In the earlier day of daylight bombing, the fighters… our “Little Friends”… would go with us perhaps as far as Achen, which would be the then limit of their endurance.
We, in the bombers, were the “Big Friends” whom they defended against the enemy fighters… the “Bandits.” But when their fuel forced them to turn back, we would have to fight our way to the target and back to a rendezvous with our “Little Friends” who had refueled and came out to meet us as we returned to England. And, once again, they would take on the fighters who had been attacking us.
As time went on, external drop tanks were developed which extended the range of the fighters. More fighters became available which permitted relays of fighters to be used and which then protected us throughout the entire mission.
There is no way of knowing how many bombers made it back to base because of our “Little Friends” defending the bomber stream. But every airman who flew in bombers is well aware of the debt he owned our “Little Friends.”
I recall one day when the mission had been a rough one. Our fighters had taken on the bandits. We were in debriefing. A fighter pilot, having engine trouble, had landed at our base. I took him into the debriefing room.
Word quickly passed throughout the room that one of the fighter pilots who had flown that day was in the room. With no word spoken, every bomber airman stood up. The room was silent for a minute or two as the bomber airmen paid unspoken thanks and tribute to the fighter pilot.
A moment later “as you were” was given and the debriefing resumed.
The incident illustrates the bomber airmen’s feelings toward the fighter pilots whom they saw time and again, take on superior numbers of Luftwaffe pilots to protect their “Big Friends.”
The fighter pilot was our hero.