Created: 11th June 2008 Updated: 27 Oct 2015

Stories of the Legendary B-17


Look carefully at the B-17 and note how shot up it is - one engine dead, tail, horizontal stabilizer and nose shot up. It was ready to fall out of the sky. Then realize that there is a German ME-109 fighter flying next to it. Now read the story below. I think you'll be surprised.


Charles Brown was a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot with the 379th Bomber Group at Kimbolton, England. His B-17 was called 'Ye Old Pub' and was in a terrible state, having been hit by flak and fighters. The compass was damaged and they were flying deeper over enemy territory instead of heading home to Kimbolton.

After flying over an enemy airfield, a German pilot named Franz Steigler was ordered to take off and shoot down the B-17. When he got near the B-17, he could not believe his eyes. In his words, he 'had never seen a plane in such a bad state'. The tail and rear section was severely damaged, and the tail gunner wounded. The top gunner was all over the top of the fuselage!  The nose was smashed and there were holes everywhere.

Despite having ammunition, Franz flew to the side of the B-17 and looked at Charlie Brown, the pilot. Brown was scared and struggling to control his damaged and blood-stained plane.

Aware that they had no idea where they were going, Franz waved at Charles to turn 180 degrees. Franz escorted and guided the stricken plane to, and slightly over, the North Sea towards England. He then saluted Charles Brown and turned away, back to Europe!

When Franz landed he told the CO that the plane had been shot down over the sea, and never told the truth to anybody. Charles Brown and the remains of his crew told all at their briefing, but were ordered never to talk about it.

More than 40 years later, Charles Brown wanted to find the Luftwaffe pilot who saved the crew. After years of research, Franz was found. He had never talked about the incident, not even at post-war reunions.

They met in the USA at a 379th Bomber Group reunion, together with 25 people who are alive now - all because Franz never fired his guns that day.

Research shows that Charles Brown lived in Seattle and Franz Steigler had moved to Vancouver, B.C. Canada after the war. When they finally met, they discovered they had lived less than 200 miles apart for the past 50 years!


Another B17 Story (copied with permission)

Flying back over the desert to its base in Biskra, Algeria.

A mid-air collision on  1FEB1943  between a B-17 and a German fighter over the Tunis dock area became the subject of some 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 pilot, 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 and elevator of the Fortress 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 two 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 at its widest and the split in the fuselage went all the way to the top gunner’s turret.  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 still flew-miraculously! 
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 were 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 to the tail section, so he went back to his position.

The turn back toward Biskra, Algeria, had to be very slow to keep the tail from twisting off.  They actually covered almost 70 miles to make the turn home.  The bomber was so badly damaged that it was losing altitude and speed and was soon alone in the sky. 

For a brief time, two more Me109 German fighters attacked the All American.  Despite the extensive damage, all of the machine gunners were able to respond to these attacks and soon drove off the fighters.  The two waist gunners stood up with their heads sticking out through the hole in the top of the fuselage to aim and fire their machine guns.  The tail gunner had to shoot in short bursts because the recoil was actually causing the plane to turn. 
Allied P51 fighters intercepted the All American and took one of the pictures shown below.  They also radioed to the base describing the empennage 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 the base.  Lt. Bragg signalled that 5 parachutes and the spare had been "used" so five 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 and land it.   Two and a half hours after being hit, the aircraft made its final turn to line up with 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 onto the ground. The rugged old bird had done its job.

Stories often get either misleading with age, or become expanded in the telling. The original version that I received a long while ago gave the plane bombing Tunis and then returning to England!! As was pointed out to me only recently it must have had one hell of a big fuel tank and a speed in excess of Mach 2!! Hopefully the above version is now much nearer the truth. I also was pointed in the direction of the pilots own version of events are told by a relative of a member of the original crew. I wrote to a forum concerned and asked for permission to use the item, they deigned not to reply so here it is:

The All American’s Final Mission - The pilot of this now-famous B-17 recalls her last flight

The All American (124406) was on a mission to Bizerta, Tunisia on February 1st 1943.  It was classified as a routine mission against Rommel’s force – some called it a “milk run”.

The enemy fighters attacked at 1350 on a clear almost cloudless day.  The All American was in tight formation with the other bombers, flying at 28,000 feet.  The enemy aircraft made their passes at the 17’s while anti aircraft fire belched skyward.

The bombers located the target (the wharf area of Bizerta) and the bombardiers dropped the bombs. With the bomb bays empty, the aircraft started home.

Kendrick R. Bragg, Jr. was the pilot of the All American and recalls what happened after leaving Bizerta.  “As we left the target and headed home, the fast enemy ME-109’s once more rose to pounce on us. Suddenly I noticed two of them far to the north sneaking along in the same direction that we were going.  

They were out of range and harmless for the moment, but I told our gunners to keep an eye on them.  “We were flying Number 2 position off the right wind of the lead plane piloted by Captain Coulter.  He, too, had seen the two fighter planes and I saw his top turret swing around toward the nose to protect the plane’s most vulnerable quarter.

“I scanned the skies, then looked again at the two enemy craft.  They had suddenly turned and were racing toward us.  The two small specks increased rapidly in size as they came nearer.  Evidently they were planning a frontal attack, determined to shoot it out nose to nose.  This was the most difficult kind of attack but was the surest way of sending a Fortress down.  

“On they came, one plane about thirty seconds behind the other.  They were ready for a one-two punch with their terrific firing power.  We were flying in tight formation now with Captain Coulter.  He began a slight dive to avoid the oncoming fighter, and I followed.  They patterned us, managing to stay about level with us.  In a split second they were in shooting range and our forward gunners opened fire.  Brilliant tracer bullets flew in both directions, as though a score of boys were fighting it out with Roman candles.  

“The first attacker half-rolled into inverted flight to make a quick get-away.  As he did I saw Captain Coulter’s bomber burst into smoke and start earthward in an uncontrolled spiral.  The second enemy fighter was now our primary concern.  As she followed her leader into a roll our gunners found the mark.  Fifty-caliber bullets ripped into the pilot’s cockpit.   The Nazi pilot was disposed of, but the plane streaked on toward us.  I rammed the stick forward in a violent attempt to avoid collision.  The rate of closure of the two planes was close to 600 miles-an-jour and my action seemed sluggish.  I flinched as the fighter passed inches over my head and then I felt a slight thud like a coughing engine.


“I checked the engines and the controls.  The trim tabs were not working.  I tried to level the All American but she insisted on climbing.  It was only with the pressure from knees and hands that I was able to hold her in anything like a straight line.  The co-pilot tired his controls.  He got the same reaction.  But we found by throttling back the engines we could keep her on a fairly even keel.  I tired to call the pilot of the lead plane which had gone down only a moment before.  There was no answer.

“Pilot from top-turret” came an excited voice over the intercom.  I was busy with the controls.  “Come in top-turret.  What’s the matter with you”? I asked.  “Sir we’ve received some damage in the tail section.  I think you should have a look.”

“We were at 12,000 feet now and no longer needed our oxygen masks.  I turned the controls over to the co-pilot and went toward the rear of the plane. As I opened the door of the radio compartment and looked back into the fuselage I was stunned.  A torn mass of shredded metal greeted my eyes.  Wires were dangling and sheets of metal were flapping as the air rushed in through the torn wreckage.  Three-fourths of the plane had been cut completely through by the enemy fighter and a large piece of the ME-109’s wing was lodged in the tail of our plane.

“The opening made by the German fighter was larger than the exit door.  It left our tail section hanging on by a few slender spars an a narrow strip of metallic skin.  Lieutenant Bragg climbed into the upper turret to assess the damage from the outside and discovered that the tail section was swinging as much as a foot and a half out of line with the front of the plane.  To make matters worse, the left horizontal stabilizer was missing, explaining why the airplane was so difficult to handle.

Bragg decided to try and make it back to Biskra.  He returned to the seat, ordered everyone to an emergency exit, then began the long journey home.  He recalls their arrival:  “As we neared the field we fired three emergency flares, then circled at 2,000 feet while the other planes cleared the runways.  We could see the alert crews, ambulances, and crash trucks making ready for us.

“Without radio contact with the field we had to wait for the signal that all was clear and ready for us.  When we got the signal I lowered the landing gear and flaps to test the reaction of the All American.  They seemed to go reasonably well, considering.  We had two alternatives.  We could attempt a landing or we could bail out over the field and let the plane fly alone until she crashed – always a dangerous thing to do.  I had made up my mind to set her down.  She had brought us safely through so far; I knew she would complete the mission.  The crew decided to ride her down too.

“A green flare from the field signaled that all was clear for our attempt at landing.  I made a long, careful approach to the strip with the partial power until the front wheels touched the leveled earth.  As I cut the throttles, I eased the stick forward to hold the tail section high until it eased down of its own weight as we lost speed.  “The tail touched the earth and I could feel the grating as she dragged without tail wheel along the desert sands.  She came to a stop and I ordered the co-pilot to cut the engines.  We were home.”

My humble thanks to Robin Clay for bring this to my attention. I appreciate it.

B-17's Bloody Nose

By Allen Ostrom

They could hear it before they could see it! Not all that unusual in those days as the personnel at Station 131 gathered around the tower and scattered hardstands to await the return of the B-17s sent out earlier that morning.
First comes the far off rumble and drone of the Cyclones. Then a spec on the East Anglia horizon. Soon a small cluster indicating the lead squadron. Finally, the group.

Then the counting. 1-2-3-4-5. But that would have been normal. Today was different! It was too early for the group to return. "They're 20 minutes early. Can't be the 398th." They could hear it before they could see it! Something was coming home. But what?

All eyes turned toward the northeast, aligning with the main runway, each ground guy and stood-down airman straining to make out this "wail of a Banshee," as one called it. Not like a single B-17 with its characteristic deep roar of the engines blended with four thrashing propellers. This was a howl! Like a powerful wind blowing into a huge whistle. Then it came into view. It WAS a B-17! Low and pointing her nose at the 6,000 foot runway, it appeared for all the world to be crawling toward the earth, screaming in protest. No need for the red flares. All who saw this Fort knew there was death aboard.

"Look at that nose!" they said as all eyes stared in amazement as this single, shattered remnant of a once beautiful airplane glided in for an unrealistic "hot" landing. She took all the runway as the "Banshee" noise finally abated, and came to an inglorious stop in the mud just beyond the concrete runway. Men and machines raced to the now silent and lonely aircraft. The ambulance and medical staff were there first. The fire truck....ground and air personnel... .jeeps, truck, bikes. Out came one of the crew members from the waist door, then another. Strangely quiet. The scene was almost weird. Men stood by as if in shock, not knowing whether to sing or cry. Either would have been acceptable.

The medics quietly made their way to the nose by way of the waist door as the remainder of the crew began exiting.. And to answer the obvious question, "what happened?" "What happened?" was easy to see. The nose was a scene of utter destruction. It was as though some giant aerial can opener had peeled the nose like an orange, relocating shreds of metal, Plexiglas, wires and tubes on the cockpit windshield and even up to the top turret. The left cheek gun hung limp, like a broken arm. One man pointed to the crease in chin turret. No mistaking that mark! A German 88 anti-aircraft shell had exploded in the lap of the togglier. This would be George Abbott of Mt. Lebanon, PA. He had been a waist gunner before training to take over the bombardier's role.

Still in the cockpit, physically and emotionally exhausted, were pilot Larry deLancey and co-pilot Phil Stahlman.  Navigator Ray LeDoux finally tapped deLancey on the shoulder and suggested they get out. Engineer turret gunner Ben Ruckel already had made his way to the waist was exiting along with radio operator Wendell Reed, ball turret gunner Al Albro, waist gunner Russell Lachman and tail gunner Herbert Guild. Stahlman was flying his last scheduled mission as a replacement for regular co-pilot, Grady Cumbie. The latter had been hospitalized the day before with an ear problem.. Lachman was also a "sub," filling in for Abbott in the waist.

DeLancey made it as far as the end of the runway, where he sat down with knees drawn up, arms crossed and head down. The ordeal was over, and now the drama was beginning a mental re-play. Then a strange scene took place. Group CO Col. Frank P. Hunter had arrived after viewing the landing from the tower and was about to approach deLancey. He was physically restrained by flight surgeon Dr. Robert Sweet. "Colonel, that young man doesn't want to talk now. When he is ready you can talk to him, but for now leave him alone." Sweet handed pills out to each crew member and told them to go to their huts and sleep.  No dramatics, no cameras, no interviews. The crew would depart the next day for "flak leave" to shake off the stress. And then be expected back early in November. (Just in time to resume "normal" activities on a mission to Merseburg!)

Mission No. 98 from North Hampstead had begun at 0400 that morning of October 15, 1944. It would be Cologne (again), led by CA pilots Robert Templeman of the 602nd, Frank Schofield of the 601st and Charles Khourie of the 603rd. Tragedy and death appeared quickly and early that day. Templeman and pilot Bill Scott got the 602nd off at the scheduled 0630 hour, but at approximately 0645 Khouri and pilot Bill Meyran and their entire crew crashed on takeoff in the town of Anstey . All were killed. Schofield and Harold Stallcup followed successfully with the 601st, with deLancey flying on their left wing in the lead element. The ride to the target was routine, until the flak started becoming "unroutinely" accurate.

"We were going through heavy flak on the bomb run," remembered deLancey. "I felt the plane begin to lift as the bombs were dropped, then all of a sudden we were rocked by a violent explosion. My first thought - 'a bomb exploded in the bomb bay' - was immediately discarded as the top of the nose section peeled back over the cockpit blocking the forward view." It seemed like the whole world exploded in front of us," added Stahlman. "The instrument panel all but disintegrated and layers of quilted batting exploded in a million pieces. It was like a momentary snowstorm in the cockpit."

It had been a direct hit in the nose. Killed instantly was the togglier, Abbott. Navigator LeDoux, only three feet behind Abbott, was knocked unconscious for a moment, but was miraculously was alive. Although stunned and bleeding, LeDoux made his way to the cockpit to find the two pilots struggling to maintain control of an airplane that by all rights should have been in its death plunge. LeDoux said there was nothing anyone could do for Abbott, while Ruckel opened the door to the bomb bay and signaled to the four crewman in the radio room that all was OK - for the time being. The blast had torn away the top and much of the sides of the nose. Depositing enough of the metal on the windshield to make it difficult for either of the pilots to see. "The instrument panel was torn loose and all the flight instruments were inoperative with the exception of the magnetic compass mounted in the panel above the windshield And its accuracy was questionable. The radio and intercom were gone, the oxygen lines broken, and there was a ruptured hydraulic line under my rudder pedals," said deLancey.

All this complicated by the sub-zero temperature at 27,000 feet blasting into the cockpit. "It was apparent that the damage was severe enough that we could not continue to fly in formation or at high altitude. My first concern was to avoid the other aircraft in the formation, and to get clear of the other planes in case we had to bail out. We eased out of formation, and at the same time removed our oxygen masks as they were collapsing on our faces as the tanks were empty." At this point the formation continued on its prescribed course for home - a long, slow turn southeast of Cologne and finally westward.

DeLancey and Stahlman turned left, descending rapidly and hoping, they were heading west.. (And also, not into the gun sights of German fighters.) Without maps and navigation aids, they had difficulty getting a fix. By this time they were down to 2,000 feet. "We finally agreed that we were over Belgium and were flying in a southwesterly direction," said the pilot.
"About this time a pair of P-51s showed up and flew a loose formation on us across Belgium . I often wondered what they thought as they looked at the mess up front." We hit the coast right along the Belgium-Holland border, a bit farther north than we had estimated Ray said we were just south of Walcheren Island ."

Still in an area of ground fighting, the plane received some small arms fire. This gesture was returned in kind by Albro, shooting from one of the waist guns. "We might have tried for one of the airfields in France , but having no maps this also was questionable. Besides, the controls and engines seemed to be OK, so I made the decision to try for home." Once over England , LeDoux soon picked up landmarks and gave me course corrections taking us directly to North Hampstead. It was just a great bit of navigation. Ray just stood there on the flight deck and gave us the headings from memory."

Nearing the field, Stahlman let the landing gear down. That was an assurance. But a check of the hydraulic pump sent another spray of oil to the cockpit floor. Probably no brakes! Nevertheless, a flare from Ruckel's pistol had to announce the "ready or not" landing. No "downwind leg" and "final approach" this time. Straight in! "The landing was strictly by guess and feel," said DeLancey. "Without instruments, I suspect I came in a little hot. Also, I had to lean to the left to see straight ahead. The landing was satisfactory, and I had sufficient braking to slow the plane down some. However, as I neared the taxiway, I could feel the brakes getting 'soft'. I felt that losing control and blocking the taxiway would cause more problems than leaving the plane at the end of the runway." That consideration was for the rest of the group. Soon three squadrons of B-17s would be returning, and they didn't need a derelict airplane blocking the way to their respective hardstands.

Stahlman, supremely thankful that his career with the 398th had come to an end, soon returned home and in due course became a captain with Eastern Airlines. Retired in 1984, Stahlman said his final Eastern flight "was a bit more routine" than the one 40 years before. DeLancey and LeDoux received decorations on December 11, 1944 for their parts in the October 15 drama. DeLancey was awarded the Silver Star for his "miraculous feat of flying skill and ability" on behalf of General Doolittle , CO of the Eighth Air Force. LeDoux for his "extraordinary navigation skill", received the Distinguished Flying Cross.  The following DeLancey 1944 article was transcribed from the 398th BG Historical Microfilm. Note: due to wartime security, Northampstead is not mentioned, and the route DeLancey flew home is referred to in general terms.


AN EIGHTH AIR FORCE BOMBER STATION, ENGLAND - After literally losing the nose of his B-17 Flying Fortress as the result of a direct hit by flak over Cologne, Germany, on October 15, 1944, 1st Lt. Lawrence M. DeLancey, 25, of Corvallis, Oregon, returned to England and landed the crew safely at his home base. Each man walked away from the plane except the togglier, Staff Sergeant George E. Abbott, Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, who was killed instantly when the flak struck. It was only the combined skill and teamwork of Lt. DeLancey and 2nd Lt. Raymond J. LeDoux, of Mt. Angel, Oregon, navigator, that enabled the plane and crew to return safely.

"Just after we dropped our bombs and started to turn away from the target," Lt. DeLancey explained, "a flak burst hit directly in the nose and blew practically the entire nose section to threads. Part of the nose peeled back and obstructed my vision and that of my co-pilot, 1st Lt. Phillip H. Stahlman of Shippenville, Pennsylvania. What little there was left in front of me looked like a scrap heap. The wind was rushing through. Our feet were exposed to the open air at nearly 30,000 feet above the ground the temperature was unbearable.

"There we were in a heavily defended flak area with no nose, and practically no instruments. The instrument panel was bent toward me as the result of the impact. My altimeter and magnetic compass were about the only instruments still operating and I couldn't depend on their accuracy too well. Naturally I headed for home immediately. The hit which had killed S/Sgt. Abbott also knocked Lt. LeDoux back in the catwalk (just below where I was sitting). Our oxygen system also was out so I descended to a safe altitude.

"Lt. LeDoux who had lost all his instruments and maps in the nose did a superb piece of navigating to even find England ..."

During the route home flak again was encountered but due to evasive action Lt. DeLancey was able to return to friendly territory. Lt.. LeDoux navigated the ship directly to his home field.

Although the plane was off balance without any nose section, without any brakes (there was no hydraulic pressure left), and with obstructed vision, Lt. deLancey made a beautiful landing to the complete amazement of all personnel at this field who still are wondering how the feat was accomplished.

The other members of the crew include: 

1. Technical Sergeant Benjamin H. Ruckel, Roscoe, California, engineer top turret gunner; 
2. Technical Sergeant Wendell A. Reed, Shelby, Michigan, radio operator gunner; 
3. Technical Sergeant Russell A. Lachman, Rockport, Mass., waist gunner; 
4. Staff Sergeant Albert Albro, Antioc h, California, ball turret gunner
5. Staff Sergeant Herbert D. Guild, Bronx, New York, tail gunner.

Piggy Back Ride

In 2003 they laid the remains of Glenn Rojohn to rest in the Peace Lutheran Cemetery in the little town of Greenock, Pa., just southeast of Pittsburgh. He was 81, and had been in the air conditioning and plumbing business in nearby McKeesport. If you had seen him on the street he would probably have looked to you like so many other graying, bespectacled old World War II veterans whose names appear so often now on obituary pages.

But like so many of them, though he seldom talked about it, he could have told you one hell of a story. He won the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart all in one fell swoop in the skies over Germany on December 31, 1944. Fell swoop indeed.

Capt. Glenn Rojohn, of the 8th Air Force's 100th Bomb Group was flying his B-17G Flying Fortress bomber on a raid over Hamburg. His formation had braved heavy flak to drop their bombs, then turned 180 degrees to head out over the North Sea. They had finally turned northwest, headed back to England, when they were jumped by German fighters at 22,000 feet. The Messerschmitt Me-109s pressed their attack so closely that Capt. Rojohn could see the faces of the German pilots. He and other pilots fought to remain in formation so they could use each other's guns to defend the group. Rojohn saw a B-17 ahead of him burst into flames and slide sickeningly toward the earth. He gunned his ship forward to fill in the gap. He felt a huge impact. The big bomber shuddered, felt suddenly very heavy and began losing altitude. Rojohn grasped almost immediately that he had collided with another plane. A B-17 below him, piloted by Lt. William G. McNab, had slammed the top of its fuselage into the bottom of Rojohns.  The top turret gun of McNabs plane was now locked in the belly of Rojohns plane and the ball turret in the belly of Rojohns had smashed through the top of McNabs. The two bombers were almost perfectly aligned at the tail of the lower plane was slightly to the left of Rojohns tailpiece. They were stuck together, as a crewman later recalled, like mating dragon flies.

Three of the engines on the bottom plane were still running, as were all four of Rojohns. The fourth engine on the lower bomber was on fire and the flames were spreding to the rest of the aircraft. The two were losing altitude quickly. Rojohn tried several times to gun his engines and break free of the other plane. The two were inextricably locked together. Fearing a fire, Rojohn cut his engines and rang the bailout bell. For his crew to have any chance of parachuting, he had to keep the plane under control somehow.
The ball turret, hanging below the belly of the B-17, was considered by many to be a death trap the worst station on the bomber. In this case, both ball turrets figured in a swift and terrible drama of life and death. Staff Sgt. Edward L. Woodall, Jr., in the ball turret of the lower bomber had felt the impact of the collision above him and saw shards of metal drop past him. Worse, he realized both electrical and hydraulic power was gone.

Remembering escape drills, he grabbed the handcrank, released the clutch and cranked the turret and its guns until they were straight down, then turned and climbed out the back of the turret up ino the fuselage. Once inside the planes belly Woodall saw a chilling sight, the ball turret of the other bomber protruding through the top of the fuselage. In that turret, hopelessly trapped, was Staff Sgt. Joseph Russo. Several crew members of Rojohns plane tried frantically to crank Russos turret around so he could escape, but, jammed into the fuselage of the lower plane, it would not budge. Perhaps unaware that his voice was going out over the intercom of his plane, Sgt. Russo began reciting his Hail Marys.

Up in the cockpit, Capt. Rojohn and his co-pilot 2nd Lt. William G. Leek, Jr., had propped their feet against the instrument panel so they could pull back on their controls with all their strength, trying to prevent their plane from going into a spinning dive that would prevent the crew from jumping out. Capt. Rojohn motioned left and the two managed to wheel the huge, collision-born hybrid of a plane back toward the German coast. Leek felt like he was intruding on Sgt. Russo as his prayers crackled over the radio, so he pulled off his flying helmet with its earphones.
Rojohn, immediately grasping that crew could not exit from the bottom of his plane, ordered his top turret gunner and his radio operator, Tech Sgts. Orville Elkin and Edward G. Neuhaus to make their way to the back of the fuselage and out the waist door on the left behind the wing. Then he got his navigator, 2nd Lt. Robert Washington, and his bombardier, Sgt. James Shirley to follow them. As Rojohn and Leek somehow held the plane steady, these four men, as well as waist gunner, Sgt. Roy Little, and tail gunner, Staff Sgt. Francis Chase, were able to bail out.

Now the plane locked below them was aflame. Fire poured over Rojohns left wing. He could feel the heat from the plane below and hear the sound of .50 machinegun ammunition cooking off in the flames. Capt. Rojohn ordered Lieut. Leek to bail out. Leek knew that without him helping keep the controls back, the plane would drop in a flaming spiral and the centrifugal force would prevent Rojohn from bailing out. He refused the order.

Meanwhile, German soldiers and civilians on the ground that afternoon looked up in wonder. Some of them thought they were seeing a new Allied secret weapon a strange eight-engined double bomber. But anti-aircraft gunners on the North Sea coastal island of Wangeroge had seen the collision. A German battery captain wrote in his logbook at 12:47 p.m.:

Two fortresses collided in a formation in the NE. The planes flew hooked together and flew 20 miles south. The two planes were unable to fight anymore. The crash could be awaited so I stopped the firing at these two planes.

Suspended in his parachute in the cold December sky, Bob Washington watched with deadly fascination as the mated bombers, trailing black smoke, fell to earth about three miles away, their downward trip ending in an ugly boiling blossom of fire.

In the cockpit Rojohn and Leek held grimly to the controls trying to ride a falling rock. Leek tersely recalled, The ground came up faster and faster. Praying was allowed. We gave it one last effort and slammed into the ground. The McNab plane on the bottom exploded, vaulting the other B-17 upward and forward. It slammed back to the ground, sliding along until its left wing slammed through a wooden building and the smoldering mess came to a stop. Rojohn and Leek were still seated in their cockpit. The nose of the plane was relatively intact, but everything from the B-17 massive wings back was destroyed. They looked at each other incredulously. Neither was badly injured.

Movies have nothing on reality. Still perhaps in shock, Leek crawled out through a huge hole behind the cockpit, felt for the familiar pack in his uniform pocket pulled out a cigarette. He placed it in his mouth and was about to light it. Then he noticed a young German soldier pointing a rifle at him. The soldier looked scared and annoyed. He grabbed the cigarette out of Leaks mouth and pointed down to the gasoline pouring out over the wing from a ruptured fuel tank.

Two of the six men who parachuted from Rojohns plane did not survive the jump. But the other four and, amazingly, four men from the other bomber, including ball turret gunner Woodall, survived. All were taken prisoner. Several of them were interrogated at length by the Germans until they were satisfied that what had crashed was not a new American secret weapon.

Rojohn, typically, didn't talk much about his Distinguished Flying Cross. Of Leek, he said, in all fairness to my co-pilot, he's the reason I'm alive today.

Like so many veterans, Rojohn got unsentimentally back to life after the war, marrying and raising a son and daughter. For many years, though, he tried to link back up with Leek, going through government records to try to track him down. It took him 40 years, but in 1986, he found the number of Leeks mother, in Washington State. Yes, her son Bill was visiting from California. Would Rojohn like to speak with him? Some things are better left unsaid. One can imagine that first conversation between the two men who had shared that wild ride in the cockpit of a B-17. A year later, the two were re-united at a reunion of the 100th Bomb Group in Long Beach, Calif. Bill Leek died the following year.

Glenn Rojohn was the last survivor of the remarkable piggyback flight. He was like thousands upon thousands of men, soda jerks and lumberjacks, teachers and dentists, students and lawyers and service station attendants and store clerks and farm boys who in the prime of their lives went to war.


The Airman Who Wouldn't Give Up

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson presents the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Maynard Harrison Smith, United States Army Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 423d Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bomber Group.

Place and date: Over Europe, 1 May 1943.

Entered service at: Caro, Michigan.

Born: 1911, Caro Michigan.

G.O. No.: 38, 12 July 1943.

Citation: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. The aircraft of which Sgt. Smith was a gunner was subjected to intense enemy antiaircraft fire and determined fighter airplane attacks while returning from a mission over enemy-occupied continental Europe on 1 May 1943. The airplane was hit several times by antiaircraft fire and cannon shells of the fighter airplanes, 2 of the crew were seriously wounded, the aircraft’s oxygen system shot out, and several vital control cables severed when intense fires were ignited simultaneously in the radio compartment and waist sections. The situation became so acute that 3 of the crew bailed out into the comparative safety of the sea. Sgt. Smith, then on his first combat mission, elected to fight the fire by himself, administered first aid to the wounded tail gunner, manned the waist guns, and fought the intense flames alternately. The escaping oxygen fanned the fire to such intense heat that the ammunition in the radio compartment began to explode, the radio, gun mount, and camera were melted, and the compartment completely gutted. Sgt. Smith threw the exploding ammunition overboard, fought the fire until all the firefighting aids were exhausted, manned the workable guns until the enemy fighters were driven away, further administered first aid to his wounded comrade, and then by wrapping himself in protecting cloth, completely extinguished the fire by hand. This soldier’s gallantry in action, undaunted bravery, and loyalty to his aircraft and fellow crewmembers, without regard for his own personal safety, is an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.”
Battle damage to the radio operator’s compartment of Boeing B-17F-65-BO 42-29649. The bomber was salvaged 3 May 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Sergeant Smith was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress on his first combat mission. The bomber was so badly damaged that, on landing, the airplane’s structure failed from battle damage and it broke in half. There were over 3,500 bullet and shrapnel holes. Staff Sergeant Maynard Harrison Smith, United States Army Air Force, was the first of only five Air Force enlisted airmen to be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II.

This photograph shows SSGT Smith with a Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine gun at the left waist position of a B-17 Flying Fortress. (U.S. Air Force) 
Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress 42-29649 was assigned to the 423rd Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bombardment Group at RAF Thurleigh, near Bedford, Bedfordshire, England, 24 March 1943. It was identified by the letters RD-V painted on its fuselage. It was flown by Captain Lewis P. Johnson, Jr., aircraft commander/pilot; 1st Lieutenant Robert McCallum, co-pilot; 1st Lieutenant Stanley N. Kisseberth, bombardier; J.C. Melaun, navigator (?); Bill Fahrenhold, flight engineer/top turret gunner; Maynard H. Smith, ball turret gunner; Henry Bean, radio operator; Bob Folliard, waist gunner; Joe Bukacek, waist gunner; Roy Gibson, tail gunner. Bean, Folliard and Bukacek were killed in action, 1 May 1943.
This Boeing B-17F-55-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29524, Meat Hound, was also of the 423rd Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bombardment Group. 8th Air Force. It is the same type as the B-17F on which Sergeant Smith was the ball turret gunner. The squadron identification markings, “RD”, are painted on the fuselage. The second letter “D” identifies this particular airplane. Smith’s bomber, 42-29649, carried the letter “V” as its individual identification. Meat Hound was badly damaged by enemy fighters, 11 January 1944, over Durgerdam, Holland. Four crewmen were killed. The others, except the pilot, 1st Lt. Jack W. Watson, bailed out. Four were captured. The co-pilot was able to evade. Lieutenant Watson flew the damaged bomber back to England alone. (U.S. Air Force).

Hot Stuff was first B-17 to complete 25 missions


Memphis Belle is a well-known World War Two bomber, which was made famous by the Hollywood movie of the same name back in 1990. The Memphis Belle was supposed to be the first B-17 bomber to fly 25 bombing missions and return back to base safely each time. Now an academic from Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) in Daytona, Florida has revealed that it was the B-24 named Hot Stuff that was the first bomber to make 25 missions and return home, not the Memphis Belle.

William Waldock is a professor at ERAU and he says that Hot Stuff flew her final and 25th mission in February of 1943, which was over three months earlier than the Memphis Belle completed her 25 missions. In fact, it is believed that Memphis Belle was the third to complete 25 successful missions.

Hot Stuff later crashed in Iceland under the command of Captain Robert Shannon in May of the same year. Hot Stuff was being flown home to the US since Captain Shannon had completed his tour of service. One the return journey Lieutenant General Frank Andrews took over the flying and when the plane hit severe weather conditions.

Waldock is an air accident investigator and has undertaken many archaeological digs related to aviation. Over the years he has been studying the history behind bomber aircraft activity during the war. To be the first to complete 25 missions was significant because once completed the bomber and its crew could return home. The US War Department would use the bomber and its crew for public relations activities back home, The Daily Courier reports.

The second bomber to have completed 25 missions is said to have been the Hell’s Angels, but it wasn’t widely promoted since its name wasn’t aesthetically pleasing to the War Department. It therefore fell to Memphis Belle as the face of bomber aircraft during the war.

Waldock says that because Hot Stuff crashed and never made it home it never became as well-known as Memphis Belle. Waldock also discovered that Lieutenant General Andrews was a VIP getting a return flight back to the US along with his close aides and staff, who took the place of the bomber’s original crew.

The crew of Hot Stuff didn’t land at their scheduled stop on their way to Iceland, which if they had of stopped they would have found out about the incoming bad weather conditions, and may have waited until it passed and was safe to fly.

The plane flew into zero visibility and it has been reported that the bomber’s radio was broken. The plane crashed into the side of a mountain near the airfield in Iceland. Only one out of the 15 man crew survived.

After the war the famous Andrews Air Force Base was named in his honor.