This Day in 1944: Morrison’s Miracle

On April 27, 1944, the 362nd Fighter Group provided withdrawal escort for bombers returning from Berlin, but on take-off, Capt. Thurman Morrison’s P-47 failed to get airborne. “I recognized at the ‘go-no go’ point along the runway that he was not going to make it off the ground,” said Bob McKee, his wingman, who was also taking off at the time. “I clicked on my throttle’s water injection switch to give me extra power and eased off the PSP runway, to the right and over the sod area as I began to overrun Morrison’s aircraft.” McKee got off the ground in time to see Morrison’s plane skid into a gasoline dump containing 400,000 gallons of fuel, stored and camouflaged by the RAF right at the end of the runway. The dump erupted in a titanic fireball.

McKee’s plane was flipped onto its right side at 50 feet of altitude and very little speed, and only some frantic flying saved McKee from going in, too. Here’s a photo of the crash scene:

Even more shocking than this accident was Morrison’s appearance back at the operations tent later. “He walked in carrying his parachute, utterly unscathed,” said “Andy” Anderson, the 379th’s S-2. “Memphis Rebel,” P-47D 42-75142, had skidded through a sheet of flame, then pivoted on its belly around 180 degrees, keeping its pilot safe until it emerged on the other side. The stunned but uninjured Morrison was cut out of his plane by two British anti-aircraft gunners.

The 379th’s Blue Flight escorted a crippled B-17 from the Ruhr to the English Channel. The 378th failed to find any American planes to rendezvous with, but spotted German planes on the airfield at Gardelegen. Red and Yellow flights were initially ordered to strafe while the other two flights provided top cover, but Yellow Flight had several hung tanks and Green Flight took its place. “The field came into sight as we lifted up over the crest of a hill,” Capt. Tom Chloupek reported. “I opened fire on one Fw 190 and three Ju 87s. I observed many hits on these planes and claim them probably destroyed. As I passed over the planes I strafed a large hangar with many, many hits. As I pulled up over the hangar I realized there was a second field on the other side with eight to 10 Gothas (Go 242s) on it. I had not observed these previously due to cloud cover. I could not bring my guns to bear on the gliders and, unfortunately, my second flight had already moved to the other field, so I could not direct them.” Chloupek had only encountered light flak during his first pass, but as he turned for a second pass large-caliber flak began firing at him and he decided to reform the squadron and avoid the potential for heavy losses.

Lt. Floyd Mills did spot the gliders. “I fired on a Gotha 242 glider dispersed on the east side of the field,” he said. “I began firing from 350 yards, 20 feet above the ground. I noticed strikes on the tail and back of the canopy and fuselage. I did not notice any indication of destruction.” Lt. Joseph J. Maucini spotted an Me 410 in the center of the field, then sighted a Ju 88 directly ahead of it. “I opened fire on the first at 700 yards and closed to about 50 yards,” he said. “I didn’t see tracer strikes as I had no API ammunition, but the hits were going right into the plane. I passed over this plane and opened fire on the second from about 500 yards. This was smoking as I passed over it.” Lt. Ken Skeen spotted an Me 410 in a dispersal and “opened fire at 600 feet,” he reported, “observing hits on the left wing, engine and fuselage. As I closed I observed smoke and then flames coming from the left engine.” The total for the day was two Me 410s destroyed, four probables and two damaged.