Robert Stahlhut was a flight engineer and top turret gunner on a B-17 in the 8th  Air Force’s 384th Bomb Group. In September of 1943, the 8th  Air Force was far from mighty, and the 384th , was low on the supply totem pole. The Allies were making a push in North Africa and all the new planes with superior range were given to veteran outfits in Africa. The 384th Bomb Group was given the oldest, most war weary planes in the whole 8th Air Force.

On Labor Day, September 6, 1943, Robert Stahlhut took off on his third combat mission. The target was Stuttgart, Germany, which meant lots of flak and fighters. The plane Stahlhut’s crew was given to fly was older than anything they had trained on. It didn’t even have plugs for their electrical heated suits. At briefing, the officer told the men, with some regret, that some of the old planes they were being sent out in could not carry enough fuel for a round trip.


Robert F. Stalhut kneeling first from left. (Photo courtesy of

The  384th came under attack by BF-109’s before arriving at the target, then received a heavy barrage of flak on the bomb run. Stahlhut’s plane was hit over the target. An inboard engine took a piece of flak and the pilot dove for cloud cover. The pilot feathered the propeller, then the other inboard engine froze and the plane was limping on two engines without enough oil to feather the second windmilling propeller. Stahlhut, as the engineer, knew that by overloading 2 engines they were burning more gas than by flying on four good ones. Even if they had four good engines, the chances of their fuel lasting to England was small. The men knew they would not make it home, they were going to down somewhere in Europe.

The pilot asked the navigator for a course to France, since they had a better chance of escaping capture in an occupied country rather than over Germany itself. The plane changed course, Stahlhut and his crew hoping their two engines could last them long enough to get them out of the Germany. When the empty fuel lights went on, the pilot gave the order to bail out. Robert Stahlhut went to the bomb bay, he could see the green and brown land below him, passing by at hundreds of feet per second, and he jumped into the cold air into Nazi territory.

To read the rest of Robert Stahlhut’s story in his own words, visit the 384thbombgroup website and click:

For more history on the 384th Bomb Group see:

For More Stories on the 384th Bomb Group See:

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  • Bill Getz says:

    I doubt that any 8th AF bombers were sent to any targets if they did not have enough fuel to make the round trip and knew this beforehand. No crew would go on what could be a suicide mission. There is more to this story than being told and may have been doctored by the story teller to make it more exciting. Flying a mission over Germany was excitement enough without embellishment 🙂

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