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A B-17 Flying Fortress Story

by John White |  | 2 comments

The B-17 Flying Fortress "All American" Returning From BattleIt's February 1st 1943 over Tunis in Africa the B-17 Flying Fortress "All American" when an enemy fighter attacking the bombing group crashed into the rear of the B-17 Flying Fortress. Anyone who saw the movie "The Memphis Belle" will recall an incident where an enemy fighter is shot down and slices through another B-17 Flying Fortress sending the 2 parts tumbling down through the sky to it's death.

A Real Life Experience

What follows is an account of an actual case where an enemy aircraft sliced through the B-17 Flying Fortress known as the "All American":
A mid-air collision on February 1, 1943, between a B-17 and a German fighter over the Tunis dock area, became the subject of one of the most famous photographs of World War II. An enemy fighter attacking a 97th Bomb Group formation went out of control, probably with a wounded pilot then continued its crashing descent into the rear of the fuselage of a Fortress named All American, piloted by Lt. Kendrick R. Bragg, of the 414th Bomb Squadron. When it struck, the fighter broke apart, but left some pieces in the B-17. The left horizontal stabilizer of the Fortress and left elevator were completely torn away. The two right engines were out and one on the left had a serious oil pump leak. The vertical fin and the rudder had been damaged, the fuselage had been cut almost completely through connected only at two small parts of the frame and the radios, electrical and oxygen systems were damaged. There was also a hole in the top that was over 16 feet long and 4 feet wide at its widest and the split in the fuselage went all the way to the top gunners turret. Although the tail actually bounced and swayed in the wind and twisted when the plane turned and all the control cables were severed, except one single elevator cable still worked, and the aircraft still flew - miraculously! The tail gunner was trapped because there was no floor connecting the tail to the rest of the plane. The waist and tail gunners used parts of the German fighter and their own parachute harnesses in an attempt to keep the tail from ripping off and the two sides of the fuselage from splitting apart. While the crew was trying to keep the bomber from coming apart, the pilot continued on his bomb run and released his bombs over the target. When the bomb bay doors were opened, the wind turbulence was so great that it blew one of the waist gunners into the broken tail section. It took several minutes and four crew members to pass him ropes from parachutes and haul him back into the forward part of the plane. When they tried to do the same for the tail gunner, the tail began flapping so hard that it began to break off. The weight of the gunner was adding some stability to the tail section, so he went back to his position. The turn back toward England had to be very slow to keep the tail from twisting off. They actually covered almost 70 miles to make the turn home. The bomber was so badly damaged that it was losing altitude and speed and was soon alone in the sky. For a brief time, two more Me-109 German fighters attacked the All American. Despite the extensive damage, all of the machine gunners were able to respond to these attacks and soon drove off the fighters. The two waist gunners stood up with their heads sticking out through the hole in the top of the fuselage to aim and fire their machine guns. The tail gunner had to shoot in short bursts because the recoil was actually causing the plane to turn. Allied P-51 fighters intercepted the All American as it crossed over the Channel and took one of the pictures shown. They also radioed to the base describing that the empennage was waving like a fish tail and that the plane would not make it and to send out boats to rescue the crew when they bailed out. The fighters stayed with the Fortress taking hand signals from Lt.. Bragg and relaying them to the base. Lt. Bragg signaled that 5 parachutes and the spare had been "used" so five of the crew could not bail out. He made the decision that if they could not bail out safely, then he would stay with the plane and land it. What Remained Of  The Tail Of The B-17 Flying Fortress "All American" After Landing Two and a half hours after being hit, the aircraft made its final turn to line up with the runway while it was still over 40 miles away. It descended into an emergency landing and a normal roll-out on its landing gear. When the ambulance pulled alongside, it was waved off because not a single member of the crew had been injured. No one could believe that the aircraft could still fly in such a condition. The Fortress sat placidly until the crew all exited through the door in the fuselage and the tail gunner had climbed down a ladder, at which time the entire rear section of the aircraft collapsed onto the ground. The rugged old bird had done its job.

The "All American" Crew

  • Pilot - Ken Bragg Jr.;
  • Co-Pilot - G. Boyd Jr.;
  • Navigator - Harry C. Nuessle;
  • Bombardier - Ralph Burbridge;
  • Engineer - Joe C. James;
  • Radio Operator - Paul A. Galloway;
  • Ball Turret Gunner - Elton Conda;
  • Waist Gunner - Michael Zuk;
  • Tail Gunner - Sam T. Sarpolus;
  • Crew Chief - Hank Hyland.
The B-17 Flying Fortress "All American" was assigned to the 414th Squadron of Battle Group 97.

Heroes One And All

A Flight On A B-17 Flying Fortress

Build Your Very Own B-17 Flying Fortress!

Build your very own model of a B-17 Flying Fortress with your kids and help them understand the heroism of these amazing pilots during World War II. Just click on the image to get one for yourself today!
Of if you prefer get a table model of a B-17G Flying Fortress Wood Model to display in your home or office. Or for some great reading try B-17 - THE FIFTEEN TON FLYING FORTRESS. In the meantime keep your wings straight and level Hersch! Please share "A B-17 Flying Fortress Story" with your friends using the buttons below. Thanks!       Follow Me on Pinterest Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7+ ps: Don't forget to sign up for updates via email for "All Things Aviation" here!

Comments (2)

  • alex miro on June 24, 2019

    I read the story with awe and admiration – however it struck as highly improbable if not outright impossible: it is about 1000nm from Southern England to Tunisia – as the crow flies. The combat radius of 1000nm is well beyond the capabilities of B-17 (1750nm range) besides in Feb 1943 the direct route would have taken the bombers over the whole length of occupied and vichy France so any bombing route from England would have to be flown around France and most likely Franco Spain as well – maing it impossible. A severely crippled bomber (flying at probably half the normal) cruise speed would have never made it back.
    Q quick research discovered that the incident did take place however the bomber was based at Biskra, Algeria, a mere 260nm away from Port of Tunis.
    I wish the author of the blog did a better research of his subjects – esp as the facts are so obvious to the pilot audience.

    (Fmr Soviet Air Force, now a Californian)

  • JetAviator7 on June 24, 2019


    I did not write this account of the flight, as you can see I simply quoted from an anonymous source.

    However, that small oversight doesn’t take away from the amazing story.

    Thanks for commenting.


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