Target Tug Tow Duty
Would you volunteer to put an apple on your head and allow someone to shoot at it? I wouldn’t, even if it were a watermelon.
Would you volunteer to be attached to a spinning board and let this guy throw knives at you?
What about being at the pointy end of this guy’s knives?
Perhaps if I were unconscious.
Would you hold a target at arm’s length for someone to shoot at?
I confess, I’m not a brave person.
You might be thinking that these things must be safe-ish because they have been well practiced and the marksman is well trained. I would agree, but I’m still not going to willingly allow someone to throw or shoot stuff in my direction if I don’t have to.
Now, for you brave souls who would jump at the chance to do any or all of the above, what if I told you the person shooting at you is learning how to fire a high-powered artillery gun and he needs to learn how to aim at a moving target, would you then?
Pass. Pass. And double pass.
But that’s just what the US WASPs did (Women Airforce Service Pilots). Yep, green soldiers learning to fire large artillery weapons with live rounds shot at some of these brave WASPs as they flew in the wild blue yonder.
In Russia, women were allowed to be combat pilots during the Second World War. In the US, they weren’t allowed in combat because it was deemed too dangerous. American female pilots were kept, primarily, on US soil…for their safety. However, not all the tasks performed by the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) were risk free.
Besides ferrying airplanes from factories to bases where the male pilots were stationed for training and to be deployed, WASPs also tested airplanes, trained male pilots, were airplane mechanics, transported cargo, and towed targets for live anti-aircraft artillery practice.
On July 19, 1943, Jackie Cochran, head of the WASP, announced live-target practice to twenty-five handpicked WASPs who had recently graduated from their rigorous WASP training. Any WASP who wanted to could opt out of this “top secret mission.” None did.
One of the most dangerous jobs—if not the most dangerous—was being a tug tow pilot. This is where soldiers on the ground fired live ammunition from anti-aircraft artillery at a cloth drogue (a tube of fabric) towed behind an aircraft. Sometimes the green soldier got confused and shot at the aircraft rather than the target. Other drogue target practice was aircraft-to-aircraft in a dogfight scenario. The ladies had the targets, but instead of the men shooting at them being stationary on the ground, they were flying in the air firing at a moving target.
Most of this target practice training took place at Camp Davis in North Carolina. During such exercises, several WASPs were shot in the foot. At least two WASPs died in flying accidents at Camp Davis, not necessarily from target practice.
Here’s a 1943 video of one of these drogue targets in action, being shot at. This is in Dublin and is from naval ships toward the aircraft with a drogue.
In Mrs. Witherspoon Goes To War, Peggy flies as a tug tow pilot. Though she doesn’t get shot in the foot, the other WASP does. Read all about Peggy’s adventures as a WASP in Mrs. Witherspoon Goes To War.
***COMING FEBRUARY 2022!***MRS. WITHERSPOON GOES TO WAR (Heroines of WWII series)
A WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) flies a secret mission to rescue three soldiers held captive in Cuba.
Margaret “Peggy” Witherspoon is a thirty-four-year-old widow, mother of two daughters, an excellent pilot, and very patriotic. She joins the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots). As she performs various tasks like ferry aircraft, transporting cargo, and being an airplane mechanic, she meets and develops feelings for her supervisor Army Air Corp Major Howie Berg. When Peggy learns of U.S. soldiers being held captive in Cuba, she, Major Berg, and two fellow WASPs devise an unsanctioned mission to rescue them. With Cuba being an ally in the war, they must be careful not to ignite an international incident.