Forced Landing in Russian Territory: "Sugar Report"
from the Journal of S/Sgt. Robert Richards
crew of plane 44-8186, "Sugar
Lt. Ralph H. Kagi; Copilot, Lt. William
Navigators, Lt. Fred S. Meade and Donald Burns; Bombardier, Lt. W. F. Bounds; Engineer, S/Sgt. S. J. Murchy; Radio, S/Sgt. M. Glassy; Left wing, S/Sgt. Polynack; Right wing, S/Sgt. R. D. Irvine; Tail gunner, S/Sgt. R. E. Richards.
YES, IT WAS DECEMBER 26, 1944, and we were lucky enough to hit the battle order. Our 32nd Bomb Squadron is having a Christmas party in Foggia. It was quite a party although I didn't attend. We got up bright and early for briefing only to find that once again we were going to that well-known target of Blechammer Germany. It was a well-known target for its oil and half of the flak guns the Germans had. But we didn't mind, for we had been there three times before.
AS WE STARTED on the bomb run the flak began to hit us all over and it sounded like all hell had broke loose. In fact it did. No one had any closer calls than the other. We got a bad hit in the number one engine and it started a little fire and as we feathered the engine it put the fire out. The Lord was with us all the way for all of us came out without a scratch.
WE THOUGHT we would have to bail out but we were stuck with the ship. Number three and four engines were almost shaking the ship apart but we hung on. After we had traveled about a hundred and fifty miles a field was spotted and we decided to make a landing there. At least seven or eight Russian Fighter planes came up to get us but due to the luck, they recognized that we were not Germans. They started to make a couple of passes but broke away before firing.
AT LAST we were going to land and everyone was sweating out what kind of landing we were going to make. No one actually knew just what damage the ship was in, but Kage and Bill brought her in and made a most beautiful landing. At least it seemed good to know that our feet were on solid ground. It was a feeling that was just out of this world. The time in between bombs away and landing will never be forgotten for I'm sure that it was at least two or three years of my life.
WE WERE GOING to get out of the plane as soon as we landed but it seems as though the civilian population was all congregated around the plane. We stayed in until a Russian Lieutenant and two guards with fixed bayonets came marching through the crowd. As soon as we saw them we crawled out of the plane and all ten of us stood together.
THE RUSSIANS GAVE US a quick "high ball" and the first thing they asked was whether we spoke German. Of course no one knew what they were saying but we shook our heads no. They finally took us to a little village and fixed us up with a fancy meal of raw bacon and other fat meats and above all a nice shot of vodka. It was then that we found out that we were only about 2 miles from the front. I thought that the artillery guns sounded awful close. We also could hear small arms fire that was too close for comfort.
WE STAYED with the Lt. Colonel that was in charge of the infantry around there. He was a swell Joe and we had a good time with him although we only stayed with him for two days. They then got the bright idea that being we were Airmen we ought to be with the Air Corps. They moved us and then the real things began to happen.
December 28, 1944
WE DIDN'T DO MUCH all day except walk around the village and take in the sights. We saw 15 or 20 German graves right beside a Catholic church. According to the markers they were all very young men. We met a small boy and he took us to the local hospital and we took a short stroll through it. We talked to several Slovak people who had been in America before the war broke out and they all wished they had stayed there. That night we left Budkivce in an ambulance. The driver probably thought we were all crazy for we were singing at the top of our voices. To tell the truth none of us knew what was going to happen. The Lt. Colonel was a ground officer and now the air corps was going to take over. We stopped at a small farm house which turned out to be the Colonel's house. Kagi went in and it was a good half hour before he came and we really sweating him out. We then went a little further and stopped at another house and this time we all crawled out, took our bags with us for we had come to our new sleeping quarters. It was a fairly size room but it was kind of crowded with all ten of us. There was only one bed in the room with springs on it and Kagi grabbed it right away. The rest of the beds consisted of about four or five boards that covered the bottom and a nice bunch of straw over them and a piece of cloth over it. They gave us each one blanket a piece which wasn't quite enough for it was pretty cold out. We did have a fire in the room but it was a wood burner and no one was ambitious enough to keep it going. Finally, we went to bed for a good night's rest and for more things in the morning.
December 29, 1944
WE STAYED in the room most of the day while the Russians and the civilians held a steady procession in and out of the door. I guess it was the first time any of them ever had a chance to look at a bunch of American Flyers. We felt kind of funny for every one of them would just stand there and stare at us as though we were something out of this world. This day was the start of steak meals three times a day. Yes, steak rice and potatoes three times a day and seven days a week. They put a little 2nd Lieutenant in charge and he was envied by all the rest because he was with us all the time. He would try to do every thing we asked but as it was we weren't hard to please. We couldn't understand him and he couldn't understand us. Finally our old buddy Polynack broke out with a few words of Ukraine and from then on we got along good. Poly talked him into getting a barber for we hadn't had a shave in the last four days. The barber came and shaved all of us and then started on our haircuts. I think he started to shave our heads instead of our faces. At least we didn't have to worry about long hair for a while.
THAT NIGHT they gave a dance for us and we were the only ones that were allowed to dance with the girls. But being we didn't know much about Russian style of dancing we just let the men take over. We were all getting tired so we went back to the sack to get another night of beauty rest on our board beds.
December 30, 1944
EVERYONE WOKE UP feeling bad for we had a pretty rough night drinking that potent vodka. We had to drink it for it was an insult if we didn't. The procession started again right after breakfast. One of the people was a mad Russian Lieutenant and he had a quart of spirits which was a mixture of 96 percent alcohol and 4 percent water. We had to take a shot of this and it just about choked us to death. We finally got up our courage to refuse to drink and after that everything went alright. They had another dance and we were the guests of honor. The rest of the boys danced with the women but didn't do to well for they couldn't understand them. The Russian women are as hard as nails and that goes for physical fitness as well as anything else.
THE DANCE ended early so we went back and hit the sack. What a sack it was because my back is still aching.
December 31, 1944
POLY, BILL, BURNS, Red and Glassy went to church and it turned out to be Greek Catholic and most of the boys were Roman Catholic. When they came back from church the Colonel had figured out a few things for us to do. That night we went to a Russian film and after the show some Lieutenant brought a few musicians to our room and gave us a nice concert. The Lieutenant sang the Volga Boatman for us and he did a good job.
January 1, 1945
NEW YEAR'S DAY and here we are in Russia. A much different place than I had planned. I guess it was a rough war. Glassy and Wunderlich went to Church and the rest stayed in the room and shot the bull. A red headed Captain came in the room and wanted us to play a little chess. Little did we realize that he was the third best player in Russia. He cleaned every one and then he and some other Russian played a game and it turned out to be a stiff one for he was also a good player. That evening we went to a show and it turned out to be "North Star."
January 2, 1945
WE AROSE ABOUT ten o'clock and had breakfast and then five of the boys went back to Budkovce for a meal. The meal consisted of 20 year old whiskey, pork chops, breaded veal cutlets and delicious cookies. They found out later that it took all the food the Village had to feed the men. The Slovak people would give you all they had for they think there is nothing better than an American.
January 3, 1945
WE GOT UP AT ten as usual and then we were off to another steak breakfast. Those steaks for breakfast sure did get tiresome but who are we to kick. At least we aren't starving. Today the barber finally came around and after four days he finally managed to slick us up pretty good. The trouble was that he always wanted a shot of vodka and of course we were always short on vodka. The girls in Slovakia have a complete outfit before they can marry and that includes a small strip of land, a cow, a horse and a pig. I guess the men get off for nothing. Not a bad deal at all.
EDITOR'S NOTE: It is with pride that I share my brother's journal of their forced landing experience in Russian territory. From the news reports it took the crew 52 days to return to their 32nd Squadron stationed in Italy. Robert completed his 25 bombing missions and returned to the United States. He raised a family and had a successful business. He passed away in November of 1973 at the young age of 50.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, contact Charles J. Richards, 2421 Williams Drive, Quincy, MI 49082-9644. Telephone 517-639-7192, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org