There were two basic reasons of why we managed to survive those trips over Germany in an “aluminum coffin”. The first was the plane, the B 17 Flying fortress. She became a live queen and alive once the engines were started with the crew settled into their positions the plane became a veritable part of you. You knew full well the Fortress if it had only a final gasp of breathe although being totally battered and bent with hardly anything left would somehow get you home. You don’t fly a Fortress for months and years without becoming a part of that gallant lady in the most intimate respects.
You know her sturdy construction, the manner in which she flies and every detail about her for not only your life, but also the lives of the crew. This lady becomes a part of you, and she would never give up without a valiant struggle. With engines shot out or burning, or with a wing cut to pieces and the vertical fin and rudder in shattered pieces, or with the oxygen system blazing she is somehow still going to fly. The pilots all too often smeared in blood with enemy steel in their bodies and the control cables shot to ribbons worked hand in hand with the gallant lady to survive. Many times these bombers could well have been abandoned but still flew home with of a badly injured crewman who was not leave the plane.
The second reason was the crew of ten men who regardless of the critical situation not only gave everything they had but when the circumstances turned crucial performed a super human effort of a little bit more. Once in the air there existed a total devotion to each other. It was very apparent if watching a dysfunctional crew that they would be able to survive three or at the best four missions.
Whether it was from flak or fighter fire should a member of the crew became wounded some would die, as there were no medical assistance until the plane landed back at base hours later. Other members of the crew (if you weren’t under attack) would immediately rip off their oxygen masks in the sub zero bitter cold rushing to the aid of the injured crewman with the hope they could somehow keep him alive until we landed. Then get him to the hospital if there is enough life left to help. Helping a wounded crewmember in the cold and thin air in a tossing plane was not easy either physically or mentally.
In able to give them morphine you had to put the morphine ampoule under your armpit in order to thaw it out, and then once inserted to keep your finger over the point of insertion for it would squirt back out because of the high altitude. How do you keep from being sick looking at all the blood and gore from someone who is very close to you, but you do the best you can. It is a horrible experience repeated too often watching a beloved companion fortress with your friends dieing go down. These are the events, which I guess tried our souls the most.
You sit there helpless as you watch another Fortress in the same formation start to slip and slide out of the combat formation, watch the flames from an engine on fire with the fuel streaming and burning as it engulfs the plane. Soon she is falling off on her side as the Fortress picking more speed begins her death throes. Then she begins to shudder as her nose points skyward. The plane hangs on the edge of a stall and buffets in warning of final disaster.
The plane hangs almost on her nose, when the lift is almost gone and then as the last of the aerodynamics is gone. The nose drops and slews to the side wallowing in a helpless skid. The nose comes back up again, but the wings are almost vertical and she seems to groan and then quits. You can almost hear the groan as she falls back into a vertical spin to her death. The Fortress dies hard as do the 10 men of the crew, as this is their Fortress they made come alive, trying to hold on to that last thin thread keeping her in the air.
With tears in our eyes we watch and count the parachutes all the while loudly shouting, "Get Out, Get Out". Those men were our friends, our buddies we drank and played poker with, sitting around in a BS session talking about the world of tomorrow. We all knew all too well there was very little chance of tomorrow for any of us. Some survived, and came home. But the question always remains: “Why Us”?
There were too many times we all witnessed these tragedies during “Big Week” in the early fall of 1943 when there were 226 bombers were lost equating 2,260 men. This followed achieving air superiority for “D Day”, but the losses from increased efficiency from flak and determination of the Luftwaffe still imposed considerable losses.
“IN MEMORY OF CITIZENS OF SCHWEINFURT AND AIRMEN OF THE 8TH U.S. AIRFORCE AND THE GERMAN LUFTWAFFE WHO LOST THEIR LIVES IN MISSION 115, OCTOBER 14, 1943, KNOWN TO THOSE WHO WERE THERE AS BLACK THURSDAY”