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B-17 survival story

Article about: I was sent this today and I hadn't seen it before. Apologies if it HAS been well covered but I couldn't find a thread on it. B-17 "All American" (414th Squadron, 97BG) Pilot- Ken B

  1. #1

    Default B-17 survival story

    I was sent this today and I hadn't seen it before. Apologies if it HAS been well covered but I couldn't find a thread on it.

    B-17 "All American" (414th Squadron, 97BG)

    Pilot- Ken Bragg Jr.
    Co-pilot- G. Boyd Jr.
    Navigator- Harry C. Nuessle
    Bombardier- Ralph Burbridge
    Engineer- Joe C. James
    Radio Operator- Paul A. Galloway
    Ball Turret Gunner- Elton Conda
    Waist Gunner- Michael Zuk
    Tail Gunner- Sam T. Sarpolus
    Ground Crew Chief- Hank Hyland

    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 WW 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; 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 miraculously still flew!

    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 appendage 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 to 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.

    This old bird had done its job and brought the entire crew home uninjured .......
    I'd like to see the thrill seekers and bungy jumpers today compare their extreme sports to that!

    Cheers, Dan
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    " When you're chewing on life's gristle, don't grumble, give a whistle "

  2. #2
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    I've written it up elsewhere but cant remember, if I covered it here.
    Anyway, an amazing story and a plane worth revisiting.

  3. #3

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    I for one haven't heard anything about this particular aircraft, they were certainly tough old birds the B17. This is well worth a read Dan The Mighty Eighth: A History of the Units, Men and Machines of the US 8th Air Force: Amazon.co.uk: Roger A Freeman: Books lots of stuff about battered bombers limping back to base!..
    It's a wasted trip baby. Nobody said nothing about locking horns with no Tigers.



    I'm Spartacus, not really i'm Paul!...

  4. #4

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    Damn, Christmas has just gone!!!!
    " When you're chewing on life's gristle, don't grumble, give a whistle "

  5. #5
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    IMO apart from the one Danmark posted in the OP, this is one of the more amazing ones. B-17 'Ye Old Pub.' It has it all, but read for yourself:
    Christmas Story December 20, 1943: B-17 meets Bf 109 over Germany | Drug War 101
    Attached Images Attached Images  

  6. #6

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    Thanks for that link Scout - I actually teared up listening to the two old veterans talking about their reunion ......

    Dan
    " When you're chewing on life's gristle, don't grumble, give a whistle "

  7. #7

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    I think this kind of thing happened more often than we know.but for various reasons stories never got told.

  8. #8
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    Quote by Danmark View Post
    Thanks for that link Scout - I actually teared up listening to the two old veterans talking about their reunion ......

    Dan
    Thanks.
    Yeah, that story and the 'reunion' really is something - you'd have to be made of stone not to be moved.

  9. #9

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    Quote by Scout View Post
    IMO apart from the one Danmark posted in the OP, this is one of the more amazing ones. B-17 'Ye Old Pub.' It has it all, but read for yourself:
    Christmas Story December 20, 1943: B-17 meets Bf 109 over Germany | Drug War 101
    This one was great incident and proved that chivalry was alive and kicking!..
    It's a wasted trip baby. Nobody said nothing about locking horns with no Tigers.



    I'm Spartacus, not really i'm Paul!...

  10. #10

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    Certainly a tough plane. I think they were a lot more survivable than the Liberator. Another great aircraft for survivability was the Wellington. There's a few good photos around of very badly damaged ones that limped home ok.

    Cheers, Willie.

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