B-17s

| February 15, 2019

From The Other Whitey comes this collection of photos of B-17s, some of which have been damaged so badly per these photographs that they could not possibly continue to function.

Here’s the information he supplied as their histories:

B-17 Loss 3

The photo titled “B-17 loss 3” is, according to my research, 42-31333 Wee Willie of the 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy), 8th Air Force.  Wee Willie was the last B-17 to be lost in action in the ETO.  She took a flak hit over Berlin on April 8, 1945 that sheared off the left wing.  The aircraft exploded while spinning out of control, seconds after the photo was taken.  Pilot 1LT Robert Fuller survived.  2LT Woodrow Lien, TSGT Francis McCarthy, SSGT Richard Proudfit, SSGT Wylie McNatt Jr., SSGT William Cassidy, SSGT Ralph Leffelman, SSGT James Houtchens, and SGT Lemoyne Miller were KIA.

B-17 and German fighter

I have no information on the second photo apart from its official captioning, as the B-17’s group markings and tail number cannot be made out.  The fighter appears to be an FW-190.

B-17 Loss 11

“B-17 loss 11” shows an aircraft of the 384th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 8th Air Force, going down after having her tail shot off.  The Triangle-P group ID marking on the right wing identifies the aircraft as being from the 384th, but I could find no other information on this airplane or her crew.

Battle Damage 4

 

Battle Damage 1

The two photos titled “Battle damage” show aircraft of the 457th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 8th Air Force in the summer/fall of 1944.

B-17 Contrails at 25,000 feet

The photo titled “contrails” shows the Combat Box of the 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 8th Air Force, date unknown.

Flak 7

“Flak 7” is a captioned photo of B-17s making their bomb run on the Winterhofen Oil refinery near Regensburg, not sure which unit.

Rose of York w/Princess Elizabeth (then 18) attending the ceremony

“Rose of York” shows a christening ceremony held by the 306th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 8th Air Force at Thurleigh, East Anglia.  The young woman holding the flowers is Princess Elizabeth, age 18, and the B-17 behind her, 42-102547, was named after her.  Rose of York completed 62 combat missions with the 306th, but was hit by flak over Berlin on February 3, 1945.  She dropped out of formation and was last seen over the North Sea with an engine on fire.  All 10 crew MIA and presumed dead: 1LT Vernor Daley, 1LT Paul Becker, 2LT Joe Carbine, TSGT Reisel Horn, TSGT Porfirio Marquez, SSGT Robert Crede, SSGT George Petrillo, SSGT Silvio Zolt, SGT Okey Coplin, and civilian BBC war correspondent Guy Byam.  Byam had been medically retired from the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve after surviving the sinking of HMS Jervis Bay in 1940.

Thunderbird crash landing

The last photo shows a crash-landing of Thunderbird, 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), 8th Air Force.  She was repaired and returned to service after the incident.  B-17G 42-38050 Thunderbird flew the most combat missions of any Flying Fortress, a total of 112 between January 29, 1944 and March 22, 1945 with zero casualties aboard.  538 pilots and aircrew flew combat missions aboard Thunderbird.  The original aircraft was scrapped at Kingman, AZ in 1946 and is memorialized in a large mural at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington DC.  Another B-17, 44-85718, is now operated in airworthy condition by Lone Star Flight Museum and is painted to represent Thunderbird.

In addition, aGrimm forwarded the following:

T.J. Thompson Jr. (my bride’s uncle) was a B-17 navigator in WWII:  33 missions, shot down and bailed out, POW at the German’s Stalag Luft 1.

1) His Stalag and US Army dog tags

USAAF Dogtags and Stalag Luf-1 Dogtags

2) TJ on the left with some of his crew.

TJ Thompson, Jr. with flight crew

Thanks to both of you for sharing these photos and information.  We must not forget that these people, and others like them, stopped something that could have been much worse.

Category: Air Force, Army, Disposable Warriors, Gathering of Eagles, Historical, War Stories

Comments (37)

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  1. BlueCord Dad says:

    Lest We Forget🇺🇸

  2. Mason says:

    Awesome aircraft with ballsy crews. I got to see one fly a few years ago, even got to go aboard from nose to tail for a quick walk (hunched over) through. These planes were not big, were not comfortable, and were not armored well.

    That contrails photo. You read about how large these bombing missions were, thousands of aircraft. It’s really unimaginable what that must have looked like coming over the channel.

    • Comm Center Rat says:

      I too have always been amazed by the thousands of US aircraft involved in WW II bombing missions. The sheer number of planes is mind boggling by 21st century standards. Today, the USAF has about 136 bombers and 1,337 fighters – total. The capacity of the US manufacturing sector to quickly build tens of thousands of aircraft during WW II is one of the greatest achievements in US history.

      Long live the Mighty 8th Air Force!

    • Poetrooper says:

      In central Oklahoma in the mid to late 40’s we lived under a primary Army Air Corps north-south flyway and I can remember huge bomber formations flying over our small town, presumably from bases in Texas to points north and vice-versa. You could hear the drone of the engines long before you could see the lead aircraft; when the main body of the formation was overhead, you could actually feel a vibration through the soles of your feet. The formations seemed to go on forever.

      In the late 40’s the aircraft began to change from B-17’s and B-29’s to B-36’s which were even larger, louder and more awesome.

  3. AW1Ed says:

    Eternal Father, lend Thy grace
    To those with wings who fly thro’ space,
    Thro wind and storm, thro’ sun and rain,
    Oh bring them safely home again.

    Oh Father, hear an humble prayer,
    For those in peril in the air!

    Yeah I know- Navy hymn. I don’t think they would mind.

  4. 3/10/MED/b says:

    Holy.
    Fuckin.
    Balls.

    And…that about covers it.

  5. SgtBob says:

    At 5:09 is a horrifying example of fire destroying a B-17. There is a separate video of this aircraft on fire, everything gone from the top turret forward, propellers milling, the entire interior filled with fire, and fire visible inside both wings. I could not find that video.

  6. SFC D says:

    My dad (LtCol D)flew on B-17’s, B-24’s, B-29’s, B-36’s, and B-52’s. WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. He was almost in tears watching BUFF’s get scrapped at Davis Monthan. I think 17’s were his all-time favorite though.

    • 5th/77th FA says:

      Good posts, Tanks Ex-PH2, T.O.W., and SGT Bob. Older Brother was a wingwiper. He retired as SMS E-9 in ’99. He was on the team that was transporting and chopping up the ’52s and B1Bs when Slick Willie was the CinC. Broke his heart too. He had put a wrench and flown on everyone of those aircraft.

      To ad to CCR and Mason’s comments on the sheer #s of aircraft and crew, it was amazing. 10s of thousands of aircraft and only a very small handful left. And IIRC the Mighty 8th lost 50 thousand + killed in a relatively short time. Many of you may know of the outstanding museum the Mighty 8th has outside of Savannah GA in Pooler. That and the Air Museum in Warner Robins are both destination worthy visits.

  7. The Other Whitey says:

    I have a bunch more photos like these of B-17s and B-24s in action. Happy to send them in if you guys want me to.

  8. Outcast says:

    If my uncle was still be alive today, he still would tell you that he never was in the USAF but was in the USAAF as that is what it was known as for the time he served. He was with B-17’s when they moved into Italy and moved up the country toward Germany. He only flew in his B-17 when they moved to a forward base, there was no space for anyone who was enlisted personal aboard who stood 6′ 2″ while on bombing missions. From the way he talked, which was seldom as to his time in the war, he sounded like he was the crew chief oh his plane. That is all I know about his experience.

    • SFC D says:

      My dad felt the same, he was Army Air Corps all the way. He said the USAF fucked up by straying too far from their Army roots. He was active duty 1941-1968. Blew a head gasket over that damn “Army of One” bullshit

  9. Cameron Kingsley says:

    And to add to the last sentence of what could have happened if Germany (and by extension Japan) had not been stopped: just look at Wolfenstein The New Order or The Man in the High Castle and that will give you an idea of what the world would look like.

  10. Thunderstixx says:

    There aren’t very many of those things still flying and the ones that do take huge chances given the lifetime of the engines, hydraulics etc.
    To me, I would like to see all flights of these and most regular WWII built planes cancelled.
    Although it’s great to see them, it would be a heartache to hear of a crash. The B-29 that they tried to get off of the glacier lost a battery as it bounced over the ice field and ended up sitting right there burning itself down to scraps of unburned aluminium and various bits of steel.
    For hundreds of thousands of people that love these planes and have never flown in them, Like me, would like them to be kept as museum pieces and display only pieces and not flown simply because they are more valuable in one piece instead of watching them crash and destroy more than just themselves and those in the planes.
    That’s my two cents worth.
    And that’s about all it is worth too…

    • OWB says:

      There are plenty of static displays of aircraft for those of you who prefer not to see them flying. Meanwhile, the rest of us who understand a thing or three about the manufacture, remanufacture, and maintenance of aircraft will continue to enjoy the living history of having them continue to fly.

      No, they don’t take “huge chances given the lifetime of the engines, hydraulics etc.” Only those that are airwothy continue to fly. The rest are in museums.

      • The Other Whitey says:

        I spoke with the crew of Sentimental Journey this past fall about what goes into keeping her running. They work with a shop that rebuilds the engines—which are rotated more frequently than the original spec calls for, and have the airframe x-rayed every year to check for cracks. Whenever any are found, she gets grounded and disassembled. The cracked component can usually be rebuilt, but if there’s doubt, they also work with a fabrication shop that has replaced some pieces altogether. It ain’t cheap, and I dropped an extra $50 in their donation box for the cause, but it keeps the old girl airworthy.

        Sentimental Journey (Arizona Wing, CAF) has more mileage on her than most people realize. She spent almost thirty years of her postwar life as Airtanker 19 at Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base. B-17s were excellent tankers, and were only retired from that role because the Air Force saw fit to not only cut up, but melt down all of the Forts in the Boneyard, so spare parts became too expensive.

        • OWB says:

          Yep. All that and so much more.

          Spent a few hours riveting replacement pieces on old birds back in the day and even more time playing with “dope” & “rags” repairing and/or rebuilding really old birds. But perhaps the most thrilling was working on the instrument panel of a GB Racer replica a buddy was building. Those definitely were the days – when you could trade maintenance work for flying time. Good times. No, great times!

          Never did get to fly in a B-17, but the B-25 ride was a pretty good second choice especially since it was during an air show.

    • SFC D says:

      I watched that documentary with my dad (we weren’t aware of the ending) and when somebody on the crew said something about a heater being on during takeoff, dad just said “aw fuck. That bird is gonna burn”. Then he told me exactly why you shut it off and what would happen. Apparently it was a known issue in the forties, and nobody on the recovery crew knew it.

    • Quartermaster says:

      The auxiliary generator caused the fire that burned the B-29 in Greenland.

  11. Messkit says:

    Dad was Bombardier on a 17. Shot down twice, crash landed twice. Was nearly killed when he rose up from bending over the Norden, and his heated suit quit working. He found a 20mm holes in the nose canopy on either side, and the same hole in the front of his suit. The round came through the plexi, punctured his suit while it bagged out a little while he was rising up, and out the other side. Closest he came to getting killed in 36 missions.

    He was with the 96thBG, 339thBS (square C) out of Snetterton-Heath

  12. PJS says:

    Excellent post, “B-17 loss 11,” is identified as 384th BG, “Silver Dollar” over Berlin 9 Mar 1944 in’The Mighty Eighth’ by Roger Freeman.The photo is credited to “Havelaar”. From there I found this,http://www.americanairmuseum.com/aircraft/6704.
    Thanks for sharing those pics. Every time I see a contrail, I think of those guys

  13. SK2Bob says:

    Here is an amazing B-17 story about the most heavily armed 17 in the Pacific theatre, and she had the most highly decorated crew from just one mission. Her extra firepower was used to fend off 17 Zeroes single-handedly! Two Medals of Honor and seven Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded to her crew.

    My dad was a B-24 mechanic in England during WWII, and he may have worked on B-17’s too.

    • The Other Whitey says:

      CAPT Jay Zeamer lived to collect his Medal of Honor. 1LT Joe Sarnosky bled to death after shooting down a jap fighter with his nose gun.

      Old 666 was a hangar queen that Zeamer’s crew took on as an independent project. She was up-armored, upgunned, and optimized for high-risk recon missions in contested airspace. Zeamer even scored an air-to-air kill with the fixed nose gun he had installed.

      On a similar note, B-17s flying recon missions in the South Pacific (even after they were replaced by B-24s as the primary bomber in-theater, General Kenney kept his remaining B-17s around for scouting and recon missions like that flown by Zeamer’s crew) engaged Japanese H6K “Mavis” and H8K “Emily” seaplanes on multiple occasions. The Forts not only outgunned the Japanese bombers, but also outflew them. According to some accounts, Japanese leaders thought that there was some new American long-range fighter in the area killing their scout planes. One such kill was made by one of the B-17s that had flown into Hickam Field during the Pearl Harbor attack.

  14. 26Limabeans says:

    Thanks for the photos. Love the “Rose of York” with the twin Brownings below the chin…..

  15. David says:

    Dad was Coast Artillery who transitioned into AA (he was a boss on the original project to slave radar to AA… all you duckhunters take note.) He also flew.multiple missions as a flak observer – fly over enemy positions to draw fire, then call in coordinates so our arty could target the German guns. Deliberately drawing fire…

    • 26Limabeans says:

      “Deliberately drawing fire…”

      We see that in everything from MOH citations all the way down to old westerns.
      It’s an “Indian trick” and it works every damn time.