Posted on October 27th, 2016 by:

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By Sgt. George Aarons

YANK Staff Correspondent

TWELFTH AIR FORCE BASE, ITALY—In a raid over German-held Italy the B-26 had been crowded out of formation and had gone into a steep dive to avoid the prop wash of another Marauder. The terrific force of the dive lifted the tail and waist gunners out of their seats and pinned them against the roof of the plane, along with the heavy ammunition box. When the B-26 finally pulled out, S/Sgt. Jefferson J. Josephs of Norwood, Ohio, the engineer and turret gunner, went forward to check up on things—and right then he got the shock of his life.

b-26 marauder

A Martin B-26 Marauder flies over its target.

Two 1,000-pound bombs were rolling freely back and forth in the bomb bay. The force of the dive had picked up the 1,000-pounders from their lower stations on the bomb rack and suspended them in midair. Then they had crashed to the floor, sheering off their shackles.

Josephs rushed up to the bombardier, S/Sgt. Norbert J. Rix of Philadelphia, Pa., who quickly pulled the switch that opens the doors and drops the bombs. But when Josephs returned to the bomb bay he found that the badly bent doors had opened only part way. The two bombs were wedged in open space.

Josephs began to wrestle with the bombs, one foot on the catwalk, the other on the partially open door, and nothing beneath him except several thousand feet of space.

“I kept shoving at the bombs and pulling,” Josephs says. “Suddenly one of them was gone. I don’t know how it went. Then I turned to the other one and saw the tail spinner going around. That meant the bomb was armed, ready to go off.”

Josephs put one foot against the tail fuse to stop the spinner. The fuse broke off and black powder spilled out. A spark would have set it off.

b-26 marauder crew

Front view of a B-26 Marauder in flight.

“I was about shot,” Josephs says. “Tugging at those 1,000-pounders isn’t easy work, and there was an icy wind coming in through the open bomb-bay doors. Besides, I had to work with my feet spread out and myself doubled over because of the other bombs in the top station of the bomb rack.”

Luckily Rix chose this moment to come into the bomb bay. After an anxious struggle the two finally managed to push the bomb out. Josephs promptly passed out from the strain, and Rix had to pull him to safety.

Later, when the bomb had landed, Rix told Josephs: “This was your lucky day. I didn’t know you were working under those 1,000-pounders on the top rack. Several times I reached for the toggle switch, intending to salvo those bombs, too. But each time I changed my mind. If I had dropped those top bombs, I’d have salvoed you right with them.”

Rix had to reach fast as Josephs’ knees buckled and with a deep sigh he keeled right over again.

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