An Introduction to "Bombers Across" by Lowell Thomas
There are more unsung heroes fighting in this war, I suppose than in all the other wars of history rolled together. Explorers who have gone into remote regions in searach of rare minerals and products of the jungle; men in the intelligence services who in the war have an infinitely more difficult job than ever before; paratroopers dropped behind the lines whom we never hear about; war correspondents who have suffered more casualties in proportion to their numbers than any other single group taking an active part at the various fronts; doctors, nurses, stretcher bearers, and ambulance drivers for whom hazards are now far greater than ever; ground crews at advance airbases, and so on. The list is endless. But right at the head of it should go the flyers whose job it is to ferry planes across oceans, and fly the endless stream of munitions that go by the sky route.
Frankly, I feel utterly inadequate for the pleasant task of writing a preliminary word to this exciting book. But, I accepted the invitation eagerly, because there are few things that could give me more satisfaction than the opportunity to salute the lads who fly the oceans. For, from my observer's seat, it seems that they have had far less recognition than they deserve.
My actual knowledge of the men who fly the seven seas and span the continents of their errands of war is less than I would like it to be. However, for years I have been either directly or indirectly associated with the world of aviation, and scores of my friends are among the old-time flyers who were the first to join the Ferry Command.
And while I think of it, here's a question that has been puzzling me ever since we entered the war:
One of the top flyers of our time, is a young old man named Clyde Pangborn. There are some who rank him Number One.
His round-the-world flight long years ago was just one of his endless string of achievements. And in this was included a record that still stands, when he made man's first non-stop flight right across the vast Pacific Ocean. And, the amazing thing is that it has never been flown non-stop since. Where is "Pang" now? Why, he's a Captain in the RAF Ferry Command.
Some of the most interesting flights that I have ever made have been with the pilots who are now spanning the hemispheres. And never will I forget that night at Natal, at the tip of the South American bulge, the Number One jumping off place for men who fly the South Atlantic. Air Force General Bob Walsh, in command there, suggested that we stay up all night, sit in with the veteren pilots--and the youngsters too--at their "briefing"; then see them into their planes; and watch them vanish over the South Atlantic.
Occasionally the flyers and ground crews needed a little extra man power to clear a path through the rows and rows of four-engined and twin-engined bombers lined up and waiting to make the long jump to Africa--some to take straight, others to make it by way of lonely Ascension Island. Somethimes the General and I supplied that extra man power.
All through the night a steady stream of planes, with blue flames shooting from their exhausts, went roaring down the more-than-a-mile-long runway, up into the darkness, and out over the Atlantic bound for Africa, Asia, and Far Countries.
One of the Air Transport pilots, a young Frenchman who now has rolled up several thousand hours in over-ocean flying, told me a story of one of his Pacific experiences. Some years ago when the Chilean government decided to create a ski corps forpatrol work in the high Andes, Blue Devil Jacques Charmoz and a fellow French Olumpic skier were loaned by the government of France to Chile, to train the Chilean Army. When this war broke out, Charmoz decided to return home as a flyer, rather than as a Chausseur Alpin. But his country was overrun before he could get home. So he came north from chile, bought his own plane, and at his own expense and with indefatigable labor, piled up hours at night flying, studied all types of navigation, and finally talked the RAF into taking him. In fact, today he an five others are the only French airmen in the trans-ocean flying game.
Later, when Uncle Sam was desperately in need of experienced airmen to fly bombers across the Pacific, Captain Jacques Charmoz of the RAF for a time was loaned to the American Army Air Forces. I addition to flights back and forth across the Pacific, he made some eighteen trips rushing Commandos from Australia to New Guinea. That was when the Japs had crossed the Oen-Stanley Mountains, and were threatening to take Port Moresby.
On his way back from one trip to the Antipodes he and another RAF captain were invited to return as passengers in a twin-engined cargo ship. They didn't relish the idea, because they knew the plane had a fuel capacity that would allow only for extremely narrow margin of safety on some of those big Pacific jumps. But, it was hot as blazes in New Caledonia, and there was no telling when another plane would be heading toward America. So, the decided to go along.
All went well until the were on the lap between Canton Island and Hawaii. This, by the way, was right at the time when Captain Eddie Rickenbacker and his companions were dowm somwhere on the Pacific, and every surface ship and plane that could be spared was taking part in the search.
In that cargo plane with Jacques Charmoz and his pal there was a third passenger, a distinguished officer, making the trip in a long wooden box. That coffin occupied so much of the space that the two French officers had to use it a the table when they dined. And they played gin rummy across it.
After flying for some hours on the Canton-Hawaii lap, Jacques figured that the plane must be nearly out of fuel, and seeing no sign of any islands he went up to the cockpit and asked the captain how they were getting on. The young American pilot shook his head, said he didn't know, in fact wasn't sure when they would make land-fall, but that undoubtedly the navigator had them on the beam.
Next Captain Charmoz asked the navigator if he knew where they were, and the latter replied that he was working on it, but was uncertain. However, he said he was sure the radio operator, who seemed awfully busy, must be in touch with Hawaii. When Charmoz tried to question the radio man, the latter waved him aside. So, he went back and continued the game of cards across the coffin. More time passed, and by now he was dead certain the fuel tanks must be almost empty. So, he went over to the radio man who was still busy, determined to wait this time until he found out. After a few minutes the wireless operator threw up his hands and shouted joyfully: "They've found him! They've found him!"
All the time he had been listening to the radio converations that just about blanketed the Central Pacific, wireless messages in connection with the search for Rickenbacker--who at that moment had been found.
But, the rejoicing radio opeator didn't know the position of his own plane! While he was cheering the rescue of Captain Rickenbacker and his companions, he himself, and those with him, were lost!
The story, of course, had a happy ending. They made it by and eyelash. A few minutes later, just as they ran out of gas, they sighted one of the islands of the Hawaiin group.
There are endless untold tales of high adventure to be related by the young airmen who have been ferrying bombers to all parts of the planet. Surely no greater saga could be written than the story of their flights. And now here is Captain Edgar J. Wynn, one of this gallant company, who has a thrilling and heroic tale to tell.