Daily Items

 

Topic If It Ain't Boeing, I Ain't Going
Date 20-May-2011; 18-Aug-2012

 

Thanks to club members Martin Petretti and Mickey Harrell for this great story about B17 ruggedness.   Read all the way to the bottom.  There is also an update (new info) at the bottom

 


A mid-air collision on 1FEB1943 between a B-17 and a German fighter over the Tunis dock area became the subject of some of the most famous photographs of World War II.

An enemy fighter attacking a 97th Bomb Group formation went out of control, probably with a wounded pilot, then continued its crashing descent into the rear of the fuselage of a Fortress named All American, piloted by Lt. Kendrick R. Bragg, of the 414th Bomb Squadron.

When it struck, the fighter broke apart, but left some pieces in the B-17. The left horizontal stabilizer and elevator of the Fortress were completely torn away.

The two right engines were out and one on the left had a serious oil pump leak. The vertical fin and the rudder had been damaged, the fuselage had been cut almost completely through – connected only at two small parts of the frame and the radios, electrical and oxygen systems were damaged. There was also a hole in the top that was over 16 feet long and 4 feet wide at its widest and the split in the fuselage went all the way to the top gunner’s turret. Although the tail actually bounced and swayed in the wind and twisted when the plane turned and all the control cables were severed , except one single elevator cable still worked, and the aircraft still flew-miraculously!

The tail gunner was trapped because there was no floor connecting the tail to the rest of the plane. The waist and tail gunners used parts of the German fighter and their own parachute harnesses in an attempt to keep the tail from ripping off and the two sides of the fuselage from splitting apart. While the crew was trying to keep the bomber from coming apart, the pilot continued on his bomb run and released his bombs over the target.

When the Bombay doors were opened, the wind turbulence was so great that it blew one of the waist gunners into the broken tail section. It took several minutes and four crew members to pass him ropes from parachutes and haul him back into the forward part of the plane. When they tried to do the same for the tail gunner, the tail began flapping so hard that it began to break off. The weight of the gunner was adding some stability to the tail section, so he went back to his position.

The turn back toward England had to be very slow to keep the tail from twisting off. They actually covered almost 70 miles to make the turn home. The bomber was so badly damaged that it was losing altitude and speed and was soon alone in the sky.

For a brief time, two more Me109 German fighters attacked the All American. Despite the extensive damage, all of the machine gunners were able to respond to these attacks and soon drove off the fighters. The two waist gunners stood up with their heads sticking out through the hole in the top of the fuselage to aim and fire their machine guns. The tail gunner had to shoot in short bursts because the recoil was actually causing the plane to turn.

Allied P51 fighters intercepted the All American as it crossed over the Channel and took one of the pictures shown below. They also radioed to the base describing the empennage was “waving like a fish tail” and that the plane would not make it and to send out boats to rescue the crew when they bailed out. The fighters stayed with the Fortress taking hand signals from the Lt. Bragg and relaying them to the base. Lt. Bragg signaled that 5 parachutes and the spare had been "used" so five of the crew could not bail out.

He made the decision that if they could not bail out safely, then he would stay with the plane and land it. Two and a half hours after being hit, the aircraft made its final turn to line up with the runway while it was still over 40 miles away. It descended into an emergency landing and a normal roll-out on its landing gear. When the ambulance pulled alongside, it was waved off because not a single member of the crew had been injured.

No one could believe that the aircraft could still fly in such a condition. The Fortress sat placidly until the crew all exited through the door in the fuselage and the tail gunner had climbed down a ladder, at which time the entire rear section of the aircraft collapsed onto the ground. The rugged old bird had done its job.


A great story and one more testament to the ruggedness of the B17.   But is it true?

Most of the story is true but some of the facts are not quite right.  The 97th BG did initially deploy to England under the 8th Air Force but were redeployed to the Mediterranean in Nov 1942.  In Feb 1943, the 97th BG was flying out of North Africa not out of England as the article above suggests.  The distance from midlands England to Tunis is approx 1200 miles(as the crow flies).  Virtually all bombers flew flight paths that were anything but striaght.  As with all aircraft, the B17's range depended on bomb, armaments and gas load.  The longest missions flown by the B17 during WWII were approx 800 miles -- well short of the 1200 miles required in the above story.  The enemy fighter was an FW190.  It collided with a B17, tearing off the wing and then into a 2nd B17, the “All American III”, (not “All American”).  The first B17 was S/N 41-24477, “Flaming Mayme” flown by Major Richard Coultar.  All American III returned to its desert base at Biskra Oasis, Algeria, not England; so there was no English Channel ... and no P51s.  It is very unlikely that there were any P51s around --  it would be another 9 months before they were effectively deployed to Europe.  The tail of the B17 did fall off, but not as the story claims.  Rather it fell off when being examined by maintenance personnel (not sure if that was 30 minutes after the plane landed or a great deal longer).

So, what happened to B17F, S/N 41-24406 ?    It was repaired and was returned to service with the 353d Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group and survived the war; eventually being sent to salvage in March 1945.  Hard to believe.

The 414th Bomb Squadron had a new emblem after the All American III’s adventure:

Another version of this account circulating on the web state:   It was undoubtedly made at the Willow Run plant east of Ann Arbor, MI. ”.  The Willow Run plant manufactured B24s, not B17s.  The B24s manufactured at the Willow Run plant were excellent examples of the B24, but they were still B24s.  The B17 was much more rugged than the B24.  Had this incident happened to a B24, it is quite unlikely that it would have remained airborne.

Update (17-Aug-2012)

Many club members have sent in emails about this event.  Most are similar to the above; all have the same pictures and the same "errors".  However, a recent item sent in clarifies one aspect of the event, namely when did the tail fall off.  In the original "explanation", it was pointed out that the tail fell off during an examination by maintenance personnel.  Based on the pictures below, it appears that this event occurred while the flight crew was still at the site (note the flight jackets).  Also, look carefully at the background landscape of the second photo below -- it certainly looks more like North Africa than midlands England.