Friday, May 10, 2013

The Friday Flyby - 10 May

B-17 Flying Fortress
Back in the day, before I became the Old AF Sarge, I was gainfully employed in a manufacturing concern. A number of my fellow employees were World War II veterans. This was in the early seventies so most of these guys were in their fifties, the war having ended about thirty years before. Guys in their late teens and early twenties in 1945 were now in their late forties and early fifties. Great guys one and all.

But my favorite vet of those I worked directly with, and the guy I remember best, was Ed Solomon. Now Ed was a big man, not huge but well-proportioned, solid. A bit over six-feet and trending towards middle aged plumpness as I recall, but not a man you would trifle with. Not if you were smart.

Now these guys with whom I worked discovered my love of all things military. So they took an interest in the long-haired kid that surprised me. They would tell me their stories and I guess they befriended me because I listened. I surely wish I had written down half the tales they told me. Nothing gory, no combat stories. Normally it was just the funny bits. But one common theme was this, they wanted to just do their jobs and go home. War scared the Hell out of them. Theirs was true courage. Carrying on, overcoming the fear and doing your job.

Now what struck me about Ed was the job he had during the war. He was a waist gunner on a B-17.

B-17 Waist Gunners
The Left Waist Gunner's position in the painting
is just forward of the "Q" and aft of the star.

While those guys did have heated suits, wired right into the aircraft's electrical system, it still got awfully cold. They are standing in front of an open window, at altitude, at speed. Outside the aircraft, at 20,000 feet, the temperature would've been roughly -23 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, that's 23 BELOW zero. Bear in mind, that doesn't factor in the wind chill. For those who have never experienced that, it's cold, damn cold. I have experienced those kinds of temperatures. Trust me, it's not pleasant. But I've never experienced that temperature with the kind of wind chill you get at 170 mph. A B-17's cruising speed.

So you're standing there, in an open gun position, scanning the skies. And just what are you scanning the skies for? These guys - 

ME-109 "Gustav"

And these guys - 

FW-190s Attacking a B-17 Formation
Here's a video from the B-17's perspective.

And from the Luftwaffe's,

So, as you can see Ed and his buddies had a tough job. Now there was one raid which Ed actually mentioned which he had been on, but his comments were rather brief when I asked him about it. He said two things about that mission:
  1. The flak* was so thick you could "get out and walk on it".
  2. When they returned to England, upon landing, he got out of the aircraft, dropped to his knees and kissed the ground.
So which mission was Ed talking about? The second Schweinfurt Raid, 14 October 1943.

Schweinfurt, 14 October 1943
The second Schweinfurt raid was a World War II air battle that took place over Germany between forces of the United States 8th Air Force and the German Luftwaffe's fighter arm (Jagdwaffe). The aim of the American-led mission was a strategic bombing raid on ball bearing factories in order to reduce production of these vital parts for all manner of war machines. This was the second mission attacking the factories at Schweinfurt. American wartime intelligence claimed the first Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission in August had reduced bearing production by 34% but had suffered heavy losses. A planned follow-up raid had to be postponed to rebuild American forces. 
Factories in and around Schweinfurt accounted for a significant amount of German ball-bearing production. The Kugelfischer plant produced 22 percent, and the Vereinigte Kugellagerfabriken I and II produced 20 percent, and another one percent came from the Fichtel & Sachs factory. 
After the German ball bearing "bottleneck" had been identified in 1942 and ball bearings had been named the second-most-vital Pointblank industry for the Combined Bomber Offensive in March 1943, Schweinfurt's ball bearing plants were selected for a second air raid after being bombed during the August Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission. 
Each of the three bomber wings was to be escorted by fighters from a single group with multiple squadrons of P-47 Thunderbolts. The fighters were inexplicably not employing drop tanks which limited their escort range. One fighter outfit was sidetracked to escort a squadron of 29 B-24s that switched to a diversion mission to Emden because of the bad weather forecast. Some 229 of 291 B-17s hit the city area and ball bearing plants at Schweinfurt, Germany in two groups: the first group bombed at 1439–1445 hours, the second group at 1451–1457 hours. They claimed 186-27-89 Luftwaffe aircraft. (Old AF Sarge Note: I presume they mean 186 destroyed, 27 probables and 89 damaged?) 60 B-17s are lost, seven damaged beyond repair and 138 damaged; casualties are five KIA, 40 WIA and 594 MIA. 
In addition, the bomber formations were spread out and vulnerable because of bad weather. The Luftwaffe military intelligence officers had suspected a deep penetration air raid because of the substantial raids. Jagdgeschwader 3 Udet intercepted the bombers as they crossed the coast but P-47s succeeded in shooting down seven Bf 109s while losing just one P-47. Over the Netherlands elements of JG 1 Oesau and JG 26 Schlageter made repeated attacks. The 305th Bomb Group lost 13 of its 16 B-17s in minutes. The B-17s were attacked after bombing by fighters that had refueled and rearmed (JG 11 downed 18 B-17s). 
A total of 60 bombers were shot down by German fighters and flak and 17 bombers were damaged so badly that they crashed upon return or had to be scrapped. Another 121 bombers returned with moderate damage.[5] Of 2,900 crewmen, about 650 men did not return (65 survived as prisoners-of-war), while five killed-in-action and 43 wounded were in the damaged aircraft that returned (594 were listed as missing-in-action). Among the American losses was the 306th Bomb Group. It lost 100 men: 35 died on the mission or of wounds and 65 were captured. The 305th Bomb Group lost 130 men (87%), with 36 killed.
So Ed Solomon, and the guys he flew with? Studs. They were studs. They might not have admitted it or claimed to be heroes. But they were.

Here at Chez Sarge we remember them. We honor their memory.

And if you didn't know it, Ed flew with The Mighty Eighth. So did Buck's Dad. There were giants back in those days. Giants I tell you...

The Mighty Eighth

*The German acronym for Fliegerabwehrkanone, aircraft defense cannon.


  1. Great post, these heros need to be remembered.

    My ex-FIL flew in the turrets over 20 missions. He would not talk much about it.

    I remember he said sometimes they had to "Hose the gunners out" because they were so shot up.
    He claimed when they landed he was handed a bottle of booze as they were all so shaken up.
    It is no wonder he became an alchoholic (he did kick it) He survived, physically, but the mental toll was obvious.

    These men endured more than is imaginable to me!

    1. Ed wouldn't say much about his time, but you could see in his eyes that it still haunted him.

  2. Thanks for the link.

    The Ol' Man was a lot like Ed in that he never talked much about the war... until he was on his death bed, metaphorically speaking. He and I spent an entire evening sitting in his garage the last time I saw him before he died, him talking, me listening, and the both of us drinking good bourbon and smoking cigars. My step-mother tried to stop that when she realized what we were doing (her heart was in the right place: drinkin' and smokin' were DEFINITELY two things he shouldn't have been doin' in the condition he was in) but the Ol' Man growled at her to "go away." She did.

    Anyhoo... the stories came pouring out and I wish, to this day, that I had had a tape recorder that night. I'm thinkin' we... all of us... lost a lot because most of those stories went to the grave with their owners. I'm glad I got to hear his.

    1. I'm guessing that he figured it was time he told you that stuff. That generation was something else. We owe them a lot.

  3. Had a B-17G fly into Bowman Field in Louisville circa 1989/90 for static display. One really has to get inside to appreciate how small & cramped the spaces were and how hard-to-impossible it would have been to bail out in any sort of uncontrollable attitude. "Only if it has an ejection-seat!" is my motto--although I guess I broke that when I was working out in the O-2, lol.

    1. They've got a flyable Fort down at Pungo (near Va Beach). Hatches were all opened up last time I was down there, so I had a peak. Yeah, not a lot of room.

    2. I've been inside a Fort and I agree with you, Virgil. I don't know HOW in the Hell those guys got out when they were going down... but more than a few did. I thinkin' very few ball-turret gunners got out, though.

    3. The ball turret, I shudder to think of it.

  4. PS: I had a good friend and fraternity brother from Orlando whose Father was a KIA O-4 B-17G Squadron CO. In 2008 I ran across a "real-time" 8th AF running squadron history of his squadron which made for some somber reading in terms of losses and msn descriptions--made for FASCINATING reading. Unfortunately I lost it when Delicious screwed up some of my book-marks and I've never been able to find it since. The Guys last name was Maj Hendricks and if anyone ever runs across it again let me know as I'd like to send a copy to his son (who is my age-69)

    1. I'll keep a weather eye open for that one VX.

  5. Great post-story hits home. I agree w/ Buck, lotta guy's stories gone for good. i know I never felt was 'right' or 'my place' to ask my uncle who was in Korea, he was wounded but never talked about it.

    1. Wow. Your uncle fought in Korea? My wife and her family owe him and guys like him their freedom. Some might forget the Korean War. I don't. I'll have to post on that one of these days.

      Thanks for the idea Greg.

  6. That photo at the top of this post reminded me of the times I've seen those old Forts in action.
    When I first moved here there were a number of them in use by the Forest Service and CDF (California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection, now called CalFire) for attacking wildfires from the air.
    Now we see P2s and S2Fs.

    1. That's what that photo reminded me of. I mean the smoke and all in the background. Thanks for filling in that blank Skip!

      I'm guessing that the B-17's were getting rather long in the tooth so they replaced them with the P2's and S2F's? Just a guess...

  7. Love that first picture- very badass shot. The smoke behind is telling, as if the bird just came off a bombing run and set the earth aflame under it.

    1. Although, that smoke could just be some clouds...either way, great shot for the Friday Flyby!

    2. I fell in love with that photo when it popped up in my search. I thought it was perfect. I'm glad you like it.

  8. That was an awesome post about some awesome men. Thank you.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)