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Owen Roane: Feat of the “Laden Maiden”

Group III Instructor Recalls Feat of the ‘Laden Maiden’
from an interview with Curtis Campbell in 1945 Bombs – Away
(by an unknown base newspaper reporter — Ardmore AFB, Oklahoma)

This is the story of how “Old Man” Roane, (he was 19 then) went to Germany on a bombing mission and rammed the B-17 Laden Maiden home to England on three engines. “Old Man Roane comes from Valley View, Texas. The story is told to a Bombs – Away reporter by Lieut. Curtis Campbell. He’s Texan too, from Princeton. Lieutenant Campbell is now with Group III.

It was September, 1943 when they went to Bremen. Campbell was bombardier and plastered his cargo about the warehouse area of the Bremen shipyards. It was a nice enough day so far as weather was concerned. Crisp English fall on the ground, and colder and colder up there as they climbed. Mission went about the way the fate of war was going in those days, up until the target area, then — the flak came up and smoke balls plumed and the Laden Maiden rocked, but she flew right on her course, and for eight long minutes she went right through hell. And the fighters came over too, skimming above the canopy of flak. They were FW-190’s. A 20 millimeter whammed into the No. #4 engine and it flamed, but the “Old Man” at the controls straightened her out, and she leveled off until bombs-away. That part of the mission was in the bag. The tail could see the billows coming up from away down in the warehouses.

Thoughts of Home

But “Old Man” Roane and Campbell and the rest of them aboard were not thinking of the wreckage below. They had a burning engine and the wanted to go home. Roane peeled her out and nosed her down. The airspeed indicator hopped up to 275 miles per, so it’s not much of a guess that he had the nose pretty straight down. They had bombed at 19,000 feet and for 11,000 feet Roane sent the Laden Maiden down, down, down with the air screaming at them.

At 8,000 feet the fire was out, the dive had snuffed it cold, and No #4 was just a useless hulk. They were 400 miles from base in England. And now there was 11 Jerry planes pecking away at them, like humming birds seething around a duck. And the Laden Maiden was a stray cripple, nice prey for the Luftwaffe, but Roane and his nine men were stout stuff.

Bremen is in northwest Germany, and between it and the coast is Wilhelmshaven. About half way to Wilhelmshaven a Jerry 20mm connected with the Laden Maiden’s nose and the plexiglass smashed into jagged edges like a cracked pecan. One gun was bent like a hairpin. One piece of shrapnel smacked the navigator in the leg and pierced his flying clothes as far as the pinks. But neither pinks not skin was injured.

Guns Chattered Defiance

The wind howled through the Maiden’s torso but her guns kept chattering. She was the only one hurt. There still were seven Jerries making passes when they hit the Fristian Islands, having skirted Wilhelmshaven.

Now the “Old Man” really started to maneuver! He’d been taking evasive action since bombs away, but that was like sailing a canoe on a mill pond to what he did now. Down went the beakless Maiden, and the wind rushed right up through her, and the guns kept putting it our, and the Jerries kept throwing it at her.

At 2,000 feet from the North Sea he leveled her off. Leveled? He flew level for seconds, and then started tossing off 180 degree turns on dime, so to speak. There still were three FW-190’s trying for the kill.

Hugs the Water

The Jerries tried passes from above, but Roane was too close to the water then. They couldn’t come out of their passes. Coming in at 3 or 9 o’clock didn’t work either. He wasn’t there when they got set. They tried passes at what used to be the Maiden’s nose., so he would bank sharp and turn right into them. He could turn his big bomb truck faster that they could turn their speeding FW-190’s. The game went on for twenty minutes. And what were Roane’s crew doing during that time? They were trying to hang on. First on the floor, then on the side, then on the ceiling, as the “Old Man” put her through her paces.

But Roane got her through. Jerry apparently ran low on gas and quit. Roane and his crew gulped air back to a sort of calm. And they hurled out what they could ride home without, guns, bombsight, and this and that, except the emergency stuff they would need for ditching.

The old Laden Maiden still was going mightily, by no ship which had gone through the lacing she took, was as good as she used to be, and on three engines, and an odd fifty flak holes here and there, and no nose. But Roane took her home, skimming along the water — just in case. But they reached the shoreline of England, and a few miles in from the coast they sat her down, back to base.

So that’s the story of the Laden Maiden going to Bremen and coming home the hard way. The ground crew patched her up and she went over again and again. 16 times before the fates of war caught up, and she didn’t come back.

Note: The above was copied without corrections from a 1945 news story — Bremen was not the target when the Laden Maiden, Owen D. Roane Commanding, came home alone with extensive battle damage. A somewhat similar incident occurred on 06 September 1943 and the target was Stuttgart, Germany. — Paul West