"Now It Can Be Told"

The Final Flight of the Irish Lassie
January 27, 1945
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This log is presented exactly as it was written in 1945.  
Nancy Brister
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B-29, "Irish Lassie," is Rammed Twice -- Comes Home

But the January 27th mission's outstanding example of superb flying and of the unending will of American soldiers to fight to
live is seen in the attempt and success of the crew of the twice-rammed B-29 "Irish Lassie" to bring its plane safely back to
base despite damages so severe that at one point over Japan the crew almost decided to give up the battle and jump for their
The Superfortress, flown by Lieutenant Lloyd Avery (now Captain), Long Beach, California, had crossed the coast-line at
Hammamatsu with the first formation to bomb.  Its gunners were as busy as any that day blasting away at Jap fighters all
along the approach to the target.  Planes were charging in from every direction and the babble on the interphone of gunners
calling out fighters was like that of an aucationeer.
The crew and its gunners were holding their own against the attacking enemy planes and had already sent three spinning to
earth when out of the sky high above them roared a Jap Zeke.  It was coming straight down, firing, as control gunner
Technical James F. McHugh, New York City, his head jammed into the lgassed-in top of his sighting compartment, spun and
swung six guns on the determined attacker.
American and Japanese pumped round upon round into one another's planes but still the diving Zeke came, faster and faster,
straight for the Superfort.  It was too late.  The Jap fighter couldn't pull out; the Superfort couldn't get out of the way.

First Fighter Hits

The Zeke smashed like a free-falling elevator into the bomber's left wing just behind its number one engine, taking with it as it
continued straight down to earth, eight feet of the bomber's aileron, one-third of its huge landing flap and tore up the number
one engine's gas tank so badly that previous fuel started pouring out of the fuel cell and dropping away into the air.
Miraculously enough, the number one engine was undamaged and continued to function.  "There was surprisingly little jolt
when the Jap hit us," Flight Engineer Lieutenant Robert Watson, Pomeroy, Washington, declared, "and our navigator (First
Lieutenant John J. Faubion, Austin, Texas) didn't even know we'd been rammed.  But everyone, including myself, thought for
sure we'd lost an engine.  But I glanced at my instruments and found that it was still in good running order.  To keep it in
operation I immediately transferred enough fuel from the damaged gas tank into another tank so that the level of the fuel in
the cell was below the point of the leak. Then I fed it back to keep the engine going."
The crew, unshaken and now with four fighters to its credit, continued along the bomb run, hugging its companion closely in
formation, firing round and round after round into swarms of fighters as Tail Gunner Staff Sergeant Charles Mulligan,
Henderson, Kentucky, called in from his tight position in the extreme end of the plane:
"B-29 giong down in flames at 7 o'clock.....fighter down at 6......four fighters attacking from four o'clock.....'

Radio Operator Wounded

More bullets ripped into the plane, some of which tore into the back of the radio operator Sergeant Walter Klinczak, Plymouth,
Pennsylvania, and he dropped to the floor calling for help.  But help had to wait.  The plane was on its bomb run and every man
was needed at his fighting station.
Bombardier First Lieutenant Corral Gage, Wausatos, Wisconsin, was preparing to release the bombs when Tail Gunner
Mulligan called in another fighter:
"Jack at 6 o'clock again.....this baby's really coming in!" he literally shouted over the interphone.  "He's low.  Coming in fast."
Mulligan poured out the lead.  Fifty, sixty, a hundred rounds more went into the hard-flying Jack as it bore in, straight for the
tail, with all guns blazing.  Mulligan kept firing, firing, firing and still the Jack came.  Pieces were chipped, sliced, blasted from
the enemy plan as the tail gunner's trigger fingers, white from the pressure he was applying to his gun buttons, bore even
harder into the metal.  A bullet tore into his right hand.  Still he fired.
Mulligan continued to fire until the very last second, then, when the snarling prop of the Jap's plane was but inches from his
glass-bound compartment, the determined tail gunner snatched his hands from his gunsight, flung his arms over his face as
the thunder-bolting fighter crashed into his compartment.

Jack Fighter Mashes Tail of Superfort

The whole plane shuddered as the fighter sliced into the rear of the huge bomber, tearing out the entire left side of the tail
gunner's compartment, ripping off completely the left stabilizer and snapping all but one of the great plane's control cables.  
But the bombardier, in the second the plane was hit, had released the bombs on schedule.
Then the near-dead bomber quickly went out of control and in a slow, upright spiral, dropped 8,000 feet below and behind the
protection of its formation.  A hanger-load of Jap fighters quickly pounced upon it.
"It's out of control," Avery shouted.
The gunners opened up on the pack and the plane continued to drop, one thousand, two-thousand, five thousand feet.  Japan
was moving closer and closer and the gunners, trying frantically to keep to their gun positions in the twisting, turning plane,
pumped sheets of metal into the attacking Japs.
"I've got it!  I've got it, Pop.  I believe I can hold it!  Copilot Leonard Fox, Downey, Pennsylvania, had, in desperation, tested the
control mechanism on his side of the plane and found that he could pull the plane out of its spin.  Slowly, surely, the hughe
plance came out of the spiral, barely held in control by the lone cable on Fox's side fo the plane, which had not snapped when
the Jack rammed them.

Bail-out Cancelled

During the 8,000 drop, Avery had ordered the crew to prepare to bail out.  The bomb bay doors had been opened in preparation
for the escape -- "escape" to the Japs below!  But during the split second that Fox had managed to pull the plane out of its
spin, Avery had learned of the injured radio operator and tail gunner.  The bay doors were snapped shut.
Fighters attacked even more aggressively now, realizing the bomber was severely crippled and could not count on the
protection of the guns of other B-29's.  Fighters attacking the main formation high and ahead of the crippled plane would
contine their dives down and strafe the wounded Superfortress.
Twenty fighters, split into two groups of ten, hung high above on either side of the wounded plane and made coordinated
attacks.  Top gunner McHugh alone had to battle off this determined group.  "After making one pass, they were coming back
for second," said McHugh.  "For them, firing at us was like reaching for the brass ring on the merry-go-round."
"First one would attack from high on the left and before I could finish firing at him, another would start down directly behind
and above me and I'd have to swing around in a 180-degree turn.  Soon, I could time them just right.  Without looking, I could
tell when the next guy was going to start in and, after letting his pal have a few bursts on one side, I swung around just in time
to catch another one coming in from behind."
Grinning and remembering, McHugh said, "From the way things looked at that point, I figured were going to be under attack all
the way back to Saipan, so I kept urging the gunners to save ammo, but it didn't do much good.  They had to fire and keep
Left Gunner Leach (Sergeant Clarence O., Martins Ferry, Ohio) without fire power when his partner, Right Gunner Meyer,
(Sergeant Marvin E., Boone, Iowa) took over both turrets, shouted:  "Meyer, Meyer, PLEASE give me a turret -- I've got FIVE of
them over here."  "Go to hell, Leach," Meyer shouted, his eyes jammed to his sight, "I've got EIGHT of them over HERE!"
Just a few moments had elapsed from the time the bomber was rammed, managed to drop its bombs and then plunge out of
formation.  Special Instruments Operator Staff Sergeant Lewis E. Nellums, Pensacola, Florida, now turned to injured Radio
Operator Klimczak.  As he dropped to his knees to aid the wounded man, Jap bullets ripped through the side of the bomber,
dug into the back of the seat where Nellums, seconds before, had been sitting.
As the giant bomber slowly worked its way out over the Japanese coast, the attackers followed.  But one by one the Japs
were forced to drop off from the attack and when the crippled plane was sixty miles out to sea only one fighter was left.  The
Zeke tried in desperation to give the bomber a third ramming, but failed, gave up the chase and headed for Honshu.

Tail Gunner's Hands Frozen

The crippled bomber had been under constant attack for more than an hour.
After the plane was clear of the fighters, McHugh went back to see what had happened to Mulligan and found him on the
compartment floor, unconscious.  He had managed to plunge his face into his oxygen mask before blacking out.
"The hole in the side of the plane was big enough for him to fall through," McHugh reported.  "The only thing that prevented
him from falling out when we went into that spiral was the fact that the shredded metal from the compartment was caught in
his clothing and was holding him inside the plane."
But the jagged pieces of metal, in working for the unconscious gunner, at the same time worked against him.  It took
crewmen an hour to cut him out and get him back to a portion of the plane were there was enough room in which to lay him
down and cover him with clothes.  By that time the 40 degrees below zero temperature had so affected the gunner's hands
that they later had to be amputated.  But the constant Jap attacks had prevented crewmen from leaving their positions for
even a few seconds.
The maimed bomber, because it had only a simple control cable and one horizontal stabilizer intact and because of the
severely damaged gasoline tank, required some extremely sensitive flying to bring it back to base.
"Our attitude was of eleven men, two severely wounded, attempting to walk a tight-rope all at the same time, that's how tense
we were during the trip back," Avery remembered.
"Flying the plane was certainly like being on a high-wire," Fox added.  "The slightest change in the mechanical condition of the
plane or in the general weather would have knocked us off our 'flying perch.' "

Didn't Move a Hair

Fox, after grabbing his controls during the dive and successfully pulling the plane out, carefully and doggedly held the controls
all the way back to Saipan.  He didn't move a hair for fear the giant plane would again go out of control and plunge its crew into
the Pacific.  Back at base he found his right wrist had been sprained because of the intensity with which he had held the
Because of the missing horizontal stabilizer, the plane flew in an unnatural attitude.  All the way back to Saipan its right wing
was several feet below its left.  With the gait of a man in a drunken stupor, it staggered toward its home airfield, more than a
thousand miles away.
About 150 miles out from Japan, the crew of Irish Lassie spotted a three-plane Superfortress formation, part of the second
wave which bombed the target.  Desperately, the crippled plane radioed for help to the formation high above it.
What Irish Lassie's crew didn't know was that in that three-plane formation were two other crippled bombers, both being
guided by the third, both attempting, somehow, to struggle home.

Fitzgerald Takes on a Third

The ether crackled the answer from Major Robert Fitzgerald's (Ridgewood, New Jersey; lost March 17th, Kobe mission) B29
"Saint Bernard":
"Got two others, but I suppose I can take on another."  Fitzgerald continued to give radio direction assistance to Avery's
damaged plane until it neared what was then Jap-held Iwo Jima.  The bomber's flux gage compass and gyro instruments had
been knocked out of commission when the first plane rammed, making accurate navigation next to impossible.  With
darkness closing in, conditions would be even worse.
Fox and Avery had teamed up.  Avery was handling the throttle controls and helping to guide the cripple with the engines.  Fox,
not daring to take his hands off the control whell, keeping the ship even through use of the one cable.  The two pilots would not
be able to relax even for a second if they were to bring their plane safely back to Saipan over hundreds of miles of Pacific
Ocean -- at night.
Nearing Iwo Jima, the cripple was separated from Fitzgerald's plane by a heavy weather front.
"Fire a flare," Fitzgerald ordered by radio.
Irish Lassie fired.
"Can't see you."
The cripple was on its own.  Visual contact with "Saint Bernard" had been broken by the heavy cloud cover.
On the edge of their seats, not daring the breathe, the crew of Irish Lassie flew on.  Night closed in and the plane continued to
skim the top of a heavy cloud layer at 18,000 feet.  The plane couldn't climb adn it dared not go down until it arrived at base.  
The controls, still held by Fox, were frozen by him in that one position -- direction, Saipan.

Riding the High Wire

Should they drop into the heavy cloud layer below them and be tossed about ever so slightly by an unfriendly wind, it might
spell the end.  Fox didn't say a word.  His hands were glued to the control wheel; his eyes glued out front.
In its crazy, tilted attitude the plane was difficult to keep on course.  Lack of essential navigational equipment made the job
even more difficult.  It would stray slightly and Avery would call out "10 degrees left" -- a few moments later, "5 degrees
right."  In a zig-zagging, drunken fashion, the plane wandered through the night, nearer and nearer to home base, all eyes
straining to catch some glimpse of Saipan.
As Fox and Avery deftly handled the controls, Faubion and Watson continued to check their gages and instruments, calling out
changes in direction, the amount of fuel left.
Meanwhile, other crewmen were caring for the two wounded men.
The rammed-in tail gunner, after being pinned, unconscius, into his compartment for more than an hour with subzero blasts
ripping through his position, had finally been extricated.

Getting the Tail Gunner Out

Singly crewman after crewman had wormed his way back into the freezing compartment to work at the metal-held gunner.  
They carried a "walk-around" oxygen bottle because the oxygen supply to the tail had been sliced away by the ramming
fighter.  A single crewman would cut away at the gunner until his supply of oxygen diminished and he had become groggy.  
Then he would stagger to the forward part of the plane and send up a new worker.
McHugh, Leach, Meyers, Nellums, Gage, all, in turn, worked to get the boy out of the smashed compartment.  They knew they
were working against time.  When a man spends too much time exposed to the elements at high altitudes, anything can
"His clothes were as stiff as a board when we finally got him loose," Nellums declared.  "We practically had to undress him in
order to get him free of the metal."  Carefully they lifted him out, lest he be dropped through the gaping hole and plunge
thousands of feet into the Pacific.
Back in the special instruments compartment the gunner was bedded down and clothes were piled on him a foot thick as
crewmen stripped, despite the zero weather whistling through the plane, and wrapped the unconscious gunner in their flying
clothes.  The cold had congealed his wounds but when the plane dropped to a lower altitude during the approach to base, the
crewmen sprinkled sulfa powder on him, shot morphine and plasma into him.
His face was purple, he began to groan and complain of the intense cold in spite of the mountain of clothing which had been
heaped upon him.  But his crewmates could do nothing more -- except wait for landing.
Nellums, back in his bullet-riddled seat, scanned his instruments and called over the interphone that Saipan was drawing near.

Approach for Landing

"Down we went, through the clouds and popped out on the approach to the field," Navigator Faubion remembered.  "At 1,200
feet we had to make a turn and that's when we began to do some real sweating."
Fox was at the flying control; Gage was giving visual direction from the nose and Avery was at the throttles as the huge plane
staggered towad the runway.
The copilot, still bedecked in his heavy flak suit, life vest and other combat equipment which he wasn't able to remove during
the trip back because eh couldn't once turn loose the controls, squeezed the flying column, edged the bomber in.
Then it slipped out of control.
The crippled plane dropped below the level of the field, headed for a cliff which is part of the landing approach to the Saipan
B-29 field.

".....Lower the Runway......"

Gage, up in the very front of the plane in his bombardier's compartment saw the embankment coming up fast, straight for
him.  He tried spiritually to lift the bomber over the edge and then, helplessly turned and shouted:  "If they could only lower the
damned runway just about now!"
Fox pulled at his control wheel in desperation.  Nothing happened.  The plane continued diving straight for the cliff.  Finally, in a
last effort to bring its nose up over the edge of the runway barely yards above, he put his feet up on the instrumenbt panel,
gave the wheel a last, frantic tug.
Something snapped.  The plane lifted abruptly, cleared the embankment and then plunged down onto the field and slid
hundreds of feet, scraping, screeching, sparking.
The main landing gear had held but the nose wheel collapsed as teh plane shot down the runway and turned under the
fuselage and came crashing up inside the bomber, still spinning.  It knocked injured Radio Operator Klinczak, who'd been lain
on the nose wheel hatch for comfort, far forward into the bombardier's compartment.

Burning Engine Thrown Free

The plane continued to crash down the runway.  Its number one engine burst into flames.  Crewmen braced themselves as
best they could, waiting.  Then the wing of the bomber caught on an embankment aat the edge of the strip, slammed the plane
around with a terrific twist, tossed the burning engine completely off the wing and the bomber careened to a stop.
The bomber's lights were knocked out in the crash.  There was a mass of tumbled bodies inside the plane as crewmen began
to untangle themselves and crawl out of Jap-made, American-made escape hatches.
Most everyone was clear -- Avery, knocked unconscious in sthe crash, and Gage, whose back was sprained, had been
carried and helped out and the injured radio operator had been rmoved -- when someone shouted, "Where's Mulligan?"
Crewmen tumbled back into the plane, crawling over scattered equipment and picked their way into the blacked-out special
instruments compartment where the tail gunner had lain.  "Mulligan, Mulligan."  From a corner of the compartment,
underneath a pile of clothing and wrecked equipment, a body stirred.  The crewmen stumbled and pipcked their way over,
snatched off the clothing and found the tail gunner in a ball, stashed in the corner.
"All Mulligan worried about when we finally got him out and down on the hard corral parking stand was the fact that he was
stark naked," McHugh grinned.  "But he was in pretty bad shape and we helped him quickly into a waiting ambulance and he
was sped off to the hospital."

Crewmen Decorated:  Two Still Flying

Nine members of the crew of Irish Lassie were decorated for their part in the historic mission.  Airplane Commander Avery
and Tail Gunner Mulligan both were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the army's second highest decoration.  Copilot
Fox and Flight Engineer Watson won the Silver Star, third highest combat decoration, and Navigator Faubion and Bombardier
Gage each were presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross.  McHugh, Meyer and Nellums each won the Air Medal for
outstanding gunnery and for aiding the wounded crewmen.
Though the entire crew was ordered "grounded" after the mission, McHugh and Meyer, reluctantly spending several months
on the ground, have managed to "fight" their way back to flying duty are now well on their way to completing their tour of duty
of thirty-five missions.
Tail Gunner Mulligan, at present in an army hospital in Georgia where he is being fitted with artificial hands, has already sent
several letters to his former crewmates.  "His spirits seem to be pretty high," McHugh said, staring off into space.


Return to Part One of LOG       

Caleb's" Diary: Story of the 73rd Bomb Wing, November, 1944 - September, 1945

"Caleb's" Letters: Airlifting Supplies to POWs ~&~ Thoughts of Home
Hal's" Letter, Touring Tokyo at War's End

Battlefield of Iwo Jima

Old New Orleans Index
Wreck of the Irish Lassie
The Crew of the Irish Lassie (click on
picture to see larger image).
With sincere thanks to Jim and Kevin McHugh, sons of James F. McHugh, central control gunner on the Irish
Lassie---to Kevin for sharing information about his dad and to Jim for the excellent photo above.  Kevin McHugh wrote
that his dad had been a member of the New York City Fire Department for 38 years, until mandatory retirement at age
65.  He said his dad didn't talk much about his experiences in the war, or about his job with the FDNY, where he had
received honors for heroism.  Jim and Kevin's parents had seven children; their dad passed away in 1993.
If you'd like to get in touch with them, click on their names:   
Jim   Kevin
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