| Wally Hoffman
351st Bomb Group, 509th Squadron
THE DEATH OF A B-17 FLYING
There were two basic reasons of why we managed
to survive those trips over Germany in an aluminum coffin.
The first was the plane, the B 17 Flying fortress. She became a
live queen and alive once the engines were started with the crew
settled into their positions the plane became a veritable part of
you. You knew full well the Fortress if it had only a final gasp
of breathe although being totally battered and bent with hardly
anything left would somehow get you home. You dont fly a Fortress
for months and years without becoming a part of that gallant lady
in the most intimate respects.
You know her sturdy construction, the manner in
which she flies and every detail about her for not only your life,
but also the lives of the crew. This lady becomes a part of you,
and she would never give up without a valiant struggle. With engines
shot out or burning, or with a wing cut to pieces and the vertical
fin and rudder in shattered pieces, or with the oxygen system blazing
she is somehow still going to fly. The pilots all too often smeared
in blood with enemy steel in their bodies and the control cables
shot to ribbons worked hand in hand with the gallant lady to survive.
Many times these bombers could well have been abandoned but still
flew home with of a badly injured crewman who was not leave the
The second reason was the crew of ten men who
regardless of the critical situation not only gave everything they
had but when the circumstances turned crucial performed a super
human effort of a little bit more. Once in the air there existed
a total devotion to each other. It was very apparent if watching
a dysfunctional crew that they would be able to survive three or
at the best four missions.
Whether it was from flak or fighter fire should
a member of the crew became wounded some would die, as there were
no medical assistance until the plane landed back at base hours
later. Other members of the crew (if you werent under attack)
would immediately rip off their oxygen masks in the sub zero bitter
cold rushing to the aid of the injured crewman with the hope they
could somehow keep him alive until we landed. Then get him to the
hospital if there is enough life left to help. Helping a wounded
crewmember in the cold and thin air in a tossing plane was not easy
either physically or mentally.
In able to give them morphine you had to put the
morphine ampoule under your armpit in order to thaw it out, and
then once inserted to keep your finger over the point of insertion
for it would squirt back out because of the high altitude. How do
you keep from being sick looking at all the blood and gore from
someone who is very close to you, but you do the best you can. It
is a horrible experience repeated too often watching a beloved companion
fortress with your friends dieing go down. These are the events,
which I guess tried our souls the most.
You sit there helpless as you watch another Fortress
in the same formation start to slip and slide out of the combat
formation, watch the flames from an engine on fire with the fuel
streaming and burning as it engulfs the plane. Soon she is falling
off on her side as the Fortress picking more speed begins her death
throes. Then she begins to shudder as her nose points skyward. The
plane hangs on the edge of a stall and buffets in warning of final
The plane hangs almost on her nose, when the lift
is almost gone and then as the last of the aerodynamics is gone.
The nose drops and slews to the side wallowing in a helpless skid.
The nose comes back up again, but the wings are almost vertical
and she seems to groan and then quits. You can almost hear the groan
as she falls back into a vertical spin to her death. The Fortress
dies hard as do the 10 men of the crew, as this is their Fortress
they made come alive, trying to hold on to that last thin thread
keeping her in the air.
With tears in our eyes we watch and count the
parachutes all the while loudly shouting, "Get Out, Get Out".
Those men were our friends, our buddies we drank and played poker
with, sitting around in a BS session talking about the world of
tomorrow. We all knew all too well there was very little chance
of tomorrow for any of us. Some survived, and came home. But the
question always remains: Why Us?
There were too many times we all witnessed these
tragedies during Big Week in the early fall of 1943
when there were 226 bombers were lost equating 2,260 men. This followed
achieving air superiority for D Day, but the losses
from increased efficiency from flak and determination of the Luftwaffe
still imposed considerable losses.
IN MEMORY OF CITIZENS OF SCHWEINFURT AND
AIRMEN OF THE 8TH U.S. AIRFORCE AND THE GERMAN LUFTWAFFE WHO LOST
THEIR LIVES IN MISSION 115, OCTOBER 14, 1943, KNOWN TO THOSE WHO
WERE THERE AS BLACK THURSDAY
Getting the Flying Fortress ready for take off.
Painting the sky with white lines, a vast amount
of B 17's flying towards their destination.
Looking down upon friends.
B -17's taking off.