January 1941 Flying AcesTable of Contents
Some things never grow old. These pages from vintage modeling magazines like American Aircraft Modeler, American Modeler, Air Trails, Flying Aces, Flying Models, Model Airplane News, & Young Men captured the era. I will be glad to scan articles for you. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
This could be a title from a story written within the last week, only instead of radical Nazi terrorists being the culprits it would be radical Islamic terrorists. In early 1941, the time when this article appeared in Air Trails: Hobbies for Young Men magazine, America was not yet formally engaged in world War II, although we were by proxy since our military supplied a lot of equipment and training to Allied forces. The story's author, Lt. Thomas McBride, was an American airman who helped train French pilots and actually fly missions against the "Boche" Luftwaffe.
It might interest you to know that Hitler's Germany and the Islamic country of Persia (Iran) had close diplomatic ties leading up to and during WWII. In fact, the word 'Iran' originates from 'Land of the Aryans.' Nazis refer(ed) to themselves as the 'Aryan race.'
"We Were Bombed in Paris!"
by Lieutenant Thomas McBride
Who flew for France against Germany.
Last month Pierre Cot told you that the French capital had been attacked only once by Nazi airmen. Now we give you the inside story of that bombing, written by an American flyer who barely escaped death in the raid.
Last April, Shorty and I were on our way to France. The whole thing was still more or less of a dream to us. We had waited around New York for two and a half months, champing at the bit, anxious to get started - and at last we were finally nearing the coast of France on a French tanker.
Neither of us had been under fire before and our only military service had been in the American Army in peace-time. But we weren't kidding ourselves that it was any bed of roses we were stepping into. We knew they were playing for keeps over there and we were prepared to play that way, too. We were filled with confidence; overconfidence, I'm afraid.
We had been picked as the first American pilots to be sent to France to organize the Second Lafayette Escadrille. Since returning, though, I haven't been able to figure out why, but at the time it seemed perfectly obvious.
Shorty-Vernon - Keough in private life - and I had flown together for about six years. (Incidentally, Shorty is now a member of the British Eagle Squadron.) We had been barnstorming in the South when we decided to look into the war business. We got in on the ground floor and were the first Americans to actually reach France for combat duty.
When we reached Paris we were greeted by General de Chambrun, who took us to lunch with the Minister of Air, Eynac, and an assortment of Brass Hats from the French Air Force. We were interviewed by newspapermen and had our pictures taken shaking hands with the Minister and the General.
After two or three hours of this sort of thing we began to believe we really were heroes. Next day we were moved into the Officers Hotel of the Ministrie de l'Air and started eating at the Officers' Mess.
Then came the let-down. We had been told that we would be flying within twenty-four hours after we set foot on French soil. Naturally, we were anxious to get going. As I mentioned before, we had waited in New York for a couple of months, and now after we had been installed in the Officers quarters we were beginning to think we were the forgotten men of France.
For nearly a month we sat around Paris doing nothing but eating and sleeping. Every time we tried to see anybody at the Air Ministry they were very polite. So polite, in fact, that by the time we got to see the head man, Captain Lombard, head of the Premier Bureau, we were practically apologetic for disturbing him, in spite of the fact that we had entered the building with blood in our eyes, determined to have a showdown.
He kept putting us off and saying there were certain formalities that had to be observed even though a war was going on. He was sorry, but we could see how it was.
During this time about the only thing that broke the monotony was the arrival of the other boys who had been sent over to join us, two or three at a time. Altogether, by the time I left Paris, eight of them had arrived.
The other diversion was the constant Air Raid alarms. After the first few had wakened us out of a sound sleep, usually between four and six A.M., we stopped worrying about them. The first several, of course, caused us to scramble out of bed, and with thumping hearts rush out on the balcony and strain our eyes, trying to locate raiders against the murky sky.
After a week of this, we wouldn't even come out from between the covers. We began to think the whole war was a rumor. We had never, in spite of all the alarms, so much as even seen a Nazi reconnaissance ship. And although we had heard anti-aircraft fire on several mornings, none of us had ever seen what they were shooting at. We came to the conclusion that the French were jittery and were shooting at shadows.
One day, though, I never will forget.
On this particular day, the last two of our boys had just arrived in Paris. We took them into the Mess Hall and introduced them to the assembled Officers and we all sat at a table with several Frenchmen who spoke English.
About one o'clock we were through and were just waiting for the orderly to serve coffee when the Alerte went off. Nobody, of course, paid much attention to it as it had become more or less of a regular occurrence. The Lieutenant with whom I was talking at the time called to the orderly and told him to ignore the alarm and to serve us our coffee immediately, which he did.
About five minutes after one, we heard a very faint "crumph" sound in the distance. We all looked up, a little startled for a moment. One of the French officers said it was a D.C.A. (anti-aircraft) and another disagreed with him. He claimed it was too heavy a sound to be anti-aircraft.
We were all getting rather interested in the argument when all of a sudden there was an ear-splitting, rapidly rising screech that seemed to pick us up out of our chairs and yet kept us rooted to the spot. The sound kept getting louder and louder and seemed to be aimed right for our heads. At the last split second, everybody instinctively ducked. This is probably what saved us, as the screech was crowned by a tremendous crash and the enormous windows in the mess hall just seemed to disintegrate in spite of the tape on them.
For the next couple of moments bedlam was let loose in the hall. It seemed to be raining glass. I had a flash of an old colonel, with rows of ribbons on his chest from the last war, standing about three paces away on my left. When the glass started flying, he had raised his left hand to protect his face, and as I saw him he was dazedly looking at the stumps of his four fingers. A flying sheet of glass had chopped them off cleanly. He reached into his pocket with the other hand to take out a handkerchief. He wrapped up the remains of his left hand and, holding the wrist tightly, stood against the rear wall and watched the fireworks.
In the meantime, a half dozen more bombs had fallen, but none as close as that first one. As they seemed to be dropping farther away, we decided to go outside to have a look.
Although all the windows had been blown out by the first bomb, I remember noticing a peculiar thing. The revolving door, though made almost entirely of glass, had suffered no damage at all. At the time, that observation seemed very important; why, I don't know.
I had just passed through the revolving doors and had reached the sidewalk when I heard that screaming sound again. I remember distinctly getting the impression that there were five bombs descending, all aimed directly at me. I spun on my heels, intending to get back into the building again, but saw immediately that everybody had the same idea and the doors just hadn't been designed for that rush of traffic.
When I saw about twenty people jammed in the doors, I instinctively hit the ground flat on my stomach as close to the wall of the building as I could get.
Directly in front of me were two small French cars. As I watched, they seemed to rise into the air and I felt as though I had been slapped in the face by a barrel stave wielded by Joe Louis. I didn't know whether I had been hit or not, and what's more, at that particular time I didn't give a damn. I just sat there dazed for at least a minute, looking foolishly at the two cars burning fiercely on their backs. They had been parked about three feet apart against the curb and a small twenty-five pound bomb, as we estimated later, had landed directly between them. If I had been standing up, I would have caught the full force of it; as it was, it had all passed over my head and all I got was the concussion - which was plenty.
In the meantime, the jam at the door had been cleared and most of the other fellows came out. As the mess hall was only a one story building and as there was no anti-aircraft fire because French Intercepters were up there engaging the Nazi bombers, we figured vie were just as safe outside as inside.
We Americans lay down under the concrete archway at the Main Gate and watched the dogfight going on overhead. The fact that they were being attacked didn't cause the Nazis to cease bombing, though -
While we watched, a bomb struck directly across the street and four civilians who had been standing in front of a small cafe were literally blown to bits. The bomb had landed right on the curbstone, and it must have been a big one because it blew a hole about thirty-five feet across and about fifteen feet deep, opening up the water main under the Boulevard Victor, and sending a geyser high into the air.
Almost simultaneously, and probably from the same plane, a bomb struck across the courtyard from us, penetrating the roof of the War Plane Museum attached to the Air Ministry. The "egg" burst in the midst of a group of nine officers and they just seemed to disappear. One minute they were standing there and the next there was a terrific explosion, and through the smoke and flame we could see the twisted steel of the window frames flying through the air. When the smoke cleared, the room was empty and one whole wall had been blown out.
Although the ships were too high for us to see clearly what was happening, we did see three of them go down; two in flames and the third spinning down out of control. They all landed Southwest of Paris. Later we learned that all three were German planes.
Everything seemed to have quieted down, although we could still hear engines, and we were sitting under the archway talking about the nerve of the Boche, coming over in broad daylight and bombing Paris. Suddenly, one of the boys seemed to have trouble breathing. His eyes popping from his head, he finally managed to yell "Duck!"
Needless to say, we wasted no time. We all looked in the direction he was pointing. One Nazi, carried away by enthusiasm by the success of the daylight raid, was coming down the Boulevard Victor just over the rooftops with the gunner in the nose hunched over his trips, and clearly visible from where we were, spraying bullets into a row of Air Force trucks parked in front of the Ministry.
He coursed the street once and then flew back toward Germany, figuratively thumbing his nose at us. I don't believe he did much damage but he sure succeeded in scaring hell out of us.
After about five minutes, the All Clear signal blew. I looked at my watch and then shook it to see if it was still running. I could hardly believe my eyes, the whole thing from Alerte to All Clear had taken only a half hour.
Since that experience, I have been bombed several times but never will I forget that first one. It was by far the worst. I've never as long as I've lived had such a helpless feeling as I had that day in Paris. There was absolutely nothing we could do. If we could even have thrown rocks at them, it would have relieved our feelings.
All I've got out of going over to France is a great sympathy for a beautiful country that was sold out by its leaders, and a spent bomb fragment that hit me and bounced off my clothes. But by the time this appears in print, I will probably be with the R.C.A.F. as I've already made arrangements to enlist. This time, though, there will be no guesswork. I know what I'm stepping into.
Posted November 21, 2015