I normally go away the navy stuff to Dave, however final Sunday one of many few remaining working B-17s flew into our native airport and my son and I needed to go see it.
Bristling with Browning .50 caliber weapons and instantly recognizable by its big tailfin, the Flying Fortress is likely one of the icons of the American conflict effort in World Warfare II. Designed within the 1930s within the misguided perception that bomber formations might combat their method into enemy territory in daylight and drop bombs with precision accuracy, the B 17s suffered horrible casualties (of two,900 airmen collaborating within the second Schweinfurt raid in October of 1943, 590 had been killed) early within the bombing campaigns. As soon as long-range fighters might accompany all of them the way in which into Germany, casualties in B-17s dropped from “catastrophic” to merely “excessive.”
And it was chilly in a Flying Fortress, fifty beneath zero at excessive altitudes. Within the image, I’m standing by the waist weapons. This specific B-17 is the G mannequin, the final ones constructed, and it had plexiglass home windows over the waist gun ports. Earlier fashions had no plexiglass, and had been even colder than the B-17G. Aircrews wore electrically heated fits, however frostbite was at all times a hazard, though much less of a hazard than flak or fighters. I’ve recognized a few males who fought in B-17s, they usually wouldn’t discuss what it was like up there.
What made this go to particular, although, is that there was a real ball turret gunner available, who needed to be at the least 90. He was dressed like a farmer, was spry and brief (ball turret gunners had been) and he had no drawback speaking about B-17 fight in any respect. In reality, he had so little drawback speaking about it I by no means obtained an opportunity to fulfill him, and contented myself with hanging on the fringe of the group round him and listening to tales about taking pictures at enemy planes, the aid and pleasure of seeing P-51 Mustang escorts, and the time the USAAF commandeered a farmer’s area so they might lengthen the runway for a top-secret customer: the then-brand new B-29 Tremendous Fortress.
The ball turret was, properly, a ball, hydraulically operated within the stomach of the aircraft. It may very well be cranked up into the fuselage for takeoffs and landings, however in fight, the gunner curled up right into a fetal place with the again ends of the dual .50s virtually in his face. In reality, the weapons had been so shut and the gunner so cramped, he couldn’t work the bolts usually and needed to pull a wire rigged to a pulley.
There was no secure place within the B-17, however the ball turret gunners should have felt particularly uncovered, hanging out of the stomach of the aircraft a number of thousand ft above Nazi Germany. And, as Randall Jarrell’s poem “Demise of the Ball Turret Gunner” makes graphically clear, their excursions of responsibility generally ended horribly: “Once I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.”
The outdated gunner mentioned he was scheduled to take a flight on the aircraft the subsequent day. He mentioned he was a bit of upset to study he’d be sitting up by the cockpit. “If it was as much as me, I’d take the entire flight proper right here,” he mentioned, beaming and pointing on the ball turret.
These bomber crews had been a particular breed.