Presents from a Bomb Bay
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Today’s story comes to us from Scott Nelson, an artist and history enthusiast from Solen. The story is based on an interview Nelson conducted with WWII veteran Del Skjod of Mandan.
During the summer of 1944, Lt. Del Skjod and his crew were sent deep into Germany to destroy a strategic target. Skjod was the pilot of a B-17G, flying with the 600 Squad of the 398th Bomb Group.
They had just finished their bomb run through a heavy field of flak, when shrapnel took out the crew’s main oxygen supply. Del dove the plane down to a lower altitude, but this made them vulnerable to antiaircraft fire; they were sitting ducks for enemy fighters. So Skjod took them down to the deck – they would be hugging the ground all the way back to their home base.
Flying about 100 feet off the ground, Skjod took care to avoid populated areas, but at one point they came over a hill and found themselves flying directly over a German military base. Del remembered seeing a bunch of soldiers all lined up – whether they were in line for chow or to get new socks, Del didn’t know, but when this B-17 came roaring over the tree tops, Del said the Germans scattered like scared rabbits!
Del told his gunners not to fire on anybody and, as far as he knew, nobody shot at them. Later, as they were following a telephone line, whenever he spotted a connecting box on one of the poles up ahead, he told his tail gunner to let loose with his twin fifties. Thinking they could perhaps disrupt communications, they took out ever connector box they could.
Amazingly, they passed unscathed through the rest of Germany and then through occupied Holland. When they finally headed out over the northern English Channel, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Out on the water, they spotted a small Dutch fishing boat with two people aboard. As they passed over, the two men stood up and flashed victory signs at them. Del told his crew “Our mission isn’t over yet.” As he banked the plane into a wide curve, he had his crew put together a package of rationed cigarettes, hard candy, and German money from their escape kits. They attached the packet to a long streamer and placed it in a chute made for dropping propaganda leaflets.
As they came around, however, the fishermen were probably not quite as enthusiastic as they were at first. The only way the crew could drop the care package was through the bomb bay doors! Skjod and his men could never know what those Dutchmen thought as their large, 4-engine Fortress bore down on them with the bomb bay doors opening wide.
Del deftly brought the plane over the boat, and the drop was made. The tail gunner said the package nearly dropped right into the boat – it missed by just a couple feet. Del circled around again and saw the fishermen had retrieved the package and opened it. The Dutchman greeted them this time with broad smiles and enthusiastic waves.
You see, at this time of the war, occupied countries like Holland were suffering from extreme shortages and rationing – most of their produce was taken and shipped to Germany. With the money and the cigarettes Del and his crew dropped, these men could buy food.
While a bomber’s job was normally to rain down death and destruction, Del said this little “bomb run” sure made him and his crew feel good.
Del Skjod passed away Christmas morning, 2003.
Nelson, Scott. Our Mission Isn’t Over Yet. World War II: Stories. Sunday, 19 June 2005. <http://www.scottnelsonart.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=10&Itemid=5>
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm