By Edward McDonald

During World War II I was a tail gunner on a B-17 named Aces and Ates. I crashed twice before getting into combat. The first time, we were attempting to fly to England, were off course and crashed in Iceland. The B-17 with just 25 hours flying time was creamed, but there were no injuries.

Crash two was in England as airspeed was called out and my co-pilot was practicing landings. We landed hard, spinning the plane around, but again, no injuries.

aces and ates b17 384th bomb group

Nose art of Aces and Ates. (Photo courtesy of 384thbombgroup.com)

I flew 31 missions over Europe with my first mission on 27 March 1944. Missions 1 through 16 were to France and Germany, including Berlin. During these missions we incurred a minimum number of flak holes in our plane.

Mission 17 was on D-Day and what a sight that was. Mission 22 was over Hamburg and a large piece of flak severed off the throttles and hit my pilot, Lt. Edward Thoma, killing him instantly and wounding the co-pilot. The top turret gunner helped the co-pilot fly the B-17 back to England, bouncing twice during landing.

On mission 24 a burst of flak came through the tail section hitting me in the eyelid. My flak jacket saved my shoulder (bruises) and my chest parachute saved me from serious wounds, but it was full of holes. I would not be here if I had to bail out. I still have part of my chute.

tail gunner

Tail gunner on a B-17F Flying Fortress

When I was in the hospital the crew finished their tour. By mission 26 Aces and Ates had been repaired. On that mission we were flying over Munich and I was the tail gunner on the lead plane. To my right a new crew was on Aces and Ates. I couldn’t believe what I saw when Aces and Ates burst into flames and went down. I counted six chutes.

At a reunion I met five ex-prisoners of war who were on Aces and Ates that day. Many war stories were told and I later visited Lt. Thoma’s parents in Bethlehem, PA. That was the toughest mission of all.

aces and ates 384th Bomb group

Aces and Ates (B-17G 42-97273) in flight. The plane was shot down on July 12, 1944. (Photo courtesy of 384thbombgroup.com)

For more history on the 384th Bomb Group see:


For More Stories on the 384th Bomb Group See:

LEISNIG – Witness to Disaster: Sergeant Marlyn Bonacker’s Short War

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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  • Rich Gerhold says:

    How can I get in contact with this gentleman if he’s still alive? My paternal grandfather, Melvin Gerhold was the bull turret gunner on Aces & Ates when it went down on July 12th.

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