A Tale of The Eighth Airforce in WWII
Roaring engines filled the air over Poland as the massive bombers lumbered forward. I looked past our pilot, Captain Jim Kilrone, at the B-17s flying ahead of us and then glanced back down at the engine gauges. My name is Staff Sergeant Mike Orson, Flight Engineer on the B-17 Flying Fortress Billy Yank. As engineer, my job was to assist in monitoring the aircrafts engines and performance and to help the pilot and co-pilot handle the big four-engine plane.
In addition to myself, our ten man crew consisted of, Kilrone our pilot, Luke Higgins the co-pilot, Murray Gregorius the bombardier, Duncan Keefers our navigator, Isaac Young the radioman, Hank Vickerson the ball turret gunner, Richard Eccleston and George Wilton our waist gunners, and Wayne Pollard our tail gunner.
We were on our way to bomb a Nazi Focke-Wulfe production plant east of Marienburg, and according to the navigator we were getting close. The intercom crackled, “Enemy fighters six o’clock high.” That was Wayne Pollard in the tail.
One of my duties included manning the top turret, so I turned and crawled up into it. Looking out through the plexi-glass I saw four small dots following the formation and swung my twin .50 caliber machine guns around to cover them. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and turning, saw four more Nazi fighters diving towards us. “More fighters nine o’clock high coming in fast,” I said and started shooting. They dove past us and came up from below.
Vickerson opened fire from the ball turret.
“More fighters coming around five o’clock level,” said Pollard, “Got ‘em, right waist?”
Wilton said, “I see them; I see them.”
Two more fighters came in high, and I trained my guns on them. “Got two more above us one o’clock.” And fired. They flew straight towards us guns blazing. I concentrated my fire on the lead plane and soon saw smoke coming from its engine. The smoke turned into a blaze and the fighter started to spin towards the ground.
“Got one, engine on fire.” Vickerson said, “Kraut parachute coming out. Looks like he’ll make it.”
Eccleston yelled, “I got one! I got one!”
Kilrone swore, then grumbled, “Don’t shout over the intercom.”
The bombardier said, “B-17, engine smoking ten o’clock.”
“Jenson’s plane.” Higgins said. The fighters started swinging away.
“Looks like they’re pulling out.” I commented.
“No wonder,” said Kilrone, “Flak ahead, and it’s heavy.”
I swung my turret towards the front and saw a mass of black clouds. “The Germans are getting better. That flak’s exactly at our altitude.” I wiped sweat from my eyes as we entered the swarm.
Concussions from exploding shells knocked the plane around like a feather, and it was all Kilrone could do to keep us in formation. “Target coming up, watch the lead plane.” The navigator said. As soon as the Gregorius saw the lead’s bomb bay open, he would trigger our own doors, dropping 4,500 pounds of bombs.
I heard a loud thud as a piece of flak ripped through the plane. Then more thuds. A bomber in front of us started smoking, and then caught fire as it began to fall out of formation.
“Pilot to nose, any chutes out there?” asked Kilrone.
“Nothing” was the reply.
“Come on, you guys,” said Keefers.
All who could see watched anxiously.
“There’s one, out of the bomb bay,” said Young from his radio position.
“Two more from the tail.” Vickerson said. “There’s another, and another.”
“That’s five,” I said.
“One more from the bomb bay,” chimed in the left waist gunner, “And another.”
“Seven,” said the co-pilot.
That was the last of them. When we were all over the target, the lead bomber opened its doors.
Right on cue, every plane in the formation dropped their load. I felt the plane jump a few feet as the bombs fell. “Bombs away,” said the bombardier-- the sweetest words in the English language.
“Let’s get out of here,” Kilrone said as he swung the plane around.
Once we were clear of the flak, I climbed down from my turret. We had made it through unscathed and were headed home. I had no idea how long this war would last, but I knew that all the casualties and suffering yet to come would be a crucial part in ending Hitler’s reign over Europe.
(Assignment for Lesson #16 - Endings)
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