Story Of Heroism - The trapped belly turret gunner

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by parsifal, Aug 12, 2011.

  1. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    I was watching a program call "Lost Documentaries Of WWII, that showed a lot of colour and colourised vision of the 8th AF. It was a great doco, more about the personal experiences of the flyers, both US and german. The heroism really moved me to be honest.

    There was one story about a ball gunner stuck in the turret alive. The B-17 was going down, the gear was stuck. There was a re-creation of the frantic discussion between the pilot of this bird and the tower...what to do about the poor devil in the turret. They never did say what happened, and i found myself hoping against hope that he got out alive. I know that he wouldnt have...stuck in the belly ball turret with no wheels is going to end just one way, but I was mostly saddened for the poor pilot who at maybe 22 would have to kill one man to try and save the rest of the crew.

    What do you say to that guy. How do you console him.

    The plane I think was from either the 92nd or the 100BG and the accident happened some time in the latter part of 1943, perhaps in one of the Schweinfurt Raids.

    I was wondering if anyone had heard of this story, and what happened to that plane, the gunner and the rest of the crew.

    Its strange how one story about one man can move us to remember the debt we can never repay
     
  2. Ratsel

    Ratsel Banned

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    They showed something similar on the History Channel, WWII in HD. They B-17 made it back to the airfield after a raid on Berlin. The crew member in the lower turret was trapped. Wheels didn't lower. Engine(s) failing, had no choise but to put her down. He was the only casualty.
     
  3. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    Its one of those things that must have happened a number of times that people dont often talk about. Others I have read about is abandoning a ship knowing that people are alive and trapped inside the ship, submarines that were caught on the bottom and couldn't get up, waiting for the air to run out, the list if you think of it is endless.
     
  4. danjama

    danjama Member

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    As heart wrenching as these memories are, I have to wonder why they didn't use the manual wheel crank, or try shutting down other systems to coax back hydrolic power or something. Smash the damn turret with an extinguisher or aim a .50 at it. :(

    I wonder how you tell a man he is about to die a violent death.
     
  5. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    The doco said the ball races that allowed the turret to rotate were hit by flak fragments and jammed in a position that would not allow the gunner to get out. Still, I wondered pretty much the same as you. As the gunner I would prefer to be shot than mangled by the weight of the aircraft as it came down. But its the pilot that I think about....how could he live with that? Thank god I have never had to make that decision.....
     
  6. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    I know that this story was originally written by Andy Rooney who was a correspondent for "Stars and Stripes". He was at the airfield when the incident occurred.
    Rooney recalled, “I was there when they came back from a raid deep in Germany, and one of the pilots radioed in that he was going to have to make an emergency landing. He had only two engines left and his hydraulic system was gone. He couldn’t lower the wheels and there was something even worse. The ball turret gunner was trapped in the plastic bubble beneath the belly of the bomber.
    Later I talked with the crewmen who survived that landing. Their friend in the ball turret had been calm, they said. They had talked to him. He knew what they had to do. He understood. The B-17 slammed down on its belly and onto the ball turret with their comrade trapped inside.”
    Awful,just awful. I know I have some more details somewhere which I'll post if I find them.
    Steve
     
  7. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    I'd like to know more about this story guys as it sounds a little fishy to me. The ball turret was a very heavy and thick chunk of hardware with very thick armored glass and I believe aluminum forging making up the structure of the turret. I believe there have been photos of B-17s bellied in with the turret stuck and it was either pushed into the fuselage in one piece or it broke the back of the aircraft upon hitting the ground.
     
  8. Ratsel

    Ratsel Banned

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    on History Channel's WWII in HD it should it in clear full colour, the turret was crushed and peeled back. very sobbering to see.
     
  9. pbfoot

    pbfoot Active Member

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    I realize this sliightly off topic but was it not possible to jettison the ball turret?
     
  10. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    Interesting, I'd like to know more about it and see if a name and crew could be tied to the story.

    It can, but from I remember it had to be placed in a level position and one half of the turret fell away.

    found this discussion for what its worth...

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070403103358AA8WEHh
     
  11. Ratsel

    Ratsel Banned

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  12. tyrodtom

    tyrodtom Well-Known Member

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    The turret could be dropped, but it was about 20 minutes work with a cresent wrench and hammer. It was standard procedure to drop the turret if you had to belly land. But of course you had to have the time to do it. If it was in the right position the turret could be directly exited, but since very few gunners could fit in it even with a chest chute, that meant they had to position the turret to enter the interior of the aircraft, then get their chute on.
    If the turret couldn't be moved to the proper exit position, and the gunner was like most, not wearing a parachute, you had a bad situation. As sturdy as that turret may have been, it couldn't withstand the stress of a 40,000 +lb. aircraft using it as a landing skid.
     
  13. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    #13 stona, Aug 12, 2011
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2011
    It was possible but not a simple operation. The crew were expected to retrieve the gunsight before losing the turret.

    There are a lot of inaccuracies in that thread interpreting the poem. Statistically the ball turret was the safest place to be though I wouldn't fancy it. What a position to spend several hours in.

    Here is the procedure,

    Prodeedure for Removing the Ball Turret.
    Point guns aft and down. Remove the four bolts from the azimuth gear case and remove the case.
    Remove the four safety hangers with a socket wrench. If a wrench is not available, break the hangers with a hammer.
    Remove the twelve yoke connection bolts. The turret will now be free, but may hang momentarily on the fire cut off cam. A swift kick on the aft end of ball will dislodge it from the cam. It is recommended that, although not absolutely necessary, to disconnect the electrical plug and oxygen line prior to removing the twelve yoke nuts.
    It is recommended that the sight be salvaged if time permits.

    Proceed as follows :
    Enter turret and disconnect the flexible shaft from the sight.
    Remove the mounting pin from the sight and disconnect the electrical plug. The sight is now free.
    Remove sight and drop turret. The entire proceedure takes about 40 minutes.

    The above is from the B-17 gunners' file furnished by James S. Peters Sr. T/Sgt B-17 Flt Engr, 27 missions 99 BG, 348BS, 5th Wing, 15th AAF Tortorella, (Foggia#2), Italy,12/03/44-06/19/45 M/Sgt USAF (Retired)
    He doesn't remember any of the tools mentioned being on board!

    Steve
     
  14. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    That's questionable Tom. Many years ago I worked at a salvage company and we had 3 Sperry turrets. We made scaffolding for one and got it to work; it was complete minus the guns. It was a big heavy component. The components that supported the turret were only as strong as the structure built around it and if you managed to put 40K worth of stress on it seemed the supporting structure would fail before the turret. If I remember correctly the turret position was right next to an assembly mating bulkhead which meant if that area was subjected to any major force, the plane would come apart there.

    We joked about being crushed in the turret and it was on that day were an old B-17 crew member happened to be in the store and told us that he seen B-17s belly land with the turret extended and break the middle of the fuselage. I don't remember him talking about anyone being inside it during the crash. Since first hearing about this I believe there have been several books mentioning the same thing. I'd have to check the sources.

    I'm unable to play that You Tube clip at work but would be interested in specifically what it had to say.
     
  15. tyrodtom

    tyrodtom Well-Known Member

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    Manned it was supposed to weigh 1200 lbs, it was a sturdy piece of equipment. That's why they wanted it dropped if you had to bellyland.

    But what would the possibilities be that someone could survive in it while that part of the aircraft comes apart around him?
     
  16. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    You're right Joe; the turret itself was a substantial piece of hardware, but it was the supporting yoke and trunnions, fitted at the fuselage joint, which broke the back of the aircraft during a belly landing with the turret still in place. The ball turret gunner was not supposed to occupy the turret during take off or landing.
    The attached pics show a ball turret removed form the B17G at Duxford, giving some idea of the bulk of the structure, without the suspension yoke. The B&W pic shows a turret being jettisoned over the sea from B17 'Spot Remover' of the 390th BG.
     

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  17. Ratsel

    Ratsel Banned

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    #17 Ratsel, Aug 12, 2011
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2011
    in the ball the elevation clutch had to be disengaged to rotate the turret manualy...and it would normally be done by the right waist gunner, but, either waist gunner could disengage the manual clutch, to rotate the turret to the verical position for the ball gunner to exit the ball turret.....however, if the turret was damaged in such a way to preclude ANY movement of the ball turret, it would have been impossible for the ball gunner to survive, if he did not have his chute in the turret with him. theoretically a gunner could open his back rest/door and tumble out IF he could wear a parachute.

    I remember reading about the B-17 'Aluminum Overcast' where her gear collapsed at sent the turret almost through the top.

    statistically the safest person on a -17 was the lower turret gunner, the least safe was the pilot/tailgunner. Bailing out of a 17 however the lower turret gunner had the greatest chance of dying.

    the youtube link just shows which episode the B-17 was in. if you either buy the DVD or wait for a repeat of the show.

    I found this:
    black 'B' in a white triangle underneath 'Yellow 231613' under that Yellow 'N'. Ball turret gunner was killed due to belly landing.
     
  18. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    #18 stona, Aug 13, 2011
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2011
    Not just for a belly landing. It could be jettisoned to lighten an aircraft in an emergency,along with just about everything else that wasn't nailed down.
    The 15th Air Force B-17s dropped a lot of ball turrets as they staggered back over the Alps.
    There is a story that the Italians had acquired a P-38 which would fly,one airscrew feathered, with a B-17 in trouble whilst it jettisoned it's guns,ammunition and anything else to lighten the load.

    From the 5th Wing History of Aircraft Assigned:

    42-30307 BONNIE SUE Assigned 1 Jul 43. MIA 11 Aug 43...SHOT DOWN BY ENEMY P-38.
    The enemy P-38 (with one propeller feathered)... would approach a lone aircraft attempting to return and await the jettisoning of all loose equipment..anything to reduce weight...MGs, ammo, all unnessary radios, whatever was disposable....and when the guns and ammo were overboard, he would unfeather the propeller and attack the by then helpless aircraft. It was determined after the loss of several bombers, that the pilot was an Italian fighting for the Germans.

    This may have been the P-38 that landed by mistake at Capoterra. The Italian pilot was probably Col.Angelo Tondi though the only claim I have seen by him,flying the P-38, was for a B-24 off the Anzio coast.

    [​IMG]

    Steve
     
  19. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    Great info guys
     
  20. danjama

    danjama Member

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    Thanks for the information Ratsel.

    Any ideas why they wouldn't have tried to lower the landing gear manually, if the turret was indeed a lost cause?

    As has been said, the turret gunner would normally leave the turret as soon as permitted (no fighters, over the channel), so i'm thinking that even if he was stuck, they would have found that out early enough to allow time to find a solution. Therefore, it's almost impossible that they found out at the last moment and could not attempt to lower gear manually.
     
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