TAIL GUNNER, TRAPPED IN B17, PLUNGES 13,500 FT.- AND LIVES

From the April 25, 1945 Edition of Stars and Stripes

U.S. EIGHTH AF HQ, April 25 –“Tail-End Charley,” a 19-year-old gunner, calmly lit a cigarette as he plunged earthward 13,500 feet over Belgium trapped in the tail section of a flying fortress which was sliced in two in a midair collision—and he lived to talk about it.



The twisting, plummeting section of the heavy bomber hit the ground on March 1 with the young gunner still puffing on his cigarette. Eight days later he awoke in the hospital suffering from nothing more than bruises, a lacerated ear and a ruptured blood vessel in the stomach.

B-17 Flying Fortress Tail Gunner

B-17 Flying Fortress Tail Gunner

The tail gunner explained: “We were headed for the marshalling yards at Ulm and ran into some pretty heavy weather at the Belgian coast. I felt a terrific jolt, and when I looked up I was face to face with the underside of another Fort. It was so close I could have reached up and touched it.”

‘Like Inside Sardine Can’

At first he tried to contact the pilot, but there was no answer. The front of the heavy bomber was already plunging toward earth. One member of his crew escaped by bailing out, but all the others were killed.

Medical men at the Ostend hospital provided the tail gunner with the missing parts of the story. A Belgian civilian saw the tail float to earth. Approaching the fragment he looked through the window and saw the body inside. The civilian immediately called a blacksmith who cut the gunner out of the tail section and then bicycled ten miles for medical aid.



For More on the Eighth Air Force Check Out:

Blood and Fears: How America’s Bomber Boys of the 8th Air Force Saved World War II


Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany


The Boys In The B-17: 8Th Air Force Combat Stories Of WWII


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