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Hauksbee

You've all seen the picture...now the story.

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As a kid, I recall seeing this picture many, many times. My sister found this account of what went on inside the "All-American".

 

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 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 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 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.

 

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

Pilot- Ken Bragg Jr.

Copilot- 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

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zxcvbnm,.JPG

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I can not ever see these photos enough. Proof once again that the reality is more impressive than anything Hollywood can dream up. The skill, determination, and luck it took to complete this mission is amazing. Of course, if they had been truly lucky, they never would have been rammed in the first place ;)

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I've read that probably a dozen times and still find myself amazed. There are a number of similar stories of these aircraft limping home after taking an amazing amount of damage. Have always loved the B-17 and its capabilities. Always wished there would be a return of the game B-17: The Mighty Eighth with added immersion and higher res graphics.

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Holy Moly - that was some tough timing. Great old bird!

Too true. The B-17 was famous for being able to take massive damage and still keep on flying.

Edited by Hauksbee

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I remember the photo from a school history book..but never knew the story...thanks m8

 

Only God knows how that tail section remained attached!!

Edited by UK_Widowmaker

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I remember the photo from a school history book..but never knew the story...thanks m8

Only God knows how that tail section remained attached!!

Same here. In the many times I've seen this photo, I've wondered how it ever held together, also assuming that the crew must have taken a terrible hit. It's good to know that they were all unhurt.

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The story as widely copied across the Internet seems obviously wrong. The squadron and plane was stationed in the Mediteranean theatre and flew out of a base in Algeria. They were damaged over Tunis. Anybody with a map and some knowledge of the air war can see that they were nowhere near England, and would never try to fly to England.

 

Below is a link to the true story, as given direct from one of the crew

 

http://b-townblog.co...e-all-american/

 

He clearly states that the Internet is continually repeating this erroneous account about landing in England, and sets it straight.

Edited by 77Scout

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Below is a link to the true story, as given direct from one of the crew

Even with the historical corrections, it's still a pretty good story. (Engineers at Boeing, after seeing the photos, declared that it was impossible for that plane to fly). Interestingly enough, the 414th has been re-activated by the USAF and has kept the WWII jacket patch.

414Logo.jpg

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