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Old Mar 9, 2013, 7:30 PM   #11
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Lets not leave out the belly turret gunner. B-17's were made so that the turret gunner entered the turret before they took off and the only way out was when the plane landed. Most of the raids conducted by the RAF and the 8th AF lasted 10-12 hours. Can you imagine being cramped up in the belly turret for that length of time. On the other hand, it was actually the safest place to be with the pilot/copilot being in the most unsafe position.
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Old Mar 9, 2013, 7:42 PM   #12
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Yep, James - here's what they looked like:

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Old Mar 12, 2013, 10:19 AM   #13
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I would have claustrophobia for sure in that capsule.
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Old Mar 12, 2013, 11:18 AM   #14
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B-17 were odd in having one upright tail surface, it meant they couldn't graft a rear turret into the aircraft, so B17s were somewhat undergunned in this vulnerable position.

All late bomber designs carried additional firepower for the rear turret necessitating twin tails and also handy for containing battle damage. Late developments used quad MGs and 50 cal armed turrets layed by rearward facing radar codenamed 'village inn' used to trap and destroy nightfighters. Nightfighters carried their own crude radar using converted oscilloscopes, or fly in the wake of the formation looking to shoot up stragglers who were perhaps on fire, or otherwise by looking for the exhaust flashes. Nightfighter losses to bomber streams were halved by the use of 'village inn'

In various aircraft tail gunners had a particularly difficult mission, their position had no heat, and the more usual cruciform tails tended to twist and sway in the wash of the four propellers, crews permanently there would get used to it but it meant few visits by other crew through a mission as it made them airsick.

I know for Lancaster crews there wasnt enough room to wear a parachute in the turret, and you had to have help to get into the turret to close the door behind you as it couldnt be reached from inside. If the door was open the turret woulldnt traverse. Of course if the aircraft gets hit, you are at the mercy of others in opening the door behind you so that you can escape.

Some remarkable tailgunner escapes occurred in Lancs, were the turret became jammed or the turret was traversed and the aircraft lost all electrics, gunners cut their way out of the turret and somehow clung to the parachute and bailed. Others were blown out of exploding aircraft and yet survived the fall, usually by falling through fir trees into snow, or through thatched roofs and several floors of buildings.

Heres one story
Flight Sergeant Nicholas Stephen Alkemade (1923 1987) was a tail gunner for a Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster bomber during World War II who survived a fall of 18,000 feet (5500 m) without a parachute after his plane was shot down over Germany.

On 24 March 1944, 21 year old Alkemade was a member of No. 115 Squadron RAF and his Lancaster II "S for Sugar" was flying to the east of Schmallenberg, Germany on its return from a 300 bomber raid on Berlin, when it was attacked by a Luftwaffe Junkers Ju-88 night-fighter, caught fire and began to spiral out of control. Because his parachute was destroyed by the fire, Alkemade opted to jump from the aircraft without one, preferring his death to be quick, rather than being burnt to death. He fell 18,000 ft (5500 m) to the ground below. His fall was broken by pine trees and a soft snow cover on the ground. He was able to move his arms and legs and suffered only a sprained leg. The Lancaster crashed in flames and the pilot Jack Newman and three other members of the seven man crew did not survive and are buried in Hanover War Cemetery.


He was subsequently captured and interviewed by the Gestapo who were initially suspicious of his claim to have fallen without a parachute until the wreckage of the aircraft was examined. He was then a celebrated POW before being repatriated in May 1945. (Reportedly the orderly Germans were so impressed that Alkemade had bailed out without a parachute and lived that they gave him a certificate testifying to the fact.)
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Old Mar 12, 2013, 11:27 AM   #15
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Very interesting story Riley and thanks for sharing this. My uncle was a side gunner on a B17 and when he was living he told us how cold it was in the plane and that those warm looking outfits didn't keep you that warm up there. My dad wore his flying outfit every time he went ice fishing and said it was the warmest outfit he ever had although he wasn't fishing at 25,000 feet and going 200 miles an hour.
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