At the briefing we were told that we would take off in one-minute intervals, all twenty-two Dakotas, and gain altitude in a southwest heading. We were to fly 300 miles out to sea while climbing to 9,000 feet, in order to avoid the Bay of Biscay. Then, we were to alter our flight plan and head south at 180 degrees, plus or minus, depending upon the winds. When we leveled at 9,000 feet we had an undercover of clouds until about 8:30 in the morning, when things began to clear up.
The entire flight was at black out, the only exception being to remove the black cover in the astrodome while taking sextant readings on the stars. During those intervals the methods we used were for me to take the shots, then call them to the radio operator, who carried a flashlight to provide light for both of our needs. Although the methods we used were crude by today's standards, having no calculators, nor computers, and by using only a Weems plotter and books of tables, we were able to determine a fix once per hour.
Ironically, the calculations suggested a tailwind consistently at about sixty miles per hour, and ironic even more in that this was the only flight I had made using celestial navigation. It was a ten and one-half hour flight--the stars "close by" at night. Most missions thereafter were during the day, around two hours one way.
Pilotage and dead reckoning were the main tools used to navigate. A pilot once told me that they didn't need navigators. I agreed for the most part for our missions, but we were particularly useful for helping load and unload bombs for B-25's, fuel for fighters, supplies, assist with wounded, and to help pinpoint certain isles, towns, villages. Or, maybe to provide a pilot with some K-rations or a cigarette!
We arrived at Marrakech around 10:30 a.m., after a real scare around 8:00 o'clock, when a fighter came from somewhere flying directly at us from the front. We still had an undercover of clouds and all we could see was sky and the fighter. It continued towards us, swept over us, and teased us by circling around, obviously checking to see who we were. Then, as quickly as he arrived, he took off in the direction from which he had come. We could see no land, but our calculated position suggested that the fighter was from Spain or Portugal. We were told later that they did such to get counts or aircraft going to and coming from North Africa, and then reported them to the Nazis.
Pierce, Hutto, and I had a day to check out Marrakech in early August of 1943. We took a native horse and carriage into Marrakech in the morning and returned to the air base in late afternoon. We mostly wandered the crowded streets of natives, refugees and servicemen and settled down to sidewalk tables for French beer and perhaps a bite to eat.
An Arab in fluent English with a large basket of wares approached me at an outside cafe. I saw an Arabian knife in scabbard that interested me. He said $5 and I replied $2 1/2. He immediately jumped the price to $30. This was my "punishment" for "insulting" him. I said parti and he left.
At about an hourly interval for the rest of the day, he somehow kept track of his prospects, he'd approach me as if we'd never met before. He would starting again at $5, the original offering price. My response was the same at $2.50, and he'd zoom his price back to $30. The same routine was repeated each hour and I'd close it by saying parti, which meant pardon my French.