Intermission Stories (19)

The 414th Squadron, 97 Bomber Group

The 414th Squadron, 97 Bomber Group

WWII B-17 SURVIVAL STORY

This amazing story of courage, ingenuity and survival of the B-17 “All American” 414th Squadron, 97BG Crew was given to me by my dear friend Scott Brady, who also gallantly served in the U.S. Air Force.

 A mid-air collision on 1 February 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 WWII.  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.  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 2 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; the split in the fuselage went all the way to the top gunner’s turret.

Crew of the "All American"

Crew of the “All American”

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 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, so he went back to his position.  The turn back to England had to be slow to keep the tail from twisting off.  They actually covered almost 70 miles to make the turn.  The bomber was so badly damaged that it was losing altitude and speed and was soon alone in the sky.

For a brief time, 2 more Me-109 German fighters attacked the “All American”.  Despite the extensive damage, all the machine gunners were able to respond and soon drove off the fighters.  The 2 waist gunners stood up with their heads sticking out through the hole in the top of the plane to aim and fire their machine-guns.  The tail gunner had to shoot in short bursts because the recoil was 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 base.  Bragg signaled that 5 parachutes and the “spare” had bee used, so 5 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 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.

The old bird had done its job and then gave up!

Pilot – Ken Bragg Jr. – Born: 24 March 1918 – Died: 13 October 1999
Navigator – Henry C. Nuessle – Born: 18 January 1917 – Died: 27 June 1991
Bombardier – Ralph Burbridge – Born: 19 February 1920 – Died: unknown
Radio Operator – Paul A. Galloway – Born: 6 August 1917 – Died: 27 November 2011
Ball Turret Gunner – Elton Conda – Born: 6 September 1920 – Died: 21 April 2006
Waist Gunner – Michael Zuk – Born: 18 August 1917 – Died: 3 June 2002 (Riverside Nat. Cemetery)
Tail Gunner – Sam T. Sarpolus – Born: 21 April 1917 – Died 10 January 1988

I was unable to locate information on the co-pilot, G. Boyd Jr, engineer Joe C. James or the ground crew chief Hank Hyland.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Betty Qualls Black – Twin Falls, ID; WAVES, WWII

Never Forget

Never Forget

John Carmichael – Whangaparaoa, NZ; RNZ Navy #4202, WWII

Jerome Czar – Granite City, IL; US Army (20 years), Vietnam

Allan Ferrin – Palm Beach, FL; US Army, WWII

Robert Hart – Florence AL; US Army, Korea

John Knost – St. George, KS; US Army, WWII

Murray Smith – Albany, NZ; RNZ Air Force # G74181, Flight Lt.

Don Willis – Scarborough, Can.; Korean War veteran

Forrest Winfree Jr.; W.Palm Beach, FL; US Navy, WWII, North Africa

*********************                                  **********************                                         **********************

 Lt. Manion and Lt. Looney; friends and fellow graduates of the US Naval Academy, now lay side-by-side at Arlington Cemetery.

Lt. Manion and Lt. Looney; friends and fellow graduates of the US Naval Academy, now lay side-by-side at Arlington Cemetery.

Please click on images to enlarge.

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on June 2, 2014, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 117 Comments.

  1. What courage. Amazing story. Gave me chill bumps.

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  2. The B-17 Flying Fortress and P-47 Thunderbolt both were famous for taking massive damage and still bring their men home. The only aircraft known today to be able to do that, is the A-10 Thunderbolt II. A few of them in Desert Storm were shot up like Swiss cheese and/or one of the two engines out and still came home.

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    • Good to see you Kevin, I appreciate you taking the time to catch up. WWII was 70 years ago & Desert Storm was 23 years ago, why do you think our planes aren’t built as well anymore? (money? – the usual answer?)

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      • Thanks, and likewise! No it isn’t a money problem. Modern jets are built for speed and maneuverability and aerodynamics. They can’t achieve that, if they had the bulk of an A-10. A-10 could be designed tougher, because it’s a subsonic jet. It’s stop speed is comparable to the WWII era. It was designed that way to hang over a target in a dive and pound it’s target. A-10 is our ‘Stuka’.

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      • The Russians do make their jets bigger and tougher, but they’re also slower and have to rely on numbers in a dogfight. They do have one aircraft though that is subsonic and used just like the A-10. Su-25 Frogfoot. Like the A-10, it has straight wings, rather than swept wings. It’s an old, but good airplane for ground attack, like the A-10.

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  3. Wow! Hollywood couldn’t top that!

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  4. Reblogged this on First Night History and commented:
    A truly extraordinary and inspiring story from WWII.

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  5. I will try to read all your posts. My Dad was a veteran of WWII. He went through hell.

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    • Sorry to hear about your father. Feel free to leave stories of him here in the comments as you go – ALL the stories are welcome PTO and ETO. What unit was your father in?

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      • My Dad was a crew member of T-34 tank in Soviet Army. In 1941 these tanks were not good for many reasons; they were improved later. The fact that many higher commanding officers were executed shortly before the War didn’t help either… During a combat my Dad’s tank took fire, and whoever survived were taken prisoners of war.

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  6. One of your best posts to date! :-))

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  7. Thanks for sharing this story of the men and the plane that wouldn’t give up! I’m going to Tweet the link to it. You have an amazing website!

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  8. Simply amazing! I would have expected them to be showered with decorations for such dedication towards getting the job in hand done, and then using all that fortitude and ingenuity to fight off attackers and get the wreck all the way home. No wonder the ground crew couldn’t believe there were no casualties or even injuries!
    I’m really glad I went hunting back for this one.

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    • Back then, it was considered survival and ‘part of the job’ I suppose. They were just happy to back on solid ground. Glad you came back too, thanks.

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  9. What a riveting story! It is hard to imagine how that plane could fly. The definition of teamwork!

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  10. Pierre Lagacé

    Reblogged this on Lest We Forget and commented:
    I forgot to reblog this great post…

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  11. Fantastic, that story borders on the unbelievable considering all crew were unharmed.
    Wonder if there are any pics of the plane upon landing.
    Regards
    Emu

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  12. Absolutely amazing.

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  13. it’s just beyond contemplation – to even attempt to get the plane back, especially over such a distance, must have seemed even madder then than it does now! But they did it, and it does seem there is someone special up there who looks after heroes like these. What a story!

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  14. Amazing, truly amazing.

    I’m an aircraft maintenance engineer by profession – and would not have believed this if anyone related to me over a bar counter. I would have loved to read the investigation report – but suppose at that time, one simply had more urgent matters on hand.

    Anyway, when it’s not yet the time – nothing is gonna make them go.

    Certainly, one of the great miracles and, tales of human fortitude and discipline.

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    • Yes, it is, Eric and so nicely put. My friend, Scott who sent the story, if I’m not mistaken, held the same job you did while he was in the US Air Force. You two can truly see the miracle side of this story.

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  15. What a fantastic story! The crew of the “All American” was definitely determined in their mission. To think they all landed without a single injury is remarkable. You wrote it so well that readers could definitely picture the experience in their mind. What brave men!

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    • I can’t take the credit for the writing, Bev , just for saving it after my friend Scott sent it to me. I researched for more photos and additional info on the men, but unfortunately only came up with a few extra pix and some obituaries – that part of the researching is sad.

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  16. Love those old pictures. I can imagine the excitement when they took the pictures in the air!

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  17. Absolutely amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  18. Quite, quite extraordinary!

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  19. I have never seen the entire photo set before, gpcox. Thank you.

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  20. Pierre Lagacé

    I knew about this B-17 story, but it’s great to read about it again in such a personal way.

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  21. Pierre Lagacé

    Precious memento…

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  22. Pierre Lagacé

    Love the slideshow

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    • It is my best one yet, I think – so thanks for mentioning it, Pierre.

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      • Pierre Lagacé

        Easy as pumpkin pie…

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        • Yeah sure – for you!

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          • Pierre Lagacé

            I have to start experimenting then you become a master.
            Have I told you I make my own bread?
            Learn that my great-grandfather Édouard Métayer was a baker before being a fireman in the late 1800s.

            Could not understand why I was so excited when I started making my own bread.

            Need pictures?
            A new blog about how to make bread?

            I guess I should write something on Our Ancestors… but then maybe I did and I forgot.

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            • Pierre Lagacé

              Only post mentioning the word bread…

              http://steanne.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/i-am-not-much-into-cars/

              Nice story “dough”…

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              • Memories, like the corners of your mind….

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                • Pierre Lagacé

                  Like the corners or Light the corners?

                  I am little confused here…
                  I love this song.
                  Not a big fan of Barbra, but she sings beautifully.

                  See this link.

                  http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/THE-WAY-WE-WERE-lyrics-Barbra-Streisand/33A150E257C26C1348256867002D964D

                  Help me Rhonda!

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                  • You’re right, I shouldn’t try to type too fast, my 6 finger typing technique is not all it’s cracked up to be and I haven’t finished my first cup of coffee.

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                    • Pierre Lagacé

                      As I was reading my muscle car post it brought back so much memories.
                      This blogging thing is all about recollections.
                      We start with an image as a child, a scent, a sound, a whisper… then we can’t stop recollecting and writing.

                      I try stopping, but I can’t like commenting this morning.

                      Someone said that growing old is not the worst thing in life, because when you stop growing old you’re dead…

                      He said that during lunchtime last Sunday.

                      Twelve people were recollecting about ancestors who left the little town where I live right now. I have no roots here. I am even considered by some older people as a stranger in “their” town.

                      Four women, two sisters and their two cousins, are descendants of Benjamin Bohémier and Marie-Louise Limoges who left for Manitoba in 1883.

                      I acted as a guide on Sunday afternoon.

                      We visited the farm land where their ancestors lived.

                      I don’t have to tell you how they felt. It was the first time they had visited Ste-Anne-des-Plaines.

                      The last time their ancestors visited family was in 1910. I have the letters Marie-Louise wrote. They are dated 1910!

                      One descendant is a spitting image of Marie-Louise.

                      You can’t imagine the pleasure I had Sunday.

                      I felt I was growing roots under my feet…

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                    • THAT had to be amazing! I can not imagine what you felt, but I know it HAD to be great!!

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                    • Pierre Lagacé

                      Memorable!
                      Mémorable!

                      You would have love to see the smiles on these descendant’s face.

                      I wished I could post the pictures, but I don’t post personal pictures unless people permit me to do it like Jim and Ron did.

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                    • With your persuasive, gallant personality, I’m sure they’ll give you permission.

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                    • Pierre Lagacé

                      I don’t think it is necessary to publish them.

                      You can trust me that one looks like Marie-Louise.

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                    • I trust you.

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                    • Pierre Lagacé

                      She did not believe me at first.
                      Then I said…
                      Trust me you look like her…
                      Then she smiled back at me.

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                    • She doesn’t know you like I do!

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                    • Pierre Lagacé

                      I am an open book when people meet me face to face.

                      Je suis un livre ouvert quand les gens me rencontrent.

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            • You could start a new blog about your own family life, wife and son and your bread.
              Only – I used to bake my own bread bake in the early 80’s. My son had to have food without preservatives – Viola!

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              • Pierre Lagacé

                You mean voilà… n’est-ce pas?
                You mean “there you go” isn’t?

                A little French lesson this morning.
                The first one is always free.

                About the bread…
                I told you we are related. You have French-Canadian roots somewhere.

                Have a nice day.

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                • I’m not the least surprised! My mother’s side I know about, that’s where the 2 g-aunts came from that moved to Vancouver, but they were clearly British decent. My father’s paternal side is the one that’s up for grabs – absolutely no info to be found – at all!

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  23. WOW! Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. What a story to tell your grandchildren.

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  24. Wow! Amazing story! God was with them all that day!

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    • Somebody had to hold that tail section on for them! Coming home on a wing and a prayer, just like their emblem shows. Thank you for reading, Elaine.

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  25. Amazing thank God they got down safely. Real courage and determination like this won us the war. The luftwaffe had a special squadron of me109’s stripped of most of there ammo to make them as light as possible for deliberate collision attacks on allied bombers in a last crazy attempt to make the allies afraid to attack with bomb runs etc . Never worked though obviously but these german pilots unlike the japanese kamikaze bailed out of the fighter just prior to the collision to survive and a lot of the time they did ,they would aim for the vulnerable rudder / tail section most of the time but sometimes hit the wings and even the cockpits of the bombers . Great story thanks for sharing.

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    • Thanks for the added info, Mark. Glad you enjoyed the story, now I’m curious if one of those German crash planes was the reason for this story? It just might have been. Thanks for taking the time out of your day to read this and give comment with your data.

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  26. Amazing story . About the crash : I might be wrong on this , but earlier versions of the B-17 were most vulnerable from the front and so German pilots began attacking head on . So , yeah , maybe this guy lost control at the last minute or maybe he just mis-calculated too late his proximity . I know , it doesn’t matter to the ‘All American’ crew . I bet they lived a few lifetimes on that flight home .

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    • Now that you mention it – WHAT could possibly be going on in their minds as a piece of German aircraft was helping them to stay in the air, travel 70 miles out of their way, etc. ? Like I don’t have enough chaos going on in my head at the moment – now I’ll be contemplating that! 😆 Have a great day!

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  27. Wow! This is another incredible story. We may still have some military personnel as brave as that but I wonder if the equipment is still as well made as it was. Nothing else seems to be!

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    • Oh yes, we have brave people today, but – That era seems remarkable to me, I don’t think it could ever be repeated. Thank you for stopping in, Linda.

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  28. A harrowing tale, and as amazing a story of bravery and skill as I’ve read. Thanks for posting this, GP!

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  29. What a great testament to the brave, unified efforts of the pilots from WWII. Truly inspiring.

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  30. gp, Well told story…..Some of us know & appreciate that such things happened in WWII & other wars. But even then, it is still unbelievable that the B-17 could make the landing with no injuries! And look at that photo after landing!!! Phil

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    • I can’t take credit for the writing, but yes, it is a well told story and an even amazing result. How many war-planes can say that the enemy’s aircraft that caused the damage – helped them to get home? Thank you for coming by, Phil.

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  31. I can almost feel the crew’s amazing spirit of determination as I read this post. What a great story.

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  32. I have spoken with members of the Air Corps and their stories are nothing if not horrifying. I read recently that more Army Air Corps personnel died in World War Ii than were killed during the entire war in the U. S. Marine Corps. To what extent this was known to the average aircrew back then, we cannot know … but it is utterly amazing to me that based exclusively what they saw going on around them every single day, that anyone would want to suit up for another mission. I think it must come down to raw courage.

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    • With that generation of people – it was! They had been toughened up by surviving the first World War and then a Great Depression and yet they kept going on. The enemy seemed like small potatoes compared to what they had already gone through I suppose.

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  33. What an amazing story. The bravery and self-sacrifice, to use your parachute to help stabilize the plane and save your mates makes me feel even more lucky to have benefited from the service of these men. Thanks for sharing this story!

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  34. Amazing story about wonderful courageous people!

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  35. That was an incredible story!!! I imagined the scene easily as it was so clearly described…I cannot imagine how scared those crew must have been flying in a skeletonized aircraft, aware the entire thing could blow apart at any given second…the angels were working overtime that day!

    Like

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