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CHAPTER TWO - Ferrying P-40s in Africa

After that I remember a few free days at Norfolk. Families and friends visited and Virginia Beach was active. Smitty got married and Mattie Belle Bridges and I became engaged. We married after the war, in December 1945, and are still married.

The air echelon left late one night by train out of Norfolk for Miami, near the end of November. We "did the town" for a couple of days while living in a Hotel De Gink, and departed Miami on a bucket-seated C-54, on 2 December 1942 for Trinidad (one night), Belem (one night), Ascension Islands (a rock pile in mid-south Atlantic Ocean) and finally to Accra, West Africa (then the British ruled Gold Coast). It was there that we first learned that we were to pick up our P-40's at Lagos, a little further down the coast, and fly them across Africa to Khartoum; then north down the Nile River to Cairo, Egypt. The hitch was that we were 30 days early or the airplane shipment (by boat) was late. We accepted as fact the rumor that one boatload of aircraft had been sunk by submarines.

The heat was oppressive, the open barracks crowded, the mosquitoes were bad, and the food was terrible; but we needed a few days rest. It could have been worse. A beautiful ocean beach was less than a mile away, with a wide sandy strand and long rolling breakers. Body surfing was great unless one chose too large a wave -- and that could be (and on occasion was) serious. There was a native fishing village nearby so we had additional entertainment watching and making wagers on the fishermen as they maneuvered their over-sized rowboats in and out through the heavy surf. Best of all we could supplement our diet by buying from the native kids tree-ripened bananas (a foot long, yellow, no bruises, and perfect taste) and field-ripened pineapples -- delicious.

The most remarkable thing about that British base was the solid mahogany outhouse. It was about 20 feet square, built with long 2' x 12' or wider planks. The inner square of seating boxes, also mahogany, accommodated quite a few men at a sitting. The favorite conversation was speculation as to the stateside value of all that mahogany, or how many pianos it would make.

It continued to be hot as Hades day and night. In spite of a couple of interesting tours to inland jungle villages, we were slowly going nuts! Everybody volunteered when it came time for the first eight pilots to ship out to Lagos.

We test flew our own brand-new just assembled P-40's until squawks were cleared. When eight ships were ready, the flight would leap off early the next morning for Kano, French Equatorial Africa. Then with several intervening stops for refueling we would proceed to Khartoum, Sudan; then to Cairo. We could have done more sight-seeing, but as I recall one day in the Khartoum bazaars and a low flying tour of Luxor was just about all the tourism we wanted at that time. Originally we had expected to have A-20 or B-25 lead ships, but when they did not materialize we took our own maps and dead-reckoned over the jungles. I don't recall any of our P-40's being lost during the ferry missions, which was pretty remarkable all things considered.

At some of the stops many of the natives were giants, 7 plus feet tall. We were glad they were friendlies. The British base at Khartoum was apparently one of longstanding -- we were billeted in a building called "Officers Qtrs." Everything seemed normal until daybreak the next morning when I awoke suddenly to see a tall turbaned "Punjab" coming in the door. He paid no attention when I yelled, "What the hell do you want!?" He "soft shoe'd" into the room and placed a tray of hot tea and cookies on the bedside table. He was gone before I could recover and thank him.

If LG 91 is where I recall it to be, it was a few miles west of Alexandria, Egypt. It would have been OK for pre-combat training except we were hit by a three day sand storm. The misery of that episode is a chapter all it's own. It was cold and there were continuous high winds and blinding sand -- part of it as fine as talcum powder. The only thing we could do was put on as many layers of clothes as possible, stay in our bed rolls in our tents, and try to keep warm. There was no way our cooks could prepare meals. They did well to provide cold spam, bread, and coffee for those of us who managed to navigate by dead reckoning to the mess tent once or twice a day. Spam and sand sandwiches were not much better than starving, but they helped us survive.

In spite of all the dust covers and tarpaulins, our P-40 engines were contaminated with sand. All of them had to be removed, disassembled, cleaned and reassembled in Cairo before further use. Even without that kind of a sand storm, P-40 engines in use in the desert were removed for overhaul at between 25 and 50 hours. We were out of the desert and based on the tip of Cape Bon, Tunisia before our engines began lasting over 50 hours between overhauls. There was absolutely no way to prevent the extra wear from sand abrasion in the desert.

After the storm subsided we recovered and moved by truck and jeep convoy to a base near Ismalia, Egypt, and the Suez Canal. Weather was beautiful there. We finally got some birds and started training again. I honestly never saw a "combat-wise supervisor" as mentioned in the History, if there was such a person that early in the war.

The next page is a copy of one of my flying time certifications, which shows the names of the refueling bases we used during the ferry missions.

Flight Log Page 1

Flight Log Page 2

We did some shadow gunnery on the desolate east side of the Suez Canal. For shadow gunnery, one aircraft flies a pattern at about two thousand feet altitude while his buddy makes firing passes at the shadow on the ground from various angles. Our morale was good, our flying was good, and our P-40 airplane was the best that could be provided at the time. We knew the plane was marginal for ground support because of the vulnerability of it's liquid cooling system, and technically second best to the ME-109 and Italian Machi's in rate of climb and turning radius. I'm sure there were varying degrees of apprehension among us but the general spirit was, "Let's get on with it!"

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