THE PINK LADY
The French flying B-17.G
Some amazing stories about B-17 missions ...
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 or dead pilot. It crashed into the lead aircraft of the flight, ripped a wing off the Fortress, and caused it to crash. The enemy fighter 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 vertical fin and the rudder had been damaged, the fuselage had been cut approximately two-thirds through, the control cables were severed, and the electrical and oxygen systems were damaged. Although the tail swayed in the breeze, one elevator cable still worked, and the aircraft still flew-miraculously!
The aircraft was brought in for an emergency landing and when the ambulance pulled alongside, it was waved off for 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 three men climbed aboard through the door in the fuselage, at which time the rear collapsed. The rugged old bird had done its job.
The raid on Ploesti of June 23 included all six groups of B-17s from the 5th Bomb Wing [15th Air Force]. The defenses were put into action promptly. Forty-plus single engine fighters hit the Fortress formation before they arrived at the target area. When the bombers did get to the complex, it was covered with smoke and the flak barrage was hot and heavy.
A 97th Bomb Group Fortress flown by Lt. Edwin O. Anderson took a direct hit in the right wing while on the bomb run, shattering the control surfaces and ripping a fuel tank loose. The bomb run was completed with one engine out. As the B-17 emerged from flak, it was immediately pounced on by enemy fighters. The tail gunner Sgt. Michael J. Sullivan, was wounded by a 20mm shell that ripped through his position.
Sullivan's intercom was out, so he crawled up to the waist where the gunners picked him up and took him into the radio room. There Lt. David R. Kingsley, the bombardier, administered first aid. As Sullivan recalled: "I was pretty banged up, and my chute harness was ripped off by 20mm cannon shells, and as I was in a daze and shocked, I couldn't see what was going on in the ship. I crawled out of the tail after I was hit. My waist gunners gave me a first aid but couldn't stop the flow of blood that was coming from my right shoulder. They called up Lieutenant Kingsley and he game me a tourniquet to stop the flow of blood.
"Finally the blood was stopped, but I was pretty weak. So then Kingsley saw that my parachute harness was ripped, so he took his off and put it on me. As I was laying in the radio room, he told me that everything was going to be all right as we had two P-51s escorting us back to our base. We were still about 500 miles from home and the ship was pretty badly shot up. Finally, our escorts, the P-51s, were running low on fuel, so they told our pilot that they would have to leave and asked if we could make it. Our pilot thought he could and they left.
"As soon as they were gone, we were then attacked by eight Bf 109s who came out of the sun and started making passes at us. Finally, after about a fifteen minute flight, we were told by the pilot to get ready to bail out as our ship was pretty well shaking apart in the air and most of our guns were knocked out. You see, that was the third group of enemy fighters to his us that day.
"As soon as the bail-out bell was given, the rest of the gunners bailed out. Lieutenant Kingsley then took me in his arms and struggled to the bomb bay where he told me to keep my hand on the ripcord and said to pull it when I was clear of the ship. Then he told me to bail out. I watched the ground go by for a few seconds and then I jumped. Before I jumped, I looked up at him and the look he had on his face was firm and solemn. He must have known what was coming because there was no fear in his eyes at all. That was the last time I saw Kingsley, standing in the bomb bay."
Kingsley ran into copilot Lieutenant Symons as he went forward in the bomb bay. He asked where the pilot was, and went forward to the flight deck. As Symons bailed out he almost hit Lieutenant Anderson, who had just bailed out the nose hatch. Perhaps Kingsley was searching for a spare parachute that should have been aboard. The men parachuting downward then noted the weird maneuvers of their Fortress. Anderson thinks that Kingsley did his best to try to crash-land the B-17, but with only one engine going it proved to be too much for him. At last, it corkscrewed into the earth.
For his self-sacrifice. Lieutenant Kingsley was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Loop, spin and pulling out of a dive.
Contributed by David Jandrositz, who is the nephew of the Pilot, John W. Raedeke.
ACCOUNT OF MANEUVERS AS UNDERGONE BY B-17G AIRCRAFT NO. 42-39957 ON COMBAT MISSION OF 11 JANUARY 1944 TO HALBERSTADT, GERMANY BY JOHN W. RAEDEKE, 1st Lt., AIR CORPS, PILOT JOHN E. URBAN, 2nd Lt., AIR CORPS, CO-PILOT
Took off at 0745 o'clock with a load of 2300 gallons of gasoline, 6000 pounds of bombs, full load of ammunition, and the usual weight of men and equipment. Everything on plane was in perfect working order.
Joined the group formation at 1010 o'clock and flew into target without incident but was forced to use 2400 R.P.M. and 40" at times.
Dropped our bombs at 1152 o'clock, everything still in good shape. At 1200 o'clock we were hit by fighters which stayed with us for one hour and fifty minutes. They attacked us from 5-7 o'clock position at first and gradually as more enemy fighters joined they attacked us from 3-9 o'clock positions.
We were flying "Tail End Charlie", #7 position. The fighters created much excitement among the squadron, resulting in more power being applied to the engines. We were forced to use 2500 R.P.M. and 40"-46" almost continuously.
About 1245 o'clock more enemy fighters joined the attack and finally we were being attacked from all positions on the clock, high and low.
The plane was vibrating and pitching unbelievably as a result of all guns firing, fighting prop-wash, and evading collision with our own as well as enemy planes.
Enemy fighters would come through our formation from 1200 o'clock position, level in groups of 20-40 at one time all shooting.
The sky in front. of us was a solid mass of exploding 20 M.M. shells, flak, rockets, burning aircraft, and more enemy fighters. B-17's were going down in flames every 15 minutes and enemy fighters seemed to explode or go down in smoke like flies dropping out of the sky.
The "Luftwaffe" attacked us in ME 109's, ME 210's, FW 190's, JU 88's, and some we couldn't identify. The enemy fighters made suicidal attacks at us continuously, coming into about fifty feet before turning away.
It seemed that the greater part of the attack was aimed at our ship, perhaps for the following reason. Our ship was the only one in the group that was not firing tracer bullets and they apparently thought we had no guns or were out of ammunition.
The heaviest assault and the one that damaged us happened as follows. At approximately 1330 o'clock we were attacked by another group of enemy fighters numbering about forty which came at us again from 1200 o'clock position, level in formation pattern. Again, we saw that solid wall of exploding shells and fighters. This time we were flying #3 position in the second element of the lead squadron.
As they came in the top turret gunner of our ship nailed a FW 190 which burst into flames, nosed up and to its left, thus colliding with the B-17 flying #2 position of the second element on our right. Immediately upon colliding this B-17 burst into flames, started into a loop but fell off on its left wing and across our tail. We were really hit and we had "Had It".
At the time we were thus stricken we were using a full power setting of 2500 R.P.M. and 40"-46" Hg. Our I.A.S. was approximately 165 M.P.H. and our altitude was 19,000 feet.
Immediately upon being hit by the falling B-17 we were nosed up and went into a loop. Confusion, no less, and embarrassment. Pilot called crew at once and ordered them to prepare to bail out. Response was instantaneous and miraculously proficient. Not one crew member grew frantic or lost his head, so to speak. All stood ready at their stations to abandon the ship.
The action of the Pilot regarding the handling of the ship was as follows. As quickly as we were hit we engaged the A.F.C.E. which was set up for level flying. Full power was applied with throttle and both Pilot and Co-Pilot began the struggle with the manual controls. It was noted at once that the rudder control was out because the rudder pedals could not be moved.
In only a fraction of a second the ship had completed a beautiful loop and was now merrily spinning toward the ground, with five enemy fighters following on the tail. Although the spin seemed flat and rather slow it was vicious and we were losing altitude fast. :As soon as we had completed the loop and had fallen into a spin the Pilot, having full confidence in a prayer, recalled the crew members and ordered them to stand by for a little while longer. "Guts" discipline, and confidence in their Pilot was certainly displayed by the crew by the fact that they stayed with the ship.
To return to the spin and its final recovery. When the ship fell into a spin the Pilot after determining its direction applied full inside throttle, retarded the other two, used only aileron A.F.C.E. control, and applied it in full opposite position, rolled elevator trim-tab fully forward, and in addition both pilots applied full forward position on control column, plus full opposite aileron.
After making at least two or three complete 360-degree turns, the ship finally swept into a clean dive at an angle of approximately 45 degrees from level. The I.A.S. at this time was approximately 280 M.P.H. The altitude was approximately 12,000 feet. Power setting was reduced to about 2/3.
At this point it was noted that one enemy fighter was still following on our tail, therefore seeing a solid undercast below we nosed the ship down and applied additional power. We were heading for cloud cover at an angle of approximately 75 degrees to 80 degrees from the level at a speed of about 400 M.P.H. indicated.
All this while the aileron was clutched into A.F.C.E. and was holding wings level. The elevators were controlled entirely by the trim tab. At 6000 feet we began easing back the elevator trim tab and slowly started to level out. Finally leveled off in the clouds at 4000 feet, trimmed the ship, and engaged elevator clutch of A.F.C.E. Disengaged this every few seconds to re-trim ship, kept it perfectly level and flying smoothly. The I.A.S. after leveling off in the clouds was still around 340 M.P.H. but was dropping off quite rapidly until it reached 200 M.P.H. Maintained an I.A.S. of 190-200 M.P.H. from then on with a power setting of 2100 R.P.M. and 31" Hg.
Checked all engine instruments immediately after leveling off and found everything functioning normally, except the Pilot's directional gyro which apparently had tumbled.
Flew in the cloud cover for about ten (10) minutes then came out above to check for more enemy fighters. Saw one fighter after several minutes at five (5) O'clock position high so we ducked back into the clouds for about ten minutes longer. Came out again and found everything clear. Rode the top of the clouds all the way back across the North Sea. The point where we first entered the cloud cover was about thirty (30) minutes flying time (at our speed) from the enemy sea coast.
An interesting point which occurred was that we came out of our spin and dive on a heading of 270 degrees which fortunately was our heading home. Immediately after we had leveled off in the clouds each crew member reported into the Co-Pilot that he was back at his station and manning his guns. No particular excitement or scare was apparent for the crew members started a merry chatter over the interphone.
During the violent maneuvers of the loop the left waist gunner, S/Sgt. Warren Carson, was thrown about in the waist of the ship resulting in a fractured leg. However, he did remain at his guns until the chances of more enemy attacks was nil.
After we were well out over the North Sea the injured waist gunner was moved to the radio room where he was treated and made comfortable by the Bombardier who went back to assist. At this time also the Co-Pilot went to the rear of the ship to examine the Control cables and make a general survey of the damage to the tail section. He reported that about 1/3 of the left horizontal stabilizer and elevator were off and that almost the entire vertical stabilizer and rudder had been sheared off but that all control cables were O.K. However, the ship was functioning quite normally except for the fact that we had to make turns with aileron only. It also seemed to fly quite smoothly in spite of the missing vertical stabilizer and rudder. It was therefore decided by the pilot that a normal landing could be attempted.
Reaching the English coast we headed for our home field but the weather had closed in and the ceiling was getting lower as we neared our field. 'Finally, we were forced to fly at tree-top heights in order to stay out of the clouds, thus getting lost. All radio equipment was out and we were not sure where the field was. Finally it began to rain, besides our other trouble, so we decided to land at the first field we found.
Pilot ordered all crew members to radio room to prepare for crash landing. However, the Navigator volunteered to remain in the nose of the ship to direct the Pilot and Co-Pilot in their approach to the field and a final landing.
The landing was accomplished in the normal manner, taking advantage of a slightly longer approach. Picked the longest runway which suited the wind direction but still had to contend with a cross wind. With the aid of the Navigator's directions we made a low approach to the runway, correcting for draft by holding the windward wing low and holding it straight by jockeying the throttles. "No, your wrong", we greased it on. Made a perfect landing.
After setting it on the ground it was noted that the right tire was flat However, this did not trouble us because the ship was stalled out at low speed and slowed down immediately by use of brakes. It was noted that the ship was almost dry of fuel. Positively no stress was placed on the ship in landing. It was a landing as any normal landing would be.
That's the story. We now know from experience that a B-17 will loop, spin, pull out of a dive when indicating 400 M.P.H., fly without a rudder and very little horizontal stabilizer, and will land normally without a rudder and a flat tire added.
The "guts", courage, and confidence displayed by the crew of this mission is highly commendable. The navigator displayed extreme courage when he volunteered to remain in the nose to direct the Pilot in landing in almost zero weather. The Co-Pilot deserves special commendation for his capable assistance in maneuvering this ship, guarding the engine, his careful survey of the damage, his assistance in determining the possibility of a safe landing and finally his reassuring words to the crew over the interphone during the homeward journey.
The gunners shot down nine (9) enemy aircraft and claimed to have damaged at least ten (10) more.