THE UNESTIMATEABLE FUEL RESERVE
In September 1944, the 40th Bomb Group received an Operations Order to bomb a Japanese Steel Mill near Anchan, Manchuria, from its advanced base at Hsinching, China. The order contained some startling mistakes. We were directed to carry a maximum bomb load to a very high altitude with a fuel load much less than normal for a mission of that distance. After all crews prepared their flight plans, we compared the results. No crew had enough fuel to bomb the target and return to our launch base at Hsinching. The veteran Flight Engineer on our crew said we would run out of fuel 300 miles from our base.
The Pilots and Flight Engineers of our 45th Bomb Squadron reported the discrepancy to our Operations Officer, Major Marvin Goodwyn. Major Goodwyn called our Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Oscar Schaaf, who called our Group Operations Officer, who in turn called the Group Commander, Colonel William "Butch" Blanchard. Colonel Blanchard was not happy with the news. After a heated discussion on the primitive field phone, he called for a meeting with all Pilots and Flight Engineers.
Colonel Blanchard was an aggressive West Pointer who was far from being shy or timid. He began the meeting by telling us that our planning -- not the Operations Order -- was in error. He said, without hesitation, that the reported lack of fuel was due to errors in our planning. Several Pilots took turns to stand and vouch for the accuracy of their plans. The mood of the meeting turned very tense when Colonel Blanchard delivered an angry dressing-down of the Pilots who dared to challenge him. The reaction of the audience was such that Colonel Blanchard decided to poll all the Pilots in the room. Every Pilot said their plans were right, and that the Operations Order was wrong.
Colonel Blanchard then called upon Captain Robert Gaughan, one of our most experienced Pilots, to explain in detail his flight plan, and to clearly state his estimated fuel reserve. After giving a carefully worded description of his flight plan, Captain Gaughan cleared his throat, took a deep breath, flashed a broad grin, and clearly stated, "Colonel Blanchard, the fuel reserve for my crew is UNESTIMATEABLE!" The resounding laughter from the crowd broke the tension of the meeting, and a new word was added to the English language. Colonel Blanchard told us to return to our squadrons and standby.
An amended Operations Order reduced the bomb load, lowered the bombing altitude, and increased the fuel load. We flew the new flight plan, and all aircraft returned to Hsinching.
To quote the Holy Scriptures: A Soft Answer Turneth Away Wrath.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *