Skip to comments.B-17 - Fantastic Story of Survival
Posted on 09/02/2012 8:54:46 AM PDT by Windflier
WWII B-17 Survival Story
B-17 in 1943
A mid-air collision on February 1, 1943, between a B-17 and a German fighter over the Tunis dock area, became the subject of one 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 of the Fortress and left elevator 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 gunners 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 bomb bay 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 Me-109 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 P-51 fighters intercepted the All American as it crossed over the Channel and took one of the pictures shown. They also radioed to the base describing that 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 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.
I skipped school for a week back in 76 to work on that very plane in griffin georgia.She had just been sold and I helped build a new wooden floor for her.I lost credit for that quarter of school but I found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.Fair trade I think.I now manufacture new parts for B-17 restorations and loving it.
They had made so many runs by that time that the plane knew its way home.
Awesome. Did she retain her name and number?
Man.....now that's a dream job. I'm jealous :-)
NO, it said Email but I figured there was a location for the information.
I'm a conscientious Freeper. If I'd had a link I would have posted it.
Link is at post 46, courtesy of csmusaret.
That story apparently originates from Andy Rooney who claimed to have witnessed the incident during WWII at an airbase in England. It was dramatized in a show called Amazing Stories produced by Steven Spielberg.
I went on a tour of a B17 recently at an air museum. The most surprising thing to me was the narrow bridge/catwalk running through the bomb bay area that was the only way to get between the front and rear of the plane.
Here's a view of that narrow catwalk through the fuselage.
From below, in the bomb bay:
My friend Lee.
Great pics, Eaker. Thanks for posting ‘em. Where’s she based?
At a little airport just outside of Houston in Tomball, TX at the David Wayne Hooks Airport Tomball Jet Center.
I have a friend that is a crew member.
I believe she did.I have seen pictures showing the new tail with the damaged one next to the plane.I have no clue how to post pics though.The story is embellished somewhat but its still shows the plane was built tough,BOEING tough.
Thanks for the ping. I have seen this story and pictures before, and was pretty sure they didn’t land in England.
You forgot the A-10 Warthog.
|GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach|
It has been the priviledge of a lifetime to be legion brothers with two B-17 drivers.
One flew some missions before being shot down over France. He spent a year making his way through the German lines to the Allied lines. Then the Army air corp decided to make him a trainer.
He wrote a book about his ww2 career from start to finish. He flew a refurbished B-17 in a traveling ww2 aircraft show...along with Jack Rousch.
He passed this past year.
The other..a local native who still is healthy enough to snatch up one his grown sons if he needs to...got shot down over France..made his way back to friendly lines...got another plane and went back at it....4 or 5 times in a viscious cycle of badass. No one is sure exact details...because he refuses to say himself. He is pissed they named a local overpass in his honor because “IT’s a DAMN WASTE OF F’in tax money”.
His sons heard of his “actions” in Europe from pilots, ground crew, and others who served with their dad..and visited over the years. His “actions” are quietly shared legend at the Legion...very quietly.
I built a model of the Memphis Bell at age 8....I’ve always wanted to meet an actual B-17 pilot....all respect to Pappy Boyington and his F-4U corsairs. The last few years have granted me this wish....and I treasure every moment I spent with both.
For B-17 fans: (I posted something like this a couple of years back, and its worth posting again on a thread like this.)
At age 18, my second cousin (my dad’s cousin) was a B-17 flight engineer, shot down near Kiel in October 43. His plane was named “Deacon’s Sinners.” He barely made it out when the wing was blown off, with the parachute hanging on by a single hook. Spent 18 months as POW, finally to be liberated by Pattons 3rd army after 18 day forced march at the close of the war. He published his book several years ago. The book is absolutely and amazingly incredible, so inspiring, and so full of minute details about what it was like in the hour by hour experiences of doing a B-17 mission and what they went through. Reading the book, you feel like you are actually there with him. Stories of camaraderie, Yankee spirit, survival as POW. On the net, if you search, there is a published interview or two that is equally as riveting as the book.
I have the privilege of talking to him now and then. Dont know if its proper to mention his book by name on this forum, but will say am proud to share the same last name with him and his book could be easily looked up if anyone was interested.
You have freepmail Mr.tomatomaster...:)
Good stuff. I’ve got a book by a pilot that I bought at the bookstore at Seaside, FL when we were there in July. He was there signing books, and quite liked that I recognized it was a G model in the picture on the cover.
He had an awesome cane someone had made for him made of brazed together .50 cal brass.
Haven’t read it yet, it’s still on the reading stack.
There’s no problem with mentioning a book like that anywhere, any time. Please do so!
Capt. Jay Zeamer’s remarkable crew was the most highly-decorated aircrew in history. Zeamer and the bombardier, 2nd Lt. Joseph Sarnoski, received the Medal of Honor, while seven other members of the crew were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Nation's second highest honor. Nearly all received the Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat.
In the spring of 1943, a 43rd Bomb Group crew headed by Zeamer salvaged a wrecked and bullet-ridden B-17E and fitted it with extra machine guns — 19 in all. Zeamer and his crew regularly volunteered to take their B-17E “Old 666” on the most dangerous of missions, including a seemingly impossible one on June 16, 1943.
In preparation for a planned major amphibious landing, they flew “Old 666” some 600 miles unescorted over open sea to photograph Buka and Bougainville islands. While passing over Buka, about 17 to 20 Japanese fighters took off to intercept the lone bomber. Rather than break off the mission, Zeamer continued on. As the crew finished the photo run down the coast of Bougainville, the first of several vicious, coordinated attacks began. Zeamer and his crew desperately fought against overwhelming odds to bring back their B-17 and its precious reconnaissance film.
During the first attack, the bombardier, Sarnoski, shot down a Japanese fighter, but he was knocked back by cannon fire. Although mortally wounded, he crawled back to his gun position and shot down another Japanese fighter before collapsing. He had been scheduled to go home just a few days later.
Zeamer maneuvered the B-17 to shoot down a fighter with a fixed gun in the B-17’s nose, but cannon fire shattered his left knee, paralyzed his legs, and caused profuse bleeding. Enemy fire also shot the rudder pedals away, started a fire, and disabled the hydraulic, oxygen, and interphone systems. Zeamer refused medical attention, and continued to forcefully maneuver the aircraft while the crew, many of whom were also wounded, fought back.
Finally, after 40 to 60 minutes of continuous combat, several Japanese aircraft had been shot down, and the attacks ceased. For the rest of the flight, Zeamer passed in and out of consciousness from blood loss. The B-17 had received nearly 200 machine gun and five cannon hits. The flaps and brakes were inoperable, but Zeamer managed to land the aircraft at Dobodura, New Guinea, without further injury. With about 120 metal fragments in his body, Zeamer’s life hung in the balance for several days, but in the end, he survived.
Medal of Honor to:
ZEAMER, JAY JR.
Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Army Air Corps. Place and date: Over Buka area, Solomon Islands, 16 June 1943. Entered service at: Machias, Maine. Birth: Carlisle, Pa. G.O. No.: 1, 4 January 1944.
On 16 June 1943, Maj. Zeamer (then Capt.) volunteered as pilot of a bomber on an important photographic mapping mission covering the formidably defended area in the vicinity of Buka, Solomon Islands. While photographing the Buka airdrome. his crew observed about 20 enemy fighters on the field, many of them taking off. Despite the certainty of a dangerous attack by this strong force, Maj. Zeamer proceeded with his mapping run, even after the enemy attack began. In the ensuing engagement, Maj. Zeamer sustained gunshot wounds in both arms and legs, 1 leg being broken. Despite his injuries, he maneuvered the damaged plane so skillfully that his gunners were able to fight off the enemy during a running fight which lasted 40 minutes. The crew destroyed at least 5 hostile planes, of which Maj. Zeamer himself shot down 1. Although weak from loss of blood, he refused medical aid until the enemy had broken combat. He then turned over the controls, but continued to exercise command despite lapses into unconsciousness, and directed the flight to a base 580 miles away. In this voluntary action, Maj. Zeamer, with superb skill, resolution, and courage, accomplished a mission of great value.
Thanks for the location data and the hangar pic, Eaker. She’s a beautiful Texas bird.
Oh, my little list wasn't complete by any means. Thanks for mentioning the Warthog. It's definitely one of those machines that's equal to more than the sum of its parts.
Here’s the book: Rite of Passage: A Teenager’s Chronicle of Combat and Captivity in Nazi Germany by Ray Matheny
(My Freepmail isn’t working)
One of my neighbors (he passed away several years ago) was a waist gunner on a B-17 over Europe. He and the nose gunner combined to down an Me-262. Unfortunately, on their next mission another 262 got them.
Len and the rest of the crew managed to bail out over Holland, where they were found by the local resistance, who helped get them back to friendly lines two days later.
It's amazing to me that they even got the first one. Those things flew faster than anything they'd ever seen.
By early 1945, the Germans had vastly improved their jet tactics and managed to achieve a more than 4:1 kill ratio during the last three months of the war.
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