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The Queen Shows Her Stuff

Co-Pilot Charles S. Bayha and Navigator Charles A. Benyunes recall a mission where their ship, Lucky Lassie (A/C 43-39005), proved to them that she was the “Queen of the Sky.”

The mission was to Kaisel, Germany on 18 Oct 44. It was the fourth mission for this crew, piloted by Jean (Jack) V. DePlanque. Lucky Lassie had just gotten out of the “hospital” for an engine overhaul. “As I recall,” states Charlie Benyunes, ” the 8th AF had just started using B-17 engines that were rebuilt in England instead of state side. Prior to this mission we had had two aborts because of engine failures, so Jack and Charles were determined to complete this one…regardless.”

Bayha remembers that the overhauled engine started acting up close to the target. As the ship neared the bombing run, it was shaking so badly that DePlanque feathered the engine. By this time the Lucky Lassie had dropped behind the formation. After a quick consultation, pilot and co-pilot decided to go in, make the run alone and catch up with the formation afterwards. The ship staggered on and dropped her bombs on the smoke bomb remains from the lead squadrons.

It was not to be. Lucky Lassie had lost altitude and was too far behind the formation to catch up. Bayha watched as DePlanque revved up the other three engines and tried to gain altitude. This only made things worse. A second engine began producing only partial power because of an inoperative super-charger, and a third went out completely, DePlanque and Bayha struggled to feather the prop of the third malfunctioning engine. They tried pulling up to a part time stall to jerk the prop off, but had no success. With all of the oil lost from the engine, and a windmilling prop, the engine overheated. When Charlie Benyunes looked up from his navigation log, he could see sparks and smoke coming from it.

In the cockpit, reality was setting in for DePlanque and Bayha. “There we were, no fighter protection and a sitting duck for enemy fighters.” The two men looked at each other. “All we could do was limp on. Jack asked Charlie for a bearing heading back to England.”

“We were briefed to fly south over Germany and through West below Frankfurt to avoid the flak in the Ruhr Valley,” remembers Benyunes, “but I didn’t think that Jack and Charles could milk the altitude for the distance to get us out of Germany that way, so I gave a heading for the shortest route out. (I didn’t tell them that though.) The bottom line was that we were still over Germany with one good engine, one with no supercharger (propeller out) and only partial power, one dead and windmilling and on fire, and one out and feathered.”

“Charlie gave us the new heading. We were scared,” says Charles Bayha, “but we leaned on God to get us there and we headed for our objective. “

As the aircraft continuted to lose altitude, the engine with the impeller out became more efficient and developed more power so that now they had two turning, one windmilling and slightly burning, and one feathered. They broke out of the clouds at just a couple of thousand feet of altitude and found themselves right over the Siegfred line. There were tank barriers and pillboxes everywhere. Anti-aircraft tracers whizzed by the aircraft looking like flaming golf balls to the crew. To Benyunes. “We were “fluttering” at near stall air speed. I don’t know how Jack managed to do it, but he pulled us up into the clouds and held altitude till we crossed into friendly territory just below Aachean.

Charles Bayha continues, “We spotted a dirt field about the time the number 3 engine had reached its limit and was on fire (smoke and flames), so Jack gave all he could with one engine and we sort of floated down and bellied into a foot of mud. Turns out it was a new airfield under construction behind the front lines.

“We weren’t sure whether or not the Germans still held this area,” states Benyunes, “so I used my .45 in the bomb site.”

The crew hopped out and used the fire extinguisher to put out the fire on the burning engine. Bayha, who had grabbed his flak helmet, was surprised to find it filled with a block of ice from where he had relieved himself somewhere during the fiasco.

As it turned out, they were in Belgium and behind the front lines. The Germans had just been driving back to the Aachen area and Bastogne. The crew was picked up shortly. Lucky Lassie was later picked up by the 100th, and returned to Thorpe Abbotts, where she was repaired and continued to fly missions.

Once again, THE QUEEN OF THE SKY showed her stuff!

The Crew:
Jean DePlanque – Pilot
Charles S. Bayha – Co-Pilot
Charles A. Benyunes – NAV
Stanley A. Rabinowitz – BOM
Raymond C. Kowalski – ROG
Joseph Kosik – TTE
Stanley P. Carson – BTG
Harold Smith – WG
King M. Weldon – WG
Kenneth L. Crispin, Jr. – TG