398th Bomb Group

Many B-17’s Suffered On Low Altitude Run

Bill Frazier
601st Squadron Operations

On this mission the aircraft bomb bay doors were opened over enemy lines to preclude bombs inadvertently dropping on Allied soldiers. Bombs would occasionally drop when the bomb doors opened. We had flown at least one mission in which the bomb doors were opened over the English Channel, so that any errant bombs would drop harmlessly into the water. However, the open doors added too much drag to be a feasible solution when there would be a long approach to the target. On this mission the long bomb run over enemy lines made us “sitting ducks.” To compound the problem of enemy fire, this mission was flown at an altitude of 13,000 to 14,000 feet, rather than at the normal 27,000 to 28,000 feet. The reason for the lower altitude was to improve target identification and bombing accuracy. The medium altitude was said to be “too low for the big guns and too high for the small guns. “This reasoning was far from correct.

I was flying with Hollis Dalton. He was pilot, and I occupied a CA co-pilot’s position. The mission was uneventful until we reached enemy lines and turned onto the bomb run. Flak was intense, and in all directions. We flew evasive turns to keep the flak from concentrating on us, but there was no clear daylight in any direction.

A large hole opened on the No. 3 engine cowling, oil flowed back, and the engine was bumping around. Dalton tapped me on the arm and pointed to the No. 2 engine tachometer, and noted that it was running erratically. I pointed out the problem, and he feathered the engine. Looking back at the formation showed that almost every aircraft had an engine feathered. I do not recall seeing the group lead aircraft being hit or leaving formation.

On return to Nuthampstead we assessed the damage. An 88 mm shell had hit the No. 3 engine, but did not burst on contact. Rifling marks from the shell were impressed on the aluminum of the cowling. On sighting through the hole where the shell entered and exited, the line of sight passed within three feet of where I was sitting. An aircrew member in another aircraft saw the shell explode directly above our aircraft, and said that it appeared that we had blown up.

Joe K. Mansell converted this article to digitized text for inclusion on the 398th Web Pages in January 2003.

Printed in Flak News Volume 6, Number 2, Page(s) 10, April 1991

Note: The above article has been placed on the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association web site to share our history with a wider audience. You may view, download, print, copy and link to our content as you wish as long as the uses are personal or educational. 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association web page content cannot be used for commercial purposes nor placed on other web sites whether commercial, personal or educational, unless authorized in writing by the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association Official Board and/or the author.