by LtCol (Retired) Alex P. Brewer, Jr.
What follows is the last of a three part series of stories written by LtCol (Retired) Alex P. Brewer, Jr. This story is republished in its entirety with his permission and were originally published on his website1B-58.com and in his book, "A Navigators Odyssey." TwelfthRecon extends a special thanks to LtCol Brewer for allowing us to republish his experiences here.
Lt. Col Brewer flew 50 combat missions as a RB-26 Nose Navigator with the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron during the Korean War. During his career he also served as a navigator on B-47s, B-52s and on the world's first supersonic bomber, the B-58 Hustler.
One of the combat missions of the 12th Tac Recon Squadron, K-14, Kimpo Korea, flying RB-26s was to follow the SAC B-29 bomber stream missions up along the Yalu river and take photos for Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) of strategic targets the SAC B-29's were bombing. The B-29's used SHORAN (SHOrt RAnge Navigation) Bombing in trail formation at 25,000 ft. After the last 500# bomb was dropped, "Big Brother" as we called them would clear us (Little Brother) to come in on the same track and heading to take the bomb damage photos.
"BDA missions were always exciting..."
These BDA missions were always exciting (I flew three of them), as we had front row seats to see a lot of bomb explosions, search lights and a lot of flak. So this was a fun mission (NOT). Think of it this way, the B-29's drop bombs make a lot of noise and all of the North Korean Anti-aircraft gunners are awake and unhappy because their weapons couldn't quite reach the B-29s. We would "loiter" off to the side of their targets at 1,000 ft. or less and as soon as we were cleared in we would climb with Indicated air speed of 250 to 280 knots to our bombing altitude of 8,000 ft. to drop our magnesium photo flash bombs. So a huge photo flash bright light goes off and then a few seconds later another one goes off, and so on. To get the proper overlap spacing on the photos, we had to hold heading and airspeed for a little over a minute. We would drop 12 in a row, which was our bomb bay capacity. No big deal, unless you were being shot at. These photo flash magnesium bombs illuminated the ground and also triggered the camera that took the photos. (I dropped over 500 on strategic targets, front line support and various other assigned targets). After seeing a string of bright lights going off in the sky, it didn't take a very high IQ for the North Korean gunners to figure out where we were. For us, it was like flying through the fireworks at Las Vegas on the 4th of July. On one of the missions I flew, we came home with 31 flak holes in the airplane. From the Bombardiers position in the glass nose RB's the view was great, but the only thing between you and the 37mm and 57mm flak was the Plexiglas nose cover. If you go to Google, you can find pictures of RB-26 "glass nose" warbirds.
"...the entire nose compartment exploded, knocking the Nose Navigator unconscious..."
Now that you know what the airplane and mission was all about. Here is what happened to another crew, doing BDA, following a B-29 mission. They had just been cleared to turn inbound by "Big Brother" and were climbing to start their bomb/camera run and immediately started picking up heavy flak dead ahead. As they turned inbound with the bomb arming switches on, the entire nose compartment exploded, knocking the Nose Navigator unconscious. At that airspeed, the wind coming through the nose into the cockpit was greater than hurricane speed. The pilot was barely able to keep control and immediately aborted and turned southbound to get away from the flak. He salvo'd the bombs and slowed the airplane down just above stall speed, as the wind coming into the cockpit thru the crawl-way that accessed the nose was like a wind tunnel. The outside air temp was below freezing, so it was a very hazardous situation. The rear Navigator was in a compartment behind the bomb bay, but could not see out of the airplane, so he relied on the pilot and Nose Nav. for map reading and visual fixes. The rear Navigator also operated a Loran set, which was unreliable because of the low altitude and mountainous terrain.
So here they were with major damage to the Nose Nav./bombardiers cockpit. To slow down this terrible wind coming into the cockpit, the Pilot had reduced the airspeed to a little over 100 knots and had only a vague idea of where they were. The Rear Nav. informed the Pilot that they were just north of Pyongyang, so it was hazardous to ask for any kind of support over the radio, because the North Koreans monitored the aircraft frequencies we operated on and they would have vectored Mig19 night fighters operating out of China with Russian Pilots to intercept them. About 30 minutes later as they were heading south, flying around the Pyongyang area, the "Nose" Nav. woke up (we used throat mikes, so he was able to talk and our cloth helmets had earphones built in), and told the Pilot and Rear Nav. that he was blind, his arm was broken, he had numerous cuts and bruises and that he was in excruciating pain, as a piece of the Plexiglas had cut his chest and stomach open and that his intestines were hanging out. He was obviously hurt pretty bad and getting him back to Kimpo flying low and slow was a challenge. Fortunately they did not encounter any night Fighters or more flak coming back to K14. They finally made it back across the DMV and over friendly territory and made a successful GCA landing.
"...as a piece of the Plexiglas had cut his chest and stomach open and that his intestines were hanging out."
When the Pilot turned off the active runway onto a taxiway, the fire trucks and ambulances were there to get the "Nose" Nav. out of the damaged compartment and to the base hospital. They treated him at Kimpo for a couple of days and then sent him back to Japan where 5th AF had a full service hospital. He suffered a broken arm, both eyes were swollen shut, some minor frost bite and numbers cuts and bruises, but it seems that his intestines were not on the outside after all.
As it turned out, that the airplane had not been hit by flak, but had actually hit a goose in flight. I have to assume that shock makes goose feathers and intestines seem like human feathers(?) and intestines. After a couple of weeks, 5th AF send him back from Japan with his arm in a cast and sling and with no DFC or Purple Heart, although in all fairness, it was an enemy goose. When I finished my 50th mission a few weeks later, I imagine that he was still getting used to his new nickname...."Goosey"!
Story reprinted with permission.
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Alex P. Brewer, Jr. and Randy A. Brewer
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