A real MIRACLE from WWII - Air Corp...

valley ranch

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A real MIRACLE from WWII - Air Corp...

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

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 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 Flying 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

Share this with someone who will also appreciate this amazing story.
 

Dirtmechanic

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I lucked out and had a chance to fly on the B-17 "Texas Raiders" which is now owned by the commemorative air force. It was a neat trip, flying over my hometown in the nose of a B-17 with 2 50 caliber browning machine guns framing my view. It was disconcerting to crawl through the tunnel under the pilots to get up their during flight though. It had a lower framework like a vehicle frame, which must have served not only as floor but bomb racks, wing spar mount and engine framing, as well as some connectivity to the tail. The version I was on had a canvas skin, not metal like I would have thought. It felt like a kite with 4 huge motors from inside. It had a huge wing, but the craft was far shorter than I ever imagined from watching the history channel.
 
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so lucky

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That is such an amazing story, @valley ranch. Thanks for sharing it and reminding us of all the true heroes those boys turned out to be. Imagine being the tail gunner knowing your chances of coming out alive was zero. And being 18 or 19 years old.
My DH and I were able to "tour" through one of the B-17s that are making appearances at local airports these last few years. DH being the thrifty (skinflint) person he is, didn't want to spend the big bucks to go up in the plane, and I probably wouldn't have gotten up the nerve to go either. But many did. We just heard a couple of weeks ago that one of these type planes crashed while on a tour. I would imagine these planes will be grounded as a result. @Dirtmechanic , you are lucky to have gone when you did.
 

thistlebloom

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That's an unforgettable story. Thanks for bringing it forward so we can remember what courage it took to stand up for the right thing.
Somebody was praying for those young men and I bet there was much thanksgiving when they came home.
 

valley ranch

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Yeh, I heard of that plane going down ~ shame ~ a friend Louie Casberry was navigator during WWII several missions ~ lot of them didn't come back ~ suddenly he lost his hearing ~ he told me ~ and was grounded ~ he said: I figured I flew enough missions ~ drove a school bus up here ~ few years ago he passed away, I miss him ~would like go by his place and talk with him again ~ and Jim Spingola ~ tank commander ~ said he was only commander because the others got killed ~ he had to leave too ~ we don't have any of them for very long, God love them ```
 
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