over there, and he remembered, because he was in a bomb shelter that day, when we came over, and all of the Norwegians were cheering, because they hadn't seen any [Allied planes]. 


See, that's another thing about this mission, it was one of the few that had been made, en masse, any appreciable group, on a Norwegian center of population. 


So, the Norwegians had gone five years, or almost four or five years, under German occupation, and they'd never seen too many mass bombings by the Eighth Air Force. So, this was a big event and we wiped out that base.


The casualties must have been very high among the Germans, although I never could find out, the sums range up to the hundreds, several hundred, maybe, because ... they were all exposed, you know, and the aircraft didn't [get off the ground].


FC: ... Well, we dropped our ... bomb load there and without much opposition. I don't remember, I think, coming back ... out of the Oslo Fjord, there was a couple of flak bursts, but, it wasn't until we got out over the open water again that, then, the word had gotten out to squadrons, the Luftwaffe squadrons, and they had beefed up a lot squadrons around that time, from Denmark and Norway, in that area called the Skagerrak, that they came up. ... 


I would say it looked like they had a hundred or more fighters up there, ME 109s, I even remember seeing ... some Junkers, JU 88s, FW 190s. ... 


We had lost some power; we had lost some turbo charger power. We were lagging behind. See, I was in the tail, so, I could see everything, and I couldn't see the rest of the formation. Where were they? They were gone, (useless?). 


Anyway, it was customary, after a bomb run, everybody headed out there, "Get the hell out of here," as fast as they could, you know. So, they'd taken ahead and gone ahead, and we were lagging behind, and, as a matter-of-fact, from the target on, after the target, we started lagging behind, and I didn't see anybody back there, and I said, "That's not too good," because there's nobody back there, and then, I saw the fighters, you know. 


The fighters, they lined up at the tail. They were coming in right at level [laughter] with everything going, you know, everything, and I had fired the guns several times before that on missions, but, this time, ... we were told to fire, and then, watch our tracers, and then, adjust for ... the lead, and watch the tracers, and ... fire bursts, you know, but, I just let go with both this twin .50s and was filling the whole sky back there, you know, and they were coming in and coming in, and I could see the pilots' heads, and helmets, and even their faces, they came in so close. 


I thought they were gonna ram us. I said, "They're gonna ram us. They're gonna ram us." He said, "Shut up and shoot." [laughter] You know, they'd come right in at level, then, they'd dive down at the last minute, and go under us, and come in another [wave]. ... 


Everybody was operating, the tail guns were operating, the nose-turret, everything, the ball-turret, or should have been operating, but, anyway, ... there was a lot of noise, a lot of confusion, but, they were coming in, and I said, "They're lining up back there." I could see them lining up and coming in, one at a time. 


I don't know why they were coming in at the tail, but, they were, and so, ... you couldn't miss them, let's put it this way. ... 


It was said, ... I learned this later, that they were firing rockets, which I had never seen before, but, they had these .20 mm cannons, you see, that was the thing. They could do a lot of damage, these .20 mms. 


So, I was this way ... and a shell went right through. It didn't have much to go through, because, in those B-24 turrets, they had a big piece of thick Plexiglas there, but, there was an opening, not too much protection. 


The wind used to blow through there, and I was over this way, firing, and the ball-turret gunner, Bill Kuban, came up out of the ball-turret, ... I still, to this day, don't know [why]. He should have stayed there, but, he came up and was bringing ammunition cartridge strips back to me, in the tail, because I was running short. 


My guns, ... the belts were running low and I'd called for some. I don't know when I expected to pause and reload those damn things, because that was a job, especially at that altitude. 


So, anyway, ... I was over this way and a shell went through here, right over my shoulder, and hit him, and he went down. 


Then, the bail out bell rang, and I heard the bail out bell in all this noise, you know, and firing, and the confusion, and I heard the bell. ... 


I said, "What the hell is that bell?" ... At first, I thought it was a dream, but, then, I realized that it was the bail out bell. 


So, I rolled back out of the turret and it was all these hot shells, spent shells, covering the whole bottom of the aircraft, and blood. This guy was bleeding, and I looked at him, took one look at him and said, "I don't think there's anything we can do for you. He looks like he's gone." He had his eyes rolled up. ... 


So, Gibboney came back, he said, "Get the hell out of here. We've got to bail out. ... Don't you hear that bell?" I said, "Wait a minute." ... 


They were still attacking, so, I said, "Well, I've got to go back into the turret and finish up shooting." 


He said, "No, forget that, start throwing stuff out." So, we threw flak suits, everything we could, oxygen bottles, ... to lighten up the back, and I opened the rear hatch and looked down, the camera hatch we called it, in the rear there, and looked down and saw the North Sea and the white caps, and I said, "Wait." He said, "Go, go, go." I said, "Wait a minute," ... and then, I don't know what made me stop, but, something did, and, by this time, Kuban was out, totally, and we carried him back and put him behind the bulkhead, but, I looked down at the North Sea, and ... 


Gibboney said, "What are you doing?" and I said, "Well, I'm praying." [laughter] So, I got down, and I really prayed, you know, and, just at that time, a thin layer of, well, not so thin, actually, clouds formed over the North Sea, and we went into it. 


We were heading straight down for the water, you know, by this time, and the German fighter pilots probably had written us off. ... 


When we went into that cloud, they lost us or they were out of [range]. We were pretty far out by that time, so, ... they broke off their attacks, and, from that point on, we just limped back over the water, I mean, [it] just looked like a hundred feet in some places. We'd go down, sink down, then, roar up again, then, sink down and roar up again, and I looked out there, and I could see a hole in the wing. It looked like it's big enough to drive a jeep through, in the wing, and so, anyway, I think there's a better picture of this, but, there's the plane. ...


SI: Wow.


FC: This engine was completely shot up. We had no hydraulic fluid, we didn't have any landing gear, that was shot away, and about 150 holes in the plane, and so, for about three [hours], it seemed like hours and hours, we just [limped along], and we'd see other planes going down. 


We saw some of our other group [members go down], Houle. Lieutenant Houle went down. 


We saw the plane go down and you couldn't ditch those [B]-24s. They were not ditchable, really. I mean, they'd break-up, you know, a Davis wing. You know, it wasn't like the [B]-17 wing. 


We devised this plan; we were gonna go down, the pilot was gonna ditch, then, ... no, first, we were gonna bail out, use our Mae West, then, ... in the water, and that water is about forty degrees, and then, ... he's gonna ditch the plane, inflate the big raft, and go around and pick us up, which was about a million to one shot that we got everybody out of there. ... 


Anyway, so, we limped on and on. ... Then, I saw the coast coming up. ... I wasn't sure what coast it was. I thought it might be the Dutch coast or the French coast. I didn't know what it was and I was completely disoriented. ... 


Then, the order came back, "We can't get the gear down. The wheels are shot away. What are we gonna do?" and the pilot's command came back, "Jump, parachute, everybody out," except him and the wounded gunner. 


So, we bailed out and, as I was coming down, I remember thinking that you've got to free fall, so [that] you don't get tangled in ... those big stabilizers, you know, those vertical stabilizers on the [B]-24. We had cases of where guys pulled their cord too soon, and the chute got [tangled], and that was all she wrote. 


So, I let myself fall. I counted to ten, you know, and then, ... I said, "Gee." I looked up and there's the airplane. [laughter] ... It looked like it was still there, so, I counted again to ten, and I'm looking up, I was also looking down. [laughter] 


So, when I finally pulled the cord, I came down over this farm field, which was a very muddy field. Luckily, it was muddy, and I hit, "Bang," like that, and rolled over about ten times in the mud, and my chute ... was pulling me across the field, and I saw a farmer with a pitchfork come running. 


He stuck it, like this, at me. I put my hands up. [laughter] I thought, "Jesus, we've made a mistake. That damned navigator screwed up again and we're back in Germany," [laughter] but, luckily, it was England, about twenty miles from the base, fifty miles. 


We were pretty close. ... I said, "Where are we?" in English, and he said, "Why, you damned Yankees." He said, "Don't you know your (geography?)?" something to that effect. So, then, I remember, I dug my hands into the dirt and wiped them on my flight suit and I said, "That's enough for me. I quit."


 They took me into the hospital, of course, and I did have a bad foot, I still have it, from that landing, 'cause, when I landed, instead of rolling, I put my feet down and hit, and you're supposed to [roll]. See, we never had any ... parachute training, as flight crews. I don't know why that was. ... 


One of my gripes about the Eighth Air Force was, they used to put us in these decompression chambers and send us up, you know, to ten, fifteen, twenty, 25,000 feet, and, you know, they'd ask you to have your oxygen mask there, ready, and, when you ... felt yourself going to pass out, you put the mask on, but, we never had any parachute training, you know. ... 


As a matter-of-fact, ... when you check[ed] out this parachute, go through the line, ... the supply sergeant would say, "Now, this is a perfectly good, packed parachute, but," he said, "you know, sometimes things happen, and, if it doesn't work, why, you can always bring it back," then, he'd laugh, but, the thing is that we didn't have any [training]. ... 


Actually, we did have a couple of crews who practiced jumping, and ... we thought that was stupid, you know, but, now that I look back at it, I don't know, I think maybe it wasn't so stupid. ...

Dropped 836 500-pounders

«We dropped 836 500-pounders in about twelve minutes over that base. It wiped out eighty-five percent of it. Mosquitoes came back, a couple of months later, the RAF, and wiped out the rest of it, but, ... some of us made two turns over that target, and the funny thing was that nothing got off. I mean, here, they had all these aircraft, they didn't get off. They were taken totally by surprise, I don't know why, because some of their reconnaissance planes had seen our formations coming in over the North Sea, so, I don't know...»

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