Gramps was pleased to have CDR. Jerry Loeb USN (Ret) as our speaker this month. Jerry was flying the A-1H Skyraider off the USS Saratoga in January of
Jerry described the Skyraider and how it had the capability of carrying more munitions than a B-17, 6000+ lbs. of weapons. He and his wingman, “Banty” Marron, were launched off the ship on a reconnaissance mission looking for a submarine base in very poor weather with low ceilings and visibilities. Once aloft, they received erroneous location data from the carrier navigator who was later relieved of his post presumably for his failure to give accurate data. The flight ended up with no communications and a major instrument failure in the wing aircraft. Since they could not find the carrier, they headed 180° toward the north coast of Africa, having over seven hours of flight time. They were hurried along by a 150 mph tailwind. The plan was to crash the aircraft on land so
that there would be a better chance of survival. “Banty” crashed first and Jerry was circling the crash site while troops on the ground were shooting at him. It later turned out that the reason for the ground fire was that the troops mistook the fuel drop tanks for bombs and they feared an attack by the Israeli air force was under way. He put his lead aircraft on the ground and both pilots emerged safely.
They were met on the ground by Algerian military troops who believed they were Israeli spies. Jerry spoke to the troops in French which greatlysurprised them and produced some attitude change. They were taken to a prison and confined there. They were visited by members of the U.S. Embassy staff but the Algerians would not release them. They were told that they would be tried in an Islamic court and could expect to be incarcerated for many years. Their muslim interrogator was particularly evil and threatening and, as a result, they planned and executed a late night escape. This was accomplished by pulling out the bolts on the window grill and climbing out to a ten foot drop. They went to a motor pool, waved at a guard and crawled over a fence into a garbage dump. They continued on while they were being pursued and arrived at the Russian Embassy. The Russians denied them transportation to the U.S. Embassy. Their next move was to hire a cab. They found a cab station, yelled “allah akbar” at a guard who accepted the greeting and entered a cab. The driver tried to start the vehicle but it only started after three tries, barely before the Algerian prison guards arrived on scene. They headed toward the American Embassy with the two guard vehicles in chase, trying to stop them with flashing lights and pulling alongside. Once again a cry of “allah akbar” slowed the enthusiasm of the pursuers and they backed off somewhat. The cab driver was frightened and Jerry had to motivate him with his service knife to his neck. They finally reached the U.S. Embassy and gave the driver a bottle of Scotch as payment. It was later learned that the driver was killed by the troops and beheaded with accusations made against the two fugitives.
They were not very welcome at the embassy and there was obvious fear by the staff that their presence could seriously disrupt the relationship with Algeria. They eventually ended up at a meeting with some Algerian generals who suddenly turned against any negotiation plan. The meeting included a meeting with the president of the country who was about to be overthrown. Salvation occurred when the ranking general (who would then become the Algerian president) appeared and overruled his subordinates with the statement, “C’est Finis!” (French for it’s over) They were eventually released and returned to their ship.
Once on board, the assistant air boss was fired but Jerry and Banty were praised and promoted for saving their lives against a difficult set of circumstances. We are very grateful to Jerry for his aggressive and proper behavior to save himself and his junior officer, as well as his service to our country.