Their bitter experience with the Battles made the British look to America for replacements, and they found exactly what they were looking for in the A-20, the Douglas attack bomber being built at the time by the producers of the famous Douglas airliners. The French had wanted fighter-bombers, and this comparatively light twin-engined bomber for a crew of three seemed ideal for their purpose. The original A-20's were fitted with two 1600-hp. aircooled Wright Cyclones and were capable of a speed that topped 300 miles per hour with a full load.
The British eagerly took over the existing supply of these speedy bombers after the fall of France and used some of them as night fighters and intruder bombers. Its long range and astonishing speed made the A-20 ideal for night defensive work. Fitted with cannon and machine guns and with the British electrical night-interception device, the black-painted Havocs cruised around the British capital and along the coastline, ready to pounce on any German night raiders . Sometimes they followed the bombers to their home stations and shot them down as they glided onto the flare path.
Whatever they did, they did well. The truth is that the A-20 not only did all that was asked of it, but it did a great deal more. At the time the Havocs first went into action, one heard fabulous stories by R.A.F. pilots who were flying, or wanted to fly, the little bombers. One pilot destroyed three German bombers in a single moonlight night during the heavy attacks on Britain. Another on intruder operations shot up a German airfield and collided with an overhead cable. He flew back to his base with the cable twined round his wing, while dangling below was the top of the pole to which the cable had been attached.
When the British began to hit back by daylight against the Nazi barge and troop concentrations threatening invasion, the Bostons were the spearhead of the raids. Flying at 500 feet or less, they swept across the Channel at 300 miles per hour or more and often dropped their bombs before the German defenses were aware of their presence.
For daylight work, the Bostons were fitted with four machine guns in the nose and two in the rear cockpit. The crew of three sit tandem fashion with the bombardier in the glass nose, the pilot on,» a higher elevation behind him and the gunner-radio operator in the rear. Owing to the narrowness of the fuselage, the crew cannot change places in mid-air, so in case of injury to the pilot, the rear gunner has a complete set of duplicate controls to enable him to take over. It seems as if he would have a very difficult task flying the machine from this position. For night flying, the bombardier is replaced by a gunner-navigator, who is also responsible for the functioning of the radio-locator carried in the nose, from which protrudes a metal antenna.
The British could not get enough Bostons for the work they had in mind, and the British Purchasing Commission in Washington was at pains to expedite the delivery of the nimble ships. With the Beaufighter coming into service as a night fighter, it was possible to withdraw the night-flying Havocs and use them to replace the Blenheims on daylight raids.
Many of the aircraft arriving from America were dispatched to the African front. In England and in Canada, new daylight attackbombing squadrons went into training. Soon stories began to filter through the censorship of encounters between Bostons and German fighters. One section of R.A.F. Bostons were pounced upon by a squadron of Me-109's. The Boston gunners shot down three of their attackers and flew over their target in formation.
As they released their bombs, one of the Bostons received a direct hit from a small caliber antiaircraft gun. "I saw the hole appear in the port wing," reported the pilot. "Of course I expected all kinds of things to happen, but the machine just bumped two or three times as if it were running over a rough landing ground, and then it behaved perfectly normal. The next thing I remember was a shell bursting smack over the cockpit. A splinter crashed through and hit me on the shoulder. I believe I passed out, but when I came to, we were still more or less in formation. On our way home three more Jerries came down to beat us up. My rear gunner shot down one, and from then on it was plain sailing. My landing was a bit unorthodox because the undercarriage was out of action. We finished up with our nose in a hedge, but none of us were hurt." When the United States Army Air Forces arrived in England, they found that the only American machine over which the British were whole-heartedly enthusiastic, without any modifications of their own, was the A-20. But, if one reads between the lines correctly, there were no A-20's for Americans to use, and the United States fliers had to sit by and watch the R.A.F. achieving miracles with their nimble little bombers.
July 4, 1942, must have seemed an appropriate date for the American fliers to hand some explosive calling cards to the Nazis, and so "something" was arranged.
The R.A.F. Bomber Command went into a huddle with the Yanks, and early that morning twelve Bostons darted into the misty summer skies. Six of them carried the insignia of the U.S.A.A.F., and the other six the circular insignia of the R.A.F.
They flew in formation without fighter escort, so low that their bellies almost scraped the calm waters of the English Channel. Their course was SSE. It brought them over the coast of Holland at the Hague, former seat of the famous International Court and venue of the Hague Convention.
The German antiaircraft gunners were waiting. Into the sky they blazed a curtain of shrapnel and high explosives that in the words of one of the R.A.F. pilots "looked as if the whole sky ahead of us was exploding—the heaviest barrage I ever saw." The leader of the squadron knew a thing or two. He zoomed upward. The squadron followed, twelve darting arrows heading skyward. They leaped right over the wall of destruction and dived down on the other side, to skim the streets of the old city at rooftop height. Ahead was their objective, the DeKooy airfield where German bombers and fighter squadrons, and the greater part of the Luftwaffe personnel in the Netherlands, were housed. The target was a tough nut for a daylight raid. Round the entire border of the field the Germans had erected flak towers mounting light, medium, and large antiaircraft guns. From gunpits set in the actual airfield, heavy caliber machine guns began to blaze. From an adjoining field, converted antitank rifles were carefully placed to deal with just such an attack.
The arrival of the roaring Bostons was the signal for the Germans to throw up everything they had. The sky over the airfield turned a dirty gray, dappled with black and white plumes as the shells exploded . From the ground streaked golden lines of tracer and incendiary bullets.
Down flew the Bostons. Crump! Crump! Crump! The bomb aimers opened their bomb bays and trains of bombs crashed across the hangars, barracks, and runways. One train ripped through a hangar and a huge flower of debris blossomed into the sky. Their bombs dropped, the Bostons turned and swooped in again, this time with their machine guns blazing. One plane flew across the field, ten feet above the ground, firing into the mouth of the main hangar, while others swooped and weaved to attack the German gun positions. Another blasted a radio mast. To quote the R.A.F. pilot: "We certainly got in the hair of those Huns. Some of the gunners were knocked out, and I saw some of them diving into trenches."
From adjacent airfields roared squadrons of FW-190's, Germany's crack fighters. One of them flew in to attack. A direct hit from his own antiaircraft sent him crashing to the ground. The Bostons finished their work of destruction and then rallied for the return journey. They had taken punishment, but all were airworthy.
Captain Charles Kegelman, pilot of one of the bombers bearing the American insignia, ran into plenty of trouble. As he dived onto an enemy gun position, a direct hit from a medium antiaircraft shell shot away his starboard propeller. Another set fire to his engine.
Momentarily out of control, the Boston side-slipped to the ground and bumped the bottom of its fuselage. For what must have seemed an eternity to Kegelman and his crew, the machine careened along the ground, dragging its right wing tip. Suddenly it lifted and began to fly again, its remaining engine driving it forward at high speed. Kegelman's blood was up. Once he had control of the machine , he was determined to sell his life and those of his crew at high cost to the Germans.
Ahead was a flak tower. The pilot's aim was true. A burst of fire from the Boston's nose guns silenced the German guns and left the gunners dropped round their weapons. Then the gallant flier headed for home in his crippled plane.
In the meantime, the Focke-Wulfs had got on the tails of the departing Bostons, but their chase was short in duration. Rear gunners put up an effective cross fire, and the Germans soon gave up the chase. Kegelman's bomber looked like a sieve when it finally landed on its home airfield, with more than a hundred holes in the wings and fuselage. As a token raid, the sortie had been an outstanding success, and it showed the American pilots that the A-20 was as good a machine as the R.A.F. cracked it up to be.
The R.A.F. also made good use of their Bostons in North Africa. These were later joined by American Boston squadrons. Working with Marylands, Baltimores, and Blenheims, the Bostons attacked Rommel's communications and airfields by day and night. Sometimes they were used for medium bombing, and on other sorties they flew low, dropping parachute bombs.
From Egypt I received a priceless British communique detailing the work of the Bostons undertaking what Air Chief Marshal Tedder delighted in calling "Boston Tea Parties." The phraseology is delightfully "British official," but it serves to give an idea of the damage inflicted by the Bostons on Rommel's armies and air forces.
"Boston tea party bombing," says the account, "is associated, like all successful tea parties, with effective methods of service, and with the Eighth Army, the tea parties have been signally efficient.
"The exposition of the ingenious system on which tea party bombing is based shows that its keynote is bombing to a predetermined pattern. This has a quality of mathematical certainty when time and chance combine, which creates a high degree of uncertainty among those at whom the bombs are aimed. They keep asking themselves, 'Where will that one go?'
"For instance, Tedder pointed out that one can see where a Stuka is aiming its bombs and need not be afraid if one is not within its immediate sphere of influence. But with the air fleet dropping bombs in a premeditated mosaic of murder in accordance with the latest pattern, chances of survival, except in a bombproof shelter, are exiguous.
"When Bostons and Baltimores are weaving their carpet of death, they work to a design ensuring that the blasts of bombs will overlap and do the greatest harm to the greatest number. Matters are so arranged that fifteen yards is the maximum distance between explosion and explosion, by which anyone in the area so treated, even if he is not directly hit, will be within effective blast range of four explosives, one at each corner of a patterned square which hems him in. The method of sewing an area with death is perfectly simple.
Bomb-dropping machines fly in formation in horizontal straight lines, each from one to two hundred yards behind its predecessor, and at a signal all bombs are simultaneously released. The result is a Boston tea party.
"It is obvious, however, that the methods must be related to the task in hand, and that tea party methods might not be feasible in the face of strong enemy interference which would upset the formation of those about to set the table. Given suitable conditions, valuable results are achievable. These have been attained in excelsis when a muddy airfield has grounded enemy planes or when these have been driven down by aerial combat and are trying to get a second wind. Where pattern-bombing has been operated at will, one hundred damaged aircraft have been subsequently found on an aerodrome which fell into British hands." The pilots and aircrews of the Bostons get plenty of hard knocks and plenty of adventure.
Sergeant H. T. Ade of the U.S.A.A.F. was tail gunner in an A-20 which had successfully carried out a tea party raid during which the German antiaircraft fire had been particularly heavy.
His pilot was flying home with one engine out of commission when three FW-19o's pounced on the plane. Sergeant Ade was quick on the trigger. He got in a burst that settled the hash of one FW, just as one of the others attacked. The German's bullets killed Ade's pilot, and the Boston went into a spin. Another burst of fire ripped open the fuselage.
What happened then is not quite clear to the Sergeant, but he found himself suddenly wrenched from his turret and being pro jected out of the plane through the bomb bay which was hanging open. He pulled the rip cord of his parachute and landed safely. Another U.S.A.A.F. Boston returned from a low-flying raid with three German fighters on its tail. The rear gunner was wounded and unable to return the Germans' fire, which soon disabled one of the engines. In order to lighten his ship, the pilot decided to jettison his left-over bombs. He forgot, however, that he was flying only ten feet above the ground. One of the bombs, a fifty-pounder, bounced off the ground, hit the Boston that had dropped it, went clean through the fuselage and out of the top. Then it fell on the ground behind, and the explosion jolted the German fighters so severely that they gave up the chase. That seems like a fish story, but it was recorded by the Curtiss-Wright Public Relations Department , checking up on the exploits of their Cyclone engines which power the Bostons.
Another Boston engaged in a fight with three Me-109's and received a shell wound in the port engine. The explosion fractured the casing and bared the reduction gear, but the engine kept working and the rear gunner disposed of one of the pursuers.
The pilot and crew of an R.A.F. Boston also ran into trouble on one of the daylight sorties. They had been bombing a German hut encampment and from what one of them called "sheer curiosity" they made a final run over the target with the flames almost licking the wings. The "sheer curiosity," let me explain, was actually the intention of placing the last train of bombs where it could do the most damage.
When the bombardier called "Bombs away!" the pilot banked sharply to avoid some antiaircraft guns and found he was heading into a waddy, or valley, which was probably used by the Germans as an ammunition storage place. He was actually below sea level and in excellent cover, when a piece of the Boston's port wing fell off.
From below another German antiaircraft gun had opened fire. The tail gunner could see a stream of bullets hitting the front of the machine and actually passing between the bomb aimer's legs.
The pilot changed his direction and climbed up and over the side of the little valley. Here the nose of the Boston clipped a telegraph pole, and the wire chipped the starboard propeller. "The note of the prop seemed to have changed," reported the pilot, "but we were still flying."
Ahead was a building, which the pilot couldn't see because his goggles were fogged with oil. The bomb aimer must have had an anxious moment as the building came toward him at 300 miles an hour, and he tipped the pilot off. The machine's nose pulled up, banking at the same time. The starboard wing fouled a tree, but the tree came off worse, and with branches and leaves "welded" to the skin of the wing, the adventurous Boston made for home, eventually catching up with the other machines of its squadron.
Safely in formation, the rear gunner spoke to the pilot. "I'm bleeding badly. Shall need some help quickly." The Boston's pilot decided to land at an emergency field. He warned the airfield controller to prepare medical attention for the wounded man, and then flew straight in to land. When he went to let down the undercarriage, it would not work, so he landed on the plane's belly. The Boston tore a ditch through the sand and came to a dusty stop a yard away from the ambulance. Another foot or so and it would have demolished the vehicle. "Another machine, and I might not have got so far," smiled the pilot, relating his adventure.
One Boston pilot must be thanking his lucky stars for the toughness of his little bomber. He had been operating out of Pantelleria and was returning from a raid on Trapani when he came in to land and found his undercarriage would not work. He could only make a belly landing, which he accomplished safely, but as he was climbing out of the cockpit, he fell and sprained his knee so badly that he had to be carried off the field.
The mechanics went over to inspect the damaged ship. What they saw convinced them that Lieutenant "Jig" Buster was indeed a lucky man. The bomb bay of the Boston was partially open, and the bombs were still in there! What with the extraordinary antiaircraft fire they had been through, the release for the bombs had been damaged as well as the landing gear. The bombs were armed for concussion explosion and had the Boston's air frame buckled or bent from the belly landing, the bombs would have scratched their deadly noses on the ground and it would have been the end of that machine and crew.
The fliers in North Africa have a good name for the A-20, Boston, Havoc, or whatever name you like to use for this extraordinary fighting bomber and bombing fighter, that is as near a good allround plane as you could wish to find. They call it "The Pilot's Pet." The Boston, they say, will do anything you ask of it, and we ask and get plenty. These Bostons are likely to gain even higher honors as the war proceeds.