B-17 Queen of the Skies

BGG USER :Michael Parsons(mixykym)

Wrote this recent Narrative. I had to share!

The crew jeep bounced along the perimeter track, laden with the 10 man crew and their flying kit,

The Ball Turret gunner-Gene “the kid” Vincent was playing his harmonica, a tune he’d written while in basic training..

A few of the other crew were humming, or singing along.. 

Well ,Be Bop A Lula,Shes our baby,

be bop a lula,we dont mean maybe

be bop a lula.she our baby

be bop a lula,we dont mean maybe

be bop a lula,shes our baby ,our baby love

our baby love our baby love..”

As they approached the hard stand,their B17F was glistening in the early morning light.


The Skipper, Pilot ,Capt Donald Campbell, liked the the kid Gene’s song so much,that he asked the rest of the crew to take a vote on the naming of their new ship, before their first mission.

the vote was unanimous..

and so here they were, ready to board, for their sixth mission- “Bremen“. 

As the crew boarded thru the hatchways,each of them gave the entrance alittle tap saying

.”good morning b-bop” or morning “lula”,

The waist gunners-sgt’s Eric Burden and Eddie Cochran,the tail gunner-sgt Chuck “chuckles” Berry(already an ace after three missions),the radio operator-sgt Lonnie Donegan,and finally the Ball turret gunner ,sgt Gene Vincent, the crew had nic-named him “the kid”, because he’d lied about his age to enlist,and being just a fraction over 5’2″ tall was a naturel fit for the confined space of a ball turret . all climbed thru the rear doorway in the waist section,taking up there positions and checking thru there equipment,Gene helped the other guys until they were in the air,he would’nt climb down into the ball turret until they were safely in the air and there was no risk of returning early. 

The bombadier-Lt Buddy Holly,navigator-Lt Jimmy Paige,both boarded thru a hatch below the pilots compartment and went thru to their respective positions in the nose section.

The pilot Capt Donald Campbell,and co-pilot-Lt Johnny Kidd and and top turret gunner & engineer-mst sgt-Ben Gunn,stood talking to the ground crew chief -“Buzz” Aldrin,-everyone called him Buzz,because every time the B17 landed after a mission,shot full of holes and various bits not working,he’d be “buzzing around the ship like a busy bee”,making sure the ground crew repair teams were getting everything patched up and fixed ,ready for the next mission.-giving his own tinkering here n there just to make sure nothing was forgotten or left half done.,giving that bolt another turn on the engine cowling could mean the difference between the engine getting them home,or the cowling being pulled off at 20,000ft in the slipstream…he took a pride and love to keeping B-Bop-A-Lula as safe and airworthy for the aeroplanes crew as he could. 

The #2 engine had had to be feathered after being hit by flak over Hamm on their last mission and the port elevator had almost been shot away by a Fw 190. the mst sgt went over any previous damage repair reports with Buzz before climbing up thru the hatch, it was part of his job to keep any mechanical problems sorted once they were in the air. 

30 minutes later they were over the east English countryside,the bomber squadrons forming up into there respective bomber group formations,ready to head out over the north sea….B-Bop-A-Lula was in the middle of the low squadron !

It started when we entered zone 2, the friendly fighter cover was quite poor and two Me 110’s broke thru,coming in at 12 ‘clock and 10.30 low,
the nose,port cheek and ball turret all opened fire,damaging one Me110,seen to be trailing smoke as it missed hitting the B17 with its cannon fire,the other Me 110 also missing,–the bombadier called over the intercom to “chuckles” in the tail to take a shot as he passed,unfortunately the fighter dived away steeply and all Chuck could do was throw a few choice words after the enemy plane.. 

In zone 3,despite having a little better than average friendly fighter cover,our “lil friends” couldnt prevent an Me 109 come diving straight down in the vertical ,both the top turret and Lonnie in the Radio Room opened fire, Ben Gunn in the top’s, managed to severely damage the enemy fighter,due to improved marksmanship after gaining his ace status confirmed on mission four,after nailing his 5th nazi fighter.

The Me 109’s pilot could be seen struggling with his aeroplanes controls as it passed thru the formation,his wings shredded by Bens gunfire, his own gunnery failing to hit our B17…. 

Entering zone 4,we finally get some good friendly fighter cover,..even so, two enemy fighter waves appear, the first wave is driven off by the tight box formation of B17’s combined defensive fire.

The second wave makes it thru,B-Bop is suddenly targeted by a Fw190 and 3 Me 109’s, the friendlies managed to chase away two,the 190′ and a 12’high 109.


The intercom comes alive with the calls from the crew of enemy fighters in clock sectors..

The nose,port cheek and top turret all open fire,either missing or doing minor damage to the two attacking 109’s, having their own aim thrown off, the enemy fighter pilots miss hitting the B17,- again Chuck takes a swipe at one of them as it passes just over the tail…KABOOM ! , Chuck calls out, “take that you lousy jerry!”

As bits of the 109 fall from the sky,.Ben in the top turret says over the intercom…”thats why your an Ace “chuckles”,good shooting,the others also congradulate also him on his kill.

with that the last Me 109 departs with friendly fighters on his tail… 

Leaving our fighter escort behind we enter zone 5

Immediately 3 Fw 190’s come in from 12’high,1:30’high and 3’high, the right side of the B17 lights up, as the nose,st’board cheek,st’board waist and Top turret all open fire,unable to hit a barn door nobody scores any hits on the attacking Fw’s.

Two Fw’s also miss,the 3rd from 1:30 high scores 3 hits ! luckily for the crew and B-Bop-A-Lula all it does is 3 superficial holes..

Its successive attack,is driven off and it misses.. 

Zone 6, Two Me 110’s come in from 12’low and 10:30’low, Buddy in the nose and Gene in the ball turret target the 12’low, Jimmy the navigator fires at the 10:30 low,no hits are scored and only very minor damage is seen on one of the 110’s.

The 12’low 110 misses and dives away…the 10:30 110’s pilot presses home his attack,scoring 3 hits,,one superficial hole appears , but the waist and tail are both hit as the B17 passes across the deflection of the 110,.. Eric Burden the port waist gunner suddenly cries out and loses his grip on his machine gun , a light wound in his right shoulder spinning him around,.. a few holes appear in the tail section and Chuck reports to the skipper that his oxygen supply is reduced having been damaged.

A shouted warning over the intercom from both Jimmy in the nose section and Gene in the ball turret, just gives Chuck time to see the big 110 pass his guns sights and he lets rip,

seeing the enemy observer throw his hands up as the 50 cal’ shells hit home and slice off the 110’s port wing,folding into the 110’s fuselage..he says.”that’ll teach you to come so close–check another of hitlers flyboys off the roster chaps

The skipper, Donald Campbell says over the intercom–“Your getting cocky chuck,..keep it up !”

Fortunately Eric’s wound is patched up and he can still man his gun. 

Zone 7 the target zone, the weather is clear and bright,Buddy Holly the Bombadier, can see Bremen laid out below even from 20,000 ft.

3 Fw 190’s target B-Bop-A-Lula,12’high and 3’level n high.

Ben Gunns twin 50’s in the top turret shred the Fw at 3’high,its engine bursting into flames and falling away as the jerry pilot tries to bailout.

Eddie spray fires the st’board waist gun affecting the fire of the 3 o’clock level Fw who passes by harmlessly.

The nose gun fails to hit its target and the Fw 190 from 12’high scores 3 hits, the port wing root takes a hit as does the rudder,the hit in the waist has no effect.

Chuck in the tail just cant hit the agile Fw as it passes,…

it comes around for another pass from 1:30 level but Jimmy cant hit it, luckily neither can the german pilot and he peels away as the B17 formation enters the Flak zones. 

Lining up on the bomb run,Buddy Holly looks thru the Norden bomb sight seeing the target below,a number of aircraft factories .

Suddenly he’s thrown from his seat as B-Bop-A-Lula is rocked by medium Flak, 5 hits !! twice in the port wing,twice in the waist and once in the tail.

The port aileron is severely damaged and there’s not much of it left when the Pilot Donald looks out thru his window,theres another superficial hole in the wing as well.

The waist gunners report shrapnel flying about but nothing serious.

The trouble comes from the tail section when chuck reports he’s having a little trouble breathing,his oxygen has taken a 2nd hit knocking out his supply.

The skipper asks the bombadier Buddy how much longer before he releases the bombs.

Having regained his seat over the bombsight Buddy reports that he can see the target clear as a bell, despite the german flak gunners best efforts to throw off his aim.

Toggling the bomb release switch ,he can see the bombs fall right on target ..Observing the explosions far below Buddy gives out a loud “OH BOY!” shout, as 75% of “Lula’s” bombs obliterate a factory…”Hitlers Luftwaffe pilots are going to be quite a few aeroplanes short tomorrow” Buddy says over the intercom..Jimmy gives Buddy a good few pats on his back for his efforts.

Skipper Donald Campbell adds his own congratulations to Buddy for his excellent bombing skills -“..it makes up for killing those cows in those fields outside Hamm on the last mission”,he adds with a wry smile….

Taking control of the B17 again after the bomb run from the bombadier, the skipper tells the crew of B-Bop-A-Lula ..”we’re going to have to drop to 10,000ft because Chuck’s breathing on thin air..” 

The crew all grumble about what that means,and being out of formation too-boot!, but they all know that without doing so,Chuck will very quickly pass out and then die due to no oxygen at this height,so the captain has no choice really. 

Putting the B17 into a steeper controlled spiral dive the crew hang on, the skipper levelling out as few miles away from the target, being alot lower a few german light flak guns open fire,but are way off the mark,a lone B17 is alot harder to hit than a whole formation..

Unfortunately the few puffs of black and brown smoke alert the circling Luftwaffe fighters who have been waiting to attack the B17’s again after their bombing of Bremen, and THREE waves of nazi fighters break off to go after B-Bop-A-Lula…seeing the B17 as easier prey so far from home and over Germany. 

The Skipper tells all the crew members to look sharp and to “..watch their ammo ,short controlled bursts and only use spraying fire when absolutely necessary as we’re all on own now“, ,the navigator interupts over the intercom..”[]..at least once we’re over the North Sea we’re be bit harder to reach[/i]”..”dont bet on it..” comes the reply from the pilot. 

The first wave of enemy fighters are spotted,an Me109 in a vertical dive and another 109 at 12’level..the pilot puts “Lula” thru her paces as he tries out some evasive manouvers..

Both the top turret and Lonnie in the radio room again target the diving 109 and open fire, Ben Gunn again proves his ace marksmanship and the 109 continues diving to the ground covered in smoke and fire and losing the wings as they fold up.


the nose gun cant hit the 109 coming head on,but the 109 also misses,.coming around for another two passes all that the 109 can do is a superficial hit after being driven off by the B17’s guns.

The 2nd wave has a Me110 in a vertical climb and another Me109 at 12’level..Gene in the ball turret is the only one who can target the 110 but fails to hit the slower climbing fighter, for some reason the Me110 also misses,, the nose and top turret both miss the 109 at 12’level, and the 109 pilot zooms past ,the tail gunner gets half a shot off and heavy damage can be seen along the side of the 109,the pilot seeks the better part of valor…

The Me110 comes around again from 3’level,the top and st’board waist guns try but cant hit or fend the enemy pilot off,..he scores 4 hits on the B17, luckily for all onboard all 4 hits are superficial,..there’s holes all over the place and Eddie in the st’board waist says to the skipper that the evasive manouvering is supposed to throw off the enemies aim, NOT our own ! 

Coming in for a 3rd pass the Me110 attacks from 10:30 level, neither jimmy nor chuck can hit the enemy fighter,and its own cannons cant land anymore hits.–the pilot apparently giving up.

The 3rd wave comes in, 3 110’s again ,6’low,10:30 level,12’low and a 109 at 12’level..both Bud and jimmy gives whoops of joy as they each take out a fighter ! a 109 for the nose gunner and the 110 from 10:30 for the navigator, the ball turret and the tail gunner both fail to affect their targets..

And then it all starts to go horribly wrong…

Caught in a pincer move between the two Me110’s from 12’low and 6’low even the pilots evasive dips and dives and weaving couldnt prevent to two enemy planes from closing to near point blank range before ripping into the B17 with their cannon shells..

from 12’low 2 hits were scored in the bomb bay and the waist, with no bombs aboard the bomb bay hit causes no effect,the hit in the waist cuts a few control cables, – another hit on them and the skipper will have to fly straight and level the rest of the way home !

The 6’low Me 110 scores 3 hits, once in the pilot pilots compartment and two hits again in the waist, both hits affecting the ball turret, Gene calls out over the intercom ..” Skipper i’m stuck ! I cant move the turret and my guns wont fire!” ..hearing the panic rising in “the kids” voice he tells Eddie to take a look–Eddie reports back that “..a cannon shell has taken out the hydraulic system for the turret and jammed it, Gene’s trapped in the ball turret ! with the hatch half inside and half outside the floor in the waist section,.and a 2nd cannon hit has taken out the ammunition feeds..”,.

Just then the skipper gives out a blasphemous curse as the flight yoke is knocked out of his hands and he looks down to see his left hand a bloody mess, swearing profusely as he wraps a dressing around his lightly wounded left hand with his right hand, the co-pilot Johnny kidd, does his best to keep the evasive manouvers going..

Coming around for another pass the 110’s attack from 3’level and 10:30 level , the top turret manages to drive off the the 3’level 110 as it misses this time around, the 10:30 110 presses thru the fire coming from jimmy’s port cheek gun scoring 4 hits, one each in the nose and pilots compartment and two superficial,.

Buddy the bombadier gives a sigh of relief saying he didnt need the heated suit equipment any longer as the air was getting quite “hot” around here !

With a loud bang the pilots compartment fills with a rush of air as a huge hole appears below the co-pilots window, Johnny gives out a scream as his abdomen is torn wide open and he momentarily tries to hold everything inside, before slumping down in his seat, -dead.

Donald lets everyone know over the intercom that Johnny’s had it…. Buddy calls to Chuck to ” ..get the bastard as he passes !!“,.. Chuck shoots after the Me110 as it half rolls away,seeing his shells hitting the fighters port engine and satisfying black smoke trailing behind, sending the jerry pilot his worst luck on making it back to his aerodrome in one piece…..

Entering zone 6 heading out towards the North Sea ,Jimmy’s words about being harder for the Luftwaffe to reach,came back to haunt him ,as two waves of enemy fighters pursued them, the 1st wave came in, a Fw 190 at 10:30 high and a Me 109 at 12 level,..

Seeking revenge for the co-pilot’s death Ben Gunn in the top turret blasted the Fw out of the sky with a satisfying ball of fire that saw very small bits of the enemy fighter falling to the waters below,, the bombadier couldnt hit the 109 but Chuck in the tail caught him as he passed beneath, he must of destroyed the cockpit because Gene, still trapped suspended beneath the B17 had a panoramic view of the 109 pitching upwards then falling sideways and diving straight into the sea leaving very little wreckage…he remarked to Chuck..” your getting good at this !“…..Chuck just chuckled and said to “keep ’em coming !”

Gene lets everyone know thats right now as the 2nd wave attacks, two Me110’s from 6’level and 9’low,another Me 109 12’level,, Chuck takes out the 110 from 6’level as the whole front of the fuselage and midsection of the 110 disintegrates in a hail of 50 cal’ lead,the engines taking the wreckage forward and downwards..

The Me 109 evades the nose and top turret firing and hurtles towards the oncoming B17, scoring two hits ,both superficial to the internal of the B17,but opening more holes in the fuselage,the Me 109 flies so close down the length of B-Bop-A-Lula, that Ben Gunn in the top turret can see the dozen or so kill markings painted under the 109’s cockpit, marking the pilot out as an Ace ..

the Me 110 from 9’low is more effective, despite Eric Burden in the port waist trying to spray the sky around the 110 with a myriad of 50 cal’..it scores Walking hits on both Wings !

The st’board Aileron falls apart as the cannon shells tear into it,but worse is the #1 engine..its hit and begins sparking, the propellor rotating awkwardly,.. luckily Donald flicks the switch quickly to feather the prop,..

Both enemy fighters come in for another pass in a successive attack, the 110 from 1:30 level,the 109 Ace from 6’high, the top turret and tail guns both score hits each accumulating to drive the Ace away after his attack,which is ineffective.–it seems the Luftwaffe gives out Ace status’s to anyone !!

The Me 110 evades Jimmy’s fire from his cheek gun and scores 2 more hits,one superficial,but the 2nd punch’s the st’board inboard fuel tank, the self sealing system stops any fuel from leaking vital blood for the engines..

A 2nd successive attack from the 110 at 12’level results in 2 more superficial hits and another hit on the port wing,hitting the already damaged aileron,causing what little remains to fall away..

With that the 110 peels away back to its base..

As the battle weary crew of B-Bop-A-Lula enter zone 5, they spot two specks in the distance, they identify them as two Me 109’s, both attack from 12 o’clock, one from high,and unbelievably the top turret gunner recognises the 109 Ace as he returns at the 12’level, wanting to make up for his bad scoring previously,he must of landed and re-armed/re-fuelled in lightning quick time to catch up with the wounded B17.

The top turret misses the 109 high, but Chuck once again scores another kill as it passes overhead, the tail section and one wing of the fighter crumples and the fighter spins down to splash into the sea again…

The nose gun fires ineffectively at the 109 Ace,..the Nazi Ace scores 2 hits,one in the port wing hitting the wing root for a second time, and one in the nose section, Buddy gives a cry out as he’s hit and takes a light wound in his upper right arm,..the Ace swings around for another 1:30 level attack, Jimmy cant hit him with the st’board cheek gun,and is rewarded only with the 109 Ace scoring 1 hit again on the nose section…the navigator goes from looking down the gun-sight of the 50 cal’ cheek gun to clutching at his neck as one of the 109’s MG bullets passes straight thru, clasping his hands to his neck to try to stem the flow of blood from the serious wound, he falls to the floor of the nose section, Buddy does his best despite his own wound to quickly apply field dressings to his friend to stop the bleeding…

Seeing the effect he’s having the 109 Ace attacks for a 3rd time from 10:30 level,..Grabbing the port cheek gun the bombadier just cant hit the Ace,..its a testament to the Aces flying ability,that he’s avoided all the defensive fire that the crew can throw at him.. 

Firing again the 109 ace scores 2 more hits, again one hit in the nose section and once in the port wing, the hit from the 109’s cannon, shatters the plexi-glass windows and opens a gaping hole in the port side of the nose section as it hits Buddy clean in the chest,he’s thrown back against the st’board wall, the serious wound gaping in his chest ,together with the light wound in his upper arm its too much and he closes his eyes and dies…

The #2 engine is hit, again the pilot Donald Campbell, flicks the switch to feather the prop before it can go out of control shaking the engine from the wing..

The Nazi ace then does an extraordinary thing…he flies parallel to the nose section of the B17 ,keeping out of the fields of fire of the other gunners,he looks over at the damage he has done, and at the Capt and crew as they watch the nazi pilot thru their windows….he gestures with hand signals that he’s out of ammunition, .pointing to the two silent engines on the port wing, he gives the skipper a flyers salute, wishing the B17’s pilot and remaining crew good luck…

The skipper,already struggling to keep control of the badly wounded B17, with both ailerons shot away and the port wing root taking alot of damage,he looks out thru his side window at the two dead engines,and says over the intercom….”...Its going to be abit slower getting home chaps, we may be late for supper…

With only two engines now ,B-Bop-A-Lula slows down to spending twice as long in each zone, and she’s beginning to lose altitude, approximately 2000ft per zone the Skipper estimates..he tells Lonnie Donegan the radio operator to put out a call and see if there’s any friendly fighters out here that can help..

Entering the first half of zone 4, sure enough a few friendly Spitfires appear giving the lonesome B17 some fair fighter cover.

But the luftwaffe doesnt give up,an enemy wave catches up and 4 Fw 190’s attack from 12’level,1:30 level,3’low and 9’high,another Me 109 joins them at 12’level…the spitfires drive off the 109 and the 1:30 Fw,.. Eddie Cochran in the st’board waist cuts a swathe thru his clock sector with spray fire, hitting the 3’low Fw 190 and to his surprise destroying it in a ball of flame,it turns over onto its back and the pilot bails out into the sea below..

The two remaining Fw’s close in, the top turret misses the 9’high with his desperate spray fire, with no-one able to man the nose gun the 12’level Fw has a clear shot.

Hitting the nose section, the bombadiers oxygen system is hit, sadly Buddy doesnt need it any longer.

The Fw from 9’high scores 4 hits, the radio room, port and st’board wings and pilot compartment, the port wing takes a 3rd wing root hit, the window in front of the pilot takes a 1st hit, the st’ wing just takes its 1st wing root hit..the radio operator Lonnie curses as the radio is knocked out in a flash of blown circuitry and dials and valves.

As the fighters come around again one of them is driven off by the Spitfires..the remaining Fw attacking from 1:30 level, no hits are scored by either gunners or pilot and the last Fw is seen being chased away by the last of the Spitfires.

The second half of zone 4 starts as bad as the 1st half with another wave of 2 Me 109’s from 1:30 high and 9′ level,with another 109 at 12 level, the Spitfires return ,driving off the 12′ and 9′ level 109’s,..the top turret and st’board waist gunners miss the enemy fighter and it scores 1 hit in the radio room causing superficial damage,..its driven off by the friendly fighters before it can make a successive attack..

Entering zone 3 B-Bop-A-Lula and her crew are surrounded by good friendly fighter cover,,obviously feeling intimidated the luftwaffe fails to make contact in either half of zone 3,..and the crew can breath a sigh of hope as they take stock and swap spare ammo to the guns that are running low,..with no radio to operate, lonnie moves to the nose section to help Jimmy and to man the nose section guns just in case.

As the friendly fighter cover divides up upon entering zone 2 ,some of them must be low on fuel or something ,with only a few friendlies left giving us poor cover,thinking that with the English East coast in sight we’re safe enough..

Unfortunately the luftwaffe has other ideas and a wave of 5 Fw 190’s come hurtling in,all diving high from 12′,1:30′,3′,6′ and 9’high,an Me 109 lines up 12′ level..

From the observer corps guys on the coast and anyone else looking from outside the arena it must look like the B17 disappears beneath a swarm of any wasps trying to bring the bomber down.

Our poor fighter cover only manages to drive off 1 Fw from 6′ high, the top turret manages to damage the 1:30 enough to force him to break off without scoring any hits on the B17, Lonnie now manning the nose gun misses,as does the 109, the tail gunner scores enough as it passes to make it break off any further attacks.

the 190 from 3’high flies into the spray fire from the st’board waist and breaks off its attack.

Both the 12′ and 9 ‘high Fw’s score hits ,1 from the 12′ hitting the nose section and making the navigators equipment inoperable..the 9’ high scores 4 hits ,1 superficial, 1 radio room but its unoccupied except for Buddy’s and Johnny’s bodies moved there during the quiet period of zone 3. the port wing takes another superficial hit and the rudder takes a 2nd hit.

As if by some grace of God the successive attacks fail to connect and the B17 crawls ever slowly towards land.

But there’s one last kick in the heel for the tired and battered B17,now down to approximately 4,000 ft, another wave of Me 110’s makes contact , braving the closeness of the English coast they attack from 6’level and 9’low with another Me 109 at 12′ level, the poor friendly fighter cover drives off the 109.

Neither fighter is affected by any defensive fire from the B17,its gunners seemingly to tired to shoot straight.

The 6′ level 110 hits the tail twice damaging the tail wheel but worse knocking out the tail guns,with both the ball and tail guns out of action the crew feels even more vulnerable from attacks below or astern.

The 9′ low attacking 110 scores an amazing 6 hits, but the walking hits fuselage take priority, the radio operator in the nose section takes a serious wound to his upper head, the pilot compartment takes an instrument hit knocking out the oxygen systen thru-out the aeroplane, with no bombs aboard the bomb bay is unaffected, the seriously wounded navigator now placed in the radio room is KIA’d from a hit in the thigh, the waist and tail section both take superficial damage..

coming around for another attack the 110’s line up from 3 level and 6’high ,..Eddie fires at the 3’level from the st’board waist and shouts “..C’mon everybody !” as he sees the 110 plummet into the sea just off the coast,. the top turret damages the 6′ high 110 enough to break off its attack,but not before scoring a hit on the st’board Elevator on the tailplane tearing a big chunk of it off, and hitting the st’board wing to knock out the #3 engine , again the skipper manages to feather the prop before any further damage is done.

The last enemy fighter trails off hopping the wave tops trailing black smoke behind it,,whether it makes it back the crew no longer care..

With 3 engines out ,B-Bop-A-Lula begins to lurch towards the ground…

As the B17 nears the coast in zone 1, the skipper orders the remaining crew to dump “everything not nailed down overboard to lighten the ship as much as possible..”

Everything from the waist guns and ammo boxes to the rubber raft in the bomb bay are sent into the sea as they cross the coast at a little over 2000 ft, even the thousands of empty and spent 50’cal round casings are shovelled out by the two waist gunners and tail gunner thru the myriad of holes and thru the door-way with their feet and hands, they had been standing more than ankle deep in empty casings as they had fired their guns on the long fight home in the waist section.

With a sudden lightness the B17 lifts a few hundred feet more into the air,..as they cross over the green countryside,..over the intercom, from the ball turret comes a soft musical sound,.. Gene “the kid” Vincent, for so long a forced spectator to what the B17 has suffered thru, plays his tune…

The skipper ,struggling to keep the ship flying with half the flying controls shot away..

starts first to hum …

Well…,Be Bop… A Lula,….Shes our …..baby,…..

then sings softly as the words break past his lips…the strain showing thru clenched teeth…

“...be bop a lula,……………………we dont …mean …maybe..

A sudden shudder thru the control column ,sweat thick across his brow….

be bop ……a lula…..shes’ our baby...”

with the port wing feeling like its going to give up at any moment…

Half humming ,half saying the lyrics….

be bop a lula,we dont mean…. maybe..”

He continues the constant battle of wills for another airmiles flying…

be bop a lula,…shes’ our baby ,

our baby love,………….our baby love, ……………………our baby………….. –love..”


The Engineer now in the co-pilots seat joins in, and as the music and the singing gets louder the remaining crew members all join in. repeating the verse over and over as if willing , and calling the old battered and tired B17 to one last effort to get them home safe, even Lonnie with his head wound bandaged up and propped up against the nose plexiglass feebly sings along,..

Well ,Be Bop A Lula,Shes our baby,

be bop a lula,we dont mean maybe

be bop a lula.shes’ our baby

be bop a lula,we dont mean maybe

be bop a lula,shes’ our baby ,

our baby love,..our baby love, our baby –love..”

Lonnie manages to say over the intercom that he can see the Airfield perimeter , without the radio working,the control tower wont know what direction there’ll be coming in from, but it doesnt matter, the skipper lines the ship up on the first runway that he can see,.. one of the waist gunners shoots a red flare into the air as they come in low over the tree lined perimeter, to let them know theres wounded aboard.

As the skipper touches the heavy B17 down on the runway,thankful that the main landing gear wasnt damaged and with little trouble from the damaged tail wheel, B-Bop-A-Lula rolls to a stop only part way down the runway and off to the grass on one side,the one remaining #4 engine not having enough power to go any further..

The crash tenders and ambulances pull up alongside and the tired and exhausted crew climb out and just sit on the grass beside the ship that had brought most of them home…

Lonnies taken out from the nose section and put on a stretcher and driven straight to the hospital.

Gene “the kidd” is finally released from his cramped ball turret…

Both the skipper Donald and Eddie’s wound are treated first as they sit on the grass, the bodies of Lt Johnny Kidd the Co-Pilot,Lt Buddy Holly the Bombadier ,who had scored such a high bomb percentage,and Lt Jimmy Paige the Navigator were taken out on stretchers covered in blankets and driven first to the hospital and then onto the morgue…

The crew chief Buzz Aldrin opens up a packet of cigarettes and passes them around to the silent crew on the grass,..he looks up at the battle scarred B17 ,riddled with bullet and cannon shells,no ailerons,missing an elevator and three engines black and ruined…

all he says is …

Yep…shes’ our baby love alright….

After 6 weeks in the hospital the crew go to see Lonnie Donegan and learn he’s to be invalided home back to the states ,the head wound he suffered too great ,to keep him in England…


Images courtesy of a number of sites. See image meta data for attribution and links to sites.


4 thoughts on “B-17 Queen of the Skies

  1. Your sixth picture is of my dad’s plane, Liquid8er. It is not dropping bombs in this picture, but food supplies to the starving Dutch in the last week of the war. Operation Chowhound. God bless Elbert Steele and the thousands who flew.

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