In March 2014, I had to good fortune to take advantage of a leg of the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour and visited a three-aircraft flight that included a Consolidated B-24J Liberator (SN 44-44052, “Witchcraft”) a TP-51C Mustang fighter (42-103293, “Betty Jane”) and a late block 85 Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress (44-83575, painted as 42-31909, “Nine O Nine”).
It was a beautiful day and they were beautiful, and increasingly machines.
Sadly, yesterday at Connecticut’s Bradley International Airport, Nine O Nine was destroyed in the crash, and seven of the thirteen people on board were killed.
This flak-damaged M1911A1 .45-cal pistol and cap badge were worn by USAAF Sgt. Roy Zeran, 97th Bomb Group, when his B-17 was shot down on November 20, 1942, during WWII. It stopped a piece of shrapnel that would have likely ruined more than the slide of his pistol.
I recently got to handle a minty correct 1943-issued Remington Rand and matching holster, reportedly used by a B17 bomber pilot during the war. It was an honor.
The great Mel Blanc in “Position Firing” a 1944 USAAF Training Film on aerial gunnery, specifically using M2s from the chilly waist positions of a Flying Fortress.
In a follow up to yesterday’s post on the M2 unjamming tool made by a B17 gunner, here is an interesting version of the B17G. The “G” model Flying Fortress was not so much a bomber as it was a flying anti-aircraft artillery cluster. Equipped with a remotely operated Bendix-made chin turret, the G model had 13 AN/M2 .50 cals compared to the 7 in previous models.
And some had even more.
Meet West End, tail number 42-31435, who was equipped with an experimental 6-barrel Bendix turret, giving her a total of 17 M-2 heavy machine guns.
Each had a cyclic rate of fire topping 850 rounds per minute (a bit spicier than the typical ground combat variant of Ma Deuce), giving West End the theoretical capability of ripping out 240 .50 BMG tracers per second if all 17 of her guns were engaged.
This aircraft was credited with 27 combat missions with the 384th Bomb Group and crash landed at RAF Manston, Kent, due to major flak damage after escorting a raid on a German V-weapons complex near Coubronne, France 6 July 1944.
The B-17s plastering Hitler’s Europe flew at 25,000 feet on average, and it gets kinda cold up there, especially in an unpressurized aircraft with open gun ports in the belly. How cold? Like -58F. Since they had a partially pressurized cabin for most of the flight crew, it was the gunners who suffered the most.
These men, controlling M2 Browning .50 cals, wore electrically heated suits and heavy gloves that provided some protection against temperatures, but, with temperature so cold that skin would freeze to metal, the couldn’t take off their gloves to clear a jam without leaving hide behind on their guns.
This well used spoon shaped un-jamming tool was utilized by a B-17 tail gunner in Europe during World War II. The tool was handmade and used because the cold and gloves hampered dexterity.
It is currently in the collection of the National Museum of the Air Force.