Some long while ago I wrote of my experiences in the Airforce during WWII. One of these was about my passage from the US to England, where I was stationed a while, before moving on to France.
Fortunately, as airmen, we were able to fly to England rather than ship over via the water. This allowed us to see some beautiful scenery as well as some awesome celestial sights.
Our route began at Baer Field, in Indiana and the first leg took us to Bangor, Maine. Our crew consisted of two pilots, a radio operator and a crew chief. Also on this trip we had an extra man, a navigator with the Air Transport Command, who would plot our course and guide us across the ocean.
Our route from the US to Scotland was the Northern Great Circle route, from Maine to Labrador, to Greenland, to Iceland and then on to Scotland. This route was heavily traveled with air traffic moving in both directions.
We were fortunate inasmuch as some air crews had to make the trip via surface ships. We could put our feet on dry land at the end of each day. Also, we didn’t have to worry about enemy U-boats.
Our plane was equipped with belly tanks to increase our fuel capacity, so one of the operations that was drummed into our heads was to remember to switch to the belly tanks when the time came. Or else we would land in the big drink.
We headed east over the water from Bangor, Maine to Labrador. It was an easy leg on a bright and sunny day. Just a delightful day to be flying. Our next day was a different story, on our flight from Labrador to Greenland. We woke up to a heavy overcast, but at our briefing we were told that when we reached Greenland the weather would clear up, and we should have no problem landing.
We were shown a short film of the airport in Greenland and also some of the landscape along the coastline, to help us recognize where the airport would be. We weren’t too concerned since we had a directional radio which would lead us into the landing field, which was located up a fjord, as it is called.
So, off we went into the wild blue yonder. Not a care in the world, but that was due to change. We flew on top of the cloud cover and the sun was shining brightly. Now and then we could see a ship below, through breaks in the clouds. It was so cozy in the cockpit that I felt as if I could have taken a nap, but oh, I wouldn’t dare do that. After all, we were flying over water and there were no landing fields down there, only icebergs aplenty.
When we reached the coast of Greenland were were finally able to find the airfield and land safely. It was a large airbase that had a great influx of planes going both directions between the US and England.
The nights there were just awesome. We were far north and the Aurora Borealis, commonly called the Northern Lights, really lit up the sky. As I walked out into the darkness they were twisting and turning and whirling about in various colors. It was almost as if I could have reached out and grabbed them, but I couldn’t. It was a kaleidoscope of colors. A whirling dervish that seemed to enfold me in it’s embrace as it danced around. It enthralled me with it’s beauty. What a show! You just have to experience it to believe it.
Our base was located at the foot of the great glacier that covers Greenland. The days were warm and bright, but when the sun went down it was cold. We housed in a large hangar-type building, sleeping on cots which weren’t the most comfortable beds, but we were young and after all, it beat sleeping on the cold metal floor of the plane.
The next day we would likely be flying out on the next leg, to Iceland. The weather twixt Greenland and there was not good, but things were getting crowded and we had to move on.
So it was goodbye to the beautiful Northern Lights and the massive glacier. Some hunk of ice!
As we moved on to our destiny.
That’s just the way it was, in Greenland during WWII.
Charles Eurey is a Lincoln Times-News guest columnist.