40 in a 30 Zone

by John L. (Swede) Swenson

Swede was shot down early in his career as a Radio Operator in the 351st. At one the annual, informal gathering of the 100th Groupers in New England, Swede’s verbal account of his fifth mission was taped. While some of the flavor is lost in the transcribing, we are certain you will enjoy it. Except when otherwise indicated, the speaker is Swede
Horace l. Varian

No corrections of spelling, grammar or punctuation have been made in this work.
Paul West

"My last mission was Ludershaven. We hit the target and lost one ship over the target. It peeled off and headed to Switzerland or Sweden. We were about an hour and a half off the target. At that particular time we were flying over the Ardennes. Northeastern France. I believe, and we were quite happy. We were singing an old song and we had picked up in the States and – no fighters. We had an escort of Mustangs."

Voice: What was the words to the song? Do you remember them?

"It was a dark and stormy night when my Nellie went away, and I never will forget it to my dying day." (Laughter) "This was a song the crew had used on all our mission. Whenever we came back we would sing that song. It’s about 20 minutes to 2 – we had just lost our ‘51’s and a 10 minutes to 2 we were supposed to pick up Spitfires off the coast. All of a sudden, out of the sun, 11 o’clock high, came three Fockewulfs. We were flying tail-end Charlie in the low group -- low element – we were the first hit by their 8-mm machine gun fire, followed by 20-mm cannon fire."

Voice: Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat.

"Oh , no. we didn’t hear that. All you hear is the hail-like sound hitting the sides of the ship. We didn’t know what it was until the cannon fire started going through the ship and, by the way, our ball-turret was out and the gunner’s suit went out, so the pilot ordered him out of the turret. He was sitting by me and I was sitting on the edge of my radio table looking our the hatch when the cannon fire started hilting the ship. Then fire started coming through the bombays and the pilot said, ‘We’re hit! Bail out!’ Everyone got out – they dropped their flak suits and ran like hell to the rear of the ship, and we couldn’t get out fast enough. And out we went, bang, at 21,000 feet, over Northern France."

Voice: Did you remember what to do – or did you – could you?

"I delayed, yeh, for the first second! I did make a freefall, but it wasn’t very long. I got our of the turbulence of the aircraft and was falling free and I opened my chute and here I was, 21.000 feet above france, not knowing where I was."

Voice: You had plenty of time to think about it, thought.

"I never said so many Hail Mary’s, Our Fathers and Acts of Contrition as it did then

Voice: And he’s not even Catholic! (Laughter)

"I think it took us 15 or 20 minutes to come down. I looked up, after opening my chute, and saw that little chest pack and I said ‘Dear Christ isn’t that small!’ Below me was cloud cover. There were two cloud covers that day, one at maybe 15 and another at five thousand feet, so as I came down the sun was glorious, the sky was beautiful. I passed through clouds, shhwhoo. I said, ’I must be going 40 miles and hour.

Voice: ---and in a 30 mile zone! (Laughter)

"Now, I’m approaching the second layer of clouds and all of sudden, at about 10 o’clock from my position, I see a ’17 heading towards me. On each side is Fockewulf. They’re not shooting at it, just following it down. Now, it might have been my ship for all I know, because when were hit we were falling off on our right wing. All I did was wave at the German pilots and shout, Keep on going, fellas!’ Just keep on following that ship.

Voice: Your weren’t going to be debriefed.

"I didn’t know what they were gonna do. And then I came to the second cloud cover and went through that, shhwhoo. I was going 60 miles and hour now. I was picking up momentum. And there was the ground below me. It was fantastic. I could see everywhere. In the distance I could see little villages with church steeples. I could hear children’s voices on the ground. I couldn’t see them, but evidently they heard the cannon fire and what was going on upstairs. Coming down, there was forest all around me, with open patches. There are fields, and all of a sudden the ground starts to come close. Now I got the relationship of spend and movement, see, a movement, and Oh God, here we go. What am I supposed to do?"

"They tell you, relax and role. (Laughter). Here’s the forest coming up this way, like I am driving down a highway. I’m going over the tree tops and moving this way, and all of a sudden, in front of me – I pull on my shroud line to see if I could change my direction or do something. I was afraid to pull too much. I though I might spill the air out. But you couldn’t spill the air out if you had 20 guys pulling on my lines! But I came down. There is a clearing in the forest and where do you think I head? Right for the clearing. As I got near the ground, the goes our of my sails completely and I come flying back like a swing, ass over teakettle, bingerly, bin, bang, bang, boom. I get up and I’m shaking. I’m scared and I said, ‘The whole German Army must have seen me come down and they must be waitin’ for me.’ Now I am suppose to roll up my chute and bury it, and I said. ’The hell with that noise.’ Bing, Bing, I take off my chute and start running like hell. Now off to my right I seen another chute coming down over the tree tops. I started running in that direction, boomety, boom – heavy gear you know – and I come to the area where I think he might be and I don’t see a soul. I went over a slight rise and who do I see in the distance? My navigator, Herkowitz, ‘Herky,’ I said, where are we?"

Voice: He asks a navigator! (Laughter)

"So a hundred yards away is this French farmer. He had an ox and mule and he was plowing the fields. We ran to him and Herky said, "Where are we?’ The guy said, ‘Nix Boche.’ What is he saying, "Nix Boche?’ That’s all he was saying, ‘No Germans.’ So I said, ‘Lets get the hell outa here.’ We started to leave and all of a sudden we hear. ‘Butaboom, butaboom, butaboom.’ Wait for me! It’s that guy I saw coming down. When he heard me pounding through the woods he went diving into a hole and covered himself with leaves. He thought it was the Germans. So now there’s three of us. As we start to move off I see two guys coming up yelling something. They were a couple of Frenchmen and they’re talking a mile a minute, and they say, ‘Come with us.’ We understood this, and they led us our into the foothills."

(The remainder of the story concerns Swede’s two attempts to escape from occupied France with the help of the French Underground, into Spain. This ultimately involved crossing the Pryreness, in deep snow. Arriving in Spain four months later, he was at first imprisoned, then interned; five and half months after first being shot down, he was returned to Allied Control and England.)

No corrections of spelling, grammar or punctuation have been made in this work.
Paul West