The old Norse warriors believed that there was a place, Valhalla, to which they would all go when eventually they died or were killed, and I sometimes wonder, if maybe, just maybe, there's a special Valhalla just for flyers in general and Marauder Men in particular?
If there is, then when we finally reach that wondrous place, we shall find, not only all our old comrades waiting for us, but also our old Marauders, standing in their dispersals, the summer sun glistening on cockpit, nose and turret plexiglass. Big Curtiss-Hamilton props all lined up, nose wheels straight, all damage patched and painted, bombed up, gassed up and ready to go once again.
Our aches and pains, the stiffening joints of age, are all gone, wounds are healed, bodies are whole, we are all young again, and, as we assemble and listen to the familiar words of the briefing, the old feelings of excitement, mingled with pride and tingled with apprehension come flooding back once more.
Briefing over, we spill out towards the waiting trucks, laughing, chattering, leg-pulling as always. Loading our gear, we climb aboard and set off towards the dispersal area, then crew by crew, we drop off at our waiting aircraft.
External checks are completed, the gunners clamber through the waist gun hatches, while the rest of the crew, pilot, navigator, bombardier and radio operator swing ourselves up through the nose gear hatch, stow our gear, and settle into our flight positions to begin the individual aircraft equipment checks.
Checks complete, we sit and wait, quiet now, as the minutes tick away towards start up time. As the second hand of every watch moves up to the appointed minute the tension builds and then the whine as the engine starters engage, and one by one, left, then right, the big props begin to turn. A burst of smoke as each engine fires up, coughs and runs that old familiar, thunderous roar, and every dispersal is echoing the same tune.
One more set of checks, bomb doors closed, brakes released, and we begin to ease out onto the taxiway, to join the long line of "sashaying" aircraft as they make their way towards the take-off end of the strip.
In turn, each aircraft reaches the run-up point, turns into wind, and powers up each engine, left, right, then together. Finally, turn on to the runway, full power, brakes off, they roll, slowly accelerating, on past the control tower until the rumble of the gear dies away and they are airborne, wheels up and climbing away into that 10/10 blue Italian sky once more.
The raid leader makes a wide turn, the formation assembles and we set course, climbing to operational height and the enemy coast ahead.
In this Valhalla, the strip is always long enough, there are no "runaway props," no burst tyres, no engine failures, and the flak (although it looks and sounds as menacing as ever) no longer maims and kills either aircraft or crew. The big R-2800's always run sweetly and unfalteringly, the fuel load is always ample for the mission, and the formations are wonderfully tight, but easily flown. Low clouds and fog are unknown, the sun shines from dawn to dusk, and the radio compass is tuned to Radio Foggia where Dinah Shore is once more singing all our old favourites, and we know, we surely know,
THAT WE ARE HOME AT LAST
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