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William Henry Fuller
DORVAL TO ALGIERS
You know, writing about this event has brought back to my memory how we got to
Dorval station from Montreal. After almost fifty years, I suddenly remember it as clear
as a bell. There were 5 huge buses waiting for us ! One hundred and thirty men and
their overseas gear filled them up. It was an interesting bus ride, I can tell you, but only
because it felt like they were trying out for the "Indy 500"! I mean, they really drive fast
in Quebec. But we made it all in one piece. It soon became apparent that the people in
charge were ready for us. We were all unloaded by our barracks and told that we, (the
pilots, that is) had twenty minutes to get over to the Headquarters.
When we got there we were taken to a flight planning room where we were greeted by
an Air Commodore (no less!). He started out by welcoming us and telling us he had
been examining our flying records over the past couple of days and had decided to
offer us a special assignment and hoped we would be interested in it!
These sort of opening remarks certainly twigged our curiosity but hadn't made
anything any clearer to this moment. But then, he came to the point and this is what he
said. "Yesterday we received 10 brand new B 24 Liberators right off the production line
in the States. They must be delivered to Maison Blanc, Algeria, as soon as possible.
Because we have been under great pressure recently to deliver Mosquito fighters to
England, we find ourselves in the most unusual position of having no qualified ferry
pilots on this side of the ocean". To make matters even more interesting he
continued... "We have no ferry command navigator or flight engineers either! So, the
simple fact is that you will be on your own. This does not concern us simply because
we have studied your flying records and experiences in multi-engine aircraft. We have
also talked to your Flight Commanders in Abbotsford and Boundary Bay. We do not
think we are taking any risks".
"The facts are simply these: 1) These aircraft are urgently required in Algiers as
soon as we can get them there; 2) You are the people who have been chosen to do it;
3) This is the first, and probably only time Ferry Command has dispatched any aircraft
overseas without a Ferry Command Officer in charge of the flight. Sort of history
making, if you will".
It was hard to tell if he was doing a selling job or not. The magnitude of the news was
still penetrating us as we sat there, sort of in a daze. This was fifty years before the
High Fives so I guess we just sat there with grins on our faces.
The Air Commadore continued,.."Now this afternoon we start briefing the pilots,
navigators and wireless operators on the actual flight plans for the first phase of the
flight. You will also get a thorough run through prior to leaving on your departure flight
After our briefing sessions that afternoon, we were free until the next morning. This is
when we all started to find time to let our thoughts run wild about what this turn of
events would mean to us.
We didn't have to go half way around the world by water! We were going to fly brand
new B-24's all the way to North Africa ! My aircraft had only 3 hours test flying on its
flight log ! We are going to fly across the Atlantic Ocean on our own ! This was a
"first" for us, and a "first" for the R.C.A.F. Ferry Command too ! Imagine when you
consider there were literally thousands of aircraft ferried over to England from Canada
during the war!
Something else I was personally grateful for was I wouldn't have to risk showing my
crew that I wasn't a very good sailor. When we came down from the clouds, mentally,
our crew got together and after lunch decided to take a tour of "our" new aircraft.
We had been assigned aircraft #524 and we all headed out across the tarmac to search
it out. There they were, ten beautiful brand new Liberators all lined up in a row !, they
looked magnificent!! We quickly found #524 and climbed into it. It had all the smells of a
brand new aircraft, just the same as a brand new car has a distinctive smell. Mind you, the
smell was new to us because we had never been near a new aircraft of any kind before.
As we climbed in through the open bomb bay doors, each member headed for his
particular station, with all the appropriate "oohs" and "aahs" as we drank in the
surroundings. Don and I sat down in our seats, fastened our seat belts and just stared
at our shiny new instrument panel. The throttle, flaps and gear knobs with their brightly
painted tops, (green, yellow and red) stood out glaringly. We were used to these
instruments being worn down by use until they were practically colourless.
After a few moments, Don and I were just sitting, looking at the panel, staring out
through the windows and saying nothing. Both of us were deep in thought. I started
wondering what was in store for this particular airplane. Where was it going that it was
needed so quickly it couldn't wait for a Ferry Command crew to deliver it? It probably
took a fairly high Ferry Command decision to send us ten pilots on this trip. We
probably would never know the answer to my question. Our job was to deliver the
aircraft to Maison Blanc and be transported the rest of the way to India to go on "ops"
Don pulled me out of my reverie with "It sure is quiet in here. I guess all the guys are
kind of thinking about the trip. Sure is a beautiful aircraft, Bill". "Yeah", I said. "I
wonder what kind of plane we'll get when we get to our squadron?"
The next morning, March 4, 1945 we gathered early at briefing and had our flight
plans laid on. Five crews were to fly the North Atlantic route and five crews were to fly
the South Atlantic route across to the Azores. These are Portugese Islands some 600
miles off the coast of North Africa. (French Morocco to be precise) Our crew was
assigned the North Atlantic route, which meant we would fly today to Summerside,
P.E.I., stay overnight and on to Gander Bay, Newfoundland, then across the Atlantic to
The five crews taking the South Atlantic route would head for the Bahamas and cross
the Atlantic from there, also with the Azores as their destination.
Now we are ready to go. After lunch we set out to our aircraft along with our overseas
gear and prepared to take off. We were in great spirits. Here we were heading
overseas just the way any airman would want to go, and in a brand new aircraft to boot.
Don and I kept looking at one another with grins a mile wide on our faces. When the
motors started up, it was another thrill- what a sound ! When we did our pre-take-off
warm up, each engine sounded like it had enough power to take us off by itself.
Al Buzza pulled onto the runway just ahead of me and away he went, heading for the
Bahamas and the South Atlantic crossing. I followed next and pushed the throttles
forward and before we knew it we were barreling down the runway and off into the air
like a fighter plane ! Boy, what a change from the Liberators we were flying at O.T.U.
This one had power to burn. While we were used to having to use the whole length of
the runway on most take-offs, this one was 100 feet in the air before we reached the
end of the runway !
It was plain to see we were doing our best to savour the moment. There was a lot of
chatter on this intercom, much more than usual. I just let it go. Ken, boasting about the
beautiful bombing equipment. Frenchy, down in the ball turret, which I reluctantly
refused to let him lower. We didn't need to take any chances on malfunctions on
equipment that wasn't to be used until the aircraft was in a war zone. Everyone
generally was in a pretty excited mood, and it stayed that way pretty well all the way to
Summerside where we were to stay overnight. The trip took three hours and forty
minutes but it seemed like only half the time.
Like always, here I am reminiscing about how we were acting like we were on a joy
ride in the park. As usual, I am forgetting all about the work horse of the crew, Jeff
Smart, our navigator ! He works like a dog on every trip we go on. He plots courses
and map-reads from take-off to landing. Because he does such a good job, we hardly
notice his existence. The same thing applies on this trip to Summerside. We are all
enjoying beautiful weather, a beautiful new aircraft, an exciting new adventure and a 3-
1/2 hour cruise to Prince Edward Island. All Jeff is doing is plotting, map reading,
taking sun shots and telling me what course to fly !! Working all the time, but enjoying
every minute of it because he knows how important his job is to all of us. He would be
our hero on more than one occasion.
The next day was a 3 hour flight to Gander Bay, Newfoundland. It was an uneventful
trip and the only thing I remember about it was the size of the snow banks along the
side of the runway when we came in to land. They were higher than the height of the
aircraft. It was like landing on a toboggan slide runway. We couldn't see anything but
the Control Tower. We needed radio directions to find the right path to taxi to the
When we deplaned and went into the flight offices we were told where we would be
bunking for the night, where the mess hall was and where the movie theatre on the
station was. We were also told our pre-flight briefing was held automatically at 5 a.m.
every morning as long as we were here, no matter what the weather appeared to be
like to us. We would get a complete weather report covering the Atlantic to Africa and
north to England.
This is the interesting part. It was the weatherman's job only to tell us what to expect
from the weather. It was our job, or more precisely, my job,to decide if it was good
enough to fly in! It was up to me to say "we go" or "we wait another day". But we still
had to be up at 3 a.m., breakfast and attend the 5 a.m. briefing, no matter what the
weather conditions were.
As it turned out, we were in for a few days of real bad North Atlantic storms. We had
to wait for 6 days before the weather changed. By that time we were ready to fly in just
about anything resembling reasonable weather conditions.
On March 11th we took off for the Azores ! They are tiny groups of islands 600 miles
off the coast of French Morocco, Africa.
Take a look at an atlas sometime to see how tiny they appear in the ocean. We weren't
overlooking our navigator, Jeff Smart, today, let me tell you. Ken Aikman, our bombadier,
whose flight position was up in the nose of the aircraft next to Jeff, was offering his
assistance and the odd chocolate bar whenever he had the chance. He too was
remembering how important Jeff was to us.
We talked earlier about when flying out to sea how it stirred up a bit of uncertainty or
anxiety in me. Well I had gotten used to that on our cross-country exercises. But I
must admit that I felt that way on this day as we were settling in at 7,000 feet with a
nine or ten hour flight ahead of us. But, here again it was a feeling that lasted only a
few minutes. It was a beautiful day for almost all the trip. It was broken cloud at 8,000
feet and sunshine. The sea was still a bit rough below us because of the high winds
and storms over the past week. We saw a couple of U.S. Navy ships, probably
cruisers, and stayed away from them. Otherwise it was a very pleasant trip. In fact we
were beginning to find our winter flying suits (which were great at Gander Bay) were
getting uncomfortable. Jeff had already chucked his.
Nine hours and 30 minutes later, Jeff gave me another few degrees change of course
and a couple of minutes later, stuck his head up into the plexi-glass bubble in front of
us with a grin on his face. He said, over the radio, in a firm and triumphant voice, "Look
straight ahead and you'll see the Island of Madeira, Portugal!!!" There it was, just like
he said and everybody gave Jeff a cheer!
As we approached the circuit we slowly let down in a very wide left hand circle. As we
approached 2,000 feet we slipped in behind another Liberator that looked similar to
ours. We followed him into the circuit and landed behind him. It turned out to be Al
Buzza and his crew ! The same crew that took off ahead of us at Dorval on the 4th of
March. Imagine the enormity of this coincidence !! We took off at Dorval and flew the
North Atlantic route and he flew the South Atlantic route from the Bahamas. We were
challenged with North Atlantic storms as he was with South Atlantic storms, and for the
same period of time. We both chose the same day to cross the ocean, and pretty close
to the same time of day. Then to top it off by landing in the Azores in the same order as
we left Dorval !! Well, I think it was pretty weird anyway. I'm still amazed at this
coincidence when I think it through.
We have now landed in the Azores and are immediately struck by the intense heat as
we get out of the aircraft. We have flown out of winter into tropical summer in ten hours
or less. We shed our flying suits immediately.
One of the things that is very clear in my memory is the amazing number of types of
aircraft landing and taking off from this airport in the Atlantic Ocean !! There must be
hundreds a day arriving from all parts of the world (the allied world of course) and as
many taking off for other parts of the world.
Thankfully this was only an overnight stay because the sleeping accomodation was
pretty bad. So on the morning of March 12th we make out our flight plan to Rabat Sale,
which was in French Morocco, about 20 miles from Casablanca. We must have been
flying into a pretty strong headwind because it took us 6 hours and 45 minutes and it
was only something over 600 miles.
Anyway the trip was very interesting because long before we reached our destination
we could see the coast line of Africa. That was a thrill. When Casablanca came into
view, it was a remarkable sight. From several miles away we could make out the city.
It was so peculiar a sight because what we were seeing was only two colours, white
and red. Everywhere we looked, where there were buildings, it was white and red. As
we got closer we realized all the buildings were white plaster and red tile roofs. If we
had asked "Frenchy" (Johnny Schwartzman, our ball turret gunner) he would have
enlightened us. His home, Malaga Spain, was only 250 miles away ! More about that
Now we are safely down in Rabat Sale (pronounced Salay). After checking in at the
Control Tower, we make out our flight plan for tomorrow's trip to Maison Blanc, Algiers,
our final leg in our beautiful Liberator.
Now we all decide we will go into Casablanca for a big dinner and get back to the
station early because we are expected to take off around 8:00 in the morning.
Before leaving the airport, some of the veterans on the station warned us to stay
together, stay on the main street and be prepared to barter with the local hordes for
anything we will be wearing, particularly shoes ! Well, we didn't last long in
Casablanca. We found a restaurant that actually had a 4 or 5 piece orchestra. The food
was not good, mostly because we didn't know what it was and the orchestra kept
playing "Ding, ding, ding, went the trolley!"
The fellows at the station were right about the hordes trying to buy everything we
owned. They were mostly young kids, dressed in potato sacking I guess. They were
loaded with rolls of French Moroccan francs. We found out later back at the station
that the Germans had been flooding the country with bogus money for the purpose of
destroying it's economy as they had expected to conquer all of North Africa. It would
be easier for them as conquerors to control the masses if the country's economy was
destroyed. Anyway, the Germans failed, but the country was in dire straights and it
was still flooded with counterfeit money.
The next morning we are preparing to take off on our final leg before giving up our
Liberator, when Frenchy came up to me and asked if I would make a small change in
our flight plan. "If you could swing a little to the left of our flight plan for an hour or so,
we might get a glimpse of my home town, Malaga, Spain"!!
It seemed like a simple request from Frenchy's point of view, but I had some
reservations about it. Jeff had already submitted our flight plan to the Control Tower so
they knew what our departure and arrival times were to Maison Blanc. This would add
about another hour to our flight time. In retrospect, I shouldn't have even considered it.
It was a dumb thing to do and I have no idea how we got away with it.
I was influenced by Frenchy's urging and the fact that he had not seen his home in
nearly six years. His parents had sent him to England when he was around 13 or 14
years old to get his education. His family wanted him to receive an education that
would qualify him for the diplomatic corps. Many years later he became the Canadian
Consulate to Malaga Spain ! He hadn't seen his family in all that time and I understand
he hadn't even told them he had joined the R.C.A.F. All this helped to distort my
judgement and I agreed to consider it once we got airborne.
An hour later we were approaching the Spanish coast line. Frenchy was ecstatic when
he saw it. Suddenly he made out the outline of his home of Malaga and in his
excitement he caught his hand in a bomb hook and cut it severely. I think Woody
Woodward, our mid-upper gunner performed the first-aid treatment. Even that did not
deter Frenchy's enthusiasm. I guess it was worth it to all of us to see him in such good
During this time we were very rapidly closing in on an area of sky that was out of
bounds to all air movement. We were getting pretty close to Gibraltar, the most heavily
protected island in the world, and they didn't like unannounced aircraft in their airspace.
As soon as we had turned away from viewing the Spanish coastline, we started
getting into some solid cloud cover. We started to let down gradually as we headed for
Algiers. Suddenly we broke cloud and immediately to left and below was the Island of
Gibraltar! The next thing we saw were two British cruisers steaming full speed ahead
toward us ! They had about half a mile of white wake behind them so they had picked
us up several minutes before we saw them ! We got out of there fast, but one of the
crew managed to take a picture of the "Gib" before we got back up in the clouds and
scampered away. Don sent me a copy of the picture about 40 years later, which was
the first time I knew it had been taken !
The rest of the flight was uneventful since no one shot at us. When we got to Maison
Blanc, I expected to be greeted by the "Brass" but no one even questioned our late
arrival. When the airport at Algiers first came into view it had a real impact on all of us.
It was a huge airport and all over the field were lines of Liberators, my guess would be
50 or 60 of them. The mystery was getting more intriguing all the time. These ten
planes we were bringing over from Canada were apparently just a small part of a very
big plan. None of us had ever seen anything like it before.
When we landed and checked into the Air Command office we signed off our aircraft
to some squadron leader and that was it. No fanfare, just hand over the L-14 (aircraft
Once again when turning over the L-14 of the Liberator to the officer at Maison Blanc,
I began wondering about what all these aircraft were being assembled for. It must be
for a major target in some central European country. Wouldn't it be ironic if they were,
in fact, being readied for reinforcing the squadron in India. After all they were all flying
Liberators on the bomber squadrons in India. We knew that much from our lectures at
O.T.U. We also knew they were generally pretty old aircraft. We could probably use
some new replacements. If we could only fly them the rest of the way to India.......
what a pipe dream that was.
Anyway, we all felt a little sad about walking away from that beautiful airplane. When
we got our gear together we were driven to our billets and told we would be here until
May 15th (about 48 hours). We would then be transported by South African Air Force
pilots to Cairo.
That gave us the rest of today and all of tomorrow to sight-see. We immediately
arranged with Cook's Tour to give us a guided tour through some of the temples in
Algiers and finish it off with a tour through the Casbah. Everything was very interesting
and unusually strange. The population was the first thing we found different. It
seemed there wasn't a square foot anywhere that wasn't occupied by a human being or
When we finally got to the Casbah, our tour guide got us all together to warn us not to
separate for any reason. He insisted that in general the people of the Casbah were
tolerant of the tourists, but there was an element within the walls of the Casbah that
considered us intruders and we were fair game if we got separated from the tour
leader. To guarantee he had made his point, he told us that last week two Americans
and their jeep had disappeared...the penalty for going into the Casbah on their own.
They were considered to be trespassers. The jeep wasn't found even though a squad
of U.S. soldiers went in to do a search.
The Casbah is actually the original city built hundreds of years ago to serve as a fort,
with high stone walls surrounding the whole community. They had mounted cannons,
(some of which were still there, or pieces of them) pointing out toward the
Mediteranean Sea to protect against being attacked by enemy ships. Over the years,
as Algiers grew, the Casbah became a very small part, by size and population, to the
whole city of Algiers. The Casbah remained a fortress with a very different purpose. It
now became a haven for the more unscrupulous population.
It provided protection for the criminal element and by its very structure was almost
impossible to police. Similar to Paris, the whole of the Casbah was riddled with
underground sewer systems and it made it virtually impossible to find anyone who
didn't want to be found.
I was glad I had the opportunity to see and go through the Casbah but I was also
relieved when we came to the long stone stairs leading us down onto the streets of
Tomorrow we would be leaving Maison Blanc for Castle-Benito and El Alamein which
had only become world renowned historical sights two years or so ago. This was
where the invincible German Army were stopped cold by the Allies under General
Alexander, then General Montgomery, only a stones throw from Cairo, Egypt. I began
to experience the impact of both Ancient History and Modern History all around me.
Everywhere you looked there were buildings, architecture and traditions hundreds of
years old. Then when we flew over the desert we saw the scars and remains of all the
history that has just been written. It was an eerie feeling, and one that I was aware of
for most of my time overseas.
Now it was time to get the crew together and prepare for our departure from Maison
Blanc. The flight plan called for two full Liberator crews, S/L Sims and mine (26 men
altogether) to load with full overseas kit strapped down along the centre of the fusilage
and ready for take-off at 800 hours, March 15th, 1945.
Well, we all piled into the Dakota (DC3) reputed to be the safest, most reliable and
durable aircraft ever built. All the passengers were in place in their bucket seats along
the sides of the plane, facing inwards toward one another. I was seated on the
starboard side, half way down, just behind the trailing edge of the wing. I was so
positioned that if I looked out the window I could see the wing tip and also the
I was not used to flying as a passenger. Almost all of my flying was as a pilot, so I
was a bit uneasy at take-off simply because I wasn't in control.
However, we are now rolling down the runway, and I could tell we now had full throttle
on. I am watching the starboard wheel, expecting it to leave the ground at any moment
when it suddenly blew !! The plane swerved slightly toward the blown tire and I could
feel the pilot push the throttles through the gate (into emergency power). The plane
struggled off the ground. I shouted for everyone to be ready to brace themselves if the
plane stalled. We got up about 70-100 feet and suddenly the starboard wing dropped !
We were in a stall. Since I could see the wing, I yelled again to prepare to "brace"
and when the wing was about to make contact with the ground - I yelled "BRACE" and
we hit. The plane first made contact with the ground with it's wing pointing straight
down, the next thing to hit was the nose of the aircraft and finally the other wing tip !
It had done a complete cartwheel and the starboard engine was burning before the tail
hit the ground. When that happened, the plane slammed onto the ground on it's belly
(thank God, because it was a miracle it wasn't upside down by this time). When it
landed on it's belly, one of the flight doors at the back of the fusilage sprung open when
the other sealed itself shut. By this time everyone was slamming out of their seat belts
and working their way to the open door.
We all piled out and ran 20 yards or so away for fear of the gas tanksexploding. The
pilot then appeared through the emergency escape hatch in the roof over his head and
the other two crew members crawled through to the back of the plane and exited
through our door. Only the pilot got burnt hands because he was splashed by some
petrol flames coming from both engines.
Only a relatively few seconds had passed when we saw the flames hadn't spread
beyond the engines. We decided to go back to throw out our kits and were joined by
some Italian prisoners of war who had been ordered to help us. They risked their
lives by jumping into that plane and we did recover all but a pair of sunglasses and
someone's officer hat. We no sooner got our gear away from the plane, than two tanks
exploded and within a few minutes there was nothing left of the plane !!
We stood around dumbly looking at one another, asking each other if he was OK.
Then the emergency trucks arrived and we were all bundled into the various vehicles
and driven back to the hangars. Everyone was pretty shook up. Don helped me to get
our guys together at our billet so we could talk about the crash as soon as possible.
We figured it would be better to unload as a group and get it out of our systems. I
thought it would help for everyone to give their version of what they thought had
occurred. I think it helped because we got around to talking about how lucky we were
and how everyone reacted with control and relative calm under some pretty frightening
conditions. I was very proud of our crew, in fact both crews, and I told them so.
That afternoon S/L Sims and I were called to the Adjutant's office and advised that we
were expected to testify at the hearing to determine if the pilot was going to face Court
Martial proceedings !! We appealed to the Adjutant to let us present a written
statement as we both independently agreed the pilot did the right thing in attempting to
take the aircraft off so he could return to the field to make a belly landing.
We agreed there was a real risk in skidding into the line of B-24's on the ground
because of the blown tire and if that happened they could have lost 29 men instead of
just one Dakota aircraft. The Adjutant accepted the idea and we were off the hook. We
went back to our billets and prepared for our take-off the next morning at 8:00.
Not much sleep that night. I guess we were all thinking about the take-off we would
be making in just a few hours. The next morning we all piled into the trucks with our
gear and headed out to the aircraft to load up. The general mood was reserved, fairly
quiet, and no one was acting up or trying to display bravado, or the like. Everyone had
enough flying experiences to see through any acts of that nature. Furthermore, the
closer we got to the aircraft, and to the time of take-off, we had stopped thinking about
what the other guy might be thinking about us.
I did notice that my wireless operator looked particularly tense and very pale when the
aircraft started rolling onto the runway to prepare for take-off. I stopped thinking about
him then because I had my own self to deal with. I saw Don look a bit anxiously at me
and we both gave one another a little nod as though we were saying "We'll do it right
this time !".
Well, we did it, and undoubtedly 26 pairs of lungs exhaled with well disguised relief as
we pulled up into the air just like a Dakota is supposed to do. The Dakotas really were
the most reliable and trustworthy workhorses of their time !! Do you know there are
many of these planes still being flown today, nearly fifty years later ?! I know one that
isn't. It is Dakota #525!!
Two or three weeks later I got a most remarkable letter from Ada. The amazing
coincidences of this story are mind boggling, or certainly they were to me as I read her
letter. This is what she said: "Marlin, Leona Anderson (Mrs. Farrel's daughter), Ada
and Grant went for a drive up to Clear Lake from Brandon to spend the day picnicing.
It had rained very hard the night before but the next morning it cleared up and was
going to be a lovely day. The day was May 15th, 1945. They were driving down the
country gravel road that early morning. Everything was going fine when suddenly the
front right tire blew ! The car swung to the right and headed for the ditch and as it left
the road it rolled over and stopped right side up !! I think Ada bumped her knee, but
her main concern, of course, was for Grant. He wasn't hurt but was crying to get out of
the car. They couldn't get the doors open at first, but Ada managed to roll her window
down so Grant could be lifted through the opening and out of the car.
No one else was hurt. They all finally got out of the car and eventually got back home
- badly shaken up but otherwise OK !! Marlin said afterward that if it hadn't been for the
heavy rain which made the ground very soft in the ditch it would have been very
Using local time, in each case, these accidents happened at approximately the same
time, the same day, and both by blown tires on the right side. Both vehicles rolled over,
both ended right side up, and both with only one person slightly hurt !! And we were
half a world apart !
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