Landing with a Compass and Two Parachutes

By May 1945, the Japanese had been pushed back to Formosa, now known as Taiwan. Throughout May, the 22nd Bomb Group had been flying missions to various parts of Formosa. Now that the month was coming to a close, Fifth Air Force’s heavy bomber groups were sent back to Taihoku (Taipei) on May 31st to take out the city’s antiaircraft guns and give it a heavy pounding. The 90th Bomb Group was to hit the antiaircraft guns, which would be followed by the 22nd and 43rd Bomb Groups focusing their efforts on bombing administration and municipal buildings in the city.

As the 37 B-24s from the 22nd Bomb Group began making their runs, they discovered that the 90th had not been able to take out the antiaircraft guns as planned. Instead, the crews were met with flak so heavy that the smoke from it nearly obscured the flight leader. Somehow, only two planes were hit by the flak. One of those two, MISSLEADING, was severely damaged after a burst hit the #2 and #4 engines, the #4 gas tank, knocked out all navigational and radio communications except for Morse Code and broke the instrument panel. To make matters worse, both the pilot, 2/Lt. Charles E. Critchfield, and co-pilot, 1/Lt. Robert A. Morgan, were critically injured in the blast. Critchfield was wounded in both his right arm and leg as well as his groin. Morgan was bleeding profusely after his left leg was cut to the bone by shrapnel.

Once the stricken plane left the target area with the rest of the formation, a pilot in another plane noticed that MISSLEADING was having trouble and alerted the formation leader. He ordered one of the other crews to accompany the lagging aircraft as far as it could fly and contacted rescue planes about the situation. For reasons unknown, the Catalinas never showed up.

Back in MISSLEADING, Morgan wrestled with the B-24, as the trim tabs were inoperative and he had feathered the unusable engine #4, cut the throttle of #2 to partial power and feathered engine #3 because of a gas leak that was running over the hot exhaust, leaving engine #1 as the only fully operating engine. There was no way that they would be able to get back to base on one engine, so Morgan cautiously restarted engine #3 and hoped it wouldn’t burst into flames with the gas running over it. Fortunately, it did not. Critchfield had been carefully removed from his seat so that other crewmembers could administer first aid and Lt. Robert S. Edgar slid into the pilot’s seat to assist Morgan whenever possible. It had only been five minus since they were first hit.

To lighten the plane, the crew tossed out everything they didn’t need. Without a working instrument panel, flight engineer S/Sgt. Lloyd Watson kept an eye on the engines and gave the rest of the crew instructions as needed. Navigator 2/Lt. R.E. Grey fished a small compass out of an emergency kit, and with a heading provided by T/Sgt. Benjamin D. Oxley, they headed for Laoag, an emergency strip on the northwestern coast of Luzon. Upon their descent, they discovered that the B-24’s main hydraulic system had been shot out and they would have to lower the landing gear manually. The flaps to help slow the plane were also not working and the nose gear wouldn’t extend. Parachutes were tied to gun mounts in the rear waist windows to help slow the plane.

B-24 MISSLEADING after landing at Laoag

MISSLEADING had its hydraulics shot out by antiaircraft fire during a combat mission to Taihoku, Formosa on May 31, 1945. Without flaps, the 19th Squadron co-pilot, 2/Lt. Robert A. Morgan, made an emergency landing at Laoag Strip, Luzon, after the pilot, 2/Lt. Charles E. Critchfield, was badly wounded by flak. Parachutes were deployed out both side windows to slow down the brakeless plane. However, the nose gear folded and the plane crushed its nose when it smashed to the runway.

When the B-24 touched down on the 3500-foot runway, Morgan held the plane’s nose high so that the tailskid would act like a brake as long as possible. Once the brakes were engaged, the parachutes were deployed and MISSLEADING skidded to a stop 200 feet off the far end of the runway. Emergency crews waiting for the plane hurried to get Critchfield and Morgan out of the plane. Both were taken to the local field hospital, where most of the small anesthetic supply was used on Critchfield’s operation. Morgan was held down by two medics as shrapnel was removed from his leg. It would be two days before Critchfield’s injuries were no longer life-threatening, however, that mission would be his last before he rotated home. Morgan was recognized for his determination and skill and received a Distinguished Flying Cross in 1988.

 

This exciting story and many others can be found in Revenge of the Red Raiders. Buy your copy now.

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7 thoughts on “Landing with a Compass and Two Parachutes

  1. Pingback: International Historical Research Associates | How parachutes help slow down B-24s

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