Part of B-17 Formation (3 of 6)

Part of B-17 Formation (3 of 6)

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Part of B-17 Formation (3 of 6)

A view of part of a formation of B-17s of the 1st Air Division, with one 'V' and the photographer's aircraft's wing craft visible.

Pictures provided by Sgt. Robert S. Tucker Sr. (Member of: The American Air Museum in Britain {Duxford} ).
Robert S. WWII Photo Book, Mighty 8th. AF, Ground Crew

A Short History of the B-17

The B-17 is one of history’s most significant aircraft for its role in the European and Pacific theater during World War II. It’s an iconic plane in the Boeing pantheon and has the statistics to prove it: the B-17 dropped more bombs in Europe than any other plane and was a deciding factor in the Allied victory. But what makes the B-17 so special?

First Public Appearance

The B-17’s reputation for indestructibility is the result of testing, innovative engineering and all-aluminum materials. The B-17 was based on the prototype Boeing model 299, one of the first all-metal aircraft designs (Junkers made many all-metal planes in WWI). It was on the drawing board in 1933 and was finally introduced in 1935.

Its first public appearance in Seattle was a huge event, and all the media attention resulted in the B-17’s intimidating name. When Boeing rolled out the prototype, a Seattle Times Reporter saw it bristling with machine gun emplacements and commented that it looked like a flying fortress. Boeing was always on the lookout for good marketing, so it trademarked the name Flying Fortress.

Production History

Over the next six years, Boeing received enough small orders that kept the production line going. By the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, there were only about 100 B-17s in service and Boeing had to start meeting high war-time demands. Eventually, over 12,000 B-17s were built.

At the peak of this amazing production effort, 16 B-17s rolled off the assembly line per day at Boeing’s Plant 2 in Seattle. Much of this labor was done by women who filled jobs after men left for war. But even with this workforce, Boeing couldn’t keep up with demand. So, some B-17s were built by Lockheed Vega and Douglas in Southern California.

Reliable Construction

Even after being bombarded with bullets and other ordnance, B-17s were known to make it back to their airfields to fly another day. Pilots who flew B-17s swore its tough design and construction kept their crews safe.

The B-17 has a service ceiling of up to 25,000 feet but, for engines to operate efficiently at 25,000 feet, it became necessary to add a supercharger to the aircraft. GE (General Electric) built a powerful turbo supercharger to compress outside air that was then fed back into the engine, giving the B-17 even more power at high altitudes.

Crew Configuration

The B-17 could hold a crew of ten. The pilot, co-pilot, bombardier and navigator, as commissioned officers, were seated at the front of the plane, with the navigator positioned at a desk below the cockpit. The bombardier sat forward of the navigator in the glass nose of the airplane, and the flight engineer sat in a jump seat behind the pilot and copilot. The flight engineer was the only enlisted man, or non-commissioned officer, in the cockpit.

There were 5 gunners in the back of the plane, all enlisted men who were non-commissioned officers (NCO’s) during their mission. During takeoff, they all sat in the radio room behind the bomb bay—the strongest part of the aircraft where the wings intersect with the fuselage.

While the plane was circling into formation (which could take as long as 45 minutes) the crew members would move into their positions. Two waist gunners would move back into the fuselage, manning guns pointing out of each side of the aircraft. The tail gunner would climb to the back of the plane where he sat on a banana seat and knelt with a gun sight in front of him. The ball turret gunner took his seat in a tight-fitting, rotating globe in the belly of the bomber.

The average crew size was 5’7” 127 lbs., and the smallest guy in the crew was the ball turret gunner. He sat in the confined space of the ball turret for up to 8 hours for each mission. Although the working conditions inside were cramped at best, the B-17’s reliability and solid design made it one of the most effective bombers in WWII.

Want to step inside the cockpit of our B-17? Take a virtual tour!

Joining the Air Force

Like most Americans, Larry Stevens’s war started on December 7, 1941. He was then a sophomore at Alhambra High School in southern California. He did his bit as an air-raid warden—admonishing his neighbors to turn their lights out in case of air raids. On the night of February 23, 1942, a Japanese submarine shelled an oil terminal on the coast near Santa Barbara. In Los Angeles, air raid sirens and searchlights pierced the night sky and Stevens ran from door to door to ensure that the lights were off.

In April 1943, Stevens, now a high school senior, joined two friends in enlisting in the U.S. Army. They were given a month to put their affairs in order and used the time to arrange with their teachers to let them graduate early.

On May 10, Stevens boarded a bus for a staging area near San Bernardino, where the recruits were given uniforms, inoculations, and an IQ test. Then they were asked what branch of the Army they were most interested in. Stevens had taken photography classes in school, so he elected the air force perhaps he could become an aerial reconnaissance photographer.

He soon found himself on a train to Atlantic City, New Jersey, home of the Army Air Forces Training Command (AAFTC), where new personnel received basic training and were introduced to such subjects as indoctrination into the air force, pilot and aircrew training, and technical training.

The AAFTC lacked enough barracks for the thousands of new recruits, so many were housed in the Claridge and other hotels on the famous boardwalk. But it was no vacation. Stevens remembers that his NCO was from the South and a man of few words, about 20 of them, “all curse words that he used to put a sentence together.”

Six days a week the new men hiked some 13 miles through the streets of the city, singing Air Corps songs. Their destination was a city dump where they practiced close-order drill and marksmanship.

B-17 All American Offsite References:

A video example of the “tall-tale” version of the story that was emailed around:


Thanks for your perspective. My grandfather is Ralph Burbridge. He passed away in 2013, at the age of 92. In fact, he was the final living crewman aboard that All-American. As time and energy allowed during his final 3 years, Ralph attempted to clarify the details of the above-incident. Truth was a foundation of Ralph’s life, so he felt compelled to dispell the unnecessary exaggerations that you referenced.

Thank you for this clarification. The tale had indeed become very tall. My father was the co-pilot on the All American, and his full name was Melville Guy Boyd Jr, but he went by Guy or Skip. I will attest to the authenticity of his signature under the photo in the letter. His war stories were our bedtime stories, minus the grizzly bits. The only thing I could add to the story would be that my father said after keeping “the bird” aloft, crippled as she was, it was hours before he could feel his arms again.

This comment has several issues to discuss:

First – The above video should be removed for its continuing repetition of many inaccuracies about what happened to the B-17 All American on 1 Feb 1943 AFTER her bombing mission to Tunis, Tunisia. That video includes some improbable and/or impossible events which may have been reported by the press in 1943.

Second – Over the years, Capt. Kendrick Bragg, Jr. – Pilot, and Lt. Ralph Burbridge – Bombardier (and his family), attempted to correct those inaccurate ‘puff pieces,’ which were probably written to be morale-boosters for the folks back home. Except for Disciples of Flight, Warbird Digest and airscape Magazine, the inaccuracies continue. They include, but are not limited to:

• The tail gunner was trapped at the rear, because there was no floor connecting the fuselage and tail. (But the fuselage of the plane was till intact.)

• The crew kept her tail connected to the fuselage with parachute cords and pieces of the German fighter. Ralph Burbridge, All American’s Bombardier, said they each wore their own parachutes and none were sacrificed to help keep the aircraft together. (Can parachute cords hold an 18-ton to 27-ton [empty to fully loaded] aircraft together?)

• Because they hadn’t yet dropped their bomb load (Burbridge confirmed they had), they continued to Tunis. Upon arrival, when the bomb bay doors opened, the turbulence blew a Waist Gunner into the tail section. After safely retrieving him, they couldn’t get the Tail Gunner (Sam Sarpolus), because his weight was needed to add stability to All American’s tail, so it wouldn’t break off. (According to Sarpolus’ 16 Oct 1940 Draft Card, he was 5’ 8” tall and weighed 150 lbs. And that kept the tail stable? And, according to Bragg and Burbridge, they already dropped their bombs as planned, over the Tunis Docks before the mid-air collision with a German fighter.)

• Because the German fighters just wouldn’t give up, two Waist Gunners allegedly stuck their heads up through the 16’ long gash (and shot at the enemy fighters with 84 lb Browning M2 .50. machine guns?). Burbridge said the German fighters did not re-engage, as the US bomber formation was beyond the Messerschmitts’ range capabilities. (Exactly just how slow can a B-17 fly, without ripping off spectators heads? And, airscape Magazine reported the crew did not any re-engage German fighters. And, at what minimum speed can anyone hold their head out the fuselage or window, without it getting sheared off?)

• “The Tail Gunner had to shoot in short bursts because the recoil was actually causing the plane to turn.” (Just when and how did the US Army Air Forces put Dora or Schwerer Gustav [the only two 1,500 ton, 155’ long, 23’ wide, 31½” German railway guns that were made] in that bomber? Not to mention each of the 7.7 ton bombs! And, Sarpolus only had two .50 cal M2 Browning machine guns. Hardly enough recoil to cause a B-17 to turn.)

• An Allied P-51 Mustang fighter pilot took All American’s aerial photograph over the English Channel. (NOT true, for two reasons: according to Harry C. Nuessle, All American’s Navigator, Lt. Cliff Cutforth, a Navigator aboard a B-17 named the Flying Flitgun, assigned to the 97th BG, 340th BS, took the aerial picture. And, a semi-close look at her aerial photo reveals she was over what appears to be arid land and a few hills, NOT water when the pic was taken.

o A B-17’s maximum range, according to the specifications on Wikipedia, is 2,000 miles. The All American was not station in England during this mission. A US AAF base at Colchester, England [the closest WWII English airbase from Bikstra, Algeria, All American’s base] was approximately 1,400 miles to Tunis, Tunisia – one way. The B-17 simply could not and would not attempt that trip, when their ASSIGNED BASE at Biskra, Algeria was about 300 miles away from their target in Tunis, Tunisia. And, since 13 Nov 1942 until 1 Feb 1943, she was combat-damaged by a German Messerschmitt fighter, it’s improbable that she flew to England.
25 Dec 1942 Biskra, Algeria

o A fairly close examination of All American’s aerial photo, reveals what appear to be hills amid somewhat arid land, not water. She was not over the English Channel when Lt Cliff Cutforth, the Navigator aboard the B-17 Flying Flitgun, took the aerial photo. No other person took that picture.

• In various documents, several people MISidentified 2nd Lt Melville Guy Boyd, Jr. (ASN 0797960) as All American’s Co-pilot. A comparison of his 15 Feb 1942 Draft Card signature with that on the Nuessle letter, pretty much confirms that is probably unlikely. And, he was assigned to the 13th Air Force, 100th Bomb Group, 351st Bomb Squadron – not the 97th BG, 414th BS. Sadly, on 4 July 1943, while he was the Co-pilot aboard the B-17 Nevada Wildcat SN 42-30051, had two of her engines failed and the crew bailed out. All but one, who evaded capture, were imprisoned in German POW camps through May 1945, when they were liberated. (MACR 00272). Although Lt Boyd was not All American’s photographer, he was still an All American hero!

Also, for the last 77-years, a few inaccuracies about All American’s crew members, have been repeated, time and again. The Co-pilot and the Ground Crew Chief’s names, as stated on this site are inaccurate. A June 2019, online article ‘Down in One Pieces,’ airscape Magazine, correctly identified the photographer of the aerial photo of All American. The following list, contains the crew members’ entire AND correct names and the photographer’s name and the USAF accession number for HIS photograph. Should you use the photo, please ensure you attribute it to Lt. Cutforth:

Boeing B-17F-5-BO Flying Fortress named All American (SN 41-24406 – scrapped in Foggia, Italy in 1945) 97th Bomb Group, 414th Squadron:

Pilot Kendrick Robertson ‘Sonny’ Bragg, Jr. 24 Mar 1918 to 13 Oct 1999 (81) ASN 14051695
Co-pilot Godfrey Engel, Jr. 14 Aug 1915 to 03 May 2007 (92) ASN 18041158
Navigator Harry Charles Nuessle 18 Jan 1917 to 27 June 1991 (74) ASN 13029268
Bombardier Ralph Burbridge 19 Feb 1920 to 03 Feb 2013 (92) ASN 17016626
Engineer Joseph Costner ‘Joe’ James, Jr. 12 Apr 1914 to 20 Sep 1993 (79) ASN 34123026
Radio Operator/Photographer Paul Abrams Galloway 06 Aug 1917 to 27 Nov 2011 (94) ASN 14034782
Ball Turret Gunner Elton Artilio Conda 06 Sep 1920 to 21 Apr 2006 (85) ASN 12010890
Waist Gunner Michael A. Zuk, Sr. 18 Aug 1917 to 03 Jun 2002 (84) ASN 31269674
Tail Gunner Sam Anton ‘Tony’ Sarpolus 21 Apr 1917 to 10 Jan 1988 (70) ASN 16061383
Ground Crew Chief/Mech Herman Rene ‘Hank’ Heyland, Jr. 08 Apr 1919 to 06 Sep 2001 (82) ASN 17028163

The Navigator aboard the B-17 Flying Flitgun (SN 41-24412), adjacent to All American, took the aerial photograph of All American on 1 Feb 1943 over LAND, not the English Channel, as some have reported.
His correct information is:

B-17 Navigator Lt. Charles Clifton ‘Cliff’ Cutforth 29 July 1913 to 17 Aug 1982 (69) ASN 19002894 Photo: National Museum of the Air Force, 050524-F-01234P-015

Hi, She was hit by a ME-109G and in the drawing you show a FW-190A. Everything else is 100% correct. It just seems strange to point out the true facts and then use the wrong type of German Aircraft as a visual reference. But, thanks for helping to share the actual facts on what happened. I don’t know why people need to add the fake stuff to the story when the true story is better than any fiction. I always hear people saying it landed in England too which makes me laugh because, you instantly know they are clueless.. What these guys did was nothing short of a miracle. I used build 1/32 models of Luftwaffe aircraft for museums and a few high end collectors. I have always wanted to build one of the “ALL AMERICAN” after it was attacked for myself. Thanks for putting the real story out there.

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B-17 &mdash The Flying Fortress Survivors Airworthy Flying Forts

There are few creations of technology as majestic as a 4-engine heavy bomber in flight. They are little more than bits of aluminum, fabric, 72 pistons, and a dozen propeller blades all moving through the sky in loose formation. The only thing that comes close is a steam locomotive with all of its moving parts on the outside of the machine. But a locomotive will never fly, and can never spark one's imagination to shoot for the stars like a B-17 Flying Fortress.

Built mostly over 3 years from mid-1942 to mid-1945, these four engine heavy bombers once filled the skies. Workers across the US built 12,731 B-17's, 19,258 B-24's, and 3,960 B-29's. They are all but gone today, with only one B-29 still flying and three B-24's still airworthy. The B-17, however fared a little better. Many saw post-WWII action as transports, passenger craft, sprayers, and water bombers. While this service was not as glamorous, it kept the Flying Fortress lineage alive and in the air. As a result, there are 15 B-17 Flying Fortresses still airworthy, plus a few other hulks that have a realistic chance of being restored.

Someone once said that a B-17 operates on gas, oil, and money. Especially money. A B-17 will easily burn 200 gallons of fuel per hour, plus about 10 gallons of oil per hour. Consumables and wear items cost an estimated $3,000 per flight hour. For each hour a Flying Fortress spends in the air, ten are spent on the ground in maintenance. An engine overhaul can cost $40,000, and FAA required wing-spar inspections and repairs will cost each Flying Fortress in excess of $100,000. The Collings Foundation's Nine'O'Nine overran the runway in Beaver Falls, PA, a number of years back. The EAA's Aluminum Overcast had her landing gear collapse in 2004. Liberty Belle was once destroyed by a tornado. While each of these restoration projects are technical and financial marvels, the value of the volunteer work that goes into such a project is beyond imagination.

Operating a B-17 is more than what most any one person can do. As a result, most are owned by foundations or museums set up specifically to keep the Flying Fortress in the air. These organizations are partly funded by corporate donations and air show fees, but most depend on touring. A B-17 tour will take the Flying Fortress from city to city across the USA, where she will be on display for tours, and a lucky few have a chance to take a flight on the B-17. If you hear that a B-17 tour is stopping in your city, please do go check it out, contribute a few dollars, and consider taking a B-17 flight. I can promise it will be the thrill of a lifetime. Keep 'em flying.

10 Awesome B-17 Nose Art Pictures

Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby!

The original nose art on this B-17 was painted by Tony Starcer who was a line mechanic for the Ragged Irregulars, a squadron in the 91st Bombardment Group.

Idiots‘ Delight

This creatively named girl belonged to the 332nd Bomber Squadron of the 94th Bombardment Group but after being transferred to France, she was hit by flak where most of her crew perished.

Sweet & Lovely

This warbird was assigned to various groups during her combat career. She was pulled out of service in June 1945 and designated ‘W W,’ meaning war weary.

Sentimental Journey

Sentimental Journey was built in late 1944, but did not see any combat during World War II. Serving as a photo mapping plane for a while, she is now flown by the Commemorative Air Force.

Texas Raiders

Texas Raiders was built in 1944 and while she has never seen combat, she has flown throughout her life in different capacities. As of now, she is hailed to be the best restored B-17 in the airshow circuit.

Memphis Belle

The original Memphis Belle historically flew one of the first 25 completed missions over Germany without losing a crew member. The name was derived from pilot Robert K. Morgan’s girl, who lived in Memphis, Tennessee.

This tough girl was part of the 8th Air Force when she was shot down by a Nazi ace pilot. She was restored by the following year in 1944, only to be shot down again over Nazi territory where she crashed and her pictures became part of Nazi propaganda.

Yankee Lady

This aircraft was built in 1945 and was used predominantly by the U.S Coast Guard. Her nose art does not actually represent or replicate any known B-17 that flew during World War II. She’s still cute though!

Hells Belle

This bad girl was part of the 749th Bomb Squadron which got hit by flak and needed to make a forced landing in Switzerland. She and her crew remained there until the end of the war.

Liberty Belle

The great name and nose art of this warbird was actually given to a total of four B-17s that flew combat during the war, all of which tragically went down. There is one commemorative Liberty Belle on display as of this writing, while another which was airworthy, sadly crashed in 2011.

The Biggest Bombing Raid of World War II: 1000 Bombers Sent to Destroy Berlin

Doolittle’s aerial armada was the war’s biggest bombing mission.

Hitler was personally familiar with various types of Allied aircraft. In military staff meetings he frequently mentioned the RAF’s De Havilland Mosquito, a reconnaissance aircraft difficult to detect on radar because it was made of wood and speedy enough that it could overfly the Reich with almost total impunity. Hitler also knew a B-17 when he saw one.

Back in England, in the predawn hours of darkness, American-manned Mosquitos of the 653rd Bombardment Squadron, part of the 25th Bombardment Group, were flying weather- and target-reconnaissance missions ahead of Doolittle’s main force. The weather flights were identified by the code name Blue Stocking. While fog and murk shrouded bases in East Anglia until sunrise, Blue Stocking Mosquitos, flown by a pilot and a navigator trained in meteorology, reported correctly that the day was going to be largely clear.

Their work on this morning was part of 1,131 meteorological flights over the Continent, flown by the almost unknown 653rd that, at one time or another reached every target in the Reich. Only when they were finished with their recon would the B-17s enter harm’s way.

War in the Air

An early leader in Europe, and at 36 the youngest major general in U.S. history, Curtis Emerson LeMay was the architect of three tactics B-17 crews used over and over against Adolf Hitler’s Fortress Europe: (1) the “combat box,” a formation that concentrated the guns of the B-17s in a defensive screen (2) the straight-ahead bomb run because, contrary to intuition, you were less likely to be hit by flak if you didn’t dodge and (3) the concept of a lead bomber and bombardier to signal others when to drop their lethal warload. Bombers not flying lead carried a bombardier or, instead, a togglier like Fredette but no Norden bombsight.

No longer in the European Theater of Operations, LeMay was now managing an air war on the other side of the world, but it was easy to rile up his temper. Just utter the word “raid.” The legend lingered of the day a reporter walked up to him brimming with eagerness and said, “Colonel, tell me about today’s raid.”

LeMay jerked the unlit cigar from his mouth, adopted a stern look, and told the reporter never to use that word again. Almost three years before, in April 1942, Doolittle had led 80 men in 16 medium bombers flying from a carrier deck to bring the war to the Japanese home islands. “What Jimmy and his boys did, that was a ‘raid,’” LeMay said. The events unfolding now were not raids but “full-scale battles, fought in the thin air, miles above the land.”

Preparations by the B-17 crews continued. The preflight ritual was the same—walk-around check looking for obvious problems with the planes’ exteriors, turning through the props, manning the planes, completing intercom, oxygen and engine-start checklists. When Fortresses at RAF Mendelsham in Suffolk began starting engines on cue from a flare fired from the control tower, the sound grew to a thunder. The Eighth Air Force’s 122 combat stations were in close proximity, and when over a thousand bombers in 42 bomb groups started their engines, the sound reverberated across the land. Fredette’s diary shows a takeoff time of 8:07 am.

In the glass-covered nose of the Fancy Nancy, togglier Fredette watched one of the bombers in his combat box bouncing up and down. Turbulence was always a problem but Fredette saw this as “a case of a nervous pilot bouncing his crew around.”

Only hours after the mission, Fredette wrote, “As I went to load my cal. .50s in the chin turret I had quite a bit of trouble since the spring forming the bolt that guides the ammunition to the gun’s feedway was disengaged. I ripped up my B-10 jacket as I reached down in the turret to put my right gun in such a condition so that it would fire.

“After doing that, I discovered that someone had loaded the ammunition in backward with the single link of the belt on the receiver. My patience was almost at an end as I changed the ammunition and reloaded. When I found the ammunition for the navigator’s gun put in the same wrong way, I was raving mad. I assisted the navigator in changing his ammunition.”

Soon the massive armada became airborne. Fancy Nancy took off and crossed the North Sea in “an endless procession of planes neatly arranged in battle formation,” Fredette wrote. “The number of bombers was something beyond the imagination.

“We hit the Dutch coast at Bergen an Zee just north of Altmark, carefully flying the plotted course to avoid flak defenses in the vicinity.” In the front of the bomber, looking out at the entire world from the clear glass nose that surrounded him, Fredette had a spectacular view of the bomber formation, the European countryside, and—now—the first puffs of flak straight ahead, bursting in little black clouds that sent tendrils in all directions. It crossed Fredette’s mind that an infantryman would never charge into an artillery barrage, yet B-17 crews flew directly into exploding shells on every mission.

Lamentable Loss

Even so, as in all air campaigns, about half of all aircraft losses were caused by something other than enemy fire. There were plenty of reasons, including the number of war machines occupying the same sector of the sky. Of all the things that scared the hell out of aircrew members like Des Lauriers and Fredette, none was scarier than a mid-air collision.

An almost unimaginable magnitude of sheer force kept a B-17 in flight, to say nothing of a formation of B-17s. Although the bomber stream was at 27,000 feet when it passed over Holland, a young Dutch girl watched her mother remove dishes from a shelf, wrap them in towels, and place them on the floor so they wouldn’t be damaged while their house trembled. It would take three hours for all the bombers to pass overhead. And with so many planes occupying so little space, there were more dangers than a few broken dishes.

High above the Dutch family, in a Flying Fortress formation of the 388th Bombardment Group—one of the components of Doolittle’s massive force—those forces came together to create a catastrophe. Think about air speed, velocity, mass, and temperature, and two heavy bombers coming together in mid-air possess as much kinetic energy as two railroad locomotives colliding head-on.

Battered by prop wash and turbulence, 1st Lt. Perry E. Powell’s B-17G-95-BO Flying Fortress (43-38697/K8-H)—one of the few planes in the 388th Group that hadn’t yet acquired a name or a caricature on its nose—slewed out of control. Veering off its flight path for reasons that were never learned, and untouched by any other object but pounded by turbulence, Powell’s heavy bomber broke in half. The two halves slammed into B-17G-45-BO (42-97387/also K8-H), with a semi-nude young woman and the name Maude Maria painted on its nose. Piloting the Maude Maria was 1st Lt. John McCormick.

As if torn open by a can opener, the left front side of Maude Maria’s fuselage was suddenly missing a 10-foot slice of metal skin. Others in the formation could see the inside of the aircraft. Many watched in horror as McCormick’s navigator, 1st Lt. Ray R. Woltman, was catapulted into the high, cold, open sky. He was not wearing his parachute.

Caught up in a struggle with the elements in the pilots’ compartment of Maude Maria, with part of his aircraft peeled away and gaping open behind him, McCormick tried to help co-pilot 1st Lt. William Feinstein dislodge the entry (and exit) hatch below them. The parachute belonging to engineer-gunner Tech Sgt. Marvin Gooden had burst open inside the Fortress and billowed around the men, impairing both vision and movement as they struggled to bail out amid howling wind and flying debris.

Once the hatch was gone, McCormick watched Feinstein thrown upward and out, just as the 30-ton bomber careened abruptly to the left. The number two propeller blade slashed into Feinstein’s body and threw him into the wing, tearing off an arm. Feinstein’s parachute never opened.

The violent motion of the aircraft tossed McCormick out of the open exit hatch togglier Staff Sgt. William G. Logan went out of the aircraft through a door in the nose. McCormick and Logan got good parachute canopies and descended toward their fate as “Kriegies,” or prisoners of war.

Sergeant Joseph D. “Dave” Bancroft, tail gunner on Powell’s plane, was alone at the instant of collision. When his aircraft began to break in half, Bancroft saw a pair of hands, probably the waist gunner’s, reaching toward him just a few feet forward in the fuselage. Bancroft grabbed the hands but was unable to pull the other crew member back to his tail-gun position. The front part of the bomber fell away and the hands disappeared.

Bancroft, alone in the tail section, plummeted downward. He struggled against centrifugal forces to open the tail-hatch door but it was jammed. He kicked, wrestled, pushed and, after almost giving up, the door suddenly fell off and he bailed out. Bancroft was the sole survivor of his aircraft and among only three men out of 18 who survived the collision.

Bill’s blog archive: Daily Posts

Above is B-17 “Wee Willie” going down over Berlin on April 8 1945, just one month before the end of the War in Europe.

This photo inspired my World War 2 research and my novel, although my novel is about a B-24, not a B-17. I originally viewed the crash of “Wee Willie” in a TIME-LIFE history of World War 2 around 1971 at the age of 13.

Pilot: 1st LT Robert M. Fuller (Hollywood, CA)
Co-Pilot: 2nd LT Woodrow A. Lien (Brockton, MT)
Navigator: TSGT Francis J. McCarthy (Nashville, TN)
Bombardier: SSGT Richard D. Proudfit (Grenada, MS)
Top Turret Gunner: SSGT Wylie McNatt, Jr. (Corpus Christi, TX)
Ball Turret Gunner: SSGT William H. Cassidy (Brooklyn, NY)
Radio (Radar) Operator: SSGT Ralph J. Leffelman (Seattle, WA)
Waist Gunner : SSGT James D. Houtchens (Kearney, NB)
Tail Gunner: SGT Lemoyne Miller (Butler, PA)
Only the pilot, LT Fuller, survived the crash

Another gunner in the Squadron (401st Bomb Squadron), SSGT George Little, witnessed the B-17 as it was hit:

“I observed [the bomber] receive a direct flak hit approximately between the bomb-bay and the No. 2 [in-board motor on the left wing] engine. The aircraft immediately started into a vertical dive. The aircraft fuselage was on fire and when it had dropped approximately 5,000 feet the left wing fell off. It continued down and when the fuselage was about 3,000 feet from the ground it exploded, and then exploded again when it hit the ground. I saw no crew members leave the aircraft or parachutes.”

I’m including a link to a web site dedicated to the 91st Bomb Group to which “Wee Willie” belonged, with a brief history (excerpted below) related to the image that started it all.

The pilot in this photo is Lt. Paul Jessop. The photo was taken on February 14, 1944. Wee Willie’s last mission was on 8 April 1945. A direct flak hit and tore off a wing. The pilot of this mission was 1st/Lt. Robert Fuller and he survived along with some of the crew. Wee Willie was the second or third from last lost to the 91st durning [sic] WWII to be downed in action and was credited with 120 missions. Skunkface III was the last 91st B-17 lost, with the Harry V. Camp crew on board. Shot down by ME-262 Jets on 17 April 1945. Only the tail gunner survived.

Part of B-17 Formation (3 of 6) - History

Former Assignments
13th AF
5th BG
394th BS

Wartime History
During late May 1942 flown from Hickam Field to Midway Airfield in anticipation of the Battle of Midway to search for Japanese Naval forces.

On May 31, 1942 took off form took off from Hickam Field piloted by Captain Paul Payne with an extra bomb bay fuel tank as one of ten B-17s on a flight to Midway Airfield on Eastern Island arriving in the late afternoon in anticipation of the Battle of Midway.

Battle of Midway
On June 3, 1942 took off from Midway Airfield on Eastern Island at 4:30am piloted by Captain Payne as a precaution against a possible Japanese air raid and returned by 8:25am and were refueled. Informed the Japanese fleet had been spotted, Col Sweeney wanted to take off immediately but was told to wait until the exact location and composition of the force was known.

At 12:30pm took off again piloted by Captain Payne armed with four 600 pound bombs and a bomb bay fuel tank on a mission to attack the Japanese fleet. The formation of nine bombers was led by B-17E "Old Maid" 41-2409 flying in three elements. This bomber was part of the second element led by B-17E 41-2404 piloted by Captain Tokarz, Captain Payne and B-17E piloted by Captain Sullivan. At 4:23pm the formation spotted the Japanese fleet roughly 570 miles west of Midway Atoll. During the bomb run, the second element flew in from the east with the sun behind them at an altitude of 10,000'. Nearing the fleet they were spotted and the warships began making evasive maneuvers. During the bomb run, intense anti-aircraft fire commenced as this B-17 had two bombs hang up and circled for a second run over Argentina Maru and were targeted by accurate gunfire before releasing their other two bombs. Returning, the formation encountered severe weather roughly 400 miles west of Midway Atoll and the formation broke up with all bombers flying back individually and landed safely at Midway Airfield after a roughly eight hour mission.

On June 4, 1942 took off from Midway Airfield on Eastern Island at 4:05am piloted by Captain Payne armed with bombs and a bomb bay fuel tank on a patrol mission to bomb the Japanese fleet. The formation of fifteen bombers divided into five elements of three bombers. This bomber was part of the third element led by B-17E 41-2404 piloted by Captain Tokarz, Captain Payne and B-17E piloted by Captain Sullivan. Flying westward towards a group of transports, the formation was instructed by radio to change course to attack the carrier force spotted by a PBY Catalina at 5:45am roughly 145 miles northwest of Midway Atoll. Encountering thick clouds between 1,000' to 18,000', Sweeney ordered the formation to climb to 18,000' above the weather with one B-17 aborting the mission. Arriving over the area where the carriers were spotted by 7:32am, the B-17s circled for nearly forty minutes before the carriers were spotted by this bomber and notified Tokarz who led the second element to attack individually. During the bombing run, this element experienced intense anti-aircraft fire. Captain Tokarz was hit in the no. 4 engine, and ordered the element to circle around for another bomb run while he attempting to restart his no. 4 engine then observed Kaga and all three bombed claiming three hits on the flight deck and four near misses. Returning, intercepted by A6M2 Zeros and Cpl Donald C. Bargdill (431st BS) claimed one as shot down then returned to land at Midway Airfield.

During the afternoon took off again from Midway Airfield piloted by Captain Payne with observer Col Walter C. Sweeney, Jr. aboard as one of four B-17s on a mission against a Japanese convoy reported southwest of Midway. During the flight, the formation received a message to attack an aircraft carrier 180 miles off Midway Atoll. Arriving over the Japanese fleet, they located Hiryu burning and searched the area for another reported undamaged carrier, but were unable to find it.

By June 10, 1942 this B-17 departed Midway Airfield flying back to Hickam Field. Afterwards, flown across the Pacific to the South Pacific.

During early January 1943 one of a dozen B-17s that operated briefly from 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby then returned to Guadalcanal.

In the middle of 1943, assigned to the 5th Bomb Group (5th BG) "Bomber Barons", 394th Bomb Squadron (394th BS).

On July 11, 1943 took off piloted by Lt. Eugene "Gene" Roddenberry armed with dropping fragmentation cluster bombs on a successful night bombing mission to "harass" targets around Kahili on southern Bougainville.

Mission History
On August 2, 1943, during an attempted take off piloted by Lt. Eugene "Gene" Roddenberry this B-17 attempted to take off from Guadalcanal (other sources state Espiritu Santo). Suffered an aborted take off (or mechanical failure) and crashed at the end of the runway. Aboard, two of the crew in the nose were killed in the crash: bombardier Sgt John P. Krueger and navigator Lt. Talbert H. Wollam. After the crash, a photograph was taken of the tail wreckage with the serial number '12483" visible.

Fellow B-17 pilot Leon Rockwell wrote in his diary on August 2, 1943:
"Approx 6:00 AM while at the Canal heard an explosion and ran from my tent to end of the Bomber Strip to see B-17 burning. It was piloted by Lt Gene Roddenberry. said he couldn't get takeoff air speed thus aborted the takeoff ran off the end of the runway into coconut palm tree stumps - Wiped out the undercarriage & nose of B-17 - Everyone got out except Sgt Krueger Bombardier and Lt. Wollam Navigator. Wollam was a good friend of mine. He had a wife and family in the States, had orders to go home but volunteered to replace Roddenberry's navigator who for some reason couldn't make the mission."

Officially, this B-17 was condemned on August 13, 1943. Ultimate fate unknown likely scrapped or otherwise disappeared.

The two crew members killed in the August 2, 1943 crash were transported to the United States for permanent burial postwar. Krueger is buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Wheeling, WV. Wollam is buried at Somerville Cemetery in Somerville, OH at section BB lot 4.

Roddenberry was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and Air Medal for his wartime service. Postwar, Gene Roddenberry became world famous as the creator of the Star Trek series and passed away on October 24, 1991. A quarter ounce of the ashes were launched into orbit around the Earth in April 2007. More ashes were launched into deep space during 2009.

USAF Serial Number Search Results - B-17E Fortress 41-2463
"2463 (19th BG, "Yankee Doodle" then to 5th BG, 394th BS) crashed on takeoff due to mechanical failure at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides Aug 2, 1943. 2 killed. Pilot was Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek"
Individual Aircraft Record Card (IARC) - B-17E 41-2463
Fortress Against The Sun pages 180 (May 31, 1942 flight to Midway), 181-183 (June 3, 1942), 184-189 (June 4, 1942), 192, 367, 385
FindAGrave - Gene Roddenberry (photo)
FindAGrave - John Paul Krueger
FindAGrave - Talbert H. Wollam (photo, grave photo)
"1st Lt. Talbert H. Woolam was killed on an attempted take off of a B-17 Bomber in the New Herbrides Islands [sic] in the South Pacific during World War II on Aug. 2, 1943. He was a member of the 39th Heavy Bombardment Squadron. He entered the service in Apr. 1941 & trained at Oklahoma City & Lowery Field, Denver, Colorado. He was a graduate of LaJolla High School, LaJolla, CA. He attended one year in the Army & Navy Academy at San Diego. He graduated from Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL in 1939 following which he was employed at Armco & resided in West Elkton.
He was the son of Rev. Edgar & Clara Talbert Wollam. He leaves a wife Doris Schubert Wollam & son Gary Lee whom he had never seen. His sister Betty Bryant also survives. A memorial service was held Sept. 5, 1943 in the West Elkton Friends Church.
The remains of 1st. Lt. Talbert Wollam arrived in San Francisco on Feb. 21, 1948 aboard the U.S. Army Transport Cardinal O'Connell. Services were held in Eaton with his father Rev. Edgar Wollam officiating. Burial was in Somerville Cemetery on Mar. 15, 1948."
Thanks to Steve Birdsall, Pat Ranfranz and Daniel Leahy for additional information

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