The Mighty Eighth – Russian Shuttle by Gil Cohen


Passing into eastern Poland and western Russia, evidence of the stark horrors of the Eastern Front were visible even from the air. Tom Colby relates, “We passed just to the south of Kiev, and part of it was on fire. We could see artillery and mortars shooting and falling.” The scorched earth policy in Russia took on vivid meaning when the charred villages, shell holes, and tank tracks became visible from the air. Rautio in a B-17 relates, We flew for a long time over dark green territory that seemed devoid of roads or human habitation, simply wilderness. All of the tension had thoroughly exhausted me and I fell asleep! I awoke just before we landed, and the Germans were already overhead photographing the whole area. We P-51 men were then flown by Russian DC-3 to Piryatin.”Leaving the bombers, we altered our course southward and soon passed Russian Bell P-39 Airacobras as they flew toward a rendezvous with our bombers,” McKibben continues. “We began to check our gas and a few of the boys began to sweat it out. After passing Kiev we all kept a watchful eye for our base. We were beginning to feel the effects of sitting on those hard dinghies for the last seven hours, and time seemed to drag before we sighted flares that marked Piryatin. You could sense the relief in Col. Blakeslee’s voice as he said, `Well boys, here’s the end of a perfect mission.’ Well, it wasn’t quite perfect, and a 4th Group boy didn’t help matters when he staged a minor accident on the lone steel mat runway and held the remainder of us in the air for 20 minutes.” Colby emphatically adds, “Believe me, this was serious as all of my tanks were dry and when we finally landed I estimated only 15 to 20 minutes of fuel remaining. Blue Flight was very tight lipped, tired and relieved!”Speaking of `relieved,’ after more than eight hours in the air plus the extra 20 minutes holding, everyone’s bladder was ready to explode. Our aircraft were dispersed in a helter skelter fashion on the west side of the airstrip, and we immediately unbuttoned our drawers and `let fly’ in front of a huge audience. Later that day the elderly American base commander complained to Blakeslee about this unseemly conduct. Blakeslee just laughed it off.’A recent fine-art print shows Col. Blakeslee having just landed in Piryatin. Fuhrman corrects, “In the painting of when we arrived in Russia, Blakeslee is pointing to his watch to show we arrived to the minute. He actually had little to do with that, as we were just following the bombers and their navigators that led us most of the way. Also it would be difficult to have previous knowledge on head or tail winds we might encounter during the flight. To bring it down to the exact minute was just luck. Pure luck.”After a truck ride to the briefing tent, an American Intelligence Officer interrogated the pilots while Russian girls provided refreshments. Fuhrman recalls having fresh white bread and jam. He adds, “Gee, that tasted good after the dark coarse bread we got in England. I often wondered where they managed to find the stuff. I’m sure the Russian people didn’t have it.” Following a quick rest and evening chow, the pilots retired to their assigned tents with canvas cots. Colby allows, “I’d had the foresight to put two taped bottles of scotch in a suitable cranny of my right gun bay, and retrieved them in time for a twilight cocktail party. The group included Jackson, Higgins, McKibben, French, Heller, and Deacon Hively of the 4th Group, among others. I’m sure someone thanked me for my generosity, but only momentarily.’ It seems the Luftwaffe had other plans for the Shuttle participants!

A superb limited edition signed by Gil Cohen and the legendary
Fourth Fighter Group Leader Colonel Don Blakeslee

Availability: In stock