15 minutes; that's about how long it too me to track down the missing pieces of this story:
"While working on my book about naval gunboats last week a chance conversation with one of my Sister-in-Law’s had me revisiting a whole different subject which I’ve always been interested in and that was about B-17’s.
I actually got to see one of the most famous B-17’s of WWII the Memphis Belle. It was the mid 70’s and my Step Dad was in the Tennessee Air National Guard. He asked if I would like to go see a B-17 and of course being a history Buff I jumped at the chance.
When we arrived at the Memphis International Airport we drove over to an isolated area of the tarmac and there it was. I must confess I was shocked when I first saw the plane; here sat a tiny bomber; I was under the impression that a B-17 was a big aircraft; not so.
The Memphis Belle Circa 1977 FEDEX Field Memphis, TN.
I opened the rear hatch and peered inside and was amazed at just how small she was inside as well; I couldn’t believe that 10 men in bulky flying suits and parachutes and tons of bombs could fit inside. The ball turret had been removed, as had all the 50 caliber machine guns.
Still she was impressive, 4 huge propeller engines, all the Plexiglas was faded and cloudy no longer crystal clear, the nose art on the left side was faded although you could clearly see the number of bomb drops and the Memphis Belle in her bathing suit.
The Mayor of Memphis heard she was going to be scrapped at the end of the war so, the city bought her for $300.00 and then flown from Oklahoma to Memphis where she was placed on display at the National Guard Armory. She survived 25 combat missions over Germany, but she couldn’t fight off the vandals and weather as they both began to attack her. Fortunately, she was moved to the Airport before too much damage was done.
It wasn’t until years later that the Belle was finally restored (properly) and resides in a museum at Wright Patterson Air base.
Memphis Belle during WWII
The B-17 was a rugged well-built airplane to say the least; just Google it and read it’s history.
During WWII, Bomber Crews in the European Theatre had to go on so many missions before they could rotate back home to teach other crews or go on war bond tours. The magic number was 25; you had to go out on 25 missions over enemy territory and make it back. Sounds simple enough right?
The only problem was it was anything but being awaken at 2-3 am, attending the mission briefing and finding out this time that it is deep in enemy territory; getting into your heavy electrically heated fleece lined flying suit because the plane isn’t pressurized or heated and then climb into a plane with nine other guys, one ton of bombs, magnesium flares, fuel tanks filled with flammable high octane aviation gas and the thousands of .50 caliber rounds of ammunition.
Visualize trying to get said plane into the air without any problems from the weather, mechanical failure or planes out of formation that could crash into you and explode into a fireball as you attempt to climb to 26,000ft on oxygen where the air temperature can reach a negative 40 below zero.
They say you could recognize who was on a bomber crew by their appearance; their oxygen mask would leave an impression on their faces like that of a Raccoon.
You arrive at altitude over enemy territory and begin to make your bombing run; once you begin you can’t change course or speed the bomb sight is flying the plane now. The Germans know you are coming because they can see the vapor trails from your exhaust. When they have your range and altitude the firing begins; 88mm flak guns not to mention enemy fighters who show up to trying to shoot you down.
Imagine being in a plane shot up so bad it looks like a cheese grater, one or more of the engines are shot out and your friends are injured or dead and your plane is now all alone over enemy territory trying to get back to base; or you make it through without a scratch. In either case if you make it back to an airfield the wounded and dead are off loaded, you debrief, try to relax, until the next mission where you get to do it all over again 24 more times; eventually, the odds are against you may never make the magic 25.
Now, the rest of the story:
My Sister-in-law’s Husbands Grandfather served in WWII; all she knew was his name Connell and that he was a pilot in WWII who was shot down and became a POW that's all they knew.
After I obtained his full name I began my hunt and within 15 minutes I found what I was looking for.
Utilizing an archive of data relating to WWII I entered his data and his name appeared in the “Missing Aircrew Reports of the US Army Air Forces 1942-1947” and I then found out what happened to this B-17 & it’s crew.
He was the co-pilot of a B-17 G model SN# 42-31174; the B-17 G had a chin turret under the nose that mounted 2 .50 caliber machine guns.
The name of the plane was the “Spirit of Chicago”; she was assigned to Army Air force station #155 in England. Some of the base still exist as it did in 1944, the rest is farm land again; I then searched and found a picture of the crew on the website belonging to the 385th bomb group and their plane the “Spirit of Chicago”.
The Spirit of Chicago info:
Built at Boeing Seattle plant.
Delivered 27 Sep 1943 (Dallas modification center) (CN 6288)
SN# SN# 42-31174
Assigned to 8th Air Force Dec 5th 1943 3rd AD/ 4th Combat wing/ 385th Bomb Group/551st Bomber Squadron (stationed at Great Ashfield, England) Identification on tail (Square G) HR*
I figured since he was shot down over Europe that he was probably in a B-17 and that he was captured and taken to Stalag-Luft III.
Their Target was Berlin, Germany and this was their 25th mission.
Based on surviving crew members accounts and other bomber crew eye witness accounts this is what happened that morning:
Missing Aircrew Report: MIA: 29 April 1944 (fighters)-Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt-Germany (pilot Hart) 1 KIA, 9 POW (MARC# 4454)-SOC Berlin, Germany mission
"After climbing to altitude of 26,000ft and checking the intercom and guns, they continued on towards their target; at 10:55am 29 April 1944 an observer in another plane saw the “Spirit of Chicago” being attacked by enemy fighters coming in from behind raking the B-17 with machine gun and 20mm cannon fire. He stated in his debrief” that the wings were on fire then the plane just exploded and that there were no chutes visible”, but they were also busy with fighters. The B-17’s last reported position was 16 miles west of the town of Magdeburg Germany.
On board the “Spirit of Chicago” they were coming up on 11:00 am when the crew felt the plane shudder, and saw fire suddenly erupted from the wing tanks; the Co-pilot 2nd LT Connell hit the bail out bell and the crew began to bail out of the burning plane; The Flight engineer/top turret gunner had a head wound and he bailed before anyone else, the waist gunners, began to leave when one of them noticed the tail gunner kneeling by the tail wheel doubled over; he called to him “Neely, we have to go, let’s go!; Neely replied, “I can’t, I just can’t, I can’t”.
The waist gunners exited via the bomb bay as the ball turret gunner next observed the tail gunner near the catwalk to the bomb bay, screaming and praying; he tried to knock him out with an oxygen bottle but he couldn’t over power him so he bailed out.
The crew came down around the town of Goslar where they were all captured with the exception of the tail gunner; he either got out or came down in the wreckage of the plane. The Germans located his body and took him to a Hospital where they found that he had suffered a gunshot through his left lung. He was buried in the local cemetery."
The Germans kept excellent written records of the entire event which was furnished to the U.S.
2nd Lt Connell began keeping a diary while he was a POW and after the war it remained locked up for over 50 years; it was written on whatever he could find; as of this year he is 96 years old and has never told anybody his story of all those years ago.
Technology is amazing".
Here is a documentary from WWII about it. [youtube]Dn8tqacRXK4[/youtube]
General Info for everyone
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