June the 24-th. Yesterday Bukarest was bombed by the Americans, so we thought " today there will be a pause" The sun was just up in the sky and over the town of Ihtiman when the initial information for an aerial danger came to us.

We are gathered around the map in the command hall and watch the plotter specialist who draws some lines on his map , showing the enemy formations' route. We are trying to guess their target, where deadly loads will be dropped today.

Clearly, it will be not Athens, Vienna or Budapest but most likely some of our home towns or the town of Nish , or perhaps again Bucharest and Ploesti.

At 7.00 a.m. the sirens of Sofia started to howl, indicating an aerial Danger. For first time the citizens of Sofia went to their hiding place so early . We sit in our cockpits , waiting for the takeoff signal. We listen to the loudspeakers for some more information about the sizeof coming formations. Today again the number of enemy’s aircrafts is a record - more than 600 units!. And we will take off with our only 14 fighter planes . This is all, what we have ready for combats. The other squadron, situated temporarily in the airfield of Karlovo, will join us in order to help, but it has even less planes than we have here in Sofia.

Our takeoff is at 8.00 a.m. and we took the direction Kurilo-Svoge for gaining some altitude. At the altitude of about 2000 meters our air force command warned us to be careful as a German squadron of fighter planes is also in air. This means that some help is provided by our allies. Soon we noticed them and making a left turn we joined them. Their commander takes the command of all of us. Crossing the chain of the Balkan mountains, we advance forwards and increase our altitude.

We flew over an area northwest from the town of Vratca, when we were informed by our radio link that the enemy is already over our territory and takes a direction to the towns of Dupnica and Samokov. The German leader of our formation however remained unconcerned by this message and went on flying to the north. Obviously he did not care for protecting our land but was ready to protect the bombing of Rumanian petrol factories. In this moment I decided to do something different.I left the group of German planes, flying to the north and turned my plane backwards to the south , where our capital city Sofia lays ; thus finishing with our joint aerial operation with the Germans.

Reaching the mountain hills near the town of Ihtiman our altitude was already 7000 m. Far away from our group, somewhere over Chamkoria (nowadays Borovec )situated in Rila mountain's skirts, we saw the long colon of enemy bombers, "draining itself" to the northeast. We continued with gaining some altitude, keeping our planes sidely of the colon and letting enemy fly undisturbed below us to north-east . One by one, the formations passed under us as if a military parade is going on and we watch them as " honored guests". We counted nine groups ,each of them with 20-30 bombers

, guarded by many fighter planes -"Lightnings" and "Mustangs". One group of the fighter planes, flew very close to the bombers, while other planes , single or in couples, flew higher of the fortress' level , making constant changes of their flight’s directions and carefully watching from above for enemy, thus giving more courage to the bomber's crews. Some other groups of 40-60 fighter planes flew like bee swarms , in a ball looking mass, each plane with a different altitude , but ready to fight against any attacker, that could come from any possible side or altitude.

The last groups are now below us. We watch them and let them pass by, wondering ourselves on which part of their formation we could start our attack. We were now about 1500 m higher above them but they have noticed us earlier and they kept watching our moves . A group of them slowly comes nearer but probably decided that we will go on peacefully watching them and so they returned back near to their bomber's colon.

So watching only, we continue our parallel flying close to and behind the colon, keeping a good distance from it.

In one of the next moments however , when the main group of enemy’s fighter planes was far ahead and apart from the formation , our attack has started and surprised the rear flying bombers.Suddenly the thunder, made by so many guns, mixed with the engines' growl stroke the silent high hills, situated around of the towns of Panaguriste and Koprivstica. Two of the 4-engine fortresses, attacked by us, were seriously damaged and could not be able to return to their bases. We left quickly the area of this combat in order to avoid attracting their fighters.

We have relaxed for some minutes, when one of our pilots reported on his radio that a bomber is following the same flight direction but some few miles behind the formation.

Soon I sow myself this lonely aircraft .I wondered myself what its mission could be and why it is alone and far behind the group, without any cover fighter. If it has some engine problem, it should return to its base. Instead it flies further into enemy's territory? May be I taught this is some kind ofgame for enticement of our attention.?"

We have heard for such actions arranged by our enemy, when single aircrafts , specially armed with 32 machine guns and with four big guns, were used purposely for attraction of enemy's fightersin order to destroy them easily with a massive and unexpected fire from all of those guns." Probably this is also such a special aircraft,( known to us by the name " a Marauder") or something of this kind "

Yet it was attractive target and was a challenge for us to attack it.

So I have decided to attack. Obviously our intention was noticed by the crew of this single aircraft (or may be this was the planned way) but it quickly turned to the right side and reversed its flight in backwards direction. We followed the plane, speeding up to the maximal speed our planes could reach. I gave my orders to all that our wing of four planes will attack first". We flew ahead , slightly withdrawn to one side and close enough for a better watching of the bomber. Six of our planes remained on the right side behind and above of us while 4 other planes had to cover our wing's rear side, remaining left behind us and led by lieut. Banev. Gradually, we came nearer to the bomber , we had in this moment the feeling that we will be really the winners, simply because we were 14 against only one plane. Very soon, when we were in the sky over the town of Ihtiman, I took the uisual position for attack. I pulled with my plane close behind and on the right side of the bomber, with an altitude of 500 m. higher than the bomber's level. Ready to attack, I decided again to use my experience that I had so far accomplished in combats with a 4-engine bomber. i.e. I will attack alone and then will be followed in a stretched line , one by one, by the other 3 fighter planes of our "wing". They were ready to follow me and to double my attack.

I gave my orders: "Attention , I start the attack. The next one shall go in as soon as I finish".

I advanced frontally approaching the right side of the fortress. The side- gunner started shooting on me, long before my plane come close to him, but Imanaged to move it downwards , sliding unnoticeably to one side , watching the traces of shots and making some maneuvers to avoid any hit. From time to time, I gave myself some short serials of shooting to keep this side-gunner more afraid,( as every human normally should be from shooting on him), thus constraining him to hide himself behind the armored protection of his gun-place. Than I drew my plane more close to the bomber's tail and with an unexpected slide, I appeared very close to it . I could see now the gunner, who was stationed in the opening of the tail and who until now couldn't see me, neither could he aim his gun's shooting more effectively on me. So immerging suddenly in front of him, I gave a continuous shooting, taking further my plane to the left side. I directed my shooting straight on the gunner, whom I could see just in front of me. Seconds later, I saw him jumping out of the plane and disappearing from my sight. Perhaps he used his parachute but I couldn't see in this moment what is going on below and behind my plane.

Immediately after this result, my attention was directed to my next and final target - the two engines of the left wing of the bomber so I fired with my guns immediately on them. In the next moment I saw some bright traces indicating that my shots go streight to this new target. In less than a second a fade line of smoke stretched after one of the two engines. ” Enough for now. It is time to withdraw”. Now comes the turn of the next attacker- second lieut. M. Ousounov, who starts his attack.On ground he was a brilliant hunter but an exellent shooter in the air combats too.” Let him continue my work”. So I flew below the enemy's plane and on the right side of it , in order to watch better the attacks and their results.

Soon after this, the smoke behind the engines of the bomber has increased and 6-7 men from its crew jumped out, using their parachutes . I gave my further instructions to the next pilot, who started his attack. It was serg. Cyril Stoyanov. He did his shooting well, so the bomber caught some fire and there was an explosion on its body .Some pieces flew around in the air and the bomber sunk down .

Someone came in our radio link and loudly admired our victory with "Well done, boys".....

Read here the story for the same combat as told by the top gunner of the shot B-24 bomber;Robert Johnson:

"On June 24, 1944 at a point about 150 miles from the target,we noticed that no. 4 engine of our ship /Lt. Anderson's (AC No. 41-28846)/was smoking pretty badly. Lt. Anderson then peeled off to the left. This was about 08.45 a.m.

We continued at 240 degrees for two or three minutes, hoping to see that a part of the formation of escort P-38s had turned back with us, but none were sighted. Switching our thinking from flak and enemy fighters over the target, we started scanning the skies for 109s. No longer traveling northeast facing the sun with fighter protection, we were going cold-turkey, redirected southwest, with sun rays obliquely shining on our tail from nine o'clock. In fact, no sooner thought than done, Kapish spotted circling above us the tiger sharks of the air of which he made the first call, "ME-109s at six o'clock high."

To rid us of a major contributor to roadkill, Lt. Anderson instructed Lt. Devine to free us of the 5,000 pound hickey on our backs; drop the unarmed bombs onto the hills below. With engine trouble, we should try to maintain as much altitude as possi-ble, at least enough to be able to jump; flying the tree-lined hills wasn't an option for a lumbering and wallowing B-24, though that might help us avoid fighter attacks. Jumping should be maintained as an option as Lt. Riggs was checking his maps, trying to determine how far it was back to the partisan country or Yugoslavia.

Above us, fourteen ME-109s were circling downward to close the gap between us. Smelling blood, the sharks were making their final assessment, no doubt scanning the skies to confirm that our P-38 escorts had moved along with the regular formation. As they positioned themselves for an attack, four 109s moved into a lead position at three o'clock high, six followed and were positioned to the lead plane's right, while the final four took a position directly behind the leaders. Apparently cutting back on the throttle, the lead ME-109 started drifting back of his pack, leaving a space of about 300 yards between them, until he reached a position at five o'clock, level with our plane, a little out of our range. Leonardi, on the right waist gun, and I, in the top turret, started making short bursts in his direction, to show him by tracers that we were awake. As he kept just out of range, An-derson suggested that we start some evasive action, but Biaggne wanted him to hold steady and gently raise the right wing, to position his turret for a clean shot. Now the three of us were firing short bursts at the 109's position.

While Joe was watching the maneuvering out of the corner of his eye, he continued to fire intermittent bursts in the direction of the four high 109s, off the lead group's left wing. Suddenly, the 109s group leader who had drifted back made a quick turn into us and fired several shots from his wing-mounted 20 millimeter cannons. He scored with a hit to the tail section and the tail turret, setting the oxygen system on fire inside the plane; bad as that was for Kapish, the loss with the most impact to our fighting abil-ity was the loss of our intercom which shut down all communica-tions between the gunners. The intercom was useless! No more calling fighter positions, each of us was isolated, from then on fighting alone. On the same pass, Kapish was hit by twenty millimeter shrapnel, in the back and shoulder area. He exited the turt to check his injury; as he entered the fire in the waist, his eyebrows and lashes were singed by the fire from the oxygen system. Fire from a hot blue flame burned his face where it was ex-Posed in the goggle area; he later said that he felt blinded temporarily; he probably was saved from serious burns by the tunnel-like flow of air from the open bomb-bays through the waist windows, spreading flames erratically about the plane lessening the intensity on any one spot.

Recovering quickly, Joe searched by habit, feeling for his chest-pack chute that he always kept back of his turret along the floor, only to find that it too was burning, smoldering with deep fuse-like burns from molten steel fragments. According to Watson, Kapish whizzed past him in the waist, on through the narrow catwalk between the bomb-bay doors, as sure-footed as a trapeze artist walking the high wire in a Barnum Bailey Circus act. From 18,000 feet, it would seem to have been a fearless feat, even for one practiced in aerial acts. On to the flight deck, he grabbed the spare chest-pack (one that we had only recently started carrying as a precautionary measure), buckled it to his harness and sat for a moment on the flight deck before deciding to bail out.

Because our bombardier had no reason to be in the nose after his earlier drop of unarmed bombs, he positioned himself behind the pilot and co-pilot seats on the flight deck, where the engineer would normally stand with engine trouble, from which spot he could help watch the fighter action, especially from a frontal or side attack. Although only a few feet separated us, engine noises and bulkheads prevented hearing or seeing as a substitute means of communicating. Fortunately for the pilots, Devine was able to monitor the gunners' activities and keep Anderson and Lober ad-vised. But without the intercom, crew members were isolated and decisions were not questioned. In a burning house, you can run outside, assess and evaluate the situation before going back in, but in a plane, outside is a place of no return. We were without a tail gunner; worse, the enemy knew it for Kapish was falling through the air in his chute.

Leonardi and I continued firing bursts with our fifties at the next in line of the attack planes. They seemed to be following the techniques of their leader, tipping their left wing for another attack on the tail, making a shooting pass down and away, turning beneath the plane. We were dealing with some smart hombres for they continued to start from a position level with our plane about five o'clock, almost a line of sight towards our plane's rud-ders and ailerons, where my turret guns automatically shut off to prevent shooting parts of our own plane. Again, the attack was to the tail area with the 20mm cannon and machine guns blazing. On this run, there were solid hits to the left wing section, to en-gines #1 and #2, starting flames bending up and over the left wing. As the 109 banked left and underneath to finish his pass, Biaggne took some good shots at him and thought that he may have hit him. Leonard! was hit by machine gun fire, the bullet passing through the muscle area of the back of both legs, about six inches below the pelvis area. Now, Leonardi was on the floor of the right waist, making the whole right side vulnerable. From my view at the top, our plane was doomed as fire was coming over both the left and right side of the wings.

Biaggne suspected that our own 50 caliber shells were exploding in the waist from internal heat, as he kept hearing the crack of bullets while there was no immediate 109 attack going on. Not being privy to the Bulgarian medical reports on his hospitalization stay in Samokov, I would guess that Leonardi could have been hit by either exploding 50 calibers or the eight millimeter machine guns from the 109. The travel of the shell from the tail would have had to come from a trajectory parallel to the floor of the fuselage, to Leonardi standing in an upright position, looking out the right waist window. The entry and exit of the shell was a dean shot without touching a leg bone or artery. A lucky shot some would say for Leonardi.

Watson was trying to stay out of the oxygen fire which now had grown by the addition of hydraulic fluids. The lines had been severed during the fight and his area covered with red hydraulic fluid, like blood. Unfortunately, he too was the victim of the machine gun fire, suffering from shards of flying plexiglass that came from the tail turret or from bits of the plane's aluminum skin, causing a fine piece to penetrate the cornea of his left eye. Rubbing the eye was a natural reaction, but it exacerbated the pain and forced him to keep his eye closed; blinded in the other eye by smoke, he too decided that jumping was the only option Not having a chute problem, out the camera hatch he went.

With just a brief respite from the firing, the three in the cock-pit area had decided to have us exit the plane. Lt. Devine, the available one, was beginning to relay the message to jump, for Lober had depressed the bailout bell, and found it had been disabled along with the intercom. Standing next to the top turret on the flight deck, Devine tapped me on the leg and said it was time to go. Biaggne in the ball turret realized that the attacks had stopped, but believed there were still noises and flashes coming from exploding ammunition in the waist section. With the hydraulic system out, he proceeded to manually crank up his turret to take a look. Smoke was everywhere. No one remained in the tail section. He looked up through the catwalk to the flight deck and saw that I was coming out of the top turret. At the same time, he saw Anderson with his arm dangling. Biaggne did not see any one but the pilot and me; he therefore assumed that both Devine and Lober had jumped, so he went on to jump from the camera hatch. While the timing was relatively close, I believe Anderson jumped, then Devine and Lober. In the front of the plane, Lt. Riggs looked through the nose bubble to see that the pilots had vacated their seats so he informed Jack Justice that it was time for them to go.

For what we know now was the final attack from the lead group, the third ME-109, flown by Lt. Stoyan Stoyanov, again moved in from the rear, directed fire towards the tail area, to end our misery? Again, I could only give him intermittent bursts from the top turret, as his movements were still focused at level with the tail. His final pass made hits to the central fuselage and the right wing as flames started coming over the wing of the #3 engine area. This time, our pilot suffered a hit from a 20 mm bullet to his left arm. With both sides of the wings and three engines burning, the time had come for us to go...



...Unfortunately our joy lasted only a minute or so because suddenly a great danger appeared over us .

Usually ,before the start of any attack, I look carefully around me , especially over and behind my plane. I did this also today but it turned to be not good enough. When I watched the result of attacks made by my colleges, I forgot to look around and see in advance any eventual danger. The 4 planes, that were guarding us and the 6 planes that were also flying between our two " wings" , also forgot their constant duty to keep watching and to prevent sudden attacks of the enemy . Unfortunately after this total lack of alertness, in the seconds that followed our victory, we were fully surprised and swiftly attacked by some 40 or more Lightnings. In moments like this ,"one has no time for even become worried.

So I just heard a weak voice of the leader of our guards saying in the radio "Lightnings above us.." when a "life and death" fighting around me was already becoming a cruel reality. I looked upwards quickly and saw that the sky above me was "covered " with enemy’s fighters.

In every pilot's experience there are some critical moments, when his life is exposed to a very great danger. Today all of us in this combat had such a moment. We started a very fatal and uneven fight. Every one of us fought with about 3 or 4 of the "divided body"(Lightnings) fighters of the enemy. In the first seconds of this fight, I saw one of our planes , flying steep downwards . I decided to move closer to my college, in order to see its identification number. In this moment however I saw terrified that 3 of the Lightnings are on its tail. I gave some covering shots with my guns , aiming at the space between our plane and the nose of the first following Lightning . In result of this, the attacker diverted from the tail of our plane. The speeding up of my plane however turned myself a good target for all the following Lightnings as I crossed their route's line. They , of course , were immediately aware of my "self offering" position and turned their flights and shooting directly on me.I could see the Death coming close to me in this moment and I had to do my best to slip away from Her. So I looked upwards to the sky above me, where I just saw a dozen of planes, dogfighting, I realized that Iwas too far below them to flew upwards in ascape fly as I will reach their altitude with a very low speed, and this means again a great danger to me becoming an easy target for them . So it is not upwards! Forwards or to some of the sides also is a bad choice . The only way out to ascape is to fly downwards , although this is technically very hard to be executed. While thinking on this some bright traces of shooting on me appeared over my head and around me. I felt my back shudder. My body shrunk instinctively in the cockpit. I pressed the lever forwards and flew vertically down and even turned to "on- back flying". I felt on me the sudden action of a very strong centrifugal force, which was so hard for a human to bear it. Despite of my good training, this sudden sharp change of the flight's direction turned my stomach upside down and pressed on my diaphragm . My heart started to beat very strongly and my blood moved into my head and eyes. For a moment I became almost blind in result of this. My mind however remained working so I went on applying more pressure on the lever moving it forwards , just as if I wanted to perform a reverse "looping" combined with a slow rotation of my plane around its longitudal axis in order to come out from the vertical flying and start a horizontal backwards flying . It was like when in acrobatic flying pilots perform the figure "tono"(auger) which however is only a semi auger and made vertically instead horizontally. So I " dropped" down to an altitude, which was less 5000 meters and was very close to ground level, and then I "broke" my fly and turned it horizontally again. My speed increased to 700 km per hour , so without decreasing it, I dived close over the Plana mountain's hills. Then I swinged with my plane left and right several times,to be be able to see any eventual follower on my tail and when I saw none, I took my breath again and with increased attention flew upwards . Reaching an altitude of about 4000 meters, I gave on radio my order to all our fighters to gather .

During my "squeezing out from the the death's nails " the bomber, shot by us, fell down near a bridge of the Iskar river, just in the town of Samokov's center, so some smoke appeared over the river's bed , where were the remains of it . A Lightning also dipped into the neighboring hills. Some of the American pilots landed with parachutes. The plane of our second lieut. Christo Krastev , was shot almost immediately when the enemy planes appeared over us, so he did an emergency landing in the valley of Ihtiman. During the landing, his plane broke but he survived and was taken to a hospital with heavy wounds. Not far from him landed also with damaged plane the second lieut. Michael Banov. Very close to death was also sec. ieut. Tudor Rozev. After some heavy damages , caused to his plane, a fire started on it and Rozev tried to leave it parachuting. But his cabin , also badly damaged , couldn't open. The fire flames were already close to his legs and his plane was out of control falling very fastly down. In just a few seconds he could die in the crash with earth. Collecting all of his remaining human energy, he tried to open the cabin but failed again. So Rosev has reconciled with his fate and prepared to die, seeing the earth how it comes closer and closer. But it wasn’t his fate that he has to die that very day. A rare and lucky chance came to him when an explosion of one of the additional fuel tanks of the plane has happened in this moment. The explosion has deformed the cabin in such a way that it dropped out in the air followed by Rosev himself, who was thrown out by the strong air flux and has started to fall down . He managed to pull the lever of his parachute and after a moment he sow over his head the saving cupola, just a few seconds away from ground. So he landed in some farmer's field near the village of D. Bania, not far from the town of Samokov.


Damages have been caused to the planes of Tonchev and Gruev but they managed to land safely in the airfield. Sec, Lieut. Tonchev has had again two holes in his propeller' blades and one big in the wing's arch.

One pilot did not returned however today- the quiet and always smiling Zviatko Zagorsky. His plane fuel tank was hit by the shots and caught fire inside of the cabin and uncontrolled his plane crashed in the field.