Immediately, it began to move around, as the pilots attempted to regain control. Aboard the bomber, each of the crew experienced the FLAK burst differently. The pilots immediately tightened their hands on the controls, as the plane began to pitch up on the right side, due to the explosion. The men in the nose, Lt Harms, bombardier, and Lt Harland, navigator, were shaken in their seats and turned to see if they could find out what had happened. The intercom was suddenly full of everyone talking at once, asking what had happened or reporting what they had seen. In the rear, the tail gunner, S/Sgt Krimminger, was badly shaken as the tail whipped back and forth and suddenly, he saw a stream of fire to his left. The waist gunner, S/Sgt Robbins, was thrown to the floor and was getting back up to find out what had happened. The radio operator, T/Sgt Robert A. Dunlap, could not see what had happened, but he had his right hand at his radio controls, in order to broadcast what the pilot might order.

In the top turret, the flight engineer and gunner, T/Sgt Gustafson, looked to his right to see what had happened and was astonished to see the number four engine, the outboard engine on the right wing was missing. He had seen B-17s that had returned with engines missing, but the engine mount and cowl back to the wing were still there. Their engine, its mount, and the engine cowling were gone all the way back to the wing, leaving a large hole in the leading edge of the wing. He also saw a large fire flowing back into the slipstream and at first, he expected to see the wing was melting and they would crash, but taking a second look, he realized the engine had been blown down and off the wing, taking the fuel line with it, until it broke and the escaping fuel caught fire.

Fortunately, the fire was below the wing and it was no immediate threat to the bomber. Gustafson attempted to contact the pilots via the intercom to find it was not working, so he swiveled around to be able to get off his turret seat and tell the pilots the fire was not going to make them crash. As he put his weight on his right foot, suddenly there was another loud FLAK explosion. A fragment of the shell, which had exploded under the numbers 2 and 1 engines, on the left wing, broke through the fuselage, cutting the bomb bay controls, and slicing through Gustafson’s leg, just above the ankle, cutting out an inch and a half of his leg bone. It then broke into the hydraulic oil tank behind the copilot, allowing the hydraulic oil to flow down and over the flight engineer’s parachute.

B-17 Cockpit

88-MM HE FLAK RoundThe belly turret gunner, S/Sgt Fross, had been looking ahead in order to count the bombs as they fell, so the bombardier would know all the bombs had cleared and the bomb bay doors could be closed when the Flak shell burst within 15 feet of his turret. He was badly shaken, and small fragments of the shell had broken through the turret and embedded in his skull. However, his training kicked in and he began to turn the turret to a position where he could climb up to the waist.

In the radio compartment, a fragment of the German 88 AAA shell, flew up through the floor and struck Dunlap’s left thigh. It continued up through the radio operator’s table and through Dunlap’s right arm, just above the wrist, almost cutting his hand away from the lower arm, leaving it hanging by sinew and muscle. In the rear, Krimminger had released his seat belt and was making his way to the tail gunner escape hatch, when a third Flak shell burst occurred. As soon as the second shell burst, a fragment killed the number one engine, leaving its propeller blade in the flight position, causing a great drag. In addition, another fragment or two flew up into the number two engine, where they blew the cylinder head off two or more cylinders. This allowed engine oil to flow out and turn into smoke that flowed back along the slipstream. At the same time, the engine lost its ability to provide full power and this left the bomber with only two working engines, the number three, inside, engine on the right wing was undamaged, and the damaged number two, inside, engine on the left wing. The sudden change in power and the Flak explosions caused the B-17 to dive out of the formation. Lt Collins saw his crew’s bomber begin to spiral down and out of the formation and to him and all those who were watching, it was going to crash from the damage they could see. There was a large flame streaming back behind the right wing and heavy smoke was flowing from the left wing these men had seen other bombers, with much less damage fail to regain control. Collins called the navigator and told him to mark the position where the Lady Jeannette had been seen and then, he and the pilot began to tighten up the formation. As another B-17 closed into the same position the Lady Jeannette had been in, that B-17 was also hit by Flak, killing one engine. It did manage to maintain formation long enough to drop its bombs and turn with the formation to circle to the east, as they began their western return to their base. This B-17 left the formation and parachutes were seen, as it dove to the earth. Along the same route, a third B-17 that had been less damaged by the Flak over Saarbrucken also crashed.


Another B-17 will go down and crash

First Aid KitAs the Group continued on its bomb run, aboard the Lady Jeannette, the pilot, and copilot struggled with the controls. Sitting on the deck behind them, in agony, Gustafson thought, they were going to crash. However, they were an excellent team and as they dropped in altitude the wings gripped the heavier air and the control panels, allowing the spiraling dive to end. Due to the large hole in the right wing, the number three engine had to be sped up to emergency RPMS to balance the hole. The left wing’s un-feathered numbered one engine props created a great drag that almost overcame the pull the damaged number two engine could provide. The damage was extensive. From both Flak explosions, the bomb bay doors were open, the two outside bombs and the eight bombs in the bomb bay were still aboard and all they had was one and a half working engines to keep the plane above stall speed, so they could keep flying. As control was being obtained, the navigator dropped the nose escape hatch and the bombardier went up the crawlway to the cockpit to see if he could help.

By this time, Gustafson had pulled on the sleeve of the copilot to let him know that he was wounded and he had gotten one morphine shot out of the first aid kit and was attempting to inject it. The bombardier realized his problem and helped him open his pants to inject the morphine into his leg. Having realized, when he tried an emergency bomb drop, that the system was no longer working, he moved past the flight engineer and hand-dropped the large bombs under each wing. Then, he went into the bomb bay to try to manually drop the bombs. Realizing this, he tried to kick the bombs out, but their shackles had jammed, so he went back into the radio compartment, as the pilot had requested, to find out the condition of the men in the back.

In the waist, S/Sgt Robbins had just gotten to the belly turret to help S/Sgt Fross get out when the second Flak burst took place. He held on, as the plane went through a violent shaking and he felt the plane begin a dive which made him think it might crash. As it settled down, he looked down the fuselage and saw Sgt Krimminger crawling out of the tunnel to the tail with his bell badly ringing and he looked very shaken up. Immediately, Robbins opened the turret hatch and helped Fross climb out. Fross looked and acted like his bell had also been rung and he was hardly able to talk. Realizing he had not seen Dunlap, Robbins told the two to go to the waist escape hatch and prepare to bail out, as he turned and opened the door between the waist and the radio compartment.

He was shocked, as he saw blood spattered all around the compartment and Dunlap was collapsing onto the deck. Then, he saw that Dunlap’s hand was hanging by shreds of muscle and skin and blood was squirting out with each beat of Dunlap’s heart. Robbins immediately knelt down to help Dunlap and at the same time, he saw the door from the bomb bay to the radio compartment open and an officer that he had never seen came into the compartment and knelt down to help. Between them, they got a tourniquet on Dunlap’s arm and used a bandage to hold his severed hand to the stump of his right arm with the hope it could be sewn back on and saved. It was obvious, that Dunlap had lost a lot of blood. He must have tried to get up and get help, then spun around several times before falling to the deck. They had pulled his arm out of his flight jacket to work on it and all they could do now was to zip up his jacket with the right arm inside and tell the pilots of his condition. Lt Harms, told Robbins to join the other two and wait for an order to bail out, while he would go tell the pilots what had happened. On his way back through the bomb bay, he tried to kick the shackles to release the bombs but gave up and went into the cockpit where Gustafson had been talking to Metzger who had just handed Gustafson his parachute. After Gustafson had a chance to review his situation, he reached for his parachute to get ready to bail out. He always stored it under the hydraulic tank behind the copilot and the same shell fragment that cut the piece of bone out of his leg had entered the tank and the hydraulic oil had soaked his parachute.

Boeing B-17F-5-BO (S/N 41-24406) All American III of the 97th Bomb Group, 414th Bomb Squadron, in flight after a collision with a Me-109. The aircraft was able to land safely

Realizing it might work, Gustafson had tugged on Metzger’s arm and when Metzger turned and realized what Gustafson was saying, Harms entered the cockpit and Metzger handed Gustafson his own parachute. By then, though they were much lower in altitude, the two pilots had realized they now had control of the bomber again. They could not turn it, they could not climb and they had to lose about 450 feet of altitude for each mile they gained, in order to keep the airspeed above their stall speed, around 118 MPH. Their flight was not in a straight line to the west. It was turning into a large right turn which, in due time, would return them back to Saarbrücken. However, they realized that its diameter was large enough and they could still reach the Allied front lines if only they could keep the bomber airborne. Realizing they were about an hour from the front lines, the pilots thought they could keep the plane going until they reached the Allied territory. There, they might be able to crash land the B-17 in a place where both, the radio operator and Gustafson, who could not bail out on their own, could receive proper medical treatment. Otherwise, all they could do was drop Dunlap out and hope he landed somewhere, where the Germans might give him the medical help he needed. However, they had all heard of what happened to some crews who had bailed out over Germany and no one wanted to risk that if they had any option at all.

Illustration A bomb sits near one of the bomb bay doors during a media flight on the Liberty Foundation's WWII B-17 Flying Fortress Madras Maiden (Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport)

Gott asked Metzger to go back with Harms to see if they could kick out the bombs and tell the crewmen to dump all the weight they could to help extend the distance they could fly. When done, they were to stay by the escape hatch and wait for the order to bail out. With Metzger’s help, the bombs were released over Germany and they tried to close the bomb bay doors. Unfortunately, the doors too damaged remained open. Harms then returned to the nose, while Metzger informed the men in the waist to dump all the weight they could and get ready to bail out. Then, he returned to the cockpit. A major dead weight at that time was the ball turret and there was a special wrench that was supposed to be attached to the assembly at all times. It was to be used to allow the turret to drop free. When Sgt Robbins attempted to drop the turret, he found the wrench was gone and all he could do was to get Fross and Krimminger to help him to throw out all they could, then get to the rear and be ready to bail out when ordered.

563d Air Warning Signal BattalionOn the ground, at the 563rd Signals Aircraft Warning Battalion plotting center, their radars began to report an unknown target approaching from Germany. As additional plots of the aircraft’s location were plotted, they realized it was on a path that would bring it right over their location. They had already experienced German aircraft flying down the radar beams to find and destroy the radars. It was becoming an urgent concern when a forward observer in a foxhole on the front lines, called in to report a damaged B-17 with smoke and fire flowing behind it, was approaching the front lines and the Germans were firing at it. This report, changed the unknown target to a probably friendly target, however, just in case, the members of the unit that was stationed in the small village of Hattonville, Meuse Department in France, were told to start up their engines and be prepared for dispersal as soon as ordered. (A villager told the author years later, that it was always quiet there and suddenly, one day, the Americans became disturbed, like a bunch of bees around a damaged hive).

452nd Bomb Group729th Bomb SquadronB-17G #42-97904 Lady Jeannette

The damages to the B-17G Bomber consisted of the right-wing #4 outboard engine and cowling gone with a fire blowing past the tail. The #3 inboard engine was the only engine that was undamaged and was providing emergency power. The #2 on the left wing, the inboard engine, had one or more cylinder heads gone and was pumping smoke out leaving a trailing smoke trail. The #1, left wing outboard engine had been killed by the second Flak burst with its propeller blades unable to be feathered. This created a drag on the airflow around the engine. The bomb bay doors remained open, helping to increase the drag.


(Note: When reviewed by Boeing engineers who had helped build the B-17s, all of them agreed, that the bomber should have crashed immediately and she only kept flying because of the skill of the pilots. If the damage had been different in any way, Lady Jeannette would have crashed, except it, all balanced out).

Medic109-EVACLocated across from the World War One American Cemetery at Tiaucourt–Regnieville (France), 8.4 miles to the southeast of Hattonville, the 606th Mobile Hospital was in operation. They were located on a hillside that opened a view of many miles to their east and north. Personnel, that day, who were outside helping new arrivals and some, just off duty, heard the Flak explosions to the east near the river and when they looked, they saw a B-17 coming, with smoke and fire streaming behind it. As there was a lull in arrivals, Pfc John S. Lindsey of the 606-MH, watched the crash from the 109th Evacuation Hospital location and stood and watched the bomber as it passed to their north. (When interviewed sixty years later, he told the author: I had never felt so helpless in my life. There were large hills to the west and it was obvious the place the bomber had to crash. It was lower than I was on the hillside to the south. People were going to die and there was nothing I could do!)

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