Spare parachute packs on American bombers?

Discussion in 'Aircrew equipment' started by Jerry W. Loper, Jun 12, 2009.

  1. Jerry W. Loper

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    Did multi-engine, multi-man crew American bombers like the B-17 and B-24, B-25 and B-26, etc., carry extra parachute packs in case something happened to the crew's chutes?
     
  2. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    I haven't seen any evidence of this, on U.S. or British operated types. Crew members on multi-engined types normally used a chest-mounted pack, although pilot's, depending on aircraft type, would use the B4 or B8 back-pack parachute, which they would wear at all times whilst airborne. Those with the chest rigs, i.e., gunners, navigators etc, would wear the harness, with the pack being stowed in a bin, or rack, until (hopefiully not) being needed.
    Although it would, of course,be helpful to carry spare 'chutes, there would be limitations, as each chest-pack weighed around 14 pounds. As the packs were normally stowed as close as possible to the crew-member's positon, if one chute was damaged or destroyed, then it is likely that any spare 'chute would also suffer.
    There is one well - known story of a Lancaster rear-gunner being forced to make the decision of whether to stay with his burning aircraft all the way to impact, as his 'chute had been burned in its stowage, or 'get it over with', and jump out. He chose the latter course, and, miraculously survived, his fall being slowed by crashing through conifer trees into deep snow.
    Upon capture, he was close to being shot as a spy, as he didn't have a parachute and the Germans didn't believe his story. When the remains of the wrecked Lancaster were searched, the metal fittings of his parachute were discovered, his story was verified, and he survived the war.
     
  3. seesul

    seesul Active Member

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    Hard to say in general, but from the stories of the veterans I met and from the books I read there was at least one spare chute aboard of B-17.
     
  4. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    Anything that weighed anything and was not a necessity would be removed from any RAF bomber. I'm surprised that the Americans would carry extra or spare equipment. Every ounce potentially reduced the bomb lift/range of the aircraft.
    Cheers
    Steve
     
  5. seesul

    seesul Active Member

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  6. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    I remain surprised, given the relatively small bomb load of the B-17, partly because of all the other armour and armaments it carried, it seems odd that allowance would be made for 'extra' items of any type.
    The British operated a different ethic. Even the fitting of Methyl Bromide extinguishers (500lb per four engine heavy) had to show that it did indeed reduce losses before wholesale adoption. The adoption of nitrogen apparatus, to negate the effect of fumes in partially empty petrol tanks got short shrift from Bomber Command's CEngO.

    "I am all for doing everything reasonable to prevent fires in aircraft, but when one stops to think a four engine bomber can be broadly described as four incandescent masses entirely surrounded by oil and petrol pipes, the whole backed by thousands of gallons of petrol in light suitcases. Add to this the fact that incendiary bombs are carried and also subject to enemy action. I suggest that the number of fires due to enemy action is extremely low, especially if they are compared to the number of sorties. I feel that the suggested 230lbs additional weight for the nitrogen apparatus is not justified."


    That was 230lbs which would remain devoted to bombs and/or fuel, if the engineering officer had his way! The ORS scientists did not agree with this view

    In early 1944 the Bomber Command ORS, at the request of the Air Ministry undertook an investigation in to the use of 'body armour', in this case American flak vests and helmets, to reduce casualties. The report concluded that it would be of no appreciable value.

    "...it has been shown that the figures for casualties per aircraft destroyed among missing aircraft is very similar to that for returning aircraft. Thus the reduction [through the use of flak helmets and vests] in casualties to personnel in missing aircraft will be equally small."

    The armour was never provided, it was more weight, and the report, unsurprisingly, had only limited distribution excluding the Groups themselves.

    On the other hand the Command was always keen to reduce the weight of armour in its aircraft. Harris has been criticised for his role in this, but it was never done without careful consideration. Once again the ORS investigated. It recommended that the engine armour be left in place. It was fitted in "hard to see places" and "many instances of slight impressions from missiles may have been missed."

    The large and heavy armoured fuselage bulkhead could be removed, and was. The ORS found no reports of damage to this armour and recommended it's removal, noting that according to crew reports the armour was

    "almost invariably left open during flight and when an attack develops, everyone is usually too busy to close it."


    It wasn't removed because Harris was cavalier with his aircrews' lives, it was removed because it was a heavy item that served no useful purpose, according to the scientists of the ORS.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  7. seesul

    seesul Active Member

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    Unfortunately, the number of the vets who would give us a clear pic on this is getting smaller every day.
    But I'll ask the ex 2nd BG pilots I know if it was a rule or a wish of the crew.
     
  8. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    If the guys who were there say that they did carry 'spare' equipment, parachutes or whatever, I believe that they did. Whether it was officially sanctioned or not might be another matter.
    I have read accounts of US crews unofficially carrying extra ammunition for the machine guns (which is a lot heavier than a parachute!). This must have resulted in an overloaded take off which statistically was probably more dangerous than the Luftwaffe :)

    I have never seen any evidence for their British and Commonwealth colleagues doing the same. As more and more 'essential' equipment was added to Bomber Command's aircraft, usually radar, navigational and other electronic equipment, which was a lot bigger and heavier in the 1940s than today, the efforts to remove anything deemed unnecessary, or no longer necessary, intensified. Even the ammunition allocated to the various machine guns was reduced and the dorsal turret came close to deletion on more than one occasion. One bonus of not employing a second pilot was a reduction in weight, as well as simplifying production, though this is not the reason the position was abandoned. That had more to do with providing enough pilots to fly the bombers in a rapidly expanding Command.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  9. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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  10. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    That is some story and a well deserved George Cross.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  11. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    It shows selfless courage isn't confined to war time, to grab a parachute, fasten it to another young crew member in a spinning aircraft, tell the kid how to open it and get him out of the plane was an amazing feat especially when knowing he was going to die himself.

    Reading around that website it is shocking how many crews perished and few of them were German or even as a result of enemy action. My Mother lived in Yorkshire and remembers 4 of the crashes either personally or being talked about, for her as a child it was the only real connection with the war. She was extremely disappointed, she said, that the Wellington that crashed in a field didnt destroy her school room
     
  12. gumbyk

    gumbyk Well-Known Member

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    I think that you've hit it there - AFAIK parachutes were personal equipment, and I don't doubt that some personnel were able to obtain and take spares. 14lbs is within the weight variation of a single crew member, so would have been easily hidden in any calculations (assuming that they used actual weights and not standard weights).
     
  13. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    #13 stona, May 31, 2016
    Last edited: May 31, 2016
    Bomber Command crews collected their parachutes from stores before an operation ("if this one doesn't work, bring it back and I'll give you another one") and returned them post operation. It is difficult to see how they could have obtained an extra parachute, or extra anything else for that matter. I am ignorant of USAAF procedure which may have been different.
    Cheers
    Steve
     
  14. gumbyk

    gumbyk Well-Known Member

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    I stand corrected.
    But don't underestimate the resourcefulness of the crews. From the biographies I've read, I suspect that if they wanted a spare, they would have found a way to get one.
     
  15. seesul

    seesul Active Member

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    First input from Lewis H. Waters, ex tail gunner from 2nd BG (tour Dec '44 - March '45):

    We usually had one spare chute in the Radio Room, just in case there seemed to be a problem with one of the crew’s chutes – or if someone messed up when positioning their chute near their assigned crew position. Some crews complained when there wasn’t a spare chute. I don’t know if it was standard procedure to have a spare or not. I have the feeling it was how appreciative a flight crew treated the ground crew. Our crew’s attitude was to thank all of the ground crew, regardless of their type of work, whether it was parachute packers, ammunition guys or oxygen specialists, etc.
     
  16. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    It would seem that it was possible for USAAF crews to obtain a spare parachute, and although it might have been possible for RAF crews to do the same, in general it would be unlikely.
    Flying kit such as helmets, 'Mae Wests' and parachutes in particular, were expensive items, and had to be signed for on initial issue. The parachute pack, or complete harness and 'seat type' pack, were kept in the parachute stores, and issued for each operation (harness for chest pack was kept in the crew member's locker, the key for which was issued for each operation, and returned when the kit was 'drawn').
    Loss of a parachute was a 'chargeable offence', meaning the individual concerned was disciplined, fined, and had to pay for the lost item. There are cases where individuals, although not 'charged', were presented a bill for a missing 'chute after abandoning a damaged aircraft on the ground, or at sea, when the 'chute was lost through fire or sinking !!
     
  17. seesul

    seesul Active Member

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    Hi Terry, nice to see ya here, how are you doing my friend? So you think that the crews had the spare chute officially?
     
  18. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Hi Roman, I'm doing well at the moment - started on the new meds, with the first infusion week before last, and the second is on Friday this week. It's made a huge difference, and I'm much more mobile.
    I'm guessing that USAAF crews obtained a spare 'chute by befriending, or even bribing, the storeman. If RAF crews obtained one, which is doubtful, then it was probably by devious means !
     
  19. seesul

    seesul Active Member

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    Good to hear that you´re feeling better! Btw, I´m thinking of going to Duxford FL next year again, but this time with my wife and kids...so...let´s see!
     
  20. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    This account by Lawrence Wright, by then a senior officer, finally getting out of the Service at the end of the war might give a light hearted idea of how British military bureaucracy works.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Cheers

    Steve
     
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