A Tough Old Bird
B-17 - What a plane.
What an incredible story - what an incredible airplane!
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 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
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.
100 Years Ago, Eugene Ely invented naval aviation in San Francisco.
The B-17 information was forwarded to us via e-mail.
We have no idea if the information is true or correct.
See more interesting