Jule Spach, writes about his second bombing mission piloting his B-24 Liberator over Budapest in 1944. Learn more about Spach and hear his story here.
When the briefing officer entered the room, a silence fell over the assembly, the curtains were lifted, and in a loud voice he announced, “Our primary target today is Budapest.” There was an audible murmuring in the room as the old timers who had been there before knew that this was going to be a difficult day. In all probability some would not come back. We listened carefully as the intelligence officer explained the objective of the mission-times of take-off; location of rendezvous for the many groups of planes taking off from bases over all of southern Italy; expected anti-aircraft fire and enemy fighter resistance; weather; and many other pertinent details including our secondary target We were always given a secondary target where the bombs could be dropped in the event it was impossible to reach the primary objective, for a crew never wanted to waste a flight by returning with its bomb load.
After the last questions had been answered, the crews filed out and slowly headed for the flight line. It was a time to talk, often sharing intimate thoughts and a time when one felt the warmth of friendship and a common purpose. Soon hundreds of planes were in the air, each finding its slot in the formation as methodically as if one were carefully inching a car into a crowded car parking lot. Once airborne the task of bringing all of these groups of planes together was the responsibility of the lead commander, and traffic was directed by radio. Momentarily, geographical location lost its significance, as space and altitude determined position for the patterned rendezvous of planes coming from every direction. As our bombers approached Budapest I saw my first German fighters, the Messerschmitt 109s, and was surprised by the speed with which they came through our formations with their machine guns blazing. I could hear Fowler, then Foster, then Lembo shouting on the intercom.
“Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! Here they come!”
“Three o’clock! No, damn it! There’s another-five o’clock!”
“Where‘d he come from?”
The Messerschmitts appeared out of nowhere, were visible for a matter of seconds, and then were gone. As they attacked, the guns from hundreds of our bombers fired back, but I didn’t see a single German fighter go down. Heavy flak followed as we approached our target, dropped our bombs, and got out fast. It was on this mission that I first heard our own fighter pilots talking back and forth to each other on the radio. As we were leaving Budapest they took on the enemy fighters in “dog fights” above us. These “dog fights” continued as we headed back, and it was an intriguing spectacle. Somehow it seemed almost like a game. We could see the planes twisting and turning and could hear the pilots shouting and warning each other.
“Bandits coming in at two o’clock. Look out red leader, he’s on your tail.”
“Oh my God, Jimmy’s been hit!”
“Got one cornered over here! Got the bastard! Got me a kill!”
The airways were full of chatter until the battle was over. The realities of war, which in training had been impossible to assimilate, were becoming all too real with our first taste of combat. Every day death loomed within one’s view but from a distance that could not be gauged, and each step forward now had to be taken as much in defiance as in faith. Mission completed, we returned to our base and landed with a feeling that is difficult to explain-a feeling of victory and yet a feeling of relief that we had survived and were alive.
Jule Christian Spach
Jule Spach, born December 21, 1923 in Winston-Salem, N.C. and married for 68 years to Nancy Clendenin Spach. Jule is a World War II veteran and piloted a B-24 Liberator in multiple missions over Italy before parachuting into the Mediterranean Sea, and subsequent capture by the Germans. He was imprisoned in Stalag Luft III, the camp known for the “Great Escape” and was liberated by General Patton’s 3rd Army. After the War he graduated from Georgia Tech and spent over twenty-five years as a missionary in Brazil using his skills as an engineer, coach, teacher and administrator. He was appointed and served as Moderator of the General Assembly of Presbyterian U.S. and helped develop Arbor Acres, a retirement community in his home city of Winston-Salem. He and Nancy raised five children, Lynn, Margaret, Anne, Cile, and Robert, and are the proud grandparents of 15 and great grandparents of 38.